48 Hours in Hong Kong
Hong Kong – a thrilling, vibrant city. With a myriad of laneways; wall to wall Michelin star restaurants; a neverending skyline – it is also one of the worlds most densely populated urbanscapes. All nestled on the shores of lovely Victoria Harbour. As The Urban Mum learns, there is much to discover…
In Hong Kong (the kids safely ensconced with Grandma some 7,500 kilometres away); I have to quell the urge to ditch The Husband at the nearest golf shop. This trip was booked as a romantic getaway so it seems churlish at best to suggest the holiday is spent doing what The Urban Mum loves best – shopping and eating. Strolling from boutique to dumpling house; to Shanghai Tang to The Peninsula Hotel lobby for people watching – with no-one in tow and no timetable. That is luxury.
Wandering through a new city is a past-time of which I will never tire; some of my favourite discoveries made this way. I have found new friends and enjoyed the local vibe of neighbourhoods. My sister, mother and a slim handful of friends enjoy this style of exploring. The Husband does not. He needs a start and a finish. For me a beginning yes, but a definitive end – now that misses the point entirely…
So my compromise (yes really – occasionally this occurs) is a reservation for a four hour walking tour. A half-day spent exploring the hilly twists and turns in South of Hollywood (SOHO). Adjacent to – yet a world apart – from the glitz and bustle of Central.
As the 2014 Certificate of Excellence award winner (voted by Trip Advisor) – Big Foot Walking Tours comes highly recommended. Prior to booking I investigate some of the other options – but keep coming back to Big Foot. Communication is timely and professional from our first email. You can join a small group or arrange for a Private Tour – we opt for the later.
DAY ONE IN HONG KONG
We arrange to meet in our Hotel Lobby. Ski Yeo – Director of Big Foot Walking Tours (and our guide for the day) – is immediately recognisable. Her efficient air, sensible walking shoes, and bright red back pack stand out like a beacon in the subtle surrounds of The Peninsula. The Husband is immediately disarmed by her cheery greeting; I breathe a sigh of relief. His preference for our final child free day was lunch by the pool; followed by an afternoon of watching golf on the vast 3D television in our air conditioned suite – not an expedition in the back streets of Hong Kong seeing the ‘real and traditional’.
The sultry; pre- storm build-up (the Typhoon arrives later that night); hits as we exit the hotel. It’s a busy Monday morning and we jostle for space on the footpath, before Ski darts left into the MTR entrance. We have already aquainted ourselves with this brilliant system; and just ten minutes later we emerge in Central and thus begin our tour.
Ski – a Singapore born Accountant – turned her back on the corporate world five years ago and moved to Hong Kong with little idea of her next plan. Her business must be her destiny – she is so good at her game I cannot imagine anyone surpassing her level of knowledge; and maintaining her level of engagement. When questioned about ever feeling jaded, “Each client is different, so my approach varies – besides I love what I do.”
So do we…
We visited many spots during our four hours – here are our must do “Top Five”…
For the rest you will just have to book your own tour!
FENG SHUI IN HONG KONG
My knowledge of this ancient art of arranging your life around legends is sketchy at best. I tend to decorate by locating the lounge in a spot best for catching afternoon rays.
Ski explains tensions between the Chinese and British affected the layout of the building that rises high above us – the magnificent Bank of China. The sharp edges purport to represent knives and arrows directed at the Supreme Court and HSBC headquarters. In response HSBC called in Feng Shui masters who relocated heavily carved stone guns – they now point directly toward The Bank of China. Post trip research indicates many versions of the legends; however I’m never one to let detail get in the way of a good story – besides The Husband is enthralled – first stop a success. Then it’s time for morning tea.
CHINESE TEA TIME IN HONG KONG
Lan Fong Yuen 2 Gage Street Central, Hong Kong (MTR Sheung Wan Exit E2 or Central)
Opening Hours: 8:00am – 8:00pm (Mon-Sat)
A brisk pace and some ten minutes later we are standing outside a tiny Chinese Teahouse – like so many of the best held local secrets it could be easily missed. Lan Fong Yuen has two locations (one for noodles; one for breakfast – we visit the latter). A powerhouse since 1952; renowned for being the creator of the ‘stocking tea’ – a curious 1/2 coffee, 1/2 tea blend – doused in evaporated milk and served sweet or not (the difference is about 4 teaspoons of sugar), iced or hot.
I choose hot and sweet, The Husband cold and not. Mine the winner. Served with in-house specialty French Toast (a sandwich of coconut jam – golden and buttery – the British influence is clear), all rather delicious in a white bread comforting way. We share a table with young locals on their way to work – this is their daily breakfast spot. Ski explains that due to the small nature of most apartments in Hong Kong ovens are removed; replaced with washing machines – hence dining out is a necessity – further explaining the constant stream filing through this tiny establishment. Now replenished it is time to walk.
IT’S ALL IN THE INTERPRETATION
The Central-Mid Levels escalator – the longest covered one in the world – rises ahead. I have encountered it on previous visits – The Husband always stuck in an office doing corporate things – has not. “We are only going half way,” Ski promises. Which is just as well – I am fit – however by now the humidity has climbed to over 90% and we are too early for the uphill direction changeover (to accomdate the working hours of most residents the escalators run downhill from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. and uphill from 10:30am to midnight).
As we climb higher the pace becomes slower, perfect for people watching. Regarding myself as curious (interpreted as nosy by some); a peek into the lives of locals hold eternal fascination.
Our destination is a signpost for a rather innocuous looking laneway, Rednaxela Terrace (initial thought – a lot of effort for nothing). However as I am discovering there is a hidden meaning for most of what Ski shows us. The intended name was Alexander Lane – painstakingly painted by a signmaker from right to left – as is the custom with Chinese characters (thrilling that this piece of history survived with no-one feeling the urge to rip it down and start again). We transverse down hilly trails to lunch and a visit to Taoist Man Mo Temple – where I come face to face with destiny.
124 Hollywood Road, Mid Levels
As we enter the Temple I am drawn like a magnet to the older gentleman perched at a dusty desk, large tomes piled high surrounding his small frame.
I should state I have a fixation with seeking out fortune tellers whilst on holidays – I am happy with my lot, just curious to see what might be around the corner, (the elderly gentleman that read my palm at the Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur sadly didn’t see my future as a Princess in a Royal Household, his predictions a story for another day).
Being a realist with two feet firmly planted on terra firma The Husband cannot understand the need to hand over money for this exercise. Nevertheless I cannot be swayed and I settle in. Good fortune telling etiquette dictates that you do not sit in someones reading. Exception is made in the interests of marital ‘full disclosure’. I allow The Husband to remain, asking him not to breathe scepticism over the experience. He can’t help himself, interrupting the flow midway to ask for further explanation. I sense increasing frustration from my guru as The Husband probes further, “Does my wife’s fortune show an actual windfall?” he asks. What he means is, does it seem likely he could retire to spend the remainder of his days on a golf course.
“No…”, the response terse. “Your wife shows much creative energy, not money…”, he pauses for effect, “Never”.
It seems all this distraction has mixed my aura, speechless I move on to the incense scented temple.
LUNCH WITH HONG KONG LOCALS
2-3F 46-50 Des Voeux Road West, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong, China
The Husband has been very specific – only a traditional Dim Sum restaurant will satisfy his hunger – traipsing through the uninspiring entry; up to the second floor (more walking) I remind myself not to judge a book by it’s cover. Doors open to reveal a bustling hub – lunchhour is in full swing – workers occupying all the tables. Fortunately a waiter recognises Ski and we are whisked to an adjacent room. The experience is a local, favourite spot – I suggest you pop in (make sure you leave room for the sublime custard tarts).
THE URBAN MUM ‘INSIDER’ GUIDE:
Octopus Card: plenty of people suggest we buy this card on arrival at Hong Kong airport – of course I forget. Its benefits are numerous (retail, transport, parking) however for our short stay it is just as easy to purchase MTR and ferry tickets through the machines at the stations. We have no other use for the card.
Book: Big Foot Tours are popular; to ensure you are able to secure the day/time you want, book as far in advance as you can.
Cash: Many of the places you visit on this tour are ‘hole in the wall’ – markets; cafes; vintage stalls. Bring cash or ask Ski to stop at an ATM.
Wear: comfortable shoes – you will be walking a lot.
Cost: AUD$293 for the two of us – prices vary depending on number of people.
DAY TWO IN HONG KONG (the extras)
Owned by Sir David Tang (of Shanghai Tang fame amongst others). Members only retro-style ‘Club’ housed in the Old Bank of China Building – most good Concierges will manage to get you a table. A strict dress code, VIP people watching, fabulous food and a rooftop bar confirms this spot needs to be on your itinerary. The highlight is the floorshow; noodle making with the Chef, and magnificent Opera Singer.
Michelin Star acclaim, top floor of the Ritz Carlton. Brilliant service, incredible views, super food. A treat…
Our room has views over Victoria Harbour (extremely luxurious). I observe lots of people lining up around the block for the ‘famous’ afternoon tea…very pretty but if there is a queue don’t bother…plenty of other things to do in Hong Kong.
With a recent refurbishment the result is gorgeous rooms and a fabulous location, in the hub of shopping and culture.
We have little Chinese stamps made with the kids names (in chinese characters), they love them, a work of art.
Pun Han Sin Koon
Shop Gpt 8, Man Wah Lane, Sheung Wan (on Central side, your hotel might recommend a place closer to your hotel)
An MTR underground line has opened up this area previously not on the tourist radar, we visit for a locale of fabulous food stalls, markets and the feel of ‘real’ Hong Kong – one of the oldest areas in the city.
A well regarded tailor (photos of famous clients pepper the walls, rather excited to see Coldplay and Spandau Ballet, although would prefer to see them in person…). The Husband has several lovely shirts made. I don’t think the women’s clothes are as fabulous, so don’t bother for myself. Ask your Concierge to phone ahead and make an appointment for you.
Harbour City a shopping Mecca, a full day spent here would just about do it justice. Every international boutique can be found – a couple of ‘local’ higlights.
Shop 320, Level 3, Ocean Centre, Harbour City, Kowloon ph 27304760 Quoted HK 26,500 for a ‘Cartier’ style Love Bracelet. So you can compare pricing.
Il Colpo (just outside Pacific Place which is connected to Harbour City). For the best head massage, ever.
Several locations of this mini department store – I highly recommend you seek out their room fragrances.
A haven of cool – a former Police Married Headquarters – is now home to some of Hong Kong’s young designers and foodie newcomers. Hidden in the midst of Central.
MORE HONG KONG INFORMATION
Discover Hong Kong (Tourism Board Australia)
Sassy Mama (a great local website with loads of places to eat)
HOW WOULD YOU SPEND 48 HOURS IN HONG KONG?