Visiting the Pearl of the Orient has always been high on our bucket list and Francien and I used the public holidays following the end of Ramadan to fly together with our daughter Marcella from Kuala Lumpur to Hong Kong. The three of us rented a tiny two bedroom apartment via AIRBNB in the Causeway Bay district on the Main Island and visited the classic tourist attractions:
The funicular railway up the 428 meters ‘Victoria Peak’, giving us definitely spectacular views of Victoria Harbour where large cargo freighters, passenger cruise liners, barges and ferries plough through the waters, the entire Hong Kong skyline with more than 1000 high-rises!! and the verdant hills of the New Territories shrouded in clouds on the horizon;
The cable car ride to the sitting Buddha on Lantau;
The street markets in Kowloon, selling cheap clothes, handbags, watches, fake designer wear, souvenirs, fish, birds, groceries and everything else we did not want to buy;
Cheung Chau Island with its fishing community.
Without a doubt all these tourist attractions are a must see.
The crowds!! Never seen so many people rushing through a concrete jungle. The sheer volume of people is overwhelming and at times we struggle for some personal space. The locals form queues in a disciplined manner, which therefore move quickly. We see signs ‘crowd controlling’ on the star ferry pier and in front of exclusive shops in Kowloon. Hong Kong is a city of pedestrian subways and sky bridges (giving us a bird’s eye view of all that traffic down below), helping the huge number of pedestrians to cross the traffic-filled roads.
Public transportation is impressively user-friendly. We arrive at the futuristic and perhaps one of the most efficient airports in the world (reminding me of the old days when travel by air was still fun), which is connected with the modern Airport Express standing out of a real world-class system. The MRT is being used by 90% of the seven million locals every day! The subways are wide, clean, well-lit and depart every few minutes. On the platforms lines mark where passengers line up to get on and off the train, which speeds up the process! With our octopus cards we have easy access to underground, buses, ferries and trams. Sitting up top in a tram on Hong Kong Island, at the front as it jolted along the busy streets is truly a relaxing experience! People are loud and always seem to be in a hurry, nevertheless they are friendly and helpful (bystanders quickly helped Francien when her bag got stuck in turn style of the underground; when we asked the people how to get to a certain place, they made every effort to explain to us).
Much to our surprise it seems this city is not as multi-cultural as portrayed in the media. The vast majority of the people on the streets were Chinese (95 % of the population is Chinese), with only a few westerners (expatriates and tourists) and people from S.E Asia: a truly Chinese city. Very little reminds us of the British colonial times (we see a few churches, the many double decker buses, the Bell Tower, all public signs are in Chinese and English). We have never seen so many shops anywhere else in the world, a mixture of western (7-11s convenience stores everywhere besides the usual luxurious international brands shops and chains) and Cantonese. There is a strong feel of commerce in the air, people selling and buying things in shops, stores, malls, markets and stalls everywhere you look.
We eat Dim Sum, tiny morsels of food: delicate prawn dumplings, spring rolls, turnip and taro cake, served with tea and testing our chop stick techniques. The restaurants are huge, incredibly noisy places.
However western style eateries take some time to find.
Most surprising sight? In this city of concrete buildings reaching into the sky, it was amazing to watch them being built and maintained with the use of bamboo scaffolding. Bamboo and shade cloth netting shrouds construction and renovation sites everywhere.
Most memorable experience? Watching a man thoroughly wiping each seat of the cable car, going up the sitting Buddha monument on Lantau Island, between the passengers getting on and off, keeping them spotlessly clean!
Rather disappointing? We took the Turbojet ferry to Macau, spending one day in this former Portuguese colony. Its advertised European heritage was rather insignificant. It is a place where people go to spend money in the many casinos. Indeed we visited the multi-story glittering Grand Lisboa Casino, but rather to escape the sultry hot and rainy weather!
Most memorable sight: Yes undeniably, the skyline of Hong Kong!
We flew comfortably back with Malaysian Airlines and after a four hour flight touched down in KL, which in comparison feels like a quiet and relaxing town.