Last night, we ventured across the water to Kowloon and to the Temple Street Night Market, Hong Kong’s oldest night market.
We accidentally wandered up to the wrong end of the market at first and I was a little dismayed at how small and seedy it appeared. Fortunately we heard a man say, “You know it goes on over on the other side of the park,” and so we made our way over, via a corridor of stalls selling garish sex toys, illuminated by flickering, blue-tinged lights.
Along the way, I turned to Dario and said, “I don’t think this is where we want to be.”
Temple Street Night Market vendors. Photo by Dario Balca.
The main section of the market, on the other hand, stretched for a number of blocks and consisted of brightly-lit white tents stocked with knock-off watches and bags, cheap cheongsams and kimono robes in vibrant colours, fidget spinners and much, much more. At the end of the street were a number of restaurants with expansive outdoor seating, advertising chilli crab beneath a neon sign reading “sex shop.”
Heat and exhaustion seemed to have taken away my appetite, however, so instead we followed our noses to a stall selling Hong Kong-style bubble waffles with scoops of ice cream. The Michelin Star logo on their menu board convinced us and we split a large plain waffle wrapped around two scoops of vanilla ice cream, complete with sprinkles, all while listening to a couple from Russia cover The Cranberries on a traditional two-stringed instrument.
It was perfect.
This morning we were out the door and on our way to Central at about 8 a.m. We walked around for maybe 20 minutes in search of a bakery for breakfast but most spots were closed so instead we picked up a sandwich and salad and freshly squeezed orange juice to go from Marks and Spencer and ate it on the sidewalk while smartly-dressed locals hurried past us to work.
We walked to the base of the Peak Tram and were delighted to find there was no wait to board the trolley up the mountain. It was a short, steep ride up through thick green foliage, past side streets and huffing hikers and then, as we neared the top, interludes of skyline views.
I was a little surprised to arrive to a sort of mall at the top, complete with a floor for souvenir shops, a Madame Tussaud’s, multiple restaurants including a Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., and an area where you could pose in front of various painted backdrops of the city and then purchase a photo to take home.
We walked to the Lions lookout and snapped a series of panoramas, and I turned to Dario and said, “this is what they call a world-class, one-in-a-lifetime view.”
We headed inside to take the series of escalators up to the Sky Terrace viewing platform, only to realize it didn’t open for another fifteen minutes. It was okay, though, as we ended up first in line to go up, facing a squat employee who guarded the roped-off entrance to the escalator with great commitment.
At 10 a.m. on the dot he turned his key and the escalator hummed to life (have I mentioned that, as if to match the pace of the city, escalators seem to move extremely fast here?). We were the first ones up onto the platform and had a few precious moments to take a video of the space free from the crowds.
The view truly was incredible. Directly in front of us stood the densely packed skyscrapers of Central, hemmed in by mountain slopes. The ocean beyond was a vibrant turquoise, slightly muted by a thin layer of haze, and Kowloon beyond seemed packed with an impossible number of additional high rises.
As Vancouverites we are blessed with an abundance of city, mountain and ocean views, but Dario and I agreed that there was no comparing to the scene from the highest viewpoint in Hong Kong and those back home — not in a better or worse way, but in the sense that, despite having the same basic components, the scale of the city, the vibrancy of the tropical greens and teal of the sun on the South China Sea, are completely different from the Pacific Northwest vistas at home.
Dario shared a photo on Instagram with the caption, “I used to call Toronto the big city.”
From the Sky Terrace, we walked a little down Lugard Road, a shaded trail with wide-leafed trees on either side and butterflies with wingspans the width of my open palm flitting back and forth. It was nice to walk in the shelter of the trees, high above the city, but soon we were hot and sticky and so we turned around to seek out air conditioning and wifi.
We bought a couple of pricey smoothies from a cafe inside and sat by the large windows, looking out at the view and plotting our next moves. We created a lengthy itinerary spreadsheet before leaving Vancouver and have been regularly referring to it for guidance (and then getting so sidetracked that we don’t follow the plan anyway).
We took the tram down to ground level and then walked towards the escalators before turning up onto Pottinger Street. I’d seen photos of the steep side street online and was charmed by the uneven steps and stones and intrigued by the descriptor “lined with shops selling costumes.”
What I didn’t realize was that the stalls were literally selling Halloween-style masks, animal onesies and dismembered rubber limbs.
That said, the first stretch of the street was strung with red paper lanterns and the addition of stylish women hurrying by in their loose-fitting summer wear made for lovely people-watching and photo-taking conditions.
From Pottinger we walked up Hollywood Road, pausing to admire street art and duck into a shop or two. Then we boarded the Central Mid-Level Escalator and rode up four or five blocks before a lovely little lane lured us off the mechanized path.
There was something almost Parisian about the dead-end street with a small cafe to the left and I raised my camera to my eye to snap the final shot on my roll: laundry flapping in the breeze, framed by tree leaves.
I brought the camera down and fished another roll of film out from my bag and that’s when tragedy hit. Dario cranked the knob for winding up the used film, made a funny face, popped open the back of the camera and…it was empty. No film.
By this time we were both hot and hungry and I was feeling particularly irate, but Dario was very sympathetic and helped me retrace our steps to Pottinger Street so that I could re-shoot a few photos I remembered attempting to take earlier.
Then we walked back down Queen’s Road and up to Stanley Street in search of Yat Lok restaurant, famous for its Michelin-Star-earning roast goose.
We split a plate of char siu and goose over noodles, and one of roast pork and soy sauce chicken over noodles. Everything was amazing.
Geese suspended in Yat Lok
Lunch at Yat Lok
The char siu — Dario’s favourite — was the most tender and flavourful I’ve ever had, totally unlike the almost-candied variety from our local T&T at home. The chicken was moist, the skin of the roast pork perfectly crisp, and my favourite, the roast goose, was fatty and crisp and gamey in all the best ways. A meal to remember for less than $25 CAD total.
After lunch we headed back to Sai Ying Pun, intending to rest. I was still feeling eager to use up my film, however, so we took a detour to go see a street of dried seafood vendors that Dario had passed on our first day.
On the way we stopped at a very trendy cafe/bar and Dario ordered a cold brew and .I had a cocktail that smelled heavily of anise. The setting was so hip that we felt compelled to order a second drink and eavesdrop on the effortlessly cool baristas who all looked Chinese and spoke Cantonese but were also fluent in Australian-accented and British-accented English.
We ordered to “Gwei-lo” beers — slang for “white person” or “westerner” — and lingered on bar stools by the window.
Feeling rejuvenated, we finished our walk among the dried seafood stall, photographing the translucent balloons of former sea creatures in the pungent air.
Then it was back to the apartment to cool off with cold showers and cold drinks.
We were out the door again in the early evening and took the metro to Tsim Sha Tsui, on the Kowloon side.
We walked from the station to the waterfront next to the space museum and staked out a spot to watch the Symphony of Lights. Even before the show began, the skyline and harbour were lit with the glow of city lights and massive advertisements for banks and tech companies.
At 8:00 p.m., music began playing through nearby speakers and laser beams shot into the sky. The lit-up billboards and stripes of lights along the skyscrapers opposite of us began pulsing in concert with one another, flashing text in English and Chinese and images of people walking and paint dripping down the buildings. It was fun to watch but really the view on its own was just as mesmerizing.
After the show, we walked up to a mall. Dario keeps asking why everything here is in malls and I really don’t have a better guess than “because they’re air conditioned and because consumerism.”
This particular air-conditioned consumer magnet also housed the famous Din Tai Fung, however. And even though we knew we could find another location in Seattle, we were almost out of cash and opted for a meal that we knew would be good and that we’d be able to pay for with a card.
As it turned out this particular Din Tai Fung (which has also earned a Michelin star! We are becoming total snobs!) far, far exceeded our expectations. The menu was a little different than when we went in Seattle, save for their famous xiao long bao, and so we ordered two baskets of soup dumplings, some cold green beans with pork and dried shrimp, pork and spinach wonton in chilli sauce and peppery pork cutlet over egg friend rice.
On a trip during which every meal seems to top the last, it certainly fit the trend.
After dinner, we walked a bit along the water near the clock tower and Star Ferry terminal, and then boarded a ferry back to Central. Unfortunately I led us to the side of the boat without a view of the city and the rollicking motion, combined with the heat, left me feeling quite seasick. But the ride was brief and we soon disembarked and headed home to our Airbnb.
We are having such an amazing time here.
We booked this trip in dreary Vancouver January and now that we are here I already feel like I’m fighting my own memory as I race to put impressions down on paper: the pace, the sounds, the flavours, the colours, the smell of raw pig hooves and sight of leafy Chinese banyan trees hanging in the humid air.
Right now home — wonderful as it is — is far away. My couch, my kitchen counters, my desk, are all out of reach. But soon enough that set up will reverse.
Before it does, I’m doing my best to strike that balance between soaking it all in, capturing it all by camera and pen, and stopping long enough to catch my breath.
Temple Street Night Market
Victoria Peak and Sky Terrace
Symphony Of Lights
Din Tai Fung