When I was a teenager I loved Wong Kar Wai’s Chungking Express. Returning from Hong Kong a few months ago, I drifted in and out of sleep on a long Friday night rewatching it. The colors! The food! The melancholic feeling of being lost! What a classic mood of a film, a love letter to a city at a moment before it transitioned away from British protectorate, into an unknown future identity.
I said goodbye to my twenties in Hong Kong this past January, funnily enough, walking the same paths in the movie, lingering on the harbor, getting lost inside wet markets, the neon signs coloring my memories.
On the very last last day of our week in Hong Kong, Brian and I had a flight at one am with an early afternoon check out from the rented apartment in the vertical tower blocks of the the mid-levels. With hours to kill, we took the escalators downtown, dropping our bags at the central station to meander without a plan. (oh to know the joys of a city without the terrorism fears of New York City when it comes to storing luggage!)
We walked the city like locals, taking the double decker trams to the edges. Riding on the other side of the road never stops making me feel blissfully queazy. We spent time mingling in and out of the never-ending busy shopping districts, packed with contrasting images of a place so iconically Chinese and also so singularly Hong Kong. I bought coffee and Korean beauty products, hanging around teens. I was the outsider looking in as we communally shopped for orange lipsticks.
We wove through old-school canteens, the ever present Australian cafe culture, and high-fashion malls right up against hole in the wall restaurants.
We waited in line to eat Michelin starred duck on rice that was literally prepared by a man in the front with a penchant for chopping extremely fast and hard with decisive whacks.
A few backpackers sat with us at a tiny circular table, marveling when I told them we were really that much older than their hostel friends.
“You came all the way here, for your birthday?” the Toronto native who must have been no more than twenty said to me. He had just met his Thai friend at their hostel, who helped us all know how to order pork and duck correctly.
Our momentary friends were heading off to travel South East Asia on different tracks, departing from each other in just a few hours from this meal.
We went to hunt down egg waffles as our dessert of choice afterwards, stopping to walk past the old post office in Wan Chai.
Hong Kong is forever etched into my last days of being twenty nine now, a neon-colored vertical city a city with a history of people upon people, an iconic style, a culture of freedom, and now me humbly greeting a new time in my life.
Turning thirty has meant coming full circle, returning to the start. I have a sense of gratitude right now to feel, in that way, at home with that always-there-self, almost surprised she has always always been there.
Where We Stayed
Using points (thanks Chase Sapphire Preferred!) I booked Brian and I two round trip tickets for a ridiculously low amount of money, I’m talking, cheaper than flying from NYC to LA kind of deal.
Good to know: January before the Chinese new year is a slower season but not cold or rainy. It was like stepping into early spring or late fall in the middle of a snowy New York existence. I wore denim on denim the entire weekend like a true vagabond, not washing a single thing in my carry on.
We flew Asiana to South Korea and onto Hong Kong. The service in economy was excellent! They even served in-flight bim bim bap. I wish I had taken my hot sauce tube with me, though.
Having had great success in traveling with Airbnb, we saw no reason not to use it here as well. After a little neighborhood research, we thought as first timers in Hong Kong SoHo was a great spot to explore on foot most of Hong Kong island.
We were in the mid-levels to be exact, that dreamy other-worldly escalators and tiny-itsy-bitsy skinny towers giving the entire area a great drastic mash up of things I was expecting and not expecting. It felt like San Francisco a little bit, with those winding street packed with people and minibuses.
What We Did
Really the very first thing we did out of both interest and relief was ride the escalators after walking with carry-ons strapped to our backs. The view of them criss crossing between buildings ushered a sigh of relief to my aching back.
Hong Kong has the longest covered outdoor escalator system in the world! It’s free and you can ride it up pretty far, meandering to Victoria peak even if you’ve got time. The area is steeply hilled, packed with streets full of both Western and Chinese markets.
In the morning commute, the escalator changes direction to go down. We rode it more times than I can count. It’s a great way to people watch.
SoHo is a very hip packed part of the city, a mash up of West and East. I don’t think I’ve ever heard so many French speakers in one area before (well outside of Montreal and France.) It was a nice location for nightlife, coffee, and street markets.
On a few nights we also headed to the Tsmi Sha Tsui East Promenade, riding the cheap Star Ferry into the harbor, to catch the laser light show on the other side. Any place that wants to install lasers on skyscrapers and have them daily put on a show is pretty alright with me.
In exploring around Hong Kong Island, we stopped at Man Mo Temple on Hollywood Road, took the Peak Tram to Victoria peak, including a slow hike around the peak with those iconic views of the central skyscrapers. There are several hikes that look fantastic on the peak and all around Hong Kong, too, if you’re looking for something harder.
In more of our Hong Kong Island walks, I enjoyed the Mao figurines and antiques of Cat Street, and the local stores and cafes of both Sheung Wan and Wan Chai. I peered into enough herbal medicine stores and giant shopping malls to fill a lifetime.
We also took Trams to Causeway bay, an area packed with people and stores. Riding the trams is actually an excellent budget activity because you can get off and explore whatever you came across.
On Kowloon island, I loved the frenetic energy of Mong Kok as well as the Jade, Flower, and Bird markets. Being us, we also found two bookstores worthy of noting in these areas: Kubrick’s and Hong Kong Reader. Nian Lin Garden was a nice respite, too.
The tram to the Big Buddha was closed, so we decided for just a day trip to Lamma Island. This hike was moderate and great. I enjoyed the fishing village at the end, where we sat outside and drank beers in what felt like mild, late summer air to us. The locales thought it was cold.
What We Ate
The food in Hong Kong is amazing and diverse, at once fancy and regular, cosmopolitan and everyday. I found the most joy in eating the street food and at cheap dim sum joints.
The notes of what we ate barely scratch the surface:
Wonton soup everywhere
Dumplings Wang Fu
Cooked Food Centres
One Dim Sum
Tasty Congee and Noodle Wonton
Tai Cheong Bakery for Egg Tart!
Hong Kong French toast
Din Tai Fong for amazing soup dumplings
Joy Hing Roast Meat
Fancy midday dim sum at Duddells
What I read:
Monocle Guide to Hong Kong is excellent.
I always trust Lonely Planet, too.