Walking into a Marks and Spencer for the first time in literally years and over a year into our Asia trip, excitement doesn’t really cover it. Looking up and down the food aisle recognising brands, thinking of all the dairy we’ve been missing, suddenly we were in an alternative reality. We were in Asia but we could buy M&S teabags, flapjacks and tubs of hummus?! It was confusing and joyous all at the same time. That’s right we were in Hong Kong…possibly the nearest you could get to the UK while in China. Oh don’t worry we only went into M&S five times over our four-day stay…thats not excessive right?!
When we left you in our last post, we were still quite along way from the southeast of China, and Hong Kong. The first step of this epic journey was an overnight train from Hangzhou to the city of Guangzhou, about two hours from Hong Kong Island. The journey was not the nicest we have had on this trip as instead of a sleeper beds that we usually get for overnight journeys we could only get seats, and instead of the comforting sound of the chugging train… we had a crying baby. None the less we made it in one piece to Guangzhou, where we spent a day eating Baozi (pork stew filled bread dumplings for 20p each), and recovering from sleep deprivation before jumping on another train across the border to see for ourselves how this ‘two systems, one state’ worked in practice. Most obviously for us it meant no VPNs to use google or facebook, international branded stores selling lots of expensive things and smartly dressed Hong Kongians, mostly Cantonese but mixed with a lot more expats then we’d seen anywhere else in China.
Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated places on earth (in some areas there are over 6,500 people per square kilometer), and this is most evident in the size of hostel rooms, with beds wedged into impossibly small spaces. Ours was no exception but hey it was clean! No sooner had we dumped our stuff but we headed off to eat at the cheapest Michelin stared restaurant in world, Tim Ho Wan. This restaurant is not only famous for its low prices, but also its delicious Dim Sum, a Hong Kong Speciality. We munched away on various arrays of steamed dumpling and tucked into their speciality of a crunchy topped BBQ pork bun (my mouth is watering as I write this). For six quid per person we were pretty pleased. If you go to Hong Kong do your self a favour, go eat here!
With or stomaches full of dumplings we were set up nicely to climb the famous “Victoria Peak”. Possibly the most visited place on Hong Kong island, and rightly so as from the top you are rewarded with spectacular views across the island (through the smog). We totally cheated and instead of climbing the impossibly steep path, we opted for the funicular railway up the amazingly steep hillside. Apparently (according to Ryan) I’m ‘really into’ funicular railways and I am ‘always’ talking about them…well even if that isn’t true as boring as it sounds this was pretty cool, it was like being cranked up to the top of a rollercoaster. As we wandered around the top, taking in the amazing scenery (again through the smog), it was almost like being back in Perth. While walking through the park every other person was a sportswear clad Australian bitching about work on their Saturday morning run…very comfortingly familiar! After a M&S picnic at the top and a knee wobblingly steep walk down we stumbled across the free zoological gardens and looked in to point at the lemurs, flamingos and monkeys.
But in reality the ‘two systems one country’ has been having some problems of late, more accurately a series of protests by students demanding greater democracy. Though the protest site (where hundreds of people had been camped) had been removed a few days before we arrived some people had returned. We went to find them and did right outside the government buildings, in a group of colourful tents but with very few people around. Perhaps it was too early for the students to be awake…who knows! It was fasinating to see for ourselves what had been reported so widely on the news and to see an alternative to the Chinese government’s mode of control. To finish off our tour we took the Star Ferry around the Hong Kong island bay and for a really cheap price you got the best view of the skyline possible! Our advice would be to buy an Octopus Card…you get a cheaper fare and you don’t need to buy a ticket for every trip on the metro. Double win!
After a year on the road we really enjoyed the multicultural feel of Hong Kong…it was kind of like being a real person for a few days. We went to a live comedy night, looked around book shops and ate at vintage inspired cafes. We could have been in Manchester or Perth…but for us it made a nice change! It wasn’t all totally western though, walking around Kowloon and up Nathan Road you couldn’t be anywhere but Asia. The sheer volume of people made it a challenge to walk in a straight line, meaning you had to perform a serial dance to avoid the hundreds of people coming at you from every direction. There was a huge amount of sensory information on show, like in China, but Hong Kong takes it to new heights. Neon signs jostle for space on the roadside, just like people on the pavement, while each shop blares out music or microphone wielding shop assistants shout out the latest deals. Quite honestly it was exhausting!
But there is no rest for the wicked…or more accurately no rest for a couple trying to see the whole of China in two months…so onwards on an “overnight” bus, to Yangshuo.