Hong Kong is everything people said it would be, and more. It’s the physical definition of a cultural melting pot, seamlessly blending both Canton and Western cultures and identities whilst simultaneously teeming with more people than a place of its size should feasibly be able to contain. It’s a place where colossal skyscrapers tower over colonial legacies, where traditional temples and Starbucks sit side by side.
For now though, let’s rewind (a few weeks and several time zones) to the moment Laurence and I stepped out of Hong Kong International Airport and were hit by a wave of intense heat and humidity. Only twelve hours or so before, we’d been giggling hysterically at my mum’s attempts to take a photo of us prior to departure (she was inadvertently using my phone to take selfies). In the intervening hours, I’d watched The Dressmaker (a little too dragged out for my liking, but enjoyable nevertheless), eaten crisps at ridiculous o’ clock and closely resembled a nodding dog as I tried to drift off to sleep. In any case, back to the humidity: feeling like you’re walking around in an outdoor sauna is essentially what you get when you travel to Asia in summer. But it’s worth it, and over the course of the next few months I’ll attempt to show you why, complete with pictures, anecdotes and hilarious lost-in-translation moments.
Hong Kong International Airport is infinitely more efficient than London’s Heathrow. Scratch that – all British airports. We landed just past 7am and, courtesy of previously unheard of airport efficiency and a speedy ride on the A43 bus, arrived on the doorstep of Laurence’s gran’s house in Sheung Shui a mere two hours later. Keen to avoid falling victim to jetlag, we plunged headfirst into a busy day.
After breakfasting with Laurence’s gran at a bustling dim sum restaurant in Sheung Shui, Laurence and I took the MTR to Tsim Sha Tsui (commonly abbreviated to ‘TST’). From there, it was only a short walk to Kowloon Park: a peaceful and, more importantly, shaded oasis in the heart of Kowloon. Home to a plethora of little terrapins, dusty pink flamingos and black-necked swans, this was the perfect spot to escape the blistering midday sun.
Feeling a little weary – from either the heat or the time difference – we scouted out the McDonalds stall and came away with a Fanta Freeze (think Fanta in slushy form) and a Philippine Mango and Oreo McFlurry, which Laurence swore was the best McFlurry going until Japan’s Banana Tart McFlurry came on the scene a few weeks later. Wandering through the park we passed groves of banyan trees (which have branches resembling tree roots), more turtles and a pretty pagoda before leaving the park and making our way towards the waterfront.
En route, we ventured into a picturesque plaza, overlooked by 1881 Heritage. The centrepiece was an utterly enormous ice cream sculpture – visitors could prop themselves up at the oversized ice cream bar, or clamber into an ice cream tea cup. Needless to say, being 21st century Peter Pans, we wasted no time in doing both the above.
The Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade affords spectacular views of Victoria Harbour, stretching from the colonial-era Clock Tower (formerly part of the Kowloon-Canton Railway terminus, which was demolished in the 1970s) to Hung Hom, at the end of the East Rail Line.
After taking in the view from the Kowloon side, we decided to take a ride over to Central on the world-famous Star Ferry. Opened in 1888, the Star Ferry has been carrying passengers across the harbour for over a hundred years – and it’s arguably Hong Kong’s best-value attraction, at only HK$2.50 (25p) a pop. The views – of both Hong Kong Island and Kowloon – from the Star Ferry are nothing short of breath-taking; National Geographic doesn’t rate the journey as one of 50 ‘places of a lifetime’ for nothing.
Disembarking at Central Pier, we continued past the Hong Kong Observation Wheel and found ourselves in Statue Square, bordered by the Former Legislative Council Building. Though dwarfed by the neighbouring skyscrapers, this was one of my favourite buildings in Hong Kong – aesthetically at least, since we didn’t go inside. As the afternoon wore on, we began to feel the after-effects of our long-haul flight and headed back over to TST in search of a dessert café. We opted for a ‘jumbo pomelo and mango with sago’ to share (essentially a coconut milk-esque dessert, piled high with fruit and topped off with a scoop of ice cream) and Laurence had a deep-fried durian pastry, which strongly resembled mozzarella. It smelt utterly revolting, and he avoided them thereafter!
On the MTR back to Sheung Shui we could barely keep our eyes open and were nodding off standing up – but that didn’t stop us from detouring via Maxim’s for an assortment of birthday cakes for Laurence, before heading home to Laurence’s gran’s for a delicious home-cooked meal of roast pork, steamed fish, fried fish and vegetables.
- If you’re staying in Hong Kong for a few days or more, consider investing in an Octopus card. They work like London’s Oyster card, can be topped up at 7-Elevens and used on the MTR, buses and the Star Ferry, and avoid the faff of digging around in your pockets for the exact fare. More information can be found here.
- Some branches of Maxim’s offer 20% off when you purchase 4 slices; most MTR stations have a branch. Needless to say, we took advantage of this offer on a few occasions!