Junk Season – Hong Kong

I’m lying on the top deck of a boat drinking a Corona being served mini quesadillas from an overflowing platter. The makings of a great commercial? Yes. Purely the makings of my imagination? No. I am on a junk trip in Hong Kong off the coast of Sai Kung.

One of the biggest perks of spending a summer in Hong Kong is that getting out on the water can be an almost weekly affair if you have the funds. Some go sailing or paddle boarding, but the most widespread way of hitting the water seems to be the  Junk Trip – a foray into the more remote areas of Hong Kong’s marine territory on a boat filled with booze, food, and friends.

The boats are either old fishing junks converted into party boats or luxury affairs that were made for this purpose. Whenever we start boarding the wooden boats my fellow passengers comment that they’re glad it’s a more traditional junk and not a newer shinier version as it adds character to the experience. I can never tell if this is what people tell themselves because they wish we were on a shiny mega yacht or if they truly believe that being drunk is better on a wooden boat. Either way I’m fine with the more old fashion ones as they do look more picturesque and my fear of splinters in my feet has been unfounded thus far.

A typical wooden junk

Junks trips usually start with a hangover, with groups of people meeting up on piers surrounded by cases of beer and coolers, and more than a few Seven 11 sandwich wrappers. If you pay a bit more you can get a catered junk, which is easier than everyone bringing food to contribute and running the risk of ending up with 25 bags of chips and nothing of substance. On a weekend morning Pier 9 in Central is packed with the highest concentration of foreigners in the city, and I have to take special care when boarding a junk to make sure that I’m getting on the right one, and won’t end up spending the next 7 hours with the wrong group of gweilos.

The morning can pass by slowly on a junk trip. I sit and watch others break open their cans of the-hair-of the-dog to obliterate their headaches from the night before. We pull away from the pier and maneuver our way through the harbor of the Pearl of the Orient; past barges unloading shipping containers and tugboats connected to ocean liners that size of large hotels. Then we’re out past the city and it feels like freedom to trade the skyline for the sky even if just for a day. We are inevitable greeted by a small armada of other junks once we arrive at the small harbor or beach inlet that is our destination for the day.

The real drinking starts once the junk drops anchor – the day is getting warmer and now people can actually walk to the coolers without falling over. Passengers initially split into groups that remind me of the lunchroom in public schools – not so much divided by differences as by commonalities, both of which will be disregarded as alcohol consumption continues throughout the day. Drink options abound; endless 2 liter pitchers of “Sangria” (looks like Jungle Juice to me), as well as beer, champagne, and wine. The possibilities to are exponential and since everyone has already paid for it there is motivation to consume.

Anchored in a bay it’s safe to jump off the second story of the junk and into the green water that really isn’t that cold. I try not to think about what I’m swimming in, what with all those barges not far off, and dozens of drunk people most likely going to the bathroom where we’re swimming. Not to mention that the staff empties every half drank can of coke or glass of wine into the water right off the side of the boat before taking showers that result in streams of most assuredly non-biodegradable shampoo into the ocean. For a brief moment I’m hit with the realization that no matter how hard I swim this still won’t be Hawaii. I get another drink.

Food always tastes better on a boat – grilled chicken or a green salad, meatballs, or cake. And swimming plus booze combines into the ultimate appetite amplifier. Lunch will disappear on a junk trip as will the afternoon; fast and in a happy intoxicated blur of waves and joking and cat naps in the sun. By the time we pull up anchor and head for shore I’m tired and more than ready to down a Big Gulp of water. Why are the drinks so big on a junk trip and the bottles of water so small? Now I’m sitting alone on the lower level to prevent even more sun damage. I watch the city approach in the light of early dusk and think “Not a bad way to spend a day.”

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. manauljourneys says:

    Done the same while visiting friends in HK. But I think I’ll stick to swimming in the waters here in the Philippines. You’re braver than I. Wouldn’t have done it. You’re right when you everything taste better on a boat. So true. And why is that, “The drinks being so much bigger than the water bottles?” Priorities I suppose….

    1. Yes, the water does take some getting used to. Good thing alcohol can impair your better judgement!

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