I really wanted to go visit Anna. The Russian government, however, had other ideas for US citizens trying to visit Moscow, and the trip was put on the back burner due to the fact that getting a visa was really, really frustrating and expensive. While this was a huge and disappointing setback, I still wanted to travel internationally this year, and a lucky glance at a discount airfare site and a leftover gift card meant I was going to Hong Kong – for 8 days, for less than a pair of Louboutins – USED Louboutins.
I never had a burning desire to go to to Hong Kong; lots of friends have been/have family there, but I don’t know that I’d have ever said, “YES, THIS IS MY #1 DESTINATION OF CHOICE!” But it was uncharted international territory, two of my “adventure” criteria, and I was all for it.
After the eight days there (which is just about the right amount of time for a first foray), I now have my top three reasons to visit – for which I’d gladly go back.
- The Mix
It’s a vibrant, bustling city that has Louis Vuitton, Dior, and YSL on one corner, and cheap eats and chintzy fun stores across the street. There are hundreds of expats (waaaaaaay more white faces than I’d expected), so it’s not like you’d stand out like the Great White Hope as a visitor from the United States. According to today’s Google search, it ranks #3 for “Top Financial Centers in the World.” There’s a rapidly growing, ever-modernizing city, there are quiet mountain tops with panoramic views for hiking (and believe me, it’s a steep elevation change, and not the easiest hike), there’s varied cuisine, there are beaches…
There is literally something to do for every type of traveler. If you want to be active and explore, there are twisting streets and steep hills. If you want to relax on the beach, there’s that, too. There are plenty of bars with actually useful happy hour hours (more on that later), if you want to get your drink on. Most of the younger generation understands at least a little English, so you aren’t totally lost. And as a major metropolis, you aren’t cut off from technology, civilization, or (most importantly) indoor plumbing – unless you want to be.
Hong Kong, like the other cities I’ve visited in Asia, is the perfect blend of first and third world, and it’s a great destination for anyone that wants to experience something new, while not being too far away from the west – at least in spirit.
- The Shopping
Ok, ok. I’m not a shopaholic. Definitely not. Aside from the appreciation of the beautiful fashion, I could not relate to this movie at all. Cher and Dionne would be so disappointed in me – I suffer from buyer’s remorse more often than I actually buy things.
That being said, there’s a shopping culture in Hong Kong that will excite even the most reluctant of marketgoers. Everything you see on Ebay, the super cheap electronics, phone cases, flash drives – it’s all there. Clothes, trinkets, combs, souvenirs. Jewelry, scarves, tea sets, journals. You name it, it’s there. In some districts, it’s like Madison Avenue on steroids.
When you’ve got every major designer in the world, along with four and five carat diamond rings and incredibly opulent jewelry, staring you in the face, it’s hard to not get swept into the shopping culture. I’m telling, you – even Fred Leighton and Harry Winston would have had runs for their money. And it was everywhere. The jewels, pearls, jade, gold – it was magnificent.
A small vignette: I was waiting outside a jewelry store, looking through the windows, and a few minutes later, I somehow found myself seated at a counter, trying on diamond rings. When lovely 1.5ct brilliant cut solitaire with a pavé band was placed on my finger, I told the sales person it was beautiful. “You like?” he asked, probably hoping to make a sale. “Yes, it’s gorgeous,” I told him. “$60,000,” he said. “Sixty. Thousand. Dollars,” I repeated slowly. “Hong Kong dollars?” “No,” he said, quickly. “US.” I could not take that ring off fast enough.
The first time you step foot in the shopping districts on the Kowloon side, it’s overwhelming, but after walking past a few stands, you get the hang of bargaining, arguing with the shopkeepers and walking away when you don’t get a good price. It’s like a game, a battle of wits (which you should never go in against a Sicilian, when death is on the line). And when you walk away, and they chase you shouting “Okay, okay, your price, okay!” the feeling can only be described as triumph.
- The Food
Hong Kong food isn’t “Chinese” in the sense that there’s a chicken dish named after the mysterious General Tso, and you’d be hard pressed to find an egg roll in the sense that we’re used to. Instead, there’s amazing claypot rice, dim sum, and congee.
For those of you who are gastronomically adventurous, and for those of you that would prefer the comforts of home (in the form of burgers, pasta, pizza, and the like), Hong Kong has just about everything. And if you are just a tiny bit adventurous, and you want multicultural meals every night of the week, Hong Kong has that, too. Korean, Japanese, Indian, Mexican, Nepalese, American, Thai, Italian…you name it, Hong Kong has it. It’s not as diverse as New York City, in the sense that you have ubiquitous options on EVERY corner – in Hong Kong, it’s only on MOST corners.
There are cured meat stands, fresh fruit stands, food carts, teeny shop fronts with Peking duck and steamed crabs hanging out front. There are live fish markets, restaurants where you can pick your protein and they will cook it for you, and if you’re looking for something fast, there’s portable dim sum and meat on a stick.
While I did get my fill of Chinese food (please, God, no more grease), the variety made eating more than bearable. I actually did eat Indian, Korean, and Italian/Asian fusion dinners, and it was all delicious, and a welcome change. By day 3, bananas, tangerines, and giant peaches were in my hotel fridge, along with oatmeal, dried berries, and walnuts for breakfast. Yeah. Just in case you need a bit of digestive help, there’s Quaker Oats there, too.
What began as a “last resort” vacation turned out to be one of the most interesting, most culture-surprising, and rewarding trips I’ve taken in a long time. Yes, my epic road trip was, in a word, epic, but this is in a league all its own, and it has convinced me that Hong Kong is truly a place to find an adventure around every turn.