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Published: July 29th 2016
Finally, I’m getting around to writing up my adventures in the Far East and first up was a trip to Hong Kong for a wedding banquet for my good friends Woody and Jenny. Them being such all-round good eggs, quite a large group of us had decided to make the trip out at the end of April to celebrate their recent wedding and we were all arriving in dribs and drabs the weekend before the wedding banquet.
I’ve been to HK once before but it was pre my travel blogging days, so even though it wasn’t my first trip there, it gets a write up. Fortunately for me, I finally got around to use all the airmiles I’ve been saving up and booked up a First Class flight one way to HK, the holiday got off to a very good start indeed. I arrived in HK and waited for a few others to arrive then we all headed off to HK island to check into our hotel overlooking the famous Happy Valley racecourse.
We were mostly all there for about a week and our hosts had planned a few outings and meals for the larger group, otherwise we were
Last time I was here, it was all fields, well not quite, but there seems to have been a bit of building going on.
left to our own devices. Last time I was there I stayed in Kowloon so it was nice to be on the island this time. Of course one of the main attractions of HK is the amazing food to be found and being a huge fan of Chinese food I was looking forward to a week of stuffing my face.
About half of us had a quiet first night (I’ll refer to us as Team A), a nice meal then a few drinks in a roof top bar before a modestly early night, up nice and early the next morning for a trip over to Kowloon. It turned out the other half of the group (Team B) were not quite so sensible, they had located the nearest karaoke bar by our hotel ensconced themselves in there until the early hours, there were certainly a few sore heads around.
So those of us who could manage it headed off to Kowloon on the famous Star Ferry, still a dirt cheap way to get across the bay although the journey has certainly got shorter as there has been so much land reclamation going on in the bay, I hope they
The Star ferry across the bay from Kowloon
The journey is definitely getting shorter, seems the bay is getting filled in slowly, another 20 years we'll probably be able to walk across.
don’t fill it all in, it won’t quite be the same.
We took a stroll around the crazy markets of Mong Kok and headed to the nunnery at Chi Lin but the rain started and so we retreated to a bar for a few hours. In the evening we all went out for a lovely Chinese banquet in Kowloon with Woody’s family and then headed back over to the Island where most of Team B went to bed and Team A took the Karaoke baton and headed to the bar until the early hours. Sadly, I am not a very good singer, but what I lack in actually singing voice I feel I make up for with enthusiasm and our group rendition of Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ had the locals in the bar cheerfully chanting ‘Yingguo! Yingguo!’ at our efforts, this translates as ‘England’, so we took it as confirmation that we really should enter ‘China’s got talent’ next year.
Suffice to say, the next morning Team B were all refreshed and Team A were a bit sluggish off the mark, but the plan of the day was to get ourselves over to the other
Junk on the fragrant harbour
I'm not quite sure if the harbour is that fragrant anymore, well not in a good way
side of the island to Stanley and spend some time relaxing by the seaside. Arriving a little later than most people with my friend Vicky, we found the rest already enjoying a beverage or two in one of the bars, but with the karaoke still ringing in our ears we took ourselves off for a bit of shopping and then took a bus further around the Island to Repulse Bay. By this time the rains were starting and so we amused ourselves by watching busloads of Chinese tourists turn up, then they would all take the obligatory photo on the beach and then head back to the bus for the next photo opportunity. Every so often the rains would start and they would all flee the beach at quite a pace.
Of course all the sightseeing was interspersed with as much eating as possible, so much dim sum was consumed I’m surprised we didn’t all turn into dumplings, it was food heaven. And thanks to modern technology we could all share pictures of who was eating what and where to go to get it. I wasn’t taking part in the ‘Essential things to eat in Hong Kong’ game, but
Crazy Kowloon streets
Now I'm fluent in Chinese, I realised Kowloon means 'Nine dragons', cool name
quite a few were, it was a food treasure hunt, probably the most enjoyable type of treasure hunt. I did try the red bean ice lolly though, can’t say I was a fan, I preferred the watermelon one I had. That evening Team B went to the karaoke bar while Team A gave it a rest, I think they must have had the best week’s takings for many a year that week.
The next day we all headed up the Peak, a few energetic ones walked, the rest of us took the tram up, sadly it was a bit misty so the views were not very good but as ever it is fun to take random forms of transport when you are on holiday. Some of Team B were a little bit tired, that karaoke can be hard work you know! We didn’t do a great deal apart from circumnavigate the Peak, speculate on how rich the people had to be to live on the Peak and then we ate some food. We had to head back for an early evening start as it was the wedding banquet evening, so we all needed some time to smarten up (the
Chi Lin Nunnery
A welcome bit of space in bustling Kowloon
humidity was now playing havoc with my frizzy hair). The wedding banquet was a tram ride away from the hotel, and so we all crowded on one and headed off in the evening’s heat. HK is certainly a city of many different transport modes and I think the trams on the Island are by far my favourite mode. Arriving at the hotel we started the proceedings with a bit of wine tasting and then a 10 course feast followed, delicious. I think some of the group’s chop stick skills amused the local contingent but we all managed to eat large amounts. The evening was topped off with a convergence in the Karaoke streams as both Team A and Team B headed off at the end of the evening to keep the place open until about 5am…
You can imagine the following day wasn’t that energetic, just some more dim sum and a wander around but we all perked up in the evening as it was time to go to the races! I’ve not been to many horse races over the years but have enjoyed it when I have, although I’m not really much of a gambler. Our hotel was
right next to the Happy Valley Race course (I did note the Chinese name was a lot more literal, translated as ‘Horse Racing Place), but I think it was definitely a happy valley that night.
There were many strategies for picking winners that evening, some scientific, some a little less so such as my ‘Dragon Strategy’. This being HK in just about every race there was a least one horse with ‘dragon’ in their name so I thought I’d be on a winner with picking that horse in each race, I mean dragons are fast, strong and powerful, how could I lose? It turns out I can lose very easily, so about three races in I dropped my strategy and followed the advice of those who were a bit more in the know. I did eventually get a couple of winners but not enough to retire on I’m afraid, still it was a very cool place to watch the ponies, being nestled in the midst of the HK skyscrapers is an amazing backdrop for an evening’s entertainment. I think we actually had a night off the karaoke that evening, I suspect the poor bar maid was relieved she could
The famous wave building in Repulse Bay.
get home at a reasonable hour for a change.
By the following morning, a few people were starting to drift off, some moving on to different parts of Asia for an extended trip. Those of us left decided to extend our sightseeing further afield and we headed off to Lantau Island to see a big Buddha. The Island is connected to the mainland now as it has the new HK airport on it, so we were able to get a train to Tung Chung new town on Lantau, it has the most amazing complex of apartments, just to remind you how densely populated the whole area is. Tung Chung also has a cable car which takes you up to the Ngong Ping peak where you will find a monastery and large bronze Buddha. With us all been keen skiers we all find it odd getting on cable cars without having to carry our skies around, but at least they don’t cram you in and everyone gets a seat. As we exited the cable car they claimed it was the best cable car every, we all concurred that whomever claims that has not been on the Peak-2-Peak in Whistler, Canada,
My favourite HK building
The Bank of China building is rather pretty
now that is a ride!
Having been to many Chinese temples and monasteries before, I can’t say I was especially impressed however I was impressed with my friend Carole who managed to climb all the way up to the Buddha on crutches (due to her breaking her ankle on our ski trip earlier that year), we were hoping that by showing such devotion to Buddha he might go and fix it for her there and then, but sadly she mustn’t be quite holy enough as it wasn’t mended by the time she got down, but good effort on her part. After the monastery and some nice holy snacks, we had there, we decided to get the ferry back and so found a bus to take us across the island to the ferry port and headed back to HK Island to meet some of the others who were leaving that evening. Sad to see some people depart, we all cheered ourselves up with some amazing roast goose, I so love Chinese food.
One last big excursion awaited those of us who remained, it was a trip to Macau. This was a first for me and quite a few others
Taking the tram up the Peak. I would have walked, but I was probably still recovering from a karaoke session or two...
and it was going to provide a bit of variety to the trip. We all took the fast ferry over to the Portuguese ex-colony and on arrival found the free bus to the Lisboa casino for a ride into town. I wasn’t prepared for the excessive architecture of the casino, it was quite a sight and to be honest I can’t quite say it was a nice sight, looking very 80’s now. It being only midday we decided to skip the gambling for now and headed off to the old part of Macau and were all pleasantly surprised. Much of the old Portuguese influenced architecture remains and provides a glorious mix of East and West cultures, the main street lined with shops selling Macau specialities and also giving away a lot of free samples of such specialties as well, it’s worth a stroll just for the snacks themselves.
We walked up to the ruins of St Paul’s, now just the façade of an old church and then visited the fort which gave good views over the city. They do enjoy painting their churches a nice shade of yellow and we enjoyed a walk around the back streets which offered
Look! Jackie Chan's house on the Peak..
Or perhaps a wind up from the hosts, which I sadly fell for. Whomever gets to live there would have rather fantastic views on a clear day
an interesting combination of Colonial architecture and more traditional Chinese architecture, it is also quite a green city with lots of parks to relax in, we were all impressed. That evening we headed out to the newer area across the bay and to a very fancy Portuguese restaurant, well we had done a lot of Chinese at this point and it was sort of local cuisine here.
And of course, Macau is famous for its casinos, it gets a lot of visitors from HK and the mainland for a spot of recreational gambling. After dinner we took a walk around the huge Venetian casino, it is even bigger than the one in Las Vegas, it has two canals. It was quite noticeable the difference between gambling in the US and gambling in Macau. In the US they ply you with alcoholic drinks at the tables and the bars are full, in Macau they mostly brought around coffee and water to the tables and I think we were the only people in bars we went to, they take it very seriously there. Wisely I cashed out while I was ahead and we quite the casinos before we lost the shirts
off our backs. Some of the group took a late night ferry back to HK (they run all night) and a couple of us had booked a hotel in Macau (a lot cheaper than HK).
The next morning, those of us in Macau took a walk around and the breakfasted in the spectacular Lisboa casino and took the ferry back to HK, we then found out everyone else had just got on a ferry to another island called Cheung Chau, so as soon as we got off our ferry we hoped on another one to meet them for some lunch. The island is very small and most people go there for the seafood, we caught up with the locals at one of the seafront restaurants and had some lunch. The island is tiny and you can easily walk around it in a couple of hours, it is also famous for an annual bun festival and we stumbled across the preparations for the impending festival a couple of weeks later. The locals build bamboo tower frames about 60 feet high and the locals cover them with about 60,000 buns and then locals climb them, interesting. The island also has some
Happy times at Happy Valley
It turns out my 'Dragon' system wasn't very good, the idea was to pick horses with 'Dragon' in their names, back to the drawing board...
famous ancient stone carvings (erm, not highly impressive…) and that was about it.
Once again it was time for some more people to head off and by the evening only a small group of us were left, we had a quiet drink and were just about to head back to the hotel when almost in unison we all looked shifty and asked, ‘Karaoke?’ so of we went for one last hurrah, well why not.
I have to confess the next morning I think I was a bit broken by HK and wasn’t good for much, it had been a bit of a party week. Most people had now left and I was preparing to head off the next day to my next destination so all I managed was to get myself to my hotel at the airport and meet a couple of people who were around for some food and drinks at the airport. It was rather a fun week and good to go back to Hong Kong and I will never ever be able to hear ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ again without thinking of all those nights of karaoke, turnaround Bright eyes...
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