In 2004, on the first morning of our first trip to Hong Kong, we took the tram up Victoria Peak. It was time to do it again.
After a leisurely start - best not to tangle with the rush hour – we took the MTR under the harbour to Admiralty and walked to the Peak Tram Station, pausing to admire the towers of Central.
|The towers of Central, Hong Kong|
Victoria Peak, more usually ‘The Peak’ is, at 552m (1,811ft), the highest point on Hong Kong Island – though there are considerably higher peaks in the New Territories. For most of the year Hong Kong is hot and humid and the more temperate climate of The Peak attracted the early European settlers. It remains a desirable place to live, boasting the world’s highest property prices.
|The Peak, on Hong Kong Island, is due south of Central and one third of the way to the south coast|
In the early days residents reached their homes by sedan chair. Warning: digressionary rant approaching. The sedan chair, along with the (man hauled) rickshaw, must be the most offensive forms of transport devised by man. If you take a taxi or even a cycle rickshaw you are saying, ‘I can drive/cycle, but I don’t have a car/bicycle available so I will hire yours.’ Taking a sedan chair was saying ‘I can walk, but I’m too important, you carry me.'
Difficulty of access limited development until the Peak Tram (actually a funicular railway, not a tram) opened in 1888.
|The Peak Tram arrives at the lower terminus|
The tram, which climbs 400m in a distance of 1.4km, originally had wooden carriages hauled by a static steam engine but over the years has undergone frequent upgrades and the occasional rebuild. Despite limited to Peak residents it carried a remarkable 800 passengers on its opening day, now open to all it transports 17,000 on an average day.
|Lynne - one of today's 17,000 - waiting to set off|
The well-documented optical illusion of the nearby towers appearing to be falling backwards into the mountain, is quite alarming. Being an illusion caused by motion it cannot be photographed so here is a view up the track instead.
|The Peak Tram is on the way|
The upper terminus is located in the Peak Tower shopping complex. In 2004 we had difficulty finding our way out and having become no cleverer in the past 12 years we again spent time travelling up and down escalators seeking the exit. Perhaps they do not want potential customers escaping easily - or maybe at all, the interior reminded me of a scene from Labyrinth where David Bowie’s Goblin King tries to prevent Sarah from rescuing her infant brother.
|Inside the Peak Tower at the upper terminus|
Egress was finally achieved! 150m below the summit (occupied by a telecommunications facility and closed to the public) is a round-Peak walk. We paused after a couple of minutes walking to admire(?) the Peak Tower from the outside. Locally it is known as The Flying Wok.
On a good day the walk offers magnificent views, and
it had been a good day when we set off. Sadly by the time we reached the top the
mist had descended and whether looking east over Wan Chai and Causeway Bay….
|The Peak Tower - or Flying Wok|
|Looking east over Wan Chai and Causeway Bay|
….or north over Central and across to Kowloon, the mist was the clear winner.
|Looking over Central and across to Kowloon|
We had a better day in 2004 but back in the days of film we took fewer pictures. The 2004 photo below is essentially the same scene, though concentrating on Kowloon rather than Central. The grassy point this side of the Yau Ma Tei Typhoon shelter is now the West Kowloon Cultural District – and no longer grassy.
|Looking over Central and across to Kowloon, July 2004|
Trying to photograph anything more distant was a waste of time, but I include a murky view of Lama Island as we walked across it on Thursday (see The Transit of Lama) from the dimly visible power station to the bay on the left hand edge of the picture.
We completed our circumambulation of The Peak, a pleasant walk, if a poor photo opportunity, took the tram down and returned to Kowloon to find a lunch of beef and fried noodles.
In the afternoon we wandered through the food markets in and around Reclamation Street.
The regular meat market sold good quality produce….
|Meat, Reclamation Street, Hong Kong|
...as did the fruit and veg stalls.
|Fruit and Veg, Reclamation Street, Hong Kong|
The seafood area was more interesting, with large crabs….
|Large crabs, Reclamation Street, Hong Kong|
….and assorted sea cucumbers.
|Sea cucumbers, Reclamation Street, Hong Kong|
Tofu looks like cheese but the rich smell of Pont l’Eveque is absent. Although most tofu is bland, taking on the flavours of whatever it is cooked with, there is a ‘stinky tofu’ which smells far worse than the ripest of cheeses. It is not much sold in Hong Kong but can be found as street food (or so I read, I have not encountered it).
|Tofu stall, Reclamation Street, Hong Kong|
And then there were the oddities we were not entirely sure about. Is this rat on a stick? Paddy field rats – very different from our sewer rats – are eaten all over SE Asia. We chickened out of barbecued rat on our way to the Bolaven Plateau in Laos, and once watched two lads cooking their own catch over an open fire in rural China, but we have not (yet) eaten rat ourselves.
|Rat on a stick? Could be something else, Reclamation Street, Hong Kong|
It was our last full day, so in the evening we returned to the Woo Sung Street Temporary Food Hawkers Bazaar, ramshackle purveyors of fine Chinese food.
Feeling unadventurous we stuck with favourites new, the
mottled spinefoot we discovered last Wednesday, and old, lemon chicken - a
distant relative of the dish available from every Chinese take-away in Britain.
|Woo Sung Street Temporary Food Hawkers Bazaar|
|Fried mottled spinefoot with salt and chilli, Woo Sung Street Temporary Food Hawkers Bazaar|
Our last day, but as we did not have to be at the airport until the evening….
...we took the bus to Ap Lei Chau to see Brian and Hilary, now residents of Torquay, for 20 years before that residents of Stafford and for 20 years before that residents of Hong Kong, where their son and daughter both now live. Friends for many years, they have spent much of the last week showing us parts of Hong Kong and Macau we had not met before.
Conveniently the 171 bus stops in Gascoigne Road, 50m from our hotel. It travels south east to the Cross Harbour Tunnel….
|Entering the Cross Harbour Tunnel to Hong Kong Island|
…emerges in Wan Chai….
|Wan Chai, Hong Kong Island|
..and then heads straight for the Aberdeen Tunnel.
|Entering the Aberdeen Tunnel, Hong Kong Island|
Once on the south side of Hong Kong Island it is a short trip to the Ap Lei Chau bridge. Instructed to get off directly after the bridge we almost missed the stop; the bridge, crossing the neck of water between Aberdeen and Ap Lei Chau Harbours, is low key and we were looking for something more obvious.
|Ap Lei Chau lies just off the south coast of Hong Kong Island|
Ap Lei Chau (lit: Duck Tongue Island) is a small island off Hong Kong’s south coast. Formerly known as Aberdeen Island its single settlement was shown on a Ming Dynasty Map as Heung Kong Tsuen (lit: Fragrant Harbour Village) so it may well be the original ‘Hong Kong’. Its 1.4km² are home to 87,000 people, making it (according to the ever-reliable Wikipedia) the second most densely populated island on earth. Warning: Digressionary Factoid Approaching. Wikipedia’s most densely populated, Ilet a Bruee off the coast of Haiti, could hardly be more different. This isolated scrap of land smaller than a football pitch is home to 500, giving it a population density of 125,000 people per km² almost twice Ap Lei Chau’s 67,000. The curious might enjoy Is This the most Crowded Island in the World (and Why that Question Matters), an informative and thoughtful article by Alex McGregor.
One of Ap Lei Chau’s inhabitants is Brian and Hilary’s daughter Lauren. Brian met us at the bus stop and we walked back to Lauren’s apartment where they were staying.
Lauren lives in one of a group of towering up-market apartment blocks beside the harbour. Accommodation in Hong Kong is ludicrously expensive so the apartment is tiny (though bigger than the one our daughter and son-in-law lived in when they taught English on the Chinese mainland) but redeemed by a balcony overlooking Ap Lei Chau harbour. The sun had decided to shine today, so the four of us (Lauren was at work!) had coffee on the balcony.
|Ap Lei Chau Harbour|
The Jumbo Floating Restaurant (just above the tree tops on the left in the picture above) is world famous, but generally regarded as a tourist trap rather than a gastronomic resource.
After coffee we took a walk round the island’s northern shore. Although the harbour has many expensive yachts, at ground level it is easier to see it has working craft, too.
|Ap Lei Chau harbour|
In June Aberdeen hosts a Dragon Boat racing festival, and the boats were stored beside the harbour.
|Dragon Boats, Ap Lei Chau|
Further round we posed with the tower blocks of Aberdeen in the background…
|The tower blocks of Aberdeen|
We also dropped into the Hung Shing Temple.
|Hung Shing Temple, Ap Lei Chau|
Hung Shing was a Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) government official who was so wise and righteous he was made a saint and continues to guard people, particularly fishermen, against natural disasters.
A little shopping for lunch also involved a look round some of the food stalls.
|Sea food on sale, Ap Lei Chau|
Back at Lauren’s apartment we had beer on the balcony and then a lunch of corn cobs, ham and smoked duck sandwiches, and custard tarts. Then we sat on the balcony until it was time to take the bus back to Kowloon – and that was pretty much it for this trip.
A big thank you to Brian and Hilary for this day and also The Transit of Lama, two days in Macau, and Sai Kung and the New Territories – see links below. In all these posts I conspicuously failed to photograph them, except at meals and occasional rear views. I apologise, so in case there is any doubt, this is what they look like from the front.
|Brian and Hilary eating flapjacks in a car park|
Hong Kong and Macau