Edited by: Shannon Chapman
Flight Toronto – Vancouver: 4 hours
Flight Toronto – Manila: 13 hours
Layover in Manila: 2 hours
Flight Manila – Hong Kong International: 2 hours
Total travel time: 21 hours
De-boarding this overnight flight, to say the least, felt a little exhausting. Thankfully I had no carry-on baggage. My buddy Phil was also at my disposal to answer any questions.
- Don’t take a cab straight from the airport. It will cost more than it’s worth.
- Buy a return ticket for the Airport Express – MTR. It’s good for 30 days from the purchased date of the ticket.
The train ride from the airport to Central is beautiful and mountainous. The train has Wi-Fi and a USB plug-in for your device. Not to mention the stations are equipped with glass barriers to stop the public from jumping on the tracks. Upon the exit from the subway I grabbed a red taxi to Tin Wan. Cost: about 90 HKD = 15 CAD.
During the time of my trip the exchange rate was about 1 CAD = 6.25 HKD.
Cash is king in Hong Kong, I advise any traveller to exchange at lest a couple hundred dollars in the airport. There are a number of restaurants, wet markets, street food vendors, and shops that will only accept cash. This is also a rule with local taxis, but Uber is also available.
Once I got out of the taxi I walked towards my hotel, and experienced my first incident of culture shock.
- Walk up to hotel, no front desk visible from outside.
- Realize that I have no idea how to enter hotel.
- No door handle or automatic door button in sight.
- Find another entrance, door is locked.
- Check my watch. Maybe they’re not open yet?
- I message Phil. “Of course they’re open,” he writes.
- Walk up and down the block in frustration.
- Determinedly approach the glass front door.
- Door automatically slides open, AC blasts my face.
- Feel totally mortified.
It turns out the front desk is on the second floor.
Hong Kong is more advanced than Toronto in the simplest ways.
As it turns out this automatic open door at the hotel, is a standard at many local establishments. The 24-hour Dim Sim restaurant down the street also had a sliding glass door – a plain white button on the door frame operated this door.
I checked in, went up to my room, threw my bags into the corner, and crashed. The area I stayed in is called Tin Wan, a neighborhood that houses mostly locals. Tin Wan is located on the Southwest part of Hong Kong Island. A short walk from my hotel boasted a beautiful park area along the ocean near several ferries to neighbouring islands. Right next to this route, along a highway, sat Aberdeen. Aberdeen is another neighbourhood with a shopping centre, a couple bars, several restaurants, and a few grocery stores. The Park n’ Shop was the biggest grocery store. I ended up walking over there almost every day to buy food. I’m a sucker for a good Chinese bakery.
Now let’s get to the good stuff. The booze.
First booze-related things I notice:
- The 7/11 and corner stores sell beer, wine, and other grab-and-go alcoholic beverages. There are 7/11s everywhere in Hong Kong, including one across the street from my hotel. The beer selection also includes a number of familiar European brands.
- Most places don’t care about checking I.D.
- Grocery stores also sell beer, wine, spirits, etc.
- You can drink on the street.
After waking up from my jetlag power nap I messaged Phil. Phil and I met up at a San Ka La, a shisha bar near the Causeway Bar area. They have an excellent bar set up with draft beer, cocktails, and wine. This is one of the better shisha bars in Hong Kong. According to some of the customers I chatted with they have quality tobacco and pipes. San Ka La, according to Phil, roughly translates into ‘middle of nowhere.’ This is indicated how the bar sits between Causeway Bar and Wan Chai. It is also around the corner of a building, just far away enough from the nearest highway to give the illusion of quiet.
I found myself tired, still jetlagged, and incredibly sweaty. All I wanted was a refreshing beer.
Lemongrass IPA – Mak’s Beer
Style: Session IPA
Tasting Notes: Hoppy, light, easy-drinking, not too overwhelming with the lemongrass notes. Perfect for hot weather.
Sun Ka La has an exclusive relationship with Mak’s Beer, as they go as far to devote an entire section of the drink menu to their brews. Mak’s Beer [hyperlink] is a craft brewery located in Tsuen Wan, in the New Territories.
Alcohol prices in this part of the world are on par with those in Toronto. This doesn’t change regardless of whether you’re buying from a 7/11 or high-class bar like Ozone. Hong Kong is primarily a cocktail-focused place, with lots of love for wine and beer. But for those who don’t drink don’t fear, these establishments boast plenty of options.
Hong Kong is the land of iced tea. Most restaurants will have a variety of different ice tea options, or in the very least – your typical black tea with lemon. At Sun Ka La for example, the staff brew large percolators of tea, cool it down, and store it’s until needed. Here it’s served over ice, in your typical hipster Mason jar glass, with lemon slices, and a tiny metal creamer containing simple syrup. In Phil’s case, who has become much healthier than myself since our university days, he forgoes the simple syrup altogether.
I think this option of side sweetener is brilliant. From a bar standpoint this gives the customer the power to decide how they want their tea. Something as simple as proper ice tea is hard to do, especially to order. At the restaurant I currently work we’ve run into several problems brewing our own ice tea. This is mostly due to the difficulty in keeping consistency, often resulting in a tea that’s too bitter or too weak. Brewing and cooling tea to order is a complete pain for the bartender, not only is this time consuming; the process often results in too much product leading to incredible waste.
It’s from past experiences that I find it’s important to have good mocktails on hand for those who don’t drink. This is more evident in a restaurant setting where you don’t want patrons to feel as if they’re missing out on the cocktail experience. Hey can I have a club soda? Give them something more exciting than that.
This also leads back to the method of batching cocktails to help cope with volume. What if we also batched virgin drinks like Sun Ka La does with their ice tea? Have the bar equipped with exciting non-alcoholic options ready to get fired out with efficiency and speed. This is an upselling point beyond, “no drinks, just tap water?” Of course there are some great virgin cocktails you don’t want to batch, like a virgin Caesar or a Mojito. While on my journey through a few amazing bars in Hong Kong’s SOHO district I did see a mocktail list or two – stay tuned for the next few posts where I write about these bars in detail!