Our problem on arrival in Hong Kong was that we were only staying three nights, we would then head for three nights in Macau, then on to Taiwan before heading to Shanghai, China. As we arrived Thursday 1pm in Hong Kong we basically had four hours to get to the Chinese Consulate, finalise all the Chinese visa paperwork and pray that, by paying the fast tracked extra cost, our Chinese visa would be ready by Friday afternoon.
If you have ever tried to race through immigration and customs you know how frustratingly slow it can be when you are in a hurry – this, though, was not the case for us on this day and the angels blessed us. We powered out of the aeroplane, hurtled to immigration and caught that rare moment when all became quiet before the stampede arrived and got through immigration so quickly. Our bags came out in the baggage claim carousel in the first few bags and, of course, we had nothing to declare but haste!!! We achieved plane to taxi in just under twenty minutes. The taxi was waiting ready to go and we were off from one side of Hong Kong to the other. The taxi was expensive. Throughout most of Asia you get spoilt financially with the value for money of it all. This is not the case in Hong Kong. The taxi fare had so many add on costs, you even pay an extra fee for each item of luggage, then add on the numerous bridge tolls and we pretty much spent our daily living expenses budget on that one fare – about AUD$130 – but who cares we were living an episode of the Amazing Race and we were close to being ‘eliminated’.
On arrival at the Chinese Consulate we were faced with lugging our huge backpacks through the security and losing our armoury of bottle openers, butter knives, tea spoons and cork screws. Luckily though there was a baggage storage room and we frantically raced in there causing the heavily pregnant lady behind the desk to clutch her tummy in self-defence – sorry we whispered and paid the HK$50 (AUD$10) fee and tip toed out of the door before resuming the race (this must have been a Road Block!!!).
We had downloaded and filled out the visa application form from the consulate website (please bear in mind it was the first day of the month) and we had all the paperwork required so it should have been so easy – should have!!!! We arrived to a packed out, chaotic, scene with people talking loudly and hurrying here and there – I wish I was a Librarian so I could have given everyone that ‘quiet please’ glare. Di and I strode confidently towards the men who were checking paperwork to allow people to then go to the counter – this is a screening process so you only get to the counter if you have the correct paperwork. Wrong form the man declared – WHAT!! A new form was introduced on that day – the first day of the MONTH!!!!!!!!!!! This was what was causing most of the mayhem – the form had changed and the one on the website the day before was wrong. Everyone had to redo the four page form.
We were eventually passed by the screening men on the second attempt with our new form completed. We now waited …………….and waited. Whilst we waited we watched numerous people confidently stride to the visa counter only to see their shoulders slump and then race away frantically to overcome whatever hurdle that had been placed in their way. Once of the main issues is that when you arrive in Hong Kong you do not get a stamp in your passport from Immigration but receive a piece of paper as your visa on arrival. This piece of paper needs to be photocopied and provided as part of your application.
I was so sure we (read Di here) had everything right when we approached the counter. The lady behind the counter was expressionless and efficient; she was the Robocop of visa applications. I was super impressed with her faultless efficiency as she moved my application to the passed pile. We then got the shock of our lives when she handed Di’s application back and said ‘photo is wrong’. You see Di was wearing the tiniest diamond studs in her ear when the photo was taken. I would love to tell you these earrings had diamonds the size of gold balls in them (which makes me sound like a big spender), but no you really need to look to see them! Di was off running to the passport photo place around the corner for another expense of $50HKD. I sat and waited for her with the satisfaction of knowing that at least one of us was going to China.
This again allowed me to sit and view the tension of the place, the amount of people trying to clarify what they had to do to meet the requirements was staggering. You could see them take a breath and the race off to the photocopier (fee involved) or to get something printed, signed …whatever it was stressful. The new form just compounded the mood. You will be pleased to know that the new passport photo passed scrutiny and the lady actually nearly smiled when she said ‘you have ticked urgent, what time tomorrow afternoon do you want the visa?’ ‘3pm’ Di replied. Okay she said. The urgent visa cost $600HKD (AUD$120) each. We then quietly slunk into the luggage storage place and acquired our luggage under the scornful gaze of the heavily pregnant lady. We then had to catch another taxi to our hotel at Mongkok, Kowloon. We stayed at the Metro Park Hotel for AUD$87 per night. This was a very expensive day of taxis and visas – dinner was ten dollar noodles! We were, though, satisfied with the end visa result – well done Di, it had been such a saga through Vietnam.
The Metro Park Hotel is just out of the touristy area of Kowloon and is a couple of kilometres along Nathan Road from the ferry terminal. The hotel is right next to the underground rail (MRT) so is pretty convenient. Di and I had both been to Hong Kong several times before, hence the reason for the planned short stay. We did do some touristy things and, we had the opportunity to catch up with an old friend, from when I worked in Saudi Arabia some ten years ago.
The next day we walked down Nathan Road to the ferry terminal. Nathan Road is full of shops, lots of jewellery stores here. Nathan Road is neon heaven (or hell dependent on your perspective) and has a certain life about it, especially at night.
We caught the cheap Star ferry over to Hong Kong Island (AUD$0.50) and the Hong Kong skyline is simply unmistakable.
The weather was overcast and there was little point going up Victoria Peak by tram as it was all immersed in cloud. The tram is actually the world’s steepest funicular railway. The harbour is full of boats and we watched the junks and ferries sail about (this is free of course, so with our budget strained it was a pleasure to simply sit and watch the world sail on by).
We made our way on Hong Kong Island to the Macau ferry terminal, as we were heading there in two days’ time.
This is a reasonable day trip out to Macau but remember to bring your passport with you. Hong Kong Island is more the business district but it is home to most of the better nightlife, bars and restaurants.
We returned to Kowloon to look for the Avenue of the Stars but became a little confusing looking for it, as there were a lot of road works occurring, and the signs seemed to be sending us in circles – so we gave up as time was running out and we wanted to be back at the harbour for the evening light show.
The Symphony of Light occurs each night at 8pm on Victoria Harbour – we watched from Kowloon. It is free and about 40 odd buildings join in the light and music spectacle. The Guinness Book of Records have declared this the ‘World’s Largest Permanent Light and Sound Show’.
I enjoyed the 15 minute show but I think I enjoyed Vivid in Sydney (bias I suppose) and the Shanghai light show at the Bund better. If you hate crowds, then don’t go.
The place was packed. Di was at the front but I stood back a bit.
A young Asian woman squashed in front of me and then proceeded to take pouting selfie after pouting selfie – she seemed frustrated that in every pouting selfie my big boofhead loomed behind her – she chose to stand there!!!! At the end of the light show you then have thousands of tourists (mainly Chinese) all wandering in the same direction. If you have travelled with Chinese tourists you know what a delightful experience this can be!!!!
The next day we caught the underground rail (MRT) to Hong Kong Island and then the ferry over to Lantau Island. There is a fast ferry, takes 30 minutes, or a slow ferry takes about an hour. The fast ferry was about $30HKD (AUD$6) each one way and the slow ferry $15HKD (both cost more on Sundays and public holidays).
On arrival at Lantau Island you are greeted by a sea of bicycles – it looks like a long lost bicycle burial ground – it seems as though everyone who lives on Lantau Island rides a bicycle to the pier and then catches a ferry to work – not a bad way to go to work.
You then jump on a bus at the ferry terminal that takes you up the mountain to the Big Buddha. The bus costs $17HKD each one way for the 45 minute trip. You can alternatively catch the underground rail (MRT) all the way to Lantau, but the ferry in my opinion is more fun. There is also a cable car to the Big Buddha from out near the airport at Ngong Ping. The bus trip up the mountain is entertaining as you pass beaches, lakes and prisons (the road overlooks a large prison). It does, though, have many curves and sharp bends and the drivers drive pretty fast – motion sickness tablets recommended.
The Big Buddha is only 24 years old being built in 1993 – you tend to think these things are all ancient. It is the second largest outdoor sitting Buddha in the world.
To get to the Big Buddha you have to climb steps of course, and, of course, there are hundreds of them.
This is not a big deal but remember Hong Kong can be very hot and humid – you will sweat, sweat a lot!!!
The Big Buddha is a spectacular sight and with the cloud and mist swirling around it the effect is rather eerie.
The Big Buddha is surrounded by six smaller bronze statues known as the Offering of The Six Devas. These offerings are all to do with wisdom, charity, patience, zeal, dignity and charisma. I have three out of six characteristics so I am not doing too badly. We are told the view from the Big Buddha on a clear day is rather magnificent, on the day we were there you would be lucky to see your hand against your nose the mist was that bad.
After walking down the steps from the Big Buddha turn to the right and follow the signs to the Wisdom Path.
This walk takes about 20 minutes and leads you to the side of a mountain where 38 upright wooden monuments are erected.
On each of the wooden monuments are verses from the centuries old Heart Sutra.
These are sacred prayers followed by Confucians and Buddhists. This Path overlooks a bay and the ocean but again the mist plays a problem with the view. We had both experiences with a lot of mist and a partial clearing of the skies. The Wisdom Path is relatively free of the crowds that descend on the Big Buddha and I found it quite different and impressive.
There are other monasteries and shops to wander around up at the Big Buddha but Di and I chose to catch the bus back to the ferry terminal and go to one of the water side restaurants there. The restaurants have great views of the beach and bay area.
The food was also very good and extremely plentiful – a little on the expensive side but well worth it.
We caught the ferry back to Hong Kong Island and then met up with Jason after he finished work. Jason and I worked together in 2007 in Saudi Arabia. We had dinner in Wan Chai and shared memories with Di of our experiences in the Land of Sand. It is always so much fun catching up with old mates – cheers Jason.
This pretty much brought our whirlwind three day visit to Hong Kong to an end. Hong Kong is a vibrant and visually stunning place to visit – it is a lot more expensive than most other parts of Asia. Stay clear of taxis if you can and use the ferries and MRT. There are many other places to visit in Hong Kong – Repulse Bay, Aberdeen, the outer Islands, etc, but if your stop is only a few days then Kowloon, Hong Kong Island and Lantau Island will keep you busy.
The next day we left for Macau by ferry.
The adventure continues…………..