Hong Kong, the Finale (by Nathan)
The final hoorah to our around-the-world trip was here. As I described in the previous post, Hong Kong has everything we love about travel. There is fantastic public transit, jaw-dropping sights and mouth-drooling foods. So much so that one post couldn’t handle it all. Here is continuation of the days we spent exploring the ins and outs of the city and the surrounding mountains.
There are numerous excellent restaurants in Hong Kong. And many of these have Michelin stars. Since we are traveling on a budget we like to focus on value and Din Tai Fung is one of those amazing places that has fairly inexpensive and high-caliber food. It was tucked into a mall but the service was top notch even down to the explanation card describing the proper consumption of a soup dumpling. We dipped the xiao long bao dumplings in black vinegar and chili oil and slurped the soup contents through the paper thin skin. We also ordered some noodles and seasonal greens, but we wished we had ordered one more bamboo basket of xiao long bao.
We kept on the theme of awesome restaurants and went to Tim Ho Wan, the most inexpensive Michelin star restaurant in the world! And they sell dim sum! Their prized piece is a baked pineapple bun filled with barbecue pork. It was amazing, very sweet, but a nice variation off the cha siu bao we usually order. The shrimp dumplings and cheung fun (folded rice noodle sheets) were exceptional. We feasted and stuffed ourselves and waddled our way back onto the street.
Around the corner from Tim Ho Wan were a handful of stores selling various ancestral offerings. One cardboard miniature massage chair could be bought alongside a whole feast of paper fruits, vegetables and meats. These paper goods are then brought to a relative’s grave and burned. The offerings are to ensure that they have these items in the afterlife!
If I was to die tomorrow I would want someone to bring me a Honeymoon Dessert. There is something fun about these east/west fusion dessert place. They make sweet soups of various jellies, lychee, longan and tapioca with coconut cream, almond milk or sesame sweet paste. We splurged for some with sliced mango and green tea ice cream for some extra decadence. We loved this place a several weeks ago when we were first in Hong Kong, so it was worth visiting again.
This time in Hong Kong we wanted to see some areas that we had never been. Stanley Market is extremely accessible on a one hour bus ride and seemed to be the perfect place to escape from the high-rises for an afternoon. We sat on the upper story of a double decker bus that bounced up the mountainside; it was like a rollercoaster weaving and diving through the jungle. The actual Stanley Market area was very touristy, but the walk along Stanley Beach was very peaceful and the pier had very pretty Victorian wrought iron.
Hong Kong Island’s skyline is beautiful at night. The colors of the ICF tower and Bank of China stand out among the skyscrapers. The mist of the bay added to the ambiance. It is always enjoyable to walk along the avenue of the stars in the day time or at night.
There are two tall buildings that allow for visitors into the upper levels. The viewing platform of the Bank of China building looks towards Kowloon and the ICF building has a monetary museum and a wall of glass that looks into the south hillside of Hong Kong Island. I love the sheer number of fifty story buildings stacked on top of one another.
We explored all corners of Hong Kong so we hopped on a ferry. Lamma Island does not allow any motored vehicles, only bicycles. We arrived hungry and had an overpriced seafood meal, but spent most of the time walking up and down the mountains and around the island. We walked from Yung Shue Wan to Sok
Kwu Wan where we ferried back to Hong Kong Island. Just as we got off the ferry we got caught in a rain storm. Not just any sprinkle but a full blown dumping from the heavens. We had little resistance without an umbrella so obviously we wound up extremely wet.
We dried off and warmed ourselves with dry and waterproof clothing and we were back off to Kowloon. (Of course, now that we had our rain jackets the rain stopped.) We met with Franco, one of my friends from Cal, for dinner at a restaurant specializing in Chowzhou cuisine from northeast Canton. We had sweet glazed pork that was one of the richest things I have ever eaten. We also ordered fried oysters, cabbage soup, roasted duck and donuts with condensed milk. The traditional tiny cups of Chowzhou tea were fun, especially when we learned that subtle nuances of cup holding can turn into a challenge to fight.
As one of our last meals in Hong Kong we wanted to revisit one of our favorite foods: Sichuan. The first time we visited Hong Kong was in 2009 and we saw the description for Da Ping Huo in our guidebook. Under the impression that it was a casual eatery, we made our way to the address in the book. We searched and searched, but we could not find the entrance (turns out it was artistically hidden behind a sculpture at the time). We did find a door in an alley that went through the kitchen. We introduced ourselves to the kitchen staff and we sat down at a table awkwardly. The place was much more upscale than we thought and we were definitely out of place in our shorts, t-shits and sandals. Within minutes the dishes started to arrive and the kind owner did his best to explain each element to us. In the end we had ten courses, each was spicier than the next; our mouth sizzled and tingled with numbness. It was great! We were overstuffed and out-spiced, but we loved every minute of it. The chef (the owner’s wife) even came out at the end of the evening and sang us a Chinese opera. We had to return to Da Ping Huo when we returned to Hong Kong.
As all of our readers know, we have been training for this moment for the last year. I have to say that I was scared to try the ten course meal again, it was not the spiciness, but ten dishes is easily two days’ worth of food and I did not want to feel sick on my last day in Hong Kong. We opted for the five course lunch menu, which was absolutely perfect. The food at Da Ping Huo is succulent, crispy and absolutely delicious. They came with two classics: ma po dofu and twice-cooked pork (our favorites) as well as a chicken and cabbage soup, stir-fried potatoes and jelly soup for dessert. I love this restaurant and it is essential to anyone’s visit to Hong Kong, especially if you do not make it to Sichuan.
It is the buildings that separate Hong Kong from cities around the world. Few places have a number of skyscrapers that even stand close to Hong Kong. There are places in Kowloon that have 43,000 inhabitants in a square kilometer! I think that it is fantastic that even though some of the tallest buildings in the world stand overhead that there are still street side markets that serve every community. One of my favorites is a series of tiny alleys and streets in Central HK with everything from touristy trinkets to fruits, vegetables and meats. There are a handful of excellent markets around town- jade market is good for real and fake antiques, the woman’s night market in Kowloon offers some good deals and the Temple St Market has about anything and everything for souvenirs.
So, how do we pay tribute to a city that we enjoy and love so much? While in Hong Kong, we decided that it would be nice to live here someday. We have begun applying for jobs and hope to begin work this year. This city has all the excitement that we love about the cities, with plenty of hiking available that us accessible by transit. We will also be connected to travel more throughout Asia. Even the HK airport had one of our favorite restaurants- Crystal Jade. We enjoyed a last meal of soup dumplings and spicy beef noodles. It was bittersweet boarding our plane; on one note we were excited to see our families, but then we were sad to leave Asia and conclude our trip. We know that travel will continue to be a theme of our lives, and Hong Kong will have a place in our hearts.
Although this post may be a “finale” to the around-the-world trip there is much more to be discussed on the 4feet2mouths blog. In the next few weeks we will be sharing our summaries of the last seven month trip including our favorite places, experiences and meals. We will begin a series blog posts discussing the planning, transportation and finances necessary to travel the world for fourteen months. Do you want to know how to travel around the world on $50 per day? I believe that most everyone can travel and we’ll show you how.