Why Hong Kong?
This has been a year of many firsts for me. It is only the beginning I imagine. There are many things that I will be doing without Vinesh. We had planned and hoped to do so much together. Vinesh’s frequent flyer points that were transferred to me were going to expire in May. My son was happily off to his grandparents for his first school holidays, having started kindergarten this year. I had never travelled solo and it was something I wanted to do. I had planned for it last year but that is when everything went down hill. It was something I had to do. There was no time like the present.
The absolute chicken that I am, I picked somewhere less off the beaten track. An urban or city escape was a great starting point for this novice adventurer. I also wanted to go to an Asian country – am leaving the island getaways at the moment for family travel while Ryan is young. He is less interested in sight seeing and more on just playing by the pool/beach. Safety was high on the agenda so Hong Kong was it. A recent trip to Singapore, and Japan a few years also proved to be great Asian countries for first timers as they are extremely safe. I’m not game to do Bali or Thailand on my own yet, although both have been perfect family holiday destinations on more than one occasion in the past.
I’ll be posting my six day itinerary with places I visited or those I would recommend, soon.
What to wear, when to go and how long does it take?
I travelled in April during our school holiday period so peak airfares applied. My direct flight from Sydney was nine hours twenty minutes flying Qantas. I normally use budget carriers so was nice to fly in a big plane, a 747 and the return flight was on the A380. It was rainy season but it didn’t last all day. I still got to do everything I set out to do. Just layer up with a water resistant light jacket and a keep a fold up umbrella in your bag. I also carried a scarf with me at all times.
The public transport system here is efficient, regular and cheap.
The airport express train, which included a free shuttle service got me directly to my hotel from Kowloon station. I used the Octopus card similar to our Opal card for all my travel including the MTR (train), bus, and ferry. Was quite an experience catching a train from one island to another. For my day trip to Macau, I used the turbo jet ferry which was nausea free and a comfortable ride taking just under an hour. Taxis weren’t bad either and relatively cheap compared to Sydney. I kept getting lost using the buses so stuck to the other modes of transport. The charming slow trams would have been great to try, I just didn’t get around to it. The Big Bus two day pass gave plenty of flexibility to explore at your own pace. I got mileage out of this pass by getting it on Tuesday afternoon so it expired in the afternoon on Thursday. There wasn’t going to be any sight seeing first thing in the morning. That was dedicated to sleeping in!
Where to stay?
I stayed in the Tsim Sha Tsui Kowloon area at the Hotel Icon. Accommodation here is expensive especially for what the $ gets you compared to other holiday destinations. Contacting the hotel directly got me a better deal than whatever I saw offered online. It was still pretty expensive for me especially when its not being shared or split. I was ok with that, knowing that I wanted to have that comfy hotel experience with all its amenities – room service, and the lot. Backpacking will have to wait for another trip. I just had to be smart with my spending when out and about. There is of course, something to suit all budgets depending on what you want. Hong Kong is pretty congested and there is construction everywhere. The area around my hotel was less so. Five minutes walk to Hung Hom train station. Great hotel amenities – spacious rooms, heated pool, spa, roof top fine dining restaurant with views, free mini bar, free mobile phone with wifi and calls overseas, good room service menu and an amazing breakfast everyday. Shuttle service to the Harbour City shopping centre every 20 minutes. From here you can access the Star Ferry. Close to attractions – Science museum, Avenue of Stars, and various markets. To top it off the staff were great. This hotel is used for hospitality training.
The intention was to chilax poolside cocktail in hand, reading my book all day with the occasional spa treatment every other day (should have gone to Fiji I hear you say?). It didn’t work out that way as I ended up being out all the time. Mind you, out all day didn’t mean on the go all day. I got to sit quietly at a café for as long as I wanted, reading for as long as I wanted – interruption free. It was a multi-tasking free holiday. The freedom of being out and about whenever and wherever was simply too good to miss. I had to make the most of it! You can’t go wrong wherever you stay because the transport system is well connected. It will come down to what style of accommodation you prefer, what you prefer within walking distance, and whether you are ok with street noise when sleeping. Whether your focus is shopping, sightseeing, or partying and so on. Next time (smile) , I will stay on Hong Kong island for something different. I loved the dining in the Soho area, and the vibe during the day around central and Wan chai. Plus the shopping in Causeway Bay.
On the second last day here, I splurged at their rooftop fine dining restaurant Above and Beyond. Was quite a treat and a perfect way to finish to celebrate Easter away from family. Yeah I don’t go to fine dining restaurants back home for Easter 😉
But first coffee
My biggest splurge on any given day was on coffee. I tried Coffee Academics and it was a huge hit with me. They also had some pretty cool décor. If you are a true blue coffee connoisseur, there are some hidden gems around the place so keep a look out. Another place I tried while window shopping in Harbour City was Le Café de Joel Robuchon. It had beautiful side views of the harbour and also had a high tea menu.
I didn’t get to but would highly recommend it. I love High Tea, and there is quite a selection to choose here – The Langham, Nobu at Intercontinental, Tiffin at Grand Hyatt, Sevva to name a few. Hotel Icon also had a fab afternoon tea. I would pick The Peninsula. It has that romance of yesteryear feel to it.
There are so many markets here. I went to a couple, namely Temple Street Night Market, Ladies Market, and Stanley Market. I didn’t really fancy any of them. Next time I must visit their Bird Garden, Flower Market and Jade Market. I prefer markets where they are selling unique pieces or small businesses trying to sell their handmade products. On my last day, I did end up buying some souvenirs though. Bargaining was not my strength, so regardless of whether I was getting ripped off or not, if it looked well made and I was happy to pay the price, I just bought it. Ended up buying a couple of red handbags, figurines and fridge magnets, and some odd souvenirs. Even if you are not going to buy anything, it is well worth a stroll through the local scene.
Hong Kong is heaven on earth for shop till you drop! This is a country where you can genuinely list shopping as one of your hobbies. When you walk around here, you can sense the desire for material wealth, brand names, and more is more. Weird thing to say but I actually felt sick from it at first. Then I thought, hey I’m only here as a tourist, I don’t live here, so took great delight in this visual feast luring you to buy. All I was missing was oversized sunnies, upstyled hair, and a croissant. I still got great customer service even though I didn’t buy. I walked around Louis Vuitton as if I was in Strandbags. Almost bought a bag – next time 🙂 There is a luxury brand every step of the way. It was very difficult but I did not buy anything from the shopping centres. It was tough window shopping. I saw Chinese tourists from mainland China lined up outside a DFS Galleria with suitcases. Concierge at my hotel said they were not here for holidays. They had come here only to shop and go back home. My hotel was a shuttle bus ride away to iSquare and Harbour City. Causeway Bay was also a 10min metro ride away with Times Square, wtc, and Sogo. I also checked out Nike, Levis, and the Addidas outlets. Would have been great to buy Ryan some shoes here. Another one was the Citigate factory outlet at Tung Chung when visiting Lantau Island. It had amazing deals on Kate Spade, Coach, Furla, and so on. Other than clothes, there are many boutiques here that sell homewares and art pieces. Not cheap, but if you are on a shopping trip, they are worth checking out and definitely a beautiful addition for your home or office or as a gift.
The one thing I was really looking forward to was their food. My focus was on trying what was part of the local culture that I couldn’t get back home. Cantonese influenced dishes with mushroom, which is one of my favourites as well. I was I able to try many different varieties including lots of truffle. Dim sums and congee for breakfast every morning at the hotel and there are many yum cha places to try. All these are readily available in Sydney as well. There is a real mix of east meets west style dishes given the legacy of being a British colony and the number of expats here. Felt like nothing was off limits. Came across lots of stalls in Mong Kok area serving intestines and offal. Another must try is cha chaa teng (tea restaurant). It is great for people watching and has a food menu as well. If I came here in a group, I would try a lot more variety as eating for one can have its limitations and there is a lot of waste especially when you just want to sample a bit of everything.
Would I recommend going to Hong Kong?
Absolutely! A visit to Hong Kong and Macau is a must whether it’s a stopover or a holiday in itself. Ryan is not into Disneyland or theme parks. I would bring him here if he were older, that way he can also keep up with all the walking and we can have longer days being out and about. Depending on your kids interests there are some great museums here as well. A girly trip is definitely required just for the shopping alone. Don’t forget sports is big here too. I missed out by just a day on the Rugby 7s final where Fiji won! Yay!
This trip for me was definitely not about the destination. It was a self-empowerment exercise in starting to do things on my own and live outside my comfort zone. It was very much symbolic on many aspects of my life. I got time alone to think about a lot of things and clear my head. It was almost poetic that it was Vinesh’s frequent flyer points that were used for my first solo trip. He enabled me to take the first step and can picture him saying, “..here you go, now go and do it. I’m with you all the way”. Still looking out for me even though he is not here. I really enjoyed the trip but as with many things I do at the moment, there is a lot of pain deep down that seems to have found a permanent home. I’m just learning how to live with it while trying to live life. There were random moments where I just broke into a silent cry. These were moments I wanted to share with Vinesh no matter how small, which is why solo travel never appealed to me. I loved sharing everything with him.
If solo travel is something you have contemplated regardless of your situation, I would highly recommend to just do it. It’s a total me, myself and I experience. If you are not used to it, you get to do everything alone and actually enjoy it. I think we often forget to look after our own interests or to enjoy things on our own. Not everything needs to be shared. Just because you have work or are a mum or someone’s partner doesn’t mean your own needs have to take second place or that you are being selfish if you put your own needs first. It took me a long time after I had Ryan to even enjoy a coffee sitting in cafe reading a magazine – without guilt! Vinesh used to always remind about those safety videos you see when taking a flight. You have to put the mask on yourself first before you put it on your child or the person next to you.