Our stop in Hong Kong had two very important aims: firstly, to celebrate my birthday, which I have not really over the pas two years due to dissertations and our wedding (to tbf this was quite a celebration); secondly and less frivolously, to get our Chinese visas. Thankfully, we succeeded in both endeavours, although the first few hours on arrival were fraught with anxiety as we couldn’t work out how to leave the airport and get an uber. #firstworldproblems
We stayed in Kowloon in the infamous Chungking Mansions (I did not realise this was a known place until my older brother joked that I should go there to save money after I told him about an expensive birthday treat). It wasn’t bad at all, and by our standard of accommodation, despite the piddly size of the room, it was positively luxurious, with wifi and AC and a double bed rather than bunk beds. Admittedly, I did get asked every time I walked around whether I was interested in buying some drugs, but apart from that, highly recommended. To get into the spirit of the place, we watched the film Chungking Express while in Chungking Mansions one night.
The city is split across a bay, surrounded by green, forested hills; it’s a bit of a stunner on sunny days and I loved the contrast between the natural surroundings and the futuristic sky-scrapers that crowd the horizon. Apparently, the pollution can get so bad that you can’t see across the bay but luckily the weather we had was crystal clear and sunny. I adored getting on the Star Ferry across the bay, it was so cheap and gave a fantastic view over the city. I think we did it about 6 times in the space of 4 days.
On our first day we went in search of the “Mid-level escalator”. At first I didn’t get it; what is so exciting about outdoor escalators? But then it just keeps on going. You go up one, along a walkway and onto another one, cross a road and then on to another, through a tunnel and onto another and another and another. It takes you up and up through the steep streets of Hong Kong’s coolest district, Soho, past delicious looking wine bars and craft beer pubs and dumpling restaurants and even – intake of breath – a Marks and Spencer’s Simply Food. The location of the latter was duly noted for the next day.
That night we had our first real taste of the deliciousness Hong Kong had to offer: dumplings at Din Tai Fung, a place recommended by both of my brothers, separately. Let me pass on the recommendation; if ever you see this happy little guy anywhere in Asia, go in. Even if you aren’t hungry. You will make room. It was a meal to die for.
We then went and did something crazy. Well, not that crazy but for me, it sounds insane. We walked, with steely determination on my part, to the Ritz Carlton, got in the lift and went up to the Ozone bar on the 118th floor. I have never even seriously considered going up the Shard in London. This is about 40 floors higher than that. I made Hugo tell me a ridiculous improvised story about a duck who couldn’t find his breakfast in the lift on the way up as I was scared of hyperventilating if left to my own imaginings. I really hate thinking about going up through all that metal and air.
We almost didn’t get in at the top because Hugo was wearing shorts and I gave this pathetic whine about how “it’s my birthday and I’m terrified of heights” (really not my coolest moment) but luckily the lady at the desk had some spare trousers for such occasions and Hugo gallantly put them on while I ordered the largest glasses of red wine on the menu. We hadn’t drank wine since Budapest; it was sublime. The view over the lights of the city was amazing and it was almost too high to fee like we were in a building. We got good seats at the window and I ordered another glass of wine for medicinal purposes. At the stroke of midnight, we toasted my 28th birthday and I set a rather ambitious goal of being less fearful, inspired, no doubt, by the effects of altitude and wine.
The next day, my actual birthday, was a foodie’s dream. We began with a cool HK hipster cafe serving delicious coffees and my favourite breakfast of sourdough toast with avocado and poached eggs. Mmmmmmmmm. Then we took the star ferry back across the bay to Hong Kong Island and went up Peak Tram, which was fun and gave a great view over the city and the ginormous skyscraper we had been up the night before. For lunch, we went back to that M&S, like real British tourists, and I bought up the entire fridge of cheese as I have been cheese-starved, as well as oatcakes and a nectarine and a fig. We scoffed this picnic in a park nearby, exclaiming loudly about the cheesiness of the cheeses.
Then, we had to pop back over the bay to pick up our visas for China, the next leg of our journey. This had been a point of great anxiety for us both as when we handed in our passports to the agency arranging the visas, they pointed out that we had been to Jordan recently and that the Chinese Government were cracking down on anyone who had been to an Arab country recently because they were worried about security in the lead up to the G7 meeting that month. Talk about paranoia. Thankfully, we were a-ok and able to pick up our passports with it’s big visa stuck in it. Phew.
This success called for more celebrations and so we headed back over on the ferry straight to the Hong Kong branch of Brewdog for a little taste of home. It was so expensive though, so one wee beer later we were around the corner glugging down prosecco at a much cheaper establishment.
Thank you for an excellent birthday, Hong Kong!