I recently had the opportunity to show a couple of first time visitors around Hong Kong. They were connecting to a cruise and only had a day and a half. Additionally, the weather was hot and extremely muggy, a condition they were not used to. What to do? What to do?
Since they were staying in Hung Hom on the Kowloon side, the first leg was easy. Take the Star Ferry to Central where we could meet up easily (I live in Central). Since I had just arrived that morning after an all-night 14 hour flight from the U.S., I set up a 2:00pm meeting and they used the late morning and early afternoon to wander around and have a light lunch.
I first walked them through the IFC Mall. They aren't shoppers but malls, whether we, who live here, like it or not, are a significant part of the "Hong Kong experience." They were interested in what a Hong Kong Supermarket was like so we toured City Super, which with its Japanese flavor and ethnically diverse product offerings is surprisingly interesting to visitors.
Next we rode the escalator up to Hollywood Road, sometimes called "Antique Street." New visitors are fascinated and often awed by the escalator. I'm still slightly in awe of it after 14 years. From there, it's an easy stroll past the antique shops to the Man Mo Temple with its hundreds of burning incense offerings and praying visitors. It may not be fancy or famous but it is inherently intriguing. It’s the oldest continuously operating temple in Hong Kong. You can find a review of it elsewhere in this journal.
We continued down Hollywood Road, to Wing Lok Street, referred to as Bird's Nest Street or Ginseng Street. I tried and failed to explain why someone would pay $650 for a small container of swallows' nests. The only parallel I had was spending $100 and up for a bowl of Shark's Fin Soup. It is supposedly healthy and also gives the consumer status.
We next walked to Des Voeux Road West where many shops sell exotic dried seafood. We were on our way to the Sheung Wan Wet Market. My guests were leery of interacting with live chickens so we passed, but I still think for someone who is new to Hong Kong that visiting a wet market is worthwhile and relatively risk-free.
We then entered the Western Market which, for reasons I 'm not entirely clear about, since it has all the makings of a tourist trap, I like to visit. It’s an Edwardian-style building originally called the Harbour Office, was built in 1906 and later became a food market before closing in 1988. Two years later, it was declared a historical monument, renovated and then re-opened as the Western Market in 1991. We ordered Lemon Iced Teas at the German Bistro just inside the main entrance and I believe this helped revive my guests.
After the tea break we boarded the Hong Kong Tramways streetcar on our way to Exchange Square. The Tram is also one of those inexpensive (HK$2.00), historically interesting, and fun things to do. I sometimes take visitors all across Hong Kong Island on the Shaukeiwan Tram. We got off at Exchange Square to catch the #15 bus to Victoria Peak. Many tourists believe the Peak Tram is a must-do activity. I don't. It's expensive, crowded and offers very poor views of the Island. It's far better to take the #15 bus (HK$9.60), sit in the front row on the upper deck and enjoy the views and thrills of negotiating the narrow roads up to the Peak.
After arriving on the Peak, we strolled on Lugard Road which runs from a point Southwest of the Peak viewing platform to Harlech Road, which will take you back to the Peak viewing area. Don’t miss the Harlech Road turn-off though or you’ll end up walking all the way down Mount Kellet to Aberdeen. It's a level, one hour walk and most relaxing. If you have time and are a flora enthusiast, you can take a detour to the Peak Gardens. Along the way there are signs with detailed information on the abundant plant life here and the history of the area. There are also awesome views of both the western and southern sides of the Island.
Because of our schedule, we didn't walk all around the peak but strolled in relative solitude for 20 minutes and then walked briskly back to the Galleria Mall for an early dinner at the Two-tiered Cafe Deco Restaurant. Cafe Deco answers the question, "When is a tourist oriented restaurant not a tourist trap?" My wife, Pam, and I love it and invariably find excuses to eat there with friends, business associates and visitors.
Its menu is eclectic, offering Southeast Asian, Indian, Japanese, Continental, and American dishes at reasonable prices—given the location, the view and the quality of the food. They feature a huge fresh oyster bar with offerings from around the world. They have an extensive wine list with price points for any budget. One of my favorite attractions there is the band that plays swing-time music from 9:00 PM as well as on Sunday afternoons. They have also collected a number of Art Deco artifacts which are on display throughout the restaurant. You will find a detailed review of this fine restaurant elsewhere in the journal.
After dinner, we grabbed a taxi to drop us off at our flat and carry our visitors to the Star Ferry. I suggested they take the ferry to Tsim Sha Tsui and walk along the promenade to their hotel in order to catch the laser light show, called the "Symphony of Light" put on every night featuring Hong Kong Island's fabulous skyline architecture. I guess they were too jet-lagged, though, and instead boarded the Hung Hom ferry which deposited them less than a 5 minute walk from their hotel, the Harbour Plaza.
I'm a museum nut so I suggested we visit the Hong Kong Museum of History Saturday morning. They had only the morning available as they had to check out and board their cruise ship early in the afternoon. They had heard so much about Nathan Road that they wanted to see it but being too polite to gainsay my suggestion they agreed to visiting the museum. I love this museum and have visited it numerous times, always learning something new on each visit.
The special exhibit at this time featured the seven 15th century voyages of Admiral Zheng He to India, Africa and points in between. Most Westerners have not heard of Zheng He and his exploits which overshadowed anything Vasco Da Gama, Columbus or Magellan did 100-125 years later. It is a mind expanding exhibit but unfortunately closes May 21.
My guests absolutely loved the museum and the Zheng He exhibit, spending more time than budgeted in both exhibit areas. They said they'd walk over to Nathan Road after they boarded their cruise liner.
We said goodbye around 1:15pm. They were happy to have seen so much in such a short time. I was a little surprised myself that we were able to cover as much ground as we did in such a limited time. I think they really got a sense of the many faces of Hong Kong and an appreciation of its history, variety and ethnic diversity. Hong Kong's compactness makes it possible to cover a lot of ground in a short time.
I can hardly wait for my next opportunity to be a tour guide.