I had to leave China to do a visa run a few weeks ago and it led me to visit Hong Kong. For those who don’t know, a visa run is a quick, one-day trip across the border of a neighboring country and returning. This is usually done a few days before the expiration of one’s visa.
It can be seen as annoying to do but I was actually pretty glad to be forced to leave the country to discover another one. It gave me the chance to experience the Hong Kongese lifestyle for 24 hours and although my trip was short, it was quite intense because of it.
The first thing that struck me was how multicultural Hong Kong is. After 3 months of total immersion in Fuzhou, a very “Chinese city” where no one speaks English, seeing the waves of foreigners on the streets brought me some comfort and I felt like I was home. I must have looked like a creepy lady, staring at people and smiling. I just wanted to say “hi” and talk to everyone!
As soon as the taxi dropped me off at the hotel, I quickly checked in, threw my bag on the bed and jumped straight away in a shuttle to go explore the city. I had no particular idea where to go, I just had the urge of discovering as much as I could in a limited period of time.
I took the subway and stopped at Central Station, in the centre of Hong Kong. I ended up on a very busy street named Queen’s Road. As soon as I got out of the subway, the Hong Kongese vibe made me think of New York. A Chinese NYC. Lively and busy collection of streets filled with restaurants, fancy bars, cafés and stylish shops. Big buildings, skyscrapers, international brands, a multitude of red and white taxis on the lookout for customers and hurrying businessmen hustling down the street.
Hong Kong is an intriguing mix of Asian and Western culture. A unique place where “East meets West”. As a foreigner living in China, I was really fascinated to observe the Hong Kongese lifestyle which is quite the opposite of mainland China’s. The vast majority of the population is ethnically Chinese but the long period of colonisation and exposure to the Western culture has resulted in a very distinct cultural identity from China. Most of the Chinese people living in Hong Kong speak English and the mainstream culture is an Eastern culture influenced by a British lifestyle.
As I was walking down the street, a tiny but colourful entrance of a place that looked like a café caught my attention. Spongebob’s and Patrick Star’s faces were plastered all around, making me want to discover a bit more. I ended up having afternoon tea at Dim Sum Icon, where you can eat steamed egg yolks buns, quench your thirst with a full-sized pineapple drink and have a bit of a Spongebob ma lai gao, aka the Spongebob spongecake.
What I do best when I explore a new city is to get lost. I don’t really mind getting lost, it’s part of the adventure. Without knowing it I ended up in Soho, a vibrant district filled with lively little streets going up and down. Every 5 square metres there’s a pub, a restaurant, a bar, a café and all of them are busy. I kept walking for a long time looking for a French restaurant called La Vache. Of course, I could not find it and after asking directions from 3 people who gave me 3 different answers, I started to worry a little. My phone was dying and my Chinese internet data was unusable in Hong Kong. A small detail that I flippantly ignored. I was supposed to meet up with a French couple that I virtually met via WeChat for dinner.
In China, it’s a common thing to find power banks in cafés to recharge your phone but here in Hong Kong, I could not find any. My old backpacker’s habit led me to McDonalds where I nicely asked the cashier if I could charge my phone and use the free wifi.
I finally managed to get in touch with the French couple who came to rescue me. They took me to La Vache in Soho (check out their website, it has the cutest design!) which is probably the best French restaurant in the Hong Kong dining scene. I was craving a steak-frites and La Vache, took me back, for a couple of hours, to the heart of Paris.
The stylish, Parisian-style brasserie serves a unique menu: an organic green salad followed by a USDA prime ribeye with unlimited crispy frites served with generous pots of La Vache’s house-made sauce. A beautiful treat for the taste buds.
On my last day, I met up with a friend of a friend who is Chinese. That’s what I love about travelling – meeting new people is one of the most enriching human experiences. Yolanda took me to the most typical Hong Kongese places and we talked for hours about our different cultures and lifestyles.
We walked down to a secret place that only locals know. It was located underground, in a small shopping mall. The restaurant was crowded with a line of people waiting to be seated.
The place was so small and packed that we ended up sharing a table with two other girls. That is one of the facts that I have noticed. The lack of space in Hong Kong. With about 7 million Hongkongers in a territory of 1,104 km2, Hong Kong is one the most densely populated regions in the world. People live in tiny studios in the city and the rent is very expensive.
Hong Kongese food is a fusion of Asian and Western food. It reflects the history of the country. Local Hongkongers like eating buttery toast while having noodle soup. They love drinking milky tea and coffee. I was surprised to see some Italian pasta in an Asian bowl of soup with potatoes and tomatoes. This fusion also characterises Hong Kong’s cuisine, where dim sum, hot pot, and fast food coexists with haute cuisine.
After a traditional Hong Kongese lunch, we went for a walk to Victoria Harbour, a natural landform harbour between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon in Hong Kong. We enjoyed the colourful Christmas decorations and an impressive panoramic skyline view.
And that concludes my short but intense Hong Kongese trip, one day, one night full of flavours, beautiful encounters, and unforgettable memories.