Because my mum was awesome, she offered to take me on holiday somewhere special for my 30th birthday in 2009. I got to choose a destination somewhere more or less halfway between the UK where she lived, and Australia, where I lived. Hong Kong seemed pretty exotic and it would be my first time visiting. We timed our visit for Chinese New Year, the year of the Ox.
We coordinated our flights to arrive on the same day. Mum arrived earlier in the day, and I arrived very late on a half-empty plane. I was the only one on the 40-seater coach that the hotel had sent to pick me up and arrived there at about 10pm after getting stuck in endless traffic. No matter: I made it in the end, and the first order of business was to get some sleep!
We were staying at the Island Pacific Hotel (now temporarily closed) in Tai Ping Shan. In the morning we got the bus to Sheung Wan station where we had some breakfast. Then we picked up an Oyster card each and got the bus to Central… except we missed the stop and had to walk back. We were awed by the malls and markets.
We quickly discovered that it is actually pretty cold in Hong Kong in January so Mum bought a small heater for the hotel room, as well as some warmer shoes and clothes!
That evening we attempted to get dinner but somehow didn’t quite manage it – we ended up with Pot Noodles from a 7-Eleven.
On day 2 we got the bus to Stanley Market. It was a hair-raising journey across the island in a minibus whose driver took every corner on two wheels. At the markets, we stocked up on souvenirs, including the popular custom calligraphy name drawings, and a rosewood and jade Chinese chess set.
Then we got another bus to Aberdeen Fish Market (known as a wet market). It was very crowded and it was an assault on the senses with fish flopping about in trays and guts everywhere. Obviously, we didn’t get any souvenirs here!
Day 3 was Chinese New Year and a holiday in Hong Kong. We decided to go to The Peak via a bus from Central. This is the literal high point of Hong Kong, offering stunning views over the city. I couldn’t believe the height of the apartment blocks below us which felt nearly as tall as the peak. We walked around for a bit then got the funicular railway Peak Tram back down. We walked back to the hotel, which I recorded was “miles” away – but it seems, in reality, it was probably only 30 minutes walk…
That evening we got the Star Ferry over to Kowloon side to see the New Year Parade, I presume somewhere along Nathan Road. We got there early as recommended, however, we waited over two hours to see a very meager parade come by. We left early (perhaps too early to see the good stuff – I don’t know) but the best bit of the evening was seeing all the city’s lights on Hong Kong island from the ferry on the way back.
The next day was another holiday. In the morning we got the trolley tram up to Causeway Bay and the Times Square Mall, first for coffee and then in search of the Noonday gun. This was where we really needed a guidebook: we were on foot and we had to get across an impossible-to-cross road to see it. After going around in circles Mum finally spotted a doorway to an underpass/subway, accessed via a car park, that got us to the right spot with about a minute to spare. A man was there to fire the gun, which I noted was extremely loud – like a cannon.
Later that day we went to the famous Peninsular Hotel for afternoon tea. I noted in my diary that there was exactly the right amount of food but they were a bit stingy on the tea refills. This was where we spotted another guest attempting to eat a scone with a knife and fork. It was an amusing change from the 50 times on the trip that we had looked ridiculous trying to eat unusual (for us) food with the wrong implements. There was a welcome array of posh cars outside the Peninsular including a red Ferrari and the hotel’s fleet of dark green Rolls Royces.
That evening there was the New Year fireworks display which we watched from the shore near Central. The fireworks were lit off from barges in the harbor. There was a lot of smoke, and we found out later that was because one of the barges had caught fire! The fireworks were otherwise excellent.
Day 5 was the third day of the Chinese New Year holiday in Hong Kong. We went for a walk up to the Man Mo Temple. Older men were playing chess on metal boards built into stone pillars, and we stopped to watch for a while. Inside the temple commemoration area, Mum lit some incense for her Dad who had passed away two months earlier at age 88.
Nothing much was open so we had brunch at a European-style cafe before heading back to the temple to see a Lion Dance, with a brightly colored lion costume and energetic performers. This was one of the best bits of the Chinese New Year celebrations that we saw (and somehow I managed not to get a photo).
Later we caught the ferry over to Kowloon side to visit the Cultural Center and New World Center and to see some of the floats from the parade a few days before. We walked to Kowloon park, a nice city park with a duck pond. For dinner we went to a fast food Chinese food chain restaurant called Cafe de Coral which was ok – I have recorded that my duck had a lot of bones in it. I also think this was the place where we were amused by the way someone on a nearby table ate their bony pieces of duck – by shoving the whole thing in their mouth, chewing vigorously, and then spitting the clean bones out onto the plate.
On our second last day in Hong Kong, we had breakfast at the hotel and then ventured out to check out the Central-Mid-Levels escalator system that takes you up (or down) the hill between Central and the mid-levels in a series of mostly covered escalators and elevated walkways. Part of the attraction is that the escalator system is the longest outdoor covered system in the world. We had a brief stop at the Hong Kong Zoo to see monkeys and birds then headed back down to the harbor for a Junk Boat sail around the harbor which was a lot of fun.
That evening we met up with one of my school friends who lived in Hong Kong. We had dinner at a posh (for us) restaurant, which was on a high floor of a place in Causeway Bay. For dinner, we had duck pancakes, fish, hot and spicy soup, something with spinach and garlic, and a lot of tea. It was delicious.
Day 7 was our last day in Hong Kong. We packed and checked out, leaving our bags at the hotel. We got the ferry over to Kowloon and had lunch at the YMCA – perhaps for historic reasons as Mum and Dad probably stayed there during their travels in the 1970s. Mum had pork noodles and I had deep-fried sweet and sour Garoupa fish. After lunch, we had another walk around the park with ice cream from McDonald’s. Then it was time to go back to the hotel, get our stuff, and head to the airport. We had coffee together overlooking the runway then my flight to Australia departed first at 7pm, and Mum had a few more hours to wait for hers to the UK at 11pm.
I thoroughly enjoyed Hong Kong – there was a huge energy in the city, and a lot of stuff going on, even during New Year. I found it a contrasting experience from the 4 years I had spent in the rather dull Canberra. I realize at the moment Hong Kong is not a good travel destination but I hope one day to go back.