The company I worked for had introduced a new product and they decided to send three of us to Hong Kong for training. I was not too keen on going originally as the long flights are killers, but it was an opportunity seldom given to technical staff so did not protest too much.
We left on the Friday afternoon, flying with Cathay Pacific, and the flight was a killer, but much more bearable because of the excellent service on board the aircraft. After we landed we had a bus scheduled to take us to our hotel in Mong Kok in Kowloon, The company giving the course was in the same complex and that made for easy commuting every day.
After landing and freshening up we decided to grab the MTR and head to Hong Kong Island itself. Naturally I wanted to ride a ferry and check out the ships, the other two were not interested in that at all. The MTR is fantastic; it is easy to use, efficient, fast, and goes almost anywhere.
I photographed the building where we were staying just in case we got lost so at least I could show the image and gesticulate madly if I needed directions.
Then we were off, and once we arrived at our destination station (which we had chosen randomly) we bailed out and went for a quick walk. The mere presence of all that water made me very happy and I peeled off from my companions very quickly and headed to the closest point where I could see ships. I was in luck because there were two cruise ships alongside.
I crossed the harbour using the iconic Star Ferries, and I did a separate blogpost
about these vessels that ply to and fro in Hong Kong. They are wonderful to travel on, although I do regret not using the lower deck as it was much closer to the water.
The waterfront area of Kowloon is fantastic as it has great views across the harbour (and vice versa),
Unfortunately though the air quality is poor and there was a yellow haze that blocked out the sun in the mornings. It was also very humid and hot and fortunately bottled water was available almost anywhere,
The Kowloon waterfront area has been developed as a touristy area and was crowded with sightseers and tourists, as well as those who ply their trade off these visitors.
That was also true to some of the shopping areas where shady individuals try to sell you knock off watches and tailor made suits.
Realistically though I was in sensory overload. Some areas were frenetic with energy, and there was a definite buzz to it. When you look out over the crowd all you see is a mass of black hair with the occasional westerner sticking out above the crowd.
Generally though the people were helpful and friendly and most spoke a modicum of English and tolerated these strange visitors. On Sunday it looked like whole families grabbed their gear and headed off for an impromptu picnic in some of the open areas (of which there are very few).
One of our party had not brought a camera long and we seemed to spend a lot of time in shops looking at cameras, and while this was a waste of time, it was also interesting to see the wide array of electronic goods available, most of which never came near South Africa. We also spotted a local name in one of the alleys which led us to investigate more closely.
But we came away without a camera! In fact, by the time we left Hong Kong he had still not bought one.
Overall shopping was amazing, and at night the street market was abuzz, but unfortunately a lot of what was for sale was junk, or knock off designer labels. But it was fascinating to walk through the crowds and just interact with the locals.
The other night activity took part on the Kowloon waterfront, every night there would be a laser light show that happened across the harbour. It was really interesting to watch because all the major buildings would remain lit up or change their lighting schemes as the show went on. It was also a great time to experiment with the camera.
Night sailings happened too, This is Nautica sailing just after the light show.
My room was on the 17th floor of the hotel and the view was really good, although tinted windows and smog did colour the images.
The hotel was literally built on top of the railway station, and the whole complex was incredibly busy during the day and at night.
But again the complex was dominated by the designer label fad, and frankly those places do not interest me. However, the escalators were really amazing.
Our course usually ran from 8.30 till 3 and we had the rest of the day free after that, and would go walkies around the area. As it was a 3 day course we also had an extra day off (Thursday) and would fly out on the Friday, But by Thursday my sinuses were starting to suffer and I was reaching a point where leaving would be a great idea, even if I was having a blast.
Our time off we spent roaming around and just enjoying the ambience. Hong Kong was an experience rather than just a place, there is a blend of old and new on every street corner, and as far as I recall at least 8 of the buildings are over 50 storeys high!
It is also one of the cities in the world that still has trams running, and while we did not ride them this time around we certainly did in 2010.
As you climb higher towards Soho on Hong Kong Island everything changes. This is residential, trendy, yuppie and student orientated. And the area where we explored even had an escalator rising up the steep streets. Now that is not something you see everyday.
In fact the angles and slopes here can be quite interesting, and if you do not know how to use a handbrake you can wave your car goodbye. We did not get to ride the Peak Tram though (because we were too busy looking at bloody cameras!) although we did rectify that in 2010.
At least our hotel was not quite of the calibre of some of the seedier “One Hour Hotels”
Kowloon Park was also on our agenda and it was a very nice quiet place in the otherwise bustling shopping areas.
But, like a good things our trip had to end and we spent the Friday morning chasing the QE2 which was on her last world cruise. Unfortunately we did not find her, but passed her on the coach on the way back to the airport.
The airport is efficient, clean, and huge, but much more preferable than the cold soulless hub at Dubai.
Would I return? of course, I returned in 2010, and would return again given the chance. The fact remains, it is a great destination offering the best of all worlds. There are no visa problems, it is safe. reasonably clean, and of course I know what to expect. Unfortunately hotel accommodation is expensive, and prices can be a surprise, although when we were there the Rand was roughly on a par with the $HK, so it was easy to get a comparison. I am not so sure now though, the Rand having taken many tumbles.
And then it was over. Massive sinus plagued me for a few days afterwards, and I had over 1000 images to process, and did I mention jetlag? yaaaawn. The flights were killers. Hong Kong was tops though, I just wish that we had seen QE2, it is one of my biggest regrets.
Oh, he never did buy a camera.
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