Another Night Flight
They say you learn a lot about yourself when you go travelling and one of the things we’ve learnt is whilst I can sleep on flights, Sue definitely can’t! To make matters worse, on this leg of the trip we had decided to take a night flight in order to save one night’s accommodation and so for that reason I got on the flight with some trepidation, praying that Sue might sleep ? Thankfully for both of our sanities, by some minor miracle Sue did manage to sleep and we arrived into Hong Kong, bright eyed and bushy tailed*, at around six in the morning.
* This may be a little exaggeration!
Arriving at six in the morning anywhere always presents a challenge in that you have a whole day to survive after a flight and normally can’t check into the hotel. Thankfully, although the same applied here and we needed to wait for our room, the hotel did offer us a shower down by the pool. What followed was a reminder of the value of real estate in Hong Kong. The world’s tiniest changing room with shower over the toilet wasn’t exactly the most luxurious place to refresh but after a long flight it felt five-star!
Hong Kong Orientation
Having lived in Hong Kong when I was really little and been back a good few times since, it’s fair to say I love Hong Kong. It’s a city that never sleeps with a real mix of cultures and interesting things wherever you look. Sue, on the other hand, has never been to Asia and so this was her first intro and, whilst it’s quite a westernised city, it’s still a pretty big culture shock.
We set off from the hotel and were instantly faced with the sights and smells of Hong Kong. Our hotel was right next to a whole row of dried food shops with the seemingly indistinguishable products they sell. Sue was particularly surprised to see some of the products simply being dried on the road outside the shop – ‘surely that’s not hygienic?’.
After finally getting into the room and having a quick nap (well we planned it to be quick nap but it ended up being more like a fairly long snooze), we headed up into town again for some lunch. On our way we came across the Man Mo Temple, an old Buddhist temple strangely out of place surrounded by the high rises of the island. We entered into the haze of incense and suddenly I think the reality of being in Asia hit Sue (luckily in a positive way!).
We carried on walking into Central after lunch and I decided to introduce Sue to one of Hong Kong’s institutions – the Star Ferry. It’s one of the few things I can remember vividely from when I was a kid in Hong Kong and other than you now being able to use Octopus cards (Hong Kong’s equivalent to Oyster cards) – the boats are the same, the terminal is the same (somehow it’s not 100m inland like a lot of old buildings in HK) and the uniforms are all the same. It’s really weird that the memory that always sticks with me most is the fact that the seats can go in both directions, you just flip the back rest over.
After regaling Sue with the story about my Mum fishing flags out of the bin at Ocean Terminal for us to play with (you can thank me when I’m home for that story Mum!), we grabbed a quick bite to eat and hopped on the Metro back to the island. Writing this now it suddenly strikes me that our body clocks must have been all over the place as we seem to have spent most of this day eating! Arriving back into Central we took the time to explore a little bit around there including the awesome Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens. The gardens are right in the centre of town and are completely free to get into. There’s a whole load of animals including a wide range of monkeys and even orangutans. When you compare this with the cost of London Zoo, it’s an amazing treat for free.
As we were just around the corner from it, I dragged Sue on what me and my brothers call ‘the pilgrimage’. At the top of the hill, at the foot of the Old Peak Road is Canossa Hospital – where my brother Ali was born. Last time Jamie, my other brother, and I were in Hong Kong together, we passed the hospital and sent Ali a load of pics. This time I did it again with Sue!
As the evening approached we headed back over to Kowloon (we definitely didn’t have the most logical itinerary) grabbed a pretty uninspiring dinner and wandered down to the Avenue of Stars to watch the Symphony of Lights. The Symphony of Lights is a light and laser show (normally with some music if you’re stood in the right place) which takes places from the tops of the buildings surrounding the harbour. There’s plenty of photos of it around looking very impressive although to be honest it’s a bit naff in reality! Particularly if the weather’s not great.
Markets for Everything
We were due to meet my friend Gordon for lunch in Kowloon (or so I thought!) so I figured it was a good day to take Sue to experience the many markets of Mong Kok. As it turns out when we arrived in Mong Kok I realised we weren’t actually meeting in Kowloon but on the island! We headed around the markets all the same, starting in the flower market then the bird market and goldfish market.
It’s really interesting to see how the very traditional approach of grouping similar shops together still persists here. Although by western animal welfare standards, Mong Kok probably isn’t great – its still fascinating to see all the birds, fish and other animals available for sale.
Again, I’m likely to be corrected on this by my Mum but during a Dim Sum lunch with our friend, Gordon, he suggested heading to the Chi Lin Nunnery over in Diamond Hill, a place I can’t remember ever having been to before. The nunnery is surrounded by the beautiful Nan Lian Garden where you can enjoy (we didn’t), what appears to be the world’s most expensive cup of tea! As its a buddhist nunnery, you can’t take many photos inside but the gardens are absolutely stunning. It’s really made by the juxtaposition of beautiful gardens and the surrounding skyscrapers.
New Happy Place
In the evening, after a quick drink with my friend Dom in downtown, we had decided to head down to Happy Valley Racecourse to try it out. Strangely there’s a bit of similarity between the racecourse and the gardens from earlier – it’s just weird to be in a sports stadium surrounded by high rises on all sides. The stadium itself is also huge, a testament to the scale of horse racing in Hong Kong. The whole evening is a massive event on the social scene of Hong Kong each week with plenty of live music, flocks of ex-pats and loads of bars set up at the front (in fact you can hardly see the racing for the bars!).
One particular highlight was a ‘live action version of Geordie Shore’, watching as a drunk ex-pat gradually annoyed enough girls by trying to hit on them (in less than subtle ways) that eventually he got swilled (for the uninitiated, this means the girl turned around and threw her drink in his face)! After all this excitement, we took the tram (or the ‘ding ding’ as they’re known here in Hong Kong) back to the hotel.
Never Off Duty at the Peak
We’d been monitoring the weather forecast for the whole time trying to pick a good day to get up the Peak where we’d be able to see through the smog that had enveloped Hong Kong since we’d arrived. On our last day, it wasn’t perfect but it was slightly better so we hopped onto the Peak Tram (by hopped, I mean queued for ages). Luckily we got a slight break in the cloud and were able to get a reasonable view over Hong Kong. The skyline has grown enormously from when I was a kid – I remember the HSBC building being huge and dominating the skyline. These days its tiny compared with some of the huge buildings around it.
One thing about travelling with Sue, is that you learn she’s never off duty and whenever she sees a sweet shop she’s straight in there to check that the Bazooka Candy Brands sweets are properly displayed and to check out the competition. I just wish she’d buy more sweets for us ?!
Repulse Bay & Stanley
We’d caught up the day before with my old school friend, Gordon, who had moved out to Hong Kong with his wife, Rachel and his three kids and on our last day, they’d kindly invited us over to Repulse Bay for dinner the following night (you can read all about their adventures in Hong Kong on the fantastic Up Sticks with the Chicks blog). It was nice to see the guys particularly as there are a lot of parallels between when my Dad had moved out with my Mum and me back in the 80s. As it had been in New Zealand, it was really nice to see some familiar faces. We stopped off briefly in Stanley to check the market and pick up a few things before an awesome meal at Limewood. It was a lovely way to end our time in Hong Kong – thanks guys!
It had been great to be back in Hong Kong and show Sue a bit of what it’s like there but to be honest, we’d started to get itchy feet through our time in New Zealand and Hong Kong. It all felt a little bit too like home, a bit too easy and we were looking forward to a bit more adventure. The next morning, we hopped on our flight to Hanoi, ready for something different!