Well... it was a long time coming, but after limping home from the Caxton Seafood Festival on Sunday night, I managed to actually get 12 months of possessions crammed into one backpack and jump on a Hong Kong bound plane Monday afternoon.
Can't say that the flight was all that enjoyable. Firstly I have to say that I no longer think all that much of Cathay Pacific as an airline... food was ordinary and the movie selection wasn't much better. To top it all off though, the good old Rob Masefield curse kicked into high gear with me sharing my row on the plane with a delightful Mum with a not-so-delightful 3 year old kid who screamed the whole way to our destination! Needless to say Rob was a tad tired and cranky by the time "Honkers" appeared on the horizon.
With the airport in Hong Kong now being located well out of the city, I was glad that I had flipped a couple of extra bills on the counter at the travel agents, thus securing transfers to and from my accommodation in Kowloon. Had the small hurdle of finding someone to accept my "voucher" and point me in the direction of a bus, but at least I knew that once that had been accomplished, I was "home and hosed" for a shower and a bed. Easier said than done.
I crept up to hotel transfers counter number A1 and asked the lovely young lady where I needed to be to get on the bus mentioned on my voucher. "You need counter B5", she replied. Sweet – I just needed to hot foot it up to the second arrivals lounge 300 meters away in the other end of the terminal and I'd be all sorted? Wrong.
Over the next 15 minutes I was pushed and prodded from A1-B5-B0-A12 and back to A1 again (bearing mind that sections A and B were at opposite ends of the terminal). I could have sworn the staff in the terminal were taking the piss and just using me as a bit of late night entertainment fodder. Moral of the story is that I ended up on a bus in the end and indeed ended up in a bed at the end of it all. sighs
Time for some sightseeing...
Tuesday was a HUGE day for me. I was determined to be up early, down to the Star Ferry before the work rush and over on Hong Kong Island ready for an extended sight seeing and photography excursion. No plans ever run smoothly when you are on the road, however, which I'm sure any travelers out there can testify. I packed my day pack and filled my "Camelbak" water bladder ready for the day and headed down to the restaurant for brekky. Upon my return I noticed that the bed was all... well... wet!! Seems the bladder leaked out everywhere and to this day I still don't know how or why. It first appeared that there was a leak in the bottom of the bladder... but I haven't had any leakage since when using it so I really don't know what was going on. I wonder what the room service woman thinks of me now though??? LOL
Anyway, with leaving the hotel early, what I didn't think about of course, was what kind of money I was going to need to be able to get on the ferry. For those of you who don't know, the Star Ferry that gets you from Kowloon (Chinese mainland) across to the Island of Hong Kong is a measly sum of $1.70 HKD which is something like 35c Australian. Having not spent a cent since landing I only had $100 and $50 notes so I was in a bit of trouble. There weren't any "Quicki Marts" open around the place either cause it was so early, so I had a moment where I just stood there like a confuzzled foreign traveler... well I mean that's exactly what I was I suppose!
I must have looked really lost cause it wasn't long before a little old Indian looking guy smartly dressed in a suit and tie came over and asked me if I was lost. I politely said I wasn't lost, just stuck for change. Without hesitation he dived into his little money pouch on the end of a chain attached to his belt and pulled out $2 which he handed over with a nod and a wink. Great! I thought... we're in business here – I'm on the ferry and the people seem really nice. As Sachin introduced himself formally, I quickly learned that my repayment for this kind act was to lend the old man an ear while we made the harbour crossing.
Luckily the crossing wasn't that long... but it was enough time to hear all about Sachin's rise from a life on the streets to a relatively successful salesman. I heard all about how he refuses to give money to people who beg opting to dish his charity in the way of strangers in need of assistance. Bless him. The world needs more "Sachins".
After arriving on Hong Kong Island you really can't help but be awestruck by the skyline and the impressive structures that reach high into the smog cough cough. I spent a good few hours in the morning trooping around the streets checking out new glass and steel buildings, huge shopping malls, little temples, cute little ally-ways with little old ladies flogging stuff from a by-gone and distinctively oriental era.
I was sucking down the water like nothing else with the temperature soaring to something like 34 degrees and the humidity hovering around 70%. You'd think I would have been used to those kinds of conditions following the Aussie Summer... but it was harsh I can tell you!
I managed to cover a fair amount of ground around the immediate area off the ferry including a few temples and a bunch of makeshift markets and shopping areas. This whole stop-off for me on the way to London is about photography and not the shopping so I didn't let myself go with any purchases... I don't have the luggage room anyway!
Next stop of the morning was the markets out at Stanley and this is where the real fun started! I jumped on a bus downtown which was a mission in itself. The bus depot was full of buses and bus drivers not quite sure where they were going. And it seemed that once a bus driver was given the nod to go to a particular destination, you had like 8 seconds to get on board before he put the pedal to the metal!
I did, however, end up finding the right bus to get me out to Stanley which, unbeknownst to me, was a fair hike out of downtown.
I clambered with all my photographic gear up to the top deck of the bus and found a nice isolated comfy looking bench towards the back of the bus. We traveled along past some fantastic little coves and luxurious looking dwellings picking up people from various stops as we went along. After one particular stop, a bloke appeared at the top of the bus stairs and proceeded to make his way up the aisle to the seat behind me. No problems.
A few kilometers down the road, however, I started to feel these sudden jabs at the seat behind me similar to when a little bugger of a kid kicks your seat at the movies or something. I let it go the first couple of times, but when it happened again I turned around to give the guy a filthy look only to be met by a dude completely void of clothes. Yup... this freak had sat down behind me, jumped into his "birthday suite" and spread himself out like he was sitting on a big comfy leather couch! To say I was shocked is an understatement and my first reaction was to laugh at the guy. Not a "gee that's funny" kinda laugh but more of a "you pitiful excuse for a man" kinda chuckle (well if you had seen him you would know what I mean) which I think he picked up on for he suddenly struck out and whacked me in the back of the head. Naturally I wasn't going to let him get away with that so I turned around and gave him a gob full which is when he up and lurched at me. Some pushing, shoving and swearing later and I made the move up towards the front of the bus while he re-clothed and got off. It was a crazy and somewhat surreal experience that I did nothing but laugh during! I know you'll be horrified when you read this Mum thinking that I could have been hurt, but let's be realistic here... other than from his butt crack, where was he going to produce any kind of weapon from? LOL
Anyway, I eventually arrived at the Stanley Market and made my way into the winding tourist trap alleyways and successfully managed to kill off the remainder of the afternoon window shopping without buying anything besides bottles of water and a salad wrap to keep me going through till dinner.
I'm happy to say the bus ride back into town was nowhere near as eventful as the outbound journey. Once back on my own two feet, I made a bee-line for the Victoria Peak tram station knowing that if I was going to be half a chance of getting a good spot to take some photos of the famed Hong Kong city skyline on sunset (or what there was going to be left of one), then I'd have to beat the crowds.
Sunset from Victoria Peak
By the time I got to the terminal, it became somewhat apparent that everyone else had had the same brilliant idea as me. So I bought my ticket, grabbed some munchies for the journey and fell into the boarding line up. If you've never been on the tram up to the peak before then I got to tell you, that's one hell of a steep ride. I can't believe those trams cruise up there at the speeds they do at that angle, carrying that many people. Crazy!
Once at the top of Victoria Peak, you become well acquainted with the definition of pollution. On any other given day situated in any number of other cities around the world I would have easily been able to see Kowloon across the Bay. But nay. Visibility was only good to around half way across the water – not exactly what I was looking for photographically.
Let's face it though, it's not likely that I would ever be standing here again in the near future, so I started snapping away madly just for the hell of it (ahhhh... I do love digital)!
My main goal for the evening was to stick around until the sun slipped behind the horizon and the Hong Kong city skyline became lit up like a premature Xmas tree! I traveled along the pathway leading from the tram stop knowing that as the light faded, I would be well and truly crowded in if I was to stay in the immediate vicinity of the terminal. So I eventually found myself a nice cushy spot with a great view of the city and dug in for the few hours needed for sufficient darkness to befall the island.
With no toilet block within "cooee" of where I sat perched, over the course of a couple hours I had to make a few impromptu "walkabout" trips into the forest to "survey mushroom varieties" (aka pee)! Ha,ha! It was inevitable really with the humidity and the ridiculous amounts of liquid I was taking in...
Anyway, I managed to get some good snaps in and was actually pleasantly spoiled by a bunch of fireworks being set off from atop the office buildings in, what I later learned, was some kind of youth celebration.
At the end of all that excitement I was pretty well pooped, had shocking blisters on my feet, was chaffing badly between my legs due to the constant sweat etc and pretty much felt like crap so I headed back down to the water, took the ferry back across to Kowloon (sweating profusely all the way), took some more shots and did a bit of night shopping in some of the more populated and neon saturated night markets on the way back to the hotel, showered, packed a bit and crashed.
Only thing left to do the next morning was make the most of my buffet breakfast by stuffing myself and my pockets with anything that wasn't nailed to the serving tables, pack a little more of my gear so I had everything valuable in my carry-on and grab the bus out the airport!
Hong Kong was a crazy, rushed and enjoyable experience – I hope to make it back here with a little more time up my sleeve sometime soon.
Links & Credits
- All Images // Rob Masefield
- Hong Kong Island // wikipedia.org
- Stanley Market // hk-stanley-market.com
- Victoria Peak // hk-victoria-peak.com