I get very excited when I arrive in a new place and this was particularly true when I got to Hong Kong. I recall my first visit back in 2006, en route to a conference in China. Heading into the city from our hotel by the airport the cab ride was like a scene from the film Blade Runner, with vivid skyscrapers fighting for your attention and fast cars zipping by.
I wasn’t disappointed by the return trip this time. After the slow, rural life of Northeast Cambodia, its capital, Phnom Penh, had felt full on with horns blaring and people everywhere. By comparison, Hong Kong was at another level altogether; ‘like the M6 on steroids’ as someone referred to it later on in my stay. Conversely, despite this busy environment it felt so much more ordered and structured than Phnom Penh. Whereas the capital of Cambodia had been disordered chaos, the buzz and excitement of Hong Kong felt so much more developed, with concrete, lights, and western marketing everywhere.
In a similar fashion, after the low-rise nature of Cambodia, everything just seemed so vast, and tall, the skyscrapers looming above you. The skyscrapers though are a necessity with so many people wanting to live there and so with space at such a premium, people live in minute apartments, similar to what I described from my time in Singapore. Hong Kong Island though is a place of amazing variety; a short cab ride from the big businesses of downtown you can be in a tropical forest looking out over the city, or walking on a tropical beach. And as someone else also mentioned to me, its mountainous contours are just the ‘most stupid environment [in which] to try and build’ anything.
But build they do, and the engineers have certainly earned their money having constructed a series of car tunnels beneath the sea from the mainland, windy roads up and down the steep mountainside, a central tram network and an excellent subway system. Whilst the majority of Hong Kong’s population grapples with this combination of buses, taxis, trams and subways those able to afford living in the downtown area might actually travel to work by escalator; it having been built to help people go up and down the steep hills.
The most famous commuting route in Hong Kong though seems almost from a different age. The Star Ferry company, originally founded in 1888 (with a later name change) continues to ferry commuters between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. It’s certainly one of the most scenic commutes I’ve ever seen..