18.06.2010 - 20.06.2010 33 °C
It may sound cheesy but I have dreamt for years about the day I would visit Hong Kong. I have only been here for a day but it still feels like a dream. Hong Kong is an epic city on all proportions. Home to 7 million people, Hong Kong is the third most densely populated area in the world with 6200 people per every km² (...so pretty dense, but by no means as dense as the denser Tokyo). It is also regarded as the ‘World’s International City’ where ‘East meets West’ meaning that everyone from all walks of life can be comfortable here in a hybrid culture that is founded on traditional Chinese heritage but explicitly borrows the best bits from British colonialism. But with that all said, is it any good...?
Getting to Hong Kong was by no stretch an easy ride and if it was not intentional we would have never made it here due to cost and time. Our original plan was to take the night train from Hanoi through mainland China to arrive in Hong Kong over the space of three days. This in itself sounds an epic trip (and one we desperately wanted to do), but not realising the technicalities of trying to get a Chinese visa in Vietnam proved too ambitious and problematic given our time constraints. Instead we opted to do a killer budget airline route. We flew from Hoi Ann to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), then to Singapore, then onward to Hong Kong. Unbelievably, this route was still cheaper than flying Hanoi-Hong Kong (which is a 90 minute flight) on Vietnam Airlines, the only flight carrier to offer a direct route. Overall, the whole transit journey totalled 35 hours which was very tiring but it was immediately clear it was certainly worth it once we landed on Chinese territorial soil.
When we arrived in Hong Kong our first taste of the city was the sprawling consumerist monster airport. The airport was massive and if you like shopping you could make an immediate start here. It was also clear the transportation and accommodation systems were incredibly efficient. As Paula and I like to pride ourselves on being the disorganised traveller, we decided to rock up (at 9pm) with no booked accommodation and see what we could muster up. Thankfully, we managed to book a last minute four star hotel on Kowloon for half cost of what it would normally cost if you were to book in advance – great! We then proceeded to catch a double-decker bus into the city centre and we almost felt a slight taste of déjà vu as we hadn’t been on one of these buses in over a year. What was even freakier was the motorway network looks very similar to the UK’s and at some points I could have been in Glasgow. Also having spent two weeks immersed in the chaos of Vietnam, it felt somewhat settling to be back in civilised normality. The fact that we felt the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong was ‘normal’ perhaps suggests how chaotic Vietnam really was. When we arrived at our destination we checked into our plush hotel and slept!
Our first day was an intensely busy as we met my ex Australian house mate Julian. In 2005 I lived with Jules in Brisbane and we hadn’t seen each other in over 5 years, so there was a lot of catching up to do. Jules is Malaysian born, but has lived in Hong Kong for the majority of his life and is now working as an architect. I was especially excited to meet him as I’ve heard from sources that he offers ‘The Best Guided Tour of HK’ so I was sure it was going to be a busy few days. As soon as we met him at ‘Fife Street’ (yes Fife St, my hometown’s county) at the MTR subway station there was no time spared as we rushed around the Mong Kok district on Argyle Street (also one of Glasgow’s main shopping streets) which is renowned for Chinatown, clothes and technology. Here you can buy any mobile phone, computer or camera imaginable and you could easily spend a whole day here just taking it all in.
Jules then made a real effort to give us a real insight into the luxurious side of Hong Kong. He decided that we should meet his girlfriend Winnie in the lobby of the oldest surviving hotel, The Peninsula Hong Kong. Opened in 1928, The Peninsula has been voted as the world’s best hotel on several occasions and it was easy to see why. As we squeezed past the fleet of parked Rolls-Royce Extended Wheelbase Phantoms, we were then greeted by a dorky bell-boy who welcomed us to the hotel lobby which was a blinding parade of classical grandeur and elegance which is absolutely world-class. As an elegance barometer I decided to take it on myself to use the guest toilette facilities where there was a concierge on call who would probably take care of any pressing needs. To freshen up from the previous days Vietnamese market stall curry, I opted for a free scoosh of Eau de Toilette and a golden stitched heated towel. The whole experience was very pleasant. It was then clear we had come a very long way since Borneo Global Backpackers on the start of our South East Asian tour!
Once we met with Winnie we then explored Tsim Sha Tsui or TST. TST is located on the cape of Kowloon Peninsula which is home to Victoria Harbour which is the gateway to Hong Kong Island. Like visiting Sydney harbour for the first time, Victoria Harbour had a similar impact on me as the sprawling view of the Hong Kong Island skyline is simply incredible and unforgettable. We then decided to watch the nightly ‘light show’ which could be best described as very ecologically inefficient and something you would most likely see in a kid’s amusement park. It was amusing nonetheless and we then immediately proceeded to a Japanese restaurant which was a real local secret and real delight. For Paula and I, this was our first ever experience of eating at an authentic Japanese restaurant and Jules and Winnie certainly took us out of our comfort zones. They introduced us to an eclectic range of new foods such as a rice cheese bake to goose liver and the whole experience was just fantastic.
To finish off the evening, we all headed back to our plush hotel, got kitted out in our new Vietnamese tailor made clothes and then hit Hong Kong’s bustling ‘24 hour night-life’. Unlike other big cities I have visited, Hong Kong really does not sleep – the city is too busy to sleep. There are plentiful restaurants, bars and clubs which are open 24 hours and we took full advantage of the fact. This included hitting up an ice-bar, buying beer from the Seven Eleven and drinking outside the pub because it was too expensive inside (which is frowned upon but perfectly legitimate) and trying various shots which were strong and large enough to kill a horse. By 6AM we decided to omit the English fry-up idea and call it the fantastic end to a superb day in my view, one of the world’s greatest cities.
Hong Kong, China