Remember the James Bond movies, when the hero walks into a five star hotel after a week of skirmishes in the desert, all dusty, grimy, unwashed and unkempt? That is how we felt as we arrived in Hong Kong on Wednesday, April 10.
After a last walk in Sapa, the northern frontier town in Vietnam, a 45 minute drive down the serpentine mountain road to Lao Cai, and an overnight sleeper train ride, we arrived in Hanoi at 04:30 in the morning. After arguing with three taxi drivers (nothing changed while we were away) we were on our way to the Hanoi airport and our flight to Hong Kong, where we arrived at 15:00 in dire need of a shower, a good cup of coffee and some good chow.
We got both. Our hotel, Lanson Place, is fabulous, a real treat at the end of a great journey. Located in the heart of Causeway Bay, we are just steps from everything. Stores, food, the MTR metro stop, the Harbour and Victoria Park. Right around the corner, we found a laundry which washed our clothes and a Michelin star dim sum restaurant that made us truly happy. We fell into a soft (!) bed with a soft (!) pillow and slept for 10 hours.
Day 2 in this incredible city:
Hong Kong Island is the island that gives the territory Hong Kong its name. Although it is not the largest part of the territory ( in total 7.1 million people live in 467 square miles), it is the place that many tourists regard as the main focus.
On day 2 the weather was cloudy and drizzly, quite a common occurrence in this city. Many a visitor has come to Hong Kong and never seen Victoria Harbour with the most famous skyline in the world. So, donning our rain gear after a great breakfast (the first cheese and brie in ages) we set out to explore the neighbourhood.
|Helen, at breakfast|
Hong Kong is a combination of New York City and London, condensed in a much smaller area. The amount of people is more than I have ever seen on city sidewalks before. The air and streets are very clean and the stores plate glass windows and entrance floor were spotless and wiped numerous times. In every department store and other premises we entered, our wet umbrellas were covered in plastic sheeting to avoid drips on the stone floors.
The wealth in this town is incredible, to the point of being disturbing. The top fashion houses of Europe, Japan and Asia are all represented, not just once, but numerous times. Imagine going around Sherbrooke street in Montreal and seeing a Rolls Royce in one window display and a Mercedes in the next. The selection in the stores is enormous, with three to fives times the quantities we are used to seeing. Sogo, the leading Japanese department store has blouses and summer dresses the likes and quality of which we had not seen before.
We came back to the hotel slightly stunned and feeling like country bumpkins in our trekking outfits. After a short rest and to regain our equilibrium, we set out again for a two hour walk through the neighbouring district of Wan Chai and explored some of the older lane ways reaching up to the Peak that housed some of the houses where "comfort women" were set up during the Japanese occupation of 1945. The area is now undergoing gentrification at a rapid pace.
After a glass of Prosecco, complimentary nibbles and a long luxurious shower we fell into bed overwhelmed, still talking about the wonderful things we had seen that day.
Day 3 in this incredible city:
The rain had stopped and we were off to explore Kowloon, the city across Victoria Harbour from Hong Kong Island. 2.1 million people live in an area less than 47 square kilometers - the most densely populated place on earth. The Metro took us from Admiralty at incredible speed across the channel. One stop and we were in Tsim Sha Tsui. Here, one shopping plaza follows another. Harbour City, the first one we encountered, has more than 3km of stores, none of which we could afford to shop in. Nathan Street in this area is lined with Gucci, Balmain, Dior, Tiffany's - need I go on? The Omega watch store is two storey's high. Every second store is a jewellery boutique, gold and diamonds galore and security guards at every door. An Apple store spanning a six lane highway on two levels.....
In between streets a wonderful park, an oasis and balsam for the eyes and senses.
Hungry at 17:30, we entered a recommended restaurant and were surprised that the lights were somewhat dark although some tables were occupied. We were graciously served but quite shocked when the lights went full on at 18:00 and the place come to life. Turns out, the restaurant only opened at 18:00 and the staff was eating before opening time. Overall, people are very friendly and helpful. When we stop on the street to consult our map, at least two stranger will stop and offer to help.
At dusk, we made our way to the Kowloon harbour front and the Star ferry to carry us back across to Hong Kong Island. There, in the failing light was the skyline of Hong Kong before us, and the skyline of Kowloon behind us, in all their splendours. WOW. ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE. Apartment houses, office buildings and hotels, taller (much, much taller) and wider, but less deep than in Canada, twinkled all around us in the darkening sky and we regretted not having a wide angle lens camera to capture it all....
|A small section of Kowloon's waterfront|
After a glass of Prosecco, complimentary nibbles and a long luxurious shower we fell into bed overwhelmed, still talking....................
Day 4 in this incredible city
It was Saturday, the day when people stream into Causeway Bay to shop, shop and shop. So, in order to avoid the crowds, we decided to explore the West End of Hong Kong Island and the Central Financial District - still the decidedly British part.
Using an Octopus transportation pass (much cheaper than in Montreal, is averages to about approximately 60 cents a ride), we traveled to Sheung Wa station and started a city walk recommended by the Hong Kong Tourist bureau. Strolling for about three hours we saw the Western Market, the Man Mo Temple, Soho and the Lao Kwai Fong entertainment district, Duddell Street with the only four remaining gas lights, the Legislative Building, HSBC, the Bank of China Tower and the Museum of Teaware. We rode the escalator going up to the Mid-Levels and sat in parks and gardens along the way, watching families with young children enjoying the various water features in the warm sunshine.
|Man Mo Temple|
|One of four remaining gas lights|
|Soho apartment buildings|
|Legislative Building in Central|
|Escalators going to the Mid-Levels|
|In the midst of Central - an oasis|
Going back to the hotel for a well deserved break we were again amazed the the MTR system, which is thoroughly modern and has long feeder corridors from many directions at every stop, all of which are light, airy, glass covered and branch off into office buildings, shopping areas and the numerous ferry piers. Working in Central you can pretty much go around a vast area without ever getting wet. Most of the stores are the same we saw in Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui: Gucci, Tiffany's, Ferragamo, Coach, Rolex, Cardin...........who can afford to live here???
At our usual time of 17:30 we visited a restaurant on the 10th floor of Times Square where we had a delicious meal of deep fried prawn, egg white and fish maw (sliced fish bladder - quite good, if you don't know what you are eating) and something that looked suspiciously like morning glory, and then visited an enormous English bookstore next door and bought something to read for the long place ride back home in a few days (boo hoo!)
After 1 1/2 glasses of Prosecco, complimentary nibbles and a long luxurious shower..............
Day 5 in this incredible city:
It was a beautifully sunny and hazy Sunday, around 23C, and we had designated this day to be a shopping day. Although we tried our best, it did not turn out quite the way we wanted. I saw a beautiful jacket at Sogo, but by the time I made up my mind 10 minutes later (we always think there is maybe something better around the corner) it was sold!
Next we tried our luck in Mong Kok, the heart of Knowloon. It looks just like 7th Avenue or Lower Manhattan in New York - but again, not much luck.
We then tried to find a restaurant that Helen had researched on the Web, but could not find it. Two MTR stops later we hunted for another recommended food emporium, but - would you know it - it was closed for renovation. Some days are just meant to be like this.
After (at least) 2 glasses of Prosecco, complimentary nibbles and....................
Day 6 in this incredible city:
A beautiful days, 24C and sunny and we decided to go to the Peak, one of the highest points on Hong Kong Island. After a 10 minute walk from Central, we boarded the Peak Tram, which steeply rises above the skyscrapers within a few minutes.
Unfortunately, the morning haze did not burn off the way we expected and, although the view was beautiful enough, we could not see the harbour or the near and far reaches of Kowloon.
Unless the visibility improves, we might have to buy some postcards!!
We spent the afternoon lounging around and taking it easy, doing a little bit more window shopping and enjoying a satisfying Chinese meal in the early evening.
|Only window shopping......|
After 2 glasses of Prosecco..........never mind the nibbles............
Our last day in this incredible city
Again we are experiencing a lovely day, 27C and partly cloudy and we finally decided to spend the day doing what the locals do - shop till you drop.
Although the haze stayed with us during the day and clouds rolled in during the evening hours, we spent our last few metro credits to take one more look at the skyline of Hong Kong from the Kowloon side. Together with many other tourists, we sat on the harbour promenade and watched as night fell and the lights came on and shimmered on the waterfront before us. What an amazing city!
After 87 days, we are homeward bound tomorrow. What a great trip, what a wonderful experience.
Thank you so much for sharing it with us!!!!