When I mentioned to a friend I had met over dinner that I would be going to Hong Kong next (we were sitting in a Korean Barbecue restaurant on Jeju island in South Korea) she wrinkled her nose and asked, “For what?” She was from Hong Kong and as tends to be the case with many locals from any destination you visit, there was a sense of indifference towards the sights she grew up around – the very same things that make tourists swoon. I told her I wanted to see the sights and have some good food. Besides, it was on the way to Thailand.
She took my phone and proceeded to go through guesthouses and hostels on the booking.com app, vetoing locations I had saved while adding others to my list. I ended up booking a room in the Tsim Sha Sui district of Kowloon island.
Side note: Hong Kong is actually a collection of islands, with Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, and Lantau being among the more popular areas for tourists. Since we’re on the topic of sidenotes I should probably mention that I almost didn’t make it past customs at the airport and practically swore off the country as one never to return to (but that story’s for another blog post).
Since I set out on my travel journey this has been my shortest stop at about 48 hours – 2 days – one of which was spent recovering from exhaustion from my last destination Jeju, South Korea. So in actuality, I really had one day to make the most of Hong Kong.
Arriving in Hong Kong I took a bus from the airport to the Tsim Sha Sui area. The ticket was reasonable at HK$33 and the journey lasted about 45 minutes to an hour. As far as scenery goes, there was nothing to report here. As with many developing countries worldwide, there was structural development at every turn orchestrated by the Chinese (this was Hong Kong after all, and of course they’re not going to develop the rest of the world while their own front yard runs a muck).
The Tsim Sha Sui area of Kowloon island, specifically Nathan Road where I stayed, is quite an experience. It probably didn’t help that I arrived in Hong Kong in May. Having spent the last three weeks traveling through mostly conservative countries (like) Japan and South Korea I made the mistake of wearing a cardigan over my shirt. 20 seconds off the air-conditioned bus and I was sweating like a pig (excuse the overused metaphor but it really serves my purpose here). Streets were literally crawling with what I assumed was a combination of (mostly) tourists and locals. The entire area was just a deluge of shopping with consumerism alive and well. If China is Communist, its independent ‘child’ Hong Kong is the stark contrast, writhing in capitalist excess and luxury. All the major brands and their sub-par counterparts were represented. Tiffany, Hermes, Herve Leger, everyone was in attendance. And let’s not talk about the lines of consumers waiting to enter stores; lines that stretched around block after block.
Despite the heat and discomfort of walking the streets around the Tsim Sha Sui area, the highlight of my visit to Hong Kong is without a doubt, the ferry ride to and from Hong Kong island and my trek (ok, I took the tram but it still counts as a trek) up Victoria Peak. The fare for the ferry ride was the best HK$5 I spent on the entire trip, hands down! After walking around Kowloon park for an hour and downing multiple frostees because the heat was just so unbearable, I made my way to the pier to catch the ferry. The wait was brief – about 5 minutes then it was time to set sail. I didn’t record the time but I would estimate that the ride took about 5 minutes.
As I got off the ferry on Hong Kong island I felt like my nerdy 8-year-old self in a bookstore (I know I’m still a nerd so you don’t get brownie points for stating the obvious). The view from the Hong Kong side was simply breathtaking, not to mention the walk along the promenade which was clearly the preferred jogging trail for very
hot able-bodied Asian men.
After feasting my eyes on the skyline and getting my fill of photographs (it was a little windy so Tripod Bae was of no help, which made things difficult) I decided to walk to the tram pickup point at the foot of Vitoria Peak. Now I had read on several blogs that there are some folks who make the journey on foot. After taking the tram up the peak I call bullshit. Or perhaps bravery to the few who’ve allegedly done it, but no thanks. I’ll find another way to get in my daily ten thousand steps. Besides, my poor fitness tracker would probably malfunction out of sheer confusion. 30,000 steps? What? Who dis? Those would be its last thoughts. And I am far too kind, so tram – yes, please. Don’t mind if I do.
The standard cost for the tram was HK$52 return, but there’s an option to pay extra to get the Peak Tram Sky Pass which costs HK$99 and allows you access to the Sky Terrace. I find that most observation decks have this option – general and premium admission I suppose. To be honest, the terrace almost wasn’t worth it with the crowds as I literally had to lay wait others taking photos. I felt like a lurker… as soon as someone stepped away from the railing you should have seen me rushing to get into their space. In the end, I came away with one weird looking selfie and about ten decent photos of the skyline with fog obscuring half of it. But that’s the charm of travel.
I was forewarned there would be fog but I was optimistic that I’d be able to get a clear pic with the entire skyline. I think the clear skies from the promenade tricked me.
The walk back to the pier was quick in the way that returning from a place is always a shorter trip than going there for the first time. And the lights from the highrise buildings along the island were a sight to behold.
Unfortunately for me, I missed the famous Symphony of Lights that happens nightly. According to the Hong Kong tourism board, “The multimedia show has set the harbour ablaze every night since 2004, and is recognised as one of the world’s most spectacular light shows.”
One thing is for sure. I definitely DID NOT get enough time in Hong Kong. Despite the airport screening drama and my almost having a breakdown and deciding never to return (story to follow) I will definitely be returning soon.