Hong Kong - city of shopping and Buddhas
The idea to go to Hong Kong wasn't planned. The main trip was organised and I just needed a different place to spend New Years Eve. My stopover was coincidently in Hong Kong so I decided to stay longer than 6h at the airport.
I knew a bit about history, its status internationally and the change in 97 when UK as per previous agreement was giving it back to China. I read about people being worried what will happen to them under Chinese rule. They were used to decide for themselves, certain clashes already happened. During my brief visit I didn't see any of that. What I saw was huge crowd. But not really in people, it was more in the realisation of how many people must live there just by looking at the tallest blocks of flats that I have ever seen. 40 floors, one balcony next to another suggesting those flats weren't spacious at all. It overwhelmed me. Half of my pictures are precisely of these giants.
Second thing that I have noticed was more of a cultural difference. There was no respect of personal space. I kept walking into people unwillingly as on the crowded streets there was sometimes no space to move away but to my surprise nobody even tried or was bothered. A lot of people also made weird sounds, as if they were planning to spit and wanting to prepare the biggest amount of saliva possible. A sort of grunting but with substance. Often not spitting afterwards at all, just making the sound - couldn't get used to it, made me quiver every time.
Those were just the first impressions, later on came the discovery of organised shopping. The prices didn't knock me out of my socks, more or less the same as the UK, but it was the way things were planned. Depending on what you wanted to buy you found all the different shops and brands next to each other. All shoe shops in one corner, all watches in another, handbags had their corner to. Speaking of handbags, I normally don't do fashion so the amount of handbag shops and handbags themselves that I saw at the Hong Kong airport made my head spin. Going back to the organisation of things, even streets had their themes. There are streets where you can get antiques, spices, furniture, car parts. All grouped together in one happy competition.
All the shopping aside as it wasn't my reason to visit Hong Kong, there are few things definitely worth seeing. One full day you can spend on the Lantau island regardless of what you like doing. One advice straight away if you're going with the cable car to the Ngong Ping village book the tickets online in advance. It will save you almost 3h of queuing that I had the pleasure to enjoy. Also at least one way book the Crystal car with a glass bottom. You will be able to enjoy from above the views of the see, the forest and the people who have decided to take the 3h hike through the hills instead of the cable car. What you won't get from the hike is a great view of the airport and then the first glimpse of the Tian Tan Buddha towering over surrounding valleys and the Po Lin Monastery.
The Ngong Ping village is small and 99% commercialized. It was my second day in Hong Kong so I did enjoy browsing some of the gift shops. Once you have walked through the village of commercial temptation you approach the temple complex with stairs on the right leading up to the Buddha. Climbing the stairs makes you realize how big the statue really is. You can pay additionally to go even higher on the statue but I stayed on the feet of the Buddha to enjoy the magnificent view. You cannot see Hong Kong itself from there but you can admire the port on the western and southern side of the island. It is quite amazing to find such an oasis so close to one of the biggest and busiest metropolis in the world.
Apart from the sculpture itself, what fascinated me most were the hundreds of people on the stairs taking selfies. I think this is the future: instead of pulling faces or smiling at the person taking the picture you do that to your palm or the piece of equipment at the end of the selfie stick.
The complex still functions as a religious place so among tourist you will find people who go there to say their prayers and to lay some offerings. I was lucky enough to visit the site while the monks were chanting in one of the buildings. Although access was restricted it was great to be able to wander around the temple, observe the hundreds of burning essences and listen to those serene voices.
If you have some more time, meaning you haven't wasted it queuing for the ticket in the morning, you can go for a wander on the many marked paths. One of the most prominent is the Wisdom Path. Again, I never had the chance.
Another place worth mentioning in Hong Kong is Victoria Peak. You get a fun ride up the hill in an ancient tram, magnificent views of the city on both sides, on the island and Kowloon and if you're up for it, quite a nice but steep walk down. Apart from the great city skyline it was also the amount of people that must live in all those apartments that kept me in awe. I haven't visited any of the buildings but only imagined how small a lot of them must be, how much were they constructed with the thought of efficiency and not comfort.
If you still didn't have enough of the views on Kowloon there is a quite tall building where you can go on the 100th floor and admire the 360 city panorama: Sky100 Observation Deck. Very impressive after sundown around Christmas time as you can see all the buildings illuminated with Santas, reindeers, presents and Christmas trees. Also every evening at 20:00 there is a laser show with music along the coast. For that though the best view is either from one of the sides of the strait on the many promenades or from the boats going between the island and the main land.
On the advice side I would recommend getting the Octopus Card as you can use it on 90% of the means of transport around the city, including boats. I wish I had more time there as there was still quite a bit left unseen for me. As a first stop in Asia definitely an invitation to explore further in the future.