Public art is showcased at PMQ
I thought I’d write a post about my latest trip to Hong Kong and Macau (we returned home about a month ago). It’d been about two and a half years since my previous visit, and this time I had my parents and Kirk in tow with me.
While we still did some of the usual things a tourist would do (it was Kirk’s first time there, after all), the primary reason for our vacation was to see my extended family, especially my grandparents who are both in their nineties. We wanted to have a big reunion ahead of our upcoming wedding in the fall as it’d allow us a chance to celebrate with them in case they couldn’t make it to Edmonton for the real deal.
From the standpoint of culture shock, I’d say that Kirk did better than me with aspects like the crazy crowds while I fared better when it came to heights; three of the world’s 50 tallest buildings reside in this territory and being the fourth most densely populated region on the globe, you can image that everything is built up, not out. What’s great about Hong Kong, though, is it’s quite easy to navigate. English and Chinese signage is everywhere, and a large portion of the residents speak English, too.
I’ll try to do a short recap of each day of our trip here. If there’s anything that was covered in detail in my past write up, I’ll refer you to that. Hopefully, for the restaurants that we had a chance to try, I’ll be doing separate posts at a later date.
Day 1 – Hong Kong
We arrived in Hong Kong around supper time. Once my parents had gotten their suitcases from the luggage carousel (Kirk and I only packed carry on for the two week vacation), we picked up Airport Express passes and made our way on the train to Hong Kong Station. From there, my uncle and aunt picked us up. Being around rush hour — many people work from about 10:00am to 6:00 or 7:00pm daily — we hit some traffic. However, it didn’t take too long, and next thing you know, we were in the super convenient area of Causeway Bay being dropped off at the Holiday Inn Express (my cousins were very kind to treat us to our stay there).
Once we’d checked into our room, put away our bags, and freshened up, we walked across the street to Times Square to meet up with the four of them for dinner. On the tenth floor of the mall was Greenhouse, a Southeast Asian restaurant. Honestly, we stuffed our faces here with roast chicken, pizza, salads, and steak. When we finished our meal, Kirk and I decided to walk off the food by perusing some of the shops, including a very cool whiskey store with lots of limited edition bottles, and a business that only sold Totoro items.
After twenty hours or so of travel, we were exhausted. We settled in and went to bed. Best of all, it was late in the evening in Hong Kong, so we got into a good rhythm right away. Thankfully, we didn’t experience much, if any, jet lag during our time there.
Day 2 – Hong Kong
We took it pretty easy on our first full day in Hong Kong. Once we’d gotten ready to go, we actually went to visit with my grandma in Wanchai before doing anything else. It was so great to see her again and she finally got to meet Kirk. Language barrier aside, they were pretty adorable.
For lunch, we headed back to Causeway Bay where we ate at Din Tai Fung. While it’s not a local restaurant, it’s famous for their Xiao Long Bao (soup dumplings). My mom wasn’t overly impressed with them because the dumplings weren’t hot enough. Although I agreed with her on that point, I still love their too expensive (over $30 CDN for six) black truffle and pork variety. Their wontons are pretty delicious as well.
After that, we explored Causeway Bay, giving Kirk a chance to get a lay of the land. We stopped in SOGO, a fancy department store in the middle of the area. My mom wanted to show Kirk the basement-level grocery store with the pricey imported fruits. Honestly, they’re beautifully packaged, looking pristine and at peak ripeness, but I still can’t fathom why any of them cost as much as they do.
As we walked around that area, we found a kiosk for BAKE Cheese Tart (actually a Japanese chain). They’re famous for their pastries and they literally sell only one item. These bright yellow rays of sunshine look sort of like an egg tart, but they’re a little more savoury because of the cheese and the consistency of the crust is more like a cookie than a pie.
If you haven’t guessed yet, a lot of our time in Hong Kong consisted of eating. That night was no different. We met up with another uncle and two of my aunts for dinner inside the Conrad Hotel at Brassarie on the Eighth. To my family’s dismay, they had sold out of the Tomahawk steaks that they had their eyes on. But, in the end, everything that we had (minus the undercooked souffles) were wonderfully prepared. I quite enjoyed my indulgent four-course meal.
Day 3 – Hong Kong
The smog cleared up a bit on our third day in the city, so we decided it’d be an opportune time to take Kirk to Victoria Peak. From there, you can see expansive vistas of the valley. My dad insisted that we walk along Victoria Peak Loop (from what I could find online, I believe it’s 4.5 kilometers in length) as he wanted to reminisce about his childhood days when he and his brothers would adventure nearby. He kept saying that there were great views. Initially, I didn’t believe him because all I could see were trees along the edge, but eventually, they opened up to reveal those postcard images.
Even though the path was even and paved, it was a slower walk than we’d hoped. No one had really prepared for the distance (because we didn’t know we’d be walking this trail) and the creeping heat. So, it was nice when we made it to the end and sustenance was in sight. My relatives had told us about the new Bread Street Kitchen by Gordon Ramsay on the Peak, and I had my heart set on going there for lunch.
The restaurant serves elevated pub-style dishes. Both my dad and Kirk went for the Dry Aged British Beef Burgers. My mom ate the Fried Buffalo Chicken Burger. Me being me, I had to sample a few different things, including Mushroom Arancini, Mixed Grain Salad, and Smoked Steak Tartare. Nothing disappointed. Everything was prepared well with ample flavour.
When we finished our meal, we caught the bus back down the mountain (double decker buses driving along the narrow winding roads with very short barriers are always a little hard to get used to). We rode it all the way to Central Station. That’s where you can catch a Star Ferry boat over to the Kowloon side. Fun fact: the reliable ferries have been in use since 1888 and many still retain their original wooden seats.
On the Kowloon side, we stopped into the famous Peninsula Hotel. Our original plan was to have high tea there, but at a minimum of $350 HKD (approximately $70 CDN) per person, we opted not to stay. Instead, we walked around the Avenue of the Stars and 1881 Heritage — the past Old Marine Police Headquarters now reestablished as a luxury shopping landmark — before heading back over to the island. It was our intention to stay on the Kowloon side longer, so that we could see the nightly light show across the water, but it would have meant killing quite a bit of time, and everyone was rather tired, especially my father.
Day 4 – Hong Kong
One thing I can never recall doing during all of my past trips to Hong Kong is riding the tram. Yet, I’d highly recommend this affordable transportation now. Each of these cars have two stories on them and if you can snag the topside seats at the front (or even the back), you’ll have fantastic views of the streets that you pass by. It’s definitely a more leisurely ride, so don’t expect to get anywhere as quickly as you would compared to the subway or the bus. We rode all the way from one end of the line at Happy Valley to the very end at Sheung Wan.
In Sheung Wan, we stopped to check out the views of the harbour and then we sought out a place for lunch. Gioia caught our attention with their lunch special: purchase three meals and the fourth was free. Plus, the set lunch menu of three-courses and a beverage for about $20 each was already a steal.
Once we completed our meal, we explored the area on foot, passing through wet markets and stopping to look at real estate listings. We also noticed that there were more elderly milling about. It seemed like they had regular routines and most were still going about their days on their own even though they were probably in their eighties or nineties. Lots of props to them for keeping up with an active lifestyle.
That night, we took it easy with dinner at my grandma’s. Her helpers prepared such wonderful Indonesian-style dishes for us. They pulled out all of the stops, and we were stuffed silly.
Day 5 – Hong Kong
On this day, we ventured to the Diamond Hill district where we paused for lunch at Genki Sushi. They’ve revamped these restaurants to utilize online phone ordering and the trains that come right to your table to drop off each plate (similar to what you might find in Japan). While my cousin has stated that the sushi from here is next to inedible, it’s still pretty decent to me. Coming from landlocked Edmonton (where, don’t get me wrong, we do have some good sushi available), anything we can get in Hong Kong, due to it’s closer proximity to water, is going to be fresher than home. Also, sear the seafood and toss some sauce on it, and it will be good.
For dessert, there was a Mamma Mia Gelato kiosk right outside the doors of Genki Sushi. I couldn’t pass up some scoops of the black sesame, matcha, and pistachio flavours.
We followed lunch up with a trek across the street to the Nan Lian Garden and Chi Lin Nunnery. I’ve gone to this spot every single time on each of the last few trips I’ve taken to Hong Kong. It’s because it’s one of the most tranquil locations in the city. Whenever you step into the fenced garden, it’s like quiet envelops the entire area, making it a respite from all of the hustle and bustle.
In the evening, we had our big family dinner with all of my uncles, aunts, cousins, and nieces on my mom’s side. This was Kirk’s opportunity to meet everyone (before they all jetted off on their own holidays or work trips). We had a traditional multi-course Chinese meal and we passed out our wedding invitations in person.
To cap off the night, we stayed at the Hong Kong Jockey Club Happy Valley Clubhouse bar for drinks and snacks. The bartender really knew his stuff when it came to whiskeys and cocktails, and there was live music, which my dad loved.
Day 6 – Hong Kong
We spent most of this morning and afternoon visiting with my cousin and her family. They made us brunch (delicious Australian wagyu burgers) and gave Kirk whiskeys to taste while we held and played with their baby girls.
When it came to supper, my aunt, uncle, and cousin took us to the iconic Jumbo Floating Restaurant. Reaching the marina, we then hopped on a boat that brought us across the water to the entrance of the building. The restaurant has so many ornate details to it, and I get why it’s become such a landmark. The Queen of England has dined there, and my grandparents even celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary at Jumbo when I was just in my early teens. I hadn’t been back since.
The food was incredible and they really put on a show for their customers with certain dishes like our drunken prawns prepared tableside. It’s certainly a spot that’s unforgettable.
Day 7 – Hong Kong
We head back to Kowloon to meet with my dad’s side of the family over dim sum and roast pigeon. They even bought us a personalized cake to celebrate our engagement. It was a really nice get together.
Since we were at Olympia Plaza, we decided to do some shopping. Hong Kong is littered with shops along every street and corner. There are malls all over the place, too. However, if you find yourself there, you’ll likely notice that most of the stores are high end brands that the average tourist probably can’t afford to shop at. Olympia Plaza is a great mall with a variety of businesses that sell goods at much more reasonable price points. They even had a Muji! In the vein of IKEA, but born out of Japan, their food section sells ample matcha flavoured snacks. I filled up a basket with every single matcha item I could find.
More relatives of ours wanted to meet up, so we arranged dinner with them at Fini’s. An Italian American restaurant, we were served burrata, eggplant parm, a huge pizza, and pasta galore. It was such a filling, yet satisfying meal.
When we finished supper, my cousin wanted to show us the SoHo area where most of the nightlife can be found, particularly around Lan Kwai Fong. We found some of the staff at the busier bars to be quite aggressive as they attempted to lure customers in as we walked by. Rather than go to any of those places, though, my cousin treated us to customized drinks at the hidden J.Boroski. We also popped into Iron Fairies next door to see the hanging butterflies prior to catching a cab back to the hotel for the night.
Day 8 – Macau
In the morning, once we were out and about, I started noticing weird red welts on my left foot. I’m not sure what happened and when exactly, but I must have been bitten by one vicious bug. I mean, no trip of mine is ever complete without me having some sort of reaction to a bug bite and a potential infection, right?
Anyway, I tried not to think about it too much. We got to the ferry terminal to take us to Macau. TIP: Don’t forget your passport as they are required (Kirk had to hilariously crouch down for the camera after he scanned his documents to get through the customs area). Our tickets were for the regular class on the TurboJET ferry. It takes about an hour on the hydrofoil boats to get from Hong Kong to Macau, so we arrived well before noon. From the Macau ferry terminal, we caught a shuttle bus to The Venetian. Kirk wanted to try his hand at the roulette tables at the casino there. However, with a gaming industry that is seven times larger than that of Las Vegas, required bets were high, and our small amount of money didn’t last very long.
Still, we wandered around to the Parisian (gorgeous marbled building, by the way) where we found a lovely set lunch menu at a French restaurant called Brassarie. With full stomachs, we then took another shuttle bus back over to the Sands where we caught a cab that dropped us within walking distance of the Ruins of St. Paul’s.
St. Paul’s was a Catholic church and college that were destroyed by fire during a typhoon in 1835. Only the facade of the church remains standing at the top of the steps. This is one of Macau’s main attractions and, thus, it’s always crowded with tourists. Slightly to the east, you’ll find the Monte Fort (a.k.a. Fortaleza do Monte), which provides 360 degree views overlooking the city.
No trip to Macau would be complete without purchasing some almond cookies from Koi Kei Bakery (and probably some fresh Portugese egg tarts, which we failed to seek out). These are a very popular souvenir to take home. My mom told me that these are currently the favourite, but back in the day, another bakery was actually considered the best until a Chinese soap opera advertised the Koi Kei brand, allowing it to surpass the other in sales.
We returned to Hong Kong right before the dinner rush, so we popped into Genki Sushi at the ferry terminal for a quick meal. The rest of the evening was pretty lax with a run to 7-11 for treats.
Day 9 – Hong Kong
We spent the day in Stanley where we perused the market stalls, checked out the pier and Murray House, investigated the shops at the plaza, and grabbed burgers for lunch at Beef & Liberty. On the way back to Causeway Bay, we made a pit stop at Repulse Bay, so Kirk could dip his feet into the water at the beach.
Returning to the city center, we made our way to a street market stall to buy socks ($15 CDN for 10 pairs of quality Korean knitwear). Then, we walked to the Fashion Walk food district for dinner at MINH & KOK, a Vietnamese and Thai restaurant.
Day 10 – Hong Kong
Kirk saw an ad in one of the local papers for a tailor offering a deal on custom made suits, so my mom made him an appointment. Much to my dismay, the weather gods were not our friends, and we ended up leaving the metro station to find it pouring outside. We did more running around than we needed to, but we eventually found the teeny tiny shop. Alas, it was decided that they were not our best option, and we ventured back underground where it was dry and warm.
The metro station led us to K11 Art Mall (also a mall with a variety of stores that are much more affordable and it doubles as an art museum). There, my dad settled on us having lunch at an eatery called BU Healthy Dining & Gathering. The prices were right. I can’t say much for the service as it was pretty shoddy, and the soup was so-so as was my iced milk tea. Nevertheless, I found my Thai curry pasta to be quite good. It hit the spot with its creamy sauce and level of spice.
While we were at the mall, we decided to do some shopping before we headed back to Causeway Bay. We killed some time at Lane Crawford Times Square and then we got ready to go to the horse races.
My aunt and uncle were kind enough to bring us along to a buffet dinner in one of the members only areas of the Happy Valley Racecourse. Throughout our meal, we were able to place bets on the eight races that ran throughout the evening. I think, all in, Kirk and I spent about $50 CDN between six or seven of the races over a four hour period. Considering the amount of time we spent there and the entertainment value, we thought it was worth the money even though we didn’t take home any winnings.
Day 11 – Hong Kong
It turned out to be another rainy day in Hong Kong, which meant our initial plans of walking around Sheung Wan’s outdoor markets (specifically in search of Chop Alley) were thwarted. We ended up staying indoors at the IFC Mall, using pedways to connect through to LANDMARK and the HSBC Building.
When we got hungry, all of the places in LANDMARK were full for high tea, so my mom took us to a cafe she knew about in a neighbouring mall. The building (2 Chinachem Plaza) that we found ourselves in was pretty run down, but Delifrance was alright. The place was clean and bright, and the food was tasty with the tea served hot. Just don’t ever go into the bathrooms in the building. If Kirk’s not willing to use them, you know it’s bad.
Eventually, it was time for dinner. We met up with my uncle, aunt, cousin, and my dad back at IFC for a pretty memorable meal at La Rambla by Catalunya. The authentic Spanish dishes were to die for with some pretty succulent seafood. Additionally, meat like the Tomahawk steak and the beef tartare just took things to a whole new level. Kirk was in his happy place before being surprised with cake and a sparkler for his upcoming birthday.
Day 12 – Hong Kong
After passing by Mother of Pizzas several times during our vacation, we thought it was time to sit down and try it. It costs a pretty penny for food there and the pizza is a tad greasy (at least the one with pepperoni), but it was damn good.
With that satisfying lunch out of the way, we made it to Chop Alley. This narrow street is full of stalls that sell hand carved stone stamps. We were told that they made the best ones, but for the price and the quality, we actually thought that the ones we found in Stanley Market were better.
Talking about hand-crafted items, we then ventured to PMQ (formerly the Police Married Quarters), a building that has been restructured into an arts district. The main courtyard serves as a showcase for work from local artists and the surrounding units are filled with shops that sell their own locally made items and designs. I could have spent hours there.
Lastly, we passed by Ladder Street and the Cat Street Market, specifically known for antiques (I do wonder if they’re legit antiques though). With the rain and the time of day, most of the stalls were beginning to pack up for the evening.
Our final dinner on the trip was back at the Fashion Walk. I’d seen a sign for a place called Little Bao during our previous visit to MINH & KOK, and I sought it out on this night. It’s a contemporary take on those traditional Chinese bao pockets filled with meat. Here, they served their baos like burgers. My favourites were definitely the pork belly and the salted ice cream baos.
The next day, we had several hours left before our flight home. We spent it with my mom’s family at their weekly Saturday lunch gathering and then at my aunt and uncle’s home. After one last visit with my grandma, we took off for the airport.
We were totally spoiled on this trip. My family showed such hospitality to us and Kirk has been having Hong Kong withdrawal ever since we got back to Edmonton. It’s safe to say that Kirk loved it there, and he’s already been asking when we’ll be returning. I’m so lucky to have these opportunities to explore the world and I’m even luckier to have Kirk who’s willing to do so with me.