Cocktails and free-range cows


End of day

The hotel bar has toffee walls framed by wide timber architraves.
Punters sit in deep tub chairs upholstered in leather and pale gold chintz.
Or there are sofas with cushions in caramel, coffee and beige; fat, v-necked, kept in shape with plumping and karate.
We drink whiskey and mock tails and nibble on wasabi crackers, stuffed and slurry after a boozy Italian dinner.
Through the floor-to-ceiling glass windows we can see Hong Kong’s inky harbour, streaked with colour from the lightshow playing across the office towers crowding the waterfront.


My elegant digs

For seven nights I’m living a pampered life on the upper floors of a swank Hong Kong establishment in a glittery part of town.
This is where the money is, the epicentre of Hong Kong’s financial and retail district.
The supermarket in the basement stocks Fortnum and Mason teas and French jams and Australian avocados ($7 each).
Hotel porters ferry bulging Louis Vuitton bags to rooms, saving delicate shoppers the ignominy of carrying their own purchases.
A president of some undisclosed nation is staying on our floor.
My life this week is a far cry from the suburban grind, of dinner in front of the seven-o’clock news after a day hunched over a keyboard and steering wheel.
But it’s not just the digs that make the difference.

Day’s start

Earlier in the day we took a ferry to Lantau Island, trading the malls and markets of Hong Kong Island for some countryside and a slower pace.
At the Mui Wo dock we walked past hundreds of parked cycles, an insight into what peak hour must look like on the ferry, then picked up a local bus to take us to Tai O, a fishing village on the opposite side of the island.

The bus

The bus had hard, vinyl seats, pleated curtains and ancient suspension.
But its air conditioner worked just fine and given the weather, a biting sun burning our skin and wet air filling our lungs like thick soup, that mattered more to us than a soft ride.
Our ancient, climate-controlled chariot rumbled over pot holes, taking us on an hour-long journey through dense vegetation and hamlets of low-slung houses.
For a time it hugged the coastline, giving glimpses of calm, turquoise shallows and the occasional narrow beach.
We passed some luxury villas and a prison.
Melaleucas and she oaks reminded me of home.

A boat

Once in Tai O we paid $5 for a boat ride to get a closer look at the watery village built on stilts. The houses there are small and irregular with lots of cement sheeting and aluminium windows, crayfish pots and satellite dishes.
Washing hangs from rails and families sit at tables eating lunch, paying no notice to the boats full of strangers plying the waters and taking photos.
In fact, it’s hard to say who is the onlooker.
Maybe we should have charged the locals for providing lunchtime entertainment, a panorama of badly dressed tourists in various stages of sunburn.

Lost in a village with one street

After a short ride out into open waters to take a closer look at fishing boats, we docked to explore the village further by foot.
We wandered through a narrow laneway market offering hot food, dried fish, ice-creams and souvenirs.
We took a wrong turn and found ourselves, embarrassed, wandering through people’s backyards, before making our way to the bus stop and our next destination.

Calmed by Buddha

Ngong Ping, a 15-minute trundle up the mountain, is home to a Buddhist monastery, a giant brass Buddha perched at the summit of 365 steps, free ranging cattle and more ice cream and souvenir stands.
For those prepared to climb the stairs, it also offers views over the South China Sea to Hong Kong Island and beyond.
It’s wide concourse can easily accommodate the thousands of people who visit daily.
Whether it’s the space, the cows, the breeze or Buddha’s gentle face, Ngong Ping provided an oasis of calm after Hong Kong’s craziness.

Cradled by a cable-car

The next leg of this epic journey involved a cable-car to Tung Chung.
This 25-minute gondola ride traverses nearly six kilometres, swinging high over the mountains and taking passengers within spitting distance of Hong Kong airport, before coming to rest a short walk from an outlet mall and MTR subway station.
Yes, we looked at the shops.
No, we didn’t buy anything.
But visiting the mall meant we could reacquaint ourselves with Hong Kong’s pace and artificial lighting before boarding the train for the 30-minute trip back to our luxury digs in Admiralty.

Rendered philosophical

Which brings me back to the bar, where we finished the day.
Its sultry saxophone and nodding orchids are as removed from my everyday existence as the Tai O laneways.
It makes no difference whether I’m sipping cocktails high above the madding crowd or being tossed about on a local bus, wrinkling my nose at dubious-looking fish or climbing 365 steps in cloying humidity.
The sheer joy of doing something other than my own daily grind is the real luxury.
I must cling to this sentiment next month when I travel economy class to Vietnam.
There will be no cocktails with a view and I’m wondering how much joy I’ll be feeling on day five of that journey.
Time will tell.
Angela Bensted Bw 1x1
Angela Bensted is a Brisbane-based freelance writer who likes to listen first and struggle with syntax later. She pitches stories to magazines and helps businesses produce compelling copy for print and online.
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