Our Hong Kong Express flight took us directly there from Chiang Mai . It seemed that we were leaving Chiang Mai just in time, as the looming bulk of Doi Suthep was barely visible through the haze. On our first visit to Hong Kong, almost 30 years ago, the landing approach took us so low over the skyscrapers that we could see what the residents were eating for dinner – the new airport, way out on an island to the west of Kowloon, makes the experience far more ordinary. But at least the public transport arrangements have been well planned, and the A11 bus took us direct to the heart of Wan Chai on Hong Kong Island, only a short step from our hotel. I didn’t mind the fact that it took almost an hour – it was like a free sightseeing trip, and the sheer scale of the container port operations was astonishing.
By the time we’d checked in it was late afternoon, so we just had time to scout the immediate area and pick up some fruit, yoghurt, milk and cornflakes for breakfasts before dinner at Uncle 4, a budget diner just along the road from the hotel. Coming from Thailand, restaurant prices were a bit of a shock, and most of the cheap looking places had no menus in English – I’d have been happy to take pot luck, but Mr V would probably have ended up with meat. I actually had pork chops and chips at Uncle 4 – not very Chinese, but very tender and a generous portion for about £4.50.
I’d picked on the JJ Hotel in Wan Chai after a fairly exhaustive search. Accommodation in Hong Kong is among the most expensive in Asia, but I wasn’t prepared to stay in a shoebox in Kowloon’s fire-trap Tsim Sha Tsui ‘mansions’. Wan Chai is one of the cheaper areas and our room at the JJ was big enough to avoid tripping over our luggage and gave us a fridge and kettle, but it did seem a little strange at first to be in a hotel that was actually 4 floors of an office block.
|Loving Hut - unpromising from the outside...||...but fine inside|
But that’s the way Hong Kong is. The basement of our block was a supermarket, invisible from the street except for a sign at the top of the stairs. Restaurants were hidden on upper floors of buildings, accessed via anonymous, unmanned lobbies and elevators. On our 2nd evening, after a day spent exploring the local neighbourhood, we found a bright, clean, welcoming vegan café, the Loving Hut, up two flights of a grotty staircase. Dishes on the menu were a bit pricey, but for HK$58 you could have the ‘meal deal’, of rice, three dishes from a selection of six, and soup. Since the dishes were unfamiliar we just took one of each and swapped our trays halfway through the meal.
On our first day we explored more of the area around the hotel. Wan Chai has something of a reputation as an area of seedy bars and clubs, but we only saw a few of these on Lockhart Road, and they were closed during the day. Otherwise it seemed like a workaday area of shops and offices frequented by ordinary (ie not wealthy) residents, but there were signs of creeping regeneration – in a few years it might not be such a bargain.
We stayed local the following day too, heading to the Convention Centre overlooking the harbour. We’d hoped to get a nice view, but there was a jewellery convention taking place so much of the centre was accessible only to ticket holders. But we managed to find the ferry terminal, which had recently moved. After a lunch of rice and something in Uncle 4, we made do with dumplings for dinner. The staff in 8 Way spoke no English but there was English on the tick-box ordering form, so it was simple enough, and by now we knew that we’d find eating implements and condiments in a drawer set into the end of the table. But round, slippery dumplings and chopsticks is a tricky combination!