We did some considerable research before settling on the first of our two Christmas holiday vacation locations. The location was strategically chosen so we would be able to see the premier of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” before any of our friends or family back home in the US. With the first showings on December 17, Hong Kong was not only the closest destination, but also the second earliest we would be able to view this glorious masterpiece, so we booked out entire trip around the movie’s release date (never fear, this post will not review the movie or reveal the plot, that is for another time). That is to say, we put no other effort into planning our vacation other than buying plane tickets, hotel rooms, and movie tickets. We decided to make things up as we went!
The first step was re-watching episodes 1-6. Unfortunately we left the blue ray copies at home (we have no idea how this happened), and David did not have the patience to un-encrypt the hard drive we brought with the back-up copy of the movies, so being in China we did what a normal person would do and bought the cheap copies from the store down the street! (Though now we are told they just download them off the internet).
Upon landing in Hong Kong we took the train to the city center and then grabbed a cab to our swanky little hotel to drop our bags off so we could proceed unencumbered to the movie theater. Side note on cabs in Hong Kong: they are red, drive on the left side of the road, and always go at least 30 kmph over the speed limit. Do not try reading your phone in the car, even those of us with seemingly iron stomachs are prone to motion sickness on these curvy roads at warp speed.
We arrived at the theater approximately 3 hours early to make sure there was not a huge line, picked up our tickets, and then wandered around for an hour. Finally we grabbed dinner and proceeded to fulfill our only vacation goal: Star Wars.
All things considered, I would consider the first day of our trip a massive success. The second day we spent wandering around Kowloon which is located on the main land (not part of Hong Kong island). We toured the Hong Kong history museum which is actually one of the most interesting museums I have visited. It takes you through everything from the natural science of how the island was formed over the last several million years, through the customs that were developed with the early settlers, through the opium wars, and then WWII and post Japanese occupation. Unfortunately the pictures cannot do it justice, so you will just have to take my word for it!
After touring the history museum we wandered through “the ladies night market” which is just a bunch of stalls where you can practice haggling for inexpensive gifts and trinkets. Every 10 or so stalls sells the same thing, and since coming to China the novelty has worn off and I only came away with one small item, a change purse for all my new and odd-shaped Hong Kong change. We made some bigger purchases in one of the gigantic malls lining the streets in Kowloon though. I got two pairs of tennis shoes (and immediately threw out my old ones, they were trashed), David got a passport wallet that actually fits credit cards in with it, and a cable for his new electric guitar he got in Shanghai. Everything was pretty expensive despite the sales (when compared to the US), but electronics and other luxury items do not have a “luxury tax” like they do in mainland China.
Because of this Hong Kong has become the shopping mecca of China in sense, and there are tons of fancy shops to prove it. Within 30 seconds of exiting the subway in Kowloon we were heckled for at least 5 blocks, and every 10 feet someone wanted to sell us a rolex, make us a suit or dress, or sell us some other expensive item. We got way more attention than everyone else around us, and neither of us looked particularly well off with a sweatshirt and old sneakers…We managed to survive all the hecklers and were treated to fabulous skyline views as we crossed back to the mainland on the star ferry, which is the best bang for your buck in the entire city. For only $2.5HKD ($0.40US) you can take a ferry across Victoria Harbour (yes, they were a former Brittish colony) and get great views. I highly recommend the trip at night!
Our third day found us meeting up with some co-workers for burgers at a little hole in the wall restaurant called “Burger Joys,” but not until we had a Chinese massage on the 6th floor of a sketchy looking high rise a few blocks away. David has a gift for finding these places and making me uncomfortable as he drags me into a back alley entrance to ask the security guard who speaks no English where the massage place is. Thankfully he does know the word “massagey” and tells us 6th floor. It was an excellent massage all in all, and the burger afterwards was superb. The “hole in the wall” feeling of the restaurant was accentuated when I asked where the nearest restroom was and was lead down a dingy smelly alley a half a block away where one of the restaurant workers opened a large iron door and presented me with a toilet (not a squatty though, extra bonus there!). For the afternoon we decided to take “the peak tram” up to “the peak” and take a look around. After waiting in line for
an hour to buy tickets we were told we could use our octopus cards and avoid the ticket buying line. (Octopus card: magical card you can pre-load cash on to use at convenience stores, the subway, the star ferry, and apparently the peak tram among other things). Unfortunately there was no way to skip the line entirely even with the octopus as they make you wait in the long line across the street for one of these gems before you are allowed into the terminal. Lesson for next time, come early to avoid the line (oh the things you learn if you actually research activities more than 20 minutes in advance).
The tram was fun, but just walking around the peak was really the best part of the trip. It is fun to see the skyline appear before your eyes as you climb in the tram, but you get the same affect in a taxi. Just make sure to get a taxi somewhere else (not right outside the tram station when you see a huge line). They try to charge way too much, always insist they turn the meter on, it will cut the price in half.
Our fourth and final day in Hong Kong was spent making our way to Lantau island and visiting the big Buddha. In recent memory, it was the tallest sitting Buddha in the world, but it has since been surpassed. We took the subway all the way out to the island (I am not sure, but we may have been under water at one point) and then opted for the cable car method of reaching the little village where the Buddha and Po Lin Monastery are located. Again, had we come first thing in the morning, or known we could buy tickets at the subway stop 7-11, the long line at the cable car terminal would not have taken nearly as long…We figure it was still about the same amount of time as the bus though because that only came by every 45 minutes. It was just more expensive.
There is a walking/hiking path all the way up the mountain(s) to the monastery, and I have no idea how long or miserable it was, but there were several people walking it in the rain! Some brave souls even appeared to have small children with them.
When we arrived at the monastery, we were very hungry and had been told about how good the food was. We had to ask a few people, but we eventually found out we had to go buy tickets at a ticket booth and return to the cafeteria once we paid. While we were waiting for someone to return to the booth to take our money another couple came up to look at the menu. Instead of looking at the menu that was off to the side, they stepped directly in front of us to look at it as the ticket person was returning to the booth. David muttered “oh no, that’s fine, it’s not like we are waiting in line or anything” and not only did they hear him, but they understood him and apologized and got in line behind us to pay. We are not sure if they were truly oblivious to our presence or just did not know that we were waiting to pay, but in China you quickly learn that if you do not take up the 6 inches of space in front of you in line someone else will…Or the impatient old man in the grocery store behind you will keep ramming his cart into you and all but put your groceries on the counter for you in order to get you to move faster (true story, now I place my cart behind me in line to absorb the cart ramming). It was therefore natural to assume they might not speak English, and may have even assumed we were still making up our minds about lunch. This is an interesting cultural phenomenon we witness frequently in China, and most times we will choose to assert ourselves or back off. This was one of those hangry assertive moments. 🙂
And no trip to Hong Kong is complete without these desserty waffle things! We have them in China too, but supposedly they came from Hong Kong?
At the end of our trip we reflected on a few of the finer points of our first visit to Hong Kong:
- We did not have a chance to ride the ding-dings (double decker bus/trollies that troll the city center area, octopus works on those too!), so we will need to return again in the future.
- Buy the octopus card, then you don’t need to fuss with all the toll machines everywhere for subways/buses/trams/7-11s?
- Our company considered this the nearest non-hardship destination, and we think we have figured out how that is defined:
- ALL restrooms are fancier than our apartment.
- Many people speak English in restaurants or at stores.
- No luxury tax on expensive items.
- Star wars comes out early.
- Disney Land exists (for a future trip!)