Hong Kong

Trip Start Feb 15, 2008
Trip End May 31, 2008

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Arriving in Hong Kong by high speed hydrofoil would probably be the most spectacular way of entering this unique financial centre. The views of the harbour, bridges and towering skyline are fantastic. I took it upon myself to go outside onto the vessel's stern to take a couple of photos which turned out to be a big no-no and I was quickly called back inside. On arrival at the ferry terminal we transferred to our hotel by taxi. The weather, as you can imagine, is normally very humid and this day was no exception. There are more shops here than I've seen anywhere before in my life and though Hong Kong is extremely crowded it is generally well organised thanks to 150 years of investment in infrastructure by the UK.

Hong Kong was a dependent territory of the United Kingdom from 1842 until it was handed back to China in 1997. However I was surprised to find that in order to enter Hong Kong you still must produce a passport and have it stamped etc. Also they still use their own money which is the Hong Kong Dollar and not the Chinese Yuan. This is due to an agreement with China that the territory operates with a high degree of autonomy until at least 2047, fifty years after the transfer. Under the agreement the Chinese Government is responsible for the territory's defence and foreign affairs, while the Government of Hong Kong is responsible for its own legal system, police force, monetary system, customs policy and immigration policy.

That evening we went to an all you can eat and drink restaurant. Funnily enough beer was included but not water. Bottled spring water is generally more expensive than beer in Hong Kong. The difference at this restaurant was that you cook the food yourself in a kind of stew pot located in the centre of the table. We later headed off to the harbour foreshore to watch the evening lightshow which is pretty cool.

I made the most of my last day in Hong Kong by visiting Victoria Peak and Lantau Island with my USA friend, Shalonn. Travelling around Hong Kong is easy using its modern, fast and frequent metro system. Victoria Peak is a small mountain on Hong Kong Island with an altitude of 552 m. It is the highest mountain on the island, although far from the highest in the territory, which is Tai Mo Shan. Victoria Peak is known for having the highest land values in the world, with the Super-Rich of this region residing here. You can reach the summit of Victoria Peak by taking the funicular and the bottom station is only a short walk from the Central metro station. There are normally some great views from the summit however we were blessed with some rotten weather on the day of our visit so you kind of had to use your imagination. There are also some nice gardens to walk through before returning.

We then crossed to Lantau Island by ferry. With an area of 146.38 kmē, Lantau is the largest island in Hong Kong. It's located at the mouth of the Pearl River and was originally the site of sleepy fishing villages. However the island has now been transformed with the development of several major infrastructure projects, including Hong Kong's new international airport and Hong Kong Disneyland. A popular attraction on the island is the large bronze Tian Tan Buddha statue which was completed in 1993. Also known as the Big Buddha, it is the world's tallest outdoor seated bronze Buddha. The statue is located next to the Po Lin Monastery and the complex is a major centre for Buddhism in Hong Kong.

We travelled up to the Budda by bus from the ferry terminal. The ride takes about half an hour and passes some beautiful beaches then winds its way up into the mountain through the jungle. The weather at the top of the mountain was unfortunately dismal, though we scaled our way to the top of big Buddha regardless and we were later blessed with a short break in the rain allowing us to take a few pictures. The admission fee also allows access to the adjacent temple and monastery where you are treated to some Buddhist hospitality in that you get a free vegetarian meal before leaving.

To return to the Kowloon Peninsula where our accommodation was it is possible to take a cable car to Tung Chung metro station, but since the views were not the best on this day we opted for the bus which was cheaper. From there it was about a half hour metro ride back to our accommodation. I'd also have liked to have visited the Hong Kong National History Museum which I've heard is fantastic though there just wasn't time. The following morning I made my way to the airport for my flight to the Thai capital of Bangkok.
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