HONG KONG – that’s where.
Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region consisting of many islands, the biggest and busiest of which is Hong Kong Island, but it also takes in Kowloon and the New Territories on the mainland which stretch from the coast up to the China border.
And what a fabulous place it is. We spent three weeks sampling everything this diverse area has to offer. The town of Mui Wo on the island of Lantau was our perfect first week base. It is tranquil and unique despite being on the other side of a mountain from Hong Kong’s massive International airport, and only a half hour ferry ride from the city.
Second week we moved to Hong Kong Island for a couple of days before heading up into China for a short and fascinating three day trip. On our return we kipped up at the YMCA in Kowloon which gave us a head start in the mornings to explore the New Territories. But more of that later.
There were many things I loved about this holiday. I managed many Fifty First Timers. I also developed a habit of eating with chopsticks. When one night I was presented with a knife and fork I felt weird. But the best bit was the transport. I fell in love with my Octopus Card
The transport system is a model which should be replicated all over the world. An Octopus card is like a credit card you can top up with cash at stations and ferry terminals. With this card you can travel on any form of transport in the region; small island buses, trains, ferries, trams. You can even use it to buy groceries if you run short of cash. Most of the fares are a set fare whether you travel one stop or ten but it doesn’t matter because the fares are pennies. The only exception I found was on the MTR (Mass Transit Railway). Swipe the card to enter the paid area and swipe it again to leave, the card is only reduced by the number of stops travelled. It’s easy.
As well as being cheap all the transport runs on time and even the MTR at rush hour was never as crowded as the London Under ground is. And no one rushes, everyone walks because they know that if they miss one train another one will come along in a minute.
The other thing I noticed was how health and safety conscious everything is. In the MTR stations the train lines are held behind glass panels that only slide open to board passengers, something that only occurred to me when I read in the local paper about a boy in Tokyo who pushed a stranger onto a train track only because he ‘wanted to kill someone’.
Because of the geography of the area the Hong Kong people have been plagued with landslides. Because of this they civil engineering group have a continuous programme of making slopes safe. Their slogan is ‘Safe Slopes Saves Lives’. Each slope is registered and has its own number. Unfortunately we discovered while we were there that not all slopes have made the grade. More later.