Upon requesting $10,000, a cash machine at Hong Kong Airport yesterday provided two $5000 notes. Each of these is equivalent to approximately £60. As well as worrying about losing or washing them, I also had the potential issue of finding somewhere to spend them. In most places I’ve been in Asia it has been difficult to spend the equivalent of a £5 note for a £1 transaction. McDonald’s didn’t bat an eyelid when I handed over $5000 to pay for a $25 breakfast. Presumably they must be used to seeing these flashed around in affluent Hong Kong. As well as having lots of change, McDonald’s here also has excellent WiFi. You can download about seven hours of podcasts in 10 minutes. I didn’t think much of the local breakfast options though. Instead of sausage, egg and twisty pasta, I just stuck to the bog-standard egg muffin and hash brown.
Just one subway stop from the hostel in Kowloon is the heart of Hong Kong Island. This area are was largely as imagined it to be. In many ways it’s not too dissimilar to walking around parts of the City of London. There’s lots of people, financial institutions, shops, restaurants and double-decker buses. It was slightly disappointing regarding the lack of history visible in central Hong Kong, although I may have missed it during the couple of hours I was walking around. Although there’s the odd colonial building dotted about, most seemed to have been replaced by modern high-rise structures.
Navigating the city on Hong Kong Island should theoretically be simple. On one side is the harbour, with Victoria Peak on the other. Hong Kong is very hilly so this should provide a clue as to which way you are heading even if you can’t see water or the peak through the tall buildings. However there are lots of walkways, underpasses, overpasses and shopping centres to walk through. This means that it is very easy to lose your bearings. Sticking to the traditional pavements would involve climbing over barriers and crossing huge busy roads. Hong Kong doesn’t seem to be the sort of place where jaywalking is widely undertaken.
If the morning was spent walking around a Hong Kong like I imagined it to be, the afternoon involved a side of Hong Kong that came as a pleasant surprise. Outside of the densely populated concrete jungle, Hong Kong has a series of scenic walking trails. Many join together to form the Hong Kong Trail, 35 miles of paths that are extremely popular for those wishing to escape the hustle and bustle. On the trail it’s sometimes difficult to imagine that you are actually still in Hong Kong. There’s an organised hike every week along the trail on Tuesday afternoons. We enjoyed an excellent walk along the Dragon’s Back section of the trail, named because of the resemblance of the up and down nature of the hills. The scenery was lovely and we finished up with a beer on the golden sands of Big Wave Beach. I’d never really envisaged Hong Kong as a beachy sort of place.
Usually the concept of a free walking requires a tip to be paid to the tour guide as obviously they need to make a living. However this afternoon’s walk really was free. Michael took the tour and refused any donations. He has a proper job and was starting his walking tour company as a side business. It was actually costing him money due to website fees and the production of promotional material. He told me that at the moment he just wanted people to review his walks on TripAdvisor so he could build his company up up, although at some point he’d likely ask for donations. This was an admirable attitude although I’m sure nobody on the walk would have minded paying a few quid for what was a really good afternoon out, especially as it wouldn’t have been the easiest thing to do without the guidance of a local. Michael also explained that the haze is just what the weather is often like this time of year. You couldn’t blame it on pollution blowing across from China as there is no wind about at the moment. That said, temperatures around 20C were perfect for hiking. I wouldn’t fancy walking up the hills on the Hong Kong Trail during the height of summer.
At the time, my enjoyment of the walk was somewhat tempered by a potential phone bill disaster. On the subway to the meeting point I was playing with my phone and noticed that my data usage for February was 677MB. That seemed strange as I always turn my data roaming off when overseas to avoid any of those horror stories you sometimes read in the paper about people being charged exorbitant amounts while on holiday. I felt slightly queasy when I realised that at £3 per MB I could be facing a bill of over two grand. That would have essentially cleaned out the rest of my travelling money and ensured an earlier than planned arrival home. What had happened? Had I accidentally turned the data roaming on? After a couple of minutes of trying to think rationally, the only explanation that I could come up with was that it may have occurred in London as I spent the first few days of February there. Luckily when I found some internet I was able to confirm that this was the case and my bill for that month was the usual £12-something. I’d now be able to stay in Asia for a bit longer. Ironically the richest person in Hong Kong own the mobile phone company, 3. Luckily I won’t be contributing over £2000 toward his next yacht!