The Magic of Hong Kong
I’ve fallen under Hong Kong’s spell.
We were only there a couple of years ago for the trip that sparked this love for Asia. Once again, the words ‘how about Hong Kong?’ were uttered and this time my heart skipped 2 beats. We touched down for a longer than usual Christmas break as it does take a day to travel here. Plus the last few festive trips have been pretty low key (Scotland, Ireland, Holland) due to each of the big adventures preceding them.
For the beloved’s birthday in November, we popped over to Lisbon and Porto and came back nice and early resulting in nearly 4 weeks to lead us to Hong Kong. For this trip, we’re more familiar with the city and it’s glorious mix of old and new, and plan to revel in the luxury of a 10-day break. However, a few things are different, kicking off with Christmas celebrations.
To say I adore Christmas and everything about the run-up to it would be to underplay my love of the festive period. The reason I go away for Christmas is to drink in every last snowflake of the most wonderful time of the year.
There was no question that we were going to be out re-discovering the city despite very little sleep during our journey. It’s some 20 hours since we left our beautiful Christmas Tree at home and stepped into the Emperor’s Hotel to unpack our mini travel tree (complete with battery lights), our half-filled stockings (some pressies opened early while at home) and of course, the Christmas bears.
Number one priority is to see as many Christmas displays in the first 48 hours. Rather than streets being adorned with festive lights, all the creative showing-off takes place inside the shopping centres. They are a sight to behold.
We used more buses and trams, the latter being such an adventure as they’re built in the old style and although they can be uncomfortable, they are great fun. There may have been a wait sometimes, however, surprisingly it still actually saved time missing out trudging up and down steps at the Metro and we saw more of the city. I noticed the above-ground walkways which helped get us about more easily too.
We stayed on Hong Kong Island as an obvious change of scene to being based in Kowloon last time. I now know I prefer Kowloon. It is gritty, exciting and real. Turns out my favourite neighbourhood is the one I stayed in last time, Tsim Sha Tsui incorporating the energetic and colourful Nathan Road. Next door is Mong Kok which I’d describe as good for shopping but that makes no sense; every neighbourhood has a huge shopping centre and the streets are lined with shops. I never noticed the Sasa chain last time but read about it in a beauty blog and became quite obsessed with spotting it’s pink logo on every street. One of the tall buildings viewed from our hotel room even carried it.
I saw many more Marks & Spencer outlets, Lush stores and branches of Pret this time, flying the flag for British brands. Honestly, I couldn’t get away from them. I probably went into M&S more than I did at home (3-4 times per week) just out of curiosity and looking for my preferred fold-up shopper bags with some Hong Kong twang. There were none although it always amuses me that it’s (quite rightly, from a marketing point of view) branded as ‘M&S London’ here so a lot of the motifs on bags reflected London scenes. I bought two anyway at twice the cost of the UK, which is the standard uplift. We did buy a mini bottle of fizz to drink while watching the New Year’s Eve fireworks from our hotel window though.
Apart from staying in a very different area, our chilled out trip aimed at exploring more neighbourhoods, the best of which was Cheung Chau. Other than the traditional fishermen and ladies, this enchanting island bursting with makers is utter joy. We’d covered most of it in a morning and reluctantly left after a fabulous snack at the cafe of Island Bench from whom I bought a couple of perfect bags, straight from the workshop. This boat trip set me up for the best day of this HK adventure.
I didn’t see a single reference to Bruce Lee, memorials to whom I purposefully seeked out last time. The Avenue of the Stars was closed for refurbishment anyway.
To my western eye, it was difficult glimpsing live fish being sold in the (otherwise) fantastic street markets.
In these streets, we saw the locals, especially the young and families, queue down the street to get a seat in cheap and cheerful restaurants.
There are many more tourists during the festive period than in the hot summer months, plus the school kids were on holiday.
It seems to be a thing for all the fashion houses to have coffee shops, I dearly wanted to go to Raph’s (Lauren) but sadly there was no seating. Even Jack Wills has one.
Finally, the emergence of gold cutlery. Everyone, including our hotel seems to have this. I’m way ahead of the game here as I plan to change our good cutlery to something coppery/gold when we move house this year. To this end, a set turned up under our Christmas tree.
Gambling is banned in China and yet Horse Racing is Hong Kong’s biggest sport. We stayed next to the Happy Valley Racecourse which unsurprisingly, leads to a pretty affluent area.
And here’s what thankfully stayed the same
Everyone still takes part in food sharing in restaurants, something we forgot for about half a week and over ordered. I got rather fond of coconut buns from as we developed our daily habit to pop into growing bakery outlets.
There is trust; bikes are left unlocked, laundry is hung out of even low windows and there is no police presence. Even mailboxes are out in the street. (Ours is behind a locked gate hidden from view but still gets broken into).
Victoria Harbour still has the most stunning view, now with added festive glamour.
There are plenty of dogs around, although we saw bigger ones this time perhaps because of the cooler temperatures. What was different though was seeing a Chow Chow drinking water out of a bottle. It makes complete sense.
The afternoon tea at Intercontinental Hotel is still the best in the world
The magic started before we’d even landed from our lovely Finnair flight (from which the beloved bought me my very own pair of branded socks by Sweden’s Happy Socks and we were served coffee in Finland’s design brand Marimekko cups). Most people were watching the film Crazy Rich Asians especially on the first leg of our journey to Helsinki (when there were more Asians on board).
The 65-year-old man sat next to me (I do love a captive audience) was travelling with one of his sons on his way to meet the other, who lives in Hong Kong, in Bangkok. I made the case for him to while away some of his unplanned three months in magical Hong Kong. Had I known I was going to see a gorgeous Chow Chow out for an evening walk drinking water out of a bottle, I would have presented an even better case to visit. (There was a queue taking photos so regretfully I don’t have a picture)
Hong Kong is still immaculately clean and obsessed with personal hygiene. I did become aware of isolated issues of messy ladies toilets in the finer establishments. Noticeably the fancier shopping centres and the Mandarin Oriental hotel where it seems some well-to-do young ladies refused to clean up after their mishaps! However, all public toilets are constantly cleaned and have the picture of the person maintaining them on the wall. Also, on doors and handrails there are signs to assure us they are regularly sanitised. I even saw a pet launderette (presumably for the pet’s bedding) and found the tiny hidden laundries to get our washing done half way through the trip.
There is more enchantment on the second leg as the window seat is taken by a Chinese student on her way home having completed her first term in London with Coventry University. This friendly young lady (she recognised us from the first plane too) delighted in filming the snow she had ever seen. Is there anything that expresses the magic of Christmas more than this moment?