Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Hong Kong (Part 1) - China with a pinch of Japan, served with a dollop of Britain

After our travels through China, Jenni and I were really looking forward to Hong Kong. We were hoping that the British influence on the region over the past century would have eradicated some of the things we hated about China; the language barrier, people spitting everywhere, dirty cities and rude people. I am delighted to report that Hong Kong came through with flying colours.

The first thing that we discovered about Hong Kong is that it is not entirely separate from the main land. Hong Kong island itself is separate, but Kowloon, also part of the Hong Kong region, is actually attached to mainland China. Hong Kong region extends onto the main land to the border of the SEZ (Special Economic Zone) in which the Chinese city of Shenzen lies.

Hong Kong seems like the cities in Japan that we visited; a clean and modern city with lots of buildings crammed together in a tight space. The English influence over the past century has lead to pretty much everybody being able to speak a combination of English and Chinese (Cantonese).  The Chinese influence is still very prevalent in terms of the way that people do business, bartering and trying their best to rip you off! We found that Hong Kong was a fair bit more expensive than China in terms of food and drinks, but still much cheaper than Australia (we have come to realize over the past couple of months that just about everywhere is cheaper than Australia!).

We left Guangzhou via train and arrived in Hong Kong in the early afternoon. Visas and immigration were all done at the train terminals with no problems. After a quick stop off for some lunch and purchase of some giant Pocky and Cream Collons, we made a start on finding our accommodation in Kowloon. A short subway trip, followed by a short walk from the station found ourselves standing outside Chungking Mansions, a multi storied building in the middle of the district of Tsim Sha Tsui on Nathan Rd, one of the busiest tourist areas in Hong Kong. The first and second floors of Chungking Mansions are home to a huge population of Indians, all with clothing stores, electronic stores and Indian food stands. Our accommodation was somewhere inside Chungking Mansions, but in a specific block of the building on a higher floor. After wandering around for about 10 minutes trying to find the correct lift with about 15 Indian blokes trying to con us into going to their own hostel within the building, an employee of our hostel luckily spotted us wandering around, asked us our names and showed us the convoluted way to get to our hostel. We had to go to a specific block of the building on the first floor, take the lift on the left - not the right as it only goes to the odd numbered floors - to go up to level 12 and then find our hostel on that floor. Leaving and returning to the hostel was a bit of a pain in the backside as every time we entered / exited the building we would be pestered by hordes of Indians trying to sell us a "Copy watch handbag" (said with a thick Indian accent while waggling your head left and right). I have no idea what exactly a "Copy watch handbag" is, but I can assure you that I am not interested in one. At least a polite "No thank-you" seemed to get them to leave you alone, unlike the hawkers back in China that you pretty much needed to beat with a baseball bat to try and get them to leave you alone. 

That evening we had dinner at a fantastic little Kebab, Curry and Pizzeria place called Ebeneezer's on one of the back streets in Tsim Sha Tsui. That evening we went to the movies to see Ironman 2 which was only newly released in Hong Kong. Even though Hong Kong is only kilometres away from China, it is treated as a completely different country. Across the border in China, Iron Man 2 was months away from being released in cinemas, if it was to be released at all as we have heard that the Chinese government has enforced a limited quota of Western movies that are allowed to be released each year in cinemas. You may have noticed that the past 2 posts on the blog have included photos throughout the article. These posts were done in Hong Kong, where the Chinese internet censorship policy does not apply and thus we can once again access the blog website directly. Similar to other foreigners, Chinese citizens also require a valid visa to enter into Hong Kong and foreigners need a valid visa to re-enter China. For anyone that wishes to travel to China in the future, make sure that you apply for a multiple entry visa if you wish to travel from China to Hong Kong and / or Macao and then back to China. Getting back to Ironman 2; Jenni and I were delighted to be able to enjoy the entire movie without people talking throughout, mobile phones ringing and people kicking the back of our seats, a few small luxuries we were not able to enjoy at a Chinese movie theater, a few days prior less than 200km, away back in Guangzhou (see Jenni's post entitled "Three Days and Counting").

Nine days after we arrived in Hong Kong, Jenni and I are due to arrive in Vietnam to meet our friend Eric. We were unable to organize our Vietnamese visas back in Australia before we left because you can only apply for a Vietnamese visa 1 month in advance of your arrival. Therefore we had planned to get one organized just before we arrived there. Hong Kong was an excellent candidate city for us to make our application as we figured that it would be handy to be able to submit the application to an office where the people could speak English if there was any problems with our application. 

Our second day in Hong Kong was set aside to organise our Vietnamese visa. We looked up the location of the Vietnamese consulars office on Hong Kong island and set off expecting it to take the majority of the day to get processed. To our delight, the visa application was a breeze and we were able to get it processed on the spot, freeing up the rest of the day for us to be able to explore Hong Kong island.

Our visit to the Vietnamese consulate building had already taken us on a stroll through some of Hong Kong island's CBD, so we decided to continue through to the East side of CBD where some of the shopping areas lie. The shopping areas on Hong Kong island are pretty much the same as the ones in Kowloon, so we did not spend too much time there.  We continued on through to Victoria park which lies to the East of the CBD. It is home to a large array of sporting grounds and jogging tracks. It looks really unusual to have all of these facilities surrounded by lush greenery with the high city buildings, just across the road and then the towering hillside just behind the buildings.

After a short rest while reading our books in Victoria park, we made a move to head back to Tsim Sha Tsui. Along the way we took a quick visit to Tin Hau temple (which was undergoing renovations, so we could not really see much) and stopped of to see the Golden Bauhinia, the 6m tall golden statue of a flower, which is symbolized on the Honk Kong flag. Next to the Golden Bauhinia lies the Hong Kong Exhibition Centre which houses a 7 storey high glass window. These sights both lie right next to a ferry dock on the Hong Kong harbour, allowing us to get a great view of Tsim Sha Tsui across the other side of the water.

That evening we decided we would go for a pub crawl. It was probably the most pathetic pub crawl in history as we only ended up making it to two pubs, although we did stay at the first one for quite a length of time due to the fantastic entertainment. The first pub we went to was an Australian pub called "Ned Kelly's Last Stand" where 'happy hour' is from 11-30am to 9pm! There we were able to treat ourselves to some good Aussie red meat dinners and some Crown Lagers. Our stay at the bar included a good ol' pushing and shoving between one of the bar staff and a disgruntled patron as well as free entertainment by means of the nightly performing Jazz band which was excellent. We enjoyed ourselves so much at Ned Kelly's that we didn't leave until quite late. We decided that we would need to visit at least one more pub to at least aspire to serve the definition of a pub crawl, so we ventured into one of the nearby venues. 

The bar we ventured into was a couple of floors up in a building so we had to take the elevator to get up to it. When the elevator doors opened, we were mortified to find ourselves standing in the entrance of a completely dead bar with not another sole in there aside from the 2 bar staff. We felt that it would be rather rude to turn around and take the lift back down, so we agreed to stay for one drink. To our delight we were escorted into what looked like a large VIP room with couches and a massive wall mounted TV that looked like it was designed to fit about 15 people. We made ourselves comfy while we finished off a single drink each while watching an episode of "Flash Forward" on the TV. We concluded our pathetic excuse for a pub crawl by heading back to our accommodation and getting some rest so we could get up at a reasonable time the following day.

Stay tuned for days 3 and 4 of Hong Kong!

1 comment:

  1. Hi guys

    Michael, it doesn't look like you are enjoying High Tea! Are you praying??????????
    What, Jennifer, no description of the High Tea Experience Hong Kong style!!!!

    Mum E