Chapter 1: Hong Kong

October 2, 2018

One continent, sixteen hours, and 10,409 kilometres later, we arrived in Hong Kong. Everything was smooth sailing, up until our AirBnB host decided not to respond to any of my messages. I had the address to our apartment, but no other details. Sometimes when booking an international AirBnB the time difference can effect response time, but in this case our host was simply unorganized.

After a bunch of back and forth, our host finally disclosed the codes to access our apartment. He had to clean our room, which is why he was unresponsive at first. There was confusion as to our date of arrival, and he was behind schedule. In the end it all worked out. Our AirBnB was located in the heart of downtown Kowloon on Nathan Road. It is the oldest road in Hong Kong, and offers a plethora of restaurants and shopping choices. The amount of options can be overwhelming at first glance. We were extremely tired, and ended up succumbing to a tourist trap restaurant that looked authentic, but was actually over priced. Hong Kong is not cheap. It’s important to make sure you are converting your native currency to HK dollars ($1 CAD Dollar = $6 HK), before you make a purchase. You may end up paying equivalent, or more than what you would pay at home.

 Nighttime in Kowloon is lively. Shops and restaurants are packed, and everyone is out enjoying themselves.

Nighttime in Kowloon is lively. Shops and restaurants are packed, and everyone is out enjoying themselves.

We walked through the neon lit streets, and admired our surroundings in awe.

Thoughts: everyone moves quickly, and pedestrians do not have the right away. A total of 25 hours awake, and the over stimulation of the day marinated into heads flopping onto pillows.

October 3, 2018

I violently awoke at 2:30 AM, and there was no negotiating going back to sleep. At 4:30 AM, I selfishly decided that the day needed to start. We quickly realized that our South East Asian converters were not compatible with the Hong Kong outlets, as they are British sockets (Hong Kong was a British colony for over 100 years, so this makes sense). Shops in Hong Kong don’t open until 10:00 AM, so we had a solid six hours to kill. What did we do? We went to McDonalds, partially out of curiosity, but mostly because it is one of the few places open for breakfast at 6:00 AM.

 Egg & Cheese Hamburger + Chicken and Egg McMuffin

Egg & Cheese Hamburger + Chicken and Egg McMuffin

*HK McDonalds Fact: you can order a cup of corn, milk tea, and a jumbo bucket of chicken wings (whoever thought of this deserves a hug).

After our McDonalds adventure, we came across an oasis, also known as Kowloon Park. It’s located in Tsim Sha Tsui, and is one of the largest parks in Kowloon. Large trees embraced the entire park with their giant trunks, and leafy branches. There are a variety of small and large ponds, which are home to fish and turtles. There is a great feeling of peace within the park; a giant ecosystem of greenery and serenity. Locals can be found practicing Tai Chi, stretching, or reading the morning paper. We decided to participate in our own morning routine at Kowloon park, by practicing yoga, meditating and naming the birds.

All that bird naming made us hungry again. Restaurants began to wake up, and we explored up and down the streets to figure out where we would indulge in a second breakfast. The best part about Nathan Road is that you can eat at five different places if your heart desires. Food is served quickly, and efficiently. Restaurant servers do not beat around the bush with niceties, but do get your food out to you in a timely manner. We ate at two different restaurants for lunch, and English was not spoken at either of them. Pointing to pictures, and using fingers to demonstrate how much of an item you would like works just as well.

*HK Restaurant Fact: in casual restaurants, you may be directed to sit at a table that someone or a group of people are already sitting at. It is normal to sit with a stranger if all other seats are taken. We experienced this more than once. At first it might feel like you are being forced into an experience, but once you settle at your table you quickly realize that there isn’t an obligation to talk or share your experience with the strangers at your table (this can be a Canadian expectation we may subconsciously apply to a situation like this). The people sitting at your table may smile, or nod their head, but do not expect conversation.

The next stop of the day was Victoria Peak, which is the highest point on the western half of Hong Kong Island. You can bus, but we took a taxi from Kowloon, which normally costs $160 HK ($26 CAD). We hiked the nature trail, viewed the Hong Kong skyline, and Victoria Harbour (separates Hong Kong Island and Kowloon Peninsula). The Sky Terrace is a lookout option, but we opted out because it was swarming with hundreds of tourists. You can get the exact same view, maybe even better, on the trail and minus the crazy crowd. The best part about Victoria Peak is that it is free!

 Victoria Peak, Hong Kong

Victoria Peak, Hong Kong

Instead of spending another $160 HK, we decided to bus back to Kowloon…or so we thought. We rode for over forty minutes back into Hong Kong Island, and ended up at the Central bus terminal. To get back to Kowloon we realized we would either need to take a taxi, or hop on the ferry. The Star Ferry fare is $2.70 HK ($0.45 CAD) for adults, which is much more reasonable than the set taxi fare from Central Hong Kong to Kowloon. Taking the ferry at night is a lot of fun, because you get to admire all of the high rises that have lights specially designed to dance across the windows.

*HK Transportation Fact: Upon arriving in Hong Kong, you can purchase an Octopus Pass (we purchased ours at the airport). It is a reloadable card, which allows you to pay for most public transportation (taxis being the exception, cash is the more reliable option). Some restaurants and stores will accept it as well. If you plan on riding public transportation while staying in Hong Kong, I would highly recommend buying an Octopus pass. It saves you from having to fiddle with change, and you won’t be that foreigner who is holding up bus lines or train turnstiles.

A dinner of dumplings and vegetables rounded off our night, and off to sleep we went at 8:30 PM.

October 4, 2018

Only to wake up again at 4:45 AM. An improvement from the day before. Our day started with soup noodles with pork and fried egg, and a crustless fried egg sandwich. The weather forecasted 31 degrees, and it did not lie. I almost left the apartment wearing jeans and a tank top, but was coerced to change into shorts by my wonderful partner. I would have been so sorry had I tried to be a hero in my jeans. The itinerary was comprised of HK Disney, Tian Tan Buddha, and Tai O Fishing Village, but we were only able to visit two out of the three places.

 Hong Kong Disneyland, Lantau Island, Hong Kong

Hong Kong Disneyland, Lantau Island, Hong Kong

We started at Kowloon Station, took the MTR (Mass Transit Rail, like the LRT, but consists of heavy rail, light rail and a feeder bus service - it is centred on an 11 rapid transit network) to Sunny Bay Station, and hopped on the Disney Resort Line, which took us directly to HK Disney. I had never been to a Disney park before, but knew going into it that it was not comparable to the American Disney parks. The park was absolute mayhem, full of tourists and Hong Kong residents. We had so much fun running around, and seeing all of the sites. The rides were great, but the lines were aggressively long. Mystic Manor is a must ride, that is all I will say.

 Tai O Island, Hong Kong

Tai O Island, Hong Kong

Hanger slowly crept in, and we needed to fix it… FAST. Back onto the MTR we went, all the way to Tung Chun station this time. We inhaled our lunch, and headed to Ngong Ping 360 to find out how much it would be to ride the cable cars to see the Tian Tan Buddha. $160 HK one way ($26 CAD), which is a complete tourist grab. Back to the bus we went. Originally, we wanted to see the Buddha, but did not want to wait 25 minutes for the next bus. The bus for Tai O had just arrived, and we made a split decision to go there instead. Best decision ever. $11.70 HK ($1.93 CAD). We weighed the options and decided that Tai O would be much more interesting, as it is one of the last remaining Chinese fishing villages with traditional stilt houses. We ended up spending 4 hours walking through the village. For one of those hours we rented bikes, and cruised through the village and around the island. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. Small houses with no windows, made of tin. Boats scattered everywhere. Locals selling fresh catch out of plastic buckets. From busy body metropolis to quiet island living; it was a day filled with juxtaposing environments.

*HK Culture Fact: Culturally Canadians are almost too polite, and we expect EVERYONE to be polite back to us (hello ethnocentrism). In Hong Kong, people can be quite abrasive and short with you. In regards to proxemics, people walk very close to each other, and very quickly. It is common for people to step in front of you and nudge you as they are trying to get past. The phrases  “excuse me” and “sorry” are not second nature either, which can be disheartening, but don’t take it personally.

As we were leaving Tai O, we thought we might’ve been able to have caught the bus that could take us to see the Tian Tan Buddha. Unfortunately, that specific bus route had stopped running for the day. It just wasn’t meant to be. Back to Kowloon we went. Almost 9 hours in the blazing sun and aggressive humidity, and fatigue finally started to set in.

Another night ended with copious amounts of pan-fried dumplings, steamed veggies, and a new addition that has become one of our shared favorites: soy milk tea with tapioca. Yum.

Off to sleep again, with the hopes of waking up a little later than the morning before.

October 5, 2018

6:00 AM! We woke up and high fived each other for finally sleeping a full eight uninterrupted hours. Our bodies are almost fully acclimated to the 14-hour time difference. This was the day where we wanted to take a moment to decompress from the last two days. Walking an average of 12-15 km a day really takes a toll on your body, and energy levels. A morning of meditation and yoga left us revitalized, and ready to tackle the day.

 Kowloon Park, Hong Kong - A little piece of peace.

Kowloon Park, Hong Kong - A little piece of peace.

A solid morning and early afternoon was spent catching up on work, friends, family, and strategizing our upcoming journey to Guangzhou, China.

China Travel Fact: you already know from The Preamble that you need a visa in order to enter China. You also need to know a few important details: you cannot use certain apps like Whatsapp, Facebook, or Instagram, as they are blocked. In order to access these apps, you will need a VPN (Virtual Private Network). The VPN our host in China recommended was Express VPN. I would also recommend downloading WeChat as well, as it is the messenger app that everyone uses in China.

We ate way too much for lunch: beef congee, soup donuts, Chinese lettuce, pan-fried pork dumplings (again), and steamed pork dumplings. We were not sorry.

 Jade Market, Hong Kong

Jade Market, Hong Kong

After a quick food coma induced nap, we headed down to the famous Jade Market. Sweet Jesus, what an experience. Rows and rows of vendors with tables full of brilliantly coloured bracelets, necklaces, and jade bangles. Everyone wants to sell you something, and at the “best price for you”. I knew exactly what I wanted to purchase while I was there, but there were so many things to choose from. As well, you have to be careful with what you purchase. A lot of it is plastic or glass, rather than real jade. The vendors are quite bold, and will tug at your arm or get in your bubble trying to find you the “perfect” piece.

HK Jade Market Fact: You need to negotiate. I struggled with this, as I don’t have a lot of experience with price negotiating. I also didn’t know how much things were actually worth. I learned most items can be negotiated down to around 33% of the asking price. It can seem intimidating, but at the end of the day you want to get the best bang for your buck. Rather than asking “how much”, start by naming your price and work from there. Ask yourself what you would realistically pay for the item. If the vendor says no, then begin to walk away. Usually they’ll agree to your price, and you may even be able to work the price down further from there - depends how bold you are or what you are purchasing.

 The negotiation process. No smiles. Business only.

The negotiation process. No smiles. Business only.

Example: I wanted to purchase a bangle, and the vendor originally asked $500 HK ($82.50 CAD). I told him I wanted it for $100 HK ($16.50 CAD), and he said no. He then said he could sell it for $300 HK ($50 CAD). I told him I’d buy it for $150 HK, and no more. He shook his head multiple times, and I ended up putting the bangle down, and slowly started walking away. He then agreed, "$150, fine, ok”. I saved nearly $60 CAD on my purchase, and got what I wanted. It can be a super uncomfortable process, but it is totally worth it. Definitely builds character. If you are visiting Hong Kong, and staying in the Kowloon area, you should go on a day adventure to the Jade Market!

For dinner, we trundled over to Tim Ho Wan, a super affordable Michelin Star dim sum restaurant located on the western side of Kowloon. This recommendation was given to us by our friend Brandon Imada, who is probably our favourite person to receive food recommendations from (Canadian and internationally). We tried a variety of items: steamed spare rib in black bean sauce, steamed fish dumpling, beef on rice with egg, shrimp spring rolls, and barbecue pork bun. 10/10 would recommend to anyone who loves dim sum.

Our last full day in Hong Kong had officially come to an end, and it couldn’t have ended on a better note.

LIV REVIEW - Hong Kong has so much to offer: incredible cuisine, great shopping, gorgeous site seeing, and noteworthy nightlife. I think 3.5 days was just enough for us. It was too busy for our liking, and the quick-paced energy can be draining to be around for long periods of time. If your passions lie within high end shopping, and eating, you should mark Hong Kong down on your bucket list.

Next stop: Guangzhou, China!