We didn’t have much time for sightseeing in Hong Kong, but with time we had, we tried to see as much as we could. Since we were staying on the New Territories, we were an hour-long bus ride from the main island. This meant there wasn’t much time for us go to the main parts of Hong Kong on the days we were volunteering since we worked until 5:30. There were two nights we made the trek on a “work day”. One was to go to a venue called Grappa’s to watch Leann (from Crossroads) play in her school jazz band.
The other night was to see the “Symphony of Lights” over Victoria Harbour. It’s a nightly light show accompanied by music that adds spectacle to the already bright neon lights of the Hong Kong skyline.
Aside from these two nights, we were able to do some sightseeing on the weekend. First on the list was to take the Peak Tram up Victoria Peak (Hong Kong island’s tallest mountain) to see the fantastic views from the top. At the top is Peak Tower, an observation platform with 360-degree panoramic views. Smog can be an issue in HK, particularly in the winter months. Although it wasn’t super clear the day we went up the peak, from what we gather, it could have even much worse.
Another “must do” in Hong Kong is to take a Star Ferry across Victoria Harbour. The Star Ferries have been making regular journeys between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon since 1898 (the year my great-grandma Stark was born!).
In addition to the Star Ferries, the subway also runs across Victoria Harbour via underwater tunnels. Although I couldn’t tell the difference between being underground vs. underwater when we were subway, it was still cool to think about the fact that we were surrounded by water during one section of the journey.
Hong Kong has a highly developed and sophisticated public transportation system, which made it easy for us to get around. For any given mode of transportation, we typically never waited more than 5 or 10 minutes for a ride. On Hong Kong Island, we took the opportunity to ride a couple of the island’s signature modes of transportation:
First, the quaint tram (streetcar), all of which are double-decker.
Second, the central-mid-levels escalator system, which stretches 2,600 meters up the Hong Kong Island hillside! In the morning commute hours, the escalator runs downward; the rest of the day, it runs upward.
Other sites we saw on Hong Kong Island:
-HSBC headquarters: One of the coolest building designs – all of the HVAC components sit on the exterior of the building. And the interior of the building is completely reconfigurable. The building also has a sophisticated delivery system inside that resembles an airport baggage claim.
-Statue Square: A square that sits in front of the HSBC headquarters. It used to hold a statue of Queen Victoria. The only statue on the square today is that of a banker, former manager of HSBC.
-Charter Garden: A spot of green in the heart of the Central District.
-The Bank of China Tower: It was the tallest building outside the U.S. when it was finished in 1990.
-Battery Path: This used to be a waterfront pathway; now it’s a 10+ minute walk inland due to all the land reclamation that has taken place in Hong Kong over the years.
-St. John’s Cathedral: A beautiful cathedral, built in the shape of a cross.
-Zoological and Botanical Gardens: An expanse of gardens and a variety of birds and animals right in the heart of the city. And, it’s completely free to visit.
-Ladder Street: An extremely steep set of stairs, made us think of San Francisco.
-Man Mo Temple: Situated on Hollywood Road, it’s Hong Kong’s oldest and most well-known temple. It was obvious by the amount of people we saw there, that it is very much still used today.
And the sites we saw in Kowloon:
-Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade: This is an expansive boardwalk that runs along the shoreline of Kowloon. It provides great views of the harbor and the Hong Kong skyline. At one end of the promenade is the Avenue of Stars, with handprints and statues of celebrities like Jackie Chan.
-Clock Tower: The only structure remaining from Hong Kong’s old train station, once the final stop for those traveling overland from London on the Orient Express.
-Nathan Road (aka the “Golden Mile of Shopping”), Kowloon’s most famous street.
-Kowloon Park: A large park that was formerly the site of British barracks. In one area of the park was an “Avenue of Comic Stars”.
-Temple Street Night Market: outdoor stalls selling everything from souvenirs to clothing, as well as a wide range of counterfeit items.
At the end of our longest day of sightseeing, we enjoyed a nice dinner at Din Tai Fung, a world famous dim sum restaurant that has locations in four of the countries we are visiting on this leg of our journey (thanks Christie for the recommendation!).
In addition to all of the sightseeing, we spent one weekend day exploring the MacLehose Trail in Tai Lam Park. The trail is 100 kilometers long and passes behind the Crossroads site. The trail winds through the hillside of Hong Kong. In order to stabilize the hills and prevent landslides, there is an extensive erosion control system – covering over the hills, drilled holes for water to flow through, and many drainage ditches. We hiked along the MacLehose Trail to So Kwun Tan, Wan Nai Tun Reservoir, Tai Lam Chung Reservoir, Tai Tong – making our way to Yeun Long, then circling back to Tuen Mun and Crossroads. It was nice to get away from the city and into nature for a while.
And finally, sometimes the best experiences are ones you don’t find in a guide book, but simply stumble upon along the way…