Monday, 11 April 2011

Panoramic views of Hong Kong

Monday 11th April 2011

MP3 track of the day: We built this city –Starship

Weather: The skies were blue and the temperature were hot. I haven't sweat this much since Ho Chi Minh City.

Yet again I found myself waking up to the sound of plastic bags rustling. During all my travels I haven't known so much rustling, so early in the morning, within one country. The culprits this time were two Irish friends getting ready for a flight to Australia. My watch read 7:30am and so I turned over and rested my eyes for another thirty minutes. Having had a shower last night I got ready pretty quickly. The common room was deserted apart from the receptionist. I needed a map printing off showing my accommodation within Shanghai; I thought I would use the printer while it was quiet. Sadly it wasn't working and the receptionist was less than helpful. After ten minutes I gave up and headed out.

Whilst eating breakfast I planned my day. First of all I would visit the HSBC, and the Bank of China, buildings before heading to 'Hong Kong Park' and, as the day seemed to be bright, I'd take a ride on the tramway that would whisk me up to the top of 'The Peak'; a 552m high mountain that looms over Hong Kong. That would do for a start. I cleared my rubbish away and headed west towards the center of Hong Kong. As I walked I got very hot; thousands of people seemed to be walking just where I wanted to be. Add to that the fact that a couple of times the pavement, in front of me, just ended my walk became rather stressful. Once in the center the crowds seemed to disappear and walking, once more, became a pleasant past time. I stopped opposite the HSBC building (HSBC stands for 'Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Company') which was built in 1985. According to traditional feng shui beliefs, the center of power (the Government House) should be accessible in a straight line from the main point of arrival (the ferry terminal). As the HSBC building was built straight between the two it was designed so that most of it was raised off the ground, thus allowing that all important straight line. I took a couple of photos of the building before walking below it, stopping in the middle to look straight up. The floor, of the HSBC building, was made out of glass and you could see all the way to the top; It was extremely impressive. At this point I was pretty thirsty; I stopped at McDonald's, again, for an orange juice before proceeding to the Bank of China, which also follows the principles of feng shui. The banks threatening knife-like tower can be seen as a lighting conductor, drawing good luck down from the sky (not sure if I would count being struck by lighting 'good luck'). My guidebook stated that tourists were allowed up to the forty-third floor, during work hours, however I had set my sights higher.

My next port of call was Hong Kong's main park. Built on the side of a hill the space allocated had been used well, however overall it wasn't that impressive. I walked quickly along the tree-lined paths past the many small gardens, and the Olympic stand, until I reached the 'Edward Youde' aviary. I could see a huge net rising far into the sky; inside there seemed to be a wooden walkway and birds could be herd, and just about seen, flying from one branch to another. I climbed a set of stairs, by-passing a big group of school children (a school outing … nooooo), before reaching the entrance to the aviary. I was surprised to find the attraction free of charge; after reading the notice board I proceeded through a small entrance, pushing my way through two curtains made of small plastic hoops. I was surprised to find that, even though the aviary looked like a rainforest, the humidity was similar to that of its surroundings. I did what I had been instructed to do on the notice board, I walked quietly and slowly. The birds seemed quite tame; they grabbed food, from branches located close to the walkways, with no hesitant moves … they even sat around for a while which I was very grateful for. I snapped away conscious of the school group that was about to enter the aviary behind me. The aviary wasn't that big and I soon exited through another two plastic curtains. Even though the aviary hadn't been that big I thoroughly enjoyed it; the aviary, however, was large enough to allow the birds to fly freely.

I quickly made my way around the park and exited through the west gate. I crossed the road and into the 'Peak Tram' ticket office. There were also sorts of deals I could purchase which included a ticket to Hong Kong's 'Madam Tussauds' museum for 20% less than advertised; why I would want to visit 'Madam Tussauds' I do not know. I purchased a normal 'one-way' ticket as I planned to walk back down 'The Peak'. As I went through the ticket barrier a tram was about to set off; looking through the window all the seats were taken. As the trams were every eight minutes I decided to wait for the next one as I wanted to sit down and enjoy the view. Soon enough the tram departed and then another appeared. I was glad that I had waited; the train climbs 386 meters in eight minutes meaning that it feels as though you are traveling vertically. The view wasn't that spectacular and before I knew it we had stopped. We were let out within a shopping center; I walked past many souvenir shops until I found myself within a lobby area. In front of me were more shops but, to my right, was an escalator heading upwards to even more shops and the 'Sky lookout' . I headed up the escalator, by-passing the shops, and up another three escalators until I reached a ticket booth. Thinking back; when I was at the 'Peak Tram' ticket office they did have a combined ticket which included the 'Sky Lookout'. As I hadn't opted for that ticket I had to paid a further thirty Hong Kong dollars (£2.50) to be allowed up the final escalator and onto the lookout platform. As I was traveling up the final escalator I realised that, purchasing the two tickets separately cost me an additional four Hong Kong dollars (30p) … I'll get over it.

The view was fantastic. The platform was a rectangle shape with the entrance and exit escalators situated within the middle. The edges of the platform were crowded full of asian people posing for photos. The person taking the photo was positioned quite far back meaning that I had to wait, quite a few times, for people to complete taking their 'souvenir shot'. I muscled my way through and I soon found a spot, along the edge, of the platform. The platform was located directly behind Hong Kong's central district and it looked spectacular. I took many photos of Hong Kong's skyline before moving to the rear of the platform which was far less crowded. I glanced down and looked upon the other side of the island. People don't realise that there are quite a few cities on Hong Kong island and, currently, I was overlooking Aberdeen. Another surprising fact about Hong Kong is that it's very green; a huge canopy of trees, as far as the eye could see, covered the slopes of the inner mountain region of Hong Kong, with human development left to be built along the small shorelines. I could have spent ages up here if it wasn't for two related problems. Firstly it was boiling hot and secondly the Hong Kong government had installed an aluminum rail all the way around the platform. Not only did the sun make this rail too hot to touch but it also projected the sun back into your face, blinding you. The view had been worth all the effort, but now it was time to go down.

Once down the many escalators I found myself out of the shopping center. I was still on top of the peak. I purchased a bottle of water, a 'Milky Way dark' (never heard of them before but they were nice, and cheap) before finding myself a seat in the sun; I read my guidebook which stated that, to get to the top of the peak, there was a road you I walk up to a less crowded platform. I closed my book and headed off. My guidebook stated that it was a twenty minute walk to the summit. The walk was all up hill and, even though there was quite a lot of trees covering the footpath, it was still very hot. To make matters worse the footpath wasn't always clear cut and I often found myself back-tracking off private property. Once at the summit I was presented with a large rectangle platform with a white roof. The only other people up here were a son and his elderly mother plus another son and his middle-aged farther. The viewing platform faced away from the city of Hong Kong and down onto the other side of the island. The view was lovely but the real advantage was the peace and quite. I wondered around the grounds, trying to find a 'circuit walk' my guidebook talked about, but with little success. I therefore decided to head back down into the chaos. Instead of following the footpath I decided to walk through a park, located to the side of the viewing platform, that I thought lead all the way down to the 'sky lookout'. Actually it didn't and I soon found myself with little option other than heading back onto the footpath that I had walked up.

I was soon back at the 'Sky lookout'. I found 'Old Peak Road', which my guidebook stated lead all the way down into the city. The time was 1pm and so I decided to follow said road as I was starting to get hungry. The road was almost vertical and for most of the walk I was using all of my strength to keep myself from falling over; I was certainly glad that I'd taken the tram up. As I carefully walked down the slope, towards town, an elderly Asian gentleman came running past me heading up the hill. It wouldn't have been so bad if, ten minutes later, he then ran past me back down the hill. Soon skyscrapers were looming above me once more, also the faint sound of traffic could be herd below. Before entering the turmoil of downtown Hong Kong I'd, accidentally, ended up within Hong Kong's Zoological, and Botanical, gardens. As both were free I had a quick look around. The animals caged here included many more varieties of birds, including flamingos and golden peacocks. They were fascinating to watch however their inclosures were a lot smaller than the aviary; I found quite a few animals walking the perimeters of their pens. I moved onto the botanical gardens which didn't consist of much. There was a nice water fountain which had trees all around and huge modern skyscrapers as a background but, as the school group from the aviary were already located here, I moved on.

Back in town I found it extremely difficult to find any other restaurant other than McDonald's. The shops seemed to follow a similar layout with a McDonald's, a clothes shop, another clothes shop, a shoe shop, a bank, a gadget shop followed by another McDonald's. This theme seemed to continue down every street and I wondered if it was ever going to end. Eventually I found a Subway; it wasn't what I was looking for however it was better than another McDonald's meal. I sat down, eating my foot-long sandwich, watching local people as they walked by. I noticed that a lot of them did indeed have the 'golden M's' products making me wonder just how much of the stuff was consumed, within Hong Kong, every day. As I finished my coke I planned for the afternoon. I had seen Hong Kong's skyline from the back, now I would take a ferry, across to Kowloon, to see it from the front. Then I would take a ferry back to 'Causeway Bay' where I would have a quick walk around the convention center, to admire the Golden Bauhinia, before taking a photo of the 'Noon Day Gun'. I finished my drink, picked up my stuff, and headed off.

Once at the ferry terminal I found everything well sign posted. It cost two dollars and fifty sense (25p) to make the ten minute crossing to Kowloon. I went to a coin machine, pressed adult (as I am one … I think), and inputted the required amount. I received a plastic coin and I put said coin into a turn-style machine, which then allowed me through and into the ferries waiting area. I could have boarded the ferry for less money however that would have meant that I would had to sit on the bottom deck. I opted for the top deck so I would get the best view of the harbor. Once the ferry docked I raced onto it to claim a window seat. I got my camera out of my bag and waited for the off, which wasn't very long away. All the way through the journey I snapped away, mainly focusing on Hong Kong's convention center. All to soon we docked at Kowloon's pier where I disembarked and headed to a viewing platform, which looked back at Hong Kong's skyline. The sun provided a haze, making the view not as clear as I would have liked, however it was still impressive. The only downside were all the cranes along the harbor front, working on a huge land reclamation project (for more gardens and a highway I believe). I didn't stay long and I soon found myself on another ferry heading back, not to the center, but to 'Wan Chai' which was a port closer to my accommodation. Once on the ferry I left my camera within my bag and just took in the view. I decided that at 7pm I would take the ferry back across to Kowloon to see Hong Kong's skyline at night.

Once docked I checked the times of the latest departure; the last boat back was 10:50pm ... good. I walked towards Hong Kong's convention center; I had viewed the center when I was on the ferry and so I ignored it, mainly concentrating on the 'Golden Bauhinia Statue'. This statue, which was in the shape of the flower that was present on the flag of Hong Kong, was built for the hand over of Hong Kong – from the British back to the Chinese – on the 1st June 1997. In fact the convention center, just behind the statue, was used for the 'handing over' ceremony. The statue wasn't that impressive and, given that the place was full of Chinese tourists, I headed off quickly to my final attraction for the day.

The 'Noon Day Gun' was located just to the west of the exhibition center however I had to walk across two pedestrian foot bridges, and through one tunnel, to reach it. Once there it was all a bit of an anti-climax. A blue cover was wrapped around the gun leaving only it's outline; a few old cannons lay on the floor. There was a plaque detailing the history of the 'gun at noon' and that it was a Hong Kong tradition, dating back many years. However the outing wasn't worth the additional walking effort; I returned to my hostel to await night fall.

Once dark I headed back to the ferry terminal and crossed the waters once more. The lights, on the skyscrapers, were already on and a sharp surge of excitement went through my body. I headed for the viewing platform that I was standing on only a few hours previously. There were thousands of tourists all around the edges and so I opted for the lower deck. I found a small space, between a Belgium couple and an Australian one, to erect my tri-pod. I did ask the Belgium couple for permission before setting my camera up and they were more than happy with me standing next to them. I reassured them that I would only be five minutes to which they looked slightly confused. 'But what about the light show?' they said. What light show was my reply; they then began to explain that at 8pm, which was in three minutes, some of Hong Kong's skyscrapers perform a light show with flashing lights and green laser beams streaming out across the bay. They had been to Hong Kong five times before and so they began to tell me about things to do within the city. Once the clock chimed 8pm music started blaring and the selected skyscrapers lit up. It was quite amusing how the skyscrapers were introduced like bands playing at a gig would be (with said building flashing it's lights in response). Once this was done the buildings did their stuff to the beat of the music playing all around the harbor. The Belgian couple told me that this was the biggest light show within the world and, yes it was worth seeing, but Hong Kong's harbor was stunning without it. After the ten minute show I headed back to the ferry conscious of the time. Part of me was glad to get back onto the ferry as I knew that I wouldn't be stranded in Kowloon. I got back to my hostel around 9pm where I put my camera away, read my book, and went to sleep.

It had been a long and tiring day. However I had enjoyed it thoroughly; I wasn't sure what I was going to do with my final day in Hong Kong, there were so many options. Just to the west there's a large park; there's a museum 6km out of the city center, which is supposed to be worth going to and there are the other cities on the island to visit. I think I'll have to decide tomorrow, see what I feel like.

Toodle Pip!

No comments:

Post a Comment