Ah the glory of stepping foot in Hong Kong after over two months in India and Nepal! The toilets were so clean they actually glistened in the light. That’s right, we even had working electricity to show off that shiny porcelain. The bathrooms had soap, the water was free of parasites, and we had entered a land of order and pleasantries. People were forming lines! We no longer stepped in various piles of fecal matter and the abundance of AC was so vast and wonderful that our bodies could barely take the shock of it all. We immediately fell in love and we weren’t even officially welcomed into the city yet. As much as we loved India and Nepal, we really needed this.
We had been fortunate enough to link up with an amazing couchsurfing host named Randy. John and I had been keen on the idea of couchsurfing for a while but we never seemed to plan enough ahead to make it work and Southeast Asia, India, and Nepal had been so inexpensive that we didn’t take the initiative to make it happen. For you couchsurfing noobs, there is a website called couchsurfing.org where you can make a profile and contact people all over the world to stay with them at no cost. You can sign up as a “surfer” in need of a couch (us) or a host with a couch or bed available, or both. Before you go all crazy and think we’ve lost our minds, know that this is a very reputable site where people write reviews, give recommendations, and tell a ridiculous amount of information about themselves. Yes, there is always a risk you may stay with a psycho but we never request a stay with someone without tons of great reviews. Randy appeared to be the Hong Kong couchsurfing king (and he really is!) and had over 100 positive reviews. He was interested in pretty much everything we are interested in: meeting new people, eating good food, hiking, exploring new cities, etc. We thought it would be a great opportunity to meet someone new with similar interests. We also couldn’t afford to stay in Hong Kong very long with the outrageous accommodation prices, so we sent Randy a request less than 24 hours before our arrival and he responded super fast and we found out he actually graduated from CU Boulder! He is an American expat working in Hong Kong, living it up. He told us his free room was occupied but offered for us to sleep on a mattress on the floor and the couch and we quickly gave him our flight information and set up a meeting point at the Hong Kong metro station for the following morning. We would later find out that Randy gets a ton of requests and he is very selective with who he hosts. We feel super lucky and really can’t thank him enough.
We were grinning ear to ear chatting about our new adventure when Randy showed up at the metro station to show us back to his apartment. He admitted that he preferred to meet people at the station rather than giving out his address because he wanted to make sure we didn’t look crazy before he opened up his home to us. Fair enough, I completely understood that. We talked with Randy the whole way back to his apartment as we walked through the nicest mall I have ever been in, up the largest outdoor, covered escalator network in the world (go ahead and wiki it, it’s true), and passed so many delicious looking restaurants that I could feel my mouth beginning to water. He pointed out some great places to eat, told us a bit about where we were in Hong Kong and led us all the way to SoHo, an uppity area in Central Hong Kong where he happens to live. We couldn’t believe we would be staying in such an incredible location with such a welcoming host. Randy showed us his apartment which was a two bedroom place with a big living room, eating area, nice bathroom, and kitchen. By Hong Kong standards, this place was a mansion. Most places we researched as backup accommodations were just big enough to fit a small double bed and had a shared bathroom or one big enough only for a toilet. We were smitten.
Randy gave us the run down and we could tell he must give this speech at least 3 times a week. He told us where things were, gave us a bag of information on Hong Kong to look through, told us some cool things we should see, asked us to not bring strange people back to his apartment, and handed us a key. We get a key?! Wow! He was so trusting of us and of all the people he hosts, it was wonderful! He asked if we were hungry and we practically shouted, “yes!”, so he took us on a 30 minute journey through the amazingly efficient public transportation system of Hong Kong to reach a place that had a line out the door and along the length of the building. That’s how you know it’s going to be good! The restaurant only served toast, scrambled or fried eggs, hot or cold Hong Kong style milk tea, and chicken noodle soup. They move people in and out of the restaurant so fast that we sat down, had been given our meal within about 30 seconds and were out of there about 5 minutes later, once our plates were empty. It was exactly what we wanted! The milk tea was traditional Hong Kong style which uses a stocking to filter the black tea leaves and is combined with evaporated milk and a hefty helping of sugar. I still think that very first milk tea was the best one we had the whole time we were in Hong Kong, and we admittedly had a lot of milk teas.
Once lunch was over, Randy took us on a tour of the central area of Hong Kong. He showed us famous spots, brought us to see a great view of Kowloon (the part of the city on the other side of the harbor) from Hong Kong Island, and introduced us to a few more food spots. Although we were stuffed, we had to try one of the delicacies of Hong Kong: the famous egg tart. These are essentially mini pies with an egg custard filling. They are amazing! Randy treated us each to an egg tart and we walked around eating them as if they were the first delicious dessert we had ever had. Everything in Hong Kong blew our minds. Randy probably thought something was wrong with us because we were laughing and giggling and downright thrilled with everything, especially the simple things. We were amazed by crosswalks (and more amazed by the fact that people used them), baffled by traffic lights, shocked by women wearing dresses and heels, men wearing suits, and the accessibility to trash cans and stunned by people throwing trash away in them. The city is one of the cleanest cities I have ever been in and it seemed to be well respected by its inhabitants.
After our mini city tour was over, John and I decided to head down to the water to go for a walk. On the way, we stopped at the apple store in the IFC mall to have his computer looked at because it had been freezing and shutting down unexpectedly the past few days. After multiple tests, it was diagnosed with a software issue which was a free fix by Apple (thank goodness). We set up a time to return the next day to have it fixed and set off along the water as dusk was falling and the lights of the city were beginning to pop out. We could see all sorts of designs floating around on tall buildings in lights and were still commenting on how nice the city was. We walked all the way to Wan Chai where we were told we could get a hard drive for John to back up his computer before Apple took care of it. We found one and then went on a mission to find some dinner.
As we strolled around the bustling streets of Wan Chai, we attempted to find a recommended restaurant we had heard of but instead followed our noses to a place that smelled like delicious beef. It just so happened that it was delicious beef we were smelling. We had found the Butchers Club, a burger joint that had just opened about three weeks prior, nestled down a small Hong Kong street. The place was completely packed and smelled of heaven, so we were disappointed to see the prices. The restaurant only had four things on the menu: burger, duck fat fries, root beer float, and PBR. If I recall exactly, the burgers were about 100 HKD ($12), the fries were about 20 HKD (~$2.50) and the beers were 35 HKD (~$5…for a PBR).
We were looking at the menu with sad faces, about to walk back out since $30 for two burgers and some fries is wildly out of our budget, but then a voice from behind the bar said, “here, have two PBRs!” and he tossed them our way. “Ok”, we thought. “Two free beers, I guess we have to stay now.” So we stayed and ordered two burgers and shared an order of fries and we were ridiculously impressed to say the least. It was one of the better burgers I have ever had and it makes sense because they have the meat imported and dry-aged in a humidity controlled facility in Hong Kong. We chatted with the two head chefs, Liam and Matt who just moved to Hong Kong for a year to start the business for the owner. They were really friendly and started off by saying, “don’t take this the wrong way, but are you travelers?”. We laughed and realized we were wearing our small day pack backpacks that we had on since we left Randy’s house for lunch and were looking rather ratty due to the fact that we hadn’t showered since we left Kathmandu for our flight the night before, had traveled through the night, and were ridiculously sweaty from the crazy humidity in Hong Kong. It was at that point we realized we were in a place where people liked to look nice and clean and we stood out like a sore thumb. We had to make some changes if we were going to fit in around here.
Through talking with Liam and Matt, they offered for us to crash at their place if we needed to once our couchsurfing time was up with Randy (we only requested to stay with Randy for 3 nights). We thanked them enormously for the hospitality and amazing burgers, exchanged info, and headed back to Randy’s. Randy was awake when we got back and we stayed up chatting until about 2 am when John fell asleep sitting up. We desperately needed some shut eye after a long night traveling and a full day exploring Hong Kong, so Randy retired to his room and I think I fell asleep before my head even hit the pillow. I must also mention that we took showers in Randy’s house in a real shower! One with a door! We didn’t have to use a wet toilet seat or walk through a wet floor for the first time in almost four months! It was fabulous to be in a real, comfortable home.