I have been having a great time in Hong Kong, probably a bit too good really as I have not wanted to leave and have ended up staying here for three weeks. However, at the end of travelling through India, Nepal, Tibet and China it has been fantastic to enjoy some of my normal creature comforts like great food in outdoor restaurants, good coffee, a bottle or two of Pinot Grigio, some retail therapy at the many shops here, sitting on the beach and going to the cinema.
I arrived on the 11th July and was really pleased to end the truck tour that I have been on for nearly two months and said goodbye to many of the people I had been travelling with. My room mate Tracy decided to stay on for a few extra days and it was really nice to go exploring Hong Kong with her.
Our planned last hotel on the busy Nathan Road in Kowloon was fully booked, so some of us had to stay in a different place nearby which turned out to be a really smart art deco style one with the most comfortable bed I have ever slept on and I would stroke it whilst falling asleep!
Our first night was spent having a Malaysian meal followed by finishing the night at an Australian bar with a dixieland style jazz band. The next day my priority was to have a much needed haircut and I had a young trendy hairdresser called Roy Chan do my hair. He made a point of telling me what bad condition my hair was in and kept tutting whilst touching it. However, despite a decent haircut he gave me some dodgy stripy highlights that I hope will fade.
Tracy and I then hit the shops for some retail therapy, coffee and Indian food. Then I had my first glimpse of the harbour and looked across to Hong Kong island. I had not previously known that Hong Kong is not just the island, but includes the busy built up peninsula on the mainland called Kowloon, plus some more areas further in called the New Territories, much of which is densely forested or pretty coast line.
The view from Kowloon harbour across to Hong Kong island is absolutely spectacular and you feel in awe of the huge brightly lit up skyscrapers across the water. I think that the view of Hong Kong, particularly at night must be the most exciting and impressive city in the world and makes New York look really mundane and London not even worth mentioning.
The following day we set off to explore the island and caught the Star Ferry for the ten minute journey across the water. You then find yourself standing below enormous skyscrapers with over one hundred floors and some of which have outside TV screens that cover over ten floors. They make the twenty storey buildings in between appear tiny by comparison. There are loads of people here too from all racial backgrounds and it was strange after having been in China to come somewhere that you pass westerners, Chinese, Indians and Africans walking down the same street. Everyone seems to dress incredibly smartly here too and I instantly felt scruffy with my travel clothes.
There are shopping centres absolutely everywhere in Hong Kong, which are handy for ducking into for a blast of air con when it gets too hot. Also, much of the central area is linked up by walkways that run between the buildings and you can walk for miles without having to step on a pavement.
Despite my previous self control in not going mad with shopping, the temptation here has just been too great both with the amount of good shops, being here during the sales with 60% off and some great little boutiques and markets. Both Tracy and I succumbed and came back laden down with bags. We decided to go to the cinema for a rest and I got to see the latest Harry Potter film, which I really enjoyed.
We also caught the longest escalator in the world, which is a series of normal sized escalators that run outside up through the city and you slowly pass shops, restaurants and flats to an area known as the Mid Levels. It is a pretty lively area to go out in and we had a nice Thai meal there. We also decided to go up to Victoria Peak, which is the highest point on the island and gives you views all around it. I took the photo below from Victoria Peak and you can vaguely just make out the laser show that takes place at 8pm every night, where the buildings all flash their lights in time to music.
The following day we decided to go to the island of Macau, which is a two hour ferry ride away. Macau has a similar status to Hong Kong as it used to be a Portuguese colony and is a pretty interesting place. Unlike Hong Kong, Macau has legalised gambling and there are numerous casinos here that make some parts of it look like Las Vegas. However, it also has some really nice old colonial buildings, churches and tree lined squares that have both the Chinese and Portuguese influence with antiques markets, bakeries selling custard tarts and great little Portuguese restaraunts.
The next day I had to move out of my luxurious hotel and into the budget Payless Guesthouse in Chungking Mansions. This is run by the unlikely named Jackie Chan and also it is cheap and clean, the actual block itself is pretty seedy to say the least. Chungking Mansions is a huge tower block situated over a cheap market/shopping centre selling fake watches, bags and pirate DVD's and where there is a strong smell of curry everywhere! The area is notorious and regularly raided by the authorities. However, to be honest if you threw out all the drugs, prostitutes and illegal immigrants then the place would be empty! It makes for interesting times in the internet cafe when the Thai and Filipino transvestite prostitutes come in to skype their boyfriends in loud American accents and do lots of air kisses, high fives and then swing their hips in their little denim hotpants!
I spent the next few days with the two remaining members of my trip and met up with them for the great Saturday night fireworks display down at the harbour followed by a really nice seafood meal at the trendy Knutsford Terrace area.
The following day I enjoyed relaxing in the park as seems to be the custom here on a Sunday and watched the locals go about their activities. This included a fan dance class for older ladies who made up in enthusiasm what they lacked in coordination and heard a tune called 'Japanese Boy' that I don't think I have heard since 1982! There were lots of people doing Tai Chi, jogging or power walking. There were large groups of Fillipino maids sitting out in the park and on the pavements who apparently meet on their day off to do each others hair, nails and chat. However, the best part was the Kung Fu Corner where different groups take it in turns to demonstrate their particular form of martial art and this week it was a group who could do lots of kung fu kicks to the head as well as dressing up in three man dragon costumes and dancing on top of benches.
That evening I met up with Kit and Tony again to do the circular walk around Victoria Peak along the nature trail. It was very pretty to see the sun set over the water with all the boats moored in the harbour and you could also appreciate how much of the island is forested. It was Kit's last night and had a meal up at a restaurant on the peak with good views of all the lights down below.
The next day I moved to share a room with Tony in the Wan Chai area on Hong Kong island and was relieved to move out of Chungking for a few days. We spent that day visiting the small island of Cheung Chau, which feels a million miles away from Hong Kong. There are no cars on the island and it is a really rural pretty area which you can walk around in a day, stopping off at the beaches, villages and temples. It was the first time I had swum in ages and I enjoyed it immensely until I got a bit scared by the necessity for shark nets and the slight fishy smell of the water. We had a great meal down on the sampan filled harbour which is lined with seafood restaurants selling every type of seafood imaginable. We had calamari, clams and crab but with only chopsticks to eat it with then any sort of social grace was lost as you ended up with juices dripping down your hands and face!
The following day I met up with Janet,my friend Carol's sister who lives out here in Hong Kong. She kindly agreed to take me around for the day and show me some parts of Hong Kong that tourists would not normally visit. We did a little tour around the very green and pretty New Territories and saw some villages before going to her club. This is and old club owned by the Jockey Club and has a couple of swimming poolse, wooden club house, bar and restaurant and a great stables for ex racing horses who have been retrained to ride. The horses were absolutely beautiful and had the plushest stables I have evern seen in my life complete with air conditioning. I think they had better accommodation than I had in Chungking Mansions!
It was lovely to go for a swim and enjoy relaxing in such nice surroundings. We also had a great lunch at a little restaurant down on the Sai Kung peninsula and I was happy to enjoy a glass of Pinot Grigio along with lovely food. Janet later took me to visit Stanley market, which is on the south side of Hong Kong island and where you can browse the stalls for souvenirs and clothes.
The following day Tony and I caught the ferry over to Lantau Island and then caught the bus along the pretty coastline to the Big Budda. This is meant to be the largest bronze seated Buddha in the world and is indeed pretty large and sits on top of one of the hills. When we visited it was quite overcast and the hike up the steep steps to Lantau Peak did not quite reveal the views we had been hoping for. Indeed by the time we had gained more height, the fog was really thick and soaked you with tiny droplets of moisture. However, it gave me some much needed exercise even if my ankle has still not quite recovered from my fall on my Nepal trek.
We went to one of the beaches but it really was not that enticing to swim in and so we just sat and watched the numerous locals with their bucket and spades trying to catch mussels and crabs in the shallow water. It was Tony's last night and as he had been so impressed with the food on Cheung Chau we decided to take a ferry over there again and have another seafood meal down on the harbour.
The following day we went to the really interesting Hong Kong Museum of History that ambitiously covers everything from the landmovements that created the island to the handover to China. It was a good musuem and had lots of facts I had been unaware of such as the role of British Opium selling in the settlement of British in Hong Kong.
I then returned to stay at Chung King Mansions again and had to move to the First Guest House, which is even cheaper than Payless! I had a week on my own in which to go and explore other parts of the country. I spent quite a bit of this exploring the various markets such as Temple Street Night market where you can buy any clothing, jewelry or souvenir. Nearby was the Jade Market with every type of product possible in Jade and next to it a market full of fruit and vegetables that I could not recognise at least a third of.
I visited the Ladies market with an even greater selection of goods along with some stalls with women sitting behind a desk with a brochure full of designer watches, handbags etc that you can pick your cheap copy from. There was a Goldfish market full of all types of tropical fish, terrapins and even cute puppy's for sale, a sweet smelling Flower market and a noisy Bird Market with various exotic birds in cages.
I travelled up to see the old walled city that had always been a centre of Chinese residence even when Hong Kong was British and is now a pretty garden and then up to a Japanese looking pagoda nunnery. I visited the Wong Tai Sin Temple to see locals praying and shaking containers with sticks in until one would fall out and then could be read by one of the Fortune Tellers. I decided to visit a Fortune Teller and see what he had to say. He took my time and date of birth and decided that I was an Earth sign, which was apparently 'strong, very good' and that my fortune was 'very good luck' and love life was 'very good'. He showed me a computer print out and I noticed that it had my wrong year of birth and so he started it again. However, his first words were 'oh dear, Fire....weak' and then 'love life....unstable' and when seeing my face he tried to cheer me up with 'fortune...yes reasonable luck!' It hardly made up for it though! Although he also told me that my good years would be 23- 43 and then 48-58, which is not too bad really!
I also visited the large art gallery here which had an interesting display of historical and modern Chinese art and I learnt a bit about the reason for the long narrow frame of their paintings. There were also some free concerts and theatre performances in the Cultural Centre down at the harbour that I went to see.
I have been to the cinema another couple of times here as it is a good thing to do in the mid afternoon if it becomes too hot to go sightseeing. I saw the extremely creepy new Quentin Tarantino film and Shrek 3.
I explored some other areas of Hong Kong island around the markets at Causeway Bay and loved the little independant designer boutiques here, of which there are whole shopping centres full devoted to womens clothes. Again I struggled to resist, but was unable to control my shopping urges. I went to the huge wave shaped convention centre to see the site of the handover ceremony and the symbol of Hong Kong which is a beg gold Bauhini flower.
I also explored some of the old market streets around Sheung Wan with their little fruit and vegetable markets and a great little antiques market full of old communist memorabilia as well as old colonial bits and pieces that look like they were left over from house clearance sales in the 1930's. Also, there was another Man Mo Temple with the atmospheric incense coils hanging from the rafters.
I spent a day exploring the south of the island and seeing the fishing harbour area of Aberdeen that is full of sampans before returning to Stanley for a better look around the town and taking a walk along the coastline.
There have been a lot of football fans around as there has been a mini tournament for some local sides and Premiership teams. I did try getting tickets to the matches but unsurprisingly it was sold out. However, I did spot Harry Redknapp walking around one of the shopping centres.
I went to see some of the other sights in the New Territories such as the gaudy Thousand Buddhas Monastry which is up 400 long sweaty steps on a hillside and with gold statues the whole way up until you reach the monastary and see the brightly lit monastary walls covered with tiny gold Buddhas.
I also visited the really interesting Heritage Museum that had really good paintings, ceramics and a exhibition of statues that looked like south american Inca pieces but were from China.
I spent a day going dolphin watching on a tour to see the pink dolphins. Hong Kong is the only place in the world that has pink dolphins and there are only one hundred of them left here due to their environment being destroyed. They are in fact white dolphins but get hot when they swim so turn pink. I think we saw at least nine of them and saw their star dolphin who is called Wrinkle or account of the wrinkle around her neck caused by a fishing net getting caught on her. My pictures don't really show just how close we got or the numerous times that they leapt out of the water to catch fish and I only caught the splash afterwards.
A couple of friends called Bart and Maria from my trip then joined me in Hong Kong and it was really nice to hang out with them for a few days. We went to a Food and Beer festival called the Julyfest that is held every year in the Lan Kwai Fong area. The bars and restaurants around the area all have stalls selling food and drink and it is an outdoor festival with stages and acts playing music throughout the day. There was a huge US navy aeroplane carrier inshore and they navy guys were all out for a party. They were all huge with arms the size of both my legs put together and covered in tatoos, but were pretty well behaved even if desperate for any women! I got chatted up by a hillbilly from Kentucky and could not stop laughing at his accent.
It was a pretty late night and I was feeling a little worse for wear from too much Pinot Grigio. However, the next day my friend Maria arrived and we spent the day chatting and going to the unfortunately named but very nice Repulse Bay beach before enjoying an evening meal on the seafront restaurants in Stanley. We also had another day exploring more markets and more eating before Bart left for further travel.
My plan is to head back into China, although as mentioned before I have really been enjoying Hong Kong and am going to have to get back into travel mode. I know the language barrier is the main problem in travelling in China and I am going to have to work quite hard to ensure I get to where I want to be. Therefore, I will see how I go and decide how long I want to remain here once I am back in the mood for travel.