After a short sleep on the ferry between Macao and Hong Kong, I arrived in the city at 8 PM for the second time in under two months. My first visit to Hong Kong had given me a great impression of the city, so I was expecting to be equally as excited about it this time around.
After spending a week in the big cities of Seoul and Macao, all I needed from Hong Kong was to get out of the city – something that is easier said than done in a metropolis. I had only one full day in Hong Kong and decided to spend it on climbing a mountain, more precisely the Victoria Peak (also known as Mount Austin) at 552 m., which is the tallest mountain on the Hong Kong island and is famous for its worldclass views of the Hong Kong skyline.
My experience on my second visit was very different from the first one. The first time was spent exploring the city by day and sleeping in the airport by night. I had yet to actually stay overnight in the city, something that I was quite excited to try. But I guess I didn’t really know what to expect from my second visit, as my first one had been so brief.
Hong Kong is a city where east meets west, a seemingly modern and highly westernized city. But what I experienced on the second visit was far from that.
I had booked a cheap hostel in Kowloon for two nights, located in the Chungking Mansions. I had briefly explored Kowloon back in March and while I really liked the place, I had no idea that Chungking Mansions is known as the “unofficial African quarter of Hong Kong”, because of it’s status as a gathering place for several ethnic minorities in Hong Kong, such as South Asians, Middle Easterners, Africans and also a few Westerners. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, the culture in the building is very different from anything seen elsewhere in Hong Kong. And unfortunately, being a solo white female in the building is as intimidating as it gets.
The ground floor of the Chungking Mansions features various small shops, restaurants, foreign exchange services, laundry services, clothing stores, food stalls and much more. I really didn’t like the atmosphere of the place and especially the hassle that I – and everyone else – would get from the sellers was just too much. There were even people trying to sell me drugs! Basically, it felt like being back in Indonesia, where sellers will shout at you and come right up to your face to get your attention.
So even before seeing the actual hostel, I was dreading my stay. But it only got worse. My horrors had only just begun.
The hostel was small and dirty and the staff was extremely rude. I was in a dorm with 8 beds, two of which were so close together that it was like sharing a double bed with a stranger. One of those beds was mine, so I had to pull them apart in order to not touch the guy beside me. No offence to the guy, but the beds were already so tiny that it would’ve been extremely uncomfortable.
One good thing about the dorm though, was that there were no snorers! That had been a problem throughout my journey in Asia, but still I would have traded a bit of snoring for what I did experience on my first night. In the middle of the night, the dorm turned into complete madness, where Florian from France and I were seemingly the only sane people there. An older guy in the bunk beneath me and a girl on one of the top bunks started arguing so loudly that they woke everyone up. Apparently, the girl was feeling cold, so she wanted the air-conditioner off, and the guy was feeling hot, so he wanted it on. The argument went on for ages with them calling each other all sorts of names. They didn’t seem to care one bit that they were keeping everyone awake (and this was in the early hours of the morning) and they also didn’t even think to consider if we wanted the air-conditioner on or off. Easy to say that I wasn’t enjoying myself, although I did find it quite hilarious.
Florian and I bonded over laughs and disbelief of what we had just witnessed and decided to spend the next day together, as we both wanted to climb Victoria Peak.
Climbing the mountain was way easier said than done though.
None of us knew exactly how to get to the beginning of the trail, but we knew what direction it was in and so decided to follow the road towards the mountain. Once we thought we were close, we saw some stairs going up from the road to some apartments further up, which looked like they were close to the actual mountain. We decided to climb the stairs, but didn’t get very far. I’m sure those stairs are used for anything but hiking and we must’ve looked quite funny hanging up there above the road! There were even a few people who waved at us, haha.
When our attempt to get to the apartments from that way didn’t work, we decided to just follow the road going upwards instead. We walked for several hours without even knowing if we were on the correct road. We knew where the mountain was and since it’s a popular tourist destination, we figured that tour busses and public transport would use this road to get there. Not exactly the nature hike we were hoping for though.
We met a really nice woman on the way who, after taking us to a shop to stock up on water, reassured us that we were on the right road. Eventually, after what seemed like forever, we finally got to what we thought was the summit. There were tourists everywhere, multiple restaurants and a lookout tower, making us believe that the only way to get a view without trees in the way was from there. It was, however, far too expensive for us, so we decided to keep walking to see if we could find the amazing view by ourselves.
While we were wandering around the area, we found out that we were not yet at the summit. We weren’t far off though, so we decided to walk there and felt sure that we would get some amazing views from there.
Unfortunately, we found out the hard way that the summit of Victoria Peak is occupied by a radio telecommunications facility and is therefore closed to the public. It was a major bummer after walking all day to get there.
We walked back to the tourist area and saw a sign for a trail called “Hong Kong trail”. All we wanted to do now was to get back to the city, as we were both tired after a long day of hiking in the humid weather. We decided to follow the trail and sure enough, it brought us right back to downtown Hong Kong! We should’ve just taken that trail from the beginning!
On the way down, we were surprised by a breathtaking view of the city, which was free and therefore much better than going to the lookout tower for the view! It was getting late, so we stayed to watch the sky turn black and the city come to life in all sorts of colours.
We were both really happy that we had been successful in finding a great view of Hong Kong, although we didn’t manage to get to the top of the mountain. But we were both dreading going back to the hostel. I was imagining all sorts of things going on there, so I was very surprised when I heard the guy apologize to the girl! I was a little bit annoyed that they didn’t bother apologizing to everyone else though, considering they had pretty much ruined our sleep the previous night.
But the madness wasn’t over with the apology. We didn’t hear any more from the guy, although he stayed up all night playing with his phone, which kept some people up. But the girl wasn’t done being annoying, as she spent the entire night SINGING! I really hope it was unintentional and that she was dreaming about singing karaoke or something, but it was enough to give us yet another sleepless night.
I was so relieved to get out of there the next day and I can honestly that it was my worst hostel experience to date! Do yourself a favour and don’t ever stay at the HK Downtown Backpackers in Chungking Mansions!
Hong Kong wasn’t all that I had expected on my second visit. I fell in love with the city during my stopover in March and even called it my favourite metropolis in the world! But due to my experiences this time around, I have to take my words back. I still like the city and have some great memories from there, but I guess a stopover just isn’t enough to really get to know a city.