1YoT: Hong Kong Part 1 – City Center

Alright, we’re done with Europe, now its time to get exotic! Up next: China, specifically Hong Kong!

Inna and I wish we could visit all of China, and at some point we will. China offers so much, it could be a year of travel on its own. Unfortunately, China requires US citizens to purchase tourist visas, and at $200+ per person, they are not cheap. Hong Kong, however, is self governing and does not require tourist visas for US citizens, so Hong Kong is where we went!

We only spent three days in Hong Kong; we easily could have spent more but we were worried about being overwhelmed by the crowds (this turned out to not be a problem, as the infrastructure in Hong Kong is great and the city is very organized). Also, we found a super-cheap flight from Hong Kong to Sydney, one that left four days after we arrived. The deal was too good to pass up, so we got our tickets and then made arrangements for three days in Hong Kong!

Flying over China on our way to Hong Kong (we had a layover in Beijing, which is how we got these low flying shots). Take a good look, these guys are gunning to become a major player in our world, even more than they already are.

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Inna and I knew very little about Hong Kong before we arrived. We knew it was a highly developed major economic player, but we had no idea how much. For example, we didn’t know that Hong Kong holds all of the following records: city with the most skyscrapers, city with the most high rises, city with the most people living and working on a fifteenth story or above, city with the tallest combined building height (almost three times as high as number two on the list), and more. We thought New York City held these records; New York City actually ranks second in each category except number of high rises, in which it ranks third, behind Sao Paolo.

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As shown in the above panorama, Hong Kong’s skyscrapers create an incredible skyline. In fact, Hong Kong’s skyline is generally considered to be the best skyline in the world. Hong Kong even has a skyscraper show, in which the skyscrapers light up in sync with music, but unfortunately, it wasn’t as impressive as it sounds (the music was too quiet and not enough skyscrapers participated in the show).

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While visiting Hong Kong, we stayed in Kowloon, located across the harbor from Central Hong Kong. So, come daytime, we took a boat to Hong Kong Island and checked out those skyscrapers up close.

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Here’s the view of Kowloon from Hong Kong Island. Even this is a pretty decent skyline if you ask me.

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And here’s the view looking out Hong Kong’s harbor. Despite all its records, one superlative Hong Kong does not own is most skyscrapers taller than 300 meters (Dubai holds this one, followed by Shenzhen and New York City. Hong Kong is tied for seventh). Hong Kong has six skyscrapers above this benchmark, three of which are in this panorama. The tallest two and their locations in the harbor remind me of the Argonath scene from Lord of the Rings.

These are the streets of Central Hong Kong. Where is everybody? We heard this city had a lot of people.

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That’s more like it. Apparently it was early when we took the previous pictures, although it wasn’t early by our standards.

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This skyscraper, the Bank of China Tower, is the most famous skyscraper in Hong Kong and one of the most famous skyscrapers in the world. Most significantly, this was the first 1,000+ foot skyscraper outside the US, and it was designed by the same architect who designed the glass pyramid at the Louvre.

Some other skyscrapers (and another angle of the Bank of China Tower), mostly shown at night because they look cooler that way.

In addition to skyscrapers, Hong Kong also has interesting stuff at ground level. Like these statues of famous Asian cartoon characters.

For more than 150 years (1842-1997), Hong Kong was part of the United Kingdom, not China. Basically, in the early 1800s, the English loved Chinese silk, porcelain, and tea, but the only thing they had to trade for it was opium. The Chinese however did not want opium in their country, so they threatened to sanction it. This led to the First Opium War, which England won handily. As part of their victory, England established a huge opium market in China, and they also took Hong Kong as their own. The above pictures show three of the many relics/influences that England left in Hong Kong; other relics include Hong Kong’s subway system, driving on the left side of the road, the names of some of the mountains, and more. 

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As I mentioned earlier, the infrastructure in Hong Kong is great and the city has some of the best public transportation in the world. Pictured above is one of Hong Kong’s more creative forms of transportation, the Central-Mid-Level Escalators. This escalator system, which consists of eighteen escalators and three moving walkways, runs for half a mile and scales almost 450 feet, making it the largest escalator system in the world. Tens of thousands of commuters ride these escalators to and from work every day.

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With all this development, Hong Kong doesn’t have a lot of room for nature (although it does have a nice park near the center of downtown). As a result, they have things like this: a tree growing out of a wall.

While we’re on the topic, if you’re wondering how the pollution was in Hong Kong, the air quality wasn’t as bad as we feared but the harbor was much worse. The harbor stunk so bad, we could smell it more than a hundred feet away. Something really needs to be done about the water pollution in Hong Kong, because that harbor was one of the most foul odors we’ve encountered in a major metropolitan city such as this one.

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Here is Hong Kong’s Man Mo Temple, located in the district of Sheung Wan. This is one of the oldest and most famous temples in Central Hong Kong, an area that had surprisingly few religious institutions for its density and population.

The Man Mo Temple was small, especially compared to many of the European churches we visited earlier on this trip, but it was also gorgeous. It was so festive and colorful, and it was really exciting to see a different religion in action, to see Chinese locals coming and going and doing their thing.

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Here’s another religious building we found in Hong Kong. This is a giant mosque and it was located in Kowloon, back on our side of the harbor.

Also on our side of the harbor was the Avenue of Stars, Hong Kong’s equivalent of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. There were lots of Hong Kong Action Cinema names here, although surprisingly I could not find one of the biggest names from this film movement: John Woo.

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We’re almost at the end of this post and I still haven’t mentioned the best thing Hong Kong has to offer. Remember that skyline from the beginning of this post? Well, the harbor view isn’t the best skyline view in the city, the actual best view is from Victoria Peak, located behind Central Hong Kong. We took this tram to get there.

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And here it is, the Hong Kong skyline from Victoria Peak. Central Hong Kong, Kowloon, and the harbor are all in this photo, as are five of Hong Kong’s six 300+ meter skyscrapers. This is definitely the most beautiful skyline I’ve ever seen.

Okay, I think this is a good break point; there’s so much in Hong Kong I can’t fit it all in one post! Next post we’ll cover the outskirts of Hong Kong, specifically the Tian Tan Buddha, Po Lin Monastery, and the Hong Kong coast!

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