Before I start I feel I need to warn you that this post in incredibly long! You’ll definitely need a cup of tea or coffee before you get stuck in.
Part of the reason we travelled to Hong Kong was to celebrate my brother in law, Ricky’s 30th birthday. The part that I have been keeping under wraps is that this was a surprise birthday and that my sister had managed to arrange that his family and friends come out to join us as well. Due to the major logistics involved with such a surprise, it was impossible for all of us to surprise him at once, so it turned into a rolling surprise that went on for the better part of a week!
I have to admit, Hong Kong felt very surreal to me.
I have heard so much about it and have seen so many photos that when I actually got there it almost felt familiar to me. There were quite a few places I felt like I recognized. It left me feeling a little odd.
Our time in Hong Kong felt fast paced and frenetic, just like the city itself. I have never seen so many people in my life! I don’t do well with people in my personal space and at times I felt incredibly claustrophobic. But when I had the time to sit quietly to one side and watch the sea of humanity it was so foreign and startling that I could only marvel at it!
The flight from South Africa to Hong Kong has just about perfect timing. No long-haul flight is going to be perfect or comfortable unless you fly in first class. But the fact that the flight leaves at around 12 noon SA time and lands at 6am Hong Kong time, made it easier to adjust, in my opinion.
I had a pretty good flight there. I adjusted my watch immediately and pretended to be on Hong Kong time from the get-go. This made it much easier for me to deal with the time difference. I watched a movie, ate dinner, then headed to the bathroom to get comfortable and go through my usual night time routine. I then took two natural sleeping aids, put my noise cancelling headphones, my neck pillow and my eye mask on and went to sleep. I won’t say I slept perfectly, but I definitely got more sleep than the rest of my family.
Once we got to Hong Kong, my sister did a stellar job at keeping us going. We rode the train in from the airport, and then got a taxi to my sister’s flat. My mom and dad went with my other sister to her place. At Carmen’s place we got to shower, have a cup of coffee and chill a bit before we popped into the grocery store to buy some supplies for the week.
Once all the admin was done we rode the MTR into Central (I think, I’m still learning all the districts) so we could have lunch with my brother in law close to his office. We were meeting the others in Wan Chai for Peking duck for dinner (which was amazing!) but wanted to do a bit of exploring first.
My sister had wanted to do a hop on hop off bus tour, but it was pouring with rain. So A, Carmen, my mom and I went to the Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lia, Garden, which was so incredibly beautiful. After that we went to the flower and gold fish markets.
While we were out we found a random little street market. I did buy a few things, but I was trying to pace myself. I have to say, I think I was incredibly restrained on this trip in general and have given myself a huge pat on the back.
We met the others at the Peking duck restaurant (it’s one of Kyla and Dave’s favourite and for good reason.) The food was incredible. I’m not a huge fan of the pancake they put the duck in, but the duck in plum sauce was beyond description! As were all the side dishes that we ordered. I relied on other people to order for me all week and it was simply amazing.
After dinner we headed off to tick an item off my bucket list – Egg Waffles. I had quite a few during our time in Hong Kong, but on this particular night we had egg waffles from a Michelin starred street vendor. They had chocolate chips in them, which melted when they cooked the waffle and they were just amazing!
Day two we had a free morning, which was really nice. Carmen had to go in to work in the morning and A and I got to sleep in a little bit. We then headed off to meet Carmen and my mom and dad so that all of us could go have lunch with Kyla close to her work.
The restaurant they took us too was another Michelin starred restaurant (I think we went to three or four while we were there. One thing is for sure, the food in Hong Kong is out of this world!). This time we had dim sum. The restaurant we went to is the sister of that famous one where you queue for dim sum and they only give you 30 minutes to eat it as they are so busy. This place was in a shopping centre and not nearly so busy. So we had time to really enjoy or food.
It was amazing (you’ll probably hear me say that a lot). We ordered a huge variety and shared them so everyone got to taste the different types. My favourites were the cucumbers with chilli oil and the pork mince and tofu noodles (I’m getting hungry just writing this!). The little chicken dim sum with the soup inside was also a big hit.
After lunch A went with David to this huge electronics market (he ate squid on a stick while he was there and said it was really good. I never got to eat squid on a stick and I’m still upset about it 😉 While Carmen, my parents and I caught a bus and headed to Stanley.
Stanley is a quite, more rural district of Hong Kong, that is right on the beach (it feels like a little seaside town). A lot of expats live there and the Stanley Market is there as well. The Stanley market is really great for those who don’t like crowds or haggling. I loved it. I loved the whole vide in Stanley. It was so chilled and you could really explore the different stalls and find things you really liked. I bought some jewellery from a vendor Carmen highly recommended.
We split up again after that. My folks when to meet Kyla and David and Carmen and I headed back to her place to meet our husbands. We grabbed a slice of pizza and some beers from the 7/11 (there is no law governing drinking in public in Hong Kong and the cheapest beer is at the 7/11). Once we had our men, we went to the Happy Valley Racecourse to see the horse racing. Again, I have never seen so many people. Gambling is illegal in China, so a lot of people from the mainland come to Hong Kong for the races. It was a pretty awesome experience. We placed a few bets, but didn’t really do well. It seems I have zero talent for horse races. After the races we went to a tiny, hole in the wall restaurant in the wet market for dinner. It was simply incredible. It was a real, local restaurant and a great opportunity for people watching.
The next day, we were ushered out of bed pretty early. This is the day that the surprise guests started arriving. We met with two of Ricky’s mates at Times Square. We had the whole day to spend together, before surprising him that evening.
We headed out to Lantau Island to see the big Buddha and explore the temple afterwards. We found the statue representing our Chinese zodiac signs and gave its foot a rub for luck then took in the incredible architecture and art work and then lit some incense.
After another incredible dim sum lunch we went to Mong Kok Ladies market. I found it incredible overwhelming to be honest. I didn’t cope well with having to haggle, even though I left most of that up to Carmen. The vendors are incredibly pushy and kept shouting so I could make a decision about anything. So in the end I left without buying much.
That night we were meant to take part in a quiz night, but plans fell through at the last minute. Instead we had the most incredible Thai dinner of my life and went up the Peak to take in the view. It had been raining all week so far, but it miraculously cleared up for us when we went up the peak. The view was insane. I managed to get some epic photos of it. It was so clear you could even see the Aqua Luna sailing in Victoria Harbour. We were also able to ride the tram down, as it was pretty late and there was no queue.
Even more surprise guests arrived the next day. After greeting everyone and giving them time to check in and grab a quick shower we headed to Lee Tung Avenue to see the lanterns and to stop past this incredible bakery for croissants and coffee. We consumed these in a really beautiful roof top garden. After that we went back to Central where we stopped at the Shangri-La hotel to see where my sister used to work, buy Ricky’s birthday cake and to see the largest silk painting in the world.
After a quick walk through Victoria Gardens we found ourselves in Admiralty (which is the finance district). We had crazy good Ramen for lunch at a restaurant called Ippudo. A and I then got a moment to explore the city by ourselves before we met up with the others again for a tram tour of the city.
The tram tour was made extra fun because my Aunt and Uncle joined us. They flew out from Singapore to surprise my dad (I lost track of how many secrets I was keeping that week). My aunt and uncle also joined us for the ferry to surprise Ricky surprise and dinner in Cheung Chau. My folks, A and I were the distraction. We were waiting for Ricky to get off work and join us at the ferry terminal to escort us on the ferry to the restaurant where we had dinner.
The others were waiting on the ferry with champagne and birthday cake. The surprise went off flawlessly and we had such fun at the seafood restaurant. I left a little earlier with my aunt and uncle, parents and sister. We went to her place, which was great for me, as up until that point I hadn’t seen where she lived, we just drove past it. I stayed for a couple of drinks, then rode a taxi back all by myself #adulting.
The next day was our final day in Hong Kong. We all had breakfast with Ricky at the Football Club, before we got ready for an afternoon on a yacht at Lamma Island. I managed to grab an hour by myself to go to the Sasa – the largest beauty store in Hong Kong. I bought a few things, but to be honest, like everything else, the huge variety available was a little overwhelming. On the way home I stopped at this epic toy store where I bought a gift for Willow.
I met up with the others at Carmen and Ricky’s place to help prep food for the yacht. Then we all headed to the ferry terminals again. The yacht ride was cool because we got to meet a lot of Ricky and Carmen’s friends. We had a great time chilling out. The yacht headed back to shore to drop off my mom and dad and my aunt and uncle and I got off too. We met up with Kyla and headed to the Shangri-La for canapés and champagne (this is very fancy and we felt a little out of place in our super casual yacht clothes. But I’m so glad I got to experience it.) We ended off the night by watching the Lions – Force Super Rugby match at Kyla’s place and eating Vietnamese take out. I then caught eh taxi (again by myself, look at me!) and headed home.
The next day we caught a ridiculously early flight out of Hong Kong to Cebu in the Philippines. It was at the airport that the Ricky’s family joined us adding yet another dimension to the surprise.