The flight to Hong Kong was pretty humdrum really, apart from an air pocket near Riga just as they were serving dinner. Then on into darkness over Belarus and Kazakhstan, neatly sidestepping Ukraine. Apparently we flew over the roof of the world, too, so our flight map said. I can't sleep on these flights so I amuse myself watching multiple screens on the diagonal from where I am sitting. This time it was Minions, Pixels and most of Mission Impossible. Really enjoyed the Minions! Watching the sun come up over the rim of the world as we descended into Hong Kong was magic. What colours! Then the landing wheels came down and spoilt the view on the forward-facing camera! Dec 2015
round a shrinking globe,
made by a sinking sun.
trail from a silver bird,
by the patent absurd,
Dark shadows fall
from a strange metal bird,
forests turn grey in the gloaming.
No roads, no houses,
no human mark
in an endless steppe,
We landed at about 7.00am at Hong Kong airport coming in over the sea with mainland China clearly visible across the water and a new bridge to Shenzhen under construction.For more about Hong Kong see https://www.tripsavvy.com/what-country-is-hong-kong-in-1535874
The airport is very spacious and easy to cross even dragging our heavy cases - we had tried to pack light! The new airport express train to Hong Kong Central was clearly signed. It cost $90 each into Kowloon - Whaaaa! Then we remembered there were HK$12 to £1 (GBP) and we relaxed. Still we couldn't resist getting an Octopus card, sort of like Oysters in London, so we could travel on the metro, buses, trams and ferries at reduced rates, too - nothing to do with age!
The metro system is enormous and we could easily get from the airport to Jordan, the metro station near our hotel, with only two changes. Metro line changes are not a bit like London where you have to go up and down zillions of stairs and escalators every time you change line, which is not at all comfortable with heavy cases. In Hong Kong the lines are all at the same level so you just wheel your case across a concourse waving an Octopus to get through the ticket barriers.Trouble was the trains were rammed! It was the morning rush hour! So it was difficult to admire the modern trains and their sensible safety features - like the barriers on the edge of all the platforms so people can't be pushed in front of trains like you can in London or Paris. Everybody on the trains seemed to spend all their time playing on their smart phones, even when they were standing up - and some even did it walking down the street.
When we came up from the Metro we weren’t sure which way to turn in Nathan road (see photos below) so turned the wrong way, not ideal after a night flight with not much sleep. However, after traipsing up and down part of Nathan Road for a while, a little shocked by the strangeness and the bustle, a stranger pointed us in the right direction for our hotel, the Eaton Hotel near the Tin Hau temple a site we were keen to see, and an excellent restaurant in a side street. On several occasions during our stay in Hong Kong we found ourselves wandering down Nathan Road. Every time we walked along the road we were accosted by tailors trying to persuade me to have a suit made! I suppose it's the only way they try to get business and they were very friendly about it, especially on the third and fourth days. It became a bit like saying hello to your neighbours.
The restaurant, called Tsui Wah, always looked busy. It turned out to be part of a local chain, including a sister restaurant on Victoria Peak, where we could pay by Octopus cards or cash. Although we spoke no Chinese somebody always had enough English to help us choose what to eat. The place was spotless and buzzing with comfortable eaters. The staff were very friendly. The first time we went they brought us spoons and forks - I think they were a little surprised when we asked for chopsticks as well, but we thought, 'when in Rome ... and soon got used to them. The restaurant served tasty food quickly in very generous portions. There were plenty of dishes, predominantly Chinese, to choose from on a menu with pictograms to complement its labels. Surprisingly every meal came with warm water to drink, but we discovered this was thought to be good for people’s health. The first time we went we had an awesome meal for about HK $200 (£20) for both of us and more than we could comfortably eat. When we ordered we had not realised how big would be the portions, and they were beautifully cooked and hot.
The harbour end of Nathan Road is really plush with big, classy shops and several big shopping malls, sometimes called the 'Golden Mile' apparently, bit like the West end of London. Many of the shops had dressed their windows for Christmas and some had decorated their buildings. Round the back of these impressive shops was the Hong Kong museum which presented a fascinating picture of Hong Kong through the ages since it was inhabited by early people. It presented a lot of artefacts, including boats, to substantiate its stories. This made the history of Hong Kong very accessible to strangers in town. Dec 2015
Opposite this was the Hong Kong mosque and an extensive public garden called Kowloon Park. The park was peaceful, well laid out with lakes and flower beds – a lot of the plants were labelled, as were the birds on the lakes - and a special Chinese garden with a Chinese roofed pavilion and terrapins and goldfish in various ponds. The terrapins loafed around on various bits of wood and on the bank but the goldfish were active enough in a lazy sort of way. There were plenty of places to sit in the shade and watch the birds, some quite unlike those in England, and highly energetic joggers as well as groups of school children taking notes with their teachers.
One evening on the way back to our hotel on foot from the harbour - perhaps about two Kms along Nathan Road - we decided to walk through the Temple Street night market before having dinner. This is on a road that runs parallel to Nathan Road for about one Km and is full of stalls selling all manner of things but not food. The food stalls were in another parallel street where we found one selling live fish from tank to table. We were tempted, but worried about how our tummies might react. Dec 2015
Halfway along Nathan street, near the Tin Hau temple (and our hotel) were loads of Fortune tellers' stalls and quite a few people sitting around looking as though they had no bed to go to for the night. The temple is dedicated to a Chinese sea god, showing how important the sea and fishing were to the people of Hong Kong. Later the next day we noticed that there was a social care centre near the temple with a notice saying no rough sleeping. Well, it was written in English as well as Chinese as both languages are official languages here. We found another Tin Hau Temple in Admiralty on HongKong island which aslo had amazing decorations in it. The day we visited it was soaking wet, appropriately, perhaps, for a sea god. Dec 2015
Near the harbour was the Art Gallery, unfortunately closed for refurbishment. In front of the Gallery on the harbour side was a lovely promenade from where you could watch all the boats and ferries moving about in the harbour, including the Star ferry. The harbour was constantly busy with leisure boats and working boats and on Kowloon side loads of people watching them, especially in the early evening and taking selfies. At the seaward end of Nathan Road in Kowloon the Star Ferry crosses the harbour to Wanchai on HongKong Island. The Ferry was set up in colonial times. It is still operating and provides a more peaceful and romantic way to cross the harbour than the Metro. The drivers seem to have a knack of dodging all the other boat traffic. Looking across the water gave lovely views of Hong Kong island with Wanchai and Central districts (major business districts with towering apartment blocks) hiding in the shelter of Victoria Peak. At night the buildings in Wanchai and Central were all lit up, as were the boats. It was weird seeing some of the buildings advertising Christmas in light shows with Santa and snow. I don't think Hong Kong has ever had much snow fall - so only the people who travelled from Hong Kong would have experienced it.
Arriving in Wanchai, we walked across to the Victoria Peak station through the enormous shopping malls and a park with its aviary. At the station we joined the Victorian relic of a rack and pinion railway to the Peak. The people of Hong Kong are very proud of their 'tram'. You can walk or drive up to the peak, but the tram is impressive and the magnificent views from the top are even better appreciated if one is not puffed out with walking up the hill! There is now a tourist experience at the top of the Peak as well as verious shops and restaurants including a Tsui Wah restaurant. You can walk round the top of the Peak on the narrow roads or wander through Pok Fu Lam country park and get amazing views out over the South China Sea and Victoria Harbour, seeing the shipping at anchor off Hong Kong and the vast new bridge systems being built to link Hong Kong's trade more closely to main land China.
To get to Lantau Island from Nathan road you have to travel by metro and ferry or cable car. We set out by metro from Yau Ma Tai station, near out hotel on Nathan road, to go under the harbour to Central (see photo) to catch a ferry to Lantau island. For more about Lantau Island see https://uk.hotels.com/go/hong-kong/best-lantau-island-things-to-do The alternative route is by MTR to Tung Chung and thence a cable car up to the Po Lin monastery where the big Buddha ‘lives’ but it is not so romantic as taking a ferry across part of the South China Sea to Lantau island and then taking a bus up to the monastery on the twisty narrow island roads.
Once in Central at Exchange Square by the International Financial Centre we followed the pedestrian walkways to the ferry station. As well as seeing the park near the legislative assembly building for Hong Kong. we had good views of Kowloon and the new buildings going up near Kowloon train station on land reclaimed from the sea.The ferry runs regularly to Lantau Island so we didn't have long to wait and it doesn't cost very much,
Po Lin Monastery and the big Buddha
Po Lin monastery sits on top of a mountain and is dominated by an enormous statue of the Buddha that you can walk up to and around. The views from the base of the statue over the surrounding countryside are stunning. For the seriously adventurous there is a path down from here to Tung Chung through the jungle. The monastery buildings are beautifully decorated on the outside and some are open to the public (see photos below). The interiors are also beautifully decorated in traditional Chinese style and some contain evocative ritualized statues. As well as prayer space and beauty, the monastery offers visitors excellent buffet food, either in a Western/ Hong Kong style or in a local style. We tried the local style and had very tasty food very cheaply. The servers did not speak any English but were very kind in helping us select food by point and smile that fitted with the dishes we recognised and chose. We ate outside in an open courtyard under the trees that was regularly cleaned by restaurant staff. Soft and warm in mid-December!
This is quite a mountainous place so the bus from the ferry terminal gives passengers an interesting view of part of the island, including a view of one of the local prisons that is on land on the coast below the dam of a reservoir. The bus goes across the top of the dam and then winds up into the hills. Where it turns towards the monastery the other fork in the road leads down to a beautiful fishing village Tai O that has kept many of it traditional ways. When we got back to the ferry terminal – the bus and ferry terminal are coterminous, and lots of people seem to park their bikes there for the day, presumably to work in Hong Kong - we went for a wander along the water front until the ferry arrived, enjoying the calm warmth of the late afternoon by the sea. From where we sat for a rest we could see walking trails leading up over the hills. Dec 2015.