Welcome to Hong Kong!

Welcome to Hong Kong!

We’re so pleased to have reached Hong Kong, having spent nearly a month travelling around China – this place is such light relief after the often chaotic, always challenging mainland. I think we’ve only met one person so far who doesn’t speak English and everybody is so helpful and friendly!

The overnight train from Shanghai to Hong Kong

On the overnight train here from Shanghai we could already tell that Hong Kong was going to be quite Western as it was the first time that we’d actually had loads of westerners on the train with us – there were even two English guys in the same cabin as me. The train itself was also the cleanest we have been on!  Wish I could say that it was the quietest too, but unfortunately it wasn’t – about 3 cabins full of Chinese people were on their way to HK as a big group and stayed up all night talking and drinking and literally running up and down the carriageway every time they wanted a cigarette. At about 5am they decided to start playing music and cooking pots of noodles so I had to get up and yell at them to turn the music off! Thankfully, they did, but by then it was far too late to get any sleep!

The notorious Chung.King!

Putting that aside we arrived at Hung Hom station dot on time and got the metro to our hostel. We’re staying in the notorious Chungking Mansions in Kowloon, a huge concrete building at the foot of the main road through Kowloon, which is packed full of hostels, residential accommodation and shops.

We read about this place before we  booked the hostel and were really apprehensive about staying here as we’d heard that the stairwells were dangerous and heaving with drug pushers and hookers, it was dirty and full of cockroaches and that the elevator had to be shared between the 4000 people who live here. The booking confirmation for our hostel also had a note on it which warned us that there would be loads of people hanging around outside pretending to be from one of the legitimate hostels who would try to take us somewhere else!

Chung King House, Kowloon, Hong Kong

Chung King House, Kowloon, Hong Kong

Luckily we arrived during the day so found the building quickly and yes there were quite a lot of people hanging around outside, but not one of them said anything to us. There was a bit of a queue for the elevators (one for odd-numbered floors and one for even numbered floors) but we found our hostel – the Ashoka – really easily. Even when it got dark and the number of people hanging around outside increased, we still didn’t get hassled. There are people along the street selling copy watches and handbags who jump out at you as soon as you leave the building but as soon as you say ‘no thanks’ they just leave you be. Looks like the horror stories aren’t all they are made out to be – either that or the people who have stayed here before are easily intimidated!

The building itself is in fairly poor shape, but our room is impeccably clean – very VERY small, but spotless!

The smallest room in Hong Kong

The smallest room in Hong Kong

The street that we’re on is buzzing with designer shops and shopping malls. Nathan Road is the life blood of this area and has loads of side streets spurring from it where you can find more shops along with swanky restaurants and bars. Chungkung Mansions is in such a great location – there are two metro stops within two minutes walk which can take you pretty much everywhere, including over to Hong Kong Island, and the harbour is less than 5 minutes walk away.

Once we’d formulated our ‘plan of action’ for the week and settled in, we took a walk down to the Avenue of the Stars at the harbour to check out Hong Kong’s skyline. Having just come from Shanghai we were expecting big things and weren’t disappointed…

Hong Kong Skyline at night

Hong Kong Skyline at night

Hong Kong skyline from Avenue of the Stars

Hong Kong skyline from Avenue of the Stars

The Hong Kong skyline seemed like something out of a picture book and the skyscrapers seem to go on forever. It’s not quite as ‘flashy’ as Shanghai and we got the impression that Hong Kong sees much more ‘serious business’, whereas Shanghai is more about show.

Running errands… more visa applications!

The next day, we took the Star Ferry across to Wan Chai on Hong Kong Island – we were off to find the Chinese Embassy to get our application for a visa underway. We need to get another Chinese visa to enable us to travel to Vietnam overland as the only way we can do it is by crossing back over to the mainland. It takes four working days to process but we opted for paying for the express service in 3 days which costs an extra HK$150. If we waited for the four days we’d have to spend another night in the hostel, which would cost more than getting the express service!

The whole process was insanely simple – but perhaps just because we’d already filled in loads of these sorts of forms before. We had to wait about two hours to be seen but as soon as our number was called it took about two minutes to hand in the forms, have them checked and hand over our passports and photos. We don’t even need to pay until we pick them up again on Monday! Just got to keep our fingers crossed now that nothing comes up and that they don’t think of a reason to refuse our visa!

After that we headed over to the Vietnamese Embassy to find out how quickly we can get that one – turns out they do a half an hour express service so our plan is to go there after we get our passports back on Monday and get that too!

Errands done for the day we headed off to find some lunch and opted for some street food – delicious noodles and pork dumplings!

Enjoying Hong Kong Street Food

Then we went to find the Central-Mid-Levels escalator near the Soho district. This is the world’s longest escalator system and takes local people to work everyday between the Central  and Mid Levels parts of Hong Kong (it’s very steep here and the stairs are a nightmare on your knees!) It is a total of 2,600 ft long (790 metres) and only goes one way at a time, depending on the ‘rush hour’ traffic.

We went on it all the way to the top and then stopped in a pub nearby to quench our thirst with some Blackthorn Cider! The first cider we have been able to drink since we left London!

The world's longest escalator system, Hong Kong

The world’s longest escalator system, Hong Kong

After our escalator experience we walked through the Zoological Park on our way to the Peak Tram terminus. The park was lovely and all free! They have a few animals there too like an Orangutan, Chimps and Lemurs, which was an unexpected treat!

Hong Kong’s Peak Tram

The Peak Tram is the tram that takes people up to Hong Kong Island’s Peak district, where the main lookout point is. You can go up to the Sky Terrace, which is filled with shops and restaurants and see an amazing view over the Harbour. The tram itself goes up at an almost 45 degree angle up the mountain and is the largest funicular railway in Asia.

Hong Kong Peak Tram Station

 

Peak Tram Funicula Railway

We got to the Sky Terrace around 6ish so that we could check out the views during the day and stayed there as it got dark. It was well worth the wait! The view from one side of the terrace was of some of Hong Kong’s outlying islands and the other side was the famous Harbour. I think we took about a thousand pictures, but we wanted to make sure we got the ‘right photo’…

View from the Peak, Hong Kong

View from the Peak, Hong Kong

Once we had taken in enough of the view we headed off to one of HK Island’s popular nightspots, Lan Kwai Fong – we’d be given the recommendation by a friend of ours who lived here for a while and were grateful for the tip! (thanks Joel!). It was a cool place – full of expats and locals who looked like they had just finished work, so we felt a bit under-dressed. The drinks were quite expensive too (we’d missed happy hour!) but we had a great time in Stormies and Club 97! Club 97 had Ladies Night happening so I got to drink free Cosmo’s all night too!

Hong Kong Nightlife

It was great to feel ‘at home’ again, with all the same songs we’d listen to in the UK – looking around you would think that  you were on a night out in London, rather than China!

After Lan Kwai Fong we went to Wan Chai on the metro to check out Dusk till Dawn – another of Joel’s recommendation and they had a live band on there. Live bands seem to be all the rage in the bars out here, which is great!

So that was the end of our first couple of days in Hong Kong and we’re started to feel settled already! Looking forward to experiencing some more of it tomorrow!

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