Well Hong Kong was fab and of course totally manic, even more manic than the last time I visited over 10 years ago but that is possibly what makes Hong Kong, Hong Kong!
Back then it was all a novelty to me, my first trip to Asia and the whole Asian experience. I was blown away with the smells and the street food and the foreign signs all over the place. I have seen much more of Asia and the world generally since then so it was interesting to return and see it through different eyes and find that it is still a fabulous city to spend time, a real fusion of East and West.
We were staying in Kowloon, on the mainland, and were fortunate to get upgraded on our first night to a five star hotel and up to a suite on the second night, with a free dinner and breakfast thrown in for the inconvenience. This of course added to the whole wonderful Hong Kong experience, especially swimming in the roof top pool and enjoying our own steam rooms and spa pools, plus of course all the freebies that come with staying in such wonderful accommodation.
Not to say we spent too much time enjoying the accommodation as we were keen to see as much of Hong Kong as we could in the limited time we were visiting. So we went for it, taking the iconic Star Ferry from Kowloon across to Hong Kong Island. From there we walked up to the station to join all the other tourists queueing to take the tram all the way to the top of Victoria Peak. Ordinarily this Peak provides incredible views of the city, but sadly it was a little foggy while we were in town, so the views were not as impressive as I know the could have been. Not to worry, going down the steep hill sitting backwards in the tram was an experience in itself!
From there we navigated our way onto the MTR, the Hong Kong equivalent of the underground, which is really rather impressive - in fact all the transport in Hong Kong is really impressive; clean, spacious, clearly signposted and easy to use. So we took the MTR to Causeway Bay and walked along to Times Square. Not quite as impressive as Times Square in New York, but a buzzing part of the city all the same filled with even more people, which is quite some feat as Hong Kong is the busiest place I have experienced for some time.
We walked - a common theme of our time in HK, in fact we walked so much that I was exhausted by the end of the day and aching the next! - along Causeway Bay to have a look at the boats, all rather cool, especially the older ones. From there was walked all the way back to the MTR station and took a train all the way to the Central Markets. There are4 lots of markets in Hong Kong selling all sorts of things from fake watches, to handbags, to fruits and vegetables and fish too. Interesting to take a peak, but not really my kind of thing.
We trekked up to Soho - get this, there is the option to take an escalator, which runs all the way up the hill for ease of access to the higher parts of the city - and took a drink at the Tantra Bar, all very laid back and chilled out, before enjoying some authentic food in one of the many eateries, and heading to Lan Kwai Fong to take in the sights of the ex-pats and non-ex-pats too of course, living it up at the many bars lining the streets. Phew. This city certainly offers an active party scene for all those socialites.
Back on the MTR to Kowloon and we walked to the Temple Night markets filled with yet more fake watches and handbags and sunglasses all manner of stuff to take home with you. I mean you could get totally carried away with the shopping in Hong Kong. In fact if you are a big spender then you would be in heaven in this city. It is literally teeming with upmarket shopping districts and malls all over the place. In fact you could be excused for thinking that the city is one big mall in itself. I have never seen so many shops and it blows my mind how much stuff there is on sale, and how it can ever all be bought by everyone in the city - what happens to all the stuff that surely doesn't get sold?! Seriously mind blowing for me.
We wandered around Kowloon a little more. It was late and a Tuesday night but still the city was alive. It really is incredible, just so many people all the time. And not only that but so much light too, all the buildings lit up, artificial light all over the place, it blows my mind to consider the city's electricity usage too! It really is a city of excess.
And yet there is of course a softer side too. The next day we headed North to the New Territories, and up to Sha Tim. Phew, how lovely for us non-city dwellers, to find some space again. Here we could see the green hills and there were not so many people, and certainly not many tourists. We were here to visit the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery. And in fact we thought we were visiting that Monastery initially, in terms of walking up this building that looked like a Monastery on first glance, only to find it was anything but that.
I guess the fact we walked past rooms filled with photos in front of which people lit incense and gave offerings should have given it away. Plus of course the fact that all the signs were in Cantonese, and the fact that there was so much incense burning everywhere, plus of course the solemn look on people's faces, and the fact an escalator could take you all the way to the top of the building. Still it wasn't until we were descending and the smell hit me, let alone the sight of ash burning in the air, that we realised we were at a funeral home. Oh my gosh that smell is nauseating, bringing back memories instantly of the burning ghats in Kathmandu and Varanasi. What a terrible mistake to make and we wasted no time getting out of there, feeling incredibly disrespectful to those who had come to honour their dead relatives.
Anyhow, we found the Monastery behind the funeral home. It is in fact rather impressive. The figures of golden monks line the approach to this hillside monastery famous for its gaudy Buddhist statuary. The walls of the main hall are bedecked with more than 10,000 Buddha figurines, all slightly different. There are views of the hills in the distance and the whole place has a rather serene energy, quite in contrast to the energy of the centre of Hong Kong. A perfect place to get away from it all for a few hours!
Back in Hong Kong we wandered around the Temple Street markets some more before enjoying a final Cantonese meal and taking in the energy of the whole place some more. It is an incredible city. After a final swim in the pool we went to the airport for our overnight flight to Brisbane in Australia and onto the utopia of Byron Bay. All rather exciting!