Hong Kong is our eighth international trip in ten months – and last for the year. For some strange reason, this trip takes on a vibe akin to the ‘Hangover’ – we are, apparently, in a party kind of mood.
Staying in Central, we are extremely…….well, central…. to fabulous bars and restaurants. Even better is our proximity to the central–mid-levels escalator, the longest outdoor covered escalator system in the world. The entire system covers over 800 metres (2,600 ft) in distance and elevates over 135 metres (443 ft) from bottom to top. It was constructed in 1993 to provide a better commute by linking areas within the Central and Western District on Hong Kong Island. This means you can ride up the hill to the bars and stagger back down to your hotel.
A DAY WITH LAURA THE EXPLORER
With only four days in the city, we book a local expat (Laura the Explorer as we came to call her from Hello Hong Kong) to take us on a personalised walking tour of interesting nooks and crannies. Laura does not disappoint.
Starting at the Graham Street Wet Market in Central (the oldest in the city and unfortunately about to be demolished to make way for development), we make our way to Lan Fong Yuen on Gage Street to try Yin Yang. This is a milk tea (made with evaporated milk) mixed with coffee. Great for those of us who can’t make up our mind.
We wander along Hollywood Road from here and discover great little parks tucked away behind the street, and where old men play cards and mah-jong under the shade of large trees. We also find the quaint Man Mo temple.
From here, we head down onto Des Veoux Road West to Lin Heung Kui Tea House for Yum Cha. This is one of the oldest – and now one of the few – still serving Yum Cha from trolleys.
Walking along Wing Lok Street, we learn about certain food delicacies in the shops, like bird’s nests, shark fins and dried seafood. I had always thought that the bird nests you find in Chinese cooking was made of deep fried noodles. Not so. It is actually made from the saliva of the bird and are about $500+ per small nest. Gross just moved to a whole other level.
If you are seeking bona-fide antiques and genuine trinkets, the Cat Street market on Upper Lascar Row is the place. We spy a 1917 telescope on our journey that we return for on Saturday.
Walking down and around the back of the old Victoria Prison (also now under development), we munch on egg tarts from Tai Cheong Bakery as we make our way onto Wyndham Street and to the Peak Tram. I had no idea it climbs the hill at such an acute angle. The view from the top is spectacular though and a must-do in Hong Kong.
Via Ice House Street, we make our way to the Financial District. It is here that all the streets are cordoned off with barricades and around 50 protestors are camped out; down in numbers from the week before but clearly not budging.
It is rather surreal to walk major city streets with no vehicles. Climbing barricades, we make our way to the Admiralty protest site. More are based here, although nothing like the numbers we’d seen on the news the week before. (By Friday night, however, the numbers have swelled again to fill the entire area).
We then take the MTR to Tsim Sha Tsui (TST) on Kowloon for a walk through the Chung King Mansions, a building located at 36-44 Nathan Road. The building is well known to tourists as nearly the cheapest accommodation in Hong Kong. Though the building is supposedly residential, it is made up of many independent low-budget hotels, shops and other services.
Chungking Mansions features guesthouses, curry restaurants, African bistros, clothing shops, sari stores, and foreign exchange offices. It often acts as a large gathering place for some of the ethnic minorities in Hong Kong, particularly South Asians (Indians, Nepalese, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans), Middle Eastern people, Nigerians, Europeans and Americans. Peter Shadbolt of CNN once stated that the complex was the “unofficial African quarter of Hong Kong”.
The building was completed in 1961, at which time Chinese residents predominated. Now, after more than five decades of use, there is an estimated 4,000 people living in the Mansions. Because the building is not owned by one entity or person, there appears no coordinated approach to its maintenance and structure. A walk along the side alley way quickly indicates it would not pass an international safety inspection and I would be damn wary of booking a room for fear of fire!
By this stage, it’s around 3.00pm and Laura asks if we’d like to head to the Eyebar on the top floor of the iSquare shopping centre. She’s clearly getting to know us quite well. The view to the other side is fabulous as we sip beers and bubbles.
A quick peek inside The Peninsula Hotel and onto the Star ferry back to Central.
Meeting our friend, Dean Aslin, for drinks at 5.00pm then kicks off a rather big night. We make our way up the travelator to Peak Café, a very moody, dim-lit bar with a Parisienne feel, where we squeeze out all we can of happy hour till 8.00pm.
By now I am ticking along quite nicely, so by the time we land at our next bar and discover Linda from France, I’m up for practicing all the French I know. She must have been impressed 😉 because, before I know it, we’re swapping email addresses, becoming Facebook friends, taking photos together and I’m insisting she must come stay with us. As you do.
Dinner is at the Argentinian Grill. A huge slab of beef that sliced like butter. Pure heaven for those of us that don’t get red meat very often.
We finish at midnight with a one hour foot and leg massage in some dodgy upstairs room in a side alley.
Suffice to say, we aren’t well the next day. Our feet feel great, our heads hurt.
We decide a seafood lunch by the ocean is the perfect way to spend a lazy day, so off to Lamma Island on the ferry (from Pier 4) we go.
Thirty minutes later we arrive at an island that reminds us a great deal of Bali. Lots of seafood restaurants and small shops along the main drag.
Unfortunately, we choose Sapan Seafood Restaurant (almost the first one you come across from the ferry) and it is ORDINARY. We are later told that there are two areas on the island – where we were and another around further, where you will find much nicer restaurants.
FROM DISCOVERY BAY TO LAN KWAI FONG
Our final day is all about the night.
When you take the ferry from Pier 3 in Central to Discovery Bay, it’s perfectly normal, apparently, to have a drink at the small bar and take one on the ride. When in Rome we say!
We meet our friends, Dean and Kait Aslin at Discovery Bay where their fabulous (and huge) boat is moored. Dean and Kait are both from Mount Gambier and Dean and I went to school together.
After an impressive tour of their floating digs, we sip French bubbles on the top deck and watch the sun set over the horizon.
A ferry ride back across the pond to Hong Kong Island (again, with a drink purchase from the bar at the terminal) sees us back in the centre of bars and restaurants. We have a bottle of bubbles at Flutes champagne bar before dinner at a fabulous Chinese restaurant across the street, Chong King Szechuan (Elgin Street). We learn that Dean and Kait are rather popular and well known in these parts which means we are welcomed with open arms and kisses, and the unfinished bottle from across the street can travel with us to the restaurant. A meal of dumplings, Peking duck, prawns and beef follows.
Rounding the corner, Kait stops us in front of four folding doors shrouded by curtains. No sign and no indication of what is behind said doors. A discussion with a rather mean looking Chinese lady follows. We are told to wait five minutes.
When the doors open and four people come out, we are allowed to enter. Suddenly, we’ve found ourselves in what can only be described as a 1920’s French boudoir with fire place, chandeliers and about enough room for fifty people only. There are two girls behind the bar producing the most spectacular cocktails I’ve ever seen in my life. Large glasses coated in chocolate filled with strawberry and banana boozy goodness. It’s like drinking a cherry ripe and crème brulee. I have one of each.
The most amusing element however is the fact that we are told, when we enter, to speak softly inside. Now, anyone who knows me, knows that this is actually a genetic impossibility. I come from a long line of loud talkers. Add alcohol to the mix and I’m already seeing myself being booted to the curb after a short time ‘on the inside’.
Once inside, about every five minutes or so, a patron will start ‘shushing’ which catches on with the crowd so that everyone is doing it, and then we all lull into silence. For about five minutes. After that, the mean looking madam at the front door wanders through the crowd making hand gestures to keep the noise level down. We’re guessing it was to avoid complaints from residents living above the bar, but either way, it makes for one hell of an amusing way to drink a cocktail. I wasn’t sure if we’d entered the twilight zone or a cult.
The place is called Feather Boas, but good luck finding it. No signage, no photos and basically no record of us being there. Oh, and I think you need some magic card to show at the door to get in.
It only seems natural then that we make our way to Lan Kwai Fong, or party central. This is where hundreds of people from bars spill out onto the street, 1970’s and 80’s music is blaring, people are dancing on tables and jelly shots are the drink of choice.
I think all three of us did jelly shots off Rob’s head whilst ‘We Built This City on Rock and Roll’ played. Actually, I’m sure, but it is about this time that I start to lose track.
Before I know it, we’re back in the room and the fire alarm is going off. There is no connection between Lan Kwai Fong and the alarm.
Rob somehow manages to get dressed and confirm there is no fire. I stay in bed with a pillow over my head.
It goes without saying that we didn’t do nearly enough sightseeing. This just means we have to go back.
TIPS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
- Buy an oyster card (from deli’s, the airport or train stations). You can use this on trains, buses, ferries and to buy supplies from the 7/11.
- We stayed at The Butterfly on Wellington – not the flashiest hotel but it’s all about the location. Our toilet didn’t flush and the hairdryer didn’t work unless I sat on the floor, but really…..who cares? You are in Hong Kong. Why would you be in a hotel room?
- Book Laura from Hello Hong Kong for your tour (or any of the others she has on offer on her web page). Not only does Laura take you on a really interesting, highly personalised tour but she will send you details on recommended bars, restaurants, markets and other things to see and do. Her emails were so meticulously detailed (including photos, bus and train numbers) that I could simply add it all here. But then, that would be cheating and robbing you of the pleasure of her company on tour. Highly recommended!
- Make a trip to SuperCity in the International Financial Centre (and where the Central MTR is). Harrods has nothing on this supermarket. I have, quite simply, never seen a grocery store like it. They have everything from escargots to Linda McCartney’s vegetarian range and every organic and gluten free product in between. You know you are a deprived Korean expat when you end up spending more time and money in the grocery store than anywhere else in Hong Kong.
- The men and women look like they’ve stepped out of catalogues. I have never seen so many good looking and well-dressed people in one concentrated area. You’ve been warned. Pack your ‘good stuff’.