I arrived at Hong Kong at 9am. The passport control was very easy. I just filled in the arrival card, and received a permission to stay for six month. HK Is a special administrative region of PRC, therefore a lot of foreigners do not need a visa to enter. They still do, though, if they decide to go to the mainland China.
On the way out I noticed the information centre with free maps of the city. There i met a very knowledgable and helpful assistant. He explained me how to get to my hostel, circled the route on the map and recommended to buy a return bus ticket straight away. There are loads of buses serving different parts of the city. The price depends on where you go. My ticket cost $33 one way, or $55 for a round trip. The trip takes 1 hour or 1.30 depending on the traffic. By $ I mean Hong Kong dollar. It converts as $12.3 to £1. There is also a train, that takes 40 min.
I went outside and prepared to be blown away by the view, instead I was blown away by disappointment. There was some sort of a pollution haze, that cowered the whole horizon, and I could hardly make out the shapes in the background. No kidding!
The trip to the city was a treat in itself. They have double-decker busses, just like in London. I jumped to the front seat and got my camera out. An added bonus was, that they had free wi-fi onboard. Once again, the long distance shots were not all that, because of the haze. On the way to the city I realised, that Hong Kong was a curious mix of seemingly contradictory things. A unique, hilly landscape, ill-suited for construction, one might think. Yet, it is one of the most densely populated places in the world. Rich, tropical growth co-exists with the concrete-and-glass jungle.
There are absolutely no short building there. The land there is extremely expensive, the price might reach as much as 40.000 American dollars for a mere square metre. Not surprisingly, the buildings are reaching to the sky, at least the air is free. Some of the buildings were so thin and so tall, like needles, that I was surprised, how they just didn’t break in half. The thing is, that some blocks of flats had only one apartment on each floor, so they were one apartment wide, and about 30 floors tall.
Apparently, they also have the most expensive house in the world in terms of price per square foot, currently on the market for juicy £63m. Another contradiction is, that alongside this preposterous luxury, some people leave in extreme conditions, squalid in tiny match box apartments. HK has the largest income inequality among advanced economies.
I suppose, everyone knows, that Hong Kong was a British colony until 1997. Therefore, it represents an alloy of the west with the east. There you can find huge corporation buildings, state of the art transport, Louis Vuitton boutiques, but if you turn into a side street, you are bound to notice dozens of tiny shops of alternative medicine, selling ginseng roots, dried sea urchins and other mysterious potions. On one of the streets like that, I had the best dumplings in my life($38) at a tiny, little cafe, where they had card boards instead of carpets.
There were only Chinese customers there, some of them wearing Chanel bags. Honestly, Hong Kong was the most designer obsessed place I’ve seen so far. They might have nothing else, but they would buy a Louis Vuitton bag no mater what! Someone even told me, that they would take a loan in order to buy a Chanel bag. Hundreds of happy shoppers were marching down the streets with carrier bags, reading Gucci, Prada, Hermes ect. Only in my area alone, I had seen a few second-hand designer shops. The prices there were pretty much the same, you would pay in Harrods for a brand new thing. A used little Chanel bag cost there £3000. Definitely not a bargain! Also when you walk down the street, people would offer you to come to their shop, where they hide fake bags and Rolex watches, as it is prohibited to sell counterfeit items. They can even be confiscated at the airport, if found in your luggage.
Another thing I noticed was, that Hong Kongers were very health oriented. They would drink hot water before every meal, wear masks against their mouths, and use sanitiser a lot. I even saw a man wiping his dogs bum with some sort of solution, after the pooch has done its dirty business.
The city itself is cut in two by Pearl river delta, one side being a Honk Kong island and the other- Kowloon peninsula. You can cross easily by ferry. It costs only £0.20 one way and is always full in the morning and in the evening, when people hurry to or from work.
I stayed on Kowloon side, as all cheap accommodation is normally situated there. HK island is a more upmarket place, where reach locals and expatriates leave. And also snobs, who refuse to live on the poor side of the river.
The place, where I headed was called Chungking mansions, a legendary place, popular with backpackers.
It was a huge building, occupied with numerous budget hotels, shops and hostels. Very convenient, as under one roof you can find over 160 hostels and guest houses. You can just walk from floor to floor and compare prices and living conditions of each and every one. I did book in advance though, as very often cheap places get snapped away quickly- loads of immigrants often stay in hostels, instead of renting a flat. I booked a bed in Delta hostel for £11 a night. The 4-bed room where I stayed was so tiny! It only had 2 bunk beds and one chair, there was literally no room for any other furniture. There was also a classical Hongkongese super-small, all-in-one bathroom with a shower over a toilet seat. The beds were really comfy and clean, though. I started to worry, if the four of us would have enough air to breath in such a confinement, but apparently it was just me and one more American chap that night.
Some reviewers mentioned, that the area was very dodgy and they did t feel safe. I don’t know about that, I felt just fine. The area was so central and so full of people, that one should de paranoid to feel threatened there. On the other hand, I do recommend being cautious and holding on to you things, as the place is full of immigrants from poor countries, many of them illegal.
I left my bag in the room and off I went. I have to admit, I absolutely didn’t do anything of importance or of any interest in HK. I was jet lag, plus that haze made it of no use going up to Victoria peak. In addition, I knew, that in a six month time I would be back, and will do it properly, hopefully, with crystal-clear air and magnificent views, as far as the eye can see. I settled on walking around and soaking up the atmosphere. I was stopped on the street and offered a City bus tour, the price was $400, which was over £30. A little steep, considering, they normally cost £15-£20 in other cities. Instead, I arranged my own super cheap Tram city tour. I took a ferry to HK island and caught a tram for $2.30. Did you know, that they had double decker trams there??? Also, they normally pull all windows down, and turn them into open air trams. All you need to do is to go upstairs, stick the head out of the window and enjoy the city. The tram links run parallel to the whole island from the very east to the very west, passing by Victoria peak as well.
By the time I was done it started to get dark. I had a trouble locating my ferry back, as there were several piers, all serving different directions. It was pier 7 that I needed. The boat was full of Hong Kongers, rushing home for dinner. In the darkness I managed to take a few pictures of the world famous sky line, illuminated with colourful lights.