... So the Areoflot flight was actually ok! well apart from the Russian people pushing in and a few smelly men who were sleeping with the air-hostesses! It was a night flight but unfortunately we didn't get any sleep, maybe because there were lots of films we wanted to watch or just that we couldn't get comfortable but we ended up arriving in Hong Kong at 09:00 very sleepy with a whole day a head of us. We had good instructions from our hostel, so boarded the A21 bus 33HKD £2.50 towards Kowloon. As we would soon discover EVERYTHING, in Hong Kong is in English (normally before Cantonese) so making sure we got off at the right stop was easy. Once off the bus we were surrounded by people, traffic, advertising boards amazing smelling food and huge skyscrappers, so it was no surprise our hostel; Urban Pack http://urban-pack.com was on the 15th floor! The hostel was tiny! It was basically what would have been an apartment at one time split into a couple of dorm rooms, but it was really nicely done and the staff and all the other guests were really welcoming.
We headed out to get our bearings and find some food - fighting the urge to fall asleep. We made straight for Victoria Harbour (only a 10 minute walk) to catch our first glimpse of that legendary skyline. It is an amazing sight! From here we walked along the promenade to the Avenue of the Stars; the Hollywood Boulevard of Hong Kong. Jackie Chan, Chow Yun Fat, Michelle Yeoh and of course Bruce Lee (who also has a statue) are all honoured here for their contributions to Hong Kong cinema.
By this time we were starting to flag and were in need of food. People at the hostel had pointed us in the direction of a good street for food and we settled on a really cheap Noodle bar where we both enjoyed large bowls of noodle soup and a couple of drinks for around £4! From here we took a short stroll through Kowloon Park seeing turtles and flamingos before needing to retreat into the comfort of an air-conditioned shopping mall! These places are enormous and are the temperature of an industrial freezer - making a nice change from the stifling 99% humidity. After a spot of window shopping and a quick trip to the TI we discovered that all museums are free on Wednesdays - we were in luck (it being Wednesday!), so we went to the Science Museum back on the harbour front. However, after about 10 mins of looking around, both Nick and I realised we were paying no attention to what we were reading and decided to call it quits. We went back to the hostel with the intention of coming back out later on to watch the Symphony of Lights (Hong Kong skyline gets lit up to music every night at 20:00!), however we both collapsed not re-surfacing until the next morning!
After a good 14 hours of sleep - we were up and feeling much more human. A quick trip to the supermarket for breakfast and we went to the closest Metro station to get our Octopus cards. The are basically the same as an Oyster card in London where you load an amount onto the card, for you to use on all pubic transport (including the Star Ferry), but also to use in shops, supermarkets etc. You pay a 150HKD, £12 for the card, 50 of which is the deposit which you get back (well you only get 41HKD, £3 back if you take back within 3 months) along with any remaining money on the card when you hand it back in. Octopus Cards in hand, we got on a Metro towards Tung Chung station on Lantau Island where we wanted to take the cable car up to Po Lin Monastery and the Tian Tan Buddha, but annoyingly when we arrived to find the cable car was closed for annual maintenance, so we had to join a very, very long queue to catch the bus instead. Now the cable car should have taken 20 minutes, but after queueing for over an hour for the bus we then had a further hour on the bus - meaning it was nearly 13.00 by the time we arrived - luckily it was worth it!
The Tian Tan Buddha is amazing, standing 36 metres tall and atop a hillside overlooking the monastery and the Eastern Sea. You climb up 240 steep steps to be greeted by four other huge statues surrounding the main statue. http://www.plm.org.hk/eng/home.php Sadly the monastery itself is very disappointing (not helped by the fact it was covered in bamboo scaffolding) so we did not linger long before catching the bus back to Tung Chung where we stopped in a shopping mall to eat in their food court and discovered a chain called Pepper Rice. They basically give you a sizzling skillet and some raw meat and steamed rice and you cook it yourself to your liking - yummy!!
From here we caught the metro all the way back to Victoria Harbour as we were determined to catch the Symphony of Lights tonight so parked ourselves in a nearby Starbucks (yes we know - but amazingly they were the cheapest place to get good coffee and we needed some caffeine!) where we had a great view of the harbour, so simply waited for the sun to set, the Full Moon to rise and the neon to shine.
It's the evenings this city really comes to life, with neon lights, street food and night markets. Therefore after the show we decided to go to Mong Kok metro and see the Night Markets. The streets are blocked off from traffic ready for the stalls to take over. The first market you come to is the Ladies market and aimed at tourist! You think of it and you can buy it here, clothes, souvenir tak, shoes, paintings, mobile phone covers and even naughty bedroom items. Most of the stalls are the same and you can easily haggle the price to be a 3rd less then they first say. But the best way to get a good price is to walk away and they will chase you with a calculator asking what you want to pay? From here we wondered further to the Temple Street markets, which was a little more of the same but on a smaller scale and less aggressive sales people. Realising it was now quiet late we headed back to pack.
The next morning and it was time to check out of Urban Pack - annoyingly we had only been able to book for 2 nights so were having to move accommodation. Luckily though we were moving to a hotel on Hong Kong Island, this would be the first time in a long time we wouldn't be sharing a room and bathroom with lots of strangers. We payed a little more then we would normally but we decided we needed a little luxury if only for two nights.
The YWCA Garden View http://hotel.ywca.org.hk/eng/GardenView/GardenView_location.htm was only a few metro stops away and a short walk. This part of Hong Kong island is called the mid levels due to it being built into the mountains. We knew it would be hilly and being from Nottingham we thought we can handle it. However with an extra 4 stone to carry, 30 degree heat and 99% humidity it was a little harder then expected. After walking up a steep hill with steps we were knacked and looked up to see another hill! We realised we couldn't keep going so decided to flag down a taxi. We told the driver where we wanted to go and he said we were really close, we got in anyway and about a minute or two later we we're there and he had to go round a one way system! But it didn't matter as taxis are a bargain here 20HKD, £1.50 for the first 2km and then its metered, so you shouldn't get ripped off.
We arrived in the foyer hot and sweaty ready for checking in and were so happy when the receptionist upgraded us to a suite! It was amazing, this one room was larger then our whole hostel. It had a kitchen, living room, huge bathroom with two showers and a separate huge bedroom. Happy bunnies we went to explore the area around Central to get our bearings and something for dinner that evening.
After an early dinner we decided to go to the Mid-Autumn Festival celebrating the New Moon. We were handed a leaflet at the airport and knew most of the action was happening at Victoria Park only a short metro ride away. We were also told there was going to be a fire dragon dance in the streets surrounding the park. The dragon was 67-metre long and made up of 72,000 incense sticks and 300 dancers. Not sure where this was going to start we decided to follow the huge mass of people that greated us at the metro station and soon found ourselves on a little side street with lots of other people and police waiting for the dragon to come down. Unfortunately after an hour of waiting we we told the small street was too busy and it couldn't come down. Disappointed we tried to squeeze in down another street and this time we saw it smoking towards us with the sound of drums beating. It stopped just in front of us and the dancers started to take out the incense and hand them to the audience. If you take these home and keep them in your house you will bring good luck and prosperity to you and your family.
From here we went into Victoria Park a huge park that had been covered in lights, lanterns and then centre stage was a big dome made out of water bottles (the ones you get on water coolers). The dome light up with different colours in time to music, it was brilliant with a great atmosphere. From here we had a stop in a overly air conditioned department store to cool down before heading back to our lovely studio!
We had a very lazy start the morning sleeping in until 11am, we felt a little guilty but not too guilty as this city really comes alive in the evenings, so hadn't missed anything. We decided to explore the Botanical Gardens on our door step. We had been using it as a cut through but hadn't walked round it. The garden was beautiful with lush greeny and flowers and then surprisingly it had a free zoo in the middle. Nick and I not being fans of zoo's decided to take a cautious look. It was actually ok. Although not the biggest of places, the animals were native and seemed to have a fair amount of space. It was mostly monkeys and they were happily swinging around from the trees and ropes.
The night before we we're thinking of going to the peak, but after seeing the queue snake around the block with a sign saying 3 hrs wait, we thought maybe not as it would be nearly midnight by the time we arrived. We therefore decided to go early tonight (being our last night) hoping to get up and see the sunset around 18:00. Luckily going early worked and we didn't have to queue as long, only 45 mins. The peak is basically a shopping mall built on top of a hill with fantastic views. It's reachable only by an old cog tram that was built in 1888 to enable people to get to their homes, before this the only way up was by a sedan chair. Today the tram line has been slightly modified but you still get to ride the original tram from 1959. The ride was wicked through the town, then steeply uphill (at a 27 degree angle) through a forest of trees. Once there we were rewarded for waiting by a beautiful view of the Hong Kong's skyline, but you do have to fight for a good spot as there are lots of people doing the same. It costs 52 HKD £4 to go up with your octopus card and this also means you don't have to get a ticket to go through, although you do still have to queue.
After watching the sunset and taking way to many photo's we went back down to find food. The day before we had accidentally come across the longest outdoor covered escalator and when riding it discovered it went to a great street with lots of restaurants. The escalator is great at 2,600 ft long and going up 443 ft from bottom to top, hence we wanted to ride it again and we could look out for food too. Once back at the Hotel we noticed they had put up a sign about a Typhoon warning and the direction it was heading, we had heard it was coming toward Hong Kong but it said it would be after we arrived in Viet Nam so weren't to worried.
Our next morning was again spent as a lazy one enjoying our lovely room and a naughty breakfast of croissant and jam, before heading to the airport for our flight to Ha Noi, Viet Nam ...