HONG KONG – This is a huge, bustling, wild and teeming city. No doubt about that. But one of the things I love about Hong Kong is that you can get away from it all far easier than in many cities.
There’s Victoria Peak, of course, where you can walk for a couple miles amid hanging vines and towering trees and gaze down at not only the buildings of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon but also vast ravines and wide open stretches of ocean and nearby islands. There also are plenty of open spaces down near Stanley and Repulse Bay on the opposite side of central Hong Kong.
But there also are plenty of fabulous gardens, some of them in the heart of downtown, and don’t Torontonians wish we could say the same thing? Okay, we’ve got Queen’s Park and Allan Gardens, but nothing downtown in the way of Chater Garden. It’s literally across the street from some of the biggest towers in Hong Kong, including the massive Bank of China building and the HSBC tower.
In addition to palm trees and fountains, there are dozens of other varieties of trees, including African Tulips and Travellers Trees, which seems fitting for a city with so many tourists. This week, the rhododendrons and azaleas are in bloom, which made a certain golf fan from Toronto think of the coming Masters tournament. I don’t know if they call this little part of downtown Hong Kong Amen Corner, but there’s a pretty good resemblance in part. I didn’t see Tiger Woods, but there were a couple crouching lions outside the HSBC building.
They’re also getting ready for a major rugby sevens tourney, which hits Hong Kong at the end of this month. They were publicizing it at Chater Garden on Monday with giant rugby exhibits that allowed folks to try to toss a ball into a hole or even tackle a plastic rugby player on a giant, inflatable raft-like device similar to those you’d see at a kids’ party. They had one gimmick where folks were tied up by a giant rubber band and had to try to run forward with a rugby ball in their hands and overcome the pressure of the rubber band pulling them back. One woman I got a picture of got pretty close to handing it off to a rugby player at the end of her plastic “ramp,” but ended up tumbling backward in a pile. She seemed to have a great time.
Up the road a couple blocks is Hong Kong Park, which is far larger and more grand; complete with fountains and a waterfall, even. Wild white parrots or cockatoos flit about in the branches overhead, and it’s a great spot for wedding photos or for little kids to gather and try their hand at painting.
Earlier, my tour guide, Michael Poon, had taken me for a glass of “milk tea” at Lan Fong Yuen, a famous spot near the escalators that take folks up and down from central Hong Kong to the mid-levels. It’s a great area for strolling, and the markets along the street are great for people watching. Mr. Lan takes a secret mixture of five teas and strains it through a roll of muslin, then adds special milk he imports from Malaysia and ends up with a fabulously refreshing drink. I’m not a tea guy, but it was perfect on a warm Hong Kong morning, and the place always seemed pack with folks drinking tea or eating his noodles or sandwiches.
As I finished an interview I was doing with him near the cart where they boilt the tea outside his shop, noticed a woman setting fire to some paper next to the tea pots. I couldn’t resist sneaking around the corner and getting a photo. Poon explained she was making an offering to the gods on behalf of her relatives by burning special paper.
I said I wasn’t sure this was the safest thing in the world, notwithstanding she was doing it on some bare patches of brick. He explained she’s an older woman who’s been doing it a couple times a month for years.
“I’m not sure they’d let you or me get away with it,” Poon said with a laugh.
We finished our morning with a great lunch at a place on Johnston Road called The Pawn. It’s a former pawn shop in Wan Chai that’s been converted to a terrific English-continental spot offering everything from fish and chips to roast shoulder of lamb, which I had. They also had a small mason jar filled with crab meat and, I think, a bit of cheese, plus a soft and wonderful bread pudding with chocolate sauce, all for about $22 as one of their lunch specials. A great spot, with terrific views of a nearby playground and the buzzing traffic of central Hong Kong.
HONG KONG – One of these days I’m gonna give myself more time in this great city. But, once again, I’m here with just a few hours to spend.
Still, that’s more than many folks so I’ll be sure to enjoy it.
I always love coming into town and seeing the massive apartment buildings in front of the even more massive mountains, then spying small beaches and the huge shipyards on the way to Kowloon. I wrangled a room from the great folks at the Four Seasons and find myself typing this as I look out behind me to the Kowloon skyline (see photo).
It’s a beautiful, elegant hotel, with first-class service and a gloriously marbled lobby with those awesome views. Quite different from the Sofitel Legend Metropole in Hanoi, but distinctive and classy all the same.
Had a quick check of another hotel in town I’d read about, the Cosmopolitan, and its sister property, The Cosmo. More on those later in the pages of the Star, but suffice to say it’s a great bargain if you want to stay close to the action in Central but are on a budget.
Also had a few moments to take the tram up to Victoria Peak and do a 15-minute walk through the forests/jungles at the top, snapping a few photos of the city skyline and Kowloon and the famous Star Ferry. I’ve taken too many pics of late and my hard drive is full, so I’ve borrowed a photo from elsewhere. But it’s a pretty fair representation of the view one gets from the peak, and it’s always a blast to stand in the middle of such thick greenery and listen to birds chirping and then look down – WAY DOWN – on one of the great metropolises of the world.
A helluva bargain for five bucks (Cdn.) return, although I didn’t have time to take it back down and had to grab a gypsy cab to get me back to the Four Seasons in time for a dinner in nearby SoHo….