Hong Kong -- arguably Asia's cleanest cityAuthor: John M. (More Trip Reviews by John M.)
Date of Trip: July 2009
Move over Singapore. Hong Kong is rivaling it as Asia's cleanest city, and into the bargain, retaining much of its character.
After an absence of more than 35 years, my wife, Julie and I returned to Hong Kong for a 9-day sojourn, and were amazed by the changes. The Star ferry still exists, but the new underground metro subway system makes the poor old ferry more of a traditional hangover from the past, while the skyline is amazing, making the city the New York of the East.
And despite the obvious changes, places such as the Temple Street Night Market, the Jade Market, the Ladies' Market, Nathan Road's 'Golden Mile, and the nightclub district of Wanchai still remain.
It rained almost every day - well, it was the wet season - but it made little difference to our enjoyment. The metro system and the labyrinth of connecting underground walkways means that if one wants to, one can travel between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island and the numerous massive and spotlessly clean shopping malls without actually seeing light of day.
Staying in the Renaissance Hotel on Kowloon side and overlooking the Victoria Harbor meant that we were close to everything, with most places being no more than a five to fifteen minute subway ride.
But it was not without its pitfalls. Day one meant that I had no idea how extensive was the subway system, nor where to buy an Octopus Card (used for travelling on most forms of public transport) so we walked above ground from the hotel to the Star Ferry in the pouring rain poured and the howling wind. Paying cash for the ferry trip, we went across the harbor and eventually located the Hong Kong Island's Central metro station where we each paid $HK50 for the card and placed $HK100 worth of travel on it (a total of about $AUS27), and that lasted for about six days when I topped it up again with $HK50 (about $AUS9).
Over the next few days we rode the subway everywhere, never having to wait more than the maximum of 4 minutes for the next train. Generally the wait was about two minutes.
We journeyed to Mongkong and wandered through the bird, flower and goldfish markets - and the rain - and during the evening we perused the marvellous Temple Street Night Market, where we also savored excellent food (around $AUS18 for three courses) at one of several street restaurants.
My wife went wild at the shopping malls, where names such as Prada, Georgio Amarni, Gucci, Tiffany's, Zara, and Shanghai Tang proliferate - every major mall has at least one of each. Among the superb malls were Times Square and Lee Gardens (Causeway Bay, Hong Kong Island) and Elements and Harbor City (Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon).
We also took the opportunity to catch the ferry to Macau where we stayed one night at the world's biggest casino - The Venetian - an astounding experience. The Venetian has more than 20,000 staff and 3,000 guest suites. Add to that almost 350 specialty shops, more than 30 fine dining restaurants, a gambling floor covering an area more than twice the size of the Melbourne Cricket Ground playing surface, and which is crammed with 3,000 poker machines and 750 gaming tables, and four swimming pools.
But the piece de resistance was located on the second floor....three canals each almost 150 metres in length with authentic Italian gondolas and singing gondoliers - all under cover complete with make believe blue sky 24 hours a day and highlighted by St. Mark's Square and Italian-style street scapes.
While there we attended a performance of Cirque du Soleil's Zaia in the casino's 1,800 seat theatre - part of the Venetian's 11 acres of theatre, meeting and convention facilities.
Back in Hong Kong, we enjoyed a 30-minute ferry trip to Lamma Island where we ate the most exquisite and inexpensive (by Australian standards) seafood, discovered that Aberdeen - far from being the sleepy little fishing village it was 35 years ago - is now a thriving metropolis in its own right with dozens of towering buildings and apartments, and renewed our acquaintance with two restaurants - the New American and The Indonesian - where we had eaten when we worked in Hong Kong for a now defunct newspaper, The Hong Kong Star in 1973.
We also caught the metro to Diamond Hill, site of the rebuilt Chi Lin Nunnery and the Nan Lian Gardens. Both impressive, both constructed in the Tang Dynasty-style of more than 1,000 years ago, and certainly well worth the visit, especially if you are a keen gardener.
We had a second meal one night at the Temple Street Night Market, but also ate at Mody Road's Spring Deer Restaurant (famous for its Peking Duck) and Koh-I-Noor Restaurant (fabulous Indian food) with each meal costing around $AUS60. Even dining in the exquisite Renaissance Hotel's Chinese restaurant cost barely $AUS80 for two.
And we even rode the world's longest escalator system - a series of 30 escalators about 800 metres in length that operate between Des Voeux Road (Central) and Conduit Road. It rises almost 135 vertical metres, and carries about 60,000 people a day on the 20-minute journey.
Sadly we ran out of time, and missed numerous other attractions including Disneyland, the Stanley Market, the Giant Bhudda, Repulse Bay and the Peak - but they can wait for our next visit.
Back in Australia we had the rude shock of arriving at Perth International Airport, and had to connect with the final leg of our journey, from the domestic airport to Adelaide. The trip took about 20 minutes by bus, as it had to wind its way around the perimeters of both airports. In Hong Kong, they would have built an underground train to cover the distance, and the trip would have taken several minutes to cover the 800 or so metres!
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