Saturday, April 4: Today is the first day of a three-day weekend for Qing Ming Festival, also known as Tomb-Sweeping Day in English. Literally, it means “Pure Brightness Festival.” The holiday is mostly important for its connection with Chinese ancestral worship and the tending of family graves. It also happens to be Easter weekend in the Western world, but it doesn’t feel like Easter here in China.
I’ve decided to take advantage of the three-day weekend to go to Hong Kong. I’ve booked a flight for this morning at 8:40 a.m. from Nanning to Shenzhen, which is the city on mainland China closest to Hong Kong. I’ve been told it’s easy to walk across the border from Shenzhen, and since Shenzhen is considered a domestic flight, while Hong Kong is an international flight, it’s quite a bit cheaper.
My first challenge is getting a taxi to the airport in Nanning at 6 a.m. It’s still dark at this hour and there aren’t many people out and about. I’m standing on the road for quite a while, searching in vain for a taxi. A guy on a motorbike asks me where I’m going and I say “the airport” and put my arms out like the wings of an airplane. The airport is much too far to ride on the back of a motorbike, so he cannot help me. He sits on his motorbike watching me as I wait for a taxi to appear. I’m getting worried as I need to be at the airport by 7:00 for check-in and the time is ticking by.
Finally, the guy on the motorbike says, “I can help find taxi.” I say, “How much?” He says, “10 yuan.” In a moment, he’s tied my bag to the back of his motorbike and we’re off. We zip through the streets of Nanning in search of a taxi. Several times my driver stops to ask taxi drivers along the street if they can take me to the airport. No success. I have no idea in what direction we’re going, but it seems to me we’re going away from the airport. As time flies by, I become increasingly worried I am going to miss my flight.
At long last, we find a driver who’s willing to take me to the airport. I make it in enough time, and get settled in for my one hour flight to Shenzhen.
I’ve been told by a friend what to do when I get to Shenzhen. He’s given me directions to a less-crowded border crossing, but I’m stymied by the first step in the process, which is to take the metro at Shenzhen airport. I find right away that there is no metro at the airport. Apparently I have to take a bus from the airport to the metro. When I tell the woman at information what I want to do, she shakes her head. “You should take the direct bus to Hong Kong for 130 yuan,” she tells me. “It’s the fastest way to get there. The way your friend told you will take much more time.”
So, I take the half-hour bus ride to the border, where we carry our suitcases off the bus and go through the border crossing. Because it’s the Qing Ming holiday, the Chinese are traveling in force and the queue snakes back and forth like a Disneyland ride line. I wait and wait to leave mainland China through Shenzhen. Then I wait in another line to enter Hong Kong. By the time I get out of the border crossing, it’s about 11:15, nearly an hour after I got off the bus. Then I get back on the bus, another hour into Hong Kong.
I think if I go back to Hong Kong, I’ll fly directly into Hong Kong. It would be much easier, and though more expensive, worth the extra money.
Where the bus drops me in the Jordan area of Kowloon is just a couple of blocks from the Casa Hotel in Yau Ma Tai. I check in and immediately head out to the Star Ferry terminal, two metro stops from my hotel and a 10-minute walk to the terminal. At the Yau Ma Tai metro station, I buy the famous Octopus Card, which costs 150 HK$: the 100 HK$ is for the transport fares and the 50 HK$ is the cost of the card. The Octopus Card can be used on nearly every form of transportation in Hong Kong.
I immediately get on the ferry via a down ramp, and end up on the bottom level of the ferry. I figured I could climb to the upper deck from inside the ferry, but that isn’t the case. You have to go up a separate ramp, and pay more, to ride on the upper deck.
We get underway immediately. It’s only a 10-minute ride to cross Victoria Harbour, so you have to absorb all the sights quickly. I love seeing the big cruise boats and the busy harbor bordered by skyscrapers on both sides. Today, moody clouds float across a blue sky, which makes for some dramatic photos, I think.
Victoria Harbour is a natural harbour between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. The harbour’s deep, sheltered waters and strategic location on the South China Sea were instrumental in Hong Kong’s establishment as a British colony and its subsequent development as a trading center. It is home to most of Hong Kong’s port facilities, making it among the world’s busiest cities. An average of 220,000 ships visit the harbour each year, including both oceangoing vessels and river vessels, for both goods and passengers (Wikipedia: Victoria Harbour).
Hong Kong has the tallest skyline in the world with two of the twenty tallest buildings in the world all in a small area around the bay. In addition, the backdrop of Victoria Peak makes the view particularly stunning.
Hong Kong boasts over 112 buildings that stand taller than 180 metres (591 ft). Hong Kong ranks first in the world in both skyscraper and high-rise count (Wikipedia: List of Tallest Buildings in Hong Kong).
Two International Finance Center, or 2IFC, is currently the second tallest building in Hong Kong at 416.8 m (1367.52 ft.) tall. It became the tallest building in Hong Kong upon its completion in 2003 until it was surpassed by the ICC in 2009.
International Commerce Centre, or ICC, in West Kowloon, is the tallest building in Hong Kong at 484m (1,588 ft), and the seventh tallest building in the world (List of Tallest Buildings in Hong Kong).
Looking back to the Kowloon side, I can see the Clock Tower of Tsim Sha Tsui, once part of the Kowloon Railway Station. From this station you could once take a train all the way to Europe, by way of Mongolia and Russia. It sits in front of the Hong Kong Cultural Center with its skatepark-sloped roofline and windowless walls, bewildering considering its location overlooking one of the grandest views in the world.
In 10 minutes, I’m on Hong Kong Island, and there in front of me sits the hop-on hop-off Big Bus Hong Kong, beckoning me to come along for the ride of a lifetime. 🙂