London in the tropics?
24.11.2008 - 29.11.2008 27 °C
Our hostel was located in Kowloon, which is part of the New Territories on the mainland, rather than Hong Kong Island proper. We had booked the hostel several weeks before, but after cutting our trip in Beijing short, we had to secure a couple more nights. Dragon Hostel was very popular and therefore fully booked, so we chose another, Hong Kong Budget Hostel. It wasn't until we arrived that we realised they were located in the same building, on the same floor, right next to one another. Although experiencing two different locations would have been nice, the ease of transfer between the two was a definite bonus. Kowloon is hailed as one of the most densely populated areas on the planet, with up to 100,000 residents per square kilometre. The sky high residential tenements support this claim, and there seemed to be very little open space. When walking from the station with our bags we found ourselves very hot, very quickly, and due to the confusing numbering system of the buildings, and the fact that the entrance we were looking for was actually on the side road and not the road used for the address, it took us ages to find the right place. Our room was small, but very clean and the reassuring smell of bleach and cleaning fluid made us very happy. Our first night in Hong Kong was spent wandering around the crowded, neon lit, over-commercialised local area. We couldn't be happier. We found the computer market, a large building hosting numerous small outlets that offered an even wider variety of computer-related goods than we found in Akihabara in Tokyo. We ate at a fast food chain called Cafe De Coral, which sold really nice food; still not quite the Chinese food were used to from home but a great deal more edible than what was on offer in Beijing.
Kowloon at night
Whatever guidebook or article on Hong Kong you read, the first and foremost tourist destination is Victoria Peak. When the English gained rule of Hong Kong and started moving to the area, the heat of the city drove them to the cooler climate higher up in the hills. This was a previously un-habitable area, due to the steepness and inaccessibility, which certainly proves what large amounts of money can achieve. The first residencies where built using materials carried up by hand, which must have taken amazing strength and stamina. In fact when the houses started being occupied, the people were also carried up by hand on sedan chairs. Soon enough the railway was built, and made the expansion upwards easier and quicker. We took the ride up to Victoria Peak on our first day. It was amazingly steep and seemed to defy gravity, with a view through the window of the buildings inclined at a 45 degree angle. The views offered at the peak were second to none, and it was certainly cooler than Hong Kong Central had been.
The view from Victoria Peak
We decided to walk down, which gave us a peaceful and beautiful afternoon. We came across the battalions that were used to defend the area from Japanese invasion during World War II. With it we found a few plaques giving a bit more history and information about the area. Once we'd reached the bottom of the hill we were in the Mid-Levels. This is where the majority of ex-pats live, in high rise, well maintained flats. From here we wallked to the start of the 800m escalator system which carries rush hour pedestrian traffic to and from Central (the imaginitively named centre of Hong Kong). As we got there in the afternoon the stairs were running upwards, so we ended up walking down the entire length. We soon arrived at a system of elevated walkways, and it seems as though you could traverse the whole of downtown without actually stepping foot on street level (or mingling with the locals, which we suspect may be the reason the walkways exist).
The Lippo Tower - the walkway snakes around in front
Hong Kong Central is amazingly British. We suspected that it would have a British feel to it, only returning to Chinese rule ten years ago, but we didn't think it would be quite this reminisant of London. It was though the square mile in the City of London had been majically transported to a tropical climate. We even had a wander around Marks and Spencers, it's funny what comforts you when you're away from home. That evening we got a couple of drinks and just strolled around Kowloon. We can imagine this not being everyone's cup of tea, but we loved it.
Hong Kong Central
The following day we moved hostel; Anna was ill from the constant air-conditioning and Brads went to find a box to send some stuff home. Officially the most uneventful day of the trip so far.
On our final full day in Hong Kong, and with Anna pretty well recovered from the previous days respite, we went for a picnic in the sun . Having spotted a Pret-a-Manger a couple of days earlier, we picked up a few sandwiches and headed to Hong Kong Park. Very well maintained, peaceful and beautiful, we had a lovely afternoon. We had fun in the conservatory and the aviary, and enjoyed some people watching.
Hong Kong Park
With our craving for sandwiches abated, we went to The Avenue of Stars to watch the sunset. This is located on Kowloon and looks over the bay onto Hong Kong island. The sky turned bright red and slowly the twinkling lights and neon signs of what is generally regarded as the best night time cityscape in the world, began to spring to life. It was one of those moments that we knew would come, when we pinch ourselves and marvel how lucky we really are to be taking the trip of a lifetime.
Sunset at the Avenue of Stars, looking over Hong Kong bay
Hong Kong Bay at night
We dodged the vendors selling 'genuine copy watches' on the way to the subway station and headed back to our hostel. We spent another enjoyable night just wandering around Kowloon before preparing to fly to the Philippines the next day.