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krisek Hong Kong - A travel report by Krys
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Hong Kong,  Hong Kong - flag Hong Kong
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krisek's travel reports

Still a bit nervous?

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Ever since Britain returned Hong Kong to China, the city, which still contributes a significant portion to the China's Gross National Product, appears to be a little nervous about its many freedoms. Escape to do shopping sprees seems to be remedy.

Hong Kong from the Peak
Hong Kong from the Peak
The first sight of Hong Kong did not impress me at all. What I saw were just clusters of stupidly tall block of flats housing at least two thousand families each. The architecture of those concrete monsters was not very elaborate or ambitious. I began to wonder whether I saw something similar already.

I have. It was in Vietnam. Particularly in the southern part, where people’s density was the greatest. I immediately developed serious doubts whether I was going to enjoy myself in this large concrete city.

I began visiting in earnest at the hours of darkness. By the time the airport express and the underground, called MTR, placed me on the Hong Kong island, the sun was firmly replaced by a nice, almost full, moon. Hong Kong, therefore had an advantage to hide its imperfections from me, but at the other hand, it could not show off with the glistering shopping centres, etc. These were closed at night.

There were not many pedestrianised streets in Hong Kong and traffic was all what one could see. I stumbled across a few elevated walkways, which were simply pavements above the street level. All complete with signs explaining directions, etc. Some of them passed through elaborate shopping centres located on a few levels of fifty floor tall skyscrapers. I originally thought that these were just above-street passes. But when I learnt to use them more, I quite enjoyed to be above the traffic. And the views were slightly better, too. Although effort was spent to put signs indicating directions along the walkways, some of them were misleading. For example, a part of one walkway leading to the Peak Tram suggested that the pedestrians go through a concrete wall!

Overall, I was slightly disappointed with Hong Kong. It was nothing like the city from the Bruce Lee films. Surely the Kowloon parts and the southern tips of the Hong Kong island were more atmospheric, yet they failed to interest me that much.

Favourite spots:
Sunset in Hong Kong
Sunset in Hong Kong
The Peak Tram did not work. I was so disappointed! Not only did it take me a few steps too many to find the actual walkway to the Peak Tram station, but the staff there was not very informative. I eventually found that bus number 15 could also take to the top, yet it was the experience of the tram I was looking for.

Anyway, the bus took forever. I sat on the upper deck. One of the Aussie girls behind me was very uncomfortable with the heights, and kept commenting the way up much too much for my liking. She stopped only at the point where a little girl was sick all over the aisle, just by her seat. Fortunately, the puke was made primarily off a vanilla milk shake, the little girl had at McDonald’s twenty minutes previously, so the bus did not stink too much. In fact I could not smell anything at all, but my seat was two rows to the front. I cannot speak for the passengers closer to this white pool of semi-liquid ecto-plasm.

The Peak was organised and the view was great. My favourite.

What's really great:
Hong Kong seen from Kowloon
Hong Kong seen from Kowloon
The architecture of Hong Kong were the towering concrete, steel and glass skyscrapers and apartment blocks. There were few traditional buildings, and they were simply temples. Just a handful of them. Literally. I wanted to see more Chinese culture there, but it was just not happening for me.

Some of the residential towers, which often had more than 50 floors were built on the top of 600 - 700 meters tall steep hills. The view from the top of such block must have been breathtaking, and not for the faint hearted, I guess. I was impressed that in the area of mighty cyclones structures this high for people to live in were being built. They were usually sole towers, exposed to the full strength of the winds. No building this high would be stiff solid, so people at the top floors might experience the joy of the tower swaying to the cyclones. I admired that courage.

What I liked about Hong Kong was the attitude. No-one cared about anything or anyone. Perhaps a little inconsiderate but free!

Sampan, which makes the same route as the Star Ferry
Sampan, which makes the same route as the Star Ferry
After taking a few shots, I took a taxi down to the Star Ferry terminal. I knew I also wanted to photograph the skyline of Hong Kong at sunset. I just made it. Many people started to congregate at the viewing terrace. Some of them just sat there. I later learned that they were waiting for the light show at 8pm, which I unintentionally totally ignored. Having learnt from the bitter experience of the previous night, when all restaurants closed on me in the evening, I wanted to try some nice seafood. This is how I missed the laser and light show. The skyline was in fact impressive.

Uh, I need to say a few words about the Star Ferry. This little, double-decked, boat that runs regularly between Central and Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon was a great, if short, experience. The seats on the boat had a mobile backrest, so when the boat changed direction, passengers swayed the backrest back or forward to seat in the direction of the journey. I do not think, I have seen anything like that before.

Hong Kong at night
Hong Kong at night
The hotel messed my reservation and claimed that I was supposed to come on the 11 November, Saturday. That was impossible, because there were no Friday flights arriving on Saturday. I nearly flipped there. I just spent 14 hours travelling, 13 hours of which on the aircraft. I did not sleep for over 26 hours and she tells me that they didn't care that much and that I should contact Accor Hotels. She said that they were fully booked and couldn't give me a room. Fortunately, as she might've notices my veins popping up on my forehead, she decided to call Novotel, a sister hotel, and check if they had rooms. Of course they had. The Novotel was located at the West Point on the Hong Kong island, with no useful public transport connections. I actually had to take an underground train to the last westerly station and then a taxi! Great! This is what I needed after 13 hours flight!

Yet, the hotel was rather good. It cost about EUR40 with a discount and the service was excellent. Staff was nice.

Kowloon at night
Kowloon at night
In the night, Hong Kong offered surprisingly little to do. The pubs and bars were so low profile that I walked miles and miles looking for a place to chat to the locals, have a couple of drinks and boogie a little, perhaps. Not a chance. I crossed over to a much more lively Kowloon.

Kowloon transformed itself into a huge shopping centre, as soon as the sun hid behind the horizon. The streets were already lined up with posh boutiques, fashion department stores and posh shops. The night deepened a little and countless cheap-kitsch vendor stalls opened up and traffic stopped. Certain streets actually became traffic free pedestrianised zones, like the Temple Street, or the Ladies Market.

There were many more places to have fun. It did feel a bit more rough, but also much more lively. The bars and clubs were less inconspicous and welcomed openly to their venues. Also, the area was more Chinese with delightful eateries and incredibly popular and good seafood restaurants.

Hong Kong as seen from Kowloon after the sun sets
Hong Kong as seen from Kowloon after the sun sets
When one hangs out in a massive and mega-crowded city? Well, there wasn't much choice. I heard about certain hard-to-get-to beaches at one of the smaller islands, or perhaps the Aberdeen Harbour on the Hong Kong island. But these were not spectacular. Some of my friends, who went to Hong Kong raved about bars and restaurants with killer views located in some of the most exclusive hotels. Surely one could do that until their bank manager calls them to announce a house repossession or something more drastic.

I wandered along the streets of Hong Kong looking for a nice cafe. There were a few, but they were not nice. After taking a few shots, I took a taxi down to the Star Ferry terminal to see the Victoria Harbour again at the sunset. The observation platform was in fact one of the more lively hangout, but mainly for travellers. A good spot to chat so fellow tourists. Others used the commercial boats and sampans to hang out in them.

Kowloon at night, a place for shopping and eating out
Kowloon at night, a place for shopping and eating out
I had plans to eat either at a Japanese restaurant, or at a Vietnamese one, or even at the Mandarin Oriental’s Grill. All of them on the Hong Kong Island. However, the dinner time found me wandering along the busy streets of Kowloon, so I knew that I was better to choose one of the restaurants over there. Or I was again risking of not getting any food due to a late hour!

A seafood restaurant it was to be. I definitely wanted this famous steamed Hong Kong garoupa fish. I was lucky to stumble upon a very popular seafood restaurant, packed with locals, who seriously impressed me with the amounts they could eat. I saw a couple, who had: garlic clams, steamed scallops, steamed lobster in sauce, fresh hard shell crabs, broccoli in oyster and garlic sauce, steamed red garoupa, fried noodles with vegetables, litres of tea, fresh fruit platter... and they were already there when I arrived.

I had: three tsingtao beers, two steamed scallops, broccoli in oyster sauce and small seafood platter.

Other recommendations:
Double decker tram of Hong Kong
Double decker tram of Hong Kong
Only just about two hours after my arrival in Hong Kong, I found myself in Kowloon, photographing the remarkable skyline at night. I did not spend too much time in the town then, because it was late and I had not slept for thirty hours. Although extremely excited, I was almost literally falling on my face. I could recommend riding the double-decker trams. They passed through the central parts of Hong Kong and were great fun. I had never seen a double-decker tram before! What a joy.

Since Hong Kong is very poor on historic places, Macau, just about an hour by fast ferry, or just 15 minutes helicopter flight away, has got plenty. It is reportedly also much better value. The ferries are frequent and inexpensive. The immigration process swift and painless, so a side trip to Macau makes all sense. The flight on the helicopter, although more expensive, is a great extravaganza and provides for that Blake Carrington or Donald Trump executive feel. Ha!

Published on Thursday June 19th, 2008

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Wed, Jun 25 2008 - 07:16 AM rating by bootlegga

Another fine report Krys. Thanks!

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