Now before you all start, I actually wrote this post a WHILE ago but since Fiji doesn’t believe in WiFi stronger than 2mbps it was pretty much impossible to upload or download anything bigger than a snapchat or a WhatsApp message. Now that I’m back in ‘civilisation’ with hot showers, edible food and most importantly a steady WiFi connection, let me tell you about my time in Hong Kong, and why I won’t be returning to this floating city in any great hurry.
I’ve started this post purposely on a low note as to be quite honest that’s exactly how my stay in Hong Kong began. The onward flight to Fiji had always been booked from HK on the 22nd February so in my head, booking my ticket from Hanoi on the 18th seemed like the most logical idea at the time, as it would give me 4 whole days to explore the city and relax after my go-go-go Vietnam adventure. On paper this plan was pretty solid, in reality it was probably the worst decision I’ve made on my trip so far. It didn’t even cross my mind to take into account the price rise of accommodation in CHINA during CHINESE new year which made dorm rooms (usually worth around 5 or 6 quid per night) around 10 times higher than during the rest of the calendar year. And since it’s me, I only figured this out the night BEFORE I was due to board the plane. In absolute desperation I turned to the Couchsurfing app to see if a local could maybe host me for the short time I would be there. After all, it might well be a great way of seeing the real side of China rather than seeing it from a typical backpacker hostel perspective right?
First of all, I received a reply from a local saying I could stay with him as long as I didn’t mind sneaking around his family. Apparently his mum and dad had banned him from hosting any more backpackers in case the Chinese government raided the place for secretly harbouring refugees… It reaaally wasn’t looking hopeful. As a last resort I posted on Facebook in a bid to reach out to my family, friends, and friends of friends, hoping that someone somewhere would provide me with an alternative other than forking out 200 quid for a bed in Chunking mansions…(picture a high-rise in Cambuslang packed to the brim with hostels operating under 10 different names…PEAK level tax evasion skills). Thankfully I received a response from a Leeds University postgraduate student doing his masters in Hong Kong. He offered to host me for 2 nights so I jumped on the metro and made my way there straight away, desperate for a shower and just so bloody glad I wasn’t going to be sleeping rough in a train station – it wouldn’t be the first time let me tell you. So my panic was (temporarily) over, but I was yet to figure out accommodation for the other two nights I’d be in Hong Kong…but don’t worry, we’ll get to that.
So yeah, after I was sorted with somewhere to stay, I tried to perk myself up a little and set out to explore my surroundings. My host knew some great wee local places so we spent the afternoon walking around, jumping on and off the metro and at one point we even hopped across the water to the South Island for some pan fried soup dumplings which were potentially the best part about the bloody place ! He then mentioned he was heading to a rooftop party with some of his coursemates, so NATURALLY I went along, had a couple of ciders and tried to calm down and enjoy myself after what was probably the most emotional 24 hour period I’d had for a WHILE…
The next morning things were starting to look up as it turned out, my friend Will was also in Hong Kong! We made arrangements to meet up and grab a coffee – a coffee that ended up with us hanging around all day, everyday for the rest of my time there and if I’m being honest, he was probably the only reason I had a relatively good time in Hong Kong at all. Will is also a photographer so being able to witness his whole process of finding the perfect shot, as well as working out the best time of the day for peak lighting and then actually being able to see the final edit was such a cool thing to be part of. He also took some pretty cool candids of me while he was at it, pretty handy guy to have around eh?
Together we walked all over the city, up and down the street markets ogling the street foods and performers, tasting local delicacies and witnessing the last of the Chinese New Year parades and celebrations. We shivered our butts off watching the junk boats sail along the river, and navigated the metro system all around the city. For such a bustling, vibrant city, Hong Kong public transport is so easy to use it’s unreal. All you need is an octopus card and you can beep into the subway, on buses, in 7/11s for food and even programme your door key to your cards. It’s one of the most technologically advanced places I’ve ever been in my life. There’s genuinely an app for EVERYTHING you can think of. One day soon, I swear the Chinese will rule the world through an app on their huawei tablets…
SO by this point you’re probably wondering why I started by slamming Hong Kong so much when so far it all seems fairly plain sailing…if not a little stressful finding somewhere to sleep. But on my 3rd night there it was time to change couch surf hosts and well, THAT was an experience. The guy stayed in a cracking apartment tower on the 33rd floor with views right over Hong Kong, but something about him didn’t sit right with me and Will came along with me to scope out the situation first. Admittedly he was a little odd but didn’t seem dangerous or anything so I dropped my bags off and we all went for food and drinks together. He was local, in his late twenties and involved in stocks and trades, so of course all he wanted to talk about was money and his 5 year plan to ‘earn as much as possible as fast as possible’. Yawn.
We went to sleep and it was all fine, until I woke up the next morning and felt like someone was staring at me. He was. I freaked the hell out, made my excuses and went to the bathroom, got myself organised and left to go meet Will for lunch. I spent the entire next day wondering whether I should go back that night and just keep my distance or if I should just bite the bullet and book somewhere to stay now that Chinese New Year was drawing to a close and accommodation prices were steadily declining. Stupidly, I gave him the benefit of the doubt and lived to regret it. I stayed out as late as possible, hoping to just crash on the couch when I got in but he was still up, pretty annoyed that I hadn’t spent any time getting to know him and accused me of just using him for his couch. I’m not entirely sure he grasped the concept of COUCH surfing…Anyone who knows me knows I can’t bite my tongue to save my life, so when he tried to belittle me I was never going to stand there and let him just for the sake of somewhere to sleep. I got the hell out of there and hoofed it to chunking mansions, and with help from Will (bloody star of a guy I swear) I got there safe and sound, quite content (and comfy) and I didn’t even have to whack anyone square in the jaw. Score.
On a more serious note, I am going to end with a few tips on what to do if you ever find yourself in a similar situation, and hopefully writing it will drum it into my own head too should there ever be a “next time”. Firstly, it’s important when you’re travelling to always keep your wits about you. I feel like that’s very much a blanket statement, and oh so cliche but your gut instinct is usually always right and if something seems a little off then nine times out of ten, it is. If it didn’t offer me much else, Hong Kong has provided me with some valuable life lessons at the very least. I’ve learned that your organisational skills can be spot on in terms of arranging hostels and buses and trains etc, but if you don’t check on what’s happening locally in a place during the time you’re gonna be there, you may as well not have bothered. After all, you’re a visitor in a foreign country, and their plans aren’t going to mould or shape themselves around you, you need to learn to be flexible and adapt your own plans to suit. It’s not enough just to be organised. You have to have a plan, and a backup plan and finally, a “oh crap he’s a weirdo” plan should your backup plan take a nose dive down the toilet…I’ve also learned to trust people more, at least those deserving of being trusted and similarly I’ve learned when to trust myself when I know a situation isn’t as it should be.
Hong Kong as a city is actually pretty great, but given the circumstances I found myself in, I do feel it was slightly tainted from the stress of making sure I had somewhere to put my head down at night. If I had been clever about it, I would have stayed in Hanoi a few extra days and arrived in HK 2 days before, rather than 4 days before my flight to Fiji. But oh well, you win some, you lose some and if that’s the worst thing that’s happened so far *and it is, touch wood* then I reckon I’m doing pretty well. There actually is loads to do, and you’re able to pack a lot in in a relatively short space of time due to how well the city is planned out but its true that most folk see HK as a stopover destination, viewed solely a means of connection to their next destination. Few actually add an extra couple of days to their itinerary to get out of the airport and explore, which is a shame really because it definitely is worth a visit, all things considered. So yeah, I’m not saying I won’t go back in the future, but if I do I hope I’ll be older, wiser and HOPEFULLY have garnered a few more brain cells to STOP me from booking a flight during the most expensive time of the year.
Yeah yeah, I know.
Smart move, megs.