Hong Kong had never been somewhere we had thought of visiting; of course, one day it would be great but it wasn’t on our ‘bucket list’; however whilst browsing http://www.holidaypirates.com one evening and seeing flights for £275 return with Virgin Atlantic through Expedia Hong Kong we decided to try and book them anyway with no hope of them being honoured at that price…..they were! Before we knew it we were at the doctors getting jabs and packing our cases. The furthest we had ventured into Asia was a day trip to Turkey and therefore with some trepidation about what to expect (and what we would eat!) we made our way to London Heathrow in preparation for our rather random 7-day adventure. Through our Barclays ‘Travel Plus’ add-on to our current account we get 6 free airport lounge visits and therefore decided to use this at the No. 1 Lounge which entitled us to free drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) and food whilst waiting for our flight. Also handy here are the charging points where you can top up your mobile charge. This was a welcome break from sitting in departures and added an extra special touch to
After an uneventful 12hr 20 minute flight and a rather rocky landing we arrived in Hong Kong and got the airport bus (A12 for $40 hkd each) to our pre booked hotel. We did quite a bit of research on hotels before we left and decided on the Island Pacific Hotel which is a high rise hotel located in the Western District of Hong Kong. For the week we paid £250 which had an upgrade to harbour view with floor to ceiling windows and we were not disappointed. The hotel was as described and the location was good, wifi was excellent and the air conditioning was really good throughout the hotel which is just as well as it was 100% humidity outside and 30+ degrees. The hotel also had a pool which could only be a bonus!
Despite feeling a bit disorientated with the time difference (+7 hours) we ventured straight out to check out the local area. One of the first things we noticed was the overwhelming smell of fish! It appears that in Hong Kong dried fish is something which is very popular and is boiled into soup as the collagen is good for the complexion. Additionally there are some other strange dried up creatures such as snakes, squid and shark fins despite shark finning being illegal in Hong Kong. It was pretty stinky and took some getting used to!
Nigel was very much in need of a haircut and therefore decided to bravely stop off at the local barbers for a cut. He had the worst haircut ever whilst visiting Marmaris where the back of his hair was cut right up to the bottom of his ears and there was the use of fire; it was quite traumatic to watch and the results were laughable however his Hong Kong haircut was pretty good!
The next stop was a walk down to the Central Pier where we spied an observation wheel and decided to have a go. It was pretty quiet and a unique way of seeing the Hong Kong skyline. Due to the fact it was so quiet we went round 4 times and would still have been going now if we hadn’t ask to get off! It was good though and worth the $100 hkd (£8.90).
We stood and admired the skyline for a while and found the toilets which was my first shock of the holiday – a hole in the floor is not what I am used to! Very tired we headed back to the hotel to get some sleep for another fun day tomorrow.
On the second day we checked out the hotel swimming pool which was small but very pleasant; it was strange as it was surrounded by skyscrapers but refreshing none the less. We then decided to head off to Lantau Island which was easily accessible from the metro nearby (Sai Ying Pun). Once we arrived at Lantau we got the Ngong Ping 360 cable car to the top which was a 25 minute ride with great views.
There were a variety of tickets available but we went for the 360 insight fishing village tour which cost $390 hkd each (£35) but this included the cable car, a tour of Tai O fishing village which was a short distance away and a boat trip to spy some pink dolphins. Additionally this included access to Ngong Ping Village, the Big Buddha and the Po Lin Monastery.
We started with the trip to Tai O fishing village. The village is known for the houses built in the water on stilts and there were many bargains to be had in the local shops and stalls. We bought some chopsticks – original but we didn’t have any! l It was a lovely little village and well worth the visit to see a piece of traditional Hong Kong. Unfortunately we did not see any pink dolphins but it was a pleasant boat ride nonetheless even for someone who suffers with sea sickness!
Next was back to Ngong Ping to see the Po Ling Monastary and Big Buddha. When we first arrived Big Buddha was clearly visible but unfortunately by the time we arrived back from Tai O and climbed the 268 steps to reach it, a cloud had swamped it and it was barely visible. We were certainly fitter for the experience however and what we could see was impressive!
The monastery itself was also impressive and we were able to witness prayers going on. The buildings were spectacular and the gold statues were dazzling.
Due to the fact the monks are vegetarian there was a restaurant available for tourists and we decided to try some of the vegetarian food on offer…and regretted it. It was reassuring to know we weren’t eating anything meaty or fishy but we were quite unsure besides the spring roll what we were eating! We then decided to try and light some incense sticks outside the monastery which resulted in flames and Nigel having a burnt foot!
We returned back down on the cable car and got the Metro to Mong Kok. We had heard Mong Kok is the place to be to get a good bargain and that’s where the ‘Ladies Market’ could be found but we were not prepared for exactly how busy and crowded it would be- Think Times Square in rush hour with haggling!
Mong Kok is full on and it is easy to lose each other in the crowds; this is also somewhere you should be careful of your valuables but is definitely something to be experienced. We had a foot massage, a couple of beers and headed back to our hotel after an exhausting but fun day.
The following day we walked to the Central Pier bus station and got the bus to The Peak which is the highest point on Hong Kong Island. After a rickety bus journey we finally reached our stop and were excited to ride the tram to the very top. The Peak offers a shopping complex, restaurants and cafes and breathtaking views over Hong Kong island. For an even better view you can pay to go to the Sky Terrace 428 but this is an expensive option which we didn’t take. There is also an entrance to the Pok Fu Lam Country Park which offers walks and a visit to a reservoir. We didn’t go into the park but if we had more time we probably would have.
So we excitedly waited for the tram to take us to the very peak of the island….only to discover we were actually already there and the tram was going down…DOH! It cost $28 hkd (approx £2.50) for a single or $40 hkd (approx £3.60) for the return so we paid the single and went down in the very steep and scenic tram to the terminus which was located in the Central District of Hong Kong. Following quite a hot and sweaty walk we decided to stop and get some food and have a sit down.
My adventures with the toilet systems in Hong Kong were not yet over…I ventured to the facilities only to be faced with some rather scary instructions….being quite scared of what this toilet was going to do to me or in case of user error or malfunction I decided to opt for the traditional ‘western’ toilet in the next cubicle!
The food we ordered however more than made up for the trauma of visiting the toilet and we had a very nice chicken Tempura lunch at the Lan Kwai Fung restaurant.
Next stop was to the Metro station to travel to Tsim Sha Tsui. Every night at 8pm there is a light show where the buildings on Hong Kong Island light up in time with music. We had heard this was the best vantage point and best atmosphere to see the show and we were not disappointed. We grabbed a couple of beers and took a seat with the rest of the crowds in the 32 degree heat to enjoy the show. It was an amazing experience and a must see for any visitor to Hong Kong.
Another place which we would highly recommend a visit to is the Ozone Bar at the Ritz Carlton hotel. The bar is on the 118th floor and is the highest bar in the world. Heading from light show it was a long walk into the International Commerce Centre and we were not particularly dressed for the occasion; however despite our fears we were allowed in and got the escalator up to the bar. Entry was free but the bar was particularly expensive with cocktails ranging around the £10+ price; however it is well worth a drink just to take in the amazing views and to say that you have actually had a drink in the highest bar in the world!
A little tipsy, we decided to walk back to get the Star Ferry back to Hong Kong Island but unfortunately had missed the last one and ended up sat with the cockroaches at the ferry terminal until 4.30am when we were able to get a taxi back to our hotel – word of warning always check the times of your last transport home!
Day 4 we decided after a lie in to head for Macau which is 65km west of Hong Kong and easily accessible by ferry/catamaran. Macau is a special administrative region and is the only place in China where gambling is allowed, gaining it the nickname “Vegas of the East”. One very important thing to remember is to take your passport as you need to get a visitors permit upon arrival which is valid for 6 months. Macau also has a strong Portuguese influence due to being a former colony therefore it appears to have a dual identity between history and Mediterranean influences and the bright lights of the casino. We caught a catamaran from the terminal near IFC Towers to Macau which took approximately 1 hour and cost $132 hkd each way off peak (approx £12).
We were accosted by a man who wanted us to take up his offer of a private taxi tour of Macau upon arrival and after some haggling we managed to get it for $50 hkd. We were taken to see the Lady Buddha, Fisherman’s Wharf, the Macau tower and the ruins of St Paul’s Church.
We were dropped back to the bus station outside the ferry port and there was abundance of free coaches to the different casinos. Time for a bit of a flutter! we decided to head for Venetian for our first stop as this is the largest casino in the world and the 7th largest building by floor space in the world. Inside is a replica of Venice canals and due to the clever lighting and ceilings it doesn’t seem like you are actually in a building; you can even have a gondola ride.
We also checked out the Galaxy Hotel and Casino next door which was also on a very grand scale and sampled some Macau beer which is highly recommended.
After a few low stake games of blackjack and roulette and a slight profit we thought we would look for the shuttle bus to return back to the ferry terminal. Not learning our own lessons from the night before we had yet again missed the last bus back to the ferry terminal which finished at 21.30 and the next one was not until 8.00. After a night of walking around the casino with very sore feet we eventually found a taxi at 6.30am and got the 7.30 ferry back to Hong Kong Island; eventually getting back to our hotel at 9.30am. Phew a long night but fun and quite an experience!
After bit of a sleep we decided a foot, back, shoulder and neck massage was in order and found one locally; Hong Kong has a lot of massage places and all relatively cheap; the massages cost us approximately £10 ($120 hkd) each but well needed! We then decided to brave the infamous ding ding trams and see where it took us. The ding dings are a cheap way to get around Hong Kong with single tickets costing $2.30 (21p) and quite an adventure to get on and off – nevertheless off we went and ended up in a place called Kennedy Town which is on the western tip of Hong Kong Island. It was bustling part of the island which is known for ex-pats and had English style pubs. We found a great Mexican bar and restaurant called Tequila on Davis; we would highly recommend the food and drink in there and the atmosphere was fun! After a couple of tequila shots and some jalapeño poppers we headed back on the Ding Ding to the Peak to do some shopping. This time our experience was totally different – the peak was swamped in a big rain cloud and visibility was poor! Our shopping mission however was a success and we headed back to the hotel for an early start tomorrow.
The early start was because we had decided to go to China for a day. Initially we had booked a guided tour to Guangzhou but this was unfortunately cancelled as there were not enough people so we decided to bite the bullet and make our own way to Shenzhen just over the China border. So we headed to the metro and after 3 changes made it to Luoho Port. We had to make our way upstairs with some trepidation to get our visa. From research we were aware that whether you are granted one or not is a bit hit and miss and when we were in the queue a French national was denied entry for reasons unknown and had to leave her friends. We paid $389 hkd (approx £39) each for the visa and were granted entry; however an Irish national had to pay a lot less at $215 which seemed unfair! However we got in and then the madness began….
As soon as we exited the station we were approached by locals trying to entice us into their shops in the 5 floor shopping centre directly outside the station. What was also clearly apparent was the lack of English signs we had been spoilt with in Hong Kong. Every place name or sign had a translation but this was not the case in Shenzhen which is quite daunting; especially as neither of us understood Chinese either spoken or written.
Now at this point I was more interested in finding some facilities and therefore was not wanting to go shopping. We followed one particular gentleman into the shopping centre and he pointed me in the direction of the ladies. Low and behold it was a hole in the floor again….even worse there was no toilet paper! As a word of warning all toilets in Shenzhen were like that and toilet paper is not provided so make sure you take your own and something to wipe your hands with. You also need leg muscles of steel and damn good balance! We had a short walk around the shopping centre but decided enough was enough of getting hounded and hearing “copy watch, copy handbag” so we headed off into Shenzhen Town Centre.
On our way we came across a small shopping arcade which was full of shops selling tea. We were invited to try some by a young china man and sat down. What became apparent was that we didn’t know how to say ‘no more’ in Chinese as every time we finished our tea we were poured more – in hindsight maybe we should have just left more in our cup however as soon as our cup got low it was topped up again. After a purchase of a teapot and some small cups were were on our way again.
Due to the sheer amount of walking we had undertaken on this break we were both in need of some comfortable footwear and therefore when we came across a shopping centre we thought we would find it easy to go and buy some trainers….wrong!. It appears that ladies footwear doesn’t go any higher than 6.5 and therefore at a 7 I was out of luck. Nigel also had no luck as the sizing was different. Walking round we were able to view everyday life in China, from street stalls to gambling in the street (although Nigel discovered the locals didn’t like having their photograph taken..)
As the day was getting later we decided to head on back to the train station….only to realise we had no clue where we were or how to get back there. We spoke to a Police Officer and tried to ask for directions however he struggled to understand us despite showing him a picture of the location. Additionally we couldn’t understand any of the road signs to point us in the right direction! Unlike Hong Kong it is impossible to connect to Wifi in Shenzhen (we tried….several times) and this made us feel quite vulnerable without being able to look up information. We managed to find a metro station and tried to ask a security officer there but she didn’t understand us either! Luckily for us a lovely Chinese lady who spoke English came to our rescue by helped us buy metro tickets and even offering to pay when the machine wouldn’t take our money. She then accompanied us to where we needed to get on – phew! We did some last minute haggling at the shopping centre, buying some souvenirs and a memory card for our camera and headed back to Hong Kong.
Now despite our long day Nigel had seen a picture on Facebook of a bookshop in Hong Kong called Wong Fook Hing Bookstore which was reported to be in Hung Hom. We tried to find it on our way back but unfortunately discovered where it was had now been demolished :-/. We had a drink in a karaoke bar called Bar Pacific (where the owner thought he could sing and really couldn’t) and then headed back to our hotel.
On our last day in Hong Kong we had quite a bit of time to kill as we had a late flight and therefore we decided to head to Ocean Park. Ocean Park is described as a marine and mammal park, an aquarium, a theme park and an amusement park but our main reason for going there was to see the giant pandas that reside there. There is a bus which will take you directly there from Admiralty station. General admission prices for over 12’s was $385 hkd (approx £35) which made for an expensive day but an ideal way to spend our last day. The park itself has a bit of everything; animals, rides, a cable car, an aquarium and some great views and was very well maintained; unlike some UK theme parks.
We also managed to see Ying Ying and Le Le the giant pandas as well as red pandas which were the highlights of our day. We did learn a valuable lesson about buying cheap memory cards at this point as our files all corrupted in our digital camera..thank goodness for mobile phones!
All in all it was an enjoyable experience and we were glad we visited although not quite sure we got our money’s worth. It is a great location for families with lots of activities for everyone and a great chance to see the pandas up close. The aquarium was also impressive and worth a visit.
We headed back to Mong Kok after we left the park to do some last minute shopping and haggling; something we both got better at as the week went on and actually found quite fun! It was then time to say goodbye to Hong Kong and head back to the airport for our flight home.
Our random week was pretty full on but an extremely enjoyable experience. Due to the fact it was very last minute we didn’t have any expectations and had some amazing adventures, seeing more in a week than we ever dreamed of. Hong Kong is normally thought of as a stopover place on the way to further destinations however it has a more to offer than can be seen on a stopover. Macau with its mix of gambling and history was also a surprise; we never expected to visit the biggest casino in the world and come out (slightly) in profit and Shenzhen was definitely worth the visit to experience the Chinese culture however I am not sure we will be making a return trip there. We saw some not so pleasant sights such as a domestic incident between a man and a women which turned violent and a pet shop where animals were kept in tiny cages. We were also able to witness ‘road rage’ after seeing a traffic jam China style and a Police Officer nearly being mown down. Despite this we had a brilliant but exhausting a week and were very sad to go home.
Carol & Nigel