Tuesday, 8 January 2008

Hong Kong

On my way back to Sydney I passed through Hong Kong and decided to spend a night there, in the hope that perhaps the jet-lag wouldn't be as bad. It was a good thing I did too, as on my night flight from Paris to Hong Kong my seat was in the very last row of the plane, meaning that I was next to the galley and that my seat didn't recline all the way, resulting in a very sleepless night. I forced myself around Hong Kong once I landed though so that my sleeping patterns would hopefully adjust. I do recommend Cathay Pacific, their new planes are pretty good and they let me fly with 28kg of baggage on both my journeys with no excess baggage charges.

Hong Kong was an interesting place to spend 24 hours, it is the third most densely populated country in the world, and it certainly felt like that at some points. When standing in queues people were not happy unless they were touching you, if there was ever any space between you and them then they had to immediately crowd up behind you. I'm just glad I had the experience of public transport strikes in Paris to get me used to the lack of personal space, otherwise it may have been a bit overwhelming.

The public transport in Hong Kong seemed pretty good, what I used anyway, I restricted myself to the MTR (the mass transit rail) and it sure was mass transit. The idea of this transport was really to move the maximum number of people. It was the first train I've seen which didn't have any carriages, it was just one long tube with hardly any seats, just maximum standing room. These didn't have as many stations as the metro in Paris though, it seemed the buses were more popular for the in-between areas. The other thing I noticed in Hong Kong was that everyone seemed to be at least bilingual, if not tri-lingual. Everyone I spoke to had really good english and it seemed that people could all speak cantonese and mandarin as well. All the signs and messages were in all three languages at least. It was also weird being the minority for once, this was the first time, which I can remember, when being a tall white person definitely made me stand out, which was an unusual feeling for me.

Hong Kong sure is well organised, one thing I really loved is that they have a city centre check-in for most of the airlines. Airports are normally way out of the city and the public transport is always exhorbitantly priced to get out there. Hong Kong has realised that if people can check in their luggage in the centre of the city, they will then spend the rest of the day sight-seeing and spending their money rather than going out to the airport in the morning and not returning to the city. More cities should do this, it really makes for a much more relaxed travel experience.

Hong Kong was a surprisingly attractive city, for so many people and so many buildings, it is quite mountainous so there is a lot of (what looks to be) untouched forest on the hills which are surrounding the city. On the first afternoon I was there I took the tram up The Peak. This was a bit of a crazy journey, you have to stand in quite a long line to buy a ticket for the tram, and once you have done that it is then basically a free-for-all to get on this antique looking tram which takes you up this incredibly steep mountain, awesome views from the top though. Everyone is crowding onto this platform waiting for the next tram and you then have to try and force your way on, there is no respect for anyone either, old women elbow you along with everyone else. It is strange because this could very easily be organised well. Just let the number of people on the platform who are legally allowed to be on the tram, that wold certainly remove the flying elbows.

This picture is the view of Hong Kong and Kowloon Islands from the top of the peak, it was unfortunately a bit hazy the whole time I was there.

The next morning I had a stroll along the Avenue of Stars which is like Hollywood Boulevard, just here all the Asian stars have their handprints in the cement. They really seemed to love Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, they were easily the most popular stars along the walk. The avenue is alongside the harbour so I could see all the massive boats (and some not so massive) making their way into and out of Hong Kong.

Overall Hong Kong is a pretty cool place to have a stop-over and the shopping sure is good!

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