The flight to Helsinki was a short breeze, while the wait for the next airplane to Hong Kong was much tougher – we spent around six hours at the airport waiting for the time to pass by. I was lucky to have brought by Kindle along, shortening the hours by reading, plus Helsinki airport provides quite comfy lounge-type chairs even for the everyday Joe like you and me. During the nine hour flight to Hong Kong I managed to sleep quite a lot and also watched a rather boring Korean film - “The Suicide Forecast”.
To enter Hong Kong, we didn`t need a visa, just to fill-in the immigration form which as it turned out wasn`t very thoroughly checked anyway, if I remember correctly, Liene didn`t even write her last name on it, claiming to be like a rock star known just by a nickname. We went to the city using the widely advertised Airport express – a train which transports you to the Central station in 13 minutes, although it later turned out that a bus would cost just a third of the price of the train. So if in you are not in a big hurry – go and look for the bus.
At first Hong Kong seemed to us to be overcrowded, noisy and difficult to navigate through, but obviously we weren`t aware of what was awaiting us once we entered “real China”. The thing with Hong Kong is that until quite recently – 1997 – it was a British controlled city which at the end of a 99 years old lease was then returned to China on the condition that the Chinese don`t start tampering with this multicultural city and for the time being let it remain communism-free. Which right now seems to be a good thing, as despite the big crowds Hong Kong remains relatively clean and orderly, even the left-side traffic is very organized and you can cross streets on pedestrian crossings without the risk of a motorbike running you over. About geography of Hong Kong: it consists of literally thousands of islands, out of which the most important ones are Hong Kong island – the heart of the city and Lantau island. A significant part of Hong Kong is located on the mainland – with areas of Mong Kok, Kowloon and Sha Tin being among the most notable. It`s also worth mentioning that vast areas of the highly-populated Hong Kong are indeed wild parks which are not that accessible to the general public, so Hong Kong is much more than just concrete jungle.
We had made a reservation of a room in a hostel at the Mirador building in Kowloon, a city block known for holding a whole bunch of shabby lodging options, well-suited for backpacker travelers looking for budget accommodation in a city with European prices. To get there we took the subway, the Hong Kong MTR. We had some trouble with the ticket vending machine but were luckily assisted by a German guy (who spoke little English, so unexpectedly my German skills were of some use in Asia) and a Chinese girl who gave us the two missing Hong Kong dollars for the tickets. On the downside of the highly modern Hong Kong MTR it doesn`t have such a thing as 24-hour tickets, you can either buy single ride tickets every time or purchase the “Octopus card” on which you transfer some money, some part of which is deducted every time you travel. In terms of price, if you travel mostly around the central areas of Hong Kong, with the Octopus card you`re likely to spend less than you`d pay for a day ticket in Europe, but if you visit more remote areas, you`ll be needing to refill the Octopus card quite regularly (initially you pay 150 HKD or 14 EUR out of which 50 HKD is the deposit for the card which you can back before leaving Hong Kong).
On the way to our hostel we made a small detour looking for our first geocache in Asia. It was located in the King`s park – a highly vertical area within Hong Kong, climbing the stairs up to the park made us sweat in the heat of a HK afternoon. At the top we observed several groups of Chinese exercising and registered our first find. The park itself didn`t seem to be that special, which is no wonder as it is mostly known for housing a meteorological station.
Our hostel turned out to be located in the middle of a maze – I don`t have other words to describe the Mirador building, which seems perfectly suited to get lost in. The room was very basic, but relatively clean and well-kept, the only downside to it was the lack of air in the room because of a virtually non-existing window.
Upon dropping our backpacks in the room, we dashed off to Hong Kong island in order to go to the Victoria peak – one of the city`s landmarks. We had some trouble locating the Peak tram which would take up, but luckily in Hong Kong one doesn`t need to speak Mandarin to be able to contact the locals, and the first guy whom we asked replied with a typical British accent (despite his oriental looks): “Peak tram – that`s easy!” and it sure was!
The ride up was quite fast and we need to hold on firmly to the railings not to fly to the back of the cabin. Up there at first we couldn`t get out of a shopping mall in which the tram terminates, but after successfully finding our way out we went looking for a couple more geocaches and observed some stunning views of the Hong Kong skyline in the dark. After an hour or so we decided that it was time to go back down to the city in order to look for some dinner, which is exactly what we did.
We ended up in a Macao restaurant ordering noodles with rather spicy meat and observing the locals eating “the traditional Macao baby pigeon” which to us didn`t look tasty at all. Back at the hostel we had trouble sleeping as in Riga it was still daytime, but after a while we finally did manage to get some sleep.
In the morning we checked out from the hostel and without a hurry started off for the Hong Kong – China border. Yes, despite the fact that nowadays Hong Kong legally is a part of China, a border exists between these territories and the Chinese themselves can`t travel to Hong Kong that easily. On the way to the MTR we picked up a couple more geocaches (which was quite useful as we had brought some geocoins along and we had our doubts that we would find many geocaches in mainland China) – one in the Kowloon park and one on the promenade, and off we went to the Hung Hom station where the East Rail line starts – leading up to the border crossing point. Once there, we followed the crowds and underwent the border crossing procedure which wasn`t much different from what one would expect – there were no irregularities here like the ones we encountered earlier this year on our trip to Belarus. Our luggage was scanned, our passports and visas were inspected, and after approximately 30 minutes we were on the Chinese mainland. And this is where the real fun began.