Hong Kong at a Slower Pace

60 comments
Asia, East, Hong Kong

Street-side stalls, small shops, and high-rise buildings in Wan Chai, Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a fast-paced city – no doubt about it. Those who have been there must have come across and seen firsthand how fast the people walk, how efficient and punctual the MTR trains are, and how quick the service at restaurants is, to name a few things. On my first trip to Hong Kong in January 2012, I was lucky enough to meet a fellow blogger and native Hong Konger, James, who was willing to take me around the city in one day to visit some not-so-touristy places as well as some very popular ones. After all, having a local to show us around is the best way to experience a place, isn’t it? Well, in the case of Hong Kong the answer is not a simple yes or no.

In 2015, Jeff of Planet Bell decided to visit Hong Kong with his wife Kristi after traveling across Indonesia for two months. The ever-generous James offered to take them around the city and showed them parts of Hong Kong most foreigners wouldn’t know. And as expected, Jeff shared his story of the speed-walking tour he and his wife did with James in the most hilarious way. I myself walk a lot faster than most Indonesians, and even one of my friends from high school once said that when I walked, it looked like as though I was trying to catch a thief. But that trip to Hong Kong really opened my eyes about how fast some people on earth can walk.

However, as I began to learn and dig deeper into Hong Kong’s history, its economic boom, and its current status as one of the world’s financial centers, and as I return time and again to this city to observe and experience its dynamics, the more it makes sense as to why everything there is fast-paced. Its public transport system is highly reliable, allowing people to plan their day ahead, down to the minute if they want. Space is at a premium (40% of Hong Kong’s total area is green space, 35% is agricultural and semi-rural, and the rest is urban area where most of its 7.5 million residents live) making its property market the world’s most expensive. Consequently rents are exorbitantly high, forcing restaurant owners and employees (among other people) to serve their customers really fast while expecting them to finish their meals quickly as well. Otherwise they won’t be able to bring home enough money to pay the rent. In the past I was baffled, and at times slightly intimidated, by how fast the food came every time I went to Hong Kong. But I think I can cope better now.

Exploring Hong Kong on a whirlwind tour seven years ago allowed me to visit a lot of places in one day – James took me around Central, introduced me to the world’s longest outdoor escalator system, showed me beautiful colonial buildings on Hollywood Road, and led me to the Museum of Coastal Defence near Shau Kei Wan, Dr. Sun Yat-sen Museum at Mid Levels, Lugard Road on The Peak, and the ultramodern Legislative Council Building in Admiralty, to name some. We hopped aboard the Star Ferry across the scenic harbor and had lunch in Tsim Sha Tsui, and for dinner we headed to Causeway Bay which is always filled with a sea of humans.

Last Christmas I got the chance to return to Hong Kong (my fifth trip to the city) for a week filled with lots of walking and eating, some singing, a visit to a newly-restored heritage complex in the downtown area as well as a defunct textile factory in the New Territories which has been transformed into a cool and inspiring center for art and culture, complete with interesting independent retailers. In addition to that, James also took me to some of the places in the city which I had previously visited, but luckily this time we walked at a slower pace – living in Indonesia for more than two years has had an apparent impact on my travel buddy’s walking speed. Not having to rush around allowed me to notice more things – mundane sights that could have otherwise been ignored if we didn’t slow down: the types of fruits and vegetables available at a local market; the glistening barbecued pork, hard-boiled eggs, and roast duck at a street stall; small independent shops in the city and beyond; and fluffy cats that were too cute not to pet, for example.

The weather wasn’t always nice and sunny on this trip, but when the sun did come out we made sure to make the most of the day exploring not only the city, but also one of Hong Kong’s many small islands and the district of Tsuen Wan, some 20 km away from the downtown area. In the upcoming weeks I will share with you the stories of how an institution known for betting and a lottery helped restore the city’s Central Police Station compound to make it relevant for the future, how one of Hong Kong’s biggest property companies envisioned its derelict warehouses as a place to reinvigorate the local community and spark people’s creativity, and how a sun-kissed island retains its centuries-old traditions and has become an unlikely place to find what is arguably one of Hong Kong’s most fascinating independent retailers. Exploring Hong Kong is fun, and there’s always something new every time I return.

One section of the outdoor escalator system

People lining up for lunch, a common sight in this densely-populated city

Fresh fruits, probably from China, Southeast Asia and beyond

Walking your dog while doing your grocery shopping? Sure, why not?

A glimpse of Hong Kong people’s affinity for pork

She only wants the best fish

Lap cheong, Cantonese-style smoked sausages

A traditional street market in Central in the midst of redevelopment

The vegetable section of the market

Grand Millennium Plaza in Sheung Wan

A pre-wedding photo session in the middle of a busy street

The north section of the 19th-century Western Market (the south section was demolished in 1981)

The entrance to Western Market

Textile shops inside Western Market

Walking around Wan Chai, an eclectic district in downtown Hong Kong

The recently-restored Yellow House, behind the Blue House in Wan Chai

The 1920s Blue House, next to the Orange House (which is actually called Fu Lok Building)

A shop-cum-community center at the Blue House

Yes, we should

7 Mallory Street (formerly Comix Home Base), a community center for art and culture

A mouthwatering display at a street stall in Wan Chai

All that glistens

Inside a cha chaan teng, a type of neighborhood diner found in Hong Kong and other Cantonese-speaking regions

Clockwise from left: egg waffles, baked fish rice, Hong Kong-style milk tea

The former Douglas Castle viewed from Béthanie, a 19th-century French chapel

Top row: University Hall (formerly Douglas Castle); bottom row: Béthanie

An old Dairy Farm cowshed, now part of Wellcome Theatre

The exhibition area inside the cowshed

An afternoon at Deep Water Bay and Repulse Bay on Hong Kong Island

A friendly cat in Jordan, Kowloon

Satisfying our craving for Nepalese food at Manakamana on Temple Street, Jordan

Fashion Walk, a chic area in Causeway Bay

Hong Kong’s night lights

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Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.

60 thoughts on “Hong Kong at a Slower Pace”

  1. I was just in Hong Kong as well, for the week after Christmas! I agree with you on how it is fast-paced except for when it comes to walking. I honestly thought people walked slowly, to the point where I was impatient in the crowds! Maybe I’m just a super speedster. Shrug! It’s a really interesting city though. Fun to see your photos since I was in many of the same spots. Perhaps we crossed paths! I also visited a couple of the outlying islands and found that fun and fascinating. Now I want an egg waffle…

    Liked by 2 people

    • Maybe because I come from Indonesia where people walk sooo slowly (my friend said if slow walking were an Olympic sport, Indonesians would be really good at it) Hong Kong felt so fast and hectic. I always enjoy going out of the city center for every trip offers a much relaxed pace — it’s holiday after all! I returned to Jakarta two days after Christmas, so when you arrived in the city I might have actually been back to the tropics.

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      • Haha, I guess it is all relative. I’ll have to train my legs for whenever I visit Indonesia. 😉 And I agree – it was fun to see the big city but also get out of the center for a bit and enjoy nature. We overlapped just one day in Hong Kong then! Hope you had a good trip home and a happy new year!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Training your legs will be useful for visiting places in Indonesia apart from the big cities. 😀 My flight back to Jakarta was rather… interesting. Happy new year too!

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    • Thanks! The good thing is because I always ate a lot in Hong Kong, walking fast helped me burn all those calories.

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  2. Mireya says:

    Walking is the best and I am so glad I found your blog. This is really awesome and what a great place from the wedding to the color and buildings…just lovely.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I only realized how much fun walking could be when I traveled to Europe more than 11 years ago, and since then I’ve been walking everywhere whenever possible. Thanks for reading, Mireya.

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  3. I haven’t been to HK yet, I’m rather frightened at how speedy everything is. I feel like my body isn’t yet ready for that. But after reading this, I’m glad that there is still space for us to enjoy HK slowly (if that makes sense at all). I personally can’t wait to see HK in the future. Looking forward to more of your posts!

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    • Don’t worry, Gy. You can actually explore Hong Kong without having to rush around. And even in the city there are quiet parks and gardens you can visit to escape the constant hustle and bustle in downtown area. Oh and don’t forget to try egg waffles! They’re much better than what I had in Jakarta (not surprising since this is one of Hong Kong’s most popular snacks).

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What a gorgeous post, Bama! I can’t get over how beautiful your shots are – the street scenes as a whole are far better than my own captures. So many of my market shots were blurry and unusable. Now that I no longer live in Hong Kong, I appreciate the place so much more. Even if it was unseasonably hot and humid, it was such a breeze to walk around (thank goodness all the pavements there are functional, unlike here in Jakarta) and take public transport. And yes, the Nepalese food at Manakamana was definitely worth the little detour to Jordan!

    PS I’ll try not to walk too fast the next time we’re back in Hong Kong. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks James! I’m quite happy with my new camera, but I still need to learn a lot about the manual setting and get used to it. In spite of the constant traffic jam and the humidity, I think if most streets in Jakarta had proper pavements, I would enjoy walking more. Last week when I was walking home on Jalan Satrio I noticed a few interesting cafés and small shops that I didn’t know existed. Because of this I’m actually thinking of taking a leisurely stroll along that street with my camera on a nice day.

      Haha, believe me. Now you don’t walk as fast as you did when you were still living in Hong Kong.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! My friend said Hong Kong can be really hot and humid in summer, but in winter it’s nice to walk around because generally it’s not uncomfortably cold. So you might want to visit the city in cooler months.

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  5. Another fantastic post! Clearly we have to move Hong Kong up higher on our list of places to visit. And great pics also – I especially love the ones of the bridal shoot and the friendly gato. Like you, we’ve found that we see so much more if we move at a slower pace and look for the small details, especially in a large and (sometimes) overwhelming city.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks John & Susan! I always love it when a city is filled with these fluffy felines, that’s why Istanbul still is among my favorite places on the planet. I was actually quite surprised to see a lot of well-fed cats in Hong Kong — something I failed to notice in my previous visits except for one friendly cat that I saw in a far corner of the territory.

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  6. Love all those photos Bama! You got some really good shots. And your description of HK. I was there briefly last June and will blog about it eventually. It was my 3rd time there and I knew I’d enjoy it. My big events were walking across Lamma Island, and hiking the Dragon’s Back. Did you go watch the evening light show in the harbour. That was very cool.
    Alison

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Alison. I remember having really good seafood on Lamma Island, and it wasn’t as pricey as what you’d expect to pay in the city. As for Dragon’s Back, I did the hike right after the six-month trip I did with James, and when we were there the weather was so nice and the visibility clear. I did watch the light show on my first trip to Hong Kong. After the show, I was approached by two people who seemed so eager to convert me. After they left, this nice guy came and asked “did they just try to convert you?” It was a bizarre night, but he ended up buying me a beer. So all was well.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Bama I Well remember Jeff’s description! Wonderful that this time in Hong Long you were able to have the slow tour. Your photos make me feel as though I am walking along. Thankful not to be running!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Even now every time I read that particular post of his I can’t help but laugh. Jeff is so funny. Not only was the pace slower than before, but this time I also visited some really cool places. I wonder what Hong Kong has to offer the next time I return.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hey, we might have bumped into each other without knowing! I remember the streets were quite empty on Christmas Day.

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  8. I’m happy to hear that James has slowed down after living in Indonesia for a few years! I may be able to keep up with him now.

    That makes sense about the food coming fast since they need to serve as many customers as possible.

    Those are some nice photos. Did you get your new camera yet?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m sooo glad you wrote that post, Jeff, because you described everything that I felt and experienced on that day with James in a much funnier way.

      I did get a new camera before going to Hong Kong. So those are the photos I took with it. I have a steep learning curve ahead!

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    • Thanks Marilyn. When I started my blog nine years ago I’d never thought of making some really good friends with other bloggers, let alone traveling with them. But that’s the beauty of blogging — it allows us to connect with people who have similar interests despite living thousands of miles apart.

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  9. Enjoyable story as always, Bama. The walking part made me smile. I’ve never been to HK, but I presumed that I will be looked like turtle when I walk there. Through my observation, people coming from sub-tropical countries tend to walk faster compared to us who are living in warmer places, particularly during winter season. It could be one of factors, I guess. Just a glimpse observation without proofing from scientific researches 😁

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    • Thank you, Nurul. Don’t worry about keeping up with the locals — most tourists walk slowly anyway. I agree with your empirical conclusion about how in general people who live in the tropics tend to walk slower than their subtropical counterparts. Culture probably plays a role here, but undeniably walking fast when it’s hot and humid is like a torture. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  10. anastasiawaskokk says:

    This makes me want to go to Hong Kong! I love the pictures and the clear descriptions.

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    • You should go, but be prepared to see lots of people, especially in Causeway Bay — one of the liveliest parts of Hong Kong. Thanks for reading!

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    • Thanks Debra! Had I not met James back in 2012, probably I wouldn’t have visited Hong Kong five times. Now not only do I know many people in his extended family, but also his high school friends as well as some mutual friends of ours who happen to work in the city. It really is like a third home for me (after Jakarta and Semarang).

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  11. Kalau nanti ke Hong Kong, I’m afraid I will be too confused on what to look, where to go, what pictures should I take. Every corner seems too packed! There are many things in a single alley 😀

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    • Don’t be afraid, Nug. You’ll love Hong Kong, especially its MTR which for a long time has been the world’s most reliable public transport system. Taking the green minibus (just a little bigger than our angkot) is also fun and convenient since you can use the Octopus Card to pay the fare.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Pingback: Hong Kong at a Slower Pace | What an Amazing World! – nelsongondotcom

  13. Lucky you – five times! And with hometown expert, James, no less. I know I am going to love Hong Kong someday; it’s got everything I enjoy all in one place! I smiled at the image of James speed-walking with you (and Jeff and Kristi) lagging behind, and then again at the idea of him chilling out after a few years in Indonesia. When I do finally get to visit, I may have to recruit you both to come and be my tour guides!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Most Indonesians I know have been to Singapore more often than they’ve been to any other places abroad. But in my case, because I have what you call hometown expert to take me around and make my trip a lot easier since practically he does the talking whenever English is not spoken, I’ve been to Hong Kong more than Singapore despite the latter’s location which is much closer to Jakarta.

      I think you’d appreciate Hong Kong’s hiking trails, Lex. And some of them are conveniently located not too far from the city center. Plus it has nice beaches too (this is a compliment from someone who lives in a tropical country blessed with a lot of beautiful beaches).

      Please do let us know when you plan to go to Hong Kong (or/and Jakarta) one day!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Love all your photos Bama and it was a good revisit to Hong Kong. The first time we visited to be honest, we did not love it. But the second time, something shifted, it felt a bit more familiar and we were less intimidated and by the time we were there for a third time, we were lovin’ it. Especially the dim sum!! We ate so much dim sum that I think we waddled out of there four days later to catch our plane. We definitely did not see as much as you did, because firstly we were not speed walking haha, and secondly we were too busy eating dim sum. Would happily return for more though. We also loved doing the dragon back hike on one trip, that was definitely an eye opener as I never realised that Hong Kong was made up of so much greenery!! Live and learn.

    Peta

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Peta! I’ve tried the dim sum at some places here in Jakarta, but none of them comes close to the real ones in Hong Kong. That’s why every time I visit this city having dim sum is something I’ll never miss. The good thing is despite eating so much (four out of my five-time visits to the city happened either around Christmas or Chinese New Year, meaning lots of good food), burning those calories away is easy since Hong Kong has some scenic hiking trails — another thing I never miss, especially when the weather is nice.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Actually I’ve heard about the movie but I haven’t watched it. Hope you’ll visit Hong Kong one day!

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  15. I love this post Bama ‘cos I miss Hong Kong soooooooooo much!
    I went there almost 20 years ago, and it still makes an unbelievable impact. So much so, that I was that close to actually deciding to live there as an expat rather than in Berlin – where I live now!

    p.s. I loved the excitement and strangeness of the city and isn’t it hilarious that the young couple who you showed doing a wedding photo session, choose to do so right in the middle of a busy street! Would they need a license to do it so that they wouldn’t block traffic or would it be a matter of “stand there, and click as quick as you can before the bus comes” type of thing?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Victoria. The city’s skyline must have changed a lot since your last visit there — even taller skyscrapers, more reclaimed land, and more cultural offerings. I wonder if you’d made the right decision by choosing Berlin over Hong Kong since the latter is known for its workaholic culture.

      I think that couple must have secured a permission to be able to stay quite a long time there. It would make a great story to tell their kid(s) one day!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh definitely, Berlin is very me and I’ve never looked back lol! 😀

        Having said that, both Prague and Hong Kong were very much attractive to me as potential places to set up for life in utterly different ways, but compellingly quite similar! But what stood out with Hong Kong, was that in some strange way it actually reminded me of Britain, so I felt very much at home!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Probably it’s because of Hong Kong’s past connection with the British, a fact some people are still feeling nostalgic about.

        Liked by 1 person

  16. Thank you for the excursion, Bama. I doubt I will ever visit Hong Kong, therefore it was interesting to have a look at it through lens of your camera. The shots are excellent.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hong Kong is one of the most well-connected cities in Asia, and there must be a lot of flights from its airport to cities in Europe. So never say never, Victor. 🙂 Thanks for reading!

      Liked by 1 person

  17. I love that you shared the stories of you, Jeff and Kristi being shown Hong Kong by James with his brisk walking pace—too funny. It would be great getting this local perspective. Maybe one day you and James could show me around HK (haven’t been there since ’91). I’m a super fast walker but very slow eater. Your photos are lovely and I’m in awe of HK’s diverse facets.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, Hong Kong in 1991 must have been a very different place — the now-defunct Kai Tak Airport which is located right in the city was still in operation, and the harbor was much wider. What do you remember most from your last trip there? We would be happy to show you and Mike around, and we’ll find a place where we don’t have to eat too fast. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh my, so many vivid memories from Hong Kong ’91—the size of the place, the masses of people, the feeling of personal space encroachment (even after 6 months of backpacking through SE Asia). I remember feeling overwhelmed (but not in a bad way), much like my first visit to NYC. I remember using the fabulous Star Ferry a lot and all the glorious food options. At first we were going to stay at the Chungking Mansions (wow…even after staying in some divey places, this was in another league). I’m glad we “splurged” and stayed at the Shamrock Hotel up the road (I can’t believe I remember this). My dad had a business friend who lived in HK at the time and he took us out on his “junk”, which turned out to be a luxury yacht. The beautiful, peaceful bays we visited were such a contrast to the concrete, neon lights and buzz of the city. Great memories!

        Liked by 2 people

      • It’s funny how you brought up NYC because when I asked James a long time ago about how the US city was like his answer was “it’s like Hong Kong”. On my first visit to Hong Kong I stayed at a small, old hostel located in Causeway Bay. To put it simply, it’s by far the most basic hostel I’ve ever stayed at — I wonder how the hostels at the Chungking Mansions are like.

        Hong Kong’s beautiful beaches and peaceful bays, as well as hiking trails, are among the things I look forward the most to visiting every time I’m in town. That’s one of the reasons why it’s such a great city.

        Liked by 1 person

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