Published: September 4th 2011August 24th 2011
I'd like to start by offering 2 pieces of advice on how to get more than 4 hours shut-eye on a Chinese overnight sleeper bus. Firstly make sure you're no taller than a 12 year old child. Secondly don't even consider rolling over during the night, it's just not physically possible....
On arrival at Hong Kong's border checkpoint we felt instantly more positive about the time we would spend here, despite me getting the once over by the immigration officer because of my 3 week old beard making me look completely different to my passport picture... Anyway, a 30 minute train ride into Kowloon, Hong Kong's northern side, and a further ride to Hong Kong Island and we met up with Junaidy in a mad panic outside Central Station with a taxi waiting across the street. With barely enough time for a "hello, nice to meet you" we were whisked back to the air-conditioned joys of his and Andy's apartment in Sheung Wan, which was surprisingly spacious, and I was more than happy for this to be 'home' for the next 17 days!
Now, considering I haven't seen Andy for 20 years and ergo have never met Junaidy, we were
made to feel instantly welcome by them in their home and we spent the afternoon just catching up and chatting about Hong Kong's delights, it's nuances, it's hotspots, and the bits that aren't worth it.
In a completely surreal turn of events, Junaidy had somehow managed to get me an invite to two fashion shows going on this week; Marc Jacobs and Gucci. Madness!! They were absolutely amazing, I'd never seen anything like it before. This is really how the 'other half' live! Perfect people parading around in chic designer outfits, sipping Moet champagne and delicately nibbling hors d'oeuvres. The show itself was pretty spectacular, 25 models showcasing designs to a soundtrack of Marilyn Manson (ha!) and white neon lights. I didn't feel like I was on a 'roughing it' traveller adventure!
Fact of the Day: Hong Kong is 75% green space, most of the territory is made up of hundreds of small islands south of the main developed Hong Kong Island.
On one of these islands, Lantau, we spent the day as children at Ocean Park, which is split in two halves due to a rather large hill being in the way, but true to the Chinese way,
this wouldn't prevent them. One half is the 'Ocean' part with an incredibly impressive aquarium housing a huge pool in the centre, viewable from several levels, full of sharks, manta rays, shoals of fish and giant turtles. Much bigger than anything I've seen in the UK!! To get to the 'Park' you have to jump on a cable car that takes you up to the peak of the hill where there are several rides, including a runaway mine train that goes out over the edge of the hill with only air separating you from a several hundred feet drop!
Hong Kong also has a free zoo in a central park alongside an aviary, fountains and pools full of turtles and fish and quiet sculptural areas where Hong Kong's elderly generation practise their Tai Chi. The zoo itself is ok, only really containing monkeys (arrgh!) and some beautiful tropical birds, but it's free and I will never complain about something that's free!
By night, Hong Kong's famous skyline is transformed into a dazzling array of neon lights reflected into the velvet black sea. And at 8pm every night, the most famous buildings in the skyline put on a light show
set to music, viewable from the 'Avenue of the Stars' on the opposite shore. It is definitely an amazing sight and applause goes out to whoever designed the spectacle but I felt like it was a bit flat and not quite as amazing as i'd read/heard/hoped it would be. Great photo opportunity tho!
The best way to see Victoria Harbour is on the world famous Star Ferry. For only 20p you can get the ferry across from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon and get to see the infamous skyline. Or like us, you can get the hour-long tour around the harbour which was actually really good especially on a beautiful day like we had.
Because we were staying with a couple of 'locals', we got to experience a bit more than your average tourist. We spent nights at the coolest restaurants and bars hong kong has to offer, although from what I could gather this list changes very often due to westerner's fickle habits. A personal favourite of mine was Club 28, a bar on the 28th floor (see now it makes sense) of a hotel with a balcony, where you can chill out in the pool overlooking Hong Kong
and on a clear day this provides some fantastic views. The food we had wasn't great (only 1 type of cracker with the cheese selection!!) but the locale easily made up for it. Another of our faves was Feather Boa, an old antique furniture shop that has been converted but retaining the features of the shop. When you step through the very non-descript door you are transported, Tardis-style into 1870's England where you can sip on a fantastically flavoured daquiri (raspberry and chocolate anyone?) and pretend that you are a regal member of HK's society.
My second week was a bit less sight-seeing, and involved such traveller cliches as helping fix your uncle's wardrobes and making betty crocker brownies. No less fun I can assure you and it was nice to have a bit of home-ness after 4 1/2 months of being on the road! On the last day Andy and I spent the whole evening installing his new surround sound cinema and devouring the biggest pizza you've ever seen, which was great fun for me, having not done this since I left Whitwam 2 years ago (the speaker part, not munching pizza!) and provided some more uncle-nephew bonding time :)
I decided that I wanted to get out and explore some more of HK's less visited countryside, so I got on the MTR train and went ot Tai Po Nature Reserve, an hour north of the main city. At the moment HK is in the middle of summer, temperatures normally above 30 degrees celcius and humid too, so whatever possessed me to do a 7km walk around a very hilly park is beyond me. Needless to say I was sweaty come the end. It was a nice walk, the views that I could occasionally glimpse were amazing and having a picnic by a waterfall is always nice but man was I shattered by the end! It's all made that little bit easier by having a nice apartment to come back to, where there's always beer in the fridge!
It was sad to leave the guys, and Hong Kong but we both had such an amazing time that I don't think it will be too long before I go back!
Hong Kong has the best idea for it's International Airport. In the centre of town inside a shopping mall (there is a shopping mall built above every
subway station in HK!) is the Airport Express. Here you check in your baggage, up to 24 hours before your flight, and then just ride the fast train to the airport out to Lantau Island. Then just go through security, hassle free and get on your flight, safe in the knowledge that you're luggage will meet you at the other end! Simple! Why no other city has adopted this is beyond me but it works so well!
The flight to Hanoi was like a dream, the sky and the sea were so blue that I had to double take to make sure the plane wasn't upside down! Hong Kong marked a kind of halfway point for us, as we were about to begin the well-trodden backpacker routes of SE Asia and be moving across and between countries much faster than we had been doing already. Excited!!!