Updated March 2014:
Much changes and much stays the same, maybe I changed more than HK, or at least my reaction to it has. My first visit here (in 2008) was on the way back from New Zealand, this time I come to HK having been in Thailand for almost 5 months; and by comparison HK looks like ‘back home’: the bars, the people, the roads and even traffic signs all look so familiar.
Updates and new photos added below.
Restaurant recommendation – Tsui Wah (15 Wellington St, Central, Hong Kong). This falls into the ‘canteen’ section rather than fine dining, but is great for people watching – especially at busy lunchtimes. We were a party of two and mistakenly thought we could have a table to ourselves on a Friday lunchtime… no way! Another pair were bundled onto the tiny table and we all just got on with it. The staff can be rather abrupt (think Carnegie Deli, New York), but are ruthlessly efficient and the prices and portions are exceptional. I think they have other branches, but this one is central and handy for the night life of Lan Kwai Fong.
Getting in: The airport express train runs from the airport to Kowloon and Hong Kong island – departures about every 15 minutes and the trip to HK takes 25 minutes. It’s very efficient, but buying tickets on arrival can be quite slow with large queues – if you have currency you can use the machine. There seem to be better deals (price wise) at the desk, but the savings are minimal. Shuttle buses operate from Kowloon and Hong Kong stations to the major hotel areas; these are claimed to run every 15 minutes, but I didn’t experience that, and used a taxi for the final leg to the hotel.
Getting around: MTR (underground rail) is very good, but the stations are huge and you can become disorientated; if you leave from the wrong exit you can be far from where you intended – try to get the name of road where you want to exit. The trams are fun and run along the main drag of HK island. Star Ferry across the harbour is a must at some point (get an upper deck ticket for the best view). Taxis are a viable option – especially outside rush hours, they use a meter and are reasonably priced.
Walking is best for short distances (especially in Central/ Soho and Kowloon) and you will get to see more. The area near the harbour is served by overhead walkways that keep you away from the traffic and connect most of the shopping areas, ferry etc.
Just got off a rather bumpy 11 hour flight from Auckland, and less than one and a half hours after landing I am installed in my hotel room in downtown Hong Kong.
When I arrived this morning all seemed strangely quiet – I put this down to the fact that the airport train is a restricted service – but perhaps they were all sleeping; they aren’t now…
HK is a bit crazy… and not just because I’m jet lagged, I have never been anywhere so ‘busy’… You want designer shops? we got ’em… You want restaurants? we got ’em… You want greeters dressed like angels with rabbit ears? we got ’em…
You want some private space? look elsewhere…
Hong Kong Island has a population density of 17,500 per square Km (Birmingham is 3,600 per square Km), today I have tripped over most of them.
To cope with these numbers there are huge networks of roads, tunnels, bridges and flyovers – all populated with buses, trams and taxis, plus of course the underground system.
Despite the above mix leading to parts of HK seeming a bit like a garden filled Spaghetti Junction; its all clean, tidy and very efficient, if a little crazy.
Great views from the peak of the island – you get there by tram, yes; it really is that steep… 27 degrees in places. The height difference is significant and the temperature at the top can be a good few degrees cooler. You have to pay extra to get to a viewing platform, but this is recommended.
This morning set off for Kowloon, tram to the ferry ($2 = 13p get on at the back and pay set fee when you leave via the front door), Star Ferry to Kowloon ($1.70 = 11p) and then a search for breakfast venue.
Prices 2014: Tram $2.35, and Star Ferry $2,50, $3.40 at weekends. Still has to be one of the best ferry crossings in the world and a bargain at that price.
As soon as you enter Kowloon proper you are approached by loads of well dressed Indians… the tailoring squad. Got a bit tiresome after a while – I can think of nothing I require less than a tailored suit or shirts or ties.
Jade market is here as well, interesting to wander, but again gets a bit tiresome when you stop to look at something for a moment they immediately seize it and start making recommendations – I just move on as soon as they start. Not really any hassle though – just trying to get a sale.
As I don’t want or need anything I’m not really sure why I’m wandering about here… so I buy 2 oranges, a dragon fruit and a pair of sandals to recompense the local economy, economic karma restored I return to HK island for lunch. The underground system is superb: clean, efficient, fast and cheap. All platform edges are protected with glass doors, the trains are massive – all open the full length – and fully air conditioned. Live maps indicate where you are, what direction you are traveling in and which side the doors will open at the next station. Mobile phones work underground too – which is a mixed blessing.
There are not that many stations, but each station has a lot of entrances – great when you are going in, a bit confusing when you leave – you have to check where you are going to surface.
Many aspects are not that unfamiliar – even the food you can sort of work out, everything else works just like at home – part of the hermogenisation of planet earth; years ago, places like this would have been very different, but I suppose there is a substantial English legacy in the nature of HK anyway.
Planting is a big feature here – Feng Shui and all that… Plant shops are very good and feature amazing ranges of exotic flora, orchids feature heavily.
Funny the things that seem more interesting… I couldn’t give a toss how cheap Vivienne Westwood T-shirts are, I’d rather look at the plants.
Off to Cheung Wan and Hollywood Rd to look at the junk antiques.
Not quite so fortunate with the breakfast today, your choices from the following please:
There is some good stuff up here as well as the tat, but tat can provide the best diversion!
Chairman Mao watches with a waving hand (which stopped as soon as I picked it up), ‘antique’ snuff bottles for £2 etc etc. I liked the Communist Party propaganda pottery, which I think may have been real from the 1960’s, unfortunately all the pieces were either too big to transport or chipped.
Visited Man Mo Chinese temple – smoke filled in the extreme, looks rather out of place surrounded by 50 storey tower blocks.
Prize to the first to guess what these are…
Finally on to the foot treat care of The Happy Foot in Lan Kwai Fong Branch. (19th & 20th floor, Century Square, No.1 D’Aguilar Street, Central. Tel: 2522 1151)
Fantastic; Shanghai pedicure and a reflexology massage for about £25. You sit in a darkened room – with a pin spot for reading if you wish – and get a fantastic massage, lasts about an hour, finishing off with a shoulder massage.
Visited here again in March 2014 and the Shanghai Pedicure is worth the trip to HK on it’s own – fantastic – like getting new feet…
Like many businesses in HK, the above is upstairs… actually the Happy Foot is on the 19th floor. The same goes for a lot of restaurants, ground level is at such a premium that they shove big stuff out of the way.
This can be a bit off putting as if you change your mind about a restaurant its a bit more difficult to leave after you have committed to a long staircase or even a lift journey.
Hong Kong by night
New York might have taller skyscrapers… but they don’t do this…
They have a light show every night at 8.00pm, you need to be on the Kowloon side to view it.