Hong Kong: Friends reunited

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August 8th 2012
Published: August 8th 2012
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We had high anticipation of HK as two of Lauren's friends live here, she trusts their judgement and they love it! But after Singapore it would take something special for us to forget the former charm and atmosphere we fell in love with. Did it? Well in short no not exactly. We would not see ourselves quitting the UK as our friends have done. HK is quite simply the most hectic place we have visited on any trip! Don't expect space of the pavement or mtr subway. The most unusual thing, even coming from Singapore where they have gone skyward for space, is exactly that. Everything is so tall so it means shops and restaurants like Pizza Hut and Starbucks aren't on ground level but only their sign telling you 3/4/5F signifying which floor of the building they are on! It was so chaotic, the people seem to have gone on strike, they walk so slowly and without purpose, especially on weekends. But who can blame them their lives are at 100 mph whether they like it or not. It is a 24/7 city but most things open later and stay open till the wee hours. So much so that we had wanted smoothies from a side street stall for breakfast but they don't open till gone eleven but open way past midnight! Same for the craze that is frozen yoghurt with every accompaniment imaginable! Afternoon naps also became the norm for us here, the city was just so draining! And the city itself well it's very hard to get yourself orientated.

Our first day when we arrived, the bus driver who spoke no English threw us out "near our hostel" in actual fact it wasn't too far but then you can't just cross the road. Nope you gotta go all the way to ends of long roads to get across as the road has all barriers adding time when carrying packs. We had no idea if we were anywhere close and while Ben borrowed someone's iPhone map who had Internet Lauren burst into tears in the middle of a park! Drama over we did reach our digs and presented with a corner bunk bed in a 10 bed dorm. The corner sounds fine you won't fall out the bed etc but you couldn't actually get in! Lauren had to climb over the bed frame to get in the bottom and Ben well, see the photo but if he even put on one pound he wasn't fitting through the gap between wall bed and ladders! The rest of our time was spent trying to orientate ourselves we got there by a few days and successfully mastered several forms of public transport, ferry, bus, mtr and cable car!

It helps when you understand the layout of HK, which we didn't. We had relied on Joe, Lauren's former roomie at uni to show us around but circumstances meant he was flying home the day after we arrived. So we borrowed a guide book from the hostel and got acquainted with the former British colony. It is basically made up of HK island, which has central- the main business district, causeway bay- where we were and shopping central and moving east is beaches and quieter areas. Across the harbour at central is Kowloon which is a fifteen minute ferry journey and home also to many big names headquarters like Canon. This then leads onto the new territories and subsequently mainland China. There is also the main island of Lantau adjacent to Kowloon linked by a huge suspension bridge. This is home to Big Buddha, the airport and the child friendly Disney Park. Then you have 260 smaller islands making up Hong Kong. We didn't have time to venture to any of these. We felt we saw a lot of what HK has to offer though.

The first night Joe took us for a few happy hours in the drinking areas at central home of most expats, known as LKF. We then ate at a traditional 24 hour place which Ben enjoyed but Lauren found nothing so declined! Instead grabbing a £1.20 McDonald's meal! We went also with Joe's girlfriend Jenny to another expat bar where corona was hk$10 a bottle (80p) and people danced on every surface available. We called it a night gutted our time with Joe was so short. Saturday saw us chill out but for getting a few clothes items. It turned out Lauren has had two dresses 'misplaced' we are unsure from where, someone in the dorm previously or not coming back from laundry but nonetheless they needed replacing. So shopping was pursued and quite successful as the brand Forever 21 had many a well priced item. We caught up on much needed rest but the extreme air conditioning in the last three cities had taken its toll on our throats so we watched the Olympics eating biscuits for the duration!

Sunday saw us braving the elements as rain had been heavy and attempt "Asia's best urban trek". Dragon's back ridge was forty minutes away on subway and bus but we made it and enjoyed the 8km hike up and down mimicking a dragons tail. We ended up at Big Wave Bay Beach renowned for surfing. Ate our lunch and back to the city. It was a good retreat and escape of the smog and surprised ourselves in how much our stamina and endurance has increased. Later in the afternoon we got to Kowloon taking in the busy ladies market, no idea why named as such, meeting Bruce Lee at the Avenue of the Stars similar to Hollywood Walk of Fame and watching the 'Symphony of Lights' a nightly show that sees 44 buildings along Victoria Harbour have their skyscraper lights dance in time to music! A lot of fun and then crossing the harbour on the famous star cruises. We met up with Lauren's friend Leanne at an expat bar in SoHo and had a great catch up watching gaelic football! To get there was even an excitement using escalators above street level to literally drag you up the steep streets!

Monday saw us chance lady luck in Macau which has earned itself a blog of its own! Tuesday was a planned day of rest only to visit central to go to the Bank of China to go to the free viewing platform of the district and later a visit to Victoria Peak with Leanne. We had a lazy morning and got pancakes for breakfast and headed to the skyscraper central. We saw many a sight following a trail in the borrowed LP guide. We admired the skyline showcasing brand spanking new skyscrapers and colonial old style buildings and a stunning cathedral. We found retreat in Hong Kong park and even a free bird aviary. We tried to go to Bank of China but it turns out you need photographic ID which we had left at the hostel locked up. We are going to try tomorrow but actually go to a taller building IFC the building Christian Bale scales in the Dark Knight! We found an Ikea and Lauren thoroughly enjoyed some Swedish meatballs, something she would make Ben drive about an hour and a half for in the UK!

We met Leanne at 7 Ben spotting her through the crowds and made our way on an over crammed mtr to the Peak. Lauren's dad had said it was a must and he was not wrong, despite the hour queue to actually get on the tram, it was a great time to catch up with Leanne though! Ben had to stand which was amusing given his fear of heights as we rode up at a 45degree angle feeling at any time it would give up power and fall back! You didn't realise how vertical you were until you saw the buildings at the wrong angle! The top was stunning, the highest peak in HK and we wowed at the spectacle, even Leanne was giddy so excited that this was home. Pictures taken we decided to skip the queues and get the bus back and finish the night off with a small walk to our hostel, a cheeky McDonald's consumed along the way! We said our goodbyes and attempted shut eye. As usual though as a flight impended the next day Lauren found it difficult to sleep and took the time to get up to date on blogs and photos!

The loudest snorer ever was our gift that night and Ben literally had to poke him to get him to move which wasn't easy given he was about 18 stone! But still we had a fairly comfortable night and our only plan for today was to head to Lantau after the IFC building and go and pay a visit to our familiar friend Buddha before getting to the airport mid afternoon. Job accomplished? Yes indeed as we sit at the airport awaiting our 9 hour flight to Sydney. We saw the viewing which was home to the HK monetary association and learnt many an interesting fact about currencies, depression and countries influences. We made it to the Buddha seeing the sights in a cable car on the way up which was awesome and Ben didn't get scared at all but he drew the line at a clear glass bottom! We went over some beautiful landscape and saw a trek you could do back down, it was a shame we hadn't time due to the flight. The area was completely built up as the peak was with Starbucks and 7Eleven but still felt like a retreat from the city although it was hotter here. We climbed the 150-200 odd stairs and saw Buddha up close the largest sitting down Buddha in Asia. We got a bus back down thinking it would be quicker but as the cable car took you direct over the mountains we were wrong! Not to worry we still made it back and to the airport with time to spare.

We leave you now for a nine and half hour flight to Sydney and to pastures new straight into Melbourne which we are very excited about, craving a bath and home cooked good as we stay at Lauren's relatives!

Things of note:

We asked Leanne how do you get used to the heat, her reply was you just get used to being sweaty! But as so much a/c at subway and offices you barely feel it on working day.

The funicular tram we went up was built in 1800's and laughed at for being constructed but is one of biggest attractions nowadays!

The trams that run along the centre of HK island are so slim they remind us of Harry Potter knight bus!

If you want to go in buildings take photo ID they are very strict on visitors

Each building wants to be the tallest offering best viewpoints or bars in the city

McDonald's meals are ridiculously cheap but have weird sundae flavours like sesame and green tea sauce!

Dim sum is the HK local cuisine but as mainly shrimp and fish we abstained.

It's remarkably easy to find greenery amongst the high rise skyscrapers

This is the most expensive place in the world to live per square metre, and real estate is ridiculously expensive

Frozen yoghurt is amazing with stalls being full of queues all the time

Not only are you squashed on the subway but then you queue for ages to get out of the building, and there are several exits some of which are quite far away and take you literally under the city, a cheeky less busy bypass

They use an octopus card similar to London's oyster but not only do you pay on subway and buses, but you can use to buy groceries, 7Eleven goods and your McDonald's etc, pretty useful!

You can check in your airport luggage at one of the malls and get a direct train later in the day etc, it was weird to see airport check in counters nowhere near a runway!

It is one fee on the bus regardless of where you get off as opposed to the subway where you are charged for distance swiping in and out at respective barriers.

The sky is rarely clear due to pollution so any time it is clear get yourself up the peak if not it is better at night! On a clear day you can see Macau and China.

When China reclaimed the country in 1997 thousands fled as they do not like the Chinese nor want to be citizens of China, Canada took the most seekers at 50,000

Oranges are the most popular fruit to consume!

What would we do differently:

Again it would be great to have more money to go to nice bars and restaurants but it didn't detract from our stay. We would have loved Joe to have been around!

Thefts: 2 dresses but not sure where from!

Near misses: a lot of very uncomfortable bites from the trek

Fallouts:1 Ben refused to jump for a photo at olympic stadium so he got a five minute silent treatment but Lauren got so caught up in the aviary she didn't talk to him for about half an hour!

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