Hong Kong

Hong Kong has it all; from street markets to high end retail, back street hostels to some of the finest hotels in the world and, of course, some of the nicest food you’ll be lucky enough to get a chance to try; there’s delicious street food as well as michelin star restaurants, some of which have waiting lists covering months. There’s something about this city that really gets to me and, after loving my visit to Shanghai, which is sometimes compared to Hong Kong, I really did fall in love with the place. Yes, Hong Kong really is, to me at least, the city of cities.

Former Kowloon-Canton Railway Clock Tower, near the Ferry Dock

During my travels I’ve met many people who, at some point, have been to HK, and none of them were less than enthusiastic about the place.

Yes, it’s a crowded city. Yes, it’s expensive, and yes, it’s not somewhere you’d go for two weeks’ holiday but, as somewhere to visit for a few days, I really can’t recommend it high enough.

Victoria Harbour is always busy…,

I have, like a lot of people, got a list of cities in my head that I see as ‘world cities’. These include HK, Mumbai, London, New York, Barcelona, Venice, Berlin etc. These are cities that I feel are often overly praised (I strongly dislike London, and Venice I’m a little indifferent about). Hong Kong is high on this list and so I was a little wary that my excitement whilst heading there may lead me to be hugely disappointed. However, like so many places I’ve seen in the past 12 months, my excitement was justified.

After easily passing through the border controls from Shenzhen, I hopped on the metro and arrived in the heart of Kowloon. Now, I’ve got to be honest, this wasn’t the HK I had in my head; the place was a hectic, grey maze of streets and alleyways occupied by street sellers, cheap restaurants and, though I didn’t necessarily come to HK to spend my time in Kowloon, I kind of fell for it.

A rainy night in Kowloon
A view out over the docks in Kowloon…

Yes, there’s definitely something about the more urban, lesser developed areas of towns and cities; the areas where there’s no need for flash architecture or city planning, but just a place where ordinary people get up, go to work, eat street food, then go back home to their tiny, crammed apartment in a dilapidated, grey apartment block with a leaky tap and mold on the walls. Kowloon is the part of HK that is firmly seated in reality.

My first stop was the ferry terminal at the south end of Canton Road. I’ve got to be honest in saying that the moment I realised exactly where I was, I was overcome with joy; the view out over Victoria harbour to HK island really was awe inspiring. We’ve all seen the view countless times on TV and film but, to see it first hand, like the river Ganges or the Great Wall, really stops you in your tracks.

One thing I will mention about the ferry return back is the light show from Hong Kong island; the seemingly quiet skyline wakes up. Of course, there’s nothing particularly special about it; it’s just a view of water, skyscrapers and neon lights, but for whatever reason it hits a nerve- I didn’t think any view in the city could top it but after heading to Victoria peak, I found myself astonished for the second time in a day.

View from the peak…

You can catch a tram up to the peak, but for a cost and a ridiculous waiting time; I chose to walk up a zig-zagging runners’ path which, though causes a bit of sweat, only takes about 45mins up, and 20mins down. I was only half surprised to find fast food restaurants and shops at the peak; after all, there’s nothing sacred anymore and tourism=money.

At the top of the peak lies shameless money grabbing…

However, despite the shamelessness of the government, the view out over the harbour at nightfall is something to be revered. Strangely, unlike many cities in this part of the world, there was no blanket of smog, nor the sounds of traffic disrupting the experience; all that can be heard is the chit chat of people from every corner of the globe, and I can only assume that they were in awe as much as me…

Multi-storey Apple shop above a road. Why not?

I spent a lot of my time in Hong Kong just walking around, taking my time to try and take the city in; after all, who knows if or when I’ll be back?

You can see how the city is stepped onto the hillside…

You can spend hours finding tiny, steep streets intertwined with major roads, most of which are lit by the unmistakable shine of neon lights offering food, drink, money, and any other vice that people can imagine; Hong Kong is a city where most things can be found, whether out in the open, or in a back room down a back alley…

Could be anyone in the helicopter
One of the smaller, more crowded streets…

The city is like nowhere else I’ve been; it’d be easily comparable to Shanghai if HK wasn’t so rousing- there’s something about walking around knowing that you’re in the territory of some of the world’s most rich and famous people- you look up at the private choppers dropping off their customers, wondering who it could be, then realising that it could be anyone! This is a feeling you don’t get in London, Paris, Shanghai, BeijingBangalore or Mumbai; yes, they’re world cities, but HK is the world city…

Despite the city being built on steep slopes and an ever increasing reclamation of land, there’s still space for a couple of parks. As I wandered aimlessly around the various levels of HK, I found Hong Kong Park, a multi- acre piece of land situated a 5mins walk east of the zoological and botanical gardens.

Here I found a couple of surprisingly inexpensive bars, many, many turtles and, perhaps what astonished me the most; the lack of sound. Yes, the park, though in the heart of the city, was only disturbed buy the sound of a waterfall and the odd bird here and there (unlike the botanical gardens with its aviary). I spent an hour or so just relaxing with a beer and taking in a well needed bit of peace and quiet but, as I was in HK, I needed to get back out into the thick of it all…

A bit of peace and quiet nestled into the centre of the city…

Now, if, like me, you enjoy a good drink, and don’t like spending too much money, you’ll no doubt head to Lan Kwai Fong, which is an area of several streets and alleys in the southern part of HK island famed for its bars and restaurants. It is, like most of the island, expensive, and a pint of ale will set you back around £5 but, considering where you are, it’s expected. Of course there are cheaper places to drink ,especially back across the harbour, but you don’t come to HK to bore yourself to death on a budget do you?

Squid and Beer…don’t mind if I do.

So, walking around Lan Kwai Fong (and picking up some delicious street food, such as squid or crab) will no doubt please you or, if you have the money, head into Soho and try out some of the upper market restaurants and bars (which will easily set you back nigh on £100 for a simple tasting)- there’s not one but two Gordon Ramsay restaurants in the surrounding areas, giving an example of the type of restaurants I’m talking about. Yes, go out, get drunk, spend a lot of money, remember where you are (though be aware of the ferry times as they don’t run all night!)

Definitely worth a try.

As always when I leave somewhere extraordinary, I was sad to leave Hong Kong, perhaps more sad than most places; there’s something about the city that struck a chord with me, though maybe it was due to the realisation that my actual travels were coming to an end; my need to settle down and start making money had been approaching for a while and was really just across the water somewhere in south east asia…

 

So, it’s goodbye to my travels (for now) and to China and its ‘administrative regions’, but not goodbye to the blog just yet; though I won’t be travelling around too much in the near future, there’s still plenty to write about…