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Around the World in 80 Destinations Dreamer, traveller, writer. Occasional raconteur. Not always in that order.

Octopussy. Pt 1. Travels in Hong Kong. Wan Chai to Stanley.

HONG KONG | Thursday, 25 June 2015 | Views [285]

St Stephen's bay, Stanley

St Stephen's bay, Stanley

I live at the heart of one of the world’s most densely populated countries, between two of the biggest cities in Europe and deep in the midst of one of the world’s busiest transport networks. And I don’t use public transport. Ever. Not if my life depended on it. For a myriad of good reasons, the three most basic of which are that it doesn’t go where I want it to go; or when I want it to go and it costs an absolute fortune. It is no surprise then, that when I travel abroad I view public transport behind the same dystopian spectacles with which I view public transport in England. It is dirty, inefficient, slow, expensive and is quite simply the least desirable way to to travel. Not so Hong Kong. Let me introduce you to Octopus. Let me introduce you to a world of subterranean transport that is clean and efficient, where the air is conditioned to a point of perfection and the sound of birds tweeting is pumped out through hidden speakers to make you feel, well, comfortable. It is a world, also, of over ground efficiency where buses run all day, to all parts of the island and the mainland, and where nostalgic double decker trams run east and west across Hong Kong from the gambling mecca of Happy Valley Racecourse, up Hennesey Rd, along the Queensway and on into Kennedy Town. And all for considerably less than it would cost to hail one of Hong Kong’s famously rude taxis. 

 

The first thing to do is grab yourself an Octopus card, the Honkers equivalent to an Oyster card in England. I picked mine up at Wan Chai station on O’Brian RD as I was winding my way up to Pak Tai Temple in Old Wan Chai on my first day in the city. They cost $150 Hong Kong Dollars, approximately £12.30 or $19.40 US. Of that $150 HKD $50 is a deposit which you get back when you leave and $100 is for immediate use on the transport system. Once I’d taken in the delights of the temple, squashed in among the high rise towers of Hong Kong and easily missed unless you follow the guide books, I made my way back through the hot and humid streets of Old Wan Chai to Queen’s Rd and caught a bus to Stanley, on the south of the island. Here the guide books come in handy again as, once you have scanned your card on the conveniently placed reader beside the driver, their advice is to make your way immediately to the top of the double decker bus and grab yourself a front seat where you can take in the spectacular views of the lush, rolling hills that make up the south of the island. From this vantage point you can watch the magically named Repulse Bay as it pulls into view as the bus winds its way towards Stanley. Typically, however, I discovered a handful of other tourists who had clearly read the same guidebooks as me and had bagged themselves the best seats in the house. I’m pleased to say that the view from my seat at the back was no less spectacular.

 

Stanley is my secret pleasure. Once you’ve spent an hour strolling around Stanley Market (not one of Hong Kong’s best, but worth a visit just to go to Stanley) chill out for a bit on Stanley Main St with its bars and restaurants and its view over Stanley Bay. The old British Colonial building of Murray House now sits at the end of the street, having been moved from its original location in the early 80s, and a wonderful pier stretches lazily into the sea. Whilst at this part of town take in Tin Hau Temple and the oddly curious skin of Hong Kong’s last tiger, shot by an Indian policeman, Rur Singh in 1942. Stanley has a nice beach too, but a 20 minute stroll further south brings you to St Stephen’s beach which is reportedly quieter during busier times. It is smaller but more picturesque and looks a more pleasant place for a dip. Also at this part of Stanley is Stanley War Cemetery, a lasting reminder of the fierce fighting that occurred in this part of Hong Kong and the terrible conditions endured by colonial serviceman during the Japanese occupation.

 

From Stanley I got back on the bus and headed back along Repulse Bay Rd towards Repulse Bay. Because it was such a warm and humid June day I had already made plans to go swimming somewhere and had made my mind up to stop at Repulse Bay. The view from the bus en route to Stanley had whetted my appetite sufficiently, so I got off here and made my way across the large sandy beach, and under the palm fronds to the water’s edge, stripped off to my swimmers and waded into the South China Sea. From the comfort of the warm waters of the sea Repulse Bay surrounds you on all sides as large, and very expensive apartments, creep up the mountainside and bear down on you like ancient creatures of Chinese myth. Curiously some of the buildings are built with large holes in their middle to allow the dragons that live in the mountains to sweep out of their lairs and down to the sea without bumping into the buildings. Once I’d relaxed enough and dried myself off I caught another bus and headed back along the coast to Aberdeen and one of Hong Kong’s busiest fishing ports. There is little in Aberdeen to keep you interested for long. It is a highly populated town with a very small town centre that can be walked in less than half an hour, but as dusk was settling in around me I decide a quick meal in the garish and flamboyant Jumbo floating restaurant was just the ticket. A free boat trip to the restaurant is provided by Jumbo and can be reached at the pier near the fish market. The restaurant is an experience in itself and while the food and the service is very good there are better restaurants in Hong Kong and certainly cheaper ones. But then, it’s a bit like going to Paris and not going up the Eiffel Tower. There are some things you have to do, just to be able to say you’ve done them. 

 

Once fed and watered I caught the boat back to Aberdeen and then the bus back to Queen’s Rd in Wan Chai. By now night had properly closed in around me and the city of lights shone brightly and I headed off to Lockhart Rd in search of refreshment. On the way I began to mentally calculate what kind of price I would expect to pay for my travels today had I done them on the English transport system. I roughly worked out that I would probably have paid around £20, and even then I though that I was being generous. And Hong Kong? How much had my day’s travel set me back?

 

Just short of $20, or less than £2 in English. 

 

Suddenly Hong Kong just opened up before me. Come, she seemed to say. Come and explore me. Tomorrow I intended to do just that. But where would I go?

 

 

 

 

Tags: aberdeen, hong kong, octopus, pak tai, repulse bay, stanley, wan chai

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