Woke up at stupid-o-clock and caught a taxi and bus to the airport to escape from the madness of Taipei. At 5am the roads were only crazy instead of insane, and being half-asleep certainly helped to numb the terror. Got to the airport in plenty of time, scoffed some Thai food on the plane (which I blame for a bout of particularly violent flatulence!) and arrived in Hong Kong.
You can always trust the British to bring a certain amount of normality and respectability to the proceedings, and the British influence in Hong Kong is huge. People drive properly, on the proper side of the road, pay attention to road signs, other cars, pedestrians, etc. And although all signs are in Chinese squiggly writing, they are all in English FIRST and then Chinese, which at least gives the non-Chinese speaker a fighting chance! As soon as you arrive at the airport you get a decent map, details of attractions and how to get there, subway map, bus map, etc., so you're pretty much set to go as soon as you arrive. Another cool idea is the Octopus Card. Similar to a credit card, you add money to it at special machines, then whenever you do something (bus, train, tram, restaurants, attractions, ferry, even the 7-11) you pass your card in front of a machine and it deducts the cost from your balance. So except for buying cheap tacky gifts, you don't need to worry about cash, correct change, etc. And the best part is that you can cash in the remaining balance on your card at any time, so you're not left with credit that you can't use.
Beer is priced about the same as in the UK, and food is similar as well.
But if you don't like Chinese food and can't stomach Ronald McDonald then
bring lots of sandwiches! There are other drinks options as well in case you
don't like beer. Hot Chocolate is available for 13 HKD, and Cold Chocolate
is available for 15 HKD. And the secret recipe for Cold Chocolate is ...
1. Make a cup of hot chocolate
2. Throw in some ice cubes
3. Charge more for it
4. Serve to disbelieving customer!
Another option, which almost swayed me away from beer but not quite, was 'Salty lemon 7-up with dried prune'. I would like to know who drinks this stuff so that I can make sure I'm never in an enclosed space with them!
Got a bus from the airport to the tourist ghetto part of Kowloon after deciding to stay at the Mi Hung Lo guest house on Wan Ki Road. As soon as we got off the bus we were confronted by two scary scenes. The least scary of the two was all the touts that swarm around you trying to get you to go to the hotel they are getting commission from. Some of these irritating little peasants will not take a poke in the eye or a swift boot in the knackers for an answer, never mind 'No'. They do have one special talent though. As soon as we stepped off the bus (the one with 'Tourist Filth Special' painted on the side), wearing shorts, sunglasses and carrying huge backpacks, somehow they just KNEW we would be looking for a place to stay. How they managed to distinguish us from the locals I will never know! And once you've got a hotel you're still not safe. They will be trying to push all sorts of things on you, such as food, clothing, peep shows, taxis, etc. All of them call you 'Boss' and tell you to go back to them if you need anything. So later on when I want something to eat, am I going to search for Mr. Ploppy himself in a street filled with turds? I don't think so! But - the MOST scary scene in Kowloon is all the 100 foot tall pictures of David Beckham and a couple of other Real Madrid posers on every street corner. If they have got pictures of him all over the place when I get to Thailand then I am going to cry!
First trip was to one of the outlying islands to see the world's largest bronze Buddha, apparently even bigger than the one we saw in Japan. And clearly you can never see too many giant bronze Buddhas, so off we went! If you look on a map, the bus station and giant Buddha are only a few miles apart, but the trip took over an hour because there is a large chasm between the two, and to get from one to the other involves a trip all the way across the mountainous island. And our quest was not helped because we took the least powerful bus in the world, ever! The first half of the journey was all uphill, and the bus had such a hard time that it would either be screaming in f irst gear or shuddering to a stall in second gear. As soon as we got to the top, the driver then had to keep the bus in first gear, still screaming as we went downhill, to compensate for the lack of brakes. I reckon that the gearboxes on these buses last approximately 100 miles! When we finally got to the Buddha it was shrouded in fog, but after a couple of small tantrums the fog cleared enough to take a few photos. And my haircut looked good alongside the Buddhist monks that were wandering around the nearby monastery!
Every night there is a light show where you can sit in Kowloon and look across Hong Kong harbour at the skyscrapers on Honk Kong island. Quite an impressive scene, but the light show was a bit disappointing and the background music was some dull thumping tribal-techno beat which quickly became irritating. Still, very cool to be sitting at Hong Kong harbour looking at the view.
Day Sixteen - Hong Kong
Today we experienced another example of the British influence over here - the bloody weather! Just imagine a typical English summer's day - grey, cold, windy, drizzling, foggy - and that was what the weather was like today, on what was supposed to be our main sightseeing day. Even so, were we going to let the weather keep us in a nice warm bar all day long? No. Unfortunately not!
First up was the traditional ferry trip across the harbour, full of breathtaking views. Well, full of breathtaking views on days when it's safe to take pictures without soaking your camera or being blown overboard. Fortunately the trip only takes 10 minutes, as any more exposure to the extremely choppy water might well have prompted Cardinal Chunder to make a guest appearance!
Next was a trip to Repulse Bay, which is advertised as 'the most beautiful beach in Hong Kong'. And I have to agree - out of the two beaches that there are in Hong Kong, the view we got of Repulse Bay through the rain-streaked bus window definitely showed this one to be the best! And why on earth is it called 'Repulse Bay'? Surely they could have thought of a nicer name for it like 'Sunny Bay' or 'Sandy Bay'???
After deciding very quickly not to get off the bus at Repulse Bay, we ended up in Stanley, which is a small coastal town similar to Clacton (but without the jellied eels) or Skegness (but without the whippets, cloth caps and black puddings). Not too much to do there in a howling gale except buy tat in the market, although the 'fish & chips & pint of fosters for a fiver' offer was tempting.
The next trip, a pleasure cruise and meal on a floating restaurant, was abandoned completely, for obvious reasons!
The final trip was to take a tram up to the top of Victoria Peak, which is a large hill on Hong Kong Island from which there are more 'breathtaking views' of Hong Kong. Except today! Once we got to the top, fog had reduced visibility to 10 feet. A couple of pictures of cold, wet, miserable tourists were taken for posterity, then it was back to the ghetto for food. Shame about the weather, but cheap beer on Thai beaches is now one day closer!
Day Seventeen - Hong Kong
"Hurrah" for the good old 'British stiff upper lip'. Was I going to let a small thing like the weather stop me from seeing the sights of Hong Kong? Of course not, so the plan for today was to try to do all the things that failed so miserably yesterday. Although this option only narrowly beat out the strong challenge of spending the day sitting in the pub waiting for the sun to come out.
First trip was to the New Territories up near the border with China. Right next to the railway station is a huge temple complex, and the ornate buildings make an interesting contrast against the backdrop of the grotty high-rise tower blocks that surround it. Alongside the temples are buildings containing rows upon rows of cremated ashes. Each sealed unit has the picture of the occupier on it, and some empty units had pictures inside them but no remains. So either you can reserve your space, or let them know if you're feeling unwell and they can get things ready!
Also in the New Territories are heritage trails where you can wander around old walled cities from 500 years ago. These are fairly small places - only a few hundred yards across - and are scattered around the countryside. Each clan would spend years building these 6 foot thick, 20 foot high walls, then occasionally run down to another clan's village, chuck stuff at them, then run back home again. Seems like a lot of effort to me when there are millions of miles of open countryside to live in! Can't everyone just get along??? Inside most of these walled villages there are only a few of the original buildings left, and the inhabitants tend to live in more modern slum shacks and huts. Pretty much all of the housing is squalour and generally unpleasant, especially as there are some nasty looking dogs running around looking for juicy tourists! At one village there were three women (I think they were women!) outside the gate offering to let us take their picture for $10. Why wouldI want to take a picture of these hideous, toothless old crones anyway, never mind paying for it! Although I suppose it does answer the eternal question of what Bananarama are up to these days!
Next up, the second attempt to go to the floating restaurant. The bus trip there didn't go very well due to the woman next to me coughing and snorting phlegm by the bucketload, but at least when we got to the docks there wasn't a force ten gale blowing. As we were waiting for the free ferry to the floating restaurant, touts kept coming up to us asking if we wanted to pay them for a trip on their boat to the floating restaurant. What??? Even pointing to the 'free boat trip' sign repeatedly didn't dissuade him from thinking he could get hold of our cash. Peasant! Finally made it to the floating restaurant, apparently the 'most luxurious floating restaurant in the world'. Maybe that would explain the prices then! A small fortune for a bowl of soup and a large fortune for anything more subsantial. We were back on the return ferry before the remaining passengers on the trip over had managed to get off. At these prices just chuck me into the harbour and I'll catch my own dinner!
The search for food continued in Soho, where there was every possible type of restaurant you can think of except 'Peking', and of course that was the night when we were on a hunt for 'Peking Duck'. After an hour of walking around with no success we settled for beer and pizza - nice!
Only spent 3 days in Hong Kong, but here are the scores on the doors...
Beer: 6/10. Same as England.
Weather: 2/10. Same as England.
Food: 7/10. Mostly Chinese, so same as England.
Things to do & see: 8/10. Tons of cool stuff.
Girls in boots: 3/10. Not really caught on over here yet.
Sport: 5/10. Missed the rugby sevens, but they do play cricket here!
Touts: 1/10. Far too many.
Getting around: 7/10. Easy peasy.
Beckham: 1/10. Everywhere, but one point because one had graffiti on it!
Hotel: 5/10. Ghetto shoe box, but really, really cheap.
Not bad, and difficult to get a good idea in only a few days, but I'm sure Hong Kong would score much higher if Britain was still in charge!