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Published: August 5th 2010
Nearly all the people may be Chinese but you know straight away you’re back in the empire when you see orderly queues at the bus stops.
You haven’t really experienced Hong Kong as a backpacker until you’ve stayed in Chungking Mansions. Located in an area otherwise filled with nice hotels and shopping malls the building is basically a glorified asylum centre filled with cheap guesthouses, hostels and restaurants from every corner of the globe. Paying $10 US a night in one of the world’s most expensive cities, you get what you pay for. It’s definitely an experience staying there. On the bright side there were no rats in my hostel.
It’s estimated people for about 120 different countries passed through the building’s grotty doors in the past year alone. Time magazine named it one of the best examples of “Globalization in Action” in Asia. Blatantly the journalist who wrote that didn’t actually have to stay there.
Hong Kong is of course famous for its densely compacted population and enormous property prices. What I hadn’t realised was that right next to Hong Kong Island there’s an island called Lantau which is mostly just green hills, beaches and hiking trails.
The island is also home to the largest sitting Buddha statue in the world. I considered hiking up to it but somehow in the past week I’ve managed to lose my two pairs of shoes. Going up in flip-flops didn’t seem like the best idea so I just went for the overpriced cable car.
The views from the Cable car are fantastic and the Buddha statue is pretty impressive. There was also a free Shaolin Monk show at the top. As with everywhere there were a few dozen Chinese people with umbrellas more or less blocking the view. Thank God they’re only on average 5 foot tall.
That night I went down to the harbour to see the city’s main attraction: its skyline. It’s definitely one of the most impressive in the world right up there with New York. As a whole though the city just doesn’t have the same vibe as Shanghai. At the moment Hong Kong may be more impressive but there’s a real feeling that the city has had its day.
The next day I took the ferry to nearby Macau, Europe’s first and last colony in Asia. The city’s now best known as
the Las Vegas of the East but there are still plenty of signs of the area’s Portuguese colonial past. Only about 2% of the population are ethnically Portuguese but almost all the signs are in Cantonese English & Portuguese. There’s a strong influence from both Portugal and other Portuguese colonies on the food and standing in the town square you could be anywhere in Europe.
The comparison to Las Vegas may seem overblown but Macua is actually more profitable than Vegas. It’s also home to many of the same operators: Wynn, The Venetian, MGM & the Sands. If there’s one thing Chinese people love more than umbrellas it’s gambling. Walking around the Venetian is a surreal experience. As if the “original” in Vegas wasn’t tacky enough, there’s something even worse about being the copy of a copy. Definitely worth a visit but Macau is no place to be as a broke backpacker!
Speaking of being broke the last day I was planning on taking the famous peak tram for views over the city but I ran out of HK dollars. Taking the budget option I decided to try to walk up. In flip-flops. With no water. I seriously
underestimated both how far it was and what an absolute labyrinth the roads are in the Hong Kong hills. After an hour, completely lost and on the verge of dying I decided to turn around. The views were pretty good from where I got but nothing compared to photos I’ve seen from the top!
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