Sunday, 25 January 2009

Express Airport

Kung Hei Fat Choi!

We're off to Malaysia for the Chinese New Year holiday. A couple of days in KL (my first time), and then maybe a drive up to Ipoh and the Cameron highlands. Getting here reminds me of why I love this place: wander through the village avoiding the day-trippers streaming in, admiring the whole pigs being butchered and flanked by endless tanks of beautiful fish, then onto the ferry (the novelty value of commuting by ferry still hasn't worn off!). A quick five minutes through the IFC, with its Gucci and Armani provides a bit of a contrast, and then it's into the Airport Express to check in.

Traveling at peak times certainly has its benefits, I think we've now been upgraded something silly like five out of six segments! Checked in, so no bags to worry about, it's then only a maximum ten minute wait (they've just increased the frequency from 12 minutes, just for CNY?) for the next train straight into the terminal.

Unfortunately, no band piping us through the airport this time (unlike at Christmas), but security was a breeze and then not a single person queuing for the smartcard immigration machine. A quick left turn directly in to the first class lounge, and I just can't help comparing this experience with any other major city/airport!

And at least, unlike Ho Chi Minh for Christmas, this flight (at four hours, rather than two, is long enough to take advantage of being in business!).

So, Kung Hei Fat Choi, and see you when we're back.

Friday, 23 January 2009

Hong Kong's Addicts

No, not the drug addicts that are soon to be rooted out by random drug testing (if the government gets its way, that is), but it seems we're addicted to spending. Recent research from Synovate pinpoints Hong Kong as the most pessimistic of the four Asian markets studied (the others being Singapore, Malaysia, and Taiwan), with the UK as the most pessimistic globally (the release of these data also happens to coincide with figures finally showing what we already knew - that the UK is now officially in recession).

What is more interesting though is that a mammoth over 50 percent of Hong Kongers responded that, 'despite misgivings over their financial status, they were unable to refrain from spending at the same level as during a positive economic climate.' By contrast, only 25% of respondents from Singapore felt the same.

Well, we're either going to spend our way out of this recession, or we're going to have a bl00dy good time trying!

(Sadly, despite myself, I'm afraid I probably fall into the half of us here who still keeps spending despite all logic dictating otherwise)

The Hong Kong Trail

So, we've finally finished hiking the 50 km Hong Kong Trail. Not in one go, you understand - although some crazy people do the much harder MacLehose Trail in one fell swoop in November. In fact, rumour has it that I will be joining those crazies this year, but I'm not convinced yet. The average time is about 24 hours, but the winners last year completed it in a spectacular time of under 12 hours! They were ex-Ghurkhas, obviously.

Anyway, we took a rather more sedate approach to the HK Trail, only taking on one or two of the eight sections at a time. It was brilliant though, and really showcases the beauty (both rural and urban) of Hong Kong Island. Stage five, in particular, offers fantastic elevated views over the rolling hills of the South side of the island, with its heavy dusting of lush green trees and sprinkling of emerald reservoirs glinting in the winter sunlight, the peace only broken by hawks soaring below, looking for thermals. But a glance to the left reveals one of the most densely populated cities in the world in all her glory. The magnificence of the IFC and the Bank of China Tower flanked by the surprise of Happy Valley racecourse nestled among gravity-defying skyscrapers. And then over to Kowloon-side, and the remains of Kai Tak airport, with its legacy of an encircling of stunted buildings only beginning to dissipate, framed by the mountains of the New Territories.

Of course, this is hiking, Jim, but not as I have ever previously known it. Much of the trail, unfortunately, is across paved roads, and even the really out of the way sections have safety rails and concrete steps. Lots of steps. And the route seems designed so that if there is a sustained flight of stairs to be conquered (I believe the most consecutive steps is around 800), it will always hit you right at the start of a section leaving no time to warm up or contemplate the task ahead.

But it’s a beautiful walk, and even within 50 km on a very small island, still manages to traverse some astonishingly diverse terrain. And descending the final, lingering staircase down into Big Wave Bay to join the surfers did bring with it a definite sense of satisfaction.

Next up the Wilson Trail, wending its way from Hong Kong Island almost to the border with China, and passing through monkey territory! First though, the small matter of The Twins: an ascent of 1000 steps, only to rinse, repeat and head straight up to the second summit. Wish us luck!