Rainy Day, Dim Sum, and Casinos in Hong Kong and Macau

View of Hong Kong as een from Victoria Peak (and unfortunately through the rain)

View of Hong Kong as seen from Victoria Peak (with Kowloon across the harbor just barely discernible through the rain)

Hong Kong:

Off the Southeast coast of China lies the small island of Hong Kong, a place where the cacophonous din of clinking dishes echoes out of Dim Sum houses to gingerly mix with the loud boasts of red-faced British expats looking to one-up each other’s tall tales, where the hawk-like eyes of the female shop owners catch more in the passing crowds than security cameras could ever aspire to, where the neon-signboards and shop advertisements create a canopy over the streets that blots out nearly as much sunlight as that of a dense rain forest,  and where the only entities with a better view of the crowded metropolis below than that of the towering skyscrapers are the mountainous peaks that hem in the city, pinching it between themselves and the sea and giving the city no place to grow but up.

This former British colony — until as late as 1997, that is — which originally made its fortune as an Opium trading hub, is now one of the most densely populated cities on the planet.  Although the population is primarily that of Cantonese-speaking Chinese, there is hardly a culture or race that isn’t represented somewhere in the depths of teeming masses, where foreign expats and tourists rub shoulders (literally) with Chinese villagers and countless ethnic minorities all jostling for their own space.  Additionally, it is one of those unique places that holds the title of “Special Administrative Region” (SAR), meaning that despite the fact that it is technically a part of China, it enjoys its own level of autonomy apart from the mainland, relatively free to govern its own affairs.

Whereas its suffocating atmosphere and urban crush probably weren’t the best characteristics for a road-weary traveler in need of a break, the sheer intensity of daily life was enough for me to include it as my final stop before heading back home for the Christmas season (along with the fact that it is also the nearest airline hub, too!).  A first-time visitor like myself can’t help but be overwhelmed by the vertical nature of the city and the density of its crowds, but once you’ve regained your bearings, the many small wonders of the place begin to emerge: beautifully roasted pork hanging from hooks in shop windows, street-side markets selling trinkets and collectibles from all over the world, impossibly tall stacks of bamboo steamers filled with more styles of dumplings than a single imagination can handle, a mixture of high-tech modernity blended with old-world charm, and the diversity of people and culture that only a city of its magnitude can offer:

The busy streets of Hong Kong

The busy streets of Hong Kong, where citizens and signboards alike compete for their own small space in this hyper-crowded metropolis

The heart of the city is hemmed in between a rising mountain range to the South (seen here) and the harbor to the North

The heart of the city is hemmed in between a rising mountain range to the South (seen here) and the harbor to the North

Various vendors and stalls selling their wares at a local street market as the ever-present skyscrapers loom ominousliy in the background

Various vendors and stalls selling their wares at a local street market as the ever-present skyscrapers loom vertically in the background

Once the sun has set, the energy in the atmosphere is almost palpable

Once the sun has set, the energy in the atmosphere is almost palpable

Hong Kong 1 - Streets at Night

Hong Kong 6 - At Night

By now, I’m sure you’ve grasped the patterns inherent in my travels, and thus won’t be surprised to see the obligatory “Temple” pictures from wherever I’m currently located.  And in keeping with tradition, here are a few shots of the small but elaborate (and historically significant) Man Mo Temple — or, at least, as much as I could squeeze out through the sweet-smelling fog of the incense coils:

The aromatic smoke from the many incense coils hangs heavy in the air

The aromatic smoke from the many incense coils hangs heavy in the air

Man Mo Temple 4

Man Mo Temple 2 - Lanterns

Man Mo Temple 13

Given the mountainous terrain the comprises the majority of the island’s geography — combined with the rising population over the last century and a half — it is no surprise to learn that the confines of the city have spilled over across the harbor to the North and onto the jutting peninsula, a tendril of mainland China, known as Kowloon.  A quick 5-minute trip on the famous star ferry will whisk you back and forth, allowing you to explore this more commercially active enclave about a kilometer to the North, dine in the high-end, Michelin-starred restaurants, and take in the views over the harbor back towards Hong Kong proper:

Enjoying the evening view back towards Hong Kong

Enjoying the evening view back towards Hong Kong

The streets of Kowloon are just as crowded and clausterphobic as those of Hong Kong itself

The streets of Kowloon are just as crowded and claustrophobic as those of Hong Kong itself

Kowloon 19 - Triangles

The Kowloon Promenade,  overlooking the Harbor

The Kowloon Promenade, overlooking the Harbor

Posters displaying the various exhibits that have passed through the Museum of Art in Kowloon

Posters displaying the various exhibits that have passed through the Museum of Art in Kowloon

The Kowloon-Canton Railway Clocktower at night

The Kowloon-Canton Railway Clock Tower at night

Kowloon 15 - Cool Looking Boat

View from the deck of the Star Ferry

View from the deck of the Star Ferry

On the culinary side of things, my time here was more of a layover than an actual visit, so my gastronomic exploration was reduced to simply hitting a few of the highlights that are on offer in the city, which is a shame, as it is largely recognized as one of the best cities in the world in which to indulge in the gustatory delights.  Regardless, I did make a point of dining several times on Dim Sum, a meal that, although was likely invented as a snack with tea in the Guangdong Province of China, has become one of the most quintessential experiences in Hong Kong.  The crowded and cavernous restaurants can be intimidating at first, but once you’ve found your seat at one of the communal table, the rest flows smoothly and easily: simply keep an eye out for the passing carts emerging from the kitchens, point at whatever small dishes catch your eye as they pass by (usually dumplings and the like), and then enjoy the feast in front of you.  The waiters will simply count your plates once your finished as a way of tallying up the bill.

One of the most quintessential experience in Hong Kong is sitting down to a Dim Sum feast.  Though the crowded and cavernous restaurants can be intimidating at first, once you've found your seat a one of the communal table, the rest flows smoothly and easily: simply keep an eye out for the passing carts emerging from the kitchens, point at whatever catches your eye as they pass by, and then enjoy.  The waiters will simply count your plates once your finished as a way of tallying up the bill.

My first attempt at a Dim Sum feast.  The beauty of the whole experience is that you don’t need to know what your eating to enjoy yourself

An example of a neighborhood restaurant, complete with various bits of pig hanging in the windows

An example of a neighborhood restaurant, complete with various bits of pig, chicken, and duck hanging in the windows

A plateful of the sweet barbecued pork that is a halmark of Cantonese cuisine

A plateful of the sweet barbecued pork (Cha Siu) that is a hallmark of Cantonese cuisine

Hong Kong Style French Toast, where a double dose of bread is stuffed with jam or butter, liberally coated in batter, fried in butter, and then topped with even more butter

Hong Kong Style French Toast, where a double dose of bread is stuffed with jam or butter, liberally coated in batter, fried in butter, and then topped with even more butter.  Delicious and dangerous!

Diners enjoying the festive atmosphere and tasty treats near a street market in Kowloon

Diners enjoying the festive atmosphere and tasty treats near a street market in Kowloon

And of course, if good beer exists within a city's borders, I'm going to find it

And of course, if good beer exists within the confine of a city’s borders, that’s likely where you’ll find me

Macau:

Only an hour’s ferry ride to the West of the former British colony of Hong Kong lies another former trading port and European colony in that of Macau, a small peninsula that extends out from the Guangdong Province of China which, until 1999, was under Portuguese rule (and which also carries the “Special Administrative Region” tag, allowing it to largely govern itself as a separate entity from the Chinese mainland).  In the thirteen years since the country was handed back to China, however, the face of the region has been altered and the economy has flourished under the driving force that is the gaming industry (which has technically been present since the mid-sixties).  The small region’s sixteen casino’s — including international names such as The Sands, The Wynn, and The MGM Mirage — along with the vast numbers of Chinese tourists that regularly migrate here for a weekend of indulgence has allowed the city to claim the title of the World’s Top Casino Market, with revenues surpassing even those of Las Vegas.

Even if gambling isn’t your thing, walking the street today reveals a variety of sights ranging from the spacious European-style squares and Portuguese buildings to ultra-modern architectural pieces and public monuments.  Given its proximity to Hong and its lenient visa requirements, it has also become a day-tripper’s dream, an activity in which I also made a point of indulging.  Here are a few of the scenes that you’ll encounter if you happen to visit someday:

The Largo do Senado, or the Senado Square, which is the Urban center of town

The Largo do Senado, or the Senado Square, which is the Urban center of town

The Shoreline of the Macau peninsula, with the Macau Tower just visible in the distance

The Shoreline of the Macau peninsula, with the Macau Tower rising in the distance

Mount Fortress 5

As a holdover from the Portuguese occupation, strong influences from Catholicism can be seen all over the region (a unique characteristic for any city on this continent)

One of the biggest events of the year here is the Macau Grand Prix road race, and although I missed it by a matter of days, the streets were still sectioned off and protective fences were still left standing along the course

One of the biggest events of the year here is the Macau Grand Prix road race, and although I missed it by a matter of days, the streets were still sectioned off and protective fences were still left standing along the course

The crowded streets near the city's center

The crowded streets near the heart of the city

The Portuguese-style facades of many of Macau's buildings add a unique feel to this Asian city

The Portuguese-style of many of Macau’s buildings add a unique feel to this Asian city

The Ruins of St. Paul's, where the facade of the former Church of the Mater Dei, which was destroyed by fire in 1835, still stands

The Ruins of St. Paul’s, where the facade of the former Church of the Mater Dei, which was destroyed by fire in 1835, still stands

The city's skyline as seen from the top of the Mount Fortress

The city’s skyline as seen from the top of the Mount Fortress

The mega hotel/casino complexes draw the most attention, however.  But luckily, they are mostly tasteful in design, eschewing the style of the gaudy monstrocities seen in Las Vegas

The mega hotel/casino complexes draw the most attention, however. But luckily, they are (mostly) tasteful in design, eschewing the style of the gaudy monstrosities seen in Las Vegas

Reflections of the front entrace to the Wynn Resort and Casino

Reflections of the front entrance to the Wynn Resort and Casino

In the foyer of the afor-mentioned Wynn Casino lies the elaborate Zodiac-themed ceiling with retracts to reveal a light show several times a day

In the gold-flecked foyer of the aforementioned Wynn Casino lies the elaborate Zodiac-themed ceiling, which, incidentally, retracts to reveal a light show several times a day

The Grand Lisbon Hotel, the tallest structure on the island, acts as a beacon for any lost souls trying to find their bearings, as it is visible from almost ever corner of the city

The Grand Lisbon Hotel, the most distinctive structure on the island, acts as a beacon for any lost souls trying to find their bearings, as it is visible from almost ever corner of the city

Hong Kong and Macau mark the end of this leg of my journey, as I’m heading back home to the United States to spend the Christmas season with my family and friends before heading back out on the road again in January.  This tour of East Asian (starting with Japan back in August and extending through Korea, China, and Taiwan) has certainly been one of the most eye-opening experiences for me as a traveler and has fostered many amazing memories and dear friendships that I’ll cherish for many years to come.  As far as plans going forward, the next leg of my journey is likely to be centered around the Indian sub-continent, with probable stops in Dubai, India, Sri Lanka, and Nepal — though, as usual, I’m leaving my itinerary open to any whims that my strike my fancy at the time.  If you have any recommendations, too, I’d love to hear them!  Until then, I wish the best to you and your families during the upcoming holiday season, and cheers from Hong Kong and Macau!

Post-script: I apologize for the extreme tardiness of this post.  After arriving back in the United States a few weeks ago, I quickly became enmeshed in the comings and goings of my old (non-traveling) life and neglected to finish my last post until now.  Better late than never, I guess!

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About andrewamiet

I'm a 29 (now 31) year-old former desk jockey who is now making my way around the world, experiencing all of the sights, sounds, tastes, people, and culture that the world has to offer.

18 Responses to “Rainy Day, Dim Sum, and Casinos in Hong Kong and Macau”

  1. Worth waiting for.

  2. Fried buttery bread…yummm!

  3. Please visit The Philippines.. you might like PALAWAN. Thanks!

  4. I find it hard to believe that you having been in Macau just as James Bond was there in Skyfall is a coincidence.

  5. Reblogged this on yulokkwan24's Blog and commented:
    Cha Siu! HK-style French toast! OMG I want them: S

  6. Wow, look those architectures. Fantastic! Awww, Dim Sum. Sometimes, I get tired of certain kind of foods. But, I never get tired of dim sum 🙂

    • It sounds like you and I both share the same affinity for Dim Sum! Past simply the quality and variety of food itself, it is the entire experience (the clattering dishes, the communal tables, the brusque service, meeting fellow diners, etc.) that really makes it a unique experience. Thanks for reading, and have a great New Year!

  7. Very entertaining clicks ! I have been to Singapore & Malaysia, it seems Hong Kong should be next on the list.

    I am Rashid btw, also working in the corporate world, just wrote a blog about Langkawi, Malaysia.

    • Rashid,
      Thanks for the compliments, and thanks for the read about Langkawi — it is one place that I missed on my trip through Malaysia, but that I’ve still got saved away on my future “wish list!” And yep, Hong Kong is certainly worth a visit!

      Andrew

  8. Wow, I could buy a one way ticket there simply for the food. Looks amazing!

    • There are many great cities to eat in around the world, but very few in which people are as obsessed with food as they are in Hong Kong. That one-way ticket would be a good buy! (Thanks for reading, too, by the way!)

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