Posts Tagged With: Hong Kong

Impressions from Hong Kong

Nightly Laser Show in HKThere are no two ways about it: Brooke and I have really enjoyed our time in Hong Kong. We really dig it here. We’ve been in town just long enough to get a taste for this unique city. Three days has been enough time to allow us to get a sampling that left us with a quality impression of Hong Kong. This is a city that manages to be both part of China, but not much at all like the rest of China.

As with every destination so far, we had some miscues upon first arriving. After rolling into town, we were quickly misled by signs indicating a “subway.” Turns out that a Subway here refers to subterranean passageways underground cross walk and complicated network of pedestrian tunnels scattered throughout the city. These help with the flow of streets and are far more often seen than traditional cross walks. The subways also have an added bonus of being a fantastic way to dodge the summer heat. Of course, we had misinterpreted the “subway” signs for an subterrain train (which is in fact commonly called the MTR).

Food at the Night MarketSpeaking of the heat, we have been knee deep in it. The sights of Hong Kong during the day have been plagued by some tenacious haze, but I suppose that’s what you get for visiting Southeast Asia in the middle of August. As unlikely as it sounds, it somehow keeps getting hotter and hotter as the day progresses into night. We’re pretty sure that by 8:00 PM it was hotter than it was at 2:00 PM! Baffling. As we head even further south into Vietnam and Singapore, we’re thankful that (so far) we’ve had no trouble finding places to stay that have functional, soothing Air Conditioning.

View from the 55th Floor of the IFC Tower!

Brooke and the View from the free 55th Floor gallery of the IFC Tower!

Over the course of several bus tours and self guided tours, we’ve taken in a pretty good chunk of the city. One of the great things about this trip has been being able to make connections. We were surprised to see that the “Occupy Wall Street” movement is apparently alive and well beneath the HSBC Bank building in central Hong Kong. There is a public space beneath the bank’s giant tower, reputed to be Hong Kong’s best architectural example of feng shui, that apparently has been bereft of campers and protestors since October. A movement is underway to kick them out, but it is kinda cool to see what was happening all over America also in play in the middle of Hong Kong.

Speaking of banking, we’ve also found that Hong Kong hasn’t been the most inexpensive city, but it hasn’t been as costly as we expected a giant metropolis to be either. We’ve stumbled across some meals that are full of flavor, quick, cheap and no frills just the way we like it. But the (large) beers continually run us about seven dollars a pop. The only exception is during evening Happy Hours and in the outdoor markets where there are an abundance of deals to be found. In this weather, it is hard to resist a nice, cold beer in the middle of sight seeing during a hot day. We’ll keep looking for the perfect dive bar!

The famed Peninsula Hotel!Cost is all relative, I suppose, and flashy businessmen can be seen everywhere.The central neighborhood on Hong Kong Island is a spectacular mesh of glass and steel buildings banking, commerce, company headquarters and high quality hotels. It’s remarkable. There appears to be no end to the number of five star hotels. NEXT time, we will book a room at The Peninsula or the Ritz Carlton…or the Intercontinental! But that’s just one section of town. The culture here is a brilliant blend of 150 years of British colonial rule mixed with with an old Chinese City. The result is a mixed ethnicity, langauge and amusing juxtaposition like a Baptist church next to a market with fresh duck hanging in the window. One of our favorite common sites is buildings under construction with workers climbing on scaffolding…made of bamboo!

Bamboo Scaffolding could be found on buildings everywhere!

Bamboo Scaffolding could be found on buildings everywhere!

Hong Kong as seen from central with the HK's tallest building in the backgroundBeyond Hong Kong, as we continue to expand our world view, it’s been good to see that some things are universal. A bride in Cincinnati looks pretty identical to a bride in Guangzhou, there are lines at the post office no matter where we go, drunk 19 year-olds at a Hotel bar in Hong Kong act a lot like drunk 19 year olds in the states. My personal favorite is that the tired businessman who kept leaning on me while falling asleep on the subway in Tokyo reminded me a lot of the tired businessman who kept leaning on me while falling asleep in NYC.

And there are some shops we’ve found that are ubiquitous in any city. No matter where we’ve gone so far, we can count on seeing plenty of 7-11s (which have come in quite handy), Starbucks and McDonalds. Our one regret? We might have bought our souvenir set of Chopsticks too soon. Every other shop is selling an interesting set of chopsticks. It’s funny because when you are in the states, you never see stores falling over themselves to sell forks. I can’t wait to see what new experiences Vietnam brings. Onward!

–Phil

One of our favorite buildings- The twin Lippo Centre which are said to look like

One of our favorite buildings- The twin Lippo Centre which are said to look like Koala Bears climbing the building!

Brooke trying very hard to just get a dang spoon from the counter person at 7-11

Phil getting some food from the 7-11 – A surprisingly great place to get a quick bite

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Categories: China, City Visits, Destinations, Differences, Discounts, Random Thoughts, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Beyond Hong Kong’s City Center

Last night in Hong KongToday was our last full day in Hong Kong, so rather than stay in the center of the city as we have been, we decided to get out and see something a bit different. With our Big Bus Tour passes from yesterday, we were able to get out and see another side of this lovely city-state.

We got up nice and early to make the most of the day and in hopes that we might beat the heat a bit (no real luck there).  We climbed aboard the Star Ferry which took us over to Hong Kong Island.  From there, we boarded the open-air Big Bus and began our journey away from downtown.  It took a while for us to get out of the city center, since traffic here is quite thick.  However, once we passed through an immensely long tunnel, we could feel the difference almost immediately.  Sure, there are still giant buildings, but fewer people and there was generally a more remote vibe.

Great tour bus!One of the first things to catch our eye was this amazing amusement park called Ocean Park, which has the coolest roller coaster we have ever seen.  Because land here is at a premium, the amusement park bought two different pieces of land on either side of a huge hill.  The two sections are connected by a super-long gondola which looked very scary to me.  The awesome part though was this twisting and turning roller coaster on the side of the hill overlooking the South China Sea.  That must have some of the best views of any roller coaster in the world (granted, it is so hazy here right now that they probably can’t see much of anything).  We didn’t want to take the time do an amusement park, and I have a tendency to vomit when riding such roller coasters, but it looks like an awesome time for people who are into that kind of thing.

As we wound our way through narrow roads along the coast of the South China Sea’s Repulse Bay and Deep Water Bay, we heard tales of the many rich and famous people who have vacationed here over the years.  There have been a couple of famous movies filmed here including “Love is a many Splendored Thing” and it soon became clear that this area is a playground for the wealthy.  Perhaps it was the beach-side Ferrari dealership that gave it away or it could have been the Lamborghini we saw driving past us.  Either way, it is clear these beaches provide a nice getaway for people living in Hong Kong who need a bit of respite.  If we were here longer, we would have definitely spent some time swimming and lounging on the beach.

A view of the seaThe next beach town we came to was Stanley, famous for its huge Stanley Market.  We had heard this was a great stop, so we decided to hop off the bus and see what we could.  The market spread across several blocks, twisting and turning like a maze.  As with all of these, there are lots of items that repeat themselves and you can find in any market in Hong Kong.  However, there were also handmade crafts, beautiful clothiers and handmade jewelry.  Phil found lots of toys to play with and was especially impressed by the remote-control car that could climb up a wall.  We found a few little tokens to buy here, but I could tell Phil was starting to lose interest in shopping after about an hour, so we hopped back on the bus and left Stanley.

Our final stop on the bus tour was probably the coolest.  We were dropped in historic Aberdeen, a town which used to be primarily a fishing village, it still houses many people making their living in this way.  It has been known for centuries as the home to a group of people called Tanka (which is now considered an inappropriate word and instead they are called “Boat People”).  These people have lived their lives as fisherman, living on junks in the water.  Over the years, the government has tried to get them to move out of the bay, but there are still several who live here.  As part of our tour, we got the opportunity to ride a Sampan, a flat-bottomed wooden boat.  We puttered through the harbor,  saw a huge floating restaurant called “Jumbo’s” and looked at boats that range from resembling mansions and some which resemble shanties.  The financial paradox is overwhelmingly clear and really fascinating.  We could tell there were still many people who make their homes on these boats, but we also saw a number of people who are just making their living as fisherman.  It is fun to think about their catch today going on the table of a local restaurant tonight.

Riding on the Sampan

Exhausted from riding in the blazing sun all day, we decided it was time for a break.  After a good rest in our air-conditioned room, we headed out for a final night in Hong Kong.  We found an awesome bar called Castro’s, the first bar in Asia to really feel like our kind of place.  Friendly bartenders, small but not overcrowded, with delicious draft beer.  Hanging out here, looking down on the neon-filled streets below, and rehashing all that we’ve learned and experienced while being here was the perfect punctuation mark for our visit.  We are a little sad to leave Hong Kong because we could easily spend a ton of time here, but alas we must travel onward.  Tomorrow, Vietnam!


–Brooke

Itty-bitty beer

Drinking a half-pint of Stella with dinner. It’s so little!

The busy streets

Even late into the evening, the streets in Hong Kong are bustling with people.

In Aberdeen Harbor

Here is a traditional Sampan which fishermen use daily. It isn’t the steadiest of boats, but it can turn on a dime!

Categories: China, City Visits, Customs, Destinations, Diversions, Exploring, Landmarks, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Hong Kong

Cool Neon SignsDespite our many miscommunications and all efforts to the contrary, we managed to get on the right bus heading for Hong Kong!  Yay, off to experience a new part of China…technically.  It certainly does not feel like we are still in China.  Our first clue that Hong Kong would be different from Guangzhou was when we were required to go through customs and immigration.  No, Hong Kong is not under British control any longer.  It hasn’t been since 1997, however we had to wait in line for over an hour, fill out forms, get our passports inspected and then stamped in order to get in.  It was one of the most complex border crossings we have experienced yet, especially considering we didn’t really cross a border.

Hong Kong is a big place, but when discussing the city of Hong Kong, it really has two parts to it–the Hong Kong Island side and the Kowloon side.  We are staying on the Kowloon side, in the heart of it all.  This is as close to feeling like the middle of Times Square as I have felt on our trip thus far.  We are surrounded by stores, bars and a slew of restaurants.  When we walk down the street, we are approached every 15 seconds by a guy trying to sell us designer suits, watches and handbags.  It certainly isn’t a place I would want to live or even visit for too long, but it is really convenient being in the center of it all.  The Hong Kong Island side is the center for business and industry.  The skyline is filled with mammoth buildings, each one more impressive than the next, touting their company name in bold neon lights.  Every major bank and brand you can imagine has a spot on its waterfront, from HSBC to Hyundai.  It is a short ferry ride from Kowloon and it rivals New York City in its visual spectacle of high rises and well-dressed business people.

Bargains,, BargainsThese two sides of Hong Kong are part of what gives it a really awesome vibe.  It is urban and chic, with high-end shopping that overshadows 5th Avenue any day of the week.  But, at the same time it feels like an old city holding onto its traditions.  The Kowloon side is known for its markets, where vendors sell everything from knock-off handbags to high-end electronics.  As you might expect, nothing has a price marked and everything is negotiable.  While walking through the Night Market, Phil saw a set of bowls he liked and when he asked the price, the lady told him they were $165 Hong Kong Dollars (about $22 USD).  I immediately said that was too much and then the bargaining began.  She said she’d give them to us for $150.  When we walked away and said we had to think about it, she grabbed Phil, handed him a calculator and said, “How much?  How much you want?”  Phil punched in 100, figuring she’d say no.  It took her a minute, but she said yes.  I then began to dig through my wallet only to discover we only had $81 HKD.  We told her we didn’t have enough, so she asked if we had any American money.  We told her we didn’t and said we’d come back.  As we began to walk away, she shook her head, sighed heavily and said, “Okay.”  We were a little shocked.  We couldn’t believe that our lack of cash led to half-price bowls.  If only we had planned it that way we might be considered keen negotiators.  Oh well, we’ll take it!

As you might imagine, a city with so much to offer is packed with tourists.  In fact, this is probably the most touristy city we’ve visited thus far.  That suits us fine, and it is really interesting to see all kinds of people and hear a dozen different languages being spoken in the span of 20 minutes.  We are engaging in typical tourist activities, while also trying to involve ourselves with some locals.  The best way we’ve found to do this is by talking with the people at our hostel, Hop Inn.  They live and work in Hong Kong and have given us really excellent suggestions on local cuisine and places to get away from the tourists.  They led us to our two favorite meals we’ve had in a while, and we found ourselves smiling when we were in the equivalent to a New York City diner, curt manager and all.  It kind of felt like home.  As for the local fare, they love their instant noodles and bread.  My god, we have eaten so much bread we are turning into dough balls.  I never associated Chinese food with bread, but they love it here.  We had a hot buttered roll, drenched with sweetened condensed milk this morning.  Amazing.  I think  I’ll be bringing that idea back with me!

Hong Kong Big Bus tourWe ended our day with an hour-long bus tour of the Kowloon side of Hong Kong.  At 7pm it was only 90 degrees, much more tolerable than the heat of day.  It was easy to forget our sweaty thighs as we cruised through the city.  The streets, with neon signs hanging everywhere, are truly like something off a movie set.  It is exactly what you picture in your mind when you think of Hong Kong.  The tour ended with us on the waterfront, watching the nightly light display.  The skyscrapers on the shoreline dance with lights and beam lasers into the night sky set in time with music.  It was quite a vision–really spectacular.  Tomorrow we continue to discover Hong Kong Island by heading out to the countryside, going to Stanley Market and maybe even visiting a fishing village.  Phil also wants to head to Macau, but I’d hate for him to lose all of our money trying his hand at some Chinese table game he’s never played.  Well, maybe he’ll have beginners luck!

–Brooke

Ferry with Hong Kong's Tallest Building in the background

One of several ferries found in Victoria Harbor with Hong Kong’s Tallest Building in the background

Statue of Hong Kong's favorite son: Bruce Lee

Statue of Hong Kong’s favorite son: Bruce Lee

Spectacular Tokyo Skyline at Night

Spectacular Hong Kong Skyline at Night

Categories: China, City Visits, Customs, Discounts, Eating, Exploring, Landmarks, Uncategorized, Unusual Experiences | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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