On our first ‘proper’ day in Hong Kong, John and I decided to head over to Hong Kong Island and explore. Our first stop was Mong Kok MTR or metro station, where we bought Octopus cards.
Octopus cards are kind of like Myki, except for the fact that they work and work well. It cost HKD $150 each for a card including $100 of credit. They scan on and off in a heartbeat – not like at home where you have to hold your Myki against the machine while it has a cup of tea and thinks about whether or not it will let you through. What’s great about the Octopus card though is that you can use it like you use cash. Want dumplings? That shop will let you pay with the Octopus card. Need a drink? Vending machines accept the Octopus card. Don’t want to wait in line for a ticket on the Peak Tram? Just use your Octopus card. Seriously Melbourne, why didn’t you import a system that works?
Anyway, back on track…
So we took the metro from Mong Kok to Tsim Sha Tsui. The metro in Hong Kong is brilliant. It seems to be growing a new city underground, and you can actually walk between some stations without going above ground. However, at each station there is a multitude of exit options. Fortunately each exit has a designated letter and sometimes number, and helpful signs tell you where each exit leads to. We wanted the Star Ferry, and followed the signs accordingly.
Our Octopus cards got us onto the ferry and out into Victoria Harbour for the short trip across to Hong Kong Island. The view of the approaching cityline was incredible. I’ve never seen so many skyscrapers in my life. Hong Kong is a city of skyscrapers and I wondered if people there find the idea of living in a house as strange as I find the idea of living in an apartment.
The sky was blue and spattered with clouds and the breeze as we hung over the sides checking out our surounds was magical – even the short walk from station to pier had left us feeling like a second shower was in order. The breeze was only short-lived, however – the Star Ferry only takes 10 minutes, and we were soon back in the still, sticky humid Hong Kong we’d briefly left.
Our first stop was Victoria Peak, but that will have it’s own post soon enough.
Around noon, we visited Hong Kong Park – an entirely artificial and yet charming [in an overly manicured fashion] garden that encompassed sports centres, a tea museum, a strange Olympic monument and more. What I was most interested in however was the aviary. For a free inner-city park, it was quite impressive. We even saw a tiny squirrel trying to get in, without much success. The aviary is a netted dome inside the park over a number of levels, with man-made waterfalls and a semi-rainforest environment. Pictures and information about the birds living there were carefully placed along the boardwalk high above ground level. Colourful birdies perched on feeding branches where they messily devoured mangoes and apples and pineapples. All in all they seemed to have a pretty decent life there, and I was amazed at how all you could hear was birds chirping and flowing water despite the park’s location.
We wandered around the artificial lake, a bizarre sight when the green of the park and the trees is juxtaposed with a skyline of skyscrapers. Plenty of turtles and big fat fish live in the lake, and it seemed like all the turtles had decided that it was sunbaking time. They had piled on top of each other on top of the few rocks to breach the shallow surface. They didn’t look too pleased about being used as seats by their fellow turtles, but then I don’t know a lot about turtle facial expressions.
After Hong Kong Park we decided to visit the Mid-Level Escalator. When I read about this in the guidebook we bought I thought it sounded a little bizarre and well worth checking out. It’s an escalator, it’s outdoors [and covered], and it is approximately 800m long. We took an interesting route there using the failsafe direction method of ‘this street looks interesting and is in the vague direction of where we’re going, let’s take that one’ for most of it. However another useful thing that Hong Kong has done is put up seriously helpful pink signs everywhere pointing you in the direction of popular attractions, and we found that the escalator was on the signs.
That’s all it is folks. It’s an escalator. What I was a little disappointed about was that the Mid-Levels Escalator is actually a series of shorter escalators. This makes sense, as it doesn’t go in a straight line and it crosses lots of streets on the way up. Ultimately though I thought it was great – one of the most odd tourist attractions I’ve come across. We kept on going up and up in the hopes it would lead us somewhere fascinating. It didn’t. In the end we were at the top of a hill and had to walk down. My knees failed to appreciate that part.
Back down around the flatter part of town we wandered through Soho to Man Mo Temple. Soho is a little different from Mong Kok, where we’re staying – it’s littered with expensive restaurants and fashion boutiques before turning into art galleries and antiques stores. While neon signs still flash brightly, it’s a little less brash and a little more glamourous for the most part.
We stumbled across Man Mo temple. A Taoist temple, it is one of the oldest in Hong Kong and is dedicated to the gods of literature [Man] and war [Mo]. Personally I think it’s an odd combination but I’ll go with it. Incense wafted through the doorway, and the light inside was soft and warm. Wicker spiral baskets hung from the ceiling, incense burning in each, and shuttered lanterns hung in rows. The statues and altars were swathed and painted in deep reds and golds, fading with age. Offerings of fruit lay before the figures, and rows of burning incense in brass pots a few metres before the altar. A few local people worshipped quietly, clearly accustomed to the intrusion of a few curious foreigners.
We wandered the streets fairly aimlessly after that, visiting the Western Market briefly and contemplating whether we would get on one of the double-decker trams or leave that for another day. Another day won out and, having by this time been on our feet for about seven hours, we took the train back from Central to Mong Kok for a well earned break.