Hong Kong is, at first, an overwhelming assault on the senses. Even for those accustomed to rapid city life, when throwing heat and humidity into the mix, it can be quite intimidating to dive into. Thus, I awoke rather early, eager to begin planning my itinerary and add some order to my time here.
One of my primary goals was to engage in the local pastime of acquiring luxurious goods at reasonable prices. Only instead of discounted hangbags or electronics, I sought a culinary bargain. A mark of gastronomic distinction normally reserved for only the most high-end of places, Hong Kong is famous for being home to the world’s cheapest Michelin-Starred Restaurant: Tim Ho Wan.
Tim Ho Wan offers dim sum, a dizzying array of small plates designed for sharing. (Think Chinese tapas.) Fortunately, I met several others at my hostel hoping to visit this immensely popular restaurant. And so, within hours of waking, I found myself joining a motley crew of travelers enjoying succulent BBQ pork buns, velvety shrimp dumplings, and even chicken feet.* All for the astonishingly affordable price of 40HKD each (~$5 US)! Albeit ruining myself for every other meal I will have in Hong Kong, experiencing my first Michelin Star definitely put me in high spirits, and I proceeded to enjoy an afternoon full of highlights.
Following our meal, we opted to visit the highest mountain on Hong Kong Island, Victoria Peak, known for offering stunning views of the skyline. And what a view it was!1The sheer number of skyscrapers in this city is truly astonishing; New York City honestly looks terribly provincial in comparison. Continuing to check off our must-do lists, we also took the Victoria Tram back down to Hong Kong Central. A tourist favorite dating back all the way to 1888, the Tram offers a quick, harrowing ride through the lush forest blanketing the Peak (especially when seated backwards on the trip down!)2
We then opted for the scenic route back to our hostel by crossing from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon through boarding the Star Ferry. At 2.5 HKD ($0.32 US), not only is the Star Ferry a great bargain, it offers lovely seaside views of the city and includes the added bonus of letting off fairly near the Avenue of Stars.
The Avenue of Stars is Hong Kong’s response to L.A.’s Hollywood Walk of Fame. Chinese cinema’s best and brightest are honored here with several namesake tiles and cinematic statues scattered along the seaside promenade. Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, and Chow Yun Fat are a few of the more internationally-recognizable names featured.
Hours spent out in the heat required an afternoon pick-me-up. Thus, after a quick refresh at the hostel, a few other travelers and I opted to visit the Charlie Brown Cafe on nearby Cameron Road. For those unfamiliar with character cafes, they are incredible shrines to their cartoon namesakes. For example, not only was the the Charlie Brown Cafe decorated entirely like a Charles Shultz comic strip, the food and drinks echo the chosen theme. As you can see, I opted for a Snoopy latte and ginger cheesecake. While slightly pricier than your average cafe, I definitely recommend experiencing a character cafe at least once.**
The final highlight of my day was to enjoy Friday night properly by experiencing Hong Kong’s nightlife. After a quick pitstop to enjoy the Symphony of Lights, a few travelers and I headed over to Lan Kwai Fong, or LKF. Located on Hong Kong Island, LKF is a very dense neighborhood bursting with bars and nightclubs. The streets completely overflow with revelers, and as such, the people watching in LKF is spectacular. Hinting at Hong Kong’s role as an international finance hub, Western bankers dressed in suits can be found on every corner, intermingled with locals and tourists alike. There is also a surprisingly vast age range, from high schoolers to the occasional elderly monk quietly observing the hedonism.
Grabbing a beer at one of the many 7-11’s, I roamed the streets with my new-found friends, reflecting on the day’s experiences: Award-winning cuisine. Breathtaking views. Island hopping. Mingling with stars (including animated ones.) Partying in the streets.3 If this was just my first day, who knows what the rest of the week has in store!
12 June 2015
*One of the benefits of staying in hostels as well as traveling alone is how easy it seems to be to meet other people. My fellow diners consisted of two Singaporeans, a Filipino, and a Cantonese-Canadian. All of whom kindly explained how to eat chicken feet before laughing uproariously at my failed attempts to do so. Eyes closed, chicken feet is really quite delicious. However getting over the mental hurdle before every bite made the whole experience far too time consuming to enjoy it properly.
**If only to observe the excitement with which fellow clientele—which during my visit, largely consisted of young, female Japanese tourists—fawn over the decor. Although the Charlie Brown Cafe actually came highly recommended to me by a middle-aged, male Portuguese traveler I serendipitously met over Memorial Day Weekend last month while visiting friends in Washington D.C. A love of Snoopy knows no boundaries.
1: Although the Sky Terrace 428 technically offers the highest viewing platform on the Peak, The nearby shopping mall offers equally fantastic views for free with an observation deck just a few meters short of the Terrace. The complimentary platform includes free telescopes, allowing visitors to truly take in the sites.
2: The Tram is a historic experience that offers the quickest way up/down the Peak. However, at 28HKD, it is one of Hong Kong’s most expensive modes of public transportation, costing about 2.5 times as much the mini-bus I took to get up to the top. It is apparently also possible to hike up the Peak, so for those not in a hurry, there are certainly other options to get to the top. (Although yes, I recognize that 28HKD only amounts to about $3.60 US. But hey, those extra savings could go towards a meal at Tim Ho Wan!)
3: Quite fortunately, there are no open container laws in Hong Kong (or most anywhere outside of the United States for that manner.) Thus, it is a common practice for people to grab drinks at one of the convenient stores located in LKF. With music overflowing from the bars on all sides, as well as plenty of people to mingle with on the streets, it is the perfect way to enjoy a bargain night out.