Exploring Hong Kong through the Eyes of Locals and Expats
We had a very busy four nights in Hong Kong! I’ve already written one blog post about our first two nights in the city, when we stayed at the 4* Cosmopolitan Hotel, and here’s the sequel about our last two nights, when we tried out a hotel on Queens Road, Central.
After exploring Kowloon and its many markets (the Bird Market was my favourite) we headed over to Central with our suitcases to check into our second hotel in Hong Kong, the Ovolo Hotel at 286 Queen’s Road (also found through online luxury travel agent Holidays Please). The entrance is a single black doorway, which reminded me a little of an exclusive secret club, which might require a password to enter… In reality, we were given a warm welcome and lead up to the lobby on the 2nd floor, where we were greeted with the news that, as it was 6pm, the Happy Hour open bar had just begun! It’s self-serve with wine, beer, spirits & mixers on offer, and there’s enough food to snack on that it could have easily replaced dinner! The 4* Ovolo Hotel has a very cool young-professionals-on-city-break vibe and I liked that their open bar and lounge appear to be a very upgraded version of something I might have found in a hostel when I used to backpack. It blends the best bit about a hostel (the social area to have drinks with other travellers) with all the comforts and luxuries of a brand new, stylish hotel. What more could you ask for? We helped ourselves to a gin & tonic each and a bowl of marshmallows & cookies (it would be rude not to) while they checked us in, before being shown up to the 21st floor of the very slim building, to our petite but stylish room.
The room is a good example of the extreme premium on living space in Hong Kong, especially in as good a location as Central, but we had lots planned out and about in the city so didn’t mind that. Plus, the beds were unbelievably comfy, and in my book that’s one of the most essential elements of a good hotel room (along with an insanely powerful shower – another must!). Greeting us in our room was a bottle of wine from the general manager (thank you!), a complimentary mini bar (another thank you!) and a Loot Bag full of scrumptious snacks.
But no rest for the wicked – we dashed out to meet my friend Valerie for dinner nearby on Stanley Street. I met Valerie last year in London as she’s a fellow blogger and luckily for us she’s an absolute foodie (she’s about to launch a new blog, The Chowdown) so she gave us a little tour of the best bars and restaurants in Soho. We started off in Little Bao (Baos are a sort of Asian burger) and we tucked into not only the savoury version, but also the deep-fried-ice-cream-bao variety as well! Mouth-wateringly good, trust me.
Next up we took a stroll back down into Lan Kwai Fong and to our surprise Valerie led us down a very suspicious looking dark alleyway, the sort of which my father would strongly warn me against! At the end of the alleyway you start to see the odd candle here and there and realise that you’ve stumbled into a very well-hidden Hong Kong secret, a bar and Mexican restaurant called Brickhouse. Despite its gloomy and discouraging entrance, it was buzzing with people, all lit with a faint yellow candlelit glow, quite the spot for a romantic tête-à-tête I’d imagine.
Very close by is Tsui Wah, one of a chain of cheap Cantonese fast food restaurants, where we stopped by for our second dessert of the evening (my sweet tooth got the better of me!): a simple crispy bun drizzled with sweet condensed milk. Tsui Wah on Wellington Street is apparently the post-night out pit-stop de rigueur for anyone with a rumbling tummy after a night out in Lan Kwai Fong. Finishing off the night with one final G&T in Ori-gin, Imy and I meandered our way home to Ovolo on Queen’s Road. Without our trusty Google Maps we ended up doing a lot of unplanned detours, but at least we got to see more of Hong Kong that way.
What I love best about hanging out with locals is discovering places off the tourist’s radar. When I travel, I obviously don’t want to miss the main attractions (there’s no sense in going all the way to New York, for example, only to ignore Central Park) but I do hate the idea that I might simply be following a very well-trodden path like a sheep, simply ticking off items on Tripadvisor’s list of ‘Top things to do in X, Y or Z’. So I love to visit people who actually live in the place and know it inside out. I’m always asking friends & other bloggers for their insider tips, and this was actually one of the first long trips I’ve done without a single guidebook.
Next day we indulged in a BIG breakfast at Cafe O, which belongs to the hotel but is also open to the public. And I mean a really good, big, international breakfast, complete with American bagels, a full English, Danish cinnamon rolls, French pastries and everything else you could want. We had deliberately planned to visit hectic Hong Kong first, before spending the rest of our trip relaxing by the beach in Bali, and that was definitely the right order. What we hadn’t anticipated however was how much delicious food we’d want to devour in Hong Kong, meaning any pre-beach bikini-body dieting efforts went completely out the window! Oh well, life went on regardless and at least our tummies were grateful!
We had hoped to spend our last full day in Hong Kong in Stanley, a small fishing town on the south side of the island, where I saw the traditional dragon boat races back in 2008. But the weather looked to be conspiring against us, so we decided to play it safe and spend our last day visiting odd places here and there that we’d been recommended.
We began with Man Mo temple on Hollywood Road, the only part of Hong Kong that actually resembled our stereotypical expectations of Asia, air thick with incense smoke, red Chinese lanterns, traditional architecture, decoration and statues. Surrounding the temple itself are high-rise skyscrapers, which give the temple the appearance of a young boy who’s got a little lost and who’s not sure of his way home. I mentioned the juxtaposition of the man-made jungle vs. mother nature’s jungle in my last blog post (‘Our First Two Days in Hong Kong‘), and I could harp on about the juxtaposition of cultures, communities and history in Hong Kong until the cows come home, as it is simply everywhere you look and it fascinates me… The British colonial legacy is evident in the road names, the odd remaining historical building, the odd Church here and there, and the prevalence of English speakers, but otherwise the Chinese have tried to reclaim their territory. I’d love to study the confluence of British and Chinese cultures in Hong Kong in more detail.
The Taoist Man Mo temple was built in 1847 to pay tribute to the God of Literature (Man) and the God of War (Mo), who were apparently worshipped by students hoping to pass the civil examinations of Imperial China. Once inside the smoky temple we lit incense sticks of our own, observed locals in prayer, perused the various nooks and crannies and admired the hundreds of incense coils burning away, which are believed to purify the surroundings and invite the presence of the gods. I was debating paying a visit to the palm reader next door, as I haven’t had my future told since I was about 12, but in the end I settled on buying handmade cards displaying your name in Chinese and explaining the meaning of each symbol. Virginia apparently means ‘To Maintain’, ‘Treasure’, ‘Adorable’ and ‘Intimate’…
Nearby is Cat Street, where we found a number of antiques shops and market stalls selling Chinese arts and crafts, including Cantonese furniture. My great-grandparents lived in Hong Kong almost 100 years ago, my grandfather was even born there, and as such a lot of Cantonese wooden furniture has been passed down the generations in my family, so it was wonderful to see it all in its natural habitat. On my travels I’ve often wanted to buy random furniture for my ‘future home’ and I do really like interior design (I studied it for a few months during my Gap Year) but a lack of storage space and the inability to visualise it all fitting together has always held me back. I did however pick up a b/w poster of a Chinese singer from the 1950s or so.
Talking of my ancestors who lived in Hong Kong, we stopped by St John’s Cathedral (another fantastic colonial anomaly among the concrete needles that tower above the city) where my great-grandparents, Sir Eric and Lady Evelyn Stuart Taylor were married! Tired, old ceiling fans beat away the heat and I could just imagine them emerging from the Cathedral as newlyweds under the lazy, floppy leaves of the palm trees. I’m quite sure my grandfather was also christened here. I never had the chance to meet any of them, but being surrounded by such familiar history, yet in such distant environs, had a real effect on me.
Our last dose of sightseeing came in the form of the Bank of China building. Take your passport to register and head up to the 43rd floor of the triangle-covered tower to get a stunning view west over Hong Kong. Best of all it’s free and we had the panorama virtually all to ourselves when we visited.
Back at Ovolo Imy and I happily tucked into the open bar once again before dashing out yet again (where does my punctuality disappear to when I’m on holiday??) to meet some expat friends of my boyfriend for dinner at Chom Chom, a Vietnamese restaurant in Soho. A harmless post-dinner drink in Lan Kwai Fong turned into another, another and yet another, until I lost count of the number of bars hopped and drinks drunk, before finding ourselves in Insomnia on d’Aguilar Street, dancing to an Asian cover band singing American and English chart-toppers – bizarre but a great last night in Hong Kong! We eventually stumbled into bed at 4am, only to be rudely awoken by our alarms soon after at 6am, as the time had come to pack up and head to Hong Kong airport for a flight to Bali in Indonesia.
Feeling rather worse for wear (and that is a huge understatement) after our alcohol-fuelled outing the night before, we somehow arrived at the airport and were hugely grateful to be greeted with passes to the Cathay Pacific Business Lounge class, The Wing. The timing could not have been better – we were in desperate need of a quiet, comfy spot with unlimited food and drink as sustenance, and their freshly-made berry smoothie acted as a magic potion, putting the world to rights a great deal. A couple of hours later, feeling much more presentable after our spell in the lounge, we boarded our 4.5-hour flight to Bali and were relieved to stretch out along whole rows, as the flight was quite empty. I’ll write more about the fantastic treatment we received from Cathay Pacific throughout this trip in a separate blog post. All I’ll say for now is that with Cathay Pacific we experienced the little luxuries that took the pain out of long haul flights, and even turned our four journeys into a pleasure. It certainly made a huge difference!
We were sad to leave Hong Kong, and I feel like I have plenty of unfinished business there. That certainly will not be my last visit to this amazing Asian city, home to so many cultures and nationalities. I might not know yet exactly when I’ll return, but it won’t be too long I can tell you that…
“You can leave Hong Kong, but it will never leave you.” – Nury Vittachi
After the whirlwind that was Hong Kong, we headed to paradise in Bali for another 10 nights to properly unwind and indulge. Stay tuned for more on my blog posts on our first ever experience of Indonesia and expect photos with a lot of blue! Here’s my blog post about relaxing in our first hotel in Bali!