In a little under nine hours, you can fly from Sydney to Hong Kong. It’s enough time to pop on a set of fluffy socks, watch a movie, tuck into some dubious airplane grub and then catch at least a couple of hours of shut-eye.
But once there, is it long enough to get a taste for the city’s unique mix of Chinese and British colonial culture?
For although Hong Kong is often just a stopover for many international jetsetters, as a destination it has plenty to offer – from its unique cuisine, eclectic shopping scene and vibrant nightlife to its history and natural beauty.
But eight and a bit hours is all I have, so I vow to try to explore as much as much as possible without missing my flight.
The ride into town is a mere 24 minutes on the Airport Express train, priced at HK$100 for a single journey. It runs every 12 minutes and takes you straight to Central Station, in the heart of the city.
But don’t make the same mistake as me and get lured into the gleaming IFC Mall, just steps from the station.
Packed with international brands from Armani to Accessorize to Zara, it instantly whips me into a shopping frenzy. The cool flow of air conditioning combined with the added convenience of coffee and food outlets around each corner make me reluctant to leave. But with three shopping bags in tow, and the number likely to keep on rising, I force myself to break the IFC’s spell and step back outside into the muggy morning.
Stinky tip? Save the shopping till last – there’s no shortage of malls in HK!
I search for the starting point of my walking tour of the Central area of the city – the Supreme Court, but somehow I struggle to follow the map’s directions and end up lost amid the gridlocking mesh of Hong Kong’s streets, as trams trundle past me. I glance around for any hints or clues as to my location, but am flummoxed by the mirrored faces of office blocks that shoot into the sky.
The clock is ticking and I start to panic a little, not helped by the fact that I am wearing a pair of skinny jeans – another big mistake. With humidity high, I am drenched in sweat and dehydrated. Already the walking seems like an effort.
Stinky tip? Check the weather before you head out to Hong Kong. The climate apparently varies from 12 degrees in winter to 31 degrees in summer, but I’m there in December and it’s still sticky.
I give up on the Supreme Court when I stumble across the second stop of the walking tour – the Court of Final Appeal, which used to be the French Mission. It’s colonial brickwork is tucked away behind the high rise modernity in a quaint grassy area.
I’m relieved to be on the right track. I then follow the walking trail accurately, determined not to get lost or waste any more time.
I pass through the famous district of Lan Kwai Fong, packed with more than 90 bars and restaurants. But during the day, minus its neon lights, it hasn’t yet come to life.
I toy with the idea of stopping for a beer at one of the roadside bars, but then my stomach starts to growl.
Hong Kong’s unique and multicultural cuisine is renowned. But despite my best intentions to track down Hong Kong’s famed foodie hotspots, all that striding in sweat-soaked jeans is hungry work and as soon as my stomach spasms, I have to stop and eat.
I glance along the length of Wellington Street. Several of the shops have squid and ducks trussed up and hanging from racks in the window, but the place that catches my eye has a sign in the window which offers dim sum – eat as much as you like.
With its retro fittings, Loyal Dining aims to take you back to the Hong Kong of old. In addition to dim sum, it serves Hong-Kong style “soysauce Western” dishes such as Beef Wellington or baked escargots.
But, for the sake of my gurgling tummy, I go for the all you can eat – a snip at HK$98.
I’ve come across most of the dumplings before, but a few Hong Kong specialities are listed on the menu. I order the minced beef balls, and the chicken buns along with a heap of dumplings that I tuck into hungrily, all washed down with several pots of Chinese tea.
After round three, I am well and truly stuffed. I can hardly move, but I ease myself out of my chair and head for the door. I’m running out of time.
Stinky tip? Snack little and often. The streets are packed with so many small shops and so many specialities that it seems a waste to use all that stomach space on just one meal.
I forge ahead to the Man Mo Temple, tucked away on Hollywood Road. It’s easily spotted – its traditional splashes of red and gold stand out against the mirrored silver sheen of the city.
Built in 1847, it is devoted to the god of literature, Man, and the god of war, Mo. Inside, silent worshippers visit each glowing shrine through the scent and faint smoke of burning incense.
Food now happily further along my gullet, I wander through the stalls and antique shops of Soho, eyeing Chinese lions and ornate teapots alongside faded Jackie Chan posters and vintage 1940s necklaces.
“That will bring you luck with money,” the shopkeeper tells me when he spots me eyeing a jade buddha’s pale green, rounded belly. Sold – I take two.
I finish the day looking curiously at the vast displays in the medicine alleys of the district, trying to identify any of the strange preserved, dried or shredded ingredients that are shrinkwrapped or heaped in vast bins.
If I had more time, I’d take a closer look, maybe get a consultation, but with just twenty minutes to spare, I opt instead for a walk along the water for a smoggy glimpse of Kowloon before heading back to the train station.
Stinky tip? Eight and a bit hours in Hong Kong is better than nothing, but I definitely barely pricked the surface. If you can, add on a few days to properly explore – I wish I had. But, if you’re attempting the whirlwind tour, make sure you wear comfy shoes!
For details of the walking tour itinerary that I followed, roughly and in reverse, click here.