This is the first epic vacation since 2012’s Africa expidition and I’m doubting my plan already. I traded in frequent flyer tickets for puchased ones because I found an ultra cheap fare – less than $950 each from the US to Bali, Indonesia. There are better ways to use the miles, I reasoned.
But the paid itinerary has a monster 16.5 segment from Dallas to Hong Kong, and then a 12 hour layover in one of the worlds busiest and most expensive cities: Hong Kong. As I get on the plane in Dallas, I wonder if I made the right choice. It’s much too late to second guess though, and we all settle in for the longest single flight we’ve ever taken.
Emma reminds me that technically the longest was Washington D.C. to Johannesburg (18 I think?) but that included a touchdown in Dakkar, Senegal where we were not allowed of the plane. Lily and Emma argue a bit about whether or not a refueling stop invalidates a continuous flight record.
I smile as they banter. Fuck, yeah. The Creekmores are on their way again.
It turns out to be one of the easiest long hauls we’ve ever had. It’s a new AA 777, the super long plane, and the entertainment is great. They have at least 100 movies, and wifi internet more than half the way. The seats recline and extra 10 degrees or so, and though the sleep is always bad, it’s enough to get us to Hong Kong.
Arriving in Hong Kong just as the sun sets, we grab showers at the airport lounge. I have a new credit card benefit that gets us into a lot of international lounges. We check our bags at the ‘Left Luggage’ counter for $50 and head into the city with just day packs.
Does Hong Kong count as a seperate country? The kids are close to 30 countries (27 after this trip) and they want to add it! It would have for most travelers before 1997, but I don’t think we get to count this one.
We were in China in 2001, but this feel little like the China we saw then. This is more like Tokyo. The high speed train from the airport to downtown is fast and comfortable.
The taxi driver takes one look at the english address I show him and he nods, speeding off through the intertwined high-rise buildings and high ways of Central Hong Kong. Our destination is ‘Pure Veggie House’ a vegan restaurant specializing in mock meat cantonese dishes.
The food is pretty good, and unusual. Emma gets a curry fried rice served in a whole pineapple, and with watery eyes from the spice, she eats the whole thing with big bites of soft dim sum buns to cool her mouth. This is not the same Emma that ate only bread in Morocco 8 years ago. She has recently begin slowly but surely to develop her palatte. Lily goes the other direction and gets very plain soup with ramen noodles.
Amanda and I splurge and order a bunch of vegan dishes including gelatenous ‘shark-fin’soup, a greens and soy milk stew with yellow beans, spicy green beans and a spicier fresh tofu dish that was made entirely of different kinds of spicy pepper. A mushroom pouch in truffle sauce was a little overdone for me. Soft squares of sticky sweet jelly dessert end the meal.
It’s about 10:00 and within 500 meters is the tram entrance to Victoria Peak. I have a google map print out that shows a simple walk down the nearby Prince Albert street – except that when we get there we realize there are no sidewalks and it’s actually a highway with snarling overpasses and ramps that defy pedestrian accesss.
We head out cautiously, not willing to make too big a bet in any one direction, trying to find our way. We can see the tram tracks and even a tram as it ascends. Amanda briefly considers hopping on the Tram tracks to get us to the station, but it’s steep and dark and there are lots of ‘Forbidden’ signs. She finds us an allyway that gets us to the right place. (And goes past the World Wildlife Foundation office, her former employer.)
The tram to the peak travels almost 45 degrees up, and changes our frame of reference to make the world outside look slanted and tilted. At the top we are met by a big mall, out of which we fail to get until we’ve gone all the way up to the top and back down. Tantalizing views of the Hong Kong skyline and city are out the windows, but we want the real thing!
Starbucks, Haagen Dasz, Bubba Gumps ‘Heart Healthy’ restaurant (wut). This could be downtown Silver Spring up here, except it’s twice the price and somewhere around here is the view of one of the greatest skylines on the planet. Ahh, there it is… the observation deck.
It doesn’t disappoint. It glows in a way I have seen no other city glow, dense beyond dense. The clousds above are lit up like it’s daytime. The sea between the islands reflects the colors. Emma says ‘wow’ with none of her typical teen sarcasm.
We hang up here a bit and I play with the camera a little, trying to capture the feeling as best as I can. We get our first family photo of the trip from a friendly fellow traveler and head back.
The tram line is still crazy long, so we look for a taxi. There are a lot of cabs, and also a lot of police. Soon we find out why… We notice cab drivers circling the taxi line but not picking up passengers. One stops by us. We had waited before getting in the line of about 50 people, trying to figure out the system. He says ‘yes’ to the hotel name I give him.
As we take off, he turns off the meter and says $300HK, which is about 4-5 times the regular price. ‘Pay me now’ he demands. Woah, it’s late and we’re tired, but that’s about $30 more than it should be. And we know the meters are legitimate. Amanda gets anxious and demands we turn around. I don’t disagree, although I’m not worried for our safety, he’s just ripping us off.
He angrily drops us back at the taxi line, and continues to circle the line looking for an inflated fare. We wait another hour, watching him and a few other cab drivers circle, occasionally getting the juiced-up fare they seek. Police occasionally break up an illegitimate pick-up, and the rest of us in the line breath a sigh of relief with each taxi that pulls up ready to do a metered fare.
We eventually get back and to our very nice hotel in the club area of Hong Kong. Lily, Amanda, Emma and I all remark on the club fashion of the young cantonese girls. Shorts shorts with fringe, gladiator sandals, synthetic fabric tops. We could be anywhere.
A flat, soft bed feels amazing after an overnight on the plane. Blissful… Hong Kong isn’t sleeping, but we are.