The atmosphere of big cities can’t be beaten at new year, and in Hong Kong they do the whole big fireworks and light show thing so we’d deliberately planned to be there to see in 2019.
Our flight was on time and unlike on our way out to Manila there was hardly any queue for immigration. We got our bags and having picked up tourist tickets for the MTR on our way out we were quickly heading into the city. The MTR app told us the fastest way to our accommodation so at the first stop we joined the regular line and left our comfy seats on the airport line behind.
Mirador Mansion, the building our guesthouse was in, was easy to find. Getting to the 5th floor was easy. Then we wandered round in circles trying to trying to find “F”. We could find every letter up to F… The building had a yard in the middle and was a square around it that rose high. It was absolutely rammed with doors coming off it. The corridors around the inside of the square were shabby.
Finally we found “F” off the side towards the stairwell. There was a phone outside with a number to call. A young Indian guy appeared, he barely managed to mumble any greeting in reply to our cheerful hellos. He gave us the code to the door and it opened onto another small corridor with 10 rooms coming off it. Thankfully it was clean and tidy. As was our room (albeit somewhat shabby).
There was a corridor from our room door to our bed where the room next door jutted into what normally would have been part of ours. The cheapest we could find anywhere in Hong Kong over the New Year our box room was still an astronomical NZ$165 a night. The toilet, and shower over it, were so small there wasn’t even anywhere to put the toilet roll. The sink was tiny and almost over the toilet. It’s upside was its great location in Tsim Sha Tsui.
Starving hungry we ventured out and joined the masses of people on the streets. Close enough to the waterfront, the main road outside our building was closed to traffic ready for the fireworks. Mainly composed of shops like Prada and Chanel the restaurants we found had long queues. We resorted to MacDonalds. While heaving with people it had the fastest food and by now we were just hungry. With not a chance of getting anywhere to sit we ate it stood on the street outside. We got a couple of supplies from a 7Eleven and dropped them back at our digs, refreshed, and headed out to join the masses to get a place for the fireworks.
The crowd was huge but really well managed by the police. They’d already started to close some of the roads to the waterfront off as they were full. We followed everyone else in walking across to find a still open street. Eventually we found a place, our view was partially obscured by the cultural centre but it was comparatively low rise. The crowd was great and it was an awesome atmosphere. The fireworks were impressive even though we didn’t get the full effect. We were knackered after and were chuffed to be staying nearby.
The next morning we had a late start then headed out to fit in as much as we could. We made good use of our 3 day MTR pass and started by heading to Nunnery Chi Lin. Home to 1,000 Buddhist nuns, the original building was rebuilt in the 90s. Its architectural style is that of the ancient Chinese Tang Dynasty and it is made of cedar wood. What makes it so impressive is that it was built without nails. The courtyard was littered with bonsai trees. It sits against a backdrop of typical Hong Kong skyscrapers. We really liked it.
A short walk away was Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin (Taoist) Temple. The nunnery was light on visitors, the temple was a stark contrast. Maybe because it was New Year’s Day? Regardless it was packed. It had a great atmosphere and the air was thick with incense.
We left Kowloon and headed on the MTR to Hong Kong island to see the ‘Monster Building’. Built in the 1960s for low income families it is actually 5 densely stacked residential complexes. It is one of the most Instagrammed places in Hong Kong, aided by having featured as a set in a number of films, including Transformers. We’d expected to be impressed but it wasn’t really any more dense than the building we were staying in so it left us underwhelmed.
It happened that Hong Kong’s tram line runs outside. Having started in 1904 it is historic so is now predominantly a tourist attraction. The tracks of the double-decker trams are only 3ft 6 inches apart. Riding a tram was on our list of things we wanted to do, so we thought this worked out perfectly.
It was fun. For about 10 minutes. The tram system only covers 13km in total, but it was so incredibly slow it was only marginally faster than walking. Wooden seats aren’t built for comfort and the windows were down for ventilation so it was really cold. We stuck it out until Central, we saw some scenery and the annual pro-democracy New Years Day protest but it probably cost us an hour.
After getting back to Tsim Sha Tsui we headed down to the waterfront and watched some of the Dragon Festival Performances, before walking along the waterfront and exploring the many streets, ending at Kowloon Park just as it was starting to go dusk.
That meant it was time to hit the night markets, we plotted a route to visit 3 and jumped back on the MTR. We enjoyed them; lots of good clothes and products at the Ladies Market, Temple Street and Jade markets, interspersed with food stalls. On the outer edges were some stalls selling cheap tatt and others R18 selling sex toys.
The next morning we were up early. We caught the MTR to Hong Kong station and put our rucksacks into the left luggage. The plan was to get out to Lantau island. We’d pre-bought tickets for the Ngong Ping 360 cable car the night before. All reports are the queue can literally take hours each way and the pre-booked ticket queue is faster for the initial queue. We wanted to fit as much into the day as we could before our flight to Taiwan, so wanted to get there not long after it opened at 10am (we deliberately hadn’t gone the day before as it was New Years Day holiday). The pre-booked queue was heaps faster, then we joined the second queue to get on with everyone else. All up it only took us 45 minutes.
The journey takes 30 minutes. It was cold and overcast so while it was a fun ride we didn’t have a great view. When we reached Ngong Pong village at the top it was really cold, like 10C. We could see our breath and put on every bit of clothing we had with us.
The main thing we wanted to see was the Tian Tan (big) Buddha on the hill. The village is basically a tourist village so we passed through and headed straight there.
One of 5 large Buddhas in Greater China it is 34m high. It is unique in that it faces north (most face south). We joined the crowd on the 268 steps up to reach it. It’s an impressive sight and there is a great view from the top.
When we came down we headed to the Wisdom Path. It has 38 wooden monuments carved with verses of the Heart Sutra. Its only a 15 min walk to get there and it’s through trees so it’s nice, but we barely saw a handful of people. We couldn’t believe it.
Finally we rejoined the crowd and visited Po Lin Monastery. Founded at the start of the 19th Century it’s main building is huge and typically Chinese in style.
At that we had seen all we wanted to and we had no desire to hang out with the tourists so we caught the cable car back down. It was too early for queues so we walked straight on and were given our own car, which made it more fun as we could move around and be silly.
With a couple of hours spare before we needed to head to the airport we hot footed in across to Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery in the New Territories. It took nearly an hour and 3 changes on the MTR but we got to the station easily. Unlike central Hong Kong where everything is well signed when we left the station there were no signs, but we’d read this was the case and followed some directions. We spotted some other tourists and climbed up a million steep steps to find a temple under renovation and a sign saying this wasn’t the Monastery, and directing us to go back down and up a path through the bush next to it. That sucked.
The path up was lined with Buddhas on each side all the way up the hill, so it was pretty different and amazing but it was a long very steep walk. Great view and great Monastery when you finally get to the top though. The walk back down was no better because it was just so steep, but we were stoked we managed to squeeze it in even if our legs hurt.
We got back into Hong Kong and collected our bags at exactly the time we needed to be heading to the airport, talk about perfect timing.
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