The weekend started in style – a Michelin star restaurant at Hong Kong airport and a serving of some delightful barbeque pork ribs – Ho Hung Kee’s was an unexpected treat. My friend from home, Ben, greeted me straight out of arrivals and bought me over to his colleagues from Marlborough College Malaysia for a quick bite. We were there to welcome in the Lunar New Year.
Ben and I
As it’s based on the moon’s cycles, the dates for Chinese New Year change each year and being in January this year, it was fairly early. My arrival in Vietnam, the nearest country to China’s autonomous territory of Hong Kong, happened to coincide with a school exeat weekend for the celebrations: it was the perfect coincidence. I almost didn’t make it though.
Leaving the hostel in Saigon started as a very relaxed affair. It was an early start but 5am rises mean very little when there’s adventure to be sought. Having not caught a plane to get from the UK to Vietnam, catching a flight was a rather novel affair – albeit I’d be returning to the same airport only a few days later and continuing my overland excursion to Singapore.
Things took a turn in the taxi when I realised my previous hostel still had my passport. With some rather insistent hand gestures, we turned back and after many apologies from the hostel staff I was back en route. Having given myself 4 hours to travel, check-in and chill, there was a bit of time to spare. So much for the relaxed affair!
The weekend was an exercise in elegance. Starting with my sweet arrival, we dined on some decadent dishes. I still don’t quite understand why there’s a Michelin star restaurant in the arrivals terminal. I’m thankful the boys waited for me there though.
Another of the fine dining establishments we frequented was a small side street dim sum restaurant. Originally from Taiwan, dim sum is a Cantonese speciality and as a weekend morning treat it can be found in Hong Kong from as early as 5am. It was only fitting that we had some. Instead, we had a lot!
Over our long weekend, we had dim sum at King’s Dimsum three times each and not always together! Hidden away near Causeway Bay metro station, this restaurant performed wonders with the variety and quality of dim sum they produced. Highlights were the pork and ginger dumplings, the shrimp wontons and of course, the infamous barbeque pork bao. These sweet juicy steamed buns must have channelled ambrosia straight from the gods. I’d give this place a Michelin star for sure.
Eating on the streets - King's Dimsum
Part of the reason we spent so much time here was that our AirBnb apartment was just round the corner. It was a relaxed 4-bed flat that provided ample space for our weekend of letting loose in the city. Needless to say we didn’t use the kitchen once.
The district we were based in was Wan Chai – as the heart of the city it’s ideal for shopping with the huge malls like Times Square and Hysan Place plus roads like Kingston Street (aka Fashion Walk) to add to your designer collections. By visiting Kingston Street you fortuitously have the option to put your feet up and sample some gourmet fine dining on the simply named Food Street area (Houston Street).
Our first evening’s entertainment was focused in Lan Kwai Fong: based near Central metro station, it’s the unofficial party centre of the city. Full of expats and a smattering of locals, it was a great place to grab a beer and shooter, drink on the streets and dance into the small hours of the morning. To the delight of onlookers and the dismay of the bar security, one of our party took a turn dancing on a podium in the classy CÉ LA VI. His exit from said podium was less than graceful but having caught it on camera, it provided more laughter over the weekend than anything else. He shall remain unnamed for dignities sake ;)
Saturday itself was the official welcoming of the Lunar New Year. Part of the reason for visiting Hong Kong was its famed parade through the streets. Unfortunately, we were rather disappointed as the floats were infrequent and the crowds were huge. It was such an anti-climax that we decided to grab dinner rather than watch the entire drawn out procession.
Our dissatisfaction at the parade gave us an opportunity to venture to the Asia’s highest sky bar at OZONE in the The Ritz-Carlton hotel. With the bar on the 118th floor and towering over the city on the Kowloon side of the bay, it provided views over Victoria harbour and central district. To be fair the bar didn’t make the most of the views due to its design – without its sheltered balcony it could have been any edgy club in the world. Additionally, the venue is definitely setup for a wealthier clientele with a bottle of beer coming in at over £15 (~$19). Their cocktails were well put together though and it was a good place to have visited on the evening of the New Year.
Something rather more enjoyable were the fireworks on the Sunday night. Getting somewhere to view easily was certainly a good game of tactical manoeuvres with us scouting out many points. Ideally, you would have had a room at the InterContinental hotel, which with its views directly over the bay provides an outstanding viewpoint for the celebrations. We watched from in front of the Sheraton where there was plenty of room for all and an almost unobstructed view of the action.
The sky at night
The fireworks bought the city to a standstill as the entire bay was warmly lit up from the dark night sky. You could have turned off every streetlamp, bedroom light or billboard and the city would still have glowed as if it was day. Having seen London’s offering on New Year’s Eve, what Hong Kong provided was on a par if not better.
Our daytime’s were filled with wanderings through the city and an adventure up the Dragon’s Back. As a series of islands, there’s plenty on offer outside of the skyscraping centre – the Dragon’s Back is just one of the great offerings to enjoy. We took taxis out of the city to the beginning of the trail, although there are buses that drop off directly.
The Dragon's Back Ridge trail
The Dragon’s Back itself is a ridge that runs along a series of peaks on the southeastern side of Hong Kong Island. With vistas on both sides it’s a great trail and a walk that nearly anyone can do. Despite doing it in flipflops, trainers are advised for the most comfortable ride. For us it was a great way to spend a sunny/sporadically cloudy afternoon. We finished up in Big Wave bay watching surfers carve their way through the whitecaps over a couple of beers and a few hands of Monopoly Deal.
Boys on the trail - Phil, John, Joe, Ali, Will, me, Ali and Ben
By the way, Mono Deal is an absolutely cracker of a travel game to have on you. Easy to learn, delightful to play and thrilling to win, the Malaysia College Malaysia boys introduced me to this card game and it’s definitely a keeper; some might say its preferable to the real thing.
The others had an early flight to venture back to the reality of their working lives. This gave me the opportunity for a little more exploring before I caught my flight back to my overlanding adventure. What began as a trip to get a good view over the city became a wonderful, if sweaty, hike.
Victoria Peak is the famous mountain that towers over the skyscrapers of downtown Hong Kong. Considering these buildings are tens of floors high, it is wonderful that this viewpoint is so high and so close to the city. Usually, you would catch the funicular to the top. Being Chinese New Year, the queue for this attraction was huge. It would have meant hours of waiting and despite a couple of sneaky attempts to circumvent the lines I wasn’t getting anywhere fast. This had me walking alongside the tracks up the hill and what a pleasure that was.
The path up the mountain
Initially I’d just been trying to get to the next funicular station but due to the busyness only the two terminals were in action. At this point I discovered the winding path up the mountainside. Through the lush greenery of the slopes and some of the most wonderful homes in Hong Kong, the path flowed via a series of paths up the hill. For the most part it was deserted, quiet and peaceful. It’s definitely not a casual stroll but I couldn’t recommend it more. It definitely gives you a breath-taking view on the way up and a sense of achievement at the top.
View from the top
18 years ago I visited Hong Kong with my parents and we ventured up Victoria Peak then. It’s pretty much a must do for the first time visitor to Hong Kong. These days it’s a rather commercial spot with fast food restaurants, a shopping mall and heaps of people. There’s no taking away from the view though and a visit is still a Hong Kong classic.
While it was chaotically busy around Lunar New Year and not everywhere was open, Hong Kong was a wonderful place to visit. For the boys, it was a weekend to let go and as a dusty backpacker it was a slice of luxury holiday from the road. The show the fireworks presented was more than enough justification for visiting over the weekend. I’d recommend.
Packed streets after the fireworks
As for me, it was back to Vietnam and an adventure north along the coast. I couldn’t wait.
Friday 27th January – AirBnb apartment, Hong Kong, China
Saturday 28th January – AirBnb apartment, Hong Kong, China
Sunday 29th January – AirBnb apartment, Hong Kong, China
Monday 30th January – Saigon Inncrowd Hostel, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam