21 May 2013

Hong Kong: Spend, spend, spend!

Our 10 hour bus journey from Yangshuo had turned into 14 hours and to add insult to injury we were told that the bus would not, after all, be able to take us all the way to the border – we would now have to take a local bus.  After being detained briefly at a Police Check Point, we continued to the border.  Getting stamped out of Chinese immigration was straightforward, and we then had to walk the no-man’s land (about 200m) to Hong Kong immigration.  This also went smoothly and 10 minutes later we were queuing for metro tickets to downtown Hong Kong.  This, however, was a frustrating process – the ticket machines, for which there was a long queue, took neither cards nor (for small transactions) bills of more than HK$20.  As the cash machine only dispensed HK$100 bills this was a bit of a catch 22, solved only by a quick detour to a conveniently located Starbucks.  You can buy something called an Octopus Card, similar to London’s Oyster Card, but this hardly seemed worth it given our short stay.

We had arranged to spend two nights with friends but our first night was in the fantastic *99 Bonham* Hotel.  This had only been open for 6 months, and, by Hong Kong standards, it was great value for money (but still a treat).  Well worth a look: www.99bonham.com

That evening we took the ferry over the harbour to Kowloon to meet two friends, Nicolette & Jon.  The ferry ride is probably the best value boat journey in the world.  Tickets are only 40p each and the reward is a terrific panorama of Central Hong Kong.  This is a spectacular sight at any time of day, but particularly in the dark.  The view from the restaurant was no less impressive – *Hutong* – is one of the best places to eat in Hong Kong.  Although expensive, the food is delicious and we enjoyed some of our favourite regional Chinese specialities – Mandarin fish in sweet sauce, sticky chicken, pork dumplings and chilli fried green beans. 

The next morning we reluctantly checked out of 99 Bonham and spent the day wandering around Central enjoying the buzz of the city.  John’s friend Mira from Lawrence Graham who has now moved to Hong Kong, and her boyfriend Gareth had kindly agreed to put us up for 2 nights and so in the afternoon we made our way to their apartment on the 41st floor of a very swanky apartment block on Hollywood Road.  It was great to catch up and we were again treated to a spectacular view of the city from their balcony.  Then it was dinner at a great local Chinese restaurant in SoHo – more Peking duck (better than in Peking!), dumplings and soup, amongst other things. 

The next day Josi spent pampering herself and shopping for swimsuits and then John and Josi met for a Spritz Aperol at an alfresco bar at the top of Pottinger Street.  This reminded us of our honeymoon in Venice. 

Oddly, even in Hong Kong amongst all the expats and English speakers, we still felt like outsiders, albeit in a different way to how we had felt it on the mainland.  On our travelling budget we were economic outsiders for sure, but even taking that out of the equation we felt slightly overwhelmed by the dedication to materialism.  One conversation between three expat bankers we overheard at the bar started with “Yeah, so I sold my home in Spain today - €9 million but I could have got €11 million for it 2 years ago. Sold it to a Russian guy who liked it because it had parking for 14 cars.”  This was an extreme example, but evidence of wealth and consumerism is everywhere.  We even heard a story of a six year old girl who is a regular site on Hollywood Road, stepping out of her parent’s apartment building, hailing a cab and going for a manicure.  Too weird.

On our final evening, Mira and Gareth kindly bought us dinner at a fantastic Peruvian restaurant called *Chicha*.  It was certainly a lot better than John ever remembered the food being in Peru.  By chance, Josi’s friend Alana was also in HK just for a few nights and so we were able to meet that evening and share stories & a bottle of procesco as is customary!

Next morning on the train to the airport we watched a frank documentary about whether internet censorship in China is creating an “angry and cynical generation”.  We couldn't help thinking that such a documentary would never be aired on the mainland, and so it seems that even 16 years after hand over Hong Kong has maintained its more liberal stance than the motherland.  This has of course been key to its continued success as a financial centre.

We had enjoyed the undeniable buzz of this city but as we boarded the Malaysian Airlines flight, we were full of anticipation for our next and final destination before our interim return to the UK – Bali.

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