Hong Kong: Part 1

Day 36 / Day 20 ACEC

This was our very last morning in mainland China.

We took an interesting ‘free shuttle’ (a minibus crammed to the brim with people and luggage, yes some was balanced on our laps) from the hotel to the overland border crossing. The border crossing itself was a straightforward affair…

An interesting point: as British citizens, we don’t need a visa in Hong Kong (link explains what Hong Kong actually IS as well) and can stay for up to 6 months. Poor Jackie (our tour facilitator, from mainland China) needs to get an on-arrival visa every time she enters Hong Kong (which is a LOT because of work), and it’s only valid for seven days. I’m not kidding. 

According to Jakkie, there is longstanding animosity between mainland China and Hong Kong. It was obvious she wasn’t happy about that…more on that later.

After crossing over into Hong Kong, the first thing we did, before even leaving the border crossing building was, of course, to connect to the building’s free WiFi and CHECK FACEBOOK, POST A SELFIE AND THEN GOOGLE SOMETHING OH MY GOD I didn’t realise how addicted I was to Facebook and Google until those precious fifteen minutes straight past the border where Jakkie and the other ladies in the group waited patiently for Dave and I to quench our raging thirsts.

Anyhoo…

After this, it was onto the Hong Kong metro system, similar to Shenzen’s but even more English-friendly. Also freezing. Yeah, they put the air con on full blast in all the Hong Hong MTR lines – be aware of this if visiting and bring a jumper (seriously) along!

After checking into our well located hotel (twenty minute walk from Victoria Harbour), we went to have lunch at a local restaurant. The food was great but that animosity I spoke of reared its head again in the disdainful way the waitresses spoke to Jakkie – them insisting on speaking in Cantonese whilst she tried to engage them in Mandarin, them pretending not to hear her when she tried to get their attention…and, Jakkie informed us, this was routine behaviour. Far as I could tell, mainlanders don’t like Hong Kong people much either. I could go into the reasons here, but possibly they deserve a post of their own, and I’ll insert a link if/when I get round to that post. Jakkie did hasten to assure us there are a significant number of exceptions to these generalisations but that the whole thing could get pretty tiring.

During this lunch we said a very earnest ‘goodbye-and-good-luck’ to one another, and I hope to stay in touch with Jakkie as well as the other ladies in years to come!

HK skyline by day
HK skyline by day

We rested at the hotel for a while after lunch and then Dave and I decided to walk down to Victoria Harbour to catch the sunset. The weather was lovely, and we had a fantastic time strolling the whole length of the harbour, people watching and slowly watching the sun sink behind the famous skyline as it lit up…the whole evening afforded many spectacular photo opportunities!

Victoria harbour / HK skyline by sunset
Victoria harbour / HK skyline by sunset

So along the harbour, as well as the view, there are lots of interesting things to read pertaining to the film industry in the area, with Hollywood-esque stars in the floor paving as well, with such famous names as ‘Jackie Chan’ and ‘Bruce Lee’ inscribed into them. There are also a fair few statues, for example one set depicting a sound and camera man (you can have your photo taken in the ‘director’s seat’ in the middle of these!), and another awesome one of Bruce Lee!

Bruce Lee!
Bruce Lee!

There’s also an art gallery nearby, which we didn’t check out, but which is supposed to be quite good.

HK skyline by night
HK skyline by night

For our evening meal, we went to an Indian restaurant recommended by Jackie situated along the famous Temple Street (we’d checked out the market earlier before our walk to the harbour – it was essentially quite a lot of ‘knock-off’s as expected!) called the ‘Bombay restaurant’. It was quite average, but did somewhat satisfy my craving for Indian food, which had been building for a while!

Day 37 / Day 21 (last day) ACEC

Technically, this was our last day on the Essential China tour, but as the previous evening and today were both labelled as ‘free time’ in the itinerary, we’d already said goodbye to Jackie and our fellow tour members the day before, with promises to stay in touch.

After checking out of our hotel, we transferred to the hostel we had booked ourselves, Urban Pack hostel, via foot (it was a twenty or so minute walk from our hotel).

There are lots of ‘mansions’ in Hong Kong, each being a building that seems to house a bunch of businesses (including lodgings both for tourists and actual locals living in Hong Kong as well as restaurants and more). Our hostel was in ‘Haphong Mansion’ in the Kowloon area, about a ten to fifteen minute walk from the harbour.

Having successfully located and entered the building, we were directed by the concierge (and a helpful poster on the wall) to a higher level via lift to the hostel reception. We rang the bell to be let in but spied a rather cool keypad system that we would learn about later…we were a bit early (check in as ever was at 2pm) but the staff let us leave our bags in the reception area.

We then went off to try and buy some snacks and came across the little gem in the photo below – packed with useful goodies, including Waitrose products! As many were imported, prices were high, but we bought some fruit and cookies and then were on our way.

Woohoo
Woohoo

On our walk to the hostel we had passed Kowloon park and decided to while away some time there whilst eating our food, and the time passed pleasantly enough people watching, taking photos, chilling and trying out the gym equipment (lots of parks in mainland China had these dotted around as well!).

Kowloon Park
Kowloon Park

When we actually got to checking in at the hostel, we learnt how to use the nifty keypad system and also found out the hostel was split over three floors (!) and one other building (!!). There were two common rooms in the building – the section of the building our room was on did not house one. We had a private room with a bunk bed and with the funniest ensuite ever – a tiny shower-and-toilet cubicle that literally stuck out into the room itself. Hey, it and the rest of the room were clean though, and the WiFi was FAST, so we were extremely happy! We would wholeheartedly recommend Urban Pack despite it’s weird layout.

In the late afternoon, we decided to visit Victoria Peak. We got there easily via the metro system and I convinced Dave that we should take the famous tram up the peak, rather than climb. The queue was pretty long, and obviously we had to pay for the tram, but it was a pretty cool ride up. It would have been EVEN COOLER if it hadn’t been so foggy at the top of the peak. We had some stunning views of the coastal area and skyline for the first bit of the ride – and then literally we ascended into fog – there was a clear horizontal line dividing visibility from cloud, seriously.

View from tram up Victoria Peak: oh dear.
View from tram up Victoria Peak: oh dear.

There are a bunch of malls and restaurants and a circular walking trail atop the peak. We were hungry and the original plan had been to find a restaurant with a view, so we decided to stick to the plan despite the fog (with vague hopes that it would miraculously clear as we dined) and found a nice Italian restaurant called Wildfire. It was a bit pricy but not extortionate (expected as normally you get a stunning view) and the pizza was absolutely second-to-none even if the view remained rubbish throughout our dining experience!!

Lovely pizza, cloudy view
Lovely pizza, cloudy view

After, we wandered around a bit, but decided against doing the aforementioned circular walk, given that now the wind was starting to whip up a bit of a storm and raindrops were starting to fall. As we had eaten and weren’t interested in shopping, the malls held little appeal too, so we joined the long queue for the tram back down!

All in all, I think it was still quite a good day despite all the fog. Still, I would highly recommend others NOT do the Peak if conditions look a bit rubbish.

Day 38

The previous day, we’d seen a notice up near the common room by reception saying that there was hiking the next day with a free guide from the hostel at 10am. So, we met at the designated place (the…other common room) at that time and were greeted by a lovely American girl who’d been living in the hostel for a few months, doing an internship out here for work. It was actually near the end of her time here, and because she likes hiking, she decided to offer herself as a guide for free hikes each week once she’d gotten to know the popular trails.

We expressed our interest in doing the Dragon’s Back (a hill) hike, a famous one we’d seen on Tripadvisor and also been recommended by a friend. Our guide and the two other guys who had joined us were happy with this and so we set off on our way.

After stopping at a shop on the way for snacks, we caught the metro to the port to catch a ferry across to the Hong Kong island, where Dragon’s Back is situated. You can get a metro across as well, I believe. Yeah, all of this confused me too, but if you click here then you’ll understand a bit more about the geography of the region – remember, our hostel was in Kowloon.

At the point of catching the metro, our fellow travellers urged Dave and I to get an Octopus card, which we had known from research was like an Oyster card, but hadn’t bought as we didn’t think we’d be in Hong Kong long enough to justify the cost…but we found out that actually, you can return the card at the end of your stay for a full refund of any remaining balance and the cost of the card, for only a nominal ‘admin fee’, and that still would leave us better off than buying individual tickets. So, we got one each. They also work on the majority of buses too, and were definitely a worthwhile investment!

Useful sign!
Useful sign!

Once on the island, we caught a bus to the base of the trail – bus stop To Tei Wan on Shek O road. From there on in, the trail was easy to follow and well marked. The day was warm (not intolerable, however) and humid, and pretty soon on the uphill trek Dave and I weren’t sure if the fact our clothes were clinging to us was more due to the humidity in the air or our own sweat. That sounds gross, but was our first experience on the trip of such conditions, and set the tone for the rest of the trip because it certainly wasn’t our last.

Views from Dragon's Back
Views from Dragon’s Back

We stopped off at a picturesque picnic point to eat our snacks and take some photographs. Although the day was still cloudy, the clouds were not low lying enough where we were to obscure the views, which I imagine are even better on a clear, sunny day. Dave has pointed out to me though that it might have been almost intolerably warm for a hike if the sun had come out, though, so swings and roundabouts! Either way, we did enjoy the hike 🙂

Views from Dragon's Back
Views from Dragon’s Back

After reaching the top (and as always feeling incredibly unfit) and having a rest, we took a path down that would take us to Big Wave Bay. The signs for this beach are also marked, however, they’re not quite as easy to follow, so I’m glad we had come with a guide who had done the trek before. Oh, and we also spotted a little snake on the way to the beach!

Peak
Peak

Big Wave Bay beach was pretty cool, not a spectacular beach, but clean, with no touts, and cool water that wasn’t too cold to swim in. Only Dave and one other traveller had remembered swimming trunks, so they went off to have a dip whilst we sat on the beach sipping welcome ice-cold cokes. I did, of course, have a walk in the shallows, but would have preferred a dip as I was so sweaty – I recommend you remember your swimming gear when doing the Dragon’s Back and definitely END at Big Wave Bay rather than starting at it, which is what some people we spotted seemed to be doing!

Spot the snake
Spot the snake

After, Dave took a quick shower (yes, there are facilities at Big Wave Bay to go to the loo and shower. At the time I thought they weren’t the cleanest, but having subsequently experienced many more beachside ‘facilities’ throughout our travels, I’ve changed my mind – they weren’t bad!), and then we retraced our steps so to speak via the public transport system back to the hostel. Oh, just before we did so we checked out a little food market near the metro station selling fresh fruit and veg, but I’ve unfortunately forgotten if it had a famous name – I don’t think so, though.

Big Wave Bay Beach
Big Wave Bay Beach

We went for dinner with our new friends and a few other add-ons from the hostel in the evening and dined at a nondescript street joint, the sort where you sit on plastic stools outside if space has run out inside, and has cheap but tasty food! My chicken curry was so-so but the garlic mussels Dave and I ordered on the side were pretty good. They were EXTREMELY garlicky!

After there was some talk of going out, but in the end we headed to a 7/11 to pick up cheap drinks and then hung out in the hostel common room for a bit, getting to know each other a bit more.

A good if tiring second day!

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