The first time I visited Hong Kong was in 2011 to attend a work conference. Post-conference, I extended my stay for extra 2 nights to do some sight-seeing but I wasn’t sure what I had wanted to do or see in HK. You see, back then I wasn’t a seasoned solo traveller. My previous travels were always with friends and I just went along with their itineraries. For that first trip, I had booked the hotel accommodation which was located in an area where bus services were infrequent and no MTR stations nearby (I had checked out from the conference 5-star luxury hotel by then). I didn’t read or research before the conference, ended up walking around in the city, kinda aimlessly. As a result, the feeling about HK was just..meh.
Despite that confusing and disorienting first-time experience, I knew, by then, that this city was intriguing. There’s something about HK – it’s an urban jungle filled with tall buildings and skycrapers, people jostling against each other for every little space available, fast pace of life but it has..character. I hope I would be able to relate and share the “character” of HK with you in the next couple of posts.
Since HK is only 3.5 hours flight from Malaysia, I told myself that I would return again, hopefully, to have a positive experience. And indeed it was the second time around when we had a 4-day long weekend a month ago.
One of the things I love about HK is the connectivity of public transport particularly the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) service. The moment you arrive at the airport, you can hop on to the Airport Express, the fastest link to the city. After that, most parts of HK can be reached with the MTR – it’s easy and convenient. Unlike other cities where it is advisable to purchase a tourist day pass to travel on public transportation, in HK, the Octopus card rules. The Octopus card is a stored value smart card used as a payment card when commuting in & out of HK (MTR, bus, ferry) and now increasingly accepted in many retail shops such as convenience stores, fast-food restaurants.
As soon as I exit from the Arrival Hall at the airport, the Airport Express customer service desk is located immediately on the right. I queued to top up the amount left on my Octopus card previously purchased on my first trip. The good thing about the Octopus card is that there is no expiration date. You can keep the card for future trips – all you need to do is to top up and you can use the card right away. However, should you feel that you won’t be returning to HK anymore, you can give up the card at their customer service desk and redeem the amount balance left on the card.
Here’s the MTR system map which the customer service staff gave along with the Octopus card:
I stayed at a friend’s flat located on Tung Lo Wan Road which is only 5 minutes’ walk from Tin Hau MTR station. I boarded the Airport Express (green line) from the Airport to Hong Kong, then switched to Central (blue line – heading to Chai Wan) and Tin Hau station is 4 stops away from Central. Easy peasey!
One of the things that I enjoy most nowadays is to go on a heritage walk. No matter how modern a destination is, there will always be a historical part of that city/town which gives you an insight into how the city evolved over time. In some heritage areas, people still live and work just like how it was back in the old days.
In HK, there are areas which you can go on a self-guided heritage walk, and the area which we ventured into was the historical yet modernised areas of Central and Sheung Wan where traditions of the past juxtaposed with modern metropolis. Here are some of the photos I took during my afternoon walk:
After a while, we didn’t really follow the map of this self-guided heritage walk. We just walked and walked, turned left or right whenever we felt, yeah, this looks interesting, let’s go! Somewhere along this heritage trail, I believe, it led us to Hollywood Road which is known for their curio and antique shops. I have often questioned the genuity of antique items – if I may be candid about this – there seems to be a trend or fad of liking everything “old” – so how would you know if the items were purposely produced to look antique or worse still, the items were bought from someone’s garage sale and sold off as “antique”?? I still think that even though we are in Year 2015, items that were popular in 1970s are not antique! If it’s 1815 or 1520, yeah I may believe it’s antique…OK, sorry, I digress!
Further uphill from Hollywood Road is one of the first traditional-style temples built during HK’s colonial era is the Man Mo Temple. The Man Mo Temple pays homage to the Taoist God of Literature (Man) and God of War (Mo).
More images below of steep roads along Hollywood Road and the ubiquitous high rise buildings of HK
Markets on side lanes
By evening time, we moved on from Central & Sheung Wan to Mongkok. Mongkok is in Kowloon Peninsula of HK and is choc-a-block with old and new buildings – shops and restaurants at street level, and commercial or residential units above – and lots and lots and lots of people! If I thought only India has high population density per square km, well, according to Wikipedia, Mongkok was once described as the busiest district in the world by Guinness World Records due to its extremely high population density of 130,000 per square km or 340,000 per square mile.
Mongkok has often been portrayed in films as the area in which Chinese triads run bars, nightclubs and massage parlours. Some say that Mongkok has a “cleaner” image now with more legitimate businesses in the area – hmm, if you ask me, well, that’s money laundering haha. To be honest, I don’t know but I like the lively atmosphere in Mongkok especially in the evenings when Sai Yeung Choi St is closed for pedestrians.
It might be an assault on your senses especially sight and hearing. Neon lights flashing from every shop selling electronics, food, desserts, cosmetics, you name it. Huge (and I mean, HUGE!) billboards advertising the latest fashion, brand or the upcoming film in the cinema. Buntings of all kinds put up on sidewalks to catch your attention, and if you are not careful (because there’s way too many people around), you might trip and fall on these buntings!
Then, the sounds of Mongkok. Street buskers are everywhere on Sai Yeung Choi St but it’s more like an outdoor karaoke session – a group of men (or ladies) standing next to portable amps, singing Chinese and English oldies. Some sang beautifully. Some were tone deaf. Some beatbox. Some break-dance. Whether they sang well and collected lots of money or not, they were often surrounded by huge crowds of onlookers.
Nearby, a group of students – young political activists – advocating the importance of political freedom and distributing stickers of the Umbrella Revolution.
In addition, there is the Ladies’ Market on Tung Choi St. Don’t worry, it’s not restricted to ladies only (I think the misleading name has stuck over the years) but with over 100 stalls of clothings, accessories, watches, bags, trinkets, this market has something for all ages and genders. It’s certainly a place for you to practise your haggling skills!
You may like or loathe the madness of Mongkok, but it is full of life and energy which bring out the character that I was longing to see in a city. It was a good start to the trip, getting reacquainted with HK again – I was looking forward to more surprises the following day 🙂