Hong Kong Part 1 - Markets to Mountains

At the end of March this year we took a long awaited trip to visit family in Hong Kong. We had an amazing time over the 11 days we were there, with days filled with family fun, exploring, relaxing, HEAT, rugby and, as you will see, a great many photos along the way to record it all.

I've been looking forward to sharing these photos ever since we visited but have been waiting to get this new blog space finished first. So finally, with great pleasure and happy memories, here they are!

As you might imagine, Hong Kong is a busy place. I've visited family there twice before (when I was aged 7 and 18) and my memories of the bustle undoubtedly framed my expectations of what it would be like this time around. However, there were so many things about the city itself and the islands around it that took me by surprise. The greenery, the space and the beaches being the most refreshing and marked difference from the busyness of street life, evident at almost every turn. There is simply too much to fit into one post so I've decided to split the trip in half and share with you first of all, two of my favourite days.

They say that the best person to show you around a place is someone who actually lives there. Well on this trip we were fortunate enough to have a whole gang of family members (my Aunty and Uncle, cousins and their spouses) who proudly call Hong Kong their home. They all showed us the ropes, took us to the best places to eat, laughed at our best Cantonese taxi directions and took the time to give us a truly memorable holiday.

Ahead of our trip I got in touch with my cousin's wife El, an artist and photographer, to see if we could etch out some time to explore with our cameras in hand. Of course she was only too happy to oblige and we found a date midweek for her to take myself, my Mum, Sister and her fiance out for the day. We walked around the old parts of the city where ancient Banyan trees sprawled roots next to towering, pastel hued tower blocks. Old sat next to new everywhere we looked and did so in a way which seemed in complete harmony. The peeling and the polished, the calm air conditioned shops next to the noisy and humid outside market, the bumpy cobbled streets next to the busy concrete roads. There was layer upon layer of things to see as you looked down the long thing streets and I found myself gazing upwards most of the time as the buildings and their balconies towered above us, offering a welcomed shade in the heat of the afternoon sun.

When lunchtime arrived we joined a long queue of locals outside a tiny restaurant on a side street. We knew little about the place other than that there was a very limited menu which turned out to be 'curry' or 'broth.' Of course there were variations on this and we were lucky enough to get a helping hand from a group of businessmen out on a work social. When we got chatting it turned out one was visiting from London and used to work in Newport, for a brief moment the world had never felt so small!

We then hit the subway and headed out to Kowloon to a market called Sham Shui Po. With street after street of markets, categorised and offering anything you could possibly want to buy, framed from every angle with old Chinese signs. El told us that these types of signs weren't that common anymore, we certainly didn't see as many on Hong Kong Island where we stayed, but they epitomised how I'd envisaged Hong Kong streets before we went.  El has created some incredible artwork using photo montages of scenes just like this which you can see more of here.

Later during our stay, taking a break from the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens hysteria (more on that next time), El donned the tour guide hat again and took us to Lantau island. Hopping on the ferry from the central pier and visiting the outer lying islands has got to be one of my absolute highlights of the trip. Each time we stepped off a ferry while we were there, it was as if we'd arrived in a completely different country. Our visit to Lantau was no different, going from traffic jams and skyscrapers to green mountain peaks and an 'island living' change of pace that was almost tangible, in just a short ferry ride. I say 'short', on that particular crossing the kids caused chaos fighting for the window seat and my apparent inability to cope with it all without Sam (still in the thick of the aforementioned rugby hysteria) lead a kind lady to pass a piece of paper and pack of crayon through the chair as an offer of entertainment. It definitely didn't feel 'short' at the time.

It's scenes such as this that I had looked forward to so much before we went. Whilst the kids had a blast with their cousins in the pool at the Rugby Football Club (more on that next time too), I wanted them to see, smell and experience things that they wouldn't at home. The Tai O fishing village and market delivered that by the basket full. 

We spent ages watching this lady cracking open eggs and laying out the yolks to dry in the sun. My cousin Will and El's children go to a local Cantonese school and their eight year old daughter was able to (amazingly) ask the lady what she was doing. The eggs are apparently sprinkled with salt and dried in the sun for four days, we were so engrossed in watching her at work that we forgot to find out what they're actually used for! My best guess was a flavouring for food but honestly it could have been anything!

The humidity was HIGH that particular afternoon and we later sought sanctuary in a beach side burger restaurant that suddenly had me feeling like I'd landed in Hawaii. After a week of the most incredible Asian food, a monsterous burger and fries was actually a welcome change. As much as we'd encouraged the kids to try new food ("I promised I'll try everything Mummy" quickly forgotten by Wilf on day one), their diet at restaurants had been limited, so fresh pesto pasta beachside barely touched the sides.

After lunch the kids tried their chances on the skate ramp, played on the beach and dodged washed up jelly fish by the seashore. Once we'd attempted to wash the black sand which had made it's way into every possible crevice, we meandered bare foot, back along a track to catch the local bus back to the ferry. As we walked we passed this field and cattle, I stopped to take a photo (but of course) and all of a sudden couldn't have felt further away from the vibrant, concrete city we'd left that morning.

I hope you've enjoyed reading and have seen a side to Hong Kong that perhaps you didn't quite expect. I look forward to sharing more in the second (and final) installment with a few more family members, some pirates and Rugby Sevens action thrown in for good measure.