A Multi-Country Asia Tour… The Beginning
This will officially be the second time in my life ever that I’ll be taking a two-week vacation, first being Fiji and New Zealand. People have seemed shocked by that, but I think it’s because the #AP4L and I always squeeze so much into a short period of time. Anyhow… super excited for a longer adventure where we can really dig in. Super excited to dive into our multi-country Asia tour! In the next two weeks, we’ll be visiting Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, and South Korea.
Thank You, Scott’s Cheap Flights!
Our flight was scheduled for 1:30 in the morning on Friday, so we had to be at the airport later Thursday night. Lots of questions came to mind about what would be open—TSA, restaurants, etc. We got stuck at Philly once because an airline ended up driving us there from BWI to catch a different flight out. They just left us there, and TSA wasn’t open; neither were any airline desks. That was on our way to Ireland and had a whole bunch of weird complications (like when I ended up in Spain illegally somehow), but… that’s another story for another day. Turned out, some things were open and we had no issues. In true Global Debauchery fashion, traditional pre-flight libations were had.
Our flight was a direct flight from DC to Hong Kong, sixteen hours long. An awesome Scott’s Cheap Flights deal for $550 roundtrip! Check-in and onboarding were easy and quick. The flight wasn’t full and there was a lot of space to get up and roam around. The leg room in Cathay Pacific’s economy class is pretty amazing. Managed to cut the flight time down by an hour on the way, too. The super bizarre thing, that I never even considered, was that we weren’t flying east-west; we flew north over the Arctic Circle. From DC, over Greenland, Russia, and Mongolia, down to Hong Kong. Cool, right? (Or maybe I’m just an idiot and everyone else in the world is like—um, yeah.) We got some weird photos along the way, too. Like when we saw what could only be something burning—a big something—in multiple places over Mongolia. I dunno… you take a look and let me know your thoughts (click to zoom).
The first eleven hours were super easy and went by pretty fast, but I was counting down the last few. Jeff said the whole thing went super fast for him, which just makes me jealous but is also really strange for him. I guess he was forced to sleep, which he typically doesn’t do on flights. Really, the only thing that could’ve been improved was the feeding schedule. We ate within the first hour of take-off and the next meal wasn’t until the last hour of the flight. That’s like 13 hours without a meal. Snacks were offered, but… not the same thing. No one wants a hangry Jordan. No one.
Navigating Hong Kong Transit
We landed at 4 in the morning HK time. On our way out, they had a health station where they took your temperature. I’d later learn that they currently have an official measles outbreak in Hong Kong; outbreak meaning 19 cases, 9 of which they tracked to foreigners and 5 of which came from Cathay Pacific flights within the last two days. (Our airline.) We’re all set on measles vaccinations, though I wouldn’t want to test the immunizations out.
I’d planned shuttle transportation to our hotel, but didn’t realize the desk wasn’t open until 7. Whoops. The metro didn’t start running until 5:45 either, so we got some coffee and waited around. By the time we’d contemplated an Uber, it would’ve taken the same amount of time for them to arrive as when the metro started running. At least I got to start my foreign sign photo collection in the meantime. Oh, yes, there are more of these to come. (Beware, other person! Lest you be launched across the hallway by the opening door.)
Finally hopped the metro, but found it was an express train, so we couldn’t get to our exact intended spot. When we got off, we asked the information desk how to get to our stop and they told us about a free hotel shuttle bus. Perfect! Jumped on the bus, jumped off at that stop. Then, Jeff’s GPS told us the hotel was a half mile away, so we hoofed it… and I realized the location it was taking us to wasn’t correct and we had to turn around, only to find our hotel was literally right next to the original stop. A whole mile of walking with packs for nothing. Awesome, right? All part of the experience, I guess.
Around this time, it was only 8 and the hotel didn’t have any rooms available just yet. They offered to hold our bags and text when our room was open, so we headed out for Day #1 of sightseeing activities! We quickly figured out the metro system without too much of a hassle. Got what they call Octopus cards. You can buy them pretty much anywhere and they hold cash for the metro and places like 7-11. The Hong Kong metro is a massive underground network of walking tunnels and trains. It also has a bagillion PSAs posted, mostly about mosquito control (Dengue Fever), safe water practices (Typhoid), and what to do when you’re not feeling well. Makes me curious about the healthcare system here. Good? Bad? I dunno. Must do research.
Something to know about Hong Kong, by the way: There are two parts to the city—Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, which is just across the water and also part of the actual city despite the differences in names. Our first stay in HK is on the Kowloon side; we’ll be staying on the Island side on the back end. Either way, we’ll be traveling between the two the whole time.
Yau Ma Tei Flower Stairs & Yuen Po Bird Garden
Went a little bit off the beaten path and metro’ed to look for some floral stairs in a neighborhood called Yau Ma Tei. We almost missed them because they weren’t nearly as bright as all the Photoshopped and Instagrammed photos would lead you to believe. Sort of a bust. And there were these two girls that wouldn’t clear the way for a couple of decent shots. They were having their very own Instagram shoot, no doubt. The cool thing, though, is Hong Kong has tons and tons of gardens, which are really just little parks, throughout the city. (They call them gardens.) They’re really impressive and filled with exotic plants and trees with root systems that wrap themselves around signs or temples, even playground structures. It’s much more tropical here than I was anticipating. Especially downtown. Lots and lots of green.
Our next stop was the Yuen Po Bird Garden, further north into Kowloon. You have to walk past the floral market to get there, which was simply amazing. For one, it’s gigantic, but it’s also incredibly fragrant. A dozen flowers here will cost you $3. Can you imagine in the US? I think I paid $17 the last bouquet I bought. At a supermarket. The Bird Garden was filled with a bagillion caged birdies, not to mention the uncaged freeloading birds that swooped in all over the place to snatch up food. They also sold bird food, which included live crickets and grubs. The whole thing was set in what was almost an outdoor temple. Very picturesque.
At this point, the hotel had texted me that our room was ready and we were pretty tired, so we cut the day short to head back and get some R&R… which really just turned into sleeping the rest of the day and through the night. Got up to order some room service partway through. Jeff took a quick walk outside at night, where he got some pretty cool photos of Hong Kong on the water. Someone asked him on Facebook if I’d helped him doctor his photo, but no—it was all El Jefe. (I’m a little jealous of the shot. He’s getting better and I just might have some competition on my hands in the Campbell household!) The couple times I popped out for a smoke break it seemed the city truly came alive at night.
Jeff’s developed this weird habit where, any time I come back into a hotel room, he double-checks that it’s me on my way in. “Jordan?!?” Yup. Just me. Happens every smoke break. Like… what would you do if it wasn’t?
Our hotel is nice, 5-star. There’s some 3-star Michelin restaurant here. (I’ll have to look the name up.) I always find great hotel deals and then don’t want to pay 5-star prices for any of the amenities once I’m there (breakfast and room service, for example, which are just nice conveniences when traveling). We always end up paying, of course, and just complain about it like we can’t afford it, which… we’re fine. I’d initially wished our room was closer to the elevators, but soon realized the wood floorboards under the carpets there shift and knock and make a ton of noise. Can you imagine? All night long? They remind me of the nightingale floors in Japan, where they purposely squeak to alert residents of ninjas. (And no, that’s not some racist exaggeration, it’s actually true. See Japan post.)
At the end of the day, we really just had a couple of cool estate places left to visit on our list, plus some night markets, which we can do any night. Tomorrow, however, we take on The Peak!
Touring Hong Kong Island
Phew. A couple of things I now know for sure about Hong Kong—the humidity is oppressive and the hills are punishing. 9 miles of walking today and I feel… broken. My hair in this weather makes me look like an asylum patient, but actually, despite being a constant grease slick, my skin seems to be responding pretty well. Take the good with the bad, I suppose.
Kowloon Waterfront Promenade
I think it was 3 a.m. when I got up. Not super awful considering I’m generally an early bird and get up at 4 or 5 (or try to). I was able to drink some coffee, take a shower and relax. Ran into a couple of girls on the elevator who were clearly just getting in for the night. No judgment. They weren’t understanding in their drunken stupors that the hotel powers down all elevators but two at night. They also couldn’t seem to identify their correct floor, but I hoped they’d made it to the correct hotel at least. Best of luck, ladies. Please don’t get arrested in China. Reminds me of this birthday meme Jeff posted for me this past year. Something like—congratulations on reaching the age where you now wake up at the same time you used to go to bed. Indeed… indeed…
We wandered onto the promenade, where people take all those cool night shots of the Hong Kong skyline. But it was morning and super cloudy. I’ve been super lazy about my travel photography lately and I feel kinda bad about it. Not only have I not been taking that many photos, I’ve been taking most of them on my phone, which… makes me feel like a fraud. It’s just so much more convenient and, now, the iPhone cameras are pretty amazing. I dunno. Gotta get my spark back.
Zero Visibility at Victoria Peak & Hong Kong Walls
Jumped on the metro to head over to the Island (and the Peak) as soon as it opened. The tram up the peak was a whole fun experience. It’s a little steeper than you’d imagine and fairly basic technology… a lot steeper. I was just imagining falling backwards full-speed when the brakes failed. But we made it. Of course. Sadly, the Peak was also a bit of a bust for us. Normally, it’s one of the best places to take shots of the city, but today it was… completely covered in clouds with zero visibility. We thought it might be based on yesterday’s weather and we didn’t think it would clear any time in the afternoon, so we just figured it was what it was. Wandered around for a bit. They have a bunch of trails and little temples up there.
Came down to wander Central HK for the day. Walked the Central—Mid-Level Escalators, the longest outdoor escalator system in the world! Checked out a ton of notable street art and stopped off at a cool little temple called Man Mo, which was actually three temples in one. It was filled with such thick incense smoke that I had to go wait on the street for Jeff after a while. A note that Hong Kong has an annual beautification project called Hong Kong Walls where they have artists come out and paint murals in different parts of the city. There’s a website that tells you where all the walls are; each year, they’re located in different sections of the city.
Hong Kong is an interesting mix of uber wealthy and super poor. Insane skyscrapers are built right on top of project housing. And the projects, which they call “estates” here, are sometimes so shabby that you can’t believe someone actually lives there. Some of them almost look abandoned… but they’re not. We saw another metro PSA that said minimum wage was increased to HK $37.50, which is something like $4.80 in USD. We’d learn later in the day exactly how poor the poor got here.
After a thousand hills and staircases, we were pretty beat and decided to take a break at the hotel. We’d actually finished everything on the list for the day fairly early and thought we’d go back and catch the things we’d missed the day before. A four-hour “nap” later, we were back at it in Kowloon.
The Most Instagrammable Places in Hong Kong
I put a couple of Instagram hotspots on our list. Some of you might know about this already, but for those that don’t, there are actually lists on the innerWebs now that outline all the best IG locations in any number of cities. I’m not an influencer by any means, but I do love a good photo opp, so I thought we’d test it out. Things they don’t tell you—some of these locations are in really shabby parts of City X. We went to the very first spot on the list, and I may have decided this whole thing isn’t for me.
To start, it was out in a bizarre part of Hong Kong. No mix of wealthy and poor. This was just poor. Lots and lots of projects and, well, it pretty much looked like a hopeless place. We found the “estate” where this cool urban, super symmetrical playground is supposed to be, but couldn’t find the actual playground. This meant we were aimlessly walking around in the tunnels of the project. It had shabby food stands and a run-down health clinic, and the whole time we’re getting total side-eye. The clinic had a bunch of uniformed, young nurses lined up outside, which kind of reminded me of WW2-type nurses that you’d see in the movies.
We were about to leave when we finally figured out where the playground was—on the roof of the food stand area. And wouldn’t you know there were a bunch of other people there taking the exact same photos. I dunno… something about walking around in people’s residential areas only to find a bunch of people doing the exact same thing doesn’t excite me. There’s a famous set of buildings in HK called the “Monster Building,” since all five look like a single unit. It became such a popular photo spot, they put signs up banning photography there.
Safety aside, not sure if it’s for me. In the end, some couple had completely taken over the main shot I wanted to get anyway and were doing an entire photo shoot. I snapped a couple of mediocre pics and went on my way. That experience scrapped a couple of other stops we had that would be along the same lines. Not interested in invading people’s residential spaces with a bunch of other tourists.
Temple Street Night Market Tour
With that, we metro’ed back to a more bustling touristy area and stopped off at the Temple Street Night Market. It was just opening and not exactly nighttime. Lots of random stalls that sold food and underwear and t-shirts with cats doing Leo and Kate’s famous “Titanic” pose. I typically hate large shopping areas like this, but Jeff loves them and it really is part of the whole experience, so… I dabble. They had legit hawker police walking around. We were going to check out the neon lights on some of the major streets, but it still wasn’t dark out and we were exhausted. Headed back to the hotel to chill for the evening and get some rest.
Tomorrow, we’ll be visiting the Tian Tan Buddha. A massive Buddha with some 268 stairs up to it. Afterwards, we plan on visiting a small fishing village out that way. It takes about an hour forty-five to get out there on the metro, so I figure we’ll make the most of it. The good news is it doesn’t open until 10, so we’re forced to take it easy. Minus the 268 stairs.
Today’s featured photo: Hong Kong’s Tank Lane is part of an urban beautification project, where street art abounds!
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