This is the second of three posts covering our day in Hong Kong during our Diamond Princess cruise in October 2018 and continues on where our morning getting from the Kai Tak Cruise Terminal to Kowloon Park left off. Our target for the rest of the rapidly warming day was to get across to Kong Kong Island from the mainland and see if we could find something of interest over there. As has been previously mentioned this approach of “winging it” when we travel is not something we do very often, preferring instead to plan a trip and make a list of things we want to see, but because this wasn’t our first time in the former British colony we decided to try something different. We can at least say we’ve tried it now and upon reflection we don’t like it; we’re far more comfortable and ultimately satisfied with plans (with flexibility built in) and targets than we are with the cheaper, lazier, less-fulfilling approach of just seeing what happens. Each to their own and all that. Anyway…
Hong Kong Mainland
From Kowloon Park we aimed due south as that’s where the ferry terminals are. This was an easy route to take as it was heading directly into the sun but this did make the walk one with a lot of squinting and very little photography of the variety of buildings in the city. We were also becoming acutely aware of how long it was taking us to get anywhere on foot in Hong Kong, something we’d not really given enough consideration to when getting off the cruise ship earlier in the day and formulating what could laughingly be called a plan of action.
We were pleased when we finally came upon the fabulous architecture of the Hong Kong Space Museum, itself more-or-less opposite the very famous architectural facade of the Peninsula Hotel. The museum’s design feels very brutalist although the tiled exterior gives it all a more modern, cleaner feel than that architectural movement usually encompasses. On our previous cruise to this part of the world in 2008 we’d actually gone in the museum and had a wonderful time (read more here: Hong Kong) and we briefly considered revisiting it on this trip too but decided to press on in search of new memories.
The nearby Avenue of Stars that we’d hoped to take another walk down was closed for repairs but a sculpture of several characters outside the museum was attracting quite a bit of attention and after a short wait I managed to snap a shot without people hugging parts of of it or posing in front of it.
Star Ferry To Hong Kong Island
This brought us to the Star Ferry pier and the means by which we wanted to get across to the island. There are a number of tunnels if you want to drive or take a taxi to or from the mainland and the MTR trains have lines there too but the best way if you like being on water – and as avid cruisers you can already tell we do – is to take one of the iconic green-and-white ferries. All we could remember of our previous trip to Hong Kong’s experience of using the Star Ferry service was that it was simple to use but the mechanism eluded us. We figured it couldn’t be difficult if we’d done it before when we were complete novices at travelling and, indeed, that was the case. Machines at the terminal accepted cash or cards and dispensed one of two types of token depending on whether we wanted to sit on the lower or upper deck of the ferry. The cost – like all public transport in Hong Kong – was ridiculously cheap (we worked it out at about twenty pence). Getting our lower deck tokens (to afford us some shade as we’re delicate flowers) we passed through a token-accepting barrier to the waiting area and once a ferry arrived and offloaded its passengers another gate opened and we filed onto the boat for a very pleasant, fairly quick skip across the harbour.
Steep Hills On Hong Kong Island
As part of Operation Make It Up As We Go Along we looked at a map briefly enough to select a new target to aim for on the island of Hong Kong. Just as with our mainland mystery tour we found a lump of greenery that attracted our attention, this time being the Hong Kong Zoological And Botanical Gardens. Distance-wise from Central Ferry Pier Number 7, where we’d disembarked the ferry, it looked easily doable but it was here that we made the first of two crucial mistakes when glancing at the map and that was this: we neglected to take into account the elevation.
Give us flat, even ground and we can (and often do) walk for hours, but throw some upness into the equation or some bumpiness along the way and old injuries become aggravated and make things a lot harder for us. We also don’t really cope with high temperatures very well. This never stops us embarking on ridiculously strenuous uphill activities such as that time we hiked up behind a waterfall or that time we hiked along some cliffs or that time we hiked around a volcano but at least we knew we were going to be pushing ourselves and probably regretting it at the time beforehand. Now, you’d think we might have realised that Hong Kong Island was hilly when we’d looked at it from the mainland and you might think we’d have remembered it was hilly based on our previous excursion that had seen us ride the funicular to the top of Victoria Peak but you would be wrong. In our defence the ever-present skyscrapers of the Hong Kong skyline did a good job hiding the climb to come from our eyes.
We passed through the IFC Mall (mostly because it was in the way but also because we realised it would have that most wonderful of things, air conditioning) and started heading southwards in as straight a line as it was possible to do in the general direction of the gardens.
And then we hit the steps. Queen’s Road Central, Stanley Street, and Wellington Street all run parallel to one another on the island but they’re at substantially different heights. Had they just been steps we might have considered a more circuitous route that would have taken us along sloping roads in order to hug the shade where it existed and make the walk a little more interesting but the steps were lined with interesting-looking shops and market stalls and packed with people adding local colour, and it was a simple choice to proceed onwards and upwards.
There weren’t many opportunities to stop and take in the views and there weren’t many places that caught our eye enough as it turned out to take a break inside them on the way up but we had a moment’s respite from the ascent at each of the main road intersections.
Aches and pains and heat put us into that determined frame of mind where all we could focus on was getting to the top of the climb and I barely took any photos of the bits of street art we passed or the edifices that towered over us.
We finally reached slightly more level ground and followed the curve of the road towards the zoological and botanical gardens. This was the second of our two crucial mistakes regarding our attempt to visit this landmark of Hong Kong: we didn’t know where the entrance was. We’d just assumed that by heading towards the big green thing on the map it would be almost impossible not to be able to find a way into it but that wasn’t the case. The gardens were elevated yet again and surrounded by huge walls. Our approach had taken us to the northwestern side of it but there was no indication of where to get in. The only gate we found was locked and we couldn’t see any signs of life on the walls that were still a significant number of metres above our heads. From where we were and from looking at the map we could see our only means of finding an entrance would be to circumnavigate the area and whichever way we took would lead us up further with no guarantee we wouldn’t pick the wrong direction of travel first or that the place was even open. We stood in the shade of a tree, looked at one another, realised we were too hot, too exhausted, and too much in need of just having a sit down somewhere cool where we could replenish fluids.
Bollocks to all this, we thought, and we started to head back the way we’d come as we’d passed a large number of bars and cafés getting here. Some were quite busy so we ignored them but almost at the top of the steps we’d climbed was a place called Slide On 79. It was open, it was empty, it was perfect. We entered, asked for some locally-produced beer (we always try the local stuff when we travel), and sat down to cool down. Mentioning that we were sweltering, the barman then ramped the air conditioning up to full just for us. Bliss.
Was the beer cold? Oh yes! Was the beer good? Not really. Was the beer priced at around the mark where someone from Iceland might wonder if they were being ripped off? Yes. Didn’t matter, though, because it was so, so, so needed.
Drinks imbibed, inner temperature approaching normal for us, we headed back down the steps, our intention now being to see whether we could find anything souvenir-wise for either ourselves or family. We knew there were enough market stalls on our route and that we’d need to pass back through the large mall near the ferry piers so figured there would be plenty of opportunities here.
One thing I was very pleased to see as we descended was a photoshoot taking place featuring a young Hong Kong girl modelling some decidedly gothic fashion. I had to grab a picture for myself, naturally.
With significantly less effort involved making our way down as opposed to up I had time to take in our surroundings and could notice for the first time the very modern designs of the buildings on Hong Kong Island when compared to the mainland. A clear sign of where the investment was directed.
Star Ferry From Hong Kong Island
Back at the pier it was a simple matter to repeat the process of purchasing some tokens and boarding the next Star Ferry that arrived, then enjoying once again the quick trip across the harbour, this time towards the mainland.
Our loose, evolving “plan” was now to hit a few other areas that might afford shopping opportunities before making our way back to the cruise ship. We took stock of our surroundings on debarking the ferry, though, to take some last looks across the harbour and to observe the 1915-constructed, 44-metres high Former Kowloon-Canton Railway Clock Tower, a landmark it’s possible to climb. We didn’t, though.
Hong Kong Streets
By this point we’d spent the best part of six hours ashore in Hong Kong, walking for most of it. While we had time to spare and a desire to get some more shopping in if we could as well as just see if anything else caught our eyes we also wanted to head generally towards an MTR station that could get us back to where we’d be able to make our way to the cruise ship. The nearest station on the right line for us was Tsim Sha Tsui so we headed up Nathan Road and just past it then started exploring the side roads off from there. Many shops were visited, several things were purchased, and some photos were snapped at irregular intervals.
In the final post from our day in Hong Kong I cover our minor adventure getting back to the cruise ship and our evening departure from the city.