quarta-feira, 15 de agosto de 2012

China's gate: Hong Kong

Dear readers, frequent or not, I finally made it to Brazil! 11 months and 30 flights after I landed in our tropical paradise and I'm more excited than never to meet up with friends and relatives, catch up with the stories, what changed and what's still the same, (find a new job, hehe), etc., and so on. I'm also looking forward to share my last adventures, first in China, and later in Europe.

Within these almost 30 days that I spent in this huge country I felt and understood many things, couldn't sleep that much, walked a lot, tasted some weird stuff, took lots of trains, some buses, and finished our challenge with surplus! I didn't take exactly what was planned before (through the posts why will tell you why) however my budget finished at US$ 1,080 and therefore lower than the previously planned US$ 1,200. Thus, for the low budget traveler China is still an option!

As previously appointed by my introductory post, my gate to the Chinese world was the SAR (Special Administrative Region) of Hong Kong. This region is not just another Chinese province. In fact, it's totally different from mainland China. The closest rough association would be comparing it to Singapore. Hong Kong became a British colony since 1842 and since culture, habits and Western values were merged to the Chinese culture in this place that would be known as the gateway to China. The city grew and became famous for its mid-position between the rest of the world and mainland China. However, Hong Kong also went through fast and polluted industrialization during the 50s which would be replaced by mainland's industrialization some years later and since the 80s the island has become a major global hub for services. Today it presents some relevant development indicators like the 13th best HDI, 4th largest population density, one of the most expensive real estate markets in the world, etc. In 1997, the region was returned to China under the concept "one contry, two systems" which should last for the next 50 years from then. That explains the fact that in practice Hong Kong is another country since there are all border control requirements, passport stamps and even the mainland Chinese themselves cannot get in without special authorizations.

My arrival in Hong Kong was a little bit complicated. After spending a night sleeping among chairs and floor of KL's airport wondering about my Cambodian farewell I was informed that my flight would be delayed for more 2 hours. In the internet I found that a typhoon (which are very likely to happen at that time of the year) was 120 km west of Hong Kong. Maybe that wouldn't be big deal for most of the travelers but definitely to make my hands getting swept and my heart beating fast. I hate airplanes. Although I overcame my fear of flying before finishing my "world tour" at that time this was just another black hole in the adventure that was about to start. For the alerts and the most recent weather forecast check this website.

The typhoon went away and the flights were back. I got there, late, but in time to meet with my friend Julia - a former AIESEC exchange participant there, today living and working regularly - since she would " host"  me and my 30 kg luggage suitcase until I finished my Chinese trip. By the way, she keeps a blog, very good and up-to-date, about living in this part of Asia. It's worth to check some precious tips about going there. First, in Hong Kong there are no tellers in the bus - which is likely outside Brazil - and you should pay the fare in the exact amount. Since you will come from the airport and will have changed a large amount of money, to have the exact change may be difficult. The cheapest way to access HK's downtown is getting S1 bus until Tung Chung - which has a huge Outlet by the way - and then the MRT. Why? If you take the Airport Express get ready to spend more than 100 HKD per way. Roughly estimation 1 USD = 8 HKD.

Map with subway lines, trams and ferries of Hong Kong
Bank of China building
As you can see in the map, HK's occupies a large area and the famous island of Hong Kong is just a small spot of it, thus using the public transportation is essential to go around. The territory central part is densely populated with many buildings. In fact, maybe in my whole trip I haven't seen so crowded walking paths like there. However, that does not represent a chaotic traffic as we would normally expect. Most of the time the streets are free of heavy traffic.
The Peak
The viw from The Peak during the day
One of the most famous attractions of Hong Kong is The Peak. It's basically the view from the top of a mountain that occupies the central part of the island of Hong Kong. To make it easier to understand the location, in the other site of the bay you can find the neighborhoods of Kowloon and New Territories, where most of the population actually live and, after these areas, it's the Chinese province of Guangdong, already at mainland China. The traditional way to climb up The Peak is taking an old tram that cost 40 HKD return ticket. However, they will try to send you the SkyPass which is the possibility to see the same thing of a little bit higher point. I don't think that is worth to pay this extra amount since there's some sort of mall after crossing a small garden area at the top and you can reach the rooftop with a good angle and for free. Other possibility is to reach the peak area entirely on foot which could be even more interesting and remarkable. The view is really impressive and surely a post card of Hong Kong. You could not find good weather? No worries! Go at night! 

The Peak seen at night
Big Buddha

View from the cable car
Another famous attraction of Hong Kong is the visit to the Big Buddha, originally named Tian Tan Buddha. This place is only accessible through a cable car, very nice and very tall, it's worth it. Besides that it's very close to the airport and, like my case, you can leave it as a last tour before taking your flight. That's possible since many airlines companies provide check-in counters in HK's downtown area in some subway stations thus making you free to go around without luggage.

Stairways giving access to the Big Buddha

At the first view one would thing that the Big Buddha was built some centuries ago erected by some Chinese emperor. However, in fact it was built just in 1993. Given to the touristic exploitation in place that gives room  to wonder whether the purpose of the construction was exclusively to create a touristic attraction. That interpretation is far from absurd. In mainland China for example there are hundreds of locations which are being rebuilt - from scratch sometimes - in order to enjoy Chinese huge tourism potential.

Avenue of the Stars

In the other side of the bay, in Kowloon, it's possible to observe one of the most famous views of Hong Kong. Everyday you can catch a show - Symphony of Lights - at 8 pm, for free, in which many buildings change their colors according to the playing music.

Hong Kong island seen at night
More impressive than the show of lights is the view to the Hong Kong island at night. Lights everywhere! However, the name Avenue of the Stars comes from the fact that this avenue has many "hands" of HK's movie stars, including Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan!

To finish, my picture with Julia and her boyfriend (Martin) having an awesome lunch with HK's typical food and my anxiety before putting my feet in mainland China. Thank you Julia for providing me all the assistance during my stays in HK! I also thank you Juan Pablo, Marine, Javier and Olivier for allowing me to stay at their apartments! :)

Next stop, Beijing!

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