July 2014: I visited Hong Kong and Macau on a 3-day layover on my way to Vietnam and Cambodia on a much longer trip that involved an expedition into the world’s largest cave and a jungle trek on anti-poaching patrols with park rangers. I flew to Hong Kong on Delta Airlines via Business Class via an airline pilot friends company passes on what was one of my favorite flights of all time.

 

 

Hong Kong

When I first visited China in 1995 in Beijing, I remember seeing a giant clock counting down the hours and minutes to when the small island of Hong Kong, a sprawling metropolis long perceived as one of the greatest and most exotic cities on Earth, will be handed over officially to the Chinese. Under the agreement the Chinese would allow the Hong Kong government to remain democratic, but everyone had their concerns that this would not happen. The handover of Hong Kong from the United Kingdom to China was at midnight on 1 July 1997 ending 156 years of British rule.  

 

Giant clock in Tianimen Square counting down minutes to the handover of Hong Kong to China 

Business class seat

Hong Kong and Macau on the doorstep of China

Hong Kong was one of those exotic vibrant cities that I grew up seeing on television via movies famous for its kung fu, James Bond scenes, or Chinese triad mafia. It was a city I had long wanted to see and when I had a change to fly there for free via a standby ticket from an airline friend, I took the opportunity. 

 

I stayed in Kowloon, the island across from Hong Kong that was far cheaper and budget oriented than Hong Kong but also grimier, and more congested but this is exactly what I was looking for, the real Hong Kong. I stayed in a small hotel room the size of a single bed with a small toilet sized bathroom in a jam-packed hotel building located inside a vast network of tunnels and floors inside a Kowloon building complex. 

 

My cramped hotel room

Walking the streets of Kowloon at night and trying food in random street venders and soaking in the energy of the city at night was my favorite thing to do. But there was one specific place my friend recommended I visit: the night market. So, with my google maps, I set off to find it through the maze of alleys in Kowloon.

 

Kowloon

Street food

The night market was a street or area where small stalls along a street sold sex toys. I was shocked to find that almost all of the workers at these stalls were middle aged to elderly Chinese women. One woman shook a floppy rubber penis and beckoned me to come and have a look. There were also rubber vaginas and pornography. This was exactly the kind of scene that communist China likely will eradicate once it takes firm control of Hong Kong. I tried to take more photos, but the workers were very sensitive of photography in the night market.

 

Night market

For only a few dollars I took the historical Star Ferry across the bay from Kowloon to Hong Kong and the scenery of the skyline of the Hong Kong downtown at night with the mountainous backdrop is one of the most beautiful of any city in the world especially with the lightning bursting through thunder clouds.

 

Star ferry

Skyline Hong Kong

Another activity I had to do in Hong Kong was to take the train to the top of Victoria Peak and hike in the jungle to a view over the city skyline. 

 

Victoria Peak train

View from Victoria Peak

View from Victoria Peak

View from Victoria Peak

Macau

Another easy trip via an hour-long fast ferry to Macau, a Portuguese colony until 1999, also one of the wealthiest gambling meccas in the world. Gambling isn’t my thing and besides I was wearing backpacker clothing which likely meant that most of the casinos would bar my entry anyways, so i just walked the old streets of Macau and admired the mix of Portuguese and Chinese architecture.

 

 

macau streets

macau streets

Old Portuguese fort with cannon facining a billion dollar casino 

Portuguese statue

Crumbling facade of an old Portuguese church

From Honk Kong I flew to Hanoi to continue my trip to the world’s largest cave, Han Soon Dong. 

 

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