A July 2005 trip
to Hong Kong by 80 Ways Tim
Quote: I am attempting to travel around the world using eighty different methods of transport to raise money for children with autism - www.80ways.co.uk.
The rooms were in pristine condition, with all the usual hotel amenities. For the money, I thought it was really good. It wasn't a lot more than a higher-end hostel, and it's in a great location--right on the bottom tip of the Kowloon peninsula, in the thick of all the shops and only two minutes from the Star Ferry across to Hong Kong island.
There's a gym there (which costs extra) and a swimming pool (included, with Jacuzzi). There's a restaurant downstairs which you get discount vouchers for, but you're better off stepping out into the throng of other options outside.
I can't vouch for all the rooms, but ours had a great view over the skyline on Hong Kong island.
For a hotel in such a central location, the Salisbury is definitely worth the money.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on August 8, 2005
The Salisbury YMCA of Hong Kong
41 Salisbury Road
Kowloon, Hong Kong
Our room had no windows (perhaps as a result of my haggling), but this turned out to be a blessing, as it meant we enjoyed a decent lie in, completely oblivious to the rising of the sun. The Rough Guide informed us that dim sum was a "must do" in China and that Guangzhou was the place to do it; thus, we left the hotel in search of good dim sum.
To be honest, the concept of dim sum was not exactly clear to us. Our man in Beijing had told us it just meant dessert, but we had decided it was something akin to tapas – just a collection of small dishes. So, with that in mind, we found a hotel restaurant that looked suitable.
We placed our orders largely based on novelty value and ended up with deep-fried turnip (a lot better than they sound) and baked custard pastries (as good as they sound), amongst others. From the restaurant, we walked to an Internet café to find out about boats.
Before we left the hotel, we checked with the travel agent there about hydrofoils to Macao. "To Hong Kong? Last ferry at 4 o’clock," came the reply. He didn’t know about the Macao service, but apparently, the last ferry to Hong Kong was at 4 (information that wasn’t overly helpful to us). At the restaurant, we checked our guidebook, and it said there was a boat from Macao to Guangzhou, but none going to Macao. We weren’t fazed, however, because a reliable source of ours had told us we could get one.
The indispensable resource that is the Internet also failed to turn up any leads on a boat trip to Macao. Oh. Perhaps there wasn’t one after all. I re-read the email from my source, and the information suddenly seemed more vague than before. "No problem," I thought, "We’ll just get the hydrofoil to Hong Kong and take the jetfoil to Macao from there."
"What’s the time, Thom?"
It was quarter to three--about an hour before the last ferry.
"I guess we’d better make a move."
We casually finished our emails and wandered back to the hotel to book our hydrofoil tickets.
"How do we get to the dock?" I asked the girl at the counter, having just reserved our seats.
"We can get you a taxi."
"Great. How far away is it?"
"One hour by car."
"Okay, thanks," I replied. Thom returned from buying some water. "Okay, Thom, they’re getting us a taxi to the dock."
He asked the same as me: "Great. How far away is it?"
"An hour by car."
We looked at each other for a moment. It was three o’clock. The boat left at four. That was one hour. Perfect timing? Well, no--we had to get our bags, find somewhere to get money out to pay for our tickets, the taxi had to get there, and we actually had to get on the boat before it left.
Miraculously for China, finding money was no problem, and our taxi arrived moments later. Maybe we shouldn’t have panicked so quickly. We stretched out in the back of what was actually a minivan, rather than a taxi, and relaxed as the driver set off.
Set off for the neighboring hotel, that is. He jumped out the van and ran off. Thom and I exchanged our usual look of bemusement – one that clarified that, yes, we were both thinking the same thing – "Aren’t we supposed to be in a hurry?"
He came back with two more passengers. Fair enough, he had more people to take. So we set off again, with a little less leg room now. He went round the corner and pulled into another hotel. We asked the couple in front of us if they were getting the same ferry as us, and the confirmatory reply somehow reassured us. I supposed that if the driver’s sole purpose was to get people on a 4 o’clock ferry, then he must know we have enough time.
He came back again, but without any extra passengers. We moseyed along the roads, not as hurriedly as I might have hoped, and he once again pulled in, not to a hotel this time, but a bus terminal. Buses to Hong Kong. Looks were exchanged again. Did he think we were taking the bus? Is that why he was so calm, because the bus station was nearby?
The driver jumped back in and put his foot down. Okay, so we weren’t going to catch a bus. Now he was playing the game. Now he knew we had a ferry to catch, and now he knew we didn’t have much time to get there. It removed the fear that the driver had a different agenda but only served to reinforce the fear that we wouldn’t make the boat.
This guy was really in a hurry. He was darting between lanes on the motorway, dodging traffic and cutting up even the biggest lorries. I kept thinking I had seen signs to our dock, but the Chinese names just kept looking similar.
We had about fifteen minutes before the boat left. I began to realize that we weren’t actually going to make this ferry. I wanted to, and I was still on the edge of my seat, gripping the arms of my chair and peering out the window to see signs of our dock, but I knew we wouldn’t actually make it. The boat actually left at four o’clock. We would have to get there, get to the check-in desk, fill out customs forms, get our passports checked, and then get over the boarding platform. No chance.
Out of nowhere, the dock emerged, and we were racing down a road toward our destination. We jumped out and ran to check in. They sent us to get forms; we filled them out and ran back ("ran" is perhaps a generous term for the high-speed hobbling that resulted from a combination of too many bags and too much adrenaline). They sent us to the customs desk, and they sent us to the boat.
One of these days, we are going to miss our boat. We are going to turn up late at the airport, miss the last bus, or run out of money for the taxi. But not this time. Once again, we had made it. Our hearts were pumping from the high-speed minivan race across town, and we were still gasping from running with our rucksacks, but most importantly, we were still smiling.
It was only about a two-hour ride to Hong Kong on the boat, but by the end of it, I felt, as Thom put it, "as sick as a dog". The next boat we caught was going to be a 10-day voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. This did not bode well.
We both lived and studied in central London, and this was a little close to home. We went straight to the nearest hotel and got ourselves a room. "Does it have a satellite TV?" BBC News gave us all the latest information and soon set our minds at ease.
Feeling slightly better about things but unsure what to do next, we ventured out into the Hong Kong night scene and found ourselves a curry in the weirdest department store I have ever visited before hitting the sack.
We had instructions to rendezvous with our new hosts at a 'parking shop' in a nearby shopping centre.
"What the hell is a parking shop?" I asked Thom as he relayed the message to me.
"I dunno. That's what she said: par-king-shop."
We wandered the complex, but there was no sign of anything like a parking shop. What exactly we were looking for, I don't know, but I assumed it would involve cars--maybe paraphernalia for them or something?
"You sure this is the right place, Thom?"
"Yeah, yeah, this is it."
We walked out to the neighbouring shopping centre and back, but there was still no sign of it.
"They said 'down the escalator to the parking shop'."
We went up and down every escalator we could find until finally we saw a big sign above the supermarket.
"Ohhhhh," we both realised out loud, "the Park 'n' Shop!"
Taken back to our host's place, we once again had accommodation far beyond what we were expecting: a luxurious house with air-conditioning, plasma-screen TV, and a view out over the sea.
We were driven into town the next day and set about our tasks. We picked up our plane tickets to America, got a ride on a double-decker tram (as it happened, it took us farther away from our destination than we had been when we got on, but it was still another method), took the funicular railway up to The Peak, and even managed to get a photo in an old-fashioned rickshaw. Thom was keen to get away from the crowds around the funicular station, so we hiked out and found a quiet peak with a commanding view. We decided we'd walk back down the hill instead and set about the trek down. It was quite a long way down, and the intense humidity wasn't helping matters.
"Shit," Thom broke the silence, "I left my camera in the toilets at the funicular station."
The funicular station was at the top of the hill. Luck was on our side, however, as the camera was still there after a taxi ride up. We decided to take the bus this time, only to realise we'd left our guidebook in a cafe and had to run back for it.
We did eventually make it back into town with a feeling of car-sickness after winding in circles on the bus. We used the world's longest outdoor escalator (a bit of a con, since it is in fact just a series of short ones) and rode the Star Ferry across the water. It was dark, and after stopping to do some leap-frog on camera in front of the skyline, we decided to head home. The metro took us as far as it went and deposited us at the bus station.
"What was the number of the bus we were supposed to get?"
I made a point of remembering it when we were told earlier in the day. Unfortunately, there was no K21, but there was a K23 that went to a road name that we recognised.
As the K23 flew past our exit on the motorway, we knew we'd done something wrong. Dumped somewhere that was a mystery to both us and our hosts who we phoned for directions, we jumped in a taxi and eventually made it back.
The next day, our bus usage didn't get any better. It started off quite well when the hourly minibus had no room for us, and we managed to find a bus on our own that took us to the metro station. We spent another day enjoying the delights of Hong Kong (which for me was primarily cheap CDs) and then decided to go home when it got dark. Apparently there was a bus that would take us all the way from the centre, right back home, without having to get on the metro as well.
The bus pulled into the bus station, the terminal stop, and we weren't where we wanted to be. The road name matched the one we wanted, but a passerby said we were a half-hour drive away. A half-hour drive? How long was this road!? With little other option, we bit the bullet and got another taxi back, arriving home with our tails between our legs as we confessed another public transport blunder to our hosts.
Now, dropped off at the airport, there was little room for any more cock-ups. Right?
We had hours before our plane was due to depart, so we thought we'd go check out this giant carved Buddha that lurked somewhere in the woods. We took one bus and then another (we were even directed by a local who pointed out the right bus to get us to the Buddha). Once again, we arrived somewhere distinctly different from where we wanted to be. We weren't amused. It was hot, we were tired, and all we wanted to do was see a big Buddha.
Since we'd come all that way, we felt obliged to look around the town for a bit, but it wasn't long before we were back on the same bus, heading to the airport again. Yet another failed attempt to read the bus timetable.
As I leant my head against the bus window, trying to get some sleep, feeling sorry for myself in the heat, Thom tapped me on the shoulder. "Look," he said and nodded over to the other side of the bus. I looked out the far window and up to the top of the mountain outside where, rising above the trees, was the clear outline of a large, carved wooden Buddha.
That’s Hong Kong to you and me. It's located at the southern tip of China and is split into two large islands, a slice of the mainland, and 200-odd smaller islands. Hong Kong Island is the most populated, and the Kowloon Peninsula makes up the tip of mainland Hong Kong, connected to the New Territories, which are, in turn, connected to mainland China.
If you're not a geographer, however, then it might be better put like this: Hong Kong Island is the heart of the city and where all the big skyscrapers are; Kowloon is where you get the best view of the all those big skyscrapers and is full of shops with bright lights, like you see in the movies; and the New Territories are just where people live.
Hong Kong is often described as the place 'where East meets West', and that's because of the city's history. The British took control of Hong Kong in 1841 and began acquiring more areas (e.g., the New Territories) until they signed a treaty in 1898 that would see it under their rule for 99 years. That agreement ran out a few years ago, and it's now back under Chinese rule, which is the reason it has such a long title: Special Administrative Region (SAR). Described as "one country, two systems," Hong Kong is allowed a high level of autonomy, and as you would expect after a hundred years of foreign rule, it looks quite different from the rest of the People's Republic. Given that it was "British" for such a long time, I naively assumed there would be lots of white faces walking the streets, but the population is about 95% Chinese (and the other 5% aren't all, or even primarily, European).
I think I say this about every place I visit, but Hong Kong was not what I expected. It had a lot more variety than I had anticipated, and I got that feeling after only a few days there.
We arrived in Kowloon at night, and it was exactly as I had pictured the city--big buildings and bright lights. The air was hot and humid, and we had to weave our way through crowds of people as headlights flew past besides us. Even as the clock approached midnight, the streets were still filled, the neon lights were on everywhere, and the shops were all-go. In fact, when I walked the same streets the following morning, it was quite anticlimatic - the city was buzzing the night before, and it somehow felt less exciting in the light of day.
With 7 million people squeezed into the tiny area that constitutes the 'Special Administrative Region', it is one of the most densely populated dependencies on earth. As such, I really wasn't expecting all the hills and beaches on offer. The skyscrapers and bright lights might be the prototypical symbols of the city, but there are bright green rolling hills as far as the eye can see and, surprisingly, stretches of sandy beaches.
Victoria Peak, or simply The Peak, is the highest place on Hong Kong Island and gives you some great views. You can get up it on the Peak Tram, an incredibly steep funicular railway (it feels like the upward journey on a rollercoaster), which is what we did. We weren't satisfied with our vantage point, however. We could still see the tops of hills in the distance and made it our mission to get onto one. Within 5 minutes, we were away from the crowds, at first walking through quiet residential areas and then along grass-lined paths. Another 5 minutes saw us standing atop one of the peaks we were aiming for, and it was well worth it. To our left were the big towers reaching up from beneath us. To our right, we saw greenery, hills, and the sea stretching out to the horizon. Suddenly the hectic and busy city life was nothing but a view in the distance.
Another great place to get a good view and an obligatory part of any trip to the SAR is the Star Ferry, the quirky little boat that shuttles people between the Kowloon Peninsula and the Island all day everyday. It's dirt-cheap and good fun. If you time it just right, there's a light show put on by all the skyscrapers at the same time every evening—worth it more for its amusement value than anything else, it is not to be missed.
Hong Kong is also a good place to shop. Those neon signs are just for show—most of them have shops attached. The city has as good a range of electronics, if not better, than anywhere else, and the prices are good (we stocked up on all the latest CDs, which were less than half the price they would have cost as at home). We did most of our shopping around Nathan Road, which is a big strip running along the Kowloon Peninsula. It's notorious for being a tourist trap, but it's still good for window-shopping, and there are plenty of big-name shops that are safe. We had it in our heads that we needed an iPod, so we spent our time trawling the shops for a bargain. Nathan Road is not the place to go for a good deal, but we did find some good electronics shops near, if not inside, the big skyscraper on Hong Kong Island (you'll know the one!).
My previous stays in Shanghai and Beijing had felt like gentle introductions to China, but if that was swimming in the shallow end, then this was paddling. Although ruled by the People's Republic and largely populated by Chinese, it would make a nice, easy transition to China. For me, after travelling for a month, it almost felt like being home - people were driving on the left again, the buses could have been helicoptered straight from London, and everyone spoke English. At times it was easy to forget I was in Asia, but it was never long before I got a Cantonese slap in the face--our chopstick technique apparently didn't help us blend in, for example, and we got many long stares because of it.
Having spent the last week in China, it was a pleasant taste of home for me. For anyone else going there on holiday, it would be a pleasant taste of China.
80 Ways Tim
London, United Kingdom