In order make the most of our double-entry Chinese visa, we needed to get out of mainland China to renew our stay. Why not go to Hong Kong and see this famous skyline ? 🙂
Hong Kong used to be a British colony (from 1842 to 1997), and is very different from mainland China. Famous for its many skyscrapers, it is one of the main financial centres of the world (on par with New-York and London). There are many multinational companies installed in Hong Kong, employing people from all over the world, making it an international city. Since 1997, Hong Kong has been once again a part of China under the principle “one country, two systems” which give it some independence: Hong Kong has its own currency, its own legal system, its immigration laws, different internet rules (no firewall !), its own road safety rules (inherited from the British era), etc. China has promised that Hong Kong would keep some independence until at least 2047.
The Chungking Mansion
If you look up online, you’ll quickly find that the Cungking Mansion is the go-to place for cheap accommodation in Hong Kong. Originally a residential building, hotel rooms have been fitted in the old flats, offering a very limited space optimised to the millimetre. Each hotel therefore contains only 4 or 5 rooms. The owners generally have several of them so don’t be surprised if your hotel is not located on the same floor as the reception.
When we read reviews about the Chungking Mansion, many people were complaining about how unhealthy the place looked, how many hagglers there were on the ground floor or how you had to wait for the elevators for ages among shady people. On some travel blogs, it almost feels like the mansion is in a parallel universe. In fact, it’s really not that bad (or at least, we’ve seen way worse). Sure, the building is a bit old and not very well maintained, there are a few guys downstairs trying to sell you watches but you just need to say “No thanks” while continuing on your way, and we never waited for the elevator more than 5 minutes. Maybe try to stay away from the stairwell is all (it did look a bit dodgy at times). We don’t to make people believe the Chungking Mansion is an awesome place to stay at, it’s not, but it isn’t that bad and when you’re looking for a cheap accommodation in Hong Kong, it’s pretty much your only choice.
We had chosen the “Sky View” hotel (not the cheapest in there, but one of the highest rated on Booking.com). The bed was relatively comfortable (quite high up so that you can put your suitcase underneath it), there was a safe in the room, a fridge, AC (quite necessary in HK), hot water and a microwave in the corridor (always useful). It’s probably best not to take the cheapest place in the mansion (we visited another cheaper hotel and it wasn’t the same quality at all).
The russian visa
The day after our arrival in Hong Kong, we went to the Russian embassy first thing in the morning to ask for our tourist visas. Everything went smoothly at first, we had all the correct papers, but we were told the process would take 10 working days (so 2 weeks waiting) and we were also told we could not ask for an express processing as we were not residents of Hong Kong. We didn’t have much choice (the waiting time is the same in Beijing and apparently worse in Ulaanbaatar), so we left our passports and got ready to wait a while in HK.
Hong Kong and its shopping malls
The first few floors of a lot of skyscrapers are filled with restaurants and shops of all kinds, and all these buildings are linked together by footbridges. It kind of made us feel like we could not get out of the overcrowded shopping malls. All the shops are pretty much always the same, and a bit luxurious : Chanel, Dior, Louis Vuitton, Philippe Patek, Rolex, etc. Luxury is everywhere and seems to be the norm (even to eat at a MacDonalds we felt slightly under-dressed in some parts of the city). Visiting Hong Kong is a bit like going to Harrods the day before Christmas.
Apart from that, you can also find “smallish” streets filled with various shops all showing bright and flashy signs. Walking along those streets, we were constantly stopped by people trying to sell knock-off watches or tailored suits for cheap.
We still enjoyed having so many shops around as we could finally find a replacement t-shirt in Merino wool for Clement (the old one really needed to be replaced) and a new money belt.
It was also fun to window shop and see all the new fancy camping and hiking equipment.
The Star Ferry
The Star Ferry exists since 1888! Although nowadays the subway goes under the bay to link Kowloon to Hong Kong island, a lot of people still use the ferry. Probably because it’s pretty quick, really cheap, and one of the best ways to get a really nice view of the skyline. A nice thing to do as a tourist !
What can you do in Hong Kong ?
- Hong Kong History museum : Free. Interesting visit.
- Science Museum : 20HKD (free on Wednesday). Many people go there on the week-end. We went back on Monday morning and it was relatively calm. Mostly for children, this museum is not too bad but is in need of an update. Quite a few things are either outdated, not very well explained, or just boring.
- Museum of Arts : Closed for renovations during our stay.
- Space museum : we didn’t even try to go there as it is often criticized as being outdated.
The avenue of Stars
It’s an avenue along the bay, on the Kowloon side, lined with sculptures of stars of the Asian entertainment industry. A bit like the Hong Kong equivalent of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Closed for renovations until 2018.
“A Symphony of Lights” show
Every night at 8pm, from Tsim Sha Tsui, you can have the pleasure of admiring a sound and lights show on the skyline, for free. The music is not unlike that of a 90’s Nintendo game and for the lights, well… it’s about the same level, quite disappointing and old-fashioned (even with the 5 laser beams that flash above the skyline). This show is so bad that it becomes kind of funny after a while. Maybe that’s why there were so many people watching ?
The weather wasn’t on our side during our stay. We therefore could not really explore the nature around Hong Kong and the new territories like we wanted. It seems there are some nice beaches around and a few interesting hikes though!
To conclude, we didn’t really like this city, and we got a bit bored during those 15 days spent over there. In the end, we managed to be very busy just writing for the blog (we were really late!) and we tried to get some rest.
Once we got our Russian visas, we left as quickly as possible and crossed the border into China.