Hong Kong is one of my favourite travel destinations. I’ve visited it on a budget shopping-cum-partying trip with girlfriends while we were young and single. I’ve been there as a young professional gathering regional experience, and I returned several years later, this time with kids in tow to visit the newly opened Hong Kong Disneyland.
Recently, much older, wiser (and I’m happy to say, with a bigger budget), I was there again to reconnect with friends of 20 years who’ve moved away from Singapore. Rameela (pictured below) moved away to Shanghai almost 10 years ago and continues her servitude as an expat wife. She now resides in India with her Finnish husband and has a thriving jewellery business. Another dear friend, Isabella (you’ll meet her later), is living her dream to work in Hong Kong for the last four years. She is currently devising a master plan to flood the Hong Kong market with her famous Singapore Chilli Crabs in the very near future.
To avoid misery when you travel with friends, make sure your travelling companions are on the same wavelength as you. That means budget, objectives, humour and attitude.
From the word go, Rameela and I instinctively agreed that eating and shopping were our primary objectives. So, when she told me about the queue she saw outside the Hungry Korean restaurant two days in a row, we knew we had to try it. For Dinner. Only problem was, we left our hotel without the address!? Nevermind, we thought, it’s in the vicinity, people should know about it right? And it was opposite the Shamrock Bar, on a hill. Shouldn’t be that hard to find, right?
Hah! We’re such Singaporeans! Hong Kong streets are a labyrinthine. It’s like finding a needle in a haystack! First, we did not know the name of the street that the restaurant was on. Second, the Hong Kongners(?) we asked did not know where Shamrock Bar was. Those who thought they knew kept directing us to a wrong street or the wrong hill that was no where near the Shamrock Bar or the Hungry Korean restaurant.
Meanwhile we were two very hungry Singaporean women who kept getting sucked into a shoe store located at every corner of the street. The hunger must have created a chemical amnesia because at the end of our two-hour search, Rameela and I had collectively bought 10 pairs of shoes! We eventually gave up and settled on a very lovely Thai-Vietnamese restaurant opposite our hotel that served authentic and very delicious Thai food. (Sorry, there are no pictures because I was too tired and too hungry to take any.)
We did find our Hungry Korean restaurant (Unit B, G/F, Astoria Building, 24 -38 Ashley Road, Tsim Sha Tsui) the next day and had lunch there. It’s basically a fast-food version of Korean food. The locals seem to like it and the price is very reasonable. Rameela ordered a beef bi bim bap while I had the chicken chul pan gu e (hot plate chicken with rice). They came with drinks and 3 side dishes. That set us back HK$59 or S$8 each. (way too expensive!)
But wait, we are in Hong Kong, so let’s eat Hong Kong food. A Hong Kong breakfast is a MUST! Walk into any Hong Kong Cafe and try the beef noodle soup and omelet with toasted bun (HK$38). Have a cup of the delicious milk tea with it and you are ready for a full day of sightseeing, shopping and more eating later.
Another MUST-TRY is the roasted dish in Hong Kong. You can have the roast pork, roast chicken, roast duck or the roast goose. Walking along the streets of Hong Kong will yield at least one restaurant that specializes in the roast dish. But the most famous one is Yung Kee Restaurant (32-40 Wellington Street, Central, Hong Kong). So popular is this restaurant that you have to make reservations a day or two before, and it is quite pricey.
And kudos to you if you are up to trying some of the street food. But if you have a weak digestive system like I do, I suggest you stay clear of them. In Hong Kong, you have five meals a day – Breakfast or Morning Tea as the locals call it, Lunch, Afternoon Tea, Dinner and Supper.
Speaking of which, the Hong Kong Claypot is an excellent supper dish – you MUST TRY! Honour the rule of thumb when ordering any street food – do not order any seafood or meats that you are suspicious of. Make sure it is properly cooked and piping hot. Have your medication on hand in case you fall ill.
Hing Kee Restaurant near the Temple Street Market is well-known for its clay pots. Interestingly enough, there’s a corner where you wait and the restaurant’s “runner” or maitre d’ will find you seats at one of its five branches nearby (see map).
Shopping in Hong Kong is an extremely exciting experience. There are 3 street markets that you absolutely MUST VISIT – the aforementioned Temple Street Market, Stanley Street Market and the Ladies Market. However, I have on very good street cred (from Isabella) that the Ladies’ Market is the cheapest and if you can’t find what you are looking for there, it’ll probably not be available anywhere else.
She also taught me how to bargain after I told her I got “scolded” by a vendor the night before (but hey, that’s the Hong Kong experience, right?). Haggling is not allowed. Hong Kong vendors are sophisticated now. Because once you start bargaining, the sale (in the mind of the Hong Kong vendor) is already made. It’s a matter of negotiation.
Once you have decided to purchase the object of your interest, ask for the price of something next to it. Bargain on that and work your way round to the object of your interest and negotiate for a price that’s acceptable to you. If after one or two rounds of bargaining and you decide against buying the object of interest. Isabella strongly suggests you RUN. Street vendors are like mafia – they will come after you. So if you don’t want to buy, RUN!
Everybody (not me) knows that cosmetics are the cheapest in Hong Kong! “Because there’s no tax,” says Isabella authoritatively. “Then let’s go to Sasa,” chirps Rameela!!
“Forget Sasa,” says our resident guide, Isabella, ushering us into Bonjour where she declares offers the cheapest and best price. And where I promptly blew my entire budget by spending over HK$2,000 (S$400) on cosmetics products. Hmmm…Isabella, do you get a commission?
To seal the fantastic Hong Kong experience, Isabella took us to an authentic Hong Kong restaurant to have authentic Hong Kong Hot Pot dinner. We were in heaven!! Did I mention that Isabella is a foodie? This meal was exceptional and superseded only by the Michelin-starred dim sum from Tin Ho Wan.
Thanks Isa! We’ll be back, sooner than you think.
Till our next post, love yourself, love one another.