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How to: Climb the highest mountain in Hong Kong while on a layover
Let's face it. Nobody really loves sitting around airports on a long layover. Well, maybe there's someone out there who does, but unless you're a fan of long lines, excessively repetitive loudspeaker announcements, attempting to sleep curled around the inconveniently placed armrests, and being forced to buy overpriced everything, you probably aren't one of those people. I suppose there are those who while on layovers enjoy the luxuries of business lounges and receive complimentary foot massages and free beer, although I would have no idea what that's like because I have never been a member of such an elite club. Hence my notion that they dole out free foot massages.
So when I get am presented with a layover that allows enough time to get out into the surrounding region and explore, I literally jump at the opportunity. As one of the primary hubs for travel into and out of the Asian continent, throngs of casual and business travelers constantly pass through the Hong Kong airport en route to someplace else. If you, like me, are in no mood to sit and wait idly around, why not go and do something a little different next time, such as climbing one of the highest mountains in Hong Kong. While we here at Gadling recently presented you with a list of Top 10 Hong Kong experiences you could also choose from while on a layover, this particular adventure centers solely around hiking up Victoria Peak. As an added oomph to get out and explore, nearly all nationalities require no visa to visit Hong Kong, and visitors who arrive and depart on the same day are relieved of having to fork out the usual departure tax, so really, there's no excuse for not getting out and doing something.
The first step to climbing the mountain is of course to get yourself out of the airport. While there are options ranging from taxis to the popular Star Ferry, I feel that the Airport Express train is the most convenient option for reaching Hong Kong island, where it deposits you neatly at the sprawling Central Station.
After a 24 minute journey and a $23 round trip purchase, you suddenly find yourself transported from the marble floors of the international airport to the buzzing streets of the Hong Kong financial district. Though it's easy to amble only down the main streets of the city, the beating heart of Hong Kong isn't found in the Prada or H&M stores, but rather down the narrow side streets that swim under red lanterns and house restaurants that consist of a single plastic chair and one gas stove.
Though there are trams, minibuses, and taxis that all make their way to the famous view at the summit, those with the time would do well to stroll the market-strewn alleyways and hopelessly distracting sidestreets on a winding journey towards the top. Though there are few signs that lead the way, the ubiquitous stairs and steep hills point the only direction that a summit-seeker would logically head for: Up.
Once the makeshift butcher shops have given way to apartment complexes being renovated with bamboo scaffolding, the apartments eventually give way themselves to a concrete hiking trail and the forgotten sounds of the forest. It's a 30 minute walk beneath a corridor of green ferns and vines you certainly won't find in the airport, and for a brief moment in time it's easy to forget you're standing in one of the most heavily populated areas on the planet.
Finally, after a solid push up the steep urban trail, it would be nice to think the summit was a windswept rock cairn draped in Tibetan prayer flags only experienced by hearty explorers with with ice-covered beards. Although China may share a border with Mt. Everest, this is nonetheless still Hong Kong, and the only fitting thing to put atop the mountain would be a multi-tiered shopping mall with escalators and, just like the airport, overpriced everything.
For a $4 fee you can ascend to the viewing platform for the ultimate view of the city center, the airport where you would normally be spending your time an afterthought lingering somewhere hidden on the western horizon. Having conquered the commercially covered summit, all that's left to do is either reverse your steps down the trail or catch the tram ($7) or a local bus ($1.25) back to the Central station
Total time away from the airport for climbing Victoria Peak: 3.5 hours. Now go sleep it off on the plane.