Size: 1100 sqkm
Capital: Hong Kong
Time Zone: GMT +8
Part of 2006 World Trip, arriving from India
and going on to China
The bright lights and bustle of an ex-colonial giant mixed with the calm of the outlying islands.
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I was excited to arrive in Hong Kong, and the ultra-modern airport compounded this feeling. I had been organised enough to pre-booked a few night's accommodation after each of my major flights to make life easier when jet lagged (ok Paula at STA had recommended it when planning the trip) and now discovered how great this was. Somehow STA got good discounts on their accommodation, and so for about twice what I would pay for a dorm I got to stay in nice hotels for a few nights. The one in Hong Kong was in a town called Silvermine on Lantau Island. The town is right by the sea a short bus ride from the airport and the hotel almost touched the sandy beach. The room was massive with air-conditioning and had a large soft bed. I had booked two nights and asked if I could book another but the girl at reception took one look at me and explained it was too expensive. This probably says more about my appearance after 6 weeks travelling in India than the hotel itself but when I later found the prices I was inclined to agree.
It is rather odd being in places that looks a lot like England - cars, road signs etc, but is hot, humid and generally a whole lot more tropical. That night I wandered down to the food markets on the quay and got a bowl of excellent local shrimps with rice. Over this I was considering whether I needed mosquito replant and decided that by the sea and near a big city I probably did not. Just as I was thinking this, I felt a stabbing pain in my hand and looked down to see the largest mosquito I would see on the whole of my travels jab a hypodermic needle of a beak into my arm.
I was already taking malaria tablets and had been inoculated against almost every know disease so was not too worried, but not still hastily sprayed myself liberally with Deet. I then looked over to see a group of students at the next table carefully washing their chop sticks and plates with boiling water - I later discovered this behaviour is due to some people's paranoia, not some sort of poor cleanliness record of the venue, but given I was half way through my shrimps and had just been bitten it did heighten my concerns a little. On my way back I considered going to the hotel bar, but after a quick look at the menu opted very quickly to return to my room instead - budget travel is just that, and having adjusted to spending a few pounds per day in India the prices seemed astronomical.
The following day I got up early and caught a ferry over to Hong Kong island. It was easy to see why pirating was big business in these waters before the Portuguese put an end to it; there were many small islands and everything was shrouded in a thick mist, making visibility almost zero. That was a long time ago but the thick fog still provided a sense of mystery and, with the heat, made everything feel more exotic.
Then through the mist I caught my first glimpse of the skyscrapers of Hong Kong. It was a Sunday, and so the streets were quiet and I wandered, almost alone, the old part of the city then caught the train up to Victoria Peak. This boasts the best views over Hong Kong, or at least a better view of the clouds covering it in my case, but the gardens were very nice - the picture is of a flower I saw growing at the roadside but the parks were packed with many more tropical flowers. It was my first day in Asia and I was captivated by it all. The mix of modern city with traditional Asian customs, the warm air, the exciting new smells and scenes. I have returned several times to Hong Kong since and loved it every time.
After lunch I returned to the city and found the botanical gardens and zoo, all free of charge. There were also many small parks and some spectacular fountains so I had a lovely walk through them all to the Olympic Park. It is really impressive that there are so many green spaces in amongst all the sky scrapers. This picture is in the new Olympic park and is looking towards the China Bank building. The design of Hong Kong is consistent with the rules of Feng Shui, but the China Bank opted to build this tower how they wanted, destroying the energy balance of the surrounding buildings, or so it is said. Whilst that is not a good thing, I do really like the architecture of the building and it stands out from the crowd of high rises almost everywhere you go, which I guess was the aim of China Bank. I continued my trip (I walked quite a few miles this day) down to the Convention Centre, back at the water's edge, a good place to watch the sunset, unfortunately the centre was closed and there was no sunset - again too much cloud. After dinner I headed into the bright lights of the early evening to dabble in a spot of long-exposure photograph, the results of which I was rather proud of.
The next day I explored Lantau Island. This started with a trek into the hills behind the hotel to see the silver mine that gives the town its name. The plaque informed me that the mine was based on an old cave and was really extensive with large caverns. However, to protect the public steel bars had been put over the entrance. Presumable because this was an insufficient safety feature the whole front of the mine had also been concreted in. Slightly miffed I continued on to see a waterfall that was slightly inappropriately named, given that there was no water. Whilst not over impressed the walk itself was lovely in the sunshine, first along the sand shores and then into the tropical woodland. After this I caught a bus over to the Tian Tan monastery to see the Big Buddha. The temple itself was very traditional and nice to walk around. I was slightly surprised to find the buddha itself, the largest in the world, was built in the 1980s and so is a recent addition. This does not really detract from it and it is an impressive sight.
On a separate trip I also took a trip the cable cars at Ngong Ping, situated next to the Buddha. This is an amazing trip that I cannot recommend highly enough. The trip starts on the hill top with views over to the mainland, but then drops all the way down to sea level down the cliff side. There are not many things I would pay for twice but I think I would do this again. During my world trip this was out of my budget and so I had lunch at the monastery then hurried back to my hotel.
I collected my rucksack and caught the ferry to Hong Kong and then the Star ferry over to Kowloon, where the cheap accommodation is located. I found a place for a reasonable rate, although was a little on the small size - 2 bunk beds and little room for anything else. The place was clean and air-conditioning though, and being unaccustomed to the heat and humidity this was a bonus. Unfortunately, one of the four people in the room was a man from the Philippines who had to sleep with the conditioner off, so I sweltered and slept very little over the next two nights. The next day was spent in Kowloon where I enjoyed all things western - an art museum and the cinema - before heading into China
I returned to Hong Kong in November of 2006 for a friend's wedding. This was a great weekend and we were taken out to dinner each night and even had a trip on Hong Kong's only remaining Junk. Over the two mornings I decided to head out into the New Territories and then over to Lamma Island
One of the biggest attractions of the New Territories is the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery. Whilst I didn't count them, there are certainly a lot of statues here; most are close to life size but some are of an even grander scale, and every single one is individually made to a slightly different design. I took tea here and enjoyed the warmth of the tropics for the first snows were threatening back in Sapporo and the temperatures fast dropping.
Since I was in the area my guide book detailed a walled village not far from Yuen Long station which sounded interesting. I set off on foot from the station enjoying the feeling of being back in the travelling spirit. And very much in the vein of many of my previous travels I quickly got side tracked investigating a path out into the fields that ended up on a main road which I then had to hike down for half an hour in the mid-day sun to find my back to Kam Tin. Finally, after getting suitably lost, a girl at a bus stop was very helpful and gave me directions. The walled village of Kat Hing Wai is only about 100 square meters in size but is packed with small houses which are still lived in. There was a gaggle of old ladies wearing traditional hat at the entrance who demanded a dollar for a photo with them. I would usually have said no to this as the fact they were charging meant they were wearing the customise not for tradition but for tourism, but on this one occasion I agreed to this; I an not quite sure why, perhaps it was the excess of sun.
Many people had recommended Lamma Island to me over the course of my travels. I was thus keen to visit and have lunch at one of the small ports, whose food is critically acclaimed. Besides the food, the leisurely stroll over the Island is the other attraction. Interestingly this is dominated by a large power station which struggles to add to the ambience, but does provides a continuous talking point for the myriad of other holiday makers who also disembarked from the ferry with the same plans as myself. I enjoyed the walk mainly because of the tropical atmosphere and the food was indeed very good, very fresh and in a Hong Kong style.
On my world trip a short train ride took me over the border and into China.