I’ve had a desire to visit Hong Kong ever since reading Tai Pan and the Noble House, parts of James Clavells Asian Saga, which documents the start of the British colonisation of Hong Kong, the influence that trade had on British foreign strategy at the time, multi-million dollar business deals and international espionage. It might be fiction (although based on true events so almost a parallel reality) but it conjured up such a vivid picture of Hong Kong in my mind that I wanted to see it for myself.
The two books are set in very different times, Tai Pan is set in 1841 and Noble House is set in 1963. We were hoping for a glimpse into both the historic Hong Kong as per Tai Pan, learning more about the island pre-colonosation and during, and also modern Hong Kong, learning more about Chinese rule and just feeling the energy/money of the place as per Noble House.
With that in mind we thought that we’d start our visit with a trip to the Hong Kong Museum of History. The main exhibit is The Story of Hong Kong which documents the story of the island starting from 400 million years ago to present day. Now that is a lot of time to cover over 2 floors but the museum manages to give you a good overview. It also seems to offer a fairly unbiased view on British colonisation and gives interesting insight into the Opium War at the time (although let’s not say too much about the British Empire being partly funded by the drug trade!). I found the British handover section unexpectedly emotional (the emotion being frustration…why oh why you fools!!).
After a little more knowledge about the history of Hong Kong we went on a walk of the key historic sites. Hmmmm…now this is where Hong Kong let us down a bit. I was hoping to visit the old harbour, possession point where the British took formal possession of Hong Kong, maybe some old trading warehouses…but no, land reclamation and intense building has transformed Hong Kong island from the initial colonisation times to the modern metropolis it is today. So on the “historic walk” which the tourist guide recommended we saw many a skyscraper, cool street art around Hollywood Road, the longest outdoor covered escalator in the world, Man Mo temple and all that remains of Possession Point – a plaque. Do not much history there.
Whilst at Possession Point I contemplated the mess that Britain is in at the moment (Brexit, weakening Pound, election mess etc) and decided to help fix things. So, at Possession Point where the Union Flag was originally raised back in 1941, I exposed my Union Flag underwear (mixed with the stars and stripes) and declared Hong Kong once again a British land. My proclamation went unchallenged so I assume this makes it official. Tessa May, you can thank me later.
That marked the end of our quest to learn about the historic Hong Kong so over the following days we set about getting a feel for modern day Hong Kong.
Nothing shouts out modern like skyscrapers…except for skyscrapers and badass lasers! Every night there is a light and music show featuring the Hong Kong skyline skyscrapers at 8pm. Following our walking tour we caught the Star Ferry to Kowloon. The ferry itself give a great view of the skyline and we’d recommend catching this ferry to anyone visiting the island. Once on the other side we picked a viewpoint near the Hong Kong Clock Tower and sat back to watch the show. Hmmmm…whilst the skyline is breathtaking by day and night and a grandiose display of modern architecture prowess, the light show feels like a fad left over from the 80s when lasers were cool…which is surprising considering the light show started in 2004.
One of the best ways to get a real sense to the scale of Hong Kong is to get the old-fashioned tram which is a funicular that takes you up Victoria Peak. From here you get a great view of Hong Kong and Kowloon. Well, you do if it’s a clear day. Unfortunately when we got to the top we were confronted with total cloud cover…bugger. However, after a walk around the peak when we returned to the viewing spots the cloud had slightly cleared and we got the view we were looking for…almost perfect!
The Peak walk isn’t the only place to get great views whilst in Hong Kong. What is surprising about Hong Kong is the amount of green space within this massive city. There is plenty of hiking to do within the island and in the new territories. We decided to do The Dragon’s Back Hike as this is considered one of the best hikes in Hong Kong and is something of a classic. The hike didn’t disappoint; fresh air, great views and it finishes at a beach. Awesome.
The last activity we did in Hong Kong was shopping. There are a number of markets which sell the usual tourist crap that you feel obligated to visit and put up with endless attention seeking stall holders. Ladies Market, Temple Street Market, Flower Market, Bird Market…it’s endless. The best part was was walking from the Flower Market to Ladies Market where we came across a street full of pet shops with cute animals.
So after five days we felt like we had exhausted what Hong Kong had to offer. We got to understand a little more about its history, fell in love with it’s modern skyline and got close to nature with some great hikes. It’s definitely a good chapter in our own Asian saga. And, staying close to James Clavell’s Asian Saga, we move on to Japan next which is where the first book in the series – Shogun – was based.
Sleep: We stayed in the New Garden Hostel. It was the cheapest we could find for the two of us. It was £77 for four nights for the two of us in a twin with ensuite room. It was basic but comfortable and clean. The building it was in had a ground floor full of Indian hawkers trying to sell you something – this can seem a little threatening but you are perfectly safe and if you ignore them they will soon forget about you.
Eat: We managed to find plenty of cheap places to eat which served amazing food. Our favourites were Eat Together and Cafe de Coral. If you are on a bigger budget then it’s easy to find great places to eat just by wandering the streets.
Do: There is lots to do in Hong Kong and thankfully the best things are free. The Museum of History is definitely worth a visit which is free on Wednesdays. There are loads of hikes and you can pick up a good guide to these at the tourist information at the airport or in Kowloon. Getting the funicular up and down the Peak is a lot of fun. And as everyone (well maybe except me) loves a tacky market then do check out Ladies Market, Temple Street Market and the Flower Market. Also if you need a new/2nd hand phone this place was excellent.
Getting Around: Public transport in Hong Kong makes it really easy to get around. Get an Octopus card when you arrive at the airport which you load with money and use on public transport for the best price. At the end of your trip hand it back to the station at the airport and get any unused money refund. Getting from the airport to your hotel and back again can be done by bus, train or taxi. The bus is likely the cheapest option and if you speak to the Tourist Information place at the airport they’ll advise you which bus will best suit you. Whilst you are in Hong Kong make sure you get the Star Ferry at least once for an awesome view of the skyline.