On our first morning in Hong Kong we were awake quite early and were eating breakfast in the hotel’s 2nd floor restaurant soon after it opened. The selection wasn’t as extensive as at the Manila Sofitel but it was quite adequate for our needs.
Our first task on leaving the hotel was to purchase two Octopus Cards at HK$50 each from the nearby North Point MTR station. We then loaded them with a further HK$100 each. Please note that these transactions can only be carried out using cash. Fully equipped with our travel cards, we took the escalators down to the platform level and caught an Island Line train along to Central station. From there, it was just a short walk across to the adjacent Exchange Bus Station where we caught a No.15 bus up to The Peak. We have usually taken a ride on the iconic Peak Tram, something I would highly recommend doing for first time visitors to Hong Kong. Queues for the tram can be long so it’s a good idea to aim to arrive first thing in the morning to avoid wasting time.
Taking the bus to the top of The Peak is quite a thrill in itself, especially if like us, you manage to secure the front seats on the upper deck. From this elevated position passengers can take in the dramatic views as the bus twists and turns its way up the steep hill.
The air was slightly cooler at the summit and we stretched our legs by taking the circular walk (Morning Trail) around The Peak. This 3.5km gentle walk winds its way around the highest point of Hong Kong Island offering breathtaking views at every turn. The trail is signposted and runs from Lugard Road to Harleck Road and can be taken in either direction. Most visitors just take in the views from the outlook points close to the tram station but if you can spare the tine I think you would enjoy following this trail.
Wandering along the paths beneath the tropical vegetation there was much evidence of the recent typhoon with numerous uprooted trees and broken branches. Huge efforts had been made to clear the paths but debris was piled up at the roadside awaiting chopping and collection.
On completing the trail it had been our plan to relax with coffees on the terrace of the Galleria shopping centre but we discovered that this was closed for refurbishment until summer 2019. Instead, we took the bus back down the hill to its terminus near the Star Ferry terminal. No visit to Hong Kong can be complete without a ride across Victoria harbour on the iconic Star Ferry. We boarded a ferry across to Kowloon sitting on the upper deck where tickets cost only HK$2.20 (21p).
The ferry terminal is in Tsim Sha Tsui and across the road from there on Canton Road stands Heritage 1881 a handsome Victorian colonial building. Between 1881-1966 this was the headquarters of the Hong Kong Police. Several of the buildings have been restored and now feature an upmarket shopping mall, heritage hotel and an exhibition hall.
The most interesting monument on the Heritage 1881 site is the Time Ball Tower. Between 1885-1907 this provided a vital service to ships in Victoria Harbour. The ball mounted on the pole in this tower was raised each morning and dropped at 1.00 p.m. each day to allow ships to recalibrate their chronometers.
We then glanced in some shops along the bustling Nathan Road passing the famous Chungking Mansions on our way. Our walk then took us to the nearby Kowloon Park which is an oasis of green in the heart of Tsim Sha Tsui. The park was crowded as it was a public holiday in Hong Kong (Mid-Autumn Festival) and hundreds of Filipino and Indonesian maids were making the most of their free time enjoying picnics with their friends.
Moving on, we slowly made our way back to the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront where we paused to take in the stunning harbour views and to watch the junk, Aqua Luna with its bright red sails return to the quay. Next, we climbed the steps onto the viewing platform near to the clock tower which is the only surviving building of Kowloon railway station.
It didn’t take much tempting for us to choose to return to Central by Star Ferry rather than using the metro through the cross harbour tunnel.
Near the Star Ferry terminal stands the gleaming International Finance Centre (IFC) mall where we rested our legs with a late lunchtime snack before taking a look around some of its shops. From there it was just a short walk to Statue Square with its cenotaph which is a replica of the one in Whitehall, London. The elegant colonial, former Supreme Court building, now the Court of Final Appeal, dominates the square. Here we found hundreds more maids, huddled in small groups with their friends making the most of their extra day’s holiday.
We glanced in several more shops and even popped into Marks & Spencer’s for a brief look round but didn’t buy anything. We then caught one of the lovely old trams back to North Point which are affectionately known as ‘Ding-Dings’. Passengers board at the rear and pay on exiting at the front. Trams have a flat rate fare of HK$2.60 (25p) irrespective of length of journey and are an inexpensive method of travel on Hong Kong Island. Our favourite seats are on the upper deck, either at the back or front from where passengers have aerial views of the bustling streets and neon lights below.
Back at the hotel we had a short rest before going out for a meal to a small, family run restaurant that we had eaten at on previous visits to Hong Kong. We recognised some of the staff and our large portions of pork with ginger and pineapple and sweet and sour chicken were delicious and very filling.
After we had finished our meal we strolled along the road, passing through Fortress Hill to Tin Hao as we’d read that the Tai Hang Fire Dragon Mid-Autumn Festival was taking place that evening. On reaching Tin Hao it wasn’t a problem knowing which way to go as we just followed hundreds of people heading to the square where the festival was taking place. It was impossible to see anything from the square as it was already overflowing with spectators so we moved on and by chance found a better vantage point where we were able to have uninterrupted views of the Fire Dragon procession.
I had never seen anything like it before, as a massive 67m (220 ft) straw, stuffed dragon wound its way through the narrow streets, carried by 300 volunteers and accompanied by the sounds of roaring drums, firecrackers and dance performances.
The Fire Dragon Festival takes place annually as part of a century old tradition, under the light of a full moon during the mid-autumn festival. The dragon is made from straw and covered with 70,000 incense sticks which are lit and carried by local residents. The head of the dragon weighs 70 kilograms and is formed by wrapping straw around a rattan frame.
As the dragon approached, we could see that it was shaking its head in front of doorways to bring good luck and health to the residents. This ritual is thought to have started in 1880 after the village of Tai Hang was hit by a typhoon followed by a plague.
Afterwards we slowly followed the crowds into Victoria Park where a display of lanterns looked pretty, illuminating the night sky. We then caught a tram back to North Point and reflected on what a lovely first day we had experienced on our return to delightful Hong Kong.
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