Four Full Days in Hong Kong at Chinese New Year

I was just in Hong Kong. I was there for work so we got to see a ton of great hotels. But our itinerary also had a lot of fun and cultural experiences. (For the purposes of this blog I won’t talk long about the hotels we saw – however, I will tell you that is my job. I am a hotel broker. I help companies/organizations find and negotiate their group of ten or more sleeping rooms per night. If you know of a group that would like to go to Hong Kong or any other destination for their meetings, conferences, events, or incentive trips. I can help and my services are free).

Our primary host hotel was the Sheraton Hong Kong Hotel. It is on the Kowloon side and in a fantastic location. It is really close to an MTR (subway) station – although on this trip we didn’t use the public transportation, I hear it is simple to navigate. All signs are in Chinese as well as English. And shopping was nearby. But we also did not have a ton of time for shopping.

A couple cool things about this hotel for any traveler. One, they already have the power converter in your room. No need to go out and buy one before you head to Hong Kong. It was a nice touch and a good thing -because the one I brought was not working. And two, almost every hotel we went to (so I don’t think this is a Sheraton only thing), there is what they call a Handy Phone. It is a cell phone that you can take around the city. You can make local and international call (to certain countries) on it, access maps, and/or use it as a mobile hot spot and connect to your own phone! Super handy indeed. (We did go to one hotel that had just the mobile hot spot instead of the Handy Phone).

DAY 1:

When all the other members of our group arrived – we walked aroudn the corner to a rooftop pavillion/garden and were met by Tai Chi master, William Ng and his wife, Pandora. We did it together as a group. That was fun and refreshing. I really couldn’t figure out which direction my hands were supposed to be facing – it was a good thing I was standing in the back. But I felt like we were in a movie or at the least on some TV show. Yes, they really do tai chi in a public place. Apparently this helps us balance our ying and yang.

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After looking at a location for events (1881 Heritage & Hullet House), we headed to the Aqua Luna. This is a boat that cruises Victoria Harbor. It is the same red-sailed boat that is used in Hong Kong tourism brochures. On the boat we got drinks and we could see the lights on the buildings. They are animated and fun to see. Not just any typical skyline. The Symphony of Lights as it is known bills itself as the world’s largest permanent light show. (Apparently there is sound as well if you are on the boardwalk) The show happens every night at 8 p.m.

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We then headed to the Hong Kong Jocky Club at Happy Valley Racecourse. In the U.S. we might head to a football game or basketball – but in Hong Kong. The race track is the place where all the locals go They also have priveate event areas and we ate dinner there in one of those. We were also treated to a lesson in how to bet and what to look for. I hadn’t changed to any local dollars yet so I didn’t bet. But, I am certain that I would have won if I did.

DAY 2:

Our breakfast was hosted by the Mira Hotel. They served us Congee for breakfast. Congee is basically a watered down rice soup. It is sort of tasteless. They served it with peanuts, scallions, peanuts, crispy won ton skins, salted hard boiled eggs, and preserved eggs. The preserved eggs were sort of a black color and sort of a creamy texture. I can’t say I’m a huge fan. But I can say I tried it. I also was introduced to Milk Tea there. It was awesome. From my understanding it is black tea served with condensed and sweetened condensed milk. (I tried to make it at home already).

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We had a networking reception at Sky100 Observation Deck. It is on the 100th floor! (Clever name then huh?). The views were amazing and we were lucky to have great weather days so we could really see everything. There is a Michelin Starred restaurant on the top too called the Sky Boss. This is where we ate lunch. I learned that when there are two sets of chopsticks at a place setting one is for serving yourself from the family style dishes and the other is for eating. The food was delicious! Plus, I’m getting pretty proficient with my chopsticks. Also we learned that rice is only a filler. So the better restaurants won’t serve rice as part of most meals (unless it is the meal like fried rice) but we also noticed that noodles are much bigger deal than rice anyway.

Then we headed over to the Peninsula Hotel. Atop the hotel was the Helicopter pad. YES, we were getting a tour of the city in a helicopter. It was so exciting and a highlight for certain of my time spent in the city. We were joking that we felt like we might have been on the Bachelor. We could see all the great places that we had been and were yet to go to. We could see the islands and the hills. BEAUTIFUL.

Then we went to see the Intercontinental. It has a great location right on the water and I have to talk about the one “room” which Brangelina stayed at with their kids. It is literally a two floor penthouse! It has it’s own gym, office, 5 bedrooms, pool deck and more. I got a sneak into how the “other half” lives.

After the site of the newest hotel to be built in Hong Kong, The Kerry (there is building everywhere), we went to dinner at another fantastic location. The Aqua (Japanese Italian fusion). Not only was the company and the food awesome. But so was the view. Once again, the best views of the city seem to be from up above.

Then the group went for what they called a foot reflexology. Which was basically a foot massage. A full-on one hour massage from knees down. I will have to admit that I am not really much of a massage person. I don’t like them. But if the whole group was going – well so was I. When we arrived we took off our shoes and rolled up our pants. We got in the soaking tubs (like a pedicure). I’m sure it was to clean us off. I was almost asked to leave because I was being so loud. (ooops – but not surprising at all!) Then we were escorted into a dimly lit room with about 20 beds lying side by side. Each of my colleagues were laid at the beds beside mine. We all got cloths laid over our eyes and for a full hour we were massaged. In the few massages that I have received they all have been in a private room. These were not – and we could hear every noise that every person was making.

After our massage, three of us decided to go to the night market. I guess I just wanted to see it. It reminded me a bit of a flea market. You should negotiate with them our host had told us before dropping us off. I didn’t really see much of anything that I really wanted – but if you want fake purses, watches (cheap), phone cases/cords, and/or tshirts. You would love this market. The only thing I did buy was a small bag – which I will likely use for a makeup bag. It was very close to the hotel and about $22 HK. Which amounts to $2.50 US. So a super cheap cab ride!

DAY 3:

Today we headed to the Taste Library at the PMQ (Police Married Quarters) which is also an event venue. The Taste Library is about 3 apartments from the former PMQ chock full of cookbooks of every type – and of course, a kitchen! We headed to the wet market. This is the market that people go to each day to get their day’s ingredients. Since they don’t really have huge refrigerators or places to store food – they go more often than those of us in the U.S. The guyd did a good job of showing us where he had come earlier to get most of the ingredients for the meal we would be making – Radish Cake. Radish Cake is made during New Years as a symbol of growth (usually prosperity).

While the savory cake was cooking (it takes about 45 minutes). We were showing around the PMQ. It is not only a place where you can hold events – but also a fantastic location where there are several artisans (we were given awesome aprons from a shop there). There is also a room that looks like a black and white mural – but when you download the app and hold your phone pointing at the mural it activates cartoon characters that move about the mural and interact with it (ie. going in and out of buildings etc – I’m guessing this is kind of where the Pokeman Go phenomenom came from). And we also had the opportunity to speak with one of the artists at the pottery shop.

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We then had a tour of Hong Kong Island. We did some shopping at another market (some of the stores were closing early in preparation for Chinese New Year – which would begin the next day), Repulse Bay was beautiful as the sun was setting. We were making our way to the highest spot – Victoria Peak. There we went could get another fantastic view of the city from another angle. But, it was very busy as several people were out for the holiday.  We dined at LuFeng which was as delicious as all the others.

On the way back to the hotel we went to the Flower Market. It was crazy with the amount of people jammed together. And we were told that it would only get busier as the night went on. There were directional signs telling people which direction to walk. There were several flower stands each with beautiful flowers. Flowers are used to decorate homes – but also another sign of luck. Too bad I didn’t think I could get flowers though customs but they looked very pretty!

Day 4:

Today was the first day of Chinese New Year. We had been practicing all week. Kung Hei Fat Choi. That is what you say to wish people Happy New Year. The morning was fascinating at the Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden. The tour guide told us that the garden was created and maintained by the nuns and volunteers. It is a tribute to the senses. First Sight – we see a rock garden wtih giant boulders. Representign the continents and greenery to represent life. We are also told the wood structures we see are made with just wood – there are no nails or glue to hold them together. After that we hear the water fall. A tribute to the sense of sound (we could also say we heard birds). Then we are led to the flowering tress for the sense of smell. And then the hidden restaurant is pointed out. This is where you would have the sense of taste. But it is also the only place you can have food in the park (only water otherwise). And then we are invited to sit and touch the polished rock – the sense of touch. The final part of the tour is the entrance to the nunnery. It is where you get your sixth sense.

This was high holiday so we were treated to the sounds of a live chanting. But there were also lines for people to see budda and leave their incense.

We had a dim sum lunch. It was delicious and I think it was like 10 courses! So good. And our whole group is getting pretty good with the chopsticks. We tried birds nest. Which was on the egg tarts. We are told it’s actually bird’s saliva. Birds use their saliva to put together their nests. It’s an expensive “nourishment” for Chinese people. It is full of collagen, protein, and supposed to increase your immune system’s strength. Makes skin radiant, and beautiful. I am an adventurous eater – so I ate it. I can’t say it had much of a taste at all – but my skin didn’t break out as it usually does…so maybe? (The bird’s nest was the clearish stuff on top of the egg tarts. We also found it funny that there was no typical salt and pepper shakers like in the U.S. but toothpicks were at every table).

We had about a couple hours after lunch before we would meet the group again to go to the parade. I took this opportunity to go to the market with one of the other group members and our guide. It was fun to get my kids candy for a souvenier and I got my daughter some cosmetics at Sasa (it is a cosmetics store on nearly every corner).

That evening we gathered in the hotel lobby for the Best Fortune. World Party International Night Parade. We were walked across the stree where we entered on the red carpet! Yes, you heard that we walked on the red carpet to the parade. We sat in amazing grand stand seats and enjoyed the night time parade. It included perfoming acts from all over the world (the U.S. had the Rams mascot and cheerleaders).

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We finished the evening at AlMolo Ristorante. right on the harbor and very close to where the parade was.

Day 5:

I check out and leave for the U.S. this morning. But before I go I get to see a lion dance in the lobby of the hotel. Even though I know that there are people in the lion costume, I’m sort of convinced that it is real. I find myself in awe as they leap from one podium to another. I learn that having a lion helps ward off evil spirits and bring good luck. They also eat lettuce and then spit it back out at the crowd. This is actually a good thing. It adds health and fortune to the luck. It is said if you touch the lion you will have especially good luck (good thing I did that before I left).

We had also learned earlier in the trip that if you go three times (clockwise) around the tree decorating every hotel lobby like the one in this picture it will bring luck and love. Apparently the more branchy and blossoms the better. The red envelopes are filled with money and given to younger children or single people.

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I’m overwhelmed with all that I got to see and experience in just a few short days. What a great city. I can’t wait to go back – although I’m not sure what we missed becuase it sure seemed like we had a pretty stuffed (and fun) agenda! (And by the way – pictures just can’t do it justice. You need to visit).

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