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June 28, 2016, Kowloon, Hong Kong

No bus? Just walk down Victoria Peak

LOH KENG FATT

YOU can get good views of Kowloon from Victoria Peak but the journey to this landmark in Hong Kong (HK) can also be an eye-opener.

We are based in Kowloon so we take a bus from Nathan Road to the Star Ferry Pier to take the iconic vessel that charges all of HK$2 (35 Singapore cents) for a 10-minute trip across Victoria Harbour.

Whip out your camera to capture the broad sweep of Hong Kong Island’s skyscrapers battling for attention with architectural details – or just plain towering height.

Then, take double decker No. 15, head upstairs and get ready to oooh and aaah as the driver skilfully coaxes the vehicle up the steep, narrow road to Victoria Peak.

At many moments, you wonder if the bus will slip and tumble down the side, where condos cling on for safety.

On this particular Thursday at the Peak Galleria where the bus trip ends, rain clouds threaten but the views are not overly marred. The restaurants include a branch of Mak’s Noodle, where the draw for us is a bowl of wonton noodles.

We spot a newspaper cutting from Singapore’s very own Sunday Times extolling the virtues of eating there.

The review goes back all the way to – year 2000!

But our mood is soured when we discover a queue that must contain at least 200 people returning to town.

A taxi cruises alongside and the driver quotes HK$500. “There’s been an accident, buses cannot come up, do you want to waste time waiting?” We don’t but the rate is also cut-throat and we counter-offer with HK$100. He does not bother to reply and drives off.

Just as we begin to brace ourselves for a long wait, we note some people leaving the queue to head to a paved path.

We guess that it must wind down Victoria Peak. “Are we game for a walk down?” I ask my group.

We are and we begin to take on the challenge that is Old Peak Road that snakes down.

But the hike is surprisingly do-able and we know we are making headway when condos – far below us from the Peak Galleria – begin to be at eye-level after half an hour.

There is drama when a BMW X5 drives down the narrow path – I am not sure if it is legal. But the driver gets his “punishment” when he is impeded by maintenance works that close off half the path.

He has to execute a turn to go up. But it is a monumental task given the lack of room, and with a heart-stopping plunge down the mountain if he makes a miscalculation.

We don’t have time to watch if he can pull off the manoeuvre – we don’t want to interrupt the momentum of our descent.

An hour or so later, Old Peak Road merges with another road clogged with condos and we have pulled off the downhill challenge.

The occasion calls for a celebration and, as luck would have it, the road signs also point to Lan Kwai Fong, where ice-cold beer is plentiful.

The route takes us past the HK Zoological and Botanical Gardens in Albany Road where fountains also dance and birds preen in an aviary.

We never eventually have a beer because the famous Lung Kee roast-goose joint is also in the vicinity.

It is only 6pm but we are asked to take a lift to the second floor where there are more tables. The place is opulent and the male staff wear jackets and ties.

The meat is good – though not as juicy-fatty as the one we eat in equally famous Chan Kee, near our accommodation in Mongkok.

Still, it is good enough to have attracted a table of four young people with backpacks.

They order only half a duck – no wonder the captain doesn’t seem too pleased over such audacious behaviour.

Still, on the subject of food, it is not too hard to get seats at even highly touted places like the Australia Dairy Company in Jordan that serves a heavenly scrambled egg.

But it is better to dine where the locals eat and many neighbourhood joints close way past midnight.

If your hotel is in the vicinity of Langham Place, the Mongkok Cooked Food Market is an air-conditioned food court that resembles that in City Plaza or Katong Shopping Centre and serves meals that won’t go beyond $5 a dish.

One morning, we take a walk – the best way to scout the neighbourhood – and stumble upon Olympian City, where a Food Republic food court resides.

A staff tells us it has just opened on the first level.

It moved up from a lower floor to make way for a Muji branch which is reportedly willing to pay a higher rent.

There’s a Toast Box and we get to slake our thirst for familiar Singapore coffee, unlike the milky and sourish versions served in many HK eateries.

“You can’t get lost if you don’t know where you’re heading to” is advice we get from my son’s girlfriend before we go to HK.

It is advice we heed daily and, for that, the excellent Octopus Card is useful for bus and train rides at a discount.

This option is what we tap on as we take long rides to Shatin, Sai Kung and Stanley to get away from the madding crowd.

Which is how we bump into Grandmother Loo, who expertly plies a bumboat at Sai Kung.

Excellent salesman that she is, she calls out sweetly: “Handsome man! Pretty girl! Why linger on the pier when I can take you out to sea and enjoy the breeze?

“Just HK$10 for 20 minutes, longer if there are more people.”

The pitch works and soon her boat is filled with 10 people.

She points out the sights, tells you about the costly rentals at waterside condos and informs that the dogs on some boats are to deter intruders.

She also lets on the cheapest seafood joint on the boardwalk – “Just mention Grandmother Loo for a discount.” We ask: “Can you give our friends a discount if we refer your name to them when they visit Sai Kung?”

“Of course,” she says. If you are in Sai Kung, take her up on her offer.

kengfatt@sph.com.sg

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