We were almost lost. There were signs all around, lighted and glittering against the cold Hong Kong evening, but they were in a language foreign to us. They were all in Chinese, but we weren’t all that worried, we chose this path, we wanted to get lost. We chose to forget about Disneyland and Ocean Park, this is indeed what we wanted, to be greeted by the raw Hong Kong streets, congested, crazy, incomprehensible.
|QUICK WALK ALONG HUM HONG’S RESIDENTIAL AREA|
Our day started off by getting on a bus from Hotel Sav in Hum Hong, an area on the Kowloon District. We crossed Victoria Harbour below ground, alighted at the chaos that is Wan Chai and dropped our bags at Cosmo Hotel. From there, free of our luggage, we walked with no particular destination in mind.
|THE CHAOS OF WAN CHAI MARKET|
Dodging noisy trams, we passed by Wan Chai Market, teeming with vendors selling Chinese wares, street food and even touristy souvenirs, but mostly, what they have here are things your mom would buy in preparation for dinner; eggs, veggies, fishes, meat, spices. Its narrow streets made even narrower by makeshift stalls manned by grandmas invading the road. We were totally engrossed.
|EVEN STREET FOOD ARE EXPENSIVE IN HONG KONG|
Without having lunch beforehand, we checked out and moved past hole-in-the-wall noodle houses, finding their prices to be surprisingly prohibitive, a bowl of piping hot noodles being hawked at more than HKD60.00 (PHP360.00++). You can buy six of the same in the Philippines. Hong Kong is indeed expensive, as we have been warned.
|RUSHING THROUGH THE MTR|
Squeezing through the throng of mostly local people, we emerged unscathed at the Wan Chai MTR station. From there, we deciphered their ticketing machine, bought single-journey cards and were soon speeding through Admiralty Station where we transferred to another line for Hong Kong’s premier shopping district, Tsim Sha Tsui, or TST as the locals call it.
|WONG KAR WAI’S CHUNGKING EXPRESS WAS FILMED HERE|
Wong Kar Wai’s infamous Chungking Mansion greeted us as we emerged from the underground rail to the northern end of the bustling Nathan Road. We can’t help, being Wong Kar Wai fans, but enter the building. The aroma of Indian food immediately arrested our senses, we were so tempted to simply sit down on one of the stalls and feast on roti and masala, but we wanted something more local.
|URBAN CHAOS ALONG TSIM SHA TSUI|
Walking along the busy side-streets of Nathan Road, we checked one restaurant after another, but failed to find prices suited within our measly budget. We were getting hungrier by the moment and were about to give in to steep prices when we chanced upon a sign, food hawkers, it announced.
|LOOKING FOR THE HAWKERS|
|HAWKERS PARADISE ALONG THE POSH TST DISTRICT|
We followed the arrows and were led through a dark and unkempt hallway of an old building. I was unsure how safe this place was, but we held our course. Eventually, we reached its inner sanctum and were surprised to find a dimly-lit, cavernous chamber filled with all sorts of cheap hawker stalls. Now, this is more like it.
|BEEF CHOW FUN FOR ME, STILL EXPENSIVE AT 40.00HKD OR PHP285.00|
Quickly scanning through the competing food stalls, we finally decided on one based on the vendor’s friendliness. I wanted noodles, my companions wanted rice. We agreed to disagree and bought a plate of our heart’s, cross that, tummy’s desire. Soon, I was feasting on flavorful flat noodles and chugging away on sodas as my friends chowed on theirs.
|THE POSH AVENUES OF NATHAN ROAD|
The tree-lined avenues right outside the hawker’s hall was a stark contrast to its crude and almost airless atmosphere. As soon as we went out, glitzy brands and expensive stores started to roll past. We ignored the urge to shop; there were more pressing matters to attend to, like the colors of Victoria Harbour as the sun starts to filter down the skyscrapers of the adjacent Hong Kong Island.
|THE FAMOUS TSIM SHA TSUI CLOCK TOWER DURING THE BLUE HOUR|
But we were too late, the electric hues of the twilight was already enveloping the land as we arrived at Kowloon’s Clock Tower, a remnant of Hong Kong’s old train station. More than six hours had passed and our feet were definitely groaning in protest. It was the perfect time, and the elevated deck fronting Victoria Harbour, the perfect place, to sit back and relax.
|MESMERIZED BY THE COLORS OF VICTORIA HARBOUR|
We watched as boats and ships parted the glittering but choppy waters of Victoria Harbour, reflecting the neon of the skyscrapers across Hong Kong Island. I have seen this exact panorama as our cruise ship passed through the same waterways just a week prior, but indeed, it never gets old. The city lights across the harbour mesmerized me the same way as it did back then.
|PHOTO OPS AT THE HONG KONG SPACE MUSEUM|
|TSIM SHA TSUI MTR STATION|
And before I can exclaim how breathtaking the scene was, we were, again, moving. Down the deck, through the Hong Kong Space Museum and back to Nathan Road once more. The crowd was thicker but we somehow managed to squeeze ourselves down to the MTR and boarded a train to Mong Kok.
|THE CHAOS THAT IS MONG KOK|
The city was abuzz. It was my first time to be in this area and it was a mad confusion of neon lights, double-decker buses, bicycles, cabs and people. Hundreds of warm bodies wrapped tight against the chilly evening. The only thing missing were Hong Kong’s old dinosaurs, the trams. In my mind’s eye, I saw one and another, clunkily moving along its tracks, a sudden apparition contrasting against the modernity of Nathan Road.
|CHEAP BUY-1-TAKE-1 BEERS AT 7-ELEVEN|
A quick stop at a 7-Eleven and our bags were loaded with buy-1-take-1 beers. Tsingtao anyone? We parked our bodies on a smoking area right above one of the train stations and clipped the cans open. Wait; is it legal to drink beer on Hong Kong’s streets? Google said it was and we believed him. So does a couple of locals who followed our suit.
|THE LADIES MARKET, NOT JUST FOR LADIES|
With a bit of a buzz, we wormed our way through the Ladies Market, which by the way isn’t really all just for ladies at all. The place is more of like, a normal touristy night market. I ♥ HK shirts abound, followed by Bruce Lee prints. They have key chains. They have ref magnets. They have jiggers.
|FOOTBALL FANS GATHER ROUND AT MONG KOK|
Without buying anything, we exited off the market and went through alleys before being drawn by cheers from a huge crowd. We went closer and found a big rowdy group watching football on a big-screen set up right on the street. I actually didn’t see the screen, the crowd was too thick, but I asked a policeman what the deal was, and he said, football. I didn’t know Hong Kong people are into kicking balls.
|GOING BACK TO WAN CHAI|
|UNDERGROUND LOVERS AT THE MTR|
With nowhere else to go, we retreated to the trains and rolled back to Wan Chai. Our feet were already devastated, we’ve been walking all day, but we weren’t about just done yet.
|WAN CHAI LOOKS DIFFERENT AT NIGHT|
Back on Hong Kong Island, we tried to retrace our steps back to our hotel, but the streets had already transformed. Gone were the road-invading stalls. Gone were the colorful shops. Gone were the mass of people. We didn’t notice how late it was, but apparently, our tummies did.
We hunted high and low for any food place; we didn’t care if it was McDonalds, just as long as we can eat. But we found nothing. it seemed everyone had closed for the night. Giving up, we wended our way back to the hotel and promptly got lost.
|“WHAT DO YOU WANT?!”|
|WE WANT NOODLES|
But again, it was a good way to get lost as we found ourselves on an alley near a market full of noodle houses. We picked one in random and sign-languaged our way to ordering food. We were so successful we even attempted to ask for water by Googling how to say water in Cantonese. Shui, we shyly asked.
Ask and you shall receive. And indeed, we received.
|EXPLORING THE ALLEYS|
We were almost crawling on all fours as we dropped back out into the deserted street of Wan Chai. The clock at the intersection right before our hotel read 12:30 AM. We were unaware how long we were out, walking for a full twelve hours.
We were dead tired.
But yes, we wanted this. We didn’t want a fixed itinerary. We didn’t want any of those theme parks. What we wanted was to get lost. What we wanted was to see the streets of Hong Kong. We followed where our foot led us, and somehow, we did see Hong Kong as we wanted to.