This is to be my penultimate blog post from Asia and documents my final trip in Asia for what could be a while. My contract finishes at my current school towards the end of February and I have decided to undertake some further education in Spain. Following successful (hopefully) completion of the CELTA course I plan to either work in Spain or possibly in another European country. It will be a new adventure, all be it closer to home, but one that should be equally valuable and as joyous as my experiences in Asia. Europe has a myriad of wondrous countries and sights that I have yet to see or have even considered seeing. Living and traveling in Asia has opened my eyes to the whole world and as such I think I will be able to consider the treasures, ones that I may previously have overlooked, in a clearer and refreshing light.
In the meantime here are a few lines about my trip in Hong Kong. This came as part of a trip to Hong Kong and Thailand, with Thailand being sandwiched between four days either side in the ex-British colony. It won’t be the most in-depth blog, more of a photo blog this one with some of the more stand-out stories and experiences being paraphrased, as I am busy preparing for my studies as well as fighting off a nasty bout of flu.
The first evening and second day were wasted mostly to sleep and shopping for some new trainers that I would need for the more exerting aspects of some of the activities I had planned for my trip. My first real day of exploring began at the base of the Central to Mid-levels escalator, the longest covered, but outdoor, escalator system in the world. The first time I used the walkways was at the beginning of a hike to the summit of Victoria Peak. It also served its purpose well when a friend and I used it to find a restaurant to eat in when it was raining one evening. The 800m walkway is often lined with restaurants and bars as it dissects the central and western districts of Hong Kong island.
The astounding and wondrous view of the Hong Kong skyline across to Kowloon…wait, no, it’s shrouded in misty clouds. I hiked up Victoria Peak following the Old Peak Road. I planned to hike over the summit to Aberdeen but the deteriorating weather eventually prevented this.
From far away the streets of Hong Kong appear to be dominated by the high-rise buildings that pierce the sky, however the same cannot be said of what is to be found at street level; old Chinese restaurants (where you can enjoy an incredibly cheap bowl of beef and noodles seen below), over-priced Yuppie bars, galleries, chilled out parks, historical temples or even these knitted-to-the-bollards cuddly characters.
I ate at the above restaurant twice, the first time alone and the second time with some friends from the wonderful Tin Tong Backpackers Hostel. A bowl of beef brisket with noodles was a mere $23 (Hong Kong dollars…) despite this the old man opposite us claimed, backed-up with evidence from a newspaper clipping from the wall above, that the rising development and rents had doubled the said price in a few years. He also told us the restaurant was ear-marked for closure and demolition, an inconvenience in the way of corporate development.
Some images from Man Mo temple, when your feet are tired and your mind is buzzing from the hustle and bustle of downtown Hong Kong thirty minutes spent here and in the Hollywood Road Park a little further down the street can quickly recharge you.
Trams, quintessentially British, still travel along the lower streets of Hong Kong Island. I didn’t ride one but they are considered to be a cheap and convenient mode of transport in the lower levels and can be a smart way to help you get your bearings.
The view across from Kowloon of the Hong Kong skyline. As unique and as impressive as the skyline is, I would have to suggest that Kowloon is equally, if not, more appealing than Hong Kong Island. Kowloon oozes local culture, offers affordability and a diverse traveling experience.
Tim Ho Wan, the only Michelin starred restaurant I have ever eaten at, also one of the cheapest restaurants I have ever eaten at. Located on the aggressively titled Fuk Wing St. in Kowloon I made two diversions to eat here. The first time I went there was a queue of 23 tables ahead of me and my hostel friends, while they stayed I went off on my trainer shopping expedition, the second time I went I dragged along a French and American acquaintance (said American photo-bombing) and we walked straight in for an early weekday lunch. Incredible food in an authentic environment for less than five English pounds.
One of the most unique experiences in Kowloon is a walk along Yuen Po Street, a popular Hong Kong past-time appears to be caring for the slightly more exotic of bird species and this is the place to go for all your ornithology needs, from buying a bird, to purchasing its lunch (see grasshoppers below) or to crafting and buying an ornate cage.
Chunking Mansions, I’m not sure how to describe this place, it’s like a mini-African-cum-Middle Eastern bordello, punctuated by mobile phone shops, aromatic food-stalls, ‘inconspicuous’ drug dealers, low-budget accommodation and random tailors. It couldn’t be less Chinese, but equally in Hong Kong it is equally not out of expectation.
Outdoor butchers, chop and go.
When I returned from Thailand I found myself arriving at an airport as abnormally early as I had abnormally left Chiang Mai. Before I could check into the creative residence hostel (Wontonmeen, google it) I had some time to kill and I spent this by exploring the island that is home to Hong Kong airport, Lantau. I took a local bus the long and scenic way round the island for the tenth of the price of the cable car and found myself at the Big Buddha, a huge bronze seated Buddha atop a mountain.
Part of the same location as the Big Buddha is the Po Lin monastery, you can’t venture in to most of the monastery grounds but it is slightly more relaxed than the steps of the Big Buddha where there is a reasonable chance an Asian tourist will clatter you with a selfie-stick
One evening I went to the Temple Street Night Market, whilst I enjoyed the backstreet street food and general neon ambiance of the sometimes claustrophobic Kowloon roads and avenues, it was quite an eye-opener into the seedier side of Kowloon. It’s better to be seen than described but if you look closely at the neon advertisements you can get an idea of the brazenly open services and products that are available.
One of my favourite experiences came at the Bruce Lee exhibition at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum in Sha Tin. This exhibit lasts until 2018 I believe, so you have plenty of time to indulge yourself in the life of this incredible Kung Fu (Jeet Kune Do) master, movie actor and all-round incredibly dedicated and loving man. I took this cheeky photo (no photos allowed) of his costume from the movie Game of Death.
My final notable experience came on The MacLehose Hiking trail. I had hoped to do a little more hiking in Hong Kong but the rainy weather that accompanied the first part of my visit prevented this. However I woke on my penultimate day to clear skies and warm air and set off to the eastern district of Sai Kung in The New Territories. I planned to complete the fourth and fifth sections of this 100km long trail and, with a few purposeful diversions, this is what I completed. My first detour was up the eastern face of Ma On Shan. Not advised by the local signposts but totally recommended by your intrepid author. Steep and loose underfoot but totally worth it for the views across the Kowloon Peaks and over to China.
The view up to Ma On Shan, you can view my hike route here, it almost stretches across the width of Hong Kong’s Special Administrative Zone.
The route is marked by these little placards spaced roughly every 500m. The longer your hike lasts the further apart they seem to appear though!
Shortly past the second summit (where I chose to follow the path and not hit the peak) I managed to capture this paraglider stick his landing. I had enjoyed watching their antics as I hiked across from Ma On Shan and I was very lucky to be in the right place at the right time to see him swoop down. His facial expression proved he had loved every second of it.
This is Lion Rock, my second excursion from the main path. From Lion Rock you get a wonderful view south down to Kowloon, although on this occasion the haze obscured any further viewing of Hong Kong Island. Definitely worth the diversion.
After 26.8km of continuous hiking and relentless and steep climbs and falls you have the ‘joy’ of meeting a family of 300 monkeys. Two strains of macaques live in the lower elevations of the final national park. As I tentatively walked along the path the macaques either scarpered away or nervously followed me or preceded my footsteps ahead of me. One cheeky monkey swiped at my foot to trip me but this turned out to be the minorest of encounters. At the end of the trail, within vision of the bus stop home I came upon the alpha male and his lady. Unlike other monkeys who had made way as I walked towards them these two chose to confront me with their rather dangerous looking teeth. As I approached the third time, bizarrely hand-gesturing at them my intention to pass, the alpha male decided to mount his lady, give her a quick hump, while staring menacingly at me, then charged me. I chose the waving arms frantically and shouting ‘no’ form of defense. Although successful at preventing a savage biting, I retreated through the forest and picked my way through the jungle to the bus-stop past the remaining unperturbed monkeys.
I ended my trip quite lazily,I met Luke, a friend from Changwon and someone I had previously traveled to Japan with one evening for some Dim Sum and a few beers in the Hollywood Road Park with one of his Welsh friends from back home who was out visiting him for a few weeks. The following evening I met a friend from Hong Kong who I watched Birdman with at the Langham Place cinema before she indulged me in the ‘pleasures’ of Sushi. Yes, I ate raw fish. Some of it was even quite palatable.
Hong Kong is almost an indescribable place. It can be as mental in one spot as it can be serene in another.