A few days before New Year 2015, my partner Rick and I took off on a five-week journey to Asia. New Year’s Eve in Hong Kong! Then a few days in Phuket, Thailand to lie on the beach, before we joined our friends Eva and Suresh for 12 days in exotic Myanmar (Burma). Afterwards we traveled to Eva’s home in Kolkata, India to visit Ma and our Bengali family, with an overnight side trip to a rural craft village. Last, off to Amritsar and the Golden Temple, homeland of the Sikhs, in the northwest Indian state of Punjab, then further north into the foothills of the Himalayas to visit the Dalai Lama’s hometown, Daramsala. We ended our journey spending a few days in Delhi.
We began the adventure on New Year’s Eve, arriving in vibrant Hong Kong for the celebration. With its reputation for creative and dazzling neon, Hong Kong explodes with color all year long. Combine that with colorful Christmas displays and a dazzling fireworks show, and we had an intoxicating experience! Rick and I fell in love with exciting HK immediately. This “young” city throbs to the beat of the 21st century, packed with people tech-obsessed on phones and taking selfies, many on holiday, shopping, shopping, shopping.
While Chinese was the prevalent language we heard, we saw visitors from across the world enjoying HK. Yet enough locals speak English that it was easy for us to navigate through the four day visit.
People-watching is one of the best reasons to travel, and the streets were crammed with the mostly-young (20s-30s) smartly dressed, often exotically coifed shoppers and party-ers.
With its recent history as a British colony and its center for international investment, “east meets west” is evident everywhere. Banking, fashion, commodities, fast food chains, entertainment, electronics — all display signs in English as well as Chinese, so it was easy to navigate streets, the underground, and buses.
Taking the Star Ferry to Hong Kong Island (we stayed in Kowloon), we made our way through the downtown, past hundreds of mostly Filipino women who work in office buildings and other labor jobs who gather to picnic every Sunday (no children, no men). We saw no evidence of the recent protests held during the fall to demand democratic practices in China’s special administrative district. We did spy an interesting series of posters about an alleged American CIA family.
We reached the two-hour wait line for the historic Peak Tram that climbs for almost a mile to Victoria Peak, providing a spectacular view of the city below.
This is the very best way to take in this metropolis of eight million people. I was impressed with the seeming congruity of the high-rise architecture, which is heavily influenced by a strong sense of the feng shui in building design.
A subway ride with two line changes took us to Wong Tai Sin Temple in northern Kowloon, a sprawling complex dedicated to Taoist, Buddhist, and Confucian religions, with beautiful buildings and an enchanting garden with several pools with turtles and fish.
We also visited Man Lo Temple in bustling downtown HK — a small, atmospheric temple, smokey with burning incense, with a definite other-world feel.
Impressive architecture, stunning vistas, great people-watching, markets, temples, a clean environment– this international hub was an exciting way to begin our travels.