Solo in Hong Kong

Whew, with a long flight, the airport express, and bus ride behind me, I had made it to my hotel Hong Kong, and I was ready to hit the ground running.

After checking into my hotel in Causeway Bay, I decided to take a quick trip to the rooftop deck to get my bearings. From the vantage point of 33 floors, I had a great view of the city and the bay.

But what immediately caught my attention was the cluster of activity just across the street in Victoria Park. Thousands of people, it seemed, were gathered in the small wooded area. When I asked the pool attendant what was going on, he responded (I thought), “Farmers’ market.”

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Well, I hadn’t come all the way to Hong Kong for a farmers’ market! But it was so nearby, I thought I had to see what all the excitement was about. As I approached, I realized that it was not a farmers’ market at all, but what the attendant had termed a “flower market.” And that turned out to be the world-class Hong Kong Flower Show – truly an extravaganza of flowers, with intricately arranged flowers depicting everything from underwater scenes to African safaris.

Again, I wouldn’t have predicted that I would go to Hong Kong to see flowers, but I decided to pay the entrance fee and take a quick look. It ended up being the perfect way to spend my first evening in Hong Kong. It was one of those serendipitous things that I love about traveling. It also helped ease me into my first solo trip abroad.

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For years, I had flirted with the idea of venturing out on my own for a major trip.

Sure, I’ve taken plenty of trips with friends and family members over the years, and I’ve loved them all. But schedules and travel itineraries don’t always match up, and sometimes adventure calls.

That was the case recently as I planned a trip to meet my son and his fiancé for a week in Taipei, Taiwan. Facing a 14-hour flight, I decided to round out my itinerary a bit and add another Asian destination.

I quickly surveyed nearby spots, and impulsively chose Hong Kong. It just sounded exciting – the crowds, the food, the harbor.

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So, after spending an amazing week in Taipei, I flew off to Hong Kong by myself, butterflies in my stomach.

Despite the randomness, I feel like I made the right choice. With its not-so-distant-past status as a British colony, Hong Kong really is as English-friendly as the guidebooks say. I found that most people I encountered had a working knowledge of English – from the lady on the bus in Kowloon who steered me to the best street market, to the front-desk staff at my hotel who offered tips and patiently circled the appropriate stops on my MRT subway map.

Armed with a few rudimentary Cantonese and Mandarin phrases myself, I easily traversed the island – on foot, by bus, on the MRT, and in a ferry.

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Hong Kong has plenty of must-see attractions, and first up for me was the trek up Victoria Peak, where I joined the throngs of tourists gazing out at the endless harbor spread below. A couple of notes: I went in March, and my views were consistently shrouded in mist. IMG_1208Still beautiful, but not quite the crisp, clear picture of the harbor I had expected. Also, the famed Victoria Peak tramway was undergoing routine maintenance, so I ended up taking a bus up the mountainside instead. Sometimes life intervenes on your travel dreams, and you just have to move on!

There were plenty of noteworthy activities to make up for it: wandering the back alleys of Kowloon, bargaining with vendors for silk and handbags; exploring the ubiquitous medicine shops lining Kowloon’s gritty back alleys; IMG_1230taking the sunset ferry from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island; and a bus ride to the seaside community of Stanley, where I watched artists paint beach scenes on oily canvas, and strolled along the shore of the South China Sea.

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Looking back, I feel that getting my solo-travel feet wet in Hong Kong was just what I needed. Challenging at times, and a little scary, but definitely amazing!

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