Making the most out of Hong Kong
[Hong Kong, China]
Monday and Tuesday were both whirlwind days in Hong Kong. We were in a race with time to see as many attractions as possible.
Monday morning started out with our usual country briefing.
We had a little bit of time for lunch before the city tour, so went to a Dim Sum place right by our hotel. We didn’t have any Asians with us this time so it was quite interesting trying to order, as none of us were familiar with Dim Sum. However, we got lucky because everything we ordered was yummy. The highlight of our lunch was the elephant-shaped dumpling. I felt bad about eating it, but only for a few seconds. 🙂
Our city tour started off with a bang – our first stop was the Peak. At 552 m (1811 ft), the Peak is the highest mountain on Hong Kong Island. Before the Peak Tram was built in 1888, the only way to get to the peak was on foot. The people living around the peak were wealthy and they weren’t about to hike for 2-3 hours to get to the top. Instead, they had their personal staff bring them up the mountain in sedan chairs. Once the Peak Tram was built, it became the preferred mode of transportation to the top and is now one of Hong Kong’s most visited attractions. Riding the tram is quite the experience as the incline is so steep that the buildings we passed looked like they were at a 45-degree angle!
Once we got to the top, I was expecting to find a few lookout points. Instead, I found several gigantic malls full of shops. In addition to the regular lookout points, the top of one of the malls serves as a giant terrace that provides an even better view of Hong Kong Island, the Victoria Harbour, and Kowloon (mainland portion of Hong Kong). The view from the Sky Terrace was definitely worth the additional 20 HKD to access it. The views were completely unobstructed and the terrace is so huge that it’s easy to snap great photos without getting a bunch of people in the picture. The view was probably the most amazing city scape I have ever seen! There are hardly any buildings in Hong Kong that are not skyscrapers and they make for an incredible sight! In addition, the weather was gorgeous and unusually clear for this time of year.
After Victoria Peak, we headed for Stanley Market. Nestled in the southern part of Hong Kong Island, it’s the only open-air market there. We spent about an hour there but it was still not enough to walk the entire market. Our tour guide said it’s the best one in Hong Kong and she was right! I bought so much stuff in the hour we spent there I surprised even myself. From clothing to scarves, souvenirs and Chinese knick-knacks, this place put every other market I went to afterwards to shame.
Our last stop for the day was the fishing village in Aberdeen. We boarded a traditional Chinese wooden boat (called sampan) and explored the harbor. The harbor is famous for its floating restaurants, the largest one of which is Jumbo – I believe it is also the largest floating restaurant in the world. Sadly, several people said the food at this place was not that great. On the other side of the harbor, we saw a lot of house boats belonging to the fishermen who still made their livelihood in the area.
In the evening, we had our last group dinner on the trip. Ironically, we didn’t go to a Chinese restaurant. Upon the recommendation of our faculty advisor, we went back to Lan Kwai Fong and went to dinner at Balalaika, a Russian restaurant. Balalaika is a Russian stringed musical instrument (kind of like a guitar) with a triangular body. The restaurant was famous for its good food and for its ice bar – a separate room in the place that was kept at -20 Celsius (-4 Fahrenheit). Guests are encouraged to put on traditional Russian fur coats and go into the ice bar to have a shot of vodka. It was a nice concept but I was disappointed to find out that the ice cubes on display were actually plastic. Lame! The food was great – I split a piroshki sampler with my end of the table and I also had shashlik, a Russian shish kebab. We had some great vodka drinks and of course, some vodka shots both in and out of the ice bar.
Tuesday was another super busy day. We left our hotel at 10:30 am and didn’t come back until almost 8 pm! We took two ferries and a bus to Lantau Island and visited the Big Buddha statue there.
The statue is part of the Po Lin Monastery complex. Weighing over 250 tons, the statue is the biggest, bronze, seated Buddha in the world and one of the world’s top ten Buddha statues by scale. From the base, you climb 260 steps to get a closer look at the Buddha. The inside of the statue there is a small exhibition on the history of the statue and on the life of Buddha. In addition, on each side of the Buddha statue, there are six Bodhisattva statues (saints who gave up their place in heaven to make room for us). Although it took us almost two hours to get to the Big Buddha, this was definitely a worth-while excursion.
Next, we went back to Hong Kong Island to do some more shopping at Stanley Market. To get there, we had to take a subway and then a double-decker bus – apparently, London is not the only place where you can ride those! We had much better views of the island from our seats on the upper deck compared to the city tour bus, although the ride was a bit scary at times as the bus had to climb over the mountains to get to the Southern side of the island.
After Stanley market, we came back to the hotel to drop off our loot. We grabbed a quick dinner at the hotel’s Chinese restaurant where I tried Peking duck for the first time. The meal consisted of two courses of duck. The first course consisted of slices of sliced crispy duck served with the Chinese version of tortillas, onions, cucumbers and sweet red peppers and several sauces. It was basically the Chinese idea of a taco – dare I say a tastier version? The second course was minced duck with sprouts served with lettuce leaves. Both courses were super yummy and so filling I thought i was going to go into a food comma, especially after all the walking around we did during the day.
After dinner, I barely had enough energy left to go to the Ladies’ market, one of the many open-air markets on Kowloon, the mainland side of Hong Kong. This is where you shop for knock-offs, although I was a bit disappointed with the selection. If there was a secret to getting to the good stuff, I didn’t know it.
It was a great second-to-last day of the trip. We did so much that Singapore and India seemed months and months away. It was hard to believe that we had only one day left before going home…