Written by alias843 on 05 Dec, 2010
We were determined that our last day in Hong Kong be as packed full of memorable experiences as possible. This meant getting up and getting going. We were staying at an airport hotel very near to the Ngong Ping cable car station and…Read More
We were determined that our last day in Hong Kong be as packed full of memorable experiences as possible. This meant getting up and getting going. We were staying at an airport hotel very near to the Ngong Ping cable car station and we thought we might as well start there. We arrived at the base of the station a little after nine and nothing was moving yet, so we joined a line of people to ask what was going on. Instead of finding out we were shuffled onto a bus that would take us to the top of the mountain. We found out later that the cable car doesn't start to run until 10am. It turned out to be fortuitous though, as this meant we were the first ones to the top. We got unobstructed views of the giant staircase leading to the Buddha statue and were able to walk around and take it all in before the masses of other tourists arrived. It was a beautiful morning and we took our time getting to the top, just enjoying the gorgeous views of hills and flags. There isn't any charge to see this beautiful monument, you only have to pay if you want to eat lunch at the monastery or go inside the museum underneath the Buddha. Especially if you take the bus one way, this is a great attraction for the budget-minded traveler. Once we'd taken in the monument, we headed back down and spent some time exploring the monastery grounds and smaller temples. The cafeteria was gearing up for the lunch time business while we were there but we were so early that we didn't want to spend too much of our last day waiting around. After a postcard purchase, we spent a little while wandering around the Ngong Ping village. Which is a very Disney experience. Like the China exhibit at Epcot. Then we caught the cable car back to the bottom of the hill. Incredible views, incredible experience. If we had known how cool it was we probably would have sprung for one of the crystal cars with a transparent floor and walls. It was still amazing, especially since we managed to get a car all to ourselves. It's a long ride and you're really high up. I'm not generally nervous around heights but being suspended so high up was still a little nerve-wracking. Really, really cool. Definitely worth the ticket price.At the bottom of the cable car you can catch a bus to Tai O, an old fishing village where the houses are still built up on stilts. It's the end station on the bus so don't get off early or you'll wind up at the prison or somewhere else in the absolute middle of nowhere. Dried seafood is still the order of the day and there are lots of stall selling crazy-looking preserved sea creatures. We got a bite to eat at one of the many restaurants, declined a dolphin tour and spent some time wandering around the markets, which sell all kinds of fish products, and checked out a few temples. All in all a nice excursion. After our field trips, we headed into town to collect some last-minute souvenirs at the night market and take some last chance pictures. We managed to cram more into that one day than I had imagined possible. Definitely a great way to wrap up an amazing trip. Close
Written by Battered Orange Suitcase on 02 Jan, 2010
There is a deliberately unassuming little club on Staunton Street in Hong Kong called Feather Boa. From the outside, you would never know it existed. There is no sign, indeed no indication whatsoever that a popular bôite can be found within. The…Read More
There is a deliberately unassuming little club on Staunton Street in Hong Kong called Feather Boa. From the outside, you would never know it existed. There is no sign, indeed no indication whatsoever that a popular bôite can be found within. The curtains hanging in the storefront establishment are thick velvet and always drawn. The front doors are always closed. Entering the Boa, however, is like falling down the rabbit hole and landing in someone’s odd and jumbled living room. On any given night, ex-pats and those-in-the-know can be found packed like sardines in the ramshackle chic, salon-like interior, with its tattered rugs, retro couches and funky chandeliers - a charming little den of iniquity smack dab in the heart of Hong Kong.Among other things, Feather Boa is known for is its signature drinks. One is the chocolate martini, which consists, more or less, of a lethal dose of vodka garnished with a handful of malted milk balls. Now, in my experience, mixing chocolate with alcohol is never a good idea and frankly, a waste of vodka. However, add in highly-launchable mini chocolate cannon balls floating in a sea of combustible bad judgment, and you’ve piqued my interest. This is a glass of hijinks.Anyone who knows me or has read my story, "The Battle of the Beignet", will know that when it comes to doing battle with food items, I am short on restraint. I attribute this to the fact that I grew up with three older siblings who would blast me – the youngest - the "brat" – with anything they could get their hands on when Mom wasn’t looking. Call it self-preservation, but I quickly learned the necessary dining room "tricks of the trade" to protect myself. For example, a well-syrup’d flapjack flung at the head of my brother would generally stop him in his tracks. A handful of spaghetti worked equally effectively. Even now, I find it difficult to suppress those instincts, and tend to view everything on a dinner table as a potential item in my arsenal. Mix alcohol into the equation, and there is absolutely no hope of a last-minute reprieve of good judgment. Duck and cover quickly becomes the order of the moment.Sure enough one fateful night, for reasons that I cannot begin to remember, though am sure were not adequately considered at the time, a chocolate martini - specifically - those floating balls of malted goodness, became not just a garnish, but that evening's weapon of choice. Backed up by my trusty wingman Koko, who is always ready for a good battle, I thrust my hand into my chocolate martini and scooped out one of the already-melting chocolate cannon balls. My targets? Two unsuspecting Cathay Pacific pilots standing across the packed room. With a fast movement, I launched the first milk ball, which traveled with surprising speed and landed with a heavy "thomp" on pilot #1’s chest, just above the "Cathay Pacific" logo embroidered on his uniform pocket, and giving it a Rorschach-like quality with its brown, chocolaty stain. The second milk ball hit pilot #2 in the back of the neck, uncomfortably, no doubt, lodging inside his collar. Targets hit.Normally after propelling food items at high speed across a crowded bar, it is best to quickly turn in the opposite direction and feign innocence. Unfortunately, Koko and I were caught up in the humor of the strike, and could only convulse with laughter - out-of-control, voices squeaking, faces red and contorted, tears just pouring out of our eyes, hysterical laughter. A dead giveaway, and probably why we didn’t notice that pilot #1 had stopped talking and was staring right at us, a crazed look in his eye and God help us, a chocolate martini in his hand.What happened next is a blur of whizzing brown objects and screams of laughter as the battle launched into full swing. While it wasn't "Animal House" in scale, it did extend to include a small group of patrons, who enthusiastically thrust their fingers into any chocolate martini they could find. Quickly, our reserves ran out, and due to the steep price of replenishing them with another chocolate martini, the battle finished. Now officially bonded with the group, we ordered drinks, peeled squished milk balls off ourselves, and chalked the whole thing off to just another night at the Boa.The next morning, I awoke with only a sketchy recollection of the night’s activities. As I stepped into a hot shower, I caught my reflection in the mirror and suddenly the evening's antics came rushing back to me. There, smashed and stuck to the skin on my lower back, was a lone malted milk ball, a melted and misshapen chocolate testament to the decadent influence of a hidden little club in Hong Kong.Author's Note: While I am not proud of this blatant act of recklessness and immaturity, it does make a great story. And if you are planning a visit to this iconic establishment, I would strongly recommend you wear brown. Close
Written by Bill Pfeffer on 22 Mar, 2009
Arriving in Hong Kong on the luxurious express train from Guangzhou, we checked into our hotel and hurried out on a sparkling spring day to walk the harbor promenade. Hong Kong seemed to me as just another huge urban shopping center. Although beautiful, I was…Read More
Arriving in Hong Kong on the luxurious express train from Guangzhou, we checked into our hotel and hurried out on a sparkling spring day to walk the harbor promenade. Hong Kong seemed to me as just another huge urban shopping center. Although beautiful, I was skeptical that our one-week stay would afford enough opportunities to keep us entertained. But, surprisingly, the more time we spent here, the more it unveiled. After a week, we realized that perhaps there are more layers to peel back than a week could provide, that the cosmopolitan aspect of Hong Kong, although brilliant, is only one part of this majestic area.Hong Kong occupies a geographically stunning location, with Kowloon peninsula jutting into the South China Sea from mainland China, funneling the dreams and aspirations of mainland China into a Mecca of capitalism. Two miles across Victoria Harbor sits Hong Kong Island, the harbor reflected in the glassy skyscrapers that line the shoreline. Representing a who’s who of the corporate world, the rectangular buildings are stacked side by side like a bar graph representing gross national product. Tucked tightly against the structures of commerce, muscular, ochre-splashed hills form a necessary levy of containment, as they intersect and swell towards famed Victoria Peak. Freighters, ferries, and boats of all shape and sizes thread through the harbor, some on their way to faraway ports, others, like the historic Star Ferry, to shuttle goods and people between the island and the peninsula. For a hundred years, commerce has flowed in this watery artery, and in another hundred years, it will still stream through. From Kowloon peninsula, the panoramas of Hong Kong Island are staggering, especially in the warm balmy evenings, as if the Milky Way in all its glory has descended from the sky. A popular daily laser light show dazzles the pedestrians as it illuminates the distant buildings in a coordinated and colorful musical show. Besides the sophisticated urban scene, other fascinating islands lie clustered off Hong Kong, easily accessed by local ferry. This alternative side of Hong Kong is rewarding, as it provides glimpses into a rural and largely undeveloped side of this culturally enriched province. Mass transit in Hong Kong is world class, with the easily identifiable red MTR signs directing you to the nearest graffiti free subway station. Touch sensitive ticket machines are easy to follow, and allow single ticket purchases or an Octopus card, which adds a dollar amount to a plastic card.Once on board the spotless subway, computerized displays highlight your position and progress, as it whisks you towards your destination. Elevated skywalks transport people over busy roads, double-decker buses ply the streets, and escalators (including the longest escalator in the world) shuffle pedestrians silently through malls and business centers. Finally, an efficient ferryboat network combines modern ticket kiosks with the effective linking between the island and the peninsula as well as to the outlying islands.The first couple of days we spent wandering the many neighborhoods, following suggested walking circuits provided by the tourist office. The first included a walk through the aromatic Sheung Wan district, where burlap bags overflowed with mysterious dried merchandise and shelves were stocked with traditional Chinese medicines. Bird’s nest (for soup), ginseng root, dried seafood, and shrimp paste filled the air with their unusual convergence of odors, while bags of peculiar substances sat bundled and packaged. Further up was Jade Street, where merchants under circus tent canopies sold anything and everything made from jade, a valued mineral thought to bring good luck. This was followed by a jaunt up the unusual Goldfish Street, where mossy stained aquariums spilt from the stores and lined the street. Emitting a quirky marine organic odor, the tanks were flush with plump golden fish gasping for air. Inside many of the stores, plastic green bags hung from the walls, each containing a single prisoner fish all packaged and ready to go. The pungent odor of religion drew us into ancient dark temples, where coils of pink incense swirled snaky wisps of smoke and shafts of white ash defied gravity before dropping unto the dull pizza pans strung underneath. Everywhere, they hung from the ceiling, some burning up to ten days, with shafts of light illuminating the motes of dust and casting moibus-like shadows from the coils unto the worn concrete floor. Shadowy statues stood guard and accepted the offerings of the faithful, while compact boxes lined the walls like a post office. Each box contained the cremated remains of a departed soul, whose image looked upon you from the cover. Oozing with spirituality, I was struck by a strange sensation upon entering these olden sanctuaries, as if the collective spirits from the past were rising up and imparting a spiritual embrace. With good intentions, I always purchased sticks of incense from the attendant and offered up prayers to the people above who look after us.Further up was the flower market, where the unique fresh organic smells replaced that of the incense. Down a hidden alley, we came upon the bird park, where merchants dealt the feathery friends from delicate handcrafted bamboo cages, as the sugary sounds of canaries sweetened the air. Fascinating were the forays into the multi faceted cultures present in Hong Kong.Another walk on Hong Kong Island began at the Central MTR exit, where we worked our way up to Hollywood Road, a historic street filled with antique shops. Eventually, you’ll arrive in the SoHo restaurant district, packed with eateries of every kind imaginable. Here is the longest escalator in the world, which connects to the lower reaches of the central district. Close by is the Lan Kwai Fong district, famous for its lively happy hour bar scene. This neighborhood is also home to many of the designer stores and high-end malls.Among these sleek and shiny modern high rises, you’ll unexpectedly stumble across cleverly devised parks designed for solitude. Calming sounds of water spill from fountains and waterfalls, while creeks emerge from verdant vegetation, all to mask the energy of the city. Still, within this modern scene, we’re shocked to see a 28-story skyscraper with primitive bamboo scaffolding encasing the entire building. How is this possible in such a high tech and modern city? For a few minutes, I step back and stare up, as I try to reconcile this unusual juxtaposition of old and new.The outlying island of Lamma is a sparsely populated region twenty minutes from Hong Kong harbor. Disembarking at the lively fishing village of Yung Shue Wan, we loitered around a bit before trekking across the island to Mo Tat Wan. As we admired the many splendid vistas, a sequence of drums echoed in the distance and grew louder as we descended into the harbor. Arriving in Mo Tat Wan, we came upon the colorful Dragon Festival, a riotous celebration that featured games, a play, fireworks, and a harbor filled with decorated boats. Crowding down the walkway, a jumpy dragon festooned in garish yellows passed through the crowd, to the cheers of the locals who shared picnic tables, beers, and helpings of roast pig. After a delightful hour, we caught the ferry back to the Hong Kong.Lantau Island is another escape off the coast of Hong Kong. Certainly more touristy than Lamma Island, it’s home to the Big Buddha at Ngong Ping - the largest outdoor Buddha in the world – and the newly opened Hong Kong Disneyland. Now accessible by cable car from the airport, visitors swarm the nearby temple structures of Po Lin, and as we stood for pictures beneath the big guy, I watched a steady stream of 747’s ascend against the green hillsides. Buses get you around the island and the subway will return you back to Hong Kong. Do pay a visit to the sleepy fishing village of Pai O, a town called the ‘Venice’ of Asia, because the homes themselves are built on stilts along a tidal estuary. Here fish, with heads wrapped in paper, are tied upside down outside every shop, as they dry and fill the air with that unique fish odor.No visit to Hong Kong would be complete without the ultra touristy century old tram ride up to Victoria Peak. The highly recommended steep ride up deposits you at a tourist center where a one-mile path encircles the peak and provides stunning views over Hong Kong.After a week in Hong Kong, my skepticism had turned to enchantment. Hong Kong has everything going for it – cultural diversity, intriguing neighborhoods, great shopping, modern transport, tasty dining, undeveloped rural islands, perfect harbor, gorgeous scenery, and the open spaces of the new territories. Of all the things we saw on our travels, images from the incense laden temples of Hong Kong remain some of the most evocative and memorable. The dichotomy between the old and new meld effortlessly in this vibrant metropolis – I can’t wait to return. Close
Written by Tim Thornton on 08 Jan, 2007
While Hong Kong has an array of foods from Asia and the world (see SOHO area even if you don’t like Asian food), you should experience one of Hong Kong’s specialties at least once: Dim Sum. Dim Sum is largely a collection of steamed and…Read More
While Hong Kong has an array of foods from Asia and the world (see SOHO area even if you don’t like Asian food), you should experience one of Hong Kong’s specialties at least once: Dim Sum. Dim Sum is largely a collection of steamed and fried rolls with meat and veggies inside. There are other Dim Sum dishes, but many Dim Sum dishes appear to be similar color and sizes on the outside - but the insides are filled with yummy meats, veggies or sweets. There are a number of good Dim Sum restaurants around the island, and this food is best eaten with friends, because each dish may have 6-12 pieces of Dim Sum. If there are just two of you, go early in the afternoon and take the extra food back to the hotel room. Dim Sum is not expensive, but it is wonderful. The other cuisine that you cannot miss in Hong Kong is Indian food. I recommend eating in the SOHO area and in Lan Kwai Fong. You will have a great place to party afterwards, and the surroundings are a journal entry that you will never forget.
One word about the music. Hong Kong does have some of its own musical personalities, but many of the bands here are actually from the Philippines. For some reason, musical genes seem to run deep in the heart and sole of the Philippine people, and the music is full of life, energy and youth.
Written by Tim Thornton on 29 Dec, 2006
Visiting Hong Kong can be an outstanding experience for anyone - even those of us who do not speak the language and are not sure what Chinese language is spoken in Hong Kong. I highly recommend Hong Kong and Asia to anyone who is interested…Read More
Visiting Hong Kong can be an outstanding experience for anyone - even those of us who do not speak the language and are not sure what Chinese language is spoken in Hong Kong. I highly recommend Hong Kong and Asia to anyone who is interested in travel and cultural rich experiences - especially if you like big city travel. Hong Kong is made up of three "regions" - two of which I recommend that you explore, and the third is more for the locals. There are 26 islands that make up Hong Kong, but usually when we refer to Hong Kong, we are talking about "Hong Kong Island" - or the main metropolitan city. This is the Hong Kong of the pictures and movies with which we are all so familiar. Tall sky-scrapers. People and cars on the streets day and night. Hustle and bustle. The second part of Hong Kong that is very visitor friendly is Kowloon (rhymes with "Saloon"). Both are must see parts of the island.
The first thing that you should know about Hong Kong is that there is a train that runs from the airport to the heart of Hong Kong Island every 10-15 minutes. It is the cheapest and by far the fastest way to get to Hong Kong (or Kowloon). You will have to take a taxi to your hotel, but chances are that it will be very cheap compared to getting a taxi from the airport. Save time and money here. While Hong Kong is distinctly Chinese, and the local language is the most difficult and the rarest of the Chinese dialects (Cantonese), many people speak English and English is widely spoken in businesses and most restaurants. Hong Kong is a very international city, and you will not stand out in a crowd unless you choose to stand out.
Even in the taxi’s you can expect English to be well understood, though it does not hurt to have translations to get back to your hotel (see my journal entry 1 concerning translation challenges in China). There are a broad array of hotels in Hong Kong - most are expensive. Most of the action on the Island is near the Central Business District, so if you are looking to stay central to the city, find a hotel here. If you are looking for a cheaper hotel, don’t go too close to the edges of the island, as you will pay the price many times over in taxi fees and time. Make plans at night to have evening drinks in some of the very tall hotels that face the Hong Kong harbor (this is a good thing in Hong Kong Island or Kowloon). The Hong Kong harbor is one of the most beautiful sights in the world at night, and these hotels are some of the most lavishly designed hotels that you will ever set foot inside.
Shen Zhen, China on the train. If you are really a bargain shopper, this is a day trip that you don’t want to miss. Take the train (talk to your concierge). Cross the boarder at the end of the train line (about a 35 minute ride on the express train), and the first large building that you walk through to get into the city’s edge is a fantastic vendor’s market where 500 vendors sell their goods from all over China. Silk. Pearls. Electronics. Clothing. Knock off brand purses. Knock off watches and pens that you can buy for $5-15 each (not that I am advocating brand knock-offs—but if this is something that interests you, this is where you want to go). Paintings. Artwork. You name it, and if people buy it in China, you have a good chance of finding it in Shen Zhen, China.
Kowloon shopping and browsing. There are many interesting things to see, taste and experience in Kowloon. Let me just point out a couple that will fascinate the average Joe (me). If you are looking for a Chinese dress, silk, night markets, or a new suit—you will want to go to Kowloon. Don’t be afraid of being approached on the street by a vendor who will lead you to his shop. This is common practice. One other "Don’t miss" attraction in Kowloon is the Bird Market. This is only open during the day (maybe until around 5 or 6pm), so go early, and you will see birds, birds, birds and bird lovers. This is an open market with all kinds of exotic animals (two legged variety and the two legged variety). Go check this unique street out.
If you find yourself in Kowloon at the end of the day, have a drink at the Felix Bar in the Peninsula Hotel. This bar is known throughout the region for its view, its upscale atmospheres and its "loo" (WC). The men's WC is filled with exotic marble architecture and a breath-taking view of the city from the urinal. Yep - That's right. One of a kind. (Check with your concierge about the dress code).
Stanley Market. The other place that you want to make a half day or full day trip out of is the Stanley Market. Located on the back side of the island, you can get there via bus or taxi in about 30 minutes. If you don’t have time to go to Shen Zhen, you will find many of the same things here - well, maybe 40% of the same things. But, this is a wonderful place to shop for art, silk, clothes, etc.
Lantau Island. This is one of the only other occupied islands among the Hong Kong islands. Lantau is known for one major site—the monastery with the largest sitting bronze Buda. I don’t know if there are a lot of Buda’s in this category or not, but that is not the point. This Buda can be seen for miles away, which is a good thing because it takes hours to reach it. First you have to take a boat to the island, and then you have to take a bus to the monastery. When all is said and done, it is definitely worth the trip. And you can eat here as well. I recommend spending the money to eat the best fair here. You will not be able to order from a menu. Food will be brought to you, and you will not be disappointed. First class. Take your camera for this one, because, like most of Hong Kong, you will want the be able to tell your friends about the highlights of your trip and you will have more than a few.
The Peak. A great deal has been written about The Peak, so just let me say that you should take the tram up the mountain and see the city from the highest point on the island. It is a view that you would give your little finger to wake up to each morning (but don’t do that).
Mid Levels Escalators. Speaking of heights—this is a unique site in all of the world. An outside Escalator that stretches from more than a mile up the side of Central Business District, into SOHO and half way up into Mid-Levels. This is where the more affluent residents live, and this is also very close to Lan Kwai Fong bar, restaurant and social quarters. Don’t miss this unique site.
Lan Kwai Fong. If you want Hong Kong night life, this is the place. Every expatriate will spend at least one night a week here (maybe more) and during holidays there is not 1 square meter that is not covered with 4 patrons. If you like crowds, go here. If you don’t like crowds, avoid LKF, especially during holidays (International Holidays celebrated here).
Hong Kong tourism has a great website with lots of local information. I recommend visiting: www.discoverhongkong.com.
Written by 80 Ways Tim on 08 Aug, 2005
The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China:
That’s Hong Kong to you and me. It's located at the southern tip of China and is split into two large islands, a slice of the mainland, and 200-odd smaller islands. Hong Kong Island…Read More
The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China:
That’s Hong Kong to you and me. It's located at the southern tip of China and is split into two large islands, a slice of the mainland, and 200-odd smaller islands. Hong Kong Island is the most populated, and the Kowloon Peninsula makes up the tip of mainland Hong Kong, connected to the New Territories, which are, in turn, connected to mainland China.
If you're not a geographer, however, then it might be better put like this: Hong Kong Island is the heart of the city and where all the big skyscrapers are; Kowloon is where you get the best view of the all those big skyscrapers and is full of shops with bright lights, like you see in the movies; and the New Territories are just where people live.
Hong Kong is often described as the place 'where East meets West', and that's because of the city's history. The British took control of Hong Kong in 1841 and began acquiring more areas (e.g., the New Territories) until they signed a treaty in 1898 that would see it under their rule for 99 years. That agreement ran out a few years ago, and it's now back under Chinese rule, which is the reason it has such a long title: Special Administrative Region (SAR). Described as "one country, two systems," Hong Kong is allowed a high level of autonomy, and as you would expect after a hundred years of foreign rule, it looks quite different from the rest of the People's Republic. Given that it was "British" for such a long time, I naively assumed there would be lots of white faces walking the streets, but the population is about 95% Chinese (and the other 5% aren't all, or even primarily, European).
I think I say this about every place I visit, but Hong Kong was not what I expected. It had a lot more variety than I had anticipated, and I got that feeling after only a few days there.
We arrived in Kowloon at night, and it was exactly as I had pictured the city--big buildings and bright lights. The air was hot and humid, and we had to weave our way through crowds of people as headlights flew past besides us. Even as the clock approached midnight, the streets were still filled, the neon lights were on everywhere, and the shops were all-go. In fact, when I walked the same streets the following morning, it was quite anticlimatic - the city was buzzing the night before, and it somehow felt less exciting in the light of day.
With 7 million people squeezed into the tiny area that constitutes the 'Special Administrative Region', it is one of the most densely populated dependencies on earth. As such, I really wasn't expecting all the hills and beaches on offer. The skyscrapers and bright lights might be the prototypical symbols of the city, but there are bright green rolling hills as far as the eye can see and, surprisingly, stretches of sandy beaches.
Victoria Peak, or simply The Peak, is the highest place on Hong Kong Island and gives you some great views. You can get up it on the Peak Tram, an incredibly steep funicular railway (it feels like the upward journey on a rollercoaster), which is what we did. We weren't satisfied with our vantage point, however. We could still see the tops of hills in the distance and made it our mission to get onto one. Within 5 minutes, we were away from the crowds, at first walking through quiet residential areas and then along grass-lined paths. Another 5 minutes saw us standing atop one of the peaks we were aiming for, and it was well worth it. To our left were the big towers reaching up from beneath us. To our right, we saw greenery, hills, and the sea stretching out to the horizon. Suddenly the hectic and busy city life was nothing but a view in the distance.
Another great place to get a good view and an obligatory part of any trip to the SAR is the Star Ferry, the quirky little boat that shuttles people between the Kowloon Peninsula and the Island all day everyday. It's dirt-cheap and good fun. If you time it just right, there's a light show put on by all the skyscrapers at the same time every evening—worth it more for its amusement value than anything else, it is not to be missed.
Hong Kong is also a good place to shop. Those neon signs are just for show—most of them have shops attached. The city has as good a range of electronics, if not better, than anywhere else, and the prices are good (we stocked up on all the latest CDs, which were less than half the price they would have cost as at home). We did most of our shopping around Nathan Road, which is a big strip running along the Kowloon Peninsula. It's notorious for being a tourist trap, but it's still good for window-shopping, and there are plenty of big-name shops that are safe. We had it in our heads that we needed an iPod, so we spent our time trawling the shops for a bargain. Nathan Road is not the place to go for a good deal, but we did find some good electronics shops near, if not inside, the big skyscraper on Hong Kong Island (you'll know the one!).
My previous stays in Shanghai and Beijing had felt like gentle introductions to China, but if that was swimming in the shallow end, then this was paddling. Although ruled by the People's Republic and largely populated by Chinese, it would make a nice, easy transition to China. For me, after travelling for a month, it almost felt like being home - people were driving on the left again, the buses could have been helicoptered straight from London, and everyone spoke English. At times it was easy to forget I was in Asia, but it was never long before I got a Cantonese slap in the face--our chopstick technique apparently didn't help us blend in, for example, and we got many long stares because of it.
Having spent the last week in China, it was a pleasant taste of home for me. For anyone else going there on holiday, it would be a pleasant taste of China.
The mood turned from jovial to sour in an instant. One minute, we were sitting by a pay phone, joking away as usual, and then Thom's face dropped as he read a text message saying, "London's been attacked by terrorists - 6 bombs".
We both lived…Read More
The mood turned from jovial to sour in an instant. One minute, we were sitting by a pay phone, joking away as usual, and then Thom's face dropped as he read a text message saying, "London's been attacked by terrorists - 6 bombs".
We both lived and studied in central London, and this was a little close to home. We went straight to the nearest hotel and got ourselves a room. "Does it have a satellite TV?" BBC News gave us all the latest information and soon set our minds at ease.
Feeling slightly better about things but unsure what to do next, we ventured out into the Hong Kong night scene and found ourselves a curry in the weirdest department store I have ever visited before hitting the sack.
We had instructions to rendezvous with our new hosts at a 'parking shop' in a nearby shopping centre.
"What the hell is a parking shop?" I asked Thom as he relayed the message to me.
"I dunno. That's what she said: par-king-shop."
We wandered the complex, but there was no sign of anything like a parking shop. What exactly we were looking for, I don't know, but I assumed it would involve cars--maybe paraphernalia for them or something?
"You sure this is the right place, Thom?"
"Yeah, yeah, this is it."
We walked out to the neighbouring shopping centre and back, but there was still no sign of it.
"They said 'down the escalator to the parking shop'."
We went up and down every escalator we could find until finally we saw a big sign above the supermarket.
"Ohhhhh," we both realised out loud, "the Park 'n' Shop!"
Taken back to our host's place, we once again had accommodation far beyond what we were expecting: a luxurious house with air-conditioning, plasma-screen TV, and a view out over the sea.
We were driven into town the next day and set about our tasks. We picked up our plane tickets to America, got a ride on a double-decker tram (as it happened, it took us farther away from our destination than we had been when we got on, but it was still another method), took the funicular railway up to The Peak, and even managed to get a photo in an old-fashioned rickshaw. Thom was keen to get away from the crowds around the funicular station, so we hiked out and found a quiet peak with a commanding view. We decided we'd walk back down the hill instead and set about the trek down. It was quite a long way down, and the intense humidity wasn't helping matters.
"Shit," Thom broke the silence, "I left my camera in the toilets at the funicular station."
The funicular station was at the top of the hill. Luck was on our side, however, as the camera was still there after a taxi ride up. We decided to take the bus this time, only to realise we'd left our guidebook in a cafe and had to run back for it.
We did eventually make it back into town with a feeling of car-sickness after winding in circles on the bus. We used the world's longest outdoor escalator (a bit of a con, since it is in fact just a series of short ones) and rode the Star Ferry across the water. It was dark, and after stopping to do some leap-frog on camera in front of the skyline, we decided to head home. The metro took us as far as it went and deposited us at the bus station.
"What was the number of the bus we were supposed to get?"
I made a point of remembering it when we were told earlier in the day. Unfortunately, there was no K21, but there was a K23 that went to a road name that we recognised.
As the K23 flew past our exit on the motorway, we knew we'd done something wrong. Dumped somewhere that was a mystery to both us and our hosts who we phoned for directions, we jumped in a taxi and eventually made it back.
The next day, our bus usage didn't get any better. It started off quite well when the hourly minibus had no room for us, and we managed to find a bus on our own that took us to the metro station. We spent another day enjoying the delights of Hong Kong (which for me was primarily cheap CDs) and then decided to go home when it got dark. Apparently there was a bus that would take us all the way from the centre, right back home, without having to get on the metro as well.
The bus pulled into the bus station, the terminal stop, and we weren't where we wanted to be. The road name matched the one we wanted, but a passerby said we were a half-hour drive away. A half-hour drive? How long was this road!? With little other option, we bit the bullet and got another taxi back, arriving home with our tails between our legs as we confessed another public transport blunder to our hosts.
Now, dropped off at the airport, there was little room for any more cock-ups. Right?
We had hours before our plane was due to depart, so we thought we'd go check out this giant carved Buddha that lurked somewhere in the woods. We took one bus and then another (we were even directed by a local who pointed out the right bus to get us to the Buddha). Once again, we arrived somewhere distinctly different from where we wanted to be. We weren't amused. It was hot, we were tired, and all we wanted to do was see a big Buddha.
Since we'd come all that way, we felt obliged to look around the town for a bit, but it wasn't long before we were back on the same bus, heading to the airport again. Yet another failed attempt to read the bus timetable.
As I leant my head against the bus window, trying to get some sleep, feeling sorry for myself in the heat, Thom tapped me on the shoulder. "Look," he said and nodded over to the other side of the bus. I looked out the far window and up to the top of the mountain outside where, rising above the trees, was the clear outline of a large, carved wooden Buddha.
Written by Ed Hahn on 10 May, 2006
I recently had the opportunity to show a couple of first time visitors around Hong Kong. They were connecting to a cruise and only had a day and a half. Additionally, the weather was hot and extremely muggy, a condition they were not used to.…Read More
I recently had the opportunity to show a couple of first time visitors around Hong Kong. They were connecting to a cruise and only had a day and a half. Additionally, the weather was hot and extremely muggy, a condition they were not used to. What to do? What to do?
Since they were staying in Hung Hom on the Kowloon side, the first leg was easy. Take the Star Ferry to Central where we could meet up easily (I live in Central). Since I had just arrived that morning after an all-night 14 hour flight from the U.S., I set up a 2:00pm meeting and they used the late morning and early afternoon to wander around and have a light lunch.I first walked them through the IFC Mall. They aren't shoppers but malls, whether we, who live here, like it or not, are a significant part of the "Hong Kong experience." They were interested in what a Hong Kong Supermarket was like so we toured City Super, which with its Japanese flavor and ethnically diverse product offerings is surprisingly interesting to visitors. Next we rode the escalator up to Hollywood Road, sometimes called "Antique Street." New visitors are fascinated and often awed by the escalator. I'm still slightly in awe of it after 14 years. From there, it's an easy stroll past the antique shops to the Man Mo Temple with its hundreds of burning incense offerings and praying visitors. It may not be fancy or famous but it is inherently intriguing. It’s the oldest continuously operating temple in Hong Kong. You can find a review of it elsewhere in this journal.We continued down Hollywood Road, to Wing Lok Street, referred to as Bird's Nest Street or Ginseng Street. I tried and failed to explain why someone would pay $650 for a small container of swallows' nests. The only parallel I had was spending $100 and up for a bowl of Shark's Fin Soup. It is supposedly healthy and also gives the consumer status.We next walked to Des Voeux Road West where many shops sell exotic dried seafood. We were on our way to the Sheung Wan Wet Market. My guests were leery of interacting with live chickens so we passed, but I still think for someone who is new to Hong Kong that visiting a wet market is worthwhile and relatively risk-free. We then entered the Western Market which, for reasons I 'm not entirely clear about, since it has all the makings of a tourist trap, I like to visit. It’s an Edwardian-style building originally called the Harbour Office, was built in 1906 and later became a food market before closing in 1988. Two years later, it was declared a historical monument, renovated and then re-opened as the Western Market in 1991. We ordered Lemon Iced Teas at the German Bistro just inside the main entrance and I believe this helped revive my guests.After the tea break we boarded the Hong Kong Tramways streetcar on our way to Exchange Square. The Tram is also one of those inexpensive (HK$2.00), historically interesting, and fun things to do. I sometimes take visitors all across Hong Kong Island on the Shaukeiwan Tram. We got off at Exchange Square to catch the #15 bus to Victoria Peak. Many tourists believe the Peak Tram is a must-do activity. I don't. It's expensive, crowded and offers very poor views of the Island. It's far better to take the #15 bus (HK$9.60), sit in the front row on the upper deck and enjoy the views and thrills of negotiating the narrow roads up to the Peak.After arriving on the Peak, we strolled on Lugard Road which runs from a point Southwest of the Peak viewing platform to Harlech Road, which will take you back to the Peak viewing area. Don’t miss the Harlech Road turn-off though or you’ll end up walking all the way down Mount Kellet to Aberdeen. It's a level, one hour walk and most relaxing. If you have time and are a flora enthusiast, you can take a detour to the Peak Gardens. Along the way there are signs with detailed information on the abundant plant life here and the history of the area. There are also awesome views of both the western and southern sides of the Island. Because of our schedule, we didn't walk all around the peak but strolled in relative solitude for 20 minutes and then walked briskly back to the Galleria Mall for an early dinner at the Two-tiered Cafe Deco Restaurant. Cafe Deco answers the question, "When is a tourist oriented restaurant not a tourist trap?" My wife, Pam, and I love it and invariably find excuses to eat there with friends, business associates and visitors.Its menu is eclectic, offering Southeast Asian, Indian, Japanese, Continental, and American dishes at reasonable prices—given the location, the view and the quality of the food. They feature a huge fresh oyster bar with offerings from around the world. They have an extensive wine list with price points for any budget. One of my favorite attractions there is the band that plays swing-time music from 9:00 PM as well as on Sunday afternoons. They have also collected a number of Art Deco artifacts which are on display throughout the restaurant. You will find a detailed review of this fine restaurant elsewhere in the journal.After dinner, we grabbed a taxi to drop us off at our flat and carry our visitors to the Star Ferry. I suggested they take the ferry to Tsim Sha Tsui and walk along the promenade to their hotel in order to catch the laser light show, called the "Symphony of Light" put on every night featuring Hong Kong Island's fabulous skyline architecture. I guess they were too jet-lagged, though, and instead boarded the Hung Hom ferry which deposited them less than a 5 minute walk from their hotel, the Harbour Plaza.I'm a museum nut so I suggested we visit the Hong Kong Museum of History Saturday morning. They had only the morning available as they had to check out and board their cruise ship early in the afternoon. They had heard so much about Nathan Road that they wanted to see it but being too polite to gainsay my suggestion they agreed to visiting the museum. I love this museum and have visited it numerous times, always learning something new on each visit. The special exhibit at this time featured the seven 15th century voyages of Admiral Zheng He to India, Africa and points in between. Most Westerners have not heard of Zheng He and his exploits which overshadowed anything Vasco Da Gama, Columbus or Magellan did 100-125 years later. It is a mind expanding exhibit but unfortunately closes May 21. My guests absolutely loved the museum and the Zheng He exhibit, spending more time than budgeted in both exhibit areas. They said they'd walk over to Nathan Road after they boarded their cruise liner. We said goodbye around 1:15pm. They were happy to have seen so much in such a short time. I was a little surprised myself that we were able to cover as much ground as we did in such a limited time. I think they really got a sense of the many faces of Hong Kong and an appreciation of its history, variety and ethnic diversity. Hong Kong's compactness makes it possible to cover a lot of ground in a short time. I can hardly wait for my next opportunity to be a tour guide.
Written by Mr. Wonka on 29 Feb, 2004
It felt like we were advancing through levels of street markets in Mong Kok like Super Mario advances through game stages. Once you hit the Ladies Market at the corner of Dundas and Tung Choi Road, you’ll plunge into a veritable canyon of stalls that…Read More
It felt like we were advancing through levels of street markets in Mong Kok like Super Mario advances through game stages. Once you hit the Ladies Market at the corner of Dundas and Tung Choi Road, you’ll plunge into a veritable canyon of stalls that pretty much stretches all the way up to the old Kowloon–China border. No guidebook that I’ve read successfully conveys what an incredible experience it is to wander these streets, even if you aren’t intent on making lots of purchases. It’s pretty hard not to, though—the prices are just ridiculous.
Make Mong Kok your first stop in Kowloon, and once you’re ready to check out the markets, go ahead and start at the Ladies Market. With stalls lining both sides of the already narrow street, we were immediately swept up into the action, unprepared for the sensory overload that seemed to increase the deeper you ventured in. Bags, toys, clothing, clocks, wristbands, towels, shoes—the merchandise offered here was like a "what’s what" of products available in the 21st century.
The Ladies Market ends at Argyle Street, but just a few short blocks up begins the Goldfish Market. On our first visit up here, we didn’t understand why this market held that name. We didn’t see any goldfish—but then, the Ladies Market didn’t cater to women, so we chalked it up as having symbolic meaning. We found more of the same bargains and interesting knick-knacks along Fa Yuen Street, and afterwards headed for the Flower Market. It was on my second visit, however, that I discovered the street next to Fa Yuen; this is where you’ll find store after store peddling all kinds of exotic fish. You could put together a pretty hip-looking aquarium if you bought your residents here.
Feeling a little worn down from all the activity in the markets and the accompanying humidity, we soldiered on up Sai Yee Street and walked through the Flower Market. Together, the flowers freshened the air like a thousand cans of Wizard, and it would have smelled even better if it hadn’t been located across the street from Mong Kok Stadium and a sewer emanating the worst stench ever.
You’ll hear birds chirping as you walk past the Flower Market, and right around the way you’ll hit the Bird Market. We didn’t spend too much time going from stall to stall. We just relaxed on some steps, guzzling water and listening to old men jabbering back and forth with the soothing sound of the birds in the background. This is actually in a pretty neat little area, and it’s surely worth a visit.
Back down in Yau Ma Tei are the other major markets of Kowloon. The much-ballyhooed Temple Street Night Market isn’t all it’s cracked up to be as far as what’s being sold, but maybe we were just spoiled by Mong Kok earlier in the day. You’ll see a lot of dollar store-type stuff here—batteries, flashlights, hats—but there are also a few booths stocked with rarities, such as a Chairman Mao–era wristwatch. Still, with all the paper lanterns lit up and a small park breaking up the area, this market is quite charming.
One other thing about the Temple Street Night Market that you won’t read in a guidebook: this street/area might as well be the site of the Porn Market too. Nowhere else in the city will you find this many porn stores all clustered together in one area. So if you’re hunting for some rare issue of "Asian Girls Gone Wild" from 1998 (you get the idea), this is the place to go.
You’ll find the Jade Market close by too. We didn’t go through it the first day, but I did take a quick look on my second visit. One thing’s for sure—there is a lot of jade here. Going south on Reclamation Street, you’ll also hit a lively produce market, and we discovered yet another street market in the area as well—it was a lot like the ones in Mong Kok.
Don’t forget that there are stores lining these streets too, behind the stalls. It’s easy to miss them, but we found a lot of great deals on sneakers and clothes at a few of these places. What else can I say? Working these street markets was completely amazing. You can’t say you’ve visited Hong Kong until you’ve gone over to Kowloon to see what I mean.
Written by Mr. Wonka on 27 Feb, 2004
#1 - I love the crosswalks in Hong Kong Island and Kowloon! Not only are the pedestrian signals equipped with the normal lights to indicate whether to walk or not, but also a "clicking device" that gives you a clear auditory signal of when to…Read More
#1 - I love the crosswalks in Hong Kong Island and Kowloon! Not only are the pedestrian signals equipped with the normal lights to indicate whether to walk or not, but also a "clicking device" that gives you a clear auditory signal of when to cross. A slow click with medium-long pauses in between basically means "don’t walk," while a rapid click means it’s safe to cross. The clicking starts off very fast, gradually slowing down until it’s time to hold back. Does it get any more high-tech than this? CLICKING CROSSWALKS!?
#2 - Wellcome rules the Hong Kong grocery store world like the Detroit Red Wings have dominated the NHL since the mid-‘90s. There isn’t a flashier (if a grocery store can really be flashy), more interesting grocery to browse anywhere in the island. No matter where you’re staying, there’s sure to be one nearby. We liked the large outpost near Queen Victoria Park the best, though there was one in Wan Chai that had some lovely lucky cat pillows for something like HK$15. This is a great place for stocking up for your hotel/hostel—noodles, tapioca and coconut drinks, alcohol, snacks. . .even disposable underwear!
#3 - Make sure you sample all the different modes of public transit in Hong Kong/Kowloon. Take a ride on the efficient subway system (and don’t forget to stand to the right on escalators in the station), catch a bus that runs on the easy-to-understand routes, and take an exhilarating, scenic ride in a tram for only HK$2. Next to a trip across the bay on the famous Star Ferry, the tram comes with Mr. Wonka’s highest seal of approval. And now, to reaffirm that last statement in the dorkiest way possible—trust me, my word is bond, yo!
#4 - There are local bakeries everywhere–these are the best spots to grab your breakfast. There was this little spot up the street from the Newton Hotel that baked the freshest rolls every morning, all priced at between HK$2 and $5. Coconut rolls, sweet rolls, hazelnut rolls—one wing of Homer Simpson’s dream sweets factory, basically. The nice thing, though, was that I didn’t feel all nasty and gluttonous after eating these—the rolls were actually pretty light. We found that this was a pretty sufficient breakfast when combined with a cappuccino or something like that (god, that sounds so square).
#5 - Try to schedule an entire weekend for your trip. The first full day we had to walk around the city was Saturday, and it was an incredibly jolting, positive experience. The side streets were filled with stands selling fresh produce, seafood, and various knick-knacks. I was hoping it would be like this every day, but apparently these markets in central Hong Kong only run on Saturday, at least during our visit in late January/early February. Sitting clear in my memory is a bizarre fish that had fallen out of its bucket at one of the stands, and was hopelessly flopping like the fish at the end of the Faith No More "Epic" video. Besides the market, on Sunday afternoons, local women gather on the piers surrounding the Star Ferry entrance to talk, play cards, and otherwise get away from the men. I really enjoyed seeing this unique, seemingly recurring tradition.
#6 - Allow two full afternoons for exploring street markets. Check out the entries in my journal for specifics on the multitude of markets that are sprinkled throughout Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. The bargains are just incredible, and the selection runs the gamut from produce to Thai silk to designer watches and handbags. I’m sure a lot of this stuff came right out the back door of a factory—I’m equally sure a lot of it is imitation. Either way, that’s not for you to worry about. It’s so much fun to walk through these markets and check out everything. I never thought the markets I found in Berlin could be topped, but this scene in Hong Kong was just insane. I’d come back to Hong Kong just to revisit these locales again.
#7 - Don’t believe the hype—Hong Kong isn’t as expensive as advertised. You can start keeping costs down by visiting during the winter, which isn’t very cold at all. We arrived during the last week in January to perfect temperatures, and didn’t hit any rain. You don’t want to come during the balmy summer months anyway—I can imagine it getting quite uncomfortable. Our package trip for 5 nights’ hotel, taxes, airport transfers, and airfare came out to just $650 from go-today.com. Besides that, grocery stores, restaurants, public transit, shopping, just about everything was incredibly cheap. The only thing that was overly expensive was alcoholic drinks in bars, with prices that rivaled even those in NYC. Don’t get me wrong, you can spend as much money as you want here, but that can be said about any major city.
#8 - Carry around an easy-to-read, laminated map with you. My thoughtful mom hooked me up with a great map before my trip that we took with us everywhere we went. I’m not one to stand on the corner and squint at maps, looking like a bewildered tourist, but it’s easy to get turned around in these topsy-turvy streets, and having a map made it easy to keep our bearings. Try to find one that has landmarks and streets clearly indicated—Streetwise is the brand I used. It’s also advisable to keep your guidebook with you for quick address reference and restaurant/bar suggestions.
#9 - Leave at least one day for exploring outside of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. We would have liked to check out the Portuguese colony of Macau, but with only a few full days, we just didn’t have enough time. We took a ferry to Lantau, riding the #21 bus up to Po Lin Monastery and Big Buddha. This is a beautiful island, and it broke my heart knowing corporate conglomerate Disney is building a theme park out there (thankfully, far away from the monastery). You can also take short excursions to Cheung Chau, Lamma, Peng Chau, Po Toi, and Tap Mun Chau.
#10 - Do your research before you go, and watch some movies filmed in Hong Kong when you get back. It really helped to have a loosely prioritized list of sights, areas, and markets we wanted to check out, especially since we had less than a week to visit. We also picked up on everyday customs, learned a few basic phrases in Chinese, and generally prepared ourselves as much as we could. This probably seems like common sense to most, but I have friends who barely read up on foreign destinations before they visit. It was nice, too, to see the streets of Hong Kong in films like Chungking Express and Fallen Angels after just being there a few days earlier.