Sunday, 22 September 2013

Hong Kong - Bars, Birds & Beaches

Hi All,

Hope you enjoyed the post on China.  After leaving Kunming I headed to Hong Kong.  This roughtly marked the halfway point of my Asia jaunt so I decided to splash out and stay in more luxurious accommodation.  I booked a room in the Salisbury YMCA in Kowloon on the basis that it offered a swimming pool facility and was very impressed. The YMCA is located next door to the famous Peninsula hotel and, whilst it wasn't as grand, I had an enormous room overlooking the promenade and the flashy shops like Gucci and Zegna on Canton Road.  The 25m 6 lane swimming pool was free and open 6:00am to 10:30pm enabling me to fit a swim in every day so I was a very happy lady.  However, it was quite interesting swimming alongside local teenagers having their swimming club training sessions in the nearby lanes as it reminder me of my swimming club days and ploughing up and down doing drills and turns to a timer.

Anyway, my time in Hong Kong was very much a two part journey as the first 2 days I had the company of Aussie Pete from my Mongolia trip whereas the following 2 days I was flying solo.

Having Pete's company enabled me to do things I wouldn't necessarily done on my own which was great.  We met at my hotel on the Friday afternoon and headed straight for the Star Ferry to Hong Kong Island.  It was very cool watching the sunset and the various skyrise buildings on the island light up with red / blue / green neon lights ready for the evening light and music spectacular held every evening at 8pm.

We arrived at the docks in Central and, after some debate, decided to abandon the idea of queueing for The Peak tram and hailed a taxi.  The first taxi driver quoted a ridiculous figure for the journey but we eventually found a driver willing to use the meter and started our journey through the winding Peak Road to the summit.  I hadn't appreciated how steep it was, it reminded me alot of San Francisco's roads but these were much more windy and it took a good 20 minutes to get to the top and The Peak.  Despite this I think the journey worked out at around 6 british pounds!  It's hardly worth walking in Hong Kong.

From the drop off point, you have to walk through the shopping mall to the viewing platforms.  It was quite busy, despite the hazy evening sky hindering the view a bit.  Despite this it was very cool standing at The Peak, looking down at the Central and Admiralty districts of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon twinkling in the evening sky.  We took a few pictures but I don't think either of us are expert nighttime photographers so the photos really don't do justice to what we saw with our eyes.

We decided to eat at the Tsui Wah Restauarant at The Peak.  The highlight of the meal for me was the Logan and Red Plum hot drink that I ordered.  It was a deep crimson colour and had lots of chopped up fruit in it.  The best way of describing the taste is that of warm figs - yummy.  After dinner we tried valiantly (honest!) to find the walking path down the hill but failed miserably so quickly gave in and caught a taxi down to the bar district of Lan Kwai Fong in the Central district of Hong Kong Island.  Pete, being an Aussie, was keen that I tried Bundy Rum so we sought out a bar that served that. Stauntons looked very good but too busy for us to sit and chat.  Bizarrely, we ended up in an Irish bar in Hong Kong drinking Aussie Rum & Coke :)

We concluded that evening with a late night dash on the metro up to Temple Street.  There's a famous night market on Temple Street which sells all manner of fake goods, for example Mulberry handbags, Beats headphones and SWATCH watches.  We didn't buy and tat as neither of us are that way inclined but it was fun wandering through the Chinese district, seeing all the late night pavement cafes and snack stalls.  I introduced Pete to HOng Kong Puffs which, strangle, I'd first tried in Guilin.  They're a kind of non-greasy doughnut mixtures cooked in 1" diameter hollow spheres.  I had them covered in chocolate sauce but we had them plain that evening and shared two dozen of the treats and we walked back through Jordan to our respective hotels.

The following morning we chose to start early as Pete had an 8pm flight and, after sorting out his luggage storage, we headed back over to Hong Kong Island in search of Dim Sum. The first place we tried was Maxim's Palace at the City Hall in Central.  We got a bit lost on leaving the metro station and ended up in Exchange Square.  There were many groups of women sitting on plastic on the pavement.  We wondered what was going on as they just seemed to be hanging out there chatting and giving each other pedicures/manicures.  It was most odd as there were thousands of them.  Later we saw signs for a commomoration day of Phillipino women in Hong Kong so maybe that is what we saw.

We eventually found Maxim's but there was an extremely long queue and the clientele looked decidedly smarter dressed than us so instead we headed for a tea house on Stanley Street in Central recommended by the Lonely Planet.  It was a very unassuming place from the outside but we followed signs up a set of slightly hidden side stairs and into an old fashioned dining room.  The place was very dated and, as the Lonely Planet correctly identified, the waiters looked as if they been both born and likely to die in the restaurant they were that old and doddery.  However, they did a sterling job understanding us and quickly had us seated at a round table with hot, steaming chinese tea.

After being seated we received a sheet where we marked the dim sum we'd like to be served.  We picked a few dishes at random: steamed pork buns, sweet and sour ribs, shrimp dumplings, osmanthus flower jellies and date moon cakes, a speciality of the mid Autumn festival.  We weren't disappointed when the food arrived as there was a huge pile to try and eat.  We made a bit of a mess of the tablecloth trying to pickup some of the delicacies with our chopsticks but apparently a messy tablecloth is a sign of a good meal so we fitted in well.  The least appealing dish was the osmanthus flower jelly as it was a fairly grey looking, stiff jelly.  However, when I tasted it, it was so delicate and fragrant I couldn't resist having two.

After finishing our Dim Sum we took a ride on the mid level escalators, a set of outdoor escalators designed to help people traverse up the steep Peak on Hong Kong Island, and headed for the Hong Kong Park.  Hone Kong Park is at an elevation midway between the Peak and the port.  It's a wonderful expanse of green in the otherwise concrete jungle and has been very nicely laid out with fountains and flowers of all kinds.  There's a wonderful mini-Zoo with marmots, chimps, tortoise etc that you can visit for free within the park.  It's a very relaxaing space and we spent a couple of hours wandering around it.  There's even a watchtower with, in my opinion, better views of the harbour than you get from the Peak. However, the highlight for me was the aviary that's in the park and free to visit.  There's a raised wooden walkway that's set within the aviary and you walk through it with tropical birds flying about your head and a peacful stream running beneath your feet.  The colours of the birds there were very vibrant and we spent quite a while just watching and photographing them, enjoying a lazy afternoon.

We finished the day with a visit to the Avenue of Stars on Kowloon harbour.  It's a bit of a Hollywood copy with metal stars embedded into the floor with names and handprints of famous Chinese movie stars.  It's a 440m promenade along the water a nice place to wander for an hour.  Pete and I both took pictures of the Bruce Lee statue with the excuse of taking them for our nephews :)  There was a lovely bar on the waterfront there so we watched the sun setting with beer in hand - perfect! - before Pete had to head to the airport.

The next day, back flying solo, I decided to try and find Hong Kong Island's beaches.  Under the hotel's instruction I caught the ferry to Central and then hopped on the number 73 bus heading south.  It was a doubledecker so I decided to sit at the front on the top deck to get good views of the scenery as it unfolded.  It was quite a ride, firstly through the manic traffic of Central and Sheung Wan and then on the high, windy coastal path.  My intial intention was to head straight for Stanley but I spotted an empty, white gold sandy beach en route and hopped off early.

The beach I found turned out to be Repulse Bay.  I arrived at c.10am and the beach was empty bar a couple of local men so I took off my shoes and went for a paddle in the azure blue water.  It was bliss as the beach thermometer read 35C and it was scorchio!  Tin Hau temple sits at the far end of the beach and there were a few Chinese tourists there but otherwise the place was deserted.  The temple is dedictaed to the protection of fishermen.  There are two huge statues of Tin Hau and Kwun Yum as well as a Chinese style garden leading down to the beach, via the red Longevity Bridge.  It says your life is elongated by 3 months for every crossing of the bridge so I ran across it a few times for good measure.  Repulse Bay is one of the most expensive districts to live on Hong Kong island and I can see why, it was amazing and very un-touristy, although they're building a mall there at the moment so all that could change.  After an hour siting on the beach chilling and updating my diary I decided to head to Stanley and caught a tiny local minibus for about 50p.  It's very much an honesty based system on the buses there as the driver didn't check I'd put the correct coins in the ticket machine before whizzing off.

Stanley is further along the East coast of Hong Kong island and is famous for its market, selling jade, clothes and souvenirs.  It was alot more touristy than Repulse Bay but still very pleasant.  There's even Blake Pier at Stanley which you can walk along to get better views of the coast and the many windsurfers riding the waves.  I spent some time writing postcards on the seafront before finding somewhere for lunch.  I decided to head for the Stanley Plaza where there's a range of cafes and bars lining the seafront, alongside small clothes boutiques (there's even a supermarket there selling Waitrose products!!).  I opted for lunch at French bistro called Chez Patrick and wasn't disappointed.  They served me a wonderful French bread filled with Bayonne Ham and Comte, French Fries, a crisp green salad and a large pot of Earl Grey tea made with tea leaves.  I thought I'd died and gone to heaven and stayed there for quite a while people watching and generally relaxing.   I left Stanley in the late afternoon and headed back to Central on the bus.  I took a different bus back, bus number 6, and this gave much better panoramic views of the sea so I'd recommend that if you plan to go there.

Arriving back in Central I decided to try the HOng Kong trams, otherwise referred to as 'Ding Dings' by the locals because of the distinctive bells they use to call out the stops.  The trams have operated since 1904 and cover a large proportion of the north of Hong Kong island, particularly the area between Shau Kei Wan, Central, Admiralty and Victoria Park.  I followed the guidebook's advice and went on the upper deck.  The trams are quite narrow and tall but still there wasn't alot of headroom on the seats for someone like me.  However, they gave an excellent view of the city, particularly in the approach to Happy Valley as you get a birds eye view of all the little alleys and streets selling their various wares.  I hopped off at a street selling haberdashery items and got some very cool bits of ribbon, funky buttons and sew on motifs that I've never seen at home.  They were perfect 'post home' souvenirs!  After several hours shopping I called it a day and headed back to Kowloon via a different ferry route - there are alot to choose from and they all give different vistas of the city skyline!

The following day I decided to try some retail therapy - you didn't think I'd subject Pete to this did you?! I began at the department stores in Causeway Bay where I puzzled to find brands like Eikowada which described themselves as English despite not selling their stock in England!  Apparently the company is registered in England and so they can claim they're English in HOng Kong and thereby quote higher prices.  Their outdoor kit was quite good and long enough for my legs so I was tempted but in the end saved my money.  I was glad I did as about half an hour later whilst browsing in a very good cake shop (SIFT - I spotted a sign for a shoe warehouse sale.  The signs pointed me into the basement apartment block so, intrigued, I stepped inside.  Since it was early in the morning on a weekday I was the only person there.  I automatically thought they wouldn't have anything to fit my Size 8 feet but the shop assistant proved me wrong and found me at least 6 pairs of shoes that fitted in a fabulous range of colours - purple, teal, gold, silver, red, pink....  I eventually succumbed to a pair of teal patent leather flats and have lived and died in them since that day as they're so comfortable and were a steal at only 25 british pounds!

After a gorgeous mediterranean lunch at Maya Cafe on Moon Street in Wan Chai (Moon St & Star St had some amazing bistros and cafes for lunch so there's plenty of choice)I decided to head north to the shopping mecca of Nathan Road.  This is a very funny place as designer shops sit cheek by jowl with bargain basement dives like ChungKing Mansions and warehouse outlets.  It's heaving 24x7 and there's always someone handing out flyers for this or that shop so it can be a bit intense to be honest.  I lasted about 45mins before escaping into nearby Kowloon Park.

Kowloon Park is an oasis in Tsim Sha Tsui (TST as the locals call the area) and it has a great scuplture walk and chinese garden.  I just wandered about aimlessly through the park, watching the locals doing their Tai Chi and playing cards, a sport they can get quite aggressive about at times as they fling down the cards onto the stone walls on which they're perched.  My wandering resulted in a few good finds, most notably the recreation centre and water park near the Jordan metro exit. It had a selection of about 6 pools all open until 10pm for public swimming and the pools were floodlit as the night encroached. The sounds of children splashing about under the night sky, cooling off from the heat was really nice.

I exited the park near Jordan metro and continued my retail therapy in Temple Street markets and the nearby Jade Market in Mongkok.  Haggling is essential in these markets so my training time in Zambia was put to good use negotiating for some pieces of small pieces of jewellry and souvenirs.  I finished the evening with a trip to the nearby Broadway Cinemateque, a small arthouse cinema showing arty and foreign films.  I was too late to buy tickets for that evenings showings so bought tickets for the following lunchtime, to pass the time before my flight.  However, my visit wasn't wasted as I decided to give my feet some recouperation time and ordered tea and a snack at the cinema's Kubrick Cafe.  The cafe was fantastic and seemed to attract some quirky characters so there was lots of opportunity for people watching as I sipped my refreshing Ginger Tea.

As you can tell my time in Hong Kong was pretty jam packed so I was glad of some rain inflicted downtime in Hanoi, Vietnam the following day but I'll tell you about that in my next entry :)

Stay well,

1 comment:

  1. Just back from Bhutanand India so thought I should catch up on your blog!
    Hong Kong sounds amazing and hoiw do you manage to pack s much into four days ( ha says having done much the smae in 17 day).
    The 'ding dings' remind me of the annoying noise the Nottinghm trams make, keepingthe poor offce owrkers awake day ( and night?)
    yet t read you Vietnak blog page ( epistel) but looking forward to it and seeingt eh photos to go with it. CU v soon now. XOXO