I use the Tenerife section of Tripadvisor a lot and when people say they didn´t know what to expect I normally think Twonk why didn´t you do your homework! In future I won´t be so scathing. I was so busy getting ready for China that the add-on to Hong Kong completely slipped my mind so I had not even looked to see where our hotel was located never mind do any homework, but that would hardly be a problem. We all know that since the 1830s until relatively recently Hong Kong had belonged to Britain. Everyone would speak English, it was going to be a little Britain with a bit of smog and lots of shopping! I knew what to expect didn´t I, we all do – this was going to be a home from home!
After nearly 4 hours on Hong Kong Airlines, a driver with a limo met us at the airport to take us to our hotel. It was 5.00pm on a Saturday night and the roads were deserted. It was only when we hit the opposite side of the tunnel for downtown Kowloon that we met traffic but it was all very disciplined, unlike mainland China. The driver chatted away happily, telling us about various places en route, but I couldn´t understand a word he said.
My second encounter with feeling foreign was at the hotel and I am embarrassed about asking the receptionist for a 3rd time to repeat our room number. In the end he had to write it down! It isn´t the fact he can´t speak English it is just the heavy accent. I would compare it to someone with a strong Scottish accent speaking to a southerner in the UK.
Our hotel is nice, nothing compared to those we have been staying in but it is clean, comfortable and in a great location, just off Nathan Road. Nathan Road is probably the most famous street in Hong Kong. It is the main thoroughfare in Kowloon and both sides of the road as well as the surrounding streets and alleyways are lined with boutiques, jewellers, camera and electronic shops, same day tailors, nightclubs, pubs and eateries. It is a sea of neon at night and whatever the hour it is packed with tourists as well as locals.
We had been told that when shopping you visited specific areas, the streets around our hotel were full of pet parlours, (I could get a nice present for Caña and Marti), pet shops selling tiny puppies (all in air-conditioned cages) and …….. disability shops selling wheelchairs, crutches, bedpans, Zimmer frames.
We only have three days and want to make sure we don´t miss any of the ‘must sees’ so at 8.00am we are collected in the lobby by Greyline coaches and taken on a city tour. This included taking the world’s steepest tram up to the top of Victoria Peak, where only the very rich can afford to live. It takes about eight minutes to reach the top where the views of the harbour and looking back on the Kowloon peninsula are breathtaking and not to be missed. The angle of the tram is so steep that when I first looked at the photos I had taken I thought I must have had a funny turn as all the buildings were at 45 degrees.
Victoria Peak (The Peak) is a must, it is probably the most visited place by tourists and yes, I wanted to see it, too! I wanted to have that wonderful view of the city I had seen on so many pictures. Unfortunately it was a cloudy day, so everything looked greyish – from what I have since read, it almost always looks like this, due to pollution. Despite that the view is breathtaking and something you won’t forget. Of course there are the people taking your photo against the backdrop, these are a pain as they keep telling those around you to move. When you see the finished photo it has a clear sky and even the smallest detail is visible. Goodness have these been Photoshopped!! Needless to say we wanted to remember it as it was and not like something from the movies although the fog only seemed to affect the background and it was quite clear at the top of the Peak.
We have seen magnificent skylines in many countries but to see so many huge skyscrapers from this perspective was thrilling and I could not stop thinking “Gosh! I really am in Hong Kong!!!” While we were at the summit we paid a visit to the shopping centre where there are restaurants and shops along with the Hard Rock Café, which was a stop for Ashley as he collects HRC glasses and has them from numerous places around the world.
From the Peak, it’s down to Aberdeen once a traditional fishing village, which is slowly being taken over by high-rise apartment buildings. The Harbour and of course the Jumbo Floating Restaurant made famous by many movies including James Bond’s “The Man With The Golden Gun” and Jackie Chan’s “The Protector” is the main attraction.
We take a Sampan ride (somewhat commercialised, but nevertheless, an unforgettable experience) and get an insight into what life is really like there.
One side of the marina is lined with luxurious yachts while the other is where the Tanka people, associated with the fishing industry and who still wear their conical hats live in houseboats. I looked at the families living in these conditions and they looked back at me! It is a different almost unreal and very unfair world!
If you want to shop in Hong Kong, there are two ways to do it. The high-end expensive stores where the prices take your breath away just looking in the windows or one of the many markets that is scattered throughout the city. We were not particularly aware of anything in between. I am not a great fan of markets but some I liked, others I found awful.
I loved the Stanley Market, which is on Hong Kong Island so a long way from our hotel. It was here I bought a pair of fitflops for £8 and was impressed the lady told me they were not genuine!. They are identical to the pair I wanted in Dubai that cost over £80 although the price I was originally asked to pay was a lot higher. There are no set prices in the markets so don’t be afraid to haggle, it is expected! Bargain lower than what you are willing to pay and nine times out of ten as you walk away, you will get the deal. Paying the asking price is just plain crazy!
It is in these markets where East meets West, you will find stalls selling Chinese works of art, jade and antiquities alongside sportswear, ladies fashion, shoes, luggage and made-in-China souvenirs, for some a real shopper’s paradise.
There is a Bird Market a Flower Market where you will find birds and flowers (self-explanatory name). There is the Ladies Market where you can find anything from accessories to clothing and the Jade Market where you can buy rare and valuable jade carvings to small, inexpensive trinkets. Jade is highly prized in China as many believe it wards off evil spirits and protects travellers. There is also the Temple Street Market where we ventured at night.
Temple Street Night Market was an easy walk from the hotel. It has a unique atmosphere that attracts tourists. You can find whatever you are looking for here whether it’s phony Rolexes, Louis Vuitton replicas, Chinese herbal medicine or pornographic movies. Bargains abound with an emphasis on items for men. The parts I did like though were the fortune tellers huddle by kerosene lamps next to street singers performing Cantonese opera. But don’t show up until around 9pm when things come to life otherwise you will be convinced you are in the wrong place.
Despite all the hype we didn´t find an excess of things to occupy our time other than shopping and in my case I can only shop for so long. We decided to spend the next day at the Museum of Art. Some will find this boring but we all loved it. (Sorry about the picture I took it from the coach hence the no smoking and I didn’t get a better picture).
We spent the morning there and then had lunch on the terrace surrounded by some lovely sculptures.
After lunch we went to the toilet and then went to the toilet again on the next floor up, and again on the floor after that. Wow – how many places have loos like these?
This afternoon we wandered down to the harbour where we are going native and taking the Star Ferry from Tsim Sha Tsui (sounds good doesn´t it, translates to Star Ferry Pier) to travel across Victoria Harbour between Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon Peninsula.
It was fun, it was interesting purchasing our tickets at the machines and the people were very helpful showing us how to use them.
We sat at the side of the boat and clicked away at the skyline – it is amazing how many companies have their offices here and how many names you recognise. We arrived at Wanchi and had a wander around but to be honest this part of town doesn’t have much to offer it is very much a business centre so we had a milkshake (to die) for then caught the ferry back. We didn´t feel as if we had been robbed because Star Ferry must be one of the cheapest, easiest and most scenic ways to see the harbour in Hong Kong. The cost is something like 50p and the views are spectacular.
Finally we come to our last meal in China and it is a MacDonald’s. It tasted soooooo good after 3 Chinese meals a day for 14 days. Double Cheeseburger and drinks for 2 people 47.00 HKD that is under £4UK for 2 not each (and Hong Kong is more expensive than China!!) We also had entertainment, although it was unintentional, the young man opposite us continually took his glasses off and put them on again whilst looking at himself in the mirror. The geeky glasses had NO LENSES!!!
And now, we are about to leave Hong Kong. It certainly feels far more foreign than China, and despite it being a place where ancient traditions thrive within an ultramodern city I didn´t feel an electric atmosphere when walking down the streets in spite of all the neon. Would I go back – no but I am glad I have been it would have been silly travelling so far and missing it.