Hong Kong holiday

07 April 2019

Hello! We've just come back from a week in Hong Kong and I have about a thousand photos to share :) This trip reminded of our New York honeymoon in so many ways. We spent our days eating delicious food, breaking it up with trips to art galleries and wandering the city.

It was a big and busy trip, and one that left an impression on both of us. Here are some highlights, from Michelin starred snacks that cost less than $10 to the touristy activities I secretly adored.

The biggest surprise for me was how familiar the city felt. I'd never visited before but so many things reminded me of my childhood - from the smell of dried herbs and ginseng on the streets that made me think of excursions to Chinatown, to the very particular flavours of the food that took me right back to my grandparent's dining table.

I don't always feel Chinese, especially since I left Sydney and moved away my extended family. But in Hong Kong, the majority of people spoke to me in Cantonese. Although I don't speak the language, I was able to remember a handful of words and phrases, mostly in my late grandfather's voice. Unfortunately I wasn't so great at repeating them, and frequently mixed up Cantonese and Mandarin when trying to say something simple like thank you. Also, so many of the older men dressed exactly like my grandfather, which boggled my mind but also made me smile.

We rented a studio apartment in Sheung Wan, on Hong Kong island. We were a few minutes walk from a train station, and walked by shops specialising in dried herbs, fresh fruit and incense every day. If we were venturing into the neighbourhood for coffee or dinner we'd often pass coffin makers too!

Hong Kong is such a vertical city (some of the buildings were impossible to comprehend) and we spent a lot of time climbing stairs. Some would open up between streets, which always felt a little magical. It took me a little while to get my head around the different districts and the layout of the city. My main references were the Hong Kong episode of Travel Man (so fun!) and this illustrated travel journal that Lena sent me. I'd often flick through it at night to read up on places we'd visited, or to plan the next day.

I loved some of the more touristy activities, like a trip to The Peak which overlooks the city. My uncle suggested we avoid the crowds by taking a mini bus from Central, which wound around the mountain and gave us a different view of the city (most of the time we got around on the train or on foot).

One night we ordered xiao long bao (soupy dumplings) at the Din Tai Fung in Tsim Sha Tsui, before walking down to the pier to catch the Star Ferry across the harbour back to Central. Our ferry was called the Morning Star, and it was super fun to see the city lights and their reflections from the water.

I also wanted to ride the Central to mid-levels escalators, because I'd heard they were the longest in the world and I'm a dag. Tony's friend Anton lives in Hong Kong, and met us for lunch before taking us to the escalators. We didn't ride the whole way up (they go through different suburbs) but hopped off at Tai Kwun, a grand colonial style building for Chinese tea. The city can feel really busy, so it was nice to spend some time in the quieter parts. Anton also took us to two places we loved...

The PMQ building in Sheung Wan where we stopped for cookies and cake at Levain bakery before wandering through the building, checking out the craft and gift shops on each level. There was also an entire floor that was dedicated to cooking classes!

Tony's favourite place in the area was easily Craftissimo, a low-key craft beer shop with streetside seats, which suited us a lot more than some of the high end bars in the city.

I left for Hong Kong with a nine-page document full of food recommendations that I'd pulled together from my friend Alkira, our Airbnb host, Hetty, and Heidi's blog.

I printed it out and kept it in my backpack, ready to reference whenever we were hungry and in a new location. My favourite meal was at Forbidden Duck in Causeway Bay, where we went specifically to eat char siu, which is barbecued pork that's sticky and sweet. As a kid, this frequently made an appearance as a takeaway dinner, in the same way a charcoal chicken might. This version was nostalgic and new all at once, which very much summed up my Hong Kong experience. We ate it with garlicky gai larn, big bowls of jasmine rice and pesto chicken spring rolls (Tony's pick!).

We spent a bit of time in local diners, and especially loved the Sang Kee Congee shop in Sheung Wan, which was a last minute recommendation from Hazel. We ate big bowls of beef congee, which arrived with lava-like bubbles forming in the middle of the bowls. We also lined up for a late-night second dinner at Kau Kee, which specialises in beef brisket and also serves Ovaltine.

Early on in our trip, we had lunch at Maxim's Palace, a beautiful yum cha restaurant in City Hall that overlooks the harbour. There were chandeliers in the dining room, an English-style tea setting, and the food arrives on carts. It was the nicest way to ease ourselves into the city.

My friend Laura took me to Dim Dim Sum in Wan Chai, which is casual and excellent. I am still dreaming of the rice noodle rolls and custardy pig buns - I only wish I'd been hungrier that day! In the same area we loved Cheung Hing Kee (there are also shops in TST) for pan-fried soupy dumplings and Kam's Roast Goose. Both have been awarded a Michelin star recently. We joined the line too late to eat dinner inside Kam's and ended up getting takeaway, which included a small bottle of goose gravy which was insanely good.

We mainly ate savoury food but I tried a Hong Kong egg waffle and loved it. We stuck to the Mammy pancake chain (some of the locations have been awarded Michelin stars) and the most popular order - egg waffle with banana and choc chips. The fillings are baked into the waffle, and they make each one to order. They became a favourite afternoon snack.

Finally, we took a few breaks from local food. I have a soft spot for Shake Shack, and was super excited to find it in Hong Kong. There are two shops but the one in the IFC mall also comes with an incredible view of the city. For coffee, we often found ourselves at NOC Coffee, The Cupping Room and Barista Jam (with lots of expats!).

We timed our trip to coincide with Art Basel, an international art fair, but by the time we arrived in Hong Kong the event was sold out. Feeling more than a little crushed, we quickly bought tickets to Art Central, the alternative art fair to make the most of the art scene. By the end of the day, we'd been given a VIP pass for Art Basel, and were pinching ourselves.

We raced back to the convention centre for the night viewing, and one of the first pieces I saw was a Takashi Murakami flower sculpture, which I adored. We returned the next day, and I watched Tony nerd out as he saw the works of some of his favourite artists - often for the first time beyond a picture in a book.

Outside of the art fairs, we both really enjoyed the Pedder building. It houses a handful of contemporary art galleries, including Gagosian, and you can walk up and down the stairs between them. We also visited Pace and White Cube galleries nearby, and saw a James Turrell installation at Asia Society Hong Kong Center.

We hardly did any shopping while we were away but my favourite souvenir from our trip are easily these polaroids, where we attempted to recreate an Erwin Wurm sculpture!

I loved how colourful the streets were in Hong Kong - from the brightly coloured buildings in pinks, purples and pale greens to the neon signs. It was also surprisingly green, from pot plants lining the streets, to orchids spied in other apartments from our Airbnb. I'd love to add a bright purple orchid to our apartment as a little reminder of our trip.

I'm so glad we could make trip, it's something we've been talking about for some time. It was the perfect city for both of us and affordable too. While our days were packed, there were things we didn't get to do this time round - mainly hiking and trips beyond the city to the sea side village of Stanley but we feel like it's a place we'll visit again.

P.S - If you're planning a trip, one of the most practical tips we were given was to pick up an Octopus card for public transport at the airport. You can return it when you leave and get a refund for the cost of the card and any credit left on it. We found public transport to be so easy to use and inexpensive. Also - there's an in town check in service at Hong Kong station! It meant we could check in our bags in the city in the morning, and explore the city unencumbered before our evening flight.


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