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    Monday, 13 July 2009

    A Whizz Around Hong Kong

    Neon Heaven[Enlarge & More]
    After leaving an (almost) 3rd world country – India – and arriving in a cosmopolitan metropolis – Hong Kong – a little bit of reverse culture shock was pretty much guaranteed. Hong Kong was clean, convenient, beautiful, and full of sights and little surprises. After a reasonably laid back month in India, we only had three and a half days in total to spend in Hong Kong, and we were determined to make the most of it – and we did!

    Our first port of call was the tourist information desk in the airport, and what an array of information we found there! Honestly, if you’re ever thinking of visiting Hong Kong, don’t bother getting a guidebook – you can get everything you need from the helpful people at the tourist information desk – plus anything useful they have to tell you – for free before you even leave the airport. We got everything we needed to plan a few days of sightseeing, and off we went on the airbus (HK$33 each) to the city, which dropped us off right outside our hotel in Mong Kok – very convenient. After wandering around an electronic store in confusion, we eventually found our hotel (Ah Shan Hostel) on the 14th floor of a building. At £25 a night we weren’t sure what to expect, but we were pleasantly surprised to find a small but very clean and tidy room, with very friendly owners who were the most welcoming people we’ve met on our trip so far.

    Nathan Road [Enlarge & More]

    Once settled, we went out into the city to find our bearings. We walked the whole way down Nathan Road to the harbour in the baking and humid heat (it was a beautiful day), and walked through the Kowloon Park, which was beautiful. The sights and smells (I’m still not sure what was being cooked on a few street corners) were amazing and so different from anything we’ve seen so far – the streets are a perfect blend of cultures, and this is reflected in the people, the wealth, and the shops of the city. Huge stores leave their doors wide open, the air conditioning blasting out into the hot street and dissipating – showing just how much money they have to waste. Such a contrast from India, where the few places which have air con shut up tight so as not to lose the cooler climate!

    Harbour View [Enlarge & More]

    On that first day, we rode the Star Ferry across the harbour, and later watched the Symphony of Lights – a beautiful light show which brings the best out of the harbour front and displays the wealth and power of Hong Kong in a visually pleasing show for everyone to watch. The harbour was stunning when it was all lit up – I had already fallen in love with Hong Kong, and seeing that show just reinforced that.

    Giant Buddha [Enlarge & More]

    The following day, we made the trip on the ferry to Lantau Island, about half an hour from Hong Kong Island, where we saw a few more sights. At the top of the island, there is a giant Buddha statue – the biggest in the world apparently – watching over the landscape. We climbed up to it and wandered around – even though it was only built about 15 or 20 years ago, it’s still an amazing feat and some of the historical plaques made for interesting reading.

    Cable Car Ride [Enlarge & More]

    We also wandered up to the Wisdom Path on Lantau Island – a series of inscribed logs sawn lengthways and erected in a pattern. In the hot sun and with a blue sky behind them, they were very beautiful. Po Lin Monastery was also a good visit – our first Buddhist Temple of the trip. Finally, we ended the day with a ride down the Ngong Ping 360 cable car – a trip which contained some excellent views of the landscape and of Hong Kong airport (which is a sight in itself!). From the bottom of the cable car, we were able to ride the MTR (metro/underground) back to Hong Kong – getting around is so handy!!

    Victoria Peak [Enlarge & More]

    On day three, we visited Victoria Peak, riding the tram up the steep hill to the viewing platform and shopping/entertainment centre located there. It was well worth the trip – the views of the harbour were stunning from this perspective and the wind was very strong – a nice relief from the sizzling stillness of the city. Having an iced coffee whilst overlooking the city from hundreds of metres above it was a good experience! The view to the south of the smaller islands that make up Hong Kong was also very beautiful.

    Incense Sellers [Enlarge & More]

    Outside of these main sights, we also visited Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple (fortunately I still have the leaflet to spell it!) – a temple which incorporates Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism in one place of worship, and also absolutely reeks of incense. You just have to be careful – there are people everywhere carrying the burning sticks, and if you’re not looking one might end up in your eye! The incense sellers out the front also do a good trade, waving people over as they approach the temple, and the fortune tellers see you on your way out. There were approximately 140 fortune teller stalls – I didn’t bother, I didn’t believe that all 140 of them could share that gift!

    Goldfish Street [Enlarge & More]

    We also visited Goldfish Street, Flower Street and the Bird Garden in Kowloon – you really can buy just about anything in Hong Kong, and the amazing variety of tropical fish, amphibians and crustaceans proves that. Visiting Goldfish Street made me want to start up a tropical fish tank, but I don’t think I could carry a turtle around in my backpack for the next 10.5 months!

    Finally, this morning, we left Hong Kong on our flight to Phnom Penh. We were both sad to leave, but we’re also confident that we’ll both be back here at some point – it’s a destination that I don’t think I’d get tired of. A few people will be shocked to hear this, but I actually shopped – I never shop. I even went into shops just to LOOK, a bit of a new concept for me, and I actually enjoyed it! What’s going on!!? Anyway, four nights was a good amount of time to spend in Hong Kong, and I would recommend the trip to anyone – our good experience with backpacker accommodation also shows that the city is open to anyone, even those on a budget – and you can still have a good time! Cambodia next – what will the culture shock bring this time?

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