After the heat and humidity of South-east Asia, we were so relieved to touch down in Hong Kong and discover it was a temperate 17C. I’d been in HK in the summer when it can get hot and humid, but it was late March and officially still Spring here. It was a bit drizzly, but we didn’t mind.
We ended up staying in Hong Kong for 12 days – way longer than we intended …
We had planned to go to Beijing, Xian and Chengdu (to see giant pandas) within those 12 days. We’d already booked a flight from Hong Kong to Japan before arriving in HK. So now all we needed to do was book a return flight from Hong Kong to Beijing. Or so we thought. Paul spoke to a visa agent in HK, who said that this wasn’t possible.
This was because by being in HK, we were already in China. Had we flown into Beijing from a destination outside of China and then flown onwards to another country, we would’ve been able to take advantage of a 144-hour visa-free transit.
The only options now were to pay about $350 each for a full-month visa issued in two days, or wait four days and pay $180. Neither choice suited us money-wise nor time-wise.
We entertained the idea of going to Taiwan or South Korea for a few days but decided we’d rather stay in one place (Hong Kong) rather than spend money on flights and accommodation for a rushed visit.
The first six days in HK, we stayed at big hotel in a “new town” called Sha Tin in the New Territories.
Paul says of Sha Tin: “It’s one of the new towns built throughout the New Territories in the 1970s to accommodate HK’s booming population that was outgrowing the northern side of the island and Kowloon. Sha Tin is sort of like an outlying suburb of the Island/Kowloon megalopolis, but not typical suburbia like in Australia. Sha Tin looks like this…” (Paul’s pics below)
“It’s large enough to have some big malls, one of which, New Town Plaza, was our ‘local’, and groovy enough to include Apple, Zara, Gap, Chanel and H&M stores, among others. Funny thing about every big shopping centre and mall we went into in HK: no seats — absolutely nowhere to sit down except in restaurants.”
And I’ll add that shopping malls are also virtually the only place you’ll find a public washroom in HK. One time Elina and I had to queue for 15min at a McDonald’s because it had the only washroom in the vicinity and there was only one stall for women.
Ferries, trams and tall buildings
We caught the tram one morning all the way from Shau Kei Wan into Central. It took almost 90 minutes but you get fantastic street views all the way along the route. We had prime position seats upstairs at the front.
It was pretty crowded at Victoria Peak but we managed to find a small spot for a family pic. We took the bus up, then the tram down. We queued for about 30 minutes for the tram, which took less than 10 minutes to descend.
Shopping streets and markets
We wandered around the shopping market areas of Mong Kok in Kowloon one afternoon and came back another evening for the night-time experience. These areas were crowded with both locals and tourists.
Mong Kok markets
Since we wouldn’t see pandas in Chengdu, we booked Elina a “panda encounter” at the vast marine-mammal amusement centre, Ocean Park. Entry was expensive for two adults ($100 per ticket) so Paul went with Elina as he likes amusement park rides and I don’t. The hour-long panda encounter involved preparing breakfast for and feeding a panda.
Elina absolutely loves pandas – her favourite animal – and was thrilled to have been so close to one. Sharing the experience with her dad made it all the more special.
The panda encounter finished as the rest of the park opened so there was no queue when they arrived at the formidable Hair Raiser roller coaster. Paul says that when Elina first saw the ride, she went through a gamut of emotions, saying “No way!”, “Maybe later”, “Welllllllll….” and finally “OK, we can go now, but just once”. Afterwards she declared: “Let’s do it again!”
After deciding to stay in Hong Kong to chillax instead of rushing off on another flight somewhere, I got on the Airbnb website and found a house in Shek-O, a beachside village located in south-eastern Hong Kong Island and a half-hour bus ride but a world away from metropolis on the north side. An old friend of mine used to live in Shek O. Paul and I had been there back in 1999 when we visited him and we both liked it.
Paul writes: “You would not believe the place is Hong Kong. We had a little AirBnB first-floor flat, beach and water view, the sand a stone’s throw from the roof-top patio, could hear the waves of a night. Lovely, chilled out place, totally unspoiled. No high rises (nothing over three storeys) or resort-style developments — actually no tourist accommodation at all — which is a real surprise for such a nice beach (and HK is not exactly with flush with them).”
“The village was a maze of narrow alleys and tiny houses, people living cheek by jowl. Walking through the alleys dodging the washing hanging out to dry you could look through windows and open doors on both sides straight into people’s kitchens and living rooms. Only high-end things about Shek O were some bigger homes further out on the headland and the golf course on the outskirts. The amazing thing is that nothing has changed since we were here 20 years ago.”
“It was wonderful staying put for almost a week here: morning and afternoon swims, doing our own cooking in the little kitchen, sitting up on the patio at dusk, taking the bus into the Shau Kei Wan to shop.”
The street market in Shau Kei Wan. We bought fresh tofu, meat, fruit and vegetables here and it was inexpensive. Definitely the way to go in Hong Kong if you have access to a kitchen. Going out for meals can be pricey in HK.
Dragon’s Back trail
While in Shek O, we decided to do the nearby Dragon’s Back trail. Actually, I didn’t want to do it, Paul did. After much prodding and poking I decided to come along. It’s a total of 8.5km and ends up at Big Wave Bay. We did it slowly and it took five hours. We were quite tired by the end of it, especially Elina, poor thing.
We had ice creams at the end of our long hiking day. Paul went for a dip at Big Wave Bay (yet not even small waves that day) and then we got a taxi back to Shek O village.
After five days in Shek O, we moved on …
On our last two days in Hong Kong, I booked a hotel closer to the airport as we had a 7.40am flight to Japan. Our hotel was in the suburb of Tsuen Wan. Here’s the uncharming view from our hotel window:
After a pretty slow pace in Hong Kong, we were ready to explore a new country. Next stop: Japan.