Monday, December 24, 2012

#rtw2012 - Hong Kong

This is one in a series of posts about my round-the-world (RTW) trip this past summer. They are all collected under the #rtw2012 label. You might want to read chronologically for background / context.

Like the other city-specific posts, this one is very long and detailed. It's more of an online diary for me, than anything else. You might find it overly verbose, boring, etc ;)

Like the other destinations on this trip, Hong Kong had been on my "bucket list" for years. I'm not sure why. Maybe it was the Bruce Lee and other martial arts connections, maybe the food, not sure. But it fit neatly within the trip itinerary, and I was excited to visit.

Arrival in Hong Kong (HKG).

The flight over was short and uneventful. Once again, All Nippon Airways (ANA) came through with great service, timely flights, modern comfortable planes, and great lounges.

I stayed in an Airbnb apartment, my first one of many on this trip. It was located on Peel Street in SoHo, right in the middle of the more modern "Central" part of Hong Kong. ("Central" is not just a geographic indication, but also the name of a district in town, which is a bit confusing at first.)

This amazing location was even better because this is a penthouse apartment, with a balcony and great views. My hostess, Inge, was very kind and friendly, a fellow yogi, and spoke English very well. I'm glad I stayed here and not in the one of the very expensive hotels.

Airbnb picture from Inge, not mine. View from the balcony.

The apartment is steps away from the Central-Mid-Levels Escalators, one of the wonders of Hong Kong I'd long wanted to see. Those escalators were fascinating, convenient, fun to ride, even entertaining. I like how their directions are changed during the day to accommodate the dominant traffic pattern by the time of day.

The Central-Mid-Levels escalators in the middle of the day.

On the first day in Hong Kong, after checking in to the apartment, I took the escalators all the way up, and then walked up Victoria Peak as high as I could go.

On the way to the top, I stumbled upon a nice little park among the skyscrapers, featuring a small football (soccer) pitch. As I've written before, basketball and football pickup games were a big source of meeting locals during my trip. Although this pitch was empty, I came back to it later during the trip and had fun playing with locals.

Unusual height and view from the Conduit Service Road playground. Those are 100+-story buildings.
In Hong Kong, however, I ended up playing pickup basketball almost every day. There are a couple of big parks that always had running games while I was there. This was a lot of fun and a great way to meet locals. It was also decent exercise, especially since the temperature was in the 90s (F) and the weather was humid my whole time there.

The main park where I played most often in Hong Kong.

Another game a couple of days later.
Victoria Peak is world-famous, of course. It's been featured in many movies and such. I went to watch sunset there, to see all the buildings light up. The show is even better in person, naturally -- quite dazzling. I stayed there a while and shot a video, which I've since lost ;(

The start of sunset from Victoria Peak.
A few friends sent back near-identical photos and videos, which brought big smiles to my first. There's something very cool about being far away from home, and knowing a friend was standing at your very spot not long ago.

Public transportation in Hong Kong was excellent. I took the MTR several times, the ferries a couple of times as well, including once to Macau (the subject of a separate upcoming blog post), and the buses once or twice mostly to see the sights. The MTR trains run often, clean, fast, easy to navigate, no complaints at all. I took a taxi once, I think, and that was fine too.

MTR to Kowloon.
I tried to walk through most of the well-known areas on foot a lot. I covered big chunks of Kowloon (City and Tong), Tsim Tsa Shui, Sheung Wan, Causeway Bay, Wan Chai, Sham Shui Po, Mong Kok, Yau Ma Tei, Jordan, and Admiralty. It was a good amount of walking (10-20km per day) in the aforementioned heat and humidity, which was nice exercise, but I still didn't see as much as I wanted to.

A special shout-out here to David, author of the great Randomwire blog. I've been reading his blog for years, and went back through his archives while planning my Hong Kong trip. David also graciously agreed to meet while I was in Hong Kong.

Sheung Wan (IIRC) from the top back seat on a semi-sketch bus.
I really liked the busy crowded atmosphere on the Kowloon side, especially around Mong Kok and Yau Ma Tei. Mong Kok has the highest population density in the world, and I'm not sure I'd want to live there (as opposed to Central or the Mid Levels), but it was a blast to visit.

Walking around Causeway Bay, IIRC.
The street are at least as interesting at night as they are during the day. I stopped by the Temple Street night market, of course. I expected it to be busy and crowded, which it was. But I didn't quite expect how much it would look like every Hollywood director's vision of "Chinatown."

The Temple Street night market.
I actually had one of my best meals in Hong Kong, which generally had amazing, excellent, fresh, cheap street food, right around the Temple Street night market. There was a street corner with 3-4 establishments (a loose word, since it was mostly plastic chairs on the sidewalk...) serving fresh spicy crabs. As in so fresh they were still swimming there in big boxes, and you could pick which one(s) you wanted to eat. Delicious!

The spicy crab place is to the right. Not a great pic, but the only one I had left of this area ;(
There is great food all over Hong Kong. I mostly ate on the street, with a couple of exceptions for famous tea houses and dimsum. OpenRice was a fantastic resource, as were local friends.

Tim Ho Wan in Mong Kok was my favorite dimsum place, and the best dimsum I've ever had, not surprisingly. Apparently since I was there earlier this year, they have received their first Michelin star, making it possibly the cheapest average cost restaurant to have such an award?

I also went to some random places, just walking around and see what's packed with locals. For example, there was a place down the street from me (on one of the "elevator" streets, not Peel itself), where everyone seemed to be having this, so I got it as well:

Simple home-made pork dumpings in a chili-garlic broth with hand-pulled noodles. Yum!

On the way to one dimsum restaurant, I noticed an interesting sign. It appeared to offer a haircut and a massage in the same place. This was intriguing because (a) WTF?, (b) I needed a haircut, and (c) offering haircuts hopefully meant it was a normal massage place, and not one where everyone wanted to provide you with a "happy ending."

These signs for foot massage and reflexology are everywhere, but not often combined with hair salons.
So I went inside, and sure enough, you can get a nice foot massage while getting your hair cut. That was pretty awesome :) After much tallying and re-calculating of costs, since no one there spoke English well, the bill came to $8 US (that's not a typo: eight dollars US, Hong Kong can be cheap for some things...).

Of course, Hong Kong has a lengthy and fascinating history, with much heritage. Among the most interesting places I visited were the Giant Buddha at the Po Lin Monastery, which requires a lengthy fascinating cable car approach, and the Man Mo temple on Hollywood Road near my apartment.

"The Crystal Cabin" is the upgraded ($5 more) cable car ride to the Giant Buddha. It has a glass bottom...
On the cable car to the Giant Buddha, which you can see at 11 o'clock.
The monastery is located on Lantau island, on the Ngong Ping peninsula, and the full name for the cable car is the Ngong Ping 360. It was a fantastic experience which I highly recommend. It was also nice to get out of the city for a bit.

3 buddhas at the Po Lin monastery, representing the past, present, and future lives.
Both are beautiful, peaceful, calm, relaxing temples. The Giant Buddha is, indeed, giant. You can see in this picture, taken from the cable car, that it's a sizable chunk of the hill on which it sits. I wish more of my pictures from this part of the trip survived Apple's Photostream issue.

The Man Mo temple I accidentally visited at the perfect time of day in terms of lighting. It was breath-taking, and my photography unfortunately cannot do it justice, even if I had all the photos. Look at this Flickr search for some inspiration, if you wish.

The Man Mo temple entrance. This pic is mine...
A much better photo, from Fion N. on Flickr:

Man Mo Temple

Another historical site that I really wanted to visit is the Kowloon Walled City. If you haven't heard about this place, you should read the Wikipedia article. Now it is a nice park, and a museum commemorating the city, and a part of the old central building. It was fun to visit, and I spotted a good pickup basketball run nearby, but I kind of wish the city still existed.

Kowloon Walled City museum.
Pickup basketball at the park near the Kowloon Walled City museum.
If you've seen the movie Bloodsport, the tournament ("kumite") takes place inside the Kowloon Walled City. Here's the movie scene where they go in for the first time:


By the way, if you want to surprise me with a fun git, the "City of Darkness" photo book about the Kowloon Walled City has been on my Amazon wishlist for a while. Just sayin'...

Finally, Hong Kong also has decent nightlife. I can't share all the stories here, naturally, but I had a blast. A couple of nights stand out.

Street art in Lan Kwai Fong.
I met up with a fellow Apache Software Foundation member, Lars Eilebrecht, who happened to be in Hong Kong at the same time. He knew some locals, and a few of us hung out over a long night in Lan Kwai Fong. This was conveniently close to my apartment. Thanks for organizing, Lars! I don't remember every single detail from that night, but it was a blast.

One of the group stops earlier in the evening. Bjorn (guy in white) doesn't yet have lipstick marks.
One of the fun things about LKF is that there are many small bars / restaurants. I think the above is at Latitude 22, one such establishment. They tend to over-fill, and so the crowd spills outside, with their drinks, to the streets. People walk around and have a good time, in a very positive atmosphere. It felt very safe, to me at least.

Someone in our group suggested starting the night with B52 shots (plural...), one of my fav shots, but not something usually offered up by others. That turned out to be a foreshadowing for the evening.

That's a B52 she's holding. I wonder what I said right before this pic was taken?

Armani / Prive later at night. Note the movie playing on the TV.

Later at night, Armani / Prive was pretty hopping. Fun bartenders and servers, IIRC.

Even later at night, we stopped by a place called Club Feather Boa, although judging by my only picture at that establishment, we would have had fun anywhere at this point.

At Club Feather Boa
On another night, I ventured out of Lan Kwai Fong towards the higher skyscrapers, some of which have loungers / bars / clubs near the top. The views were great, but in terms of rooftop loungers, Bangkok (the next major blog post in this series) has everyone beat.

Nonetheless, Ozone (the highest bar in the world, they claim), Sugar, Sevva, and M Bar were all worth the trip. Ozone in particular stood out for the combination of view and service. The outdoor deck at Sugar was badass as well.

Lily and Bloom was my favorite cocktail bar. They take their craft seriously.

From Sevva, just happened to catch the moon between clouds.
Hazy night from M Bar.
View from Ozone. Not my pic, we didn't have that clear a night :( From Kew's Daily Good Thing.
Another couple of notable places to close out the bars I visited in Hong Kong: PURE and RED, owned by the same people I think, were always packed when I walked by, so I dropped in. They are beautiful places, but nothing unusual.

The entrance to PURE.
Although Hong Kong has amazing shopping, I didn't do much, since I was traveling light with a backpack. I did visit the Apple store just to check it out (exact same as in the US, no surprise), and I did score a couple of cool t-shirts at Paper Tee, a noted original designer.

The Apple store in an elevated area.
I stayed in Hong Kong 4 nights, which was a good amount of time in the city. I could see myself coming back to this great city and exploring further afield, as well as inside the city, a lot more.

From The Atlantic's "Hong Kong, the City Without Ground" article.
A lot of people get confused in Hong Kong's overways, underways, subways, whatever you call them. The entire pedestrian walkway system is very 3-D, which I actually greatly enjoyed. Maybe the geek in me enjoys discovering efficient paths? If you haven't read The Atlantic's "Hong Kong, the City Without Ground" article, it's highly recommended.

I joined several Hong Kong meetup groups, but one stands out: The Hong Kong Eclectic Movie Night folks were friendly, welcoming, and interesting. We got together at 9pm in Lan Kwai Fong to watch THX1138, and that was the beginning of another entertaining evening.

At Hong Kong airport, about to port flight TG601 to Bangkok.
Next up, Bangkok ;)


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