Hong Kong

Having been in very clean Helsinki and Stockholm and then to the pristine Lapland of the respective countries, Hong Kong is such an assault on the senses.  Okay, mainland China is probably worse and Kathmandu is pretty bad but you get where I’m coming from.  It’s a seething mass of people, it’s loud, brash and bold and it smells.  The smell is what’s getting to me the most.  It’s not constant but every now and then I cop a load of a smell that makes my nasal hairs curl.  Speaking of nasal hairs, I forgot to mention that when it was really cold in the Lapland’s your nasal hairs start to freeze and you have to walk around twitching your nose all the time.  It’s a very bizarre sensation.  I have no idea what it is but it’s always the same smell.  But, aromas aside, it is a really interesting place.  I’m not in Kansas any more.

I arrived about 6pm after an uncomfortable flight and by the time I got through immigration, got the hotel shuttle bus. And finally arrived it was about 8.30pm.  We were driving through a fairly decent area and then the state of housing changed dramatically and I was thinking, of the six people on the bus, it’s going to be me that gets off in the seedy end of town.  I wasn’t disappointed.  I’m in Mongkok, which is only a few kms from Kowloon but it’s definitely the ‘real’ end of town.  There aren’t too many white people on the streets around here.   By the time I checked in and got myself together it was past 9.30 and as there is a McDonald’s across the road, that was as good as it was going to get.  I was a constant source of amusement for one old-timer as he sat there and stared at me. I’m not in Kansas any more.

I decided to put my definite itinerary on hold and just play it by ear and sleep in if the need took me, and I had a bit of a late start on my first day so was in a quandary as to where to start.  I caught the hotel shuttle bus in to Kowloon and walked past all the expensive shops – Giorgio Armani, Prada, Louis Vuitton etc etc, (there was a line up at Chanel and someone else, seriously these people are queuing to part with money!!).  The only name brands near my hotel are McDonalds and 7-Eleven…truth!  I found the Star Ferry and headed across to Hong Kong Island.   I knew there was a tram up to the Peak but I had no idea where it was and I found a bus stop that was said it was going to the Peak so joined the line.  I originally thought it was a tourist bus but I soon realized it was a public bus and I got to see a little more of the island than I’d planned.  It took about 40 mins to get to the Peak and we passed a few mad cyclists pedalling up there (idiots).  I went up to the Sky Terrace for the 360° view and it was pretty spectacular.  I think I was lucky to get a pretty good day, it was smoggy but still quite clear.  I had lunch at one of the cafés and took the tram down (which is actually a funicular not a tram) however the seats were facing backwards which is very disconcerting because in parts it’s extremely steep and you can’t see where you are going but is probably a good idea otherwise you wouldn’t be able to stay in your seat.  The queue of people waiting to go up stretched out the door, down the street and around the corner and made me really glad that I’d gone up by bus.  I caught the ferry back and walked ‘The Avenue of Stars’ which wasn’t as interesting as the guy at the hotel made it sound because it was all Chinese stars, strangely enough, although I did see Bruce Lee’s star and statue and Jackie Chan’s handprints.  I had to walk Nathan Road because that’s the main street but it was just all big name shops and pretty boring really but I came across Kowloon Park which is lovely and can you believe it, they have flamingos.  I didn’t see any flamingos in South America and had to come to Hong Kong to see them.

I checked with the Concierge at the hotel about getting to the Night Markets and he said it was too far to walk, so I got a taxi 30HKD or 3.65AUD.  The markets weren’t bad, selling lots of crap and with a handful of decent stuff thrown in and I hadn’t expected to stalls to take up so much of the street and leave so little room to get through.  I walked back to hotel, that was sooo far away, it only took 30 – 40 mins.  It would have been much quicker if these Hong Konginians walked faster.  Honestly, it’s a constant meander, like they’ve got nothing to better to do, it’s really more of an amble.  I mean seriously people, get a move on.  It was about 9.30pm on a Saturday night and all the shops were open and there were masses of people around the place.  Or maybe, that’s just normal for Hong Kong because there are masses of people.  I didn’t see any other whities and it must have looked pretty funny having this one blonde head bobbing up and down in a sea of black hair.

Sunday morning was pretty smog filled so I changed my plans and went to a few of the markets.  First stop was Goldfish Market Street and as it was only 10am on Sunday, not too many of them were open yet but it was enough to get the general idea.  Apparently, having lots of fish is big thing to the Hong Kongenese and these shops have hundreds, maybe even thousands of goldfish in varying sizes.  They bag up the smaller fish and have them hanging out for easy selection.  There are aquariums with turtles/tortoise (not sure which they were) and there are two whole blocks of these places, all selling the same thing.  Just around the corner and across the road was the Flower Markets on aptly named Flower Market Road and they were in full business.  Most of the shops are almost holes in the wall however there were a few traditional style shops and one in particular sold beautiful orchids (the shop was called Hayfever).  From there it was on to the bird markets that were still getting under way but quite of few of the old boys were out with their prize birds in ornate cages.  I headed down to the Ladies Markets but they were still arriving and wouldn’t be set up for a while so I decided it was time to go to Disneyland.

I caught the train to Sunny Bay and transferred to the Disneyland train.  I was quite excited and while I enjoyed it and knew that it was mostly rides, I thought there would be stuff to look at and there wasn’t much.  But the person who doesn’t queue even for the Eiffel Tower joined a queue and went on the Tea Cup ride and loved it.  Then I even joined a queue for the It’s a Small World ride which should have only been a 10 mins wait but was more like 15-20mins….grr, but it was very sweet.  Believe it or not, I even waited to get my photo taken with Winnie the Pooh and then joined another line, albeit a very short one for Pluto.   It true what they say about Disneyland being the happiest place in the world, it’s hard to be grumpy there although I did see an older Chinese couple having a bit of a spat and thought, come on, you’re in Disneyland, give it a rest.

It had been a long day as I’d woken at 4am and hadn’t been able to get back to sleep and when I got back to the hotel at about 6pm, I sat on the bed downloading the photos and promptly passed out, waking about 10pm.  I will also admit to shedding a tear as I was leaving Disneyland.  On arriving, I walked down the avenue to the ticket office, they we playing really cheery happy ‘glad to see you’ music and when I walking out the music seemed very ‘sorry to see you go’ but mainly because it’s the end of my holiday which meant I only had one more day and that always makes me cry.  I’m ready to burst into tears now, sitting at airport waiting for my flight.  Oh to have unlimited money to continuously travel.

Today I went again, to Lantau Island, past Disneyland, past the airport to Tung Chung to catch the cable car 5.7kms to Ngong Ping Village to see the Giant Buddha.   The cable car opens at 10am so I made sure I there shortly after and while I got straight to the ticket counter, I still had to wait about 20 mins to get a car.  I’m not really big on ferris wheels, chair lifts and cable cars.  I’m not terrified of them but they aren’t my most favoured method of transport. The ride was about 25 mins and it’s a really, really long way off the ground, another good reason for not paying extra for a cable car with a glass floor…shudder.

The “village” is just restaurants and shops so I bypassed it and went straight to the Big Buddha near the Po Lin Monastery.  The monastery was hidden in the mountains until the Tian Tan Buddha (commonly known as the Big Buddha) was built in 1993.  It’s the biggest sitting Buddha statue built outdoors and took 12 years build.  It’s 34 meters high, made of bronze and sits on top of  Mount Muk Yue.  When you climb the 268 steps up for a closer look, there are beautiful views over the valley.  He symbolizes the stability of Hong Kong, prosperity of China and peace on earth.

The monastery is very simple and had a lovely flower garden with chrysanthemums everywhere and large incense burning pyres.  Then I meandered back through the village and back on the cable car.  When I got back it was around 1.30pm-ish and I was really glad I’d gone early, as the line up was incredible.  It would have easily been 45 mins to get just to the ticket counter and then another hour at least (if they were lucky) to get on a car.  We had six people in our car on both trips and that was spacious, eight would have been fine but according to the signs they put ten in a car during busy periods.  I’m thinking two of them would have to be standing.

I was earlier that expected so had a quick look at the Ladies Markets which weren’t very impressive at all and headed back to the hotel for a shower, finish packing and check out.  I’d paid extra to have the room until 5pm as my flight wasn’t until 11pm but then realized I had nothing to do until then so headed to airport early, had dinner and tried to get most of this written.

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