It is actually laughable to cross into Hong Kong from China. The contrast is so great, this is a china where health and safety exists, rules in abundance, some even ridiculous and overprotective like no objects longer than 130cm on the tube… Where did this come from. Lifts, handrails and buttons are disinfected every two hours, the tube lady not only tells you to mind the gap, but warns you about a slight height difference between the train and the platform. They have the longest life expectancy of anywhere in the world. When you bump in to people they say sorry in perfect English. This is a liveable china, one where you don’t squat to use the toilet!
We arrived in Hot HK. Our hotel was on mainland Hong Kong, Kowloon. We took a walk to the river and the first thing you think is of the channel 4 advert where they made the shape of the 4 with signs. There is so little space here that everything is advertising potential, colours and lights trying to grab your attention. This place has 7 million people in 400 sq miles, one of the most densely populated places on earth. Anything that can be will be done at height. They drive on the left, and there seems to be order to the roads, and an absence of horns. Furthermore, they understand queuing!
The currency here is Hong Kong dollar, about 12 dollars to the pound.
We took a walk to the river bank which is beautiful, a forest of skyscrapers as you look towards Hong Kong Island. We said goodbye to our tour leader here.
Wednesday night is horse racing night so Ricky and I, Howard and Richard set off to the race course. Unfortunately a misunderstanding led us to a racecourse which had the betting and atmosphere, however the horses were at another site! We placed a few bets the headed back into town to the temple street night markets. Here you can buy everything and anything. We had a meal in a street side cafe and did some exploring.
A day of logistics as we had to get our Vietnam visa sorted and change to our hostel which was across town in Hong Kong Island, fortress hill. Another boiling day. In the afternoon we explored causeway bay shopping district. Hong Kong is a pilgrimage for shoppers, no sales tax. There is areas for high end designers, as well as markets of fakes.
If you visited Hong Kong from England this place would probably feel like a big change, however coming from china, it has such a sense of home. Most people speak great English, you see lots of westerners around and it has such a sense of a colonial offspring still with the charm of china nestled in.
In the evening we met the group for a night out and end of tour send off. We met on top of the IFC mall, a roof top skyscraper bar where you can take your own drinks. The skyline is lit up and beautiful at night and looks magical. We joined a bar crawl which took us to a few of the city’s pubs and ended in a nightclub which had African music and dancing, slightly the wrong continent but a great atmosphere.
Hong Kong has milk, something dearly missed in china. Ricky and I can’t get enough of the chocolate milk!
We headed to Victoria peak which overlooks the city. You can get to it on a tram which has been running since 1888 and at some points is 27 degrees from vertical.
At the top we went to the sky roof viewing platform which looks down over the buildings and Victoria harbour which is the deepest natural harbour in the world. It’s strange to think that this financial centre of great importance was born out of a selection of fishing villages where the British once planted a flag. Studying this period of history and the opium wars is what made me want to come to china in the first place. Britain, heavily importing tea from china needed something to trade with self sufficient, trade wary china. With opium growing in abundance in India this was a period in which great addiction swept through china as Britain exported the opium in exchange. It led to the opium wars during which the emperor tried to stamp out trade that Britain took this island in order to have a naval base. It was later that they petitioned china for the mountains of Kowloon on the new territories that make up Hong Kong mainland today. In 1997 it was handed back to china as a special administrative region.
We took a walk to the Victoria peak gardens, a beautiful quiet area overlooking the city. This is where the governors house was until it was destroyed by the Japanese in WW2.
Back in the city we crossed to the mainland and the promenade looking over the river. They have a section which they call the avenue of stars. Like Hollywood, this has stars featuring the names of Chinese stars, and a big statue of Bruce Lee.
We took the StarFerry to HK island, a short but picturesque trip, then went to Wan Chi for Chinese dinner. One great thing our tour did impart was the confidence to go into smaller local restaurants that tourists might bypass and sit with the locals confident that the settings may be basic but the food is good. Often it’s more of a communal set up and we shared a table, but ate well and cheaply, all the while being entertained by a Chinese over dramatic soap on the TV.
We got the tram back to the hostel, nicknamed Ding Dings. They are double decker trams and look like the tall skinny buses in theorist Harry potter film which are invisible. They run through the centre of the street passing very close to each other. We passed a football astro turf. Everything is so absorbed in the city and surrounded by skyscrapers that it has an unusual feel.
We set out for Mong Kok ready to explore Hong Kong’s markets. The main one here is “ladies market” where you can get gadgets, clothes and souvenirs and have a good haggle! We also explored the jade market which has huge amounts of jade, often given as a symbol of luck or wealth.
For lunch we went to a local restaurant with no English menu but the lady at our table ordered us two basic dishes of rice and noodles which were yummy and so cheap!
In this area there is also “sneaker street” in which every shop is a trainer shop. I don’t know how is many stores survive as there is so many, but we had a good nosey.
Back in the centre we got the bus along the coastline of the South Island. It was a beautiful route along steep cliff faces and we got off at a little town called Stanley. Originally a fishing town, this little picturesque town looks out to see and plays host to streets of markets as well as bars and restaurants. The British used this as a naval base when they first held Hong Kong. There was a concert and Halloween goings on and the town was lively with tourists. You certainly don’t feel you stand out as much in Hong Kong, either that or we are used to people staring.
We got the ferry across to Macau 65 km away, another special administrative region of china and another country. They have the Macau Pataca as currency but it is closely linked to Hong Kong’s currency. This was a former Portuguese colony from 1557- 1999. I wasn’t expecting such a huge influence, this place feels like Lisbon. The pavements are laid the same with decorative stones, the buildings have undergone huge Portuguese influence and the streets are lined with Palm trees. Aside from this the Portuguese language is everywhere and the food is a mix of Portuguese and Taiwanese, lots of pork rolls, pork dumplings, egg tarts. They call this Macanese cuisine and it’s tasty! We also quickly realised that the brief interlude of the queueing concept had come to an end!
We walked through the streets of the old towns to the ruins of St. Paul’s. Here stands only the front wall of a church, the rest completely destroyed by fire. You can walk up the steps to this strong facade and see blue sky through the windows beyond.
We walked beyond to Monte fort, a fortress build to withstand seige for two years, however the canons were only fired once upon a Dutch invasion. From the heights of the fort you can see the Macau tower and the large casino which stands over the town, however looking the other way you see tired impoverished living conditions and high rise apartments.
Macau is the only place in china where it is legal to gamble, and as such there is a few casinos. The main, Casino Lisboa, stands grand and imposing over the town in a polished area surrounded by jewellery shops and flash statues. We went inside and it was very lavish, chandeliers and sparkles but no clocks or windows. As my only experience of casinos this far is the Simpsons, I was impressed (but very intimidated by the amount of money flying around.)
We tried the Macanese street food which was delicious, and set back to the ferry terminal for our homeward journey.
We travelled to Hong Kong’s biggest outlying island, Lantau. This is a beautiful mountainous island and we travelled to see Tian Tan big Buddha statue which sits in the hills at a Buddhist monastery. This thing is huge and fairly recent. From the top you could see the beautiful coastline.
In the heat we headed for the pretty beaches on the south of the island and enjoyed the late afternoon sun as it cooled into evening.
I didn’t think I would like Hong Kong as much as I did China because I thought its modern facade would diminish its charm, but this place has everything. Hot weather and beaches, walled villages and historic towns, nature and weather and shopping. This is a place you could live providing you could cope with crowds, but it hasn’t changed my opinion of china. China is an adventure worth taking.
Next stop Tokyo!