Saturday, 19 January 2013

Hong Kong Surprises

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Does your family have any traditions? Special foods on specific holidays? Christmas PJ sets? Summer camping trips?

Mine does, and other than the Christmas PJs (thanks mum!) they all center around food and drink – no complaints here.  Christmas is a time for mimosas, fondue, buckeyes, butter tarts, shortbread, turkey with all the trimmings, egg nog, and so much more. It’s pretty glutinous/awesome.

That’s a long list, to be sure, but with both Other Half’s and my parents being divorced it means four times the fun. And quite truthfully, things can get a little hectic around any major holiday, because one family dinner turns into four (or three depending on the holiday – one half of mine lives on a different continent).  While the initial organization can be daunting, the delicious outcomes always seem to make it alright (err, and the delightful time spent with loved ones too, of course!).

Being in China however, meant things were going to be different this year. No Christmas fondue, turkey, egg nog, baked goods, or other delights. No large, loud, family dinners. This year we were travelling.  We knew it was going to be difficult and that we would miss many things about our usual Christmas traditions, but the cost and the opportunity to travel meant that travel we would. 

All was going according to plan, or so I thought, but when Other Half took me over to Hong Kong for the weekend and out popped my mum and step-dad, I was suddenly the recipient of a surprise of a life time.

For background: My step dad has been living in another country since I was 12, and my mum joined him when I went to university at 18. Despite (a lot) of distance, we have always been together over the holidays.  I guess for some traditions die hard, and Halle-friggin-lujah for that! On top of the usual traditions (the PJs, overstuffed stockings and champagne) I got to spend two glorious days with my loved ones roaming around and exploring a new city. It. Was. Awesome.

My only other time in Hong Kong had been a day trip with some of the other women at school to do some shopping.  So I still had a lot to see, to say the least. 

Photo from: Langham Place Hotels

We spent our evenings in the Langham Place hotel, which is probably the swankiest establishment I have had the privilege to lay my head, and if your looking for a touch of luxury to add to your stay in Hong Kong, I couldn’t recommend this spot enough.  For Hong Kong, the rooms are spacious and outfitted in a contemporary feel. Service is impeccable, they can’t do enough for you, and if it’s in the budget, the L Club is a humongous perk – think unlimited food, drinks, an old school video game room, and so much more. Lux, lux, lux!

Our days brought us to some typical, and not so typical tourist locations. We started our morning with a trip across Victoria Harbour on board Hong Kong's iconic Star Ferry. A vessel that sends you back to a time of lace parasols and morning suits.  I loved the crafted charm of the ferry and thought the only thing missing was refreshing mint julep. At only 2 Hong Kong Dollars a ride, it was an inexpensive and pleasant way to see some different areas of the city. 

Our next stop of course took us on a trip up victoria peak. We caught the vintage-style tram to take us up, which was a fun way to climb through the many levels of the city, on the surprisingly steep journey up.  It should be noted that while the peak itself didn't seem overly busy, The tram station was monstrously packed.  I highly recommend going early in the morning  to venture your way up this up, it will be well worth the early start for the difference in the length of the line and number of number of elbows in your side as you jostle for room on the tram. We didn’t follow this advice, and while it was worth it, and we lucked out with tram location, we couldn’t help but feel a bit hemmed in. 

When on the peak you can choose from a variety of activities that range from lounging in the sun with coffee or ice cream (or both), to exploring the many trails and paths that wind their ways around, up, and down the peak. We opted for bit of both. The weather was a stange mix of warm, overcast and sunny, which made it the perfect activity for a bit of variety.  The level of activity on the peak matches that of the city down below (read: lots!) but instead of cars and people rushing this way and that, it's puppies and joggers, or mom's and strollers, all enjoying a lot of green in the centre of a large city.

After making our way down from the peak we explored the jade market and a few other interesting locations before taking a leisurely route back to the hotel.  Dinner was another big surprise with an evening at Ming Court, a Michelin two star that just so happened to be in the hotel. The food was predictably excellent, though I do recommend ordering off the menu and not choosing the set menu. And do go with the wine pairings. Do.

Day 2 let the awesome continue with a trip to Kowloon Walled City Park and Chi Lin Nunnery (que the "get thee to a nunnery" jokes here).  Kowloon Walled City Park's history is a fascinating one of debauchery and illegal dentistry. Originally Kowloon Walled City was the only part of Hong Kong not ruled by the British, or anything for that matter. It has a shady past where Triads were the main rulers and eventually came under inspection and eventually conviction in the 80's. After years of open drug use, prostitution, and organized crime, the "city" was torn down and turned into a public park.  Today the park is peaceful and manicured and a great space to stroll and explore.

The Chi Lin Nunnery stands out in my mind due to the fact that they entire structure was built without using a single nail. Given is intricacies and size, it was a shock to think of the work that has been put into creating something like that. Set away from the core of the city, the grounds themselves are quiet and peaceful. And while you can't take photos everywhere, they do allow you to fully explore. A great option if your looking for something a little different.

Too soon it was time to say goodbye. To the city, to the most amazing bed in the world, and most of all to my mum and step-dad. I am fortunate beyond compare to have been able to spend the weekend as i did, with the people I love - thank you, thank you, thank you!

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