Around the World in 13 days – 3 & 4 Hong Kong

Up the Peak

Woke at 5am and again at 9am. Lovely bed and sheets with thin crispy quilt. Wow – 9 hours sleep and right on schedule. Tidied room ready for cleaner. I had seen a sign for complimentary coffee and pastries last night in the lobby area, but by the time I emerged, showered and dressed, it was no longer on offer. Story of my life.

The doorbell of my room rang – woman asking for laundry. Said “no” in haste and later chased after her with socks, pants and t-shirt! After all, I had to experience an authentic Chinese laundry! No ironing required. Set out at about 10.30 acquiring some change at reception. Decided to go up the Peak but not to follow Stan’s idea about a taxi to the station. I hope he will understand. Instead, walked up to the Hennessy Road and jumped on a tram clutching my $2. My many years of experience on the London tube came into their own as I hung on stylishly to the ceiling rail. The trams are very thin and compact, like the city. Caught a seat and then got off at Pacific Place near Queensway Plaza – a rather exclusive/western style shopping mall, with a large central space drawn in sweeping curves. Followed signs to Hong Kong Park and walked through. Well-signed neat and pleasant city park with grass, paths, lakes and a viewing tower (climbed the 105 spiral steps, as one has to). I saw some couples having wedding photos taken as Stan had predicted, with brides regaled in white. Very relaxed. Not unlike a London park, but enclosed by tall glass ornamental towers, rather than Georgian houses.

I ambled through to the Peak Tram station at the end of the park, enjoying the morning warmth and air. Here I queued for 15 minutes, perspiring well, even though we were out of the sun, with a hoard of American tourists. We all bought bottled water as we stood in the queue, at a well positioned kiosk. The tram was $20 for a one way ticket. Each tram took a slice of the queue away. Then it was our turn, and we were let through to stand on the platform. We all waited for the next tram, trying to position ourselves to where the doors might be when the train stopped, in order to get a good seat. I managed to get a window seat and snap away, although not a great view on way up due to excessive vegetation. The trams were old but elegant. Very steep climb of about 15 minutes. We alighted at the viewing gallery high above Hong Kong. Wandered round the top of the Peak with hundreds of others. There was a into a shopping mall and lots of people of various nationalities (Aus, US, French). Took more photos along Finlay Road. There was a little vantage point where people were jostling to take photos, without other people on them. Great panoramic view of the tall buildings of Hong Kong and across the harbour. Misty. Found a real Chinese takeaway bar in the shopping mall and had sweet and sour pork (mmmmmm) with Chinese tea (do you eat the leaves? I didn’t). All very authentic with chopsticks, in an authentic polystyrene tray and cup! Sat on bench outside cooling down as I write this. And now – for the climb to the top….

Located the ‘Morning Walk’ along the contour of the peak and ambled clockwise, spying tall buildings through the tropical foliage, as if they were playing hide and seek, but secretly wanted to be found. Then, finally, I found a stepped path heading up through the foliage. Snakes or not, I decided to climb and set off upwards at a rapid pace, making as much noise as possible, as if to say “snakes, I’m coming and neither of us want to even see each other!”, whilst muttering audibly “conquer your fears, David, conquer your fears” whilst blocking out that awful possibility of snakes in trees dropping onto my head”! (I can write this now as I’m safe!) I perspired profusely – due to heat, humidity and exercise (not fear of course!). Clothes sticking to my body. Saw a bloke coming down who had clearly seen off and survived the mambas and pythons – did he resemble Crocodile Dundee or was that my imagination? Picked up the Governors Walk (paved) and began to slow down and relax. Sat now on a seat near the temple in the Peak Gardens. This is a stone edifice with pillars and a concrete floor. Very basic, attractive in its simplicity. I was determindly non-plussed by the religious overtones, and instead sat on its low wall and wrote up my travel log.

Don’t think I can climb higher – it looks like there are only radio masts. Wandered around looking for a path up, but nothing. The view lower is completely lost in the clouds. Can just glimpse HK through the mist. Some beautiful red and pink flowers/shrubs. Plucked up the courage to use the toilets (another fear conquered!) Noticed how low the doors were. I feel tall in this country !

Ferry to Kowloon

Strolled down Mt Austin Road and saw another likely road up, so ran up increasingly deteriorating path with my new snake-fearless resolve and found a strange grassy plateau on top but still no way to get to the very peak. Still very hazy. Finally decided to give up getting higher. So walked briskly down in the humidity back to the Peak tram area. Finally plucked up the courage to ask a girl to take my photo and found a bus at the bus station (unsurprisingly, although the bus station was hard to find, surprisingly). We whizzed and rattled down to Central for $10 (well $7.50 but no change given). Two English blonde ladies on board, talking to each other in very refined English accents, otherwise all Chinese. Every seat was full so the driver sped past expectant passengers with gay abandon. Very crowded back at sea level in Central, the heart of Hong Kong City. Walked along to the famous long escalators and went up several to Hollywood Road. They take commuters up in the afternoon and down in the morning. Felt like being on moving city walls, with the masses below. Ambled back via the colourful vibrant markets and shops. Headed for the Star Ferry but ended up at main ferry area, very hot and tired. Backtracked along my steps, remembering now that Stan had warned me about going to the wrong ferries. Anyway found the famous green eastern Star ferry and paid my few dollars. Very old fashioned but reliable, cheap and effective. Wide, with long benches.

Took the short trip across the famous harbour to the Kowloon Peninsula (mainland China) but unfortunately to the the wrong station (having a bad hair/navigation day!) Blame it on jet lag and age and heat. Took classic pictures of the HK front, a row of tall beautiful stately buildings with their toes on the edge of the water. Walked along Salisbury Road and up the famous Nolan Street. Horribly crowded and noisy here – not at all pleasant. Found an acceptable refuge through Kowloon Park (unremarkable) and steered towards the even-more-famous Temple Street – also not especially remarkable. Oldham market was just as good and I should know, being the grandson of a market holder. Bought some delicious cold coconut juice from a poor but happy lady slicing coconuts at the side of the street. Not relishing the walk back, but suddenly found an MTV rail station and decided to take it all the way back to the island and Central. Finally fathomed out the ticket machine and pushed the boat out for a DC and some chocolate fingery things. Hopped on train and nonchalantly didn’t hang on (hey, advanced level commuter here) whereupon I (a) nearly fell over when the train stopped and (b) had a tap on the shoulder and a guy told me my bag was ‘unsafe’ – ie unzipped. I have too many zips!

Thai Meal

Changed for Wan Chai at Admiralty and strolled back to hotel. Very sticky and hot by now. Immediately grabbed my trunks and took a swim in the open rooftop pool as it began to quickly get dark. Lovely to cool down. Walked out to grab a few twilight photos along the skywalk, trying to capture the neon lights of dusk, balancing my camera on walls to avoid any shake. Checked out the restaurants, and was politely approached by staff at each in turn. Got changed back at the hotel, and then walked out to my chosen restaurant – Green Thai. Selection of excellent spicy starters, soup, chicken main course (too chewy) and a few beers which made me reflective and melancholy (eating on my own) and I wrote the poem about HK. Sauntered back, indirectly through buildings at 1st floor level. Reminiscent of Vegas without the slot machines. Back in my room, uploaded photos, or do I mean downloaded, chatted to Phil a little on MSN (texts from Hannah earlier about her exams). Sent P photos for the website. Late into bed but not feeling tired. Big shock was laundry costs – $14! (1 shirt, 2 pants, 4 socks). Maybe there was a ‘grunge’ surcharge. Writing this in bed @ 2am. Goodnight imaginary friends!

PS Today I (a) walked (b) trammed (c) bused (d) boated (e) trained (f) swam (no bikes in Hong Kong for some reason).

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