A mini gap-year trip to Asia meant that I was lucky enough to spend a couple of weeks staying in this fabulous city, where eastern traditions are muddled with British eccentricities!
by RLB2 on October 2, 2012
Hong Kong isn't a city full of green spaces, in fact Victoria Park is one of the only parks in the city. It's named after the British Queen Victoria and there is a great big statue in the middle of the park to commemorate her reign. I found this quite funny as I was almost as far away from the U.K. as I could be and was still seeing statues of our queens. We visited here on a Sunday lunchtime for a picnic and were shocked to see hundreds and hundreds of Indonesian maids on ther day off. Apparantely I shouldn't have been shocked because this is a very common occurence, Sunday is their only day off and this park is where they congregate. As an amazing sight as this was, it did kind of spoil our picnic, so we just ended up having a wander round until we found a quietish corner to eat. Not that this was a chore in anyway, having spent a week in Hong Kong it was quite nice to see an extensive area of green for a change. We found out that the park was originally a typhoon shelter for boats from the harbour, until it was reclaimed in the 1950s for use as a park. It's the largest park in Hong Kong and you can while away a few hours here wandering around the flower beds, watching youngsters playing football (or soccer) on the dedicated pitches or even some older folks playing bowls.What struck me on our visit was how English the park felt, although I have never seen a large park like this at home. Everything from the water fountain to the bandstand made this feel like a strange juxtaposition between an English country park and a huge piece of city infrastructure. We eventually found a quiet spot and sat in the shade eating food and generally relaxing. So although we were shocked to see so many people in the park when we arrived, we still managed to have a great time. I really thing that this park is a special place for Hong Kong, where outside green space is so rare and if you're visiting for any length of time I would make the effort to soak up the greenery here!
This has to be one of the cheapest things to do in Hong Kong and is on par with the Staten Island ferry in New York for the view it gives you of the city. It only costs $0.28 for the upper deck, which is what we did after a guidebook recommendation to avoid the lower deck if we didn't want to be packed in and gassed with noxious diesel fumes. We timed our ferry ride so that we could be on the other side of the bay to watch the light show that takes place every evening. In fact we found out later on that the ferry that leaves just after 8pm actually stops in the middle of the bay so that tourists can watch this light show.If you can't make the evening ferry crossing it is still worth doing this short crossing across Victoria Harbour for the views of Hong Kong centre, which are spectacular. Unfortunately due to land reclamation the crossing only takes 10 minutes now, but you can't really find a cheaper thing to do in the city. We didn't have to queue to get on the ferry, we just turned up at the Ferry Pier on Kowloon Point, paid our fare and we were on the next sailing. If you're going in the evening take a wrap or something to cover your shoulders while on the trip as the wind off the harbor can get a little bit chilly. We easily got our seats on the upper deck and just sat back and relaxed while watching the panoramic view unfold in front of us.We stayed for a short while to watch the light show on the other side and then just hopped back on the next ferry and headed home. All in all a fantastic way to spend an evening at sunset and for less than the cost of a beer! What's more when you get to the other side you can watch the spectacular Symphony of Lights show, which is free and incorporates 44 buildings along the waterfront. It's a smorgasboard of lasers, lights and fireworks that must be the most ecologically reckless thing I've ever seen.....but it was pretty awesome and if you're there you might as well go and watch it because it's going to be happening whether you're there or not!
As the sun sets and the night creeps in a central throughfare in downtown Kowloon becomes what is often described as 'ghetto heaven'. The Temple Street Night Market covers 5 blocks and starts at the junction of Temple Street with Jordan Road. This market couldn't be further from my last post about Luk Yu Teahouse, it's grimy, a little sleazy and you'll have to keep a tight hold of your money, yet it is as much part of Hong Kong as all of the glitz and glamour!After eating some yummy noodles at the edge of the market we headed into the 'underworld' (I am of course joking here) and browsed the market stalls under bare, harsh light bulbs. We were obviously a target for the stall holders, being white and tourists and at every corner we were offered fake handbags and watches. This began as a funny incident but began to get annoying by the end of the 5 blocks that make up the market. We tried out our newly acquired haggling skills on some of the trinkety stalls and picked up a few quirky souvenirs. For once we were actually looking for things that had been made in China in our souvenir search.The night market isn't just about shopping, although that is experience enough in itself, but there are also buskers, who will sing a bit of opera for a few coins and give an eery soundtrack to your visit (if you've never heard Chinese opera I would google it for a listen and to understand my last comment). If you can find the fortune tellers, which we couldn't then you can also have your fortune told, but don't wander too far into the tenements, because we were warned that this is where you'll loose your wallet and also probably be offered services that you're not likely to want.We rounded off our visit to the market by perusing the twitching crustacea on the food stalls, that we didn't dare try and hung around watching the games played by the locals around the temple area. My advice for a visit to this market is don't go alone, try not to look like a tourist, don't take all of your money just in case and prepare to enter the ghetto!
Fancying something traditional and colonial one day for lunch I found a recommendation for the Luk Yu Teahouse in my guidebook. I liked how civilised it sounded and thought it would be a nice treat for us weary backpackers. The only thing I didn't like the sound of was that the teahouse was well known for it's 'fantastic' pigs lung dish...something that I wasn't prepared to try. I wanted to try the dim sum, which the teahouse is so famous for and so headed there for lunchtime, as dim sum is only served until 5.30pm.Whether it was my terrible map reading skills or just the stress of travelling with 4 friends for several weeks, it took us an age to find Stanley Street, where the teahouse is located. All I can say about this is if you are equally terrible with a map then get a taxi or very good directions from your hotel.Once we did find the teahouse we were very impressed, the decor is Eastern colonial, with ceiling fans, dark wood and stained glass windows. A spectacular place to relax away from the crowds. the teahouse's claim to a dubious fame apart from the dim sum, is the fact that in 2002 a property tycoon was shot dead inside the teahouse by a hitman hired by someone from the Triad gang! Lukily for us no such excitement occured while we were there and we were soon sat at a big round table. We decided to go with a selection of sweet and savoury dim sum, assisted by my friend who was something of a dim sum expert. When everything arrived we were impressed with all the dim sum (thanks to my handy expert) and the bowls and spoons that are handmade for Luk Yu were very pretty. This was a treat for us and it was a good job, because Luk Yu isn't cheap. The prices are clearly inflated because it's so popular and because tourists flock here, but in my opinion it was worth the expense. It's a one off experience and my thoughts were that we were only going to be in Hong Kong once, so we might as well experience as much as we can. So my advice is to not expect a cheap lunch, be prepared for old fashioned decor and if this is your first trip to China, don't expect the service to be good in a Western sense. However, given the service we had across China Luk Yu really wasn't that bad. So get dressed up, enjoy some colonial elegance and avoid the Triads!
As students on a mini gap year, we were trying to find things to do in Hong Kong that were value for money. In every guide book we had the Peak Tram was repeatedly mentioned as a fantastic way to see the cityscape of Hong Kong. Conveniently located in central Hong Kong, the lower terminus is very easy to walk to or you can get the metro. Check out their website to find the best means of getting there for you. We walked to the terminus as we like to get a feel for a city and think the best way to do this is to walk around....but be warned in the summer it's hot in Hong Kong so dress appropriately if you're thinking of following our example.The Peak Tram has been running since 1888, so you get to have a ride on something that has been a part of Hong Kong's history. Although it didn't exist in 2006 when we visited there is now a historical gallery at the lower terminus that charts the history of the tram and by all accounts is well worth a visit. It isn't really expensive to go on the Peak Tram, a return ticket is only HK$40 and although you can pay an addiction HK$15 and go up to the sky terrace, we didn't do this and still had a spectacular view (see attached pictures).What I learnt on my visit (apart from this is the best place to view Hong Kong harbor), is that the Peak itself is the highest mountain on Hong Kong island and in the past was used as a kind of giant lighthouse or signalling point for cargo ships coming into the harbor. However, being so high up the Peak also offers respite from the blistering summer heat of Hong Kong. In the past this was reserved for the elite classes who had a bit more money, but nowerdays anyone with a little bit of cash can enjoy the cooler climate up the Peak. The tram itself was designed by a Alexander Findlay Smith who had worked on Scotland's Highland Railway petitioned the Governor to operate tram routes up the Peak. Prior to this wealthy people had been carried up the steep trails by sedan chair...all I can say to that is poor sedan chair carriers!We were in Hong Kong for a couple of weeks so we spent around 6 hours up the Peak. There is plenty to do and we sent quite a lot of time just looking at the view and taking pictures. We then made sure we sent a postcard to our relatives from the post office at the top of the Peak. After all of this 'exertion' we splashed out and had a lovely meal at the Chinese restaurant, although there are lots of other options. We chose the Chinese restaurant to be 'authentic' and also because the views from the windows were amazing.All in all if you're only in Hong Kong for a few days I would recommend going out of your way to go on the Peak Tram to get this spectacular view of the city and the harbor!
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