Hong Kong with The Sam Willows
HONG KONG — Visiting a hair salon that transforms into a jazz bar. Slurping wonton noodles at a restaurant that dates back to the 1960s. Getting scolded at the night market. These were among some of the memorable highlights Singapore's top musical quartet, The Sam Willows, had of their recent trip to Hong Kong.
The band explored the city with singer-actress Josie Ho in an episode of A Taste of Hong Kong, which is into its fourth season, and created in collaboration with the Hong Kong Tourism Board.
The episode with The Sam Willows will air on Aug 28 on Discovery’s Travel and Lifestyle Channel (TLC).
Recalling the experience, percussionist Sandra Riley Tang, 26, said: “We walked (from) hotels to clubs to pubs to restaurants. Everything is open till late.”
Co-hosting the episode with Ho, who is a Hong Kong native, the band were brought to lesser-known places around the city that they described as an “Asian New York”.
“They have Times Square also,” added guitarist Jonathan Chua, 27, referring to the mega-mall at Causeway Bay.
It was Narelle Kheng’s first visit to Hong Kong. The 23-year-old bassist said that walking through the cityscape — with its tall and compact buildings — made her feel like she was on a “movie set”.
“We watch a lot of movies like Inception or Black Mirror, and suddenly when you go to Hong Kong, you feel like you’re on a movie set. It’s a bit dystopian, but at the same time it’s very happening,” she said.
Before you think that you have already seen it all in Hong Kong, here are some of The Sam Willows’ recommendations.
Star Ferry crossing
Star Ferry, a passenger ferry operator, has been transporting commuters between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon since 1888. The ferry service plies two routes — between Tsim Sha Tsui and Central; and Tsim Sha Tsui and Wanchai.
The Star Ferry crossing was once named by National Geographic Traveller as one of the 50 places in the world to visit in a lifetime.
Crossing the harbour from Central to Tsim Tsa Tsui, Narelle said the views as you look across the water from the ferry are breathtaking, with the city’s lights.
Address: Central Pier, Central, Hong Kong Island (Note: It has three addresses, but this is where the band took the ferry from.)
Happy Valley Racecourse
Originally built by the British in 1845, the racecourse is a horse-racing venue that is now patronised by locals and tourists, and is a popular tourist attraction.
Located on Hong Kong Island, the 55,000-capacity facility is one of two horse-racing courses in the city; the other is located at Sha Tin in the New Territories.
The racecourse has a Happy Wednesday-themed night where visitors can enjoy live music and ice-cold brews at the beer garden while watching horse races.
Besides the experience of a catching a live horse race, being at the venue is an experience in itself, according to the band, for its “insane view”. Guitarist Benjamin Kheng, 26, said: “The place is massive. The gallery is insane, it stretches on for like … twice the (width) of buildings.”
“I would have won if I bet, but I didn’t bet,” Tang quipped.
Address: Hong Kong Jockey Club Happy Valley Racecourse, Wong Nai Chung Rd, Happy Valley
Situated on the 27th floor of Park Lane Pullman Hotel, this rooftop bar and restaurant offers a picturesque view of Victoria Harbour.
The 8,000 sq ft rooftop restaurant, which offers French fine-dining cuisine by day, becomes a bar with mixologists who create bespoke cocktails as DJs spin chill-out house music at night.
“It’s like 1Altitude (in Singapore), the bar at the top of One Raffles Place. There’s a railing so you can lean over it … we could have died that day, but we didn’t,” Chua quipped.
Address: 27/F, Park Lane Hotel, 310 Gloucester Road, Causeway Bay
Mak Noodles is a third-generation family business that dates back to the 1960s. Known for its wonton noodles, each bowl of the springy, delicious fare comes with four wontons served in a clear broth with hints of sesame and white pepper, and is priced at HK$39 (S$6.80). The business has also expanded, and has a presence in Macau and Singapore.
For Chua — who has visited Hong Kong more than 10 times — Mak Noodles is at the top of his list of must-try food outlets. “The best food, I think, (is) wonton mee, definitely, from Mak Noodles,” he said.
Address: G/F, 77 Wellington Street, Central
Tsui Wah is Hong Kong’s largest cha chaan teng (tea restaurant) chain, with 35 branches around the city. This 24-hour food chain’s menu features Chinese and Western cuisine that is affordably priced.
“It’s like Xin Wang (in Singapore),” said Chua. “We had king prawn noodles there, which were really good. There’s something about the noodles there … They’re like chewy, but not chewy.” Tang added: “It’s like the perfect u-mian.”
As good as the noodles were, it was Tsui Wah’s Crispy Bun served with Sweet Condensed Milk that stole the show for the band. “We had that bread with the condensed milk which was so good,” Chua said.
Address: 15 Wellington Street, Central
Tucked away on a quiet street in Causeway Bay, this retro-themed restaurant serves local fare. The eatery is decorated with all things eclectic, from baskets serving as lampshades to a vintage bicycle serving as a menu stand.
This cafe, Benjamin revealed, was where the band shot the cover art for their new single, Save Myself.
“We wanted to get an aesthetic that was nightlife-grungy, exciting and adventurous,” Benjamin explained.
And Cafe Matchbox was just what they were looking for. “You still have your booths so there’s a little bit of a Western feel, but it’s a very East-meets-West type of vibe, which is what we are. We are slightly Western, but we still like to pay homage to our Asian heritage. The place just encapsulates that,” Narelle said.
Address: 2 Sun Wui Road, Causeway Bay
This place is a hair salon in the day. Every Saturday night, however, it turns into a jazz venue featuring live performances by local musicians.
“The guy who owns the place basically takes by-appointment-only customers, and (if) he doesn’t want to cut your hair, he doesn’t want to cut your hair. At night, he transforms it into a very cosy, intimate place for indie music,” Tang said.
The quartet were treated to a performance by indie band 9 Maps and also got the chance to take the stage. “We actually got to play one of our oldest songs as well,” added Tang.
Performances are held from 8.30pm to 11.30pm.
Address: 93 Hollywood Road, Central
Temple Street Night Market
This is where the locals go for inexpensive shopping. Here, vendors hawk anything from clothes to watches and electronic goods.
“I really enjoyed the night market. You feel like you’re peeping into the heart of how they really live, and that was fun,” Narelle said.
The bandmates also tried haggling at the stores. “We (tried) and then we also got scolded. They said ‘If you’re not going to buy, don’t look’,” Tang laughed.
They also had a go at having their fortunes told at one of the stalls at the market. “Basically, I just have to speak to a nice woman apparently,” said Benjamin. Chua revealed that “Narelle’s gonna marry a rich guy, and Sandra’s going to be involved in a love triangle. He (the fortune-teller) also said I’m going to be rich. So far, everything’s quite positive,” Chua laughed.
Address: Temple Street, Kowloon
Season Four of A Taste of Hong Kong premieres on TLC on Aug 14, Monday 9.55pm. The Sam Willows will feature in episode three, Hong Kong After Dark, which airs on Aug 28.