When visiting Hong Kong as a tourist, it's convenient to stay in the central areas - Sheung Wan, Wanchai, Causway Bay on the Hong Kong side or Tsim Sha Tsui on the Kowloon side. It's very easy and inexpensive to cross the harbor by subway or ferry. Hotels are very expensive in these areas (and in HK in general) but we got lucky and found a great deal at the Holiday Inn Express in Sheung Wan/SOHO. The location was perfect - steps away from the subway stop and lots of shopping, dining and places to go out. The hotel was clean and comfortable with decent sized rooms, excellent wi-fi and a great breakfast. It doesn't have the spectacular views that you'd get from a hotel on the harbor in Kowloon, but those rooms would require you to dig deep into your pockets. We figured we'd head over to Kowloon at night to get the views anyway.
Our first order of business was to get visas for China. Americans are required to get visas before they visit China. You can't simply purchase one upon arrival at the airport. The fee is $130 per person and you have to send your passport away to the Chinese consulate. We didn't have enough time to do this before we left, and since our visit to China was towards the end of our trip our visa would have expired by the time we arrived.
Luckily, there are services in Hong Kong (which is considered a Semi-Autonomous Region of China and doesn't require visas for entry) that expedite the visa. We used China Travel Services (CTS) as it was recommended to us by a friend and received tons of positive reviews online. We were a little nervous about handing over our passports for a few days while abroad, but it worked out well. We arrived at the office, waited about a half hour, filled out a form, had our pictures taken and paid ~$200 to get our visas processed in 3 business days. Although expensive, it was a smooth and efficient process.
With our first day's housekeeping item out of the way, we had a healthy dinner at O Green Cafe in Sheung Wan.
The next morning we took a ferry across the harbor to Kowloon. While it's faster to take the subway to Kowloon, we wanted to give the ferry a try so we could see the skyline in both directions. It was a really quick ride and the wooden interior of the boat was pretty cool, and a throwback to an earlier time. The view of the city was a little hazy.
Our next order of business was to find Chris a custom made suit. Hong Kong is known for it's speedy tailors that can turn around a custom made suit in just a few days for a reasonable price. For those of you who don't know Chris, he is very tall and thin and therefore has difficulty finding clothes that fit him properly. Chris had a list of tailors to visit and we ended up visiting three. Unfortunately, the price of a custom made suit has risen quite a bit in the last year or two, and all three tailors quoted him prices much higher than expected. For a little more money, he could have a suit made back home without the rush. He decided to pass on the suit for now. There are lots more shops in HK where you can still get a custom suit cranked out for very little money, but we were advised to skip those as they can sometimes churn out unwearable garments! Oh well.
Antiquity & Modernity working in Harmony
After striking out in the suit department, we took the subway to Diamond Hill to check out the Nan Lian Gardens and Chi Lin Nunnery. This tranquil park is nestled among high rise apartments along the side of Kowloon's giant hills. Upon exiting the subway, we were in between a mall (shocker) and a highway overpass. After crossing the street under the highway, we passed through the garden's gate and boom - we entered an oasis of trees, ponds and beautiful wooden architecture painted in rich warm colors that contrasted perfectly with green surroundings.
From the park we wandered up the stairs to see the Chi Lin Nunnery, which is a Buddhist complex established in the 1930s, and renovated in the style of the Tang dynasty in the 1990s. It's a very serene place with lotus ponds, bonsai trees and altars to Buddha and his disciples. We saw several people praying, meditating and giving offerings to Buddha.
That night we went to Noodlemi - a tiny restaurant in Sheung Wan (maybe 5 tables). This place happened to have lots of gluten free options so it's a good spot if you suffer from Celiacs. Neither of us have Celiacs but we have several friends who do, so we thought it was worth a mention.
So far, we'd had amazing weather. Thankfully, the sunshine would last for our trip up to Victoria Peak the next day!