One thing I love about doing visa runs is that they kind of force me to travel, even if I’m financially at my lowest or just plain squeezed for time. And I was a little bit of both last month. But my Chinese visa mandates that I leave the country every 60 days. So a couple of weeks ago, right before I hit my two month mark in Beijing, I fled the city for my very first visa run – a quick 36 hours in Hong Kong.
Now, we all know that one of the reasons I was so excited to distance myself from Southeast Asia (my second home) is because I had never traveled to East Asia before. So I knew that my first visa run would be somewhere in the region. But when it came time to book airline tickets I realized that, unlike Southeast Asia, there are absolutely no budget-friendly options when it comes to doing visa runs from Beijing. Seriously, who knew that a two-hour flight to Seoul would cost over $400? Man, I miss AirAsia…
So I went for the cheapest option, which still put me back a few hundred bucks, and made the journey to Hong Kong. I literally knew next to nothing about Hong Kong before visiting. I’ve heard about my parents’ fond memories of a trip there way back in the day. And I’ve heard rave reviews from friends who have visited recently. But I went into it with no set of expectations.
Oh, that’s not entirely true. I did expect it to be expensive. And holy f*ck, it was seriously expensive. I’m pretty sure Aaron and I managed to spend more in 36 hours than we spent in an entire week traveling in Southeast Asia. But I digress.
36 Hours in Hong Kong…
After roughly seven hours of travel we finally arrived at our hotel around 2am, a little miffed that a flight delay had put us in so late but jazzed on the idea of being in a new place. Much to my surprise the city was still buzzing. Initially I had planned to go straight to bed, in order to wake up as early as possible to make the most out of my one day in the city. But I was so taken with the energy of late-night Hong Kong – with its neon signs and well-dressed (and really drunken) residents – that I couldn’t help but meander around for a while.
The next morning, when I finally woke up, I was so excited to finally get the chance to glimpse the city in the daylight. But I pulled the curtains open only to see that it was an exceptionally foggy and slightly stormy day. Honestly, it didn’t really bother me. It was amazing to see the clouds cloak Hong Kong’s mountains and islets. I do wish I would have been able to see the city on a clear day because it really is an unimaginably beautiful setting for a big city. It’s kind of like plopping New York City on the Southeast Asian coast. It’s so cool.
Given the fact that I did basically no research, I didn’t have any set plan for what I wanted to accomplish in the 24 remaining hours I had in the city. I just knew that I wanted to eat some good food, get lost in the city’s streets and take lots and lots of photos. This is more or less my ideal way to experience a new city. So that’s exactly what I did.
As I wandered around the city my mind was boggled by the mix of old and new. In some ways the city is ultra-modern but in other ways it feels like a scene straight out of a 1950s film.
I really don’t know exactly how to describe Hong Kong except that it’s some sort of amalgamation of Bangkok and San Francisco. It has the grittiness and chaos of a Southeast Asian metropolis but it has the attitude of a happening Western city. The fog, the city’s steep rolling hills and mazelike streets, its hip and gentrified bars and restaurants all reminded me distinctly of San Francisco, one of my favorite cities on the planet.
But in other ways Hong Kong is like nowhere I’ve ever been. It happens to be one of the most densely populated cities in the world, which is why it is home to so many skyscrapers. Hong Kong’s skyline is absolutely incredible and completely unique. It’s not just the buildings that are breathtaking; it’s the fact that they are framed by rolling green mountains.
Despite that fact that we didn’t have much time in the city, I feel like we did manage to make the most out of our time. While I had initially wanted to visit the famous lookout at the Peak, we decided it was too foggy. So we went to Café Gray Bar, an ultra-swanky bar on the 49th story of one of the city’s skyscrapers, instead. Yes, the view was amazing. And yes, it was insanely expensive! We went on the elevators (where the film Chungking Express was filmed…yes, you should watch it!), we dined at an amazing vegetarian restaurant, we bar hopped in the trendy SOHO neighborhood. We also got lost trying to navigate the complicated streets, but we had a blast doing it.
I’m typically all about slow, long-term travel. But when you’re forced to get to know a city in 36 hours, it really pushes you to get out and see things. It wasn’t nearly enough time, not in the least. But it was undoubtedly amazing.
While I pretty much failed at seeing most of Hong Kong’s tourist attractions, I feel like I was able to see the city in my style. I can’t tell you where exactly I went or what exactly I saw. All I know is that liked it, and I’ll no doubt be back.
Have you ever been to Hong Kong? Did you like it as much as I did?