TRAVELS WITH NINA

is the online portfolio and journal of Australian travel writer Nina Karnikowski.

I’m not usually a massive fan of travelling to big cities; I’m more of a nature kinda gal. But Hong Kong, surrounded as it is by lush green mountains just begging for you to grab your crampons and get up on them, with a vibrant harbour on one side and the South China Sea on the other (you can surf there!), is an almost perfect combo of town and country.

What also makes the city interesting to me is its desperate desire to move forward into the future. Our young city guide Vivian proudly said at one point during the trip that Hong Kong is so different from China because “we are very westernised.” It’s a fact that locals love, but that could be a little sad for travellers wanting to experience an “authentic” Asian city. But that would be missing the point I think, because what makes Hong Kong Hong Kong is that it’s a future-metropolis in constant transition. Well that and its f**king fantastic food. Let’s start with that, shall we?

 

EAT
My trip focused more on the posh and high-end than the cheap and cheerful, even though I know there’s plenty of gold in the latter category in HK.

First up we checked out Gordon Ramsay’s new Bread Street Kitchen & Bar, the Iron Chef’s first restaurant in Hong Kong. It was opening night when we visited, which is probably why we were welcomed by six staff members before we’d even sat down on our plush yellow seats, but that’s no cause for complaint. It made us feel special. As did the chic industrialist decor, the perfectly executed dirty martinis, the exceptional Eton Mess and an unforgettable lobster macaroni and cheese.

Michelin-star British chef Jason Atherton’s Aberdeen Street Social was perfection for a Friday lunch, the space filled with indoor plants and floor-to-ceiling windows covering the far wall, making it feel as though we were dining in a conservatory. We feasted on inventive share plates, highlights of which included summer vegetables and pearl barley with a 63-degree hen’s egg and mushroom consommé, and a dessert that somehow managed to combine caramel popcorn, cherry and shiso in the most glorious of way.

My favourite had to be Duddell’s, Cantonese fine dining (also Michelin-star, of course) that reminded me a lot of Melbourne’s Flowerdrum. Delicate, simple flavours in a customised tasting menu that involved super posh versions of dim sum and fried rice. The decor was similarly restrained yet tasteful, with tableware so gorgeous we spent a good chunk of the night discussing how easy it might be to snaffle some. We didn’t end up doing it, I swear.

If you’re disappointed with the lack of “western” Chinese food in Hong Kong, head to Fu Lu Shou, a quirky rooftop retro-Chinese-Western bar and restaurant in SoHo. You’ll need a code to get in, but once you do you can stuff yourself silly with honey prawns, prawn toast, fried rice and Kung Pao chicken and spicy cocktails while spying on the apartment block directly opposite, Rear Window-style.

 

DO
We crammed a lot into 48 hours. A lot. Some highlights:

Take the tram that travels at an almost 90-degree angle to The Peak viewing platform for a somewhat hazy outlook over the entire city. A good way to start any trip to Honkers as it gives you an idea of the lay of the land.

Since Art Basel Hong Kong started in 2013, the city has really cemented its place as Asia’s arts hub, so you’ll want to check out some of the boutique contemporary art galleries. The historic Pedder Building in Central is home to a whole bunch of them, including White Cube, Gagosian and Pearl Lam. Wong Chuk Hang and Ap Lei Chau industrial areas are full of car workshops and warehouses, and are also up-and-coming arts precincts. Make sure you visit Spring Workshop, a gorgeous non-profit artspace where artists can take residencies and where regular art events and exhibitions are hosted. Also Gallery EXIT, which exhibits upcoming artists in the enormous Blue-Box Factory Building, and which looks a lot like a place where you might do a drug deal.

Ride the famous Star Ferry, as passengers have been doing since 1888, from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon at night to check out the Temple Street Night Market and have your fortune told in a million different ways. At the market, you can pick up some Chinese Fortune Sticks, silk pyjamas with a dragon embroidered on the back, an antique tea pot and other old-school HK essentials.

At the end of the market is a street lined with little tents set up by fortune tellers of all kinds: tarot card readers, face readers, palm readers, birds who will tell your fortune and more. I was fascinated by the bird, obvi, so paid $10 to have a poor little sparrow hop out of its cage onto a stack of old palm leaves, then stop on one that read: “Nothing unfortunate with you will happen in this period. However, you should handle everything with care if you live in cities. Guard especially against swindlers. Thank you for HK$50.”

The irony of this was not lost on me. However, I refused to be deterred by this sheister, and so tried again with a woman who combined numerology with face and palm reading. Teresa Lau  was fabulous, mainly because she told me only good things, and because she had a sticker of Cinderella on her business card.

Visit Hong Kong’s new creative hub, PMQ, which occupies the vast former Police Married Quarters that have been transformed into countless teeny shops where local designers spruik their wares, encompassing everything from wacky fashion to furniture, stationary to accessories. A weekly design market is also held at PMQ, every Sunday for the months of August, October and November.

Take a glass-bottomed Crystal Cabin cable car over to Lantau Island, or hike up if you’ve got energy and about three hours to spare. This is where you’ll find the Big Buddha, a 34-metre high bronze Buddha statue that is the largest outdoor Buddha in the world.

 

STAY
I stayed in the OZO Wesley on Hennessy Road. My room was “cosy” (aka small), but that didn’t matter since it was comfy, had free wifi, was central and completely focused on sleeping, which is a pretty clever idea for a city hotel full of on-the-go travellers. There are super soft beds, special teas in the lobby to help you enter dream land, and a special sleep kit on offer that includes an eye mask, natural sleep balm and some specially blended sleep-inducing tea bags. Plus rooms are only about $150 a night.

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