Hong Kong (5th Dec 2007)
Hong Kong is fantastic; it's like London but without as many tramps, beggars or expensive meals. We are even too afraid to sneeze in public in case we get fined. There are signs everywhere asking you not to spread germs and if you are infected you must wear a face mask; either that or there are lots of surgeons / Michael Jackson fans around here!
Arriving in Hong Kong found us with mixed feelings. It was a busy cosmopolitan city, full of street traders, ample shops, a cross - section of restaurants and a variety of hotels. We stayed on Nathan Road in Kowloon, what a place! Pleased not to be the ethnic minority for a while, and to find food suited to our European taste buds, it gave us a very small taste of home. Double yellow lines, double decker buses, road and shop signs all in English, the difficulties of communication eased for a few days, and it even looked like rain, just like home!
We arrived into Hong Kong airport mid afternoon and quickly realised we needed to get the airport express to Kowloon in order to get to our hotel. This was all relatively painless until we reached Kowloon Metro Station and completely lost our bearings once we stepped out of the metro station and onto the street. Even with the help of a free map from the station we couldn't figure out which direction we were meant to be heading in so in the end we just walked to what looked like a main road intersection, figured out what road was what, realised we had come the complete long way round but were happy we finally knew where we were going and had done it without having to ask for help. The area our hotel was located was bustling and as we later found out is home to one of Hong Kong's market, Temple Street Night Market. After checking into our hotel, we spent a few minutes freshening up and checking out the hotel room before we set off to go and meet Kerrie and pick up our tickets for the Hydrofoil we take to mainland China on Friday. After asking at reception where the nearest metro station was we realised that Kowloon station was quite a way away and that there was one less that 5 minutes walk away which took us onto Hong Kong Island in no time at all. We arrived into central station and were amazed by how big it was and the amount of exits, we were lucky that Kerrie had already directed us to a particular one otherwise we would have been totally lost. We met Kerrie and thankfully she already had her bearings of Hong Kong and so helped us find the Chinese Tourist Office where our Hydrofoil tickets were waiting for us.We soon realised that our stay in Hong Kong wasn't going to be all that cheap and so we headed to McDonald's for a snack before setting off to explore a little bit more. Rather than getting the metro back over to Kowloon Kerrie persuaded us to get the renowned Star Ferry as it was under a quarter of the price of the Metro and lets you see the skyline of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. Despite it being quite a foggy, hazy day (as most days are in Hong Kong we were to learn) it was a really nice trip and helped us get our bearings a little better and see what Hong Kong is really like, even with the boat unpredictably swaying in Victoria Harbours choppy currants, making us fear it would roll over at any moment! Back on Kowloon we set out on a mission to buy Kerrie an IPod but not before popping back to her 'accommodation' to drop some shopping off. When we were looking to book our accommodation in Hong Kong there were two names frequently mentioned, Chungking Mansion and Mirador Mansion. Don't be fooled by the names as there was nothing Mansion like about these hostels, imagine a 1960's shabby concrete block with smashed windows andancient air conditioning units jutting from every other window. Inside wasn't much better with each 'Mansion' made up of hundreds of different hostels, most filled with illegal immigrants subletting beds in tiny tiny rooms in the hope of making a bit of money. Needless to say we were relieved we opted for a slightly more expensive and comfortable accommodation option! The IPod hunt began around the neon lit Nathan Road and allowed us to experience the hustle and bustle of the city life, where around every corner a tailor appeared asking if we wanted a custom suit and the next guy whispering in our ears 'watches, watches, fake bags, fake Rolex's'.We eventually found a decent deal but after being in the shop a while waiting for Kerrie's laptop to be 'programmed' the owner took a dislike to us or decided one of his employers had agreed to too much of a discount and became difficult, causing Kerrie to walk out of the shop in disgust and then the owner refused to serve any of us, losing himself around £800 worth of business!
After lying in till gone twelve we decided to do our laundry at the hotel, leaving the evening free for the Symphony of Lights Harbour Tour that we had booked. Laundry is just laundry so we won't bore you with those details! We caught the metro down to the pier as we were running late and boarded what was a surprisingly fancy ferry. The interior was decked out with proper chairs and wooden panelling nearly everywhere (ok so not the most stylish but a far improvement on the star ferries we were expecting that do the harbour crossings!) There was an initial crush to get seats in the two outside areas but not wanting to get too cold too soon we opted for a seat by the window inside and enjoyed our free refreshments, a can of coke and a muffin! As the ferry moved away from the harbour we realised the tour was definitely going to be worth the money as you wouldn't get a view like it from anywhere else. The harbour cruise takes us around the whole of the harbour enabling views of the skylines of both Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. At 8 pm the night came to life as the world's largest permanent light show began and at any other time of the year it would have been impressive as it is in the Guinness Book of Records for being the largest light and sound show but we had the addition of the many many Christmas light and messages adorning the sides of most of the buildings. We soon gave in and joined the crowds outside and after testing the camera out; Mark found the perfect setting for capturing the lights in all their glory exactly as we were seeing them. The tour lasted two hours and after an hour or so we came back inside and just enjoyed the rest of the journey, before heading back to the hotel with a quick stop at McDonald's along the way!
We began our third day on Hong Kong determined to fit as much as possible in as we lost a few hours yesterday with our unexpected lie in. We had read in one of the guide books that there was a viewing area on the 43rd floor of the Bank Of China Towers so we made our way there and discovered it was one of Hong Kong's most individual and recognised buildings. If only the view matched up to the design of the building, the air in Hong Kong was as usual foggy and the angle at which we could see out didn't lead to many good photo opportunities so we set out for our second destination of the day, The Peak Tram. The Peak Tram is one of Hong Kong's most oldest and memorable attractions and transports people the 552m up Victoria Peak to the newly renovated Peak Towers. The ascent up the peak was quite a shock for us, as although we knew it was going to be of a bit of an angle we didn't anticipate how much. Almost instantly the gravity defying tram was off and we were pressed against the back of our seats, in awe of the sheer amount of track we could see laid out vertically in front of us. Initially arriving at the peak was somewhat of a disappointment as the only decent photo opportunities come from the Sky Terrace which was an extra 20 HKD to get too but in the end we gave in and paid the extra money to get up there. Although it wasn't a clear day it was worth the extra pennies spent getting up there as it was definitely a box we wanted to tick and we were glad we had made the decision to do the harbour cruise at night and the peak during the day rather than vice versa. After our last trip on the Star Ferry we took a short walk along the harbour front in Kowloon to Hong Kong Space Museum, expecting something pretty great but how disappointed we were! We must have spend only 15 minutes wondering around as half the interactive attractions were broken and then to top it off the Museum became overrun with hyperactive school children so we made a beeline for the exit, not caring that we had probably only seen half the exhibits! We had already checked out of the hotel earlier so we just went to pick our bags up and made our way to the China Ferry Terminal to catch the Hydrofoil over to mainland China. If we would have had more money it probably would have been nice to stay a bit longer in Hong Kong and see what the city really has to offer but for the time we had there on a budget we had a pretty good time.