A very brief entry from a very brief visit to Hong Kong
13.06.2007 - 18.06.2007 31 °C
Hong Kong -"the fragrant harbour", was our last and the shortest trip out of Korea.
With Nick having only 1 day holiday left + the weekend, Maja and I set off a few days before to prepare the ground.
Before coming to Hong Kong we were a bit puzzled with "where would be the best place to stay". When we asked some different friends who had already been there, they gave us opposite suggestions all implying their options were the best.
Hong Kong comprises Hong Kong Island (the commercial heart of Hong Kong, almost futuristic skyscrapers with the offices of Asia's leading banks, trading companies, upmarket shopping malls and top class hotels) , Kowloon Peninsula ( mainly industrial and residential area with numerous factory outlets, street stalls bargains but also museums and parks), Lantau Island (the new airport, Disneyland) and The New Territories ( a big chunk of the mainland China ,mainly rural areas good for hiking) and some 260 other islands.
After some speculation we decided that we preferred to look at the famous Hong Kong skyline from the other side and stayed on Kowloon Peninsula in Tsim Sha Tsui (TST) area. Although the most touristy it was also the most convenient place to stay -we got a good hotel deal -5 mins walking distance from the waterfront and Star Ferry that takes you to and from Hong Kong Island.
We arrived on wednesday evening, checked in at the hotel , quickly refreshed and went out for a bite to eat and to check out the neighbourhood. On the way we decided to get some take away and eat at the waterfront.
We followed the sign to the pier
and suddenly we were there with the most dramatic view of the city I think I have ever seen
It was the evening but still too early to be very dark. On the other side of the harbour we saw a silhoutte of mostly silver towering builidings with their peaks cut off in the clouds that hang over them like an old fashioned ladies' hat - covering and at the same time revealing but never giving the whole picture.
Unfortuantely looking at our snaps you might wonder what I am on about as they don't come anywhere close to what it really looked like !
I am a nature lover and don't usually get easily impressed by modern architecture. Although I always appreciate the original designs and brave ideas I have never felt like "WOW" until now.
The combination of the modern buildings, the green bushes in the background appearing and dispappearing from the palette of grey and dark blue clouds made the harbour look amazing as if it was one huge modern construction floating on the water or hanging off the clouds, depends which way you looked at it.
We got to the pier just in time for the Symphony of Lights - orchestration of music, decoration and laser lights and a pyrotechnic fireworks display with commentary in English and Chinese depending on the day of the week. The show takes place every evening (weather allowing) at 8 pm and lasts for about 13 minutes. With 43 buildings on both sides of the Victoria Harbour and participating in the show it made it to the Guiness Book Records as the largest permanent laser and light show in the world.
It is definetely worth a watch and can be best observed from the waterfront of TST (Avenue of Stars) or from the deck of the ferry.
After the show we decided to take a walk to the Star Ferry Terminal to check the opening times etc.
Having collected enough leaflets to organise our stay we went to Hong Kong Cultural centre -located just by the waterfront -to have a nose around and sit with a coffee/juice and plan our next few days.
The following morning the weather still didn't look very promising. We sat at the hotel by the huge glass window eating our breakfast and having watched people getting soaked on the street below we decided to go to the Ocean Park - although located mostly outdoors it also has a variety of indoor activities and some of Asia's biggest aquariums. We took the subway to get to the other side of the harbour and then a bus to the amusument park. The rain was easing a bit so it was actually all right to walk around in our raincoats. The park is located on the sides of the mountains of Aberdeen and offers fantastic views of the channel and mountains on the other side.
It is divided into 3 levels which can be reached by riding the cable car or using one of the world's longest outdoor sets of escalators. With a big variety of thrilling rides suitable for different ages, theatre shows (dolphins and sea lions),birds aviary , feeding schedules,some best aquariums in the world (Asia's biggest shark aquarium and world's largest reef aquarium), sea animals art and craft activities and many many more it should make a good day out for anyone not just a family with kids. Although it remained rainy and sticky for most of the day and we could not get on some of the rides as they were not operating due to the weather conditions or with Maja being only 4 -we were not allowed, we had a brilliant time! We left the camera at the hotel so we have no snaps from there but here is a good link for those interested to get a taste of it
While on the bus ride to/from the park we were able to have a closer look at the towers and buildings that we were admiring the night before from across the harbour. I was under the impression that the first (outside) "layer" of the buildings were grand but as we travelled further into the island more and more of the buildings looked pretty tired, neglected and were a big contrast to their flashy neighbours.... On the way we passed the Happy Valley with Hong Kong's Royal Jockey Club and also the cemetary which made a powerful impression on me, maybe because I always associate them with quiet spacious places on the outskirts or outside of towns and this one was quite the opposite -sunk somewhere amongst the buildings it looked so out of place -yet again all these souls were buried just there to rest in peace. It made me realise how every possible square meter of the Island had been used up.
The next day we went to Lantau Island and planned to go for a walk along the beach as well as to see the Big Buddha. We took the subway to get to the island and then a bus (about 1 hour drive) to get to the Buddha and the temple. There were some stunning views as the bus kept climbing up the mountain, the island looked pretty unspoiled and a nice place for hikes.
Unfortunately the weather wasn't any better then yesterday and just got worse as we got to the Buddha so we gave up on walks and we only hoped to get a glimpse of the Buddha from amongst the clouds!
We still had to walk up plenty of stairs to get a closer look at the Buddha
as well as the misty view below:
Once back in Kowloon we had a walk around the hotel area in the opposite direction to the pier. The streets were busy and the air so humid that we quickly decided to get back to the hotel especially as we didn't fancy any shopping and most of the streets were occupied by shops and traders. Maja didn't take long to fall asleep while I waited for Nick who was arriving later this evening.
It was an early start next morning and a big day for Maja -her (and ours ) first visit to Disneyland.
Thankfully the weather had totally changed overnight and we had a sunny day.
Disneyland is also located on the Lantau Island and you can get there by subway. The last part of the journey is on "Disney Resort" line where the train has Miki mouse shaped windows,statues of different Disney characters etc.
Maja just could not wait to get off that train ....she was sooooooo excited!
And so we arrived.
For some reason we didn't think it was gonna be that hot and didn't take any sun cream. With the sun getting stronger and stronger, Maja's white and easy to burn complexion and no shops selling sunblock on the horizon, we were in trouble. If you ever get yourself in such a situation remember there is always First Aid or Emergency room. Although the staff seemed a bit suprised with our request we got the cream and could enjoy the rest of the day without worrying about the sunburn.
So here there was no plan, we followed wherever Maja wanted to go. She made sure she got to say hello and get a hug from nearly all of the Disney classic characters which involved just a little bit of queueing:
Then we went to watch the 3D opera:
And after that the parade:
Having done and seen so much, there was still 1 character Maja kept on looking out for -the beautiful Cinderella.
She had seen her palace at the entrance and finally, towards the end of the day we spotted her near the gates. But as we joined the queue we were told that CInderella was finishing greeting kids for the day and was now going for dinner....just imagine our reaction....I told the woman they should block the road or something so other kids would not be able to see her and get their hopes up. However sorry I felt for Cinderella who had probably been smiling without the break for the last 10 hours (unless they had a twin sister) and was in need of a break and some food, I could not tell Maja that Cinderella wouldn't see her. There were simply no words in my mind that would justify the reason without breaking Maja's heart. So I went on and on, even said something like "We came here all the way from London to see Cinderella....", and after few minutes the woman took us on the side and advised that Cinderella will be passing through the nearby gate in a few minutes and if we wait there she will ask Cinderella to see Maja.....I was somehow suspicious that she was only trying to get rid of us but all we could do was to go to the gate and hope she would turn up.
I think the woman must have indeed said to "Cindy" that we came all the way from London as once she arrived she spent a good 5 minutes with Maja
and Maja.......................................................................................................................... was in heaven:
It was definetely worth the effort!!!
After that someone discovered the toy story zone and we were there forever!
Although it was hot and crowdy, watching Maja having so much fun and innocently believing in the fantasy world we were in made our day and at the end of it we were all sad to leave:
The next day we went to Hong Kong Island and took a tram on the 106 years old railway to the Victoria Peak. In the old days before the tram had been put in place, most people were carried to and from the Peak by the sedan chairs. The ride up is 1.4 km long and pretty steep but guarantees some fantastic views of the city on both sides of the harbour.
We spent some time on the top enjoying the views
and then came back down and walked around the Central. As it was sunday, the streets were closed and there were Filipino maids nearly everywhere you looked , sitting in small groups on mats with cool boxes, eating food or playing games. It was an extraordinary view because there were so many of them gathering just anywhere enjoying their only day off work.
As this was our last day and we didn't have enough time to walk the streets as we would like to, we took yet another tram. This time the 90 year old ricketydouble decker tram line operating through the centre from the west to the east side of the Island.
It was very old and narrow inside the tram with many people on it as it is the cheapest way to move along the route. We went on the top deck and after some time managed to get a seat. The train slowly transported us from the modern glamour of the commercial city, through the local markets
selling probably anything you wanted to the poorer residental districts in the east. We were glad we sat on the top as if we were at the bottom we would probably only see the nice shop windows etc. Being above allowed us to see more than just a glitz and tinsel of Hong Kong -the collosal numbers of apartments that looked like they were just piled on the top of each other. I couldn't help wondering how long it could all hold on.....
We spent our last evening in Hong Kong cruising the harbour and looking at the twinkling lights of a city with a great history that definately deserves more of the tourist's time than the average 24-48 hour shopping stopover in between other destinations.
And being there only a few days, looking at it from different heights and directions we felt like we hadn't seen it at all!