People Everywhere Hong Kong
We were met as promised at Hong Kong airport by our new travel buddy Kate, waiting at arrivals and brandishing a lovingly handcrafted sign: “The Jo(e)s”. Freebies for tourists were thrust into our hands (ferry ticket, useful; fridge magnets, presents) and we grappled with our latest currency to get onto the train to town. We flew to Vietnam the very next day, saving our main stay in HK for the last week of the honeyment.
Hong Kong seems to work pretty efficiently, and we saw many similarities with Singapore. But once your armpits adjust to the heat the thing you notice is the quantity of people. Everywhere, packed on to the pavements, and it wasn’t even rush hour. In London we’re used to Oxford Street being rammed, but that doesn’t extend to every street in the city. It was mad.
Similarities and contrasts with Singapore are both easy to find. For an Englishman new to the east, the most obvious is the Chinese tradition; red and gold everywhere, lanterns, temples with golden statues never far away, and the creepily ubiquitous presence of those waving cat statuettes. Hong Kong feels as though it has developed much more organically, Singapore more as a planned process. Singapore was a mix of its constituent cultures, Hong Kong more of an established single tradition.
We spent most of our time on Hong Kong island. We stayed in the Mid-Levels, a neighbourhood built on the side of a pretty steep hill. There’s even a system of escalators and overhead walkways to get around the area without having to climb too many hills, though it took us our entire stay here before we were able to navigate it successfully. The Mid-Levels is a crazy mix of high rise housing (all of the housing in HK is high rise), small niche shops (big antiques scene) and a chunk of the island’s nightlife, all overlooking the higher-rise business district at the bottom of the hill.
The result of this excess of high-rise buildings is a magical skyline. The best view is to be found on the Star ferry that crosses to the mainland (for the princely sum of 20p a go!). The view is quite incredible, both day and night, mostly because of the sheer scale. All of the buildings are huge, along the whole visible coastline and for many blocks back from the coast. Some are pretty, some are just concrete blocks, but when there are so many it just doesn’t matter! Behind them all Victoria Peak rises up, often with a crown of clouds, giving a great backdrop to it. Kate squealed with delight and bounced around the ferry when we saw it for the first time!
We walked around Victoria Peak on one of the many hot, sweaty days, invigorated by the electrolyte drinks sold everywhere and the temptation of ice cream at the finish. Not far from our hotel in the Mid-Levels was the lower end of the Victoria Peak funicular railway, one of those Victorian era attempts at tourism that has remained and prospered. We arrived early, to an empty station, and had a ride up the hill in a nearly empty carriage; spacious isn’t quite the right word though, the seating was definitely not designed with tall peoples’ legs in mind. We walked up to the top of the hill, which has pretty good views over the bay and some of the other islands of Hong Kong, and then on a sort of tour through the forest below the peak. It was what you might call an urban forest; definitely green, but you could constantly hear the air conditioning units on the big hospital building down hill, and the chatter of horns from container ships in the bay. Another similarity with Singapore – it doesn’t really have countryside!
The one place we found with a slightly slower pace of life was the island of Lamma. If you ignore the massive power station on the coast and the too-dirty-to-swim water, it’s a lovely little island, with the distinguishing feature of having no cars at all. The local businesses use these tiny little quad-bike-esque things with trailers to move around, but it’s otherwise a pedestrian’s world.
We did find one cafe providing really good pretentious coffee, but it turned out to be run by a bunch of Australians, from Melbourne no less, and using beans roasted in Melbourne! We should have known.
We ended the honeyment in style, thanks to a very generous gift from my aunt Janet – afternoon tea at the Mandarin Oriental! This seems to be something of a colonial tradition, marvellously well executed. We had the tea for two with champagne (of course) and were presented with a three-tier cake stand full of tasty little things. The pieces were individually quite small, but didn’t feel it once we’d eaten ten of them! After two hours we stumbled out again, feeling like we’d eaten our month’s cake quota in one setting. Thanks, Janet!