Posted by: Richard Marshall | August 28, 2013

South China Part 1: Shenzhen and Hong Kong

After six months in Shanghai I took my first longish trip in China – nine days to Shenzhen, Hong Kong, Macau and Guangzhou. Mike and I decided to fly to Shenzhen and spend a night so that we could get at least a taste of the city at the centre of China’s massive economic growth. In fact, the city itself was little more than a fishing village 30 years ago. We arrived at Shenzhen airport at about midday and took a very long train trip into town where we found our hotel and decided just a walk a bit around town. Shenzhen – like the other cities we went to – felt much more like a Southeast Asian city than Shanghai. It was very hot and humid for the whole nine days and the trees were huge banyans rather than Shanghai’s plane trees. The cities were also much more densely populated than spread-out Shanghai. We really just wandered through a shopping area but the density, humid, stormy weather and abundance of Cantonese food stalls and shops was fascinating. That evening we went in search of one of Shenzhen’s bar areas, which had a number of bars around a big plaza in front of a shopping mall. The bars themselves were quiet as it was early evening on a Monday. The plaza itself, though, was full of life. There were lots of children playing and older people taking exercise and the atmosphere was really pleasant. We also had a view of Shenzhen’s tallest building in the city centre. The next day we headed into Hong Kong, but spent the morning doing some more exploring in Shenzhen, looking at massive housing developments and hideous golden-coloured skyscrapers. At about midday we took the metro to the border, crossed into the New Territories and got on the train to Hong Kong.

IMG_0201 street shopping

Shopping Street

IMG_0248 gold buildings

Golden towers

We had booked all our hotels online with price being our main consideration, and without really paying attention had booked a hotel in the semi-notorious Chungking Mansions. Chungking Mansions is a huge 1950s tower block in downtown Kowloon, once famously a haven for vice – a book about the building is called Ghetto at the Centre of the World.  It is also famous for a mainland Chinese film set partly in the place. It has been cleaned up quite a bit since, but is still remarkable in that it is a centre for South Asian and African traders in Hong Kong and so has a strikingly diverse population, an amazing range of merchandise, and lots of Indian food . It is also home to lots of cheap, pokey little guesthouse, but although the room Mike and I had was small and basic it was perfectly adequate. That afternoon we went to take a look at the skyline across the harbour and to buy our ferry tickets to Macau. We wandered a bit in Kowloon than afternoon and then had a brief rest before heading out again. That evening we had dinner at the night market in Temple Street and headed up to see Mong Kok, the most densely populated area on earth.  The density of the tower blocks and the packed streets were indeed incredible, even overwhelming. Although Hong Kong is a rich city the buildings were often bleak and stark, and stained by humidity and pollution. There was neon everywhere – especially out over the streets, and the buildings were often built out over the sidewalk above the first floor. It was quite unlike Shanghai, and also had amazingly little trace of having been a British colony. It was intense.

IMG_0496 skyline

Hong Kong

IMG_0442 chungking mansions

Chungking Mansions

IMG_0358 mong kok 1

Mong Kok

IMG_0403 Mong Kok 2

Mong Kok

The next day were got up and took the ferry across to Hong Kong Island.  The ferry trip was lovely with views of the skyline and the peak. On the other side we got out and took elevated walkways all the way into Central. Central did have an old British courthouse as well as (according to Mike) a Norman Foster designed HSBC building and the iconic Bank of China building. There were of course plenty of other huge buildings and elevated pedestrian walkways. We then took the tram up to the peak. The weather was a bit cloudy but the peak had amazing views of the city all the same. We stayed a while and then headed back down to catch the subway to North Point just to see a residential area on Hong Kong Island itself. It had the usual tall tower blocks but also lots of very good looking little restaurants and shops.

That evening we dressed up and went to the highest bar in the world on the 118th floor of the International Commerce Centre. 118 floors is really, really high up and the view of the city was amazing. The drinks, though, we rather over-priced so we decided to head back to Hong Kong island to find another rooftop bar. We found one overlooking the courthouse and the HSBC and Bank of China buildings, full of bankers in suits and about to close. So after one drink we headed back to Kowloon and found a bar in a side street where we could drink some Hong Kong Ales.

IMG_0816 me at the peak

Me at the peak

IMG_0800 the peak tram

The Peak Tram

IMG_0952 north point

North Point

The next morning I really wanted to find some good Dim Sum, so after some internet research we headed back to Central and after some wandering around found a really nice restaurant which looked as if the décor hadn’t been renovated since the 1970s. The Dim Sum was delicious. For our last day we decided to go to Lan Tau Island and take the cable car up to see a huge Buddha on the mountain. Unfortunately the cable car was closed for repairs, but in fact the bus trip we took instead was very interesting. It was a more or less sunny day and as the bus wound along the coast we had great views out over the South China Sea. There were some nice looking beaches and oddly old-fashioned little beach towns with cottages and corner shops. The island also had a good network of well-marked trails and picnic sites – an interestingly British legacy. The bus then began heading up the mountain and dropped us off near the Buddha and its adjacent temples. It was lovely to be surrounded by greenery and have a breeze after the intensity of the city, and the Buddha was indeed enormous. Mike wanted to take the bus back through a fishing village, which we did. As so often on the trip I was amazed how Southeast Asian the village felt. It was also odd to be in such a rural area in Hong Kong – I hadn’t realised just how huge the city’s hinterland really was. The bus took us back and then we repeated the long metro ride back to Kowloon. Mike took a few more pictures of the harbour and the skyline and then we had dinner and a few drinks. The next day we took the ferry and headed to Macau.

IMG_1411 lantau


IMG_1494 the buddha

The Buddha

IMG_1605 hk

Hong Kong in the evening

Thanks very much to Mike for taking all the great photos – check his blog for more!

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