The Fragrant Harbour of Hong Kong

On September 17th 2015, twenty people from the United Kingdom set off from London Heathrow airport on a flight to Hong Kong. I was one of them.

We were all part of a BUNAC group flight to New Zealand or Australia, with a 2 day stopover in Hong Kong. I had flown into London the evening before, so the first leg of my travels was already over. This, however, was to be my first long haul flight and a big step to a whole new adventure.

So it was a really excited, if slightly nervous me, that turned up that morning to Heathrow, to stand and wait by the check-in desk. The plan was that we would all meet, get given our BUNAC packs (free t-shirt, yes please) and our tickets, then we would be sent on our way.

When I got to the gate, there was one other person already there. After a while of awkwardly standing there not wanting to be the first to speak, other people began to show up. Eventually we had a sizable group and even us British and Irish people had to break the ice as we all knew we were there for the same reason. So the BUNAC people turned up and after having handed out the goodies and located a stray passenger, sent us on our way.

The flight to Hong Kong was pretty stress-free and really didn’t feel as long as it was. This was our first step to our working holidays so we were all pretty excited and curious to get to know each other. When we weren’t chatting to our fellow travellers, we could watch a film (or 3) or play games, or even just watch the world go by on the in-flight map.

When we finally landed in Hong Kong, it was 6am their time. We were rather tired and as we had been dressed for a British Autumn and not a Hong Kong Spring, rather warm and sticky.

We left our bags at the hotel and were told by our trusty guide, Leoni, to go visit the ‘Big Buddha’. So we hoped on a train, then a rickety old bus to get up the hill to the Big Buddha. The bus was warm and smelly and didn’t feel like it would actually make it up the hill, When it finally did, we were all very glad to get off, though being outside was no cooler.

Below is a picture of the Big Buddha. Unfortunately it is a little bit blurry, as even my camera was affected by the heat and jet-lag.

The Big Buddha
The Big Buddha

The ‘Big Buddha’ is, as the name suggests a big statue of Buddha sitting on a hill. It is located on the Lantau Island beside the Po Lin Monastery.  In order to get to him, you have to climb an awful lot of steps, which on a normal day would have been challenging, but to a group of jet-lagged, warm British tourists, were more than a little taxing. But, as they always say, the climb was definitely worth it. We wandered around the monastery and surrounding buildings while Hong Kong was waking to a misty day.

This took up quite a few hours of our day, until it was time to head back to our hotel to finally get checked in, have lunch and basically relax and explore the city ourselves. So, like any group of 20-somethings traveling, we went in search of  pub.

Day 2 of Hong Kong and we woke earlier than we might have liked, due to jet lag and having found a pub to watch the rugby the evening before. Our tour guide, Leoni, had a full day set out for us, as this would be our only full day in Hong Kong. First we went to Victoria Peak, to see how the rich of the city lived and the wonderful views from the hilltop.

Next on our list was Stanley Market, which was jam-packed with people and stalls selling just about every kind of jewel and tourist object imaginable. But, as we had so many places to fit into our day, we didn’t have long to stop and shop; so we were piled back onto the bus again to be driven to the next location, which was Repulse Bay, for some photo opportunities before the Aberdeen Fishing Village. All long our bus trip around the city we would be told about the places we were passing and it was very clear Leoni loved her city.

The fishing village was a highlight of the tour for me, along with the Big Buddha, of course. We were put into two boats and rode around the harbour. It was here that we learnt that Hong Kong means Fragrant Harbour, when translated. Someone clearly had a sense of humour, or maybe was highly sarcastic when they thought of this. Either way ‘fragrant’ does not fully cover the smell of the harbour. As you could imagine with any fishing village the smell of fish was strong, so much so that I can almost recall it now, over a year later. The harbour was, as harbours go, an interesting site, with many house-boats and working boats. As someone who grew up by the sea, I loved seeing it all. We were taken pass the restaurant on the harbour, which is basically a huge, very ornate-looking barge.

View on the harbour
View on the harbour

Day 3 – Another early start this morning, after a late night at the ‘Lights Show’ on the river front, which while probably quite technical, was a little boring, seeing the same buildings being lit up in the same way on repeat for about an hour. So, in keeping with British travelling stereotypes, we decided to go looking for another pub, and this time stumbled across an Irish pub (anyone who has ever been in an Irish pub, while travelling, or at home, knows there is no explanation needed for how the rest of the night went).

Today, was a new day and with that went a new list of places for Leoni to take us to. First stop was the Wong Tao Sin Temple, or the Temple of the Medicine god and the zodiacs. The temple was very ornate and highly decorated. There was a lot of incense being burnt as well, giving the place  pleasing smell. There was a huge crowd there, but we all still managed to get a good look around and some photos.

The gateway to the Wong Tai Sin Temple
The gateway to the Wong Tai Sin Temple

The next stop on the tour was The Jade Market, which had lovely, expensive jade jewellery in a variety of jade colours. The market was busy and full of people. It was nice to walk around and see all the varieties of jade. This was a quick stop before lunch and then onwards to the Nan Lian Garden and the Palm Tree Garden. These gardens were the perfect spot to relax and wander around for such a warm, humid day. The gardens were extremely peaceful, especially after the bustle of the Jade Market. The gardens were full of plant life and fountains, which really showed the inner beauty of Hong Kong.

We were allocated a couple of hours to spend in the gardens, as our last stop on our break-neck tour of Hong Kong, before climbing on board the bus one last time to go to the airport.

Hong Kong at first sight was a warm, humid city but after only a couple of days there I could see that it is rich in beauty. There is the contrast between the buildings some are decrepit and in need of repair and others are beautifully decorated and show Hong Kong’s rich history and architecture.

The Nan Lian Garden
The Nan Lian Garden

So overall, Hong Kong was a very fast-paced 2/3 days. I will always remember the overall feeling of being warm, but I will also remember Leoni and her amazing knowledge and love for her city. It was the first time most of us had been to the city and we certainly saw some of its main attractions. I would definitely visit here again and maybe take a more leisurely look around, to see some more of it’s buildings, gardens and people.

Next Stop: Auckland and on to our new adventure in New Zealand.