On returning by ferry from Macau, we switched our Hong Kong base to the Kowloon peninsula. Kowloon sits north across Victoria Harbor from Hong Kong Island. With the efficient Mass Transit Railway or MTR and the ferries making frequent runs, Kowloon and the adjacent New Territories are seamlessly connected parts of the greater Hong Kong metropolis. But there are distinctions between sides of the harbor. Kowloon’s street plan feels newer and better organized; Hong Kong Island’s layout seems like it was fixed in the back of a pub.
Another difference we noted on Kowloon’s streets was the higher density of touts offering deals on custom tailored suits. In some areas, just walking one block would net several new suit offers. And if I didn’t want a new suit, maybe I’d be interested in a watch? Or maybe the lady would like a new custom-made handbag?
The all too frequent suit offers left me with one big question. Why do the men offering tailoring services always wear the worst fitting suits? Sleeves halfway up a front man’s forearms and dress shirts bulging out between the suit coat’s buttons do little convince potential customers that high quality tailoring services await.
Aside from (or in spite of) the tailoring offers we had several memorable experiences at the end of our Hong Kong stay:
The Symphony of Lights
At 8 pm each night, Hong Kong’s skyline erupts in a light show with buildings flashing lights and lasers strobing off the top of the tall buildings. Along the waterfront, speakers pump out tinny music in rhythm with the lights. We could have skipped the music. In fact, the light show wasn’t required to make the skyline look impressive. Hong Kong Island’s nighttime skyline is incomparable.
One evening we took the Star Ferry across the harbor to see the lights from the other side of Victoria Harbor. Though the view of Kowloon’s skyline from Hong Kong Island is not as spectacular as the view of Hong Kong from Kowloon, the view of the city lights from the water is step up. A nighttime ride on the Star Ferry may just be the best way to see Hong Kong’s lights.
Lei Garden (Shop Nos. 2068-70, Second Level, Elements, No.1 Austin Road West, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong)
Of course we had to eat. We selected the Tsim Sha Tsui branch of Lei Garden, a medium sized restaurant chain. This restaurant is located downstairs in the shopping area of a larger high-rise building. Of the nine Hong Kong outlets of the Lei Garden chain, seven, including the Tsim Sha Tsui branch we visited, have one Michelin star.
For our weekend lunch visit we chose to order dim sum. Feeling adventurous, we checked duck’s tongues and pork intestines boxes on our order sheet.
On the palate, neither of these menu items is particularly unusual. Each small duck’s tongue has the tiniest amount of meat wrapped around a stiff cartilage core. It is weird but it doesn’t taste funny. The tubular pork intestines have a nice “al dente” bite. Both dishes were more about the texture than the flavor.
It turns out that, food-wise, Lei Garden was one of our least favorite of the Hong Kong restaurants we ate at. But that does not mean the food is bad. Not even in the least. We ate so well in Hong Kong that even really good places can get lost in the shuffle. Lei Garden serves better dim sum than we’ve had anywhere in the states. Back home in the Bay Area we’d easily drive 20 miles just to eat there.
We made a brief visit to Chungking Mansions located right next door to Kowloon’s Holiday Inn. The Mansions is a congested vertical flophouse that has many of the cheapest room options in town. It is a quintessential dive. Some would just call it a firetrap. One can only imagine that there are some sizeable rats that take up residence in the building.
Chungking Mansions have become the ethnic melting pot of Hong Kong particularly after the demise of Kowloon Walled City. The bottom floors are a warren of cheap electronic shops and ethnic food restaurants from every region of the world. It feels like a set from an edgy movie. With long lines for the two small elevators that take the residents up into the higher levels, the lower floors were all we saw. Just like us, you can find out more about the upper levels of Chungking Mansions on YouTube.
Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden
Immediately before departing to the airport we visited the Chi Lin Nunnery and the adjacent Nan Lian Garden. It took us some time and extensive help from several people to find this Buddhist complex outside the Diamond Hill Metro stop. It really shouldn’t have been that hard. Maybe we were just distracted by the shopping mall maze.
Somehow the Buddhist installations in the middle of Hong Kong’s congestion manage to convey serenity. We found the Nan Lian Garden particularly interesting even with its manufactured-for-Disneyland feel. This Tang-style garden has groupings of odd-looking plants. It also has clusters of large improbable boulders and petrified trees largely taken from Sanjiang County in South China. Many of the boulders appear like large polished rocks. The rocks look so unusual that it took us time to assure ourselves that they were real and not artificially rock like substances made for the garden.
Our last meal in Hong Kong was at the garden’s restaurant. In the Buddhist garden, the food is vegetarian. The food was good though the portions are relatively small. This is yet another restaurant that we’d love to have in the neighborhood.
For us, Hong Kong was full of surprises. We came and ate until we had to leave. Hong Kong offers up amazing food. Sure there’s some weird stuff served but it is good weird stuff. To boot, the food and the tourist activities are inexpensive. We were sad to go but our stomachs will likely insist that we visit again. So maybe it’s not goodbye, Hong Kong. It’s au revoir, Hong Kong. And maybe on the next visit I’ll have a suit made. First I’ll find a tout wearing a nice fitting suit. There must be one out there.