The opinions of two very important people inspire me to visit Hong Kong; Anthony Bourdain and my mom. One being my idol and the other being, well, my mom, the desire to see this city the way they did was paramount in crafting this day. While it relies less on excitement, and more on reflection, I definitely see myself experiencing it sooner rather than later. That being said, here is my perfect day in Asia’s World City.
One of Hong Kong’s largest temples, Wong Tai Sin represents the religions of Taoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism. While one of the busiest religious centers in the city, the complex boasts incredibly ornate buildings and a unique atmosphere punctuated by incense and prayer. It’s home to a famous portrait of the monk who lends his name to the temple. However, what really draws the crowds is Wong Tai Sin’s reputation as a place where ardent worshippers and visitors alike can pray for good luck and receive fortunes. The process, called kau cim, has you shake a bamboo cylinder until a fortune falls out.
My mom’s most vivid memory of her trip to Hong Kong in 1983 was riding the Star Ferry. Truly an icon of the city, the ferry’s shuttled residents and visitors between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon for over 120 years. Today, the service is recognized by its fleet of green and white boats with names such as the “Celestial Star” (pictured above). Some of the vessels date back to the 1950s and 60s. Chances are, I could visit today and ride on the same boat my mom did over 30 years ago. For less than four dollars on weekdays, you have get some of the best views of the city skyline from the ferry’s upper deck.
Sijie Sichuan Private Kitchen is, well, a private kitchen. Offering fewer restrictions to operate than a standard restaurant, this type of eatery can be less advertised, but serve some of the best cuisine in a city. Located on the tenth floor of a commercial building, Sijie Sichuan specializes in the fiery cuisine of southwestern China. The atmosphere is perfectly casual, and is usually a mix of locals and expats. The kitchen provides a menu in English and recommends five dishes for two people, and eight dishes for four (with a fixed price of just under $40 per person). I’m excited to try the Sichuan Cold Noodle, flavored with garlic, chilis, and peppercorns.
I first heard of the world’s largest covered escalator system in Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown episode in Hong Kong. To him, and to legendary filmmaker Wong Kar-wei, it’s a space unfamiliar, yet painfully intimate. Besides being an excellent place to people watch, it’s also an enclave of shops and restaurants not commonly visited by the average tourist. Without stopping, the entire trip down the escalators takes 20-25 minutes. It’s a glimpse into Hong Kong city life, and according to cinematographer Christopher Doyle, “To me, the energy is the noise, is the people.” Several movies filmed in this location include Wong Kar-wei’s Chungking Express (1994) and The Dark Knight (2008).
Hong Kong Island’s highest point at 1,300 feet above sea level, The Peak is one of the best ways to take in views of the city. When I visit, I plan to head there for a sunset photo shoot, but the vantage point is accessible daily from 7am to midnight. The easiest way to reach the top is taking the Peak Tram, which scales the incline at a notoriously steep angle. In addition to the breathtaking views, visitors can also learn more about the tram’s history at the Peak Tram Historical Gallery at the lower terminus or check out the range of entertainment options at the upper terminus’ Peak Tower.
To end the day, you’ll find me at Taiwanese-Canadian chef Jowett Yu’s restaurant Ho Lee Fook in Central. The name is a pun that translates to “good fortune for your mouth.” The restaurant prides itself on a carefree atmosphere, inspired by 1960s New York City Chinatown hangouts, with a playful take on Chinese cuisine. Dishes inspired by Hong Kong dai pai dongs (open-air food stalls) are served in the center of the table for all to share. Those inspired by cha chaan tengs (“tea” restaurants known for electic and affordable menus) are updated with modern techniques. Highly recommended are “mom’s ‘mostly cabbage, a little bit of pork'” dumplings, an endearing callback to a childhood favorite.