A Visit to the Cosmopolitan City of Hong Kong

by Brian Carroll on March 14, 2013

Hong Kong skyline The last stop on my trek through Asia took me to Hong Kong. Autonomous from mainland China, it has a very western feel and for it's small size, Hong Kong packs a big punch. Known as one of the financial hubs of the world, the city's wealth is clearly presented by its impenetrable skyline, bevy of luxury cars, immaculate public transportation and standard city attire (suit or blazer) worn day and night alike. While initially, I had planned on visiting Hong Kong with my buddy Brian, his plans changed which meant that I would be on my own for the next five days - well, sort of... While I was traveling on my own now, some of the girls we met back in our early days of Vietnam just so happened to be in Hong Kong as well and as such, I booked a room in the same location so it would be easier to meet up. Despite such logical thinking, it didn't work out as well as initially planned. First off, the girls I was meeting up with were flying to Hong Kong before they were assigned to international teaching schools in China. Among their program's disorganization, one of the girls ended up being assigned to teach in Mongolia (Mongolia!?!?) and left after a few hours of arrival and my other friend would be off to China early in the morning. So while it was a reunion among some friends, it was pretty short-lived, but nonetheless nice to catch up.

The beautiful Chungking Mansions (there is sarcasm as I write this)

The other part of this story is the place I stayed. Now they say real estate in Hong Kong is some of the most expensive in the world and it never disappointed in that respect. Where I initially stayed was at least five times more expensive than what it should have been and also one of the sketchiest places I've stayed to date, well the lobby anyways – but I was up for the experience! When you walked into this place, aptly called the Chungking Mansions, it was anything but one. The first floor was something I could only describe as a scene out of the movies Blade Runner or Total Recall. Basically it was like an underground city of seedy characters.

My first room in HK: Huge I know. This would improve...

When I actually got up to my room, which was locked off, clean and quiet (a plus), it was the tiniest room I have ever been in (a negative), literally 6 ½ feet by 6 ½ feet in total – thankfully I'm only 6'2”. I managed a few nights here and then made a switch to the Hyatt, which was a tad bit nicer.  Ultimately, both of the places I stayed were very central to a number of attractions in the city.  On to my highlights:

Awesome light show

1.  Each night, across the bay from Hong Kong city, a great light show can be seen from the area of Kowloon. Basically, there is a walkway along the water known as “The Avenue of Stars,” which is the equivalent to Hollywood's walk of fame, only for Chinese entertainers. Along this walkway, people gather to watch a light display that is automated among the skyscrapers and matched to music (depending on the day you go, it'll be in English or Cantonese). It lasts about 15 minutes and is worth seeing but even after the show ends, the lights that glow from the Hong Kong buildings are pretty remarkable.

Where I was about to lose my money

2.  I took a day trip out to another province known as Macau with a Canadian guy I randomly met at the airport. Macau is the Chinese equivalent of Las Vegas and seeing as I'd be in Vegas in late March, I needed to go here for comparison purposes. While it has the largest casino in the world (The Venetian), the area is small overall by Vegas standards – though with all the money flowing into China and the surrounding areas, it is only going to boom with time. And while we may play blackjack and craps, far and away, baccarat is the preferred game of choice among the Chinese. Macau also has a historic area that is part chinese and part portuguese that I had hoped to get to but didn't – I was too busy losing my money.

My improved digs

3.  After experiencing the Chungking Mansions, I figured I needed to finish my trip up in a little more style.  So I moved into the Hyatt across the way for the remainder of my stay, which was more than a little nicer.  Honestly, one of the nicer individual rooms I've ever had.  And the view of the harbor wasn't bad either.  

Unrelated, but I thought these cats were awesome

4.  On my third night out in Hong Kong, I headed out around 10pm to grab a bite to eat. It doesn't seem like the city really ever sleeps – people basically work long hours and then instead of cooking at home (I get a feeling that isn't too common among expats), people go and grab dinner and drinks. So everyone is still dressed up at the bars in their suits and blazers – well all except me. Walking through the streets probably as the only person wearing sandals on a Wednesday night, I decided to grab a piece of pizza at a nearby stand. For a Wednesday, it seemed unusually busy, so I ended up chatting with a Swiss and Czech girl who were getting pizza and they informed me that Wednesdays in this part of town are known as "ladies night" ( women drink for free!). While I was still eating the girls finished up and headed to a nearby bar and invited me for a drink. I was pretty much checked out by this point and content to just go home and chill, but after some proper thinking, I decided getting a drink was in order (though I didn't want to be the random dude ultimately hanging out at a bar myself - talk about awkward). After walking in the bar and tracking down the girls I had just met, I grabbed a drink and did a double-take as I saw a guy who looked like a buddy of mine from back in Los Angeles. His resemblance was uncanny, so I went up to him and to my surprise, it was my buddy (who now lives in Seattle but was out in Hong Kong on business)! Out of all the cities, nights, times and bars to be in, it was as random a run-in as I think I've ever had. I ended up hanging out with my buddy and his other coworkers/friends who were out for the night and we made plans to get together the following day.

Our great view overlooking Hong Kong

4.  On my last full day in Hong Kong,  my buddy Ryan and I did some site seeing and good eating around town. We checked out the longest escalator in the world and the famous Peak, which gives an amazing view overlooking the city from up in the mountains. Unfortunately, the day we went, it was foggy and never cleared. But we both decided we didn't care and would give it a look since we were in town (you couldn't see more than 5 feet in front of you). One thing I learned, and told myself during my traveling is that when you have a good day of weather, don't let it go to waste and do your site seeing then. Unfortunately, I didn't take my own advice in this situation and missed out on a great panoramic photo - just an extra reason for a future visit.

Excellent dumplings at Din Tai Fung

5.  In addition to a few sites, we ate at some great restaurants. First on that list was a famous Dim Sum place (only US locations are LA and Seattle) that has received Michellin awards in the past. I wasn't familiar with it, but it was a spot my buddy Ryan wanted to go to and I was glad to tag along. The pork dumplings were great and I'll definitely try them in LA sometime soon. That night, we checked out a very nice restaurant atop one of the buildings in Hong Kong featuring hanging walled gardens and as good a view as you'll find in all the city. The food was great and it was a perfect way to wrap up my time in Asia. After dinner, we grabbed drinks in the main district and ended up at a bar featuring an odd combination of loud music, dancing, pool, ping pong, and a bunch of girls in dresses, and a bunch of guys in suits.  I don't know what time we stayed there til or when I made it home (we played ping pong for awhile), but all I knew is the next morning, as I was headed to the airport and back to the States, I'd sleep well on the plane.  

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