I probably didn't travel in the most efficient or effective manner but needs must. It took 2 days and flights from Delhi to Mumbai to Singapore to finally reach Hong Kong. It felt like I was entering New York, Chinese style. Arriving late the main priority was to find the hostel in the maze of buildings and eat. The hostel I booked into was in a building called ChungKing Mansions- floor after floor of hostels and guest houses. I am so glad I booked in advance or I would never have found somewhere.
First priority was to get my Vietnamese visa. According to all sources it could take two days and be about $20 or I could get it express the same day for $50. I obviously wanted to go for the former. Arriving therehowever, I was greated with the information that because there was a holiday 4 days later they could not process the visa in the normal way so I would have to pay express. Hmm. I think I may have been swindled but it was a necessity.
With this sorted, I was free to explore Hong Kong and I did as much as was reasonably possible and my feet could take. As I was on the Hong Kong Island part of Hong Kong it made sense to wander here first. I took the tram ride up to the Peak. The tram carries you up at literally at 45 degrees angle. The gravity pull was intense. At the top you get the best view of the skyline and harbour. I did this twice, once during the day and then at night. During the day cloud and I think city smog, clouded the view and it was far more stunning at night when all the lights were twinkling.
I then wandered down the 552m hill that the tram had pulled me to find the bottom of the escalators. This is a series of escalators which if you follow all the way, will in about 15 minutes take you back up the hill. It was great to see from this vantage point all the side streets, bazaars and street stalls. Hong Kong is a vibrant place and by avoiding the main streets this is very apparent.
This landed me near the Botantical Gardens. This for me was a real treat, an oasis in the hustle. I also didn't realise it had a mini zoo and stumbled across it accidentally. Plenty of monkeys and even some tortoises having some special 'fun'. I had already found Hong Kong very expensive in the short time I had been there, so it was a joy to find something free to do.
The Gardens took me towards the Golden Bauhinia Square. This marks the return of Hong Kong from the British back to the Chinese. By the harbour there is a massive gold Forever Blooming Bauhinia set against the harbour. Considering the change or the non-change in politics and rule has had on Hong Kong, I went to find some crispy duck, which expensive, was joy!
Finally at the end of day one I headed back to my side of Hong Kong (Tsim Sha Tsui) to the Avenue of the Stars- Hong Kong style, to watch the Symphony of Lights. Special buildings over Hong Kong put on a light display to music everynight. To be honest I was a little disappointed, as the lights were not strong and there were not that many doing anything special. However, it was a nice conclusion to the start of my trip alone.
Day two took me over to Lantau Island. Taking a cable car up, I had stunning views of the mountainous island and coast. Absolutely beautiful and shows what little area is actually built up. The cable car drops you at Ngong Ping, where a short walk takes you to the Big Buddha. Standing at 34m high it truly dominates the landscape. Walking up hundreds of steps, I felt tiny in comparison to this majestic statue.
Nearby is the Wisdom Path. This is an outdoor replica of the Heart Sutra (prayer). The sutra is displayed on wooden pillars placed in a figure to symbolise the idea of immeasurable splenour and infinity. Set in the woods with a mountain backdrop, it brings peace to the soul and you can feel the power of the prayer.
Finishing off the island, I visited Po Lin Monastry, near the Buddha. Surrounded by incenses, this was a lovely monastry but not much to write about as the Buddha on the hill was the main focal point. A cable car took me back and followed by a metro ride I visited Temple Market, which has to be visited at night. This is a bustling road with a street market, selling all goods and wares. Yey!
Day 3 took me north to the new territories. Not expecting much and thinking I would quickly visit, I went to the Nan Lian Gardens. I was completely surprised. In the middle of towers block is set the most serene garden I have visited. Specifically designed and sculptured, the place commands respect, contemplation and meditation. Beautifully maintained with calming music played throughout it was a haven. Next door is the Chi Lin Nunnery which continued this theme. Beautiful carved out of dark wood, it is a momument to belief. Well cared for, it completed a very spiritual morning.
In complete contrast to the serenity of the morning, I headed to the Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple. This is one of the most popular temples in Hong Kong and it was a mass of people waving inscense, and trying to burn me in the process!! All three main religions of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism are practised here. I did escape into a garden they had designed behind the main temple and therefore was avoided by the Chinese tourists. Not the same as the Nan Lian Gardens, it still did allow me to calm down from the crowds.
Being a glutton for punishment, my final temple visit was to the temple of 10,000 Buddhas. You may think this is an exaggeration but actually it is an underestimation. Having to climb 431 steps up a steep hill (why oh why??!!) the path is saluated all the way by statues of Buddhas, all different. The expressions on some were hilarious, and I did go a bit camera mad, but you have to see it to believe it. The main temple has 12,800 pieces of Buddha statues, again each in a different posture. There is also a 9 storey Pagoa, which is the symbol on the HK$100 note. A stunning temple for imagination alone, it was worth the climb and the skip back down hill.
Finally my trip to Hong Kong ended with a tour of two more markets; the goldfish market and the ladies market. The former is mainly a street of shops selling fish, hundreds of thousands of fish. A grid is placed outside the store and the fish sold in plastic bags, very reminiscent of when you used to get goldfish at the fair. When there was a tank it was crammed full of fish. The sight and the smell I did find quite sickening. Poor fishy. I expected to find lots of things to buy in the ladies market but luckily for my rucksack, it seemed more like a UK market and my wallet stayed firmly in my bag. Phew.
Going to Hong Kong was a dream come true for me and I am very glad I have been there. However, it is not the place for a world trip. I wanted to spend money all the time and it was hard being cautious and reminding myself I would need the money later. I went to Knutsford Terrace, full of nice bars and restuarants but I could not justify the expense of eating there compared to cheaper places. It was the same with the shopping malls and all the countless street shops/stalls I could have bought from.
Expense aside, I found more serenity in Hong Kong then expected for a metropolis. The gardens and temples are well designed to detract from the city noise. Outside the main hub, the scenary is quite breath taking. I would recommend to anyone going to see the Peak, go see the Big Buddha, go out to Nan Lin Gardens and the Chi Lin Nunnery and make the trek to see the 10,000 Buddhas. Ignore the shops. Hong Kong is so much more than a city. I will definitely go back, but do it as a proper holiday with the right money.
From the known to the unknown, my next stop is Vietnam.