The articles that seem to go down best on this site either tend to be ones that focus 100% on business thoughts or else the travel rants; so for the next while, I’ve decided to run a little mini-series (a test, if you like) on a few of my favourite (and shortest) trips I’ve had, including London, Boston, Cyprus and on this occasion, Hong Kong. To begin with, how the whole ‘weekend in Hong Kong’ thing came about was, a few friends of mine were away studying for a semester over there and by complete chance (and God knows, it needed to be chance since I was pretty much penniless otherwise), Air France did something they don’t do very often; they offered extremely low fares to Asia from Dublin. The only problem was that as you’d expect, none of the dates they offered at such acceptable fares were during college holidays, leaving me with no choice but to fly, literally, halfway around the world just for a weekend in order not to miss too much college and yet get some time in Hong Kong. So on a Thursday night, I stood in a slow-moving queue to check-in in Dublin airport for my flight to Paris and onwards to Hong Kong. Unfortunately, owing to the recent collapse of part of Paris airports’ newly-developed terminal, the plane ended up parking miles away from the building and we were all walked off onto the ground, in -2. Paris airport meanwhile was, pretty much just as it always is; unfriendly, impersonal and no great shakes. Stella Artois was retailing at around â‚¬6 a pint – which was expensive even for Irish standards, and is total muck anyway. The flight onwards began somewhat more awkwardly. I got on and sat in my aisle row (4 seats) and as time passed, it dawned on me that nobody else was sitting in this row and I may very possibly get the full four seats to myself for the whole flight.
There was then however some devious attempts on my fort more than once but in every case, putting my bags up on the empty chairs and leaving the luggage bins open deterred the wayward French from occupying one of what I had begun to consider my own personal seats. And with that I ended up getting four seats to sleep soundly on for the 13-or-so hour flight to Hong Kong, waking up only one hour from landing as we descended closer and closer. A word of warning, when I was there and I’d imagine it’s still happening, they were pretty ‘excited’ about health matters. In fact, I reckon you could probably wheel a wheelbarrow full of cocaine right past them if you wanted to; as long as you weren’t running a temperature while you were doing it. And for one of the first times in my life, I came across not a passport inspection, or a customs inspection, oh no – A health inspection. Randomly, people were being pulled out of the queue and getting their temperatures checked and asked how they were feeling. Clearly, Hong Kong did not want SARS ever again. And that was it, passport control was fine after that and if there was a customs, I didn’t even see it. As long as you’re healthy, then you’re a friend of the Hong Kong SAR.
Interestingly, the Hong Kong transit authorities banded all together back in the 90’s and did something that the relevant Irish transit authorities still can’t manage to do; came up with one single method of payment that would work across all methods of transport, all systems and was accessible for everyone. They call this revelation of modern technology the Octopus Card and it’s so popular, there’s twice as many of them in circulation as there is residents of Hong Kong. In fact, it’s so popular even fast food restaurants and convenience stores tend to accept them in many places as payment. So, to get into town, the octopus card is the first thing required, followed by either an expensive train journey if you so desire, or in my case, the bus equivalent to the Dublin Bus 746 which takes absolutely forever but is forgivably cheap. And my first bit of advice if you happen to be staying in Hong Kong is, if you can afford it, avoid at all costs the following two venues; Mirador Mansion and Chungking Mansion. I didn’t avoid them and ended up staying in what can only be described as the greatest hole on Earth. In fact, make sure to take care because even when you reckon you’re not staying in them, you probably are – it’s where most of the hostels of the area are secreted away inside. And if you do end up stuck inside them, there’s two things you’re likely to come away being well-versed at avoiding; dodgy scumbags trying to force you to buy a ‘handmade silk suit’ (yeah, just what I came to Hong Kong to buy) and prostitutes following, in some cases chasing, you late at night inside, around and even outside your buildings. They can be quite relentless in the pursuit of cash – and presumably, a romp.
The following morning after my arrival was an unfortunate event; I had a hangover as large as life itself and struggled to get out into the bright sunlight and warmth of the December day. Remember, there’s nothing really in the law saying you can’t drink out on the streets so feel free to crack one open when you’re just relaxing on the way to somewhere in the evening; I certainly did, not that it got me too far the next day. I elected to try and get up to Victoria Peak the next morning and against all odds, somehow found my way to the tram station, which brought up another slight issue. In Europe, our ‘trams’ generally scale up large mountain sides at the same gradient or at least, with the seats inside all made level so you wouldn’t notice the gradient so much. On the ‘Peak Tram’ however, the gradient varies as you go on and you feel every degree that it gets steeper as it carries on for what feels like hours on end, although again, this probably had more to do with the human cargo of misery it was carrying, that being myself. But when you get to the top, the tram enters the base of what looks like a mammoth structure belonging to a James Bond villain and you disappear inside. For me, far from belonging to a Bond villain, this place instead proved something of a saviour both in terms of its air-conditioned goodness and more importantly, the KFC sitting on top of it. Hangover or no hangover though, the view is as good as it gets and you get an eye-full of every square inch of Hong Kong city. You can see the buildings, the harbour, the land – everything! I decided to carry on around the top of the peak and take in the sight of Hong Kong’s wealthy elite and their homes.
And as I was walking around the top of the peak, I began for some reason or another, to become quite concerned that there may be a presence of snakes in the area; not that I’d seen them, but I was wearing sandals, it was hot and there was a lot of branches which could just as easily have been snakes for all I knew. But I carried on, again for what felt like hours on end until abruptly I stumbled upon a sign that pretty much confirmed my worst suspicions; ‘take care walking as currently snake season’. Oh. After that, the pace was quickened and I became determined to set a new land speed record for the journey to the tram station – who cares about the rich peoples’ houses anyway? In any case, the journey back down on the tram was just as seemingly-perilous as the journey up had been as we careered downwards at great speed, the trees occasionally opening up allowing us to see how quickly we were coming towards reaching the top of the skyscrapers on our rapid descent. Which suited me fine anyway – plans had since been made for a night on the tiles, Hong Kong-style which meant pay one price and drink all you want; in hindsight, that venue must have suffered extreme financial hardship the night we all decided to pop in for a visit. And next time round, I’ll come back to the rest of the journey, the night out, the day we all went to the theme park (not Disneyland, we couldn’t afford it) and the journey back.
See you soon!