Hong Kong - shop until you drop...

Trip Start Jun 13, 2006
Trip End Jun 12, 2007

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Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Alex: We arrived into Hong Kong late but even so it was still very hot and humid, still our first glimpse of the city was at its best, lit up across the strait from Kowloon where our hostel was. The hostel was like nothing else we had ever stayed in. We had booked it on the internet from a recommendation in a book and as it was cheap and our last stop we went for a "Luxury" room with a window. The room pretty much was a window with a bed and small desk all you could fit in and the en suite was the size of the average downstairs loo in a British house. On the plus side it had air-con, essential I think!  It was in a massive tower block (ironically name Mirador Mansions) full of little hostels/guest houses, flats, businesses of all kinds, from restaurants to tailors workshops and all a little bit grubby and run down with a lift the took about 10 minutes to arrive. Definitely Hong Kong without the glamour!  We loved it.
The following day after a little lie-in to get over the 13 hour flight we decided to see Hong Kong the proper way, by shopping. First on the agenda was to find a tailor so Dean could get a suit, but I must admit we got waylaid in a couple of nice, air conditioned malls along the way (I would say I got waylaid but guess who was doing most of the shopping?). We ended up in Sam's, which is a fairly well know tailor and has had a lot of famous clientele (all looking down at us from the wall). We also discovered that picking fabric for a suit is harder than you would think. After that excitement we caught the star ferry across the water to Hong Kong Island itself. It is a bit of a maze, especially as a pedestrian, all these elevated walkways take you over roads, through buildings and I was never quite sure where we would come out. We finished our day in Lan Kwai Fong, a trendy/touristy eating and drinking area
The following day, after another trip to Sam's for Dean's suit fitting, we headed to Hong Kong island again and to the university museum. In our inimitable style we decided to walk (you would think we would have learned by now) and got there hot, dusty and just a little bit sweaty, having stopped for at least 3 shops to get a drink. The museum was interesting, as, to be fair, was the walk there. The walk took us through a far more residential area than we had been to before, like our hotel building but replicated thousands of times over with all sorts of interesting shops, my favourites were the ones selling ginseng and birds nests (for the soup - yum) but they all seemed to have lots of interesting looking dried things outside. Whenever we were near a temple loads of shops sprung up selling general household items, fake money, cars, everything you could want to buy, all made in miniature and out of paper to burn for the dead. The museum contained all the usual stuff but was interesting as, being in a different part of the world, it was a different kind of usual stuff than we were used to seeing - if that makes sense? On the way back we stopped in the Man Mo temple, a crazy tiny tumble down temple in amongst all the tower blocks, and I have never seen so much incense! It was great being in a new area everything was so interesting, even the scaffolding. We had been admiring it from our room (through our window!) as despite being on the 7th floor there was a load of scaffolding on another building a lot higher up than us, and like all the other scaffolding, made out of bamboo. After leaving Man Mo temple we saw some guys taking it down. We must have stood on the street for quarter of an hour watching in amazement. Because it is so light they literally just throw it down the building from man to man before chucking it on the back of a truck with a few guys at the top swaying precariously as they cut off what are basically tie-wraps holding it all in place - craziness - but very practical! To continue the excitement we went to Temple Street night market that evening, which sold everything and a bit more besides, we bought a few nick naks (well you can't leave Hong Kong with out a tea pot and a couple of Chinese paintings can you), took in the atmosphere and admired the multitude of light (pretty).
Next day we had a little walk around Kowloon walled gardens, which is the old old part of Kowloon, and apparently in days of yore was a very dangerous place to be, but is now very pretty and full of flamingos.  Then we were off to see Po Lin Monastery which boasts the "largest, outdoor, seated Buddha in the world - not a tenuous claim to fame at all! After a fair ride on the MTR (underground) to another island and a little bus ride we got to Po Lin just as the cloud cover cleared slightly and we could see the Buddha. It is big, and very impressive. They have a slightly quirky deal going on where you can go up to the Buddha for free but if you buy lunch vouchers you can go inside and obviously get you lunch at the monastery. As there was food involved the choice was obvious for me!  Walking up the stairs the Buddha just looks more and more impressive. We got up to the top and had a look around the outside which on a clear day I suspect would get incredible views, occasionally the clouds cleared slightly and we caught a glimpse of the coast far below. Inside there was a few boards which we basically Buddhism for Dummies, so interesting for us and also ancient wooden panels containing some kind of Buddhist text (I'm not very up on these things). The grub was great (lots of tofu and shitake mushrooms) and it was wonderful to get out of the heat and bustle of the city as the monastery is really remote, despite being on the same island as Disney land! Once back in Kowloon we just had time for yet more shopping, some tea and dominoes and beer in the air-conditioned bliss of our hotel room!
On the penultimate day of our trip we got up early for Tai Chi on the prom, sensibly hidden under a building to avoid the drizzle. It was good fun despite the fact the guy who was running it made it look far easier than it was (too much co-ordination need for me). We had intended to go up to "The Peak" which gives great views over the city, but would have only given great views of the inside of clouds so we postponed it again (we had been intending to do it every day we had been there but the cloud had put us off every time) and instead picked up Dean's suit (it looks really good), ate dim sum, tried to squeeze all our purchases into our groaning backpacks (they fit) and rounded the day off with very yummy Cantonese meal, well we had to really didn't we!
Our last day, of Hong Kong and of our trip, we finally made it up the peak, it was still cloudy (see the pics) but occasionally cleared enough for us to catch a glimpse of the city below. After leaving our room at the latest possible moment (our flight wasn't until midnight) and taking our time to do everything, we finally caught the tram up the peak and were very confused when it dumped us in a shopping mall. It took us about 30mins to find our way out (I am fairly sure some people didn't even try.) There is a viewing platform at the top but all we could see was grey and the odd blobs of rain (they were too big to be drops) When we did finally get out and the cloud cleared for long enough the view was amazing but it was all a little bitter sweet knowing it was the last place we were going to visit on our trip. The other entertainment in the mall was a Madam Tussauds; we didn't go in but did take up the photo op with a wax Bruce Lee outside!
All that was left for us to do after that was head back to the hostel for a quick shower, grab a bite of sushi and get to the airport for the long, sad flight back home....
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