Victoria Peak and the Symphony of Light: Day 2.5 in Hong Kong

The is the 2nd half of our second day in Hong Kong.

THE CLIMB TO THE PEAK

We just finished lunch at a restaurant along Canton Road, and took the MTR from Tsim Sha Tsui to Central in Hong Kong Island. Our target for the aftenoon was Victoria Peak (or simply called “The Peak”). It is the highest point in Hong Kong Island, and with the bustling city just right at the foot of the mountain, makes for probably the most scenic combination divine and man-made structures on this side of the world. God-made mountain on top, man-made sky scrapers below…hard to beat.

As we stepped off the train at Central we then followed the signs going to the Peak Tram terminal. It was quite a long walk, but one of the best things about Hong Kong is that the place is very considerate of visitors. Almost any place of relevance has an abundance of signs leading to it, and anyone with an average sense of direction can navigate without problems.

The signs led us to the exit on Chater Park, a rather serene piece of land in the middle of the territory’s business district (MTR stations here have lots of exits, going every which way). As we emerged from the underground station, we were greeted by one of the icons of Hong Kong, which happens to be right next to the park, a building that has prominently graced many pictures of the island since I don’t know when – the Bank of China tower.

The Bank of China tower is the one on the left.

After pausing for a while in the park to take some photos, we then crossed Queens Road, one of the major arteries on the island, along which travels the famous Hong Kong Tram (This is different from the peak tram. This one goes from one side of the island to the other). As our schedule for the rest of the day was very full, we didn’t get to ride the tram, although I was really hoping we could. There aren’t too many cities using trams nowadays, and I like riding one of those whenever the opportunity presents itself. Well, next time around.

The Hong Kong Tram

From Queens Road, it was an uphill walk along Garden Road to the Peak Tram terminal. The sun was out that afternoon, but the wind was pleasantly cool,  yet I still broke a sweat as we were climbing. Though the distance between Central and the terminal at Garden Road is “walkable”, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone not in a reasonably good shape. You don’t have to be a runner to do it, but if you’re the type who would be in danger of collapsing after climbing 5 storeys,  then better think twice, and grab a cab instead. The thing about Hong Kong though (as with most “pedestrianized” cities), is that you’ll have lots of company as you walk. I believe 90% of the people commute to work everyday, so almost all of them are used to walking from station to station, and not surprisingly, most Hong Kongers look physically fit.

We encountered long queues wherever we went in Hong Kong, and the Peak Tram was no different. We lined up for close to half an hour before we found out that there’s a different ticket booth for those who would like to take the Peak Tram ride and visit Madam Tussaud’s Wax Museum (which is also at the peak), as a package, and there was no line on that booth. Since we wanted to visit the museum anyway, which is also right there at the peak, we took the package and jumped everyone else on the line. (Tip for first time visitors to the Peak: As you get to the terminal, inquire about the booth that sells tickets for Madam Tussaud’s. They give Peak Tram tickets packaged with the museum tickets. This saves you the hassle of lining up for tram tickets on the ticket counters, which could get very long – and you get the chance to see the wax museum, a worthwhile attraction for first timers. )

The tram ride up to the peak took about 15 minutes or less up the steep slope of the mountain. The view outside is obstructed by vegetation on most places, but there are clearings where you can see some noteworthy buildings, such us the towering IFC. The Peak Tram, despite the name, is not really a tram by the strictest definition. A tram is supposed to be a street car, travelling on rails that are embedded on streets, and its passengers embark/disembark on the street. The Peak Tram however does not travel along a street, and passengers only get on and off at terminals on both ends. It is actually more of a funicular.

The view over Hong Kong as we got to The Peak in the afternoon

The Peak itself is a well developed attraction. There’s a mall there called the Peak Galleria, and a viewing deck called the Sky Terrace. Plus, there is of course the wax museum. Madam Tussaud’s has several museums around the world, but Hong Kong’s is one of only three in asia (the other two are in Bangkok and Shanghai). It was my first time in such a museum (though it wasn’t my first to see a wax figure), and I was amazed at how intricate and life-like they make these things. Hong Kong’s featured local and international showbiz, political and sports personalities.

Jack Sparrow looks quite decent this time around
He likes his martini stirred, not shaken.
The Child of Destiny herself

THE EVENING LIGHTS

We spent a bit of time inside the museum, as they had quite a number of figures there, and there were a lot of visitors too, so we had to wait in line to take pictures of our celebrities of choice. Evening was already setting when we were done at the museum, and so we decided to have dinner. We chose something familiar and quick this time around. We were tired from all that walking and lining up, so the quicker the food the better, and once we saw the Burger King sign there was no thinking twice.

The evening falling over Hong Kong, seen from the balcony of Burger King at the Peak

As evening fell and dinner was done, we went up the Sky Terrace to see the whole city in all its evening glory. The terrace does give a very good, unobstructed view of Hong Kong island and Kowloon, but there is one problem. It is so packed with tourists, just walking around without stepping over other people’s feet is a challenge…banging shoulders with others is already a given. With a little patience though, and bit of hustling, I was able to get a spot by the railings where I could take photos.

We didn’t linger too long at the Sky Terrace. To say it’s crowded would be an understatement, so after capturing the photos that I wanted, we headed back down and lined up (again!) for the Peak Tram. There was no more Madame Tussaud’s ticket booth this time, so we lined up like everyone else.

SYMPHONY BY THE HARBOR

Our last stop for the night was the Avenue of Stars, which we also visited earlier in the morning. This time though, we were going there for the Symphony of Light, the nightly display of lasers and other fancy lights among buildings on the sides of Victoria Harbor. The light display is synchronized with music from the speakers along the avenue. I also wanted to take a picture of Hong Kong Island in all its brightness,  from the other side of the harbor.

As we got off the tram at Garden Road, we hurriedly backtracked our way into the Central MTR for the ride back to Tsim Sha Tsui, to catch the show which starts at 8PM sharp. We were going downhill now, so the walk took less of an effort than it did going the other way, earlier in the afternoon.

It was another long walk from the Tsim Sha Tsui MTR to the Avenue of Stars, but we were able to get there in time for the start of the light show, and I still had some spare time to setup my camera.

Lasers slice up the sky, at the Symphony of Light

I have, for quite some time now, wanted to take a landscape shot of Hong Kong in the evening, when the city lights of different colors come alive. I finally got the chance.

The lights of Causeway Bay, seen from the Avenue of Stars

The Symphony of Light only took around 10 minutes, and to be honest, it wasn’t really jaw-dropping. It’s probably a must see for any first time visitor, but if you’ve been here before, then I don’t see the need to stop to see it again.

The light show was the last item on our list for the day, and we gingerly made our way back to the Tsim Sha Tsui East MTR, to catch a train back to our hotel near Tsuen Wan West, and call it a night.

The view from Tsuen Wan West MTR at 9PM. It’s late at night, yet there are still people doing Tai Chi (partially visible at the bottom of the picture). You have to admire the health consciousness of people here.

For Day 3 of this trip, click here.

To read about the previous segment of this trip, click here.

* To get to the Peak Tram Lower Terminus in Garden Road, take the MTR to Central station on the Tsuen Wan line. Take exit J2 (this will lead you to Chater), and then walk up Garden Road, to the left. This will be a 10-15 minute uphill walk. Alternatively, you can take the Star Ferry to Central, then take bus 15C from the bus terminal near the pier.

* The Avenue of the Stars (and viewing area for the symphony of light) is within walking distance from the MTR’s Tsim Sha Tsui station on the Tsuen Wan line, or East Tsim Sha Tsui station on the West Rail Line. For more info on the HK MTR system, please visit their website: http://www.mtr.com.hk/eng/homepage/cust_index.html

* This trip was taken November 2010. All photos taken with Olympus E-420 and Zuiko 14-42mm f3.5-5.6.

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