Hong Kong Trip, Part 5: Only in Hong Kong

In February 2012, we flew to Hong Kong for about a week. This was our first (non-business) trip to Asia. You can read Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 to catch up.

Right after we took the plunge to try a vacation in Asia, we asked for your tips. Thanks — those were all very helpful.

Owing to seasonal, weather-related, or interest constraints, we didn’t

  • go to Ocean Park
  • go to Hong Kong Disneyland
  • spend much time in Kowloon
  • go to Macau
  • go to Lamma Island
  • walk the circular path around the Peak
  • hike around in the mountains
  • sail in the harbor
  • take in the view from any skyscrapers
  • check out other regions of Hong Kong Island like Stanley and Aberdeen

But we did

  • check out the Wan Chai wet market
  • visit the Peak via a tram trip
  • walk around Central at noon on a weekday just to get lost in the crowd.
  • try out the Mid-Levels Escalators to watch the demographics change on our way up and down the hill.
  • stay a week and say “Whew!” at the end of it.

We managed to take in a couple of sights available only in Hong Kong.

Po Lin Monastery and Big Buddha Is Watching You

We took a ferry from the Central Piers to Lantau Island, and from there we took the bus about 35 minutes up the mountainside. Getting out at the top, we walked past a bunch of touristy junk stands and a few street food stands and a saddening number of feral dogs on our way to the stairway leading up to the world’s largest, outdoor, seated Buddha statue.

It’s not a particularly old monument. In fact, arriving in Hong Kong from a town founded in A.D. 179, nothing seems particularly old. But inside the statue, we found some much older tapestries and scrolls on display in the museum, and commemorations of the brotherhood between the local monastery mainland Chinese and Indian Buddhists. Almost everything written there was in Chinese, so not a lot of insight for us. But it was pleasant enough to be walking around in Buddha’s lap.

Purchasing entry to do the museum inside the statue also entitles you to a monk’s lunch. This was a vegan sampling of soup, oily vegetables and rice. A little on the bland side, but nearly free, and the dining hall was nearly empty, as not many visitors bothered to make the trip at all given the foggy weather. Contributing to the cloudy conditions in my shots below were the largest incense sticks I’ve ever seen (check the last photo).


Yuen Po Street Bird Garden

Our Frommer’s guide recommended a stroll through the flower market for the sights and then the Yuen Po Street Bird Garden for the sounds. We found many hundreds — probably thousands, actually — of caged birds for sale or just out for a stroll with their little old men owners. Apparently song birds need to socialize, too. And eat, which explains the abundance of live bird food also available for sale.

Our Favorite Shots

And thus wraps up our Hong Kong Trip series. There was plenty to see, and while we’re grateful for the lack of rain the entire time we were there, it would have been nice to get some more sun in our Big Buddha or harbor scenes. Hong Kong was supposed to be our tip-toeing into Asia, and for that it worked very well. I’m sure it’s not very representative of the rest of the region — how could it be? — but even in its own right, the mixture of British Colonial leftovers, modern metropolitan infrastructure, and Cantonese culture certainly stands out as worthy of exploration. It wore us out (I’m sure we never really got over the jetlag), but we are very glad to have made the trip.

Here are some of our favorite shots from the trip. Some of these are repeats from earlier posts and some are shown only here.

Hong Kong Trip, Part 4: Shopping

In February 2012, we flew to Hong Kong for about a week. This was our first (non-business) trip to Asia. You can read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 to catch up.

Hong Kong is a shopper’s paradise. Produce, seafood, meat (including meat that is still clucking and quacking), electronics, knock-offs, fancy boutique stuff, touristy trinkets, you name it, and someone will be willing to haggle with you for it.

Wan Chai Wet Markets

Wikipedia informs us that a wet market is a traditional market for produce, meat and fish in which the emphasis is on freshness. Therefore, a lot of water is used to keep products fresh, and ostensibly clean. Despite having a guidebook and the quite substantial size of the market area in Wan Chai, we had a hard time finding this place, and were about to give up and head back to our hotel when we stumbled upon it. Lots of meats and produce to peruse here.

Shopping in Causeway Bay

We started out looking for “Island Beverly”, but gave up (even though it’s supposed to be easy to find). Instead we found “Windsor House.” This was a different take on a shopping mall — it was 16 stories high, but maybe a sixteenth of the horizontal surface we’d normally associate with a mall. This seems fairly representative of Hong Kong, given that they’ve essentially crammed the Boston metro area’s population into an area with a tenth of the surface area. In Windsor House there are two floors (currently one of them is under construction and off-limits) dedicated to electronics. There were some big brand names and/or product lines well-represented there:

  • Lenovo
  • Leica
  • Apple resellers
  • Gaming
  • Photography gear bags & tripods

… and lots more. There are plenty of shops outside of Windsor House as well. I was on a mission to buy a new portable external hard drive, and I had certain specs in mind: 1TB capacity, USB 3.0, 2.5″ form factor. Prices didn’t vary wildly, but they did some, so I gave the friendliest shopkeeper the chance to undercut the cheapest shop — which he gladly took. I found the pricing to be cheaper than at amazon.de, but not drastically so, and that makes me wonder if I should have haggled more, or come prepared for buying more stuff to leverage my total price down. I used the same approach with some photo gear in a couple of camera shops just outside the Causeway Bay MTR stop: give them a chance to compete against each other and then go with the best combination of cheap and friendly.

Temple Street Night Market



We had fun perusing here, but were very, very careful not to show any interest whatsoever in the obvious knock-off clothing and accessories, knowing that those would quite well get us into trouble upon return to the E.U. The browsing itself was the best part. This night market must be well-known among tourists (indeed, our Frommer’s guide pointed us there) because there were quite a lot of our lot out for a stroll among the hawkers. A small stand offering laser pointers attracted me, and I was ready to plunk down for a green one (c’mon, everyone and their cousin has a red one already) when my expert haggler wife stepped and dropped the price by 30% just by asking for it. And man, that thing is powerful. Can’t wait to show it off in my next meeting.

There was also plenty of street food available, and locals enjoying it. That might have been a bit beyond our adventurous eating threshold, but we enjoyed observing it nonetheless.

Department Stores

The vast majority of what was available in most department stores were high-end international brands, i.e. Burberry, Gucci, Prada, et cetera. But we did find a couple of special and unusual places. Chinese Arts & Crafts is chiefly art, traditional garments (padded jackets, cheongsams and the like) and collectibles, but with the guarantee that they are made in China with traditional methods. A nice place for careful souvenir shopping. Unfortunately, we were exhausted and carrying backpacks, killing time until we could go to the airport, so upscale shopping wasn’t a good fit.

Shanghai Tang is a small department store selling men’s, women’s and children’s clothes, jewelry, handbags, accessories, fabric and home decor. Also somewhat upscale, the offerings in this store were entirely unique and the staff very friendly and helpful. It’s a decidedly chic, boutique type of department store and you stand a good chance of coming away with something modern yet deeply Chinese in style.

SoHo

Maybe every trendy English-language destination needs to have a district called “Soho” or some variation thereof. Hong Kong’s SoHo seems to be the yuppy hang-out, with much more diversity of bars and restaurants than elsewhere. We found little boutiquey shops, vegan(-friendly) lunch counters, and coffee bars as we rode the escalators from Central up the side of the mountain.

The higher up you go, the less Chinese you’ll find, until the last escalator, at which point you’re in luxury apartment land. About half way up, there’s a mosque and some enthusiastic greeters outside it, really trying hard to entice the tourists to come in for a look around. And just past the mosque greeters, a guy representing a Christian church (honestly I’ve forgotten which variety) was also handing out leaflets and trying his luck.

The walk down wasn’t as easy as we’d thought, despite being fully paved and populated — it’s quite steep, and I would not have liked to do that in the rain. We broke up the knee-flexing stomp down the hill with shopping intervals and lunch at Café O and enjoyed their free WiFi.

Flower Market

This was a fun diversion. The Mong Kok Flower Market is a district of 3-4 blocks of nothing but flower shops. The incredible abundance of flowers and diversity of arrangements led to some sensory overload. Of course, we were there the day before Valentine’s Day, so the stock and displays might have been kicked into high gear.

ifc Mall

The ifc (I hate that it appears to have branded itself with lower-case letters) is a huge part of Hong Kong’s Central district. It’s got pedestrian bridges to the Central Piers. It’s got direct access to the Central MTR station (and the Airport Express stop). Not to mention its skyscrapers and Four Seasons hotel. And then there’s the Mall. I didn’t recognize most of the nameplates we saw there, but Sarah did: very upscale international brands. My favorite aspect: the bathrooms were nice (and convenient). If you’re into the high-class browsing scene, this is your place.

Dried Seafood Street

View Larger Map

I much prefer the street-level shopping to the fancy mall boutiquey stuff. Every day on our way into the city, we rode along some portion of Des Voeux Rd, proudly and officially nicknamed “Dried Seafood St.” Shop upon shop with large, transparent, cylindrical storage containers filled to the top with…you guessed it: dried seafood products. Sarah even spotted a sign for Fish Lip Jerky.

Personalized Chopsticks Guy in the mall at the Peak

On Victoria Peak, while killing some time, waiting for the sun to come and give us a brilliant view of the harbor area between Hong Kong and Kowloon, we ducked into a mall. We found a little shop with a wide selection of chopsticks, and smiling older gentlemen who personalizes them for you in Western and Chinese characters. It was a great souvenir idea — inexpensive but very personalized.

Hong Kong Trip, Part 3: Getting out and doing something relaxing

In February 2012, we flew to Hong Kong for about a week. This was our first (non-business) trip to Asia. You can read Part 1 and Part 2 to catch up.

On our first day after the 25+ hours of getting there, we consulted our Frommer’s book and decided to hop on a tram to catch an MTR train across the harbor into Kowloon to get a glimpse of a Taoist temple. Hong Kong’s trams are shaped like its double-decker buses, but they move more slowly and predictably (since they run on a track). All tram fares cost the same, no matter where you get on or how many stops you ride. Enter at the back of the tram and pay (with exact change, or your Octopus card) upon exiting at the front.

It was at this point that we discovered we’d misinterpreted the terms of our Airport Express purchase. We thought it covered three days’ of unlimited public transit, but in fact it only covers three days of unlimited MTR transit. So we had to quickly cough up some HK$ coins to pay our fare upon exiting. We felt like schmoes, but the tram driver was more than gracious about us holding up his tram.

We got on the Island line at Sheung Wan, changed to a line to take us into Kowloon, changed again and continued for several more stops to Wong Tai Sin, on our way to the Taoist temple of the same name.

We could tell we were close by the smell of the incense burning and the rattling sounds of something unknown. First we took a walk through the Good Wish Garden, admiring how peaceful it was while set in the middle of a 7-million-person city, surrounded by skyscraping apartment buildings.


After making our rounds through the garden, we approached the temple’s main altar and discovered the source of the rattling sounds. Hundreds of people were practicing kau cim, and then getting their results analyzed by the professionals.

This was our first full day in Hong Kong (or anywhere in Asia, for that matter), and as such we were still pretty flabbergasted by its density (population, architecture, commerce) and drastically different scene as an observer at ground-level.

Hong Kong Trip, Part 2: Arriving in Hong Kong

In February 2012, we flew to Hong Kong for about a week. This was our first (non-business) trip to Asia. You can read Part 1 here to start from the beginning.

Regensburg to Hong KongIt took over 25 hours get from our apartment in Regensburg to the hotel in Hong Kong. Several of those hours wasted away groggily in the Dubai Airport in the middle of the night. After walking (what seemed like) a couple of miles, we made it to the departure hall. I was kind of surprised at how dead it looked; only one fast-food restaurant was open. I guess all the rest of the passengers were upstairs in the business lounge (I know that’s where I’d be). We scarfed some pita sandwiches and made our way deeper into the departure hall, and that’s where we found life again: duty-free store upon duty-free store, jewelry counters and trinket souvenir hawkers. Only at 2:30 in the morning, local time, nobody seemed too enthusiastic about anything. We felt like zombies, too, but the alarming turbulence around Ahmedabad did us a favor by keeping us up even longer, thereby ensuring that we’d crash zonk out for the remainder of the flight.

Exiting the plane and claiming our baggage was trouble-free. Immediately upon exiting the baggage claim, the friendly staff from Airport Express was there to inform us about the packages available. Our Frommer’s Hong Kong guide was right on the money. We snagged a few maps and brochures for later use and made our way down to the Airport Express station, boarded a train (most hours of the day they run every ten minutes), and one of us zonked out some more until arriving at Hong Kong station.

A note on the terminology here: “Hong Kong” is one of the Special Administrative Regions (SAR) of the PRC — just like Macau. It’s comprised of many islands in the region, one of which is called “Hong Kong.” One of the stops on the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) system is “Hong Kong” (and thankfully, it’s also on the island of Hong Kong).

We’d almost forgotten to clarify our hotel’s shuttle pickup in advance, but just before getting into our taxi to Regensburg’s Hauptbahnhof, Sarah called and got the instructions from the hotel (working that 7-time-zone offset to our advantage). We met the schedule right on time, took in the Central, Sheung Wah and Kennedy Town neighborhoods at street level, and checked into our hotel, the Dorsett Regency Hong Kong.

The staff there was happy to upgrade our reservation from a standard double to a king-sized room on the 28th floor (why? not sure). We were impressed with the staff’s efficiency and welcoming demeanor. We tried to admire the view of the harbor from our vantage point, but due to the fog we could hardly see it at all. The night views from our hotel room proved a little more attractive.

The front desk was kind enough to make us a recommendation for dinner that same evening, but in the end we fell back to our Frommer’s book, since they recommended a place right at the end of our street. It was just slightly hidden around the corner, and it was a good thing it wasn’t harder to find — we’d have given up on it quickly. After watching us struggle with chopsticks and bok choi a bit, someone in charge offered us a spoon. We used it for serving, but remained stubborn about eating with the chopsticks. And we got better over time.

Hong Kong Trip, Part 1

In February 2012, we flew to Hong Kong for about a week. This was our first (non-business) trip to Asia.

Photo credit: Quentin Douchet
The start of this story really takes place in October 2011 when I headed off to Shanghai on a business trip for a week. I flew from Munich to Dubai to Shanghai on Emirates and was so impressed with the airline that I mentioned to Sarah that this could be our stepping stone into Asia. She started keeping an eye out and pretty soon an Emirates sale on fares to Hong Kong and back revealed itself. We picked a pretty darn good time to be outside of Europe, but that was purely chance — we couldn’t have known then what miserable temperatures were in store for the second week of February, but since I’d been in Romania on business trip the week before we left for Shanghai, it made the coming travel to warmer climes all that more alluring.

Our departure from Regensburg was almost a disaster in itself: we’d planned on taking a taxi from our apartment to the train station, but

overnight snow fall + morning rush hour = cutting it close

In the end, our taxi driver took pity on us and snuck through a few places he shouldn’t have and we boarded the train just fine, and we arrived at Munich Airport in Freising without incident. It was pretty cool watching our A380 pull up at the gate, and there was a crowd of German senior citizens all gathered ’round to take video/snapshots of it.

Sarah chose our seats via online check-in. The cattle-class configuration is 3-4-3, and the best she could do was get a couple seats together in a 4-person block. Turns out the seat next to her was vacant all the way to Dubai! We were thrilled to find full 110/220V AC power (suitable outlets for Euro and U.S. plugs!) in the armrest of our seats, and a 5V USB charging port next to each (rather large) personal video screen. The food on the flight met with our favor. Indeed, the lamb curry option must have been popular, because it had sold out by the time the flight attendant asked me my preference (Sarah got the last one). But the Chicken Parmigiana surprised me anyway. Or maybe it was the metal cutlery. I haven’t had that in Economy Class since…maybe ever?

We watched something like three movies each — and they were pretty good! Our only complaint (and this is a small thing): with such a modern, on-demand nifty inflight infotainment system, why do they still use those antiquanted 2-prong headphone jacks, which force you bring an adapter if you want to use your own headphones instead of the cheapo-freebie ones? Here are some explanations.

In Part 2, we arrive in Dubai in the middle of the night.

Help on Hong Kong, please!

200px Hong Kong SAR Regional Emblem svgNeed some help here.

After living in Central Europe for nearly eight years and taking advantage of all the neat travel opportunities, we’re tippy-toeing into some of the rest of the world, starting with Hong Kong in February 2012. Emirates had a special on some airfare, Sarah found us a not-too-shabby deal on booking.com, and we’ve pulled the trigger.

So what should we do while we’re there? Your advice is most welcome!

Points to ponder:

  • Sarah’s never been to Asia before, but I have been to three cities in China now on business.
  • We picked Hong Kong sorta because we’re hoping to get a little semi-Asian experience under our belts before diving into some other place less accessible to Westerners with not a lick of Chinese among them.
  • We’ll be there after the Chinese New Year happens for just about a week.
  • We’re staying in Kennedy Town at a hotel. No idea yet on how to get there from the airport; we’re grateful for any suggestions.