June 1, 2009

Hong Kong - Central, Stanley, SoHo, and Lan Kwai Fong

In case you couldn't tell from the above skyline, we took a three-day weekend trip to Hong Kong last weekend. Since we are leaving Japan to head back to the US in a month, this was our last explore-outside-of-Japan traveling for us. We picked Hong Kong, because its a city we have always wanted to see and came highly recommended by a bunch of different friends. And for the food. (Oh, the dim sum!) And because its relatively close (3 hours-ish flight). And because we couldn't make it to (real) China and this is as close as we could get! And we scored really cheap airfare.

So...we arrived on Thursday night, and effortlessly took the Airport Express Train to a shuttle bus to our Hotel. The ease, speed and efficiency of this experience dazzled; yet again, we were forced to think about how badly we do these type of things in America and all those poor shlubs who come into JFK Airport and have to get from there to NYC.

We stayed at the Langham Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui ("TST," if you are cool or have a hard time saying Tsim Sha Tsui fast...its not easy!), which is on the Kowloon side (the peninsula-side) across the bay from Hong Kong Island. Our quick evening walk-about revealed us to be blocks from the Star Ferry, in the midst of super-high-end-fashion-boutique-shopping land of Gucci, Coach, Ferragamo, Mui Mui (?), and near Kowloon Park.

Couldn't be happier with the hotel in the end; great location, stellar service, and a really nice room. And . . . a really nice rooftop pool and hot tub, which we all enjoyed. (Mom always said to bring a bathing suit wherever you go, and we did!).

We feel like we really did Hong Kong justice in our three-day trip. We ate great food. We ferried, we trammed, we double-decker bused, we mid-level-escalatored, we skylined, we cable-carred, we buddha-ed, and we marketed. This post and the next couple will give the blow-by-blow.

Our First Day In Hong Kong
Striking Out Mightily At Dim Sum

We awoke quite early (thanks to the one-hour difference from Japan + 2 kids in a hotel room) to find a steady rain, which invaded our AM roof-top pool swimming experience. Hmmm. Cold. Fittingly, this dreary starting day began with a somewhat ill-advised (hilarious in retrospect) search for Dim Sum "Breakfast." This did not go smoothly. In fact, it was very un-smooth indeed.

Heck, we thought that kicking off our Hong Kong trip with a killer dim sum breakfast would be the way to go. So we got a recommendation from our concierge for a nearby place in the Silvercord Building on Canton Road. We arrived before 8 AM to beat the crowds. And the whole building was empty. Eventually, we figured out that the place (which looked good from the outside) didn't open until 11 AM. Back to the hotel. New recommendation secured. (On the way there, Jacob: "But what if this one isn't open either." Mike: "It will be. He just told us it was." Jacob: "But what if he is wrong." Mike: "Then we go back and beat the concierge with this umbrella.") Across the street to the 10th floor of One Peking, across the street from our hotel. Strolled past the Starbuck-sy coffee shop in the lobby and hit 10 on the elevator - OUT OF SERVICE. Huh? We were then informed that the 10th floor restaurants didn't open until 10 AM. Argh! We lose. With the kids getting hungry, its a breakfast of muffins and coffee at the coffee shop for us. Mike ate nothing, holding out for dim sum to be found later. (We were discovering that we definitely got up before Hong Kong did; it is more of a night town for sure! And no, we didn't do bodily harm to our the concierge. . . .)

Luckily the rain stopped, and we were able to stick to the original plan of exploring the Hong Kong side. We hopped on the Star Ferry - 4 of us for a total of less than 1 USD - which took us across Victoria Harbour to the Hong Kong side. It was cloudy and cool, and this was our first real good look at the Hong Kong skyline and the boat activity in the harbour.

When we got to the other side, we decided to walk over to City Hall, a famous dim sum place Mike had read about; and one of the last dim sum places in Hong Kong that use the carts that you can point and pick off of. And . . . of course, it wasn't yet open!!! At this point, we were actually kind of expecting that. Mike vowed that we would return at 11 AM. (But have no fear intrepid readers; our dream of dim sum would later be fulfilled. Read on!)
Central, The Mid-Levels and SoHo

We explored the Central area, watching the trams - skinny and decked out like advertising billboards - go by (Mike's favorite was the Yao Ming tram; Jacob's was the Guess Girl tram), ogling the famous skyscrapers (like the Bank of China Building and HSBC Main Building), and checking out some of the old British buildings and parks.

We then headed over to take a ride up the Central Mid-Level Escalators (the longest escalators in the world) up through SoHo to the very end. SoHo is chock full of cute little pubs, cafes, and shops. Nearby, Lan Kwai Fong, is another neat entertainment district set on a sloping set of hills, and crammed with restaurants and bars. Hong Kong is such an amazingly western city (especially coming from Japan!). English is dominant. Foreignors of all types abound.

The Quest For Dim Sum - Fulfilled At City Hall

We cabbed it from the top of the hills back to City Hall, hoping our dim sum tale would have a happy ending. When we arrived back at the restaurant a little after 11 AM, it was deserted. We were ushered to our table in the HUGE room on the 3rd floor of the City Hall Building overlooking Victoria Bay. Inside of a half-hour, every table was taken and a waiting line had formed. We were in business. We snagged baskets of vegetable dumplings, shrimp dumplings (har gau), pork buns, and other delicacies off of the carts that were wheeled next to our table. The food was stellar. Our faves included the sesame balls filled with egg custard, the mango custard pudding, and the dumplings. We had quite the meal! Worth the wait . . .

Stanley Market & Repulse Bay

Feeling happily full, we hopped on a double-decker bus, which took us to Stanley Market. It was quite the high-speed, windy, and steep ride over the mountains and past the beaches of Repulse Bay. By the way, being on the upper level of a double-decker bus on a windy road totally skews your perspective. (Funny side-note - On the bus Jacob made some Japanese tourists do a triple-take when he dropped a very hearty and unexpected "arigato" in a perfect Japanese accent in response to them picking up something he dropped. Pretty hilarious.)

Our first stop at Stanley was the market itself. There were some really nice pieces of art-work there, as well as tons of different little shops that will calligraphy your name in chinese pictorial characters. So we picked up some souvenirs.

There also seemed to be good deals on clothes and other items like backpacks and walking sticks. But browsing through the alleys of the market proved difficult when we got to the toys and chatchkis parts and Jacob's desire was unleashed. We had to move through pretty quickly.

Luckily when we popped out of the market area, we were able to rest and relax on some big sand-colored rocks overlooking the bay, where we could watch boats of all sizes scooting around. We also walked down a pubby main street that felt like it was pulled from some British harbor-town, where cafes and pubs, like the black wood-adorned Pickled Penguin, rowed the street.
We also happened upon a terrific dumming exhibition, held in honor of the famous Hong Kong Dragon Boat Races. (Unfortunately, we missed the races themselves by one day!)

Chater Garden Breaktime

When we returned from Stanley, we had some time to kill before heading to dinner, at a place recommended to us in Lan Kwai Fong. We took the opportunity to hit a great English bookstore, buy some books for the kids, and to have some downtime in Chater Garden. The kids were excited to get books, and we had some nice reading time. And also a little family jumping competition.

Lan Kwai Fong & Dinner at Beirut

As night arrived, we headed back to Lan Kwai Fong, Hong Kong's night-life district. All lit up and buzzing with people, it was quite a different vibe then during the day. And Jacob and Lauren were literally the only kids that we saw there at all.

We ate dinner at a quiet Lebanese place called Beirut, on the second level overlooking the streets from behind a sound-proofed balcony. The restaurant was dimly lit and peaceful; and with our 6:30 reservation (definitely early for this night-owl town), we were the only people dining there. Our foodie friend who had recommended this place to us (and to be honest our first thought was, "Why would we got out for Middle Eastern good in Hong Kong?"), did not steer us wrong. The food was stellar -- seriously great hummus, falafel, Lebanese salad, and mixed meats of lamb, beef, and chicken with warm pita and tzatziki sauce. Yum! And certainly not the kind of food you can really get in Japan. We had a wonderful family dinner there, as we told the story of our day and talked about our favorite things (one of which was this dinner!).

This is the view peering into the window of the famous Yung Kee, a famous peking duck restaurant that was near our restaurant.

On the Star Ferry ride home and from the TST Promenade back on the Kowloon side, we were able to enjoy this night-skyline view. Lauren passed out quickly, and Jacob took a night swim. And that was day one in Hong Kong.


jmgesq said...

Good to see your HK post. I was despairing for your blog! Whatever will I do for a quick break at the office once you return home????

Lisa said...

Looks like a great time. I would've continued the search for dim sum as well...i'm glad you persevered! Jacob is surely looking "cool" with all the gaps in his mouth.