All this time living in Singapore and I’ve never been to Hong Kong. Not once. It was time to make that right the weekend of May 10, when I headed to the world’s most visited city with Zé, Stef (friend) and João (friend and Zé’s cousin).
Just a four-hour flight from Singapore, Hong Kong is best known for its skyline that lights up like a Christmas tree at night. Hong Kong is the financial hub of Asia, with a high-tech, modern and glitzy feel to it. Once known as the world’s freest market, Hong Kong has been losing ground to Singapore in recent years, and the two cities are in constant battle for the title of Asia’s most powerful business hub. Walking Hong Kong’s streets and seeing the suit-and-tie wearing high-fliers of the city, surrounded by all kinds of multinational corporations, I could’ve sworn I was back in Manhattan. In fact, Hong Kong is consistently called the Manhattan of the East, whereas Singapore is better known as its Westchester or Bergen County.
This was a two-part trip: leisure for the weekend, and work (for me) from Monday through Wednesday. So I packed my bags with maxi dresses and pencil skirts, and we boarded our flight for Hong Kong International.
There’s nothing to report for Friday night as we checked into our hotel and went to sleep early. But the next morning, we met Stef and João at a cute Italian place near our hotels (that I am blanking on the name of). We enjoyed a nice brunch, with the boys ordering some brunchtime cocktails, before heading out on our adventure. We took a taxi to Shek O Country Park to trek Dragon’s Back Hike. The last of the Hong Kong Trail, Dragon’s Back Hike lands on a sightseeing platform near the peak that provided us with truly spectacular views of southern Hong Kong Island and its shoreline. We were also met by several paragliders, and one successfully took off and soared through the sky right in front of us. It was cool to watch, and also confirmed I personally will never be caught paragliding.
After several hours of hiking, it was clearly time for a drink. Not water. We headed to a hotel on the other side of the river from our hotels, sipped on vino and cocktails, and took in the scene around us. The vibrant city is made up of several parts: the New Territories, Kowloon, Hong Kong Island (where we stayed) and the over 200 other islands. Lantau Island, the biggest, is where the airport is located. I’d also like to side bar this blog post quickly to answer a question that a lot of people asked, and I myself once wondered: is Hong Kong part of China?
Answer: Hong Kong was never an independent country. Until 1997 and the Hong Kong handover, Hong Kong was a colony of the UK. Post handover, the colony of Hong Kong became the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR), and for official purposes is a part of China. But the intents and purposes of daily life, it’s allowed to operate as an independent country, with its own currency and passport (though the proposed extradition law in early June may threaten that, hence the reason you’ve probably been reading about a lot of protests in Hong Kong this month). Current events lesson over.
Following our afternoon beverages, we headed to our respective hotels (Stef had been traveling for work the week prior and was staying in a company-assigned hotel, different from ours). We napped (I was just getting over a cold), showered and got freshened up for dinner. First, we headed to Wooloomooloo (try saying that 10 times fast), a rooftop bar in the Wan Chai (read: trendy) section of Hong Kong. Located on the 31st floor of the Hennessy Building, the bar offered us absolutely magical views of Wan Chai and the Happy Valley and Victoria Harbour areas of the city. Following our drinks, we made our way to Madame Fu. Set in the Tai Kwun Center for Heritage and Arts, Madame Fu was the perfect blend of East and West, with sleek and modern design paired with traditional dishes. We sat outside and ordered about 1/3 of the menu: dim sum, Peking duck (which I tried one piece of and was all set with, much to the chagrin of a certain boyfriend), steamed vegetables, and some hearty red wine, too.
After dinner, we headed to a bar called Iron Fairies. Iron Fairies is a magical place, designed like an ironsmith’s workshop: dark and broody, with wrought iron staircases, exposed pipes and dilapidated timber and brick. Bottles of fairy dust are stacked in rows, and everywhere you look there are little iron figurines of the winged creatures that give the bar its name. The music was great until a live band came on that seemed to only know Adele music (seriously, learn a new set!), so we headed out around midnight. Stef and João headed home, but Zé and I were not done exploring the neighborhood, so we took a walk around Lan Kwai Fong, Hong Kong’s most iconic party street (as trashy as you would imagine it to be), and then plopped down in a small and cozy cocktail bar we found nearby. We stayed out for about another 90 minutes or two hours, and then headed back to catch some zzz’s.
In the morning, we headed to Maxim’s Palace for a dim sum brunch. After waiting for what felt like hours (and it probably was a near 90 minutes from the time we put our name in), we were seated and started ordering. Why did we wait so long and not just hit up another spot, you ask? Because Maxime’s said to be the place to visit to get a feel of the traditional Cantonese “yum char” (Cantonese dim sum) experience. Maxim’s is also one of the few remaining places where they still serve dim sum on trolleys that are wheeled around the restaurant. It was really cool, and the system was very straightforward. Just wait for the trolleys to pass by and indicate interest. The food items are shown in front of each trolley in both Chinese and English. A few trolleys even have a video screen showing pictures of the food. It’s quite user-friendly and instantaneous, much to our delight (and our stomach’s delight, too). The food items are recorded on a card that is placed on each table, and the prices were incredibly cheap given Hong Kong’s standards.
After brunch, Zé unfortunately booked an early flight home, so we had to part ways with the fourth member of the Dream Team after brunch. The remaining trio trekked on to Victoria Peak, a hike-able hill on the western half of Hong Kong Island. It’s known locally among the cool kids as “The Peak,” and has an elevation of 552 meters / 1,811 feet. We taxied up to the top to save some time, snapped some photos and took in the view at the top, and then hiked down, and by the bottom we reached the bottom, our legs were burning. That ‘hill’ is steep!
We took an Uber into the city center for some coffee, and spent the rest of the afternoon walking through Chinatown, hitting up an aviary and park in the Central neighborhood, and strolling back to the Mandarin Oriental to get S&J’s bags before they departed for the airport. After sending them off, I was on my lonesome. I went back to our hotel to grab my bags and head to the W Hotel in West Kowloon, on the other side of the river from where we were staying. I dropped off my bags and headed to Duddell’s, a chic dim sum restaurant located in Wan Chai for an outdoor evening meal perched in a rooftop garden. It was the perfect setting, as I had some reading to do for work that evening. After filling my stomach with dumplings (and more dumplings), I headed back to the hotel, called Mom and Dad, and then Zé, and headed to sleep.
Monday was a very busy workday for me, so I set up my laptop in the hotel’s lounge bright and early after breakfast (it was a public holiday in Hong Kong that Monday, so my office was closed), and plowed through work through the early evening. The public holiday meant all of West Kowloon was having dinner at the W that evening, as it was hard to get a seat, and the place was packed. I ate rather quickly to minimize my time spent among screaming babies and rowdy families, and headed upstairs to take advantage of the hotel, aka, sit in the beautiful sauna on the 72nd floor. Love me some R&R time.
The next morning, I headed into the office for a full day of work, stopping again at Duddell’s for lunch, and meeting some colleagues around the office. That evening, the eve of my 30th birthday, I dropped my work bag off at the hotel and ordered a taxi to the harbor, where I planned to take the AquaLuna Evening Sail, a 90-minute cruise around the beautiful Hong Kong harbor. Before I left the hotel, though, I heard a knock on the door. When I answered it, it was the W staff at the door, with a card and cake for my birthday! Such lovely hospitality. I would be lying if I said I didn’t have a slice right then and there. I was so touched by the warmth, and excited to kick off the celebration!
I made it just in time (meaning, with about 2.2 seconds before the boat departed), and we set sail for our tour of the harbor. I met a lovely woman traveling solo next to me, and the two of us raised our complimentary glasses of wine to her travels and my birthday (if you think I didn’t bring up the fact that it was my birthday within the first five minutes of meeting a new person, you don’t know me). It was a beautiful evening with warm wind, clear skies and a full moon hanging above us. I sipped on my wine and reminisced on my 20s, all with the skyline of vibrant Hong Kong ahead of me. With so many celebrations behind and ahead of me with loved ones, having a quiet moment to myself was a pretty perfect way to spend the eve of my 30th.
After the sunset cruise, I made my way to dinner at Hutong, a Chinese restaurant recommended by a colleague with a fantastic skyline and harbor view. There, I dined on (more) dim sum, and closed out the evening just after 10PM. I headed back to the hotel for a quick jump in the sauna, applied a little face mask because #selfcare, and headed to sleep soon afterward.
The next morning: my 30th birthday!!! I had a missed call from Mama and Papa Bear (as they are so named in my phone), so I called them first thing. I was so happy to talk with them, and grateful I was able to do an early birthday celebration with them at home in April. After chatting with them, I got ready for work and headed to our client site, where we spent the morning filming a very exciting and interesting video project (which I will share more on when it’s launched). We wrapped up before noon, grabbed lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant, and then I headed to the airport, all the while fielding messages and calls from friends and family around the world. It was time to head back to the place I call home for the moment: Singapore!
I enjoyed (lots of / too much) wine on the flight back, and landed around 8PM. I was carrying a few bags and didn’t check my phone until I sat in the taxi and had a few missed calls from Zé. Turns out he had been waiting for me at my gate, and we had completely missed each other (they opened up a second exit door just as I exited the plane, and I think this threw off the plan entirely). My taxi driver pulled back into the airport, where we picked up Zé, and I closed my ears as he told the driver where to drop us. I loveeeeee surprises, so this was very exciting for me. And before I knew it, we pulled up to my favorite restaurant in Singapore, called Tamarind Hill. It’s a stunning Thai restaurant tucked away in the lush tropical rainforest of Labrador Nature Reserve, and the food and ambiance there as unparalleled in my opinion (which is typically right). And to boot, we were met with Tanny and Mags, two of my closest friends in Singapore. Major heart eyes. Together, the four of us enjoyed a wonderful evening of dinner and drinks, and all a surprise to me. Not a bad to roll into my 30th year. We toasted to my birthday, and to many more adventures to come.
Some photos from our trip to Hong Kong: