The first stop on our trip was Hong Kong, beginning with a twelve-hour overnight flight – and perfectly timed just as the weather got cold in London.
Hong Kong is a contrast of high-end establishments, glittering light and flashing neon signs against a grubbier, seedier side. Rich tourists and hard-up locals making their living and living side by side in an incredibly busy city where space is of a real premium. Steep hills and narrow winding streets, also contrast with big main roads organised into blocks.
Being a new destination for us, we turned to the traveller reviews on Trip Advisor and Booking.com to choose our accommodation and we thought we had found ourselves a real bargain in Kowloon, just a few minutes’ walk from the harbour. Whilst we couldn’t fault the room (especially for the location and the price), we ended up in a guest house in the Chungking Mansions – a complex of guest houses on top of a shopping mall selling cheap Indian food, sim cards and money exchangers – and one so notorious that its reputation precedes it – and the film ‘Chungking Express’ has been made to tell the story of its shady history.
Our guide book even gives the Chungking Mansions a special mention – and I quote:
“This grim and squalid collection of guesthouses, flops and fleapits amid the glitter of Nathan Road has become the stuff of legend over the years, resisting attempts to knock it down…”
Oh dear – shame we didn’t read this before booking a place to stay!
After checking in, we took a stroll down to the harbour just as the light show was beginning and the skyscrapers on Hong Kong Island were beginning to switch on their neon lights as dusk fell. It was pretty to watch but impossible to do justice with a camera.
The following day we took the tram up to Victoria Peak and hiked back down. It was a hazy day but the altitude of the Peak still afforded us some great views down on to the city below. We also got our first mosquito bites – I think being a city I wasn’t expecting to get bitten, however out on the hiking trails the bugs were out in force!
On our walk to the tram station we overheard gibbons in distance and detoured via the botanical gardens and zoo – also home to lemurs, squirrel monkeys, tamarins, tortoises and birds. An impressive park built into the hillside and free entry too.
For a view of the Kowloon side of the harbour we took the Star Ferry back across to the mainland.
Hong Kong is somewhere I’ve wanted to visit for a long time, to experience the city but also for its proximity to Macau, home to the world’s highest bungy jump – a long-standing activity on my wish list and the world’s highest at 233 metres. So, after a couple of days in Hong Kong we took the ferry over to Macau. An hour across the water to the “Vegas of the East” – and it’s easy to see the comparison when looking at the fancy resorts and casinos, many of which the same chains as in Las Vegas.
Our first stop was the Macau Tower – home of the world’s highest bungy jump and AJ Hackett’s latest venture. The height of the jump and the location on top of a sky scraper led to them developing an innovative, new bungy cord to better control the descent, rebound and proximity to the tower, with tethering cables on either side of the harness to ensure the jumper does not swing into the side of the building in the event of high winds! (Note - this is definitely more of a precaution than an actual risk as when jumping it feels like you’re a long way from the tower!)
Before even reaching the bungy platform, the lift rushes you up to the observation deck at a rate of 61 floors in less than 60 seconds with glimpses of the skyline flashing through glass panels in the lift as you get ever higher. The lift alone is not for the faint hearted, the speed of the ascent almost feeling like a bungy jump in reverse and certainly not suitable for anyone who doesn’t like heights – with this in mind, Kev decided to stay on the ground floor and watch from below!
With stunning views out over the Macau skyline this jump was certainly a new experience for me, however the jump itself felt rather tame and really ‘controlled’ so definitely not the most thrilling, despite being the highest. However I’m very happy to have ticked it off my bucket list!
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to the ‘freestyle’ jump (i.e. running jump, somersault or handstand and flip off the platform) as they won’t let you do this on your ‘first jump’ and my budget didn’t allow for more than one jump but I have definitely set these as my future bungy goals!
Macau itself is an old Portuguese colony with much of the Portuguese influence remaining – like the mosaic streets akin to those in Cascais and the custard tarts sold in bakeries across the old town. The street names are in Portuguese and the colours and architecture are very much reminiscent of Lisbon, albeit a twelve-hour flight away on the Chinese mainland!
No visit to Hong Kong would be complete without mentioning the food! We tried to eat local food as much as possible (well, as long as there was enough English translation on the menu enough to be able to order from it). We ate delicious dim sum (the steamed shrimp and truffled mushroom dumplings, wontons and sweet barbecued pork buns were our favourites) and tried out the street food at Temple Street night market, but didn’t fancy any of the dried seafood or congee (savoury rice porridge).
Temple Street Market is also home to market stalls selling souvenirs and fake goods, a street full of fortune tellers – including a ‘bird teller’ who has a bird in a cage that will pick out a fortune card in exchange for some seeds; tarot readers, palmists and fortune tellers who claim to be able to read your face! We didn’t have a reading done, but it made for interesting viewing nevertheless.
We met up with Jackie and Julie (two of my Pentland colleagues based in Hong Kong) for brunch before heading off for the airport and it was great to catch up – even if Jackie had lost her voice so some of the conversations were a bit like a game of charades!
Next stop is Perth in Western Australia – I’ll blog again once there.