I’ve just returned recently from twelve days in Hong Kong visiting my husband. It was the first time I’ve been to Asia and I was pleasantly surprised although the flight was total Hell.
Sixteen hours in a seat that was made for a thin child of ten can only be described as torture. I chose the window seat with grandiose dreams of being able to sleep. I should have known better since I need an ideal environment for sleeping with full lay down bed, ear plugs, total darkness and silence. Those silly looking neck pillows? Total waste of money if you ask me, equivalent to wearing a human dog cone.
Yeah I was super jealous of those lucky saps in first class with their fully reclining beds and privacy curtain.
By hour ten I was eyeing up the emergency escape door. I felt so trapped and cramped I had visions of tearing off all my clothes and running around screaming while pulling out my hair. Did I mention I may have a tiny bit of claustrophobia? Instead I woke up my two seat mates and stood up for a good forty minutes and stretched in a corner near the bathroom. Glamorous I know.
It took all my willpower to return to my seat and climb back into my tiny hole for the remainder of the flight.
I arrived in one piece, albeit lightheaded with very blurred vision. I may have asked three Chinese guys if they were my husband before I finally found him in the crowd.
Upon arrival I found the city to be an overwhelming assault on my senses. A cacophony of smells, sights, sounds and sensations incessantly bombarded me.
We managed to find areas that were more soothing to the senses during my twelve day stay.
There is so very much to do in a city the size of Hong Kong.
Here are 10 surprising facts about Hong Kong I learned on my visit.
1. The MTR transit system is brilliant, efficient and cheap.
We took it daily and although it was packed with riders it was exceptionally clean and always fast. I give it very high marks compared to the system we have in Toronto or anywhere else I’ve visited such as London, Paris or New York.
2. There are an insane amount of people living in Hong Kong.
7,391,851 to be exact with a population density of 7050 per Km2 (18,258 people per mi2) in a space that is only 1,050 Km2 (405 sq. miles). People followed rules and lined up all the time in a mannerly fashion for the trains and buses. They were well organized and disciplined.
3. I found people to be friendly and polite, more so than I anticipated.
4. The people of Hong Kong speak Cantonese, not Mandarin and only a few people speak English although you can often find English on signs.
Often times taxi drivers do not speak English at all. It is best to have the address you need to get to written in Cantonese so they are able to read it and understand where to take you. My husband learned this the hard way.
5. Hong Kong is home to many great authentic French restaurants and bakeries.
They seemed to be on every corner. I loved this! And no, I discovered I’m not a huge fan of authentic Chinese cuisine. I’m a vegetarian and that is often a challenge. I tried authentic dim sum and learned that I really dislike it. That said I did like Sichuan style which has much more flavour and isn’t buried in corn starch sauces.
6. Speaking of food at most authentic Chinese restaurants they use MSG.
If you are like me and have a sensitivity to that chemical I suggest you seek out Buddhist restaurants. They avoid the use of additives and MSG. Also we found their food to be the freshest and it is vegetarian.
7. Hong Kong is a city of contrasts.
There are the dirt poor and the filthy rich. It is the most expensive city in the world to live in. You can find a Bentley dealership next to a plywood store. I don’t believe they know what zoning laws are. In contrast they have entire streets where all they sell is goldfish. That’s right goldfish. Two large streets filled with tiny shops all selling goldfish in plastic bags. It was like stepping into a David Lynch film.
8. Don’t judge an entrance.
Often the stores look super tiny from the outside and then you discover that it is massive inside. On the other hand, often times the store is the size of a closet…literally and there is no hidden area. I discovered this while thrift shopping. It was a “store” jammed between two other “stores”. There were no mirrors, no change rooms and no room to move. At all. I felt briefly like I was back on the plane. Also you couldn’t move or view the clothing because the racks were too full. That said it didn’t stop me from still pushing past all that and bringing home four pieces of authentic Hong Kong vintage. Nothing gets between me and some choice vintage.
9. Some of the very best places to visit won’t be found unless you know where you are going.
Don’t plan on just walking around and stumbling upon a great restaurant. Many of them are located in buildings without any street entrance. You have to take an elevator up to the floor where it is located. It is quite magical when the elevator doors open and you enter another world like this 1950’s restaurant Veggie SF.
10. I have never seen so many high end stores or vast malls with only high end stores in my life.
That includes Paris, New York and London. If you have loads cash to spend I highly recommend Hong Kong. Also you will be sometimes be offered a cool beverage by your “shopping buddy” who is assigned to you upon entry to these kingdoms of elite shopping. When we were in Chanel at one point I believe we had a posse of six people following us through the store. I had to wonder if we really looked that much like professional thieves. I snickered to myself thinking I finally knew what it was like to have my own security team.
Did any of these 10 interesting facts about Hong Kong surprise you?
Have you visited Asia?
Linking up with Visible MondayVisible Monday.
Everything is surprising to me (except that it’s crowded). My mom went there with a group many years ago, but when you’re with a tour, you don’t really get the feel of the city, I think! You know, you’re like cows being herded everywhere….
But kudos to you for being so adventuresome!! The only way I make it on the plane that long is with the help of my little friend, Ambien….(don’t judge…)
suzanne carillo says
I would have gladly taken drugs if I thought it might have helped. In the past drugs have just made me very ill on flights.
Yay! Thank you for this, Suzanne. It’s exactly the kind of post I was hoping for. Informative with that twist of humor you are famous for. HK sounds exotic. Everything about it is interesting. And you give us a bunny eye’s view!
suzanne carillo says
I had loads of photos and video of bunny on Instagram. He is a star!
Haha what a story! In the plain it must have been scary but in the Chanel store it must have been fun! I miss some food pictures!
suzanne carillo says
Well the gorgeous raspberry tart counts as food! ; P
All those high end stores are brilliant if you are a millionaire.
Welcome back!!! What a fab read. I’ve been loving your Facebook photos and the vintage shops look immense. I used to think Hong Kong would be packed with sterile, air conditioned shopping malls full of high end designer gear (my idea of hell!) so I’m delighted to see quirky markets and indie shops. That haberdashery shop would have nothing left if I visited it!
I don’t like Chinese food either -salty, watery and generally dull – at least all the vegetarian stuff I’d ever eaten is.
In India you get entire streets of shops selling the same thing. Over there its due to the caste system, certain trades can’t mix with others. It still seems bizarre. I mean, which shop do you chose when you want a goldfish or a light bulb or a packet of aspirin?
Jon spent 6 months touring Japan when he was in the band. I’ve been to Malaysia, Bali, Lombok and India (26 times). I can’t say long haul flying bothers me, every airline we’ve flown with seems to have had a decent seat pitch, great vegetarian food, good films and booze on tap. Who did you fly with? I’ll make sure I avoid them! xxx
PS I love the cat on the flower stall. Such a gorgeous photo.
suzanne carillo says
Well I had a very hard time finding vintage shops to be honest and what I did find was beyond small but you would LOVE the fabric district. An entire neighbourhood devoted to all things required for sewing and creating.
Hong Kong is full of areas you would love to discover. I think you would really enjoy visiting.
At least I’m not alone in my dislike of traditional Chinese food. Szechwan style however is very spicy and full of flavour. That was my favourite, along with the French food! Ha!
I flew with Air Canada (non stop) and they are a good airline but I don”t like small confined spaces for extended periods of time. By the time I got there I’d been up for 27 hours. That is too long for me. My fibromyalgia probably plays into it all as well. I’m sure you would have managed to enjoy that flight and come off looking bright and fresh.
On the way home I had an aisle seat and was much more comfortable but I still found it taxing.
What a great travelogue – full of those fascinating details we can count on you to spill! The A. McQueen jacket, and the Gucci everything look so gorgeous. As do the birds, flowers, and mini-thrift store. Great to have you back, too! xox
That flight truly sounds like hell, I’m not sure I would have coped! What a great post, though. I had no idea what to expect from a ctiy like Hong Kong, so I was pleasantly surprised. Don’t know what to think of that bird market, though. I wouldn’t have minded a little poke around in that miniature thrift shop. My claustrophobia (I am a sufferer too) would probably disappear upon seeing so much vintage loveliness. xxx
suzanne carillo says
Wait till I tell the story about my “foot massage”. Yeah…there were quite a few surprises in Hong Kong.
No Fear of Fashion says
It was fun and interesting to read. No I have never been to Asia. Actually I haven’t been around much. Just a bit of Europe, Vancouver and New York. That’s it. No world traveller.
Before I forget: I adore you black sandals in the first picture of you. So cute.
I knew there were many people in Hong Kong but THAT many? No, so that is a surprise. It explains the necessity for queues and cleanliness. Otherwise living would be unbearable.
As for the high-end stores: too expensive for me. I love that Alexander McQueen outfit. Never been a Gucci fan.
suzanne carillo says
Those little black sandals are the same ones I took when I came to visit you in Holland. They are work horses that never make my feet sore.
The subways were very clean but the outdoor markets were ahem…not-so-much. I have to write about that still.
Marilee Gramith says
You really do a nice job of giving us a tour with interesting bits of your point of view, your humor, and your photos. Greetje does a great job of this as well and I find it SO interesting to read your honest take on the life and culture of another land.
I did know that Hong Kong was a population packed city but didn’t know that the people are so tidy, accomodating (lineups) and friendly. Clearly, enduring those kinds of limited space issues has made them avoid the chaos it could so easily breed…?
I loved the streets of goldfish and birds but the malls devoted to high end goods are distasteful when so many people live in poverty.
Your saga of traveling horrors brought empathy with resignation. There are so many far flung adventures that require some level of endurance test eh? You bravely survived and I’m proud of you. I’m sure it was woth it to see your darling husband and also the uniqueness that is Hong Kong!
WHAT A GREAT POST SUZANNE!!
suzanne carillo says
Thanks for the comment Jude : )
I still need to write more about my experiences because not all of Hong Kong is clean. The exception I found was the outdoor markets which is why I describe the odour I will remember most from Hong Kong as, “old rotten fish”. Not-so-sexy.
Yes…I miss my man. : (
Thanks for sharing! Loved it!
Right before you went on your trip, I had told my husband that I wanted to visit Hong Kong one day. So I loved following your adventures on IG. The only thing I hate about traveling, is the traveling to get to the traveling. I just need my own private jet with a bed!
Señora Allnut says
wouuu, it looks like an absolutely amazing place to visit, I didn’t know anything about HongKong (except that it’s crowded and filled with skycrapers). I think it would be lovely to visit it someday (first I have to win the lottery, mwhaha)
I’ve enjoyed your adventures through IG, and your brilliant advise!
Welcome home! You were missed.
Traveling is a nightmare , and sleeping on a flight is a crazy notion ( for me)
Loved the things you learned. MG ? Hmm. I will pas but that cool restaurant you found looks like heaven.
I also love Gucci, it is a special sort of heaven- gloriously over the top and inspirational, and so crazy expensive, that part is Hell. I skipped the high end stores on my visit to Portugal.
And I can relate to being so tired you forget who your spouse is.
Great post, good luck with jet lag!
I’ve never been to Hong Kong, so your post was fascinating and had me laughing. As usual! How wonderful that you found vintage. You are a seasoned estate sale expert, so those skills must have helped in coming up with four great pieces. Of course I appreciated the hats!
Great photos! Fantastic review. And you look ravishing in green!
Reading through your post here and looking at all the photos you posted while there I can’t help but have the sensation of Alice Through the Looking Glass. You approach Hong Kong with a wide-eyed curiosity…even if those eyes are blurry enough to mistake three Asian men as your husband. Ha ha!
There’s just so much that’s unique about Hong Kong, it seems. And yet, there are also some familiar themes, like the French cuisine, fashion designers you recognize, and the 1950s-themed restaurant. This “yin and yang” shows up in vintage shopping as well–it’s something you’re so familiar doing but the size of the store and/or the clothing you discover are slightly different than what you might find in Toronto.
You now have me utterly captivated and curious myself. I’m not sure I’m ready for a 16-hour flight anywhere, but to open myself up to such a different world is incredibly appealing.
Thanks for sharing these tips!
Veronica Cooke says
It sounds like a fascinating place. Cant wait to see what vintage you bought!
I have never been to Asia, and I don’t know that I would survive the flight! I was surprised to hear that the vegetarian food wasn’t very good, and that there were so many French food places. The photos are excellent.
Nice to read how you experienced Hong Kong. Very recognisable!
I’ve been there a number of times and wrote a ton of posts about it. .
I would not want to live there, although I could, if I’d have to.
But in a way I fell in love with the city 30 years ago when I first visited it. Mainly because I was blown away by the enormous contrasts in many aspects. Extremely poor and obscenely rich right next to each other, very asian but with a distinct british history still visible in daily life. Densely populated and urban, yet there’s so much nature, hiking trails and beaches as well.
Looking forward to reading more about your experiences.
Oh, and by the way: in Singapore there are even way, wayyyyyy more high-end malls than in Hong Kong!!! Unbelievable, isn’t it?! Cra-zy!
I have enjoyed your track pics on IG and loved this post. As I mentioned, I was born in Hong Kong and moved when I was 8 and have only been back a few times.
What amazes me is the mix of old and new. I remember the last time I visited, I could not buy any clothes or shoes because nothing fit me. I was considered too large and it was so discouraging.
Plus I am looked down there because they know I am Chinese but too Americanized so my experiences were not all that great.
I am also amazed about the use of MSG in their food. I don’t remember this but my body can’t tolerate it at all. I have to drink so much water and fall asleep before I even finish my meal.
Thank you so much for sharing your travels. I hope to be back one of these days.
Great post. I was surprised that the food was underwhelming. To me, one of the best parts about a vacation is the eating. Good thing for the Sichuan choices. And it’s so cool you found a 50s style restaurant.
Love the pic of you in the green floral dress. Can’t wait to see more photos, especially the vintage. It’s nice I can visit Hong Kong vicariously through you, as I don’t think I’d ever be able to sit for 16 hrs on a plane. Just the thought of it makes me hyperventilate!!
Elizabeth g. Arthur says
Suzanne, I really enjoyed your Instagram posts but this blog post is wonderful, thanks for the grand tour (I would have loved that 50’s restaurant). MSG has been banned in Australian restaurants for quite some time now but Chinese restaurants always used to use it once. I have been to Bali four times and LOVE the Ubud area, up in the “real Bali”. As with the bird market/fish in plastic bags market you mention, in Bali there are whole villages which only sell one thing or another. I’m sorry you didn’t manage to sleep at the pointy end of the plane (I’ve never been there either except on boarding or deplaning!). I must admit we Aussies are very used to spending hours in planes if we want to get to London/Europe etc. The 10 hour flight I did from Dallas to Frankfurt when we lived in the US seemed like heaven – compared to 24 hours to London from Melbourne! Thanks for sharing, really enjoyed your story. xx
I have heard good things about Bali.
The longest flight I’ve ever taken was to Australia, Adelaide I believe it was 23 hours and that was ten years ago and I think we slept for three days straight upon our arrival. I don’t know how you Aussies do it.
This is a far cry from the Hong Kong of my youth when it was under British rule. I stayed once at a backpacker hotel, which was the source of ongoing safety violations, and at Hong Kong University. I had landed from mainland China and the colours were a huge and welcome SHOCK!!!
Looks like Robert has a very modern, upscale pad in a nice part of town, whew. And you found so many incredible getaway areas in the city. I’m glad you had a great time. It”s just too bad we don’t have faster flights to Hong Kong.
This is really awesome. I learned so much. I’d had the mistaken impression that people there had less manners and that queuing wasn’t really something people did. I dunno. Maybe it’s different in other cities. I’m told Hong Kong is kind of an oasis compared to other parts of the region. I’m also surprised that few people speak English, since my understanding was that Hong Kong is a prime destination for English speakers, especially those from the U.S. (businessmen, legal professionals, English teachers, ex-pats, etc). The tip about Buddhist restaurants is much appreciated. I’ve often wondered how I would survive there as a vegetarian. I thoroughly enjoyed all of the photos, too. Almost felt like I was there. Hehe. 😛
suzanne carillo says
My husband has been living in Hong Kong for 8 months now (for business) and I went over to visit him. He finds it frustrating due to the lack of people that are able to speak English. He was also expecting more people to be fluent. Often they understand a bit and then nothing when you ask a question. It will continue to get worse as the English influence of the past begins to disappear and more and more mainland Chinese immigrate to HK.
My husband told me the people on the mainland don’t very good manners and it is a whole universe away from Hong Kong.
I also took some little films and posted them on my IG when I was there if you’re interested.