Times like these: Hong Kong in a hurry

Until last night, I couldn’t remember when the clocks go back and when they go forward. Well, now I know: spring forward, fall back.

If you’re in the UK, I hope you got a lie in on Sunday morning with the clocks going back, or that you did something nice with your extra hour. I wrote this post with mine!

The clocks got me thinking about past trips where time played a big role in some way.

I’ve already written about the time I got lost in the Amazon Rainforest a few years back. Hours spent walking off the right path, and then a nervous few hours spent getting back on the right path. Have a read here.

And then my brother reminded me of a trip to Rome when we were teenagers. We were too late to get into the Sistine Chapel, according to all our watches. Dispirited, we thought we would at least go and ask about opening hours the next day. As we turned a corner, we could see queues still formed outside, and then it dawned on us that we had completely forgotten about the clocks going back. We had spent the whole day one hour ahead. So we joined the queue and just made it inside.

Read on for part one of my two-part time travel series.

A (short) time well spent

When it comes to how to spend time off, one thing my friends will tell you about me is that I love to be busy. I feel guilty spending a sunny day indoors and if I’m honest with myself, although I do love to relax and I have been known to sit down on holiday, nothing excites me more about holiday planning than chalking up my itinerary.

On my way to Japan on holiday in 2018 I had planned, in one of my mad schemes, to stop off in Hong Kong en route. Not stay over, just stop off. And so it was, after 13 hours of flying and not much sleep, I embarked on a 15 hour day trip around Hong Kong before catching a 2am flight to Tokyo.

Given everything that has happened recently in this remarkable city, I count myself lucky to have spent even a short time there.

Here is a timeline of my itinerary from that day. Too much? Not enough?

08.00 / ARRIVAL

Touchdown in Hong Kong on my SAS flight from Stockholm

Landed in Hong Kong Airport on a SAS flight from Stockholm. A bit of timewasting at left luggage and freshening up. Picked up an Octopus transport card and caught the Airport Express into the city. Even this early, the humidity was toppling.

10.18 / CHURCHGOING

St John's Cathedral from the outside
The interior of St John's Cathedral

I had a quick peek inside St John’s Cathedral before travelling up to Victoria Peak. The cathedral dates to 1847 which makes it one of the oldest buildings in the city. A service had just ended and I was invited to join them for tea and biscuits, though I sadly had to press on.

10.49 / WHERE THE VIEWS ARE

Awaiting the next tram to Victoria Peak
A view from Victoria Peak

It was time to queue up and visit Victoria Peak via the hillside tram (though really it’s like a funicular). It was as busy and commercialised on top as you would expect of one of the city’s biggest tourist attractions, but I enjoyed it still.

12.35 / CELEB SPOTTING

Stephen the Lion at HSBC Headquarters

As it was a Sunday, the famous HSBC headquarters weren’t open but that didn’t matter – I had really come to meet an inhabitant who lives there 24/7, Stephen the Lion. Stephen and Stitt the lions have guarded the headquarters since 1935. Interestingly, they have only been off public display three times since then, one of those times being this year, when they were damaged during anti-government protests. They have only just gone back on display.

13.12 / BREAKFAST AT LUNCH

Dim sum for lunch at the traditional Luk Yu Teahouse

Believe it or not, dim sum is more traditionally eaten at breakfast than dinner. I originally planned to have breakfast at the traditional Luk Yu Teahouse, but due to delays leaving the airport (and general heat-related slowness) I arrived for lunch instead.

It’s one of the oldest tea houses in Hong Kong, open since 1933. I accepted the huge pot of Jasmine tea on arrival, but immediately pleaded for a big glass of water too. I still don’t quite understand the concept of tea cooling you down on a hot day… but it didn’t stop me happily ordering a trio of dim sum classics – siu mai (top), char siu buns (middle) and har gow (right).

14.00 / ESCALATION

The 800m long Central Mid Escalator

I walked A LOT over 15 hours, but I couldn’t miss a ride on the Central Mid escalator. It may not look like much but it is (drumroll) the longest outdoor covered escalator system in the world, covering a distance of 800m and an elevation of 135m.

14.22 / WHAT A TART

Inside the Tai Cheung Bakery
Ready to eat my egg custard tart

In the name of food, I got off the escalator early to visit the famous Tai Cheong bakery for an egg custard tart. They’re loved by many Hong Kongers and the last Governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, is a big fan. (Ssh, I do prefer Portuguese pastel de nata tarts, but Hong Kong’s egg tarts come a proud second).

14.37 / YOU HAVE TO WANDER

Next door to the Sheung Wan Market
Sheung Wan district
Street art
Street art
Brooklyn Bar and Grill
Brooklyn Bar and Grill
A second hand shop
A second hand shop
A mosaic showing one of Hong Kong's famous 'junk' sailing ships
A mosaic showing one of Hong Kong’s famous ‘junk’ sailing ships
Approaching Man Mo Temple
Approaching Man Mo Temple
Fabric shopping in the Sheung Wan Market

I loved the streets around the Mid-Levels and Sheung Wan areas of Hong Kong. Bars and street art collide with temples and indoor markets.

15.31 / TIME FOR A TEMPLE

Incense inside the Man Mo Temple
Lanterns inside the Man Mo Temple
Incense and lanterns at the Man Mo Temple

Man Mo Temple. My first temple in Asia. Heady in the humidity. Transfixing.

16.19 / THE PAST IS A CEREMONY

A 1st July dance event

I was in Hong Kong on 1st July, which was the day Britain gave Hong Kong up to China in 1997. I had expected that there would be some events, but I also knew that many Hong Kongers wouldn’t necessarily see this day as a cause for celebration… quite a few people were watching this dance ceremony, but I would describe the reception as fairly muted.

17.01 / A WEE TRAM

Inside one of Hong Kong's trams

Although I can’t say with much certainty that it was necessarily worth waiting 30 minutes for, I took a little trip on one of Hong Kong’s trams. The wait time was perhaps indicative of the decline of this form of public transport. Or maybe trams don’t operate much on a Sunday!

17.27 / STAR TURN

Approaching my Star Ferry in Victoria Harbour

The Star Ferry Company was founded in 1888, originally named the Kowloon Ferry Company. And it was to Kowloon I was headed, from Victoria Harbour.

18.33 / PARKING

Whitfield Barracks at Kowloon Park

For a lot of people, Kowloon is most closely associated with its Walled City, a densely populated city within a city that by 1990 housed over 50,000 people in crowded, unsafe conditions. Though it was demolished in 1993-94, the site of the walled city dates back to the Song Dynasty (960-1279) when an outpost was created to oversee the salt trade. In its place, sprawling Kowloon Walled City Park.

Time starved as I was, however, I was content to visit the much closer in Kowloon Park. Pictured, one of the buildings that was formerly part of the Whitfield Barracks that were built for the British Indian garrisons in the late 19th Century.

19.08 / IN TIME FOR SUNSET

A Star Ferry in Victoria Harbour
The water around Kowloon and Victoria Harbour
Sunset over Hong Kong

Back onboard a Star Ferry, the skies looked moody as we retraced the route to Victoria Harbour. I didn’t think the sun would emerge, but it did!

19.19 / BIRDSONG

Walking along Victoria Harbour

The view back over to Kowloon, on my way to dinner. I remember being serenaded by trees full of birds, as I walked along the harbour. I didn’t’t spot them, but I could hear their competing songs.

19.47 / GIVE ME ALL THE DIM SUM

Dim sum at Michelin-starred Tim Ho Wnan

It was time again for dim sum. Specifically, Tim Ho Wan in the IFC Mall for Michelin-starred banquet. The place was heaving but I didn’t have to wait long as I was on my own.

I’m confident with chopsticks but it was still daunting, sat round a shared table next to eight strangers, with plates of slippery dim sum arriving out of the kitchen, from meat-stuffed aubergine to beef balls with bean curd. But as soon as I noticed that everyone was eating just as messily as me, I eased up and enjoyed myself.

20.40 / BACK ON THE WATER

Victoria Harbour at night
Victoria Harbour at night

Some might deem two journeys on the Star Ferry time enough time already on the water. Not me. And I knew just the place for an aperitif.

21.08 / ALL THAT GLITTERS

The exterior of the Peninsula Hotel in Kowloon
The outside of the Peninsula Hotel earlier in the day
Cocktail and snacks in one of the Peninsula's bars

I blame Michael Palin for my expensive tastes.

In his first ever travel programme, Around The World in 80 Days, he stayed at the Peninsula Hotel in Kowloon in 1988. Offered Champagne during a complimentary car ride over to the hotel (at 9am in the morning), he was shown to his room, complete with a well-stocked bar. It all looked so grand and unobtainable. As Palin reflected:

Inside, one enters a palace. A rich, glittering reminder that whatever excess the rest of the world can offer, Hong Kong will cap it.

And thus I couldn’t resist a glimmering visit to one of the hotel’s cocktail bars open to non-residents. Rather quiet (it was a Sunday after all), but I had plenty of time before my flight to relax. Time enough as I sipped my cocktail to contemplate whether I had any space for snacks. (And yes, reader, I can report that I took the little Peninsula olive stick home with me).

23.33 / TIME TO SAY FAREWELL

Stephen the Lion at night

Before I left for the airport, I went in search of cash. On a route that conveniently took me back past Stephen the Lion, for a final goodbye.

I would be returning to Hong Kong for an even shorter time on my way back from Japan, but that’s another story for another day.

———

NEXT WEEK: a family holiday to a country at a momentous time in its history.

Published by Kateonhertravels

An insatiable appetite for travel.

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