Saturday, 22 November 2008

Holidaying in Hong Kong

We landed in Hong Kong at about 4.00 pm on Sunday, and were in our hotel on Causeway Bay by 6.00 pm. Chris and I had arranged to meet with Wan Lik Lee, who we met at the Socitm Conference, on our arrival, and after we had freshened-up he came to meet us and took us out to see Hong Kong by night. We took the Star Ferry across to Kowloon, with the 8.00 pm Laser Light Show between Tower Blocks either side of the harbour in progress. What a fantastic introduction to the city! Some of the towers are already decorated for Christmas, and you can get some idea of just how spectacular it will be when they’re all in their seasonal regalia. Afterwards we took a taxi up to the Peak to see the famous City views (and photo opportunities) by night, and were (apparently) lucky to have arrived on an unusually clear day. After exploring the Kowloon Quayside as far as the Avenue of Stars, we returned to Causeway Bay, and Wan Lik took us to a local noodle cafĂ©, which has served nothing but beef and chicken with noodles for 30+ years, for a supper washed-down by soya milk. It was the sort of place that, I’m sorry to admit, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to venture into without someone familiar with their surroundings but I was really glad we went there, and the proprietor fussed over us and seemed delighted at our enjoyment of his food.

On Monday, we boarded a west-bound tram close to our hotel, and stayed-on past the Western Market, which Wan Lik had advised us would be a great way to get an overview and orient ourselves to downtown Hong Kong. I’m not completely sure where we got-off, but we walked back through the bustle of the dried-fish market that was the original business of the Island, which had mesmerised us as we passed on the tram, doing our best to capture the atmosphere in photos. We made our way back to the Star Ferry Terminal, and stopped for a beer in the sunshine, with the temperature still in the low 80’s, before crossing, again, to Kowloon and catching the subway to Mong Kok, where we spent the afternoon wondering among some of the many conjoined markets, including the Ladies, Sportswear, Flower and Bird markets. On returning to the Ferry Terminal, we took the route direct to the Causeway Bay area, rather than Central, and were exploring our way back to the Hotel when Wan Lik contacted me on my mobile to say he wanted to take us to dinner on the famous Jumbo floating restaurant. This again, was not to be missed, and we enjoyed a sumptuous Chinese meal.

I awoke at four ‘o’ clock, on Tuesday morning, and couldn’t get back to sleep, so spent a couple of hours on e-mail. Chris and I spent the day at Ocean Park. The Cable Car ride along the coastline and cliff-edge, from the entrance attractions up to the “headland” and main park, is amazing. The park is well worth a visit for the Coral Reef, Jellyfish and other aquariums, and there is the obligatory, but well done, dolphin show, as well as some thrill rides. There’s also the Giant Panda Habitat, including a pair given by China on the 10th anniversary of the transfer of sovereignty. In the evening, Chris and I dined at the hotel, and then went for a walk around the locality. It really seemed a different world, to us, with its busy street cafes amid towering tenements. Many of the apartments have seemingly home-made verandas hanging to the sides of the buildings!

On Wednesday we arose reasonably early and went for a swim and a sauna at the roof-top health club. I’ve always been afraid of heights, but it’s the first time I’ve suffered vertigo in a swimming pool! We were booked to fly to Auckland on an evening flight and decided, the previous evening to check our luggage in early at the Central Rail Terminal for the Airport service, which Wan Lik advised us we could do. In the taxi, however, on a whim I decided we’d go all the way to the Airport, reasoning that the visits we planned were all in its vicinity on Lantau Island, forgetting that we already had train tickets, and what a long way it was. The extra cost wasn’t too great, as taxis in Hong Kong are quite inexpensive, but there were no early check-in facilities at the Airport, so we also had to pay to leave our bags in the Left Luggage for most of the day. Then we caught a bus to Tung Chung and got the Cable Car to Ngong Ping, where the world’s tallest outdoor seated bronze Buddha sits atop the mountain. The Cable Car ride was long with spectacular views, and the Buddha and Po Lin Monastery were well worth the visit. From there we caught a bus down the mountain to the Tai O Fishing Village, known for its stilt houses in its main creek. Again – not to be missed, and more great photo opportunities. We caught another bus back to the Airport, and had sufficient time for a snack and a drink after collecting our luggage and checking-in for our flight.

Our first trip to Hong Kong was a fantastic experience. Apart from the incredible atmosphere of the place, one of the things that most affected me was the impact of the SARS virus. Quite a few people were still wearing respiratory masks. Hundreds died, and the outbreak turned Hong Kong into a virtual Ghost Town for 3+ weeks, which is even harder to comprehend once you’ve seen the energy and vitality of the place.

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