From the metro I caught flashes of skyscrapers reaching upwards and competing for space. Bright advertising lights painted in any gaps in the metropolis. The fauna of the hills loomed in the background, now a distant memory after spending a few days in the bustle of the concrete jungle; full of an array of sights, sounds and life. Hong Kong. Originally a stop over to break the longitude of travelling on to Australia as part of my backpacker adventure, I had not really known what to expect apart from a bustling city. But oh no – it was much more than that. Already it had taken me by surprise by the sheer amount of things to explore.
“This was a concrete jungle beneath the fauna of the hills”
From the wet markets on Graham Street filled with live fish and many other surprises; to the grandeur of Soho, sipping cocktails at Aqua – one of the highest bars in the city, exploring the history museum (for free on Wednesdays!), the bargainers’ paradise of the Jade markets, the famous Starry Ferry, the Peak high up on the Island (recommended on a clear day) and trying a huge array of cuisines. These were just a few of the many sights, tastes and smells to experience in the City. Everyone appeared friendly but left me alone, seemingly I was just another wandering tourist passing through their ever-changing city. I felt fairly safe – even around the ‘fake monks’ who constantly tried to fool tourists into donating money. I had not expected any more surprises, or for Hong Kong to be a city of such extremes, until the day I went on a day trip to the nearby Lantau Island. I passed up on the expected Disneyland visit (I was tempted), and instead decided upon visiting the tiny fishing village of Tai O and the ‘Big Buddha’.
As I sat on the metro I realised the flashes of life outside no longer contained skyscrapers or dazzling artificial colours. Instead a glorious view of the sea marking the horizon came into view, with yards upon yards of sand devoid of any footprints. Paradise – if it was not for the oncoming thunderstorm marked by the specks of rain – a common weather forecast in Hong Kong. We were spat out into this time warp of a place with little more than rich vegetation and rolling hills in view. I was concerned but also curious. I expected Hong Kong to be the easy part of my travels; an international, tourist catered city. Not the rickety bus I was told to get on, following the other passengers, with little notion of when or where to get off. After climbing high into the clouds on the hills, we finally made our descent down to the village of Tai O, down from the dreamy heights of Hong Kong Island to the past times of many generations before. Wooden and metal houses littered the waterways, stilts firmly in the ground after being pounded by Mother Nature’s rages. They were charming, if basic. A startling contrast to the modern construction on the mainland suggesting this was a school boy secret to be kept-unchanged by the drive of construction, changed only by what fish there were to catch. I began wandering in the rain, mesmerised by the street sellers and the pungent smell of fish, open cafes with broken English
“I began wandering in the rain, mesmerised by the street sellers and pungent smells”
suggestively serving ‘the best coffee’ and a monastery, grandly perched on the cliffside, looking forth to the ocean, ready for the oncoming storm. An unfamiliar but comforting silence filled the air – easing my ears from the musical renditions of Hong Kong mainland.
‘Umbrella?’ Laughed a voice, breaking me out of the spell. I looked around to find a friendly face grinning back at me. I suddenly realised how soaked through I was and laughed, taking up the offer for little more than £2.00 before being on my way. I later visited the ‘Tian Tan Buddha’ also known as the ‘Big Buddha’ in all its glory, placed high on Lantau Island for all to worship. As I bravely opted for a meal requiring chopsticks at lunch I could not believe how versatile Hong Kong was, with such natural beauty so close by – if only I had time to visit the other nearby islands such as Macau. It was definitely an insight into a culture that is sewn tightly into modern society, yet rarely glimpsed by those on the mainland or beyond in the rest of the world. Hong Kong had truly surprised me, marking the stopover as more than simply a visit, but a discovery. ‘Fork by any chance?’ The waiter asked politely, as I tried and failed once again to use the chopsticks. I nodded sheepishly – one step at a time..!