Have you ever come across a blog from a traveller who last visited Hong Kong during British rule, well before the handover of the territory to China in 1997? Well, dear reader, if you haven't I urge you to read on. I've been at the airport since, which by the way didn't exist when I last was last in Hong Kong proper, but always in transit on the way to other exotic destinations. Of course I've heard anecdotes from travellers about Hong Kong under Chinese rule, but I believe the best way to form an impression of a destination is to get there in person and explore. It goes without saying the skyline of Hong Kong Island has changed from my previous visit all those years ago, but I'm delighted to say that Hong Kong still rocks; this world famous city always has and always will! It's a thrill and a privilege to spend a week exploring Hong Kong and the surrounding territory, and I've vowed to pack in the sights during my visit.
It's been a while since we last corresponded, as I've found myself buried in work back in Sydney for the last several months. At the conclusion
of what seemed an interminable countdown, it was great to board a Qantas flight for the nine hours direct to Hong Kong, and in doing so commence five weeks exploring Asia. Due to unforeseen delays out of Sydney the airline arranged complimentary transport for the passengers from the airport to the city free of charge, and thanks to the 24 hour reception I checked in to the superb Hop Inn at the ungodly hour of 4:00am. After bunking down for what remained of the evening, I was up at a reasonable hour to make the most of my time in this marvellous city. In the last several years I've become increasingly attracted to free walking tours as an introduction to new cities, providing the opportunity to pack in the sights and gain fascinating insights in to the world's famous cities, thanks to the knowledgeable guides. The first tour of Kowloon with Michael, the owner of Hong Kong Free Walking Tours, proved no exception to the rule. He chaperoned a group of tourists around for the better part of three hours, and gave a fascinating insight in to the life of the local people. Michael is a local man who has
lived extensively abroad, and he didn't beat around the bush when it came to discussing the problems faced by his beloved compatriots trying to find accommodation in Hong Kong. Some of the statistics are mind boggling; for example the average age of a local to move out from their parent's house is 41 years old, the house prices are the highest in the world, there has been no new public housing built by the government since 2003 and yet the population is still growing with the gradual introduction of mainland Chinese migrants. The government seems addicted to the revenue gained from absurdly overvalued land prices, and to compound the misery of the local inhabitants the government are reclaiming land for massive high rise developments. All of this is taking place in a territory where only 7% of the land is actually used for housing. It's a diabolical situation for the locals, with rapacious landlords doing as they please to squeeze more and more poor people in to what can only be described as inhumane partitioned ratholes. The tour was fascinating as Michael opened our eyes to the housing crisis gripping the people of Hong Kong.
I was so impressed
I turned up for the following morning's tour of Hong Kong Island. Michael focussed more on British rule during this tour, and we visited many of the famous buildings on the most well known of the islands of Hong Kong. There are so many stunning buildings here, and the way they light up at night is like nowhere I've seen. Every major building seems to have it's own light show, and provide magnificent views from across Victoria Harbour after dark, or after boarding the Star Ferry for the trip across the harbour. Once again I met a great group of travellers enjoying the tour, and have already gathered some contacts for the remainder of my trip. The MTR is superb in Hong Kong; it's cheap and easy to navigate, and visitors will have their bearings in no time. A tip that helps is always pay careful attention to the relevant exits in Hong Kong, that way you'll never get lost. The next day I jumped on the MTR to the outskirts of the city, where there's an awesome cable car ride up to a gorgeous little village, and the nearby Big Buddha and monastery. I met a guy from one
of the walking tours while queueing, and we headed up on the cable car together which was lots of fun, despite the weather starting to close in during our times exploring.
The hostel guests are warm and friendly, and the staff at Hop Inn are helpful and nice. In fact I've been surprised at how friendly and welcoming the people of Hong Kong have been during my visit. It seems everyone greets travellers with a smile and a hello, the inhabitants of the city have been an absolute delight. The next day I was up and about again on a recommendation from the hostel staff, taking the MTR and then a bus to the fishing village of Tai O, around 90 minutes out of the city. The village is a reminder of a bygone era, where local fishermen live as their predecessors have done for countless generations. The locals have visitors sorted in a flash for a competitively priced boat trip of the fishing village, and then power passengers further out of the harbour to view the partially completed bridge from Hong Kong to the mainland, which will be the longest bridge in the world upon completion. Of course
there's plenty to do in the evening in Hong Kong, on one evening I took the famous Peak Tram to the summit for breathtaking night views of the city, on another evening I joined some hostel guests at the Ozone bar, at level 118 on top of the tallest building in Hong Kong. As you can appreciate, the views from way up there are absolutely breathtaking, it's worth the price of 20 dollars for a gin and tonic to enjoy the experience!
The next day I took a ferry to Cheung Chau, one of the outer islands of Hong Kong and just an hour of sailing from Victoria harbour. It's a different world there, and the vibrant fishing town has a certain charm that differs from the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong. To my surprise, there are a couple of nice beaches on the island too, and even lifeguards on duty. I wish I'd bought my swimmers and a towel, because the daily temperature has been high and the humidity almost unbearable since arriving in Asia. It takes a while to acclimatise, but I still feel a special affinity with this part of the world after all these
years. The food, the people, the culture, the sense of order are all just as I remember. I lived and worked in Japan for over a year after graduating from university. So when it comes down to it, Asia qualifies as my home away from home. As a matter of fact, basically all of you should be here now!
"All paid jobs absorb and degrade the mind." Aristotle
As I continue my travels, until next time it's signing off for now
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