Immigration and customs gave my Phnom Penh emergency passport (which looks like something you'd buy for your kid in Chinatown for $10) skeptical looks crossing the border into Thailand. Luckily, they took pity on me and I reunited with Dan and Sarah in Hong Kong, where Dan's family and then Sarah's mom generously hosted us.
Being hosted was a nice change following our group's forays into food poisoning, hospital visits, and norovirus, in that we were free to stuff our faces uncontrollably.
Unlike most of southeast Asia, Hong Kong was not marked by local experiences or spontaneous decisions, but rather a checklist of tourist highlights and restaurants.
If you ever find yourself stranded in Hong Kong with no impartial, trustworthy dining recommendations - which I'm sure happens to everyone - look no further than this impressively-bulleted list:
- Da Ping Huo: Relentlessly spicy prix-fixe menu, where each dish gets progressively hotter. Especially entertaining when you place three competitive guys on the same table and make overtures to the chef that he doesn't have to take it easy on you because you're foreigners. We spent the night alternately sweating and gasping while the locals eating the same meal occasionally shot us odd looks between nonplussed bites.
- Tim Ho Wan: One of many dim sum restaurants we made landfall on in our bottomless food tour. Known informally as the world's least expensive Michelin star restaurant, we visited the Central branch, located in a subway station, for added authenticity. Ignore the greater menu and triple down on the pork buns (unless, like us, you need to sate your curiosity for chicken feet - spoiler: tastes like chicken.)
- Din Tai Fung: Another highly recommended dim sum spot (they hand out Michelin stars left and right these days) in TST, Kowloon. Conforms to the "three syllables in the name" rule of haute Hong Kong cuisine. It was here, following an impressive eating performance, that I was told I must have a hollow leg, which I assume is a high compliment.
- Cheung Hing Kee: A hole-in-the-wall Shanghai Chinese bun restaurant in TST with a pretty mindblowing black truffle option.
- Hon Wo: Mouth-watering all-you-can-eat Korean barbecue. And we ate all we could eat. Conveniently close to Skye Bar, which overlooks the city skyline from the 27th floor of the The Park Lane Hong Kong, which brings me to...
- Skye Bar: Overpriced cocktails with an underpriced view. Trendy vibe somewhere between "trust fund hipster art show" and "Sex in the City reunion episode location."
- Wooloomooloo Steakhouse: At this point, it should be obvious that we were on someone else's dime and off the backpacker budget. Apart from Victoria Peak, the best views of the city were from the sky bar on the 32nd floor of The Hennessy building at Wooloomooloo.
In Hong Kong, Sarah paid a quick overnight visit to the Hong Kong Adventist Hospital, to get her Indonesian stitches from a motorbike accident cleaned up. The hospital, which is adorned with copious religious iconography, had an interesting policy of sending a nun to speak with Sarah before her routine surgery. I'm sure reading over last rights was a comforting way to go into getting stitches.
To help Sarah get back on her feet (figuratively, not literally, because we stuck her in a wheelchair for the next three days), Dan and I picked her up at the hospital and took her to a relaxing spa where she could unwind and start rehabbing a bit following her discharge. No, just kidding - we took her to Macau.
For those unfamiliar, Macau is essentially Hong Kong's Las Vegas with none of the party environment, which allows it to somehow one-up Vegas in depressingness. Visitors from Hong Kong take a ferry over, cross through immigration (which, again, laughed at my passport), and then park themselves squarely on a gambling table in one of the city's myriad casinos. Most games are automated, to ensure that gambling addicts are better able to concentrate without suffering from any remote chance of a human connection. After a couple hours of failing to understand the rules of the games, we collected our winnings (ie: losses), and decided to take Sarah back home.
Apart from being yelled at by Chinese big-rollers over a Sic bo table, here are some can't-miss highlights for first-time Hong Kong visitors:
- Victoria Peak: This is the most famous viewpoint in Hong Kong, from which the cover photo of this post was taken. I would highly recommend visiting with a friend in a wheelchair in order to skip the enormous lines and invoke the ire of anyone else waiting for the peak tram.
- Taking the ferry: The Star Ferry offers great views of the city skyline in its trip from Kowloon to Hong Kong island, for only $0.25.
- Lamma Island: Fun small island about a 30 minute ferry from Hong Kong, which offers restaurants that smell of fish, beaches that smell of fish, and also fish. Probably a better destination for summer (fishy beaches), but also has some great running trails with views back on Hong Kong.
- Dragon's Back trail: A cool walk along one of the back ridges of the Hong Kong island mountains. A great idea for a date, which is why Dan and I went together.
- Mid-Levels escalators: Hong Kong is so steep that they put up a series of escalators for commuters to travel up the side of the mountain to their homes. Bonus points for ingenuity; minus points for obesity.
- LKF: The Lan Kwai Fong bar district is a chaotic mess, packed with tourists, study-abroad college students, alcoholics, and potential soulmates! Worth a night out, which will be more than enough.
- Tea at the Peninsula Hotel: A well-known to-do for high society types to meet and discuss the proletariat over tea and pastries. Dan, Sarah, and I cheerfully walked in, saw the price list, and walked out.
- Other highlights: The Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens by Central, Hollywood Road, and getting a glimpse of the outspoken fashion statements we can expect in to see NYC (and probably nowhere else) in the next 6 months.
So there you have it, a comprehensive guide to Hong Kong for the backpacker with a bankroller.
Nik / 2.1.17