Though our editors’ travel experiences make their way into an issue of AFAR, we can’t always fit it all in. That’s why we asked guides editor Nick Rowlands to share his experiences on a recent trip to Hong Kong, Macau, and Hawaii (wow), and tips for doing it yourself.
Where did you go?
NR: My wife Cheri and I spent five nights on Hong Kong Island, two nights in a fishing village on Macau called Coloane, four nights in Kowloon, and four nights in Kailua on Oahu, Hawaii.
How did you choose those locations?
NR: We wanted to go somewhere that neither of us had been before, and where we could enjoy the sensory overload of a city alongside the opportunity to easily escape. Hong Kong seemed like it would be somehow self-contained, while still encompassing myriad possibilities, and we felt like we’d be able to do it some justice in the time available. Oahu was tacked on to break up the return journey and give us time to decompress. Plus, you know, Hawaii!
What kind of traveler would like this trip?
NR: Hong Kong really does offer something for everyone: foodies, shoppers, nature-lovers and hikers, architecture buffs, night owls, temple-hoppers, and anyone who enjoys that sense of delicious and anonymous disorientation that comes from an unfamiliar urban landscape. Surprisingly, I wouldn’t really recommend Macau to gamblers, unless you have extremely deep pockets and love baccarat.
What do you recommend to AFAR Travelers looking to go to these place?
NR: Wow! Where to begin? Don’t get too caught up in whether to stay on Hong Kong Island or in Kowloon. Both have advantages and disadvantages. We preferred the more high-energy street life of Kowloon, though luxe shoppers might be better off on the island. But it doesn’t really matter because public transport is so cheap and efficient: buy an Octopus Card and load it with some cash to ride the MTR (think a cleaner and more reliable London Underground), buses, trams, ferries (and more!) to your heart’s content. Take the opportunity to get out of the city. Lantau Island is touristy but home to a monster bronze Buddha, and the towns of the New Territories offer a change of pace and access to superb hiking and beaches, among other things. Be prepared to wait in line for hot restaurants, whether they are hole-in-the-wall or hole-in-the-wallet. (If there’s anywhere you are desperate to go, it’s worth finding out in advance of your trip if they take reservations.) Take comfortable walking shoes: Each neighborhood is best explored on foot, and there’s plenty of signage to help you navigate.
Best travel moment?
NR: Playing the fairground games and drinking beer on the Central waterfront for NYE; wandering the alleyways of Macau and Coloane; the view from Victoria Peak; geeking out on Chinese tea and finally buying my own Yixing teapot; eating at the cooked food bazaar in Temple Street Night Market; watching people shake their fortune sticks to divine the future at Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple; losing my stand-up paddle boarding virginity (and my footing, again and again and again) off Kailua Beach.
What surprised you most about this trip?
The ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral, Macau.
NR: How a large and crowded city can simultaneously feel so chaotic and so orderly, so overwhelming and yet so navigable; how much of Hong Kong is actually countryside; how charming parts of Macau are, away from the casinos (which, incidentally, became non-smoking in Jan 2015); how much fun riding escalators can be—especially when they are outdoors and nearly a kilometer long.
NR: Bermuda in a few months (meeting my mum “halfway” between San Francisco and England). No plans yet for later this year, though Japan has been calling me throughout my whole life (though Cheri’s been there), as has Iceland.