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Published: August 6th 2007
Thunder cracked loudly, the noise reverberating above our heads. Bright flashes of lightening arced across the sky, one streak forked from the heavens into the ground up on the path up ahead. The rain continued to pour, drenching us to the core. Having had a far too close encounter with some lightening, Richard came tearing back down the path declaring that we should turn back towards Fan Lau to wait out the thick of the storm. Gladly we obliged and turned back down the mountain in the pouring rain.
We were on Lan Tau island walking stages 7 & 8 of the Lan Tau trail, from the small town of Tai O famous for stilt houses and shrimp paste to the Shek Pik Reservoir. When we set out for our day hike the weather reports were all positive and the skies were clear ... (seems Hong Kong weather forecasters are just as accurate as those in Melbourne!)
We took refuge in the tiny near-deserted outpost at Fan Lau, consisting of a few near empty and ramshackle buildings, one inhabited by a friendly old lady who appeared to live there is isolation, save for the company of her three canine
companions. With the assistance of two other stranded hikers, she welcomed us into the dry comfort of her home, and offered us coffee and noodles while we waited for the storm to pass. We ate noodles and played with the adorable puppy while Richard phoned around trying to organise a contingency plan should we need an emergency evacuation by boat!
We hadn’t only battled with the weather that day; a large section of the path was majorly overgrown meaning that we had to bush-whack our way through, Richard taking the lead removing spiderwebs with a large stick, and stamping loudly to scare away any snakes (what a great host!). The shrubbery was so dense in parts that the only way to pass was heads down, eyes closed and to push forward like we were entering a scrum. Our bare legs were shredded, and our boots became drenched as we had to rock hop across water courses blocking the path.
Eventually the storm subsided enough for us to continue on, now with our two new hiker friends who were very stylishly dressed in garbage bags! By the time we arrived back to Richards place we all agreed that we’d
earnt a beer. We were staying with Richard on the island of Lan Tau - home also to the Big Buddha and Disneyland - crashing on his super comfy couch in his towering apartment building in the stylish highrise suburb of Tung Chung.
On the gruelling night sleeper bus from Yangshou we met Petri a Swede who went on a two week vacation to India two years ago and decided to stay on indefinitely, now he lives in China in between bouts of travelling. We later met Grainne his Irish girlfriend when she arrived from China. They were an ace couple and we shared a lot of laughs during our stay in Hong Kong.
Together we rode the cable car up to Victoria Peak and took in the view overlooking the city. Onwards we walked up to the peak trudging on in the sweltering humidity, spurred on by the fact that the sunset view from the top would be worth it. We had brought some wine with us and had grand plans for a bit of a sunset picnic at the peak. We arrived at the top at about the same time the fog settled in for the
evening so the perfect sunset eluded us, but the company and wine went down a treat and we spent several hours at the top of the peak undisturbed. It was quite a surreal experience to be in the middle of the urban metropolis but yet still feel so isolated and surrounded by nature.
Hong Kong is a transport planners dream. It is a fast, efficient, cheap and fully integrated system. Buses are frequent and run on time, metro wait times range from 3 minutes to 7 minutes, depending on the line. Buses connect with metro stations and ferry terminals. Double Decker trams ply the roads through the main commercial district connecting with the other major nodes. Ferries shuttle people across the harbour for a token fee of $2 (.30 AUD cents!) and is a nice budget way to have a bit of a harbour cruise!
We didn't notice many cyclists in the city centre, but bikes are heavily used as an intermediary mode of transport between the home and bus/metro station and we saw huge bike parks at these terminuses. We did see one brave woman on a small little Birdy bike braving the traffic in downtown Sheung
We found this advisory sign on the other end of the trail!
Wan fearlessly weaving her way in between buses, trams, cars and taxis!
Hong Kong is really a 3D city - pedestrian routes run at ground level, below ground (in the air conditioned shopping mall type scenarios) and above ground as pedestrian flyovers across main roads, and linking key pedestrian destinations. While not a typically a fan of this type of treatment (forcing people off the streets) - the segregation serves to speed up pedestrian movements and most are under cover providing shelter from the monsoonal downpours.
We had a night out in Wan Tai which is euphemistically described as Hong Kong's "entertainment" district. Scantily clad Filipino girls stand outside bars and call out to men passing by: "Hello Honey. Come inside ...". We really struggled to find somewhere that wasn’t seedy, and since it was already late we gave up.
After missing the last metro home we aimlessly wandered the streets looking for our elusive night bus. Enter Kelvin a local marketing executive who aided in finding our bus, so grateful were we that we offered to buy him a beer while we waited for the next bus. We headed back to Lan Kwai Fong, a thriving
ex-pat and local night scene and one beer turned into two, meanwhile three or four night buses came and went.
We took in an early evening curry in the infamous crumbling Chungking Mansions in Tsim Sha Tsui. The crumbling and grime stained "mansions” are the most dilapidated buildings in the area and stand in stark contrast to the sterile surrounds of fancy electronics stores, department stores, holiday Inn and bright neon lights of the city. The mansions are home to many Indians, Pakistanis, Africans and old backpackers left behind from the 70s; it's a thriving place full of budget hostels, internet cafes, cheap eats, tailor shops and fake watches.
Hong Kong is so western. A prime example is walking into a supermarket which has everything you'd find in a supermarket back home ... even Vegemite! We're used to walking into a store and marvelling at all the freaky foods and supplies, and spending hours trying to find something vaguely resembling what we're after, or searching for anything with a hint of English on it to confirm our decision. It was fantastic to walk into a store and find 27 different types of cheese, olives and gourmet bread. So
you can guess what we purchased ... 27 different types of cheese, olives and gourmet bread!
We were really in Hong Kong to get visas issued. Our Russian visa proved to be no problem but was incredibly expensive, making it the most costly visa we've had so far. Chinese visas proved to be a nightmare and we wasted a whole day waiting around to get them issued. Dave has the patience of a saint, but after an hour and half of waiting Suz left to run some other admin errands and when she returned two hours later, Dave was still sitting there waiting to be seen. Four hours after arriving we left there, and that was only to lodge them - we had to return the next day to pick them up. You'd think that for a country with over 1.3 billion people they'd have more than four people working!
Next stop the gambling mecca of Macau to catch up with an old friend ...
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