29 October 2007

Travel: Hong Kong, Part 1

Hong Kong!

I finally got to see the self-styled Asia's World City. I went up for work on a Thursday and stayed the weekend earlier in October. It was a nice change of pace from Singapore, as the weather was just a bit cooler, almost Fall-like. At least to someone used to the tropical heat of the Lion City.

You fly into the nine-year-old Hong Kong International Airport on Chek Lap Kok island, west of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. The airport opened in 1998, replacing the old Kai Tak Airport located in Kowloon, amid densely populated land and surrounded by not insignificant hills. HKIA is beautiful, and it really is nice to fly there from Singapore's Changi Airport, because you travel between two of the cleanest, most efficient, most modern airports in the world.

Of course, one of the most beautiful sights at HKIA is the Krispy Kreme inside the main terminal building, near the Airport Express train.

My first stop was Cathay City near the airport, headquarters of Hong Kong carrier Cathay Pacific and its sister airline DragonAir. In front of the HQ building sits an old Cathay Pacific DC-3. It is a beautiful plane, and although I didn't get a picture, I included one here.

After my meeting, I headed into the city on the Airport Express (after stopping at Krispy Kreme), the high speed train that makes two stops before terminating at Hong Kong Island's Central Terminal. The train is a modern, very comfortable ride that cuts your travel time to the city to about 20 minutes. Once there, I jumped into a cab to my hotel in Causeway Bay.

My first ride in a Hong Kong cab, on my way to my meeting, was distinctly different than what the experience at Central. Cathay City is on Lantau, and only blue cabs can take you there. These mirror the outlying island's slower pace, as I waited more than 25 minutes in the humidity (not as bad as Singapore, but not quite as cool and dry as it would get later in my stay) before one pulled up for my leisurely two-kilometre ride to Cathay City. Hong Kong and Kowloon are served by the red cabs, which are more in line with the hustle and bustle of the city. As we pulled out from the station, I was struck by how much the city reminded me of Chicago. It is built up right to the edge of the harbor, and hurtling from Central towards Causeway Bay on the freeway brought back great memories of Lake Shore Drive. It really is a mix of Chicago and San Francisco, however, as a glance to the right revealed the hilly streets dotted with residences, shops, restaurants, and bars that lead up to the Mid-Levels, where many Hong Kong residents live (and which is served by the largest escalator system in the world - more on that later). It was fantastic.

Luckily, the hotel was within a block of an MTR station. The MTR is a clean and efficient way to get around the city, both Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. I dropped off my bags and headed out for a look around. I decided to get off in Wan Chai, knowing I would find a mix of decent pubs and hostess bars (which you want to avoid, unless you like your money flying out of your pocket for the "privilege" of talking to one of the hostesses). I was able to defend myself against a few very aggressive door-women (they literally try to drag you in) and found a couple of ex-pat pubs, one where a middle-aged American was loudly discussing the merits of 80s rock before accompanying Stairway to Heaven (on the bar's stereo) as loudly and off-key as possible, and the other offering a quieter atmosphere as well as quality music. It was here that I found myself in a Hong Kong bar listening to the Highwaymen. Not a bad experience.

But, I wanted to get some rest before my two days in Hong Kong started, so I was back to the hotel at a reasonable hour.

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