Tuesday, 13 December 2016


Hong Kong: a swarming hive of human activity tangled up in busy metro lines; street level hawkers; sprawling networks of pedestrian bridges carrying streams of people through high-rises and skyscrapers that tower over everything; multilevel malls and surges of traffic. Always alive and never dull, this urban jungle is asking to be explored. A playground for the rich, a workplace for the poor, Hong Kong is a mighty big city sandwich to sink your teeth into. It's a city-nation with the aesthetic of a sci-fi film, namely Blade Runner whose grimy glitz was in fact partly based on Hong Kong's neon madness. Although in recent years government policies mean this famous signage is gradually disappearing, the spirit of glimmering consumerism lives on. The world famous cityscape can be witnessed in all its glory from Victoria Peak, accessible cheaply by bus on Hong Kong island (and if you’re on the Kowloon side, take the cheap, iconic Star Ferry over first). The journey there takes you through the bustling Central area and out, the road twisting into the hills above the skyscrapers, past multi-million-dollar houses and hillside hangouts for the city’s elite. Take your snaps of the skyline from the top, grab a cheap coffee and sit on the terrace of the McDonald’s that’s not unexpectedly but somewhat sadly found its way up here—though it’s probably the best view you’ll get from a McD’s, ever. To fully immerse ourselves into the chasms and cracks beneath the craggy skyscraper peaks of that view we took a modern day magic carpet ride, a marvel of creative minds, a notion we only thought possible in sci-fi. The Central–Mid-Levels escalator and walkway system (δΈ­η’°θ‡³εŠε±±θ‡ͺε‹•ζ‰Άζ’―) that scales the heights of Hong Kong island from Central, through the back streets of Soho and up into the residential ares of the Mid-Levels are underappreciated and overlooked as a true wonder of a modern city; the longest of its kind in the world. Get on at Central, via skybridges of course, and cruise the multiple escalators past shops, bars, and cafes. You will be living our true dream if you manage to hop on and off stopping for snacks and beverages as you go. The ride all the way to the top and the walk back down is a sight in itself. Try this unusual adventure out and envisage a future where cities are connected by moving walkways, and where food and alcohol is readily available as your trundle along. But actually this is real life and it is found in Hong Kong. Also real life are the multitude of markets you’ll find scattered throughout the city. You can take a stroll to the Jade Market (ζ²ΉιΊ»εœ°ηŽ‰ε™¨ε°θ²©εΈ‚ε ΄) in Mong Kok, Kowloon, and browse the wares: we scored a Mao watch and a jade Buddha pendant for a snip after a bit of calculator bartering. From here, if you feel up to it in the heat, you can walk up the road 30 minutes – taking in the life of the city all the way (we took in a sugary walnut cookie εˆζ‘ƒι…₯ from yet another market en route) – to the Flower Market (花咟) near Prince Edward MTR. Here you’ll find a beautiful array of flower stalls and florists selling everything from pre-arranged bouquets and huge potted palms to adorable cactus collections and airplants. Nearby up some stone steps you’ll find the Yuen Po Bird Garden (εœ’εœƒθ‘—ι›€ι³₯θŠ±εœ’), a market specialising in birds and the beautifully made wooden cages that house them. Keeping caged birds is a hundreds-of-years-old tradition still popular today, as it is to lesser extents elsewhere in the world, but still it's not a greatly palatable sight for any animal lover. You may feel sad seeing birds of all types, all sizes, all colours, cooped up in cages, because birds are made to fly right? The sounds are intense, the smells are overwhelming—it’s a small market, but it’s definitely full of life. For a less intense local experience, head down to Stanley on Hong Kong island’s south coast. Previously a small fishing village, it’s now a chilled weekend hangout for families, friends and tourists seeking refuge from the city and its business. Stanley itself is home to a market selling clothes and accessories and various etcetera, but past this is a breezy coastal area lined with expat-filled bars and restaurants, stalls selling juice, and a square (circle-shaped) on the threshold of a semi-upscale mall. Locals chilling the hell out under banyan trees are common down here, and you’ll probably appreciate the laid-back feel less than an hour’s cheap bus-ride out of the city.

Near to the square is the site of the colonial-era Murray House, relocated here from its origin in Central, which now houses an H&M and some other shops; walk past this, along a boardwalk through some tropical greenery overlooking the sea, and you’ll come across a tiny temple. Called Pak Tai temple (θ΅€ζŸ±εŒ—εΈε»Ÿ), with a heft of history and gorgeous bay views, it’s a surprising slice of secluded spirituality. Hong Kong is a city of extremes, wealth, power, architecture and all things food, all things terrible and all things wondrous. People of many nations sharing a small spot on this planet and all trying to make their way upwards. The city is a like a spectacular national park for modern day society, imperfect, a magnified example of the struggles and triumphs of humanity. The architecture, the food, the people. All of it makes for a fascinating, exhausting whirlwind of an experience. You could live here all of your life and still not try every eatery nor summon the strength to know every corner or discover every sight.

What the future holds for Hong Kong as it is slowly devoured by Beijing – whether it will get chewed up and regurgitated as a lesser version of its wonderful self, or triumphs in its youthful fight for independence – is a history being written by its people and by Big China at this very moment. This madness, this freedom, this business, the jolting ramshackle shiny bubble of this techno-dys-utopia, may not exist so vibrantly, so liberally, for much longer.


πŸ¦€ Spicy Crab
A nice place to soak in the atmosphere on the edge of Temple Street market. As the name suggests, you can eat spicy crab here, which the staff will eagerly try to push on you. Instead, order a couple of beers (Carlsberg, HK$22) and watch people dig into their various interesting-looking meals. The staff, yelling, joking, working hard, are fascinating to watch, as are the local characters that pop by to collect cardboard and a free drink or two; despite the tourists, you can get a real grasp on the bustling heart of the real city below the skyscrapers. (Here it is marked on Google Maps)

πŸ• Paisano’s Pizzeria
With many branches, this pizza joint (www.paisanos.com.hk) is famous throughout Hong Kong and for good reason: pizza by the slice. Sure, you can pick up a whole pizza, from small-ish to monster size (24”), but you most likely won’t need to. A slice – taken from one of the aforementioned doughy monsters – is all you’ll need for an inexpensive and filling dinner. Starts at HK$25 for regular cheese; price goes up for toppings. We went to this one in Tsim Sha Tsui.

πŸ₯› Australia Dairy Company
Mentioned all over the internet as a must-go, this place indeed is a must-go. It serves breakfast food, all day, and well into the night, Hong Kong-style: Macaroni soup, and scrambled eggs with toast are favourites here. Fast and efficient (don’t confuse for “rude”) staff seat you next to anyone in a bid to keep things moving. Ask for an English menu. Experience the salty, creamy, buttery deliciousness that is their scrambled eggs washed down with a glass of cold, fresh milk, or strong Hong Kong milk tea. Ask for the bill. Pay up. Leave. A satisfying whirlwind of taste, sight, smell and hearing: HK through and through. It has its own Wikipedia page.
πŸ› Tsui Wah
Chain restaurant (www.tsuiwah.com) that you’ll recognise for the swish flashing signage outside. Reasonably priced food in healthy portions that’ll fill you right up. Brusque staff. A range of true fusion dishes is on offer here: from Katsu cutlet with spicy Malaysian-style curry, to scrambled eggs and rice topped with black truffle – it’s a big menu. You’ll be genuinely, and happily, flummoxed at what to order.

πŸ† Light Vegetarian Restaurant
Want to stuff yourself silly and try out various Chinese dishes all at once? Get yourself to Light Vegetarian Restaurant on Jordan Road for 9pm and you won't be disappointed. For HK$65 per person you’ll be able to taste a range of Hong Kong specialites, all vegetarian, meaning no guessing what the strange meat is, or having to pick around bones. Mock meat in Chinese vegetarian food is utterly amazing. Alongside that, there’s vegetables, salads, soups, rice, dessert… it’s all here. Give it a go, we guarantee you won’t be able to move afterwards. Find it here.
🍚 Tak Lam Shanghai Vegetarian Cuisine
A Japanese word that’s found its way into our everyday vocabulary is γŠγ—γ‚ƒγ‚Œ (oshare) meaning stylish, basically, and we use it to refer to the proverbial finer things in life. This vegetarian restaurant is one of them. Take the lift to the 10th floor of the Hong Kong World Trade Centre in Causeway Bay (here) and walk into a world of Chinese families and friends eating big meals together with a glittering, high-rise view of but one portion of this huge city. Their mock meat is a miracle: order sweet and sour pork, chicken, anything meat-or-fish-like, and enjoy a meatless taste of favourite Chinese dishes. It’s expensive, but the staff are wonderful, the ambience is chilled, the food is very tasty. Splash out if you’re veggie, or scared of meat, and have the means. (Two of us ate for the equivalent of around £50).
πŸ” McDonald’s
This isn’t a joke: the sometime bane of the world can be your saviour here. Looking for a cheap breakfast? A Sausage and Egg McMuffin is HK$10, and it’s served all day. A roast coffee is HK$14. It’s got WiFi. You can sit in here all day. There are none of the down-and-out places that you might find in some UK cities, for instance, all branches here seem up-to-date with McDonald’s most recent branding. And if you think you’re not being “authentic” by eating here, think again: you’ll be sitting next to Filipina friends, Chinese families, jittery businessmen, teenagers—a cross section of Hong Kong. (Our haunt was in the Pacific Building on Nathan Road)
🍺 Last but not least
Get yourself a few beers from a convenience store and head down to the front around the Hong Kong Cultural Centre, where everyone watches the daily light show at 8pm. Stay, drink, and be merry. Palm trees line the fountain, local busking kids vye to be heard; it’s vibrant but chilled. Be warned: whilst innocently sitting taking it all in, our bag was nicked from right next to us (literally: it was touching one of our legs). Whilst the police were quick to respond, the chances of the case being solved are very remote. Be vigilant, keep your belongings glued to you, and bathe in the atmosphere of this lovely city spot.


We stayed at Simply Hostel (www.simplyhostel.com; around HK$230/£22 per night), which you'll find on the 11th floor of New Lucky House on Jordan Road in Kowloon. The lobby is a bit decrepit but that's just the Hong Kong way. Take the lifts on the left up. There are half a dozen or so rooms, all tiny but pleasant enough windowless cells (unless you get the twin room). It's clean, newly decorated, there's a TV on the wall, AC, room under the bed to stuff luggage, has an en-suite toilet/shower, decent WiFi. Jordan MTR is literally two steps from the door of the building. The guy who checks you in speaks English; he isn't the warmest of chaps but you can force him into a brief exchange if you ask him a question.

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