Friday, March 9, 2012

A China Experience (Hong Kong)

And so our vacation was rapidly drawing to a close. We spent our last 3 nights in Hong Kong before our flight home. We caught a super efficient high speed ferry from Macau over to Hong Kong - just a 45 minutesjourney! Hotels were pricey in Hong Kong and in the end we stayed in small hotel right on Wan Chai Road - a bustling place but perfectly located. We had a room overlooking the road, which didn't bother us at all (but Ian and Axelle had the 'same' room 3 floors above us and had trouble with the noise - I guess it depends on how light a sleeper you - I just find enough cocktails will always knock me out for the night!!)

The weather was awful. We realised that as soon as we arrived. Extremely misty, overcast, drizzling with rain and actually a bit chilly. I'd pegged out a few sights that I wanted to hit up in our few days here and at least 2 of them (Victoria Peak and Tian Tan Budha on Lantau) were at the top of rather large hills - it wasn't looking good! However, not to be deterred we set off to explore. The other thing that Hong Kong seems to be rather good at is laying on a good street market. We'd had several recommended to us to check out. We headed off around our local neighbourhood - not sure Wan Chai market is anything special for tourists but it was certainly full of locals - lots of produce, meat and fish stalls. We watched with amusement at one of the fish stalls where a couple of fish had made a dash for it. Sadly they hadn't gotten far and were floundering in the gutter. People were pointing them out to the stall keeper but she didn't seem too bothered - I guess it must be a pretty common occurrence!
Top Left & Middle: World's Longest Escalator
All others: Temple Street Night Market & food

We spent the evening at the Temple Street Night Market on the Kowloon side. This is one of the 'big' ones mentioned in all the guidebooks. We weren't really looking to shop, but did find some nice bowls and a small picture. What we did enjoy was the street food. And I can't beleive I'm actually saying was Chinese!! When you're in a foreign country, surrounded by foreign foods it just seems totally wrong to order pizza or Burger and Chips (and we did do that a few times in Macau). But now we were feeling up for challenge again so ordered what turned out to be a great meal (no MSG!). We sat outdoors in a small alleyway, with a collection of plastic chairs and table clothes, under a giant tarp - but it was the best food! Later that evening we took the infamous Star Ferry back across the harbour and home to our hotel, but not before gazing at the magnificent harbour view at night and a lantern festival celebrating the Chinese new year.
Top: Skyline of Hong Kong Island from Tsim Sha Tsui
Bottom: The Lantern Festival celebrating the Year of the Dragon

Monday we walked to the terminus for the Peak Tram which would take up to the top of Victoria Peak in a matter of minutes. We already knew we weren't really going to see anything when we got to the top, but it was about riding the tram too! It's ridiculously steep in places (so steep that the floor of the tram is actually stepped rather than a flat floor!) and it's majorly preferable to walking! Once at the top we had a quick look around a very over-commercialised shopping centre and braved the winds and mists for a quick look around outside before heading back down. That afternoon we headed for the Flower Market and Bird Gardens on Yuen Po Street. A whole street with shops almost entirely dedicated to flowers - it was the best smelling place we'd been in 2 weeks! And the orchids, ahhhh - gorgeous - I just wished I could have brought some home with me! The Bird Garden at the end of the street is a small park where the old men take their caged birds (winged variety!) for a walk! A small specialised market has grown up here with all the supplies you could imagine for keeping birds - the cages, the feed, and plenty of new birds. Monday night we took a bus to the south side of the island to Stanley. Sitting atop a double decker bus weaving along small roads following the coastline was quite the roller coaster ride in itself! There's another of the big well known markets in Stanley which we did take a stroll around, before walking along the waterfront and getting comfortable in a bar for the evening. After several cocktails, we were eventually joined by Ian and Axelle who had just arrived from Macau to spend our last day with us. Much of the rest of the night after this point is a little bit of a blur, but from what I remember it was a very good night! ;-)
Flower shops and Birds on Yuen Po Street

Our final day and we took the MTR out to Lantau Island and then a bus up into the hills to Ngong Ping Village and the Po Lin Monastery. Again the bus journey was incredibly enjoyable in itself. I love travelling by bus in foreign places. You have no responsibility as to where you're headed and local buses go slow enough and stop often enough that you can enjoy the sights along the way. Ngong Ping itself is a pretty ugly over-developed fake village which is the upper terminus to a huge cable car (it was closed for maintenance at the time we were there - it was something we'd planned on using but we travelled by bus instead which worked out peachy as it turns out) The main draw here is the Po Lin Monastery and the Tian Tan Big Budha. When we first stepped off the bus we couldn't even see the Budha the mist was so low!! We had to pick our moments carefully as the mist was swirling around by the minute. When we did climb the steps to the top of the hill to see the Budha up close we got just a few moments of clarity before being enshrouded in cloud yet again. It was incredibly cool - and extremely large! Apparently it weighs more than a jumbo jet and symbolises the harmonious relationship between man, religion, people and nature.
Tian Tan Budha and the Po Lin Monastary. Lilies were everywhere - and I love a good lily scent anyday but there were simply so many the smell was overpowering! The hike up to the Budha Statue.

Now you see it, now you don't. These photos were taken within the space of a minute that's how quickly the cloud was rolling in!
We had some last minute free time on our final day. Lunch with an old school friend of mine I hadn't seen in 14 years, travelling on the world's longest escalator (hey don't knock it till you've tried it - we thought it was super cool in a geeky kind of way!), another trip across the harbour on the Star Ferry (just because) and a quick shop in the Wan Chai Computer Centre. Let's just say all of a sudden Chris was extremenly interested in shopping!! (2 stories of shops with everything computer related - a big kids candy store!)
Star Ferry
The best bit about the trip has got to be seeing my baby brother, and we loved spending some time with him and Axelle. But it always tough to say goodbye. However after 2 weeks, I was excited about getting home too! Bye-bye China, and thank you for the memories!

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