I’m packing again after a few months of glorious summer in Vancouver. Next week I will head east across The Other Big Pond to spend a few weeks exploring the UK, searching out my ancestral roots along the way. Thinking about Britain reminded me of the week I spent re-visiting Hong Kong on the way home from my Last Great Adventure. Leaving Bali in December I spent almost six weeks with family in Thailand – a spectacular country that will be the subject of a future post – and then in February I decided to make for home. A week in Hong Kong en route seemed like a good way to get acclimatized to cooler weather, and it’s a place I always said I would go back to.
Getting there was half the fun – flying on the behemoth of the skies, Emirates Airlines new A380. It’s a gorgeous airplane, all tricked out with the latest gadgets including a tail-mounted camera that gives guests a fabulous view of the entire flight from take-off to landing. The flight attendant was just as excited as I was to be flying on the “world’s largest passenger airliner” and even offered to take a photo of me wearing her distinctive Emirates headgear.
I can see my house from here!
I was in Hong Kong briefly in the early 1980′s and was happy, on this trip to find much of it the same as I remembered. But much has also changed since Hong Kong made the conversion in 1997 from a British colony to one of two Special Administrative Region’s of China – the other being Macau. The most notable difference are the crowds of mainland Chinese in hotels and shops, especially in food stores where items like baby formula and packaged goods were being scooped up by the basketful. The Star Ferry still plies back and forth between Kowloon on the mainland and the island of Hong Kong, although the trip is quite a bit shorter as development has extended out into the Harbour on the Hong Kong side. The ferry terminal in Kowloon hasn’t changed in twenty-five years.
And a tram ride up Victoria Peak still provides spectacular, if a bit hazy views of Hong Kong and Kowloon, with mainland China in the distance.
Kowloon is much as I remember, with colorful signs competing for attention from shoppers crowding the sidewalks, and restaurants for every taste in every block. I completely enjoyed staying in a tiny but quite delightful hotel right in the middle of Kowloon with a plethora of wonderful dining options just steps away.
Hong Kong, on the other hand has changed a great deal and for the most part downtown Hong Kong feels a lot like almost any large American city, except for the delightful markets that compete for space in the alleys between shiny skyscrapers and high-end boutiques.
Wan Chai, on the fringe of downtown Hong Kong, is more traditional. Here, under a traffic overpass, ancient Chinese women set up their cards, dice, feathers and bones every day on rickety, makeshift tables or overturned wooden crates. For a few dollars you can have a peek into your future, or you can request a blessing or curse on someone of your choice. There are various price points depending on how long you want your curse to last.
Almost everywhere I travel, particularly if it’s someplace I haven’t been before, I pick up a two or three day pass on a Hop-On Hop-Off bus tour. It’s a fabulous way to get your bearings and learn about a new place, and it’s also a cheaper way to get around than a taxi. These are not tour buses but they are charming and environmentally friendly electric double-decker trolley buses in Hong Kong. This is the only all double-decker tram fleet in the world and has been in operation for over a hundred years! I’m increasingly feeling that our disposable society is contributing much to the degradation of the planet and that we should get back to building Things That Last.
Hong Kong Harbor is considered to be one of the most beautiful in the world and I was especially fortunate to be here when everything was tarted up for upcoming Chinese New Year. The lights in many buildings were programmed to change color and pattern, and every evening at 8 PM there is a laser light show over the harbor. Simply glorious.
The building with the white diagonal lines at the left of this photo is the Bank of China Tower. The building was designed with sharp angles to impose negative feng shui on neighboring buildings that house the banks competitors. Really.
Kowloon Waterfront is the perfect place to take in the lights and action in the harbor. This torch is a monument to the Beijing Olympics and the colorful Chinese junk is part of a harbor tour company.
I spent a competely hedonistic afternoon seeing the Andy Warhol exhibit at Kowloon’s gorgeous art gallery then finished with a seriously yummy G&T at the seriously elegant Peninsula Hotel. It just doesn’t get any better than this.
Then I spent my last day of this adventure touring the island of Hong Kong, seeing the charming town of Stanley and the harbour at Aberdeen.
Tomorrow I would fly to Tokyo for dinner at a favourite sushi spot at Narita Airport, and from there on to Vancouver and into a spectacular welcome home (after almost five months!) from my family there. Blogging is a wonderful way to experience an adventure all over again and I will do just that when I blog about my time in Thailand. Soon-ish. There is so much to say about that wonderful country. Stay tuned!