We heard from so many people it was like New York City on the other side of the world and that is the perfect description!
The hustle and bustle is real here. Everyone has somewhere to be and something to do and you better not get in their way!
When deciding as to where to stay we first had to decide whether to stay on Hong Kong Island or in Kowloon, just a short ferry ride from the island but on the main land. The island is what we all think of when we hear “Hong Kong”. Humongous skyscrapers, busy streets and bright lights. Kowloon, while more touristy, has more of the markets, things to see and is more residential. We opted to stay on the island thinking it would give us more of an authentic experience and booked the Eco Tree Hotel on the western district. We made sure to book through Ebates on Hotels.com to get our cash back and credit towards a free night. (Make sure to click our links and make a purchase so we get credit!) Without knowing it, we booked ourselves in one of the most “local” areas of the city. This turned out to be both good and bad! On the one hand, since it was a local area, all the shops on our street closed early in the evening and our neighborhood became extremely quiet and almost deserted after about 4pm. Heavenly! No beeping horns, people screaming or any of those other loud, annoying sounds that keep you up at night. Our hotel was also located directly next to a metro stop and right in front of a tram stop. So within seconds of leaving the lobby we could be on public transport taking us anywhere we wanted. The downside was (which you could also just say made it a more authentic experience) our street was the dried seafood capital of Hong Kong. Shop after shop after shop all selling virtually any kind of dried seafood you could ever want. Take one whiff and you knew you were in our neighborhood. The smell hit you in the face as you exited our hotel and lingered in our noses for quite a while. But really, any type of dried seafood you could ever think of or want and some you’ve never heard of or knew about was right there.
Getting to and around the city was so easy and there were a ton of options. We opted to take the airport express train from the airport to the city. It was the cheapest option and they made it so easy. For 2 people, it cost us about $28USD and took us to Hong Kong Station, the main station on the island. From there they have a free shuttle bus to the major hotels in the area. We got off at one that was just down the street from our hotel, so it worked out perfectly! The metro system had many lines connecting you all over the city, onto Kowloon and beyond. They have tourist pass for 24 hours that allows you to go wherever you want for just about $8USD. They also had busses and trams that could connect you everywhere as well. We opted to take the tram as much as we could because the one way fare was a flat fee of about $.30 per person and for the amount of time we planned on using public transport, it made the most sense to do that. Just make sure you bring exact change when riding it! The city also had many taxis (all were very old!) and there was also uber, but both were so expensive!
The final and coolest transportation option, in our opinion, was the ferry from the island to Kowloon and back. A family friend from back home (Hi Will!) had told us about this in advance and it was one of the first things we did when we got there. Not only was it the quickest and cheapest way to get to and from Kowloon (only $.32USD/person!) but the view was incredible. To be on the ferry and see the whole stretch of the island with all the skyscrapers made it worth it just on its own. We did this a few times during our stay here and the best time was at night where you could see all the bright lights from the buildings shining into the sky and reflecting off the water.
Dean has 2 friends living in Hong Kong! It was so much fun to meet up with them and hang out halfway across the globe. Nieve used to work with Dean at CU Boulder. She showed us around Kowloon a bit and took us to a fun bar where we enjoyed relaxing and catching up with her over a few beers. She also took us to one of her favorite places, the Kowloon Park. She described it perfectly, you go from the loud people on the street, quick walking and dodging everyone into the entrance of the park and are suddenly transformed into peace. The noise from the city goes away and everyone inside the park is strolling along or sitting and relaxing. It feels like you’re in a completely different place. An escape from the Hong Kong lifestyle if only just for an hour or two.
Maceo is Dean’s roommate from college, so they go way back! After not seeing each other for close to 13 years, it was like no time had passed. Maceo is the Food and Beverage Instructor at the School of Hotel and Tourism Management and took us not only to the amazing restaurant at the hotel there (we’ll talk more about that later.. trust me.. is amazing!) but also gave us a tour of the college. Both Dean and Maceo went to the Culinary Institute of America and said this college was very similar to how their school was.
We checked out as much of the “must see’s” as we could, starting with Nathan Road, a popular shopping street that starts on the southern point of Kowloon and stretches north. On the South end are all the high end shops, Gucci, Rolex, Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Tiffany & Co, you name it. As you head further North it becomes more of where the locals shop. The streets and sidewalks get a little dirtier, more crowded and it becomes way more fun to look at! The ladies market is located on the northern end, a street off Nathans Road that is lined with tons of tents selling all the same, same, but different (😉) things. Cell phone cases, fake Rolex watches, fake Louis Vuitton, Fake Chanel (we could on and on), magnets, lighters, everything you don’t need, but might want! It was fun to walk around and “window shop” though!
While Hong Kong does have a lot of traditional Chinese cuisine, it proved to be an expert at all different types. Every single meal we had blew us away, but we’ll stick to the top ones.
Namaste Kitchen: We were walking around our neighborhood looking for dinner on our first night and were limited since it was so late. We walked by Namaste Kitchen which had a set menu, 2 appetizers, 2 mains and 2 drinks for around $30USD… sold! For starters we got Namaste Tikki- a vegetable and potato croquette of sorts. Super crispy and salty on the outside and soft and creamy on the inside, and Chicken Tikka, the dish we all know and love. Pieces of chicken thigh that had been roasted in the tandoori oven, coated in tomato based sauce with all those traditional Indian spices. For mains, I got Chicken Mahkni, that same tandoori roasted chicken but in a bowl of delicious creamy tomato sauce with a hint of garam masala. I could bathe in that sauce! Dean got Lamb Rogan Josh, a nice balanced curry, just enough heat to keep it fun, with perfectly braised lamb meat that melted into the brown curry gravy. Both dishes were served with freshly made chewy naan bread and cardamom spiced basmati rice.
Queen Street Cooked Food Market: When we stumbled upon this place we knew we’d struck gold. On the top level of an unassuming building on the corner of some road (okay, queen street obviously) you open the doors to what we can only describe as an old, rundown Chinese banquet hall. Different “restaurant” stalls lined the perimeter of a room that was filled with large round tables, each designated to their associated restaurant. We plopped down and after having to dip all our utensils in hot water to disinfect them (yes, it freaked us out too…) started ordering everything that looked good. Fried tofu, chicken wings, flat noodles and beef sautéed with Chinese cabbage all fit the bill. Sure it was nothing fancy and there wasn’t anything particularly “special” about it but it’s just these kinds of amazing home style meals that show a cities true character.
Hotel ICON: Boy was this was a treat. Dean harps on other “travel” people that gloat about their hookups that they get for being famous, and while we are by no means famous, when your good friend wants to show a good time, you take them up on it! This was the restaurant inside the hotel and school that Maceo works at and it had an amazing Tea Set Lunch. First, pick your caffeinated beverage of choice – espresso, cappuccino, or one of about 12 hand selected teas. We were feeling fancy and felt we needed to have tea during the Tea Set Lunch, so I picked the Vanilla Bourbon, it was a hit of smooth vanilla with a subtle hint of smoky, I loved it! Dean wanted to go the traditional Asian route so he chose Jasmine which he described it as hitting you like a flower bomb on the palate but slowly subsiding and smoothing out with a dry tannic finish (wait is this wine or tea?!). Soon after we started enjoying our tea, a plate with freshly made mini scones with raisins dotting them arrived accompanied with clotted cream and strawberry jam. Feeling British yet? It transported us right back to the New Years in London we had a few years ago! The fanciest part was the 3 tiered tray that arrived last. The first and second layer were composed of little hors d’oeuvres. While we couldn’t eat some because of the whole fish allergy thing, we were still able to enjoy the creation and thought behind each bite. You could tell the chef put a lot of time and effort into creating the perfect taste for his customers to enjoy. There was chocolate covered foie gras(duck liver) with crushed peanuts (sounds weird, but trust us… it worked!), lamb and goat cheese on crostini, spicy crab gazpacho, smoked salmon with salmon roe on rye toast, seared scallop with creamed spinach with lumpfish roe, and shrimp with chorizo. The top layer was the best part (at least in my opinion!) little tartlets, each with their own unique flavor and presentation. Green Apple, rose tea chocolate, lavender-citron, strawberry-lychee and jasmine-chocolate. They were absolutely gorgeous and the taste was out of this world.
Sake Bar Ginn: Yet another treat by Maceo, we got a chance to go to his girlfriend, Ayuchi’s, Sake Bar right in the heart of the city. This was the kind of place that is just plain authentically good. You can tell Ayuchi is so knowledgeable and passionate about what she does and clearly takes a keen interest in making sure each one of her customers has the best experience possible. She started the Sake culture in Hong Kong, and while many have tried to copy her, none have been able to achieve what she has. We started with a sake that she was sure everyone would like and she hit the nail right on the head. Smooth with just a touch of sweetness but not overwhelming and perfectly floral on the nose. Maceo took the lead and ordered a ton of different small appetizers for us and each one was better than the last. Think Japanese tapas. Perfection! Fried mochi cheese croquettes, fried chicken knees (I couldn’t get over the texture but dean LOVED these. They “popped” in your mouth. That part hit a little too close to home for me with all my knee problems!) spinach marinated in sesame sauce, shaved lotus root with shisho leaves, carrot and mushroom salad, burdock root fries (similar to parsnip), fried chicken lollipops with spicy cod roe mayonnaise, silken tofu marinated in soy sauce, topped with ginger and green onion, ribboned daikon salad, chilled Japanese sweet tomato steeped in sake sauce topped with shisho leaves and sous vide seared beef tongue with Japanese pepper. Sounds like a lot of food, but the 3 of us managed to get it all down! We then tried a sparkling style of sake which was a first for Dean and I. It had a touch of sweetness and went down way to easy. The night finished off with friend of Maceo’s joining us and sharing yet another round of drinks. Such a great night with delicious food and even better company!
Various Street Food: Street food is a must in Hong Kong and Maceo took us to the top spots. We tried traditional steam buns first. Chicken and mushroom for me, BBQ pork for Dean and we shared a taro variation for a touch of sweetness and fun because it was purple. Next up was a freshly made “pancake” which was similar to a crepe but very crispy! It was filled with blueberry compote and sweetened condensed milk. After that, we saw a chicken stand, Hot Star Taiwanese Fried Chicken, and figured we should get some protein in. Literally any kind of fried chicken you could ever want. Regular, spicy, whole chicken, chicken nuggets, chicken balls, you name it. We got one big piece of spicy to all share, so good! After that, with our tummies starting to get fuller and fuller, we had to get the well known Hong Kong bubble waffle! A true art form. It tastes like a regular waffle but the style in which it’s cooked makes it all the more fun. They can be topped or stuffed with a variety of flavors but we wanted the classic version. Last but not least, we tried the famous milk tea. Any flavor you want, a sweet drink to wash all the delicious street food town. Dean chose Peppermint Green Tea, Maceo got the Earl Grey, and I got the traditional version. A great tour of all the street food that contributes to making this city so much fun. We needed to head back to the hotel for a nap after this carbo load!
We loved Hong Kong and are so happy we got to catch up with friends! It’s definitely hard to leave!
Next up, a quick pop over to Seoul, South Korea before heading on to Japan!
**We are using Ebates and Hotels.com to book everything we do! We get cash back from Ebates and earn free nights on Hotels.com so you get rewarded for doing what you would normally do anyway! On Hotels.com, they provide excellent service and will match hotel prices if you find something cheaper elsewhere. If you stay 10 nights, you get 1 free and if you become a gold member (30 stays in 1 year) you get early access to deals and special rates. Also 24/7 service. On Ebates, while the percentage cash back varies depending on the store, you legitimately get cash back on almost every store you would shop online for anyway and get a check every quarter with your savings. They also have special coupon codes to get discounts on the site that you can’t get otherwise. We’ve gotten over $600 cash back! That’s nothing to sneeze at! We get credit if you use our links (hyperlinked in the names) and would love if you could help us out! But really, you’re helping yourself too!!**