Hong Kong, Our Port in a Storm

Often, not the Storm but the Fear of Storm beats us.

Day 72: My alarm has never endured so many pre-sunrise wake-up calls as in the last two months. Especially those crucial mornings when you have a flight to catch are heavily protected with five to ten alarms and snooze opportunities. We depart Hanoi in the early morning and arrive two hours later in the metropolis of Hong Kong. The Airport Express brings us from the airport to Kowloon, the neighborhood where we spend our next couple of days.

Our hostel is located inside the Chungking Mansion on Nathan Road, the busiest and most known street in the district of Kowloon. The Chungking Mansion, a 17-story building spread over five blocks, once was a notorious place for prostitution and drug deals but now traded its bad reputation for little restaurants, hairdressers, and other commercial businesses but also tons of guesthouses which entices a lot of backpackers due to the cheap rates. The cheap rate comes mostly with minimal space. Don’t be surprised if you have to crawl over each other to get out of the bed. The toilet is also installed in the shower, just in case you want to speed things up during your morning routine and privacy is limited.

We nestle our backpacks in the room and go out to discover what this city has to offer. During our stroll through Tsim Tsa Shui, the southernmost area of the district of Kowloon, we notice how the Pokemon Go frenzy has won over the world. We move through the herds of teenagers who are glued to their phones and end up at the pier overlooking Hong Kong Island. For a moment, it felt like we were undertaking a little western city trip weekend getaway during our eastern backpacker voyage.   

Day 73: Today we are on a mission and plan to arrange our visa for China, one of the most important reasons why we visit Hong Kong. The Chinese embassy is located on Hong Kong Island so we hop on the well known Star Ferry that sails between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island every five minutes. Once we arrive at the embassy we immediately realize this will not be a walk in the park. The visa application is way more elaborate than our visa application for Vietnam, Cambodia, or Mongolia. One of the requirements is filling out our day-to-day travel itinerary.

After feeling like I just completed a writing exam, we finally get to speak to the lady at the counter who is looking over our applications. We only staying a couple days in Hong Kong which forces us to opt for the slightly more expensive ‘express visa’ option. For Seba who is from Chile, it seems all good to go but when she looks at my passport she looks me straight in the eyes and shakes her head, and consequently my knees. My Belgian passport does not have the express visa option so I would need to wait the regular 5 days for my visa, which means I am one day short since we have our flight to Mongolia already booked at the end of the week. I have one option left, arranging my Chinese visa during our visit to Mongolia. Getting this close and not make it to China would be an incredible disappointment at this point.

We leave the embassy a bit bothered by my lack of research for the visa but quickly shift my focus on the map of Hong Kong and navigate towards Hong Kong Park and take the tram towards ‘the Peak’. This view over the harbor, skyline and surrounding islands instantly makes me forget about the hiccup of this morning.

Going there around sunset time seems a good idea as you can admire the views during daytime but even more at nighttime, when the city gets illuminated with millions of lights while you are beholding ‘A Symphony of Lights’ at 8 PM sharp. Other places where you can enjoy this light and music show, which has 42 city buildings participate, are Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade or on a Harbor Cruise.

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Day 75: Today we are meeting up with Seba’s friend, Marco. Always great to be shown around by a local, especially when you visit Temple Street. Remember when I said that the Mustafa Centre in Singapore had literally everything. Well, this is like the Jumbo version of it. The streets are filled with shopping malls filled with little shops where you do great bargains if you know how to.

I have always been a terrible bargainer. Either I try to say my price and get the deal way too easy (that is when I know I still paid three times too much), or I apply the ‘walk-away’ technique and the shop owner does not pursue me and says bye-bye. Luckily you mostly have another shop a few steps away, where you can try again. Marco helps me with finding a good deal for a power bank. Tomorrow he takes us to a Beer Festival on Hong Kong Island, great friend you got Seba!

Day 78: Today is supposed to be our last full day in Hong Kong but Typhoon Nida decides to throw a spanner in the works when she puts Hong Kong right in the middle of her path of destruction. Everywhere people are getting ready for the typhoon. By late morning the last ray of sunshine disappears and the first rain makes its way through the city. Seba is also picking up his passport today.

On our way to the Chinese embassy, we receive the official cancellation of our flight to Mongolia tomorrow but we are luckily rescheduled on the next available flight two days later at 4 AM. The irony is complete when I realize I could have arranged my Chinese visa here after all but there is no use crying over spilled milk. We pick up some food and hunker down (or rather up) in our guesthouse for the next 24 hours while we sit out the storm. Perfect time to catch up on naps, replying to messages from family and friends, and figuring out the next travel steps on our trip.

Day 79: Now the typhoon has swept through we were able to make our way out to meet Marco for a last-minute farewell dinner before heading to the airport in the dead of night for our flight direction Mongolia.

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