I was expecting Hong Kong to be big, loud and overwhelming. I was expecting to feel very much a fish out of water. I’m not really a big city person, and going to Hong Kong was going to be my first experience of being in Asia anyway so I was expecting it to be very different to anything that I had previously experienced. It didn’t disappoint.
My first impression on arriving in Hong Kong was that it was overwhelming, but I don’t think this was helped by the long haul flight with very little sleep beforehand. The buildings were tall and tightly packed, it was incredibly hot and humid and there were a range of unfamiliar smells coming from street corners and stalls. At first, I was not a fan. It didn’t feel like I was going to be able to spend an afternoon there, let alone three days! However it is amazing what the power of sleep can do and after a nap and a cold shower I felt a little more like exploring and seeing what the city had to offer. There is plenty I could write about Hong Kong but for now I’m going to stick with some of my lasting impressions.
Perhaps unsurprising with such a large and densely packed population but they are incredibly health conscious in Hong Kong. The first thing we weren’t with when getting off the plane (even before we’d reached the immigration desks) were medical officers who were ready to take away anyone who had felt ill on the flight. It was quite alarming and I was very conscious of the cough I had had in the UK that was still making an appearance now and again. Almost everywhere you went there were signs telling you that if you felt unwell you needed to find someone straight away who could help. People are encouraged to wear face masks if they are coughing/sneezing to prevent the illness from spreading. Even on the MTR (underground) escalators people were encouraged to put their hand on the escalator hand rail as these were regularly sanitized.
Fear of animals
Linked to the paragraph above, there seemed to be a fear of animals and particularly birds (Avian Flu is a huge worry). Dogs aren’t allowed in any of the parks and were very rarely seen in the streets. There are big signs everywhere telling you not to make contact with any wild birds and there is a fine for feeding them and the terrapins which you can see in some of the lakes. As an animal lover it was a bit of a shock and was one of the reasons I wouldn’t really want to live there. That being said, we went down one street that seemed to be nearly all pet shops and it was incredibly popular! They were largely fish shops but we did also see rabbits, dogs and cats in the windows of some.
The MTR is excellent
The MTR is the Hong Kong underground and it works really well. There were very frequent services and there appeared to be space on all of the trains. Even better, unlike the London underground there is air conditioning! Whilst I usually like to walk places as you can see more that way, I was more than happy to take a break from the heat and use the MTR. We bought Octopus cards which are the Oyster card equivalent and can be topped up as and when needed.
Check out the Shopping Malls
I’m not usually one for a shopping mall unless there is something specific I want to buy or I’m going for a girly day out with my mum. I certainly wouldn’t put them on a list of things to see usually, however in Hong Kong they seem to be everywhere. They are huge and are also air conditioned with regularly cleaned toilets so can be worth popping into now and again. What we found particularly interesting was that all shops which are similar seem to be clustered together. So all electronics shops will be in one area, lingerie shops in another and so on… I have never seen so many electric massage chair shops in one place!
It became obvious as we went around the city that one of the chief methods of law enforcement is fining people. From fines for feeding birds, to walking dogs in a park, to eating in certain areas to smoking, it felt like there were a lot of rules. However as there were clear posters about each of these things all over the city you were made aware of them so couldn’t really get caught out. It seemed to work – I didn’t see anyone disobeying them.
Kowloon and Hong Kong Island feel like different cities
I’ll be writing about each of these areas in more detail in subsequent posts when I get the time and I’m also aware that this is another sweeping generalisation. As we didn’t see all of both areas this might not be completely true, but from what we saw it felt like it. Hong Kong Island has the glittering cityscape that you see in photos so often. It is full of seriously shiny high rise buildings and gives off the impression of wealth. The shopping malls are bigger and full of designer shops, the streets seem to have more space. In comparison Kowloon is much more densely populated (particularly the Mong Kok area where we were staying) and still seems to be developing as there is a lot of building work going on.
The city comes alive at night
Whilst there is plenty to see and do during the day, at night is when the city really comes into its own. This is when you can see the cityscape of Hong Kong Island glitter which is pretty mesmerising. We spent much longer just sitting and soaking it all in than I expected. The markets also take on a new lease of life and the city streets seem to become much busier, even though it is only marginally cooler. Usually I prefer cities during the day, but Hong Kong I much preferred by night.
Hong Kong grew on me over the three days that we were there. When we first arrived I didn’t think I would like it at all, but by the time we left I had decided I wouldn’t mind returning. I don’t think I’d choose to go there as a destination in its own right, but there were quite a few things we didn’t have time to do so if I have the option of another stopover there in the future for a couple of days before travelling on elsewhere, I’ll probably take it.