12 Hours in Hong Kong

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October 23rd 2015
Published: November 13th 2015
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Landing at Hong Kong is interesting as the runway is completely surrounded by water. We went through immigration without a word being spoken and were handed a slip of paper giving us permission to stay in Hong Kong until next April.

All of the formalities completed, we exited into a huge concourse. Here we found out information about the trains and bought tickets for 100HK$ (~£8.50) for a return trip. The airport express took about 25 minutes and was a smooth clean journey. After about 10 minutes we emerged from the underground section to catch our first glimpse of the mountains, harbours and high-rise buildings of Hong Kong. It was hazy as the sun was starting to climb over the peaks. We left the train at Hong Kong Central Station and headed outside. The first thing we noticed was how busy it was; there was an endless stream of people moving everywhere we looked. It was already hot and humid by 8am. We found ourselves in a dark service road between the train and bus stations. The first of my senses to react was smell - there was an almost overpowering smell of food cooking in dirty oil wherever we went. I really didn't like the smells of the city. The next thing I noticed was the sounds - taxi drivers shouting, horns honking and traffic lights constantly beeping, only changing by getting faster to tell you it's safe to cross.

As we emerged from the dark street we could see that skyscrapers loomed above us. We headed towards the row of jetties jutting out into the harbour. The area was unappealing and looked very dirty. Everywhere remnants of posters competed for space with government signs, all in Chinese and then English, warning of the penalties for infractions of civil ordinances. At the docks we noted the Star Ferry terminal for later and continued down the street.

We decided to head to Hollywood Drive which has antique shops and the world's longest escalator. The roads were absolutely heaving with people and we discovered they had two speeds - either extremely fast or achingly slow. We joined a street of high-end department stores and followed this for a while, before cutting up through an as yet unopened side street market. We headed up the hill and got hotter and thirstier. The humidity was energy sapping. We soon gave up on Hollywood Drive as it was too early for the shops to be open.

Instead we headed in the direction of the Peak Tram, hoping to find a coffee shop en route. We met two Aussies trying to find the tram and worked together to find it. They didn't seem very interested in chatting. Just outside the tram was a Pacific Coffee shop where we stopped for a few minutes, relieved to catch our breath. Soon we were back on the move and joined the queue. We paid 83HK$ each (~£7.50) to go up the funicular railway and onto the viewing platform. Strangely, for such an electronically enabled global city, they only took cash.

Soon a pretty tram car pulled into the station and the next group boarded - momentarily relieving the press of people around us. We got on the next train but it was standing room only. The hill was very steep but the trip was done quickly - too quickly to appreciate any view from the carriage. At the top we all got out of the train and found ourselves amidst tacky gift shops which the locals seemed to love. I was keen to push through but there were six or seven floors. Eventually we came out at a viewing platform and the view was well worth the exertion. Unfortunately it was still hazy but even so the skyscrapers around the harbour were impressive. Sadly, the combination of heat, humidity and crowds made the observation deck very unpleasant. The humidity constantly fogged up my camera lenses. We stayed as long as we could bear before descending, this time seated.

From there we walked back down the hill towards the harbour. We made a brief detour to St John's Cathedral and it felt strange to hear "How Great Thou Art" sung in English in the middle of an Asian city. We made a further detour to the second floor of the city's general post office, to buy postage stamps, and queued for twenty minutes.

When we reached the harbour we went to Jetty 7, put our money (2HK$ - 16p) into a machine and then boarded the Star Ferry. This is a grand old wooden vessel that takes about five minutes to cross Hong Kong Harbour. The journey was fun and it was nice to just sit and let the city move past for a few minutes. We emerged from the ferry into the midday heat of Kowloon.

We walked out towards the cultural centre, a huge modern building with covered walkways outside. The foyer was nice and cool. Here we waited, really hungry, for Jay, one of Lindsey's friends, who we were meeting for lunch. There was some confusion about the meeting place and time but eventually he found us. Jay led us to a restaurant where another of Lindsey's friends, Dan, was waiting for us. I was in a daze of tiredness, heat and hunger so didn't take much in as we rushed through underground passages.

We finally got to Dan and were seated in the restaurant. The waitress served us green tea in little cups. I don't usually drink tea but I found it quite refreshing. Dan and Jay treated us to an authentic Chinese Dim Sum experience. We started with chicken, still with skin and bones, marinated in alcohol. This was followed by sticky rice parcels. After these were soup dumplings which we dipped in vinegar and ginger. They were surprisingly nice. Following the dumplings I had spicy pork with steamed rice and Lindsey, Jay and Dan had seafood rice and a satay noodle dish. I enjoyed the pork and rice dish more than the rest of the meal. To finish we had large sesame filled bread dumplings and another dumpling filled with red-bean paste - definitely not what I would call a dessert! All of this food was brought to our table by the kitchen staff who waited there to hand the food to our waitress who then brought it to us. The service was extremely attentive, for example, whenever our tea ran out more was brought to us. I tried to use chopsticks but for expediency had to use a fork as well. It was a great local experience for which we were profoundly great full though I'm not sure I'd want to eat the food again as it was a completely different experience to English food.

After lunch, we parted from Dan and Jay and walked the streets of Kowloon. We needed to get to the Apple Store to buy a gadget. The streets were densely picked with people and constantly busy with delivery vehicles, rubbish trucks and people selling all kinds of things. There were many gaudy neon signs advertising all everything from pharmacies to camera shops. We were stopped by someone offering Rolex Watches... obviously fake. Outside the Apple Store there were even people sitting with boxes of counterfeit Apple products. Inside was very busy but nicely air conditioned - a relief from the stifling heat and humidity of outside. We found the component we needed and went to pay. Payment was entirely through a small electronic device and the receipt was emailed.

The 'Apple genius' who served us tried to help with planning a route on the metro - a task Jay and Dan had said was impossible, advising that we should just get a taxi. Looking at the map, Lindsey and I found a simple route which none of the locals could see, possibly because it appeared to go backwards. We walked just round the corner and got into the underground which took us a couple of stops back to Hong Kong Central Station. We had a slight problem as we had forgotten to insert our underground ticket at the end of the journey and were trying to use our Airport Express tickets instead. This was quickly resolved by a curt station staff member and we were soon back at the airport.

In the airport we had a quick look in the shops where we found, amongst other things, large bags containing shrink-wrapped duck livers and chicken wings packaged like sweets. Choosing not to buy any of these "treats" we went through security and waited to board the plane, with an expensive Starbucks coffee in hand. We were tired after 24 hours awake and felt hot, sticky and dirty. We had enjoyed our day but it was challenging and we were glad it was over.

The flight to Cairns was only seven hours but it felt like a life-time. We had much less leg-room on this stretch and it was impossible to get any sleep. Instead we watched a few films and tracked our progress over South-East Asia. We finally got to Cairns completely exhausted but then had to run the gauntlet of Australian border security. The staff were unfailingly friendly and cheerful, no mean feat at 5am, but were also extremely thorough. The landing card had an extensive list of questions. As we had travelled in Africa we had to complete another form too. We were given precautions about Ebola. Our baggage was checked for any possible foreign contaminant - the grass coasters we'd bought in Swaziland as a gift were closely inspected. Lindsey even got a free shoe clean to ensure her boots had no mud on them from a foreign land. I think it took almost an hour but we were cleared for entry.

We left as soon as we could repack our already bulging bags, and entered the arrivals lounge. Lounge is a generous description... It was basically an over-priced pie shop with a few seats. Ravenous, I ordered a pie, which for some unknown reason came topped with almost frozen mashed potato. We then settled down to wait for the car-hire company to open. We were disappointed to find Cairns Airport had no free wifi but decided we'd pay $3 for the two hours we were there. We Skyped my parents and had a five minute voice conversation. Then we Skyped Lindsey's parents but it cut out after 1 minute. Apparently we'd used our data allowance of 200Mb - which there was no chance we had done. Feeling exhausted and ripped off was not a good combination. At 7am I called the hire company and they sent a mini-bus to pick us up. We went out and the sun was already blazing and the humidity was high. It was ten minutes drive to the hire company and then the formalities were completed quickly. We were free to drive our huge white car to our home for the week... the Rainforest Outlook House in Redlynch, a suburb half an hour away near the charmingly named 'Crystal Cascades'.

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