Hong Kong Island south was just begging to be explored, and with a bus stop directly outside our hotel and a bus-route over the mountains to the southern coastline of the island on hand we just had to jump aboard and give it a go.
We jumped aboard a very British looking double-decker bus and using our now ubiquitous Octopus Card we hammered our credit some more and headed for the port of Stanley.
Stanley is a very Victorian sounding town (it was given an English name after Lord Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby), after originally being known as “Chek Chue”. It became synonymous with that ever popular British past time of the weekend retreat. On a peninsula on the southeastern part of Hong Kong Island this small port grew into a popular destination for many in colonial times looking to escape the heat and madness of Hong Kong town for a few hours, (or days), it even became the temporary administrative centre, before that was moved to Central on the north shore of Hong Kong Island.
Stanley Market is a must for the day visitor and we duly obliged as we walked among the tiny cluttered alleys that made up the covered market. A dazzling choice of tourist junk could be bought for dazzlingly inflated tourist prices from the many small stores and assorted stalls.
After the the bout of retail therapy (or torture) dependent on your disposition we left the oppressive alleyways of the market and headed for the waterfront. Stanley, renowned for its many bars and restaurants along its waterfront didn’t disappoint and it took many hikes up and down the promenade until a restaurant could be settled upon. The variety is staggering (including French, Italian, American, Indian and Thai), we plumped for Italian and a pizza by the sea.
After eating way too much for a hot tropical afternoon we ventured west of Stanley Main Street, through the amphitheatre in Stanley Plaza and on to the Tin Hau Temple (Temple of the Queen of Heaven). The temple was built by our friend Cheung Po Tsai in 1767, and it is one of the oldest temples in Hong Kong. At the temple I inhaled (expertly by now) the pleasant aromas of the burning incense in the cool shade given by the stone walls before venturing back out and into the raging heat of the afternoon sun.
Desperate to find some more shade (and quickly) we headed towards Murray House. This grand Victorian building was originally built in the present-day business district of Central in 1846 as an officers’ quarters for the British Army, the Murray Barracks, the building became relocated to Stanley during the early 2000s. Within the building you can now find some fine dining establishments where for a price you can enjoy your meal in the relative cool beneath the old-fashioned swaying fans from above. Having already gorged on pizza we passed on the fine dining.
Instead we headed along the small path into the wooded hillside beyond Murray House which led us to the tiny Pak Tai Temple perched on a rocky outcrop overlooking the bay. We sat for almost an hour at this serene spot looking out to sea and watching the comings and goings of worshippers and tourists alike.
Despite the hot and humid weather which was turning me into a sweaty smelly old man we still somehow managed to summon up enough energy to go for yet another little jaunt, this time in the direction of St Stephen’s Bay. According to the guide books this is a far prettier and a lot less crowded beach than Stanley Main Beach. There is as a by product the added attraction of the Stanley Military Cemetery situated on the hillside high above and behind the beach. So we set off along the hot and humid road out of the town and into the lush green countryside that surrounds Stanley in the direction of St Stephen’s.
Stanley Military Cemetery is the only military cemetery (aside from the bigger Hong Kong (Happy Valley) Cemetery) of the early colonial period, it was used for the burials of members of the garrison and their families between 1841 and 1866. There were no further burials until the outbreak of the second world war. On December 8th 1941, Japan launched the invasion of Hong Kong whereupon the British finally surrendered on Christmas Day of that same year, fighting occurring in the cemetery itself on the afternoon of Christmas Day, when D Company Royal Rifles of Canada tried to halt the advancing Japanese. There are 598 WWII burials (including non-British Allied soldiers and 2 from the Hong Kong Police Force).
The cemetery itself has immaculately manicured lawns and is wonderfully looked after in every aspect like so many war memorials around the world. But upon walking around there is a strange mixture of thoughts in this peaceful yet sad place. I wondered how many people may have left for the far east in the vain hope of adventure and better lives and yet ended up here by a cruel twist of fate either as a result of some nasty tropical disease or cruel act of warfare beyond their control.
After some time thinking though it was time for the present and the sunny beach of St Stephen’s beckoned us. We purchased a small wooden beach-mat and set about lazing in the afternoon sun beneath the trees by the edge of the beach beside a small bar with a surfboard used as a drinks menu. Life was good and I bloody well knew it, so much so that going home to England was going to be very hard indeed. Hong Kong was beginning to have a profound effect on us and we did not want to leave.
Check out more photos of our amazing trip to Hong Kong over at: http://www.fluidr.com/photos/jameshandlon/sets