As an adolescent and still living at home I would often sit at the family breakfast table and stare at the giveaway calendar from the local Chinese Takeaway hanging on the wall. The mornings were usually a typical British blend of dark and cold looking skies outside with the constant tip-tapping of rain on the window as I would sit there eating my breakfast before having to venture out into the bleakness on my bicycle and cycle my mundane paper round.
The picture on the calendar showed a small red pagoda perched high on a mountainside with a spectacular view out over the most amazing cityscape imaginable, all crazily built higgledy-piggledy skyscrapers around a large strikingly blue harbour. The longer I looked and stared at that picture the more the image of Hong Kong ingrained itself on my memory banks. I did not know it back then but the seeds for discovering and exploring this exotic destination were already being sown in my young and youthful mind.
Fast forward some twenty seven odd years and here I was at Mumbai airport awaiting a connecting flight that would whisk me to Hong Kong. Later that very day I would possibly be standing looking out from that small red pagoda that I once stared so longingly at on that small wall calendar in my parents breakfast room.
It’s funny how things turn out isn’t it and as the last call to board rang out around Mumbai airport I began to feel a tangible excitement for the first time in months at the realisation that a childhood dream was nearing ever closer, ever closer to being achieved.
The plan was simple, get from Chek Lap Kok airport to the hotel double-quick and then hit the floor running making straight for The Peak, home of the fabled pagoda. Omens from the weather gods had not been good though and only a small window of clear weather and visibility had been forecast. Of all the places and sights I wanted to see while in Hong Kong though ‘The Peak’ was my number one objective.
Another long held secret ambition that hung over me from my youth had also been to land at Hong Kong’s old airport at Kai Tak (see picture opposite). Alas for me, it was too late in life for that experience, the hairy, scary descent over high rise apartment blocks with hundreds of strung out washing lines below that was once so famous (or maybe an infamous) feature of flights to Hong Kong was now resigned to the past with the building of Chek Lap Kok.
One thing about Hong Kong is it never stands still, and a new airport was required so a new airport had been built. The city with the best public transport network in the world needed a fitting airport and so with typical Chinese efficiency and resolve they had just gone and built one.
The unbelievably quick and modern Airport Express Link sped us into Hong Kong Central in no time at all. The hotel shuttle bus was there and waiting and so before we knew it we were at our funky retro themed, tiny roomed, hotel in the Wan Chai district with an amazingly (for one so cheap) decent view out over the Happy Valley racetrack below.
Bags were dumped with much haste and we ventured underground for the very first time to sample the much lauded over Hong Kong MTR system. Clean, modern, efficient and totally bonkers the MTR got us to where we needed to be at “The Peak” within minutes.
A cacophony of noise ensues on the MTR formed by the combination of millions of chattering chinese, 60 inch plus flat screens running 24 seven adverts in your face plus in-carriage TV screens showing news summaries and sports highlights and not to mention the station announcements billowing out across the tanoy systems constantly,but amazingly it is a total joy to travel on and I loved it. (Get an Octopus Card is my top tip) it gets you absolutely everywhere and can even buy you a drink in 7Eleven stores if need be once you become totally dehydrated by the whole MTR ordeal.
Unfortunately after this wonderful experience of eastern efficiency western incompetence took over as I struggled to get a bearing on where the hell we actually where. Confused by the sprawling cityscape, disorientated by the unfeasibly tall skyscrapers and stupidly carrying a completely useless large scale map for navigation I conceded defeat and had to do the unthinkable (at least for a man) – ask directions!
World traveller…ha, more like an idiot abroad. Luckily the Hong Kong locals are the most helpful city dwellers I have ever come across and before you know it you have multiple strangers all eager to lend you advice even if at times the advice is somewhat questionable. Finally back on track and heeding some of the local advice we headed for the previously unobtainable tram station.
I need to confess, I am a bit of a geek about such things like travel on funicular railways, especially those built way back in 1888. At the time ‘The Peak Tram‘ was built it was a revolutionary new form of transport in Asia and on completion was considered a marvel in engineering, and for me it was going to be a great treat to ride. A treat though that thousands of others were wanting to experience at exactly the same time! Queueing it seemed was something that we would have to get very accustomed to during our stay in densely populated Hong Kong. Eventually however we miraculously ended up at the front of the platform just as the tram pulled in.
We plonked our by now slightly jet-lagged and very sweaty bodies on the old wooden seats of the carriage that are fixed in at an impossibly steep angle, so much so that when you actually start up the steep track in earnest you feel as if your very guts are being forced out through your back (not pleasant). There is unfortunately no reprise from this slightly painful feeling until the tram arrives at the summit station. The track up is both precarious and precipitous with many a sheer drop off along the way just to keep your senses on full alert. If you are not already sweaty enough by the tropical climes around you by the time you clamber out at the summit station your sweat glands will I found be working overtime.
The hoards now all headed for the restaurants and viewing decks of which there are plenty, but the more discerning traveller at this point will head in the direction of Lugard Road and traverse the stunning path of some 4km in length which winds its way around the peak and is wonderfully titled ‘The Morning Trail’. This we did and the views are truly stunning very rewarding of the extra bit of effort involved to find them. The serenity at these lofty heights far from the mad bustling city below is incalculable. I thoroughly recommend this route to anyone with a penchant for walking amazing paths of the world.
Having completed ‘The Morning Trail’ albeit in the afternoon we arrived back at the main hub of activity on the peak. Now for me came the crowning moment of the day after two long uncomfortable flights from the other side of the world and by way of India, finally, I was here, here ready to step into that small red pagoda and to look out the other side onto one of the most stunning views the world has to offer and one I had imagined for years.
I had never though quite envisaged that I would be quite so knackered and quite so sweaty at this pivotal moment, but I would take it anyway it came to me and so it was on September the 27th at approximately 2.30pm Hong Kong time that I stepped into the small red pagoda that I once stared at on a Chinese takeaway calendar on my parents breakfast room wall way back when in a suburb of London all those many years ago. I soaked up the amazing view and for once in life the years and waiting had not led to a any disappointment, for the views are truly breathtaking, I could rattle off dozens of superlatives to describe the view I eventually cast my eyes upon but sometimes a picture (or in this case a photo) paints a thousand words as they say, so here is my picture (photo) instead of more words, please enjoy!
So impressive was the view that we were compelled to return again to The Peak one evening to capture this futuristic panorama that can be seen below.http://www.fluidr.com/photos/jameshandlon/sets