After a long nine hour flight from Sydney arrived in Hong Kong at 5:30am. The sun was barely up and everything was closed. We were so excited to be in Hong Kong. By the time we picked up our bags, had our coffee and got SIM cards a couple hours had passed. By 7:30am it was crowded with people and most stores were open.
Speaking of SIM cards, this was the cheapest place we’ve experienced in all of our travels. Only $10.00 each for unlimited internet and cell phone calls. Wow! There are small travel stand/desk that offer portable wifi rentals for travelers also. Surprisingly the prices for food were less than I’d expect at an airport. Full breakfast sets at a sit down restaurant charged anywhere from $8-$12.
The Wan Chi market is filled with fresh fruits, vegetables, fish and meats. The inside of the market had a tinge of the same horrible smell I first encountered in Cambodia. I’ve heard that death is a smell people never forget so I’m assuming something died in there once upon a time or that day. The market was busy with locals buying their produce and meat. One of the fish vendors had fish displayed carved up with their hearts still beating. It was puzzling, disturbing and fascinating.
It was time for me to leave when I noticed a cage of live turtles sitting by the cutting board watching live fish being cut up to their deaths. Their little lives were inevitably coming to an end soon and I could see the stress on their faces. I’m familiar with this look because I once had two turtles of the same breed as pets for years. The market turtles were at least a few years old. Most of them had their heads in their shells except the one closest to the cutting board, he was watching everything.
Later that day we went to another market with a cooked foods section. The cooked foods area was on the top floor. As soon as we walked in I realized this wasn’t a place I wanted to eat. First, I wasn’t in the mood for hot noodle soup on a hot day and most of the vendors were selling just that. Doug spotted a long line and immediately queued up with all the locals. This stand was selling noodle soup. Reluctantly I agreed to “try” it. Doug’s theory is if the line is long, it must be really good. This has held true in most all of the places we’ve seen lines but here. The soup broth was good but the meats were questionable. Note to self – listen to your first gut feeling. This was highly rated by locals and trip advisor but with my germophobia I couldn’t relate to it.
The only real Chinese food I was really interested in was dim sum. Everyday we tried a different dim sum restaurant and each one was better than anything we’ve eaten in America. They are always crowded here and sometimes have lines outside of people waiting for a table. This is a great opportunity to try different dishes in small portions without committing to one dish.
Luxury cars are all over the crowded streets of Hong Kong. A local explained that people in Hong Kong like to have the latest in cars and technology. Tesla being top of the list. In America Tesla is far and between, here we saw them everywhere. This makes me happy because I’m a huge fan of Elon Musk. If I could afford the high price tag I’d be in one myself.
Horse racing is a big event in Hong Kong. Happy Valley Racetrack is in the heart of the city and only open on Wednesday. Unlike most of the racetracks we’ve been to, the races are at night in Hong Kong. This is my favorite racetrack in the world so far. It was an experience to say the least. Admission into the track is only one dollar (USD). The festival like atmosphere was so fun. After each race a live band singing alternative songs from the 90’s performed on stage. Virtual reality games were set up for people to enjoy – complimentary! This was the first time trying a virtual reality game. Doug and I were jockeys in a virtual horse race.
Manicures and pedicure salons are around every corner and starting at $5.00 (USD). The exact same manicure as a top salon in America, just in a less appealing setting. There wasn’t an overwhelming smell of acetone coming from them either.
It’s only natural we try a Chinese massage here. We had a terrible experience in China town while visiting Sydney. As soon as we agreed on a 10 minute massage the guy was pressuring me in my ear to add more time and pay more money. I couldn’t relax because he was bargaining the whole time. My massage experience in Hong Kong was the same. We went into a small “spa” and were greeted by a guy named Tommy who spoke broken but understandable English. He told me it was my lucky day that he was there and he had over 27 years experience.
I chose the sixty minute neck, shoulder and foot massage ($25 USD). As he was soaking my feet in preparation, he chirps, “it’s your lucky day, I was just about to leave. I am going to give you a whole body scan from touching your feet”. My first thought was maybe this guy really knows what he is doing. He’s old and it’s Hong Kong the capital of herbal medicines, reflexology and acupuncture. He rubbed the top of my first toe and said “out of order” and pointed to his head. He claimed all of the “vibrations” were stopping at my neck and causing knots so the blood flow can’t reach my brain so I was crazy in the head, in so many words. He tried to sell me on a two to three hour massage to open the connection back up. Then he told me he couldn’t rub my shoulders because the time was too short. Bells and whistles were ringing loud in my head because I knew he was trying to extort more money and he kept talking. After hearing over and over how crazy I was he was finally done with my left foot. Through all of the bullshit he was saying I actually started to believe him until he started talking about the large tips people leave him because he was their “healer”. I looked over at Doug and he was out cold in his chair. The lady massaging his feet was on a FaceTime call during the entire massage. At times she was using only one hand to massage his foot while tapping on the phone with the other hand. Finally after it was all said and done, we promised to come back another day and left for good. Note to self – you get what you pay for. On a high note, I was more relaxed than when we walked in.
One of the excursions we chose gave us a rare opportunity to experience what it is like to be blind for an hour. This all started at a place called Dialogue in the Dark. Lucky for us, we were the only two people on the tour that day. We were given walking sticks at the door and told our tour guide Eunice will be waiting to greet us behind the curtain in front of us. As we entered through the black curtain into complete darkness, Eunice greeted us and told us to follow her voice. There wasn’t any further instructions. We were at the complete mercy of her voice and her guidance. During the tour we experienced walking in a park, riding on a boat, climbing small stairs, crossing the street, going shopping in a market, going to the movies and ordering food and drinks. The entire experience was humbling. The whole time we thought Eunice had night vision googles on. At the end of the tour Eunice revealed that she was blind! Eating and drinking a “mystery drink” was an experience in itself. Not knowing what we were drinking (but trusting) or if we were getting back the right change was the most humbling part. We solely had to rely on trusting others and our own senses of smell, touch and sound.
We relied on public transportation to get around the city. There are so many options in Hong Kong. Trains, buses, trollies, taxis and Uber are readily available. The buses and trollies are the tallest double deckers I’ve ever seen. The trollies aren’t air-conditioned but the buses are. The city buses are exactly like luxury tour buses and for less than $2.00 (USD), they will take you anywhere in the city. We rode on a bus and had front row seats on the top to Stanley Market during the day. I was so excited to get there thinking this must be the place where all the knock offs are sold but instead it was mostly souvenirs, toys, jade, sunglasses, scarfs and clothing. There were a few places that sold name brand running shoes for discounted prices. I was unsure if they were real Nikes despite the “authorized Nike dealer” signs posted. Nike, Under Amour, Adidas and other brand name sports stores are all over Hong Kong. Surprisingly the prices are the same as the United States.
Doug sniffed out a restaurant called Toby’s Inn (English name) at the Stanley Market. The place was full of locals (98% men) eating and Doug had a feeling this would be a great place to eat. In Hong Kong people are seated at the next open seats no matter if the table already has people there or not. We were seated in front of two men scarfing down their lunches. I could tell this was common because the men didn’t give us a second glance when we pulled our chairs out to sit down. The waitress and I were the only two women in the place. She looked like a sweet lady but threw the plates, cups and chopsticks on the table like she was mad at us. Then in a sweet voice told us in broken English “I get menus”.
We ordered a chicken roll from the dim sum menu. After a few bites we realized it was a piece of chicken on the bone wrapped in a bean curd roll. You don’t realize the bone is there until you have chewed on it. This might have explained why the guy in front of Doug had bones laying directly on the table in front of him. The next dish was a delicious plate of fried noodles with beef. The beef was chewy (just like in American Chinese restaurants) and the noodles were oily but tasted really good. Had I seen more girls in there or maybe even a napkin it may not have seemed so bad.
That night we went to Temple Street market. We took a fully loaded metro train there. Doug was the only white person on the train and I was the only black girl in the entire area including the station. We arrived at the market and it was a street full of vendors that all sold pretty much the same things. A few knock offs were available but I read the police have really cracked down on the vendors so they stopped selling them openly. This was bad news for me but I still enjoyed the market. I bought a lighter that looks exactly like an iPhone. The cool thing is the lighter is rechargeable from a USB cord. Whatever the price is, it can be haggled down for less than half of what was originally asked.
Sunday in Hong Kong is the busiest day in the city. The streets are flooded with people and pop up street markets were everywhere. One of the things that really stood out were the thousands of Muslim migrant workers off work and out in the city. Muslim Filipino girls were everywhere chatting with each other and sitting in every corner of the streets. I mean every corner literally. They had set up blankets and were sitting on the ground under bridges, on stairwells, overpasses, parks and even on the tennis courts.
This may sound crazy but it was every crazier to see. It was like a festival of Muslim girls. A local told us they are house workers and there are over 100,000 of them. Most of them were flocked around cell phone stores and lined up at money transfer places. We walked to Victoria Park and it was like a domestic worker music festival without the music. Some girls were in groups cooking food and comparing things that they had purchased that day. It was a tight knit community for sure. Outside of the park were protesters proclaiming equal rights for migrant workers. Strangely the protesters were men asking for eight hour work days and increase in minimum wages for migrants. The whole scene reminded us of a refugee camp.
J. Residences – This was our biggest splurge (price wise) of our trip. We wanted to stay in a nice place when we first arrived in Hong Kong. It was beautiful. The day we checked out, we went to lunch at the best dim sum of the trip. Its common in Hong Kong to seat people at the same table. We ended up sitting with a girl on her lunch hour from work. After small talk about our visit to Hong Kong she asked us where we stayed. As soon as we told her J. Residences she became really reserved and asked if it was on Ship Street (it is).
She said she knew it well because a businessman had brutally murdered and tortured two Indonesian girls over a three day span in his penthouse apartment there! It was the worst crime to ever occur in Hong Kong. He was from the UK and working in Hong Kong. I remember hearing about this in America. Turns out he lived on the 31st floor and we were on the 23rd. It was a gruesome crime. This was three years ago and he just got sentenced November 2016 to life. He thankfully will be deported back to the UK, retried and serve his time there. The crime was so bad the judge doubled the jury’s daily payment and excused them from jury duty for life. I love true crime stories. We still can’t believe we stayed in the same building. If your interested in the details click on the link below:
We took a ferry from Hong Kong to Macau to see the casinos that are an offspring from Las Vegas. The ride took an hour and upon arrival the scenery quickly changed into a hazy atmosphere. It reminded me of the movie Swamp Thing. We couldn’t see the skyline or a quarter mile ahead of us because the fog of pollution in the air. I always imagined Macau as the upscale version of Las Vegas because the Wynn & Venetian casinos were there. It also goes by the nickname, “Las Vegas of Asia.” Wrong again.
First let me start off by saying Macau was a Portuguese territory until 1999. Portuguese influences are reflected in some of the older buildings and tiled streets and sidewalks. It looks a lot like Portugal in some areas downtown. Because of all the smog in the air it was hard to imagine this as a nice place.
After walking around the city passing banks, jewelry stores, brand name designer stores and restaurants we headed toward the Wynn casino.
It was exactly like the Wynn in Las Vegas ascetically but added the Bellagio water show to the front of the hotel. The smell pumping out of the vents was exactly the same as their Las Vegas property. The only difference was the gambling areas. They were set up like large halls of empty gaming tables with no people in sight. The slot areas were filled with electronic slot machines minus the American games like blackjack, video poker and celebrity/tv themed games (ie. Wheel of Fortune, The Adams Family, etc.). The scene was beautiful but depressing because there weren’t any people inside, just employees standing around and empty VIP rooms. We walked around, didn’t understand how to play the games and left.
The next stop was the Venetian. We caught the free shuttle from the Galaxy hotel to their sister property which is down the street from the Venetian. Once inside the Galaxy we decided to look around. The atmosphere was lively, people were everywhere and the casino was bright and alive with gamblers cheering and having fun. We sat down at a circular electronic craps game and each put in $25.00 (USD). After having fun and winning a few rolls and losing all of our money we left there with the same empty feeling of losing in Las Vegas. The Galaxy has a huge mall attached to it and we checked that out, ate fries at McDonald’s (the loser’s meal) and got on the free shuttle.
The Venetian is an exact replica of the Venetian in Las Vegas. Same smell, check in desk, canal shops and uniforms as Las Vegas only much larger. It was the most crowded happening casino I’ve ever seen. Wall to wall people gambling, shopping, taking pictures, riding the gondolas and walking around. The atmosphere was electric. If anyone is wondering where all the people are in Macau, they are in the Venetian. It was so fun to just to see the magnitude of people so impressed with the beauty of the hotel.
Most of the shops were Asian inspired and there were a lot of shops selling expensive Chinese herbs, bird’s nest and shark fin. Some of the bird’s nest sold upwards of $7,000.00!!!
Hong Kong’s Flower Street is full of florist selling exotic plants and flowers. There were bonsai trees from small to large with prices as high as $6,000.00 (USD). The flowers were incredible and some of the colors I didn’t even know existed. If I lived in the city I would surely have a ton of beautiful plants.
Right around the corner from the flower market is Yuen Po Street Bird Garden. This historical garden was moved to a different location after the original “Bird Street” was demolished in the 1990s and rebuilt on Yuen Po Street in 1997. While walking towards the garden I noticed old men “walking” their birds. Birds in cages were hanging on trees while the owner sat on a nearby bench allowing their pet birds to enjoy the outdoor sights and sounds. Once in the thick of bird street there were lots of exotic birds in captivity and beautiful cages to buy. Most of the owners had their own exotic birds loose but chained to a perch in front of their open air stores. Parrots, finches, parakeets and many other birds were for sale. I am not a big fan of seeing birds in captivity so this experience was bittersweet. Further down the lane were vendors selling bird food, live crickets and worms.
Man Mo Temple is the oldest temples in Hong Kong. This was in the central part of Hong Kong Island. The temple was built in 1847 and is still very active with locals as a sacred site to pray for their ancestors and others. The outside doesn’t look like much but inside is colorful and full of red lanterns, statues and burning incense. The smoke kept us from staying long. I’d never seen such thick incense sticks. Outside of the front door is a huge incinerator where people burn prayers and wishes to their Higher Power.
Hong Kong over delivered on everything I was expecting. I really loved this city and the pulse of the action within. Even though we just scratched a tiny bit of the surface, there are so many things to do here. The infrastructures, shopping, technology and internet speeds are ahead of anything in America. Not to mention some of the world’s most wealthy people live here and don’t mind flaunting their beautiful cars and upscale lifestyles for all to admire. This is a place I could live and visit again. Next stop is Vietnam.