Day 26 - Hong Kong Arrival

Wednesday, September 19th, 2007

I love Hong Kong. Always have since my first visit back in, let me see, 1997, the year of the handover…This is my third visit but only my mother's second with her previous visit spoiled a bit by another monsoon (I am sensing a pattern here…we appear to pick the wrong time of year to visit…). I am looking forward to this visit showing her the city she did not see last time she was here. Heck, I don't mind seeing it again!

It is 764 miles from Shanghai to Hong Kong. This was our longest train journey but the most welcome. 16 hours. A comfortable trip.

Waking up in the morning after a restful sleep (we are still getting up when the sun rises but since we are also going to bed just after the sun sets, that is a LONG sleep) I spent the time looking out of the window sitting on the lower bunk. The area north of Hong Kong in the Guangdong province of China is surprisingly undeveloped.

View from the Window - Countryside

I expected to see mile after mile of industrial landscape but instead we were passing through mountains with forests and lakes. The cities, roads and other infrastructure here appear quite undeveloped and fairly primitive (not that this is a bad thing). The tropical nature of the area is also quite appealing – Everything is so green! We pass by many fields of rice and other commodities being tended by farmers with their familiar conical hats. Just like you see in movies. I followed our progress on my map of China which was quite interesting showing us exactly where we were. I like to know what I am seeing and, perhaps, helping me to put it into context.


Breakfast was a small box delivered by a lady with a trolley (yes, always have to pay extra for the meals – This is not an airplane!). We slowly ate and watched as the scenery rolled past the window. Yummy, “have a persimmon!”…

Train Station in Guangdong

The occasional cities we passed were quite small until we got right near Hong Kong and the massive capital city of Guangdong, Guangzhou. It was here that we saw black rivers not so much flowing as oozing. Tall smokestacks and murky skies.

View from the Window (SW)

A lot of people think that Hong Kong is just an island but in fact it is quite a large area composed of many islands and the “new territory” which is a large chunk of mainland China. When we approached the border of China and the new territory the train stopped for quite some time. This is very much still a border. Nowadays it is not a political border but rather an economic one. China is trying to prevent unskilled labourers from entering into Hong Kong preferring to protect this former British colony from a large influx of people that may damage it's economy. The razor wire and fences are still at the border along with the serious looking guards. I found this odd.

Hong Kong/China Border (SW)

Entering into the New Territories we went by the Sha Tin area which is an strip of land between two mountains where there are many high rises and development but, more importantly, where one of my friends lives. I hope to see him and his family here in Hong Kong. I do try to see him every trip I make here. I tried to spot his apartment as we passed by but the tunnels and bridges foiled this plan (I had looked at aerial images from Google Earth before coming to spot exactly which building he was in…). The skyscrapers rose around us as we headed down into Kowloon and the Hung Hom train station quite close to the harbour at the southernmost tip of the mainland.

Hung Hom is a major station for the Kowloon-Canton Railway (KCR) and is very modern. Leaving the train we dragged our luggage and were able to catch a taxi quite easily. Though transport in Hong Kong is very good (particularly the MTR subway system) the train station is not on the MTR (we would have to walk several blocks) and our hotel on Hong Kong island is not terribly near a MTR station either. We decided to spend a bit of money and do things the easy way (besides our luggage is not getting any lighter, mind you, less persimmons…). Indicating our hotel to the taxi driver was not difficult so we headed off. The taxi circled around the station before it got into some traffic as he headed towards one of the many tunnels that go to Hong Kong island. Our hotel is quite near the Happy Valley racecourse that is also the main route across the island from the north to the south (a “pass” as it were). A short time later the driver pulled up to the small front entrance of our hotel on a busy, narrow, street on the island. Having taken a tunnel the taxi fare was higher since there is a toll he has to pay but it was really worth it as we lugged our bags out of the boot (trunk) of the car.

The hotel (Charterhouse Hotel, Wan Chai) is not really fancy but more than adequate for us. The front lobby is quite swish but the room is a bit more basic. Still, much better than many of the hotels the tour had arranged for us in China. We had to do a bit of haggling with the front desk (and a few months ago when I first made the arrangements) for a non-smoking twin room facing the city. We got all of these though the view of the city out of our 14th floor room turned out to be looking out at the even higher buildings opposite and all around. True, we were facing south which is where the rest of the city is located but there are many buildings in the way of this view. Oh well. Better than facing the other way which would be towards either a bunch of roads or the mountains that run the length of the island.

The weather is wonderful (well, hot and muggy, but no rain or clouds) so we headed out to make the most of the few days we are here. Visiting the concierge we asked how we could take public transport and were directed to the bus stop where the bus we were to take was just arriving. A short run out the doors of the hotel and we were aboard for the mile or so distance we needed to travel.

Modern Buildings in Central

Our destination was Hong Kong Park which is a bit of a distance up the side of the mountain quite close to where the peak tram station is located. We had to walk up quite a steep incline and lots of steps to reach the park from the street where we had been dropped off by the bus. The park is quite interesting with meandering paths all over the place.

Inside Hong Kong Park (SW)

There are things to see everywhere in the park but I wanted mother to see the aviary. This is a large area of the park that is enclosed with a tent-like enclosure that is quite high. You enter through a doorway with hanging chains to prevent the birds inside from escaping and you walk through the enclosure by following an elevated walkway.

Elevated Walkway (SW)

I have visited the aviary before when I first was in Hong Kong but mother had never seen it. The birds here are amazing. Parrots, pelicans and other brightly coloured feathered creatures. The joy is in spotting a new visual delight in amongst the trees and foliage. Mother took dozens of pictures as we quietly made our way along the path.

Bird (SW)

The paths through the park are quite steep and I was quickly out of breath as we climbed up and down as we made our way across the park to the Peak Tram station. The park is really an oasis in the middle of a busy city and it is good to see that it is still being maintained. The peak tram is now quite the tourist attraction with all sorts of exhibits and theme areas that really did not interest us. We picked up a return ticket that included access to the viewing gallery at the top.

Peak Tram in the Station (SW)

For those of you that don't know what it is: The peak tram is a tram that climbs up the side of the mountain on Hong Kong island near central (the main built-up area on the island) to an area known as “the peak” (as it is the top of the mountain). From here you can see much of the main area of Hong Kong Island spread below you as well as much of the harbour and Kowloon on the mainland. Quite spectacular with the tall modern buildings and such. For a long time, the peak has been a tourist destination for these views.

The tram slowly made it's way up the side of the mountain. Local people do use it for transport and there are several stops along the way that are still in use. There are two trams connected by a long metal cable. As one tram goes up the other goes down and they pass mid-way up the mountain. The trams are quite old so are great fun.

In recent years a big shopping complex has been built at the top where the tram ends. This was not appealing to us and we left it quite quickly to go out onto the street. I was looking for a café that is quite famous for the area. Thinking it was in another shopping complex across the way we unsuccessfully looked for it for a few minutes, up and down escalators. No luck. Hang on, across the road!

The Peak Lookout is the new name for the Peak Café. It is a rather up-market café but I needed to visit to see what it was like. The restaurant looks out over the far side of the island towards Stanley visible through the trees down the side of the mountain. In this way it is well away from the shopping areas of the peak itself that look out over the opposite side. We were shown to a small table right at the edge looking down. Fantastic views and, as it turned out, very good food as well. We did not want to eat dinner but we did share an appetiser of “Spicy Calamari” (squid) that was done to perfection – tender and very tasty! The drinks were not that bad either. I will have to come back for a more prolonged visit at some point. We were pretty much the only people in the restaurant that is not surprising as it was still quite early for dinner. The service was very good and I very much enjoyed it (except for the bugs that appear to have been feasting on my legs while we sat there!).

The last time we had visited the Peak mother and I had climbed to the top of the mountain but as it was a monsoon at the time we could not really see too much and had to clamber over the occasional fallen tree as well. This time there was no rain so I were determined to get to the top to show her the view. The Peak Tram station is not at the absolute top of the mountain to get there is another mile up a steep road. The top really only looks out over the far side of the island and as it is so far away very few tourists actually make the effort to get there. We are some of the stubborn ones. Walking up the steep and winding road past the expensive houses that line the way we slowly and methodically made our way forward. This area looks to be a bit in a decline over the last time we visited. I understand that property prices have actually gone down in recent years and this seems to be in evidence with some of the houses not as nice as they could have been (paint peeling, etc).

At the end of the road there is a park where we followed a path to the viewing area. It is a bit smoggy here much more than I ever remember before (as a matter of fact, I don't ever remember smog here). According to what I have heard this is because of the heavy industry that is now being created on mainland China just outside of Hong Kong. In Hong Kong itself there are strict environmental laws that businesses must adhere to but in China no such laws exist. Problem is that Hong Kong suffers from it's neighbour's mistakes…We arrived at dusk. We were not the only ones – A few young kids playing around and making lots of noise.

Admiring the View of Aberdeen

Getting dark, we headed back down towards the peak area. Much easier going down than going up, in my opinion – Ok, a bit harder on the calf muscles but a lot easier than pulling yourself up the incline…

We entered into the half-moon shaped shopping complex that is above the top peak tram station. It has things such as a Disney Store and Madame Tussauds (Hong Kong) in it, if you catch my drift, along with McDonald's and a chain restaurant from the US based on the Forest Gump movie (“Bubba Gump Shrimp Company”). Not really a place to go for Hong Kong (or Chinese) culture. We headed up the escalator's to the viewing platform on the roof. It was quite crowded but did offer great views out over Hong Kong. It is still amazing to me after having seen it untold numbers of times. The towers come very close to the peak itself but the iconic images of the Bank of China and the HSBC building are still there in all their glory. The lights of the buildings reflecting on the water and the mountains surrounding just complete the picture. Actually, it is surprisingly peaceful. You can hear the buzz of the city but it is quite calm and relaxing. Of course, at the street level it is a different story…

Hong Kong at Night from the Peak

Returning back down the tram we caught a bus to Central. This area of the island is where many of the ferries leave for various locations throughout Hong Kong, Macau and China. I wanted to get information about a ferry for tomorrow so we walked along the long pedestrian overpass to the piers where the ferry left and I was able to get information about the ferry (it runs all the time, so no problems). I also picked up Octopus cards for both of us – These are cards that can be used on any of the public transport – ferries, buses and subways – that you put money onto. Each trip deducts the appropriate amount from the card that you can top-up at any time with more money. This will save having to have exact change (which was a problem with the two buses we have already taken – we had to pay a lot more than the fare since we did not have the exact amount of money). You do have to pay an initial “deposit” but I think it will save us a lot of hassle.

Finding a bus back to the hotel was more difficult than I thought but we managed to find the bus terminal which is right near the large station for the trains to the airport (you can go directly from Hong Kong island to the airport with only one or two stops – much better than the MTR that has many stops along the way…and a lot slower than the very fast trains on the airport line…though you do pay for the speed…).

We had something to eat at (of all places) a Taiwanese Diner which is only a few doors down from the hotel. Many of the staff seemed to be more interested in watching a soap opera on television than helping us but we eventually managed to order.

The road around our hotel is quite narrow and hilly. It is lined with a number of shops which are the main floors of massively tall skyscrapers. The sidewalk (pavement) is quite narrow and busy with pedestrian traffic and the light is not all that good so it is a bit gloomy at night. The place is all a bit grubby but, I suppose, “cultural” is the word. The 7-11 opposite the street looks promising – I wonder if they have any Slurpees? The Indian restaurant looks pretty good as well. What is up that side street I wonder?…

I have been planning what we are going to do tomorrow (between watching the Discovery Channel on television – hey, English television!). It is going to be quite complicated but we will be doing a few things that I have always wanted to do but never had a chance to. I think mother will be pleased.

Day 27 - Cheung Chau Island

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