Hong Kong...Reunited with Old Friends

March 1, 2008 - Hong Kong Island, China

Namita:

After 3 weeks of travelling India, Dave and I were ready to get to Hong Kong (HK) and experience some 1st world living again! I in particular was looking forward to HK and finally getting a small taste of China (and I don't mean just the dimsum).  We would have liked to have travelled more of China but it was still a bit too cold in the north.

Hong Kong was pretty much what we expected, but to a higher degree - trendy, clean, busy, great food, tall buildings, lots of ex-pats, high-end stores, and of course dimsum!  When we reached HK, we were also happy to be greeted by old friends, the first being Starbucks at the airport, quickly followed by hot showers, duvet covers, more starbucks, sushi and drinkable water! Our orignal plan was to visit HK for 7 days, a quick stop, but in the end stayed for 12 days (as Dave and I made changes to our remaining travels, I kept negotiating an extra day in HK :)). For our 12 days in HK, we spent most of our time in Kowloon and HK Island (referred to as the Island), with a 2-day visit to Macau (the Vegas of Asia) and a day-trip to Lantau (another island to the west). 


Kowloon

At the recommendation of our friend Ed, we stayed at the Stanford Hotel in Mongkok, Kowloon.  The Stanford served as our base during our visit to HK. The hotel was very clean and even had wireless internet access in the rooms!  Kownloon which is attached to mainland China, is just north of HK Island and is considered part of HK.  From Kowloon it was a quick MTR ride to the Island (for transport we mostly used the MTR which was very easy to use, and much simpler than the one in Tokyo).  As we walked around Mongkok on our first night, we really could have been back home at Spadina and Dundas (i.e. Chinatown).  We later found out that Mongkok is considered a very "chinese" area in Kowloon.  We were suprised to see so many people out, even on a Sunday night.  The streets were full of people and some streets were even closed down.  We initially thought there may have been some festival going on but later learned that our area was always busy.  As we walked around our first night we also learned that with the limited space in HK, everything was stacked up.  If searching for a particular restaurant we needed to remember to look up as the restaurant could be on the 4th, 5th, or 6th floor!


During our time in Kowloon we visited Nathan Road, the Night Market and the area of Tsim Sha Tsui (or 'TST' as we and the locals called it). Nathan Road is basically a very long street lined with store after store after store - no real tourist sites but still interesting to see.  We walked Nathan Road to get to the Night Market, located in TST.  The market was filled with tourists and vendors selling fakies (bags, sunglasses, jewelery, etc.) - we didn't give in.  We had dinner twice on Knutsford Road which is a cute little street in TST lined with restaurants and patios.

It is in Kowloon where you get the best view of the Hong Kong skyline.  Though most times we took the MTR to the Island, one evening we decided to take the ferry across the Victoria Harbour so we could get the full view of the skyline.  The skyline was spectacular!  All the buildings were lit up and a lot of them had big, lit signs on them with the names of various financial and electronic companies.  That night in particular happened to be a bit cloudy which actually was a bonus as the lights from the buildings lit up the clouds.  We stayed at the port for a while just taking in the view.  We'd never seen a skyline so big.  Definitely a highlight of our visit to HK.

In Kownloon, we also visited with my friend Carrie (an ex-Bell friend who recently relocated to HK).  We visited Carrie and her new baby at their place in Kowloon (a very nice area), after which she treated us to a yummy lunch at the Peak on the Island.  We also met up with her for dimsum on our second last day.

Hong Kong Island

Some of the highlights for us on the Island was riding the "escalator", taking in dinner and drinks in SOHO, walking through Central and Lai Kwai Fong (or Dave calls LKF, sometimes LFK) and shopping (or window-shopping) in Central and Causeway Bay.


The Escalator
The Central Escalator is an 800m escalator that runs from Central (where a lot of people work) to the Mid-levels (where a lot of people live).  The walk from Central to the Mid-Levels are more vertical than horizontal so to avoid traffic and congestion the escalator was built to help the commute. Dave and I rode the escalator and watched locals and ex-pats travel home from work.  There were many restaurants and stores surrounding the escalator, including some massage parlours.  While riding up, Dave and I were handed a leaflet from a women promoting fairly cheap massages.  Dave and I thought why not?  So we got ourselves a neck and shoulder massage for $15 (not as cheap as Thailand but still fairly cheap).

SOHO
Off the escalator, you can also reach SOHO which stands for "South of Hollywood Rd".  SOHO is a fairly cool area where a lot of ex-pats will stop for a drink or two after work.  While on the escalaor you can see these pubs which have signs advertising Happy Hour.  Dave and I actually visited SOHO twice to have drinks and dinner.  We went to a bar called "Stauntons " for drinks and then to Elgin street for dinner.  Elgin is a small street with a wide variety of nice restaurants (Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Italian, Sushi, Middle-Eastern, etc).  Dave and I went out for tapas which was a first for the trip and very yummy! If living in HK, we could see how it could be fun to hang out in SOHO after work.

Central, Lai Kwai Fong and Causeway Bay
As we stepped out of the Central MTR station, the first thing we were greeted with was a huge Louis Vuitton store.  We quickly discovered as we walked around Central and area was that it was full of high-end stores.  For example, on our trip to HK, we must have seen 6-7 Channel stores versus the one store we have in Toronto.  Obviously a lot of money in HK.  Needless to say, I didn't get to do much shopping.  I intially was very excited to shop in HK (especially with the smaller sizes) but most stores, whether a high-end chain or local were fairly expensive. 

We also walked to Lai Kwai Fong which is considered the party area of HK.  Again lots of pubs, restaurants and ex-pats.  For ex-pats we could see it feeling like a home away from home.  A lot of the pubs resembled the ones back home.  We even saw a bar called "the Keg" which advertised Molsen and Hockey.  Dave and I had dinner in Lai Kwai Fong one night and had some very good and familiar Nachos.

Macau
As the Vegas of Asia, there was no way I was going to be able to avoid going to Macau.  In the end I'm glad Dave insisted we visit (Dave negotiated 2 nights in Macau while I negotiated more days in HK overall).  Formerly a Portugese colony, Macau is an island very close to Hong Kong but not part of Hong Kong.  Its a short ferry ride from HK Island (approx. an hour) but people travelling to Macau still need to go through immigration and customs. 

Macau is visited by a lot HK residents and foreigners with the purpose to gamble, shop and take in entertainment (Celine Dion was scheduled to perform the week after we left).  With the big hotels, Wynn, MGM, and the Venitian to name a few, we really didn't feel like we were in Asia anymore.  We stayed at a hotel called the Landmark, and though not as expensive as the others, was very luxurious to our standards.  Dave spent a lot of time searching for a hotel that was within our budget but had all the ammenities (pool, fitness room, restaurants, etc.).  The hotel didn't disappoint.  We took advantage of the ammenities in our hotel, but visited Wynn on our first night for dinner, drinks, and gambling and MGM the second night.  We unfortunately didn't make it to the Venitian as it is located on another island closeby, however, we were told that it is 4x the size of the Venitian in Vegas and the 2nd largest building in the world (next to Bombardier headquarters).

On our first night, we had a very good Italian dinner at Wynn (probably the best Italian we had on the trip so far).  The restaurant had a view of the water fountain outside which was corriographed to music.  Dave gambled a bit in the Wynn casino but it was a fairly early night.  It had been a long day, with 4-5 hours spent in the morning on the phone with South African Airlines trying to change our round the world ticket for the rest of our travels.  On our second night, we first went to a bar called "The Russion Room" in MGM where we had drinks and a cheese platter, and then headed to another restaurant for chinese food.  In the casino, there was a band playing in the bar.  The band was quite good and We later found out the band was from Vancouver!  It turned out to be a late night, ending with Dave playing craps and some more chinese food.

In addition to taking advantage of the hotels, we also walked the city on our second day.  As a former Portugese colony, the city had a lot Portugese architecture.  We also visited the Ruins of the Church of St. Paul.  Apparently a fire a long time ago, burned the church but left the front wall standing.  On our way back, we had some fresh, warm eggtarts - apparently eggtarts originated in Macau.

Lantau
Given we had 12 days in HK, we were able to fit in a visit to Lantau.  Lantau is an island west of HK Island but can be reached by the MTR.  The aiport and Disneyland are both located in Lantau.  The purpose of our visit was to see the Tian Tan Buddha.  The statue is a seated representation of Lord Gautama and is 23m high and 202 tons heavy.  We could see the Buddha from afar as we took the tram up.  It was quite cool to see it standing there on its own with nothing around it.  We had initally thought about hikng to the Buddha but when we found out it was at least a 3-4 hour trek we decided against.  Nearby the Buddha is a little village with a few restaurants and of course a Starbucks.  Dave and I wanting to learn a bit more about Buddhism and the story behind Lord Gautama, decided to take "A Walk with Budddha".  It ended up having a "disney" feel to it and mostly consisted of watching a cartoon portayal of the life of Buddha.  We were a little disappointed but thought it was funny at the same time (not Buddha or Buddhism of course but the presentation of it).

After 12 days of visiting Hong Kong, we had our fill and were ready to get to our next destination, Thailand.  Of course we couldn't leave without having Dimsum one last time.  We had had dimsum 4-5 times during our visit but often times it was hard to order as we weren't sure what we were ordering and the waiters did not always speak English.  There was however always one constant which was the Har Gaw, so yummy!  On our last day we realized that the restaurant in our hotel actually had the biggest menu for Dimsum and all the things we are accustomed to from Dimsum in Toronto (it was under our noses the whole time!).


Pictures

Tian Tan Buddha
Tian Tan Buddha
Tian Tan Buddha
Tian Tan Buddha
 
 
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