Hong Kong (Winter 2018)

TL;DR

  • Stay
    • Airbnb: Cozy double room with stunning rooftop (and cat!), 得安樓 Hong Kong, Sai Ying Pun, Des Voeux Rd W, 221號
      • Located just off the Sai Ying Pun station on Hong Kong Island (two stations west of Central station), this comfortable double room is rented out by Florent, his girlfriend, and their adorable cat Baobao. Comfortable for one, could be a squeeze for two – but Flo goes out of his way to make you feel at home.
  • Eat/Drink
    • Polygon Café, Hong Kong, Sai Ying Pun, Second St, 14號地下 14 Second Street
      • Needing a place to rest for a few hours before I could get into my Airbnb, I ended up here and found this to be a lovely respite from the urban jungle. A small coffee bar, a few tables, and a charming outdoor patio invited me to order a latte and croissant while I spent the morning writing and reading.
      • If you want a proper full review, see this article I found via Google.
    • Tim Ho Wan, Hong Kong, Hong Kong Station(Podium Level 1 IFC Mall), Shop 12A
      • It might take you awhile to find this place as it’s not exactly in the mall, but ask any security guard and eventually you’ll be treated to Michelin-star quality dim sum in a small mall setting. I recommend the steamed dumplings (chiu chow style), baked bun with bbq pork (cha siu bao), and the steamed rice rolls stuffed with shrimp and chives).
    • Chiuchow Garden Restaurant, 3/F, Infinitus Plaza, 199 Des Veoux Road Central, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong
      • Brought here by a friend, I couldn’t tell you everything we ate. The good thing is, she can. See below for pics and dish recommendations. All were delicious!
    • Lan Fong Yuen, Ground Floor, 2 Gage Street, Central, Hong Kong, China
      • A total dive that is (in)famous for instant noodles and pork chops and milk tea. Reviews tend to be negative and I would agree with their observations. If you must come here, prepare for cold pork chops on bland noodles. But try the tea at least – I got the coffee and was disappointed.
    • San Sam Hing (新三興) Noodle Restaurant, G/F, 21 Centre Street, Western District, Hong Kong
      • Total hole in the wall which only captivated my attention for a sign outside with a photo of beef chow fun and a hot tea for $HK45. That’s a ridiculously good deal and after wandering in for a plate of said beef chow fun, it was FANTASTIC.
  • See
    • Man Mo Temple, Man Mo Temple, 124-126 Hollywood Rd, Tai Ping Shan, Hong Kong
      • If wandering through clouds of incense does not appeal to you, this place might not work for you. If, however, you want to see some traditional Hong Kong and pay your respects to your elders and family, then plan some time to visit Man Mo Temple.
    • Dr. Sun Yat Sen Museum, Kom Tong Hall, 7 Castle Rd, Central, Hong Kong
      • Though overshadowed by other Chinese leaders whose legacies involve wartime relations with the United States, the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward (Chiang Kai-Shek, Mao Zedong, and Deng Xiaoping), Sun Yat Sen’s legacy as the founding father of the Chinese republic is an important one to know. And this museum organizes much of his story in a clean, easy to understand format. It’s also free to get in!
    • Hysan Place, 500 Hennessy Rd, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong
      • I came for the LinkedIn office on the top floor of this 38-floor office tower, but was pleasantly surprised to find out that the bottom 17 floors are comprised of various retail shops, including sassy apparel retailers, a huge and impressive bookstore, and a number of small eateries. Worth a visit!
    • Dragon’s Back, Hong Kong Trail Sec. 8, Shek O, Hong Kong
      • Escape the urban jungle by taking the MTR Island Line to Shau Kei Wan station, walk outside to bus #9, and take it for about 20 minutes to To Tei Wan. Get off the bus and start walking up the trail. The steep steps at the beginning give way to some spectacular views. Just follow the markers in ascending order and choose whether to end at Big Wave Bay Beach and take the bus back or continue hiking north all the way back to Chai Wan.
    • Sai Wan War Cemetery, Tai Tam Gap, Hong Kong
      • If you walk back to Chai Wan station from Dragon’s Back, you may pass this touching tribute to the fallen soldiers who gave their lives defending Hong Kong from the Japanese invasion in World War II, along with all of the soldiers from the Hong Kong garrison who died throughout World Wars I and II.
    • Gough Street
      • A two block long stretch of fine boutiques, tasty restaurants (the famous Kau Kee, a spot for beef noodles), and some delightful shops with cards, jewelry, cheeky gifts, and other curios. Check out the Visionare Concept Store and Woaw Store.
    • Temple Street Market, Tin Hau Temple Complex, Yau Ma Tei, Hong Kong
      • My only foray into Kowloon took me to this seedy market with a lot of leather goods, bags, small jewelry and accessories for sale. Prepare to haggle here and put on your best negotiating face.
    • Cathay Pacific Lounges, Hong Kong International Airport
      • See more details down below, but if you’re flying back to the US on a OneWorld flight and you get access to any of these lounges, you will love the design, comfort, and ambiance – not to mention the delicious food and drink in each of these four lounges.

 

Trip Background

Each year I seem to find one ridiculous deal to Asia on theflightdeal.com. Last year, I went for a weekend to see some friends and also enjoy my last experience as an American Airlines Executive Platinum member. This year, I found a similar flight that would get me to Hong Kong for $427 and I decided to cash in some American Express points to get me there.

 

Day 0 (January 26, 2018)

I awoke at 7 AM to an email from Airbnb telling me my host had cancelled my reservation.

Way uncool, dude.

Thankfully Airbnb added 10% of the price to my account as a credit and when I found a new place, the difference was covered – but not the best way to begin the trip.

I took an early afternoon flight from San Francisco to Los Angeles and quickly befriended my seat neighbor, who works in San Francisco but lives in Calabasas (Southern California). We spent the entire 80 minute flight shooting the breeze about life in our respective companies and how difficult recruiting top people for jobs can be (that’s what I do in my day job).

A long layover at LAX turned into one of the better travel experiences I’ve had in the last few years. I had nearly eight hours between my arrival at LAX and my departure for Hong Kong, so I decided to soak up the glory of the Admirals Club and the Flagship lounge. Just as a point of information: if you’re an American platinum member, you’re a OneWorld sapphire, which qualifies you for this lounge at LAX on any international flights. Besides a full self-service bar, there’s also a custom pho station. This isn’t the rich broth you’d expect from a San Jose Vietnamese restaurant, but it’s still pretty good. Also try the pork buns while you wait.

 

After a couple cocktails and dinner, I proceeded to my flight and thankfully I had a middle seat empty next to me, since the flight was a long 15 hours and 50 minutes).

 

Day 1 (January 28, 2018): Arrival, Exploration, and Food

Every time I arrive at Hong Kong International Airport, I keep remembering what makes it such an attractive place to fly in and out of. The fact that I was arriving around Chinese New Year certainly made impression that much better. If you’ve not been to Hong Kong before, know that getting from the airport to Kowloon or Hong Kong Island is really easy. If you plan on coming back, buying an Octopus card (HK$150, which includes a HK$50 deposit and HK$100 worth of transit value) is a great way to get discounts on transit as single rides with an Octopus are HK$2 cheaper.

 

Because I arrived around 8 AM, I knew I had to find a place to spend 4 hours since I knew my Airbnb would not be available until noon. So I took the MTA to Hong Kong Island and then made my way to Polygon Café, which I discovered on my Google maps app. It struck me as a place where I could hunker down and write, read, and sip coffee for a few hours – and I was not disappointed. I ordered a croissant sandwich and a latte and spent the morning catching up on emails and indulging myself in writing and reading, as I would on any Sunday morning in San Francisco. Just before the noon hour arrived, I walked a few blocks to my Airbnb and checked in.

 

My host Florent (or Flo) and his girlfriend were lovely hosts and took the time to orient me to a few of my destinations and even share suggestions with me. After unpacking and getting settled, I spent an hour planning what I wanted to do that day and decided to head over to the Tim Ho Wan at Hong Kong Station for their famed Michelin star rated dim sum. Along the way, I learned that on Sundays, many of the city’s Filipina nannies have the day off and they choose to congregate in Central and Hong Kong stations. I was completely confused because it looked like people were waiting for concert tickets or a big event, but nope – it’s just how Sundays are in HK.

 

When you arrive at Tim Ho Wan, grab one of the green forms and if you don’t speak Chinese, ask the cashier for an English version. You’ll probably wait 15-20 minutes if the line has bent twice (when the line is about half full) so take your time to determine what to order. For me, a cha siu bao (baked bun with bbq pork, HK$21), steamed rice rolls stuffed with shrimps and chives (HK$33), and steamed dumplings & chiu chow style (HK$16) were enough for me.

Lunch was delicious and a nice way to relax before I went exploring. If you have time, meander around Hong Kong Station. If you’re looking for the name brands, they’re there!

I decided to take a nice walk from Central into Soho. My first destination was Man Mo Temple, a place I’ve been meaning to visit for years. Inside, you can pay your respects to your elders and family amongst a cloud of incense smoke. As you might imagine, this place is on a lot of tourist lists but you might also be surprised to run into a lot of locals here. The most jarring element of this temple is the fact that inside seems so traditional and revered, but when you see the building nestled into the hillside with skyscrapers all around, it reminds you that you’re still in one of the world’s biggest cities.

My final destination of the afternoon was the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Museum. Sun is considered the founding father of the Republic of China and though he spent much of his lifetime exiled from China, his influence cannot be understated. Coming to this museum was quite interesting as the exhibits reveal the many phases of his life and what he contributed to China’s post-imperial age. It’s free to go in and afterwards you can walk towards the King George V Memorial Park, where you’ll see some of Hong Kong’s most epic and beautiful trees lining the streets.

I decided to head back to the Airbnb as my feet were starting to get sore and I wanted to clean up before dinner. Thankfully Baobao, the house cat, decided to entertain me with his playful antics:

 

As dinner time rolled around, I met up with my friend Jacqueline at Chiuchow Garden Restaurant. I’m a very proud Chinese American but I hadn’t heard much about Chiuchow cuisine. Thankfully she is from Hong Kong and she took the evening to educate me.

The food was delicious and, by virtue of its strong seafood and vegetable content, incredibly healthy. But the service was atrocious. We arrived and spent 10 minutes waiting next to a table that was supposed to be cleaned. Only after asking a third time did someone arrive to clear the table. But in spite of that, the experience was positive and based only on food quality, I would definitely come back here!

 

Day 2 (January 29, 2018): The LinkedIn office, a lot of hiking, and proof that I’m a damned good negotiator (sarcasm intended)

I knew I’d only have one full day in Hong Kong to do any time intensive activities. I debated going to see the Buddha status on Lantau Island, but that would have cost me the entire day. Instead, I opted to go visit the Hong Kong office of my company (LinkedIn) in the morning and then spend the afternoon hiking the famed Dragon’s Back trail on the southeastern part of Hong Kong Island. I set off for the office and was pleasantly surprised to find an office that incorporated traditional Chinese design patterns and provided amazing views down to the city below.

The office is located inside Hysan Place, a 38-story office building and shopping center, and if you find yourself in Causeway Bay, stop by here. The shops down below include one of the largest bookstores I’ve ever seen and a spiraling series of clothing shops and small eateries.

After a couple hours talking with my colleagues, I headed away from the urban grind to Shau Kei Wan station. From there it was an easy 20 minute bus ride – take the #9 bus towards Shek O and get off at To Tei Wan. If the water is on your right, the trailhead is on your left (up the mountain). When you start walking, note the map below which highlights the distance markers (starting at #85 and increasing as you proceed along the trail).

A mere five minute walk is all that separates you from a rest area and lunch spot, if you so choose. I found it took me about 20 minutes of uphill climbing and steps to get to a clearing, and then the uphill angle flattens out a bit. Along the way to the top, you’ll be treated to some wonderful views – even on a cloudy day, the water and earth make for spectacular sights.

The video above shows the view from the top. Once you start descending (heading north), you’ll have the option to continue on towards Tai Tam Gap or you can choose to keep walking on to Big Wave Bay and catch the bus back the way you came.

And as you head down, will you be walking or biking? Seems like an obvious choice to me!

At this point, having hiked for the better part of two hours, I looked at my map and decided I would walk from Tai Tam Gap to Chai Wan station, the end of the line for the MTR line. It ended up being longer than I thought but I also wound up discovering something very interesting: Sai Wan War Cemetery.

For those of you who are not prolific students of World War II, this cemetery was established to honor the Hong Kong garrison soldiers who died during the first and second world wars. It was particularly intriguing to see the names of the men who died defending Hong Kong at the outset of WW2 included Indian, Canadian, AND British soldiers.

Once I reached Chai Wan station, I attempted to see the Victoria Peak but the line at the tram station was super long. So I decided to go back to a place I had tried to see the previous day: Lan Fong Yuen. This place is infamous for serving up packaged noodles (yep – just like the crappy ramen you buy in the store). I somehow hoped it wouldn’t suck – and boy did it suck.

The meat was cold and sitting on top of lukewarm soup and noodles. It was so bad that on the walk home, I opted to stop in at a Chinese bakery just to buy some buns to replace that terrible flavor in my mouth. The pleasant surprised of the afternoon? I wandered down to Gough Street, a row of delightful boutiques and small shops which sell a whole host of things. The Visionare Concept Store and Woaw Store would be my recommendations, as they carry cool wallets, bags, electronics, and a ton of sassy/witty gifts.

With my belly now full of those awful noodles and those delightful buns, I went back to the Airbnb, played with Baobao the cat for a little while, and then proceeded to the Temple Street Market in search of some knockoff gifts for friends and family.

It’s basically like every other crappy market you find in Asia. A lot of haggling, even more surly merchants, and not a whole lot of variety. But after 20-30 minutes of wandering, I found a lovely Michael Kors knockoff wallet for my wife – and all of a sudden, the night was saved.

 

Day 3 (January 30, 2018): Surprising Hole in the Wall and oh so many lounges

This trip was only a few days but the sheer amount of activities I packed into it made it feel so much longer. As my final day dawned, I opted not to play tourist anymore and instead sleep in until 10 AM. But as hunger set in after I finished my leftover black fibre bun, I thought about this little restaurant I’d seen on the first day, which was a couple blocks from my Airbnb. The sign I had passed stated “Beef chow fun noodle and a coffee for HK$45 (US$6), which is a ridiculously good price for my favorite comfort food dish of all time. I couldn’t remember the name but I remembered where it was so I walked over and stepped inside. The restaurant’s name was San Sam Hing (新三興) and the staff’s English was spotty at best, but thankfully this is one dish I know how to say anywhere I go (乾炒牛河 (Cantonese: gon1 caau2 ngau4 ho4*2 | Mandarin: gan1 chao3 niu2 he2). When I arrived, the host told me they weren’t open for lunch yet – and my heart sank. But then she told me that lunch would be served at 11 AM so I could wait a few minutes.

The noodles were some of the best I’ve ever had. Greasy enough to be hot and tasty with the flavor of the onions and beef, but not so oily that it felt like a Panda Express in a suburban mall. They did try to bill me HK$58 for the meal and when I pointed at the sign stating HK$45 as the price, she then said, well you had the soup which was HK$10. It seems I cannot escape haggling, even over a lunch. But whatever. HK$53 is still a great price for these noodles. I stopped by a convenience store to pick up some gifts, packed my bags, and headed to the airport.

I knew I would have roughly six hours at the airport so I decided to spend my afternoon running through all of the Cathay Pacific Lounges and the newly opened American Express Centurion Lounge. I realize this is ridiculously lavish to be able to do all of these and then to do what I did, so let’s just not pretend that this was anything but an experiment in opulence. For that post, click here.

Once my run through the five lounges was done, I boarded my flight to Los Angeles and a mere 10 hours later, I was back on American soil with another solid trip in the books.

 

Final Thoughts

I’m not gonna lie to you folks – a lot behind this trip was the motivation for 14,520 elite qualifying miles on American (over 34 EQM’s per dollar!). But it helped that I could see friends, visit my colleagues, and ultimately get to explore parts of Hong Kong that I’d never seen before.

In all of my four previous trips to or through Hong Kong, I’ve mainly seen the developed, super congested parts of the city and never really thought of HK as being naturally beautiful or green and lush. See my forthcoming link on a previous trip to Hong Kong for my first forays outside Central and LKF (article coming!). That said, this trip really made me appreciate the fact that you can have condensed urban life and the ability to breathe comfortably within a half hour of one another in Asia.

With that, I will leave you with some really impressive/cheeky signs, ads and shop names for your giggling pleasure:

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One response to “Hong Kong (Winter 2018)

  1. Pingback: How to… Visit Five Hong Kong Airport Lounges in a Single Day | Go See The World·

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