HK - Hong Kong Island and Kowloon

Trip Start Dec 05, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Day 1

After a reasonably quick 12 hour flight, one movie, two meals and 6 hours of sleep (3 for Andrew!) the plane touched down and the journey began.....

An hour and a half, two train journeys and a short taxi ride later it was 7:30pm local time and we slumped on our double bed in the Metropole hotel in Kowloon. A fortuitous decision made months ago, to ease ourselves in by starting off in nice hotels, was to pay dividends over the next 10 days!

We did a quick tour of the hotel, including it's roof top pool with (distant) views of the HK skyline (PICS), then made our way out onto the hectic streets of Kowloon for some night-time browsing.

Close to the hotel were the infamous Nathan road, Ladies market (not what some of you may be thinking!) full of clothes and odds & ends and Temple street night market. They were all bright, bustling and somewhat gaudy after the initial impact had worn off. After a while the stalls appeared to repetitively roll past like the wallpaper background of an old film; same jewellery, same clothes, same electronics...

Needless to say by midnight we had had our fill of the area and retired back to the comfort and normality of the refreshingly bland hotel room. Not before tasting some of the local delicacies from a street seller;
- Rubber balls (some sort of meat balls on a skewer)
- Dumplings (concoction of fish inside!?)
- Mini sausages (to become a staple of our diet in HK)
Andrew braved (some might say stupidly) and finished all of the above after Verdi had taken a mouthful which elegantly found it's way to the bin.

A few calls to the folks later and we finally went to bed at 3:15am.

Day 2

After ignoring the alarm for 3 hours we eventually dragged our tired arses out of the hotel and onto the free hotel shuttle bus (most major hotels had them) down to the south of Kowloon island to look at the Avenue of stars; their interpretation of the Hollywood walk of fame (only recognised Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee!), and the view across to HK Island (PICS) then hopped on to the Star Ferry across to Hong Kong Island.

The Ferry only takes about 10 minutes, is really cheap (about 15p each way) and quite good fun.

As recommended on a HK website, to get an overview of the main road and north part of HK Island, we jumped on a tram which meandered its way through shops, shops and a few more shops've guessed it; jewellery, clothes and electronics!

Rather than repeat the return journey we took the tube back to where we started and tried out the mid level escalator that funnily enough runs through the whole of the mid level of HK Island. It's really steep so it's actually a blessing.

It's worth pointing out here that the public transport system in HK is superb - clean, tidy, modern, functional and cheap. Especially the tube - where the trains route is plotted out and lights up at each stop and then tells you which side to alight...oh and they have flat screen TV's throughout the carriages!! London could learn a thing or two.

We managed to negotiate the escalator up to the Man Mo Temple (PIC) via Hollywood road, despite the "authentic Chinese name" the road was full of expensive looking historic artifacts. The Temple is a main stay on the well warn tourist route - hence the tourist bus parked right outside preventing us from getting a decent photo.

The Temple itself was fairly modest, the most notable feature being the hundreds of spiral incense sticks hanging from the ceiling and dropping ash all over us. Despite the through flow of tourists it is still an active place of worship for the locals.

Next stop was the tram up to the peak. The tram itself is traditional and old fashioned but there was nothing old fashioned about how quickly it got us up the impossibly steep hill (1 in 2 incline in parts!!) - at times the buildings alongside looked as if they were tilting.

At the top both the wind and the views were breathtaking (PICS)


This is easily the highlight of Hong Kong and the best way to take in the HK cityscape in its entirety.

There were several stunning (by that read expensive) looking restaurants to choose from but we have to admit that after a full 24 hours in HK we bowed to the corporate machine that is McDonalds (hereforth to be known as MaccieD's). You can't argue with a fiver for two 3 course meals!! It was partially traditional in that we had their Chinese soup (mushroom and sweetcorn) to start.

Fed, watered and sleepy from all the fresh air (and walking - we're not used to it!) we headed back to the hotel, taking in a view of the Christmas decorations on the way (PIC).

Day 3

Up bright and early we caught the 9:00am shuttle bus and then the ferry before grabbing the bus down to Stanley market on the south coast of HK Island (30 mins away).

The market initially felt more authentic until we delved a bit deeper and happened upon some fake Oakley tops and Von Dutch caps. Overall it had a good feel about the place as it was less crowded and while exploring the back streets we got to see the locals going about their daily lives of eating, shopping and mah jong.

We popped down to the waters edge (PIC) to relax for a while and indulge in the first decent spell of sunshine since we'd arrived.

On the way back to the bus stop we spotted a sign for a Temple so decided to follow it around the bay and then off up some steps into the woods overlooking the ocean (PIC). We eventually found the little temple (PIC) perched on the cliff edge with stunning views out to sea (PIC).

We caught a bus out of Stanley to Aberdeen passing Repulse Bay on the way (HK's only beach resort) we decided not to stop at Repulse Bay as the weather wasn't quite hot enough for paddling or midday skinny dipping (we didn't have our cozzies - didn't think the locals deserved to be exposed to that just yet!)

We're not drawing any comparisons to Scotland (you can do that yourselves) but Aberdeen didn't have much to offer! After being harassed by multitudes of Sampan owners,(traditional boats - PIC) one feisty old woman in particular, we caught the FREE boat down to the only draw to Aberdeen - the Jumbo floating restaurant (PIC).

The authentic and ostentatious Chinese architecture on the exterior of the restaurant is matched only by the striking oppulance of the interior. After travelling all that way, the free boat and going on board we felt obliged to buy some food. The dim sum is to be recommended but steer clear of the coffee; it costs the same as three portions of dim sum. They managed to claw back the free boat ride and leave a sour taste in our mouths by heaping on a table charge AND a 10% service charge leaving us with a bill for double what we had expected!! BE WARNED.

Fingers burned and wallets set deep in our pockets, we caught the next bus out of Aberdeen returning to HK central (north of the Island).

With sunset soon approaching we decided to return to the peak and take a walk (25 min trek) along one of the trails to the lookout point for some alternative views of the HK skyline and outlying Islands (PICS). As we left the peak the sky gradually turned an amazing array of colours.

We spent the evening meandering through Soho sampling the local delicacies, namely sausage, noodles and crispy pork from a local stall visited & recommended by Anthony Bourdain (renowned American chef and food critic).

The Star ferry took us back to the south of Kowloon where we headed back to the Avenue of Stars to watch the nightly 'Symphony of lights' - a light show put on by the skyscrapers along the HK skyline (PIC). On the way we passed by the Hong Kong clock tower (PIC).

Returning to the hotel relatively early (9:30ish) we soaked our tired and achy feet before doing some laundry and planning for the following day.

Day 4

First stop was the Goldfish, flower and bird markets of Mong Kok (near the hotel) - the markets were a good reflection of Hong Kong, with copious amounts of everything crammed into its respective place. The vibrancy and spectacular arrangements of the flowers stood out and gave an insight into the meticulous nature of the Hong Kong people (PICS).

Venturing on to Kowloon walled city park was a challenge in itself as the taxi driver didn't speak a word of English and our Chinese wasn't too hot! Luckily pictures and pointing sufficed.

We were pleasantly surprised by the beauty of the park and subsequently spent a lot more time there than we had anticipated (PICS).

It was lovingly and immaculately kept with ornate buildings and plants scattered throughout. The only unfortunate downside of the place was the leery old men that were equally scattered throughout.

Once we made it out of the park, next on the agenda was the New Territories starting at the Wong Tai Sin Temple - another tourist trap due to its size and popularity. Even though still used by locals, we felt this Temple was more commercialised and overcrowded. The billowing clouds of smoke from thousands of incense sticks was overpowering at times and detracted from the appeal (PICS).

Deciding to cut short our time at Wong Tai Sin we moved on to Che Kung Temple in Sha Tin (also known as 10,000 Budha's). In stark contrast this one was much smaller and void of any other tourists, with only a few locals praying.

Still in Sha Tin we progressed to Sha Tin park which started out promising with picturesque views of a waterfall over a lake (PICS) but unfortunately soon paled in comparison to Kowloon walled city park as it petered out into a plaza with fast food and a kids play area.

Ever the food connoisseurs we stopped off at Pizza Hut for another bargain three course dinner - 3.50 (GBP) each. This was unlike any other Pizza Hut, not only was the decor much more classy (in traditional HK style) but the menu only contained one page of pizzas, all the rest being traditional Chinese fare.

Much to our excitement, we finally made it back to the hotel in time for their cake shop happy hour! Cakes in HK are another example of their creativity and meticulous attention to detail - each one a work of tasty art in its own right. Needless to say we over-indulged and went to bed stuffed but happy.

Day 5

You can never get enough of a good thing - the cake shop tempted us back, and after some more tasty cake shop treats for breakfast we caught the tube and a taxi up to the Wishing tree in the New territories.

With local women harassing us to buy before we had even got out of the taxi, we hurried on to a little temple and subsequently went on a wild goose chase around the area in search of the aforementioned trees. Eventually we were directed back to where we had been dropped off, and those damned old the Wishing Trees!

Submission seemed to be the only way to quell the growing throng of sellers so we put our cynicism aside and participated in the local tradition of flinging religious scrolls (rolled up with an orange attached for weight) up into the tree in an attempt for them to catch on a branch, unfurl and thus making your wishes come true.

Andrew succeeded on his second effort....Verdi however, in her usual inimitable style, made a pigs ear of the whole thing and was eventually asked by a local government representative, to give the tree a break and hang it on the "wishing board" next to the tree!!

Decidedly unimpressed, and with only one set of wishes destined to come true (wishing board my arse!) we continued on to Fanling to see the Fung Ying Seen Koon Temple, apparently impressive but disappointingly adorned with scaffolding on this occasion (PICS).

Again we happened upon a sign for another local Temple which was not in the tourist guides - Kwun Chung. This Temple is easily missed with it's high surrounding wall and closed gates but we persisted and found our way in. It was well worth the effort as after snapping the outside (PIC), being careful not to disturb the local childrens 'Sunday school', we were invited to go upstairs to the main hall by a monk. Leaving our shoes at the door we ventured inside to discover an authentically intricate and pristine shrine containing three giant gold Budhas. A huge bell and drum adorned the walls and the floors shone so much they looked wet (PICS).

As the evening drew in we headed back to Kowloon for a stroll through Kowloon park (we didn't linger long as it was decidedly average) and to seek out The Kimberley Hotel (where Verdi's parents will soon be staying on their own trip to HK), looked like they chose well! Opposite the hotel we spotted a smart but inexpensive looking restaurant serving local dishes called 'Relax for a while'. We were really impressed with the food and would highly recommend a visit. The three dishes; Shanghai Wonton soup, Shanghai noodles with TanTan sauce & Peking dumplings, and stir-fry noodles with sausage, ham and mushroom and a couple of drinks only set us back about 8 GBP in total. Fantastic.

As it was our last night in Kowloon before heading to Macau we decided to pay another visit to the peak and try another recommended vantage point. However, this was not to was Saturday! DO NOT ATTEMPT TO GO TO THE PEAK ON THE WEEKEND! On previous visits we had walked straight onto the tram and whizzed up to the peak. On this occasion we were greeted off the bus with a queue out of the building and around the corner that we estimated was a minimum of 6 trams deep (approx. 1hr wait).

We decided there was a better way to spend that hour, and hotfooted it back to the hotel and some more cakes!
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