Hong Kong: First Impressions…

So I made it! After around 15 hours of travelling, two planes, a train and a somewhat dubious taxi, I arrived at my new home for the year last week. Hong Kong is everything I had imagined and more: skyscrapers as far as the eye can see signal a modern metropolis and yet the streets on which these impressive structures sit are rich in Chinese culture and heritage. I think it’s safe to say I won’t get bored here! I’ve been in Hong Kong for almost a week now and am about to start my university course so I thought now was as good a time as any to note down some of my initial thoughts:

1. An easy way to travel…

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Despite being quite intimidating at first glance, it has struck me just how easy Hong Kong is to navigate for a traveller. It has that Asian charm I’ve found elsewhere in South-East Asia, but without the frustrating obstacles that other countries can put your way. In Hong Kong, a red light really does mean stop and a green man means you can cross the road without fear of being hit by a tuk-tuk or stray cow. The illegality of jaywalking means pedestrian crossings are in abundance in the busy areas, along with bridges and subways to make crossing these busy roads easier and safer.

The public transport is frequent and convenient. Being at the University of Hong Kong (which is yet to be connected to the city by metro – it’ll hopefully be coming at the end of this year!), I do feel as if we’re slightly out of the way and it’s not a case of just  hopping on the metro to be connected with the rest of Hong Kong. However, with frequent buses to Central MTR (metro) station which take under 20 minutes, it’s no longer too much of a worry. I spent the first few days frantically looking up bus timetables and trying to work out which bus to get but it’s a hell of a lot easier to just get a bus to Central and work from there. A bit of research does come in handy though, especially with regards to getting a bus back, as well as buses to destinations which are further afield.

By far the easiest way to travel in Hong Kong is via the MTR which eradicates the problematic Hong Kong traffic in an instant. They’re as frequent as the London Underground but with immense cleanliness and an easy-to-follow map which even I couldn’t misread. They’re made even easier by using an Octopus Card (Hong Kong’s version of the Oyster card) and most metro journies will set you back less than £1 (less than 50p for short journeys on the same line), possibly more if you’re going further out. You can top your Octopus Card up with up to HK$100 and then just scan through the turnstiles like a pro.

It’s not just the MTR where the Octopus Card comes in handy – the buses use them too, as well as vending machines and some shops/convenience stores so it saves you faffing about with change especially if, like me, you still can’t tell your $2 from your 50 cents. You can buy Octopus Cards for $150 from MTR stations, which includes $100 of credit. In a city that never stops, they’re a life-saver.

2. A different way to travel…

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For me, the most difficult thing has been the fact that this is travelling with a twist. Obviously, I’m doing my usual exploring, getting lost, trying crazy new foods and getting things wrong, but I’m also living here. For someone who only usually spends a few days in a particular city before moving on when travelling, this has both pros and cons.

The negative is more to do with my location and, I imagine, is something that’ll change over time. The University of Hong Kong is situated on the west side of Hong Kong Island and is a gorgeous campus with plenty going for it and more Starbucks than you’ll ever need. It’s a great place to live but necessarily a great place to base yourself for further travels. I picked up my compulsary copy of Lonely Planet and, along with online research, like to check out how to get to various places etc. The trouble is that all of these things are written for tourists and travellers who will more than likely be getting transport from Central or Kowloon where they’ll be staying. There’s much more limited information on the best and cheapest ways to get to places from the uni. As I say, this’ll come with time – both from my own experiences and the experiences of other students but, for now, it involves diving head-first into the unknown which is both thrilling and terrifying!

A good thing about being a resident rather than a tourist, however, is how much time you’ve got. I’ll be living here until summer 2015 so I’ve got a long time to explore every crevice of this wonderful place, as well as other places in Asia and the Pacific. This means that, unlike peopel who just come to Hong Kong for a few days, I can ease myself into things and travel in a much more relaxed manner. I spent last week just popping into the city, either for a glance at the markets, drinks with friends or just to pick up essentials and this meant that, when I did some proper tourist travelling to Kowloon yesterday, it was a breeze. I knew how the MTR worked, where to go, how to get back. It was one of the most stress-free days of travelling I’ve ever had – I even managed to fit in a sneaky haircut. It’s such a wonderful feeling arriving somewhere and not having to work out how you’re going to leave and whether you’ll have enough time to do things. I can take Hong Kong at my own pace and, hopefully, will get to see a side to it that short-term travellers don’t.

3. That skyline though…

Hong Kong skyline from Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade
Hong Kong skyline from Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade

 

How to get there:

By MTR: From Hong Kong Island, change at Central or Admirality onto the Red (Tsuen Wen) Line. Get off at Tsim Sha Tsui (which is the next stop after Admirality) and leave via Exit E. Head down towards the Hong Kong Space Museum (by crossing the main road), then keep going and you’ll see the water – you can’t miss it!

By Star Ferry: Catch the iconic ferry at Central which will take you to the pier at Tsim Sha Tsui. Exit the Star Ferry terminal and turn right. You should see the Kowloon Clock Tower which signifies the beginning of the promenade.

Hong Kong’s most iconic feature is, of course, its incredible skyline and yesterday I headed over to Kowloon (which is across the water from Hong Kong Island) to get a glimpse of it. It was absolutely stunning. I’m a real sucker for a good view and walking along Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade whilst watching the sun set over the hordes of skyscrapers was an experience I’ll never forget. The true iconic picture is when the sun goes down and the lights blare out, reflecting off the water and dazzling the hordes of people who gather to watch. I got a great few shots with the moon lingering in the background too.

At 8pm every evening, the audience is ‘treated’ to the free Symphony of Lights show, which is a couple of light flashes combined with music which sounds as if it’s been lifted straight off of Mario Kart. However, it is free and you can never get bored of watching that skyline so if you’re in the area at that time, it’s worth a look. The viewing deck on Tsim Sha Tsui gets packed from 7.30pm onwards though so try to get there earlyish.

Then, if you still feel as if you’ve not had enough skyline, you can hop on the ludicrously cheap Star Ferry to get back to Central Station (or Wan Chai MTR station) which allows you to soak in the dazzling buildings of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon all at once. So, here it is, in all its glory – one of the most famous skylines in the world…

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I think I might like it here…

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