As a continuation of our Ancient to Modern – Essential China adventure, we booked to have 4 days in Hong Kong and do a couple of excursions while we were there.
Mum had been to Hong Kong before with my gran, so there was really no way we weren’t going to go together as well!
We flew from Beijing into Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific and transferred to our hotel – Park Hotel Hong Kong in Kowloon’s business & entertainment district.
The hotel itself was in a great location – really central to the downtown Kowloon area with easy access to the numerous street markets, shops, restaurants and attractions.
We’d booked on a B&B basis to allow us to explore and try out some of the local restaurants in the area. Mum and I like to immerse ourselves in the culture of a place and a good way to do this is usually through food – we find where the locals go, not where the tourists go!
From the hotel, we went out into Kowloon to explore.
On the whole, Asia has incredible street food and markets and Hong Kong is no different. Walking along the street from the hotel, we passed so many vendors serving up traditional noodles and steamed/fried buns but also some slightly more interesting snacks – honeyed scorpion on sticks, various bugs with sauce… I didn’t actually try any but now I wish I had.
Aside from the street food, Asian shops and supermarkets are always packed with things that we just don’t get in the UK. Different flavours of crisps, different sweets, different drinks – I love exploring foreign supermarkets, which people find incredibly weird but I like seeing how everything varies depending on where you are.
The Chinese & Hong Kong apothecaries are something else too. Chinese medicine and traditional remedies are still incredibly popular and so their shops cater for everything. I lost Mum in Kowloon as we were walking along and this was exactly where I found her. I was walking along, chatting away thinking she was right beside me where in fact she was about 2 blocks back looking at dried scorpions and various unidentifiable things in huge glass jars.
Losing mum on trips happens a lot and it tends to be that her attention gets diverted to interesting or unusual shops or to taking photos; I don’t mind either way.
What’s helpful in finding her again is the fact that, especially in Asia, we’re taller than everyone, meaning I can never completely lose her and she can always see where I am!
When it came to lunch time, we decided to head further into Kowloon and found a really nice traditional restaurant which seemed to be packed full of locals – exactly what we wanted. The menu was all in Chinese but with English descriptions, the staff spoke little to no English but were lovely and the food was so good. Being the only non-Asians in the restaurant did mean we got a few stares but that all comes with travelling and with me being white as a sheet!
We always manage to pack a lot into a few days so although we were doing Hong Kong ‘at our leisure’, we had booked onto a few excursions to make the most of the time that we had. Tonights’ excursion was a ‘Hong Kong City Harbour Cruise by Night tour’ which included dinner at Victoria Peak, followed by a short tour to Temple Street Market and then onto the cruise of Victoria Harbour.
Victoria Peak (locally known as ‘The Peak’) dominates the Hong Kong skyline and gives the most incredible views of the harbour and the city itself.
Dinner was booked for us, along with a few other people also doing the tour, at the ‘Bubba Gump Shrimp Co’ seafood restaurant, which was so cool in itself. Obviously it relates to all things Forrest Gump, from the décor to the menu which was delicious – whether it’s burgers, steak or all-out seafood, there’s something for everyone and the whole place is so unique.
From the window table, we had a full panoramic view out over Hong Kong. Each evening, the city hosts an amazing light display and being up The Peak meant that we essentially got front-row seats. I’ve never seen anything like it anywhere else in the world.
The complex at the top of The Peak is similar to a mini shopping mall and I managed to find ‘Hard Rock Café Hong Kong’ and add another t-shirt to my every growing collection.
After dinner, it was onto Temple Street. Located in the areas of Jordan and Yau Ma Tei in Kowloon, Temple Street is famous for having the busiest flea market at night, and they’re not joking (it’s also the last remaining night market in Hong Kong). The market itself is extensive and spans out towards Nathan Road, with market stalls, street food vendors, fortune tellers, restaurants and more. Even the stalls themselves are split into souvenirs, produce, crafts, electronics….
Next & final stop – Victoria Harbour for our night cruise!
Our boat resembled a Chinese pagoda and sailed from the from one end of harbour to the other, giving guests on board the full light-show experience. Hong Kong looks completely different during the day so it’s well worth seeing at night. The on-board bar also meant that we could enjoy the experience with a glass of wine or two before being transferred back to the hotel. Definitely a tour that I would recommend to see another side of the city.
This morning we included a sightseeing tour of Hong Kong Island to make sure we saw more than just Kowloon and The Peak.
The tour started off with a drive up Victoria Peak to take in the views during the day. From here, the bus took us up over the hills through some of the large estates and properties in the area to the small town of Stanley which was beautiful. We had some time here to have a walk around the promenade which took you to a small temple or through the street markets – we ended up having time to do both. The street markets are incredible and line every walkway in the marketplace. There are stalls with jewellery (mainly pearls and jade), with paintings and canvases, souvenirs, clothing, handmade crafts… everything is an amazing standard though and we didn’t see any ‘tourist junk’. I ended up buying a dark green jade bangle and a gorgeous canvas of sunset over Victoria Harbour with the Peak and a traditional junk boat with orange sails. I didn’t want to try the bangle on and not be able to get it off in the market, so I bought a large one and still hand to use soap to get it over my hand so as a result, 4 years later I still have it on!
Next on the agenda was Repulse Bay a little further along the coast which, though the name suggests otherwise, has the most famous beaches in Hong Kong and is a major centre for both shopping and entertainment. The scenery is beautiful and we had great weather to go with it.
We carried on past Ocean Park; a theme park and oceanarium (and the largest in Hong Kong after Hong Kong Disneyland!) to the floating village of Aberdeen which houses 30,000 people and is a thriving community on the harbour. The residents live in junks, sampans and boats and it’s amazing to see. As well as being very unique, Aberdeen also has some incredible seafood restaurant because of its location and hosts the famous Jumbo King Floating Restaurant. As part of the trip, we were taken by boat out into the harbour by a little old lady who spoke no English at all but smiled the entire time, to get a closer look at the local way of life. The locals are quite happy doing their own thing; mending fishing nets, sitting smoking on the deck of the boats with their dogs and it seems a huge contrast from the built-up hustle & bustle of the city.
Once we got back to Kowloon, we decided to spend the rest of the day doing our own thing. We walked through Kowloon towards Nathan Road, the main shopping area and visited a jeweller who had been recommended to mum. From there we went to find the ‘Avenue of the Stars’ which is Hong Kong’s version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Once we did eventually find it, we spent a good 15 mins wandering around the plaques and statues, trying to work out why we didn’t recognise anyone ‘famous’ – we never factored in that the Hong Kong version might include only Asian celebrities! Everyone was taking photos and Mum and I were just a bit confused – we did recognise Bruce Lee but that was about it!
Today we had opted to do a full-day tour from Hong Kong to Macau, taking in the highlights and the history.
The tour was done by coach but requires a ‘fast’ ferry journey of 60 minutes both ways but lunch is included on board.
Macau has always been known both for its’ famous casinos – known as the ‘Gambling Capital of the World’ & its’ Grand Prix circuit. The GP circuit spans through part of the city right from the ferry terminal. A lot of the city is closed off for safety during the race but you can see the blockades and route which are used during the race season.
Macau was colonised by the Portuguese for around 400 years and the city still has a very Mediterranean feel to it, though it reverted to Chinese rule in 1999.
Firstly we stopped off at the Macau Tower, also known as the Macau Tower Convention & Entertainment Centre. The tower itself measures 338m from the ground to its highest point and gives unrivalled views of the city.
As part of the complex, there are restaurants, theatres & shopping malls but there’s also the Skywalk X which is a walking tour around the glass outer rim and the ‘Skyjump’, the highest commercial bungee jump by AJ Hackett (who also had jumps in New Zealand) at 233m from the towers’ outer rim. From the interior viewing platforms, you can watch the jumpers getting ready and are given a countdown on screen before watching them shoot past the windows! It certainly appealed to me but not to mum – she wasn’t a fan of the glass floor of the viewing area either where you can see right down to the ground that’s way below you. It definitely takes a bit of a mental push to get your feet onto the glass, though you know full well it’s inches thick and isn’t going to break!
Once we were safely back down at ground level we were back on the bus and out into the city. Our first casino stop was at the luxury Venetian Macau which is almost identical to the Venetian Casino & Hotel in Las Vegas. The decoration perfectly resembles Venice’s famous and beautiful architecture right down to the gondolas passing by on an actual canal running through the ground floor to ceilings painted with blue skies and clouds that are so realistic you would think you were outside. The complex is huge and has an abundance of gambling options which are open 24/7 and are packed most of the time. There are both high-end and everyday shops on site in a completely unique Shopping Centre and a violin concerto playing in the ‘plaza’.
After the Venetian, we visited the Grand Lisboa, the tallest building in Macau. The hotel & casino complex opened between 2007-2008 and was the first in the city to offer Texas hold’em and craps. It also boasts 430 hotel rooms, 800 gaming tables and 1,000 slot machines!
Macau is the only place in China where gambling is legal which is why the city is so popular with gambling making up around 50% of the economy.
Macau has twice been ‘featured’ in James Bond films, firstly The Man With The Golden Gun back in 1974. ‘The Macau Palace’ (also referred to the as Floating Casino) is no longer around but was once moored at the Outer Harbour.
More recently in 2012, Daniel Craig visited the ‘Golden Dragon Casino’ as part of Skyfall. The casino itself and all footage of ‘Macau’ were actually created and filmed at Pinewood Studios in London; no actual on-location filming took place.
We also drove past the Barrier Gate to China which was built by the Portuguese in 1849 to replace a wall which dated back to the Ming dynasty in 1573.
A stop was included further into the city to visit the Grand Emperor Hotel which is famed for having real gold bars set into the lobby floor & a golden carriage outside and the Ruins of Sao Paulo/Saint Paul.
The ruins are one of Macau’s most famous landmarks aside from its’ casinos and are classed as one of the ‘Seven Wonders of Portuguese Origin in the World’, being deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 2005.
The ruins date back to the 17th-century and are part of a Catholic religious complex, including a college and church. For a long time the church was the largest Catholic church in Asia and was responsible for converting many of the local population.
The façade features intricate carvings in the stonework and is still incredibly impressive to see.
The town square at the bottom of the steps to the church is still a step back in time and does feel very Mediterranean.
The final part of our itinerary was the A-Ma Temple, the oldest in Macau, built in 1488.
The temple is one of three famous Buddhist temples in Macau and is thought to be the namesake of the city.
It was constructed during the Ming dynasty to commemorate Mazu, a goddess of the sea who would bless fishermen and bring luck.
There are poems and inscriptions carved into the stonework around the temple, along with plenty of burning incense.
By the time we arrived back in Kowloon, the tour had lasted approximately 9 hours and was well worth it!
Our final full day in Hong Kong.
Today we had arranged another full-day excursion, this time to Lantau Island.
As with Macau, it required the coach & ferry to get there.
Once we got off the ferry, we were taken to Cheung Sha, the longest sandy beach in Hong Kong. It was cooler and slightly more overcast than it had been on previous days so visibility wasn’t great from the beach.
After spending a bit of time walking up and down the sand, it was back on the bus and off to Tai O Fishing Village. I had in my mind that it might be similar to Aberdeen which we visited earlier in the trip but it wasn’t. Tai O seemed to be much more expansive and wasn’t all on the water. A lot of the village stalls were on dry land and we were able to walk through the streets, passing by tables of dried and drying fish and other (some unidentifiable) seafood. There were also some small shops with traditional souvenirs as tour groups would pass through regularly to see the villagers unique way of life.
Though many of the shops were on land, the houses were built on the water and many were only accessibly by boat, which is how we got around. We boarded a small boat and one of the villagers took us through the ‘town’. The boat ride lasted around 20 minutes or so before we docked again. Tai O is a unique, old fashioned village where everything is focused on fishing and a traditional way of life. It’s very interesting to see and is unlike anything I’d seen up to that point.
The last part of the tour was the highlight – the trip to the Big Buddha statue. This is the biggest bronze statue of Buddha in the world, sitting 26 metres high on a 3-platform altar. It’s impossible to miss and is a really a feat of engineering!
The base of the Tian Tan Big Buddha is modelled on the Altar of Heaven at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, which we had visited earlier in our trip (see link to ‘Ancient to Modern – Essential China’ post, above).
Located near the Po Lin monastery, the statue symbolises the relationship between man & nature and people & faith. It’s both a major Buddhist centre in Hong Kong as well as a tourist attraction. The statue itself is 112 feet tall and weighs over 250 tonnes.
We were dropped at the bottom of the 268 steps while the bus continued to the car park at the top. Once you reach the top, the terrace offers amazing views out over Lantau which you wouldn’t get from anywhere else.
A lovely traditional vegetarian lunch was included at the Po Lin monastery and by this point my use of chopsticks had definitely improved, though I still can’t eat rice with them!
After lunch it was down the winding roads from the Big Buddha and back across the island to the ferry. Once we were back on the mainland, the tour had lasted roughly 8 hours but we had a great experience.
This morning we headed for the airport for our flight home. This trip definitely set me up for visiting more of Asia and probably contributed towards how badly I wanted to go to Vietnam!