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Taking on Hong Kong Solo

When presented with the somewhat catastrophic fact that I had just one week’s holiday remaining last year, I began to panic.  I soon realised that popping to Spain for some sunshine wasn’t going to cut the mustard and a trip to the Lake District wasn’t going to touch the sides. Every inch of me knew that I needed to go big. After much deliberation, I whittled it down to the Caribbean – a place I had never been but written about constantly – or Hong Kong, a place I had never visited and knew nothing about. Subsequently, everyone, including myself, was surprised to see me on a plane hurtling towards Hong Kong just a month later with nothing but a suitcase full of clothes and a rough itinerary. I spent nine days there in total and I can say with a fair degree of confidence that I nailed the best of Hong Kong, especially given my budget and time frame. That said, it only seems right that I share such wisdom, so here it is!

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Day 1:

Having devoted the entire thirteen-hour flight to digesting the entirety of Alan Partridge’s first season – spliced with the occasional face-stuffing and continuously trying to figure out how a flight to Hong Kong could take longer than one to Korea when Hong Kong looks closer on a map – it’s fair to say that I wasn’t in tip top shape when I arrived that evening. All that was on my mind was sleep. That didn’t happen. Instead, my friends and I headed straight out into the city where I was introduced to Lan Kwai Fong, Hong Kong’s answer to Khao San Road.

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Rude awakening doesn’t cut it. It’s everything a lads holiday in Ibiza professes to be; loud, alcohol-fuelled and teeming with men in beaters attempting to shoe horn you into their bar. Two syringe-jello shots later, we sought refuge in the depths of a dingy darts bar (we visited once again later in the week to learn that it had been closed down – not surprising given how sketchy it was).

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Day 2:

Thankfully I had the advantage of people I knew living in Hong Kong, so my friend Robyn who I had met whilst living in Korea was able to drag me around to all the must-see places. We made our way across the city via tram, which for me is a novelty in itself, to Nan Lian Garden. Serving as a rural refuge amid an otherwise urban jungle, the gardens offered a more relaxed, toned down version of life in Hong Kong.

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The gardens were nice enough to wander round, although I am going to add them to the list of places around the world that have been under construction whilst I’ve been there (Angkor Wat, the Trevi Fountain and the US Capitol Building to name but a few). There are some nice photos to be snapped and some phenomenal juxtapositions to be seen, like this one:

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From here we headed out into the abyss from what I can make out, in search of a lesser-known attraction called 10,000 Buddhas. Hidden round the back of a shopping mall around a five-minute walk from the nearest station, I suspect 10,000 Buddhas does exactly what it says on the tin except I don’t actually know as I gave up counting after the first one hundred or so.

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DSC_0135It’s clear that as they got closer to completion near the top, they may have started to run out of money, as the Buddhas became more disfigured and unfortunate-looking.

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The climb to the top isn’t taxing, although steep in places. It offers some great views across the city, which is enveloped by the green of mountain tops.

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From here we ventured into the Korean district, not so far from TST, where we soaked up some cracking views of the bay.

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I’d been craving decent Korean fried chicken ever since I left Korea, and Hong Kong, oh how you supplied! Complete with the obligatory ‘alcopop/Korean beer tipped into another suspect-looking alcohol’ arrangement, my palate was delighted and felt nostalgic for my time in Seoul.

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That evening, Robyn and I parted ways and I headed off in a taxi to my hostel, the Yes Inn, Fortress Hill. I had somehow managed to pick the lesser foreign-friendly areas of Hong Kong, but I was okay with that. What I wasn’t okay with was (clearly) directions. The taxi driver kicked me out the cab and pointed to the building I was next to so very adamant this was my hostel, before driving off like he’d just realised he left the oven on. I looked up, I looked down. Still, for the life of me I couldn’t see my hostel.

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Fifteen minutes spent wandering the same 10-metre radius and I decided that only Google Maps could save me (something I regretted having returned home with a £75 phone bill). Google Maps was clearly operating on the exact same navigation network as the taxi driver, because it continued to point into a block of residential flats. I decided I’d wander in and show the two guys guarding the reception (this is commonplace in Asia). They laughed, oddly, (perhaps they’d been watching me on the CCTV for the 15 minutes previous) but pointed me to the lift – much to my relief!  Upon checking in, I was informed that I would be staying across the road just a few minutes away as I had booked a private room. This didn’t concern me at first, but then the realisation dawned on me as I was led five minutes down a busy road by a woman who knew no English, that solo travel in Hong Kong would be no fun if I couldn’t meet anyone tucked away in my private room! This was a valuable lesson learnt here and then, and one I won’t forget in a hurry. As I was left alone on the 34th floor, panic set in. It was 6pm, I was alone and had no plans. First off, I needed to digest the fact that I’d been led into grim room that can only be described as the size of an en-suite shed. I wanted to take a photo to send to my mum, but I had to step outside the room to get any perspective to do so. Shower over the toilet and nowhere to unpack my suitcase – things were tight.

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I lied down on my rock-hard bed and proceeded to download any travel app I could find, hoping to pinpoint people in the area who were also riding solo. I struggled, with many apps telling me people were within a five kilometre radius, only to message them and find out they’re in San Francisco or somewhere else equally as inconvenient. The only app I had success with was Backpackr. I managed to meet up with a guy from the UK called Dan, who was with a friend who lived in Hong Kong. We agreed to meet outside Hong Kong Station, which proved difficult with my navigational skills, and once again, data was required to track them down. We managed to meet outside an M&S (where else would two British people meet?) and headed for some proper Peking duck in a basement somewhere.

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Duck chowed down upon, we headed to Lan Kwai Fong once more. That evening, things got way out of control. Stanley was a lawyer and had work in the morning. With this in mind, we ploughed him with as much alcohol as humanly possible (and that we could afford in Hong Kong!) We fell victim to many a ‘get your 6 shots for £10’ scam that night and consumed more jello shots to the sounds of Cher than I care to image (we asked them to play it several times in the same bar and they obliged).

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We also made a few friends who were interested in our ‘DIY cocktails’. You see, there’s a big culture of drinking on the street along Lan Kwai Fong, and it’s common practice to head to a Seven Eleven to stock up on affordable booze. I demanded cocktails, which they didn’t have. Instead, we decided we’d each buy one ingredient for a cocktail and mix them together to create what would obviously become the next big thing in the mixology world. I can’t recall all the ingredients, but it was like no shade of orange I’ve ever seen before (thanks to the carrot juice) and garnished with a grape mento. It was disgusting.
20161107_005529We headed off with our new friend, Aneet from Canada, to a karaoke bar, where we sang until 6:30am. It was whilst I was in Hong Kong that the pineapple-pen song was blowing up, so in dedication, we sang it on repeat over 15 times. To this day I do not regret this, not one bit.

Having left the karaoke room at 6:30, we had no idea of the time and therefore expected to be served a Big Mac at Mcdonalds. Wrong. It was so late that they were serving breakfast. Coffee and mcmuffins consumed, we all headed our separate ways for some much-needed sleep, only I wasn’t going to get any sleep. Oh no. I had made a grave error. Upon leaving the hostel in a rush the previous evening, I’d not taken any notice of where it was that I was staying. I knew the road and that Mcdonalds was my landmark, but beyond that, I was stood amongst a sea of identical tower blocks. I tried the code I had on every door on the street for over 30 minutes that morning before finally gaining entry. A wild second night in Hong Kong to say the least!

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Day 3:

Having got absolutely gazeboed the night before and arrived home at around 7:15am, you’d think that day three was a write off. False! Having napped for four hours, I knew that I needed to man up and make the most of my time here. So I headed straight out into the scorching sun and hopped on a bus to Repulse Bay. This was to be a day of pure relaxation and utter indulgence. The bus to Repulse Bay is easy and you can’t miss the bay itself – you know the big, wide, blue thing that sits beneath the winding road and peaks.

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20161107_155241DSC_0245I spent a few hours on the beach here kicking back and relaxing – and it’s easily done. It’s safe, peaceful and the beach itself is pretty big so you can avoid the persistent selfie-takers. As sunset drew near, I opted to position myself on the edge of the concrete peer. I dangled my legs off the edge into the water and indulged in some noodles I’d picked up at the Seven Eleven  (and cooked up myself in the convenience store – I love Asia!) As the sun set, it was truly beautiful, creating one of those moments that will stick in my memory as long as I live. The sky burst into a thousand shades of pink and orange, setting beyond the rolling hills across the ocean in the distance. Stunning!

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Most people tend to visit the market at Stanley Bay first and head back via Repulse Bay, but I’d clocked the traffic jam situation heading towards the island, so opted to head to the market once night had fallen. Having hopped back onto a bus and made my way to the market (and found myself horrendously lost and once again needing to resort to Google Maps) I arrived to find I was so late that it was now shut –  all but one shop that is, where I bought my niece the cutest Chinese-style baby grow! What do you do when it all goes tits up? Get a Mcdonalds and sulk into your burger. I headed down to the waterfront where it was so silent and still, all but for the odd ripple. The lights of the bustling bay reflected upon the water and nobody was around. Another moment of tranquillity experienced in this otherwise bustling metropolis to tuck away into the memory bank. I sat staring into the ocean for a good hour or so, taking it all in and revelling in the opportunity to reflect.

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Day 4:

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After a relaxing day previously, I found myself cruising along on a bus to Shek O by 10am (after great difficulty finding it), where the 8.5km Dragon’s Back hike began. I’m generally not good with busses abroad and relied heavily upon the people around me who were clad in hiking gear for me to not mess it up. I succeeded. Feeling smug with myself, I set off on what I’ll denote as one of my favourite hikes of all time. The water a striking shade of blue and the mountains a rich emerald green not out of place in the world’s most verdant national parks, the views across the bay were absolutely phenomenal.

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The problem with the hike (other than the heat and lack of shade) was the fact that I had to stop every five seconds to take a photo as the views just kept getting better and better (major first world problem). However, the best thing about it is the fact that you are rewarded for your plight, as the hike finishes in a secluded bay that’s actually quite difficult to get to, meaning the beach isn’t overcrowded.

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I was a sweaty mess by the time I’d descended down through the trees and onto the beach, but it was early afternoon so I knew I had a good few hours to bake myself. The novelty of an over-priced coconut was an essential.

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I spent hours here just listening to my all-time favourite albums and soaking up the sun. I only actually left because an American came and sat next to me and was being particularly loud-mouthed and obnoxious. I hadn’t really thought about how I might get home, but I managed to find the ‘bus stop’. There was a humungous queue ahead of me and just a ten-seater minibus. People seemed irate. What I did next, I am not proud of, but it happened. A huddle of fellow foreigners made their way onto the bus, having obviously queued for a while. I blended in. Like a stick insect on a tree, stealthy as a ninja and as inconspicuous as Michele Mcmannus on a treadmill, I boarded the bus using my status as a foreigner as a weapon. The looks I received, oh how I shan’t forget them in a hurry as I drove off into the distance mouthing ‘sorry’ through the window. Heading back to the city, obviously the traffic was horrendous, but it made for some good city views as we came in. I’d agreed to meet up with a guy called Chris from New Zealand who I’d spoken to on the Backpackr app, so we headed down to the harbour to catch Hong Kong’s lighting show, A Symphony of Lights.

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It’s the world’s longest running permanent light show, with the switch being flicked once a day, 365 days a year. We’d been told that the best place to catch the show was from the ferry across to TST. The ferries are super cheap, totalling around 40p for a one-way ticket, so we timed it perfectly, boarding at around 19:56, ready for the show. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I was considerably underwhelmed. Then again, I remember going to the circus last year and being completely and utterly unimpressed by a man cycling across a high-wire with a woman stood on his shoulders 20ft in the air – I think it’s fair to say I’ve become desensitised to most things. I blame the internet. There were lasers, lights and a bunch of buildings all flashing unison to music, but it’s not something I am going to write home about.

DSC_0051We headed back across on the ferry for a few drinks in the famous amphitheatre. Some life chats were had that night staring up into the sky, albeit marred by the serious light pollution – the Hong Kong skyline was one to stimulate thoughts.

Day 5:

I’d heard that the Big Buddha was a must-see when in Hong Kong, so Chris and I headed to what seemed as far out of the city as possible, passing Disneyland and basically ending up at the airport before hitting Lantau Island. It’s here that we caught the world’s longest cable car up to the Big Buddha. I think the queue for tickets was almost as long as the cable car itself (7.5k), but it was US election day and Trump basically had it in the bag so it kept me more than entertained. The views from the cable were incredible, despite the fact it was a really grim day, highlighting once again the diversity of Hong Kong’s landscape.20161109_151614

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The only downside being that it was actually freezing cold on a day where hot pants and flip flops were my footwear of choice. Sounds okay? There was a massive ‘vent’ in the cable car for those warmer, summer days. I spent a good 25 minutes in what can only be described as a refrigerator zipping through the air at no great speed, but with enough speed to generate a chill that would have easily preserved a chicken or a pork joint had you have needed to transport it to the top of the mountain without it perishing.

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The Big Buddha was cool. Surrounded by quaint, traditional shops, wandering livestock, herb gardens and coupled with awesome views from the peak, the illusion was ruined somewhat by the massive Starbucks slapped smack bang in the middle of it all.

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I think the hike to the peak itself might have been traumatic so I’m glad I gave it a miss, as the cable car itself was way more impressive than the statue might I add! Upon returning down to sea level, I’m quite sure it’s normal to explore the island and to check out the fishing villages, but we had bigger fish to fry…

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We went home, freshened up and met for some dinner. I chose Pepper Lunch. I am OBSESSED by this Asian fast food chain! Wherever I go in Asia I’m happy to move heaven and earth, to trek the entire length of a city and risk life and limb to find one.

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From here, we got the tram across the city to Happy Valley Races. This was a mistake. It was clearly rush hour and being stuck on a hot, small, sweaty tram is not ideal – nor is getting on/off it when people are packed into it like sardines! We finally made it to the stadium after it taking 20 minutes to barely do 2km, and we were met with a truly spectacular site. I’m well versed in attending the races in the UK. Green grass, posh hats, WAGS and blue skies. Not here. The backdrop to the track was the twinkling Hong Kong skyline – a surreal image.

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Hong Kong is expensive at the best of times, so what better way to make financial matters worse for yourself than to spend your money gambling on horses whose form you’ve not read, nor are you sober enough to comprehend?

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The night was great. We won naff all, but I did drink a litre of sangria and had a real taste of how happy a school night can be if you’re a Hong Kong resident.

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After this, we headed for some darts at another shady bar. It was here that I realised my calling as a professional beer pong player. In fact, I became so confident that I challenged a group of locals to ‘spirit pong’, where the loser pays the bill (an actually terrifying gamble on Hong Kong spirit prices). THANKFULLY drunk Kerri came up trumps and nailed it, but sober Kerri has since made a pact not to challenge locals at easily-losable games that cost money.

Day 6:

I’d done incredibly badly so far on the trip when it came to eating western food, and today was no different. I was feeling hungover and Subway called. Foot-long in hand, I headed down to the harbour to catch the ferry over to Lamma Island. Of course, there are hundreds of islands surrounding Hong Kong to choose from (one of them being Maccau, which I just didn’t fancy), but I’d been recommended Lamma for its charm and character. Sadly for me, I get horribly sea sick. Even more horrendously for me, on this occasion I had forgotten this crucial fact in my excitement.

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The ferry over to Lamma was rough to say the least (that’s being kind), and as I stepped foot onto the shore at the opposite end, it soon became clear why. During the journey, the weather had deteriorated somewhat. I was now stood in hot pants and flip flops (once again) as the rain battered down, the winds roared, umbrellas were turned inside out and elderly people clung on for dear life.

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Not what I’d envisaged. Not to be deterred, I headed off on the walking route around the island. To this day, I’m not sure what to make of Lamma Island. I just remember it being very wet, the streets resembling the free aquariums/fish restaurants I’d seen before in Korea and there being a lot of trees like these:

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I wasn’t really sure what I was supposed to do here, so naturally I headed to the beach. I can image that on a sunny day, the beach would be a fantastic place not only to relax, but to surf. Unfortunately, I ate my packed lunch on a bench, huddling from the wind and sheltering from the rain under a tree.

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I only spent two hours on Lamma Island, but that was enough for me. I was so cold that I needed a tea. I was done.

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I was only sick once on the ferry back – a victory of sorts. That evening I was booked onto the Hong Kong Pub Crawl. It was legendary. My housemate had recommended it as the one must-do thing whilst in Hong Kong, so naturally I took his advice… I was skeptical at first, as upon meeting the group I found myself amongst a sea of people who just wanted to tell me where they had been travelling, where they are going travelling, why they are travelling, how they are travelling and I didn’t have the heart to tell them I didn’t care. Everyone I met on this trip was just on a stop-over, heading to somewhere better. Maybe my intolerance stemmed from envy, but I was adamant on sourcing some people who weren’t going to brag about their gap yah that I could have some decent conversation with.

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The night progressed well from there. Beer pong, intellectual conversation, the sharing of stories and the odd cultural revelation. As we went from bar to bar and claimed our free shots, things obviously deteriorated. I won’t go into details and we’ll leave the Hong Kong Pub Crawl story right there, but my housemate was right – the best night out of the trip. Do it people!15039458_1355725561134943_8505143331748726510_o

Day 7:

Post-Hong Kong pub crawl I needed to check out at 9:30am which was quite unfortunate for me. Not only was I hanging brutally and had virtually no sleep, but I’d fallen down some stairs the previous night, almost bled to death, had my foot sterilised with neat vodka and could barely walk as a consequence. Options were limited for me, so the contingency plan was to head back to Repulse Bay to slug out on the beach as I’d enjoyed it so much the first time around.

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There’s a boardwalk with a bunch of fancy restaurants overlooking the sea where I stopped for an overpriced burger, cracked out my laptop and started working on some blogs. A productive day to say the least, rescuing what could have been a total write off.

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I was joined by a few lads from London I’d met on the pub crawl who also shared my hungover state. That evening I met a friend from back home, Chris, and his wife Abi, who live in the city. We headed out for some proper Hong Kong style food. It’s always nice to dine with people in the know, so you can really experience the city’s best eats. Their apartment was amazing, although the view from the balcony literally turned my stomach inside-out. In fact, I couldn’t step foot on it because it was so high up and made me woosy. That night, we took a taxi up to Victoria’s Peak, the highest point in the city. Tradition would dictate that you take the tram up or even walk, but by this point I was starting to flag from the week’s activities and the whole foot-hanging-off situation was a minor concern. There’s no skyline like it in the world. I’ve been to the likes of Tokyo, Seoul, Paris and Singapore, but nothing compares to Hong Kong’s cityscape. High up above the skyscrapers, you really gain perspective on how big and sporadic the city is, whilst gaining a new appreciation for the multitude of impressive buildings on show. I’d like to have taken some more telling photos, but as I’d soon learn upon arriving home, the gearbox in my camera was broken for the entire trip, causing all my photos to become blurry – sad times. Well worth adding to your itinerary, but make sure you save it for a clear day.

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Day 8:

Today was the day.

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The day I could claim the ultimate traveller’s bragging rights, having seen North Korea play football in a serious context, outside of North Korea, and win! It was one of the things I was most looking forward to having booked my flights, so in prep for the big game we did the right thing and spent the day drinking in a Mexican bar, having visited a few temples en route for a cultural fix.

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I dread to think how many cocktails I had and how much money I spent, but I’d consumed enough to ride the subway network in a massive sombrero and not even flinch.
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The atmosphere at the game itself was incredible! The Hong Kong stands were packed out, North Korea has six fans (most likely family members). The Hong Kong fans chanted unequivocally, the North Koreans remained silent… probably through fear.

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Prior to the game, North Korea had sung their national anthem (absolute classic), followed by Hong Kong, however, the Chinese national anthem did not go down well and was drowned out by boos and abuse. The game wasn’t a thriller, but when North Korea went one nil up just before half time, I was excited.

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I was so excited that I proclaimed that I would do a beer run for the group and hide the fruits of my labour beneath my sombrero. I excited the stadium and headed to the nearest Seven Eleven, filled my pockets, hands and hat with beer and headed on my merry way, only to arrive back at the stadium unable to find my ticket. I frantically searched every nook and cranny on my body (within reason) but alas, my ticket was gone. I could hear the football had kicked off again and began to panic. How was I going to get back in? How would I alert the others of my situation? At that moment, fight or flight kicked in and I decided to confront the gate guard and explain exactly what had happened. I then proceeded to show him a selfie of me next to the score board in the first half, proclaiming “I was in there, see!” He seemed confused and fobbed me off onto the next person. Selfie back out – they understood. Ticket issued I waltzed confidentially to the next gate and handed the lady my newly-obtained ticket. “This is for China vs. Hong Taipei, this Tuesday!” Today was Saturday. This was an issue. Back out came the selfie. She didn’t understand. She waddled off to find somebody more superior than herself who could help me in my moment of utter failure. I don’t know to this day whether the woman understood or not, or whether they were tired of the girl in the sombrero who clearly had alcohol stuffed illegally into her pockets, but she let me in. Admittedly I did miss a large chunk of the second half, but I was in!

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The game finished 1-0, so I didn’t miss much, but North Korea went through to the next round, making for an awkward trophy presentation formed of boos and hisses. Home time.

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Day 9:

Today was my last day. With a mid-afternoon flight, there was little more for me to do than other than thank my friends for having me, a quick  brunch, wander the harbour for the last time and to head to the airport.DSC_0210

I was sad to leave Hong Kong. Not only because it was a fantastic city, but I met some great people and it was my first real experience travelling solo. It’s a city that will always have a special space in my heart, if not just for the laughs and memories, but for the much needed escapism that couldn’t have come at a better time.

Well done, Hong Kong.

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