grub + travels + perspectives

Exploring Hong Kong

Related Reading:
Exploring Hong Kong: More Street Art
Exploring Hong Kong: Day 2

This was the last photograph I took before we left for Macau, which kind of reflected how I felt at that point. My window was painted with the early morning drizzle, and I just had to take a moment, stand there and stare for a few minutes to let it all sink in: I've finally popped my international travel cherry and it was nothing I expected it to be.


March 2016 when Jom asked me if I wanted to tag along with him to Hong Kong (it's his annual thing) and since I've never went out of this country before (and there was a PAL seat sale haha), I said yes. I needed a reason to get a passport anyway, everyone in my circle wouldn't stop giving me a hard time about it.

Between that time our flights were booked and on the day of our departure itself, I've had bouts of anxiety once in a while. I'm equally excited and nervous. I'm afraid the universe would go all Murphy's Law on me. What if I get lost? What if I lose my passport days before our flight? What if I stupidly forget my passport before we fly? What if my leave doesn't get approved? What if for some unfathomable reason, the immigration people would not let me go? My worries were infinite. I guess one can't help but obsessing about the smallest things in times like this. Or I just overthink. A lot.

I've never imagined my first international travel to be Hong Kong. It was never on the list of countries my friends suggest I go to within Asia. It's always Singapore or Thailand, even Vietnam or Nepal but never Hong Kong. I just said yes to an opportunity and I had no idea how it will turn out. But then I read this and this and it sealed the deal. I've never been more ecstatic to leave. This is going to be good. This is going to be great.

Itinerary? Check! Jom took care of that months before. My baggage? Check! Zipped up and ready a day before we leave (which never happens because I hate packing and I always do it the last minute). My nails gnawed to the point of oblivion because of nervousness? Check! I was all set! It was finally November 19th (yes, this blog post is waaaaay overdue), straight from our shifts, Charm drove us to the airport (Thanks, Charm!) I was so excited for everything. All I could think of was "OMG THIS IS IT. Goodbye, n00bness! It's really happening! I'm finally setting foot on foreign land!" Hahaha. I tried my very best to act like this was no big deal *dusts off shoulders* but deep inside, I was really this big ball of nerves, so high strung and fidgety.

Flight went without a hitch (well, except that little nerve-racking moment when the immigration person here in PH was asking way too many questions, and ugh, I can't forget his face, as if he's savoring the moment I'm at his mercy), and 15 or so minutes I was in the HK airport, while waiting for the baggage carousel to cough out our luggage, I took the photo above (because it honestly begged to be photographed -- okay, not really, I just have this thing with floors), an airport personnel then approached me and gestured towards a signage that said photos were not allowed. I panicked a little then apologized. Good job, self! Not even there for a full hour and you're already breaking rules.

Here's a photo of our taxi's top light because I didn't get to take decent pictures while in the MTR from the airport. LOL.
'Why is everything sombre? ' was my first thought while we're in the MTR going to our Airbnb. Everything seems desaturated. The oceans, the skyline, the buildings all appeared washed out and grey. Somehow, it felt gloomy. I was honestly very uncertain at this point if I'd love like it here. (Side note: I would try to be a little helpful here by reminding you to get a prepaid SIM card for your Internet needs at the airport, have your money exchanged to Hong Kong dollars and also, avail of an Octopus card. It's the most convenient thing to have while in HK. Or you could have a responsible friend who'd take care of that for you because he's been there way too many times. Too many times that it took a few months of convincing before he said yes to coming back to HK with you. Hahaha. *cough*Terr*cough*)

First order of business: settling in our Airbnb (we stayed at Heung Hoi Mansion located along Jaffe Road in Wan Chai) and taking a bit of rest, but since we arrived a little early and the apartment was still being cleaned and prepared, we just left our things there and decided to go about our day 1 afternoon activities. First destination: Dim Sum Square!

I think this was when the magic began to creep in and take hold of my heart.

Everywhere I looked, Hong Kong was utterly photogenic. I was in awe. I was not expecting it at all. Everything was shiny and new and I felt like an eager little girl. I had hopes of capturing beautiful photos at night time, when the sun is out and the streets were bathed in neon lights, but there's something so vibrant and romantic about the pastel buildings, the hustle and bustle of busy bodies, and the odd blend of old, traditional buildings with the new ones, all perfectly complemented by the sunlight, as if carefully positioned, peeking at the gaps between structures. Every alleyway and every street had a different story to tell. You can practically stand at any random corner and still get a pretty picture. It was blasphemous of me to assume that Hong Kong is a hue-muted country. I was very, very wrong.

Internally kinikilig while riding the tram.
Clockenflap posters all around! So sad we missed this!
After that epiphany-inducing tram ride and some walking, we found Dim Sum Square, which was located at Hillier and Jervois Street in Sheung Wan. I was really, really excited to try Hong Kong food!

Top left, clockwise: Ha gao (shrimp crystal dumplings), Chicken and Chinese mushroom rice pot, Minced beef and fried egg rice pot, Siu mai, Crispy BBQ pork buns, poached vegetables (we think this is pechay), Xiao long bao, Creamy custard buns and spring rolls wrapped by rice rolls.
I wouldn't really know what's considered 'cheap' here in Hong Kong since it's my first time but most blogs and Open Rice reviews state that Dim Sum Square's got the affordability and quality boxes checked so I guess that's that. The place was packed and there was a queue when we arrived. We had to wait around 15 minutes before we were seated.

You will be given a sheet of paper and you just tick off the ones you'd want to order. Of course, I had some of my favorites, ha gao and xiao long bao, but surprisingly, my pick for this spread would be the crispy BBQ pork buns and rice-wrapped spring rolls! For someone that doesn't like siopao, I really, really enjoyed eating the pork buns! A crunchy and fried bread roll was what I had in mind, but it was actually more light, soft and crumbly than crispy, and it was filled with chunks of juicy, flavorful char siu (Chinese BBQ pork). It was sooo good! I'm a fan of their rice-wrapped spring rolls as well. It's something I've never seen before and relied on the fact that it had spring rolls in it. Haha. I've always liked spring rolls and that, with the combination of soft steamed rice rolls actually worked for me. I was satisfied with the other dim sum as well. The xiao long bao and ha gao were very meaty and tasty, definitely not scrimping on the shrimp because it was very evident in the taste. The custard buns were a surprise. I was expecting something like a caramel pudding filling but it tasted more like sweetened salted egg yolks. [Edit] Apparently, there are 2 types of Chinese custard buns: liu sha bao (salted eggs filling) and lai wong bao (milk + cream filling), the ones we had were the former. [/Edit] Service was fast and no muss, no fuss!

Gough Street
Next stop was Elephant Grounds in Gough Street, which is this neighborhood that's home to hip and stylish boutiques and restaurants. (We found out about Elephant Grounds when we're I was researching about Instagram-able cafes/restaurants in Hong Kong. Hehe.) There are lots of quirky finds in Gough Street! We did manage to go to Elephant Grounds but since the space was too small and there were a handful of people, we decided to skip the coffee and just wandered the entire street more.

HOMELESS is a popular furniture and home accessories shop. The long line in front was for the must-visit restaurant Kau Kee, which serves bucket list worthy beef brisket noodles.
Inside Elephant Grounds in WOAW Store (World of Amazing Wonders)
Then we found a gold mine: the first of a whole lot of Hong Kong street art!!! This one is by Caratoes.
When you reach the end of Gough Street, be sure to go down the flight of stairs. This particular graffiti by street art crew MultiStab can only be seen a few steps down.

When Jom and Terr told me that we would do A LOT of walking in Hong Kong, I didn't expect the phrase 'a lot' was meant to be taken in its truest sense. Good thing the weather was cooperative! It was tiring, sure, but it was super satisfying as well. I think my mind went into overdrive because too many things happened at once: I was so thrilled, trying to absorb as much visual treat as I can, but I also had this conscious effort of trying not to stick out like a sore thumb and be a nuisance to anyone. I took photos but I made sure I didn't get in the way. I marveled at every little thing I saw but I did not linger too much. My emotions were somewhere in between being jubilant and apprehensive. I was worn out but I was happy.

After Gough Street, we looked around Western Market and bought drinks from Gong Cha because I was exhausted and thirsty from all the wandering then decided to head home to get that much needed rest. We were supposed to go to The Peak, Avenue of the Stars and watch the Symphony of Lights that night but I was so done for the day. What I swore would be a 15-minute nap turned into a full night's sleep. So these activities were pushed to our day 2.

And this is what I woke up to:

Throughout the day, Hong Kong was sensory entropy -- the good kind. I had to take it all in: the overall energy, that distinct scent in the air, the surprises at every turn of the street, the first times on a lot of things, the parade of luxury cars, the curious stares, the colorful STREET ART, the shuffle of people, the soft-colored skyscrapers, the rows of high end shops, the joy of riding the tram, the wonderful dishes, the newness of everything that's in front of me, the signs that draped the roads, the ache in my feet, everything. But still I was undecided if this was a place I'd come back to in the future.

Waking up to this sight, I can't help but mumble expletives under my breath because even my window view was picture perfect. It was so surreal. Dim roads, yellow lights and aligned taxicabs? How is this not perfect? How can this not tip the scale and make you completely infatuated with this place? It's as if Hong Kong's orchestrated for me a scene straight out of a Wong Kar-wai film and put it where I can conveniently see it. This city knew how to take my breath away.

To be honest, I had the hardest time blogging about Hong Kong (hence, the almost 2-month delay of this blog post) because I think I was afraid I wouldn't be able to properly convey to people how much this place has affected me. I would start drafting a post, the rush of emotions and thoughts and all the bits and pieces would come, then I'd end up speechless. I know that sounded overly dramatic (and I may come across like some starstruck high school girl) but you know how in life there are people you just unexpectedly fall in love with? It can absolutely happen with places too.


That wraps up our first day. I believe my photos and stories will never be enough as these are all just second hand and will never be able to duplicate what my eyes saw and what my skin felt. There's this certain allure to Hong Kong that I don't think I can ever put into words, but I hope that my attempt to document the wonderful journey we had would inspire you to experience it yourself. I hope you stick around and continue to read more about it. 😊