Hong Kong, SAR China – 5 & 6 October 2017
Left SFO at 1:15AM on Wednesday, flying Singapore in business class. The 14 hours across the Pacific went by quickly. Got about six hours of somewhat restless sleep and watched a couple of movies before landing in Hong Kong, where I’ll be spending the next six days.
As soon as I passed through Immigration, I connected to the airport wifi and the first thing I see is an email in my personal account from my boss with a work question. Let’s just say that’s not my favorite thing to see on my first day of vacation – though my actual reaction may have been somewhat more pointed than that.
Visited the arrivals lounge, where I was able to shower and put on some fresh clothes before heading to my hotel in Sheung Wan. I had reserved at the well-reviewed Butterfly on Hollywood, an outpost of a small local group of hotels here in Hong Kong – but in the ensuing months since I’d made the reservation, the Butterfly had divested themselves of this particular location and it is now – tada! – a Travelodge. OK, OK, not the most glamorous brand, but the place seems pretty similar to what I’d reserved originally. But yes, Travelodge. Sigh…
I was too early to check in, so I decided to head down to the MTR for a quick ride over to Wan Chai and my favorite place for char siu. I got to the station, bought my Octopus card and was feeling right at home here in Hong Kong, given that I had some familiarity with the city and public transit from when I was here a year ago.
Pride goeth before the fall, though – I managed to not only get off one station too soon, but to not realize this until I’d actually left the paid area of the station. “Admiralty?” I said to myself as I looked at the neighborhood map outside the turnstiles, “Well, that’s not where I fucking wanted to go.”
Anyway, made it to Wan Chai soon enough and was able to quickly navigate a path to Joy Hing – only to discover that they are closed today, thanks to it being a local holiday (I think). So, hunger, fatigue and frustration were all combining to make this feel like a not-so-great first day of my travel.
But I soldiered on, made my way back to Central and found Yat Lok – which thankfully was not observing today’s local holiday. Had char siu and rice and it was pretty tasty (though I still prefer Joy Hing). Even better, getting some food in my belly did improve my mood a bit.
Decided to head over to Kowloon on the subway to kill some more time while I waited for my room to be ready. Between the teeming hordes of tourists and the seeming vagueness of Google Maps’ blue dot’s location, this was perhaps not the most relaxing choice. Happily, though, I received a call from the front desk at the hotel letting me know my room was ready – and it’s only 11AM!
Jumped on the Star Ferry and was soon back at the hotel, where I got settled into the very – how shall I say? – cozy room. But it’s perfectly serviceable and seems comfy enough. We’ll see if my opinion changes once my friend Ak shows up from Bangkok and the two of us are in here fighting over space in the one drawer.
After a lie-down, I decided a foot massage might be just the thing to take the edge off the day. Found a place in Central that was about a 20 minute walk away called Zhen Massage. It looked nice on their Facebook page and was perhaps just a tad less so in person – but the price was reasonable enough and I wasn’t looking for the Canyon Ranch.
The foot massage was decent if a bit perfunctory. The therapist answered her phone several times during the massage – though she’d at least keep massaging with her free hand. The calls were brief, so I really didn’t mind – I mean, I don’t know her life! Frankly, the only part that concerned me was the thought of her phone getting lotion all over it (not to mention gross tourist feet cooties).
There was a Western couple in there who were a delight. He was shouting across the place to the missus in their native language while he used an exasperated tone while negotiating with the lady managing bookings as to how long a manicure would take. And both mister and missus kept their faces buried in their phones throughout all of this. Oh, and there were also some kind of loud construction noises going on down the hall, which were eventually accompanied by the sound of the Ms. Western Couple getting her calluses sanded down. So, not exactly the most spa-like experience – but it was sort of so weird that it was kind of hilarious. And my feet sure felt better when I left!
Fortified myself with an iced matcha milk tea from one place and some wonton noodle soup from another on my way back to hotel. A nice way to wrap up what’s been a rather mixed bag of a day. This evening is likely to be quiet.
Had a fitful night of sleep, waking up about once every hour or two – but did manage to sleep ‘til about 7:00AM, so I feel like I’m about adjusted to local time (though I suspect I’ll be hitting the hay early most evenings…). After yesterday’s somewhat difficult first day, I was feeling a bit anxious about today’s tour that I’d booked with Wild Hong Kong. The meeting point was about an hour from HK Central on the train and required three transfers. I figured I’d get lost. Plus, I’d worried yesterday about my physical stamina. Despite a minimum of walking around, my feet were aching and my back was acting up. It’s really the first time that I’ve traveled and felt like my age was catching up with me.
As it turned out, though, I think yesterday’s ailments were primarily due to jetlag and too much sitting around. I felt pretty good when I woke and managed to get myself going with plenty of time to retrace my steps if I got lost on my way to Tai Po Market in the New Territories.
Stopped for breakfast at Morty’s Delicatessen at Jardine House. It was a more-than-decent Western breakfast of eggs, bacon and pastrami hash – plus it’s conveniently located a short walk from Central station.
My last train of the trip was the farthest I’d been from central Hong Kong and the difference was noticeable. While I certainly feel like a tourist in town, I felt much more like a foreigner on this leg of the journey – which was frankly kind of cool. It’s nice to feel I’m getting a bit off the beaten path.
Arrived at Tai Po Market station with time to spare and settled in at the rendezvous point, a Starbucks, naturally! I waited in line behind a white lady who’d decided using chopsticks in her hairdo was a wise choice. It wasn’t… But I got my iced chamomile tea with aloe and grapes – an unusual but refreshing combo and awaited the arrival of my guide, Rory.
He showed up right on time and it turned out I’d be his sole guidee today – lucky me! He’s a gregarious fellow who grew up in Hong Kong and has done quite a bit of traveling around the world, both on his own and as a guide. We drove over toward Plover Cove, picked up our bikes from a local rental shop and off we went!
Let me just say, being back on two wheels was great. I ride just about every day and everywhere back home in SF and it’s remarkable how much I miss it when I don’t do it. We rode out along the Plover Cove Reservoir, a nice long expanse of road with water an both sides and great views of the surrounding hills and city, then came back the same way as we started the ride a bit up the hills to do a bit of hiking. There was one section of uphill riding that was short but a bit intense – the rest was pretty smooth sailing.
Locked up our bikes at the parking lot (which was happily home to a bank of vending machines stocked with ice cold beverages) and then hiked not too far into the park to visit Mirror Pool, home to a beautiful waterfall. Rory and I sat and chewed the fat for a bit – but mostly just sat and enjoyed the solitude and the beautiful setting.
Next stop was Bride Pool Falls, another lovely spot where Rory got a chance to show off his rock skipping skills and I just happily watched. The falls were wonderful and I’m so glad I got to visit. I’d left my “big” camera back at the hotel, not wanting to schlep it all day – and honestly, I’m glad I did. Sure, not so many photos of the day, but I was glad to just enjoy the experience of seeing this new-to-me corner of Hong Kong.
Hiked back up to the bikes and had an easy ride back to where we’d started, including a couple of great downhill bits where we really got flying. Wrapped things up with a bit of lunch at a Thai place and then Rory dropped me off at the train for my ride back into the city. I was sweaty, kinda stinky and bit exhausted – and I could not have been happier. The whole day left me feeling great, both physically and mentally. And it was a real pleasure spending the afternoon with Rory, a knowledgeable guide and an all-around interesting fellow. If you find yourself in Hong Kong, I recommend his services unhesitatingly.
Back at the hotel, I had a nice long shower and then relaxed for a bit while I IM’d with my friend Ak, who was at Bangkok Airport, waiting to board his flight to Hong Kong. Flight was a bit late, so he probably won’t get into the city until after 11:00 this evening, but it’s going to be great to see him – and to introduce him to Hong Kong, as it’s his first visit.
Wrapped up the evening at Joy Hing Roasted Meats in Wan Chai. Tonight they were open, unlike yesterday’s ill-fated visit. There was a line, but it moved quickly and I enjoyed my absolute favorite “eat, pay and get out” meal of char siu and rice. A really perfect way to wrap up my second day in Hong Kong.