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Last full day in Hong Kong (hopefully)

Kowloon, Hong Kong

It was never our intention to stay very long in Hong Kong. We're coming back here on the way out of China after our second entry (assuming we can get the visa, but more about that later), so I reasoned that if we liked it more than I expected we can just stay longer the second time.

Hong Kong is more-or-less as I expected: a commercialised UK with Chinese writing, although I had expected super-fast broadband. I had also been prepared for bad news on the cost of beer; the beer in this photo cost over 10 pounds. At least the peanuts were free! In fact that was yesterday, and the first time we have bought any beer in a bar.

Until then all we had done was walk into a bar, see that the happy hour price for a draught beer was about £5 and walk back out again. But the guide book suggested the Hong Kong Brew House, and earlier on that day I sampled one of their micro-brewed beers from a shop (for substantially less money).

So all the drinking we've done here so far has been in our room. You can buy "quarts" (640ml) of OK beer from a supermarket for about 50p, so considering how tight our budget is this was the only realistic option. Only after we booked our hostel on-line did we realise that it was in one of the two buildings specifically recommended against in the guide: Chungking Mansions and ours, Mirador Mansion.

And here's a little selection of photos from our first room.

And here's the Mansion from the internal courtyard and from the street.

Both Chungking and Mirador are in the Kowloon district of Hong Kong, which is on the mainland of Hong Kong (it's not just an island as I had thought) and apparently Kowloon used to be the most densely populated place on the planet. Some information I read in our hostel boasts that tourists staying there can experience the authentic life of 70% of Hong Kong locals, who live in this style of building.

This style of building is like an entire city under on roof. When you enter the buliding on the ground floor, after battling past the people asking "foot massage", "copy watch, copy bag" and "nice suit, tailor", you see corridors and corridors, set out rather like streets, of shops selling all sorts of stuff: electronics, curios, take-away food, clothes -- it looks a bit like a market. Then there are very very slow lifts, which complain when they are overweight -- usually after I get in! The lifts usually come in sets of four, each on stopping only at every 4th floor, presumably to ease the congestion, but it doesn't work; there is always a queue to get into the lift, and the last person ends up tip-toeing around the floor to try and find the spot which will not set off the overweight alarm. On the upper floors there are plenty of residential apartments, lots of hostels (at least in Chungking and Mirador), laundrettes, restaurants, internet cafes (where I am now), and an occasional shop, but most of the shops are on the ground floor. It's pretty grotty, but it is quite cool. Our room costantly smells of different food depending, I assume, on which take-away is cooking at that moment. It's got more than a hint of Bladerunner about it.

When we first arrived they manouvered us into a bigger room than we had booked, but it had two single beds which we did not think appropriate for a honeymoon, and it was just a bit too horrible; so we got moved into what was probably the room originally reserved for us, but it hadn't been ready when we arrived. The room we are in now is tiny. It is exactly the same width as the double bed, which is handy because it means you don't lose things down the side of it. Which is just as well because the rest of the room is so small that you constantly have to use the bed to put things on. It does have an ensuite, as booked, but it's a shower-cum-toilet affair with no extractor fan. However the lack of extactor fan does not matter because we have the huge luxury of a small window, which our first room did not have, and I imagine is quite rare.

Anyway, I'm hoping soon my style will settle down a bit and I will start telling you things you actually want to know.

The first impression I had of Hong Kong on the bus on the way to Kowloon from the airport was that there is a lot of impressive engineering: loads of skyscrapers and some very long and intricate looking bridges. The next impression was just how commercial the place is: people hassling you in the street trying to sell you things, and loads of huge signs sticking out from the buldings, advertising what they are.

Then I started to notice the amusing things like bowing apologising signs
We haven't actually had much time to do anything here yet. Most of our time has been spent trying to organise China. We've been trying to organise somewhere to stay via couchsurfing, transport, and our visa. Not organising the visa in advance was a big mistake. There seems to be a mark-up of about 400% when going through the travel agents to obtain a visa, however it was the only way we felt likely to succeed. We should be getting our visas at 6pm tonight; two working days from when we handed our passports over on Sunday. If we had our visas in advance we'd have already left Hong Kong but arriving on Saturday night meant we would lose two days before we could apply. Also, they've apparently "run out" of 6-month visas, which is what we need, since we're flying into Beijing from Tokyo in June. This means we've had to shell out £80 each for a single entry 1 month visa, currently with no idea how we'll get the second vias we will now need. Apparently foreigners can't get them in Japan, so we we'll have to see if we can get it in India, or else we'll have to re-route.

The second oversight on our part was not finding out that Chinese New Year is very soon. Oh lovely, you might think. Chinese New Year is the largest human migration on the Earth. This means we can't book train tickets to get out of this place, even if we do get a visa which, in turn means that we can't organise our accommodation since we don't know when we'll be able to get there.

Anyway, all being well, we'll get our visas tonight, get the local train to the border tomorrow morning, where you can walk across the border to Shenzhen, where we can hopefully get a bus to Guangzhou, where we have a couchsurfing contact. Guangzhou is a big place (although I think it's only middling-to-large by Chinese standards) and we've been warned of the pick-pocketing there, but we'll be meeting someone who knows the place, so hopefully it'll be ok. After staying there for a couple of days, soaking in the China-ness (apparently it's nothing at all like Hong Kong), we plan to move onto Guilin and Yangshuo, probably to spend New Year there. I think transport to there is going to be tricky, because then we'll be moving away from big industial places where people work, towards pretty little rural places, where peoples families live.

So yesterday, after sorting the visa application out, we finally got around to doing some touristy things and seeing some of the place. We got the ferry across to Hong Kong island, which is the original British colony, to get the Peak Tram up to Victoria Peak. The tram route is very steep, quite impressive considering it was opened in 1888. Scottish engineering of course! Apparently at that time land was already running out in Hong Kong and they wanted to open up the higher parts of the island. The tram precipitated the rapid population of the upper parts by rich colonialists. It looked to us like they are still the ones living there, although there are also expensive hotels now too. After taking this rather nice historical tram (new carriages though) up a roller-coaster-like ascent, we were again face-to-face with the commericalism of Hong Kong: the whole of the top of this peak is covered in a mall and several restaurants. And to get to the Peak Tower with the viewing platform at the very top it costs the same as the tram just to go up the final escalator. Still, the city-scape views were very nice.

On the way back from that we managed to get another tourist activity in and watch the symphony of lights. The harbours on the Kowloon side and the Hong Kong Island side both have tall buildings flashing lights down their sides, and lasers from their tops, all "in time" to music blasting out from boat on the water between. Quite impressive. Another I've been noticing here is the advanced technology, not that much of it, but there are some things -- another is the Octopus card which is like an Oyster card in London apparently.

permalink written by  The Happy Couple on January 20, 2009 from Kowloon, Hong Kong
from the travel blog: Michael's Round-the-World honeymoon
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Hello Mr and Mrs Shedden. I really enjoyed reading your entry and also thought the photos were great! Hope you are both having a great time - we are going to out some cash as your present into your account very soon - maybe do it later in the year when you may need it? It's up to you!

Anyway - I look forward to more entries!! :-)

PS - The wedding photos are splendiferous and I will have mine 'doctered' and facebooked over the next couple of weeks guys!

x x x

permalink written by  Kirstie Roseweir on January 20, 2009

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