Thursday 28 March 2013

Hong Kong - Hong Kong, China


Like Qatar, Hong Kong is one of those places where I'm not really too sure who would have it as number 1 on their list of places to visit.

The former British ruled territory, now under Chinese rule following the Handover in 1997, is much like Doha in the Gulf (ridiculously named as World Cup 2022 host) - there seems to be no real identity to the place.
The streets are lined with jaw-dropping skyscrapers, Italian super cars and designer shopping malls, in a city where big business, finance & banking plays a pivotal role in the global economy. Whether things were different when us Brits ran the show, I'm not too sure, but you definitely get the feeling the stricter Chinese rule has had an impact. Let's face it, they are not as fun as us are they!
An example of the wealth in Hong Kong, especially in 'The Peak' area (where my photos of the skyline during the day and at night were taken), is Severn Road, situated at the top, which is officially the most expensive street to live on IN THE WORLD. Prices start from $2630 per square foot.

But as with Doha, the huge number of the poorer locals are squashed into small pockets of the city which are dirty, loud and an eyesore, so close to areas of heavy investment. To me there is just no middle ground.
The super rich live the good life, where the sums of money spent on houses, cars and jewellery are more than most of us will earn in our lifetime. Whilst the poor squash together making do with working the dead end jobs required by these lavish lifestyles. The street sellers, toilet attendants, taxi drivers and valets.

In the midst of all of this, it has lost it's identity by selling it's soul to living the western lifestyle. There just felt like there was no culture or history that it was proud of. Subsequently as a tourist myself, I couldn't help thinking - who would come here on holiday? (Excluding me obviously!).

The weather is good, but it is not overly hot (for Qatar change to too hot!). Whilst the famous skyline is widely (rightly) regarded as the greatest anywhere in the world, it does not have the same aura, history or appeal as say New York or London

Flights are not too expensive, but USA, all of Europe and the Gulf are cheaper. What sights & attractions there are, are sprawled out across far ends of the cities numerous islands, of which there are incredibly 263!

This means it is not an easy city to walk around, especially given the extreme undulating nature of the popular areas. Therefore lots of time is spent on the metro to get from one point to another. Oh and the other factor which makes it similar to Doha in Qatar - it is bloody expensive!

Perhaps harshly, to me, it is just one of those places you visit on your way somewhere. Either a stopover whilst heading down to Australia, or on your way back from China or Japan. Certainly I would not suggest staying for longer than 2-3 days.

Right now that I have torn it to pieces I had better tell you about the running! I was only in Hong Kong three nights, one if which was lost to arriving late in the evening from Tokyo.

Day 1, having found a park on my tourist map I set off from my hostel in Causeway Bay, just east of the main business district. Temperature was around 22C so just a t-shirt & shorts required. Those who follow me on Twitter will know I then proceeded to get hopelessly and totally lost!

After 10 minutes or so of navigating countless pedestrian crossings, footbridges, traffic lights and gridlocked traffic I made it to Victoria Park. This Park turned out to be minuscule, with it's designated 'jogging track' taking all of 2 minutes to complete. After a couple of circuits I turned and back to find a new route.
Confident I could find my way back to the Hostel, I headed along the marina as close as I could get to the edge away from the busy roads (not very). Unfortunately, I ended up running around shopping malls, markets and footbridges, meaning a very slow, stop/start and hilly run.
Two hours later I eventually made it back to the hostel, thanks mainly to stumbling across a western hotel which kindly pointed me in the right direction (the opposite to which I thought). Fortunately it was morning and quite hot, otherwise god knows what would have happened to me!
Day 2 I regrouped, and after studying my tourist map, thought it best to head into the business district as opposed to away - this mainly because I identified another potential park, the imaginatively named Hong Kong Park, as well as the Botanic Gardens and what looked like some long, straight roads with few intersections.
Whilst Hong Kong Park, pictured above, turned out to be smaller than some people's gardens, the roads offered up the opportunity to stretch my legs without fear of traffic. The only downside is, as I touched upon earlier, Hong Kong Central area has to be one of the most dramatically undulating city centres I have ever seen, with the exception of maybe San Francisco.
I ran for an hour, which was plenty given my quads were burning by the end. Here is my route for you to follow, the second one, not the one where you get lost like me!
Distance: 12k (approx)
Start: Causeway Bay Metro Station, Causeway Bay, HK Island
Head west along Hennessey Road for approx 4k, running in the Bus Lane to avoid the heavily congested footpaths. I should add here for Health & Safety reasons, watch out for buses, obviously.
Once you reach the crossroads, hang a left into Hong Kong Park. You will run up a ridiculously steap footpath to get into the park, which sits above the level of the skyscrapers and the marina giving views across the district.
After a circuit on the outer perimeter of the Park, exit and continue following signs to Zoological & Botanic Garden. If lost, just keep running uphill and you can't go wrong!
After a circuit of the Gardens, head back on Cotton Tree Drive past Admirality Metro stop, and simply retrace your steps back to Causeway Bay (you will also pass Central and Wan Chai metro stops).
Roughly 12k in total, very undulating, but pretty much as traffic free and scenic as you will likely encounter anywhere in Hong Kong.
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