While living in Asia, I certainly want to take advantage of the proximity to major Asian cities. I had the chance to visit many places in Japan and Bangkok and Koh Samui, Shanghai, Taipei, Bali, and most recently Hong Kong. When you can take a long weekend and visit a place that is otherwise so far away from the US, you have to take advantage of it. Unfortunately, the airfare doesnâ€™t seem to mirror the relative proximity, but oh well.
Tomo and I decided to visit Hong Kong before summer and while our schedules kind of allowed a trip there. I was very busy prior to going so I had little time to do research. Luckily Tomo had some time. I had been to Hong Kong before, so I had a general idea of what to see and where to go. Tomo had the restaurants picked out. And the sites. As a side note, if you can read Japanese, ALWAYS get a Japanese guide book. They seem to be done so differently than an English language book and their recommendations have rarely been a letdown.
Tomo flew in from Tokyo and I flew in from Nagoya and we met at the Hong Kong airport. And for those of you that remember the amazing approach into the airport â€“ thatâ€™s no longer the case. The airport moved a while ago, and so now it is a pretty mundane approach to Lantau Island, and then a train into the center of Hong Kong.
Our hotel was centrally located at Pacific Place near Admiralty metro station, so we were in good shape location wise. Also, our flights arrived early enough that check in was timed perfectly and we had an afternoon and evening ahead of us. We planned a skeleton of an itinerary that included walking to Man Mo Temple, around SoHo (South of Hollywood) for some good local food, and then back to The Peak Tram for a night view of the city. Havenâ€™t I said that the journey is more interesting than the destination? Well, we never quite made it to the temple on the first day.
As soon as we left the hotel I was reminded how Hong Kong Island is a maze of multilevel walkways, roadways, and people movers. Of course, there is an entire area known as the mid-levels which are halfway up to Victoria Peak. So we were a little bit up and down for awhile, incidently passing many of the places I had visited before.
I was quite happy, because these were areas I wanted to see again. We wandered through the edge of Hong Kong Park, past the High Court, along Queenâ€™s Road Central, then kind of accidently to Hong Kong Station (where, quite honestly, we had a bit on an air-conditioned respite from the heat). We played on the mid-levels tramway for a bit, riding up to somewhere close to Hollywood Road, and then we wandered through the markets, looked at Pottinger Street, and found some delicious food as had been Tomoâ€™s real reason for going to Hong Kong! We never actually made it to the temple.
Modern Hong Kong.
Mixing the old with the new, bamboo scaffolding on modern buildings.
Taking the tmid-levels tramway up to Hollywood Road with some of the fading buildings of previous modernity.
Hong Kong still mixes in images that seem unchanged in 40 years.
Just like in Shanghai, our first day food choices were excellent. Unlike Shanghai, I had no stomach problems. Our first highly recommended (from the Japanese guide book) stop was a shop specializing in Won Ton soups. It is amazing to me that, only through a map in a book, we could find this one specific restaurant in a country where we donâ€™t speak the language. It shouldnâ€™t be that amazing, really, but it is. The soup was excellent.
While we were wandering around the markets, Tomo stumbled across another of our destinations. I have no idea of the name of the shop, but after we had our soup we headed to this shop for some pork. It wasnâ€™t hard to forget that we were eating pork because we had dead pigs hanging all around us.
The pork was delicious, although the skin was a little too crispy for me. The hotel club lounge concierge that we saw a couple of times was shocked that we â€œreally went local.â€ I enjoy eating good, local cuisine. Is it any different than eating at El Terasco in downtown El Segundo? Probably not.
Finally, Tomo wanted an egg tart and so we went there as well. It was good as well. Of course. I only had a bite, but it was a delicious bite.
We meandered along Hollywood Road and somehow I knew it would take us to The Peak Tram. Or at least the general direction. Hollywood Road is full of Expat bars, so there were a lot of loud, drunk, expats along the way. I did notice so many more foreigners than in Japan. It seems of course that there are many in Japan, but not like Hong Kong. Even Tokyo doesnâ€™t compare.
Last time I was in Hong Kong, I went up to Victoria Peak via the Peak Tram. It is a must-do in Hong Kong as far as Iâ€™m concerned, although of course it has been tacky-fied with a wax museum at the top. I guess I have a thing against wax, museumsâ€¦ Iâ€™ve never been to one. The tram track can be amazingly steep, and the car or seats are leveled. So before you know it, you see these buildings towering next to you in the mid-levels that are at a completely unbelieveable angle. The buildings, of course, are straight up, but the tram is at an amazing angle.
It seems theyâ€™ve built the worldâ€™s largest giftshop at the top of the tram, known as the â€œSky Terrace.â€ The Sky Terrace was built in 2007, so it wasnâ€™t around the first time I was in Hong Kong. I prefer the area without the Sky Terrace, but I guess there is money to be made. The view though, did not disappoint, and we could look out over Hong Kong Island over to Kowloon. Interestingly, looking across the harbor to Kowloon, it seemed that the new 118 story International Commerce Center was actually taller than The Peak. I wonderâ€¦
There was quite a queue to go back on the tram, so we lounged a bit in a very expensive bar. But, since we were used to Japanese prices, it didnâ€™t seem so expensive! We made it back to the hotel with a full day behind us.
The next day I wanted to do a little shopping. I had discovered what so many foreigners learn â€“ my clothes were becoming rags. All the walking back and forth to trains had started to rub worn spots on my pants. And I noticed that my pockets were starting to fray as well. Not very cool. We went to the shopping area below our hotel, but the brands were all a little too pricey for me. Tomo thought we could go to Times Square, but when we got there found out that the Ben Sherman, which is always a good bet for me, had closed. That was basically a bust. We had Dim Sum reservations, so we decided to take the subway because it seemed that it was just below the mall. Except â€¦ it wasnâ€™t. Beware in Hong Kong of signs that point you to the subway. You could have a hike ahead.
After the relative failure in the morning, Dim Sum was a hit. I negated the Shark Finâ€™s Soup on morale grounds. That was unpopular but the only real point of contention during lunch.
After Dim Sum, we decided to take the tram, or Ting-Ting. Tomo knew from his guide that the fare was $2 HK, or about 0.25 USD. We had exact change. Except, three days prior the fare had gone up to $2.30. We didnâ€™t have exact change. The Octopus Card works on the tram, so we went to the subway station and paid $300 HK for two Octopus Cards. Thatâ€™s an expensive tram ride. The Octopus Card would cause some discord by the end of the trip, but it all worked out, except for $14 HK.
We took the tram almost as far as we thought it could go. We were expecting it to round a corner, but an old man yelled at us, basically telling us it was the end of the line. It was. We walked around the dried food area like in Taipei except this time Tomo went away empty handed. Apparently we passed the scrap metal area as well.
We knew we were close to the Man Mo Temple on Hollywood Road, so we started heading in the general direction. I had been to a similar temple in Kowloon and have the picture hanging in my house.
I know we are not supposed to take pictures in the temple but I saw some other guy doing it and he was Asian so I figured it was OK. Iâ€™m going to have some karma point withdrawals now. I hope I had enough in reserve.
We did a little more shopping, or more appropriately we failed in our shopping attempt and then headed back to the hotel to rest a bit before embarking on a harbor cruise. The harbor was a bit of a tourist trap, but an enjoyable one. Hong Kong has a light show at 8:00 pm, and it was amazingly underwhelming. But we watched it from the boat. We got to cruise, drink, and enjoy the lights of Hong Kong. I was able to get some pictures from it.
Tomo has turned into a hotel snob. I can be partially blamed for it, but his work has also introduced him to nice hotels. So when we got off the boat in Kowloon and headed to the Peninsula Hotel. Not bad. We wandered up Nathan Road deep into the heart of Kowloon. Our destination was a restaurant off of Canton Road, and we probably went a little too far because someoneâ€™s feet got a little cranky. Not mine. The restaurant was OK, probably the only disappointing food in Hong Kong. We probably ordered poorly. Interestingly the same restaurant is in Tokyo and very expensive. Hopefully the food is better. At 10 pm though, the place was packed with people of all ages.
As part of Tomoâ€™s hotel snobbery, he really wanted to stay at the brand new Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong. Not only the Ritz-Carlton, but the club floor of the Ritz-Carlton. That basically meant a total relaxation day would be in store. Through a special offer, we were even able to get an upgrade to a Junior Suite. Sweet.
The hotel is atop the brand new International Commerce Centre. And by atop, I mean floors 103 to 118 of a 118 story building. For those of you keeping track of tall buildings, thatâ€™s tall! Weâ€™ve now been toTaipei 101, the Shanghai World Financial Center, Rockefeller Center, and the Empire State Building. But Iâ€™ve never fallen asleep so high. Ha ha. The room was great on the 117th, and Herve took very good care of us at the club lounge. The weather was rather rainy and that was just fine â€“ even a better excuse to stay in the hotel. Of course, having to go down 117 floors does discourage you from freely coming and going.
The pool and fitness center were on the 118th floor, and the view from the pool was spectacular. Plus, they had an outdoor heated Jacuzzi. It was not unconformtable to sit outside in the rain on the 118th floor enjoying a bath of hot water. Sort of like a mountain top rotenburo.
I was able to find some summer pants that fit me. Thanks to Calvin Klein for suggesting that I have a 30 inch waist. Thatâ€™s the size of pants I was able to buy, and amazing that all their pants were 34 length. I guess a tailor is cheap in Hong Kong. They fit me quite well though.
The next day, we checked out around 12:30 pm, headed to the airport, and then back to the grind.
It was a nice vacation, a great mix of hustling and relaxing.