Travel dates: 26th – 27th October 2013
Hong Kong Day 4 (by Rich)
We started the weekend in Hong Kong with a trip out of the city. This is surprisingly easy. Unknown to us before this trip, the city of Hong Kong is surrounded by green areas perfect for hiking and other outdoor activities. There are many places to get away from the hustle and bustle and get back to nature. It is obvious the city is never too far away however there are many opportunities for peace and quiet are a total contrast to the fast pace of the city.
Our first day out was to Lantau Island. The main attraction here is Disney. This isn’t where we went. We headed for the slightly less popular, but still very busy cable car. Not having been prepared and bought tickets in advance we had two queues to navigate. First to buy a ticket and then to get on the cable car. For future reference, the first queue is easily avoided with a little pre-booking. In any case we were on the cable car in under an hour from getting of the metro so not too bad overall.
The cable car is about 25 minutes long covering 5.7km. As you ascend you get views of the airport where we watched several planes taking off. You can also see the trail below where more committed (or crazy) people can walk to the top. This was a bit much for us as it is quite a climb, especially in the hot and humid weather. As you near the top you see the main attraction come into sight, a big Buddha. We were relieved to see this as we had enjoyed the ride but wanted to get out of the confined space we had shared with 5 screechy Chinese ladies. The Chinese do seem to have only two volume settings – loud and louder.
At the top we paid our respects to the big Buddha. We really like a big Buddha, and this one is huge. This one was a lot newer than others we had seen (completed in 1993) and cast from bronze. He was well worth the cable car ride up.
We only bought a single cable car ride as we were headed next to Tai O, a fishing village a short distance from the top. Although it is a short distance, navigating to it isn’t an easy task. We had the idea that we would walk down. We tried to find information on how to do this however the internet and national park office were both equally vague. We were about to head off when a change of heart and a waiting bus altered our course.
We hopped on the bus just before it departed and made a meal out of paying. In Hong Kong we had Octopus cards that you can use to pay for all transport. Being flustered after running for the bus I didn’t associate this and tried to pay with cash. After much fuss the driver just took my $11 in payment for a $13.20 ride. Moments after the debacle I realised I had a perfectly easy method of payment in my hand all along. Oops!
The drive to the fishing village took around 10 minutes down a winding road. We realised it was the correct decision to skip the walk as we would have had to follow this road or a trail that took a very round about route. Either way it would have taken quite some time to get down as a short distance as the crow flies would have been many miles via trails or road. Instead we had a walk around a fishing village.
Tai O is a small fishing village that hangs on to some authenticity but is largely a tourist attraction. There are boat trips to see white dolphins but we passed on this as Vicki had heard they weren’t that special or comfortable (or safe). Instead we explored on foot seeing beaches, stilt houses and a wide variety of fish in the market, most of which were still alive.
A second bus took us across the island to a ferry port where we could get a boat back to central Hong Kong. This was a little bumpy so not appreciated by Vicki but I thought it was great fun. Also it provided another chance to see the fabulous views coming back to Hong Kong harbour.
The ferry left us in central so a second ferry was required to get back to Kowloon where we were staying. At this point we had a very special moment where I thought I had lost my Octopus card (remember the transport payment card). I figured I must have dropped it on the last ferry. We searched my many pockets and had almost given up and were off to buy a replacement ticket. When getting my money out I found the card in my bag even though we were sure we had searched there already. Having found my card Vicki could then no longer find hers which we had moments before. We searched all her pockets and were wondering if somehow the one we found for me was actually hers. I searched my pockets for the other one and found two cards there. Somehow I had obtained Vicki’s card as well as my own even though neither of us recalls her offering it or me taking it. Either the Octopus fairies were at work or we had been out in the sun for too long.
Back in Kowloon I went for a quick run while Vicki had a rest then we headed to the night market. Other night markets we have visited have been mainly about food. This one was firmly in the knock off clothes/bags/watches/electronics arena. This pleased Vicki though as we kitted her out with a Mulberry purse and bag for about £7 for the pair. We are pretty bad at bartering so go with a policy of “What would this cost at Primark”. We use that figure as a maximum to pay. Seafood at a restaurant on the street gave us post shopping energy ready to go for a drink.
We headed back to Lan Kwai Fong (where we met Sam from Morgan Stanley earlier this week). It was the Saturday before Halloween so the party was in full flow with many different costumes on show. We couldn’t find seats in a bar where we could people watch so instead got far cheaper drinks from a takeaway pizza place then stood in the street with them. There is no problem with drinking in the street anywhere in Hong Kong which was great for us. We joined the crowds milling around and enjoyed the party atmosphere.
Our night was cut a bit short as we weren’t prepared to stay on the opposite island and risk getting a taxi back. Instead the last subway left us with time for a last (and pretty expensive) beer back in Kowloon before heading to bed.
Hong Kong Day 5 (by Vicki)
We decided to use our final day in Hong Kong to see a little more of the greenery of the islands, and so decided on a hike on the far side of Hong Kong island, ending at a beach. Before this trip neither of us had realised that Hong Kong had beaches, and so we were keen to check them out.
After a painless metro ride, and a fairly painless bus ride (working out where to get off is the tricky bit) we were ready to start the hike. As we had been out late last night, this was now about midday, and there were definitely some mutterings about “mad dogs and Englishmen”. Nevertheless we started the trek along a path known as the “Dragon’s Back”. This basically meant a steep upward section to start followed by lots of undulations.
By the time we made it to the top of the first section, we were sweating buckets – it was about 25 degrees plus. However, we certainly weren’t alone. Hiking is ridiculously popular in Hong Kong, and at times it was like a procession up the hill. However, the views from the various “peaks” made it worthwhile, even if you had to concentrate a bit to block out the tourists and locals (mainly expats but HK residents in any case) all vying for the same photo spot. It being Sunday, it was especially busy, with all sorts of people attempting the walk, from people in full hiking gear (including poles) to tourists in flip flops – I think we fell somewhere in the middle with our zip off trousers. The walk is labelled as “challenging” and I’m not sure how some of the people managed in flip flops as there was a fair amount of clambering over boulders. One thing we noticed is that the people who design these nature trails are very keen on steps. Where ever they can put steps instead of a slope, they will do. This is surprisingly hard on the legs (especially when you have short legs like mine).
After a couple of miles of up-and-down we came to a flat, shaded section and the crowds thinned out a bit. It was lovely and peaceful just wandering along the path
We eventually came to a cross roads with a sign pointing to the beach – only 2.5km to go! After a short tarmac, we came to a long downhill section that was all uneven boulders and rocks with no real path. so just to make the day more interesting, I decided that this would be a good place to turn my ankle. After a few minutes sit down and a not inconsiderable amount of swearing, I carried on walking down the hill and eventually made it to a small town, next to the beach.
The beach was wonderful, with soft, golden sand, palm trees and clear water – as well as hundreds of other people also making the most of it. We managed to find a small space to squeeze ourselves into, and then spent a relaxing couple of hours reading our books and people watching, as well as watching the bruising on my ankle grow.
Rich had found that the next town along had a crazy golf course, so the original plan had been to go there – however, by the time we left the beach, my ankle was swollen, bruised and very sore so we headed back to the hostel. No mini golf for us this time After hobbling up the hill to the bus stop we waited a long time for a bus to appear without any luck. We kept noticing little minivans with the name of the metro station on them pulling up every couple of minutes, but reviews we had read said not to get these buses. However in the end we got fed up waiting and jumped in one for a slightly hair raising trip back to the metro station. We’re guessing that these were slightly less official buses, but it beat waiting around.
Despite having been in Hong Kong four days, we had so far only managed Dim Sum once, and so we decided to hunt out some more for dinner. Easier said than done! Dim Sum is traditionally only served at lunch time, and so this was an added complication. The ankle situation meant that I really didn’t want to walk far, I think we probably wandered for about 40 minutes before we found what we were looking for, despite looking up options on the internet before hand – either the place had closed down or didn’t really do Dim Sum, or we couldn’t find it. When we eventually found one of our recommended places Rich was so overcome he couldn’t open the door….there was a big door release on the side saying push, but Rich hadn’t noticed and kept wrestling the door until the waiter came and let him in! (Rich Edit: Vicki didn’t help here as she had seen the button but just stood saying “Push” repeatedly so naturally I was pushing the door. If she has said “Push the button” we may have made it inside quicker.)
The food was very good – lots of dumplings and spring rolls, and a surprising favourite of stuffed aubergines. By the end, it wasn’t just the aubergines that were stuffed, and we headed back on to the street. We had been invited to a BBQ by Rich’s friend Sam (who we met up with on Wednesday) that was being held at another one of Rich’s ex-colleagues from Morgan Stanley’s house (Chris), and so we headed over.
The first warning sign was that the taxi driver didn’t know where it was, and so only took us part of the way. We then faffed around for about 25 minutes trying to find the place. We were looking for a block of apartments in a development of hundreds of apartments, grouped into gated enclosure, which were all walled off from each other, making it impossible to walk between them! I was on the verge of going home at this point but luckily we found the right tower, and made it to the BBQ only about half an hour after we should have been there.
After a few beers we headed back to our hostel for the last time, to the unhappy task of packing again, all ready for the next move to Singapore.