It’s a question that has always plagued travelers since the dawn of time- to buy the ticket to the top, or to find a view for free? In certain locations, I think it’s probably worth the price to pay. I’d imagine going up to the Empire State Building would be incredible, if only to impress everyone with my incredible rendition of Empire State of Mind by Alicia Keys.
One place that I didn’t go up that I probably “should have” is the Eiffel Tower. I was 20, and traveling with two of my best friends. It was freezing and not the best weather either. We’d all heard going to the top was overrated, so we were all fine with the decision to view it only from below. What’s more, I think going to the top of the Eiffel Tower– as horrendously cliché as it is– is something nice to do with your significant other. Now, I don’t know what’s the policy on going up with a life-size model of a boyfriend made out of macarons, but I hope one day to get the chance to go with someone I love. So I will do it one day, provided my fate of becoming a cat lady is not realised.
On my second day in Hong Kong, we were faced with this dilemma at Victoria Peak. After making food babies at the unmissable Tim Ho Wan, we took a bus outside Hong Kong Station to the peak. Not knowing exactly where to go we followed the crowd and ended up in the shopping center, which is where you will find the special viewing deck, The Sky Terrace. “Should we go?”, we pondered, trying to combat our indecisiveness. In the end we concluded that whilst it was surprisingly affordable (HK$48), the sky was too foggy for it to be worth it. So with no real eagerness from any of us to go to the Sky Terrace, we set out to find our own view.
There’s a lovely (free!) viewing area which I think offers an awesome view. As the photos show, the smog is quite thick so you can’t see to the back very clearly. Seeing this made me appreciate the clearest blue skies and beautifully clean air of Sydney. The sky is always bluer on the other side it seems!
Looking up at the The Sky Terrace and seeing the crowd of people, I felt happy with our choice to freely (both in the monetary and adverbial sense!) take in the view and explore the surroundings. As there’s not too much to do after you’ve taken in the view, we started waiting in line for our return ride on the Peak Tram. Oh, how I love thee! Expect to wait at least 25 minutes in line, but believe me, it’s so worth it.
I can only speak of our experience of returning back to the city on it, but it was truly so fun! After the scramble to get a seat (expect some pushing from overly zealous tourists) you sit down backwards, facing away from the direction the tram is heading. I had no idea why until the tram started moving at we were thrust downwards as the train veered in a sharp incline to the bottom of the peak. I was so surprised by the sheer steepness and speed of the ride. I couldn’t believe this crazy tram existed here- the teacher in me thought “Oh lordy, this does not seem safe. Why won’t someone think of the children?!” I jest, I jest. It is of course, by all accounts, very safe. And, under no circumstances do I ever say lordy.
We had a plan to meet our friends Manny and Roy for some shopping at the local markets, but a wave of lethargy had swept over the three of us. This was quite ridiculous considering all we did was eat lots and then take a bit of a walk and look out over Hong Kong. I’ll just blame it on the air pollution. At any rate, when we met them, we asked them with our best puppy dog eyes if it was OK to sit down in a cafe and rest for a bit first. I’m glad we did, because we ended up in a dessert place (sometimes, life just works out eh).
We all ordered mango desserts- my favourite! I chose a popular Hong Kongese dessert of mango chunks, condensed milk, grapefruit and tapioca. Oh it was so, so scrumptious. I wolfed down my bowl in an embarrassingly short time and waited for the others to finish (damn my gluttony!)
With stomachs full, and some mango-powered energy, we headed to the Flower Market. Here, you can find stalls selling fresh fruit, jewellery and all manner of things. But we had one thing on our mind- clothes! Coming from Taipei where it’s easy to buy clothes on super cheap I wasn’t expecting to buy anything. However, as usual when I play the “I’m definitely not going to buy anything” game, I end up buying more than anyone!
I picked up these super cute black studded flats (I am a sucker for leather and gold hardware!) and a flowy short dress perfect for hot summer days.
I had a date to meet my lovely friend, Tegan, who now lives in Hong Kong, so I said goodbye to everyone and headed off to Central. “Where are we going?” I tried to ask casually, trying not to sound too eager to eat. But with food- I tend to lose any notion of subtlety and tend to resemble someone on an Atkins diet who is eating creamy pasta for the first time in eight years.
Tegan said she was taking me to Tsiu Chai Kee, a delicious and cheap wonton noodle shop she regularly goes to near Lan Kwai Fong. Upon arriving and looking at the shop front, I exclaimed, “I’m pretty sure this is the place I really wanted to go to!” We sat inside and ordered two bowls of satiating wonton noodle soup. When the dishes arrived I turned to Tegan, “Yep, this is definitely it”. I whipped out my phone and showed her a screenshot of a picture of the very noodles underneath our noses. I laughed aloud, because being unashamedly obsessed with food, this situation happens alarmingly quite often.
The wonton noodles here are excellent. Spectacular even! The prawns inside scream with juiciness, and were incredibly fresh and plump. I even thought they were better than the prawns inside the har gao at Tim Ho Wan. Big call, but true. Whilst I didn’t know it at the time, in the coming days I would eat wontons another two times (I became slightly obsessed) and those ones were nothing compared to Tsim Chai Kee’s.
Not having seen each other in over three years, Tegan and I had a lot to catch up on so we made our way to The Globe, a popular British pub heavily frequented by expats. But on the way there, Tegan had a surprise- she would give me my first taste of Egg Tart on this trip.
Just a short walk from Tsim Chai Kee is an incredibly famous egg tart shop, Tai Cheong Bakery. For almost six decades, Tai Cheong’s have served their bright, golden yellow, delectably creamy egg tarts to locals, foreigners and near royalty alike- the last British Governor was well known as a great fan.
Once again, when we got to the shop front, I had to meekly tell Tegan, “Ah, so this was another place I have a screenshot of and was reering to go to…” I think you’d agree that I really don’t take any short cuts when it comes to planning where to eat on holiday!
Giddy from the anticipation of soon munching into my little present, we strolled up the rather steep hill to the pub. “Excuse me,” a pretty English girl stopped us to get our attention. “Do you know any good places for a drink around here? It’s my last night and I would really like a drink!” Tegan, ever so friendly, started directing her to a couple of places, but midway through she proposed, “Hey, how about you join us, we’re about to grab a drink anyway!” We all agreed it was a great idea, and so we set off together to The Globe.
And that is how the night transpired- three talkative, cheery young women in a pub talking about everything from traveling, feminism and culture over a couple of ciders and a stack of beers. Tegan and myself, reunited in Hong Kong after years apart. And our new English friend Pip, who had no plans for her night, but just so happened to bump into us.
That just there is what I love about travel. Beyond the magnificent, breathtaking sights, and even the mouth watering food, travel is an avenue for creating and maintaining relationships. Travel reunites friends, family, lovers. Travel introduces you to new views, insights and knowledge that you would have never encountered otherwise- at least from such a first-hand perspective.
You can make a thousand friends from every part of the globe, who once in your life, seem like they were always meant to have that spot in your life. Travel can sometimes make you feel insignificantly small in an unfathomably big universe, but it can also make you feel incredibly connected, as whilst you’re but one person- you have ears to hear the stories of others, and a mouth to share your own.
Central’s streets are a gallery of beautiful street art- namely in the form of graffiti, and right outside the pub was this wonderfully decorated wall we couldn’t help but get a picture in front of. Only a minute walk from the pub is the grounds of PMQ, an enclave of amazing design shops and galleries (more on all this in the next entry!).
In the middle of the PMQ lounge were a dozen or so playfully decorated pianos, free for passerbyers to play. The installation was aptly named “Play me I’m yours”. Coincidentally enough, I also managed to catch this exhibition last year in Sydney, so it was a lovely surprise! I played the only three things I can kind of play off by heart, including a very repetitive version of Fur Elise that would have had Beethoven rolling in his grave.
My second day of Tim Ho Wan, Victoria Peak, mango desserts, wontons, tarts and cider was the fusion of everything that makes me feel excited to be alive and to keep on traveling- a bit of adventure, visits to beautiful sights, delicious food, learning and friends old and new.
Stay tuned for Day 3- A trip to Stanley, goggling the art at Central, having a cheeky shop around PMQ and of course, having a bite or ten.