How I Made the Most of Being Stuck in Hong Kong

Published 05 April 2017

Angela Griffin

Angela Griffin

As we checked into our Hong Kong hotel, realisation dawned. My heart beat a little faster as the receptionist flicked through my passport and I noticed just how full it was. Every page had some kind of stamp or visa. As he handed it back to me, I looked nervously through the pages. I was right; just two blank pages, enough for the Chinese visa I was about to apply for, but that’s it.

How could I let this happen? Why hadn’t I noticed before? In hindsight, this oversight seems improbable, but I was young, excited to be travelling, and I just didn’t look.

Big Buddha, Lantau Island, Hong Kong

The next morning, my boyfriend David and I headed straight to Hong Kong’s British Consulate-General to ask for advice. The good news was that they could renew my passport. The bad news was that it would take five working days, which when added to the time needed for applying for and receiving Chinese and Vietnamese visas for our onward journey, meant we couldn’t leave Hong Kong for at least two weeks. We had only meant to stay for three days!

After the initial how-will-we-afford-this panic subsided, David and I saw our situation in a new light. This was an opportunity. Two whole weeks in Hong Kong! We might never be back here, we had to make the most of the time given to us.

Luckily, our Kowloon-based hotel had space for us to extend our stay, and so we set about planning 11 extra days of sightseeing in this fabulous city.

David on the Avenue of Stars, Hong Kong

David on the Avenue of Stars, Hong Kong image: Angela Griffin

Avenue of the Stars

A lifelong fan of martial arts, the first thing David did was to make a beeline for the Avenue of Stars on the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront, the Hong Kong equivalent of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. After excitedly putting his hands in Jackie Chan and Jet Li’s handprints, he posed for photos by the Bruce Lee statue and together we admired the view of Hong Kong’s skyline. Such a good view in fact, that we returned in the evening to see it lit up.

Man Mo Temple, Hong Kong

Man Mo Temple incense coils image: Angela Griffin

Man Mo Temple

We crossed Victoria Harbour to Hong Kong Island, and David immediately recognised the seafood markets and antiques streets from years of playing Hong Kong-based computer games. After sampling some delicious freshly steamed barbecue pork buns, we arrived at Man Mo Temple, where a sea of incense coils hung from the ceiling. We paused for a moment or two to appreciate the silence, before heading back into the freneticism outside.

Angela riding Hong Kong escalator

Angela riding Hong Kong's escalators image: Angela Griffin

Riding the escalators

Hong Kong Island is dotted with hills, and so to get up and down them with ease, local use a system of escalators. We hopped onto the alleged Longest Escalator in the World to Soho, an area of swanky bars filled with businessmen in tailored suits, where we ate dinner.

Sunset from The Peak, Hong Kong

Sunset from The Peal, Hong Kong image: Angela Griffin

Star Ferry and The Peak

The next morning we rode the famous Star Ferry across Victoria Harbour, boarded the rather steep Peak Tram, and glided effortlessly to Victoria Peak (554m). Once there, we decided to try the Peak Circle Walk, a 3.5km circuit which, as the name suggests, circumnavigates the peak. It’s supposed to take an hour and a half, but we got rather lost among the enormous mansions, and took well over three. By the time we returned to the Peak, the sun was setting, and the harbour lights came on – quite a sight to behold. We decided to stay for dinner, and gorged on buttery shrimp in a hilltop restaurant.

Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens

Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens

Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens

After nearly a week of non-stop sightseeing, we slowed the pace down a bit, once spending an entire day eating ice cream in the botanical gardens while admiring the flowers, before taking in the nightly (and free) Symphony of Lights show, a huge display of lasers, skyscrapers and illuminations set to music. Despite its slightly cheesy narration, the show was pretty spectacular.

By the time we had been in Hong Kong for 10 days, we stopped needing a map. It was beginning to feel like home. We even had a favourite brunch spot.

Shek O Beach, Hong Kong

Shek O Beach, Hong Kong image: Angela Griffin

Shek O

Once we had ticked off the so-called major sights in Hong Kong and Kowloon, it was time to head further afield. First up was Shek O, a beach at the southern end of Hong Kong Island. The tram ride to reach it took longer than expected, and so when we arrived, eating was first on the agenda. Luckily, there was a restaurant right on the beach, and so we stuffed ourselves with deep fried squid before spending the afternoon lazing on the sand and admiring the views across to the outlying islands. We vowed to visit a couple of them before we left.

Wisdom Path, Lantau Island, Hong Kong

Angela on the Wisdom Path, Lantau Island image: Angela Griffin

Lantau Island

Staying true to our word, we sailed to Lantau Island on the ferry. There, in Ngong Ping village, we hiked the Wisdom Path, lined with wooden posts inscribed with prayers and offering beautiful views out to sea. We climbed the 268 steps to the 34-metre-high Big Buddha and looked around the nearby Po Lin Monastery, which was filled with flowers. To return to sea level, we took the 5.7km Ngong Ping 360 aerial tramway, which gave us a rather impressive view of Hong Kong International Airport.

Dolphins, Hong Kong

Pink dolphins, Hong Kong image: Angela Griffin

Dolphin Watching

Who knew that Hong Kong has dolphins? Certainly not us, but it does, and pink ones at that. Setting out to sea off the coast of Lantau Island, we had high hopes of seeing one of the 200 individuals who reside here. We were in luck, and much to my delight we saw 10 of the baby pink cetaceans leaping about in the waves behind a fishing boat. I bought a pink dolphin keyring to celebrate the occasion, and to support the excellent work that Hong Kong Dolphinwatch do at raising awareness of this rare creature.

Angela on Lamma Island, Hong Kong

Angela on Lamma Island Beach image: Angela Griffin

Lamma Island

Our final two days were spent exploring Lamma Island, where we hiked through the forests from one side of the island to the other, giving us some fabulous beach views, and gorged on seafood while the moon twinkled delightfully in the lapping waves. We also paid a visit to Ocean Park, where we squealed and shrieked our way around the rollercoasters, stuffed ourselves with ice cream and had lots of childish fun.

Finally, after two weeks in the city, I received my brand new passport. Despite the hassle of renewing it while abroad, I was, and still am, slightly proud that mine says FCO under ‘Place of Issue’.

And so there was a silver lining to my passport woes: with no option to leave, the extra time we had in Hong Kong allowed us to experience so much more than a fleeting visit or stopover would have done. And best of all we could do it all at a slow, relaxed pace, allowing us to appreciate the city and take the time to truly enjoy our stay there.

Learn from my mistakes: check your passport before you leave the UK, make sure it is valid for at least six months after your return date and that it has enough blank pages all your visas and stamps needed on your holiday.

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