Hong Kong


Advertisement
Hong Kong's flag
Asia » Hong Kong » Kowloon
October 13th 2018
Published: March 1st 2019
Edit Blog Post

Got a taste for how the ‘other half’ travel, and . . . Shit! It’s hard to go back! . . . .We had the good fortune to each acquire a pair of Qantas Club admissions as part of a new credit card package we top on earlier this year. This allowed us to cash in on the deal at both ends of our Hong Kong venture. On heading out of Melbourne, we had been re-allocated, on the eve of departure, to a direct flight to Hong Kong rather than through Sydney. Our flight was leaving at 08:30am on Mon 24/Sep/18, so with all the pre-flight kerfuffle that takes place we were at Tulla by about 06:30am. Earlier online check-in streamlined it that little bit more. All the better to maximise the Qantas Club experience.

I was surprised just how much one tends to flounce around in such rarefied air and how one tends to adopt an uninterested facade as you hob-knob with the hoi-polloi, when in fact you internally revel in the countless offerings of food, drink, convenience & comfort. Even the toilet stalls had individual hand basins & I’m pretty sure I saw a call button for those that did not care to wipe your own posterior! A very busy place. I now begin to understand why some people will knock back food & drink opportunities in-flight, as they are, no doubt, full up to pussy’s bow from the pre-flight Club indulgence. Our return trip out of Hong Kong, on Tue 02/Oct/18, was no less grand! We were here for dinner, with our flight out scheduled for 08:00pm, so a much more civilised time for reckless eating & drinking. We even took the opportunity to ‘freshen-up’ and have a pre-flight shower before we were done with the facilities.

We stayed our 8 nights at the Cordis, is a five-star hotel located in Mong Kok, Hong Kong. Very different from our usual mode of accommodation, we don’t like the expense or the atmosphere that goes along with such places, they seem far too removed from the ‘average’ citizen of the place being visited. We like to think we are not too far from the culture of the locals – I know this is a little silly, in most circumstances, given local accommodation options! The 8 nights here cost us AUD$1560, apparently, a very good deal, as we had booked it several months back. At that time (Nov/2017) it became obvious there was not a great amount of budget accommodation offered in this city. However, this was a very comfortable place, 31st floor views, without the need to move lodgings for the duration of the stay.

I had long wanted to visit Hong Kong. I’m not sure why, perhaps because I remember passing through here as a teenager with my mum, en route to London. I don’t remember all that much, really, just the humidity of the place, a humidity I had not experienced before, the air felt like you could slice it! Hong Kong, these days, is more renowned as a shopper’s paradise, not really what Marg & I are interested in. But, one would think, still steeped in history and international influence.

Hong Kong is a specially administered territory of China, and with 7.4 million people of various nationalities in a territory of 1,104 km2, Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated regions in the world. Formerly a colony of the British Empire, after Qing China ceded Hong Kong Island at the conclusion of the First Opium War in 1842. The colony expanded to the Kowloon Peninsula in 1860 after the Second Opium War and was further extended when Britain obtained a 99-year lease of the New Territories in 1898. The entire territory was returned to China when this lease expired in 1997.

Originally a lightly populated area of farming and fishing villages, the territory has become one of the most significant financial centres and trade ports in the world. Although the city boasts one of the highest per capita incomes in the world, it suffers severe income inequality. The territory features the largest number of skyscrapers in the world, most of them surrounding Victoria Harbour.

Hong Kong is the epitome of the modern city. Its high-density living and limited space demand the concentrations of massive skyscrapers that exist here. It is a sleek, clean, attractive city, with lots of ongoing construction and development. There is so much public artwork, too, lots of sculptures adorning building forecourts, shopping plaza spaces, hotel foyers, and the like. Despite the very many British name-tags attached to so many buildings, suburbs and other sites there is minimal history evident. The city moves forward, removing outdated and outmoded infrastructure to prepare better to handle its future. Consequently, you are left with skyscrapers, shopping malls and public transport to move these big numbers of locals, and visitors, around. The markets you might imagine at any Asian city are not quite what you expect, lacking a little of the atmosphere you had hoped for.

Trams

On day 3 (Wed 26/Sep/18) of our trip to Hong Kong we went over to Hong Kong Island to get a feel for the city.

The Man Mo temple (admission free) was our initial objective, is one of Hong Kong’s oldest; dedicated to the gods of literature (‘Man’), holding a writing brush, and of war (‘Mo’), wielding a sword. Built in 1847 during the Qing dynasty by wealthy Chinese merchants, it was a place of worship & a court of arbitration for local disputes between the Chinese and the colonialists. Lending the temple an interesting & smoky air are rows of large dark incense coils, suspended from the roof and burning continuously. There were renovation/restoration works underway here so access was a little difficult.

We next stumbled upon some of Hong Kong's tram fleet &, of course, had to have a ride or two. Lovingly referred to as Ding Dings, this tram system opened in 1904 using 26 single-deckers that ran along the harbour front, but since then multiple land reclamation projects have pushed those harbour views aside. Well used by commuters and tourists alike, and is one of the most environmentally friendly ways of travelling in the city. It’s cheap with a hop on, hop off, one fee. In 1912, double-decker vehicles were introduced in response to strong demand. Following a brief decline during the Japanese Occupation, which ended in 1945, the tram became more popular than ever, and tram services boomed. Within a year, the fleet was expanded from 40 streetcars to 63. In 1949, gates and turnstiles were installed in the trams, resolving the persistent problem of fare dodgers. They are skinny, tall vehicles with an ungainly look about them. You’d think them likely to topple with their elevated centres of gravity, but we saw no such rollovers while we were there. They are very colourful and are essentially moving advertising hoarding for many stores &/or products; such a fun form of transport feels like your riding in Toon Town. You get the best ride, & feel, from the top front where you get great views & tremendous photo ops of the city and the other transports.

The MTR (Mass Transport Railway) is the major public transport network serving Hong Kong. It consists of heavy rail, light rail, and feeder bus service serving the urbanised areas of Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, and the New Territories. The system currently includes ~220km of rail & 159 stations. MTR is one of the most profitable metro systems in the world, with over 5,000,000 trips made on an average weekday. Some of the newer lines even operate driver free trains. It achieves a near perfect on-time rate on its train journeys. We used the MTR quite extensively to get around. The trains have a visual display above the doors to show the current location within the system and the stations that can be connected to through the next stop through the interchange of train lines. Typical wait time, even if you just missed a train, was about 3 minutes. Most interchanges of the line meant crossing to the other side of the platform you’d just arrived at for your connection. The trains are pretty long, too; I would estimate the trains travelling through our local station, Mong Kok, to be something like 200m in length. They are designed principally for standing commuters and so move very many people so very rapidly. Stations are really quite large, most with 6 to 10 exits, so you need to know what exit suits your purposes. We happened upon a few large, lengthy subterranean malls & walks to get you from one line to another. The Octopus card is a tap to pay, pay as you go smart card launched to collect MTR fares but has grown to be used for payment in many retail shops in Hong Kong. The cards are also commonly used for non-payment purposes, such as school attendance and access control for office buildings and housing estates. We discovered there is a senior card version, so latched onto this second day in. Each MTR trip, regardless of length, is the one fee, and as an Octopus Senior card holder, that was HK$1.9 (AUD$0.35) a time. The trains could be pretty full at times (with just about everyone on their own smart device) but people were always considerate of others, and with no food or drink allowed in the paid areas, the trains were always clean too.

Despite the Central–Mid-Levels escalator and walkway system being on our ‘must see’ list, we sort of stumbled upon it when we first visited Hong Kong Island. This is the longest outdoor covered escalator system in the world, covering over 800m in distance and traverses an elevation of over 135m from bottom to top. It opened in 1993 to provide an improved link between the Central and Mid-Levels districts on Hong Kong Island. Apart from serving as a mode of transportation, the system is also a tourist attraction and is lined with restaurants, bars, and shops.

Each night, weather permitting, the Symphony of Light & Sound takes place on Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour. It is hyped to be an extravaganza that takes the skyline to unforgettable levels. However, on arriving down there near the clock tower on the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront, one of the better vantage points, on this balmy night, it’s a pretty impressive sight without any enhancement from the additional lights, lasers and music. For as far as you can see around the harbour there are massive skyscrapers, so many of which already have their own animated light display. The official Symphony of Light & Sound contributes about 15 minutes of background music, spotlights, lasers lights from several rooftops that crisscross the harbour.

The Star Ferry is a passenger ferry that carries passengers across Victoria Harbour, between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. Began in 1888 as the Kowloon Ferry Company, and adopted its present name in 1898. The fleet of twelve ferries operates two routes across the harbour, carrying over 70,000 passengers a day, or 26 million a year. Even though the harbour is crossed by railway and road tunnels, the Star Ferry continues to provide an inexpensive mode of harbour crossing. The company's main route runs between Central and Tsim Sha Tsui. It has been highly rated as one of the top ferry rides & considered by some the best & cheapest harbour cruise to be had anywhere.

Tai Kwun is the Centre for Heritage and Arts, and aspires to offer the best heritage and arts experiences. It is situated in the restored Central Police Station compound, comprising three declared monuments—the former Central Police Station, Central Magistracy and Victoria Prison & brings more than a dozen historic buildings to life. The spaces, both indoors and outdoors (the Prison Yard and the Parade Ground), though historical now take on a contemporary use but still offer the city’s history through displays & interactives. A new building, JC Contemporary, houses an art centre and venue for exhibitions.



Victoria Peak is a mountain of 552m, the highest on Hong Kong Island on the western side. The summit houses some radio telecommunications but is principally a major tourist attraction that offers views of Central, Victoria Harbour, Lamma Island, and the surrounding islands. It is surrounded by public parks and high-value residential land. We caught the Peak Tram, a funicular railway, which carries both tourists and residents to the upper levels of Hong Kong Island. Running from Garden Road Admiralty to Victoria Peak via the Mid-Levels, it provides the most direct route and offers good views over the harbour and skyscrapers of Hong Kong. The steep incline that it transits provides some really weird optical illusions. Looking out of the glass-topped peak tram you could see these skyscraper building leaning over at extraordinary angles defying any sense of gravity.

Another fascinating thing you can’t help but notice when moving around Hong Kong on a Sunday or public holiday is the movement of women, especially, and their sidewalk picnics. We saw hundreds and hundreds of women sitting alongside street overpasses, footpaths and even open public spaces. They set up their encampments sitting on & behind cardboard boxes, sharing meals, drinks and engaged in numerous activities. These activities seem to vary from group to group and seem to be ad hoc for some and more structured for others. Things like manicure & pedicure of one another, dancing or modelling routines, singing, bingo, cards, sleeping, etc, etc. Apparently, these women are some of the 300,000 Indonesian & Filipino maids that run many of the households and hotels in Hong Kong. After their long six-day working week they get out and get together on their day off to catch up with friends & family (most likely by Skype).



As a bit of a diversion from our city centric touring we thought it would be fun and daring to take on a trek that got a mention in our travel literature. Despite being a little apprehensive about walking a remote, rarely used trail, that could result in us getting lost, we thought an adventure is an adventure. So, on Hong Kong National Day (Monday 01/Oct/18), we set off, a little earlier than has been our routine. Hopped a MTR train to Shau Kei Wan (south west Hong Kong Island) to then catch a bus to the trail head. Well, can you imagine our surprise when we exited the station to find a queue of some 60m of would-be trekkers feeding to the three waiting double decker buses (90 seats/bus). Our private trek had just got supersized. The Dragon's Back is a ridge between Wan Cham Shan and Shek O Peak within the Shek O Country Park. It has been named as one of the best Asian urban hiking trails, and is of Stage 8 of the Hong Kong Trail. For such a popular hike, it’s pretty rugged, quite steep at times, and today, very hot. From on top of the hike, you can see Shek O Beach, Big Wave Bay Beach, and the Shek O Golf Course, on the east side of the ridge, and the Tai Tam Bay with its western coast of Red Hill down to Stanley. At times, so many trekkers were hard at it, that we were single file, nose-to-tail, as we walked, at the leader's pace. I wondered if this is what modern-day hiking had come to, had most previously desirable treks become so popular that the trekker density had altered the whole experience. It did not stay so crowded, thankfully, and we were able to set our own pace for much of the walk.



Monday 01/Oct/18 is the Hong Kong National Day, public holiday, and a pyrotechnic display in the evening to mark the event. Again, getting around town, lots & lots of sidewalk picnics in progress. The nightly Light & Sound Show at Victoria Harbour kicks off at 8:00pm & this extra special fireworks display was happening from 9:00pm. We were advised that, perhaps, the best vantage point was at Wan Chai, on Hong Kong Island, near the Hong Kong Convention Centre. Wow, what a crowd. But all pretty civilised. Four barges on the harbour firing off fireworks for 23 minutes. Towards the end of it all there was so much smoke in the atmosphere, it would well diminish the quality of your photos.



On Wed 03/Oct/18 we visited the admission free Chi Lin Nunnery. This is a large Buddhist temple complex located in Kowloon, Hong Kong. It was founded in 1934 as a retreat for Buddhist nuns and was rebuilt in the 1990s following the traditional Tang Dynasty architecture. The temple halls have statues of the Shakyamuni Buddha, the goddess of mercy Guanyin and other bodhisattvas. These statues are made from gold, clay, wood and stone. The Chi Lin Nunnery uses the traditional Tang Dynasty architecture with a design based on a Sukhavati drawing in the Mogao Caves. It is constructed entirely with cypress wood, without the use of any nails, and is currently the world's largest hand-made wooden building. This construction is based on traditional Chinese architectural techniques that use special interlocking systems cut into the wood to hold them in place. The complex with 16 halls, a library, a school, a pagoda, a bell tower and a drum tower, covers an area of more than 33,000m2.



Right opposite the nunnery is the Nan Lian Garden, also Admission free, is a large (area of 35,000m2) Chinese Classical Garden. All the garden elements - land, rocks, trees and water are placed according to rules of Tang style. Although located in urban Kowloon this is a truly beautiful, colourful and scenic place with a tranquil and serene atmosphere. Despite the plenty of high-rise buildings in the vicinity the distant backdrop of mountains helps provide an appropriate mood. Noise barriers block traffic sound and the landscaping helps remove the exhaust & dust from the area. The garden is characterised by artificial hillocks, ornamental rocks (large, gnarly, glossy, colourfully layered), water features (lake & waterfall), timber structures (pavilions, pagoda, terraces, towers & bridges and sculptured/bonsaied old trees). With winding paths, that are supposed to be walked in a particular direction, it’s hard to convey just how pleasant & relaxing an atmosphere which you can submerge into.



In an effort to provide greater evidence I was a 21st century international traveller and man about town, I decided, this trip, to get a local sim card for use during the stay. I’ve not ever done this before, choosing to avoid phone use until Wi-Fi was available. I figured, the added benefit here was not greater connectivity for phone use but for use of local data in terms of maps use. So, on arrival (Mon 24/Sep/18) at Hong Kong airport, a China Mobile kiosk was spotted offering a data & voice pre-paid sim card for 10 days at HK$80 (=AUD$14). What a bargain! The kiosk folk installed the sim & set it all up. This international travel stuff is just so easy!





Dining

Hong Kong days tend to be a late starting, late finishing type of thing. Little action on the streets before 11:00am. We mostly got going a little before this, around 10:30am. For breakfast, we would usually have the muesli we had brought along with us but generally supplemented this with supplies from our local supermarket, the Market Place, across the road, where we would get croissant or ham pizza type pastries. Once or twice I even sourced the odd egg & bacon McMuffin, also just across the road. In-house breakfast was something like AUD$48 each!



We had some really good food experiences, from the recommended snacks like egg custard pastries to more elaborate meals. We had a dim sum brunch, on Tue 25/Sep/18, at Tim Ho Wan, a Michelin starred venue, (on a recommendation from Hoong) and felt we’d hit the jackpot. We beat the crowds & queues that form outside waiting for tables or takeaway, and got to share a table with another couple. Somehow they guessed we needed the purple (English) menu sheet so set about ticking the options we wanted. Low key in the decoration department, but quite full of locals. Really great food & Chinese tea to go along with it, all for AUD$20.

Another pretty special meal we indulged in, on Sat 29/Sep/18, was at the most iconic and best known roast goose restaurants in Hong Kong, Yung Kee Restaurant. Roast goose is one of those quintessential Hong Kong foods that fall on any visitor’s “must-try” lists. The goose here, and only here, is cooked in charcoal fired ovens that give it a unique flavour. Previous Michelin star holder but still on the Michelin recommended list. We had the signature roast goose, special bean curd, sautéed seasonal vegetables & fried rice Yangzhou style. Somehow, we got it all right. A great combination of foods with that bean curd being especially delightful. HK$835 = AUD$150.



Victoria Harbour is just so picturesque on a warm, clear night, so, on Friday 28/Sep/18, we took up the option of a harbour cruise aboard a Chinese junk called the Aqua Luna that coincided with the evening Light & Sound show. The cruise cost HK$220/person (=AUD$40 each). This was my favourite experience of our Hong Kong visit. The 45-minute cruise started at Pier 7 on the Hong Kong Island side, not far from the Observation Wheel. We managed a couple of comfy chairs, scored our ‘complimentary’ drink, but then just allowed ourselves to become absorbed in the vibe. No commentary went along with the tour, just some background music which worked very well. It’s all about the harbour & its skyline, skyscrapers, lights - fantastic.





The Ngong Ping 360 is a gondola lift on Lantau Island and consists of the 5.7km (25min) long Ngong Ping Cable ride & and the Ngong Ping Village, a retail and entertainment centre adjacent to the cable car's upper station. It is easily accessed through the MTR and provides an entrance to the Ngong Ping area in the hills above, the home to the Po Lin Monastery and the Tian Tan Buddha. Before Ngong Ping 360's opening, the only access was via a mountain road and bus service. During the 25 minute journey, travellers can see panoramic views over the North Lantau Country Park, the South China Sea, Hong Kong International Airport, the Tung Chung valley, Ngong Ping Plateau and surrounding terrain and waterways. As visitors approach Ngong Ping, they can see The Big Buddha and the Po Lin Monastery.



The remote Po Lin Monastery, hidden away by lush mountains, became a popular attraction when the extraordinary Tian Tan Buddha statue (aka the Big Buddha) was erected in 1993. Sitting 34 metres high and facing north to look over the Chinese people, this majestic bronze Buddha draws pilgrims from all over Asia. The eyes, lips, incline of the head and right hand, which is raised to deliver a blessing to all, combine to bring a humbling depth of character and dignity to the massive Buddha. From its base, some 268 steps later, you get to enjoy the sweeping mountain and sea views. Opposite the statue, the Po Lin Monastery is one of Hong Kong’s most important Buddhist sanctums and has been dubbed ‘the Buddhist World in the South’. You can also enjoy a meal at its popular vegetarian restaurant.



The Ping Shan Heritage Trail, located in the North West New Territories, was opened in 1993 and was the first of its kind in Hong Kong. Its inauguration involved several years preparation by the Antiquities and Monuments Office and the Architectural Services Department with generous financial support from Hong Kong Jockey Club and Lord Wilson Heritage Trust and the cooperation of the Tang clan, one of the “Five Great Clans” in the New Territories, who built many of the historic buildings along the trail, and who have inhabited the area since the twelfth century.
Since 2007 the Old Ping Shan Police Station has served as the Ping Shan Tang Clan Gallery cum Heritage Trail Visitors Centre which introduces visitors to the history of the Ping Shan Tang Clan and the monuments along the trail. The police station itself was constructed in 1899 and stands on a hill with commanding views of the surrounding area. After being replaced by Yuen Long Police Station in the 1960’s it was used as the training centre and headquarters of the Police Dog Unit before being splendidly restored to its former colonial glory and becoming the visitor centre. This is a good place for visitors to start the trail and free brochures describing the route and the history of the buildings are available here. The visitor centre is open 10am to 5pm daily except on Mondays (other than public holiday Mondays) and the first two days of Lunar New Year when it is closed. Admission is free.



The AFL Grand Final between Collingwood and West Coast Eagles was played on Saturday 29/Sep/18. Away from home, again, for a Grand Final! A couple of days previous we asked the Cordis Concierge to suggest a sports bar that was likely to be screening the GF - he told us Delaney’s Irish Pub & even rang to confirm this for us. Delaney’s is a pub located in the basement Kowloon skyscraper. It’s decked out in typical Irish style with lots of dark wood and a few familiar Irish beers in draught & in bottles. They do a lot of these televised sports events & had 3 or 4 TVs around the place. We just had to be there early enough to ensure we got a good position, so arrived around 11:30am for the 12:30pm kickoff. All went well, we got a prime position, in front of a group of about 8 Geelong girls. Pre-game entertainment from the Black Eyed Peas, Jimmy Barnes & Mike Brady got us revved up suitably. Near the start time, however, the tone of the place plummeted somewhat with the arrival of a family of West Coast Eagle supporters who sat nearby. It felt like the right thing to do by indulging in a couple of Irish brews as well as some hot snacks as the game got underway. A great opening quarter for the Magpies had us feeling pretty good & keeping that Eagle group relatively quiet. Second quarter, a bit of a tussle with WCE drawing a little closer. Much of the third quarter goal for goal but ended with scores levelled. In the last quarter, it always looked like WCE was going to take the prize and ended up doing just that & winning by just 5pts. Final scores being WCE 11.13(79) to Woods 11.8(74). Marg had looked quite wound up at times, & felt quite ill - often finding it difficult to watch the proceedings. She took it well, despite the closeness of the game for the duration.

Advertisement



Tot: 0.989s; Tpl: 0.082s; cc: 11; qc: 58; dbt: 0.0396s; 1; m:saturn w:www (104.131.125.221); sld: 1; ; mem: 1.5mb