Exploring the city of Hong Kong

hong kong city lights

I recently went to Hong Kong (my first ever trip to Asia), and all I can say about the experience is: WOW! Hong Kong is my new favorite city in the world without a doubt and I definitely have plans to go back. Anyway, here is a quick summary of my five day adventure…

My full flight itinerary:
05/18/02 United Airlines 747-400 Chicago to Hong Kong
05/23/02 United Airlines 747-400 Hong Kong to Chicago

ORD to HKG great circle map
The great circle route map from Chicago (ORD) to Hong Kong (HKG)

Wow. I was in Hong Kong. Customs was painless, but maybe that was because of the numbness in my head (and butt). Long flights are exciting, but that grows old after about two hours. So here I was, further away from home than I had ever been in my life. Didn’t seem so bad, but I was tired, and all I wanted (besides a good meal) was a ride to my hotel. I planned to take a taxi, but I couldn’t resist all the hotel shuttle kiosks in the arrivals hall. I quickly discovered that only certain kiosks serve certain hotels, so I had about 10 minutes of absolute joy bouncing from kiosk to kiosk trying to find the one that would get me a ride to the Hyatt Regency Kowloon. I amazed myself by not giving in to the temptation of a taxi – a shuttle would be MUCH cheaper dammit, and I was determined to save as much as I could. The process turned out to be quite painless (about $20), but I did forget my wallet as I left the kiosk. Luckily, the woman who sold me the ticket chased me down and handed it back to me. What a fantastic way to ruin a vacation! Executed admirably, thank you very much.

I got my first blast of the heat and humidity as I stepped outside to get on the shuttle bus. Overall, the terrain and atmosphere reminded me very much of Hawaii, but the difference here was the Cathay Pacific and Singapore aircraft landing in the distance. All of which reminded me again of where I was, and how far I was away from home. So, it was hot outside. But once I stepped on the bus, that all changed. The AC was turned to “snow”, and I was freezing! It was a cold 45-minute ride to the hotel, and the scenery was spectacular! Every time the bus rounded a mountainside and I could see buildings in the distance, I always thought I was looking at the city center of Hong Kong. “Ooooh! Just like I had imagined it to be!” Long story short, I grew tired of this game after the fifth letdown. Turns out that many of the buildings surrounding Hong Kong are very tall and impressive, and always grouped together located along the water. It was an interesting view.

The ride to the hotel was nearly over, and I started to take serious note of the surroundings. I hadn’t any concrete plans for the next few days, so I was curious to find out what there was to do around the area of my hotel. The freeway soon tuned into crowded city streets, and literally within one more turn, we were in the heart of Kowloon. Cars, people, Chinese signage, lights! NOW I was in Hong Kong! Right at about the time I had those feelings, the Hyatt Regency appeared out of nowhere. I knew right then that I had scored an excellent hotel choice. It was smack dab in the middle of everything, and I honestly couldn’t imagine it getting any better than that.

The room was spectacular as well, and so very welcoming after a 15-hour flight. The best part was the lighting system. Many options, from low key to super-bright – with light coming from every nook and cranny of the room. Oh yes – I was going to have a good time. After a quick room service order of sweet and sour pork, a long (and very hot) shower, I went to bed and slept like a rock for the next 9 hours.

The morning greeted me with clouds and hunger. Both completely expected, but I figured I’d deal with the hunger before I dealt with the clouds. Out of sheer laziness, I opted for a traditional Chinese breakfast via room service. Spectacular choice. Spectacular price as well (nearly $20), but heck – I was on vacation, and I had a big day ahead of me. My only concrete plan for the day: a trip up Victoria Peak to look down on the city.

I was out of the room by 9am, and the heat and humidity hit me like a ton of bricks upon leaving the comfort of the air-conditioned hotel. And within 10 seconds, I was having another “holy crap – I’m in Hong Kong” sensation. The signage, the smells, the traffic – welcome to Asia.

streets of kowloon
The streets of Kowloon were exactly like I imagined them to be – and I loved it!

For the next two hours, I just wandered. But I was very careful to pay attention to my surroundings, as I didn’t have a map to guide me back to my hotel should I get lost. The streets were crowded, loud, and they all looked the same – getting very lost seemed like it might be an easy thing to do! The most interesting thing about this particular morning was the fact that I quickly found myself wandering west; a direction I thought would take me to the water (and the city of Hong Kong). The further I walked, the more I realized that I was headed nowhere. The buildings were getting smaller, and the streets less crowded. Completely bewildered, I decided to turn back and start my exploration over. Just then, I got my first view of the Hong Kong skyline. It was right over my left shoulder the whole time, and I didn’t even see it. It was a spectacular sight to say the least, to see all that modern steel and glass rising from the base of the mountain. “Yikes. I’m in Hong Kong!”

Hong Kong skyline
Welcome to Hong Kong!

It took me about 30 minutes to walk to the Star Ferry Terminal, and I immediately went inside to buy a ticket. Wow, there were a lot of options. One boat going here, two there, an 11am to another place. What the heck? I just wanted to go see the big pretty buildings. I finally decided to buy a ticket from the booth that looked like it was getting the most action. My clever thinking paid off, and I was on the next ferry headed for the city.

hong kong skyline
The view of Hong Kong from the Star Ferry

First item to take care of upon leaving the ferry was to buy a map. Actually, I got two; one of Hong Kong, and the other of Kowloon – just in case. Second item of business was a potty break. I quickly discovered that there aren’t many public toilets around this city, so I had to take advantage of the opportunity in the ferry building.

With the use of my fantastic new map/guidebook, I found the tram to Victoria Peak. For about $2.50, I got a (steep) ride to the top and spectacular views along the way. The view from the peak was spectacular as well, but unfortunately, it was quite cloudy.

view from victoria peak
That’s me, looking like a tourist, at the top of Victoria Peak

I figured that I had plenty of time to kill, so I would just hang out for a while and wait for it to clear. During my time at the top, I took a tour of the Ripley’s Believe it or Not museum, and caught the first daily showing of a “moving” movie. The latter sucked, simply because I thought I was going to get sick within two minutes of it starting. And it was a rather rough ride as well – I came close to nearly getting thrown out of my seat on several occasions. All in all, I could think of other (better) ways to spend money.

Lunch was the highlight of the Victoria Peak experience, as I found an empty buffet style restaurant with a killer view of a cloudy Hong Kong. Once again, it was nothing short of spectacular. There’s nothing quite like sitting in front of a bowl of seafood and noodles while looking down on such an interesting city.

The next few days were spent trying to find ways to dodge the intense heat. Later in the afternoon on my first day, I spent a few hours in a theater to catch the new Star Wars release (the Phantom Menace). The theater was huge, the dialog in English, with Mandarin subtitles. However, after two hours in an intensely air conditioned room, I was starting to get quite cold. Never fear, I had the heat and humidity waiting for me right outside! Casual strolls through various museums filled my time, though I was disappointed in what I saw. I visited the Art History Museum, the Science Museum, and the Space Museum. All were quite small and had very used / abused exhibits.

My last afternoon / evening in the city was quite relaxing and entertaining all at the same time. I spent the afternoon walking some of the crowded busy streets of Kowloon just to the south of my hotel, and despite the intense heat and my throbbing feet, I was having a good time just being a part of the city. Nowhere to go, and nothing in particular to see.

busy hong kong streets
I felt so out of place here – yet at the same time comfortable and relaxed. Hong Kong is an amazing place for sure.

The pain in my feet eventually got the best of me, so I went back to the hotel to relax for a couple hours before heading out one last time. The sun was going down, and the lights were coming up – I decided to spend my last bit of time at the Tsim Tsa Tsui promenade overlooking the city. I sat there until nightfall, taking pictures the whole time. Zen.

hong kong city lights
Watching the city of Hong Kong come alive at night

It’s amazing to me how the citizens of Hong Kong deal with the heat, humidity, and pollution on a daily basis. I suppose it becomes just a part of life if that’s what you grow up with. Despite all this, I found the city to be very entertaining and interesting. If I ever have the time or funds, Hong Kong would be a place that I would like to come back to and live for a while, just to learn more about the little taste I got over my three day visit.

And finally, here was my ride home to Chicago:

united airlines 747 in hong kong
United Airlines 747-400 N109UA loading up in HKG

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