Hong Kong

Trip Start Unknown
Trip End Ongoing

Flag of China  ,
Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Ok, so a different place to put on our travel map – HONG KONG!!! Still technically China, we know, but also very different to the mainland!

We set off for the airport last Tuesday morning for the first airport express train at 6am, taking around 20 mins. We are lucky to be a 5 minute walk from the subway where it leaves from. More expensive than the usual subway ticket of 20p, costing a whopping £2.50! All very smooth at the airport, no delays (delays are quite common here) and off we went – very excited! We used the airport express way the other end too to get to Hong Kong Island, taking around half an hour.

Our first adventure was getting out of the station, to go to the hotel. The instructions looked quite easy, but there is a maze of exits and walkways, which is all quite easy when you know how! The walkways link up many parts of the city, built above the roadways, it makes it really easy to get around. We escaped, and made our way to the central & mid level escalators, all designed to carry you up the hillside which is incredibly steep. A great experience, as you can see a lot of the city & how it's laid out on your journey up around 15 linked escalators, all with walkways by them to take you back onto street level. You could see lots of shops, bars, restaurants etc. along the way which was cool. Finally we got to the top & a short stroll to our hotel, the Bishop Lei International House. They had given us a room upgrade to a really high floor so we could get some great views, we were on the 21st floor (23 in total) and wow, what a fab view. Now, you know that poor Andy doesn’t like edges, the height thing was ok, but he doesn’t like being near the edge – so admired the view from the room not getting too close. It was great as the hotel itself was very high up, and was pretty open considering the density of the city, as it had the botanical gardens & zoo in front of it, so we got a clear view of the city skyline, Victoria Harbour, and Kowloon in the distance, amazing and just the sort of view one would imagine if staying in Hong Kong! Lying in bed at night looking at the view was lovely too, with the city lights & floor to ceiling windows.

Our first afternoon we just wandered around & got our bearings, had a few beers & some food, enjoying the warmer weather we’d been used to in Beijing. It was around 21 degrees, reaching 23 degrees at the end of the week, so very pleasant.

Wednesday morning, we had to meet our Visa agent to give him our passports to renew our Visa’s.  This was over in Kowloon, so we went down the escalators to the ferry port. Most of the day they go up, sensibly, however during the rush hour morning until 10am they go down – as many people live in the higher levels of the city, and walk down the hill to work.

We got the Star Ferry over to Kowloon, taking about 10 minutes with fab views across Victoria Harbour. The famous Star Ferry has been operating from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon since 1898. Kowloon is described as the less glamorous neighbour to Hong Kong Island, although is more densely poplulated, and felt more 'Chinese’.  We had some time to kill, so wandered along the promendade which gave us amazing views to the city skyline, stopping at the best Starbucks I have ever been to, right on the waterfront with the best view ever!! A very enjoyable coffee, and wait for it…. a sausage roll of all things! Once we’d dropped off our passports we walked through the city, had a cold beer in a sunny square watching the world go by, before making our way back. In the afternoon, we decided to go up to the Victoria Peak . It’s 1811ft / 552m high and gives stunning views over the city and the sea. You reach it by a tram, constructed in 1888, incredibly steep in places – quite an experience. On the way up you see glimpses of the view, that’s if you can move after being pushed back by gravity into the back of your seat!!  It was great to walk around at the top, although very touristy with loads of shops and restaurants. Something like that to me should be left natural & beautiful to admire the scenery. We walked around admiring the views over each side, the sea & other islands to one side, the skyline & Kowloon on the other. After saying we didn’t like the touristy stuff, we did end up in MacDonalds for a pit stop, including a beer – yes, you can upgrade your meal to include a beer, cool!!

Back down in the tram, you go backwards – pinned against your chair. I guess going forwards it would be quite a struggle to stay in it!! A walk back home through the botanical gardens & zoo, made for a very lovely day.

I’d connected with a guy, Gabriel, on Facebook recently that I used to go to school with, infants right up to college. He’s been living in Hong Kong for 16 years, so we arranged to meet up. It’s funny, we hadn’t seen each other since leaving college, and you never know how people are going to be so many years on. We’d arranged to meet him & his wife at a bar at 7pm, so thought we’d go for a couple of drinks and see how it went. We had a great time, he’s lovely & very easy to get on with, and his wife was great fun too. We ended up having a few drinks together, some food, a good laugh and stayed out until 2am with them!! Really glad we met up.

Thursday after some breakfast we headed to Stanley on the bus. Stanley is on the other side of Hong Kong Island, and has a popular market and a lovely beach. The bus journey there was stunning, we got to see some more of the city, then climbed up the steep hills over the other side passing some other lovely bays & beaches, the mountains, and some amazing houses – how the other half live kind of houses…..! We had a good walk around Stanley through the market, onto the promendade where we stopped for lunch & a couple of beers, before wandering along the beach then heading back on the bus again, slightly different route so we saw a few more things.

Back to Kowloon early evening to collect our passports & Visa’s which was a relief to finally get! We now have a 1 year multi entry passport each, up until now we’ve only had 3 month single entry Visa’s, so it’s a nice feeling.

A good friend of ours in Beijing, Dale, put us in touch with a friend & colleague who lives in Hong Kong, she’d given us lots of advice on e-mail about where to stay, what to do etc. and we took the hotel on her recommendation. We arranged to meet her for a drink Thursday evening. We had a drink in a bar in Kowloon, then went to the Intercontinental bar in Kowloon which is right on the waterfront & has great views of the skyline & the light show which happens every night at 8pm, all the buildings light up in various colours and a laser show to go with it was fab to watch. After leaving the hotel, another walk along the waterfront, and the Star Ferry journey at night took us back to the island. Ging took us to a Mexican restaurant, one of those places you’d only find if you lived there, and not somewhere you’d stumble across!! We had a very tasty meal, quite different from the normal Mexican food you’d imagine, for example beetroot – roasted, then lightly fried in a tempura batter, and spicy corn on the cob, baked with cheese & spices, all very scrummy. Another fab evening with a lovely lady, and nice to hear a bit more about life in Hong Kong.

Friday morning we checked out, Hong Kong being very efficient – we were able to check our luggage in for our flight at the airport express station in the city, which gave us a bit more time to wander around without our luggage. A Pret a Manger breakfast, then as we hadn’t really been to the shops as we’d made the most of sightseeing, we decided that we couldn’t escape without a visit to Marks & Spencers!! Funny what you appreciate when you’ve been away from home for so long!

We both really enjoyed our few days in Hong Kong and will definitely go back, there is a lot more that we’d like to do, visit some of the other islands, Macau etc. The climate was lovely, it does get polluted but not as bad as Beijing, and the few days we were there we were lucky to have clear sunny days. It’s weird, so much of it is still British even though the handover was in 1987, it really is still a city where East meets West. The population is 7 million. A city of extremes, 80% is rural or country park, so the populated areas are densely so, hence the high rise buildings which soar up alongside each other. It seems a very liveable city, although is far more expensive than Beijing.  For example, beers were usually around 68 Hong Kong Dollars, just under £6. Beijing, it’s around £1.50 - £3.00 for a local beer depending on happy hour prices. A coffee $38, around £3.20, Beijing anything from £2-3. Main courses around £9-10, Beijing around £6. To rent an apartment like ours you would probably be spending £2000 a month, and having a view makes it more expensive. In fact you get very little space for your money too, so that would probably be a smaller size apartment.  The other thing we noticed too, many more foreigners, and whilst people watching from one of the bars at the top of an escalator, people were rushing around, looking stressed, in their suits & with their briefcases, looking like they had the weight of the world on their shoulders, here it’s far more laid back. On the plus side, people are friendlier, most people speak English, all signs are in English & Cantoneses, they are helpful, they open doors for you, say thank you, don’t barge into you, and do respect personal space!! And the don’t spit in the street…….. So, a lot of comparisons, for me I totally fell in love with it, and felt really happy being by the sea again which I miss so much, Andy enjoyed it but loves Beijing. It was great to escape, and if we’d have gone from the UK on holiday, I don’t think we’d have noticed or appreciated so much Britishness about the place, where as going from here & having been away from the UK nearly a year now, we recognised it & appreciated it a lot more! A lot to enjoy & go back for, and a lot to make you appreciate Beijing for as well, and interesting the massive difference between the two places and the culture, and the historical British influence.

So, we landed back in Beijing, slightly delayed – got back home around 7pm totally shattered. I was supposed to be going to an event to celebrate Women’s Day, but I was so tired. My back was ok in Hong Kong, although it hurt still & we did walk a lot, but not as much as we would have if I’d have been well, so I really needed to rest when we got back. Andy went to an Internations event, and a few beers in town afterwards.

Saturday I volunteered with the Migrant Children’s Foundation again at the school, so got up at 6.30am to meet the team, there was a big group of us this time, around 20 volunteers, so we caught the bus to the school, the same one, about an hour out of the city, and partnered up with the children. As there were more of us, we sat with 2 children each, which was great because you felt that you got to help them more with their work. I was sat with 2 girls, one was very quiet, but the other one a real chatterbox! Very confident in her English and didn’t stop asking me questions! It was lovely, and a really good experience. She asked me what colour different things were, including my hair, if I liked hamburgers and such like. Later on she was playing with my hair, and asked me again what colour it was, pointing to the bit by my ears.  I said orange, which was the right answer earlier, she corrected me & said ‘no, it’s orange & white’!!!! Hmmm….guess the grey bits are coming through!!!! Cheeky madam!

Got the bus back to town again & a few of us went to a café to de-brief the session. By the time I got back home I was shattered again & my back was hurting, so I stayed in for the evening. Andy went out & watched the rugby.

Sunday was a chilled out day, then in the evening we’d arranged a charity dinner for the Migrant Children’s Foundation. It was at a great restaurant near us called the Big Smoke. We had 33 people come, and made £400 for the charity. It was called ‘dine with Zanta’. Zanta is from Tibet, and she is one of the Mum’s who’s son has benefitted from the charity by learning English at school with them. The evening was introduced with a short video about their life, and Zanta was there, doing another presentation at the end of the evening, it was very moving, and meant even more having been to the school the day before. Zanta sells Tibetan jewellery, and we gave each of the ladies a present, of a silver bracelet. She had her stall there too, and sold lots of jewellery, which really helped her too. Great food, nice wine, good company = a very successful evening!

I’ve had a sore throat for the last week or so, which has finally come out in a really bad cold yesterday, aches & shivers today too, not good. Fed up with feeling ill now.

Mum & Dad celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary last Friday, so it was good to speak to them over the weekend, also for Mother’s day on Sunday, and Barbara, sorry we missed you, and thank you for your message too.

Well, I think that’s all for now, so catch up again soon!

Tracy & Andy

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