Hong Kong: A British Oasis in Asia

I arrived in Hong Kong by train from Guangzhou, and decided to walk to my hostel in Kowloon from there. I arrived slightly regretting that decision, especially since I was still dressed for the Ping’an rice paddies. I felt much better after a hot shower, though, and went out to meet my friend who was also arriving in Hong Kong that day. We wandered around for a bit, unsuccessfully looking for something to eat (I was starving!) and eventually defaulted to chips at KFC before finding a bar. We stumbled upon a very cute British bar nearby called ‘Hare of the Dog’, and stayed for a few beers there before wandering home for some well-earned rest.

The following morning we went for a little wander in Kowloon park, which was right next to my hostel, and then walked down to the Star Ferry terminal, with plans to explore central Hong Kong for a bit and hopefully check out Victoria Peak at sunset. We had a lovely afternoon – after a decidedly English lunch of a smoked-salmon and cream cheese sandwich and a hot sausage roll, we took the short Star Ferry journey across to central pier. From there we meandered around central – we checked out the longest escalator in Asia (actually a series of shorter escalators and travelators, but which proved to be a useful navigational tool, and led us to discover some great bars and restaurants). Then we walked down Hollywood road, stopping off at Man Mo temple (we were both finally just about ready to see some more temples after Japan and China!!) and then we wandered down through a quaint antiques market. It was fascinating to check out what they were selling, lots of old knives and old coins, mostly.

HK_012By this point the afternoon was getting on a little, so we walked up towards the Victoria Peak tram terminal, past the botanical gardens. Arriving at the tram a little early, it immediately became clear that this would be a good thing – the queue was absolutely enormous and moving very slowly. It was about a 40 minute wait to get on the tram, but eventually, after a great deal of patience with some extremely annoying fellow-tourists, we made it! The tram went up the mountain very steeply and quite fast, which was both fun and a little scary. By the time we reached the top we had thoroughly missed sunset, but perhaps that was for the best anyway, it was quite cold up there, and the night time views were spectacular. The panorama of the Hong Kong skyline was undoubtedly one of the best I’ve ever seen, and we stayed as long as we could stand the cold for. Then we queued again for another 40 or so minutes for the tram back down, getting progressively colder, and anxiously hoping to get back down and across to Kowloon in time to watch the famous Symphony of Light. My feet were now so cold that they were starting to cramp in my little slip-on shoes, which made the rush from the tram terminal over to the ferry rather unpleasant, but as they warmed up it got better. As we sailed across back to Tsim Sha Tsui ferry port, the Symphony of light started (we so nearly made it!), so we watched most of the light and laser show from the boat, catching the end from our intended viewing point near the Avenue of Stars. It was fairly pretty, and might have been even nicer on a less cloudy day. It was dwarfed by the skyline itself, however, which was stunningly beautiful.

On our way up the longest escalator in Asia, we had passed a bar / restaurant that we were very excited about, and planned to go back. It caught my eye because the sign was designed like a London underground sign, and the name of the bar was “Yorkshire Pudding” – looking at the menu we could see why. Every English dish that we had both been craving during our months in Asia were there on the menu, and the whole place was British themed – even the light shades were shaped like bowler hats! So, after the symphony of light ended, we were going to get the ferry back over and have dinner there. We were both pretty excited about that.

Then, out of the blue, a yacht pulled up by the ferry port and twenty or so men wearing white masks climbed off carrying a red carpet. We stuck around to watch what was about to happen. The men (somewhat haphazardly) unrolled the red carpet and lined up on either side of it. Then another man climbed off the boat, and out of the crowd some people pulled a lady. It began to become clear this was a rather elaborate (and very sweet) wedding proposal. We watched the whole thing, not really being able to understand the lengthy proposal written in Chinese, but definitely getting the gist, as the girl became increasingly teary. Eventually it was over, she said yes and they all got back onto the yacht.

Hearts warmed, we jumped back on the ferry again, up the long escalator and jumped off at Yorkshire Pudding, where we had the most wonderfully indulgent evening feasting on Yorkshire puddings, sausages and onion gravy, fish and chips and nachos. By the end we could both barely move we were so full. The food was excellent, and very authentic. They even brought us Heinz ketchup and HP sauce. By the time we had eaten it was nearly midnight, so we needed to get back across to Kowloon before we missed the last subway. Back on the other side we wandered over towards our new local, Hare of the Dog, for a few drinks before bed. On our way we were accosted by a pair of monks who stopped us, blessed us and then tried to force us into buying some very over priced bracelets – they went to put one on my wrist but I’d seen this coming and refused, but my friend accepted his and they then demanded 100 HKD for it, although he somehow managed to haggled them down to 10! We had several cheap beers and put some songs on the duke box and ended up out till the small hours, enjoying Hong Kong familiar British feel coupled with a far more laid back atmosphere.

The following morning we slept in fairly late, and I didn’t get going until around 11am. I had met up with another friend I’d made in Japan, and together we took the subway up to the electricals area, where we’d also been recommended a great fried chicken place. We went to Golden electricals – a huge open-plan building filled to the brim with different shops selling every possible type of cable, gadget and video game you could imagine. As Hong Kong also uses British plug sockets, I was able to stock up on a few items that will also be useful when I get home. We wandered around a little more, trying to find Hot Star – the fried chicken place we’d been recommended. We asked in lots of shops but nobody seemed to know, and eventually we began to give up. Deflated, we stopped for a moment to lean on a wall and I looked up and realised it was directly opposite us! We both got some spicy popcorn chicken that was excellent. Later that afternoon, we caught the subway back down towards the hostel and my friend decided to go for a nap while I went off on my own for a bit. I walked back down to the waterfront, took a stroll along the avenue of the stars and then got the ferry across to Wanchai, this time to try and track down the waterfront promenade on the other side. Once over there, though, I couldn’t seem to find it. It was sign posted, but the sign posts lead to what seemed to be a building site, and the pavement disappeared. I tried from several different directions to no avail, and eventually concluded that they must have been renovating it.

The wonderful thing about Hong Kong is that there is free wifi all over the city, so I checked my email and managed to arrange to meet back up again. We’d planned to go that evening to an organised pub crawl we’d been given a flyer for the previous day. So, we got something to eat first and I dropped a few of my fine electrical purchases off at the hostel before the three of us headed out together to central where the crawl started. We found the first bar quite easily, and it was great – pretty unassuming from the outside but inside we found there was a nice beer garden illuminated by red fairy lights. The crawl included some cheap beer offers, and there were loads of people out. We had a really good evening, visiting 4 bars and ending in a club and meeting lots of other travellers from all over the world. Around 2am, after lots of beer and dancing, we decided to call it a night and got a taxi back to the hostel.

HK_017The next morning we woke up pretty late, understandably, ready for my final full day in Hong Kong. I had planned today to head out to Lantau island for a bit of a change of pace. But first we needed to recover from the night before, so we took the subway back over to central and went for an amazing all day breakfast at Yorkshire pudding. I had eggs and soldiers with real Heinz baked beans! Feeling much better, we took the subway over to the island, and then got on a cable car up into the mountains where there is a Giant Buddha and a monastery. We opted to pay a few pounds extra to take the ‘crystal cabin’, which has a glass bottom. The 25-minute journey (the longest bi-cable car journey in Asia) was quite cool, and it was interesting, if a little unnerving, to watch the scenery go past below us. At the top we wandered around for a bit, climbed some very steep steps up to see the Giant Buddha, and checked out the monastery, which turned out to be mostly closed off for building work. I also wanted to take a bus out to a nearby fishing village of houses on stilts, but we hadn’t realised that the bus was only running hourly, and when we got there we found that we wouldn’t be able to make it there and back in time for the last cable car back at 6pm. HK_018So we just took the cable car back down and got back on the subway into town. That evening we went for dinner at Pizza Express (which we’d both been very much looking forward to – ah, home comforts!), and then returned to the Hare of the Dog for one last time. We had a few beers and tried to figure out the bizarre Chinese film that was showing (without subtitles) in the bar.

The next morning I dragged myself out of bed, packed my bag (which had kind of exploded all over my hostel dorm) and took the train out to the airport to leave. Around 2pm I caught a flight over to Hanoi to start the next leg of my journey, traveling down through Vietnam and eventually on to Cambodia, Thailand and Laos. Goodbye Hong Kong, I will definitely be back again one day to visit my favourite Asian city.

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