Hong Kong, the blog from the bog

Getting ill is part and parcel of travelling, just as it is part and parcel of life. We both had 2 nasty stomach bugs when we travelled long term, which over a period of nearly 7 months was pretty good going.

It’s really annoying to get ill on a short trip though, but thankfully it only hit me once I had left Cambodia. The two city visits either side of Cambodia were really just a means to an end.

It’s impossible to know how or when I got ill. I was up early to leave Siem Reap on an HK Express flight. This airline had already pissed me off by having such a large time change that I had to lose my 4th night in Cambodia and have it in Hong Kong instead.

It was actually a really good flight though. They are a budget airline of sorts, but the plane was modern and clean. It was also only 25% full which meant I got to experience the incredible acceleration of a near empty plane before settling into my 3 empty seats.

I’d already blown most of my budget on the Siem Reap hotel. Hong Kong is notoriously expensive for hotels so I booked into a hostel. Even in a hostel a basic private room cost over £50.

We’ve stayed in some pretty basic hostels over the years but this was something else. The entrance was within a huge tower block. As I walked around trying to find the hostel I was harangued by men trying to sell me suits, halal meat (?), gold, curry, currency and electronics. Somewhere in this huge shopping jumble was a hostel. For context, this is the building within which my hostel was located.

I eventually found a lift with a number of business names on it. One was my hostel. The lift was tiny and slow and I had to queue for a long while to get into the lift. When I eventually did I shared the slow ascent with a guy taking a trolley load of dirty plates and cooking implements to be washed.

The Super 7 hostel was like a surreal haven amongst madness. The door had a sign on it urging guests to only pay money to Chinese Simon. Not Indian Simon. This was already surreal stuff.

My room was tiny, but spotlessly clean. Simon (the Chinese one) has won numerous awards over the years for the outstanding hostel he runs. Letters from guests plaster the wall in the reception area. An expensive city like Hong Kong would not be accessible for huge swathes of the travelling community without places like Super 7.

With only 24 hours to explore I charged my camera and set off. First up, after a really nice burger (or was it?), I headed for the famous Star Ferry.

This ferry service has been transporting people between Kowloon and the island of Hong Kong since 1888. Even today, with the road bridges and the metro, the ferry still averages 70,000 passengers per day. It’s a really impressive way to get to and from Hong Kong Island and the views are great.

I was heading over to Hong Kong Island to find an even more impressive form of transport. Hong Kong is very hilly and it lacks space. As a result it has been necessary to build housing on the steep hillsides. This led to the creation of the Peak Tram as a means of getting around. This is a funicular railway that runs to the top of Victoria Peak, an ascent of around 400 metres. It too was opened in 1888.

The line has 4 request stops and at one point the steepness is 48%. That is frighteningly steep.

Shortly after buying my ticket the whole experience became a far from subtle reminder that few cultures in the world queue like us Brits. Some cultures just don’t queue in fact. After buying my ticket I was about 20th in line to get on the tram. Ten minutes later I was probably 150th and moving backwards. There was no subtlety to it. I was pushed, pulled and jostled relentlessly.

I wasn’t feeling great at this point. I’d started to feel weak on the walk from the ferry. I did my best to hold my position and when I saw the tram approaching I donned my rucksack (possibly the best queue management device of all) and went to work. I started to slowly move forward and once on the platform I levered myself as close to the edge as I could. When the train stopped I was close to a door, but there was a 30 second wait whilst passengers disembarked on the other platform. I hadn’t expected this. The passengers I had squeezed past, now able to clearly see their objective, all started to close in with perfect timing. I was engulfed, but I did all I could to hold back the tide. Eventually the door to the tram opened and I lunged.

Don’t they all look so innocent

It didn’t really work though. Hong Kong residents have had years of practice. I only have go to battle like this on the occasional holiday. But I did get a window seat in what was the most upright seat I have sat in that isn’t attached to a roller-coaster.

The reason for this became apparent when we started to move. The route really is incredibly steep and my upright seat soon became a rather laid back recliner seat. It reminded me of being at the dentist. I couldn’t see a great deal as it was dark outside but what I did see was great. The views, the engineering and the little tiny stations really are a treat.

At the top is a huge shopping mall and the tram ticket included entry to the viewing platform at the shopping mall. . This was a rather windy bit fantastic place to look over the city from.

I was now feeling really ill so I decided to get back to Super7 to sleep. But when I returned to the Tram station the queue was immense. 400 people at least I would guess. Which in real terms is more like 600 based on the rather generous assumption that 50% of the people in Hong Kong don’t like queuing.

I want sure what to do. I didn’t want to stand in a “queue” for hours, but there was also no way I could walk down – the route would have been long and difficult to follow in daylight. At night and hampered by illness it would have been disastrous.

Then I saw it. My doom, disguised as salvation. A taxi. I rarely use taxis when traveling as they are expensive and far too easy. But given my situation this was the perfect solution. He quoted me £35 and I jumped in without hesitation. It was a great drive as the roads on the hillside are like a maze.

I like to think I’m pretty savvy when it comes to scams. We’ve experienced a few. But in this case I failed miserably and I blame the illness.

One we reached the ferry terminal I handed him a HK$500 note, which was more than the fare. He took it, rustled around for a few seconds before asking if I had anything smaller. As I searched my wallet he handed me back the note. All I had was a small amount of other Hong Kong money and some US Dollars. We agreed a combination of both.

This scam is simple but clever. He didn’t actually hand my large note back. Relying on me being distracted looking for smaller notes he in fact handed me back a different low value note. I didn’t notice at the time, but he hadn’t expected me to notice before I got out the cab. I was in a weak position but I wasn’t giving up just yet.

I asked where the big note was and he insisted he had given it to me. I told him he had not. He denied it. Overly optimistic Plan A had failed. Weirdly you can never appeal to the better side of a scammer.

Plan B was equally pointless – to become really annoying. I started to search the cab, pulling up the carpet, using the torch on my phone. He got really agitated at this, jumped out and climbed in the back with me, pretending to be offended. Then I leant over the seats to look in the front. This got him really agitated and he started shouting.

I looked around. We were in a rather dark and empty car park and there was nobody around. He had pulled this off really well. I was also mindful that I was in the home of Bruce Lee and this guy may know Kung Fu.

By this point he was back in the front of the car shouting at me to get out. I looked down at my full water bottle. I may have lost the battle but a small victory was possible. If I emptied my water bottle across the back seat he was out of action for the night. I picked up the bottle but hesitated. Kung Fu. So I just got out and walked to the ferry terminal feeling stupid.

It was a really annoying incident. But I got over it quickly. This stuff happens when you travel. It’s part of the challenge and you can’t win them all, but I certainly win most.

I woke the next day and immediately realised I was not well at all. I had to check out of the room at noon and Simon agreed to look after my bag for the afternoon. My flight was not until midnight.

I didn’t really see much of Hong Kong, but I can declare that Kowloon is a good place to be ill.

I spent the rest of the day remaining close to toilets. A fever had started and I found I needed aircon to cool down or sunlight to keep warm, depending what the fever was doing. I split my time between the cafe at the Natural History Museum and Kowloon Park. Both had great toilets and free WiFi, so I got on with some blogging. Free WiFi in a park you ask? Yes this is quite normal in a lot of the world.

Five hours passed quite quickly and I decided to get to the airport early. The illness was worsening and I wanted to get to the airport whilst I was able. I had no intention of being stuck in Hong Kong alone and unwell. I had a lounge to utilise too.

One I reached the airport I had a 90 minute wait before I could check in. I struggled to find a seat for a while which led to one amusing incident. I local guy had a spare seat next to him upon which he had placed his rucksack. I asked if I could use the seat. His response was bizarre. “This seat is taken” he shouted as he motioned to lunge out of his seat, his eyes bulging from their sockets.

There were no other free seats, so for fun I leaned against a pillar directly in front of angry man for 30 minutes and occasionally smiled at him. Nobody returned to sit in the “taken” seat. He couldn’t cope with me smiling and in the end he stood up and stormed off. I got my seat.

Virgin opened their check in desks 3 and a half hours before departure which gave me just over 3 hours in the lounge. First up I had a shower as I was so cold. I shivered all the way though security, no doubt making the staff very happy that I was leaving. I sometimes see the thermal scanners at airports, designed to pick out ill people so they can be quarantined before entering the country. It now occurred to me that I had never seen these scanners when exiting a country.

It was a great shower. Then I tried to eat something but that went wrong. So I drank tea and nibbled on a doughnut for 2 hours.

I slept most of the flight home. I was fortunate to again be in business class with a flat bed. The staff, seeing that I was unwell, were brilliant. I’ve always been impressed with Virgin. Their staff have always been great for us, in any of their cabins.

I changed into my Virgin pyjamas and drugged myself to sleep. Aren’t they fetching.

So, Hong Kong didn’t amount to much for me. It’s clearly an impressive city with a rich history. Maybe I will return one day. But I’m owed a day in Cambodia first.

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