I never thought I’d be sailing through the Kowloon district of Hong Kong at midnight on a rickety junk boat with my former housemate and his girlfriend, but this was yet another exotic adventure I had somehow stumbled into! At this time in my life, I had lived in Japan for 2 years and intended to stay there forever. I had seen most of the major islands and cities in Japan, so my good friend Li Bai, who I originally met in a Tokyo sharehouse, invited my to come to Hong Kong for something new. He had lived in Tokyo for 3 months and China for about a year, and said Hong Kong was one of the craziest places he had ever been to. I took his word, but I still was a little nervous back then!
Now I would leap at an opportunity to go to a new country, but initially I had mixed feelings about traveling outside of Japan. This was mainly because I was so comfortable with my daily life in Tokyo and didn’t want to leave, plus I wasn’t sure if I could navigate in another foreign country without knowing its native tongue. It actually took a lot of convincing on Li Bai’s end, but he assured me if I loved Tokyo I would enjoy Hong Kong and all it had to offer. After some time I decided this would be the best opportunity to see Hong Kong since both of my friends spoke Chinese and could guide me get around. It was also the chance to see a whole new country and learn about its culture with people I was close with, so in retrospect I’m quite glad I took the opportunity.
I stayed in Hong Kong for a total of 4 days in a cheap hostel in Kowloon called Rainbow Lodge HK. Li Bai recommend staying in Kowloon Town because it has a lot of history, and it is cheaper than the newer luxurious parts of the city. Formerly called “The City of Anarchy”, Kowloon was known as walled city that was home to many imperial soldiers during the Sung Dynasty. The city had a culture of its own as it refused to be colonized and was once one of the most densely populated areas of the world. Though it was infamous for crime back in the day, now it is fully safe and historic.
Like Tokyo, Hong Kong is a bright and vivid city with a lot of neon lights, street vendors, and shopping. The train system is very cohesive and you can get around the island with ease. The biggest difference I noticed was Hong Kong was a lot more westernized; English was widely spoken and manners were a lot looser. At the night markets you could barter to get lower prices which I did with the help of my Chinese-speaking friends. This is concept is actually common in Asian countries, but not in Japan. I also really enjoyed the warm weather. Tokyo and Korea are much colder in the winter, so I felt like I was in the tropics the whole time I was here.
One interesting point I noticed is that people often lay down cardboard boxes in the street and have little picnics in them! I think it’s a very clever idea because it easily brings people together:
The streets of Hong Kong are really fun to wander because they are super condensed and beautiful murals are everywhere to be found. I arrived before my friends, so I took to opportunity to explore the city on foot. I saw a lot of unique murals and architecture, as well as graffiti. My favorite was a green Slime from Dragon Quest was some kind of insignia on its forehead, not to mention the mysterious door with eyes. The polar bear butt sculpture near my hostel was extremely charming too.
My friends from China arrived around 8pm and that’s when the party finally started! It felt so good to catch up with them because it had been over a year since we last had seen one another. We first barhopped around Kowloon and found a Mexican place with giant mixed drinks and tequila which we feasted on after the long flight. We also bought a bottle of wine and drank on the streets while walking to the Victoria harbor. Honestly, we got along so well like no time had passed at all!
Around 11pm we boarded a traditional Chinese ship with a vivid sail called a junkboat. Junkboats resemble pirate ships and were used to transport cargo back in the day (not actual junk). We booked the NYE fireworks tour through Aqua Luna online, and it included an all you can eat buffet and an hour of smooth sailing around the harbor. Though it was somewhat of a tourist activity, it was extremely fun! This was honestly one of the most enjoyable NYEs of my life because I had made it all the way here to Hong Kong, a place I never thought I’d travel to in my life. I’ll never forget the incredible neon hue the sky turned once the clock stuck midnight!
At the end of the little sailing expedition, we were all tired so we decided to turn in for the night. But this was just the first day! The next day we decided to sail to another exciting place! Look forward to the next blog of my Hong Kong series: Setting Sail for Macau.