Sunday, 18 July 2010

The Serene Side of Hong Kong

Local man lights incense sticks in a Taoist temple

Before going, my image of Hong Kong was one of a huge, crowded fast paced city that never sleeps...

I wasn't exactly wrong about that part, but we also found out that there is a more serene side to Hong Kong. The city itself is home to many small oases of peace, like parks and temples. And aside from that the administrative region of Hong Kong is much more than just the city. It's filled with hills, forest, wetlands and hundreds of islands -both inhabited and uninhabited.

Temples
Religion in Hong Kong has thrived uninterrupted by the Cultural Revolution and other tragic events that oppressed religious communities in Mainland China. Most temples are Daoist, and many of them are very atmospheric places, where locals drop by throughout the day to light incense sticks and perhaps even burn so called ghost money as a way to worship their ancestors.

Temple at Cheung Chau Village

Parks
Hong Kong thankfully has many well maintained parks, which we used as a place to relax and to recharge our batteries. This was especially important since the Nitoli was 6-month pregnant at this time. One of our favourites was the not very inventively name "Hong Kong Park", which is home to the fantastic Edward Youde Aviary full of 600 exotic birds that you see from wooden walkways at tree top level. And it's 100% free to enter.

Park in Hong Kong
Islands & Seas
During our days in Hong Kong we took to the water several times. A couple of times we took the iconic Star Ferry connecting Kowloon to Hong Kong island, giving a great view of the skyline both ways. But we also made a point of taking a longer ferry ride to one of Hong Kong's many smaller inhabited islands, Cheung Chau.

Cheung Chau Village on the Island of same name. The Village is located on the narrowest part of the island, so you can walk from one side to another in a few minutes.

Finally we also went on an organized boat trip to look for the elusive and endangered pink dolphins living in the Pearl river delta. It was slightly disappointing that we only saw one dolphin after several hours of scouting, but even so it was a nice trip out on the open waters and I do recommend it for other visitors.

Our sole pink dolphin in the water to the right of the fishing boat

More pictures of some of Hong Kong's serene side:

Our dolphin close enough to see that it really is pink

Forest Temple on the southern part of Cheung Chau

Beach on Cheung Chau

Rock carving, probably done by local fishermen some 3000 years old

Fishing vessels in the harbour of Cheung Chau

Star Ferry - taking locals and tourists across Victoria Harbour since 1888

The Aviary in Hong Kong Park, seen from the outside. Lots of room under the big net for the birds to fly around and live almost as in the wild

Two pidgeons enjoying each other's company in the Aviary

Susanna in the Aviary

City worker watering the trees and plants from the central walkway

One of the many beautiful birds

Nicely landscaped park

Turtles sunning themselves on top of each other in the park pond

Flamingoes in a different park, this one "Kowloon Park"

Flamingo close-up

Burning ghost money outside a temple

Incense burning inside a temple

Deities on display

Revelers light incense outside one of Hong Kong's large temples, Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin

Chi Lin Buddhist Nunnery in the northern part of Kowloon. Allegedly built of wood without using a single nail

A golden temple with very orange bridge near Chi Lin

And finally a little "house temple" this one from a small restaurant near our hotel

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

A Night on the Town

Okay, actually we had a bit more than one night on the town in Hong Kong, but for me there were a few highlights, which you could just about fit in if you had just one night in Hong Kong.

18:00 Early evening - dinner & drinks
There is no limit to the dining opportunities in Hong Kong. Start your night early with a beer and early bird's special at the Scandinavian restaurant "FINDS" or one of the city's countless other world cuisine restaurants. Or go to a simple Chinese restaurant to eat where the locals do.

That's me enjoying a beer at the terrace of "FINDS". The food was great, but not cheap

Nitoli enjoying a very simple and cheap noodle soup in a local restaurant. I don't really like Chinese food (in China) but she loves it

In the swanky restaurant-bar Lotus run by one of Nitoli's old school friends

20:00 Watch Symphony of the Stars
Every night the city of Hong Kong gets transformed into a giant sound and light show, which is best observed from the Avenue of the Stars promenade across the water in Kowloon. It is one of the very touristy, yet cool things that any visitor to the city just has to see once.

Symphony of the Stars

20:45 Horse Racing at Happy Valley
Horse racing is one of the biggest spectator sports in Hong Kong partly for cultural and historical reasons and partly because it is legal to bet. Attending a race at one of the city's race courses - of which Happy Valley is the smaller, but more centrally located - is a great experience. Nitoli and I both made a few bets and we each scored a win and a couple of losses, but of equal interest was to watch people. Based on our observations it seemed to us that two very distinct crowds come to the races. Firstly there were those who came exclusively to gamble and sit with their various race papers and other systems for keeping track of where to place their money. They seem to mostly come alone and they are predominantly of Chinese descent. And then there were the socialites who come to meet others and be seen in their swanky outfits. There are definitely people of Chinese origin in this group also, but people of Western descent tend to be very strongly represented in this group.

Horses and jockeys nearing the finish line

The grand stand at Happy Valley with plenty of exclusive VIP lounges and balconies. The floor between the stands and the race course is filled with beer tents and food stands where people can mingle

Happy Valley has a grandstand on one side, but is surrounded by Hong Kong's trademark skyscrapers on the other side. Wonder if these people sit and view the races from their balconies?

22:00 Hit the nightlife district, Lan Kwai Fong
Lan Kwai Fong is the exact kind of place you miss when living in a city like Delhi, whose night life is spread out, expensive and all very much closed onto itself. By contrast this entertainment district on Hong Kong Island is filled to the brink with bars and restaurants most of which are open onto the street - and it's just one entertainment district of many in HK.

Don't like the crowd or vibe or music in your Delhi bar? Get into your car, drive 20 minutes and pay 1000 rupees to get get into a better place. Don't like those same things in your Lan Kwai Fong bar? Finish your drink and walk 15 metres to the neighbouring bar. And the bars don't close at midnight either. Hong Kong nightlife is simply fantastic.

One of the streets in Lan Kwai Fong seen from above

Another part of Lan Kwai Fong seen at street level