Hong I went to Hong Kong to visit Tina and Matt who are here on
holiday for a week, so I planned to drop in for Tina's Show at The
Peninsula Hotel. The flight from Phuket to Hong Kong is only 2
hours. Hong Kong International Airport replaced the old one at
Kai Tak, which was once ranked the 6th most dangerous airport
in the world because of the surrounding skyscrapers and
mountains. Tina once described looking down on aeroplanes
landing from an apartment above the runway, which stretched
into Victoria Harbour.
The new airport at Lantau is built on a large artificial island
formed by levelling Chek Lap Kok and Lam Chau islands and
reclaiming 10km² of the adjacent seabed. After the long queue for
immigration, I do not need a visa as a UK citizen, so I head for the
new Airport train. It's fast and clean and after 45 minutes I was at
Hong Kong Central. The line has only a few stops and connects
Lantau island with Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. The train
terminal is spotlessly clean and very quiet at late evening.From
here I take a long walk across a subterranean mall to the Central
It's only two stops to Wanchai on the tube. My hotel is not far from
the tube station, so I can make it on foot.After Phuket it feels
noticeably colder; it is almost December. Of course, it's a big city,
high rise buildings, lots of traffic, neon signs, bill boards. I walk
around Wanchai sports ground, which is bathed in light and still
busy, people playing football and basketball. It's almost 10pm. I
stop to buy fruit and juice at a street grocery stall before I reach the
The Wanchai Regal iClub is on Johnston Road. Its clean and
modern and the rooms look like space age pods. Down below, the
old trams trundle along Johnston Road. They seem an
anachronism after the futuristic airport, trains and hotel.
After a comfortable night's
sleep, I shower and make my
way to breakfast, downstairs on
the 5th floor. Its a small room
with only a handful of tables not
designed to encourage guests to
loiter. It's a self service buffet of
coffee, juice, cereals and
croissants. I sip my coffee by the
window and gaze out over the
lines of roof top laundry
blowing in the breeze on the
older, lower tenements.
Pack ready, I set off on foot
along Johnston Road towards
the Peak tram station.
Apart from the backdrop of
vaulting skyscrapers, at street
level this feels like London, with
bits of Shaftsbury Avenue, Soho
and, er, China town.
I walk along Hennessy Road and Queensway then turn into
Cotton Tree Drive. As I pass Hong Kong Park, I am approached by
a monk and I forget everything I've learned about Indian tailors.
He waves ID and a pamphlet at me and tells me he is building a
temple and he needs funds. Disappointed that he is not offering
me a blessing, I decide to pay him off with $50HK so I can leg
it. This has the opposite effect because he now starts slapping my
chest demanding more, like I was a Cheap Charlie. At this point I
should have told him to feck off, monk or not. But now I am
getting alarmed at his aggression and I recall David Carradine in
the 70s TV show Kung Phu, arms flailing and neck choppin.So I
cave in and offer another 50 dollars. My mind is still calculating
pounds, Thai Baht and now HK dollars and I'm not exactly sure
how much I've been done for.100 dollars is about 8 quid. I
think. Sodding monks. Worse than Jesuits.
Smarting from my first encounter with Hong Kong and not feeling
at all warm about sponsoring religion in a communist country, I
park the experience and look forward to Victoria Peak. I reach the
Peak Tram Station and buy a Bigbus tour ticket which includes the
peak tram fare.Its fairly busy and we wait on the platform to board
the next tram.
The route from Central to Victoria Peak is about 1.4 kilometres and
climbs almost 1200 feet up to the Peak. The line was opened in
1888 powered by a steam engine to power the cable, which was
replaced with an electric motor in 1926. The tram cars were
replaced in 1956 with lighter metal bodied cars and again in 1989
when the whole track was replaced.
Apparently, the first row of seats were originally reserved for the
Governor of Hong Kong, in case he happened to jump on
unannounced. Today the tram carries 2 million people every year.
The Tram snakes it's way up, around the colonial facades and the
skyscrapers, under the concrete stilts bearing the downtown roads.
The tall buildings seem to lean forwards as we climb up the hill. We
clear the buildings and climb through the woodland on the peak,
getting a fabulous view of the harbour. I get that thrilling feeling of
being somewhere new and exciting.
The tram is mainly for tourism nowadays and we make no stops at
stations en route like Barker Road.
The tram slowly pulls into the Skypeak terminus, which the
Peak Tramways Company website describes immodestly and
perversely as "one of the most stylish architectural icons...with an
avant-garde design representing the epitome of modern architecture".
The design may have pleased the Commissars of Beijing but it
was designed by a British architect Terry Farrell and completed
I climb up 6 escalator flights past Madame Tussauds and
Burger King, to reach the rooftop viewing platform. There is
another turnstile before the stairs leading up to the roof and I
wave my tramcar ticket at the sensor. An impatient Chinese lady
in uniform barks "pay for ticket 30 dollar, you moron" (my
supplement). We all look side ways at each other and raise
eyebrows skyward in that collective expression of patient
frustration. We queue to buy another ticket. The turnstile guard
bars the way with her left hand and demands the ticket which she
then pushes thru the machine and, with a satisfied flourish, hands
it back and waves me through.I climb up to the sky deck.
The day is sunny and warm, with little breeze.The view is
stunning.We stand high above looking north down onto the
residential towers. The northern view stretches from Kowloon and
the New territories to the eastern harbour and the old airport at
The city towers seem hemmed in by the peak. The jungle
slopes crowd round the high rise apartments in a tight soft canopy
like broccoli and the buildings seem to grow out of the jungle
jostling for breathing space at the foot of the Peak.
It is a breathtaking landscape like Rio and Sydney Harbour.
Turn around to look south and you can see the towers of Aberdeen
'peaking' over the distant hills and further beyond the 3 smoke
stacks of the Lamma island power station, hidden out of sight
behind a small ridge on Yung Sheu Bay. To the east, all along the
line of peaks, towers rise where Nature never intended.
To the west, Mount Austin stands above the sky deck. Although
low rise, a mere 5 or 6 levels, it crowns the hill top like a citadel. I
walk up the hill to Mt Austin.
The familiar British road signs still hint of the former regime and
the Mt Austin park is neatly trimmed with a lawn overlooked by a
bandstand, Silent now, no brass bands, no deck chairs, only the old
streetlights, converted from gas to electricity, remain lining the
path.I can almost hear the tinny sound of gramophones and
boiling kettles whistling the approach of afternoon tea.
I walk back down to the Skypeak building which now seems out
of place after the old fashioned architecture of Mt Austin.
The Peak Tower is 1300 feet above sea level but the early afternoon
is hot where the hills are exposed to the sun. The Old Peak Road
is deserted as the crowds descend by tram. I decide to walk down
the hill. The descent is a comfortable angle and in the shade of the
mountain and it promises a cooler walk down through the
suburban woodland. The path follows the contours of the hillside
in and out of the wooded slopes and winds down past suburban
houses once the homes of British officials, who enjoyed the
spectacular view across to Kowloon and the New territories. The
road is concreted and I guess was wide enough to drag grocery
carts up to the former governing colonials.
Sometimes the view is obscured as the road twists around a small
saddle between peaks, then a sharp turn brings a glimpse of the
skyscrapers below, momentarily hidden from view. I pass an
apartment block of 6 levels clad in pink, quiet and peaceful above
the distant bustle.
I leave the old road to follow Barker road which winds down,
servicing the various apartments which appear at every turn,
including a peak top tennis court. I follow the Chatham trail
down, crossing to Clovelly and Brewins trail, until I emerge at a
busy road crossing the old peak tram line.
As I descend, the towers rise
higher, past vaulting cliffs of
endless apartments.I guess you
learn to compromise living on
top of each other with them
stunning views, if they are not
blocked by another later
construction. The line of towers
give the appearance of glass
At the foot of the hills overcast
by skyscrapers hide large
stuccoed villas more like a
Clifton cul de sac.
By the time I reach the Peak
Tram lower terminus my legs
are wobbling with fatigue. I
make it back to the hotel on foot
by about 4pm and take a well
earned rest, to prepare for the
At about 6pm , I take a taxi to the Harbour Grand hotel where Tina
an d Matt are staying. I venture out onto Johnston Road and try to
hail a cab. It's getting busy and I have to wait a little. We are due to
arrive at the Peninsula Hotel about 7:30, so I'm anxious not to be
late and, anyway, I have no idea where it is. Eventually, I catch a
cab and we drive through the rush hour traffic. The taxi drops me
at the main entrance to the Harbour Grand hotel where the doors
are guarded by a giant Sikh in full regalia. He holds open the door
for me without condescension. The foyer is enormous, a little
intimidating but I march up to the 50 feet long marble reception
desk and ask to see Mr Pluchino. The attentive trainee is observed
by a senior who gives an instruction in Chinese.
I am to take the lift to the Club Lounge on the 41st floor. I walk
past the smiling uniformed attendants , one of whom kindly
pushes the call button. The lift has a thick carpet and looks like a
royal carriage with gilded mirrors and ornate lights. The lift stops
on 36 and Matt walks in. Fancy meeting you in a lift in HK.
We shake hands and briefly swap our travellers tales then Matt
leads me into the club lounge.
Uniformed and neatly coiffured staff circulate taking orders and
we order some cocktails. Matt steers me to the bar and buffet of
canapes. We start with a beer, then order some cocktails. I stare at
the unfamiliar list of spirits and mixers and opt for a Manhattan.
Matt has a Mohito.
While we wait for them to arrive I rob another bottle of beer from
the cabinet and a steward comes forward to remove the bottle top,
without challenging me. Not being a resident or a club member, I
cannot buy any drinks. We wait at the table for Tina to arrive and
Matt continues his story. The night time view from the Harbour
Grand looks across HK , the harbour and the towers of Kowloon.
Lit up, and from the 41st floor the harbourside freeway snakes
along the water front teeming with motors and buses. It's almost
dizzying. This is definitely the way to travel.
Tina arrives dressed for her performance at the Peninsula hotel
tonight. She has had a sore throat at home but is ready to sing
tonight.We raid the side table for more samosas and finger food.
Then it's time to head down to street level to Fortress Hill subway
station, and onto Kowloon Tsui Sha Tsim.
Like all world cities the crowds are teeming at 7pm and we crush
on to the carriage talking excitedly. As I am not team navigator, I
don't pay attention to the street names and corners, as we sprint
across the traffic.
We arrive at the Peninsula hotel, and take a side door, down a long
corridor to the basement bar, where the show is being held. At
$120 HK a beer, about £11, it's going to be an expensive night. We
take a table in the corner and continue to catch up. Matt and
Tinas' friends arrive and I meet Andy and Felix. The show starts
and the Compere introduces the first act. There is some stiff
competition form the other singers but I am optimistic. The 2nd
guy delivers Billie Jean, when he should have done Bat out of Hell,
a-la-Meatloaf, judging by his appearance. Tina sings' What's going
on' and 'Change the world' by Eric, songs we have done many
times at home in Bristol. The mic level is a little low in front of the
house band but Tina delivers a great performance. The winners of
each group are determined by the clapometer, so we all chant
TINA! TINA! TINA! which catches on like a Mexican wave.
The night carries on into a disco. By now we are all very well oiled
on beer, mohitos, and Matt buys Champagne to celebrate the
As Tina's friends head off, Matt
decides we must see the
penthouse bar of The Peninsula.
Another stunning top floor
cityscape and several more
rounds of eye wateringly
expensive cocktails. Matt insists,
needlessly, that I must inspect the
loos which turn out to be granite
urinals with another stunning
view of Kowloon . It was the
most stunning leak I ever had,
although my vision was playing
tricks with me.We taxi back to
HK under the tunnel and I am
dropped off outside my hotel.
I have not eaten all night apart
from the very nice samosas, I
cross the road to the brightly lit
Yeung Cheu restaurant which is
still catering at 2:30 pm. I eat
something with rice before the
owner shoos me away so he can
Hong Kong Bus Ride
The alarm wakes me at 9. I
forgot to switch it off. My
head throbs as I lift it from the
pillow too fast. My legs ache
from my mountain descent
yesterday and my hangover
trumpets the climax of the
1812 finale with canons inside
my skull. I sleep on till 2 then
fall out of bed, shower, dress
in slow motion and walk to
Hennessy to catch the big bus
for my city tour.I wait at a
tube station in a trance,
staring at a giant billboard for
the The Long Academy
International Learning Centre
on Hennessey Road. The day
is a blur of people from all
walks of life, students,
tourists, Chinese travellers.
The China Travel Agency
offers buses to mainland
China and my eyes scan the
Kaleidoscope of Chinese
models, bottles and buses on
billboards and sign boards.
The Bus comes and I board,
buy my ticket and climb
upstairs onto the open deck.
Today it is overcast and cold.
On the open bus the winds are
f r e e z i n g . I a c c e p t t h e
inevitable and put on my
sweater, first time this trip.
We s e t o f f w e s t a l o n g
Hennessy Road and follow the
standard route along Queens
road, past Man Mo temple,
Hollywood , the IFC - the
tallest phallic symbol in the
world (from the top of which
leapt both Batman and Lara
croft in separate movies), past
the Pier Conference Centre
and the Cenotaph. We drive
along Lung Wui Road past the
old British Army barracks now
home to the the PLA . It is
popularly known as 'the
(upside-down) Gin bottle due
to its shape, which is
supposedly designed to make
it difficult to climb or attack.I
was in no mood to assault the
People's Liberation Army
today and, anyway, its getting
cold and darker and I am glad
to complete the tour. I spot my
stop and go downstairs but
the driver will not let me off
until we stop at the designated
tour stop. Bugger, the bus
tears off in the opposite
direction. Finally, I alight and
fight my way through the
teeming crowds back to my
hotel. My head still hurts.
Dim Sum and Felix's birthday
Tina has invited me to join them for lunch with Jill, one of her
friends from her Hong Kong days. I take the tube to the Harbour
Grand and find their room. Matt recounts his return trip to the
hotel from the previous evening. The hotel staff were polite,
patient and understanding. But he won't be staying there again.
The morning is fresh and bright and the views from Matt and
Tina's room are fabulous. We take the tube to a Dim Sum
restaurant at City Hall. We walk up to the first floor and enter the
restaurant. It's quite early only 12 but the room is rapidly filling
Dim sum started in the old tea houses as snacks but has become a
staple of Chinese dining culture, especially in Hong Kong.
Traditional dim sum includes various types of steamed buns such
as cha siu baau, dumplings, and rice noodle rolls (cheong fun),
which contain a range of beef, chicken, pork, prawns and
vegetarian options. Dessert dim sum is also available and many
places offer the customary egg tart.
The room looks quite old fashioned. It is a huge room with marble
columns, and maybe a hundred tables dressed in neatly starched
table cloths and laid for six places with old fashioned hotel cutlery
( aka Knives and Forks ). The diners are entirely Chinese, smartly
but casually dressed, families, well to do grandmothers, business
associates, friends. Uniformed waitresses wearily push trollies
heavily laden with various Dim Sum laid out on 3 levels inside
glass shelves. They look around warily searching for any takers.
One elderly waitress, apparently relieved from pushing the
weighty trolly, stops at a nearby table and leans forward, tongs in
hand waiting for the order for the bite size food.
Jill is Tina's one time boss when she worked here on The Tatler. Jill
chats about business and I am curious to ask about life here after
the handover in 97. It seems that life has not changed dramatically
since Beijing took control. In fact, the Hong Kong Government,
(SAR the Special Administrative Region ) is financially
independent and enjoys a high degree of autonomy, albeit
endorsed by Beijing. Business carries on much the same.
We say goodbye to Jill and walk down to pier 4 where I will catch
the Star ferry to Kowloon. Tina and Matt have to fly home tonight
but we arrange to meet up this evening for Felix's birthday.
The Star ferry is in fact the name of the ferry service rather than
one particular boat. There have been many boats in the 120 year
history of the service, the first Morning Star, Evening Star, Lady
Star, Golden Star and so on. Until the opening of the Harbour
tunnel in 1972, the Star Ferry was the main way to and from Hong
Kong Island to Kowloon. It remains a cheap popular way across
today and is an icon of Hong Kong itself. I buy my token for $2,
less than 20p and wait on the pier for the boat to arrive. As we
cross the harbour I can see Hong Kong island behind me and you
can see how dramatic it looks with the skyscapers dwarfed by the
mountains behind. Its a memorable sight and I'm thrilled to see it.
From the Star ferry pier I walk along Salisbury Road and turn into
Nathan Road, the oldest road in Kowloon, built in 1861. The road
starts just below Boundary Street in Mongkok and continues all
the way to Tsim Sha Tsui's waterfront. It's one of the busiest
commercial roads in Hong Kong but it reminds me of Oxford
Street. I spend the afternoon exploring then take the tube back to
This evening I have been invited to join a birthday party for Felix,
who I met at Tina's show at the Peninsula. I check my map and
find the restaurant Felafel not far from Central, so I can take the
tram from just outside my hotel. The next tram arrives and its full,
really full. I wait for the next one which is also full, really full. So I
try to climb on board. You have to board at the rear which is
guarded by a turnstyle. The tram is full so I cannot get through the
turn style and I hang on half in, half out, my legs straddling one of
the bars. At each stop passengers dismount at the front and
everyone shuffles down the bus. As a bit of space opens I push
through the turnstyle and I'm on aboard and I also shuffle
forward. I stand upright and hit my head on the ceiling. The
dimensions don't seem to anticipated tall Gweilos and I have to
stoop or bend my head to fit below the ceiling. Even so, I keep
knocking the metal beams which support the roof. I expect the
colonials rarely used these trams.
The tram progresses towards Central and I check the names of
each stop displayed in English. I jump off at the right stop for
Pedder St and find my way to D'Aguilar Street. The higher section
of D'Aguilar Street, together with Lan Kwai Fong, is famous for
restaurants, bars and night life and it's a busy Friday night.
I make a right turn into the unfortunately named Rat Alley and
find the restaurant Felfela. I am early and the first one there. I am
invited to a table and by the proprietor who seems to be London
Lebanase and he is very friendly and welcoming.I order a beer
from the dusky waitress who is Chinese and Arabic, the restaurant
is Egyptian. Matt and Tina arrive and more of Felix's friends show
up. Finally, Felix himself arrives and the party can proceed.
We order food and the owner is having a great time. He dances
and claps at the punters passing along Rat Alley. I chat to my
neighbours and enquire where people live. My neighbour lives
on Lantau island and must leave at 11 to catch the last ferry.
Finally Matt and Tina must leave for the airport, to fly home.
After the farewells, hookahs are brought to the table. I decline the
offer as I don't want to smoke anything. More drinks are served
and, encouraged by the staff, Maggie does a belly dance around
A fun night
The double decker buses are
comfortingly familiar and I
could be in Bristol or
Birmingham, except they are
much cheaper, faster and
frequent. I settle down
upstairs to watch the city and
imagine the routine of living
here. Central is densely
populated but as the bus
winds up the inland hills,
settlement becomes sparse
with isolated apartment
towers perched on steep
hillsides. Today I am heading
for Stanley and the route will
take me through the Wong Nai
Chung Gap road past the
Cricket Club. The road winds
up past skyscrapers perched
dramatically on hilltops above
the road, seeming to lean into
We arrive in Stanley, and it feels like a Kentish seaside resort. The
roads are well tended, the buildings are smaller and there are
lawns along the pavement. I jump off and wander down to Stanley
Market. It's Saturday and the stalls are open but quiet. I can barely
imagine I am in China. But then HK is a special case.
Along the sea front you can see a pub called The Belcher, Pizza
Express, Croc Monsieur and Starbucks. It is a warm sunny
Saturday and people are out for lunch. It reminds me of Tiger Bay
Stanley is famous for Murray House which today overlooks the
bay. The building started life in 1844 as officers' quarters for the
Murray Barracks in Central. It is one of the oldest surviving public
buildings in Hong Kong from the early colonial era. It was
designed in classical style with heavy stone walls on the ground
floor while the upper floors have Doric columns for better
ventilation. In 1982, the building was dismantled and 3,000
building blocks were labelled and catalogued for future
restoration. The building was restored in 2001 in Stanley and
reopened in 2002.
Back on the bus, we drive along Repulse Bay. In the 1840s, the bay
was used by pirates preying on foreign merchant ships. The pirates
were 'repulsed' by the Royal Navy and the bay acquired its current
Today Repulse Bay area is a fashionable residential area and one of
most expensive areas after The Peak. The view is fabulous and
would have reminded me of Monaco, had I ever been there.
As the bus climbs above the bay towards to the Wong Nai Chung
Gap, you catch a glimpse of Deep Water Bay. Between the
surrounding hills there is a smooth green triangle of level ground
reclaimed from the sea which houses the Hong Kong Golf club.
Looking west , you can see Ocean Park fairground the Big Dipper
perched on the hill top above Aberdeen. It looks like the most
difficult site to build a fairground, with cable cars climbing up to
As the bus rolls back down to the city, we pass into Wong Nai Chung
Valley. The British army built a military camp here in 1840 but closed
it soon after because so many soldiers died from malaria in the
valley's marshy environment. The valley became a burial ground and
was renamed as Happy Valley, apparently a common wheez amongst
colonials. In 1846, the British cleared the paddy fields and built the
Happy Valley Racecourse. Naturally.
At Central pier, I take a ferry to
Lamma island. I saw the island
from the Peak on my first day
and I am curious to explore it.
You buy a token which gets you
through the turnstyle and onto
the ferry. It is busy today with
few free seats. We motor out
into HK harbour and turn west.
the view of Kowloon, the New
territories and Lantau Island is
stunning. Lamma is only 3km
south west coast of Hong Kong
Island and after only 20
minutes we dock at Yung Shue
Wan. As the ferry crowds spill
out into the seaside village, I
wonder through the town,
looking for the path to the next
village. I stop at a little cafe
sandwich bar doing good trade,
mostly Europeans having cooked
I walk towards Sok Kwu Wan
where I will take the return
ferry to Aberdeen.The island
is very rural with some
rugged scenery and the
granite hills reach a peak of
353 metre at Mount Stenhouse
(Shan Tei Tong) in the south.
The population of around
5,000 live mostly in the two
main villages, Yung Shue Wan
and Sok Kwu Wan but there
are tiny settlements on quiet
beaches. There are no cars,
just bicycles, motorised carts
and miniature emergency
vehicles. Lamma is the third
largest of Hong Kong's islands
but it's only 6km long and
2.5kms at its widest point.
Apart from a large power
station built in 1972 on the
western side of the island, the
island is virtually unspoiled.
It is still warm and sunny and the
path is well laid out with many
families out of the day.
The fish restaurants in Sok Kwu
Wan are full to bursting and the
shopfronts are walls of fish
tanks offering all sorts of sea life
for your dining pleasure,
including some things I don't
As the ferry pulls out into the straights between the islands, Aberdeen
comes into view with tall apartments rising above the sea hills. We
navigate around the passing tankers and moor up in Aberdeen harbour
amongst a pile of old junks. It's getting dark now and the double
decker bus races through the Aberdeen Tunnel into Happy Valley and
back to Central.
It will soon be Christmas and the temperature is dropping but the
Lockhart Road is still crowded with Sunday shoppers and street artists.
Hong Kong is a fascinating place. There is so much more to see and do
and I am sorry to leave, but its getting cold and I am missing my
© Dave Harris 2011