Todd had quite a bit of work that kept him in Hong Kong for over a month. After spending two weeks there, Kelly was able to join him. Unfortunately Todd actually had to work so Kelly explored the city mostly on her own.
To start, a general overview of Hong Kong as it is a very unique place … While it is part of the country of China, it is a special administrative region that retains some autonomy from China. It is made up of over 250 islands and 70% of it is park land. You have probably heard about the insanely tiny apartments they have here and when you see the limited space they have to build, most of it on recently added land mass, and the number of people that live here, it’s amazing they can make them as big as they do. From the people we have talked to, the housing is really the only major expense. Everything else is pretty cheap. They have great public transportation that only costs $2 USD to get from one end of the main island to the other. The subway system that we were using to get around had trains on every line that ran almost every minute! That’s right, if you miss the train you only have to wait a minute or two for the next one. One lady at Todd’s office says she wouldn’t live anywhere else because for about $50 USD a month she has a full time nanny/cook/house keeper.
The weather in Hong Kong was extremely hot and humid and it was the middle of their rainy season. Everyone seems to have umbrellas open at all time to protect them from both the sun and the rain. Kelly took the sun for granted one day and ended up with a lovely sunburn and spent the rest of the trip in long sleeves.
Victoria Peak – the day Kelly arrived was one day in the two week forecast that didn’t have rain in it, so Kelly shook off the jet lag and took the funicular ride up to the top of Victoria Peak where you get the best views of Hong Kong. There are several hikes down from the top if you don’t want to take the funicular back down. Kelly chose one and meandered her way through trees and waterfalls back down to the city streets, feeling a world away from all the hustle on bustle of the city that is really not that far away.
The Central-Mid Level Escalators – Most of the businesses are along the coastline of Hong Kong and that leaves the housing spread throughout the mountainous area. Naturally, this means almost everyone has an uphill walk home from work. In one of the more populated and hilly areas there is a long, continuous set of escalators to move people around. It is supposedly the longest outdoor, covered escalator and gives locals and tourist easy access to a large number of restaurants and bars, including the Monogamous Chinese restaurant that we enjoyed one night. We used the escalators several times during our visit, it’s a great starting point if you don’t know what you want to eat for dinner. You just ride the escalator past every type of cuisine you can think of and stop when you see something that sounds good.
Tin Tan Buddha/Lantau Island – One Sunday Todd was actually able to step away from work for an afternoon and we headed over to Lantau island to see the Big Buddha. The island is joined with the mainland by public transport. We took the subway to the main station on Lantau and were disappointed to find out the scenic gondola ride we had hoped to take was closed for renovation (it re-opened the day after we visited ). So instead we took a very scary 45 minute bus ride. It felt like we were on the bus from the movie “Speed”, the bus driver did not seem to want to slow down no matter how windy the road. When we got to our destination we jumped off and thanked Buddha we survived!
The Tin Tan Buddha is at the top of several hundred steps and when we arrived it was a rainy and overcast day and you could not see the Buddha at the top. We trekked up to the top and wandered around in the fog, getting just small glimpses of the Buddha. We started heading back down the steps, a little disappointed, when suddenly we hear a lot of commotion and women start dropping down and bowing in the Buddha’s direction. We turned around and while he was still surrounded by fog, the Buddha statue was perfectly visible. We grabbed the camera and shot a few pictures while he was still visible and a few minutes later the fog rolled back in and he disappeared again. One woman who had been praying in front of the Buddha earlier seemed to be taking credit for the appearance, but we are pretty sure he wanted to make sure we got to see him.
Macau Island – The gambling capital of China, it’s their version of Las Vegas. It was also a previously owned Portuguese territory. Kelly went because of the later reason, she had been told that in the middle of Macau is a old city are that made you feel like you were walking around Europe and not Asia. After taking the ferry to Macau, Kelly jumped on a hop on/hop off bus and was quickly surrounded by casinos. At one stop she was assured that if she walked a couple blocks past all of the casinos she would find the old city area. Sure enough, there it was complete with tile and cobblestone walkways and catholic churches all in the style of European cities. It was a very curious mix of Asia and Europe. Your eyes are telling you that you are in Europe and your ears and nose are telling you that you are in Asia. Kelly stopped at a lunch place that cooked up skewers of meat in Chinese sauces and then stopped at a gelato stand for desert, just to reinforce the oddness of it all.
Sha Tin to Tai Mei Tuk Bike Ride – Bicycling is not a form of transport in the city of Hong Kong, which surprised us. Someone explained it to us that because most people in Hong Kong do not drive, they never bother to get a license or learn the “rules of the road”. Given that and the great transport and no real bicycle infrastructure, they just don’t really bother. The further you get out into the fishing villages and away from the big city and the accessible public transport, the more biking you see. The Sha Tin to Tai Mei Tuk is one area that is known as a great place to bike, with a paved trail that follows the cost line along the Tolo Harbour for over 60 miles. Kelly decided to go down and check the area out. After getting off the subway at Sha Tin, she quickly located a bike rental place and hired a bike for the day. The trail was easy and flat and had great directional signage. It was a sunny and hot day, so there were not a lot of other people on the trail so she relaxed and stopped as she rode along to get pictures of the small fishing villages and the beautiful mountain and water views all along the way.
Markets – One of the most colorful parts of Hong Kong are it’s many markets. Kelly had been on the lookout for some gifts to send home to her niece and nephews, since things were so cheap. Todd joined her for a day of marketing on the day before she left. Together we visited the Temple Street Night Market, Ladies Market, Goldfish Market, Bird Market, and Flower Market. Each had their own unique things for sale, and if you were good at haggling you could walk away with a lot of really cheap items. In the end, Todd got to haggle a bit and we got a good deal on some fidget spinners for the kiddos.
Lamma Island – Todd got another day off of work and wanted to experience riding a ferry in Hong Kong (something Kelly had done several times). So we decided to head for Lamma Island. It is a small island that is serviced by two ferries, one at each end of the island. This allowed us to go in one end, walk the few miles to the other and take the ferry back. At each ferry town there are several restaurants and seafood shops that line the streets with countless tanks of fresh seafood. Aside from the two small towns, the island is mostly wild, with a hiking path running through it for people like us. We enjoyed the quiet and winding hike with stunning views. We only came across a few people once we got past the main town. We had talked to a local on the ferry on the way over. She had smuggled her small dog onto the ferry in a baby carrier and sat next to us. We had heard there were some beautiful beaches and had brought our swim wear with the intention of cooling off at one of the beaches along the way. She recommended waiting until we got to a beach closer to the end of our walk, it would be prettier and emptier than the others. She was right and after passing several very crowded beaches, we were very glad for her advice. We enjoyed a refreshing dip in the water and dried off while sitting under some flowering trees covered in butterflies with very few other people enjoying the beach with us.