Wednesday called for a change of pace and destination in my travels. After six weeks of immersion, it was time to say goodbye to Japan for another year and move on to phase two of my summer in Asia. This would take me down to Hong Kong, from where I would cut a swathe through the belly of South East Asia, travelling overland through Vietnam, Cambodia and finishing in Bangkok after two weeks. This was my first time travelling mainland Asia and coming in from Japan the culture shock was immediate and substantial. Even in cosmopolitan Hong Kong, I was caught off guard by the teeming crowds and riotous shouting.
Feeling quite exhaughsted after spending the previous night at Kansai Airport, all I wanted was to quickly recharge my batteries at the hostel before heading back out to see what the city had to offer. I had done a brief search at the airport and settled on what looked like an very reasonably priced room in the central neighbourhood of Tsim Sha Sui. There was no need to make a reservation given that I was going to be there in less than an hour and so I jotted down an address for reference and was on my way.
Tsim Sha Sui was just as described in the guidebook, a bustling confluence of cultures as tiny Cantonese restaurants sat squashed alongside mosques and old colonial residences. Towering above these, skyscrapers narrowed the sky to an isolated blue slit, creating an even more crowded setting. At the middle of it all was my home to be, Chung King Manshions a grizzly twenty-something storey monster around which a great many Indians vied for the attention of western tourists, promising the cheapest accommodation in the city. Not a good sign, I thought but nonetheless the hotel was right so I may aswell give it a try. I fought my way through several promises of the best nights sleep I’d ever have and took the elevator to the Ashoka Hostel on the sixteenth floor.
The first thing that hit me was the smell, a pungent wall of stale air hit me as I stepped out the lift. The hallway was strewn with rubbish bags and above the hostels bed sheets hung sodden from the ceiling. At least You could tell they cleaned them. Then there was the room, which was almost visible from the lift given that the hostel had no doors. It five foot bed crushed between three white tile walls, and nothing else. All this for 230HK$ or 24€ a night, though I’m quite sure that the website said 120HK$. Obviously I am not opposed to roughing it now and again but not when it comes with a premium fee to boot. In the end I settled in island side Fortress Hill for just under half the price and with double the space.
Hong Kong is like the Tokyo of another dimension, simultaneously resembling and contrasting it. On one hand the incredibly efficient MTR transit system is probably the best in the world, and stations are a buzz with white collar workers, darting from platform as if it were Shinjuku or Umeda. However this is also a city of incredible diversity as a patchwork of Chinese, British and South Asian cultures converge on it’s teeming streets. There is also character. I had worried that as a commercial hub Hong Kong would be souless and a sterile, when in reality this has only added to the flavour of this cultural melting pot, brining in expats from all over the world.
Given my limited time in Hong Kong, I flitted around town, trying to cover what sights I could before my Chinese visa was ready and I could move on with my journey. I did hate myself a little for this, having become just another camera clicking tourist at all the local traps, but when was I ever going to be here again? Not in the near future at least! Best of all I saw had to be the small fishing village of Tai O, south of Ngong Ping where the Tien Tan Buddha statue is located. A polar opposite of Kowloon and Hong Kong Island, Tai O shows off a more rural face where centurary old families live on stilted huts blind to the rapid development o. The other side of the island. It is also here that you can see the endangered Pearl Delta white dolphins, though unfortunately I my luck had run out on this one. At least I got to see Macau across the water! silver lining? Possibly.
Had the circumstances been different I would have loved to stay on in Hong Kong for longer. Though it may not seem it at first, this is a city where there will always be sights you’ve not yet seen, food you’ve not yet eaten, and activities you just have to try out. For me though it was time to make the long journey overland to Hanoi, so with mixed feelings of excitement and longing I set off. Next stop Vietnam.