Hong Kong: Tourist Addition
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Hong Kong, the most famous, worldly place in all of Asia, the business hub of the east, and the place where lots of my fellow expat friends go to unwind and take a break from the “real China”, is just an hour ferry ride away. It is a place of contradictions: bustling city, world class restaurants, and designer shopping malls clash with serene mountains filled with beautiful hiking trails, pristine beaches, and traditional Chinese culture. After living in Zhuhai for a year and hearing all of these wonderful sentiments about this place, that is a China expat’s paradise, I had never actually been there to explore it for myself…until now!
For those of you who may be confused about my previous statement regarding Hong Kong not being the “real China”, looking on the map thinking, it says it’s part of China, it’s the same color as China, looks like China to me from the pictures…ha, ha, ha. No. Just completely and unequivocally no. When we stepped off the ferry terminal, and into a taxi to get to our hostel, the taxi driver, miraculously, spoke English (WHAT?!?!). What crazy world have I stepped into where they actually speak English in China, certainly no place I have ever experienced before. Not only do they speak English, but they don’t speak Mandarin (the common language of mainland China), they don’t even understand it, in fact they speak a different Chinese language: Cantonese. As someone who is conversationally fluent in Mandarin, let me tell you, they are mutually unintelligible languages. If someone comes up to me and starts talking in Cantonese, it sounds to me like they are speaking in some ancient Indian tribal chant and I don’t understand one word. Mandarin? English? Nope, ok, I’m just gonna nod, smile, and walk away now.
Next, we arrive at our hostel, check in, set our bags down, and then head off to find some lunch. As we walk down the street, one sound, one completely disgusting and unfortunately all too normal sound for me, is absent: hawking. And by hawking I mean this utterly lip curling guttural sound of people conjuring up huge wads of spit from their throats and spitting it out onto the sidewalk, road, bathroom floor, wherever, I just don’t even look at the bottom of my shoes nowadays. There are actually signs banning hawking in Hong Kong, they passed a law that made it illegal to spit (thank you Hong Kong!) thanks, no doubt, to all the mainland Chinese people visiting Hong Kong dirtying up the place.
Our hostel was within walking distance of several western restaurants, crazy considering there’s only a handful in the entire city of Zhuhai, and we sat down for lunch at this great little Italian place that actually made real, good, Italian food. What a concept! The western restaurants where we live in Zhuhai certainly leave something to be desired. Fat and happy we set off on a walk through the city. Our destination was The Peak Tram, but my senses were so enthralled with Hong Kong that I probably could have spent our entire time there just walking the streets, looking in shops, and eating lots of yummy international food, but, like any good tourist in Hong Kong, we waited in line with probably close to a hundred other people to take the tram up to Victoria Peak.
Victoria Peak is the highest mountain peak in the city center, and from the top offers amazing views of the unique Hong Kong skyline. You know that typical picture of Hong Kong that always comes up on Google when you search “Hong Kong”? That’s taken from Victoria Peak. Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperating with us for good views as it was super cloudy/foggy/smoggy the two days we were there, which, to be honest, is typical winter weather in this part of the world. It was also, unseasonably cold on the island, so after walking around outside and snapping some photos, we opted to hang out inside at the Pacific Coffee to warm up and enjoy the view out the window. And to answer your lingering question, yes, in typical China style, they have built a small shopping mall on top of the mountain. But hey, how often does your shopping and dining experience have views over the Hong Kong skyline?
While sitting enjoying our coffee with a view, Jess got a firsthand look into the ridiculous selfie culture in China. A woman, sitting right next to the window which offered amazing panoramic views of the city, had her phone out taking pictures of herself with her Pacific Coffee cup. Now you might be thinking, ok, that’s reasonable, she has the view of the Hong Kong skyline in the background, that’s pretty cool, am I right? I might be, but you, my friend, would be wrong. She’s taking pictures, and more pictures, and more pictures, like, no joke, 20 straight minutes of posing for pictures, with her coffee cup, facing the inside of the coffee shop. There is no Hong Kong skyline in any of her pictures. Yea. Even I was shocked. I mean, what do you even do with all those pictures?! The best part was, she had what looked to be her mother with her, and not once did the two of them interact, not even for her to ask her mom to take her picture! 20 minutes of drinking coffee and taking selfie after selfie in silence, and then they left. So bizarre. I guess some things don’t change crossing the water.
After enjoying our coffees, and the view, sans selfies, we headed back down the mountain to explore more of the city and grab some dinner on our way to the night market for some souvenir shopping, because at this point we are pretty much professional tourists. The Temple Street Night Market was definitely a souvenir shopping success, with some darn good deals to be had. The market has literally everything, from traditional Chinese scrolls, to Buddha statues, to jade jewelry, to electronic gadgets, clothing, and more, and most of the vendors were very haggle friendly.
Happy with our purchases, we hopped on the metro and headed back to The Peak Tram for a look at the Hong Kong skyline at night. I have to give all the credit to Jess on this one, as it was her idea to go back to the peak at night, and it was totally worth it. The city lights gave us a way better view of the skyline than we had during the day, with some awesome pictures to go with it. Unless you happen to have a nice clear day, I would definitely recommend reserving your Victoria Peak trip for the evening. The views are better, and there was virtually no line.
The next morning we woke up and set off to find the delicious looking breakfast place we had walked past a million times the day before. I hadn’t had a nice western breakfast in a really long time, and had made a mental note of this place for exactly this moment in time. We walked, and we walked, and we walked, and the darn restaurant was nowhere in sight! Of course, doesn’t it always happen that the one time you actually want to purposely find a place you can’t find it? Such is life, and after about half an hour we abandoned our search and ended up at a different breakfast spot, which I’m sure was equally as delicious as the one we were looking for, and I still got my western breakfast, so all in all, not a total loss. We then meandered our way through the city to the Star Ferry Pier to enjoy tourist activity number 3, a tour of the Hong Kong harbor.
The Star Ferry leaves from three different piers: Central, Kowloon (Tsim Sha Tsui), and Wan Chai, and stops at each pier during the tour to let people on and off. The tour itself lasts about an hour and takes you on a loop around the beautiful Hong Kong harbor, one of the world’s three natural harbors. We had another cloud covered day, so again our views were not the best, but still a great way to see the city skyline from the water.
As our tour ended Jess and I said our goodbyes, as it was time for her to go back to the U.S. and me back to Zhuhai. I still can’t believe it took me this long to explore Hong Kong outside of the airport, but I will definitely be back for more adventures in this amazing city. Until next time Hong Kong!
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