Yesterday was a very good day.
As a bit of background for those that don't know, I visited Hong Kong three years ago when I was on Semester at Sea (Spring 2005), but I didn't really see it. Our ship was damaged 10 days into the voyage by violent waves in the middle of the Pacific (first and last time this will happen on SAS) and instead of heading on to Korea and Japan, we limped back to Honolulu Harbor. Missed Korea and Japan, flew on to China, Hong Kong, and Vietnam where the ship met back up with us. BUT, I didn't really see Hong Kong while I was here... I was too busy taking MIDTERMS! They had us locked in the hotel during the day, so I really only could go out at night. All I saw of Hong Kong were the night markets really. I never even got to have dim sum. Half of this trip is making up for all that I didn't get to do last time!
Upon waking we made our mission to find the best Dim Sum in town (according to Lonely Planet), so after a quick and easy ride on Hong Kong's clean and efficient MTR subway, we found ourselves in Hong Kong Central. We made our way to the Luk Yu Tea House for some very tasty dim sum dishes and tea. I would believe it if it really was the best in town. My favorites are always the bbq pork buns.
Not far off from the tea house we found a China Travel Services branch (yay!) so we purchased our bus tickets to Guilin. We're set to head out on the overnight bus tonight from the Shenzhen (Lo Wu) bus station at the border between Hong Kong and mainland China. $250 Hong Kong dollars per ticket and $7 Hong Kong dollars to the US dollar, so not too shabby. We have to buy our return tickets when we get there.
After wandering on Hong Kong's elaborate covered walkways and ending up in the wrong direction, we finally made our way to the Bank of China tower. This building is known for its spectacular (free) view from the 43rd floor... and it was very pretty. In the bottom of the tower is an official 2008 Beijing Olympics merchandise store. Of course we had to get some official gear!
We then made our way to the Peak Tram station. The Peak Tram has been operating since 1888, and we are here 5 days after the 120th anniversary. There are plaques commemorating the different cars and ticket methods everywhere. Of course the ticketing system is very modern and similar to the metro now. You can even use your Octopus pass, which is a card you simply scan to use on any public transport. It works much in the same way my work badge that lets me into the building does. You can add funds to it at any “add funds” kiosk in any MTR station. I love it.
The tram itself is made to look like it is an older style even though the cars themselves were probably built in the 90s. It is a very quick and efficient ride up a VERY steep hill to Victoria Peak! The tram is led up the hill by a very beefy metal cable. The tram has only ceased operation twice since its opening; once in World War II, and once in 1966 when they had horrific rains which washed half of the track away.
At the top to go with all of Hong Kong's artificial glory is the “Sky Terrace”, a very elaborate building with 5 floors of escalators taking you to an observation deck where you can see the city skyline and the harbor. It IS a breathtaking view (though very misty). We hung out up there for a long time just taking it in and enjoying the quiet and fresh air. (As an aside, Hong Kong is MUCH less polluted than Manila! MUCH!) As we went back down, we saw all of the (of course) overpriced restaurants, gaming facility, and Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum.
Outside of the terrace building we found a much cheaper lunch at a little cafe, and followed our panini sandwiches with some amazing gelatto (I got coconut of course) which we took with us for a little walk. We meandered around the hillside (Being a Coloradoan, I call Victoria Peak a hill) for probably over an hour, taking pictures of all of the greenery and the path in the mist. It all looked very mysterious. We were surrounded by clouds. We also stumbled upon some mansions overlooking Hong Kong... I don't even want to know how many millions of dollars these elaborate homes are worth.
Back at the bottom it was nearing dusk as we made our way to Hong Kong Park, the equivalent of Central Park. Let me tell you, after Kowloon park the first night then this one, I can officially say that Hong Kong's parks put ours to shame. Not even central park in New York is this cool. There is an aviary, a conservatory (botanical garden), a tai chi garden, a children's play park... and there are waterfalls, ponds, caves, meandering paths, and more. GORGEOUS. We climbed to the top of the lookout tower to see it all. And then it started to rain.
Now I see what this monsoon season thing is all about. I've never seen this much rain in my life! (Well, that's easy being from dry Colorado...) It started off light as we explored the tai chi garden under umbrellas. (A side note... the tai chi garden was built in summer 2005 to commemorate health care workers who died combating the SARS outbreak of 2003... so it wasn't even in existance when I was here on SAS.) Then, as we made our way toward the conservatory, someone opened the floodgates and the lightning started up. We sought cover along with a couple of European girls who had the same idea.
We watched as the lightning got closer and struck the Murray building just across the street. I've never seen sparks fly like that, but I guess it's a good thing all the towers are equipped with lightning rods. We waited it out until we decided the lightning was far enough away and that the rain wasn't going to quit for a long time. We played around a bit (the rain was probably an inch deep or more) in the “Olympic Square”, just taking it all in and subsequently getting soaked. The Olympic Square is actually a circular stadium, I can only imagine that the torch may be passed at this place in August before the games begin.
You can tell that China is very proud to be hosting the Olympics this year. There are giant timers, signs, etc. EVERYWHERE. It's very neat, but I wonder what they'll do with all of these permanent structures dedicated to the olympics when they're over!
Once we were thoroughly soaked through, we found ourselves back at the MTR station and were whisked away back “home” in Tsim Sha Tsui on Kowloon. We had some excellent sushi for dinner at a conveyor-belt style sushi bar at Sushi One (my new favorite) for pretty cheap compared to US sushi prices. We'll proably be coming back here after we get back from Guilin.
Sipping on some starfruit juice from a stand, we returned to our petri dish of a room to find that, just as the night before, none of the outlets were working. This time instead of flipping the right breaker back on they couldn't figure it out and switched our room. We got an upgrade!!! Yaaaaay! This room has a view and is NOT a petri dish. Well, except for some patches of carpet, but I'll let that slide as I'm coming to find that Hong Kong is a very wet place. All in all, an excellent day.
Today we are off to the museums as Wednesday is free admission day and they are close to our hotel. Then we'll go grocery shopping (if we ever find a grocery store) as overnight buses don't feed you dinner or breakfast, then figure out how to get to Shenzhen. I have no idea if we'll find internet in Guilin. We're hoping to return on the overnight bus the night of the 7th so we can be back for all of the dragon boat races that happen on the 8th. Wish us luck!