This post is 7 months overdue. But better late than never, right?
I was fortunate to travel to Hong Kong with some friends from college in February 2017. I've traveled all over the Americas with these friends, from Mexico, Jamaica, Haiti, the Virgin Islands, to Canada, New York, California, Wisconsin, and lots of places in between. But this would be our first trip overseas together.
Jada found round-trip tickets to Hong Kong for $300 each. He also works for W Hotels, so we were able to get a screaming deal on hotels. I, however, insisted on staying in a local neighborhood at least half the time to get a more authentic experience.
We spent the first three nights in an AirBNB in Sin Yai Pun and the last 3 in a fancy hotel in downtown Kowloon. The experiences could not have been more different.
First up, Sin Yai Pun. Wow. Sights, smells, sounds galore.
Our apartment was on the fourth floor of a walk-up building on Queens Road Central, which turned out to be a main road in Hong Kong. It seemed to be a quite typical apartment building. Each residence had a small alter at the door with incense and a strong metal gate. Inside was very tiny, but the most efficient use of space I've ever seen. The three of us fit comfortably in a 2 bedroom, very cozy 2 bedroom apartment, with no room to be spared. At all.
Just outside the doors were lots of shops, selling everything from fresh fruits and vegetables, to dried goods (to be honest I couldn't tell you what the dried things were), to teas and herbs. There were also electronics stores, home good stores, and a 24 hour McDonalds. On our first night, battling jetlag I checked out the McDonald's and was pleasantly surprised by the sweet potato ice cream and corn on the menu!
My favorite thing about Sin Yai Pun was the restaurants and bakeries. I absolutely fell in love with the food. It definitely did not seem as if this was a very typical tourist area, as we got lots of bewildered looks when walking into restaurants. But everybody was always incredibly friendly (a recurring theme in Hong Kong throughout our trip) and accommodating for us. Even when we didn't ask for English menus, they would send out the youngest staff members to take our orders (who usually spoke English).
As I mentioned earlier, the bakeries were to die for. Seriously. If you ever go to Hong Kong, trust me and go to a bakery. Pick up a tray and pair of tongs and fill up it up with whatever looks good. It won't cost you much and it'll be the perfect snacks to take with you throughout the day. Sometimes we'd get savory surprises or sweet treats - regardless, it never came to more than $3 USD for a bag full of fresh, warm, mouth watering pastries.
Our first day in Hong Kong, we walked from Sin Yai Pun down the main street (Queens Road Central) all the way to the Mid Level Escalators. These are the world's longest outdoor escalators and they help people get from the harbour all the way up the hilly terrain to the top of the hill. During the morning they go one way, and in the afternoon they go the other. We got off periodically to check out the shops down below, eat food, and check out all the amazing things going on all around us.
All throughout the day I was blown away by the beauty of the city, how clean the city was, and how orderly the city was despite how many people there were. It was astounding.
The rest of the week was filled with adventures in eating dim sum, riding the tram to the peak, and taking what seemed like nearly every type of public transportation possible. Seriously, Hong Kong has buses, trams, ferries, subway, taxis, and Uber. And they were all pretty easy to figure out.
We even took the train to Lantau Island to the Tin Tan Buddha and went hiking one day. Stunningly beautiful and serene.
But, this isn't really a travel blog, and while I'd be happy to give "insider" tips or whatnot, what I really want to share is about my day biking on Cheng Chau Island.
When I travel with my college buddies, we're usually intentional about taking one or two days to ourselves to do what we want. When we went to Mexico, I took a bus alone and went snorkeling. On this trip, I took a ferry to Cheng Chau Island to explore by bicycle while they stayed back to relax.
I had heard of Cheng Chau while researching Hong Kong and bicycling, as I'm always excited to ride bikes whenever I travel. In my original research, Cheng Chau was highlighted as a low-key place to visit, ride bikes, swim, and enjoy the beaches. As it so happened, the day that I went, the weather shifted and instead of high 80s, it was cold and windy, so no beach time for me, but that meant more time for food and bike riding!
Cheng Chau is a tiny island, with a population of 22,000 and shaped like a dumbell. When you get off the ferry, it looks like photos of Europe, with rows and rows of bicycles. I was really excited about this, as it looked like these were all rental bikes. Despite this, it took me about 20 minutes to find a bicycle to rent, as I couldn't find a bike rental shop. All the bikes were unlocked, but I didn't just want to take one.
I finally ended up walking into a 7-11 and asking the clerk, who directed me to a seafood restaurant around the corner. From there, I ended up eating lunch (still not quite sure what I ate) and was able to draw a picture of a bicycle and got one to rent. This was quite surprising to me, as nearly everywhere in Hong Kong people spoke English, but Cheng Chau communication was quite a bit harder.
After giving a $10 deposit and paying $5 for the rental, I had a bike for 3 hours! Freedom!
Biking on the island was like nothing I had experienced before. The island is quite old and all the lanes are too narrow for regular cars to fit through. Because of this, nearly everyone rides either a bicycle or uses a tiny vehicle. It also gives the island a miniature feeling. Even though I was on a rickety bicycle, I was able to explore nearly all of it, taking in the sounds, smells, and tastes of this amazing place.
All too quickly my 3 hours were up and I needed to catch the ferry back to Hong Kong. I'm so excited to go explore another part of the world by bicycle.