Hidden Hong Kong on the Cheap

This isn’t going to be your typical Hong Kong things to do. If you’re looking for that – here’s my advice – read Time Magazine: go see the Peak, take a Heli-Tour, High Tea at The Peninsula. If you’re on a budget, go see the real Hong Kong and experience the sights, smells, tastes, and people of the SAR on the cheap.

Start in Sheung Wan. Think antiques, boutiques and… food. Imagine that. All that is needed right now is a couple of microbreweries and you will believe that Einstein-Rosen bridge just teleported you from Brooklyn, and in transit spaghetti started being made with fish balls rather than meat balls. One time, lost and stomach rumbling to the point where it didn’t matter if I could read the menu, I wandered into one of these cha chaan tengs called For Kee – couldn’t tell you what it means. I was craving sustenance and the place smelled delicious with tea and garlic aromas blowing into the street from a fan exhaust. The fried pork chop sandwich with tomato slices and milk tea combo blew my mind – so much so I got another sandwich. The tomato fish-ball spaghetti – well, let’s just say… not so much.

The best way to get at this neighborhood currently is to go to Central MTR, head up the escalators to the Mid-Levels and turn right on Stauntons Street. From there it’s a short jaunt that takes you through streets filled with tasty foods and cool trinkets. Head towards Man Mo Temple to inundate yourself with antiques and the likes of all sorts, both real and fake – try your own luck. I found a great little first print edition of Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book to add to my Chinese communist memorabilia. Be sure to try out the private kitchen experience, a Hong Kong trend, at Magnolia, a hip little Creole kitchen in the neighborhood. We sat down and had a huge family style meal of gumbo, jambalaya, and beef ribs drenched in some delectable KC Masterpiece Sauce. I know this because I saw them making this “Cajun Sauce,” to which I declared “Ah! KC Masterpiece, Nice touch.” I call it like it is – and if they do too I guess it means that KC is code for Kansas Cajun… who knew? But, if you would rather keep it cheap as I usually do, finish this walk with cheap beer and some ready-made noodles from the local grocer and head to Red Bar on the rooftop of the IFC building where your view takes in all of Victoria Harbour.

Another option, take the Star Ferry from Central Pier 7 outside Hong Kong Station to get to Tsim Sha Tsui (TST). This is the best and worst of Hong Kong – the place where personal space goes to die. There, you can expect to find anything you want: a bit of hash and a hooker to a Rolex (real or fake) and a finely tailored Italian wool suit. Depends on the people you talk to. The maze of roads between Nathan and Chatham is the best way to see the heart of TST. Check out the Chungking Mansions on Nathan Road for an authentic and inexpensive taste of the Indian Subcontinent or Kimberley Street for the best kimchi west of Korea. Walk north from the Harbor to get to Temple Street Market – a night market filled with everything – keep an eye out for the guy selling vintage time pieces – you can get a deal if you know what you’re doing.

Or, leave the city. You can go from the most populous place on the planet, to being alone on the side of a mountain, with spectacular views of city skylines and mountains. After a hard week of walking the streets in shoulder to shoulder traffic, to take a 30 minute bus ride and be the only person on trail brings a well appreciated respite. I like the Twins. It is a good intermediate hike that starts from Central Exchange Bus Terminal on bus 6. Get off at the Wong Nai Chung Gap and then follow the signs for Wilson Trail Stage 1. In the two hours it takes to get to Stanley Beach I feel like I made a stairmaster my bitch – only to finish the workout out with some beers on the boardwalk. Of all the trails to choose, I most enjoy the hikes that can finish back in a small nexus of civilization, reminding me of all the hustle of Hong Kong that I have to return to. There are hundreds of hikes to do, from well marked to unmaintained and “impassable.”