I have just enjoyed a super quick visit to Hong Kong. After 9 months away, I was shocked to realize just how much I miss Asia. Mostly I miss the smells and the noise: the constant stimulation.
This time I explored a part of the city I don’t know very well… the part I think of as more Chinese.
I also tried to do HK on the cheap, or at least cheaper. When I checked out the prices of the hotels we used to stay in I was disappointed by how expensive they had become. Still, as I would be on my own I didn’t want to go too far off the beaten path so decided to ask for help.
I turned to a new company called hotel insider (www.hotelinsider.com)… they promise to try and upgrade clients, and I do like being spoiled… and gave them a price range. They came back quickly with a list of 5 hotels, all well under budget. I picked the Mira in Kowloon. I was pretty skeptical about hotel insider’s promise of an upgrade attempt so was doubly thrilled when I was checked into a suite… for the price of their cheapest room!
And the hotel was great. Modern, functional and extremely comfortable. Colin Cowie designed the striking interiors. My room was huge, particularly by HK standards. The staff all look quite cool, usually a bad sign in my experience, but they were super helpful and friendly… going so far as to get me a local phone chip and helping me install it… a task I usually leave to the boys.
While I have stayed in Kowloon before I had never explored the area. I headed north from the hotel, avoiding the high end and ever so tempting shops, instead wandering through the street markets. Instantly I was back in my favorite role as tall white woman in china!
Kowloon feels more authentic to me than Hong Kong Island. More a place where real people live, shop and work. Once you get away from the waterfront it doesn’t seem touristy at all. It is noisy and smelly, dirty and crowded (in fact it has one of the densest populations in the world). Buildings are run down, people are pushy. And no one is speaking English.
Kowloon means nine dragons. It was so named by Emperor Bing during the Song Dynasty. The area is surrounded by 8 mountains, which, like dragons, protected the people from evil spirits. The 9th dragon was the emperor himself!
In 1860 the British took control of the area as part of the settlement with the Qing Dynasty called the Convention of Peking after the Second Opium War. They used it mostly for tiger hunting.
It wasn’t until the early 20th century that this area began to develop… home to warehouses, docks and the huge wharf of the Hong Kong and Kowloon Wharf and Godown Company Limited (which still owns the Star Ferry). Here too was the railroad station for the Kowloon-Canton Railroad that connected China proper to the British Colony.
After the 1949 Revolution, thousands of mainlanders fled to Kowloon seeking refuge from the Communist regime. Notorious slums controlled by the Triads and filled with prostitution and drug dealers sprang up. The most famous and dangerous slum, the Walled City of Kowloon, was not destroyed until 1994. It is now a lovely though somewhat antiseptic park. I personally prefer Kowloon City Park… an oasis amid all the hustle, it is filled with locals listening to music, exercising and watching the birds.
Kowloon also has its fair share of high-end bars and restaurants. I had a very jet lagged dinner at Woolamaloo Restaurant on the 22nd floor of The One building on nearby Nathan Road. While it was a challenge to negotiate the incredibly complex elevator system, the views over the harbor were unbeatable!! (And the food was pretty good too!)
John thinks we should move to Hong Kong once the boys are gone and I am now totally game for finding a little apartment in Kowloon!
Great blog Julie! Have a wonderful time on your trip and a huge congrats to Jack and his acceptance to Andover. You must be one proud mamma. Keep sending pics of your travels! Tell me the date you are back in Van? I have to come up for some house stuff. Hope you are back! xo- Meg