Posts are a bit few and far between at the moment so apologies for that. Moving to the other side of the world really takes it out of you and so this is the first chance I’ve had to really sit and down and write a blog post. I feel like most posts are just going to end up being a splurge of information since so much is happening very quickly but here’s what’s been going on in the 10 days or so since my last post…
Food, Glorious Food!
Hong Kong has such a diverse mix of cultures and nationalities that it’s hard to pin down one speciality cuisine. You can see influences from China, the UK, America, Italy and many more here which means you’re never short of choice for food. I only recently got hands on with the food, mainly due to the fact that HKU is a bit out of the way so to trek into the city every mealtime would be a bit of a strain. The food outlets on campus are more canteen-oriented and are tasty and cheap, but not really authentic.
Perhaps I’m looking in the wrong places but for a city that is famed for its street food, I’ve not seen too much of it. I’ve participated in the obligatory 3am dim sum but you don’t tend to see as many food stalls here as you do in Thailand or Vietnam. Some of the smaller restaurants are superb though The other day I tasted the best kung po chicken I’ve ever had and the renowned fish balls, which you can find in most restaurants and stalls, are definitely worth a try. I don’t think I’ve even begun to scratch the surface of the food culture(s) here so I can’t wait to give my tastebuds a real treat over the next year.
Beaching to the Converted…
When someone mentions ‘Hong Kong’, you picture towering skyscrapers, glittering lights and that breathtaking skyline above the shimmering water. And Hong Kong definitely delivers in this regard. What I wasn’t expecting was, not just a beach, but a collection of beaches to choose from all over the island and beyond. And they’re nice beaches too.
For me, the closest I’ve ever had to having a beach on my doorstep is Lytham or Formby so to have beautiful beaches with warm water and plenty of space just a bus ride away is novelty and one I’m keen to take advantage of! The beaches are often fairly small but I’ve yet to see a particularly crowded one and, even when HKU students have gone in large numbers, there’s always been plenty of room.
My first beach excursion was to Stanley Beach. Stanley is a small town to the south of Hong Kong Island, close to Aberdeen. The MTR doesn’t cover the southern part of the island, so you have to either catch a bus or cab. The 973 from Tsim Sha Tsui passes through HKU and Pok Fu Lam so that was my best bet. I imagine there’s a bus from Central too but I’m not sure. The bus ride was pretty spectacular with some incredible views if you sit on the right side. You pass a number of other beaches until you finally reach Stanley town.
There’s a market here, some restaurants and a 7-11 to stock up on cheap drinks before hitting the beach, which is compact but really stunning. The water is clean, the sand golden and there’s platforms (which look deceptively close) bobbing in the sea if you want to get away from the beach. I was worlds away from the Hong Kong i had pictured when I came here.
As a sucker for a sunset and a good view though, my most awe-inspiring beach experience was at Deep Water Bay, which is just a couple of stops ahead of Stanley on the bus. It’s another small beach, though it has a nice bar and a barbequing facilities. The view is something else though, especially as the sun starts to set. Beaches during the daytime are nice but in the evening/night, as it empties out and the sun comes down, it’s just perfection. One of my favourite moments in Hong Kong so far was sitting on the edge of the beach, headphones in and watching the sun go down as the waves crashed at my feet.
I have a feeling that me and the beaches are going to become very well acquainted…
Forget Leeds and Reading, earlier this week I was a guest at Hong Kong’s hottest festival – the annual Mid-Autumn Festival which, coinciding with a full moon so big that it resembles the sun. There’s considerably less alcohol and more fire than at the UK’s big festivals, but it was a fascinating experience all the same. Countries across Asia, including Vietnam, China and Taiwan joined in the festivities, with Hong Kong celebrating it through lanterns, incense, parading dragons and the interestingly flavoured mooncakes which involve you having to put on your best polite smile as you chew through the dense cake you’ve just been handed by a local. One very nice lady handed us a whole bag of them which we then had to spend the whole night getting rid of.
Figuring the big festivities at Causeway Bay would be packed, we opted to stay closer to home, going to the smaller parade in Pok Fu Lam which is just down the road from the uni. Armed with beer and rice wine (though Hong Kongers, unlike us, don’t seem dependent on alcohol to enjoy a festival), we headed onto the streets to witness the dragon being lit and carried throughout the streets. It was a tad underwhelming, though we got to make our mark on the dragon by shoving an incense stick into its body. It was just good to be part of this festival culture, which I obviously don’t get at home.
The aftermath was much more pleasing, as we headed down to the village for the ‘afterparty’. There were no tequila shots or one night stands awaiting us down here though. In fact, by 9.30pm most people had packed up and left. We were welcomed in by a lovely villager though who sat us down, fed us with mooncakes and fruit and explained the history of Mid-Autumn Festival and the village. It was great to get a local perspective which people who had gone to the big events at Causeway missed out on.
Armed with mooncakes, gigantic grapefruits and, bizarrely, a baby doll which the villagers gifted to us, we headed back to the university ready for a nice day off the following day. In Hong Kong, the public holiday is the day after the festival, presumably so they can recover from the hardcore incense-lighting and dragon-carrying from the festival.
Man vs. Dragon
Who said days off were made for relaxation?! I decided to make the most of the public holiday and headed to the revered Dragon’s Back hiking trail to the South East of the island. It’s strange – Lonely Planet only mentions it in passing but it’s raved about on TripAdvisor and I think it’s quite popular. I’d definitely recommend going. It’s a little out of the way but is easy to get to. Take the MTR Island (Blue) line to Shau Kei Wan MTR station. From there, take exit A3 and you’ll see the bus station as you leave. Take the number 9 bus (I think it was around $6) to To Tei Wan on Shek O Road and the entrance to the trail is right next to the bus stop. There’s a sign so you can’t miss it.
I decided to go for an evening walk (mainly because I woke up late) which was perfect temperature-wise but, as you’ll see, it posed its own problems. The walk isn’t strenuous at all. I hadn’t brought hiking boots and was wearing Vans which weren’t ideal, but a pair of sturdy trainers would be fine. There are no stops along the way for refreshments so take plenty of water and some food, as there’s some perfect picnic spots along the walk.
The views are just something else and, as with the beaches, it’s hard to imagine you’re in Hong Kong. I made frequent stops just to stand an appreciate the views on both sides, especially as the sun started to go down. There’s so much green and blue that you could be trekking on a remote island in the Philippines or Indonesia. I had to keep reminding myself where I was.
The pinnacle of the hike is Shek O Peak, which is indicated by a sign and its jaw-dropping views. In true Jack style, it warranted a rest and my headphones as I sat and chilled for a while, the only sound around me being the occasional rustling of grass from passing hikers. It was another perfect moment to add to my rapidly growing list.
And then, again in true Jack style, it went downhill – both literally and metaphorically.
There was some discrepancy in how long the walk would last. The tourism site said 6 hours, whilst TripAdvisor users had advised 1-2 hours. That was quite a gap! I knew from prior research that the walk concluded at Big Wave Bay so I decided I’d hike to there, grab a well-earned beer at the beach and then head home. The problem was that I think the TA users were referring to the Dragon’s Back portion of the trail, whilst the tourism site was referring to Dragon’s Back merging with the much larger Hong Kong trail. As a result, it took much longer to get back than expected.
This would have been fine, had the sun not set and left me in complete darkness, walking through a forest with absolutely nobody around me. The peaceful sounds from earlier were now replaced with scurrying and rattling noises from the bushes and the only source of light I had was my iPhone torch. I had never been so scared at 7.00pm! I didn’t see a single person for the duration of the walk, Google Maps telling me different directions every second and I was slowly becoming delirious. At one point I thought a rock was a sleeping dog and a stick was a snake. The path was more uneven than ever here as well, just in case the forest decided I wasn’t suffering enough.
It took a hell of a long time to get out of there and when I finally saw a car park, I felt as if I had found the end of the rainbow. Tired, hungry and bordering on insanity, I decided to just go home rather than hit the beach at this time. Green minibuses head to the MTR station from the bus stop in the beach car park, or you can walk down Shek O Road and catch the number 9 back.
I don’t regret going at all. Dragon’s Back was absolutely awe-inspiring. I’d just advise going earlier (but missing out on the sunset) or taking a good torch and not letting the scurrying in the bushes put you off.
Of course, knowing my luck, there was probably a massive ‘EXIT’ sign at the end of Dragon’s Back which would have got me home in a jiffy…