Despite the fact that Hong Kong is now part of China, it is still a separate country for many purposes. You need to pass through customs and immigration to go from one to the other, and you need a visa which will permit this. Even Chinese mainland residents need a visa to go to Hong Kong. Overseas visitors to China can only visit Hong Kong if their China visa is of the “multiple entry” type, because a day trip to Hong Kong counts as leaving and re-entering China.
Both Kate and I had multiple-entry visas, and so the main question about going to Hong Kong was “how?”. In the event, when we returned to our hotel after 11-1/2 hours, we’d covered many different modes of transport:
- Taxi from the hotel in Shenzhen to Shekou ferry terminal.
- Hydrofoil ferry from Shekou to Hong Kong.
- Escalator up the hill through SoHo.
- Walking along Caine Street to the Peak Tram terminal.
- Funicular (the Peak Tram”) up to the Peak overlooking Hong Kong Harbour.
- Funicular down from the Peak.
- Open-top double-decker bus to Central Station.
- Ferry from Central Pier to Hung Hon.
- Taxi to Hung Hon station (which is much farther away from the pier than it looked on the map!)
- Train from Hung Hon to Lo Wu (Luoho).
- Taxi from the gargantuan station and border crossing at Lo Wu to the hotel.
When we arrived at The Peak it was drizzling, so we grabbed two seats outside the bar and sipped our drinks. I had a Singapore Sling, which seemed appropriately tropical. By the time we left, it had cleared up nicely. On the ride down from the Peak, I grabbed my iPhone and fired up the “iHandy Level” app, so that we could measure the maximum inclination of the tram during our descent. Most of the way it registered between 5 and 15 degrees, but there was one patch where it was over 25 degrees, peaking at 27. That’s intense.
Eventually we made our way to the Central Pier, and had a light meal in the rooftop cafe while the sun set and the Hong Kong skyline lit up in neon splendour. Then we took the ferry across to Kowloon, which gave us a great opportunity to see both Hong Kong and Kowloon from the water. At this point our lack of preparation showed through. The tourist map we were using (free, and worth every etcetera) showed Hung Hon train station to be fairly close to the pier, so we started walking. After a few minutes, we came upon a helpful signpost pointing out various local attractions and the walking time to each. It included the station – 20+ minutes. We found a taxi. From then it was fairly straightforward: a 40 minute train ride, then emigration, immigration, and a taxi ride back.
So obviously the most efficient way to go to Hong Kong is by train. They run every five minutes, whereas there are only six ferry sailings a day. On the other hand, the ferry puts you right in the heart of Hong Kong, while by train it takes two changes to get to the same point. And we wouldn’t have missed the ferry for anything: we saw so much of the harbor and the islands around Hong Kong. So this all worked out very nicely.
A few final thoughts. Shenzhen is a huge, rich, and vibrant city, but Hong Kong is an historic, wealthy, world-class city. We both want to return, to really explore and get to know it. I can see why expats fall in love with the place. And my feelings are only slightly coloured by the fact that in Hong Kong they drive on the correct (i.e. left) side of the road, and have wonderful old tramcars whizzing along Des Voeux Road.
And once again we were staggered by the scale of China. A couple of examples: I’ve seen the ports of Long Beach, and Vancouver, and Rotterdam, but they are puny compared with Hong Kong. I have never witnessed so many ships of all sizes buzzing around so purposively, so many cranes, so many containers. And when we left the train station at Lo Wu, the entrance hall was larger than the concourse of many airports. We went to get a taxi, and lined up for one of 8+ slots. Every 30 seconds, taxis would fill those slots, passengers would board, and the taxis would depart, to be immediately replaced by 8 more. Then 8 more. And 8 more. Nobody missed a beat.
UPDATE: Kate’s comments are here. She reminds me of one of the strangest features of our visit: the women. Everywhere we went, the elevated walkways were full of women. Thousands of them. Groups of 3-12 women, sitting around together, eating, talking, playing cards, painting fingernails, bartering things, surfing the web, gossiping, doing each others hair, or just hanging out. One or two men, some children, but 99% women. We saw them when we arrived at noon, and six hours later they were still there. Some special Sunday Hong Kong tradition? Curious…..