Friday, April 27, 2012

Meet Me in Hong Kong

 I travel every opportunity that I can, any excuse for a new adventure or exploration. If someone mentions wanting to go somewhere that I also want to visit, I’ll enthusiastically and genuinely tell them that we should go, and actually follow up. (Sometimes people can find this a little overwhelming or a bit unique but whatever it’s who I am.) When a friend living London told me he was “currently boarding a flight to Singapore” for a four day business trip, I booked my flight and was there two days later. People often remark that I’m “never in Hanoi” (gross exaggeration) but it’s true that it’s not uncommon for me to be out of town. Part of the reason I moved to Southeast Asia was to travel. I had a list of must see places before I got here and the list is ever expanding on account of hearing the tales of others…I’m even at the point that when I think of repatriating, I think, “But wait, I haven’t been to X, Y, or Z, I can’t leave yet.”

One of the places I was always intrigued by was Hong Kong, but despite it being only an hour and a half way, I only just went for the first time last week. This is, in part, due to the fact that going there for a weekend requires a fair bit of advance planning (the Sunday flights from HK to Hanoi are sold out for at least a month) and on top of that, flying there is exponentially more expensive than say, getting to Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, or Malaysia. It was also because Hong Kong is not the kind of place you go solo in the hopes of meeting up with other travelers so I wanted a companion for the journey and had yet to find one. The night I MET my (now) boyfriend, he mentioned “really wanting to go to Hong Kong,” my eyes lit up and, as I said above I am prone to doing, I started planning a trip with him on the spot. Luckily, he was receptive to this and a month later we were there.
view from hotel room

I didn’t really know what to expect from the city, even though I’d heard accounts of it from multiple sources. In truth, I guess I thought it would be a like a more condensed Singapore with taller buildings but was mistaken. I'd describe Hong Kong as a combination of Manhattan and San Francisco (two of my favorite cities) but with better weather. I am a city girl through and through and Hong Kong lived up to everything it is that I love about being in a big city: I thrive on the buzz, need the culture, enjoy the myriad of options at my fingertips at any moment, so being in Hong Kong was like coming home. I was instantly comfortable and found myself yearning for the big city life I used to have. I am by no means complaining about where I live or the life I have now, Hanoi is where I have chosen to be right now and I’m here because I want to be, but at times it’s still difficult, an adjustment, and it’s nice to fall back into my comfortable former existence, even if only for a weekend here and there.

 I’m the kind of person that isn’t a major planner when on a vacation. I find hour-by-hour itinerary plans incredibly boring and restrictive and it’s why I will never go on a tour because it would drive me completely insane. I like to be aware of what’s available in terms of top sights and attractions and signature dishes, but for me, travel shouldn’t be rushing to do everything. It should be enjoyable and fun, not a mission. My parents are the same. When we go places they say, “left or right” and from there just explore, wander, immerse. I was also incredibly fortunate that I was going with someone who was willing to figure everything thing out (complete with phenomenal surprises) but is also cool enough to go with the flow. The perfect combination when traveling.
view from table at Spoon

 The first day we arrived we checked into our hotel which was attached to Pacific Place (an incredible shopping mall-more on that later-with a movie theatre) and as we only had a few hours before our dinner reservation, we went to see “The Hunger Games” since I am obsessed with it and it’s not coming out in Vietnam. A great start to the trip. From there, we went out for dinner at Spoon, in Kowloon, which had a stunning view of the city lights (not to mention incredible food) 

damage from shopping
Lily&Bloom
The Blind Pig
The second day it was raining, and we were tired so we were incredibly lazy until we ventured out into the city to shop, then we, or at least I, was filled with a sudden burst of manic obsessive energy. I am a compulsive shopper, and as anyone who has gone with me can attest to, it can be a bit of a problem. I don’t need to shop ALL THE TIME, I can go weeks or months without buying something, but once I start I can’t stop. I am practically incapable of limits or restraint. I can’t choose between things so I buy them all. If it hadn’t been for James practically dragging me out of the shops, I would’ve kept going. I still managed to get away with: five dresses, one top, one blazer, one pair of shorts, and six items from the Benefit counter. After this excursion we met up with a good friend of mine from home (who now lives in Shanghai but was coincidentally in HK for business) on Hollywood Road at a place called Heirloom, which had a trendy NYC-esque vibe with fantastic food. I had the salmon, great stuff. For dessert, I had the chocolate bread pudding which was so sensational that I am not going to do it the injustice of trying to describe it. Just have it, you’ll love it. After dinner, we wandered around the neighborhood, getting a feel for it and ended up at Lily&Bloom to say hi to another friend who was also coincidentally in town. Lily&Bloom made me miss NYC so much, it’s dimly lit but in a atmospheric way, rather than seedy. There are candles all along the bar giving everyone a soft, subtle glow.  The drinks are well mixed and delicious. It also contains a “hidden” cigar room (though not really since everyone knows about it and it’s not at all challenging to find) called The Blind Pig which we also checked out.

Dim Sum at City Hall
Day 3 was touristy day, commencing with dim sum lunch at City Hall (thanks @stickyinhanoi for the recommendation) which was an experience in itself. We both envisioned it to be like street food in Vietnam, on the street, a little bit dirty and hectic and were surprised to find that it was held in what appeared to be a grand ballroom complete with white table cloths and chandeliers. I wondered if we were in the wrong place but was assured that we were not, so sat down and had a delicious and fun meal. Following this, we did what every other tourist does and took the cable car to the peak overlooking the city, which was well worth it, even on not the nicest of days.

view from the peak

dessert!
We went back and relaxed (our hotel had a bathtub which I spent minimum one hour a day in, it’s kind of a weakness and a huge luxury since I don’t have one in Hanoi) and went out to dinner in Kowloon again, this time spending some time to wander around the area as well. We ate a lot and again had incredible dessert (ice cream sundae for me, chocolate soufflé for James. Both dishes were “to share” but we decided to tackle them individually.) After dinner we went out again, experiencing a Friday night in Hong Kong, which again, reminded me of NYC, the masses of people out and about (which was far larger than the night before) We begrudgingly left the following afternoon.

view from the peak
 Since then, I’ve been emailing out of town friends who frequently do business in Hong Kong to find out when they’re next there so I can have an excuse to go back. I loved it but know I only slightly scratched the surface and want to explore the city more, take it what it has to offer.
  

*Thanks to everyone for the tips on where to go, to JLF, MM, and KS. who added an extra fun dimension to being there, and James for everything*

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