Friday, 14 June 2013

My favourite 7 things about Hong Kong

The transportation system

I find it weird that I'm putting this as the first thing, let alone my favourite thing. I feel like one of the St. Olave's boys  who have a fascination with trains and get 100% on the London Tube Station Sporcle quiz (you know who you are). However, there's a pretty good I reason I think very highly of their transportation system. Travelling to Hong Kong was the first time I was travelling alone. Before then, it's always been a family vacation or a school trip. The problem was I never took interest in taking charge or planning the trip, I was always the thoughtless follower. So actually organising my own trip, where to go and finding out how to get to places (safely) was a big deal. Luckily, Hong Kong had their signs in English, as well as Cantonese, and modern transportation. Their MTR is really easily to follow, they used the Octopus card that is similar to the Oyster card, and they had plenty of bus links. Hong Kong is also a very clean city: high fines for eating on the train and antibacterials on the handrails several times of day. It made the whole experience of travelling alone easier, I had no problem getting to my hostel or in fact on any other day when I was travelling. It's hard to get lost!

The food
I kept all the fasts I could during Ramadan. I found it quite easy to do it, despite my mom saying that I could make it up later, as teaching kept my mind distracted. I didn't let it limit my experience trying different food. We tried michellin recommended dumpling restaurants,  I had Indian, Thai, Chinese and Western food. The pancakes weren't bad either, I do recommend the peanut butter and sugar pancake on the stalls selling Eggettes ('Daan Jai'), which are also YUM.

The best part are the fruits! I got to enjoy buying and eating fresh lychees, mangoes, mangosteens, watermelons, grapefruit. It was weird to see they at low cost but apples and grapes at higher prices. Tropical fruits are much better! Oh gosh... my mouth is just watering thinking back on it.

I think the main thing I want to point out with food is that I'm a cautious eater. Quite picky and afraid to try unfamiliar things. I will try Nepalese food because it's comparable to what I have before but the idea of Icelandic food...? Yuck. It a very bad characteristic to have with travelling. Hong Kong had its fair share of things I wasn't filling to try openly but fortunate for me, I can easily ask for what the food has. Communicating in English is fine most of the time. I did try the odd squidballs unknowingly but I was lucky to have friends point out if something had Pork (it's used as an additive sometimes and not point out in menus, be aware).

EDIT: Bakeries! Millions and millions of bakeries! My aim was to try every single one I encountered (while I was conscious of this aim). I recommend the egg tart!!!

The kids

The main reason I went to Hong Kong was to work in a summer camp. I love kids, I love travelling and this was the best combination of both. I did enjoy working with the kids so much that I wanted to spend another summer teaching (hence teaching in Nepal).

I'm lucky that my students still want to keep in contact with me. The other day when I got a new phone, the first thing I did was download whatsapp. I had a group going with one of my class and since it's been almost a year since I talked on it, it said I was removed from the group so I decided to delete it. It didn't take long before they were wondering what happened and why I left the group, my friend (who worked with me in the class too) immediately asked what happened and added me back. Just talking to them again made me smile for the rest of the day. Yes, I'm jealous of Kat who is going to see them this week but I'll be back in Hong Kong and the first thing I'll do is have another reunion.

The Shopping 

You can see... there's a lot of cross over with my Thailand post.

Along with Thailand, Hong Kong is the place for fashionistas. There are a variety of unique market places (gold fish marketplace, the jade market). The most popular is Lady Market Place in Mongkok. Endless market spanning the road, going off into side streets, with restaurants behind them. This is where you get the haggling skills going and you have to remember to be persistent! They have haggled with people from all corners of the world, day and night. They know how to deal with every type of people. I would suggest Lady's market for people looking mainly for souvenirs and accessories.

My favourite place to shop was near Ladies Marketplace, Arygle Centre. It's like a marketplace inside a building. Lots of cheap, open ended stores which sells clothes, shoes, stationary and accessories. The prices where already pretty cheap/reasonable so I never thought about haggling at first but... if you can, always haggle! Any free evenings I had, or if I was feeling down, I would go down to Mongkok and almost certainly visit this centre. However, my favourite shopping moments were with Elyse. She and I make an amazing shopping duo. On the last day, she had a tactic rolled up her sleeve and the fact she is form Hong Kong helped a lot. With only hours before my flight, she managed to haggle down the price of two bags for the price of one. When I'm back in HK, every mall and marketplace has to watch out for us (;

Everything at your doorstep 

I forgot how big every other country is compared to England. It can take us half a day to get to the other side of the country whereas in Thailand, you need an overnight train to travel travel a quarter of the country. One of my heartaches about leaving Thailand was that I only had a taste of what the country was like. Our life is only so short and there is so much to see, you don't want to leave a country thinking you hardly got to know it. I only really had the weekends to explore Hong Kong, and even though I didn't get to see everything I wanted to, I left content that I got to explore most of HK.

East meets West
Yes, yes, remember I said that cheesy cliches are sometimes the best at describing? British colonial influences on Chinese culture is very evident here in Hong Kong. I guess this is the reason behind why I think Hong Kong is easy for first time travellers. You have your Buddhist temples, fishing villages and extraordinary chinese market places juxtaposed with skyscrapers, theme parks and shopping malls. If you're not sure what you're looking for when you travel, come to Hong Kong and you'll naturally be pulled. I loved the architecture, travelling to the highest skybar in the world and zigzagging through the clothes rack but I found that I naturally loved trekking, trying different food stalls and venturing off to different islands. I like being surprised, I like seeing something new.

The Skyline
Can anyone write a post about Hong Kong without mentioning its skyline, the beautifully modern architecture that scraped the surface of heaven? Hong Kong obviously takes advantage of its limitless buildings in terms of tourism. You'll enjoy taking the ferry across Kowloon and Hong Kong Island just for the view, especially in the night. If you want a bit of class and excitement, why not take the pirate ship for a tour? Everyday at 8pm, there's a "light show" with all the prominent buildings, best seen from Hong Kong Island harbour. The light show lasts no more than 20 minute and includes a cheesy music and narration.

A better option would be to travel up to the Peak. The Peak (tower) is located on top of Victoria Peak and it's a big tourist attraction for being a observatory platform, giving a spectacular view of the city-state and a big pull for photographers. There's also a shopping mall with a market place and many restaurant inside, so your trip never feels empty. Most people take the peak tram up to the top and it's a nice little experience but I would say that if you are strict on money, you won't feel bad for giving it a go. You can take the bus, car/taxi and the eager athlete can even walk up there. I would give a warning that you should check the prices for taxis beforehand and compare, my hostel friend was too eager to get to the top that we were clearly ripped off.

Why just enjoy the the skyline from outside when you can enjoy the view form above inside one of the skyscrapers? I had the chance to go to the world's highest Sky Bar in Asia, the Ritz Carlton. The bar itself is located on the 118th floor and while it takes quite a few elevators to get there but the view is amazing (both coming to the hotel from a taxi and from the bar itself). The price of the food and drink reflect that you're in a 5 star hotel but they taste good and it's worth buying one at least.

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