Monday, April 29, 2013

Hong Kong: Sai Kung

As American tourists traveling in North America and Europe, we rarely need to worry about visas.  You show up at a border with your passport, they let you in for longer than you intend to stay.  No problem.

Unfortunately, not all countries work that way.  China happens to be one of them.  (To be fair, these policies -- and the accompanying fees -- tend to be reciprocal between countries.)  With B. about to hit the 30-day limit on his visa, we decamped to Hong Kong.

Fun fact: China and Hong Kong currently work on a "one country, two systems" system.  Americans need to obtain a visa before visiting China, showing flights in and out of the country and a hotel reservation.  There's no visa required for Hong Kong, though.  Going to Hong Kong counts as "leaving China" from a visa perspective, so it's a common destination for travelers looking to reset the clock on their stay in China.

With apologies to my Hong Kong friends, I haven't been a huge fan of the country.  For a few years, B.  resided there, living in Jordan and working in Central.  When I visited him, those were the parts of Hong Kong that I saw.  Everything in Central is finance-related or shopping-related, and it's all teeming with people.  The urban area of Hong Kong has one of the highest population densities in the world.

The view from B.'s old Hong Kong apartment.  

Densely crowded places + excessive amounts of shopping is not a recipe for a happy Sarah.

After this this trip, however, I'll say that I may have judged Hong Kong too quickly.

This time, we stayed in Sai Kung, 35 km (22 miles) and a world away from Central.  Sai Kung is a former fishing town; it's too big to be called a "town" anymore, but it's practically unpopulated compared to Central and it hasn't strayed far from its fishing roots.  We took a boat ride around the harbor, ogled the selection at the seafood restaurants along the water -- which would rival many reputable aquaria -- and picked out new and exciting foods to try.  We stayed just long enough to buy tickets for our next destination: Thailand.

Lijiang Day Trip II: Tiger Leaping Gorge

Tiger Leaping Gorge, one of the world's deepest gorges (if not the deepest), is located at the confluence of the Jinsha River, Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, and Haba Snow Mountain.  It takes its name from a legend of a tiger and a hunter -- it is said that the tiger lept across the gorge at its narrowest point to escape the hunter.  That would have been a 25 meter leap!

The tour group stopped at various tourist traps (ahem, attractions? opportunities for you to part with your money? scenic overlooks?) on the way there.

A beautiful stop on the way there.  
I'm pretty sure we only stopped in case anyone wanted to pay to go rafting.

 And up we climbed, through the throngs of tchotchke sellers, to a scenic overlook.
Where, if you wanted, you could take a picture with that yak.

The roads leading to the gorge are windy, not quite two lanes wide, under construction, and abut the rock face on one side and a sheer drop on the other.  I'm glad I wasn't driving.

Pardon the blurriness in the foreground.  By this point, I'd fastened my seatbelt tightly and switched the camera to "spray and pray" mode (i.e. hold the lens up to the window, take lots of photos, hope some of them come out)

The hike down to the gorge followed a steep path.  To climb back up, they gave us two options: return the same way we came or pay to use an easier route (essentially a more-direct ladder).  We chose the harder route -- the only crazy Americans in a largely Chinese tour group.  We were also the first ones to reach the top!