Hong Kong – Overland to China, Shenzhen

Hong Kong, April 2019: Next stop, mainland China and the city of Shenzhen. Having successfully obtained a 30 day tourist visa, I now need to make my way to the Hong Kong /China border at Lok Ma Chau. I shall have 2 full days to explore the delights of big city China before heading off into the interior for a month long scenic and cultural tour. Before all of that kicks off, I first need to find some Chinese cash, on the basis of not knowing if my British credit and bank cards will be accepted once across the border.

Getting Chinese Yuan in Hong Kong is nothing short of a racket, in my opinion! Nowhere can I use my cards to purchase Yuan – an emphatic no from the banks, including British HSBC, Standard Charter and as for currency exchange booths on the street, well, the operators there seem a little confused. First I must buy Hong Kong Dollars then change those to Chinese Yuan – double charges, bad exchange rates, what a scam in this modern dynamic highly technical city!

Shenzhen is pretty easy to get to by public transport. The MTR originates on the Kowloon Peninsular with a convenient stop at Mong Kok East, just a short 10 minute stomp from Mong Kok Central via a system of elevated walkways, well signed so I just can’t go wrong! £5.50 and about 50 minutes on the East line to the border crossing at Lok Ma Chau.

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Pretty easy, even Carl Pilkington couldn’t mess this up!

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The trains on the East line are different to the regular MTR stock – more spacious, new and bright.

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New Territories – One last glimpse before leaving Hong Kong

Pretty quiet here in the immigration hall at 4.30 PM on this Wednesday afternoon which makes checking out of Hong Kong quick and easy! Now to check-in to China. The two immigration halls are separated with a river and linked by a corridor – the corridor of no return as I pass the halfway mark and unofficially step into China.

A Very stern lady, dressed to kill it seems, is there to greet the new arrivals and clearly trained not to crack a smile! This is intimidating to say the least…

Next time.. Immigration and thousand rusty bikes in Shenzhen

 

 

 

Hong Kong – Finishing Up

Hong Kong, April 2019: Today I’m shipping out to mainland China. In a few hours I shall head back to the Visa office to collect my passport, which will hopefully contain a 30 day tourist visa. In the meantime, here’s the final flurry of Photo’s across Hong Kong from the past 7 days.

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The expensive option! Ticket touts near the Star Ferry selling seats for between £55 and £65. On the other hand ideal for those with a short time span or harassed with the thought independent sightseeing.

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Extraordinary scenes as Chinese visitors fill their suitcases with off the shelf cosmetics.   

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Weekends and Holidays will see Filipino’s and Muslims pitch up wherever they can find a space and either have a picnic or discreetly sell the food  – I doubt for one second this practise is legal!

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At first I thought this was an art installation until the dudes moved! Just ordinary folk eating snacks next to the Hong Kong cultural centre at night.

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This sculpture can be seen on the Kowloon peninsular Promenade – makes a nice picture!

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While out looking for the Noon Day Gun Firing I became somewhat distracted by this. The Hong Kong Air Ambulance landing on the helipad, Hong Kong Island. Nice view of Kowloon and I missed the noon-day Gun!

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Illustrating the busy Nathan Road outside Chung King Mansions. 

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Hau Wong Temple, Junction road near to the Kowloon Walled City Park is worth a look. A couple of old timers keeping order at this small but delightful and unique local Temple.

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Behind Wan Chai, uphill a little is Bowen Road. Its where locals give their poodles a good workout and where one can get a semi-elevated view across Hong Kong Island.

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One last look at Hong Kong Island.

Next time, Shenzhen China…

Hong Kong – Wandering around Wan Chai

Hong Kong, April 2019: Wan Chai is a residential district situated just west Hong Kong’s Central Business District. The Star Ferry connects directly from the Kowloon Peninsular or it’s a 30 minute hike from Star Ferry’s Central Pier on Hong Kong Island. Alternatively hop on a tram from the Central area.

Wan Chai is densely populated. All one can see from the approaches is a plethora towers and skyscrapers but soon after arriving is clear that the place has a beating pulse – not just business suits scurrying between the glassy steel  structures but locals  making thier way to the markets, stopping by the small shops and grabbing a pot of noodles at the street corner. Yes, Wan Chai appears to be a thriving hub of local culture. 

As one wanders around the place, whats immediately noticeable is the mix of early generation developments intertwined with later development, extending northwards occupying reclaimed land that forms today shoreline. Its fair to say the place has its fair share of shopping malls and coffee shops along with those good old fashioned Hong Kong noodle counters on the street.

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Lets explore Wan Chai, Hong Kong

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Wan Chai Market

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Later generation Wan Chai on reclaimed land. 

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1960 – 1980 Wan Chai.

 

Hong Kong – Victoria After Dark (supplementary post)

Hong Kong, April 2019: Well, seems I was a little hasty in publishing the previous post, minus a bunch of photo’s I had carefully prepared! So, here’s a supplementary post with those photo’s of views from the famous Victoria Peak. If you missed the original post click here.

After having made it to the Victoria Peak unscathed, one must now battle through crowds and head towards the viewing paths. 3 options after disembarking the bus. First, straight ahead and into the shopping mall where another £10 will get one a spot on the viewing roof. Second, turn right following the crowds to a viewing platform and pagoda shelter. Third, make a left past the mall and find relative tranquility while watching life across the water.

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Bus 15 is a Double Decker – Top front is the best seat to get! $10.5 full fare from Central Pier or Exchange Square.

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The shopping mall viewing roof – about £10 and several flights of stairs! Yes, even on a mountain peak the Chinese have an insatiable appetite for shopping.

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Turn right, follow the crowds and join the jostling for the best selfie spot.

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A slight case of overcrowding!

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Queuing for the tram ride down – 3 lines deep and growing!

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Alternately, make a left turn for uncrowded quiet spots and wait for night fall while watching life across the harbour such as the Star Ferry pictured here.

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A close-up of the cruise terminal on Kowloon.

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Densely packed Sai Wan.

 

 

 

 

Hong Kong – Victoria After Dark

Hong Kong, April 2019: Hong Kong by day is one experience, Hong Kong after dark is another. Since today’s good weather looks like holding, then a quick trip up to the Victoria Peak at around sunset should yield some spectacular views across Hong Kong with a different light perspective.

Bus 15 from Central Pier go’s right to the top, takes 20 minutes and costs just over £1. At 5 PM the sun starts to sink bathing those skyscrapers in the light of the golden hours until eventually the whole place becomes a big mass of neon and LED lights. Thankfully the clouds are staying at a high level and so the views are pretty nice it has to be said!

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Hong Kong – A Rather Good Bird Park, Cotton Tree Drive.

Hong Kong, April 2019: I’ve been here before and I have no hesitation in returning to this rather fine Hong Kong attraction, the aviary situated within Hong Kong Park. I do like a good bird park – it saves from trying to track down exotic birds in the jungles across Asia, birds that are fast becoming rarer by the month as their habitats are destroyed. This bird park is a free attraction and just a 15-20 minute stomp from Central to the parks entrance on Cotton Tree Drive (Google Map). All manner of exotic birds reside here, a place of safety and a guaranteed food supply, which on the face of it, isn’t a bad deal theses days! Well worth an hour or two, especially if its a hot day where one can fine shade and coolness under the trees, but watch out for poop!

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The High Court of Appeal, between Central and Hong Kong Park

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Hong Kong – Mong Kok, A Throbbing Heart of Perpetual Life

Hong Kong, April 2019: Situated North of the tourist ghetto of Tsim Sha Tsui is the Kowloon district of Mong Kok. 45-50 minutes from the airport by bus or 10 minutes from Tsim Sha by subway. I’ve ended up staying here in Mong Kok because, well, I just couldn’t find anywhere cheaper than £20 per night. An Air Bnb private room buried deep inside one of the early generation mass housing blocks populating pretty much 70% of Kowloon, but despite the shabby buildings exterior the apartment is pretty nice, spacious and with windows – sufficient for a 7 night stay, and infinitely better than a stay in the infamous Chung King Mansions, the next cheapest option and only for the brave!

Mong Kok (Google Maps) is what I’d call a living neighbourhood – local people busy with their daily routines. Non of the superficial tourism pretence here, just ordinary folk eating, living and doing the best they can in an overcrowded metropolis. My digs happen to be above the busy Mong Kok market, so lets take a look…

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From the bedroom window – lets not drop the camera!

Day and night, I think of the neighbourhood here as the throbbing heart of Kowloon, a perpetual rhythm and motion of people and traffic. Yes, most definitely a better place to stay than Tsim Sha, cheaper to!

 

 

 

Hong Kong – Harbour City and the Symphony of Lights

Hong Kong, April 2019: Mooching around again, feeling a tad guilty at not having a constructive plan – its like wasting time! My meanderings have taken me once again to the tourist hot spot of Tsim Sha Tsui on the Kowloon Peninsular. If nothing else, the place is a good hangout for people watching, especially on the waterfront promenade. Its late afternoon and folks are gathering to watch the sunset and oh, yes, the Symphony of lights I would assume – Something I din’t see last time. As I weave between the million or so tourists thoughts of an escape route begin to occupy my mind as one begins to loose patience with all the pushing and shoving.

Harbour City is a great refuge from the throng of tourists. To be exact, the car park on the roof! Harbour City is the name given to the cruise ship terminal, located next to the Star Ferry piers. Its also a giant high-end luxury goods shopping mall, even Britain’s best known cook, Gordon Ramsey has a high-end burger joint installed here! A good old cheese burger will cost a whopping £18.80 proving the Chinese will buy anything if the marketing is right!

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So, having found refuge on the roof of Harbour City Mall and Cruise Ship terminal, time to relax and watch the sunset and wait for Hong Kong to light up. The place is a good vantage point to observe the comings and goings at the iconic Star Ferry, a scene unchanged for several decades.

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Suffocating crowds

 

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A misty sunset as people gather at the Harbour City Mall terrace. Its free from crowds, free to enter and can be found at the very end of the roof top car park. A great spot from which to view the upcoming Symphony of Lights, said to be “A Spectacular Free Show”, that’s according to the official tourism sponsors! The show starts at 8 PM and lasts for about 10 minutes, so lets see if it stacks up to the blurb.

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The Skyline on Hong Kong Island

Well, having watched this for the last 10 minutes, I have to admit to being a little disappointed. Billed as a spectacular light show choreographed to music, its anything but that. First, a definite absence of the music – perhaps the stereo broke down! and if a few white and green laser lights flashing across the harbour counts as spectacular then perhaps I’ve lived a sheltered life – but at least it was a free anticlimax!

Hong Kong – Lok Fu Park and Kai Tak, the Checkerboard Views

Hong Kong, April 2019: Lok Fu Park, situated on the Northern edge of Kowloon City and its where the old checkerboard is sited. So, what is the old Checkerboard? Well, in the old days, about 22 years ago infact, pilots flying into Hong Kong’s Kai Tak Airport needed a visual aid – the checkerboard pattern painted on a hillside. If the Checkerboard wasn’t in the pilots vision by the time they had reached a determined position over Kowloon then the landing had to be aborted since the runway would also not be in safe visual range. Back then, hundreds of plane enthusiasts from across the globe made a beeline for Hong Kong’s Checkerboard Hill to marvel at the last minute sharp turn pilots had to make to line up with the runway, or risk slamming into the hill! There’s  plenty of youtube content on the subject, just search Kai Tak checkerboard hill.

Today, nature has almost reclaimed the west facing checkerboard while the west south-west facing checkerboard is still largely intact if somewhat faded. So, the checkerboard Hill is a place for some to reminisce the glorious days of aviation and for others, well, its just a fabulous view point, well away from any crowds!

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West Facing Checkerboard, reclaimed by nature.

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Remnants of the West south-west Checkerboard

Whats left of the old Kai Tak Airport? well, as you can no doubt see, nothing! Redevelopment is underway with the addition of a highway and Metro station just about where the terminal buildings used to be. The Kai Tak name will live on however with the new MTR station named in honour of Mr. Kai and Mr. Tak.

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Old Kai Tak Airport, – left were Cargo ramps, Middle was the terminal buildings and right, the old runway.

Eventually the Kai Tak skyline will be obscured with skyscrapers, and with the impending redevelopment of Kowloon city centre, a scene that will be gone forever. The rooftop car park seen below was another famous spot where people gathered to see the low flying planes turn to land – the Kowloon Mall. Just to the left of the Kowloon Mall was the infamous Kowloon Walled City where if one was adventurous enough, could get a rooftop view there! That was all torn down in 1993.

Views from the Checkerboard ledge will take in a wide panorama across Kowloon and towards Hong Kong Island. Behind and one can not miss the Lion Rock mountain!

How to reach the Checkerboard at Lok Fu Park: From the Lok Fu MTR turn right towards the Lion Rock. After walking for about 7 minutes, Lok Fu Park entrance is on the left. Walk 10 minutes uphill, all the way to the top! Once at the top of the park having walked up the official road, one will now have to take the unofficial track. Opposite the public toilet block is the entrance to a track, right beside a high security fence. Just follow this fence pretty much all the way to the checkerboard. Negotiate boulders and fallen trees, but its worth the effort when one finally gets to where the old equipment housing once stood.

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And here’s how nature has reclaimed the Checkerboard Hill, Lok Fu Park, Hong Kong.

 

 

Hong Kong – No Plan, Just Mooching.

Hong Kong, April 2019: With my visa application in the hands of the Chinese authorities, there’s little I can do for the next few days but hang around, soak up some culture and enjoy life the Hong Kong way! Since I have been here before and covered the place extensively, right now there is no plan, no direction whatsoever, but surly one will emerge later, but for now lets just mooch around.

Mooching around, wandering aimlessly along the waterfront and looking across the Victoria harbour towards Hong Kong Island in a dreamy daze! The replica tourist junks are busy crossing the waters between Kowloon Promenade and the Central piers on the Island , weaving their way between the Star Ferries and commercial barges.

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After an hour of battling through the mass of Chinese tour groups, time to escape, time to seek refuge and I know just the place – Kowloon Park. Peaceful, and its where the old timers go to have an afternoon nap!. Situated along Nathan Road one has to pass a couple of Kowloon landmarks – Peninsular Hotel and Chung King Mansions.

Full of exotic springtime flowers, a few exotic birds and the odd butterfly, this park really is a haven slap bang in the middle of Kowloon’s concreted jungle.