More than Just High Rises
Trip Start Aug 23, 2007
30Trip End Jul 31, 2008
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While we have enjoyed all of our travels in China, we were left most impressed by this one in particular. Initially we had not placed Hong Kong high on our priority list, but plans fell together to make the round-trip journey for a December holiday by a combination of rail and plane through the entry point of the mainland city of Shenzhen. We left blown away by the beauty of the city and surrounding areas and wishing we had a couple more days to soak up more of the cosmopolitan world surrounded by a tremendous amount of rugged nature. We stayed on the Kowloon side of Victoria Harbor in one of the two massive 'mansions' that dominate the backpacker/Indian food and tailor industry. These 'mansions' house a vast array of hostels and guesthouses of varying cleanliness and quality....the surrounding corridors are shockingly dirty and confined, the layout bewildering, and the cast of characters eclectic. We found a guesthouse on the fifth floor with a private bathroom (including the best water pressure shower in China). Although there were no windows it turned out to be just fine and set us back less than our hostel in Beijing.
Hong Kong is remarkable for providing the visitor and citizen with a multitude of free sights. These include the Hong Kong Park and the Biological & Zoological Gardens set in the midst of the concrete jungle. The aviary in the park was the most impressive sight....a small arena sized net enclosure housing an astounding variety of bird-species mainly from the rainforest's of the SE Asian Islands.
And speaking of food, HK gave us a chance for some non-Chinese variety in our diet. It was the one area where our Hong Kong Dollars were quickly gobbled up (although still reasonable by our Western Standards). We enjoyed Thai food on a distant corner of Hong Kong island in the small Mediterranean vibed beach town of Shek-O, Indian food a stone's throw away from our accommodation at two separate locations, delicious Dim Sum, and blissful deli sandwiches with honest to goodness deli meat to satisfy a non-donut craving. McDonald's also saw far too much of our patronage, however, as the most reasonable and convenient (that's how they get you, isn't it) breakfast options early in the morning.
Our last full day in HK saw us journey to the NE corner of the territory for some fee-free hiking around Sai Kung County Park. Hong Kong is blessed with some spectacular terrain, feeling and looking almost like a tropical Vancouver or a scaled down Hawaii. On the mainland, the MacLehose trail cuts a 100-km path out and is complemented by a great network of (often-paved) trails through the expanses of wilderness. We hopped on part of this and headed for the prized and secluded beaches of Tai Wan Long (Big Wave Bay) for a long-day of 18 km hiking up and down mountains and across two of the five beautiful sandy bays of the region. The territory was stunning, and the tropical plants lushly lining the paths and blanketing the surroundings provided a stunning backdrop. There was wildlife as well, although not the monkeys that Kevin was so sure had to be out there. Laurie got a glimpse of a wild boar before it hustled into the undergrowth and proceeded to raise a ruckus to announce it's presence. There were also the dogs in the lonely but lovely beach-side hamlets of Ham Tin and Sai Wan. Overall a highly recommended, if hugely fatiguing trek.
We headed back through the town of Sai Kung, a place we wished we could linger longer in, as the boatsmen were showing of bins full of exotic seafood including huge prawns, colorful lobsters, and containers of cuddlefish. After getting back to Kowloon we finished our shopping with Laurie's purchase of a beautiful dress and headed for Indian food. The touts were out in force and we made the mistake of taking a restaurant brochure for one of them, which identified us a live meat and we were hounded by a rapidly materializing force that took some effort to shake off. We munched in the Chungking Mansions, the most confusing building on Earth and home to what has to be the most dense concentration of Indian's outside of India. The food was good (highlighted by the naan)....and then we were back for our last night and our reluctant departure. To get back to Hangzhou we enjoyed our first Domestic flight in China....and received a great airplane meal for the 1 hr 30 minute flight arriving at 1210. A long hop, skip, and a jump and we were back at school to prepare for finals and bring some x-mas flavor to our apartment.