A Catalogue of errors.
After a wonderful 3 weeks in heavenly Japan we moved on to Hong Kong. The city which was confusingly returned from British control in the late 90’s but isn’t technically China. Hong Kong & Macau are both classed as ‘Special administrative regions’ of China which meant we didn’t need to use the second part of our Chinese visa until we hit Guilin. We had originally planned for New Year in Hong Kong but then nearly had a heart attack after finding that to stay in even the shittiest of hostels would have cost £3-400 for 5 nights. We decided that 3 nights would be best, then moving on to Guilin which might be a little less exciting but certainly pretty start to 2012.
Hong Kong had its ups and downs. We arrived after a day of travelling (the joys of economy flights!) – a 5.30am start in Tokyo through to Beijing ( Beijing airport – what a lovely reminder that the efficiency & politeness of Japan was far behind us again… rude service, spitting, unnecessary delays & multiple bag scans) Somehow we found our way to the connecting flight after the staff failed to direct us to the correct minibus and thankfully made our connecting flight to Hong Kong. We reached the hostel/ ‘hotel’ at around 6pm to meet a barely responsive receptionist who then sent us on our way with the cleaner on a 5 minute walk to another building. 11 floors up we were faced with a sparse apartment which had been turned into individual private rooms. Pretty grim! The ‘kitchen’ had a microwave, one plastic spoon & a cup. The shared bathroom didn’t lock and the blinds in our room covered only half the window. The power shut off on the first day. We reported it, only to have to fix it ourselves later that evening – luckily we managed to find the fuse box & see it was only a tripped switch. The customer service was just cracking. Still it was clean (ish) and at £200 for 3 nights a bargain eh?!?! I really don’t want to think about that place anymore (‘yes inn’ for anyone visiting in the future – AVOID it!
For our first full day we set out to the cable cars, a good hour away by the metro. Part of the ride was above ground and we passed some gorgeous spots such as Sunny Bay a sea area surrounded by rolling hills. Beautiful! Our moods were lifted, helped by the historic occasion on our trip – a change in Climate. God damn, this was T-shirt and shades weather. Whoop whoo! It’s amazing how a little heat can lift the spirits. Suddenly it felt like we were on holiday. The first time in our trip after almost 80 days away.
We reached the cable car stop and went for a coffee for 30-40 minutes. Unfortunately we then found that we had to queue for tickets for the cable car….for 30+ minutes. Had we known this we’d have opted for take out to drink in the queue. Nevermind, off we set. 30minutes turned to 50, turned to 1 hr 10 aarghh! At this stage you start to question whether it’s worth staying or leaving considering how much time has already been invested in such a boring task. As if sensing our frustration a woman suddenly appeared offering us tickets for the glass bottom cable car. Slightly more expensive but no queue. ‘ We were told to queue here for that’ we responded. Now we were much more frustrated! Bizarrely it turned out to be cheaper than the standard cable car as a return journey was included and so off we skipped (in a slightly pissed off manner) past the rest of the suckers still queuing and boarded our vessel.
I hadn’t really known what to expect to be honest, just that Pauls Dad had recommended it. After queuing for so long I had started to worry that it might be a disappointing affair as surely a cable car across one stretch of sea couldn’t be that exciting? Ahaa, fear not, as we climbed to the top post I saw that this was only the first stretch of many leading high up and out of sight into the trees and mountains. The glass bottom boat added a childish level of excitement to the journey. I was well chuffed! Passing people overhead who had opted to walk (god knows how long that would take!) I was very glad of our extravagant purchase as the views were amazing. The final point of the cars was at the Ngong Ping area – possibly the most touristy place that we had visited yet. We climbed to see the Tian Tan Buddha, one of the worlds’ largest bronze, outdoor Buddhas (the more you travel, the more you notice a buddha theme with areas claiming the largest wooden, largest stone carved, largest atop a hill etc Buddha ). Anyway it was big. We got some exercise walking to the top and then restocked our reserves at an Indian takeaway. There was even a Starbucks atop this mountain and a monastery with authentic restaurant. Hmmm! We took advantage of a free premium chocolate tasting session and then the ‘romantic natural snowfall moment’. We knew that it was romantic as there was a sign telling us! It was actually some kind of fairy liquid bubbly style machine but everyone else seemed impressed. We just hoped that it might freshen our travel clothes.
The return back down the series of hills proved to be an entertaining journey as we shared the car with some excitable Korean girls who seemed very sweet. This commenced a photo shoot where we all attempted to simulate free-falling from the bottom of the car. In reality we just look like nutters laid on the floor but we had a good time & I’m sure you can imagine the effect we were hoping for J
That afternoon we made our way down to the famous Hong Kong Skyline looking out from the Tsim Sha Tsui promenade across to Kowloon.
We saw sunset and then waited for the funky and somewhat 80’s styled synthesised ‘symphony of lights’ show. Yeah! Fantastic!
The following morning we headed out to the Stanley street shopping area in Kowloon. I can’t actually remember what we were looking to buy. We didn’t see or find any bargains but we did use the gigantic escalator to climb the hillside which gave an interesting view of the tiny cramped maze of streets built onto the hillside. We saw a Yorkshire pub selling Black sheep ale (sadly at £5 a bottle, a premium we were unwilling to splurge) & after much trawling I managed to get my hair cut at the ‘Mina dev’ wil’ hair salon by a sweet guy called Mikiki who managed to hide his horror at my own attempts to maintain my hair in the 3 months since a proper haircut. He also kindly pointed out a few grey hairs which have appeared since I stopped dying it. Lovely, thanks! At £11 for 45 mins in the chair it felt an extremely good deal for being pampered.
Later we attempted to take the tram up to Victoria peak however there as yet another long, long queue for tickets so we jumped on a local bus instead – a fraction of the price and an exciting journey through incredibly tight & steep winding streets to the top of the peak. Conveniently there was a shopping centre up there hehe but also an observatory deck which gave fantastic views of the city. It was super windy and cold but it was great to see the city lit up from the opposite side to the previous night, looking down towards the Tsim Sha Tsui. The bus journey back down was equally impressive and a little hairy at times.
Our final day in HK mostly entailed me getting lost in our building (fire escapes don’t always lead outwards it would appear, simply into a maze of other passageways which correlate in no way to the floor plan of other levels!) We also made an exciting visit to the post office to send some clothes home. 5kg in weight for £20. Bargain. Except our backpacks still seemed to weigh the same! A last minute dash to the electronics area was made in search of a tablet – blogging & uploading photos is pretty time consuming, even more so when you’re sharing one machine – our sensible heads won over at the time although now it is again feeling like it would have been a good idea!
We knew that it was possible to leave Hong Kong and then pass through the border to catch a train from either ShenZhen or GuangZhou to Guilin. From previous experiences with the trains it wasn’t clear whether we would have to wait a day or two for tickets so we decided to fly. The thinking was that we would at least get to see in New Year in Guilin rather than a random place waiting for a train ticket. That was the idea anyway.
The flight was OK, but as soon as we stepped off the plane we knew that we had arrived back in China. Sour faced officials at immigration & a pointless further request for our passports after we had fully loaded up with our 4 backpacks & random carrier bags, only to glance at them and pass them back – arse! No one else was asked. God I hate the place!!!