Have you been dragged along on vacations in which every single detail was impeccably planned ahead of time? Do you feel obligated to visit every “must-go” place featured on Instagram? Trust me, there is a better way–a more creative one–that guarantees a completely amazing DIY travel experience.
I discovered the power of this new way of traveling just a few weeks ago when I journeyed from Shanghai (where I live) to Hong Kong for a short weekend adventure with my mom. We only had seven hours to roam the city and didn’t have time to look up any recommended spots. Normally, I’m the kind of person who maps out every moment, from what coffee shop I want us to eat at for breakfast to the best spot to watch the sunset.
When I stepped out of the airport, I totally panicked. The whole city was buzzing with vibrancy, people were busy roaming around the corner of every street, but we didn’t have any pre-made plan to tell us where to go. We were all alone.
Since it was about noon, we decided to head off and hunt for a place to eat. There were seemingly countless sushi shops and steakhouses, but what really caught my attention was the ridiculously long line I spied when we turned the corner off the main business street. The source of the long wait was a restaurant with a small wooden plate on the door that announced their specialty: curry and beef noodles.
This seemed to both of us like somewhere least likely to appear on tour guides, and thus can be characterized as an extremely risky dining choice. However, by this time we were too exhausted to carry on our search, so we convinced ourselves to take a shot. Yet after barely moving an inch after 20 minutes, our stomachs were prepared to bail. . .until we overheard a man behind us tell his friend, “You won’t regret waiting; this place has the best beef noodles in Wanchai.” I’ll cut to the chase: we stuck around.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say the food was exquisite, but its delicate taste offered complete spiritual comfort. Curry was soaked in chewy beef, while the traces of green onions colored the noodles and provided a mildly spicy softness. Most of the waiters were gray-haired seniors who shuffled between tables with surprising efficiency, while still managing to listen carefully to what every customer had to say and respond patiently.
As I left, I silently wished for this diner to still be there the next time I visit. It doesn’t seduce its customers with fancy decorations, but rather invites you inside with warmth. It was like the old lady who lives next door and invites you in for warm cookies and milk.
I suppose restaurants like this only exist in cities that have passed the rapid adolescent-like economic growth. It’s almost as if the vibes of the city have been fermenting through generations to create an idyllic atmosphere. Luckily, we bumped into this lovely diner completely by chance.
Beef curry & iced lemon tea
After lunch, we walked down along the streets of Queen's Road as raindrops started trickling down. The puddles in the middle of the road were illuminated with milk-white headlights. When the rain stopped and the sun shined again, I glanced up to see a street sign saying, simply, “Sun Street.” We climbed to the top of Sun Street and found it was as modern and romantic as its name.
The glass window of the souvenir shop complemented the blue and orange modern paintings of the neighboring gallery. Music from a cafe sounded from a street corner, and the street was full of a charming atmosphere blending modern and classical. To think the only reason I knew the name of the street was because the sign was staring right at me, like it stares at every lucky person to have stumbled up the hill.
Hong Kong in the rain
So what is this guide that I promised you in the title? The guide is your curiosity and the force of spontaneity. It’s what will allow you to be one of those lucky people who discovers the powerful beauty of the random, surprising, and accidental. . .wherever you go.