Hong Kong – Races and Michelin Star Food (part 2 of 2)

Hong Kong Park, located in central Hong Kong, was a nice place for us to spend a few hours relaxing in the sunshine. There is an Olympic viewing stand here which we think was built when China hosted the Olympics in 2008. It was a set of step like seats and we sat here for a bit people watching. The gardens in the park are nicely kept and it even had a netted bird sanctuary that you could walk through as well as some nice fountains and water features. The pond even had lots of turtles in it which was cool so there is quite a bit to see.

Near to the river, overlooking a courtyard that had an enormous Christmas tree at the centre when we visited were the headquarters of Hong Kong’s two largest banks – HSBC and the Bank of China. The architecture of these buildings is famous in the city and they’re both visible on the Hong Kong skyline when you’re in Kowloon.

The HSBC building was designed by British architect Lord Norman Foster. The entire process from designing the concept to completing the building took 7 years and it’s 47 storeys reaching 180 metres high! I read that early British settlers in Hong Kong had a big interest in feng shui and that this interest influenced most of the earliest and a lot of later buildings built in the city. The HSBC building is no exception and has been built to have an unobstructed view of a body of water (the Victoria Harbour) as the Chinese believe that those who have a direct view of a body of water are more likely to profit as water is strongly associated with wealth in feng shui.

The Bank of China is said to have ignored the principles of feng shui and used pointed edges in Reid design which point towards the HSBC building. Apparently, after the Bank of China building opened, there were a series of mishaps including the death of the governor (the sharp edges also pointed to the British Government House) and the downturn of the economy. HSBC installed two cannon shaped cranes onto its roof pointing at the Bank of China building to defend itself against the bad feng shui and this has been alleged to stop any further misfortune. Perhaps the Bank of China purposefully designed the building this way to throw off the competition and try and give itself the upper hand, who knows!

One of our favourite things that we did in Hong Kong was going to Happy Valley Racecourse on a Wednesday night. Horse racing is the only thing that people in Hong Kong are legally allowed to bet on and it’s very popular. It’s only HK$10 to get in and then bets are from HK$20 each going up to whatever you like. We decided to bet three times throughout the evening. Our first horse was called Raichu (we had to pick at least one Pokemon reference – there were a few over the races) and it came fourth. We also picked a horse called Our Honour and another called Charity Glory but none of them won. It was exciting to watch the races and the venue was very busy so everyone shouting and cheering as the horses ran past made a great atmosphere. The races has a bar, loads of places to get food inducing a McDonalds and isn’t somewhere you need to be dressed up for which worked for us. I imagine the venue does hold some function days like Ladies Day or their version of Ascot but we weren’t there for one of those (which I’m glad of as we wouldn’t have had the outfit for it!)

Causeway Bay is probably one of the areas of Hong Kong that’s most heard of – it was for me anyway. It’s one of the main shopping areas in Hong Kong and feels a lot more like a high street vibe over designer which is a bit more relaxed, particularly when you’re on a tight backpacker budget and can’t afford designer stuff any day of the week as it is! Time Square isn’t as spectacular as its namesake in New York although there are billboards, neon lights and lots of shops. This area seems to be largely populated by a shopping centre and was full of people doing their Christmas shopping.

Victoria Park is also located in the Causeway Bay area and was hosting a huge convention/fair when we were there that involved buying a ticket. We didn’t fancy doing that so didn’t get to see the entire park but even with the convention taking place there was still long, tree lined paths where people walked their dogs or went for a run and huge fields for people to play sports. It was relaxing and a good way to escape the crowds of shoppers.

For the second half of our time in Hong Kong we were staying just past Causeway Bay which meant we got the tram to a lot of the tourist destinations, including to catch the ferry the couple of times we went over to Kowloon. The trams are like something out of an old movie and are a really cheap way to travel with a single journey no matter the distance costing $2.30! We rode them loads, particularly once we moved and they’re pretty regular so you don’t have to worry about being there at a certain time or if you miss one.

The Star Ferry is probably the cheapest way to get from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon or vice versa as it only cost HK$2.20 (£0.20) for a one way journey. The ferry goes from two points on Hong Kong Island to Kowloon and back and carries over 70,000 passengers a day and around 26 million over the course of a year! It was founded in 1888 and is used by tourists like us but also the locals as it’s probably the cheapest way to get across the harbour.

The views of the city are good from the ferry and it’s nice to ride the water on a boat with so much history, it’s so good that they’ve managed to maintain it as a tourist attraction as well as a form of local transportation whilst being able to keep the price so low.

In October 1993, Hong Kong decided to build the longest outdoor escalator system in the world. They did this to provide a better commute for people in the central and western districts of Hong Kong. We think they’re cheating a bit with that title as it’s actually a number of escalators and moving walkways and some sections you have to walk between the two so I think that all counts as separate escalators to me. Despite that, this series of escalators spans over 800 metres and runs high up a hill to a height of 135 metres from top to bottom.

This ‘attraction’ wasn’t particularly thrilling seeing as we’ve likely all been on a escalator before but it’s the novelty aspect they’re aiming for here when tourists come to visit. They switch the direction of the escalators half way through the day in line with the commuter’s route home from work and luckily we had caught it when it was going up the hill as I wouldn’t have liked to do all of those steps!

The food in Hong Kong hadn’t really thrilled us and we had ended up eating way more McDonald’s than we had ever expected. A big factor in our views of the food here probably came from our budget as it’s not cheap in Hong Kong to eat out and so, instantly, the majority of restaurants were off limits to us. Our main taste of Hong Kong dining couldn’t have been more of a contrast to McDonalds as we went to a Michelin Starred restaurant called Tim Ho Wan. Tim Ho Wan is the cheapest Michelin Starred restaurant in the world and offers a menu that’s heavily focussed on dim sum. Niall had a particularly good barbecue pork dim sum as well asturnip cake and steamed spare rib with black bean sauce. The menu can differ from day to day but when I was there there was no vegetarian dim sum on the menu and so I hadsteamed rice flour roll, poached seasonal vegetables and a steamed egg cake. the staff were very helpful in pointing out the only three vegetarian dishes on the menu! My favourite was the egg cake which was very light. The restaurant is located in a shopping centre and we were able to find it by finding the giant queue that was outside. You can’t reserve a table but instead queue up and then are given a paper menu where you check off what you want while you wait. You can hand this in before you get your table meaning your food comes out faster or you can give it when you sit down if you haven’t decided yet or want to be able to sit their for longer. This seemed to be a place where you got in, ate and got out as they had a high turn around of patrons and the queue went down surprisingly quickly. I would recommend this place to anyone going to Hong Kong as I don’t know about you but I don’t get many opportunities to be able to eat Michelin Starred food!

On our way to Tim Ho Wan’s we had passed an electronics store that let us have a go at a Star Wars virtual reality game that involved us using a lightsaber. Me and Niall must have given passers by a good show as we both had a go fighting Darth Maul. It’s very strange because you can still see people and your surroundings but that Darth Maul is also standing there trying to fight you with a lightsaber so it takes a bit of getting used to and I don’t think I was so good at blocking out the outside world – it was a lot of fun though!

As well as the modernity of Hong Kong, tradition is still very clearly and a strong part of the culture here. Businesses still burn incense and leave offerings in the hope of a prosperous day’s business and traditional medicine shops and markets are still commonplace throughout the city. Our first Air b’n’b was in the dried seafood district which meant that the majority of the shops here (sometimes every shop along a single street) sold baskets full of dried fish, prawns, squid and any other sea creature and it stank! I’m not the best when it comes to smells but I would struggle to walk through the streets everyday because of how strong a smell the shops were giving off! We also couldn’t work out how all the shops survived when, to us, it looked like they were all selling the same things. It was nice to see the old traditions of Chinese culture and life blending with the new so cohesively and I think gave Hong Kong a particular charm to the place.

Hong Kong was a nice city to look around but really we only needed two or three days here to see everything. I’m glad we were there over a Wednesday so that we could go to the races at Happy Valley and we had nice weather there (think English spring or summer) but we definitely didn’t need as long as we had. We already knew that would be the case though and only had that length of time due to it being over the Christmas and New Year period. We had a lot of chill time which was actually quite welcome our intense city break throughout South Korea and Japan. We’re much more used to intense exploring with long days seeing a lot and so that was probably the hardest bit of Hong Kong to get used to: just slowing down. I’m glad we went and for Christmas and New Years it was great!

Sending love x

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