Hong Kong Part II…and the world’s your oyster

Hong Kong at night

Hong Kong: Day 2

“One night in Hong Kong and the world’s your oyster…” but oysters are the furthest thing from our minds the next morning, as we awaken feeling a little worse for wear. We venture out into SoHo (south of Hollywood Road) – a vibrant area full of boutique shops, bars, restaurants and art galleries. Like much of Hong Kong, this district treads a fine balance between preserving the Chinese and colonial culture that shaped it, and recent modern developments. Nowhere is the contrast more apparent than on the northern edge of Soho, on Hollywood Road itself where the brand new multistory Centre Stage residential complex towers alongside the historic Man Mo Temple.

Without even moving on the mid-levels escalator, we start to sweat profusely. Thank goodness for the escalator – the worlds longest. Prior to the development of the escalator in 1993, SoHo was largely populated by local Hong Kong Chinese, but now is a haven for expats. Our one time favourite local café – Life Café – is a humble little establishment perched just off the escalator before Elgin Street and has a pretty good all day brunch menu.  It is just what the body needs when you feel like a bit of a detox. Their specialty is tasty vegetarian food (and there are many vegan as well as gluten, dairy and sugar free options available too) in an atmosphere which is back to basics and no-frills. Even if you’re a die-hard carnivore, this place will surprise you with how delicious and filling their dishes are. The service varies and don’t expect the wait staff to bend over backwards, but the food makes up for it.

Central Mid-levels escalator

The interconnecting urban sprawl that makes up much of Kowloon and Hong Kong Island is what most people come for; shopping, dining and the energetic nightlife is most certainly amongst the world’s best, but it’s easy to forget that Hong Kong does have plenty of hiking trails through some remarkable natural scenery and places where you can get away from the chaos. Believe it or not, a dragon’s back, deserted beaches, volcanic landscapes, feng shui woods and remote temples await your discovery. If you’re only in Hong Kong briefly however, taking in the panoramic view from Victoria Peak is mind blowing, even to residents of Hong Kong. The Peak is home to some of Hong Kong’s most wealthy and with space at a premium, the large houses and incredible vistas are in stark contrast to the tiny apartments inhabited by most in Hong Kong. Taking the Peak Tram is a fantastic way to get from the bottom to the top of the Peak, but if you’re feeling energetic…or want to try to undo the sins of the night before, we think walking up the Peak is a great experience. Start from Conduit Road and keep going! A word of warning though, only attempt this if you’re pretty fit and make sure you go early in the morning or late in the evening during the summer – water is also a must.

Peak Tram

As a reward for all that walking and assuming you don’t have blisters, a foot massage may offer a pleasant reprieve. Happy Foot in Central is one of the many places around town where you can drop in with or without an appointment and let your feet succumb to the vice-like hands of a masseuse. Some people might feel uncomfortable at first, allowing a stranger that close to their feet, but we guarantee it’s an experience you’ll want to repeat and you will feel different about it after some serious hiking up and down the hills of Hong Kong.

Although Mid-levels is where most expats find themselves when they first arrive in Hong Kong, many with families or who have been in Hong Kong for more than a couple of years choose an alternative setting to the bustling Mid-levels area and Stanley is one of many seaside districts which should be visited if you have the time. Only a bus or taxi will get you here as there is no MTR station as yet. A taxi will take 20-25 minutes from Central and personally, is our preferred method of getting around as taxis are so cheap compared to Sydney or London.

This town was once a fishing village, however it has been transformed into a desirable location for affluent expats and plays host to many restaurants and bars along its waterfront promenade. There’s a nice market that will appeal if you’re a market kind of person (and is much less intimidating than the Mongkok markets in Kowloon), and there are also several beaches, a small temple and Murray House – a restored colonial barracks that was moved brick by brick from Central. Stanley is also the location where the once a year Dragon Boat festival is held. A public holiday coincides with this famous event – one of the seventeen public holidays observed in Hong Kong.

Dragon Boat Hong Kong

The oppressive heat and humidity for four months of the year compels many who live in Hong Kong to head for the relief of the seaside, and Hong Kong is an Island after all, blessed with many bays and beaches and fortunately, with flat water during the summer months. Yachting and watersports such as wakeboarding, waterskiing and windsurfing are popular activities amongst expats in Hong Kong and with boat hire, a driver and lessons usually included for a very reasonable price, many who wouldn’t have had the opportunity to try these sports in their native homes quickly become very proficient. Junking is also a popular way to spend long hot days. First of all, ‘junk-ing’ is the official term – but these days, you’re just as likely to see a Riviera cruiser substituted for the traditional junk. Secondly, junking is another way of saying, “party on the water” with banana boats, a DJ, food and drinks often included…oh and a responsible captain and crew to steer the boat of course.

With so many expats in the same boat as it were – pardon the pun – it’s very easy to find like-minded people and socialising and networking is easily facilitated in Hong Kong. Although Hong Kong is a highly populated city, the expat community is actually pretty small. Membership clubs are a large part of Hong Kong’s recreation and social scene, dating back to the colonial era. There are sports clubs, traditional clubs, dining clubs, nightlife clubs and small local groups. Not only seen as a bit of a status symbol, often due to the long waiting lists, entrance criteria and membership fees, many boast lavish pools, gyms, dining rooms and other facilities, along with competitive sports teams. We have been fortunate enough to be guests of members at a few of these clubs such as the Hong Kong Football Club and the American Club, and if planning to make Hong Kong your home for a number of years, becoming a member of a club is a worthwhile consideration.

Speaking of status symbols, we can’t help but notice how many dogs there are in Hong Kong, owned by locals and expats alike. This is in part because in Hong Kong, owning a dog is a status symbol. Owing a big dog more so. But there are also many rescue shelters in Hong Kong with adoption days held every Sunday in Horizon Plaza at Ap Lei Chau. We challenge you to leave without taking one home! Many owners are playing their part in solving the stray cat and dog population and it’s not uncommon to see Huskies, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds and other mutts being walked around the streets and up and down The Peak. The Chinese Mongrel, often distinguished by its curly tail, has arguably become a standalone breed with its own campaign t-shirt!

Now, with the evening starting to settle upon us, our minds once again turn to food. No doubt there is more to life than fine dining. But this is Hong Kong and chances are you deserve a bit of luxury. Don’t worry about the waistline. In Hong Kong you are constantly on the move so you can afford to splash out more than usual, especially if only here for a few days.

With so many incredible dining options, from cheap and cheerful to Michelin Star fine dining (Hong Kong has over 60 restaurants with Michelin Stars), Hong Kong is a foodies paradise. The great thing about Hong Kong is that there is always a newcomer on the scene too, so the excitement of trying out the latest restaurant is something familiar to all residents of this amazing city. Often you have to reserve well in advance for the newest and the most exclusive haunts, but we were lucky enough to try a new Peruvian joint, Chicha located on the steep sloping Pottinger Street.  It was a novel experience to try the South American newbie, but for a real treat, it’s hard to go past Caprice. This three Michelin Star restaurant in The Four Seasons Hotel is a stayer and consistently churns out some of the finest French inspired food you’ll ever eat. The floor to ceiling windows offer a perfect view over the harbour and the ruby-red velvet banquettes and accents channel a mix of 1930s French and Shanghai style. Additionally, the impeccable service is better than you’ll find in Paris, which makes for an all together spectacular dining experience.

Caprice at The Four Seasons

For those of you thinking, “but when in Rome…” we’d recommend doing lunch at City Hall Maxim’s Palace for amazing dumplings and Peking Garden for the best crispy duck pancakes. If you feel like splashing out however, Lung King Heen (translates to “View of The Dragon”) in The Four Seasons Hotel is the world’s first Chinese restaurant to be awarded the coveted Michelin three-star rating.

One night in Hong Kong and the world’s your oyster…and after 2 nights, you’ll want to come back for more. It’s very hard to do Hong Kong justice in such a short amount of time but it is easy to be seduced by Hong Kong’s mix of post-colonial opulence, the ease with which you can navigate the city and harmony of eastern and western traditions. Hong Kong is a unique city, which many other Asian cities have strived to emulate, but have not been able to match. There is something charming about Hong Kong – the glitz and the grittiness existing harmoniously side by side – around the corner from luxury brand boutiques, there’s little alleyways with wet markets and street vendors. The endless skyscrapers and fast living of Central is only a short drive from nature trails and beaches. It shouldn’t work, but it does. If you’re like us, every time we return to Hong Kong’s shores, we consider ourselves to be mavens of the best places to dine, shop and visit and yet we continually discover more and more ‘hidden gems.’  We think that is the beauty of Hong Kong. For such a relatively small place, there is never any shortage of new surprises lurking around every corner and we’ve only just scratched the surface.