Hong Kong

13th Jun 2016 - 29th Aug 2016. 11 weeks. 3,930km travelled.

7th Mar 2016 - 10th Mar 2016. 3 nights.
16,678km travelled. 4,599km travelled excluding flights.

I got my first flight since arriving in Singapore from Hanoi to Hong Kong, which took about an hour and a half. There were clouds coming into Hong Kong but they were lit up by the city. I got the metro from the airport to the stop near my hostel.

I stayed at the YesInn hostel in Fortress Hill for five nights before I moved into my apartment. It was adequate, the beds were packed in a little tight. The reception was in an apartment on floor 15 and my room was in an apartment on floor 5. There was a dog bakery around the corner.

I moved into a double bed room in an apartment on the third floor at 61 Percival Street in the Causeway Bay area. It cost 7,000 HKD/month (€805) including all expenses which is similar to prices in Dublin. The building was built in 1954 and could have done with some renovation but it was in a very good spot. There was no door at street level because the bottom two floors were shops.

People speak Cantonese primarily in Hong Kong but almost everyone can speak enough English for you to get by. Younger people are mostly fluent and often have strong British, American and Australian accents when speaking English. All signage and websites have both languages. Most menus have both languages except for the cheaper Chinese food restaurants.

Hong Kong means Fragrant Harbour and is named after the smell from the once nearby incense factories. It lies on one side of the mouth of the Pearl River delta with Macau at the other side. It is surrounded by the Guangdong Chinese province which contains the 3rd and 4th largest cities in China: respectively Guangzhou, the provincial capital and Shenzhen, just across the border. Hong Kong is made up of three major sections: Hong Kong island, Kowloon and the New Territories.

The British began trading heavily with the Chinese in the early 19th century importing silk, porcelain and tea. They became worried about their balance of payments as they were importing far more than they were exporting to the region, with silver flowing from the UK to China. To fix this, they began to import and sell opium in China. The Chinese tried to prevent this and the result was the First Opium War in 1841. China lost and Hong Kong island became a British colony. Further conflicts over opium started the Second Opium War in 1856. China lost again, ceding the section of Kowloon below Boundary Street to the British. The rest of modern day Hong Kong was later leased to the British for 99 years.

Large numbers of migrants including skilled tradesmen, businessesmen and filmmakers moved to Hong Kong from China after the Communist Party took power in 1949. It was the first of the four Asian Tiger economies to experience rapid industrialisation. Rising costs caused a loss of competitiveness in manufacturing but it was perfectly placed to take advantage of and act as a entry point when the Chinese markets opened to foreign trade in the late 1970s. Business is supported by a low simple taxation policy and an effective and independent legal system that enforces contractual obligations. It became a global financial centre and hub for logistics and freight in the 1990s. It has become more and more dependent on mainland tourists and trade.

The UK government handed back all of Hong Kong when the lease on the New Territories expired in 1997. The Golden Bauhinia was unveiled during the ceremony. The agreement outlined the "one country, two systems" idea, which allowed Hong Kong to remain autonomous except for military and foreign policy for 50 years, up until 2047. The mini constitution is called Basic Law. The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Legislative Council (LegCo) are elected by the people. The next CEO elections are in 2017 and the LegCo elections are on a few days after I leave.

The political spectrum was mainly divided up into the pro-Beijing camp and pan-democrats who want the area to remain autonomous. In 2014, the Umbrella Revolution involved 79 days of protests when election reforms were widely interpreted as allowing the Communist party to screen candidates for election. Since then there has been a growing localist movement, especially amoung the youth, who advocate independence and see no other possible way to maintain autonomy after 2047. There were also protests in early 2016 when candidates for the LegCo elections were disqualified from running after refusing to sign a document stating that Hong Kong would always remain a part of China. One was refused even though he signed it immediately because the election official didn't believe him (he was one of the leader of the localists). Many dismiss the localists who say independence would be impossible as China is too strong militarily, the economy and trade too heavily dependent on China and even most of the water supply coming from the mainland.

Five Hong Kongers who working in a nearby bookshop specialising in scandalous books about Chinese politicians were kidnapped from Hong Kong or while visiting Thailand or the mainland and interrogated for a number of months on the mainland. Many mainland tourists buy the books and bring them back to mainland even though they are banned there. The booksellers usually resurfaced after a televised admittance of guilt. One went public after returning to Hong Kong stating the televised confession was staged. It added to tensions that China is not respecting the Hong Kong legal system. I saw a newsagent near my apartment had a range of these books on display.

Hong Kong island skyline: Tamar Park, Central and Western Prom, Bank of China building, HSBC buidling, IFC, central government offices, Citic Tower, convention and exhibition centre, observation wheel.

Kowloon skyline: ICC, Tsim Sha Tsui prom, Clock tower, cultural centre

Most of the streets are narrow and lined with very tall buildings. There are more skyscrapers (>150m buildings) in Hong Kong than any other city. A lot of the time, the bottom two or three floors (plus a basement level or two) are dedicated to shops and then above that are offices or apartments. Walking around can be a bit difficult at first because you can't cross some of the larger streets and have to find a tunnel or bridge to get across. Some of these pedestrian bridges run between a number of buildings so you might be able to travel a few blocks unimpeded at the first floor level.

Public transportation is fantastic – very efficient and cheap. Where to queue for the buses is marked on the footpath. You really never have to wait more than five minutes for a train on the metro (MTR). There are plenty of entrances to get down to each station, some are actually quite far from the platform but there are escalators and aircon. There's also the tram on the island which is slower but has more stops and is easier to get on/off at street level. You can cross the harbour on the ferry. There are plenty of taxis around. There are escalators for pedestrians to get up some of the steeper hills, most famously the Mid-Levels Escalator. You can pay for everything with the Octopus card. The MTR Corporation was privatised in 2000 and is one of the largest companies in Hong Kong. Apart from the profitable train service, it owns a lot of land and has built apartments and shops in, on top of or near its train stations.

Some day-to-day things. I went to a super efficient Japanese barber chain that had everything optimised. There was a large Wellcome shopping centre nearby. I found the fish tank with fish for sale fun. There was also a market with meat and veg nearby. I wasn't used to seeing raw meat for sale hanging on hooks outside but it's normal here.

There were a number of huge shopping centres in the area I lived. Times Square, Sogo, Hysan Place, Lee Gardens. Lots of mainland Chinese come to Hong Kong with empty suitcases to load up on designer goods but also medicine and baby formula.

Former Legislative Council Building

Tram tour. It passed around the Happy Valley area, named ironically because of the nearby graveyard. There is also the Happy Valley racecourse. There were only a handful of race days on before they finished for the summer but I simply forgot to go to one. The racecourse is operated by the Hong Kong Jockey Club, which is a non profit and has a monopoly on betting on horse racing and football and also runs the lottery. It is the largest tax payer in Hong Kong.

Noonday Gun. Back in the day, a merchant family was reprimanded for firing a gun when one of their ships arrived as it was a strictly military custom. Their punishment was to fire a gun everyday at noon in perpetuity. It has been happening since the 1860s although not continuously. It was hard to find as you have to go through an underground hotel car park to get over to it. It was also much louder than I was expecting. You can fire the gun yourself if you donate 33,000HKD (2750 EUR) to charity.

I hiked up to The Peak a few times, either from Kennedy Town or HKU and then down the Old Peak Road or Central Green trail. It's quite steep. There is "The Peak" viewing platform which is built on top of the Peak Tram station but you can actually hike up higher to the actual highest point (well, up to the fence around the radio tower). Victoria Peak Garden is up near beside that. I got the bus up and down at night once. There was about a two hour queue for the tram or you could just hop on a bus immediately.

I got the Peak Tram up once and went up to the viewing platform.

Kennedy Town is the last stop on the MTR Island line. Lo Pan Temple.

Chungking Mansions are a group of buildings in Tsim Sha Tsui, originally designed for residential use but now contain many commercial businesses. It is famous for the cheapest accomodations in Hong Kong and has a large amount of African, South Asian and Middle Eastern residents and restaurants. The ground floor houses the main arcade shopping centre. A developer bought all the apartments on the first and second floor for $200 million in 2003 and converted them into a shopping centre. The basement is also a shopping centre now. In 2007, it was alleged that up to 20% of mobile phones in Sub-Saharan African had passed through the buildings at some point.

SoHo is an area with a lot of ethic restaurants. The mid levels escalator passes through it so a lot of expats and people that work in Central can get food on the way home. Lan Kwai Fong is a night life area with a lot of bars and clubs.

Mongkok markets: Temple Street night market, Modelling/hobbies (Kwong Wa Street), Photocopy Street (near Yim Po Fong Street and Soy Street), Sneaker street (Fa Yuen Street), Ladies market (Tung Choi Street), Goldfish street (Tung Choi Street, north of Bute Street), Electronics/cosmetics (Sai Yeung Choi Street South), Flowers (Flower Market Road), Song birds (Yuen Po Street Bird Garden)

Kowloon walled city. Just across what used to be the border between Kowloon and the New Territories. 33,000 people lived in the 2.6 hectare completely unregulated block. It was controlled by the Triads. The name comes from the ruins of an old British fort that were underneath. It was knocked down in 1996 and they built a park there instead.

Lantau island: Ngong Ping cable car, Tian Tian Buddha, Tai O fishing village. You can see the part bridge-part tunnel highway between Hong Kong and Macau under construction.

Ocean Park. Roller coasters. Aquariums. Giant Panda.

The Hong Kong Monetary Authority is located in the IFC and has a information centre for visitors on the 55th floor that you can visit for free. The Hong Kong dollar is pegged to the US dollar at 1 USD = 7.8 HKD.

Victoria Park was the closest park to my apartment. The land was reclaimed in the 1950s and it was revamped in the 2000s. It has a bunch of sports facilities, playgrounds and paths. It was a hotspot for Pokemon Go players for a while. There is also a pond for remote control boats.

The Hong Kong Central Library overlooks the park.

ICC Sky100

Duddell street steps and gas lamps. Zoological and Botanical Gardens. They had an air conditioned greenhouse, orchids, flamingos, monkeys and a big orangutan who looked like he had a few too many beers the night before.

Dragon's Back is a hiking trail along the ridge of a mountain in the south east section of the island. It ends at Big Wave Beach. I walked back from there through Chai Wan cemeteries.

The Star Ferry tour was a one hour trip around Victoria harbour which is the third largest in the world after San Francisco and Rio de Janeiro.

The first and best place I got food was probably Tim Ho Wan, a dim sum place near by hostel. I didn't know it but the food came in batches of 3 or 4 so I ended up ordering way too much the first time. It is (or at least was for a time) the cheapest Michelin star restaurant in the world. Dim sum including shrimp dumplings and baked pork buns. Egg cake, which is basically sponge cake. Ding Dim 1968 was another cool dim sum place. Both very cheap.

Like a lot of things in Hong Kong, things are time and space optimised. In the local restuarants, there is usually someone at the front who takes takeaway orders or seats you. If the restaurant is big or has multiple floors, they often have headsets so they can just tell you to go upstairs and someone knows you're coming up. If the place is busy, they have no problem seating you at a table with other people. You get a menu and a pencil and then have to get the waiters attention when you're ready to order. They take the order sheet and bring back a receipt and then serve each dish as soon as it's ready. When you're finished you just bring the receipt and pay on your way out. Almost every restaurant has takeaway and delivery, even the fancy places. There is often a queue waiting outside for takeaway and sometimes there are seats for them.

Common dishes are dim sum, wonton noodles, spring rolls, lots of stir-fried food with various types of noodles, pork chop in tomato sauce with rice.

Tsui Wah was another favourite. It's a tea restaurant but it has a big menu and is quite cheap.

Finding good, cheap places to eat could be tough. The OpenRice website seems to be the best guide but even then a few places had closed or moved when I went to find them. I'm quite used to being able to find the menu of almost any restaurant at home (with the prices!) so it's annoying trying to figure out whether somewhere is expensive or not.