#takingoverasia: Hong Kong
I’m back in New York! I’ve been back for over a week now, but was not prepared for the jetlag and some anxiety that awaited me. I did not touch a computer for the 37 days of my trip so it’s taking time to go through all of my photos. Without further ado, let me tell you about my January in Asia in the next few posts! 🙂
I arrived in Hong Kong on December 30th with a girl I met through a mutual friend. She had never been to Asia before! This was my third visit to Hong Kong so I was already familiar with the geography and lifestyle after falling in love with the city on a short trip with my mom four years ago. I actually wanted to spend my whole winter here living like a local to experience life outside of New York, but was only able to stay for 10 days so I needed to treasure every moment I had.
My first day in Hong Kong was already met with challenges:
- We stayed at an apartment in Happy Valley, a less chaotic neighborhood for lower prices and bigger accommodations. My mom told me to just take a cab in so I don’t get lost or stranded, but later I would learn just how convenient the tram is.
- There was only one bed so I slept on a couch that was a head shorter than me – it was advertised as a couch bed on Airbnb, which it obviously wasn’t.
- The lady who usually lives there wasn’t around for the holidays so we didn’t have wi-fi.
- The hot water only lasted 5 minutes unless you wait in the middle of a shower for more water to be heated. Saves water, but a warm shower in winter would be nice.
- I had an international SIM card in an old Samsung Galaxy so I can call/message people if needed, but the sim card kept popping out of the phone and 2G data was impossible to navigate my way around, though it was good for posting photos on Instagram.
On the plus side the weather was AMAZING, hovering near 70°F / 21°C all day and night. It didn’t take long for me to blend into Hong Kong culture:
- Egg waffles and fish balls are a party in my tummy – I used to never touch street food because I’m germaphobic about what I eat but I will guarantee you that street food in Hong Kong will not make you sick. Plus it’s super cheap.
- Every girl wears a giant sweater with a mini skirt so I bought a giant sweater and a mini skirt.
- There are doggos and pupperinos EVERYWHERE. I’ve never seen a Corgi in New York before but on my second day here I met a super friendly one just outside our apartment. I didn’t expect it to jump into a stranger’s arms for a hug!!!
Exploring the City
On New Year’s Eve, I wanted to go up to Victoria Peak, the highest point in Hong Kong Island. The tram to go up was so crowded that we just decided on the spot to hike instead! I was silly and didn’t know there are also buses that go up, but I definitely do not regret this decision because I learned just how much I love hiking. Half of Hong Kong is built on the mountain, with the city on one side and scenic beaches and harbours on the other. The views on that hike were stunning, and we finally reached the top after an hour and half. Unfortunately hiking while jetlagged took me out about 8PM and though I woke up again at 11PM, I could not make it until midnight to welcome 2017. But my legs didn’t even hurt the next day and I would have done it again if I had time. From now on please sign me up for all getaways that involve hiking!
Hong Kong might be one of the most luxurious cities in the world, but I think some of the less fancy locations have a lot more to offer than they look! My mom didn’t want us wandering in Aberdeen Harbour, a poorer community on the south side of Hong Kong with lots of Tanka people who live in boats, but I took my friend there during the day for the best dim sum! I can’t speak Cantonese and can’t read Chinese characters, but we were so lucky to split a table with a lovely family whose teenage daughter spoke enough English to translate the menu and order for us.
Another part of Hong Kong that is overlooked is right across the river in Kowloon, famous mostly for its gang activity, population density and dystopian lifestyle in Western movies. However, you can’t get a better view of the city than taking a boat across the harbor. Kowloon also has more room and many beautifully kept parks for you to explore! I recommend Nan Lian Garden which has a beautiful tower, a water wheel, and is adjacent to a nunnery where you can see Buddhist nuns. :O
Three Gems of Hong Kong
If you visit Hong Kong and have time for a getaway from the chaos in the city, there are three locations I recommend 100%!!!
The first location I found by accident! On our fourth day, I decided to finally take my solo sabbath and spend a day by myself. I first got a haircut and recolored my blonde tips purple! They used a color with a reddish base so that it wouldn’t fade as fast as last time when I had a blue base. The stylist also moved my parting and fringe to the other side of my face, which was a fresh change. Even though it’s not my natural parting, it gives my hair more defined volume. At first I regretted dyeing my hair because it was darker than the red I was used to, and made my eyebrows look too light and too big. On a whim I bought eyebrow tools and eyebrow gel, and started trimming and filling my eyebrows. It made a huge difference to have darker but thinner eyebrows! I’ve never done my own eyebrows before since I usually get them threaded (I don’t recommend that). I initially looked more edgy than I liked because I used too much gel, but practice did make better!
After my haircut, I hopped on a tram without a destination and just sat on the top deck admiring the street life. The streets in Hong Kong are really unlike any other city I’ve been to. I took the tram all the way to the end of the line, then saw a bus that was going to Shek O, a location I had seen in an article online about Hong Kong’s hidden gems. I didn’t think about what would happen if I got lost, or how long it would take.
I ended up in Shek O Village, an absolutely adorable seaside town with the cutest little houses and a really beautiful beach (Hong Kong generally doesn’t have great beaches). It wasn’t very crowded probably because the village is hard to find and isn’t catered to tourists. There were tons of European expats tanning and even swimming in the cold water. I must say climbing the rocks to gaze upon the sea was an amazing moment. The village was very chill and the community life was very humble. I enjoyed walking down the streets through the village, and a few times got lost and wound up in people’s backyards because the houses and roads seemed to blend into one. Luckily nobody reported me!
Because I loved Shek O so much, I definitely didn’t want to miss out on Tai O. Tai O is located in Lantau Island, which is quite far away from Hong Kong Island. That day I invited two Hong Kong friends to take us because the further you get from the city, the less people speak English. It’s great to have native friends around because they did everything I struggled with – finding the right bus, ordering food, communicating with people. They even gave me detailed history lessons about the places we visited! Having them as guides made my day less stressful. 😀
Tai O is even more interesting than Shek O – all the houses there are built on stilts right in the water!
Afterwards we hit up our friend The Big Buddha, one of the most popular tourist attractions, who sits on top of the mountain in Lantau Island. For some reason there are cattle running around that area freely. They were rather tame and ignored the humans like myself who tried to (and failed) to selfie with them. Though we took a bus to get up the mountain, my two Hong Kong friends insisted we take the cable car down. They wanted to take it even more when it seemed like I was afraid of heights – which I am not!
Lastly, you must hit up Cheung Chau for the king of getaways! Cheung Chau is an island about an hour away by ferry, and is perfect for biking and fresh seafood. There isn’t much to do when you first see the island – it just seems like a village to eat and take a stroll in, but Cheung Chau’s secret is to be found deeper in the island! My native Hong Kong-er friend was the one who told me that the island is home to a cave where a 19th century pirate, Cheung Po Tsai, hid from his enemies. We found the cave, and people could even slip inside for a look! Even though I’m claustrophobic, I squeezed through an entrance that probably can’t fit a girl bigger than me, into a dark cave. The other side of the cave opened up to majestic rocks and cliffs to climb. Some places were so rocky you could only get across by pulling yourself with a chain.
Things became less exciting after that because I was so tired. I made the mistake of going to Macau immediately after excursions to Lantau Island and Cheung Chau. The boat ride made me so seasick that it was hard for me to enjoy the city. There also isn’t much to see, since most of Macau runs on casinos and gambling just isn’t my thing. However, the city was a Portuguese colony 400 years and is still very Portuguese! A lot of the buildings are European, and there are forts with cannons overlooking the city. The ruins of St. Paul’s is also cool to think about since it’s still standing while the rest of the church was burned.
I had to take it easy after getting back from Macau. I wasn’t used to traveling for so long, and my body was not getting enough rest sleeping on the couch every night. I spent my final two days in Hong Kong just shopping in Causeway Bay for Korean brands recommended by my overseas friends, especially Skinfood and Innisfree. One thing really caught my attention – much to my surprise, I counted three Malamutes in Hong Kong on my last two days there. The Alaskan Malamute is my favorite breed of dog, and you don’t tend to see them in New York because they are a bigger version of Siberian Huskies and require lots of exercise in cold weather. So what on earth are they doing living in a cramped, tropical city like Hong Kong? I cannot believe that any Malamute would be happy living in a place like that. From what I know, Chinese people are not as strict about adopting pets, and most pets are bred from other people’s pets or sold for high prices on the market. This is not okay!
When I was in college and even in grad school, I dreamed of moving to Hong Kong. Though I didn’t get to spend my winter here, I only learned to love the city even more during my ten days. It’s my favorite place, but I do not think I will be living here anytime soon. My career in tech doesn’t seem to be taking me here, though if I ever have a chance to move here in the future, there’s no way I would pass it up.