Hong Kong and Macau

On the 16th of April we headed off to Hong Kong for the weekend.  Unfortunately, the only flights we were able to get were afternoon ones, which meant wasting a day travelling each way.  So although we left Friday, and returned Monday, we only had Saturday and Sunday in Hong Kong.

Arriving in the (huge) new Hong Kong airport, we wandered a bit trying to find the counter to the left of McDonald's, as printed in our directions from the travel agent, for our bus to the hotel.  This eventually turned out to be a guy with a luggage cart and a sign, at the far end of the arrivals hall from McDonald's.  After a half hour + wait we got in an old bus. The guide made a short speech in Cantonese which the guy beside Chris very kindly translated, and then the guide got off the bus and went back in the airport.  There were various mutterings from the mainly Singaporean Chinese group, as apart from their own dialects, they mainly speak Mandarin, not Cantonese.

The bus took forever.  We puttered along in the dark, watching everyone pass us, and for the first part, where the highway runs parallel to the train tracks, we watched the trains from the airport zip past about every 5 minutes.  It was 2 hours after the plane landed that we finally reached our hotel. We were staying in Kowloon in the Tsim Sha Tsui district.  After a short rest, we headed along Nathan Rd. for a bit, then wandered over to the Temple St. night market.  After so long in Singapore, we found the lack of English signs in all the small restaurants we passed somewhat disconcerting.  We were starving, at least Jen was, and we wanted to have some local food, rather than heading to McDonald's or Pizza Hut, where we would be able to order in English.  We finally found one place that had a sign saying "Welcome", so we decided to try it.  The menu was printed in Cantonese and English, with a line connecting the two.  Thus we were able to decide what we wanted, and the waiter simply read the Cantonese of the items we pointed to.  Chris ordered Singapore noodles (are you surprised?) and Jen had fried noodles with pork ribs and vegetables.  We were a little disconcerted at the size of the dishes which appeared -- each of them could have fed three people!

Afterwards, we walked down to the promenade, and admired the lights of the business district on Hong Kong Island from across Victoria Harbour, before walking back, exhausted, to the hotel.  Saturday, we headed back down Nathan St. to the Promenade and took some pictures looking across at Hong Kong Island seen here behind Jen's well-travelled PEZ.

We then headed across to Hong Kong Island on the Star Ferry, a tourist attraction in it's own right.  Here you see the ferry coming the other way, with the Hong Kong Convention Centre to the left.  We found it vaguely reminiscent of the Sydney Opera House in appearance.

Double-decker tram.

We walked about a bit, then took the escalator up the hill.  This series of escalators creates a pedestrian mall of an unusual type.  It also provides a interesting glimpse of some of the side streets, such as the one here.  We stopped at  Staunton's cafe/bar, which we would highly recommend - the food was excellent.

After refuelling, we walked over to Hong Kong Park, as Jen was keen to visit the Flagstaff Museum of Tea Ware.  This is in the oldest colonial building still standing in Hong Kong and now houses an amazing collection of teapots and cups.  In addition there were detailed displays on tea brewing customs through the centuries and on the manufacture of traditional Chinese tea pots. It's free, and it's air-conditioned -- definitely worth a visit when you've walked for miles in the heat and humidity.  The park and its greenery provide a dramatic contrast to the high towers of Hong Kong.

We then took the Peak Tram, the funicular which has been in operation since 1885, up to Victoria Peak.  More than a century, with never an accident -- a rather impressive record for what was originally considered a crazy idea.

Unfortunately, we were up in the clouds.  As you can see, there was sun shining on Kowloon across the harbour.  We had considered having dinner up at the Peak Cafe, thus being able to see the lights after dark, but as we had not made a reservation, we were out of luck.  Since we didn't really want to eat at Movenpick or in the Peak Mall (yes, they've built a mall at the top, for your shopping convenience!) we decided to head back down.  Just as well, as the clouds continued to lower, and we wouldn't have seen anything anyway.

Further walking (we covered a fair chunk of Hong Kong Island) took us to the Causeway Bay area, with a break at Carnegie's for refreshments along the way.  We have to admit, they brought our beers much faster than the staff at the Carnegie's here in Singapore do!   We headed on to visit The Jump, which had been highly recommended to Chris by friends from the UK.  We enjoyed our dinner, and sat and watched the restaurant turn into a busy nightclub for a while, before we bailed, too exhausted to do anything more than catch a cab back to the hotel.

On Sunday, we started off to take the ferry to Macau.  Two blocks down the street, we decided we had best return to the hotel for our passports (but still managed to forget the map Rick and Ling had provided us with of how to find the noodle shop in Macau which Ling's father recommends).  So we started off down Nathan Rd to the Star Ferry, and managed to find the walkway to the Macau ferry terminal, after wandering along below it for nearly a dozen blocks.  (They really could use a sign to it at the Star Ferry Terminal!)  We caught the Jet Foil across, which took about an hour, and set out to walk into the centre of town.  Here's a tip -- take a cab!   We did eventually work our way around the huge escarpment, and into the older section of town, found our way to the pedestrian mall (seen here), and wandered along to visit the ruins of Sao Paulo.

The Ruinas de Sao Paulo, the restored facade that is all that remains of a cathedral designed by an Italian Jesuit, and built by early Japanese Christian exiles, is definitely impressive.  It was completed in the early 17th century, and was destroyed by fire during a typhoon in 1835.

We climbed up to to the Fortaleza do Monte, the old fort, on the hill above Sao Paulo, and found a nice ledge to sit on and enjoy the breeze while we rested.  Later, we sort of took a photo of us in the mirrored outside of the museum there.  We walked back down the pedestrian mall to the square, but going from memory, we didn't manage to figure out where Rick & Ling's noodle shop was.  We then looked for a restaurant listed in the Lonely Planet guide.  We found it, but it was closed.  The next listing on the street was non-existent.  We eventually started trying to walk back towards civilization, and found ourselves walking past Ministry offices.  We found a very nice restaurant across from Government House, where we had a great meal for next to nothing, including a litre of Portuguese house wine.  You must understand that a $3 litre of quite drinkable wine is a sharp contrast to the cheapest restaurant wines in Singapore at $50/bottle!  Chris enjoyed the african chicken, while I had grilled king prawns that while not the size of my hand, were almost as large as those found at Newton Circus Hawker centre, and of course, only a fraction of the cost.  We definitely recommend the Estrela do Mar!  (Travessa do Paiva No. 11, R/C, tel. 322074)

We caught a cab back to the ferry terminal in good time for our jetfoil ride back to Hong Kong.  We stopped off at quite a decent pub in Kowloon, the Stag's Head, on our way back to the hotel from the Star Ferry.  The pub was having a quiet Sunday night, with a group of expats busy at darts.

On Monday, we joined the group in the lobby (with it's lack of seating) waiting for our bus to the airport, which was 45 minutes late, and took, again, ages to reach the airport.  The pouring rain made any regret at not having time to see more of Hong Kong and having to waste the day travelling a little less sharp.  We did wish, yet again, that our package hadn't included the airport transfer, as the train would have been much faster, and wasted much less time.  At least, arrived at the airport, we were able to relax in the business class lounge, thanks to the OneWorld alliance and Chris's Canadian Plus Gold membership!

Hong Kong is an interesting, vibrant city, and more time to explore further wouldn't have been wasted, but it wasn't so bad to return home and relax after our busy weekend!