Day 5: Sun & Sand

In order to take a break from Hong Kong, the city, I opted to explore Hong Kong, the island, and check out some of the local beaches.

First on my list was Repulse Bay. About thirty minutes away from Central Hong Kong, Repulse Bay is just far enough away to offer the perfect respite from urban life. It’s convenient location has not gone unnoticed, and guidebooks tell me the beach is a favorite for the local elite. All of the lush tennis courts, well-trimmed gardens, and private yachts I spotted from my double decker bus seat along the way confirmed that I was heading to a very different part of Hong Kong indeed.*

The public beach itself is a gritty mix of rock and sand, offering a less-than-pleasant surface to spread a towel and sunbathe on. Fortunately, this is East Asia where tanning is not nearly as popular.1 Instead, families seem to gather underneath one of the several trees dotting the beach and enjoy bountiful picnics in the shade. Meanwhile, I simply waded into the water long enough to take a few snapshots before continuing my exploration. There is a lovely boardwalk along the length of Repulse Bay that—surprise—includes a shopping mall, along with various boutique shops that not-so-subtly hinted at the beach’s preferred audience. (I was most shocked to spot a crowded hot yoga studio. Why anyone would sign-up for hot yoga when the humidity is such that they could do stretches outside on for the same results is beyond me, but there is clearly demand for it!)

Repulse TemplePersonally the most interesting part of Repulse Bay is the temple located at one end of the beach. The Tin Hau Temple is dedicated to the Goddess of the Sea and includes several colorful statues. It is rather extensive and well worth exploring thoroughly. Since the temple is located directly on the sand and jets out into the ocean, it also offers an especially photogenic backdrop. My personal favorite is the Longevity Bridge that has a plaque stating, “Every time you cross this bridge, your life is extended by three days.” Upon realizing this, I saw a young child excitedly dash across it several times.**

Following Repulse Bay, my travel companions and I headed off to nearby Stanley. We hopped on a mini-bus with a driver who was clearly intent on sticking to a very strict time schedule. When it came time for our stop, I had the misfortune of being last in line to get off, which led to him shutting the door and driving off with me still onboard. Before I could begin to panic properly, my lovely co-passengers all yelled incessantly in Cantonese on my behalf. The door then opened for a split second at the next red light, so I could quickly scurry to safety. Thank you fellow commuters! And hello Stanley!

Stanley is one of Hong Kong’s oldest villages and served as a key center of British colonial rule. It is currently renowned among tourists for its market, which consists of several tents offering all sorts of souvenirs and discounted goods, as well as fake designer handbags (by far the most popular item.) However, it also has a nice selection of bars and restaurants overlooking the ocean. Notable here is just how Western this particular stretch of sand seems. Perhaps not too surprising given Stanley’s past, but virtually every establishment serves some interpretation of Western cuisine, and there seemed to be many more foreign faces than not. Stanley could just as well have been any seaside European town, reminding me personally of Barcelona or St. Malo.***

Following a long afternoon spent thoroughly roaming the beaches, we decided to head back to the city. Opting to find a food court in one of the larger downtown malls,2 our small crew ended up in Hong Kong Times Square. Although not nearly the same size as the one in New York, this Times Square had to have at least as many people. After a morning away, the crowds were a bit more overwhelming than usual. The population density in Hong Kong honestly has to be experienced to be believed.

I wish I could say that I eagerly dived back into the action and continued to have an evening thoroughly exploring even more of Hong Kong. That was definitely my intention; except after lunch, our group headed back to the hostel for a brief refresh with plans to meet up again in LKF for another night out on the town. Unfortunately my brief nap at 17:00 turned into a complete snooze fest, and I woke up at 8:00 the next morning. So much for not suffering from jet lag. Although I do think the heat and hours spent in the sun had more to do with it than my biological clock malfunctioning. (After all, to my credit, I did wake up at a normal time the next morning!)

Ah well, at least I managed to have a proper beach day and luckily still have plenty of time to explore. Stay tuned as I attempt to stay awake and discover much more of the city.

13 June 2015

*Although every square centimeter of Hong Kong I have visited thus far has been next to a mall sporting high-end international brands, the opulence exhibited in Repulse Bay is on another level altogether. Think of how Malibu compares to the rest of L.A., the Upper West Side to all of Manhattan, or how Palo Alto is infinitely nicer than Berkeley. (Sorry, couldn’t resist. It is graduation weekend at my alma mater, and I am feeling nostalgic. Congrats Stanford ’15!)
**This may or may not have actually been me
***It should be noted that Repulse Bay also had a strong international showing. (I assume this is because Westerners in Hong Kong are quite likely in higher social classes.) However, there seemed to be substantially more expats at Stanley. The resemblance to a European port is also more striking; picture sidewalk cafes dotted with umbrellas shading people comfortably conversing over their imported beer of choice. No hot yoga studios here!

Traveler Tips:
1: That is to say, tanning is essentially taboo and there instead seems to be a preference for lighter skin tones. As far as I know, this is common across most of Asia. For example, the Filipino-produced deodorant I unwittingly purchased for my trip apparently contains a whitening element to help lighten my underarms. I am sure there are many fascinating studies on this preference, presumably relating to Western colonialization and whatnot. However, my key takeaway for travelers to the region is to carefully read the labels of any toiletries you may purchase here as they may contain active skin whitening ingredients. (Even ones you wouldn’t expect, like deodorant!)
2: While every mall has plenty of dining options in the form of restaurants, not every mall has a proper foodcourt. However, I highly recommend checking out those that do as they seem to offer a quality selection of Asian cuisine for reasonable prices that are better than most restaurants offering the same meals. (Interestingly enough, I notice a stronger presence of Japanese and Korean selections over Chinese. Southeast Asian options are also often present, and to a much lesser extent, so are Western food stalls.)