Escape To / Hong Kong
by SARAH MATHEWS
“I may have clapped eyes on way too many naked strangers in neighbouring hotel rooms but truth be told, closing the curtains on this city feels like you’re being cheated…”
By the time this tiny piece of writing finds its way onto the internet it will have been a year since I spontaneously hopped on a plane to Hong Kong for 72 hours, as you do. Back then, I'd spent a few months travelling around Thailand but this would be my first trip headed in China’s general direction so I decided to make a weekend of it. For someone who used to always over prepared, my new devil-may-care travel attitude was starting to grow on me and I had no idea what to expect. In fact, I even remember panicking moments before my airport transfer was due to pick me up wondering if they'd let me into the country or if I still needed a visa! Thank goodness that worked out.
THE LITTLE PREP I DID DO ...
Facebook friends can be very resourceful and quick on their keyboards so I crowdsourced some advice to see which side I should base myself on – Hong Kong Island or Kowloon – and settled on HKL because it was close to my meeting.
When travelling alone I always like to make sure my first night’s accommodation is sorted (even when I’m winging it), because having to negotiate public transport at midnight in another language, well I’m going to need a pillow to face plant into after all that! Feeling safe and being within walking distance to central transport lines are my usual non-negotiables when it comes to choosing where to stay – the rest is all relative depending on the trip.
I tend to choose bespoke experiences over run of the mill touristy stuff so I turned to my favourite go-to sources for inspiration – bloggers and publications that curate content with this in mind. Some of my favourites in this case: Damsel in Dior, Design Love Fest and Cereal Magazine Travel Guides.
Searching hashtags and location tags on Instagram is another favourite way to find hidden travel gems because people are far more ‘editorial’ and selective on what they post here.
Lastly, something I learned from my aunt when I visited her in London, was to make sure to book one out-of-the-ordinary experience (a dinner, show, anything) before landing to give yourself a reason to get all dressed up. Yes, even if you’re on your own, why not create an occasion?
A quick 4-hour flight later I had arrived. I’ll never forget the intrigue of that 30-minute taxi ride into the city and the carnival-like atmosphere of all the lights twinkling in the distance. While the lights echoed the attention seeking display of Vegas or Times Square, their execution felt like a carefully orchestrated performance drawing your attention away from one building to the next and back again.
34 stories up in my hotel room, I sat suspended in the middle of it all; a glimmering matrix stacking lives neatly in tiny squares boxes. Fireworks happened to go off over the harbour in that very moment and well, I had the attention span of a teenager in love. I may have clapped eyes on way too many naked strangers in neighbouring hotels but truth be told, closing the curtains on this city feels like you’re being cheated and like me they’d paid good money for this.
The next day I woke up to find the jungle green backdrop of Victoria Peak outlining an infamous sea of pastel pink buildings. I’d read somewhere that this was because budget-savvy contractors had historically used the cheapest red paint sourced from rust-coloured ochre found in the earth and simply toned it down to various pink hues so that the buildings wouldn’t be harsh red eye-sores.
Grabbing a coffee at the nearby Cupping Room Cafe, it was time to hit the streets and what I thought was going to be a little trip up The Peak. That idea lasted half an hour. I stood in a ridiculously long queue when the rain came down. The cloud cover meant it was probably going to be pretty miserable up there anyway so instead I ducked out the line and walked the streets and park nearby. In a way, with such little time to spare it made sense to avoid the crowds and experience the charm of the city walking the streets and nearby park. Cabs are so easy to hail there too but you need to make sure you have the right cash on you.
One day in and I suddenly learned that the chip in my bank card decided to stop working (I know!!!!!!) at least, at ATM's anyway. It was a hard lesson to learn when you’re 100% alone in a foreign country over a weekend, with no way of getting hold of your bank who are snoozing away in a different timezone. I’m grateful to the tiny little Italian restaurant around the corner from my hotel who kindly humoured my request to swipe small denominations off my card every 5 seconds to see if I could order.... ‘it went through?! YES!!!!! OK, I'll start with wine :) then, if you could swipe $60 and that also works, I’ll have the salad.’ Hilarious times. Luckily, I realised I'd had some leftover euros with me and it also helped that I was staying in the financial district so I could trade these in at a exchange bureau. My advice to anyone traveling alone, definitely have a back up option because you never know!
a few favourites ...
- Favourite neighbourhood: SoHo – great food, bars and shops.
- Something tasty: Little Bao in SoHo for the tastiest little asian burgers and cocktails.
- Not your standard HK souvenir: Stockholm – a bespoke designer import store I stumbled upon on my way to dinner. I’m not one to buy trinkity souvenirs for the sake of it but rather buy something I love that will always remind me of the place where I bought it.
- Sweet ride: a trip across the bay on the iconic Star Ferry will set you back a mere R3 / $0.26 and takes only 5 minutes across the water to capture the best views of Hong Kong skyline.
- Something fancy: High Tea at the Ritz Carlton – that was my pre-booked treat to myself and way more fun than fighting off all the tourists at the Sky100 Observation Deck a few floors above.
- Something memorable: recommend dancing on hotel roof tops like 99Bonham because why not.
You can learn a lot about yourself and a place in 72 hours. Driving back to the airport I couldn’t help but think of everything this trip had brought up for me - it had reminded me of my sense of humour and I still vividly remember those exchanges with kind strangers. That’s the thing about travel, these experiences stay with you and in a way, change you for the better. If I ever had the opportunity to go back I’d definitely spend more time exploring the historical landmarks but the energy of that place was enough to stay with me and like that teenage crush, will always be remembered fondly.