19/08/2013 - 25/08/2013
As most of you know I am now home, back in England where I started this trip seven months ago. Although we only returned a few days ago, in a way it already seems like a lifetime since we were arriving at Hong Kong Ferry Terminal, knowing that the next time we went through Passport Control we would be boarding a flight home. The thought inspired a strange mix of sadness and excitement in us, conflicted as we were between a reluctance to end our amazing journey and a creeping sense that we were ready to go home.
We soon discovered, however, that Hong Kong is one of the best places in the world for a British person to be homesick. Not only is English spoken by almost everybody, there is an abundant supply of Western food, drink and clothing stores to make you feel right at home. Not exactly an adventurous destination for the intrepid traveller, but definitely a welcome taste of home after spending a month in China feeling constantly lost and confused. We spent many hours drinking cider in British-style pubs and enjoying the only good cocktails in Asia during the city's amazing happy hours.
Our first port of call on arriving in Hong Kong was Central, the main hub of Hong Kong Island. We were itching to go up Victoria Peak, but decided to wait until dark in order to enjoy the spectacular night views. We therefore spent the afternoon in beautiful Hong Kong Park, a carefully sculpted yet beautiful park with a children's playground, fountains and even an aviary.
As sunset approached we boarded the Peak Tram up to Victoria Peak, where the summit has been transformed into a hub of restaurants and small shopping malls. It's actually quite a struggle to find your way out of the maze of shops and locate what you came to see, but the viewing points, once you find them, are extremely well positioned to get the best views. Unfortunately there was a lot of cloud about in the aftermath of the typhoon, but the lights of the skyline shone through and it made a beautiful sight.
The East Promenade Symphony of Lights, on the other hand, did not live up to its hype. After a day shopping in Causeway Bay we met a friend for dinner at Tsim Sha Tsui, then headed to the waterfront to see the famous light display, which features so prominently in the guidebooks. It turns out the 'Symphony' is just a few green lasers flashing in time to some music, and we left feeling underwhelmed.
The next day took the MTR to Kowloon to explore Kowloon Walled City Park. The original walled city was an overcrowded slum rife with crime and ruled by Triads, and in 1993 the decision was made to demolish it. What stands in its place now is a peaceful park, with a small collection of photos of the old town. We also visited the Avenue of Stars, Asia's answer to Hollywood's more famous Walk of Fame, where famous Chinese actors and actresses are noted for their contributions to film. The main attraction is a large statue of Bruce Lee, who was admittedly the only person on the Avenue we had heard of. We returned to our hostel on Hong Kong Island via the Star Ferry, a cheaper and infinitely more interesting alternative to the MTR.
A Hong Kong highlight for me was Man Mo Temple, a tiny building tucked away in Central. Many people come across it without knowing what it is, or miss it all together, but despite its nondescript facade the inside is beautiful. Its main draw for me were the lanterns and coils of incense hanging from the ceiling, which made the temple so much more atmospheric.
Thick cloud and unpredictable drizzle were big problems during our week in HK, but towards the end of the week we took the plunge and travelled out of the city to Lantau Island, home of the Tian Tan Buddha. The 85-foot high bronze statue is reached by a spectacular 25-minute cable-car journey over the hills, which rocked precariously in the strong winds that swept across the open countryside. The Buddha itself was, disappointingly, partly shrouded in cloud for most of the time that we were there, but we still managed to get a few well-timed photos!
Unfortunately the neighbouring Po Lin Monastery was undergoing renovations at our time of visiting, but we did enjoy a quick visit to the Wisdom Path, a series of tall stone pillars engraved with prayers in Chinese characters. The cloud was actually a positive here; the pillars looked all the more effective looming eerily out of the mist.
And so ends our seven-month adventure. Already it seems so long ago, sitting here in a house so familiar to me, that it could almost be a dream. But we have so many amazing memories, photos and friends to remind us that it really happened, that we did it, and that if we can survive China we are ready to tackle anything. This trip was an incredible introduction to the world, but also proof that there is so much more to see. I have caught the travel bug, and I don't expect I will ever be cured...