Meandering Man: Two Jaunts in Hong Kong

View of Hong Kong from Victoria Peak
A view of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon across the harbor from Victoria Peak.

Two Treks Around Hong Kong – Dad About Town

If I have any plan or approach to discovering a new place, it is this: open the door, move left foot forward, follow with right foot moving forward, repeat.

Repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat.

During my first time properly away from home, in Pittsburgh for college, I discovered most of my new surroundings by plotting running routes — as I ran. There was something more satisfying to figuring out how neighborhoods connected and paths wound their way, inevitably, back home in running my way through the brand new twists and turns and figuring them out on the fly than, say, plugging them into Google Maps and precisely measuring my courses ahead of time.

Well, back then I would have hopped in a car, cleared the odometer, and charted it turn by turn. You know, if I’d even had a car as a Freshman.

It was better to pump my arms, churn my legs, and see where I could get on my own two feet.

I take the same approach whenever I hit a new city for work. I don’t feel you really get to know a new place until you get lost in it a bit, chuck the guide books and cell phone apps and just find your way around.

The schedule may not always lend itself to this approach. After all, you’ve got to find that client meeting, or connect yourself to that crucial cup of coffee. You need to make your way to the office, eventually.

But on a free evening or open Saturday, whether I’m in a place I’ve never visited, or just filling in the gaps in a map across which I’ve meandered before, I love to lose the itinerary, open my eyes and ears and wits, and wander into a new adventure.

Today marks our first installment of “Dad About Town,” or, “Meandering Man.” Tracing a couple such Saturday treks around Hong Kong.

Graffiti Wan Chai Hong Kong
Sure, the expedition may be noble and innocent: toy-buying for the kids. But why can’t the route be a bit more colorful, as illustrated by this graffiti in Wan Chai, Hong Kong?

Toy Buying & Korean Lunch in Wan Chai

The objective was simple: I had a yawning gap of hours between the end of my workweek abroad in Hong Kong and my late Saturday flight. It was time to finally find Tai Yuen — or, Toy — Street in Wan Chai and cart home armloads of goodies for my kids. But taking a taxi straight there and back? Bah. Boring.

So I set out in the general direction of Tai Yeun Street early on a cool, February Saturday after fueling up with a mocha and croissant. It was before 9, so I ambled past the dark Lamborghini dealership and through the winding urban canyons, dodging double-decker buses and winding through a local soccer stadium where graying Chinese men booted the ball around and spectators lazed in the single grandstand. I stopped and watched a few minutes.

Moving on, I hopped across the cable car tracks and past a few shops and colorful restaurants before wandering through a little upscale enclave in cramped, bustling Wan Chai. Colorful ren and gold lanterns dangled overhead, and I marked the restaurants for later refreshment. At the other end was the famed toy alley.

Toy mission accomplished by lunchtime, I still had hours to kills. I encamped in a Korean place for lunch and burped in appreciation of — me! — for discovering a place with tasty sticky rice, spicy Korean beef, sumptuous soup and crip, cold beer. It was almost too much to stumble back to the hotel and zip my gifts into my concierge-checked luggage. But I found myself too restless to remain rooted at the hotel.

I headed out for another walk which found its way to the Hennessy Hotel, and took the elevator all the way to the top, to the rooftop bar of the Wooloomooloo Steakhouse restaurant. I had it all to myself, literally up in the clouds, so I sprung for a cigar and single malt and toasted to my good fortune — and a hell of a nice solo diversion through town.

 

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Tram up Victoria Peak
This tram to Victoria Peak wasn’t leaving with me — it was approaching. And a good thing, since an hour or so later the line ran on for blocks and blocks in the heat of Hong Kong.

Early Saturday Tram Trek up Victoria Peak

A year or so later, with the path and approach to Tai Yuen Street and happy kiddos at home part of my heard-earned arsenal, I was up early on another Saturday, this time in the heat of August, with a whole day to myself before a Sunday flight onward to Seoul.

I decided to head to Victoria Peak, hopefully before it was engulfed by tourists with a similar motivation.

I wound through Central, taking it easy in the already bright sun, pausing in a mall, eventually finding escalators up the hills that deposited me near Hong Kong Park. I decided to cut through its winding paths, passing fountains and botanical gardens, snapping pictures as I went, following the occasional sign.

I wanted to take the tram to the peak — echoing the Monongahela Incline in Pittsburgh — and rewarding myself with a powered ascent on an increasingly hot day. Just waiting in the stuffy terminal as one car came and went was bad enough: later, on my way back down the line stretched for blocks and blocks in the noontime heat. So, heading out early definitely had its advantages!

Another advantage: relatively open vistas at the top. Yeah, I ponied up the extra cash to get to the SkyDeck. And yeah, I had to dodge forests of selfie sticks. But I spent about an hour entranced by the views of the skyscrapers of Hong Kong island below, Kowloon across the harbor, and the back side of the peak that many foreigners never get a glimpse of.

Although I’d laughed the kitschy Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. at the top on the way up, I was not too proud to grab a solitary stool with a view and down a giant, frosty pina colada. My reward for getting out early and beating the crowd.

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