This post is part of a travel diary series about my trip to Hong Kong. Please check back in later this week for more posts!
I used to work for a company that had satellite offices in China. I spent three years booking flights, and hotels, and emailing with concierges in China, and eventually the curiosity got too strong. My co-workers would come back talking about a place I knew nothing about — and eventually, I had to know.
Fast forward to now: I had vacation days since January but nowhere picked. Bo and I thought it would be good to go to Rome, but the ticket prices were high. It was the same scenario for London, the place highest on my travel priorities list. But I’m learning that to travel cheaply you have to throw the priority list out the window, and go when it’s cheapest to go. Hong Kong was on my list, but not for years away, but the ticket was cheap now. Without waiting on Bo, I decided to make a solo trip there. I was a little nervous, I’ll admit, but that was the point.
As I'd planned it, I wouldn’t be totally alone. My friend Sirus, “Bright Star” as he is sometimes nicknamed, would be right across the border in Shenzhen. However, there was a big flaw in this plan, Sirus was hard to get a hold of. The last time we’d been in contact was last year, by some fluke the Chinese government allowed them to use Gmail, but otherwise, we had no other way of reaching each other. Not even by phone. I tried desperately to email him at other addresses, to Skype him, and even messaged his mother via Facebook but I never caught him, it would truly be a solo trip.
Knowing this, I filled my itinerary and booked a hike and a smattering of touristy things. Last Tuesday night Bo squeezed my hand in the back of a cab to JFK. “You’re going to the country with the largest population, you’re going to see Asia!” he exclaimed. I wished so badly that he could come and experience it. We parted at the gate, and 15 hours later, I landed in Seoul, Korea, and then eventually, Hong Kong.
On Thursday, March 26, I stepped off a plane at Hong Kong airport, and felt like a pioneer. No one in my immediate family had yet to make a trip to China (let alone South Korea). I walked myself to a red taxi cab due to the hotel. My driver, at 120 kilometers an hour, sped me across bridges and highways. Hong Kong is made up of over 200 little islands, and from that vantage point, I could see them dotting the ocean. We passed a bus full of Chinese tourists, and one of them, an elderly man, waved as I passed.
I looked out at the palm trees that decorated the sides of the highway and flanking the bottom of the high rises. Unlike New York, the Hong Kong high rises were in pastel peach and green, and very uniform. The cars drove on the left side, a holdover from their British history.
The driver pulled me up to the corner of my hotel, The Empire Causeway Bay. I wasn’t as jet lagged as I thought I’d be, so I took a quick nap and dressed and went for a walk in Victoria Park.
It was 70 degrees, and I reveled in the warmth. The sun started to set on the park, and Hong Kong’s citizens were doing post-work walks. Kids were in the ball courts and couples were walking to dinner. At the end of the park I found myself in the thick of Causeway Bay, a neighborhood that seems devoted to shopping. I found a cute cafe, Cafe Eos, for dinner. It wasn’t the authentic Chinese food I hoped for, but I needed to eat. Then I went back to the hotel to sleep at 8 pm. The next day, would be my six-hour hike in the woods.
I booked a tour guide, Kent, through Back Country Tours to guide me on the 17 kilometer route around Plover Cove, a succession of lush hills around Hong Kong’s reservoir. It’s a part of the city that most tourists never see. It’s rural, quiet, and the true definition of “off-the-beaten-path”. I booked a hike because I needed to see some green. Sure, the city has Central Park, but one is never truly alone there, and I needed to do something that scared me a little bit. I needed to turn a corner and not know what was on the other side.
We took three MTR trains to the last stop, and a rambling mini-bus to Bride’s Pool, the start of the climb. The legend is that a bridal party went to take wedding photos at the top of the waterfall and the bride fell and died.
Kent explained what else we would be seeing: a multitude of abandoned villages once occupied by the Hakka (Hong Kong’s oldest settlers), farms, streams, and very lovely views.
“Too bad the weather,” he said, gesturing to the overcast sky. The sun had been hiding behind the clouds ever since I landed in Hong Kong.
Kent had done the climb on Wednesday to “suss it out” for me. In the abandoned village of Lai Chi Wo, he has been followed by a wild dog, to monkeys and further down the path saw a snake. This news, made it even more exciting.
“Snake?” I said. He laughed.
“Yeah, I just waited for him to pass,” he said.
After seeing Bride’s Pool we started our ascent. The beginning was rough and steep. We crossed concrete foot paths with stepping stones, and large warning signs along the way. At the first village there were four feral cows (two calfs). Kent explained that they didn’t belong to anybody and roamed free through the area.
We heard the call of monkey’s in the trees, a low and strange sound. The path then went straight, on a raised track made of pink stone. We walked through another village, past a beach surrounding the Hong Kong reservoir. China was on the other side. I kept having moments of sheer excitement and appreciation. The world is so beautiful, it’s a shame we only see such a small percentage of it.
We had a picnic at a look out point, Kent packed smoked salmon (so I could observe Lent), and pita, hummus, cheese cucumber, tomato and Dragon fruit.
“I’ve never had it,” I said.
“It’s not a powerful flavor,” he said, “but its got a great texture and lots of water for climbing.”
We talked about life. I told him about some big decisions Bo and I were facing, and he offered some good advice. I asked him about life in Hong Kong, and he noted that the city was quite busy this week because of the Hong Kong Sevens, a big international Rugby tournament.
“Everyone’s going out tonight and tomorrow,” Kent said. “Do you fancy a drink?”
I told him I’d think about it.
Finally we reached Lai Chi Wo, the most famous of the Hakka villages. We peeked in an old temple, and passed the homes. They were eerie, but still quite beautiful. “Ever saw ‘Spirited Away?’” I joked with Kent, referring to the opening scenes of the film. We happened upon a farm where both women and men were bending over the crop in silence.
The last hours of the hike were tough. We went up about six flights of steep stairs. A couple in their mid-40s appeared behind us, at and a resting place, the husband had enough.
“I am a t-bone steak,” he said. “well-done, nearly dead.”
“The worst is over,” Kent said. “Once you’re past these hills, you can get the bus back to the MTR.”
The wife, excitedly, hit her husbands arm.
They followed at a distance the rest of the way, past the reservoir shore, through another abandoned village. (A rather small snake crossed my path, but Kent didn’t say a word till it was gone.)
At the end of the hike, we reached a tiny little town (literally just three restaurants and a few outdoor tables). The villagers watched Kent and I suspiciously as we waited, I guessed they didn’t see many strangers very often.
After reaching the hotel, I had promised Kent I’d email to see where he and his girlfriend were going out. I sat in the bed just to close my eyes, but didn’t wake up until the next day.