Hong Kong

As we sit in our airplane seats we watch the islands of Hong Kong SAR pass away below us. What an amazing place this is. Bloody expensive, but amazing. A good thing we were only here for four days. Though we would have loved to spend more time here, as a non-working traveller with a lean budget this place really flattens your savings account!

What we refer to as “Hong Kong” consists (as far as I can tell) of the Kowloon peninsula, a good deal of New Territories tacked on to the north of that and a number of islands, the main ones being Hong Kong and Lantau.

Entry into the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) was a piece of cake. Get off at the train station in Shenzen, follow the signs to the subway, pass through the immigration at Lo Wu (Luo Hu) station, pay your fee, get your stamp, get on the subway on the other side and, “Welcome”, you’re in Hong Kong. The subway here is well organized and what we found pretty cool about it is that the carriages are all connected in a long tube, so on a straight track you can see all the way through from front to back. Though it’s agonizingly expensive if you’ve just come from the 2-3CNY journeys on the China metros.

Our first explorations were from Kowloon to Hong Kong island. Very easy to get to via the underground and the famous Star Ferry (recommended for the view), you don’t have to journey for more than a few minutes and you’ve crossed over. Hong Kong island is a stunning vista: this lush, green, hilly mound in the sea, with long, shiny, vertical shafts of buildings rising up straight from the shore line.

The views by night are spectacular as well because that’s when all the neon lights start flickering on; and the buildings on the west-end of the island, when viewed a ferry boat at night, are reminiscent of scenes from sci-fi movies – mining-colonies on distant moons with slim buildings clinging to the rock face up the dark canyon walls, riddled with electric light emanating from thousands of tiny windows and corridors.

We walked around the city the whole day, me in the lead, doing my best to get us lost in some interesting part of town which me may never reach by following a tourist guide book or map. It’s a really interesting place to find your way around on foot: even with a compass and a map, you repeatedly find that the next road you intended to cross is not crossable and you either need to stroll down the pavement until you find a bridge or you have to enter some plush building to take one of the enclosed walkways connecting to the next plush building on the other side. In some parts it’s literally a three dimensional grid of walkways interconnecting a load of swanky shopping malls and office buildings across a few city blocks.

We visited a nice little park behind the law courts and took the ancient tram up the steep hill to a mall with panoramic view-point of the island on the roof-top, breathed incense in a beautiful little temple and window shopped past antique and art stores and quaint little cafes and wine bars. Nice day out, and I hesitate to say that a Burger King meal was involved, for which I accept no responsibility whatsoever!

In the evening time, after some more walking around, unsuccessful in finding any hang-out without the million-dollar feel to it, we asked some people around a bus stop and soon found out that the places to go for night life are Lang Kwai Fong and (wait for it!) Soho, a stop or two West of Central subway station.

Lively place! In a sense it’s like a Little London: darned expensive, lots of Brits, indians and other nationalities, pubs with British, “British” and other European beers, happy hours variably between 5 and 10PM, ham and eggs on the menu for breakfast… and English is spoken by everyone (a bit of a relief after mainland China). Even the infrastructure mirrors that of the UK: driving on the left, similar road markings, signs everywhere telling you please to do this and not to do that, smoking ban in public places… Of course the Chinese influence is very obvious as well and there’s some really good street food available that’ll terrorize your taste buds with flames of chilli delight! Also managed to watch the Argentina – New Zealand rugby world cup match whilst enjoying a well deserved pint of Guinnes.

English spelling and translations are, as in mainland China and other Asian destinations, always a good source of laughs.

(Oh and for the record, if you will permit me to humbly state: the girls in HK have even nicer legs than their sisters up on mainland!)

Lantau island, just a 40 minute ferry ride from HK island is definitely worth a visit! Short hop away from the big city on HK and you’re drinking ice cold Tiger beer on the sea-front, watching fishermen dangle their lines into the water for bounty. A real calm, fishing-villagey feeling over here and lots of lush green island around you. Here we also visited the Big Buddha statue at Ngong Ping, really marvellous, then spent the evening drinking cold can-beer on the harbour wall of the tiny and old fishing village of Tai O. If I had to live in Hong Kong I think I would want to be on this island for sure.

Incidentally, Lantau is also where we planted our second tree – see post “Planting Around the World – Mission 2 (HONG KONG, CHINA)” for story and more photos of the island.

Another hit experience was on our very last day, as we found a way to spend our afternoon before having to head off to the airport: it so happened that the Hong Kong Expo was going on, so we snapped up a couple tickets and spent a few hours browsing halls full of all sorts of interesting electronic appliances and products seeking inspiration and contacts for perhaps a business idea. This expo is great and it was just too bad we weren’t aware it was running til the last day – on the other hand maybe a blessing because we may have spent our entire visit there.

In conclusion: HK definitely worth a visit!

My advice for travelling there:
– Save up a lot of money first!
– Don’t be afraid of ChungKing Mansions. Despite many dubious reviews in many online reports, we found it safe and unproblematic. The room we had there (we stayed in ChungKing House Hotel) was small but clean and comfi and the staff was very helpful.
– Eat street food. Look for a place where you see all lots of locals eating and where the cook is exploding the kitchen with flame and steam.
– Make sure you’re ready to drink by happy hour or you’ll be sorry!
– Don’t miss Lantau Island