Hong Kong - abroad at last

Nov 20-26

First Impressions

Arriving at the airport after a 12 hour flight, what could have been a difficult journey to our hotel was made very easy and simple by a well laid out airport, good information and great public transport. We got the public bus into town, and it included a nice commentary on the areas we were passing as well as letting us know exactly when to get off. A 100 meter stagger later and we were in a the very nice Kimberly Hotel reception, 5 minutes later we were in our room for the next 3 nights. Considering we booked the room on the basis of availability of online booking on the net, and price it was pretty good. We hadn't really seen much of the area we were in (just off Nathan Road in Kowloon for those familiar with HK), apart from a general impression of bustling streets and plenty of neon signs about, but tonight wasn't the time to go exploring - beyond a quick recce of the hotel bar of course...

Top tip no. 1: Don't whatever you do, don't have a couple of beers after having taken valium on a 12 hour flight a third of the way around the world. Firstly, it keeps you up all night unable to keep even water down, secondly missing that nights sleep prolongs the dreadfulness of jet lag by another day or so, thirdly it makes the next day much less fun that it ought to be, and last, but not least, it's probably extremely bad for your health. My only excuse is that I was groggy from the valium and the flight and didn't think about what I was doing (feeble, but the best I can come up with).

Second impressions

Shortly after midday on what was by now Wednesday, I'd recovered enough for us to make our planned rendevous with Becky. She took one look at the state I was in and decided that somewhere that was western orientated and close would be a better bet than authentic Hong Kong for lunch. Fortunately it was just across the road so we made it there, and Jo and Becky had lunch while I nursed a coffee and a coke. It turned out that the cafe had a couple of internet terminals which were free for customers, so we could check e-mail etc. Other internet cafes we went to had free drinks if you paid for net access. Both good customs! One thing I noticed was an advert for fast internet access for home use: 3mbps for £30 a month (thats 6 times as fast for 25% less than BT charge in the UK). I knew BT were ripping me off, but not by how much....bet that situation hasn't changed when we get back either.

Anyway, it was great to see Becky and catch up on what she'd been up to for the last few years and get some more pointers as to what we should go and see whilst here. She pointed us the direction of an American Express office so we could get some travellers cheques (something we hadn't got round to in the UK, mainly due to Trailfinders messing us around and Morden being a tiny little dump of a place where they look at you funny if you want to buy US dollar travellers cheques) and went off to work, having arranged to meet us the following night with some friends for a meal.

After a bit more rest in the hotel we ventured out in late afternoon and took a wander down Nathan Road to the harbour. Hong Kong harbour is amazing. Very impressive during the day, and magnificent at night when all the lights are on. There are some photos in our photo gallery but they don't do it justice, as they can't give an impression of the true scale of it all. Definitely a sight you should try and see with your own eyes.

After gawping at the harbour for a while we went around the space museum which is right on the harbour side - seems like Wednesday it's free to go around, which was nice. It was interesting to see their exhibitions as they had a slightly different perspective to British museums which have a very British/European centred viewpoint. This one gave much more credit to other nations and cultures where astronomy and space technology was developed, particularly early Chinese astronomers and rocketry work (although given our location, thats about as suprising as the Western focus in British institutions).

More harbour staring as we came out as the sun had set and all the lights were on. One thing that we noticed whilst here was that a lot of the individual office lights are on as well as the large neon attachments on the outside. It adds to the overall effect, but we wondered whether it was organised, or just accidental. Another thought was that the electricity bill must be huge - we did notice later in the week that they don't seem to leave the neon all night. Sometime after midnight the adverts start going out, so its not totally wasteful - but I'd still like to know if the tourism authority is contributing to the cost, if they aren't then they should!

We went for a quick meal that evening in an Irish pub on the way back to the hotel. The jet lag was kicking in, so we had an early night - then woke at 4am all ready to get up and go. For the next few days that was the case - really tired in the early evening, very alert at 4am: a real pain, but it passed in the end.

The rest of the week

Thursday and Friday we spent getting our visa for Thailand (which involved going over to the consulate on Hong Kong island via the famed Star Ferry - a trip we were to take many times over the next few days) and wandering around the imposing skyscrapers of the financial district. After missing out on our trip to New York it was the first time I'd really seen proper skyscrapers - London just doesn't cut the mustard when it comes to tall buildings. On the Friday we picked up our visas and took a trip to Stanley on the south of HK Island and sat down on the beach for a bit. Our first beach of the trip - only 25°C, but compared to what we left in the UK it was heaven.

We had a slight panic on the Thursday when we tried to book into our hotel for the next three nights, as they told me it was full and we'd have to check out the next day, and then we tried three more hotels on our road which were also full. After much frantic searching and phoning we got a room at the YMCA overlooking the harbour - which Jon and Sally had recommended, but was slightly(!) out of our planned price range, but (in a scenario that will become wearily familiar to those who read all of this site) we decided to go for it and booked in for three nights. The view was definitely worth it: View from our room at the YMCA HK
On Saturday we went up Victoria Peak on the Peak Tram, which is very steep, and gives the impression of being the start of a roller coaster - we just kept waiting for it to let go and the ride to start, but fortunately it didn't and we made it to the top. A great viewing platform, but surrounded by a building of the worst tourist tat you ever saw. We skipped all of that and just admired the view, although it was a bit hazy before sunset, it was great afterwards: Jo at Victoria Peak, Hong Kong Victoria Peak, Hong Kong after sunset
When we came down from the peak we met up with Keith, a friend of Becky's, who took us to a lovely park in the midst of the skyscrapers, on then onto the Foreign Correspondents Club where we were meeting Becky after she finished work. On the way we passed several landmarks: old British garrisons, government buildings and the old governors mansion house amongst others. The FCC club was a sight to see in itself. Once we met with Becky the four of us went to eat in a place fondly (I think) known to Becky and Keith as "Rat Alley" in Lan Kwai Fong. After food (and I assume, and hope, that the Rat in Rat Alley refers to the fact that it's outdoors and the Rats come and eat up all the food that is dropped, rather than being the food...) we headed to a bar, and then another....and before we know it it is 6am and Becky is trying to drag us to another bar, and Jo and I are not playing - although she gave up pretty fast when we told her it was 6am, muttering something about thinking it was "only" 4am. We staggered down to the harbour to watch the sun come up and get the first Star Ferry back over to Kowloon and our hotel, having truly had a night out in Hong Kong. Thanks Becky, Keith and the nameless covers band who kept us all going in the last bar till so late(early?).

As you might imagine Sunday was a bit of a write off, but we managed to get to the very posh Peninsular hotel next door for afternoon tea, and Becky came over in the evening to say goodbye. A picture here of the 3 of us, and the view from our room (again - I think we were becoming a bit obsessed by the view by the end): Becky, Jo and Richard at the YMCA, HK
Monday came and it was time to pack our bags and head for the airport to catch our flight to Bangkok, and start phase 2 (or is that 3?) of the trip.

Last Impressions

We didn't find Hong Kong as busy as we'd expected. It is busy, but no more so than London or probably any other major city. It's an expensive place to be, but defintely worth a short visit. The whole issue of integration with mainland China will probably change it over the next decade or so, but I expect it will keep it's distinct flavour of the mix of Asia and the West. I've no idea where they are going to fit any more people tho' - the place looks full. I guess they'll just knock down the old buildings and build them back again but higher, or reclaim more land from the sea.

Last thought: Becky sure knows how to show visitors a great Saturday night out. Thanks Becks! ;-)


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