Travelogue: Hong Kong

At the beginning of April I had the rare opportunity to hop on a plane and travel to Southeast Asia.  Being that I love an adventure, I leapt at the chance.  On the itinerary was Hong Kong, then Jakarta, Indonesia, and finally Seminyak and Ubud, on the island of Bali.  This being my first trip to Southeast Asia, I knew I needed to savor every moment so I made it my goal to learn as much as I could about the design scenes of each vastly different city.  This is the first of three travelogues that I will write about the one of the most extraordinary journeys of my life, one for each section of my trip beginning with Hong Kong.

Speak to anyone about visiting Hong Kong and the first thing they will tell you is there is no way to see everything in one trip.  This city of seven million people is extremely vibrant, full of culture and diversity, and a breeze to navigate thanks to Cantonese/English signage, incredible public transit, and (when all else fails) cheap taxis.  When I travel I like to make a rough plan at the beginning of each day and then allow it to fall apart as I get lost and discover unexpected places.  I knew that four days in Hong Kong would not be enough to do everything I wanted to so I allowed myself to let go of my expectations and to enjoy neighborhoods, shops, galleries, and cafés more than I might if I stuck to a strict schedule.  

The city that unfolded before my eyes when I stepped out the door of my hotel each day was vast and yet incredibly locally-minded.  A major metropolis that is both easy for a Westerner to understand and worlds away.

Hong Kong Island

Hong Kong Island

I stayed in the Central area on Hong Kong Island and set out my first morning to explore the Sheung Wan neighborhood, which I had been told housed many of the design showrooms in the city.  I loved this quiet and hilly neighborhood, which reminded me of San Fransisco mixed with a little bit of London.

Sheung Wan

Sheung Wan

Bamboo scaffolding!

Bamboo scaffolding!

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As is mandated by law, all of Hong Kong's buildings must use bamboo scaffolding while under construction, including sky-scrapers, which is both magical and terrifyingly beautiful.  

I found many shops selling furniture, new and antique, much of it imported from Europe, but one that I absolutely loved was Amelie & Tulips, which sells new pieces in the mid-century modern aesthetic mainly from The Netherlands.  Sheung Wan has many small alleyways and these are where I found my favorite spots.  I noticed Common Ground, a quiet coffee shop and café, after spotting a beautiful antique chair outside the shop as I peaked up a hilly carless alleyway.  The coffee was perfect and the owners welcoming and full of good conversation.  In a city with a vibrant coffee scene these guys stand out.

Common Ground

Common Ground

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After I got my coffee fix I headed to the Gagosian Gallery's Hong Kong outpost as well as Pearl Lam Gallery (conveniently housed in the same building).  I wasn't blown away by the work they were showing but was glad to stop in.

Pearl Lam Gallery

Pearl Lam Gallery

Pearl Lam Galler

Pearl Lam Galler

That night we went out in search of some of that delicious food Hong Kong is known for.  We headed to Yardbird.  I had walked by it during the day and later read that it was one the hot new spots in town that many said wasn't to be missed.  As many new restaurants in any large city around the world, they don't take reservations, so we gave them our name and phone number and headed to find a bar in which to enjoy our two-hour wait.  Thankfully we found Mitte Bar, a grungy-chic Italian bar close by.  The drinks were perfect and in no time were back at Yardbird enjoying one of the best dinners I've had in months.  The Chinese/American-influenced Japanese fare is wacky and extraordinary and the sake list is vast and delightful.  Don't miss Yardbird.

The next day I headed to the water to get some perspective and grabbed an old-and-efficient Star Ferry to Kowloon across the harbor.  These ferries have been running forever and are a great way to discover Hong Kong's vast harbor.  I didn't have time to explore much of Kowloon, but the view of Hong Kong Island from the water front was beautiful and well-worth the $2.50 HKD cost and 10 minute ride.  

The Star Ferry in Hong Kong Harbor

The Star Ferry in Hong Kong Harbor

Kowloon waterfront

Kowloon waterfront

The Hong Kong Arts Centre on Kowloon

The Hong Kong Arts Centre on Kowloon

Back on Hong Kong Island I headed for Kennedy town, high up in the hills where the University of Hong Kong is located.

Hiking up to Kennedy Town

Hiking up to Kennedy Town

One of the many old buildings on the University of Hong Kong campus.

One of the many old buildings on the University of Hong Kong campus.

Heeding a tip from a friend I met the day before I headed to Ethos, a new concept café, shop, and gallery space in Kennedy Town that is intelligently curated and filled with creative items for the home and workplace.  I chatted with one of the owners about what it was like to open a multi-genre lifestyle shop in Hong Kong and he told me it was still very rare and risky but he felt it was the future of live retail, something I've heard from many people in cities from NYC to Paris and now to Hong Kong. 

Ethos

Ethos

Ethos

Ethos

After wandering the hills and getting myself thoroughly lost I happened upon Café Deadend.  Situated next to it's equally-delicious sister bakery, this spot serves fresh fare and the salad I ordered on the chef's recommendation, was brightly flavored and delicious.  I wanted to spend ours in the beautifully-designed space sipping my cappuccino.   

Café Deadend

Café Deadend

Our last day in Hong Kong we hopped on a boat and headed 30 minutes from Central to Lamma Island based on a recommendation from my friend Sonia Scarr of Scarr Co.  Sonia had told me that Lamma Island is part of Hong Kong, but is feels like it is worlds away.  This completely car-less island turned out to be a must-see for the views and natural landscape alone and exceeded our expectations in so many ways.  After jumping off the ferry we took a four-hour hike through jungles, tiny villages, over white-sand beaches, and finally back to the 'town' where the ferry dropped us for a lunch of the morning's catches by the local fisherman.  It was a stunning place I will never forget and it is something everyone should see to experience the extreme varieties and juxtapositions that make up Hong Kong. 

Lamma Island

Lamma Island

Lamma Island

Lamma Island

Lamma Island

Lamma Island

Bananas on Lamma Island!

Bananas on Lamma Island!

Lamma Island

Lamma Island

On our final morning we headed to the center of town to catch our plane.  Now, that may sound odd, but one of the most innovative moves Hong Kong has made is the Airport Express station in Central Hong Kong.  Located at the IFC, a massive downtown shopping center, the Airport Express is a train that takes you directly to the airport.  Not only is it fast, (20 minutes door to door) but upon arrival to the station you check your bags and you don't see them until you've flown and landed at your destination.  That means you can check your bags, do some shopping or grab lunch, and then take your train - luggage-free - to the airport and directly to your gate.  Why every city doesn't have this system is beyond me.  It was so easy and left me with memories of a Hong Kong as a city that is welcoming, complex, accessible, and full of life.  I can't wait to go back and discover even more.  

Airport Express station at IFC

Airport Express station at IFC

Airport Express

Airport Express

Hong Kong Airport

Hong Kong Airport

Have you been to Hong Kong?  Do you have must-sees that I missed.  Please leave a comment and add to the discovery.  Thanks!