I am off to Malay Archipelago and Southeast Asia on my own for two months. Somehow, the idea of heat, humidity, mosquitoes and airports did not appeal to my darling wife this Spring. After a 15-hour turbulent flight from San Francisco to Hong Kong, I sped through as many experiences as I could during my 12-hour stopover.
Riding a speedy Airport Express train from the airport to HK Island was only about a 3-stop, 25-minute ride. My first impression, while speeding along the gleaming tracks, was of skyscrapers – EVERYWHERE. They were arranged in tightly knitted, predominantly residential groups. There are over 8,000 skyscrapers on the island, doubling the count in New York City, the second runner up in the world. Dazzling!
The Big Bus Tours, with open-top sightseeing and hop-on/hop off privileges, provided fixed routes loaded with key places of interest. The three tour routes available allowed exploration of Hong Kong Island, Kowloon (across the Harbor on the mainland, including a ride on the charming Star Ferry), and Aberdeen/Stanley on the rear side of the Island, plus free tickets for the must-stop sites, the Peak Tram and the HK Maritime Museum. This type of bus tour is available in most large cities with a tourist draw, and I recommend it for an overview before deeper exploration…or for a quick city orientation on a stopover.
Getting to the Peak Tram main entrance was a dizzying bus ride up the steep hill. The Peak Tram opened in 1888 for the exclusive use of the British governor and The Peak’s residents. This Swiss-built funicular railway is a short two-car train set, and the steepest ascent in the world on a 24% gradient! The journey took about seven minutes and was a visual experience to remember, as skyscrapers glide past at what appear to be impossible angles while the tram slowly makes its ascent ~ whew! Talk about an on overview! The fabulous 360° panoramic views at the top, over 1200 feet up, was just one way to experience the beauty of Hong Kong’s natural wonders. Kowloon was definitely a people center of gravity; it seemed to lack sight seeing diversity but provided a glimpse of the residents of Hong Kong going about their daily business. The mix of wealth and poverty was evident in the densely populated residential and business areas. I randomly checked out a few stores to see if the prices were as low as reputed. Yep! A SIM store had a top of the line Sony A7RII camera with kit, about 20% less than Amazon’s ~ wow! Public transportation is in great demand there, so more double-decked public buses were in use than taxis and cars combined! Harborside in Hong Kong, the Maritime Museum showcases 3,000 years of maritime history and culture in Hong Kong, the South China Sea and the Pearl River Delta. A highlight was the KM Koo Ship Simulator that put you at the helm of a a huge tanker, rocking and rolling, thrashed by waves and blinding rain during seasonal monsoon storms. So happy it was just a simulation!
As an amateur watercolorist, I was blown away by an amazing series of 34 watercolor paintings showing detailed documentation of the production of Jingdezhen porcelain (Qing Dynasty, end of 18th century) intended for the Western market. Even with my background in Industrial Operation engineering, it was stunning to analyze the illustration of the division of labor from raw material to production, and the logistics of export transporting. Breathtaking!