It’s our second day in Hong Kong, and the day of our scheduled half-day guided tour.
GOOD MORNING HONG KONG
We had a quick and hurried breakfast at the McDonalds outlet on Tsuen Wan Plaza, a block away from L’Hotel Nina, as the tour bus was going to pick us up very early in the morning. This half day tour was part of the package we took which included the hotel booking, though I’m not precisely a fan of guided tours.
The tours can save you the hassle of commuting, but in return you waste away some time at shops where you don’t plan to buy anything, since no guided tour would be complete without being taken to stores of various kinds aimed at tourists. Besides that, you also can’t write much about a place if you’re on a guided tour. You get to Attraction A -> spend a few minutes -> get back to the bus -> get to Attraction B -> and get back to the bus again. You get to see a lot more places up close and on foot, and you get to interact with locals, even if it’s just to ask how to get to point B. Unless of course if you’re in a place where even body language would barely work…then an English-speaking guide would be the most important person on Earth. Hong Kong of course isn’t such. English isn’t as widely spoken as back home, but the place is survivable even without a guide, as long as you do a little bit of research on how to get from point to point.
The first destination of the tour was the Avenue of Stars at the edge of Kowloon, facing Hong Kong Island. This is Hong Kong cinema’s response to the Walk of Fame in Hollywood, complete with handprints of celebrities permanently molded on the pavement. It also serves a second purpose as the perfect vantage point for seeing the magnificent high rise buildings on the island, with scenic Victoria Harbor separating the viewer and the buildings. I didn’t really plan to visit the Avenue of Stars until the evening, when the skyscrapers of Hong Kong Island light up, and I wasn’t aware the tour was stopping there. However, since we were already there, I took the opportunity to let my ND filter out of the bag and take a few daytime long exposures of Victoria Harbor and Causeway Bay across it. Haze was all over the place, which made it a less than ideal landscape moment, but what the heck…I don’t get to see Hong Kong every morning.
ON TO THE ISLAND
After our half-hour stop, we were herded back to the bus to get to our next destination which is…tadaaaa!…the shops. We were taken to a place that I later found out is called Hung Hom, the area beside Tsim Sha Tsui which I think is known for outlet stores selling jewelry and other goods from Hong Kong and mainland China. We stayed for over an hour in Hung Hom before we boarded the bus again for next the stop, Aberdeen Harbor on the other side of Hong Kong Island, facing the South China Sea.
The bus ride from Hung Hom in Kowloon took us through the Cross-Harbor Tunnel, out through Causeway Bay in Hong Kong Island, and into the Aberdeen Tunnel which goes under the mountains, then out through the other side in Aberdeen.
One of the reasons that Victoria Harbor looks so scenic, apart from the towering buildings on both sides, is that fact that there is no bridge linking its two sides. To get from one side of the harbor to the other, people take one of the three underwater road tunnels, or one of three more tunnels used by the MTR, or take the ferry. The absence of any visible crossing between the island and Kowloon gives an uninterrupted view of the other side.
As we arrived in Aberdeen, we were taken to a small pier used by sampans (local boats that look like small motorized junks) which take tourists out to see the other outlying islands of Hong Kong, for an additional fee. We didn’t feel like island hopping at that time (being Filipinos, we already have enough islands back home) so we opted to stay behind and take pictures of Aberdeen Harbor instead, while waiting for the rest of the tour group to get back to the pier.
Once everyone was back from the boats, we crossed back to the other side of Aberdeen Tunnel, and went up the slopes of Victoria Peak to an area called mid-levels. The place has a viewing deck that has a somewhat “ok” view of the buildings on the island. We were roughly at the same height as the top floors of the tallest buildings, though the view is obstructed by vegetation on some angles, plus there is a hoard of tourists lining up for pictures along the edge of the deck, making taking onubstructed photos quite difficult. This place is clearly no substitute for the view at the The Peak, on top of the mountain.
BACK AT KOWLOON
The mid-levels was the last stop of the tour, and while most of the tour group went on to Disneyland for the afternoon, we requested to be dropped close to the Harbour Center at Canton Road back in Kowloon, close to the ferry terminals (we weren’t due on Disney until the next day). Harbour Center is a collection of shopping centers linked together to form the largest mall in Hong Kong. From the outside it looks rather elitist, with the branded shops facing the street outside. Since sight-seeing was a bigger priority than shopping, we didn’t go inside though and just contented ourselves with looking from the street, and buying a few items from an Esprit outlet in a corner nearby. There was still so much more of Hong Kong to see, so shopping took a back seat…for the time being.
There is something of even higher priority than sight-seeing though, and it has 4 letters…F.O.O.D. It was noon and we were starving. We were about to head to the Spaghetti House two blocks away along Haiphong Road when we came across a resto along Canton Road serving Taiwanese cuisine. While not exactly Hong Kong/Cantonese, it’s certainly closer to the local cuisine than Italian pasta would ever be, so we went there instead. Unlike the small restaurant that we went to the previous day, this one at least had pictures on the menu, and had the name of the food in English. Still, the staff spoke almost no english, and following up for delayed orders (or ones the cooks forgot) was still problematic. I ordered the sticky rice with heavy beef soup, while the rest of our group had regular noodles, congee or fried rice.
The sticky rice was unique for me since it’s the first time I tried something like it. It’s made of very fine ground rice, and feels like rice noodles, only that it is very thick (almost as thick as the Filipino “suman”), and has been cut into short inch-length pieces and immersed in soup with thick slices of beef. The soup was good and the beef was sufficiently tender, and I did enjoy the meal. I just wasn’t able to take a picture of my food though since the place was so packed with people, I could barely move to take my camera out of the bag.
Once lunch was done, we made our way to the MTR’s Tsim Sha Tsui Station to take the train to Central, back across the harbor again into Hong Kong Island. From there we took a “longish” and uphill walk to the terminal of the Peak Tram, for the ride to our destination of choice that afternoon…the Victoria Peak.
* Tsim Sha Tsui (including the Harbour Center and Canton Road) can be reached through the MTR’s Tsim Sha Tsui station on the Tsuen Wan line. For more info on the HK MTR system, visit their website: http://www.mtr.com.hk/eng/homepage/cust_index.html
* The Avenue of the Stars and the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade can reached on foot from the MTR’s Tsim Sha Tsui station on the Tsuen Wan line, or the East Tsim Sha Tsui station on the West Rail Line.
* To cross over to Hong Kong Island from Tsim Sha Tsui on the Kowloon side, take the MTR from Tsim Sha Tsui to Admiralty or Central on the Tsuen Wan line. From there you can take the MTR’s Island line to places of interest in HK island (eg. Causeway Bay). Alternatively, you can take the Star Ferry (near the western end of the Avenue of the Stars) from Tsim Sha Tsui to Central.
* This trip was taken November 2010. All photos taken with Olympus E-420 and Zuiko 14-42mm f3.5-5.6