One Fine Adventure: Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region, China
Hong Kong, in my mind, had become a wild tapestry of chaotic streets, kung fu fights, endless buildings and wild parties. I can thank Hollywood as well as outlandish stories from other travelers for painting that picture. After a very short four day holiday in Kowloon, Central, and a very small island town on Lantau I can assure you that although Hong Kong is not as exciting as my predisposed notions, it will easily fulfill whatever type of adventure you want to find in this petite slice of Asia. For such a small location I was overwhelmed by the diversity of landscapes; cityscapes with mountain backdrops, sleepy villages, forest preserves, cliffs, temples, and each location is accessible by an wonderfully efficient mass transit system.
From Hong Kong International Airport, on the partially reclaimed island of Chek Lop Kok, I set off toward Mui Wo. Airport shuttles move passengers away from the arrivals terminal and quickly deposit them at various mass transit depots for local and regional travel. Getting from the arrivals terminal to the shuttle buses was relatively easy as far as airport transport goes and after a five minute walk I arrived at a waiting bus headed toward Tung Chung on the nearby island of Lantau. There are a large number of buses that leave from the airport and all of the signs have English translations. I tend to ask questions if I am in doubt and I was happy to find that volunteers, mostly older ladies, help travelers with directions around the airport. The woman I talked to was happy and helpful.
Mass transit in Hong Kong will cost a bit more than mainland cities, but they are incredibly clean and effective. Knowing that buses and trains will arrive on scheduled times helps to make planning ahead very simple. Fortunately the Tung Chung area near the airport is a hub for bus and metro transit. As with most buses around the world the various franchised bus companies throughout Hong Kong do not make change so you need to plan ahead after you exchange money at the airport. There is a 711 near the bus terminal at Tung Chung and they have a variety of gum and drinks so that you can break a big bill for bus fare when I forget to plan ahead.
The bus route from the very urban Tung Chung gave way to winding roads with a blur of green foliage on one side and spectacular ocean views out the opposite windows. I could not believe my eyes, but I felt like I was traveling through a European seaside toward a beach and a cocktail. This was not the Hong Kong that I had heard about and when I finally arrived in Mui Wo I felt like I was in a place altogether separate from my Hong Kong expectations. Mui Wo is a small, lush, bicyclists heaven within striking range of the iron and glass city that I was expecting to walk into. The town is filled with locals, expats, good beer, a variety of food choices, a beach and hiking trails. This is aging beach resort town was my kind of place.
From Mui Wo I made my way to Central Hong Kong for a walk through the legendary bar street, Lan Kwai Fong, and I was fortunate enough to take this walk during the day. After spending years working in Wrigley I was not blow away by the area, but I was not there at night, and I’m getting old so loud noises scare me easily. I did manage to find amazing pizza and cheap beer at Big Pizza. If I lived near Lan Kwai Fong this would be my post bar spot every night. The pizza is on par with any dive pizza shop in Chicago and would be equally as pleasing and filling as Bacci’s in Wrigley. The appealing prices convinced me to stay for two beers, and both were checked into Untappd.
The area near Lan Kwai Fong is home to more coffee shops, art studios, bookstores and interesting local buzz than you can shake your camera at on any day of the week. This area is ripe with life, culture, art and music. Narrow roads cut between high rise buildings and walking streets intersect at odd angles. Alleys are filled with lunch tables while murals and graffiti serving as decoration. People are everywhere you turn, but the area keeps a calm and collected atmosphere despite a perpetual buzz of energy and movement.
Kowloon felt older, smaller and a bit like mainland China, and because of this it felt slightly more comfortable to me. When I say that it felt a bit like mainland I mean that it was slightly more crowded and the cars seemed less orderly. I popped into a Kedi shop, picked up a few beers and made my way toward the Temple Street Night Market. What would a trip to Hong Kong be without checking out some of the imitation goods? Temple Street was alive with restaurants serving food from across China to locals and tourists. This is the only place in Hong Kong where I saw garbage and given the high volume of food production going on I can imagine that the city water management would have a difficult time dealing with all of the trash quickly.
The night market did not disappoint. The majority of the fake designer bags, shoes, clothes and electronics looked similar to those found in Shanghai fake markets. I found that the quality of the fakes was much higher in Hong Kong. Most of the bags had better stitching and more appointed interiors. The jeans and shirts were made of better cotton with more uniform color and sizes. I could see electronics vendors vacuum sealing phones into boxes, but I suppose that is the risk of buying electronics from guys on the street. I ended up leaving with a Mulberry duffle bag that I had been eyeing in Shanghai and the price was too good to be true.
I never felt overwhelmed in Hong Kong and that might have been the most surprising experience throughout my trip. More often than not I felt at home in the city and the Delaney’s Irish Pub where I drank away one of my nights sure helped my wandering soul get ready for my long trip back to Wuxi.
My time in Hong Kong was filled with views of buildings, trees, alleys, parks, mountains, villages and I can honestly say that this slice of China was a complete surprise to me. Friendly people greeted me throughout the city. The food was spectacular. Streets, buses and trains were clean. Most of all I was fortunate once again to have been hosted by a wonderful person from CouchSurfing.org. I am looking forward to getting back to Hong Kong soon.