Well, it’s been a while since we’ve been back, but we never actually finished the story. Here are the last two entries.
Hong Kong is a city composed of many islands, mainly Hong Kong Island, and Kowloon Island. It is a financial and architectural metropolis located just off the East cost of mainland China. We left Singapore early in the afternoon, and arrived in Hong Kong in the evening, just after dusk. As soon as we arrived at the airport, we picked up our bags, and purchased an airport express ticket and an â€œoctopusâ€ card. The octopus card is a multi-purpose card that can be used for almost all forms of public transport including the ultra modern MTR subway, buses, tram cars, as well as at stores such as 7-11 and KFC. It only cost 7HKD (1 USD) with a 50 HKD refundable deposit. If more money was put on the card and not used before returning the card, there is a full refund issued. The airport express ticket was good for a single trip into the city on a modern subway/train with few stops.
During our journey into the downtown area we were concerned about how far the stop was to our hostel, and began to make a plan to take other forms of public transportation. When we arrived at our destination, we exited the MTR and found that there is a free bus shuttle to the major hotels in the area, one of which was only a block away from ours. This was a pleasant surprise, as we were loaded down with baggage at this point, and it was also late at night. We walked to our hostel, located in a massive apartment building, past touts trying to sell us suits and fake goods (watches, purses, etc). Our building had a tiny mall on the first floor and the rest of the 16 floors had apartments. It was so busy in this building, that there were multiple elevators serving certain floors to make the ride to the top floors faster. When we were shown to our floor, we could see that the building was square and hollow in the middle overlooking a courtyard. As we opened the door to our room, we entered a tiny hallway much cleaner than the rest of the building. From this hallway, a second door led us to our room, which was actually quite nice.
The following day, we woke up early and decided to do a walking tour recommended in the guidebook through the old central part of Hong Kong Island. We took the subway there from our hostel on the Kowloon side, and jumped off into some small winding streets. The Hong Kong MTR system is an efficient way to move around the city. In addition to this useful traveling network, there is also an underground network of tunnels that have entrance and exits inside buildings, malls or any street intersection corners. These tunnels can be kmâ€™s long, and at one point link a subway station with a light rail station underground for at least a 15 minute walk. We never tried, but it might be possible to walk through central downtown without going outside. If not, itâ€™s certainly possible to walk it with a roof overhead from the covered walkways.
We were still a walk away from the beginning of the tour, so we jumped on the tram. This old, slow and rickety double-decker tram was rammed full of riders, and was pretty fun to take. We finally jumped off, and began our walk through streets lined with Chinese herbal medicine stores, and small walking streets with cheap souvenirs. It was just about lunchtime and we were getting very hungry. Unfortunately we were in a very expensive area, so we started to walk to the SOHO district, known for its many bars and eateries. On the way there, we stopped by the Graham St. market, which is known for its fresh market filled with fruits and vegetables, and live fish. According to our Lonely Planet, this is one of the best markets in Hong Kong. However, compared to other markets we saw in rural China, this market was pretty tame (we didnâ€™t see any fish get beaten over the head in the middle of the walkway).
After lunch in SOHO, we took a ride on the worldâ€™s largest travelator, a horizontal escalator. This travelator was really just a bunch of escalators up some hills (not all horizontal) lined up between streets. We then walked to the financial district to 2nd Finance Blvd. which had an exhibit on monetary, etc. which was set up on the 56th floor. We were only there to see the view. At first we were nervous walking in the building because we had to show our passports to have official visitor passes printed. But when we stepped into the elevator which had two floors to choose from: Ground or 56th, we figured that a lot of people probably did the same thing. This high up, the views of Kowloon bay and the harbour were excellent, as it was a clear and sunny day. Next, we walked to the Bank of Chinaâ€™s 46th floor for more views of the city. By this time, it was evening so we went near the water outside the EXPO centre for sunset. We wanted to enter the EXPO centre, but there was a jewelry conference, so we werenâ€™t allowed to enter.
After a disappointing sunset, we took the MTR back under the harbour and north to the Mong Kok district. Here we walked through the Temple St. night market, full of fake designer goods, souvenirs, karaoke and fortune tellers (tarot/palm readers). Halfway through, we stopped at a corner for a cheap dinner of friend noodles with chicken. The second half of the market was similar to the first. All in all, it took at least an hour to walk through the whole street.
On our second day in Hong Kong, we woke up and took the STAR ferry across the harbour from Kowloon to Hong Kong. The ferry was so old, it might have been the original ferry, complete with wooden seats and interior. The views from the ferry were fabulous, but the ride was shorter than we expected. We were visiting Hong Kong this morning to go to an authentic Dim Sum teahouse in the old part of town. In a Dim Sum restaurant, the eater sits at a table with their plates and cutlery and wait for the food to be brought to the table on a small cart. In small bamboo baskets are steamed foods, such as dumplings, etc. that are selected. The cart lady then stamps the card of the eater to show what they had. At the end of the meal, the card is taken to the cashier to pay the bill.
We arrived at the teahouse just before lunch, and it was a full house. There was barely enough room to walk through, and we had to wait 20 minutes for an opening at a table before we could sit and eat. Every table sat 5-6 people, and as soon as there was an opening it was filled regardless if the eater knew anyone at the table. Fortunately, a nice man saw us standing, and told us to come and eat with him since there were openings at his table. He was waiting for some friends, but knew that he couldnâ€™t hold the table long due to the number of people standing and waiting. After we took our seats, our new friend, Nikolas, flagged down the busboy and ordered us a pot of tea, and we received our utensils and our cards. Along with all this stuff, we also got a bowl of hot water. We were then instructed to wash our cups and utensils with the hot water to clean them. The tea that we got was a dark, strong tea. We assumed that it was one of the more expensive, fermented varieties.
As the food carts wheeled past, we had to ask to look at each item since everyone only spoke Cantonese or mandarin. One nice, elderly cart lady happily showed us everything as she passed by each time. We ended up eating steamed shrimp dumplings, flat gelatonous noodles stuffed with pork and drizzled in soy sauce, steamed meat filled buns, and some kind of light yellow cake. Nikolas helped us to pick the dishes, and was amazed that we could use chopsticks so well. He was also happy that we got to try the cake, because itâ€™s such a popular dish, itâ€™s usually gone by the time the cart person has traveled 2 feet.
We had no idea how much this meal would cost, and we couldnâ€™t even read the card that was stamped. Everything was in Chinese characters. The food was great, and after we were finished, we took the card to the cash register at the front. The meal cost us less than 10 USD.
After our meal, we had time to kill, so we wandered downtown again, and decided to catch the MTR to see Sik Sik Temple. This modern Taoist temple always has a constant flow of visitors, although itâ€™s nothing too extraordinary. Itâ€™s just a large temple in an urban setting with fortune tellers. After our visit, we went all the way back to the island to get to the Victoria Peak tram in time for sunset at the top. Unfortunately, many other people had the same idea and the line up was huge! The wait for the tram was approximately an hour, but we were surrounded by the history of the tram to occupy our time. At the top of the peak, we enjoyed the scenery and took photos of the city below. On a clear day, there are good views of the skyscrapers, and luckily we had a great day. We could also see very expensive mansions/condos dotting the hills surrounding Hong Kong island. When it was dark, we took some escalators up seven stories to the observation deck at the top of the peak tower. Like the rest of the peak, the observation deck was rammed full of people. We had to share or wait patiently for the best spot on the tower to take some photos.
Afterward, there was a massive line up for the tram to get down. The wait must have been at least two hours, so we decided to take a bus down through the winding road. The only cars going in the opposite direction (up the hill) were taxis, Porsches, BMWs, Mercedes, etc. We were dropped off at an MTR station, and we went back to Temple St. for another cheap dinner, and entertainment.
Our final day in Hong Kong we slept in because we were exhausted from the previous two long days. We spent the afternoon before our flight in the Hong Kong museum of history, a highlight in the LP. The museum was actually pretty good. It had everything from fossils to the British opium wars through the Japanese WWII occupation to the present day. We had just enough time for dinner before heading to the airport. We caught the airport bus back to the express train station. The really cool thing about this train service isnâ€™t the almost direct 30 minute train to the airport, but the airline check-in booths located in the station. Before even stepping onto the train, we checked our baggage and got our boarding passes, saving us a lot of time. We were just hoping that the system worked well, as our bags had a fair distance to travel.