Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Laura's South East Asia Trip - Hong Kong

Destination number two - Hong Kong! Another crazy busy city but definitely one that that grew on me. Took me a while to make up my mind about HK as it's own identity seems a bit confused - still very western (from the fact that everybody speaks fluent English to all the orderly queues and many British-style pubs!), but at the same time an increasingly Chinese identity is creeping in. This is best demonstrated by the language as Catherine, a Hongkongese ballet teacher, explained to me, is an odd mix of Cantonese, Mandarin and English. She often combined all three in a sentence.

Crossing the border between China and HK, the landscape changes rapidly into an alternating series of lush green mountains, peppered with a few water buffalo, and clusters of impossibly high apartment blocks. A couple I met on the train from Shanghai were kind enough to give me a culinary tour of their country and invited me for a fantastic dim sum lunch, followed by a traditional street stall sweet, roughly translated as 'little egg balls', which were delicious. We also tried some of the medicinal teas sold on nearly every street - they were revolting and tasted more like a bitter, treacly, swampy liquid! They also took me to a great Japanese restaurant in Sheung Shui where trying the octopus sushi was mandatory...

I am still thoroughly enjoying travelling alone - I definitely see a lot more in a day and really absorb what I am seeing. Plus I get to meet lots of locals who are all keen to practice their English and help me out when I look lost!

Riding buses all around HK is a great way to see a lot as the scenery is spectacular, especially on the islands. It must be said that wandering around the denser areas of the city can be tricky as most of the walkways are raised above the roads and connect one mall to the next, so it is possible to cover great distances without ever touching the ground!

The hostels are generally terrible, and after changing a few times and realising they are all bad I settled on the cheapest in the notorious Chungking Mansions. There are lots of great bars in the city though, and I spent a night in a back street Egyptian bar for some guy's birthday smoking shishas and drinking mojitos; we ended the night with a lock-in playing poker and eating a baklava birthday cake the managers surprised us with!

- Catching the legendary Star Ferry from Tsim Sha Tsui across to Central on a clear evening - without a doubt the best way to appreciate the incredible Hong Kong cityscape
- Riding the 1900s-style tram at a 45 degree angle to The Peak, again, best on a sunny day for stunning views of the whole island
- Relaxing in the tai chi garden of the surreal HK Park, tucked away in between the skyscrapers (don't miss the Jurassic Park style aviary)
- Visiting the many tranquil Tin Hau temples in HK: havens amongst the endless malls and offices. My favourite was one out near Jordan, with hundreds of spiral incense burners hanging above your head
- Spend at least a day wandering around the city's many markets. From the fairground-like fish market, flower, jade, bird and junk markets (where there were stalls dedicated to anything from bells to buttons), to the colourful food markets where fresh fish takes on a whole new meaning; they are typically kept alive in water until you pay, and in Sai Kung the fishermen don't even get out their boats - hungry punters simple point from the pier and the fish are handed straight to the restaurateurs for cooking
- Trying to catch a good photo of Hong Kong's legendary but endangered pink dolphins on one of the official HK Dolphin Watch boat trips, as featured in Rough Guides' Clean Breaks, as the fee goes straight to their conservation projects
- Kadoorie Farm in the middle of the New Territories is a must. I stumbled upon this place and was so glad I did! Nestled on the side of a steep mountain, there are terraces of organic crops, a collection of rare animals and plants, ideas for sustainable living and agriculture, with a real community feel to the place. The mere 85p for entry also included a fantastic 2 hour bus tour of the farm (although the guide only spoke Cantonese, I got the gist of it!). We were taken to the highest point on the whole island, where tucked away were beautiful shrines, an orchid house and an open-air butterfly garden
- Finally, the highlight of HK for me was Lantau island. The views from from the cable-car through the mountains and over the water up to the gigantic bronze Buddha were stunning. On the other side of the island is Tai O, a tiny fishing village raised above the mudflats on wooden stilts - a world away from the neon lights and skyscrapers of Central!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Become a Fan

Tripbod on Facebook