A garden of teapots in the middle of Hong Kong island


It’s summer time and summer is conducive to taking a break from our routine. So we did! And, in the same spirit, this blog takes a break from its usual self-imposed subject matter of showcasing Taiwan by leaving the island for one short picture essay. Hong Kong is our destination. A city that never ceases to fascinate me and that I can now say has become nicely familiar after many visits in the last 25 years. I’ve seen it under the British rule, and now under Chinese one. I’ve seen it lose its lustre a bit to the competing mega cities of the mainland, like Shanghai, and I am now witnessing its charming civility being roughed-up and challenged by the incessant influx of mainlanders flooding in for a weekend trip. Despite all this, Hong Kong is still a unique city that one must experience at least once in his lifetime.  So, today I propose to you my personal take on Hong Kong as I attempted, once again, to get lost and let the city entrap me in its maze of little alleyways and staircases that organically traverse the island. There are no cliché shots of of the skyline with lasers, no busy shopping street scenes, no Disneyland, but, some of you may be reassured that tea remains an integral part of our travel plans and still inspires our itineraries as we feature a “must visit” spot for tea and tea ware enthusiasts: the Flagstaff House, home of Hong Kong’s Museum of Tea Ware.

For all of us living in Taiwan, Hong Kong feels like it’s part of the island since getting there is as easy and accessible as going from one end of Taiwan to the other. In fact, when westerners tell me they have plans to come to Taiwan and ask for advice on how to get here, I tend to always recommend to break their itinerary and consider a few days in Hong Kong as well. After all, if you are to spend the money for a ticket to Asia might as well make the most our of it, especially if your flight plan already includes a stopover in Hong Kong before making your last flight into Taiwan. Usually, this can be arranged for a very small surcharge, if any. For flights originating from Europe this is quite easy as many airlines make Hong Kong their port of entry into Asia. For North-American flights, Tokyo is often favoured but if you check further, you’ll find that going through Hong Kong can also be arranged for about the same price with many airlines. Tokyo is not a bad choice either, mind you, but we’ll leave that option out for now and stick with today’s destination. Finally, if your flight makes it into Taiwan directly. You can still consider spending a few days in Hong Kong by making a bunny hop from Taiwan. The Hong Kong – Taipei passenger air route is the world’s busiest with hundreds of flights being offered daily. This means very competitive prices and plenty of seats. The trick here is to book your flight when you get here to get the bargain prices. We’re talking less than USD 300.00 including all taxes for a return flight. Now that you know how to get to Hong Kong, let’s talk about why you should consider doing so. I love Hong Kong, as you will notice, and the reasons why I love it might surprise you:

It is a green city where nature dominates.

What usually comes to mind to anyone who has not visited this city is people piled-up in a dense clutter of high-rise buildings with no room to breathe. In fact, when you look at a map, you’ll be surprised to see that most of Hong Kong’s territory is predominantly undeveloped land covered by a dense forest making it a haven for weekend trekkers. It is a green city where nature dominates. Bring your hiking shoes when you come as the many trails that navigate through the mountains offer the best views of the city and its surroundings. One could literally decide to walk from the city core of Hong Kong island up the mountain to the other side to go for a swim in the ocean in Repulse Bay. If you do so, you might want to consider the bus to come back to the city, it is a good hike!

Built on a mountain slope out of necessity, Hong Kong island’s city landscape opposes strong angular and sinuous lines to the vertical projections of the buildings creating a multi-layered visual tension that resolves in an indescribable organic rhythm that is truly harmonious. Take away the mountain and you’re left with and insipid clutter of concrete stakes driven into the South China Sea bed. It is the mountain that brings it all together as one by balancing the showcase of engineering prowess and architectural marvel this city is against the dominant natural beauty of a mountainous forest. This unique landscape has had a profound impact on how this city developed itself and impacted as well on its social fabric to become of the most unique and exciting city on the face of this planet.

The reality at street level also reflects this statement. Yes, you can shop ’till you drop in Hong Kong, and this is what most people do when they come here. But if you wish to get away from the sea of people who are converging towards the shopping districts, you may want to consider walking towards the mountain on the island side, up to the midlevels, to explore the meandering alleys and stairways that follow the relief imposed by the mountain. This is where Hong Kong becomes such pleasant city to get lost in. The urban landscape always offers unusual visual surprises where, here and there, the mountain still manages to seep through the cracks of man’s attempted taming of it. The city is filled with these green oases as Hong Kong can boast to be one the cities with the highest number of parks and areas devoted to recreation use in the world. Not many megapolises have an aviary and zoological garden in the middle of it, to name one attraction. And even fewer have a park right in the middle of their highest property value central district with a Museum dedicated to old teapots!

Cars are not welcome in HK

Another aspect that make Hong Kong so human-friendly and attractive to pedestrian explorers like me is the noticeable rarity of cars on the streets. Cars are not welcome in HK, thanks to heavy taxes and lack of space, and their presence rendered useless thanks this time to impeccable mass transit infrastructures. This means that instead of being rendered deaf by the constant rumble of engines one can be entertained by the colour of the different accents heard on the street. What a refreshing experience!

Finally, even though this is definitely a business driven money town and many complain about its lack-lustre cultural scene, Hong Kong does propose a unique hybrid society with its own distinctive cultural colour. The East and the West may have collided to bring about the context that explains the 155 year British rule on this small territory, but to me, this blending of the two cultures into a unique microcosm has proven to be a working success. This is not a Chinese City as much as it is not a British City. Yet, reminders of both cultures are everywhere to be seen and experienced, and oddly enough, it works! No wonder the Hongkongese are proud of their distinctive hybrid character and become very vocal when their “Special Autonomous” status gets slowly diluted by the central authorities of Beijing.

All this being said, it comes as no surprise then that Hong Kong also proposes a distinct tea culture. Many leaves have transited through the docks of this city, and still do. Local tea traders have also become sanctuaries of many unique and traditional teas and tea crafts during the dark period of the cultural revolution making Hong Kong a warehouse of tea treasures throughout the years. This practice is still well in place today as Hong Kong has become a destination for those seeking rare and exclusive aged pu’ers and other vintage teas. The particular hot and humid climate of Hong Kong has also contributed in giving its own distinctive colour to the ageing process, establishing a Hong Kong style “wet storage” taste. It is also the same hot and humid climate that has caused the dash of milk in black tea to be replaced by condensed milk giving a distinctive twist and local colour to the British style cuppa. Just ask for a Kamcha if you wish to experience this syrupy delight when you’re next in town. It’s preparation is not as simple as it sounds if you want to make a good one…

Finally, our walk ends here as we arrive at Flagstaff House, home of Hong Kong’s Museum of Tea Ware. Located in Central, it is a few blocks away from Admiralty MTR Station and accessible by tram as well. The grounds of this house are beautiful and well worth the detour in itself and showcase a large fish pond, a wedding hall, a tea house and, of course the Museum. There are no shots of the collection below as pictures are not allowed inside the Museum, and we tend to respect such rules. Needless to say the visit needs to be experienced in person and is well worth the visit, especially if you are interested in Yixing pots. Tea nuts should plan for a good 2 to 3 hours to visit. Enough to work up a thirst for a decent cup that can be had in the adjacent tea rooms. The Museum is open daily except Tuesdays. More info and directions on the official site here.

If you liked this entry, let us know below and maybe we’ll show you pictures of something else that’s tea related and not many people expect to find in Hong Kong… a tea plantation!



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