After 6 weeks it was unfortunately time for me to leave Vietnam. Although keeping a tight schedule isn’t really a concern of mine at the moment, there are a couple of things I want to knock off the list and occasionally things need to be booked in advance; like my upcoming tour to North Korea in April. With the goal in mind to get from South East Asia to Amsterdam without using a plane, this meant that the logical move would be to spend March in China.
Aside from walking, there was only one option available for land transit between the two countries, and that involved an overnight sleeper train from Hanoi to Nanning. Now, when I say sleeper, it’s important to note that if a border check is involved (especially with a country like China) I wouldn’t bank on getting your solid eight hours. Cozy cabins and loud passengers aside, the $50USD train stops at both Vietnamese and China immigration checkpoints. The latter can take some time, especially if it’s a full train, and the procedure is particularly frustrating considering they don’t let anyone back on the train to continue dozing until absolutely everybody is cleared. There are Chinese soldiers with riot shields waiting to challenge anyone who wants to duck outside for a cigarette.
Regardless, the process ended eventually (after getting a tray of Panadol confiscated.. ???) and we got back on track to land in Nanning early morning. It wasn’t long before I decided that this was a place I didn’t need to spend a lot of time in, and promptly booked a ticket to Guangzhou on a fast train for 165CNY.
Arriving in Guangzhou was my first real exposure to Chinese public transport etiquette, or lack thereof. The Guangzhou train station is mad. People don’t line up, they shove. It wasn’t long before I figured that, in situations like this, I was therefore entitled to use my 196cm, 100kg frame to my advantage. Sometimes, size does matter 😀
I took a bus (stupid decision, should have taken the metro) to the inner city and walked the last few Kms after it broke down. Eventually I got to the centre hub, Beijing Road walking street and checked in to my hostel (Koala Youth Hostel, would recommend).
This area reminded me of Tokyo a little, probably just because of the size of the buildings and the bright lights everywhere. I spent the next day and a half walking the city, getting stared at, watching people unload their bowels and bladders anywhere they please and eating my fair share of Chinese food.
The Canton Tower is impressive!
After a couple of days and about 2662885.45 calories later I began making my way to Hong Kong (figured I was in the area, and all). I took the MTR to Guangzhou East and jumped on a train directly to Kowloon for 167CNY. They stamp you out at the Guangzhou station, and you enter Hong Kong through a special train checkpoint on the other end. I breezed through customs after being awarded Visa free entry, as is the case with a lot of countries. You don’t even get a stamp in your passport!
After catching a ferry across the water, I settled in to what would be my home for the next few days; a surprisingly large ‘dorm room,’ which was only a shared twin room, but at dorm price and a bloody decent size for HK hostel standards.
One of the first things I did here was go for a walk of the city, which included picking up an Octopus card, an access all areas public transport pass which makes getting around a lot easier. I was accompanied by my room-mate, Victor, a Swedish GC who I’d spend the next couple of days tiki-touring this heaving mad-house with.
As well as covering a few KMs by foot, we caught one of the many trams, which, especially from the upper story is a great way to see the city.
Something I noticed was this was the first time in a couple of months where I wasn’t stared, pointed or chuckled at for being a 6’5″ white man. There are so many tourists and Expats here that Westerners are not an unusual sight like they are in the likes of Vietnam or a lot of mainland China.
I checked out the mid-levels escalator, which is a walking escalator that goes a few hundred metres up through the centre of town, providing an easy way of getting up and down the hill and between a couple of mini-districts.
The next day, I had to get my phone fixed as it’d been bugging out for the last couple of months and HK was going to be my only chance in a little while. This proved to be a great exercise for demonstrating how the city is built upwards, and space is really maximised. The little place which fixed my Nexus for me (thanks for the recommendation Frank) was on the 16th story of a skyscraper, was about as big as my kitchen back home yet had everything in it that the guy could need, plus still enough room for a couch and table. Efficient, yo.
Victor and I visited Tim Ho Wan for dinner. THW is a famous Dim Sum restaurant, for two reasons; their baked pork buns (wow) and for being the cheapest Michelin Star restaurant in the world. We filled ourselves to the brim with stunning food and the whole bill was less than $45NZD (over the backpacking budget, but it had to be done).
If you’ve been to Hong Kong on a relative budget, there’s probably a good chance you’ve hears of the Chungking Mansions. It is… something else. Some would call it maximsing space, others would call it a cesspit. It’s a huge building with floors upon floors of small rooms and corridors, packed with beds and filthy toilets, each one allegedly belonging to a different ‘hostel.’ The lobby area plays host to an array of touts, each one more than eager to sell you a fake watch, a new suit, some party ingredients or a good time with a past-used-by-date prostitute. We ended up chilling out the front having a few beers (drinking in Hong Kong is legal pretty much anywhere except the subway) while we watched the action unfold. It was highly entertaining, a true experience and made me appreciate the value I got in the room I had!
Hong Kong has a huge cable car, which takes you up Ngong Ping mountain to where the world’s largest Buddha resides. The ride up, which takes around 25 minutes or something, provides some spectacular views, although unfortunately the day I went was blessed with lots of fog. There’s a little mini-village up the top. A two-way trip costs around $180HKD (around $35NZD).
After waiting in line for an hour or so to come back down the cable car, we took the MTR through to Central station, where we walked to the Peak Tram. If you haven’t heard of ‘The Peak’ (Victoria’s Peak) it’s the spot at which a lot of the overlooking photos of Hong Kong are taken. It can’t be missed on an inaugural trip to HK, and what better way to travel up than the Tram? Again, unfortunately the view was spoiled by fog but it was still well worth it.
Terrible photo, but you get the idea…
As with any other city in this part of the world, Hong Kong plays host to an array of markets, which have everything from food, to trinkets, to clothing (practically anything but a damn HK patch for my backpack …!). As well as markets, the Kowloon side of HK is littered with sneaker stores. On one street in Mongkok, every second store is a Nike it Adidas branded shop, though they all seem to sell a bit of everything…
On the way back I walked to the waterfront to get some photos of the skyline as it was a clear day.
As with the rest of Asia, I get a good laugh out of the English printed on signs and clothing.
I caught up with a couple of friends who I hadn’t seen in some years; Frank and Craig. Special shout out to these two for hosting me for the evening in true ballin’ HK fashion. I won’t forget that one in a hurry! Thanks again dudes, I hope to repay the gesture someday.
They may have named the restaurant after they tasted their own food.
I had planned to go to Macau, but due to my hungover state and the need to pick up my passport from the visa office I simply didn’t make it. I didn’t really have the budget for it either as Hong Kong is definitely the most expensive place I’ve been to in this trip. I’m sure I’ll be back someday, however.
Thanks for reading!
– Get an Octopus card for getting around. You can use them on the subway, trams, buses and even at the 7-11’s. It makes your life a lot easier.
– If you take the tram to the peak and there is a huge line to get back down, take a five minutes walk down the hill (to a place called Barker Road, I think), press the button and get the tram to collect you on the way down.
– If you’re on a budget, like me (and I still blew it, spectacularly), definitely look around for cheaper restaurants a couple of streets back from the main road. The food will still be great but you’ll slash the bill in half at least.
– You can buy a 7 day unlimited data sim cards for a good rate if you need it.
– Look around for hostels and read the recent reviews. I’d recommend staying on the city side as opposed to the Kowloon side. $100HKD a night (excluding weekends, when the price goes up) got me a very decent place.