Hello Misadventurists. Part II of the Hong Kong highlights.
HONG KONG – FROM THE CENTRAL MIDLEVELS TO THE PEAK
It’s basically one giant, mile long outdoor escalator.
That’s what we discover when we set foot on the Central Mid-Levels, which carries vertical commuters straight up (and down) one of the steepest hills in Central Hong Kong. The altitude gain is nearly 500 feet, starting on Queens Road Central and ending on Conduit Drive just below the Peak Road, and it takes around 20 minutes to ride.
All along the route are some of the best coffee shops and restaurants Hong Kong has on offer, as it passes directly through the touristy hillside SoHo District, cut through with narrow alleys and punctuated by green, peaceful public atriums.
In SoHo, one can find a Mexican cantina serving up fresh tacos right next to a Lithuanian or Turkish joint and a five story, unbelievably blinged-out Abercrombie and Fitch store with massive crystal chandeliers next to a street market full of eel. Hong Kong beats even Manhattan for gaudy excess – and that’s saying something.
Of course with our limited funds we can’t possibly avail ourselves of all the dining options, so we settle for the cheapest – which happens to be a Subway (!). The joys of budget travel.
After our fine dining experience, we exit the Subway and climb back on the escalator, which carries us the rest of the way up to Conduit Drive, one of the coolest streets either of us have ever seen.
Tree growing out of the sidewall, Conduit Drive
Image (c) Stacy Libokmeto
From here, we climb. And climb, and climb some more. The Central Midlevels have only brought us about halfway up to the summit of Victoria peak. We’ll have to hike about 2.5 kilometers more up the Old Peak Road, an unbelievably steep, windy lane that is unrelenting on our legs.
It is so steep, in fact, that we resort to alternating between hiking backward and forward up the hill just to save our muscles and tendons But the views of Central Hong Kong and the waterfront along the way can’t be beat.
Finally we are atop Victoria Peak. The views are tremendous – and so are the crowds, and the giant shopping mall (complete with huge McCafe!)
There’s also a bus station, and a three story silver and steel tram depot that welcomes the lazy-bones who have decided to ride the Peak tram up rather than walk.
But this is Hong Kong and you cannot avoid these spectacles. We decide to focus on the incredible view of the city on the south side
and the unspoiled jungle-covered peaks down to the ocean on the north side.
Then – should we admit this? – we eat ice cream sundaes at (where else?) McCafe. Not out of some fidelity to the corporate behemoth, of course, but because it’s by far the most affordable option for ice cream (and it’s not half bad, either). Plus, the outdoor seating area overlooking the peaks and valleys of the island makes this perhaps the most scenic McDonald’s in existence (I don’t count Times Square!).
Finally it’s about dark and time to head back down. Rather than walk, we board a minibus that rockets down the zigzagging road pell-mell, barely missing oncoming traffic and pedestrians.
After exiting the minibus and checking all our vital organs for damage, we end our day by taking the stairway up to the vast Hong Kong Botanical Park – which is kind of like Hong Kong’s version of Central Park – and sit on a bench in front of a fountain ogling a stunning 180 degree view of the high rise residential towers of the Midlevels above us.
It’s too bad we don’t have more time – and more importantly, money – to spend in Hong Kong. It is a beguiling city packed with great food, transportation and tons of energy. Surprisingly, given it’s repuation as a paradise of no-holds-barred capitalist materialism, it also seems like a great place for families, with some of the nicest parks and picnic areas we’ve seen in a city.
Pretty sure we’ll be back.