Hong Kong was the first destination of my world trip! I was only there for two nights and only really have one day to see and do everything. But, I did it! It meant running and flying from here to there but it was more than worth it! I have seen so much in so little time that, looking back on it, I am honestly impressed with myself. But it was super awesome!
Arrival in Hong Kong
I wake up with a headache. The sun is peaking through the blinding window foil. I reach out to my phone, which is safely secured in my pillowcase as a precaution against theft in my hostel. The display says it’s 4:48. I should be tired by now, and my body indeed feels exhausted, but my mind is wide awake.
Yesterday I arrived at the Mt Davis Youth Hostel in Hong Kong around midnight. My 15-hour flight from Chicago before that was tiring but luckily I managed to get some rest. Watching four movies and a documentary to keep myself awake in the first half of the flight turned out to be a good strategy. Getting to Hong Kong city wasn’t hard. The MTR metro system is very user friendly, although I must say I felt happy with lots of travel experience so figuring out a foreign system isn’t that hard. Roughly fifty minutes after getting through security at the airport I find myself on the other side of Hong Kong, on the Hong Kong island in Kennedy Town. My hostel is not supposed to be far from here, but I soon learn my first lesson on this trip; islands here aren’t flat. Although my hostel is close in radius, it’s located on top of a mountain. I turn up Google Maps on my phone to find out that it will be at least a 45-minute walk. My eyes move up the screen to check the time. It’s 10:43, and I’m supposed to check in to my hostel at 11. I text Ishan (one of my friends) from MSU) for help, but I can’t stay where he is staying. I also try to call the hostel, but they don’t pick up. Eventually I decide to take a taxi. The first four drivers I stop have no clue where my hostel is, the fifth one is willing to give searching for it a try. I arrive at my hostel 35 minutes too late, but the guy at the reception desk still helps me check in. Grateful for not having to stay out on the sleep I forget about the crappy quality of the bunk beds or the dirty bathrooms.
Exploring Hong Kong
8:45, rush hour in Hong Kong’s metro system. I’m at the central station, where multiple lines come together. It’s a regular weekday and it’s super busy. People hastily get themselves from one line to the other. I’m caught in the middle of these streams of people and feel eyes burning in my back. It feels like I’m standing in everyone’s way, but they might also be staring at my very bright pink tank top and flowy patterned pants. Suddenly I realize I look extremely touristy compared to the suited-up people who are rushing to their jobs. The contrast must have looked funny. I quickly remind myself that Hong Kong is a former British colony, which explains why everyone is walking on the left. I mingle in the stream of haste-makers and head into the city for breakfast.
It’s still pretty early, so I decide to grab a sandwich from 7eleven on my way. I was headed towards the Hard Rock Café to get a t-shirt to add to my collection, but since it takes a while before they will open I redirect my route to the Man Mo Temple. On the way I am amazed by the many skyscrapers. The city seems to have high rising buildings for all economic classes. They range from all glass (GEVELS) to pure concrete with hardly any windows at all. The contrast between rich and poor is not only visible in the flats, but also in the streets. I stumble upon streets filled with salesmen who try to sell me dried squid and octopus, all sorts of plants, roots and vegetables and hundreds of types of nuts. Some sell dim sum and noodles from their carts. The streets, almost too narrow to walk in, smell delicious. The next street has massive buildings from Prada and
The Man Mo temple is located on Hollywood Street. When the British arrived in Hong Kong it was pretty much the only street there. At it’s center was the temple, built in 1847, the most prominent one on Hong Kong island. As I enter the temple I am overly aware of my touristy looks. Despite claiming it is a tourist hotspot, there are no other outside visitors than me. It feels somewhat awkward and intrusive, so I almost hesitate to go in. Then I realize I visit churches all the time when on trips in Europe and decide that it is okay as long as I am respectful of people inside. The temple has a mysterious aura surrounding it. A certain warmth comes from the wax candlelights within the temple, inviting me in. I walk into a curtain of smoke coming from the incense sticks that are lit all over the temple. A very distinct smell of flowers, fruits and burning coming from the incense sticks settles on me. Fascinated by all the red and golden colors, I observe every statue and altar. From a distance I watch people perform a ritual that looks like praying.
I leave the temple, still in awe, and take a quick break on Statue Plaza but ready to travel to Tung Chung and Ngong Ping village. There is a 360-degree view cable cart that runs between the two villages. However, when I get to Tung Chung, it turns out that the cable cart is closed due to maintenance. There are still busses running to Ngong Ping, but I’m not the only one who wants to board the bus. Ahead of me are at least a hundred passengers, and there are no signs that the frequency of the busses has been increased. A bus leaves as I join the line. “Next departure in half an hour” it says on the screen. Luckily fifteen minutes later four busses show up at the same time and the climb up the mountain, through the woods, can begin.
Overall it took me around an hour to get from the city center to Ngong Ping, but it is definitely worth the effort. On top of the mountain are the Po Lin monastery and the Tian Tan Buddha. The monastery was built in the beginning of the 20th century. The Buddha, also known as Big Buddha, is made of bronze and is the biggest in the world. On my way up, I run into several monks, who drop to their knees to worship Buddha every time he is referenced or symbolized. It is hard to describe in words what the temples looked like. Despite being relatively new (not yet 100 years old), they are very impressive. The colors red, gold, blue and green are the only colors that are used alongside blacks, greys and whites. The Buddha on the mountain is flawless. The bronze statue is hollow inside and you can enter the museum that has been built inside of it. Big tapestries tell the legend of Buddha. The museum also holds a relic, believed to be a piece of Buddha’s bone. Inside, the monks keep dropping to their knees to pray and worship. The monastery offers a vegetarian lunch. I haven’t eaten sine my single sandwich at breakfast and I decide to go for it. I get served a large portion (half a pot) of rice, three spring rolls, a big bowl of soup and two plates of different vegetables. It is way too much to finish on my own but it is delicious.
When I plan on going down the mountain, I also have to take a bus. There are two options, either going back to Tung Chung directly, or taking a minor detour with a sop in Tai O. I pick the latter because Tai O is one of Hong Kong’s remaining few fisher villages. Although I might encounter similar villages in my later travels through Asia, I don’t want to miss out on the opportunity of seeing a village built on poles. I would love to learn more about this village and I have so many questions. Why has this village not become part of the massive city of Hong Kong yet? Is that just a matter of time? How do the fishermen live? If the village expands, then how? Do the children stay or do they go to school somewhere close, or further away? And do the children work on the boats with their parents? Fining answers turns out to be impossible. No-one in the village speaks English, except for a couple of boat owners that try to sell me a 30 HKD (about 3 euro’s) dolphin tour. The few tourists that managed to find Tai O all take his offer. Tiny boats filled with white tourists travel up and down the bay. I don’t want to know what it would look like on the sea, with so many boats near the dolphins and undoubtedly any regulations, so I reject. I explore the village on my own. It is significantly poorer than the densely populated area in Hong Kong. It leaves a whole different impression than the rich temples and skyscrapers earlier that day.
I spend the late afternoon in New Territories, the northern part of Hong Kong. I roam through the shopping street, Nathan Road and drag myself over an endless street market where people try to sell me souvenirs, clothing, electronics and other cheap stuff. As the sun sets over the city I head towards the coast to see the skyline. Unfortunately, the sundown is not as impressive as I had hoped because it’s cloudy. I then walk through Kowloon park, where they have flamingo’s. I am starting to feel tired because of my jetlag. Relaxing in the coolness of the park, which is said to be five degrees Celsius less hot than the rest of the city, is a good way to spend the last hour of the afternoon.
At eight I am supposed to meet with Ishan, one of my MSU friends, at the Star Ferry Pier. When I get there, I guess ten minutes in advance, it’s already super crowded. People flood the pier and the square next to it and all try to catch a glimpse of the water. I am trying to reach Ishan over the public Wi-Fi, but quickly learn that he either doesn’t have Wi-Fi or cellular internet. At eight precisely a light show starts. The buildings on the other side of the water are being lit up on the rhythm of music. I forget about finding Ishan and focus on the show. I love good architecture and have spent years doing lighting and sound design for my high school’s theatre productions. The show combines the best of both, I couldn’t be happier. My feet tap on the beat of the music and I see how the light on the buildings does the same. I am fully endorsed in the different rhythms when I feel my phone vibrate in my pocket. Incoming call from Ishan it says. We quickly agree where to meet and see each other two minutes later. It turned out we were watching the show on two different sides of the pier and it was so crowded that it’s no wonder we didn’t find each other sooner.
We take the Ferry back to Hong Kong Island. I love being on the water and for five minutes I feel more liberated than I have felt all day. Ishan says he wants to take me out for dinner to a Nepalese restaurant that is hidden in some building on the seventh floor. Not legal, he explains, but the food is delicious. When we get to the building we ride the elevator to level seven, which is nothing but a shady hallway. It doesn’t look like there’s a restaurant here at all. Ishan proceeds to knock on a door, but no-one answers. So, we have to find another place. We end up in a kebab restaurant. It’s cheap, and not too much, because I’m still full after that big lunch at the monastery although it feels like that was days ago. A bunch later Ishan’s girlfriend and a friend of hers join us. After talking about MSU for a bit, we have finished our food. The streets have flooded with people that are going out. The night life in Hong Kong is said to be amazing, and apparently it already starts around dinner time. Ishan asks me if I’m up for partying, but I am so exhausted that I can barely walk any further, so I decide to go back to my hostel. I have to be at the reception desk at 6:30 in the morning to head to the airport, to continue my trip in Tokyo. The 36-hour adventure in Hong Kong has come to an end. It was amazing.
Want to see more pictures? Check them out here.