Shangri-La Kowloon Hotel Town Car
Our visit to Hong Kong during Protests began just after the riots and siege of Hong Kong PolyTechnic. With all the uncertainty over safe transit routes, we booked the Kowloon Shangri-La town car. The town car experience was addictive. Someone greets you in the departure concourse and escorts you to the Mercedes Benz waiting all by itself in the limo area of the airport. After a pleasant ride, the driver notifies the front desk a few minutes before reaching the hotel. Porters and a staff member immediately escort you and your bags directly to your room. The check in is done in the room. What a blast!
Avenue of Stars
The 13 hour flight was tiring, but we still found enough energy to stroll the Avenue of Stars. The lights across the way on Hong Kong Island and the lighted red sails of dinner cruise boats make for an experience that is purely Hong Kong. Every evening there is also a short laser light show with accompanying music along the Avenue of Stars. The short light show performance is underwhelming, but the lights of the buildings all evening long are enchanting.
Star Ferry Terminal
In the morning we were up early, so we set out for Hong Kong Island. You need advice on what you can visit each day in Hong Kong during protests. The concierge recommended that we try to return to the hotel just after noon, because Sunday afternoon protest marches were planned in Kowloon. After walking the Avenue of Stars along the waterfront, we soon reached the Star Ferry terminal. The signs here were easy to follow, which is important because of all the options. You can take harbor tours, the Star Ferry to the Wan Chai Ferry Pier or the Star Ferry to Central Pier. The Central Pier was our destination.
Star Ferry Ride
We chose to travel on the upper deck of the Star Ferry, which has a separate entrance through ticketing on the second floor. A cash ticketing machine spits out tokens and change. The Star Ferry runs every few minutes and costs about $1 US. You need Hong Kong dollars for the ferry and also for buses or the metro. The ferry and buses also accept the Octopus Card. The ferry ride across to Hong Kong Island only takes a few minutes.
Walking Through Hong Kong Island
On Hong Kong Island, it takes a bit of effort to find your way. The tall buildings, steep hills and heavy traffic make it completely different from a North American city. You will find long pedestrian over passes, tunnels and escalators to help you on your way. If it looks very hard to cross a street, you can be sure there’s a way to get over or under the road instead.
Mid Level Escalators
From the Central Pier we first headed to the Mid Level Escalators. When we finally found them, it was disappointing to discover they were under maintenance. We climbed steep stairs for several blocks, but eventually tired. So, we walked cross town to the Peak Tram. We walked up, down and around to get there. The Peak Tram ticket office is tucked under an overpass across the street from the tram. Hong Kong is an expensive city for food, but transportation is inexpensive. The return trip up the peak was a bargain.
The Peak Tram ascends at an extremely steep angle, which makes the ride entertaining. The tram route is surrounded by sky scrapers whose bases meet the hillside at sharp angles. At the top, the viewing platform looks down over the financial district, Victoria Harbour and the Kowloon peninsula. Luckily, there weren’t many tourists that morning. Numerous tourist attractions around the platform were basically empty. The early hour and the tourism impact from Hong Kong during Protests both kept back the crowds.
Hong Kong Park Aviary
After we rode the Peak Tram back down again, we walked to Hong Kong Park. I expected Hong Kong Park to be an open area, but it too was full of ups, downs, twists and turns. The Aviary was a special find. You can enter the gigantic Edward Youde Aviary for free. From the wooden walk ways you get great up and personal views of birds from Asia and New Guinea. We also found the lake below the aviary to be lovely and peaceful.
Hong Kong during Protests – Riot Police
Next it was time to think about finding our way back to the Central Pier. Along the way we suddenly came across a group of riot police huddled together on a walkway as they shared instructions. Local people were walking right past them, so we did the same. You can’t take pictures of them, so no pics to prove we were are couple of feet from them when we passed. I said hello and one of them said the same to me.
People Sitting in the Streets
Then we descended from the walkway and soon discovered the group that the riot police were watching. Young kids, mainly women, were sitting in the street and all along the edges of a park. A small stand in the park had masks for protesters and other items to take for free. We decided to leave Hong Kong Island as quickly as possible, as it was clear the Sunday protests were about to begin. At the Central Pier, there were very few people riding the ferry. The walk back to the hotel along the Avenue of stars was warm and uneventful.
March on the Avenue of Stars
Hotel staff warned us not to go out that afternoon as an approved protest march was heading past the hotel. Sure enough, our room at the Shangri-La Kowloon had a great view of the march. The correct terminology for this was an approved march, not a protest. Many people corrected me whenever I mistakenly called it a protest. For more than 1.5 hours a steady stream of people chanted as they walked along the Avenue of Stars to Hung Hom station. The riot police watched from overhead walkways. Eventually the crowds spilled out to fill 6 lanes of roadway as well. The crowds were so large that they eventually couldn’t move, but the protestors remained calm and respectful of the riot police flanking their movements.
Students Confronting Riot Police
A couple hours after the march, we wandered a short distance from our hotel to look for a place for dinner. In a small square of restaurants, we found large numbers of young people dressed in black and wearing masks. We felt very comfortable among them, but the mood quickly changed. At one end of the square, we heard a large commotion and saw people running toward it. Turns out they were shouting at riot police on a walkway overlooking the square. We got out of there in a hurry and returned to the hotel for dinner instead.
Eating is Expensive in Hong Kong
Dining is expensive in Hong Kong, especially when you need to stay inside your hotel for safety. A hamburger dinner at the Shangri-La ran $40 US on the evening when we couldn’t go out of the hotel for safety reasons. Other restaurants nearby were equally pricey. A simple fried rice dish in a popular local cash only diner was $15 US. You can do much better for price with street vendors and small diners in the Mong Kok area or Chungking Mansions, but the quality is risky.
Walk to PolyTechnic
On day two, the time change from North America caused us to wake up at 4 am. So, we were out on our own walking tour shortly after sunrise. A cinnamon brioche and Starbucks latte were a perfect choice and much cheaper than the $50 pp breakfast buffet at our hotel. Then we walked along Chatham Street to reach Hong Kong Polytechnic University.
Hong Kong during Protests – Polytechnic Riot Scene
PolyTech was a sobering experience. The week before, students had taken over the university. Riot police laid siege while students fought back with arrows, catapults and Molotov cocktails. When we visited, the university was blocked off, but you could still catch glimpses of the devastation. Abandoned umbrellas were a sign of the failed efforts of the students, who might face up to 10 years in prison.
Next we crossed the food bridge over the entrance to the tunnel to Hong Kong Island at the Hung Hom Station. Locals filled the walkway as they headed to work. Workers rebuilt the toll booths below in a matter of days after having been destroyed by protester fires. The roadway over top of the footbridge was open to traffic. You could see the burned road surface where the protesters lit an armored police vehicle on fire and forced it to retreat from their barricade. I was struck by the sad plight of the students who were arrested and the remarkable resilience of Hong Kong to immediately rebuild and move past the violence.
From Hong Kong PolyTechnic, we walked to Kowloon Park and then up Nathan Road to the Temple Street Market. The Temple Street Night Market was an empty road in the early morning. It starts reappearing every afternoon. We enjoyed stopping at several bakeries for a variety of tasty treats. Food prices here were remarkably low compared to the rest of Hong Kong. We finished our morning walking tour by stopping at Chungking Mansion. Chungking Mansion is an unusual experience. You walk down narrow hallways lined with money changers, tailors, and very small fast food stalls. The experience reminded me a bit of the Istanbul Grand Bazaar. Very different from the rest of Hong Kong.
Hong Kong during Protest – MTR
In the late afternoon we ventured out one last time. First we enjoyed Christmas carols sung by local school children in the Shangril-La Kowloon hotel lobby. Then we walked to Tsim Sha Tsiu Station. We caught the Tseun Wan Line MTR to Mong Kok, which costs less than $1 pp. The cash machines were super easy to use. Just press your destination on the map and the machine shows the price. The MTR transit adventure turned out to be just a simple subway ride with locals. The Mong Kok Station was back in service after having been repaired from protest vandalism. There were no signs of protesters on our Mong Kok MTR Transit Adventure.
We didn’t stay too long at Mong Kok. We wandered past a few street vendors. The running shoes in store windows on Sneaker Street were cool. We also wandered into the Mong Kok Computer Centre and the Langham Place Shopping Mall. The street markets were jammed with lots of items that weren’t too interesting. The best part of our trip to Mong Kok was riding the subway with the locals. We didn’t see any tourists that afternoon.
Dinner in Our Room at the Shangri-La
We decided to return to our hotel for dinner in our hotel room instead of indulging in the local flavors of Mong Kok. Watching the boats and the lights of Hong Kong Island while we dined in our room at the Kowloon Shangri-La was a peaceful and charming conclusion to our special visit to Hong Kong. So glad we chose not to listen to all the friends and family who told us to cancel this portion of our vacation. Next we headed to our Sydney Visit before our Oceania Regatta cruise, but we returned to Hong Kong again on our way back.
Return Trip to Hong Kong
At the end of our Oceania Regatta cruise we flew from Bali to Hong Kong again. We traded the heat and congestion of Bali for a very clean city with an excellent transportation system and very comfortable temperatures. Hong Kong felt kind of like returning home. At the airport we knew to seek out the paper immigration forms before entering the immigration line. Then we checked the info boards to find our baggage carousel. After that it was through the Nothing to Declare exit to Arrival Area A.
Hong Kong during Protests – Regal Hotel Airport
That night the Regal Hotel Airport was our destination. The Regal Hotel was a short walk from Arrival Area A. This hotel is a great way to layover in Hong Kong. In the morning we walked back to Terminal 1 for breakfast. Security guards were making sure that protesters could not enter the airport. A passport and confirmed flight were necessary in order to enter Terminal 1. We discovered that our hotel room key was all we needed to pass through security into Terminal 1. Guests of the Regal Hotel were exempt from the passport requirement.
Ngong Ping Cable Car Ride
After breakfast we took a short ride on the S1 bus which took us from the Regal Hotel right to the Ngong Ping Cable Car station. Make sure to get some change for your bus ride first, as the bus ride costs less than $1 and the driver won’t make change. The Ngong Ping Cable Car (Ngong Ping 360) is amazing. We paid the extra fee for a Crystal cabin, which has a glass floor. At 9 am the crowds hadn’t arrived and the two of us had the 10 person cable car all to ourselves. The glass floor was exciting and scary to me, but my wife enjoyed walking on the glass floor.
Ngong Ping Cable Car Route
The sun broke through the fog as we ascended the Ngong Ping Cable Car route. The cable car route passed over a narrow harbor channel. Then we reached a station where the cable cars turned 90 degrees and crossed the main harbor channel. Next, the Ngong Ping cable car route went up a mountain. We could see hikers on the trail below us through the glass floor and hear birds singing.
Ngong Ping Village and the Big Tian Tan Buddha
When the cable car began descending the other side of the mountain, we caught sight of the head of the Tian Tan Buddha statue peaking out of the clouds. The Ngong Ping Village was entirely in fog. At that early hour, we had the village to ourselves. We enjoyed visiting the Po Lin Monastery and it’s temple of 10,000 Buddhas. The Po Lin Monastery is free to visitors, but you can make donations. After visiting the monastery, we noticed the Tain Tan Buddha was entirely shrouded in fog, but we climbed the 187 steps to the base anyway.
The return trip on the Ngong Ping Cable Car was foggy, which made us appreciate the sunshine we experienced on the way up. At the cable car terminal we crossed the street to shop at the CityGate mall. The Tung Chung metro station is part of CityGate, so it was easy to catch the S1 bus back to the Regal Hotel. The Hotel gave us complimentary late check out which was much appreciated. Laying over at the Regal Hotel is a great way to break up long flights and add a little sight seeing at the same time.
Our visit to Hong Kong during Protests was really the highlight of our winter vacation cruise. The city is perfect for tourism. Just make sure to take the advice of your concierge in order to avoid the risk of getting caught in the middle of a protest confrontation.