JOURNAL : Sept./Oct. 2004
28 September 2004 :
No sooner does one taxi driver do it, today's driver also tried to rip me off by not starting the meter and trying to suggest an exhorbitant fee for my trip to the airport (that was after the hotel tried to get me to use one of its cars at over double the normal taxi fare rate). It's very easy to fall foul of these games, and thank goodness the Tourist Police are now starting to clamp down on these practices - of course, it helps if you keep on your guard at all times.
Having arrived at the airport, I successfully checked-in, and got through Passport Control and Immigration. But this only happened after paying 500 bahts 'passenger service charge'. This is something that really winds me up (I encountered something similar in Vancouver in 1999) - you have no choice but to pay whatever amount they tell you, as without paying you can't proceed through to departures.
Oh well, never mind, it's time to relax before the flight ....
Time difference from UK getting greater ... I lost another hour as I flew into Hong Kong. Phooey.
The new airport on Lantau Island is so big, you have to get on an underground train at the Gate just to get to the arrivals area. Had to walk through a heat sensor as part of the arrivals process, due to the concerns still in place about SARS and Bird Flu.
Took the Airport Express into Kowloon (about 25 minutes journey), and after taking a quick ride on the courtesy bus, I checked into the Salisbury Hotel, which is run by the YMCA.
I was met at 7pm by Gibbo (Paul Gibson), who I used to work with at Chatham. He has been working in Hong Kong for Fidelity Investments for the past couple of months - and returning to the UK on 30 September, so I was really pleased that our dates in Hong Kong coincided. Good to see a familiar face after more than 2 weeks.
Took the Star Ferry across Victoria Harbour, to Hong Kong Island - this is where the main financial centre is situated. Splashed out on a 1st class ticket (HK$2.20) - less than £2, so fantastic value. (The 2nd class ticket, entitling you to a downstairs seat, is only 50 cents less). I shall be using the ferry quite a lot over the next 5 days.
Apart from along the waterfront, Hong Kong is very hilly. No problem .... escalators and travelators have been built to help people get around as easily as possible. The total distance is 792 metres (that's what the guide book says), making it a world record.
Found a rather good Mexican restuarant (i Carumba), and spent a couple of hours catching-up on all Gibbo's news - including finding out about his latest promotion and the fact that he's bought a racehorse.
Plans made to meet up for the day tomorrow (Weds) as it's a Public Holiday in Hong Kong, and Gibbo didn't need to work.
29 September 2004 :
Met up with Gibbo at Central, and we took a ferry ride to Lamma Island (which is situated to the south of Hong Kong Island). A popular place, due to its beaches - and especially popular today due to the Public Holiday.
Walked along the path between the village of Yung Shue Wan and Hung Shing Ye Beach, where we stopped for a beer and light lunch. No cars on the island (just four tractors, and hundreds of bicycles), so it felt a bit like Sark in the Channel Islands.
After returning to Hong Kong Island, we took a tram over to Causeway Bay, and had a mooch round the markets. This was the first time I had ever been on a tram (unless you count the one in Devon between Seaton and Colyton/Colyford !). You only need to pay HK$2 when you get off the tram, irrespective of the distance travelled. At less than 15p, another inexpensive way of getting around.
Having got the tram back to Central, I returned via the Star Ferry to the hotel to freshen up.
Met up again with Gibbo for a bite to eat, and we then retired to the Spot Bar for a couple of beers. The Spot Bar is actually a Sports Bar, but the story goes that they made an error when producing the big sign over the entrance, and the name (excluding the 'r') has stuck ever since. The Liverpool v Norwich match was being shown on the big screen ... English Premier League is very BIG in Hong Kong - and they even have the 24-hour EPL television channel to satisfy the demand.
30 September 2004 :
With another Public Holiday due tomorrow, I decided that I would try and beat the crowds, and visit Victoria Peak today - a place that promises the most spectacular views of Hong Kong.
Caught a double decker bus at Central (Route 15) for the ride to the Peak, which took about 45 minutes. On the way, saw the Happy Valley racecourse - although this was at a distance, and through gaps in the hundreds of skyscrapers.
A long and winding road up to the top. As can be seen below, the view was unfortunately affected by the heat haze. A real shame - so I'll try and return on Saturday for a 2nd look if I get time.
One of the "must do" things in Hong Kong is to ride the Peak Tram - so this is exactly what I did for my return down to the city. Despite the fact that the tram is connected to a single steel cable, it has a faultless safety record since the service opened in 1888. You have to sit facing up the hill, as the angle of descent means you would fall out of your seat if you were facing the direction of travel ! 10 minutes is all it takes to get down to the Garden Road Terminus.
Having returned to Kowloon (via the Star Ferry), I took a stroll along the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade - a very popular place with the locals, as it gives the best ground-level views of the Hong Kong skyline.
One new addition to the Promenade this year is the 'Avenue of Stars'. It's a tribute to the stars of the silver screen - Hong Kong movie celebrities marked with plaques in the pavement, some with handprints. Stars are also represented by thousands of coloured lights built into the walkway bricks. Shamed to say, the only name I recognised was that of Jackie Chan.
1 October 2004 :
Today is 'China National Day' - 55th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China.
All offices are shut today - just a shame that the Tailor touts, and the "Rolex" watch sellers haven't taken the day off either. It's funny, because I see them at a distance, and watch them move into my path - clearly, I must look like a tourist!
As I had run out of books to read, I took the Star Ferry over to Hong Kong Island to track down some bookshops. Successful shopping trip. You do get to see a few of the old 'colonial' buildings hidden amongst all the new architecture.
On the way back, I discovered another shopping mall ('Harbour City') just round the corner from the hotel - typical, as I found three bookshops in there as well - the place is massive, as it also incorporates the Cruise Ship Terminal, and several hotels. I would guess that the place was at least triple the size of Bluewater. So if there are any ardent shoppers amongst my website readers, you may want to take a wee trip to Hong Kong.
In the evening, I joined hundreds of thousands of locals along the Kowloon waterfront, to watch the China Day fireworks display - it was incredible, especially when you consider the backdrop. (On normal evenings, at 8pm, you still get to see a light and laser show - most of the major office blocks have multi-coloured lights incorporated into their massive sides). It surely must be one of the best skylines in the world.
2 October 2004 :
My last full day in Hong Kong already - up early, and after a quick breakfast, I took the Star Ferry across the harbour so that I could catch the bus to Stanley, which is found at the south of Hong Kong Island. Great views of the coastline on the way.
The market at Stanley is what everyone goes to see - lots of stalls, selling clothes, pictures, souvenirs etc. There were a few boats down at the water's edge, but not a huge amount of activity.
Returned via Repulse Bay and Aberdeen on the way back to Kowloon.
Spent a couple of hours this afternoon at the Hong Kong Museum of Art - conveniently located just 5 minutes from the hotel.
The museum is well laid out with plenty of room to mingle round the exhibits, including many traditional pictures as well as Chinese antiquities. Big displays of jade, gold and glass, stretching back to the varous dynasties (e.g. Jin, Yuan, Ming and Qing).
I was particularly interested to see the pictures of old Hong Kong - in the days when there were no skyscrapers, and Hong Kong was a small fishing village. It's altered beyond all recognition, although of course a few of the very old buildings still remain, even if their use has changed.
There was also a lot of writing on the walls - not graffiti, but examples of chinese calligraphy. I couldn't understand a word of it !
3 October 2004:
Bags packed, checked-out, taxi ride to airport, and awaiting departure ... you know the drill by now !
The journey continues, care of Cathay Pacific, in Singapore ...
© Jeremy Cousins, 2004-2014