Hong Kong

Hong Kong at night

I spent a week in Hong Kong in March 2010. Why Hong Kong? Well, I decided that I wanted to go somewhere reasonably far-flung; it should be somewhere I could ‘do’ in a week; I knew I would be travelling alone, so it should be somewhere safe; and it should have a prospect of reasonable weather in March, which is when I wanted to go (i.e. no typhoons, rain or extreme heat!). Hong Kong ticked all of those boxes, and was within my price range.

I took the Lonely Planet City Guide to Hong Kong and Macau and found it to be an excellent, useful guide. The removable map was very handy for getting around.

No visa is needed for British nationals to visit Hong Kong for up to 180 days. However, if you are visiting mainland China you will need a visa.

*Day 1*

My first full day in Hong Kong was a Wednesday so I decided to take advantage of the fact that many museums are free on this day. I first visited the Hong Kong Museum of Art, which has a lovely view of the harbour and some fascinating galleries, especially the Chinese Fine Art gallery. I especially liked a temporary exhibition on the history of Canton (now Guangzhou) which used to be an important trading port in China. It was designed to be like a ‘travel guide’ to 19th century Canton and I found it really interesting and imaginatively put together.

Secondly I walked north through Kowloon to the Hong Kong Museum of History. I love this kind of thing: I studied history at uni so I really enjoy finding out about the past of the places I visit. I really enjoyed this museum: it covered the history of Hong Kong from prehistoric times to the recent handover to China, and although there was a lot to see it was never boring or dull. I definitely recommend both of these museums.

After this I took the Star Ferry to Hong Kong Island. It was really exciting to be going on the ferry and it was lovely being on the water and feeling the fresh breeze, especially as it was such a hot day. Once on Hong Kong Island I made my way to the Peak Tram. This took some time as I managed to get lost – there are lots of covered walkways above the traffic as you get off the ferry, and once you’re on the ground you can’t just walk in a straight line – you have to find somewhere to cross the road! I did manage to find the tram eventually and took a trip up.

The Peak Tram was initially designed to carry rich Westerners up Victoria Peak, where many used to live to make the most of the cooler temperatures at the top. Now it is chiefly a tourist attraction. It is a decidedly strange feeling travelling on a tram which is going up an almost 90-degree hill! You get a great view too.

At the top there are a number of gift shops and restaurants but the main attraction is the viewing deck (which you unfortunately have to pay extra for). The views are amazing and you can get some fantastic photos. I ended up going back on Saturday night to look at the skyline in the dark.

*Day 2*

The second day in Hong Kong was actually spent in Macau, which like HK is a Special Administrative Region of China. It was formerly under Portuguese rule and the Portuguese influence is still visible. I went on a tour which I booked back in the UK, but some of the other people I met had booked it at the Holiday Inn Golden Mile (on Nathan Road) or at other locations. The company was called Gray Tours. To be honest if you have a little time you could easily plan a trip here yourself, but booking a trip does take some of the hassle out of it.

We took a ferry to Macau which was fun. Don’t forget your passport as it will need to be checked.

In Macau we saw a good number of interesting things, including a temple, the Macau Museum and the ruins of the Church of St Paul. The church burned down many years ago but the front end stayed standing: this was deemed a miracle at the time and remains pretty impressive now! At one point during the trip we visited a bakery. The cynical part of me thinks that this was a way for the tour guide to get commission, but to be fair the biscuits were delicious (you are allowed free nibbles from the boxes in the front) and the Portuguese egg custard tarts were yummy.

The Macau Tower was another item on our itinerary: this offered some pretty impressive views over Macau and also beneath us owing to the glass ceiling. You can go bungee jumping from it but I declined!

Macau is famous for gambling as it is the only place in China where it is actually permitted. It is known as the ‘Las Vegas of the East’. Personally I wasn’t bothered about gambling so didn’t try it.

I really enjoyed Macau and would have been happy to spend at least a couple of days there instead of a one-day whistle-stop tour!

*Day 3*

I decided to spend the Friday visiting the Big Buddha on Lantau Island. Despite being on an island the place is really easy to get to – just get off at Tung Chung Station (at the end of the Tung Chung line, the same station you would use if you were getting the shuttle bus to the airport). Across the square you will see the lower station for the cable car that takes you to the top.

The cable car must be a relatively new introduction – a friend of mine visited Hong Kong a few years ago and said that it wasn’t yet built and they had to get a bus there. The cable car is certainly an easier and more scenic route. I arrived at 10am which is opening time and there were still quite a few people in the queue, so I definitely recommend going early.

There are different options for the cable cars: standard and crystal. The crystal car comes with a see-through glass bottom so it’s not for the fainthearted! I chose the ordinary one as it was a bit cheaper. The ride took about twenty minutes and there were some fantastic views of the sea, the airport and, as you approach it, of the big Buddha itself.

The village next to the cable car stop is incredibly touristy and obviously fake – it consisted almost entirely of souvenir shops and a small cinema showing some sort of film which I avoided because the guidebook said it was rubbish. It took about twenty minutes to walk to the Buddha itself. At the foot of the steps to the Buddha you are asked if you want to buy a meal ticket for the nearby monastery’s vegetarian restaurant – only with a ticket can you get into some of the rooms at the top including the ‘relic’. It’s probably not worth buying this just to see the rooms, as they’re really nothing special, but I decided to go ahead as I was looking forward to a proper vegetarian meal!

Climbing up the steps was hard but not impossible if you’re reasonably fit. There are some good views from the top and the Buddha looks pretty impressive close up. After that I was dying for my lunch so I headed towards the restaurant for a very tasty meal!

I spent the afternoon travelling back to Hong Kong Island and going about on the tram – this was a fun way to pass some time. I spent the evening just sitting in some coffee shops as I was really tired.

*Day 4*

Today I went on the ‘Land Between’ tour. This is another tour I booked while in the UK but apparently it is very popular and can be booked in Hong Kong. The tour takes you up through Kowloon and into the New Territories, starting at the Yuen Yuen Institute (a modern, impressive temple complex) and going on to a traditional village, a waterfall and a fishing point.

I booked the full-day tour so I had a Chinese lunch included which was very tasty. I really enjoyed the trip as I thought it showed a different side to Hong Kong and was a real eye-opener.

After the tour I had time to go on the Big Bus Company’s tour bus around Hong Kong Island. This is a good way to see a lot of the city, but it is rather expensive – I was tired by this time though and welcomed the chance to relax for a bit! Later that evening I went back up Victoria Peak for amazing views of the city.

*Day 5*

I began my relaxing Sunday by sightseeing on the tour bus’s other route (included in the ticket price) in Kowloon. After that I got a bus from beside the Star Ferry Pier in Hong Kong Island to the south side of the island. Aberdeen, a cute fishing village, was my first stop, but I didn’t stay there long as I wanted to get to Stanley.

Stanley really is a lovely little village, that has a pier and nearby beaches. There are bars and restaurants dotted along the front – there was even a Pizza Express! I visited the Maritime Museum which was surprisingly interesting and cheap to get in. I also walked along the front to visit the Military Cemetery (I have a thing about cemeteries, I visit one every time I go on holiday), where there were loads of graves from the 19th century and World War II, including lots of children’s graves which was really sad.

I really liked Stanley and could have easily spent a couple of days there relaxing, there isn’t a great deal to do but once you’ve ticked the sightseeing boxes I think it would be lovely just sitting by the sea.

*Day 6*

My final full day in Hong Kong involved my trip to Shekou and Guangzhou (formerly Canton). I had to get up ridiculously early so the tour group could catch the early ferry, which took about an hour.

Our first stop was a Chinese kindergarten in Shekou, which is a fast-growing shoppers’ city – I thought it was a rather odd place to take a tour group, but the kids were cute! We also stopped at a zoo to see a panda (who was dozing in a teddy-bear like way), a museum which had on display a couple of the terracotta warriors, and a temple. We took the train back to Kowloon which was interesting – the seats had far more legroom than trains in the UK and we each got a bottle of mineral water free!

I really enjoyed my trip to mainland China but I was a bit disappointed it wasn’t more ‘historical’. I would have liked to have seen more old buildings from both ancient China and colonial times but instead there were lots of skyscrapers, without the iconic buildings you get in places like Beijing. I guess this was more ‘authentic’ though and closer to the way people in China actually live.

The biggest differences between mainland China and Hong Kong was that in the latter city most of the signs are in both Chinese and English – in China most signs are just in Chinese. Also, in China all the toilets were ‘squatter-style’ whereas in Hong Kong I only saw a couple like that – the vast majority were Western-style.

*Day 7*

This was my last day in Hong Kong so I spent the day hopping about from MTR station to MTR station visiting odd sites that I hadn’t had time to go to before, such as the tomb of a Han emperor and the Noonday Gun (made famous by a song of Noel Coward’s). After I’d exhausted these random places I caught the MTR to Tung Chung Station and took the shuttle bus to the airport, where I returned my Octopus card and got my deposit back, and checked in for a straightforward flight back to the UK.

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