Prior to this year I never really had any desire to go to Hong Kong. It wasn’t for any reason in particular, it just didn’t hold my interest. I always just thought of it as a big, busy, cramped city; which of course it is. However, since moving to Taipei I’ve had more of a chance to learn about Hong Kong from people who have been or regularly travel there, and the consensus was that it’s a great trip, and it’s major strengths are shopping and eating. Since I’ve been in Asia I’ve definitely come to appreciate both the food and the night market shopping, so when I had this chance, I figured I’d give Hong Kong a shot.
Hong Kong is in so many films and books, and it’s always described as a fast paced, bustling, and chaotic city, and the chaos was what made it fun. It’s a surprising mix of so many things. The streets are full of the colours and lights and sounds and smells of Chinese culture, but in amongst the old night markets and street food vendors there are shiny modern sky scrapers. In the bay you can see new luxury yachts alongside the old traditional Chinese junk ships. You can spend the day walking through the massive modern malls, perusing shops like Chanel and Dior, and then spend the evening buying traditional jade luck charms from the jade market and knock off purses from the ladies market. You see new state of the art hospitals, and then walk past various shops selling traditional Chinese remedies. Another thing that I loved was the mix of East and West. Hong Kong was a British territory for a long time, and the mix of traditional Chinese culture and the British influence is apparent everywhere. There are old colonial streets that were never renamed after the British left, so you’ll find yourself walking down Hennessy Road or Gloucester Road, or past old European style buildings nestled in amongst the glass high rises. The old double decker trams that run through central Hong Kong come from the colonial era, and this is also a holdover from colonialism. These things look both odd and comfortable at once, showing you some of the history of Hong Kong at a glance.
I’m not one for designer handbags personally, but as far as shopping goes, there’s no denying the fact that Hong Kong has something for everyone when it comes to shopping. Between the multitude of western stores and the night markets and little shops down crooked alleys and side streets, you’d be hard pressed to go home empty handed. I can definitely see why people in nearby areas go to Hong Kong for their shopping. I loved wandering through the ladies market, and I did buy some jade in the jade market. I’m not great at bartering if im honest, despite all my travels, but if you are, you’ll have a field day in these places. There are no shortage of vendors trying to get your attention to sell their wares to you, and they are pretty quick to drop their prices if you look disinterested. This style of shopping can be difficult to get used to if you’re new to it, because of the constant pushing from the vendors; but in the end you’ll have a bunch of stuff you wanted (but probably didn’t need), and at least you haven’t spent much money. Not only are there great night markets, but in regular shops there are products from all over the world, so if there’s something you’ve been missing, whether it’s Korean skincare, English tea, or cooking products from North America, you’ll be able to find it somewhere. I even found Canadian beef jerky (not that I was dying to find it)!
And the other reason to visit Hong Kong? The food. The food is enough of a reason to visit on it’s own. The traditional cuisine is generally Cantonese, but aside from that there is everything else you might want. There are literally tons of Michelin star restaurants or restaurants recommended in the Michelin guide in Hong Kong, not to mention all the street food you could want. Our first meal in Hong Kong was Peking Duck from the modest Spring Deer restaurant. The restaurant itself was nothing fancy, but the Peking duck was hands down the best I’ve had. We had dim sum, street side waffles and a real Hong Kong breakfast at the Australian Dairy Co. This may not sound very traditional, but it couldn’t be more so, having been founded by a local man who had worked on a farm in Australia in the 1940s. It is one of the oldest restaurants in Hong Kong and is a perfect reflection of Hong Kong itself. An odd mix of old and new, East and West, and a sea of barely organized mayhem. There didn’t seem to be much order, and yet diners tend to be in and out in under 15 minutes. While we were there, we were hurried along several times with the not so subtle “hurry, hurry,” but the food was good, the price was reasonable and the experience was interesting; not to mention, there was a line out the door of more than 20 people, and in Asia that’s a sign. Aside from these iconic sorts of Hong Kong foods, the streets were full of restaurants of diverse cuisines. I saw all manner of restaurants and cafes and would love to have more time one day to enjoy more than the basics, the “must tries.”
Aside from shopping and eating, there proved to be a few other things to do in Hong Kong (although not too many). We rode the ferry from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island, checked out a fantastic rooftop bar, rode the double decker tram, did the night markets, and vegetable market, and made it up to the giant Tian Tan Buddha on Lantau Island. This was definitely a highlight of the trip. Not only was the massive bronze Buddha impressive, but the view from his seat on the platform is breathtaking. I’m not one for stairs, but that view was more than worth the 268 steps to see it. Around the Buddha is the Ngong Ping village and the Po Lin Monastery, both of which were worth seeing for view of a different side of Hong Kong.
Overall, I wasn’t there for long, but Hong Kong was a pleasant surprise for me. It was everything I thought it would be, but instead of disliking it, I appreciated it; I loved the busy streets, the sounds and lights of the big city, and the crowded restaurants. Perhaps this is because my tastes have changed, or because it’s a novelty, but the big tall buildings and bright lights were exactly what I wanted from Hong Kong. It was exactly what I thought it should look like, like the Hong Kong from the movies, with the frenzy of neon signs filling the streets, the cramped and dilapidated apartments, the towering buildings overhead, and the quaint red taxi cabs darting in between them. Hong Kong has something for everyone, and while it has several hallmarks of a big new city, it has an old soul that comes through on every corner.