Saturday, 23 January 2010

Two days in Hong Kong

After a particularly turbulent journey from Auckland, it was a great relief to touch down in Hong Kong. I was there for a couple of days for a brief visit of the city and I was more than pleasantly surprised! The transport system here is second to none with a stunning metro service that was immaculately clean, fume free and easy to navigate (take note TFL!). Within 40 minutes i’d made my way to the Yesinn Hostel near Fortress Hill station on Hong Kong Island. My dorm was on the 15th floor of the slightly dilapidated, Continental Mansions. However, the hostel was immaculate with free wireless 24/7 and endlessly hot showers.

On my first day I decided to head out on a walking tour: I took the lift down 15 floors and turned right. The maps I had covered very little of this area so it was just a case of getting lost in the frenetic city. From Fortress Hill I passed weird Chinese markets selling everything from dried duck to live fish, popped into McDonald's for a coffee (oh the shame!!! What desperation does to a coffee drinker!) then made my way down to Victoria Park – the largest area of greenery in central Hong Kong. From there I perused the plentiful diamond and gold jewellery shops selling everything from the delicately stunning to the grotesquely vulgar...before making a sharp escape as the store sales people appeared at the door.

Hitting the metro, I headed down to Central where I hopped off and made my way to Graham Street. This area is awash with outdoor eating stalls where locals scoop up chopsticks full of noodles and inhale them dramatically whilst maintaining quick fire conversations at a hundred decibels. I stopped by for curried beef and noodles at one of the stalls and was amazed to see that all the people handling food wore black gloves. (Cleanliness is something the Chinese in Hong Hong seem obsessed with: people wear surgical masks wherever they go, there are hand sanitiser dispensers located outside restaurant doorways and every loo I used was spotless)

After filling up on some grub, I made my way through Graham Street market where vendors sold some of the largest fruit I’d seen and fishmongers proudly displayed their tanks bubbling with live fish and eels.

From there I took the central escalator (the world’s longest covered outdoor people mover) up to the Mid Levels then enjoyed a walk back down to the city centre through the beautiful botanical and zoological gardens. The gardens are free to visit (a rarity when travelling!) and were home to gibbons – a particular favourite of mine. I sat and watched them for a while making a mental note to put ‘seeing gibbons in the wild’ on my ‘to do’ list.

That evening I headed out to Kowloon for the laser show that’s put on each night. On a large platform at the water’s edge, you can look out across the neon-clad skyscrapers of Hong Kong harbour; a sight only a handful of cities in the world can offer. The laser show, whilst impressive, is not spectacular; the tinny music and smog dampening the effect somewhat. Nevertheless, it’s a ‘to-do’ when in Hong Kong and one that has been firmly ticked off the list.

After the laser show I took the Star Ferry back to Central – a short ferry ride with one of the more spectacular views in the world. As you approach central, skyscrapers tower over you bejewelled with thousands of lights.

Reading the news the following day I was rather shocked to see that a number of people in Kowloon had been taken to hospital after a man threw a bottle of acid down onto the crowds below from the top of a block of flats. He had struck a few times before and hadn’t been caught but this time there was an arrest. The fact that I was in the area at that time was more than a little disconcerting!

After a lazy morning I decided to head to the Po Lin monastery on Lan Tau Island which was a short boat and bus ride away. Hopping onto the boat at Pier 6 in Central, I again took in the breathtaking views of the bustling harbour. When we arrived at Lan Tau, buses were waiting to take us at breakneck speed up through the hills to the monastery. The monastery boasts the largest, seated, bronze Buddha in the world; it certainly isn’t the eldest though, having only been erected in 1991.

The Buddha sits atop one of the highest points of the island looking down on the land around. Climbing the stairs, whilst knackering, is well rewarded with spectacular views. Pay for a veggie lunch and you also get access inside the Buddha where you can see the relic worshipped by the monastery. Make your way to the monastery itself and you are greeted by beautiful temples awash with golden statues and flowers, and enveloped in a thick shroud of overpowering incense from the countless incense sticks being burnt outside.

Unfortunately, just as you begin relax and get into the monastic vibe it’s time to step back on the bus for another hair-raising journey back down through all the hills.

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