The visa-run ritual is a fix I need every once in a while, a good dose of big modern contemporary urban life. I usually go to Bangkok, but after six years it was time for a change.
I stayed in Causeway Bay on Hong Kong Island because it is near a friend’s apartment and conveniently close to the metro system. How much I miss a good metro system that allows you to reach any part of the city.
After checking in I walked around the neighbourhood, taking it all in. I discovered a little street market in Wan Chai, with fish and meat stalls and shopkeepers that weren’t too photographer-friendly.
The tall glass buildings were reflecting the sunlight down on the street and at 4pm the golden light began illuminating passers-by as they hurried about. I walked around just trying to find sunlit spots, got into a discreet position and stood there photographing people from the hip, though I was surprised I didn’t get punched as my camera’s shutter isn’t quiet. I got a few sideways looks.
Later I met a friend I worked with in Hanoi for a dim sum dinner, because when in Hong Kong you have to eat dim sum. Unfortunately, the Michelin-starred Tim Ho Wan Dim Sum restaurant we went to was hit-and-miss. Most of the food was either bland or too sweet, maybe one or two of the dim sum were good.
After we left — disappointed — we decided to treat ourselves, and went to the top of Hong Kong’s highest building, the Ritz Carlton Hotel, and hit the O-Zone Bar on the rooftop which has a view like no other. We managed to get two well-placed seats to gaze over Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour while reminiscing over G&T.
On my only full day in Hong Kong my first goal was to reach the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wan Chai District. It’s right on the waterfront, with a promenade. The view on the harbour was amazing as I walked among selfie-obsessed tourists; I resisted the urge to participate. From the convention centre, I easily got to the New Wan Chai Ferry Pier. The green-and-white Star Ferry, which has been in operation since 1888, is a very cheap option to cross the harbour and one of the best panoramic views of the city. Victoria Harbour separates Hong Kong Island from Kowloon, and in the middle of the crossing you can witness the very dense urban fabric of the city and the famous skyline.
On the other side, stood in the middle of these tall buildings, I felt small. But in the dense pedestrian traffic I blended in with the international crowd. I took the metro to Mong Kok Station, and decided to head towards the animal shop street where they famously sell little fish hanging in plastic water bubbles on the wall. I ended up walking aimlessly all afternoon, discovering little food stalls and eating my way to random street corners and spots to sneak photos of passers-by.
I met up with my friend for my last night — she had promised a surprise. The taxi dropped us at Pound Lane in Sheung Wan District. It’s at the corner of a little street; this was where we were going to eat, but I didn’t see any restaurant. We stopped in front of a stamp shop, and as my friend put her hand inside a small opening in the window display, a secret door opened. It was not an ordinary stamp shop inside, it was Mrs Pound, an Asian-European fusion food restaurant. The manager greeted us with a wide smile and found us a table even though the restaurant was full.
We then went to the fancier and more hip Soho district. The neighbourhood is situated on a hill and boasts the longest escalator system in the world. This escalator allowed us to go all the way to the top while enjoying a conversation without losing our breath.
Soho is a nice mix of expensive residential buildings and commercial business, and along the escalator there were plenty of restaurants, art galleries, antique shops, nightclubs and bars. Suddenly I stopped. Amid the clutter of businesses I recognised a Hanoi favourite — Linguini Fini.
We ended the two-day escape with a glass of sparkling wine and more gossip about Hanoi.
A number of budget airlines now fly the return trip from Vietnam to Hong Kong. These include VietJet Air (vietjetair.com) from Ho Chi Minh City, HK Express (hkexpress.com) from Danang and Nha Trang, and Jetstar (jetstar.com) from Hanoi.
Photos by Julie Vola / March 2017