A March 2005 trip
to Hong Kong by MichaelJM
Quote: Our son guided us around some of the sights in Hong Kong. Here are some of our favourites.
The harbour at night is a must, from Kowloon side you’ll be treated to a nightly lightshow from Hong Kong Island. The buildings that look supreme in the day are stunning at night – take the Star Ferry and enjoy the experience even more.
Strolling through the streets, we were transfixed with the sensational architectural design of Hong Kong’s buildings, which are transformed and virtually unrecognisable at night. Hong Kong’s cityscape and skyline just is… There are amazing modern buildings (HSBC); rundown, almost sleazy low-rises alongside sparking high-rises; bright neon lights (that look tatty and forlorn in daylight); expensive gated residences; and tired tenements.
Make sure you take time out to visit some of the city parks. Hidden amongst the high-rise buildings, Hong Kong has loads of greenery for people to enjoy. A park in Kowloon hosted flamingos, other exotic birds, and some beautifully tended gardens. I was amazed at the variety of trees in this densely populated part of the world, and we were fascinated to watch locals engaged in Tai Chi. I felt relaxed just watching them!
We’ll always remember the wide range of markets and just loved to saunter through the streets after our evening dinner, checking for bargains. Somehow, it’s difficult to beat the atmosphere of a busy, thriving market.
Hong Kong, a truly cosmopolitan city, has an incredible variety of restaurants, and whatever you fancy, you’ll find it here. We enjoyed some fine food on the islands.
Fantastically, despite the number of people in this city, the streets are immaculate. There are heavy fine for littering and spitting, but there’s a whole squad of street cleaners who must work all hours to ensure that the streets (and the rail stations) remain spotless.
Hong Kong seems to be obsessed with shopping. The modern malls are gigantic, glitzy, and always fully occupied, and the markets, open until at least midnight, are bustling and full of activity. It’s a thriving city, but incredibly laidback in its pace of life. It’s a pleasure to visit.
No problems in Hong Kong cashing money – the ATM’s took our debit card with no problem, and most places take credit cards. Although, if you want to negotiate prices, you’ll need cash – my suggestion is that you never assume, in any retailer in Hong Kong, that you need to pay the full cost. We always got a reduction!
Avoid the street touts who’ll regularly try to entice you to their warehouse for Rolex watches, tobacco, or suit fittings. After a time, you’ll spot them a mile off and can maneuver your way round them.
Remember to obey the pedestrian crossings – jaywalking can incur a heavy on-the-spot fine, along with eating or drinking on the subway.
There is a regular bus service, and although these are cheap, they are less immediate than cabs, and with four of us, the price differential was not great. You will need a leaflet detailing the routes, and it did seem a wee bit complicated to me.
The Star ferry is an excellent way to get across to Hong Kong island – much slower than the train, but much more picturesque.
On Hong Kong Island, pick up the tram – there is only one route with a single fare no matter how far you travel. It’s a tourist thing to do!
As we reach the entrance, a magnificent pagoda has pride of place in the square, which is surrounded by more 6-foot Buddhas – some sporting black eyelids, and others, bright-red lips. They really are fun to look, and their distorted features confirm a real quirkiness in the creator of the figures. The view from the terrace is far-reaching; it’s just a shame for us that a heavy mist and light drizzle has descended. Still, we can get a reasonable sense of the view with the Sha Tin Race course at the bottom surrounded by the urban sprawl that is Hong Kong.
I can’t resist a quick ring on the bells before we make to climb the pagoda. It’s a climb that seems to go on and on, and in all honesty the view from the top is not brilliant. But there are more Buddhas on each window ledge and a view across the complex showing another lane of Buddhas – we’ll make that climb after lunch. A cheap lunch can be obtained from the small makeshift restaurant on site – it has basic fare, but there’s plenty of it and the quality was better than average.
Next to the café is a temple with thousands of Buddhas arranged in individual niches. Traditional music was being played in this amazing building. At the time we were there, the temple was being decorated and painters were balanced on bamboo scaffolding and Buddhas were being removed from their spots, lowered into wicker baskets in order that the wall could be re-painted.
Take a left out of this temple and then the left fork to climb to the next part of the monastery. Again, the route is lined with large Buddhas, and as we saw the summit, the statues changed. Now they were garishly painted and all female in form. Much more regal in appearance and no comedic value here! At the summit, there were a couple more very small temples, much in need of some TLC, and a much more commanding view of the surrounding area.
We took the route straight down from here, bypassing the main temple site. This was a gradual gradient, but somewhat treacherous in the rain. The Buddhas oversaw our stroll through a woodland area, and we enjoyed spotting the old monastery buildings and some more secluded houses in the distant hills.
Despite its closeness to a large population, this was a very tranquil and idyllic spot.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on May 8, 2005
Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery
220 Pai Tau Village
Sha Tin, Hong Kong
Attraction | "A Day at the Races"
The train station is literally at the entrance to the races, and we used our Octopus card to gain entry (less that £1). Once through the turnstiles, we had no clue where to go – there are site maps, but they didn’t help too much. We followed our instinct and walked into a massive hall just crammed with people studying the racing news.
We arrived in time to "study the form" (like the sound of the name) and place a £70 bet for the second race. We think that we’ve made a bet, but in all honesty it didn’t matter, because our donkey limped into last place. I was more successful on the third race, when my horse came in first – but I didn’t I feel great as I collected my HK$3.5 winnings!
The lush grass on the circuit was easily churned up by the horses, and between races, we were fascinated by the group of divot replacers who walked onto the course with wooden "thumpers." This low-tech procedure was overshadowed by the large video screen that showed reruns of the race in slow-mo, as well as footage in real speed, regular updates of the payouts, the odds for the next race, and the amount of money placed on each horse. Phenomenal amounts!
All horses are led out onto the circuit by outriders kitted out in red "hunting gear" – a very grand and formal affair, the antics of the horses being projected on the "big screen" as they walked the parade ring and then cantered down to the start. Betting slips were handed out throughout the stadium, and with a little intuition, I became quite proficient. The betting hall was very much a utilitarian affair, and serious punters pored over the racing times and studied form.
The external appearance of the stadium was very sleek and 21st century, and the entrance hall to the inner sanctum had a line of horse statues decorated with the national flags of numerous countries. They were fun to look at, although we didn’t guess them all correctly.
It was a great, cheap day out!
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on May 11, 2005
Attraction | "The Peak"
We, like most visitors, opted for the Peak Tram to take us to the summit. We had an Octopus card so didn’t need to wait in the queue, but were ushered to stand and wait at the side of the platform. Here we were able to read a little about the history of the tram, that’s been carrying people up to the top since the 1800s, before the vehicle came into view. We’d positioned ourselves at the bottom end so we could appreciate the view behind us. As we made our steep ascent, we "grabbed" different glimpses of Hong Kong and the harbour.
The Peak Tram is an experience in itself as it chugs its way up to the top. It was absolutely crammed with riders and it looked as if the queuing was fairly constant. At the top there was a fairly short indoor walk to the viewing stations and hold on to your hats because the views of Hong Kong are supreme. But before the views there are shops to pass. This first precinct is small and about to receive a refurbishment. This was lucky for us because there were bargains to be had, although our son said the prices were usually double what you’d find at the markets. A more modern mall with exclusive shops was just over the road, and although we didn’t buy (prices did seem on the high side), even I enjoyed looking.
But back to the view! We went to the top, and although the view was great, it did not provide good photo opportunities. You need to be down a stage, where the panorama is much better for the lens. We could see Kowloon, the towers on Lama Island, and all key buildings that make up Hong Kong’s stunning skyline. The river was busy with "traffic", the constant flow of ferries to the islands, some heavy freight transportation, small motorless crafts, and the occasional leisure boat speeding across the water, creating picturesque wakes even at our distance. In the foreground was the Peak Tram, some interesting local residences, and constantly circling above us, large birds (looked like eagles to me).
Hong Kong’s "smog" never seems far away, but it does create some interesting views of the islands. We never did make the Peak at night, but our son assured us that we would have loved it! He often goes up there and enjoys a romantic meal overlooking the mighty illuminated skyscrapers of Hong Kong Island.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on May 13, 2005
128 Peak Road.
+852 2807 6543
Attraction | "The Largest Covered Escalator"
Although most people use it to travel from A to B, we found it an interesting experience providing regular hop-off points for sightseeing. There was no hassle or hurry on our escalator journeys, and despite the fact that it cuts through busy parts of Hong Kong, it was a strangely serene experience.
There seemed to be distinct sections of the town that were accessible off the escalator. The lower area, Soho, is quiet and ordinary during the day, but transforms at night into a bustling area full of trendy bars and eateries.
We jumped off at Hollywood Road to investigate Hong Kong’s antique and curio shops. There’s a full range, from the exclusive well-laid-out specialist shops to the small, cluttered booths crammed with old, or at least aging, bric-a-brac. I always find the latter more interesting, as "you can’t beat a good rummage." We didn’t buy, but we had great fun looking! From here, it’s a short downhill walk to the central markets.
The market area is absolutely fascinating, with numerous Chinese pharmacists displaying their ancient and often bizarre-looking remedies in glass bottles. There were a lot of fish stalls, some specialising in dried and smoked fish, but the majority with fresh supplies. Fish were swimming in open-top tanks, waiting to be selected, whilst others lay, recently dissected, on slabs. Fish heads were lined up in pride of place overlooking bodies that have been so recently dissected that their major organs were still pulsating. Gross but true!
The fruit and vegetable stalls were piled high with brightly coloured fresh produce, some so exotic that we’d never ever seen them before. This day market was choc-a-bloc with customers negotiating their prices for bulk buying.
Rejoining the escalator, we headed back up, passing by the numerous expensive and exclusive art galleries before disembarking towards the top of the escalator to investigate the Jamia Masjid Mosque. This mosque services a potential congregation of 70,000 Muslims and was rebuilt in 1915 by an affluent Bombay Muslim. The influences are obvious, but the mosque assumes a juxtaposition by being overshadowed by old and modern skyscrapers and nestling in the courtyard of an old, rundown tenement block next to the modern escalator. Washing is hung out on lines attached to the side of the mosque and in the high-walled garden, where serenading birds could be heard.
We then took the long walk back down to the Star Ferry - only recommended if you’re reasonably fit!
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on May 14, 2005
Central and Western District
+852 2807 6543