Tuesday, October 26, 2010

24 hours in Hong Kong

24 hours in Hong Kong

We landed at 6.30am, Saturday, at Hong Kong International Airport on the island of  Lantau.   From there it was a pleasant trip to Hong Kong Island,  hopping over a series of islands via super long bridges – amazing feats of engineering and tunnels under the sea. Our hotel, The Regal Hong Kong, http://www.regalhotel.com  felt like it should have been in Rome rather than Asia with its Roman statues and ornate chandeliers - it seemed a little out of context! Our 2-room suite was large and comfortable with views over the city and I did appreciate the spa that evening after a long day exploring the city.

Shortly after we hit the streets of  bustling down town Hong Kong.  Every available space seemed to be filled with colour and sent the senses reeling at first.  If you can find a place to stop in the crowded streets it’s worth briefly closing your eyes and letting your other senses take over – it’s only then that you can focus on the sounds and the smells of this city that seems to marry the old with the new. The sounds of traffic mix with an unfamiliar tongue as people go about their daily lives – and people, there are many!   This was Saturday morning and with offices closed, people were out in force making the most of their weekend in the markets, shops, restaurants and sunshine.

Cooking on the sidewalk - as you walk by you can choose from an array of different foods and eat on the run!  This particular stall offered pork buns and satay sticks.
There is an abundance of ways you can satiate your appetite from 3-star Michelin restaurants to the street hawkers with their carts filled with pork buns and other delicacies.   TBG is a regular traveller to Hong Kong  so we decided to have our brunch at one of the little Asian cafés he frequents near our hotel.  TBG is addicted to pho soup – a spicy Asian broth often filled with a variety of meat including beef, tripe and spicy sausage although you can get vegetarian varieties as well.   To the pho you can add bean sprouts, chillis and different herbs.  I opted to begin with fresh spring rolls & dipping sauce followed by a pad thai filled with prawns & chicken.    Including a plate of chicken sticks, the meal cost $20 AUD and was excellent value.   

Pho soup - a beef broth filled with different meats, vegetables, spices and noodles
Our tummies full, we  headed down to the Central Pier to catch one of the iconic Star Ferries across to the China mainland.   For .30 cents AUD you can board the ferry for the short ride – a great way to see the harbour first-hand with it’s luxury liners and junks sharing the waves.    It’s also a good way to get a different perspective of the city.     I was hoping the usual Hong Kong smog would disappear however it wasn’t to be!  The city was shrouded in a veil of white making photography a little disappointing.  Still, this is the real Hong Kong and smog is part of it!

Another of Star ferry glides past.  A ride across the harbour costs 30 cents.
Alongside towering space-age highrise buildings with their mirror windows sit much older apartment buildings with their washing hanging precariously from poles over the streets below.  I was glad that Hong Kong hadn't become as sterile as Singapore.  Don't get me wrong, I love Singapore however it's nice to get a glimpse of how life was in Hong Kong in years gone by.

After our brief journey to the other island we made our way to Mong Kok and the famous ‘Ladies Markets’ with street upon street of stalls selling everything from designer bags (copies of course) to jewellery, jade and clothing.   Being Saturday, the markets were packed.  I’d also hoped to visit the bird and fish markets – both are prized as pets as they don’t take up much space – however we were running out of time and I wanted to make it to the famous Peak before the sun set behind the island and a photo op would be lost.

The 'Ladies' market - Mong Kok
There are a few different options for getting to The Peak however the most popular by far is by the Peak Tram which has been in operation since May 1888 (and never had an accident I believe).   We queued for about half an hour before boarding however it was an interesting wait as you walk alongside a museum-style history of the Tram with artefacts from the days when it was operated by coal-fired steam boilers.   These days it is powered by a microprocessor-controlled electric drive system but even so, it almost groans at times as it strives to reach the Peak on some of the inclines.  

Hong Kong city shrouded in smog - taken from The Peak
Once at the top you can visit the Peak Tower which is basically a modern building filled with shops and restaurants however a viewing platform on the roof, 428 metres above sea level, affords 360 degree views of the island and across the water to the outer lying islands of Cheung Chau, Lamma and Lantau.  Oh how I wish the smog had disappeared!  We did manage to get the last rays of sunlight on the buildings before the sun disappeared behind the mountain. The photos I took do not do this beautiful city justice.

After visiting The Peak we walked (mostly downhill) to the Soho district of the island with it’s many bars, cafes and restaurants.    Soho clings to the mountain-side and one of the longest escalators in the world runs down the centre of the district allowing easy access to the various streets.    Two years ago when I visited Hong Kong we did a ‘tapas crawl’ starting at the bottom of the escalator and getting on and off when we spied a bar that appealed as it crept up the mountain.    Tonight, however, we returned to the Bacar Wine Brasserie for a large glass of French beer and a platter of dips - hommus, tabbouli and Lebanese bread, to begin our evening.   After a long walk in the warm Hong Kong air, an icy Kronenbourg was most welcome.  I must say that we were very fortunate weather-wise.   The temperature, in the high 20’s, was perfect and the humidity was bearable.

French beer was appreciated.
TGB enjoys his tapas and wanted to take me to one of his favourite Spanish restaurants called Rico's.  We ordered 4 plates of tapas which was probably 2 plates too many as servings were very generous.    First to arrive was the Ensalada de Jamonera Con Queso Manchego – a plate of ‘refreshing Autumn salad consisting of Jamon de Serrano, Manchego cheese, roasted bell pepper and artichoke hearts’.    Delicious even though the bell peppers were served raw rather than roasted.  

 The thin slices of beef with a pepper sauce were tender and we named the chicken dish ‘Death by Garlic’ – so tasty however we felt for those people in close proximity on our flight to London!   

My favourite dish was the whole roasted red bell pepper stuffed with mushrooms and garlic – yep, more garlic.     We ordered a jug of Sangria to compliment the meal. 
After dinner I decided we needed to walk off some of the tapas – “I have no idea why they invented these damn trams going past because nobody obviously uses them!”  TBG mumbled.  Well, people do…just not us.   With a 4.50am call in the morning for our flight to London, we fell into bed (after my spa of course) and slept soundly … until the phone rang to say… time to get up and another adventure begins.    Why don’t you come with me to London…

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