The train ride from Shanghai to Shenzhen only took 18 hours. With all the trouble we had getting tickets around China’s National Day, it felt like only marginally more time than we spent trying to get berths. Of course, when a billion Chinese people are on holiday, you’re going to have trouble finding anywhere to stay in Hong Kong. We arrive in the early morning. We get off the train and take a short walk into the subway station. It’s the only international border in the world that can be crossed by subway. By the time we get to our stop, through border control and onto the Hong Kong side, it’s still too early to check into our room. Fortunately (heh), we’re not quite sure where we’re going anyway. We booked on AirBnb because all the normal places are either booked up or gouging $40 for a dorm bed. We’re in the New Territories, physically close to our desired destination in Yuen Long, but other than the subway, there don’t seem to be any exits, like ones with buses and cabs. We probably should have taken some other hallway after customs. Seeing no other option, Rachel buys us a couple Octopus cards with our shiny new Hong Kong dollars and we take the light blue line all the way into downtown Kowloon and then ride all the way out again on the purple line.
We meet up with our host, Joe. He shows us to his spare room and gives us all the codes we need to get in and out of the building. We’re only staying here for a couple days then moving on to somewhere closer to town. It’s neat seeing the rarely touristed Hong Kong outskirts, but we don’t want to spend all our time here. Joe used to be a Couchsurfing host, but he realized that if he switched to AirBnb, he could do the same thing, but get paid for it, so he’s happy to show us around a bit and join us for meals. We wake up the next morning and find Joe out in the main room with a few reporters interviewing him on the growing popularity of AirBnb. After giving them a few statements of our own, Joe takes us to lunch at one of his favorite local noodle shops. It’s cheap and simple, but quite good. We find out later that it has one Michelin star.
Our next room is in the fore cabin of a yacht on Aberdeen Harbor. We bid Joe adieu and take the subway down south onto Hong Kong Island. From there we lug our bags onto a bus which takes us to the southern coast. Hong Kong is supposedly the most vertical city in the world, with more people living and working above the 14th floor than anywhere else. Following the theme, the buses are all double decker. The Aberdeen Boat Club (ABC) is across the street from the bus station. We go around back to the dock and hail a sampan. The sampans are the only way to get to the yachts. We have a bit of trouble finding the boat we’re looking for and the leathery old driver has to circle around a few times before we figure it out. We climb precariously out of the rocking sampan each with our 50 pounds of luggage and onto the deck of a 40-footer. Nigel is renting us the rooms, but he’s tending his resort in the Philippines so his assistant, Rose, shows us to our room. It’s on the next-door boat, also one of Nigel’s, so we have to climb over the the railing and a precipitous drop, once again risking our heavy possessions. The boat smells like varnish and is clearly pretty old, but the recent renovations are just as obvious and it seems like it’ll be more than adequate. “It’s too bad” I reflect, “that due to the holiday crowds we’re going to have to move again in a few days”
Like my pioneering ancestors, I draw on a lost archaic technique and start calling hotels that don’t even have online booking. If anywhere still has rooms available, it must be one of these fossils. I find a rumor that The Bay restaurant on Lamma Island has a few spartan rooms above the dining room that they rent out. Sure enough, they have something available for 500 HKD per night. It’s a bit more than we want to pay, but we’re not going to find anything better. From our yacht, we take a sampan to the ferry terminal (My! There are a lot of words that mean boat). And thirty minutes later we get off at a short stretch of beach called Mo Tat Wan.
Mo Tat Wan has aspirations to someday grow up into something just short of a village. There is The Bay, there are a few beachside houses and that’s all. No convenience store, no food carts, nothing. We get there on Chinese National Day, probably the busiest day of the year, and there’s a scattering of no more than a dozen people. They are some of the only people we’ll see on our private beach all week. We walk to The Bay, through the dining room and are taken three floors up to our room. It has a broad balcony looking out across the water towards Hong Kong. At night when the city’s glowing it looks like some kind of insect’s techno-hive. We can just barely see the harbor our yacht is parked in from here. We’ve decided to go back there in five days once the crowds have died down. For now, we have a private island to explore.
What started as a huge hassle, finding a place to stay in an overflowing city, turned out better than I could have possibly hoped. If we had come at any other time than the height of the high season we would have saved a little money and we would have been spared a bit of stress, but we would have missed out on so much. Never would we have ventured to the far-off reaches of the New Territories and gotten shown a part of the city rarely seen by tourists. Never would we have discovered our floating rooms (and then recommended them to Andrea at World Walkabout). And never would we have washed up on a serene private island unbelievably within sight of one of the world’s largest cities. Sometimes, things just work out for the best.