Feeling slightly jet-lagged and weary after the 12-hour flight from London to Hong Kong, entering the streets of Mong Kok was an assault on the senses. It was Saturday night and the densely populated area on the western side of Kowloon peninsula in Hong Kong was in full swing. Bright neon lights with Chinese characters shone from street after street. Market stalls selling everything from fake bags to selfie sticks had taken over the roads and shoppers jostled each other out the way as they haggled for the best price.
We weaved in and out of the stalls and people. Our four-year-old and ten-month-old daughters drinking in the experience. Mong Kok is known for its shopping with markets galore and a mix of traditional and modern shops and buildings. It is huge and hectic. Some of its streets specialise in specific products. There is one road dedicated solely to trainers with Nike and Adidas opening stores there on the back of its popularity. There’s also a ladies market, bird market and flower stalls. We inadvertently found ourselves on pet street (Tung Choi Street) where large goldfishes floated in tiny bags hung outside shops. Inside the numerous pet shops were rabbits, tortoises, cats and dogs. We hurried past, not daring to look.
One street was full of karaoke stalls, each one just yards away from the other, loud speakers blaring. The contestants (of varying talents) took their turn at the microphone. Forget reality TV shows. This is the real X Factor, happening before our eyes – and ears – as we weaved through the gathered audiences.
As we reached the end of the road, the scent of food drifted along the humid air to our noses. Crowds of people gathered around corner shops devouring meat from skewers.
Going on my husband’s recommendation we headed into an austere noodle restaurant, Sun Sin, which had been written about in the Michelin guide. Feeling brave, Paul tackled the chicken feet while we sucked on beef brisket noodle soup. The never-ending noodles were causing a bit of trouble for our two girls so our no-nonsense, stout waitress briskly came back brandishing a pair of rusty kitchen scissors to cut them. Which she did. My husband’s gawping mouth said it all.
Mong Kok is one of the most densely populated places in the world – and it felt like it as we navigated its crammed streets. There was no doubt we had arrived in Asia with a bang and it was as though we been flung onto the set of Blade Runner. It felt like a safe place though. Despite the busy, crowded streets, it felt OK to navigate with the children although we kept them close at all times.
As we wandered the night streets, passers-by cooed at the two girls, Mrs T’s blonde curly hair stood out among the dark-haired Hong Kong inhabitants. Jostling past the crowded streets we grabbed a taxi and headed back to our hotel, smiling with travel satisfaction as we took in the sights from the road: the neon signs with Chinese characters, the busy people and tatty high rise buildings. The colourful public buses, the noise and musty smell. All new. All waiting to be absorbed by us. This is the reason I travel. This.
Looking at my two daughters, staring out of the windows, their eyes wide with wonder, taking it all in, I felt very content. It would be hard to find a place so vastly different from our own back home. Travel helps initiate the senses and on this particular Saturday night our senses had gone into overdrive. Feeling exhilarated but exhausted we retired to bed, excited to wake up the next morning and explore the city.
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