Wednesday, March 12, 2014

First Impressions of Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a busy, bustling city of over 7 million people. It is utterly compact, with a huge amount of high rise buildings and space at an absolute premium. Yet for some reason it doesn't feel as busy as I expected. I expected to be fighting through crowds, bumped around and jostled, and generally to be annoying to people who are trying to get somewhere while I'm sightseeing. Yet I've felt none of this. It is also rather more multicultural than I expected, though to be honest, perhaps my expectations weren't based on particularly much research! For example, we arrived at about 5 pm in Hong Kong and I was dressed in shorts and thin shirt as if for the Melbourne autumn. What I arrived to was an early spring evening, overcast and rather chilly. In fact, the weather has been pretty bad, and the air quality is poor which makes photography pretty difficult.

Overcast view of Hong Kong skyline from Kowloon
While the weather hasn't been great, a city break is less dependent on good weather than say a tour of country regions, so it hasn't really stopped Caroline and I from doing stuff, though we have had to duck inside a few times to warm up a bit (we must be getting old....more on this later!). The night we arrived, we were fairly tired, so we just ventured to Central Hong Kong and slowly wondered around. We ate an Indian meal, and then crashed out. On our first full day we planned to take in a few sights. So after breakfast in Central Hong Kong, we took a train to Wong Tai Sin to see the Taoist temple of Sik Sik Yuen. This was a truly amazing experience, witnessing the amazing surrounds of the temple, and especially the Good Wish Garden.
Main Entrance to Sik Sik Yuen Temple complex

Prayer and devotion along with sightseeing

The magnificent Good Wish Gardens

A God guarding of the Buddhist Shine

Fabulous detail throughout the complex
Caroline and I were fairly blown away by the temple complex. The architecture and sculpture were magnificent and fitting, the gardens were beautiful, and there was a display of bonsai, and the whole complex served as a devotional centre, with people walking round, alternating taking photos with offering prayers.

We followed this with a short hop to the Jade Market which is an 'in-your-face' bazaar. It is totally the opposite of the tranquility of the Taoist temple gardens, with vendors hassling you and trying to stop you, and generally making you feel uncomfortable; 'just looking' isn't an option at the Jade market. We left the Jade Market and followed the main thoroughfare of Kowloon, Nathan Road, down to the Harbour. We passed an unbelievable amount of shops and cafe/restaurants of all sorts from high end jewellery stores to side street market vendors and everything in-between. I have to admit, that by the time I reached the ferry across the harbour, I was almost at the end of my endurance. I'm not sure how far I walked today, but it is certainly nowhere near as far as I've gone in the past so this confirms to me that age is taking its toll.

We took a slight detour to see the Avenue of Stars, though maybe we should have left this for a warmer day.

Hong Kong's most famous?

...or is this Hong Kong's most famous?
Transportation is pretty good in Hong Kong, and seems reasonably priced. We've been using the train service as there is a station almost right outside our hotel door. Buses seem absolutely crazy, as the drivers seem to delight in swinging the double decker's around at a fair pace. But most reasonable is the Star Ferry at $2.50 HKD for an expensive seat! The ferry links Hong Kong island to Kowloon and the mainland and on a clear day, would provide fantastic views of the harbour. Unfortunately, today was not a clear day.

All in all it's been a great start to our short break, mixing culture with shopping and experiencing city life in a culture that I don't really have much knowledge of. Tomorrow will be much the same, and Caroline and I are now going to try to plan our itinerary for tomorrow if we old timers can stay awake long enough!

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