Following our two days exploring Vietnam we had a relaxed day at sea where we managed to win the morning trivia on a tie-break (closest to the number of moons of Jupiter) then won the first of two afternoon trivia games too (a 70s and 80s music trivia) with only one question wrong. That led to a group spotting us in the third trivia of the day and loudly exclaiming “Oh no, not them again!” Always nice to be popular. The next day we woke to find Diamond Princess docked in Hong Kong at the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal. Our view of the roof of the modern building outside our balcony and that of the buildings beyond was a mostly grey one on account of the low cloud.
With no trip booked we could afford a leisurely breakfast and a quick nose at the mainland and island areas of Hong Kong from the port side of the ship afterwards. Like that from our balcony this was a dull affair but the humidity that formed those clouds was palpable and the forecast was for the sun to burn off the cover over the city as the day progressed. Anchored off the port side of Diamond Princess was the Starry Metropolis, a 1976-built, 650-passenger capacity entertainment venue for locals looking for dining and entertainment on the water without ever going very far. Its nightclub looks awesome.
We only had a general idea of things we wanted to do in Hong Kong having visited the city for a couple of days ten years earlier and having done the obvious tourist attractions then such as ascending Victoria Peak. We decided that we’d take advantage of the shuttle bus to a Hong Kong Mass Transit Railway (MTR) stop then head towards the south of the mainland to see if anything grabbed our attention and possibly do some jade shopping before ferrying across the harbour to the island for a nose around there too. We had toyed with the idea of heading over to Lantau Island but chose something a little closer as we’re not the most confident users of foreign public transport and we were keen to see if we recognised any of the buildings we’d spotted on our first trip.
We’d been told that there were two shuttle buses running from Kai Tak terminal: one would drop passengers off at Diamond Hill MTR station and one would drop passengers off at Kwun Tong MTR station. The former was more in the direction we wanted to go but as we wandered to the buses we discovered we’d have to wait an hour to go there whereas the shuttle to the latter station would leave in just a few minutes. As both stations were on the same line it didn’t make a huge difference so we opted for the earlier bus.
Public transport everywhere in Hong Kong is very cheap. At Kwun Tong MTR station we admired the easy-to-understand screens and ticket machines and duly picked our destination only to discover that the machines had a minimum spend to use and that due to those low prices we’d need to queue up at a booth and talk to a human instead. The horror! That minor irritation aside, using the MTR was dead simple and the train itself, though crowded, provided a very handy lit-up display indicating current station, direction of travel, and upcoming stations.
We alighted at Yau Ma Tei as a tiny bit of investigation online had shown that this would be closest to some jade shops and my wife was after a piece of white jade in white gold that she couldn’t afford when we’d previously visited on our honeymoon.
It was fabulous to be walking the streets among the tall buildings of Hong Kong. I’m drawn to repetitive patterns in architecture so modern buildings always appeal photographically but there’s something extra joyous about being in a city that’s clearly grown and had sections replaced over the years almost organically so that each of those individual blocks of patterns is often sandwiched between completely different styles and colours; that patchwork quilt of buildings rather than a planned, matching set feels so much more warm and alive and welcoming. Add to that the grime of activity and the stuck-on signs of human life you tend to find in Asian countries such as air conditioning units and drying clothing both dripping onto the streets, the bamboo scaffolding, and the banners exhorting the saleability or rental status of anything and everything and I’m in my element in city locations like this.
So, we’d done a little bit of homework and knew where the jade shops were but if we’d just done a little bit more we’d have realised that most of them wouldn’t open for another hour after we were in the area. We found a few we could browse within but the choices on offer were understandably small and, disappointed and already starting to really feel the claustrophobic heat bearing down from above and reflecting off every surface, we had a small rest in the relatively tranquil Yau Ma Tei Community Centre Rest Garden next to a number of temples in order to check the map and make new semi-plans.
We wanted to hit the southern coast of the mainland where the Star Ferry terminals were which was only one or two MTR stops away depending on which station we might pick to head that way. But, one or two stops sounded a lot like walking distance to us because we weren’t paying attention to map scales well enough and were assuming distances were similar to London Underground distances. They’re not, as you’ve no doubt already surmised. We’d also spotted a large area of greenery about halfway to where we wanted to go which seemed like a sensible landmark to aim for.
This ended up being a lot longer walk than we had expected not just because the blocks were larger than we’d accounted for but also partly because we started zig-zagging through the city in order to seek out shade from the rising sun directly ahead of us for much of the walk.
That large area of greenery turned out to be Kowloon Park, a former-British Army barracks demolished in 1970 for the purpose, and the entrance we chose to explore this 33-acre public park was decorated with artwork on the steps leading up to it and the Avenue Of Comic Stars just inside. I won’t pretend to know who any of the comic stars actually were but if this is something you’ve got an interest in then there are plenty of opportunities to pose beside the sometimes-larger-than-life-size sculptures dotted around.
The shade from trees and the cooling effect of the proximity to water called out to us and heading roughly southwest through Kowloon Park we next stumbled upon a lake with sheltered areas on and around it (we happened upon quite a few locals sleeping on the benches, though as something they were just doing to rest rather than from being homeless). More importantly as far as my wife was concerned was the presence of a large number of turtles on logs and in the water; she’s always had a thing for turtles.
Beyond the lake, its pagoda, and surrounding buildings there was an area of Kowloon Park given over to modern art sculptures by different artists in a number of different materials. We spent a pleasant few minutes wandering amongst the stylish forms to see how they appeared from different angles. Some worked better against the trees nearby whilst others were lost a little to the background of skyscrapers in Hong Kong but it was a nice little area in the park.
With a short break to use the public toilets and admire a high-shooting fountain we soon after reached the southern end of the park which contained a couple of mostly-enclosed, lawned areas containing signs warning about fines and arrests for people feeding the pigeons. We saw a woman feeding pigeons there but decided not to photograph her because we are all for little rebellious acts.
In the next post we’ll continue our walk towards Tsim Sha Tsui and the Star Ferry crossing across to Hong Kong Island.