Hong Kong is a vibrant city where East meets West in a melting pot of city life, stunning cityscapes, and very little personal space! Lou and I were excited to explore the streets of this fast paced city.
The flight up from Da Nang with AirAsia was my best experience with the airline. It proved that we were starting to learn this travel thing. On the minus side, flying AirAsia usually means budget through and through, with very little leg room. On the positive side, budget prices meant budget upgrades so, for $3USD, we upgraded to exit row seats to Hong Kong.
From the relatively small airport of Da Nang, we arrived into the busy hub of Hong Kong. On another one of my persuasive whims Lou had agreed to spend 5-days with me here, based on the fact that my aunt lived here some years ago and that the city was used to film one of my favorite all-time movie sequences – the skyline as the backdrop to Christian Bale’s Batman in the Dark Knight.
In a very un-Bruce Wayne way, we grabbed a cab into our hotel at Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon. To be fair, Bruce Wayne might have taken a cab but they didn’t show that in the movie. Despite the price shock of going from accommodation at no more than $20USD per night, we were now in a closet size room at $60USD per night. Ouch. Having said that, the room here wasn’t of great importance as we knew our time would be spent outside exploring the city. And, on a pretty hectic itinerary, that’s what we did.
Hong Kong is one of those cities that has its own rhythm. Like New York and London, I was fascinated with the energy of this place, the skyline looks calm and organized, but down on the streets, there is an organized chaos of energy and activity that visitors can get lost in. For our first day out we decided to head out to see Tian Tan Buddha at The Po Lin monastery on Lantau Island. Via a fast train that runs past the airport we were able to get to the foot of the mountains where access to the monastery is located. The 25-minute journey into the mountains was just as exciting as the monastery itself. A huge cable car network takes visitors across the water and up the side of the mountain, into the clouds. Despite the isolation of our cable car and the heights involved, we enjoyed the journey that provided some breathtaking views across this part of Hong Kong. During our ride, the cable car system did actually appear to break, and this jolted a handful of engineers into action to try and fix the problem. After a 10-minute pause, we were thankfully back on our way although this didn’t stop the annoying Americans opposite us from going into hyper-talk mode “It’s, like, you know, erm, so scary, I almost thought I was going to die, like, you know, really die and stuff” – if Lou looks agitated by her fellow Americans then I conclude that I am allowed to be!
The Tian Tan buddha monument was pretty busy on the day of our visit, unbeknown to us, it was the buddha’s birthday! Despite the tranquility of the journey, the monument area was packed with visitors. It was amazing to see the construction of the pagodas and the buddha – at this height in the mountains, the construction must have been a big challenge. The skyline of Hong Kong is a testament to this city that has risen to the challenge in epic style.
For the second part of the day, we decided to take in more of the skyline and headed back into the city. The Star ferry ($12USD return) connects Kowloon with Hong Kong island and boasts some awesome views from the water (see the header image). We took the trip across and walked around the ground by the two imposing International Finance Centre buildings, the stunt where Batman jumps between the two can really be appreciated when you see these two buildings in real life. The film wasn’t actually released in China, possibly because of the portrayal of the Chinese businessman as a money launderer.
On Hong Kong island you can take a tram up to the viewing gallery at the top of the mountain behind the finance district. After being amongst tourists all day, Lou and I were getting a little fed up with people showing no respect for our personal space so, in pure spite after an hour of queueing, I blocked the entrance to the tram and let people just push against my back until I decided I wanted to get on the tram. It’s these small wins that keep me going! We were later disappointed to discover that we could have taken a bus or taxi up to the viewing area, we had thought it was only accessible by the tram. For anyone visiting, I would recommend scoping out the queue at the tram and then, if it’s busy, go for a taxi, it’s much much easier.
But the view! The crowds are worth it to see the view down across the Hong Kong finance district and Kowloon. For me, the best cities have beautiful views that capture their essence – prior to HK, Sydney, London and New York spring to mind. We were lucky to be in position for dusk and watched all the buildings come to light as dusk turned to darkness.
We managed to take a bus back down as the queue for the return tram would have been over an hour and we had been in queues and on our feet for much of the day. Lou impressed me as she didn’t complain and only looked tired towards the end of the day – it makes my life much smoother when I know that I don’t have to worry about her during these long days in busy cities. Our bus driver had very little regard for safety, a trend I’ve noticed on the roads across Asia, as our bus flew back down the side of the mountain. During the daytime, and with a more patient bus driver, you can probably take some stops on the way down as there are some additional viewpoints that looked great too – although I only got to see them in a flash as we hurtled past.
Coming soon – Part 2 – we got into the fantastic food and culture on the streets of Hong Kong!