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No matter where I find myself in the world, I’m always drawn to meeting new people and discovering a fresh perspective. Lucky for me, Hong Kong never seems to have a shortage of surprises. I used to be a lawyer in my former life, which involved interviewing witnesses and talking to a lot of strangers, so I guess that skill translates easily when you’re a writer travelling solo in a big city.
I’m here because I was lucky enough to win the Rising Star Award from the Australian Society of Travel Writers, who bundled me off to Hong Kong to report for Traveller. It’s a region I’ve always wanted to visit, but never had the chance, so I was pretty excited about my visit.
What surprised you the most about Hong Kong?
I’ll have to admit I’d always imagined Hong Kong to be an expensive destination, the kind where dining and entertaining yourself would come with a hefty price tag. I was so relieved to find this wasn’t the case, especially when it comes to eating out. Sure, you can choose to eat at top-end restaurants, but you’ll find some of the best foodie haunts are also the cheapest. They serve up authentic dishes, sometimes with generations of the same family working in the restaurant and perfecting the recipe. Sham Shui Po is particularly good for this, where you can rub shoulders with the locals while sharing a tiny table and slurping down a Michelin-star winning dish.
Any cultural hot tips for readers?
If you’re eating out: BYO napkins. For a city that loves to eat, restaurateurs don’t usually supply their customers with napkins to keep their fingers cleaned. Bringing your own napkins was a great tip from my food guide in Sham Shui Po at the start of my stay in Hong Kong. She gave me a packet of napkins for that tour, and I used them for my entire trip!
Where are the best places to eat, drink and enjoy the nightlife?
You can’t really beat Soho in Central, where there’s so many restaurants and bars to choose from. I’d suggest starting off at Ho Lee Fook, where you can eat some eclectic pan-Asian dishes (like a fusion of prawn toast and Japanese okonomiyaki) set to a thumping soundtrack. After that, stop in at The Globe to taste a selection of locally-produced craft beers or hotfoot it to Dragonfly at the newly opened Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and Arts. I’ve never stepped foot inside a bar quite like Dragonfly, it’s just oozing with personality.
Where do you go to 'get away from it all' in Hong Kong?
That just begs the question: why would you want to get away from it all? I love the big city vibes, but when I want a little time to myself I find the inner city parks, like Hong Kong Park to be a great retreat. Getting out of Central to somewhere like Sai Ying Pun is also a good idea. You can easily while away some time exploring the colourful street art in the backstreets of ArtLane.
Pick three ‘must do’s’ for anyone visiting Hong Kong for the first time.
If you’re short on time and really need to focus on the highlights while you’re in Hong Kong, then I’d definitely recommend a visit to Tai Kwun. The new arts hub, which contains shops, restaurants, cafes and galleries, is housed inside the former Central Police Headquarters. It’s a great way to get a dose of history and modern culture at the same time.
Sham Shui Po is also a quick train ride away. Visiting this neighbourhood on the Kowloon side is an excellent way to escape the Central metropolis and crowds and get an insight into what local living in Hong Kong really looks like. You can shop pretty cheaply here and eat some world-class street food while you’re at it.
Lastly, I’d recommend booking a show at the Xiqu Centre’s Teahouse Theatre. Xiqu is the new opera centre in West Kowloon that’s just opened, and the Teahouse does opera the traditional way, when businessmen would eat and drink while a show was performed in the background. Today it’s a bit more polite, with the focus on the performance first, but you can still order tea and drink dim sum while enjoying a cultural experience.
Tell us a story! What's your most memorable/exciting/bizarre experience of Hong Kong?
I was crossing beneath the flyover in Wan Chai when I found a group of older women sitting on red stools with incense and candles around them. I sat down with one of them and she turned out to be a fortune-teller and sorceress. The woman dispelled the enemies from my life by using a bit of folk sorcery. She had a piece of paper with a generic picture of a person on it (representing whoever is causing me trouble), she beat it to shreds with her shoe before feeding the pieces to a tiger and then burning the whole lot. After that she set some offerings on fire and waved them over my head to grant me good luck, then told my fortune using two pieces of wood. It was a bizarre and funny experience. I even took a selfie with her afterwards!
The Final Fast Five - First 5 words that come to mind about Hong Kong.