Day Four was all about relaxing, taking in the sights and also doing a bit of media tourism
(Somewhere my media studies lecturer’s ears piqued up at that mention). After rushing around Macau like a headless chicken I thought I’d treat Sunday like a Sunday and go with the flow. So after a bit of a late start I made my way towards the Ferry terminal to take the iconic Star Ferry across the harbour. As I made my way along the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade that borders the waterfront my eyes latched onto a large structure that had not previously been there. My curiosity sufficiently stirred, I walked over to see that there was going to be a Cantonese Opera demonstration in an hour and a bit.
Now I’m hardly cultured enough to be the opera going type (I don’t even own a monocle, gosh!) I’ve rarely been let down in the past by random performances on the street. So I killed a bit of time exploring Nathan Road, which houses stores for brand names well out of my monetary reach, and went to a bakery and acquired a couple of items on my ‘must taste’ list – a pineapple bun and a hot pork bun, which anyone who has played the video game Sleeping Dogs will consider synonymous with the city thanks to the vendors littered across the map selling them – and enjoyed a bit of brunch waiting for the show.
Fancy costumes aside (I feel for the performers, it was way too hot to be out in such extravagant clothing) Cantonese Opera was never going to hold my attention all day, so after a bit of a taster I resumed my planned journey. The MTR is certainly the quicker way to get across the harbour, but it was easy to see why so many travel pages recommend at least one trip on the ferry. It’s only a ten minute journey, so you’re not losing too much time out of your day, but you get some phenomenal views of the harbour. I ended up taking the ferry back that night too, and it’s even more impressive of a night. Totally worth it unless you really don’t have the time to spare.
I was on my way to the Peak tram, another iconic tourist and sightseeing attraction. On the way I saw what is apparently a Sunday staple in Central: hoards and hoards of Filipino ladies. I had heard the many maids tend to use the Sunday to catch up with their friends in Central, but I didn’t expect the sheer scale of it. Hundreds upon hundreds of ladies had occupied ground around the city to sit back and relax. It wasn’t just in one spot too. You’d turn a corner and BAM, there they’d be on the cardboard blankets playing cards and eating food. They didn’t get in the way, nor did they stare you down for intruding their space, it was just weird to see. In a park I’d understand, but they were filling up the underground walkways and around stairwells, and it was like it all day.
That aside, I made it to the Peak Tram. And by ‘Peak Tram’ I actually mean ‘line for the Peak Tram’. Of course. A tourist attraction, on a Sunday, in a massive city – what was I thinking? So I did my waiting in Azkaban, all one hour of it, before finding myself not with a seat on the tram, but in the tram nonetheless. Now normally this wouldn’t bother me that much, except that the tram kind of climbs a hill. You end up standing at quite an angle, in my case I had to practice my power stance so I didn’t end up on the floor. It made the trip less pleasant that it could have been, but you really are rewarded when you look out the window. Whenever a fresh view broke through the trees, people were gasping in amazement, and even more so when we passed a viewing station where a bride and groom were posing for photos as the tram passed them. Honestly those moments made the wait worth it.
That being said, don’t buy return tickets. It’s not that you won’t want to leave Victoria Peak (though it is very nice up there) but it’s definitely worth catching one of the buses back down. It might take longer (though on a weekend with so many people waiting in line the difference might not be that much), and you get to take in a lot more of the surrounding scenery and the city itself. Since I hadn’t spent much time on Hong Kong Island this was particularly beneficial. The buses are double decker, and I managed to snatch a seat upstairs which granted even better views (I’d say it’s worth waiting until you can get a spot upstairs, they run frequently enough). You also go past Happy Valley race-course. Now horse racing doesn’t rank high at all on my interest levels, so my trip to Hong Kong hadn’t included this popular location, but it was eye opening to at least see it because my word is it big! The photos I had seen do not do the thing justice, it looked more akin to a football stadium (well part of it, the seating doesn’t go all the way around). One thing though Hong Kong: when you’ve got a long winding road that is rather narrow at points, I’d consider it a bad omen to dedicate part of that area to a bloody cemetery! I get you’ve got to bury them somewhere, but seriously!
I’m getting ahead of myself though. Victoria Peak is an amazing spot to take in the city. It’s heavily commercialised and touristy, but you can still find a spot either at the viewing platform or on one of the various walking paths littered across the top to take it all in on your own, or pose for a selfie free of other people posing for their selfies in your shot. The day was a little hazy, which isn’t unusual for November apparently, but you were still able to see across the water over to Kowloon. On clearer days I’m sure it is even more spectacular. I’ve heard some say the Sky Terrace 428 viewing area isn’t worth it. Honestly you can take it or leave it. I’ve seen more expensive ‘viewing stations’ and although you can get some equally impressive views elsewhere with a bit of walking I wouldn’t blame anyone for paying a bit extra for it. Those walks are all pretty cruisey too, so you can take the Peak at you leisure and spend a couple of hours up there if you really wanted. You can also enjoy the overpriced food at restaurants that spend as much time selling you on their viewing areas as they do their food. But I had other places to eat. My next destination was SoHo, which is a food hub of sorts.
To get there after my bus ride down, I had another form of transportation to take: The Mid-Level Escalators. These are another iconic Hong Kong tourist tradition, and one I had seen represented in several different forms of media. They surprised me for a number of reasons. Firstly, they’re long. Now I know that’s probably not a surprise to you, they hold a damn world record for their length, but they really do stretch for a long way. To make the whole trip from the bottom of Queen’s Road all the way beyond SoHo takes about twenty minutes if you’re letting the escalators do the work. They’re one way, so you can find places of note on the way up and then track them down on the walk back down, which is easy to do since there are stairs that follow the escalators for their entire stretch.
The other surprise was that much of it occurs above the streets. Now I guess this shouldn’t be too surprising, given the fact they cover such a great length, but the two primary forms of media I had seen in relation to the escalators: Sleeping Dogs and Running Man, didn’t show this. The first of course is merely a representation of Hong Kong, so it takes liberties, but when Running Man used the escalators for one of their challenges, the area they used wasn’t the start of the trip – but about halfway up in the actual SoHo district (this is the area Sleeping Dogs seems to base their escalators off too for what it’s worth). That part of the escalators do follow the ground, but much of the other trip is above the ground, with stops littered throughout if you want to climb the stairs down.
It’s a fairly long trip to take just so you can say you’ve ridden the world’s longest escalator chain, but I would honestly recommend it. It takes you from Central and SoHo to the mid-levels, three distinctively different areas, so you get to watch as sections of the city morph into one another. Business becomes food becomes residential. You won’t get great views, but you do get to see parts of the city and it’s pretty relaxing. Plus you can’t do it anywhere in the world.
While I was riding the escalators up I noticed another area Running Man had used. One of the challenges had one contestant racing up the stairs (while the others rode the escalator) and that person had to make it to a bar and mix a certain drink that the others had to correctly guess. On the way up I recognised the bar they used, so as I returned down I made a point to stop in and have a drink. Just a Lemon Lime and Bitter, but given it is my favourite television show out there it was cool to be able to trace the footsteps (the trip has actually led me to quite a few parts they used, but this was the first intentional stop I made because of the show rather, everything else was coincidental).
One bar down (It is SoHo after all) and I ended up stopping again. On the way up I had noticed a large portion of…well…white people hanging out outside, and it ended up being a bit of an expat hub. They even had the Adelaide cricket test on, so I stopped in to check the scores, and ended up striking a conversation with another random (I’ve been more social on my own in Hong Kong than I often am back home!). Turns out she was an American ex-pat teaching in an international school for the past nine years, and she was absolutely ecstatic to find someone who gave a damn about basketball. She was originally from the Oakland region, so naturally the conversation turned to how amazing the Golden State Warriors had been playing with their undefeated streak. A week and a half from this meeting and they’re still undefeated by the way…22-0
After a spot of dinner (I stumbled across a tasty albeit expensive Hong Kong burger joint) I decided to catch a Ding-Ding over to Wan Chai. The Ding-Ding is Hong Kong’s other tram. While not as vertical as the Peak tram, the Ding-Dings are a slow but great form of transport across the island part of Hong Kong. They’re a bit of an institution, but being double decker they make for a fun way to take in the city. So take it in I did. They’re cheap and they go slow enough so you can really soak in the atmosphere, and depending on how far you go you get to see quite a lot.
One tip though, make your way to the exit well before it arrives at the stop. The tram was jam packed, on both levels, and after I hastily decided to get off after seeing some outdoor basketball courts with people playing, I tried to squeeze through a tin of sardines to the front (you enter through the back and exit only through the front).
And yes, you read that right. I got off the tram and changed my schedule specifically to watch street ball. We don’t have a strong enough basketball culture back home for street ball to really be a thing, so being able to watch as the locals interact and play half court not only provides a bit of a look into daily life in Hong Kong, but in a way that is specific to my interests. It’s certainly not on any tour guide schedules. I ended up sitting there watching for nearly an hour, so my original plans for seeing the Symphony of Lights show from the other side were thrown out (which was fine really, Kowloon seems the better side to watch it from), but I walked through Wan Chai for a bit before heading to the ferry terminal there. The trip back over the harbour of a night was even more magical than it was during the day (it’s so cheap it’s worth doing a trip back and forth just for the ferry itself), and once I was back on the Kowloon side walked along the promenade past an array of street musicians, who were all oddly too close to each other so the sound kind of meshed a bit. Given the length of the promenade it seems a bit stupid for them to all be crammed in at one spot, but I’m guessing they’re forced to.
Really the only downside about the day was the wait for the Peak tram. Curiously the wait, and other lines I’ve been in while in Hong Kong, are more of a slow crawl free for all than anything well organised – you rarely stand single file but tend to move as a herd and first served goes to whoever positions themselves best. The rest of the day however was very relaxing. It was all about talking in the beautiful sights and experiences Hong Kong can offer. It was also fascinating to see parts of Hong Kong that I had only seen previously through media eyes. While Sleeping Dogs rarely goes for an exact emulation of the location, the feelings evoked by these areas is accurate. As for the bar used in Running Man, finding it hadn’t even been on my mind, but I instantly recognised it as I slowly rose past it on the escalator. For the average traveler to Hong Kong, the ‘Peak Bar’ wouldn’t stand out at all, so just like taking in the basketball in Wan Chai it helps to make my trip feel unique to me.
I wasn’t expecting much from the SoHo district and the escalators, but they were honestly my favourite part of the day. Victoria Peak is definitely a must visit place for anyone’s trip to Hong Kong (again, avoid weekend’s if you can help it), but I’d be quicker to return to SoHo than the peak. It certainly makes climbing up to the mid levels nice and easy, and as someone who lives at the bottom of a hill, I know they sure do suck to walk up.
Another day of Hong Kong done and dusted, and I’ve only got one more full day left. So off I went to Lantau Island to say hello to the Big Buddha and visit one of the more fascinating places I’d experience in Hong Kong: Tai O Fishing village. That’s for Part 5 of 1Up Abroad!