A direct flight from Guilin might have been faster and more convenient. After all, we’d just hiked down a mountain and been in a minibus for two hours just to get to the airport. But those flights are expensive. The alternative is to fly to Guangzhou, get a transfer from the out of town Guangzhou airport to the train station in the centre, and board a train south to Hong Kong’s Hung Hom station — conveniently a 2 minute walk from our hotel, Harbour Plaza Metropolis.
While waiting for the Guangzhou flight we had the good fortune of bumping into our friends Emmie and Jan, our travel companions from Beijing and Xi’an. They’d been to Tiger Leaping Gorge and Dali, and were on their way home — via Hong Kong, and via Guangzhou, on the same flight as us. It was good catching up, especially because there’s nothing else to do in this airport (where the foursquare tips berate the expensive coffee, 68RMB — about £6.80, and praise only the wifi). The six of us (Roger and Mieke too) shared stories and cookies in the gate lounge as we waited for the flight; all mattresses in China seem too firm, there are traffic jams everywhere and the hike up tiger leaping gorge might be ok even if you suffer from vertigo.
The flight arrived in Guangzhou on time, we said our farewells to Emmie and Jan and took the air-conditioned car into town. The humid heat of the tropical south hit us as we exited the airport, nowhere else in China had it been this hot and humid. Of course there was a traffic jam, and the drive took an hour, but we arrived at the station early enough for Roger and I to pursue an earlier train ticket, though our efforts were in vain (couldn’t find the ticket desk, then we queued in the wrong queue, and then it was too late). So we whiled away the time on the top floor of the station at E-taste; on the scale of “restaurants in train stations” it’s one of the best.
The train to Hong Kong takes about 2 hours. Crossing the border my phone buzzed with excitement; free roaming data with 3, and no more ‘great firewall’, the phone drained all its juice doing everything it had struggled to do for the last three weeks. It also meant we could track our location as we travelled through the New Territories and into Kowloon, outside the buildings grew taller and denser. Through passport control, out of the station and over the road and we’d reached our hotel.
Harbour Plaza Metropolis is lightyears away from LiQing guesthouse; a spangly modern hotel with perfectly polished reception, speedy lifts and dazzling lights, found amidst a shopping mall. Our room was on the 17th floor and looked south to Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. All the plug sockets were British and the shower was big enough for two.
This was the first hotel in three weeks of travel with a swimming pool, and despite having just one free day in Hong Kong we’d be making the most of it. On the top floor, where the best views are, is a private lounge that you need to pay extra to access (although Samantha managed to sneak some early-morning dawn shots from there before the place properly opened). Breakfast wasn’t included and it’s pricey, 150HKD each (about £15), but not wanting to traipse around looking for a cafe on our last day of holiday, we’d indulge here too.
We were settled in, showered and relaxed by 9pm, but the night was still young. The hotel is a short walk from the south facing Avenue of Stars and brilliant harbour views of Hong Kong Island and Central.
In the cooler night time we set out with tripods and cameras. A gig was going on next door to the hotel, and in the grounds a group were practising some art form with plastic swords. On the Avenue of Stars we spotted the imprinted-hands of Chinese actors we recognised — Jet Li, Jackie Chan, Maggie Cheung.
Stopping just before the Star ferry port we setup our tripods and gazed out at the extraordinary Asian skyline in all its neon luminescent glory. Red sailed tourist-galleons sailed by, and the sky was clear. Nowhere else in the world looks quite like this.