The bright lights of Hong Kong

Trip Start May 01, 2010
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Trip End Apr 30, 2011


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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

After the grime and chaos of India, Hong Kong must be one of the cleanest, most organised and efficiently run places on earth. We came here primarily to obtain our visas for China and have had four action packed and very enjoyable days.

There is a lot to like about Hong Kong. Firstly, it is so clean almost to the point of being obsessive. There is no litter anywhere and lift buttons and door handles have little notices saying these buttons/handles are disinfected every hour! Toilets are also spotless and all have automatic flushes, soap dispensers and taps so the user doesn't have to touch anything! After India and much of the rest of the world where plastic bottles are casually dropped out of train and bus windows without care or thought, it is refreshing to come somewhere so tidy and spotless.

Secondly, the city is extremely well organised. As a tourist, you would have to be an idiot to get lost here or not be able to find your way around. There are signposts everywhere, the MTR (tube) is easy to navigate and you never have to wait more than a minute for a train. It is almost like you don't have to think for yourself it is so easy.

Thirdly, there is so much to do here. We spent our first day exploring Kowloon, which is across the water from Hong Kong island (only 5 minutes away by MTR) and one of the main tourist and shopping areas. We have never seen so many shopping malls in one place before. And these are not your average shopping malls, they are huge and extremely glitzy, catering to people with plenty of spare cash. Every designer label you have ever heard of is here, from Prada to Gucci to that one that makes those rough looking bags covered in lots of silly little logos that people seem to desire so much. But walk a few blocks away from the glitz and glamour and you can still find a bit of the old Hong Kong, where little shops sell strange Chinese things that you haven't got a clue what they are, and orange coloured cooked chickens hang in the windows of local restaurants where they are serving up all manner of meaty delicacies.

We also visited the Hong Kong Museum of Art which was facsinating. On display were hundreds of old traditional Chinese paintings, calligraphy and Chinese antiquities from jewellery made from kingfisher feathers to Ming vases.

During our second day we did the tourist thing and took the Peak Tram which climbed ridiculously steeply up to The Peak for views down on to the city below. It was cloudy so the views were not as clear as we would have liked but they were stunning nevertheless. At the top we followed a circular walk around Victoria Peak where we found another viewpoint which allowed us to look across to some of the surrounding islands. One of the best surprises about Hong Kong is that a large proportion of the islands are covered in forest and this walk took us through a lovely section of woodland where regular signs explained the different tree species. After the Peak we visited Hong Kong park where there is a large walk-through bird aviary filled with all sorts of colourful birds, lush greenery and a tumbling stream flowing down the centre.

For our last day we picked up our passports complete with Chinese visas from the Chinese Embassy and headed east on the MTR. We got off at Shau Kei Wan, a couple of stops from the end of the line and jumped on bus number 9 which drove us south out of the city and into the countryside. We told the driver where we wanted to get off and he told us to come and stand at the front of the bus in 18-20 minutes time. Very precise! He dropped us at the start of the Dragon's Back trail, which forms the eigth and last section of the 50 km long Hong Kong trail. From here, we climbed up to the top of a long ridge (the Dragon's Back) where we had good if rather cloudy views out to sea and to other parts of the island. We walked along the windswept ridge before descending into a shady, sheltered forest of twisty trees. Half way through the walk the sky cleared and hundreds of butterflies appeared along the trail. Eventually the path took us down some steps to the sleepy village of Big Wave Bay where there was a lovely beach and a couple of surf shops. From here we caught the bus back to Shau Kei Wan MTR station.

In the afternoon we visited the Hong Kong Botanical and Zoological gardens which were brilliant and also completely free of charge. An oasis of green in the heart of the city, we spent a good few hours exploring the plant filled gardens. Like the aviaries we visited the day before, these housed an impressive collection of beautiful and rare birds from around the world. The mammals section was also home to a number of endangered primate species including gibbons, orangutans and lemurs.

In the evening we walked down to the harbour on Kowloon side from where you can see the amazing skyline of all the skyscrapers on Hong Kong island just across the water. At night, it is a truly stunning sight of pulsating neon. Every night at 8pm is the Symphony of Lights which has been described as the world's largest permanent light and sound show by the Guiness Book of Records. It involves many of the skyscrapers synchronizing their flashing lights and lasers to music. It was good fun but the terrible background music made it feel a bit corny and i couldn't help feeling that it was a huge waste of electricity and one big advertising exercise on the part of the companies involved.

For our last night we went to a nice Chinese restaurant where we had two delicious aubergine and tofu dishes. Being veggie in Hong Kong is difficult as it is such a meat based culture here. Even the aubergine dish contained minced pork!

We have thoroughly enjoyed ourselves in Hong Kong and felt like we could easily have had more time here. After months on the road, it's nice to come somewhere clean and organised although there is a feeling in us that maybe Hong Kong is just a little bit too clean, a bit too clinical. It is also a very rulesy society. There are notices everywhere banning spitting, skateboarding, hawking, breathing etc. There are also many advisory notices such as advising you to cough away from people and hold the handrail when using an escalator etc. Possibly it is becoming the new Singapore, a city where everything is so convenient and where residents are told what to do and how to behave that they stop thinking for themelves. The code seems to be behave yourself and consume as much as possible. After spending a few months in one of the poorest countries on earth, the overconsumption here leaves a nasty taste in your mouth.

Still, as a place to visit it is great and it has certainly recharged our batteries for our final three weeks in Yunnan province China which will undoubtedly be a whole new experience.
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