A Travellerspoint blog

Hong Kong

Hong Kong on two wheels

semi-overcast 13 °C

We arrived in Hong Kong dazed and sleep deprived. Our efforts to budget meant opting for cheaper flights - synonymous with anti-social departure times and unfathomably long stop overs (20 hours couped up in Brunei airport). Happily our bikes survived the journey better than we did. After refuelling with a hearty breakfast in Cafe Ritazza (it did feel a bit weird that a high street coffee chain ubiquitous on the streets of London was our first meal in Asia) we set about assembling our bikes as discreetly as you can inside a bustling airport! The knotty issue of what to do with our bike bags upon reaching Hong Kong had been resolved efficiently by mum and dad (to the rescue again!) having arranged that one of their obliging contacts in Kuala Lumpur would store them at his house until we arrive in Malaysia in April. It seemed luck was on our side when we discovered that there was a post office branch inside Hong Kong airport so within an hour of arriving they had been dispatched along with all the camping equipment that we won't be using again until Europe (there are no campsites in China that we know of and as accomodation is so cheap it didn't seem worth it to lug all the extra gear around). Feeling lighter and exhilarated by the prospect of our asian cycling adventure we bounded off. What was it going to be like cycling in Hong Kong? We got an inkling that it was going to be a greater challenge than we anticipated before we had even left the airport. We asked what transport we could use to get us and our bikes out (cycling is not a desirable option as it is motorway most of the way). The train operator flatly told us there was no way that we could take our bikes on the train - 'go by bus'. Not according to the bus operator 'go by train'. Hmmm. We explained our quandry to the diminuative and impossibly polite rep at airport information and asked how other cyclists got out the airport. She simply replied 'People don't cycle in Hong Kong'. We later found out that wasn't strictly true but more on Hong Kong by bike later.

Rob was particularly adamant that we would not be leaving the airport by bike in response to noises from me along the lines of 'well it isn't rush hour so maybe it won't be too bad...' We also had to get to the passport office before the end of the day (Friday) to apply for our chinese visas otherwise we would be waiting till Monday. In the end we dismantled the bikes (momentarily cursing our efficiency at sending off the bike bags). Rob held the frames and I held the wheels and panniers. Hiding behind a pillar we waiting until the doors were about to close and rushed on through separate doors past the officious station guards and we were away.

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Arriving on Hong Kong Island was an assault on the senses. This felt particularly acute coming from New Zealand where open space is in abundance. In Hong Kong space is so limited and at full capacity so the city is developing upwards. We cycled out of the station with 50 floor glittering skyrises looming over us sharing three lane dual carriage ways with motorists, trams and buses breathing in lungfulls of smog until we found a pedestrianised walk way (technically not for cyclists) along the sea front - Hong Kong's very own southbank - that got us safely to Sheung Wan. As we experienced in New Zealand there is no better way to get to know the different faces of a city that through the eyes of locals. We spent our 4 days in Hong Kong staying with Rob's friend Ed and his girlfriend Maddy, benefitting from their insights as well as their hospitality, we found Hong Kong to be a truly intriguing city. We explored bustling markets (leaving the bikes behind and enjoying the brilliant public transport of trams and the metro that had been lacking in New Zealand). Graham Street Market in Sheung Wan and Reclamation Street Market on Kowloon are amazing wet markets where most produce is kept live - from fish and chicken to delicacies like turtle and eel. These markets are nestled among shops showcasing equally unusual wares like pickled snakes and dried seahorses. Just a couple of tram stops away from these networks of pedestrian streets is causeway bay - a seething mass of people in consumer's paradise. We wandered through streets where we were dwarfed by shopping malls in skyscrapers where virtually every shop sold i-pods or mobile phones. We spent a couple of hours trying to work our way through this maze of shops clutching our 'to buy' list of everything we needed to restock on before getting to mainland China. Top of our list was a good map. Luckily we were in Hong Kong for 4 days as it took this long to find one. Finding a bookshop was hard enough and was generally met with either blankness or a questioning 'magazine?' After extensive searching we found a few of maps at a bookshop called Dymmocks that we hope are usable - most of the maps are only in Chinese but we bought 2 that were in English and Chinese that cover all of China so include only the main roads (which we do not plan on cycling on) and one in English and Chinese with a bit more detail of Zhaoqing - our first stop. Fingers crossed.

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It goes without saying that we were chomping at the bit to experience the culinary offerings of Hong Kong and for 4 days we ate like kings. We sampled as much Dim Sum as we could possibly eat which was incredibly cheap - particularly in Kowloon where we found a fabulous little restaurant on Kimberley Road with delectable turnip cake. But Hong Kong also caters for an international range from Belgian to Japanese - catering more for the western palate and wallet as dim sum is only about four pounds a head whereas the western restaurants and bars fillled with tourists and expats charge London prices.

Our actual experiences of cycling in Hong Kong were fairly limited but it is safe to say that it is not the most bicycle friendly place. We were not surprised that we didn't see any cyclists on Hong Kong Island. Roads are fiendishly steep and although there is a fantastic infrastructure to keep pedestrians separated from traffic these systems do not work for bikes (escalators and long long stairways!) In Kowloon, which is much flatter, we did see some locals using bikes - mainly as a means of transporting goods to and from markets carrying everything but the kitchen sink making our panniers look positively paltry! Our 30 day visa for China was ready on Tuesday (we weren't able to get a 90 day one - apparently it is in the lap of the gods whether you get one when you ask so we will have to extend when we are out there) Rather than cycling out of Hong Kong we planned to take a ferry to Zhaoqing which is 3 hours away and out of the traffic to start our trip. The boat leaves once a day (8.30am) and we made it by the skin of our teeth - almost thwarted by the local ferry service between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon which wouldn't let us take our bikes on board - we made it eventually - furiously pedalling to wan chai where you CAN take bikes onboard (inexplicable as it is the same company and same boat!)

THe ferry pulled out of Hong Kong as the sun rose over the skyscrapers. We hadn't planned a route, only a 'rough' direction. The accuracy and value of our maps is questionable and our supplies for the cycling ahead limited to 2 mars bars (apparently there is no chocolate in China??) and raisins. Feeling a little anxious about this lack of preparation we spent most of the ferry ride attempting to learn mandarin from the free podcasts that Rob downloaded off the internet via our 'chinese teacher' Serge. By the end of the ferry journey we could say hello, our names and the phrase that will definitely have very frequent use: 'Wo ting bu dong' - I don't understand.

Posted by mrs lewis 00:31 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (1)

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