I spent a few days in Hong Kong during my Semester at Sea study abroad program in college. Ben has been here 4 or 5 times for work. Neither of us thought Hong Kong was a particularly wonderful place, and yet, here we are.
We decided to bring our 5-year-old on a 13-hour flight to a city where you have to constantly navigate between the crowds and A/C drips on the streets, where every restaurant serves chicken feet and none mac ‘n cheese, and where the culture has such limited personal boundaries that someone is always trying to a take a picture of you.
Welcome to Hong Kong!
This is not our ideal location, but we’re only here for 6 days and it’s actually been pretty fun. Starting with the flights over.
We left for the Vancouver airport at 10:30 am for a 2:30 flight. That morning was pretty hectic! Whit had accidentally left his precious Lion at our last hotel in Whistler. That weekend was Canada Day, so our only chance of reuniting with Lion for our leg in Asia was for her to arrive the morning we flew out. Luckily she did- at 10:00 am! Cutting it kind of close, Lion! We were all thrilled, and it was a great way to leave for our trip.
That morning was also time to trim the fat. I downgraded to a smaller carry-on suitcase and we dropped one backpack. We had to fit all of the extra things we’d been driving around either into our travel bags or the giveaway backpack. It was pretty liberating, but also difficult to decide if we would need an extra phone charger. We ended up leaving a lot of odds and ends with our Vancouver AirBnB hosts, which they later said they plan on using. Double win!
After an hour and a half on public transportation we made it through security and onto our first plane: a 9-hour leg to Narita, Japan, with Japan Airlines. JAL was amazing! Next to an incredible flight I took with Emirates Airlines, JAL is my new favorite. We had really comfortable seats, the 787 was new and beautiful, decently good Japanese meals, a complimentary toy for Whit, and an open snack bar at the flight attendants’ station.
I have to say, I really love settling in on a long flight. I love calling for someone to bring me a soda, watching movies or TV shows I haven’t seen before, and not having to do a darn thing but sit.
Our second flight from Japan to Hong Kong, 4 hours long, was also fine but less enjoyable. Whit watched TV the whole time while Ben and I tried to sleep, but by the time we arrived in Hong Kong we felt like zombies. We had been traveling for around 20 hours but only between local times of 10:30 am to 11:00 pm, so it just felt like one REALLY long day, you know?
We were all ready to get to our AirBnB and fall asleep for 2 days.
That didn’t happen.
Our introduction to Hong Kong did not go smoothly.
First Impressions of Hong Kong
We first had trouble getting out of the airport. Ben requested an Uber, but our meet up instructions were so confusing that we ended up dragging our luggage all over the airport parking lots for at least 20 minutes trying to meet up with the guy! Whit had had a great attitude, but the walking around really wore him out. We’d been met with a wall of humidity outside, and he was instantly zapped and sweating. As soon as we crawled into the Uber Whit immediately fell asleep on my shoulder.
The driver took us to the AirBnB location, but we had no way of getting in. The host asked Ben to contact her when we arrived (even after being warned that it would be late) for instructions instead of just telling him right away how to enter the apartment. Ben tried for almost an hour, but she never responded. He started to call hotels in the neighborhood so we would have a place to sleep (remember this is currently midnight on a 20-hour travel day), but they were all booked. We finally found a hotel a few streets away, so that is where the Uber driver left us.
I held our sleeping Whit while Ben started to check in when the AirBnB host finally got back to us! We collected our suitcases (again) and called a second Uber to take us back to the apartment. We finally got in and poured ourselves into bed at 12:30 am.
Our apartment here is a lot like Hong Kong: nice at first glance, but annoying and dingy upon further inspection. We have 2 bedrooms and a living room/ kitchen, which is the perfect amount of space, but the dishes are mostly gunky, there bathroom is dirty, the washing machine doesn’t work (we found out after trying a load we later had to take to a professional laundromat), and the curtains don’t fully close to block the light (meaning I’ve been waking up at 4:30 every morning).
Hong Kong, meanwhile, seems exciting and fresh but is actually pretty grimy, too.
Hong Kong Pros and Cons
What we like:
- Great public transportation. Easy to find, easy to navigate, clean, fast.
- Cheap food. Meals are a hit or a miss, but we love how cheap it is to try something new or stop for a snack!
- Being completely immersed in a new culture. Everything around us exudes the same personality, which is really fun to be a part of!
What we dislike:
- Suffocating heat and humidity. We’re talking 85-90 degrees with up to 100% humidity. The sky just gives up and rains.
- Dirty streets. We do a lot of walking, and between A/C drips and questionable puddles we always have to watch our step!
- Crowded. This should go without saying, but there are a lot of people here. People watching is fun for a while, then it just gets old having to push your way through things.
- So. Many. Malls. I’m starting to think all people do in Hong Kong is shop! It’s convenient that every train station is the bottom level of a mall when you need to walk a few blocks away but want to avoid the heat or rain, but come on! I think we’ve passed through 11 different malls in three days. Or maybe 177. I’ve lost count.
- Smells. Yes, we love the cheap street food, but it comes at a price: your olfactory sense. I can only take so much fish mixed with hot sewage.
We’ve definitely done some fun things, though. We took a tram to Victoria Peak for a beautiful view of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, the ferry to Kowloon for the famous Ladies Market and laser light show, saw the view from Sky100 (one of the world’s tallest buildings), eaten tons of fun food (mostly sweets!), and spent a day in Macau!
We’ve also had some really memorable local experiences. We love riding the public transportation with everyone, we’ve been to the neighborhood grocery store a couple of times, we had to bring our laundry to the washing district for cleaning, and tonight we met a teacher at a local art studio for a private lesson on traditional Chinese painting.
It’s fun to live like a local, especially when you get crazy glances from real locals trying to figure out what you’re doing there!
We still have a few things planned in Hong Kong before leaving for Seoul on Wednesday. It’s only 4 days away and we still don’t have a place to stay or even know how long we’re going to be there! I feel like I should be more worried about that, but I’m really not. It’ll work out. And that’s part of the fun, right?