Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.Gustave Flaubert
Jan 23-Feb 6 2017
After spending a few days back in Oakland, California to visit friends and and check in with my work, and after Maggie had a couple of weeks home for work events and visiting friends and family, we were off again on our round the world adventure. The next 3 months we planned to spend in Asia, with our first stop in Hong Kong.
It would actually be my second visit to the Pearl of the Orient, first having visited with my family back in 2000 for the Millennium. This time, we would be visiting for the Lunar New Year, so the timing couldn’t’ be better. Celebrations were happening all around the city to bring in the Year of the Rooster.
We began our visit staying in Wan Chai, located on Hong Kong Island. The city was massive when I had first visited, now it was even bigger, as new buildings were built and more of the harbor was reclaimed to contain them all. Getting around was a breeze on the efficient and inexpensive metro system, as well as the classic double-decker street cars known as ‘Ding Dings’. We also used the Star Ferry multiple times to cross Victoria Harbor between the main island and Kowloon.
We spent the first couple of days relaxing and adjusting to the time difference. The next few days I would spend walking around taking photos while Maggie worked. At night we enjoyed the markets, the nightly laser light show projected off the many skyscrapers, and experiencing all of the commotion where east meets west. We like to take in a little bit of the local history in every place we visited, so we made sure to spend an afternoon exploring the Hong Kong Museum of History.
January 28th was the start of the Lunar New Year, so we headed to Kowloon and took in the night parade, on the 29th, which also happened to be my 32nd birthday, we were treated to one of the best fireworks shows either of us had ever seen. Maggie’s other favorite display being the yearly 4th of July homemade fireworks over east Oakland, and my other favorite being the shared yearly Independence Day fireworks between the United States and Canada on the Detroit River.
We decided to get out of the busy city for a day and head to some of the more remote areas of Hong Kong. Over on Lantau Island we visited the Tian Tan ‘Big Buddha’ Monument and Po Lin Monastery. We had planned to take the bus from the metro stop since the regular mode of transportation to get there, an aerial cable car, was down for maintenance, instead we opted to hike along the 5 mile Tei Tong Tsai Trail, mostly uphill, and passing many smaller Monasteries along the way. Once there we watched as the locals burnt incense and offered gifts to the deities. We also enjoyed a traditional vegetarian Buddhist meal. On the way back we decided to take a bus to Mui Wo on the other side of Lantau to catch a ferry back to Hong Kong Island.
We were enjoying our stay so much, and with still a lot to see with Maggie working everyday, we extended our stay, moving a few neighborhoods east from Wan Chai to Tai Hang. Our apartment overlooked the Lin Fa Kung Temple and was a peaceful sanctuary away from the hustle of the more central neighborhoods. The area felt like a small village, by Hong Kong standards, with narrow streets lined with coffee shops and restaurants. While she worked I would go out with my camera, besides the skyline, one of my favorite subjects was the Yick Fat Building, used for a scene in Transformers, and looking at it you can see why. I also enjoyed looking for the many classic video game inspired mosaic tile work by the street artist Space Invader that can be found throughout the city (see if you can spot some in the photo collage at the end of this post!).
We enjoyed the rest of our time doing some of the more obvious things, such as visiting Victoria Peak, the Botanical Garden, (which was the first time Maggie saw a sloth!), Stanley Market, and going to the top of the International Commerce Center for some cocktails at the ‘World’s Highest Bar’ at 116 stories. We also enjoyed some of the many extravagant buffets, that easily rival the one’s found in Las Vegas, and many cocktails. Maggie was even able to get me to go out dancing one night, all night, returning to our apartment as the sun was rising.
A couple of additional highlights included visiting Ocean Park on the south side of Hong Kong Island and the Happy Valley Racecource. At Ocean Park we were in awe watching the Giant Pandas on display, which was worth the price of admission alone, we also rode some rides, including a roller coaster, without any wait. At the Happy Valley Racecourse we took part in the local tradition of spending the evening betting on horses. The racecourse holds over 55,000 spectators with each race having a handle (amount of money bet) exceeding that of any other horse race in the United States except for the Kentucky Derby. I had some beginners luck and one all three bets (Place, Quinella & Quinella Place) on the first race, and most importantly coming out ahead by the end of the night.
Hong Kong remains one of my favorite destinations I have visited in the world, but I still have a lot more places to go, and while it isn’t a cheap destination by any means, we were able to easily fit it into our budget. The next stop on our journey is Vietnam, flying into Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), where we will be buying motorbikes and traveling north to Hanoi. It should be interesting going from one of the most developed places in the world (Human Development Index #12) to a place that is not yet fully developed (HDI #116).