As I think back to my first day exploring the city of Hong Kong, I still find myself a little awestruck at what I am witnessing. I guess a part of it could be the fact that I have never been to Asia (let alone anywhere outside of the US – does Canada count?) but it’s almost difficult to truly explain the essence of the urban landscape.
I arrived in Hong Kong on Tuesday late in the evening. The airport is somewhat out of the city on Lantau island. I took the shuttle bus to our hotel and didn’t really see much of density until we got closer to the city. The way into the city goes across a series of large bridges leading to Kowloon. As the shuttle arrived closer to the hotel, I started to get a sense of how dense this area would be.
Hong Kong feels very dense, as one would expect. However, it is not dense in the sense of an endless urban area, but rather in the sense that everyone has decided to live around Victoria Harbour. The unpopulated hills are often visible, and there is a reasonable bit of green space within at least parts of the city. My first reactions to Hong Kong revolved around the density and the transit. Having spent time in Vancouver, BC, my first thought was Hong Kong seemed to be “Vancouver on steroids”.
The public transit in Hong Kong is incredibly efficient and super financially reasonable. The MTR rail system (mostly underground but sometimes on raised tracks) is very extensive and has several intersecting lines covering the city and also reaching parts of the mainland New Territories and Lantau island. There are also many buses to help round out the modes of transportation. In the Western New Territories there is light rail. From what I saw it was bit slower than the MTR due to having to stop at streets to let cars pass, but was still pretty efficient.
As I made my way through Hong Kong island, I had to wonder how so many buildings were developed in which the view was almost an afterthought. During our first meeting with Ronald Lu, founder and chairman of Ronald Lu & Partners, an architecture firm, he told us that there is no right to view. Coming from the United States where developers do almost anything to maintain the view for the property, this concept seems odd. But in a place like Hong Kong, any other policy would not allow for a majority of the projects to be completed because there is really only so much view to go around.
As I got on the Peak Tram to take my up to the Sky Tower so I could get a panoramic view of the city, I was amazed at how reasonable the prices were (in comparison to the US). As seen with the MTR, the prices can maintain a low level because there are so many people using the service that with such a large scale, the prices can remain very low. The view from the observation deck is spectacular and one that everyone who comes to Hong Kong should experience. You really do get a sense of how compact the city truly is and how much land is surrounding the city that is easy to forget once submerged in the vast collection of high rise buildings.
As I made my way back to the train, I decided to head out to the New Territories to find some areas that are a little more local and not as close to the commercial and tourist areas of Hong Kong. I made my way out to the Yuen Long and the Ping Shan Heritage Trail….more to come