Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Honeymoon Day 25: Dragon's Back Trail, Michelin-Star Pizza, and Din Tai Fung

1/23/2017
Honeymoon Day 25: Dragon's Back Trail, Michelin-Star Pizza, and Din Tai Fung

Our first major day in Hong Kong, we wanted to get rolling and out there and adventuring. We made a plan, had a Nespresso and an Asian Pear in the hotel room and headed off towards the Mong Kok area to go to Kam Wah Cafe, the famous award-winning pineapple bun shop. We got an assortment of buns: a custard tart, coconut bun, and the pineapple bun with a butter slab in it (the "famous one"). The pineapple bun was in fact quite glorious, it had a satisfying CRUNCH plus was super soft inside. Ahh!! It was so goooood. I ordered one of their Hong Kong-style milk "stocking" tea, which seemed to me to look very similar in style to the "Pulled Tea" from Singapore! It tasted quite a bit like that pulled tea from Singapore as well... that is to say, very good! It went very well with the many buns as well. This was a nice kick for breakfast and got us going and ready for a nice long hike.




Trying the Hong Kong-style milk "stocking" tea

The famous Pineapple Bun

Mmm!!
Soon after breakfast, the jet lag hit me a bit -- I was pretty tired and not feeling SO epic... but it went over after a bit and we kept going which was good. We had wandered the neighbourhood too far after getting our buns, so we walked to enter the Subway at Mong Kok East station instead, changing our direction plan on the subway but still taking 3 or so transfers to get to where we were going, to the start of the Dragon's Back hiking area. The subway maps were easy to understand so it was not hard to change plans on-the-fly like this.

Mall attached to Mong Kok East station
The subway dropped us reasonably close to the hike but it was still another fair bit of a drive. I wasn't feeling 100% (too much "stocking tea" perhaps?!) but we pushed on and decided to take a taxi the rest of the way instead of a bus/minibus after getting off the subway. I was probably about $10 for a 25 min ride to drop us near the village of Shek O, right on the side of the road at the starting point for the hike. Here we go!

The hike was clearly going to be awesome, and a few friends had highly recommended it. It was just like Portland or Seattle or San Francisco, in that you could take some public transit not too far out of the city and find an AMAZING hike with glorious views, right at your fingertips. Super awesome. Right off the bat, the views were awesome and the hike was great. "Wait, are we still in Hong Kong?!" It was very remote-feeling. A great change of pace from the hustle and bustle.








The hike is called "Dragon's Back" as there are many ridges on the trail and they look like spikes on the back of a Dragon's tail! Since it is a "ridge trail", it's quite high up with great and very wide-angle views on both sides of the mountain. There were some great panoramic beach shots, too. It was pretty quiet, some other folks hiking but never felt too cramped or overcrowded by any means. After a week of planes and sitting on the 4WD drive vehicle for most of the Safari portion of the trip, it was really great to be getting some solid exercise... and boy, was this sure exercise! It was a LONG hike!



Silly kiss
Ahh, there's a good one!



At the top of the hike!
"Dragon's Back"

Nice view of beaches
I figured the total time would be maybe 1.5 hrs or so... maybe... and found myself saying a few times, "This is a LEGIT hike!" It was prob about 2 hrs or so as we wrapped up. I also thought it would drop us off at Shek O beach but instead we were back at the "Corrections Institute"... we wanted to head next to the beach-side town of Stanley... hmm... should we take a taxi or a bus... moments later (give our epic luck), a Mini-Bus to Stanley showed up. Great fortune, again! Awesome times.



Wrapping up the trail
Stanley Beach
We had thought that the water was going to be warm and easily accessible, and there was absolutely no one in the water... um... I guess we're not going in, then! We had originally pictured heading into the water to chill post-hike but it wasn't really a beach day and we also couldn't figure out how to get down from the boardwalk area to the beach. Haha. So we punted on that and instead wandered the market and craft market. It was kinda meh, and the beach side stalls also kindof looked like a fail. Lonely Planet was not very encouraging, as they said Stanley had a few "passable restaurants"... yeah. We walked by more than one British Pub?!?! Seems unnecessary when in Hong Kong :) The food stands and "passable restaurants" looked only barely passable and possibly food-poison-y so we were in need of a reliable food option with international cooking standards. What could that be... McDonalds!!! As we gave up on trying to find something cool and local there, and walked in shamefully into McD's, we sighed and said "we are those jerks" [who go to McDonalds in a foreign country because they can't find anything to eat].

Anyway... McDonalds was actually totally awesome!! They had super fun and odd promotions for Chinese New Year and some funny-named food that was great. Even more amazing were the names of the small happy meal plush animals you could buy on behalf of the New Year celebrations. "Prosperity Chicken", "Abundance Chick"... everything had hilarious names. On that note, we shared a "Prosperity Sharing Box", with "Twisted Fries" and a Hot Coffee (man we were being really paranoid about tap water here!) This was all so silly and really fun to try.

Stanley Market
AMAZING new years plush animals
Prosperity Sharing Box

"Learn the New Year Blessings" placemat at McDonalds
Loved seeing all the other localized things

We walked through the International Montessori School area out to the bus terminal, finding that most busses drove back to Central, which is exactly where we wanted to go. We went up to the upper deck to get an epic view and there was a local man already in the front seat. He very kindly gave up his seat for us so we could enjoy the view... super nice. :)

The bus ride was quite long, probably about 45 minutes, and we got to see a bunch of different neighbourhoods and areas as we drove back downtown. It was fun to see the juxtaposition of very tight 2-lane roads with HUGE apartment towers and hotels. We drove through Repulse Bay, which has a hilarious name but is far from "Repulsive" -- it was SUPER fancy. We drove by the famous apartment building "The Repulse Bay" which has a hole in the middle of it. This is because of the Repulse Bay Dragon! The story is that he needs to be able to easily get back to the water when he wants to, so as to not get in his way, they built a big hole in the middle of the apartment complex for the dragon to fly though! Hehe definitely don't want to be getting in a dragon's way, that's for sure!

Thin 2-lane roads

"The Repulse Bay" apartment complex, with a hole in it for the neighbourhood dragon
On our way back into the city
The views of the city were magnificent as we got back to the Wan Chai area (or, was it Chai Wan? That was very confusing on the subway -- yep, it was Wan Chai), near to Causeway Bay where we were the night before. We drove into the main shopping area and drove right by nothing other than an ERIC KAYSER Parisian bakery?!?! Here in Hong Kong?!?!? Well... guess we'll plan to go there later in the week! We also passed a Relais de L'Entrecote?! Crazy, just like Paris! You might recall earlier in this honeymoon journal that we went to both of those spots in Paris. Crazy to see them here! This must have been "Little Paris" here, there were so many fancy shops, purses, clothes, etc. It was very Parisian.




Rogue One ad!


We hadn't eaten much today and after a 2hr hike and walking all day, it was time for some food. One of the spots on our to-eat list was a 1-Michelin starred Italian restaurant called CIAK in the Kitchen. We walked into a fancy hotel and shopping arcade and asked "Where is the Pizza place?" looking very casual, kinda touristy, and as if we had been hiking all day and just come from a McDonalds. "Oh, the Michelin-star Italian restaurant?" was basically the response we got from the person at the information desk. Haha. And so, in true Bay Area style, we strolled into a Michelin-starred spot with shorts and workout clothes on and had a great time. Haha. Turns out, as expected, this was not actually a formal place, and other people were pretty casual in there too -- and at 5pm this was sortof just late lunch anyway. The pizza was super tasty, the crust is a special (fermented), and the sauce was super good. It was a great spot and we absolutely crushed a Pellegrino as well. Mmm.

$3200 USD wine bottle?!

Pizza time!
Tasty
We walked through the fancy mall/hotel and saw some stores and then continued on towards the Central Piers. It was a long walk! There was a cool fair going on complete with a giant ferris wheel which looked awesome, but we wanted to get back to the other side of the water where our hotel was.


Bikers

Awesome homewares
Fancy macaron display holder


Another Apple Store
Cool fairgrounds and skyline


This looked like fun, but it was time to head back to the hotel for a bit
We jumped onto the famous Star Ferry and paid a mere $3.20 HKD (60 cents!) for an upper deck ride across the water at sunset. This was awesome -- people had said to skip the fancier nighttime cruises, and just take this commuter ferry across the water at sunset for 60 cents! It was awesome. The Ferry had GREAT views and what a deal!! That was super insanely fun and awesome.




Epic views!

Our ferry docking back at our side of the water
After this very long day out, we headed back to the hotel to drop all our stuff and chill out for a bit. That was very necessary!

After a little while of relaxing, we headed back out to the "Ladies Market" and also to the Shoe Market. "Oh look, a Nike Store... wait.... why are they also selling New Balance and Adidas?!" Some of the shoes were pretty cool but not as crazy or unique as Japan. It was also unclear in these shoe stores/storefronts if you could actually bargain or not. The prices were also not specifically good. So that was cool to see but there was nothing super crazy or epic like Japan. There were some multi-buy signs (buy 2, get some discount) that were in many of the shops but we asked a few people to explain them and were even more confused after hearing their answers. So, this was all too confusing, so we had to give up and go to the Ladies Market instead.



Now, what kind of Sale is this?!
The Ladies Market was awesome! They had some super cool stuff there, and I scored a Totoro carry bag there for $15 HKD (about $2 USD). Also, they had a wiiicked Totoro Jansport backpack. I was eyeing it and the seller saw my interest. "How much?" "$180"... "Oh... too expensive.".. "OK then, how much do you want to pay?" I then proceeded to continue the market "dance" and hummed and hah'd for a bit. I did in fact feel like $180 HKD was overpriced for the bag (though this was the only place I'd seen such a cool Totoro bag), so I walked away with the correct confidence you needed. I have a terrible poker face so I truly thought I'd find the bag elsewhere, otherwise there was no way I would have pulled off the "walk away" so convincingly. She called out after us... "OK... $150!"... pause... "$120"... and as we were getting out of earshot... "OK, $100!"... "$80".... I allmost turned around... "OK, 50!!!" WOW!! (That's about $8 USD, so presumably still a healthy profit for the shopkeeper -- goes to show how much they overprice everything to start with). yeah! I was psyched as I did actually really want to buy this bag, and it worked out so well. That was such a win. I was surprised she was so keen to make a sale, maybe because it was the end of the day? That was surprising that she dropped her prices so much given that I didn't even negotiate or request it. So that was GREAT and I was so psyched about my fancy new Totoro bag!



Sweet bag!!
Finally, time for some dinner, we headed back to the station to Tsim Sha Tsui, and then walked to Din Tai Fung Silverchord, a world-famous dumpling spot that is now in the San Francisco Bay Area as well, but we were keen to try it closer to its home turf (it originated in Taiwan). This Silverchord branch of Din Tai Fung was the first one in Hong Kong and has received a 1-Michelin Star in 2010 and again in 2013. Pretty crazy... McD's and then two super casual Michelin-star places in one day?! Hong Kong has some crazy amount of Michelin-starred places, making it definitely an epic foodie spot.

Din Tai Fung did not disappoint. People had told me it was epic and man, was it epic. OMG the most exciting thing was that they, somehow, had a CHICKEN broth version of the famous Xiolongbao ("Soup Dumpling") which is typically only ever made with pork broth. I couldn't believe we could finally try the Xiolongbao!! It was such a great opportunity to try it, it is a little dumpling filled with some warm soup broth as well as a piece of chicken. You bite it and the warm soup pours out into your mouth. It was so good!! I think the Veggie Dumpling was ultimately my favourite thing. Again, like ChomChom the night before, Hong Kong dining is not cheap, but the quality is EXCELLENT. We prob spent about $75 at the end of the day at Din Tai Fung, and it was worth every penny.




Noodles
Veggie Fried Rice
Veggie Dumplings
Chicken Xiolongbao!
Dipping!
Veggie Buns
Going for it
VERY pleased
Crazy purple yam-filled dessert baos


This place was so super fun and also super tasty. The egg fried rice was also amazingly tasty. I loved this spot and we will definitely have to try the new San Francisco Bay Area one.

As we were wrapping up to leave, we got up and then Michal handed me my new Totoro backpack from the chair it was sitting on. One of the staff there was grinning at me, I think probably because my bag is definitely supposed to be a girl's bag. haha. Anyway I LOVE IT.

Time to head back to the hotel, finally!
My new Totoro Backpack and Totoro Carrybag
After such an action-packed and awesome day, we headed back to the hotel for a good sleep.

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