It's been just about a week since Ben and I got back from Hong Kong and truthfully we're both just finally recovering. This city was WILD, from the never ending stretches of bars to the mountainous streets that required escalators to navigate, Hong Kong was a true test of the body and spirit... And we were only there for four days!!!
Although Hong Kong may have tried our endurance, Ben and I unanimously agreed that this metropolis deserved a very high ranking of cities we've been too. It's diversity of people challenges New York City for it's title of "melting pot" and its diversity of terrain means that you could be climbing some of East Asia's best hiking trails in the morning but by mid afternoon you could easily be traversing some of the most densely populated shopping and financial districts in the world. Hong Kong really has got it all, although I will say that if you're looking for culture you may have to dig deep. Hong Kong's unusual history, having been owned by the U.K. from 1841 until 1997 when China took it over, means that it never really had a chance to develop any historical Chinese cultural sites. So if that's you're thing, research how to get a visa (we're still figuring it out) and head to mainland China.
Like usual, Ben and I chose to go with Airbnb for this four day trip. For the first time ever though we stayed with our Airbnb host. Usually I'm a big fan of privacy, but I couldn't help but snag this apartment because it was BEAUTIFUL and the location couldn't have been better. Fortunately, our Airbnb hosts ended up being kindred spirits with us and we spent a decent amount of time every day of our trip hanging out with them. Paul and Ruby, our hosts, are a photographer and an auctioneer respectively and we all got along quite well. They also gave us a ton of good recommendations and trip advice which was a god send. Staying with such interesting and knowledgeable Hong Kong locals was definitely a highlight of this trip. If you ever go to Hong Kong let me know and I'll give you their Airbnb information - they're the best! Plus, tell me that this apartment isn't awesome...
Kowloon Walled City
When doing some pre trip research about Hong Kong I came across the oddity that is the Kowloon walled city. The 'Kowloon Walled City' is no longer standing, however in its time it was one of the most interesting places on Earth. In 1898 when the New Territories of Hong Kong were leased from China to Great Britain, the Kowloon Walled City (which was originally a Chinese fort) was not included in the lease but was completely surrounded by British territory. Because of this truly bizarre arrangement, the Walled City became an enclave for Chinese residents of Hong Kong that was controlled by neither the British or the Chinese governments.
In this state, the city developed completely free of all government, but also of law and order. The buildings were created entirely by the residents, completely independent of building codes. Businesses thrived in the Walled City, however many were not legal outside of it's walls. Being a true Wild West of sorts, after the population explosion during WWII the Walled City became a den for opioid users, prostitutes, the Triad gangs, and, notably, many dentists who operated without licenses, all who lived side by side with the local residents.
Known as the city of darkness, it's labyrinth of alleys and covered walkways connected a myriad of streets and courtyards completely devoid of sunlight and largely unnavigable by anyone but seasoned locals. At it's peak, the Walled City was the most densely populated place on earth with 50,000 residents in just six acres!
In the early 1990s, as the Chinese government took over, they determined to eradicate the walled city and eviction began. In April 1994 the removal and demolition was complete. Today, there is virtually nothing remaining of the city except the ancient South Gate and a small replica. A picturesque park now stands on the site.
This strange history captivated Ben and he was determined to see the site of the former Walled City and so I obliged. The park was lovely, we enjoyed the meandering walkways and Chinese architecture. We were very far from the center of Kowloon which meant that we were the only tourists (at least Westerners) at the site. I definitely wouldn't recommend traveling so far to see this site... But I'm glad that Ben was able to finally see the resting site of this incredible city!
SoHo & the Mid-Levels Escalator
Most of our time in Hong Kong was spent wandering around the SoHo district. It was right outside of our apartment and is the center of Hong Kong’s best bars and restaurants. If you are looking for a night of revelry and fun, SoHo is the place to be. Ben and I especially enjoyed our dinners at Ho Lee Fook (a fancier Chinese restaurant with a spin on the classics), the Boilermakers Room Bar, and Ding Dim 1968 which has the BEST SOUP DUMPLING EVER. No lie I just started salivating even just mentioning them.
An unexpected and incredible surprise to the SoHo area was the Mid-Level escalator. It’s literally just a trail of outdoor escalators that take people down Hong Kong’s steep slopes from early morning until 10 am and back up the hill from 10 am to midnight. Let’s be real, no one wants to assault their lungs and knees by climbing up and down a near vertical mountain, so this escalator, while kind of odd, is seriously the most genius idea. It saved Ben and I on multiple occasions and was a godsend after we had hiked the Dragons Back (which I’ll talk about in another post.)
Probably the most iconic spot in Hong Kong is Victoria’s peak. Yes, it’s touristy and somewhat of a pain to get to (we ended up taking a taxi because the famous Peak Tram was such a long wait) but the view is 100% worth it. It may be cliche, but seeing this city skyline from the top of this peak literally took my breath away... Although that might have also been because we had increased our altitude by quite a bit and then climbed a few staircases!
Ben and I could’ve spent the entire afternoon gazing at the insane view from this observatory, we literally only convinced ourselves to leave because we decided to walk the scenic trek along Lugard Drive which is adjacent to the Peak. The trail was densely covered with foliage, so it was quite hard to see the skyline while on it, however, if you’re looking for a nice stroll up high in the mountains without having to rough it this is a good place to go.
Avenue of the Stars
After taking the Star Ferry from Hong Kong island to Kowloon, Ben and I took in the beautiful harbor views along the Avenue of the Stars. The bay was so blue this day, it reminded me of the water in Okinawa! Although we didn’t end up taking a ride in a famous junk boat, Ben and I managed to see one up close and of course take a few photos next to it. We also had a very nice tourist take a photo of the two of us in front of the Kowloon-Canton Railway Clock Tower. This is the only remaining part of the Kowloon-Canton Railway which has been demolished.
We finished up our exploration in Kowloon with a classic Chinese lunch at Hong Fat. We had shrimp dumpling soups, lemon garlic chicken, and a beef and noodle dish. Ben was much more of a fan that this place than me, but I am glad that we got to try out some real Chinese cuisine.
We’ll soon be adding another blog post about the second half of our Hong Kong trip which will feature the Dragons Back, the villages of Shek-O, Big Wave Bay, and more so stay tuned!
We're Kara and Ben, a Marine Corps family currently stationed in Okinawa, Japan. Enjoy our adventures, travels, photos, thoughts, and life together halfway around the world!
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