Kung Hei Fat Choy! Happy New Year!
Enjoying the Skyline?
You know the rush of heat you experience when you leave Dublin and land in a dry hot country? Well this was the exact opposite. The weather in the north of Vietnam hadn't been great but Hong Kong was having unseasonably bad weather. It was like a dreary winter's day in Ireland. Except for the skyscrapers (they're just behind Ciara honestly) you could be in Ballybunion in December. But we didn't come here for the weather. We came for Chinese New Year and what better place to experience it than Hong Kong? Our second shock was cultural. We'd come from under developed or developing countries and were suddenly in city that was beyond a metropolis. Everything was organised, smooth, expensive, designer, neon, crazy and cool. One of the first things I noticed was that there was pavement, and it was smooth so you didn't have to look at your feet at every step. Then the drivers were soooo conservative, they stopped before the lights went red, pedestrians didn't jaywalk! The buses and taxis had seatbelts and the seatbelts worked! Weird. We'd booked accommodation in Chungking Mansions, which is a notorious kip but cheap and available which were deciding factors. We had to run a gauntlet of dodgy geezers at the entrance and then stuff ourselves into a tiny lift to struggle to the 12th floor. Luckily for us our hotel turned out to be a spotlessly clean oasis of calm. The rooms were lovely but hilariously tiny. One of our biggest regrets of the Hong Kong trip was that we didn't take a photo of the room. David's wingspan could pretty much touch all four walls while standing in the middle of the room. We quickly got used to elbowing past the chancers at the entrance and looked forward to returning to our little Hobbit Hole each evening.
We quickly realised that while it was exciting to be here at New Year the flip side was that most restaurants were closed. We had a great list of places to visit (thanks Louise) but more often than not, when we got there they weren't open. We still had great food from various roadside vendors that we stumbled across while trying to find an open restaurant, any open restaurant. Still have no idea what we ate but it was delicious!
Our View - Seriously!
We did a bit of panic research and decided that the best way to see the city was to take an organised tour. We found one that included tickets to see the New Year's Parade. This was lucky as the tickets available to the general public had sold out weeks ago. We enjoyed a jaunt on a junk, a flyby of Jackie Chan's house and afternoon tea with a panoramic view of Hong Kong harbour (in the right conditions). The tour was great with a weird and funny guide called Virginia. Her best story involved the first tunnel to connect Hong Kong Island to Kowloon.When it opened it was soon nicknamed the ‘No Excuses Tunnel'. Before the tunnel, Sailors on shore leave would head to Hong Kong, end up in the red light district and miss their curfew. Their excuse was that the ferries were cancelled due to bad weather. After the tunnel opened they had No Excuse, hence the name.
Then we received our tickets for the parade and passed through the thousands of revellers to take our seats in the grandstand. We each received a goodie bag, including inflatable tiger claws to celebrate the coming of the Year of the Tiger. RRAAAARRRR! Some of the parade was great but like all parades there was a fair smattering of ‘ATA Security' type floats, the butchers from Superquinn and bored pom-pom wavers. By the end we were happy to head back to the nest in Chungking Mansions, but we did have a strange craving for Superquinn sausages....
Bruce Lee unmoved by Fireworks
The next day we hit Mong Kok which is in the North of Kowloon and is the China town of this Chinese town. We ate great dimsum in the park (no idea if it was fish, fowl or what, but it was delicious) and wandered past all the stalls of hooky street. So convincing were the hawkers that Ciara nearly bought a wig! That evening we headed to Avenue of the Stars to watch the New Year's Fireworks display. The fireworks were unbelievable and went on for almost 30 minutes. We'd never seen anything like it before (queue more princess diary gasping by all!) The fireworks made shapes and patterns and deafened us. We could make out Tiger Claws, Tiger Faces, Pouncing Tigers, Smiley Faces and the Hong Kong national flower, Bohemia, all flashing across the sky. We were blown away but Bruce Lee remained unmoved. He'd seen it all before.
Lion Dancing Street Performance
On our last day we followed a walking tour route of Hong Kong Island. We passed along Dried Fish Street (closed), Chinese Medicine Street (closed), Antique Street (closed) and finally ended up in restaurant district (open thankfully). We did manage to see some terrific Lion Dancing along the way which more than made up for the lack of dehydrated Otter Paddle and Unicorn Horn. The Lion is made up of 2 dancers - but this is no pantomime horse. They do acrobatic stunts like jumping from the tops of raised poles and all kinds of handstands and contorting. All of this is done in time to punchy drum beats, that get faster as the Lion gets more aggressive. The Lion even wags his tail when he gets all excited! We saw more Lion dancing at the airport, and these guys were hilarious! They were leaping up and down the departure area, dancing right up against people queing at the boarding gates. Definitely the most spectacular parting memory from any destination on our trip!