It’s our last day in Hong Kong. Already.
We’re over our jet lag, the reality of what we’re doing is finally starting to sink in. And ready or not, we’re about to start the real adventure of finding our way overland to China and then across the Vietnamese border to Hanoi.
If HK weren’t so expensive, we would stay another week, if not longer. People here are friendly, the energy is amazing, and because English is commonly understood and spoken it’s pretty easy to get around. Hong Kong is an excellent way to get your feet wet in Asia. It’s ultramodern, clean and safe. It’s also beautiful and busy and so much fun.
We visited Lantau Island to see the world’s largest free-standing bronze Buddha at the Po Lin Monastery. There we also had one of the best (and cheapest) vegetarian meals in Hong Kong. Large plates of noodles, assorted veggie meats and two bottles of water cost just 60 HKD –about 9 dollars CAD. Not only affordable and awesome, but you get to eat in a giant Chinese monastery. Pretty neat!
Obviously a visit to Hong Kong would be wasted without a walk along the streets and alleys of Hong Kong Island. We walked away from the tourist haunts to wander around the residential streets. Because the city is built up the side of Victoria Peak, just walking around can be a difficult challenge. So what does the city do to help its residents overcome the very steep roads? They built a series of connected outdoor escalators that run right up the centre of the island! Tomorrow Land also includes a futuristic series of overhead walkways that pedestrians can use to get around up above the busy streets, and these connect directly to the subway system, high-speed trains, fast catamarans and traditional ferries, and the street cars and buses.
Commuters are also ‘rewarded’ for taking the escalator by getting a 2 dollar credit per day on their Octopus transit card. The walkways and escalators are everywhere. This is how transit should be done. How rinky-dink does ‘SkyTrain’ look to us now?
By fortunate coincidence, we were able to do a side-trip to Macau with our friend Siew and her family. Siew is a former colleague from Vancouver who had moved to Malaysia with her husband, Peter, and 7-year old son Donavan. They were in Hong Kong visiting Peter’s family. And the timing was our great fortune. At their suggestion, we met them at the TurboJet ferry terminal in Central not far from the Star Ferry. There we boarded the fast ferry for an hour-long ride to Macau.
Macau was a Portuguese territory until 1999 and is now known almost exclusively for its massive casinos. But even if gambling isn’t your thing (and it’s not for us), there’s plenty of reasons to visit. Chinese-Portuguese cuisine is unique and delicious. Our first stop after disembarking from the ferry in Macau was to wander the back streets of the city to a tiny non-nondescript noodle place down an alley. We would never have found this place on our own. Peter’s friend Ted had suggested it. It was well-known among Chinese for its famous duck noodle soup. The cramped restaurant was packed but we managed to find a table for the six of us to cram around.
Shortly after we sat down, the bowls of soup arrived. We’re vegetarian. But ate it anyway and it was really delicious. Like, amazingly tasty!
We wandered around the city for the rest of the day, exploring the old European-style cobbled streets and market square, and climbed around the ruins of the Cathedral and the Portuguese military fort. We ended our day with dinner at a Portuguese restaurant specializing in the local traditional seafood-based fusion cuisine. This place wasn’t in any of the guidebooks for tourists. We felt really fortunate to be with people who knew where to go and what to order.
Tonight we pack our bags and head off to find a sleeper bus to Nanning, China. It will be a 12-hour ride aboard China’s infamous night-buses. There are no seats, just sleeper-beds. And we’re in the notorious top bunks.
Here’s a travel tip: when you arrive somewhere, and know the date you will be leaving, book your departure transport immediately. Because we only booked our sleeper bus tickets two days ago, all we could get were upper level booths. We’ve read the upper beds make for an interesting experience. But it’s all part of the adventure, right? We keep telling ourselves we just never know what miserable experience will make a wonderful memory or amazing story.
This morning we decided to get coffee and buns, and eat them in Kowloon Park. The park was full of screaming kids on some kind of field trip. At first we thought, “Yikes! We came to the park for a quiet start to our morning! Not rambunctious children!” But we decided to stay anyway, and found a quiet bench in the shade. Five minutes later a large group of 6-years olds came running toward us and sat down to eat their snacks. All around us children were eating, laughing, dancing and working very hard to get our attention. Now, if kids aren’t really your ‘thing’ you might find this disturbance of what was supposed to be a quiet breakfast on our last day in Hong Kong annoying. Instead we smiled at them. Their teacher asked us if it would be alright for them to take a picture of us among all the kids. We said yes and put down our coffees and buns. The kids went berserk, enthusiastically mobbing us to prepare for their photo op. After the photo, one of the children went up to the teacher and asked her something, pointing at us. The teacher nodded and walked over to us accompanied by the little boy. He was grinning and held out his hand to offer us some of his candy. What seemed at first to be shaping up like such an unpleasant situation had turned into a very sweet moment.
That leads to an important point about Hong Kong. If you like candy – and anyone who knows Karen understands her passion for candy and other sweets – Hong Kong is the Motherland. The variety is stunning. The packaging is fun and creative. And it’s cheap as borscht. Cheaper! Hard candy, chewy candy, gummy candy, weird durian-flavoured candy, dried fruit candy, even Hello Kitty candy. And not just candy, but sweet treats of every imaginable flavour, shape, and size. At the end of the day, we had to leave if only to prevent Karen’s teeth from falling out.