Hong Kong & Kowloon

November 16

We woke up to the last full day of our China travels.  

We were staying in the lovely Stanford Hotel in Kowloon, the view from our windows showed blue clear skies over a vibrant modern city.   The ample and tasty buffet breakfast at the hotel prepared us for a day of walking.  We were excited and soon were on the streets.  

Walking is a great way to travel, particularly in cities like New York, Paris or Hong Kong.  On a tour bus you can view a city; when you are walking the sidewalks, you become a part of the city ... part of its rhythm ... part of its pulse.

Tung Choi Street was crowded with large tarp covered containers ... today between noon and 10:30 pm this rather uncomely scene would become the Ladies' Market a riotous scene of selling and bargaining.   We planned to be a part of it.

Strolling along busy shopping streets we dipped into electronic stores to see the latest gadgets on the market.   We peered at items and prices that would one day at home make us say, "I wish I had of ...".

We crossed over Shanghai Street where it too had a double row of containers and high tents.  We would also be returning to this spot later tonight to take in the infamous Night Market.

We dropped in for a glimpse of opulence ... the Peninsula Hong Kong Hotel.   Built in the 1920s the "Grande Dame of the Far East" is still considered one of the world's finest hotels.   On a balcony above the grand lobby musicians play quietly enough not to interfere with conversation but loud enough to tap your toes.

We climbed the stairs and did some window shopping on the second floor,  used the washroom where a personal attendant handed us a soft towel and then discarded it to a laundry basket and then looked over the shoulder of the piano player as the quartet played "The Entertainer".  One day we will stay for high tea, but this trip had one day left and as the skies were clear ... it was time to head to Victoria Peak.

The earliest printed word about a ferry between what we now know as Kowloon and Hong Kong was in December of 1888.   About ten years later the Star Ferry Company began operations.  Back then a trip would cost a person 5 cents, today the trip is $5.30 HKD (69 Canadian/USA) for adults, children (age 3-12) $2.60 (34 CDN/US) and those over 65 years of age ride free.  For most of the day it runs every 20 minutes.  All ferries in the fleet now have air-conditioning on the upper deck. 

The big tour buses go through tunnels and over bridges but the Star Ferry crossing Victoria Harbour is still the best ride in town ... especially if you plan for an after sunset return trip.

Central Pier is conveniently connected to a series of elevated covered walkways which keep pedestrians dry as they move around the commercial area.  To appreciate the massive height reached by Hong Kong skyscrapers and open air view is best.  It didn't take long to reach the tram station for Victoria Peak where we were kept company by a wax figure of Jackie Chan (best known for his Kung Fu action films) as we waited our turn to board.

It was a short seven minute ride.  Back in 1888 when the tram began, it was powered by coal fired steam boilers and was used that year by 150,000 riders.  In 1926 power was changed to electricity and today the annual number of riders reaches 4 million (averaging over 11,000 each day).

Those are the figures for the tram.  Victoria Peak, however, attracts over 7 million visitors each year who, like we, are in awe of the stunning views.  

Many business around the world are using the principals of feng shui but here in Hong Kong it holds much importance. 

For example the Bank of China's building (the one showing "X"s on the side) has sharp angles which were considered to be aggressively pointing, like an axe, at their competitor's building, the HSBC.  To offset this bad feng shui HSBC mounted two cement cannon-like structures on their rooftop and pointed them in the direction of the Bank of China.   Another Hong Kong building with a unique feng shui story is the Hopewell Centre (the tallest one in photos).  It was the first round skyscraper to be built in Hong Kong.  When this 64 storey building was completed it looked very much like a burning cigarette or a white candle, which could mean death.  To counteract the bad Ch'i  a private pool was built on the roof because water puts out fire. 

 

Rather than taking the tram back we decided to walk down Old Peak Road.   

Twenty three years before the tram began its climb in 1888, in the days before air conditioning, the new Governor of Hong Kong, Irish born Sir Richard MacDonnell, built a summer home on Victoria Peak where the air was cooler.   Soon other aristocrats followed.  To get to and from this exclusive area for expatriates only, the well-to-do had their uniformed personal staff carry them in sedans up and down the steep switchback path. 

Regular tram service to the heights meant that more people could ascend to Victoria Peak to enjoy the views.   In 1947,  the area was opened to those who could afford the escalating prices regardless of their ethnic background.

As we descended down this steep slalom-grade trek with its hairpin switchbacks it was difficult to imagine carrying a passenger in a box, on our shoulders,  along this same route. 

Once we reached the bottom of Old Peak Road, there were other roads and stairs continuing the downward journey.   

 
 
 

[Now that we have straightened the photo of Angela, from above to one at left, you can see in reality how steep the road is.]

The walk down was most enjoyable, but the steep slope was continuous  ... good shoes and strong knees are needed to complete it in comfort.

We still had a distance to go before reaching the waterfront and we didn't want to rush, so we stopped in at the Globe pub for some refreshments before continuing.

 
 
 

Rested and refreshed we took to the streets that Sherrie and Terry liked best from their last trip to Hong Kong ... the "regular" streets where people buy their vegetables, meat and fish for dinner, where plastic tourist gewgaws are pushed aside and shop keepers display the things which brighten the lives of the locals.  Streets where we could, just for a moment, glimpse into the lives of some of Hong Kong's population ... and the experience, as always, is rewarding.   

Wanting to wait on Hong Kong Island until dark, before we rode the Star Ferry across Victoria Harbour back to Kowloon, we picked a restaurant at random to have some dinner.  Unfortunately, the food was just-so and the service was lousy ... not just for us but for most customers.

 

When we left the restaurant darkness had settled above the lights of the street and buildings.  The moon, in the cloudless sky, seemed to be trying to match their brilliance.  The air was warm and the pulse of the city continued to beat as we walked to Central Pier.  

   
 

As we pulled away from Central Pier we could see the outlines of the Bank of China, HSBC and the tall Hopewell Centre standing out against the velvet sky.

 

The lights of Hong Kong shimmered on the water laying out ribbons of gold and red, pinks, purples and blues; all which seem to be tied to the ferry as we stood at the open windows.

It's an unforgettable scene and one we will be sure to repeat when we next travel to Hong Kong.

On the Kowloon side, we made our way to the Night Market and then walked up to the Ladies Market.  Angela once again applied her skills at bargaining with her able accomplice Stephen.   At the ladies market Sherrie and Angela remembered to look in the open shops behind the tarp tents where they also found some bargains.  

It was indeed difficult to call it a night because in doing so we had to admit our China travels were coming to an end.  

 

November 17

 

We were packed up and ready to catch the shuttle bus on which the hotel had reserved our seats.  We left our bags in the rooms and were at the Stanford Hotel's impressive breakfast buffet as soon as it opened.  We lingered for as long as time would permit before we checked out and rode out to the airport's city terminal. 

It is a very impressive system.

 

 At the terminal, we confirmed our tickets, checked our luggage and received our boarding passes ... then ... with only our carry-ons to manage, we followed the signs to the shuttle train which whisked us out of the city to the airport. 

 

We remembered when we first arrived in China, our guide, Ping, described this same system which they were implementing for Beijing.  

Hong Kong is the world's fifth busiest passenger airport and has the most active air cargo operations.  Around 800 aircraft take off and land each day (better than one plane every two minutes). 4.1 million passengers passed through this airport between April 06 and March 07.

 

With that many passengers, we were expecting big crowds and long line ups but we were wrong.  The Hong Kong Airport's system of handling luggage, moving people from terminal to aircraft and guiding passengers through security and customs is most impressive. 

Without effort we were soon in the waiting lounge as the Star Alliance aircraft was readied for our flight home.  

 

The Thorne "Happy Family", as we had so often been called on this journey ... Angela, Stephen, Terry and Sherrie  ... agreed our China travels had been a most wonderful journey.   We agreed the experiences we had shared had been more positive than we had anticipated.

We looked forward to sharing our positive feelings with others who might be wanting to travel to China but perhaps are feeling a little apprehensive.   You can, as these past pages show, travel in China independently.   The preplanning by Terry was in large part responsible for the smoothness of the trip and gave us the ability to see and experience so many things in a relatively short time.  "Can-do" attitudes and the flexibility to alter plans were key to minimizing stress.  Openness to new experiences opened the door to those small special moments which will continue to hold dearer places in our memories than even the most impressive World Heritage Sites.

For those who traveled these pages with us, "We are so glad you came along."  

Sherrie and Terry's next adventure?  Africa in the spring.

The "Happy Family's" next adventure?  Soon we hope.


Previous Page        China Home Page 

Travel Tales Home Page        Travel Reflections