As our plane descended through the clouds, and our shadow appeared over the green-tinted ocean below, Jake and I looked out the window excitedly. Giant apartment buildings that towered over everything else in their view climbed towards us. We could see the big city sprawling across several islands through the haze. Is it clouds that made the air unclear? Is it fog? Is it pollution? I'm still not entirely sure. One thing I did know, though, is that we were excited to be landing in Hong Kong! Hong Kong was not on our original list of destinations. In fact, we weren't planning on going at all. But after the earthquake hit Nepal, we reconsidered what to do with the three weeks that we had set aside to visit there. As we were reconfiguring our travel plans, we remembered that our buddy Kyle was madly in love with Hong Kong. Back in December he had waxed poetic about the lights, the food, the convenient metro system…Kyle could have gone on forever about his love of this place. We decided that we might as well see what all the fuss was about. We're happy to say that Kyle is right - Hong Kong is pretty dang awesome!
The first thing we noticed are the giant apartment buildings - so many people live here, and they just keep stacking apartments on top of each other towards the sky. These buildings are just huge - thousands of people must live in one complex alone! The room we rented for our six day visit was not in one of the giants, but the building was still fairly large. As we walked up to it, I couldn't help but notice all of the laundry hanging out of windows, off small balconies, and from laundry lines hung precariously 30 floors up. "Why on earth would they put all their laundry out the window? It looks terrible." I thought to myself. I found out why the moment we opened the door to our home for the week, the smallest room I've ever seen. I mean this place was TINY - there was just enough floor space for the door to swing open inward, the full size bed was up against the wall on 3.75 sides, and the bathroom could fit one person at a time. If we were to hang laundry, it would be right on top of our bed! Living spaces are teeny tiny, so it makes sense that people would take to their window space for everyday tasks like drying the laundry!
The second thing we noticed was the number of malls this city has! Like a 7-Eleven or Starbucks, malls seem to be on every corner. Most metro stations are in malls, and the malls even go underground a few levels to entice commuters. In one day, we walked through six malls as we explored the city - not because we sought them out, not because we were shopping, but because they were connected to all of the places we were going! One thing is for sure, the people of Hong Kong LOVE to shop! I've never seen a place where it's easier to do it, where shops and malls are more prevalent. I thought the US had a consumer culture, but it's NOTHING compared to that of Hong Kong! It blew my mind that there could be so many malls with the same stores so close to each other (within a short walking distance or one or two metro stops) and enough shoppers and money to keep them all in business. How many Cliniques, Burberrys, Louis Vuittons, Zaras, H&Ms, and J. Crews does a city need? The thought did cross my mind to do a little shopping (subliminal message finally infiltrated my mind), and then I noticed some price tags and quickly moved along.
Our neighborhood, near the Austin MTR station, was not touristy at all. It was full of locals living their lives, people rushing off to work, moms and dads holding hands with their kindergarteners as they walked to school, bakeries setting out their daily offerings (among our favorites were the egg custard tarts in a shortbread cookie crust). When we first researched places to stay, we had our sights set on the island of Hong Kong, among the trendy bars, happening night life, and bright lights. But it was also the tourist center of the area, and thus much more expensive. Since we had read that the metro was supposed to be super convenient and affordable, we decided to forgo the city center and stay on the less popular side of the bay, Kowloon. We were so happy to have chosen a more affordable spot that showed us what local culture is really like rather than a more pricy tourist hotspot. Rather than foreign businessmen dressed in their beautiful suits, we saw local delivery guys and construction workers hauling things from here to there wearing shorts and a hat, no shirts. A shirted worker was actually quite hard to find! Even the shopkeepers around our building sat in their stores, shirtless. While I encouraged Jake to do as the locals do, he never quite took to the fad. I did get him to walk around one night with his shirt fully unbuttoned, though. Baby steps to full cultural immersion.
Another benefit of staying in the less touristy, more local neighborhood - amazing food at decent prices! Our favorite spot, probably our favorite spot in all of Asia so far, happened to be right across the street, and in our six days we went there five times! It's called Dim Dim Sum and it's been awarded many accolades, including "Best Places to Eat" by a panel of prestigious chefs. We could have eaten every meal there and been perfectly happy with our culinary experience in Hong Kong! We first went there on our very first day. After getting settled in our tiny room (which clearly didn't take long), we set out to find some grub. It was a weird hour, 3pm, so we didn't know what would be open or what kind of food we would find. I had originally planned on thoroughly researching dim sum so we would know where to go, what to eat, what dishes were, but instead we threw caution to the wind and walked through the door of Dim Dim Sum. It was crowded, there were tons of awards on the wall, and we were the only white people in the place. Perfect! We dove right in and had one of the best meals we'd had in Asia for an incredible reasonable price. Over the week we tried most of the dishes, our favorites being the custard buns, BBQ pork buns, meatballs, honeycomb sponge cake, rice with beef and egg, and soup dumplings. Only one time were we unsure of what we were eating - I ordered the sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaf, not knowing that it was also cooked with a few different meats and sauce. As we were eating the delicious dish, I noticed a little curled up thing that looked like a bug. Then I noticed a few more, some bigger ones, and they looked distinctly like grubs. "Oh god, I think this is bugs," I said to Jake. He set his spoon down, clearly having lost his appetite. "But it tastes like seafood. I think it's shrimp," he said. "Yeah, yeah that makes sense. Shrimp, chicken, and pork. Sure." I replied, hesitantly, wanting so bad to believe him. We finished the dish, telling ourselves that it wasn't anything bug related. I took advantage of the free wifi at the place to research the situation (I certainly didn't want to embarrass ourselves and actually ask what was in it!). Thankfully I discovered that it was, indeed, tiny dried shrimp. Phew!
We did branch out of our dim sum corner to experience some other local deliciousness, like beef brisket in noodle soup, tons of items from a local baker including egg tarts and pineapple buns, amazing mango ice cream on top of frozen mango puree with little tapioca pearls accompanied by giant puff pastries with mangoes and whipped cream (now THAT was a good dinner! Yes, dinner!), eggette waffles (waffles in the shape of little eggs), and siu mai. In my attempt to really branch out, I recommended we try some authentic dan dan noodles, a Szechuan dish, from Dan Dan Soul Food. I'd read that these noodles are full of flavor, and I love the way a little Szechuan chili makes my mouth all tingly and weird, so I was pretty excited about dinner. When ordering, we got to pick our spicy level - none, mini, regular, hot, and fiery, and Szechuan. I turned to Jake and said, "I think I can handle the hot one. We've been eating spicy food for six weeks. I should be able to handle it." I was confident. I was a moron. What was served to me was basically a bowl of noodles hidden beneath a dark red broth thick with chili bits. Was it hot? HOLY CRAP it was so hot! I tried to handle it, I tried to sip the broth. I tried to enjoy it. But my mouth was on fire and my stomach was already churning. "I can’t do it," I said to Jake, between chili induced coughs. I ordered a new bowl with regular heat, and just before they prepared it I called an audible, "Actually, can you make it mini heat? I'll add chilies from the other one myself." I breathed a sigh of relief when they handed me my new bowl - I could actually see the broth beneath a few flecks of dried chilies and chili, and the heat was MUCH more tame. I ended up adding a spoon full of broth from my original bowl (not the chunks of chili though) to increase the spice to an enjoyable level. I happily slurped up my noodles, unashamed that I couldn't take the heat of bowl #1, and a bit wiser when it comes to ordering spicy food!
While the dan dan noodle mishap was definitely my fault, the fact that I kept wanting to go to restaurants that turned out to be closed was not! Over our five days, we learned that restaurant info found online in Hong Kong cannot be trusted - the addresses (if they're listed) are often wrong, menus have changed, hours of operation are either not listed or incorrect, as are days of operation! I had done a lot of research about where to find great breakfasts in HK, and was very eager to try out the famous diner style places that serve HK French toast (basically a peanut butter sandwich with thick bread that is covered in egg wash and deep fried), perfect fluffy scrambled eggs, and velvety milk tea. We were all set to walk to Australian Dairy Company to arrive right when they open at 7:30 am, right when they open. I told Jake about the reviews, how good the food was going to be, how we'll probably share a small table with people we don't know and the service will be very fast and not given with a smile (they are all about efficiency - sit in an open seat, order your food, eat it, and get out ASAP). We were super excited about the morning experience we were about to have. But it was closed. Turns out I chose the one day a week, Thursday, that the place is closed. But I couldn't find any of that online anywhere. The same thing happened again when trying to visit another spot on Hong Kong Island. We took the metro all the way over there, hoping to have a killer breakfast with that heart attack inducing French toast before checking out the Mid-Levels Escalators, only to find the place closed for business on Sunday. If you know me well, you know that I LOVE breakfast. So I was pretty frustrated when both spots over the week were closed. We did end up trying out Australian Dairy Company again one day, and we did enjoy the French toast (though this one didn't have peanut butter and it was topped with sweetened condensed milk and about three tablespoons of butter, and yes, it was amazing), macaroni soup with fried eggs and ham, and hot milk tea. And we did sit at a small table with two girls we didn't know, and the waiter was abrupt and efficient. And it was pretty good, but it wasn't the incredible meal people raved about online. Another lesson learned - reviews, like store hours, online in HK cannot be trusted!
As we've done in so many cities now, we had to check out the ice cream scene. Two spots were on my radar from my, now untrustworthy, research: Elephant Grounds and Lab Made. Elephant Grounds is a coffee shop with a location inside little clothing store in a trendy part of Hong Kong Island, and they have seasonal ice cream cookie sandwiches for sale. The current offering - cinnamon ice cream between two thin cinnamon cookies and rolled in fresh apples and granola. It tastes as good as it sounds, and cost about $10. For one. WOW. The latte I got was pretty delicious, too! The other spot, Lab Made, makes ice cream fresh to order using liquid nitrogen! We approached Lab Made and…it was closed. Ugh! But, thankfully, we only had to wait 15 minutes for it to open at noon, so we hung out patiently and decided what to order from their limited, seasonal offerings. Jake got the mango pudding ice cream and I got the salted caramel with potato chips. Both were really delicious! Jake's was smooth and creamy, mine was crunchy (thanks to the chips). Sure, it wasn't the best ice cream we've ever had, but it was still pretty good!
We did take some breaks from eating all of the amazing food in Hong Kong to see some of the sights, too! One of our favorite places in the busy city was the Chi Lin Nunnery. Built in 1934 and renovated in 1990, this Buddhist temple is so peaceful and pretty that you'd think it would have been here long before the high rise apartment buildings and mall built just beyond its walls. The buildings are all constructed without nails and modeled after the Tang Dynasty architecture. The dark wood of these beautiful structures next to the gorgeous lily ponds and perfectly manicured trees and bushes, and the smell of incense with the sounds of chanting monks drifting through the air - it was just beautiful, and a wonderful place to spend an hour wandering around. Right next to the nunnery is the Nan Lian Garden, another peaceful place full of carefully cut trees and shrubs, highlighting patience, control, and harmony. We enjoyed the lack of crowds and quiet setting before throwing ourselves back out into the hustle and bustle of the city.
We made sure to enjoy the Hong Kong skyline during our visit, catching the famous 15 minute light show over the water, and watching the lights come on as the sun went down on the city below from Victoria Peak. The light show was pretty awesome - buildings on the Hong Kong waterfront dazzle watchers below with a choreographed dance of light that shoots out over the water, up buildings, and into the sky, while cheesy music plays for spectators. The water sparkled with the different colors as boats floated by. It was a pretty cool 15 minutes! Another night we took the funicular up to Victoria Peak to catch the views of the city looking back on Kowloon. It was a bit hazy and we couldn't see all that far into the distance, but it was still a pretty sight. Wandering down the Hong Kong Trail, a paved path that circles a mountain, we found a great spot to watch the sun go down and the lights come up. Unfortunately, the haze turned into clouds and we couldn't see the sunset, but we did catch the rising glow from the city below, and captured a pretty neat time lapse of it all, too.
As we walked home that night, we strolled through the busy Kowloon Park, a big recreational space in the middle of the city with tennis courts, pools, green space, ice cream stands, McDonald's, a coffee shop, all kinds of stuff. And it was very well lit and still bustling with people walking through and hanging out, so we felt very safe walking through the park. As we strolled we noticed someone who we thought might be the local park crazy guy - every city has one. This guy was shirtless (not uncommon), muttering things to himself, and sometimes yelling slurred words loudly across the park. He was also carrying a metal post that he was banging on the ground and against the walls and lampposts. As we passed a standalone McDonald's ice cream stand, we figured out where he got the post - it seemed that he had somehow attacked the little stand, or at least the banner that used to stand out front of it. The two kids who worked there had drawn the metal window cover down and were cleaning up the broken banner that was missing it's metal post needed to stand upright. We kept walking, keeping a safe distance from the crazy guy. As we neared the pools, he started to veer off to the right, down another path, beating his post against advertisements on the walls and yelling. All of a sudden, he whirled around and stopped. I thought he stared right at us, and then started walking quickly in our direction. Jake and I picked up our pace a bit, but did not run (it's like dealing with a wild animal, if you run, it'll run after you), and realized he was not interested in us. He was interested in beating up the lamp post behind us. A crowd was gathering, as they always do, and people started taking pictures and filming the crazy guy. Before we knew it, eight police officers with batons and riot shields came running past us towards the man. He noticed them immediately and actually started running toward them! He took about five steps, stopped and held out his metal post like a sword, and yelled, like he was giving a battle cry. He started to take another step toward them, but then turned to run the other way. Within about a minute they had him subdued and in handcuffs. And this is why you never walk through the park at night!
The city is a bit like San Francisco in that there are hills everywhere! Hong Kong Island is full of them, and to wander around the busy downtown is to walk up and down countless steep hills. In order to make the city more accessible, the government installed the Mid-Levels Escalator, the longest outdoor covered escalator system in the world. Bringing the people living on the island up and down over 800 meters, the escalators opened up a whole new area for businesses, too. Jake and I took the 20 minute ride from bottom to top to see what there was to see. On the way, we passed dozens of restaurants, bars, stores, a grocery store, and several other service centers, all located along the escalators. It was pretty cool to see a whole business area built around this people moving system! In true Hong Kong fashion, where there are people, there are shops for those people to spend their money in!
Our biggest adventure in Hong Kong was our day with our Warsaw Airbnb hosts, Nelly and Lukasz! They were in Hong Kong for a two week vacation and staying with friends, Rob, Arijana, and their adorable baby Mila, who live on Hong Kong Island! A week before Jake and I arrived in Hong Kong I saw Nelly post on Facebook that they were there, so I messaged her right away and we made plans to hang out. I just love that we got to meet up with our new buddies in another part of the world, that not only did they show us around Warsaw months ago, but that we got to also experience a new place together, thousands of miles away. The fact they we were all in HK at the same time made the world feel so much smaller, so much more connected, and I'm so glad that we got the chance to spend more time with this hilarious couple!
As you probably have suspected, Jake and I are meticulous planners - we always research where to go, how to get there, how much things will cost, and what to expect before we pick up and go. At 1:00am, we confirmed our plans with Nelly to meet them at 10:30 in the morning giving the planning responsibilities to our friends (which was a welcome change!). We would explore Lantau Island for the day and then have a BBQ at Rob and Arijana's house for dinner; we barely researched anything, we didn't have time to! Even though we had planned on spending the day working on several projects with self-imposed deadlines (photo editing, blog posts, and South America planning), we decided to put our work day on hold and head out for an adventure! We figured we'd work on things when we got back to our room later that night, and wake up early the next morning to finish. Our work would still get done. And what a great reason to put the work on pause! We were excited to see our friends, to not be in charge of a day of sightseeing, and to go with the flow!
Morning came and Jake and I took off to breakfast, only to find that Australian Dairy Company was closed (like I mentioned above). The day was not off to a great start. After a breakfast at some random diner (which was nothing special), we made our way over to the train station. We arrived just a few minutes before 10:30 and waited for our friends. And waited. And waited. Just as we were starting to get really worried, Nelly, Lukasz, Arijana and Mila arrived on the train. Too bad we didn't check our email before we left for the station, because Nelly had sent us a message saying they were running late, and we would have known to not leave yet. Oh well! Lesson learned - always check your messages before leaving a wifi network if you're going to meet someone.
It was really no bother that we got a bit of a later start, the Big Buddha wasn't going anywhere! And that's where we were headed, to the Tian Tan Buddha statue, aka Big Buddha, tucked away in the hills of Lantau Island, next to the Po Lin Monastery. Knowing that we were starting our day there, Jake and I looked into how to get there that morning - there was a gondola (that was really expensive and actually not running that day, so it wasn't an option anyway), and a bus. The bus ride would take 45 minutes and, according to the reviews we read, most definitely make me motion sick. As expected, the bus driver drove like a crazy man and whipped around curves and over peaks like he was in a race. Since we'd been in similar situations in Vietnam, I was ready, but I still didn't feel very good by the time we reached our destination. The breeze on the mountain helped a bit, though.
When we got off the bus, we could see him instantly, the giant Buddha statue sitting peacefully on top of the mountain, facing north. This is another Hong Kong marvel that you'd think has been around forever, when in fact Big Buddha was constructed in 1993. The statue is 34 meters tall and weighs over 250 tons and is made of 202 bronze pieces. He was pretty neat to see. Nelly, Lukasz, Jake and I started our climb up the 268 steps to the base of the statue while Arijana and baby Mila waited for us at the bottom. We bypassed the ticket line since it was free to explore the Buddha - the tickets were for lunch at the Po Lin Monastery next door, which we would be doing later. Once at the top, we took our time checking out the 360* view of the mountains and the giant structure before heading up the stairs to the balcony that surrounds the Buddha. Only we were stopped - we couldn't go up to the highest level without the meal ticket purchased at the bottom. And no, they didn't sell the tickets at the top. How frustrating! There weren't any signs at the bottom or the top (at least, not in English) that said the meal ticket was needed to get to the very top, and we were going to do the lunch anyway, we just hadn't bought the tickets yet. And why on Earth wouldn't they also sell them at the top? This whole thing doesn’t make sense. So we took a few more pictures and made our way back down the stairs to buy our lunch tickets, but opted not to haul our butts all the way back up for a view that was only 10 feet higher than the free one. Oh well.
The lunch tickets. Oh boy. So there are two options for the vegetarian lunch offered at the monastery (vegetarian because Buddhists are vegetarian and only veggie food is served on site), regular or deluxe. We all approached the ticket window and told the vendor that the five of us would like tickets for lunch and asked the difference in the meals offered. "The regular meal has big spring rolls. The deluxe meal has small spring rolls. It is much better." Well if that's the only difference, Jake and I couldn't warrant spending an extra 40% on the deluxe meal, so we got the regular and the other three got the deluxe. "We'll compare the two," Lukasz said. So off we went to find our lunch. When we arrived at the dining hall and presented our tickets, we were surprised to find out that we could not sit together. "Regular meal sit in different room. Deluxe meal sit outside or in this room," the lady told us as she gestured to a large air conditioned room behind her. "But we want to sit together," we told her. "No, you cannot. They go over there. You sit here." "Ok, well can they come into the other room with us?" I asked. "No, you cannot sit together." Ah. Well I guess there WAS more to the difference between deluxe and regular! No matter what we said or how we asked, Jake and I were not allowed to sit with our friends. It was as if the peasants had to be separated from the aristocrats! It was hilarious!
So Jake and I went around to our dining room, a dingy looking large room with fluorescent lights and no AC, swastikas on the ceiling (it was built in 1906, long before WW2, but it's still so off-putting to see), and we have recently visited Auschwitz, it was quite off-putting to see it used here), and sat down. Moments later our food arrived. Or what was supposed to be food. Sure, we're not vegetarians so we don't usually eat a full vegetarian meal, but we don't dislike vegetarian meals. We just prefer meat. But this, whatever this was that was placed before us, was not good. We started with "soup", which was warm murky liquid (that looked like the leftover water you use when throwing pottery on a wheel) with some kind of roasted root veggie in it. It tasted as good as it sounds. In fact, I made a list of things I'd rather eat than this soup: spam, hamburger helper, spaghettios, spicy as hell dan dan noodles, pretty much anything. Then we had four various stir fried veggies covered in sauce, oil, or both. The mushrooms were actually pretty decent. The canned corn and peas were not. The big spring rolls were somewhat ok, but the ticket lady was right- we would have preferred the small ones. The biggest hits at the table were the pot of plain white rice and tea. Surprisingly, we ate just about everything they served us (except that soup, which was awful), enjoying plain rice with soy sauce the most.
When we finished our meal we went back out of our dungeon to find our friends. Turns out they were served basically the same items, except they had small spring rolls and delicious looking hot and sour soup. And, since Nelly and Arijana are actually vegetarians, they were quite pleased with the whole meal. Since this was one of the more expensive meals we've had on our entire trip, and the worst value we've encountered, we were a bit less pleased. But we saw the silver lining - it sure makes a ridiculous story!
We finished up our visit of the area with a quick walk through the colorful Po Lin Monastery, including the Grand Hall of 10,000 Buddhas, and around the grounds before boarding another bus to the fishing village of Tai O. Thankfully the trip to Tai O was only about 20 minutes, and the roads were much less windy than the ones up to Big Buddha, still I was happy to get off the bus. I don't know why, but motion sickness sure gets me fast nowadays (no, I'm not pregnant people, calm down people). We wandered the small alleyways of the village, checking out the dried fish for sale, the ever present kitty cat looking for tidbits on the ground, and the homes built on stilts over the water. As we wandered around, we noticed a small tour boat taking people out on the water. The tour was about 20 minutes and cost 20 HKD per person. Well, it wasn't an activity that we had originally thought about, but we had room in our budget to buy the tickets, so we decided to go for it. And I'm glad we did, because while out on the ocean we got to see the rare pink dolphin - yes, pink! Apparently there are only about 200 of these dolphins left, and we probably saw three or four of them! The boat driver stopped the boat so one side could get a clear view of the dolphins breaching the water. We kept expecting him to flip the boat around so the other side of the boat, our side, could get a nice clear shot of them, too. But he didn't. Instead, when our 20 minutes were up, he just put the boat in gear and headed back to the dock. Oh well.
It was starting to get late and Nelly really wanted to go swimming in the ocean one last time before heading back to Poland the next night, so the group started to figure out how to get to Discovery Bay. We weren't exactly sure which bus to take, and we weren't exactly sure how much it would cost, what we were sure of is that I was running out of money on my metro/bus pass and didn't have any way to load it up again - there were no machines in any of the places we'd been, and the buses only accepted exact change, which we didn't have. Had we known how many buses we were taking that day, or known that there were no value add machines in the small towns we were going to, we would have been better prepared. Thankfully, I ended up having enough money on my card for the day, but it sure was stressful to think that I might run out and wind up overpaying to get home on top of an already expensive day.
After a bit of confusion regarding which bus to take and when it leaves, we boarded our next bus and went back to our starting point on Lantau, taking the same curvy roads as we had that morning. I took a nap to combat the motion sickness. Before I knew it we were back. It was dark, and it seemed like the opportunity to go for a swim had passed. But the gang was still set on at least dipping their feet in the water in the gated community of Discovery Bay. We were along for the ride, so we hopped on the bus with them, slowly whittling down the small balance I had on my bus pass. We got to Discovery Bay in the dark, so it was hard to see the pristine neighborhood. According to Arijana, this is where all of the ritzy people live, mostly foreigners who like the golf club style setting. There are no cars allowed in Discovery Bay, people are only permitted to drive golf carts around the area, otherwise it's only reachable by city bus or ferry. The place, from what we could see of it, looked like a resort - beautiful restaurants built out onto the pier, a nice manicured beach, condos that look out onto the water, and golf carts neatly lined up in a row. We took a walk down the sand and back, listening to the waves lap against the sand. Arijana told us about some of the people who lived there who have children, "For each child, there is a helper, like a nanny. People all over Hong Kong have helpers." Unreal! Each kid needs its own keeper! She told us that most of the helpers are Filipino and not treated very well - they make very little money and have tiny living quarters. The government mandates that helpers live with the family, and that the room they stay in cannot be any smaller than a certain size, but most have rooms so small (illegally smaller than the regulated size) that a regular twin size bed won't even fit. Arijana knows a woman who claimed she got a custom sized bed made to fit in the teeny tiny room her helper was to live in. Sometimes helpers live in illegal dorms that the families pay for instead of at the home, and if the government finds out about it, the helpers get fined and in trouble, not the families. It's terrible how so many of these helpers, who left their homes to find a better life, are mistreated and exploited, and they are the ones who are punished if they are found out to be working outside of the legal mandates.
Quick side story - when Jake and I were walking through the connected skywalks, hallways, and malls to the ferry after checking out the Mid-levels escalators, we saw hundreds of women sitting on blankets, on cardboard, on sheets, all congregating like there was a parade about to happen. We couldn't figure out what was going on, so we asked two strangers as they passed us. They explained that these ladies are all helpers, and that Sunday is their one day off a week, so they all get together in these walkways to hang out with each other, eat, relax, and visit. Since their rooms are so small, they can't visit each other at their houses, and there isn't much green space on Hong Kong Island, they flock to the public skywalks and hallways that connect to the malls. Fascinating.
Ok back to our Lantau Island day. We'd walked around long enough on Discovery Bay, and though we didn't get to swim, we did dip our feet into the water. We had five minutes to get down the pier to catch the ferry back to Hong Kong Island. Fortunately, we were able to replenish the funds on my pass, so I was free to roam again! I tapped my card and went through the opened gate and waited for Jake. He tapped his card but the gate closed before he could walk through. Thinking that the computer would be smart enough not to double charge him, he tapped his card again and walked through. But the computer was not that smart. And it did double charge him. We had three minutes to get to the ferry, but now we had to figure out how to get refunded for the extra 40 HKD that he was charged. Trying to explain what happened to the attendant in a way that he could understand was difficult, but even more difficult was trying to figure out what he was telling us to do to get the money back. Turns out that we would need to fill out a form, and in five to seven days someone would call us to let us know if they would refund the money. Well that doesn't work because in that amount of time we would be in Japan, and we don’t have phones anyway. The ferry was about to leave and the issue was not yet sorted out. So we ended up bailing on the extra money paid and sprinted down the pier to the boat, hopping on just in time. Sure, it was only about $5 US, but that could have bought us several servings of the best dim sum we've ever had in our lives!
At 9pm we got back to Hong Kong Island and caught a cab to Rob and Arijana's amazing 30th floor apartment in Happy Valley. We were looking forward to the delicious BBQ dinner that Rob had been preparing! Originally, Jake and I were thinking we'd be home by 10pm to get some work done - we desperately needed to book our lodging for Japan, research where to stay in Columbia, and stick to our blog post schedule, but since our exploration went a bit later than we anticipated, we didn't get to any of that. Instead, we enjoyed ourselves on the great rooftop, drinking delicious beer, eating great sausages and chips, and chatting with our friends. It was really just delightful and we loved being there, and getting to hang out with them. While at times the day was a tad bit stressful for us not knowing what was in store, it all added to the adventure! We had a big, fun day going all over Lantau Island, and it was great to be able to sit and relax with a nice cold beer and great conversation!
At about 12:30am Rob let us know that the last train across the water back to our neighborhood leaves just before 1am, and if we wanted to catch it we needed to hightail it over to the station. We finished our beers, said some quick goodbyes, and walked briskly to the train station. We were sweating and just about out of breath when we arrived, and just as we were about the tap our metro passes on the machine a guard stopped us and asked where we were going. "To Kowloon!" we told him. "No more! It's closed." We missed the train. Well crap. Here we are, exhausted, a little buzzed, very ready for bed, and stuck. "What do we do?" we asked him. "Bus," he said. Ok fine. So we went out to the street to catch the bus across the water. Twenty minutes later our bus pulled up and we made sure to ask the driver, "Do you go to Kowloon?" "No," he said, "across the street." Oh you have GOT to be kidding me! So we waited for another 15 minutes across the street before finally getting on the bus. We got off at the first stop across the bay and made the 20 minute walk home. By the time we crawled in bed it was almost 2:30am. We were exhausted, but we were still so happy that we got to have a day of adventure with Nelly and Lukasz. I think it was a bit more adventure than we expected; we slept through our alarms in the morning and didn't wake up until 11!
Hong Kong turned out to be our favorite Asian destination so far - we loved just about everything about it! I'm so glad Kyle spoke to us so passionately about it because otherwise it wouldn't have even been on our radar. And what a treat that we got to spend time with our Polish buddies, so far from where we met them! One of the big pillars of this whole RTW trip for us is connection - connecting with new culture, each other, and people around the world. The connection we have with Nelly and Lukasz was strengthened thanks to our big day together. We had so much fun with them and hope that we have many more adventures together in the future!
Until next time, Hong Kong!
HIGHLIGHTS: Dim Dim Sum, Nelly and Lukasz, easy metro system, bright lights and busy streets, ice cream cookie sandwich from Elephant Grounds
LOWLIGHTS: missing the train to get home from Rob and Arijana's house, tiny room, having to re-order a wussy bow of Dan Dan noodles
MOST MALLS WALKED THROUGH ON COMMUTE FROM PLACE TO PLACE IN A DAY: 6
BOTTOM LINE: We had a great time in Hong Kong! From the incredible dim sum (that we had almost everyday), to the awesome lights of the big modern city, and all of the sightseeing adventures on the various islands, and getting to connect with new friends, we loved it. We're happy to say it lived up to the expectations Kyle had set for us, and we recommend checking it out!