Hong Kong, until next time!

The last 36 hours have been a bit of a blur!

Yesterday afternoon G and I went to the Sha Tin racecourse for the New Year races. The best way to get there is via the MTR as there is a designated station that serves this racecourse on days it holds events. Not every train on this line will go to the Racecourse station, and the ones that do will say on the next train board that it goes via that way. If in doubt, ask a member of staff. The trains run every 15 minutes or so.

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I have actually never been to a racecourse on racing day so can’t compare but it was a good atmosphere and a lot of fun.

After dinner with my cousin, we met with an old school friend of mine for a few drinks. He took us to a place called Brick House which was down a narrow alley that looks quite ominous on Lan Kwai Fong. It was a chilled out bar that also serves food. Their cocktails were quite good, I particularly liked the Picante Verde (I like my gin), and the music was on the mild side of eclectic which I liked.
The night was rounded off with a trip to Mr Red’s Karaoke bar in Wan Chai. Karaoke bars are good fun but expensive. They do make an absolute killing on the drinks but it is worth it to go once in a while to live out your inner rock star.

For brunch today my uncle took us to a traditional tea house in Sheung Wan called Lin Heung tea house. This place encompasses an authentic tea house experience for the average citizen back in the day. Cramped, noisy and busy, I do really enjoy the experience as well as the food. The ladies with the trolleys coming round shouting out what type of different dim sum they have and the male workers coming round with the large big kettles of boiling water to refill any open tea bowls. Yum cha is a big tradition as well as still a popular activity in Hong Kong, no visit would be complete without doing it, if you like envisaging what 1920s-30s Hong Kong teahouses were like, Lin Heung is the best place to go.

Afterwards we took a tram (in Cantonese we call them ding ding) towards Causeway Bay. A cosy but pleasant way to travel, particularly if you can afford to be leisurely with your time. At $2.3 for a ride, it’s worth going on one if you are wandering around central.

A short post from me today as I still have the remnants of my hangover from last night.
Tomorrow is souvenir shopping and last minute packing day as my flight back is tomorrow night. So I guess this is the last post from me on HK (for now). I have to say, it was an absolute blast!

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Talking about TripAdvisor’s #4 of 717 things to do in Hong Kong

Yesterday was spent resting from the previous night’s late antics and seeing family and eating. So much eating.

So today will just be a fairly quick one discussing the tourist attraction that is currently TripAdvisor’s #4 thing to do in HK, out of a listed 717. That is the Tian Tan Buddha and Po Lin monastery.

Standing at 34m tall, the Tian Tan Buddha was finished at the end of 1993. It is quite iconic of HK, and usually one of the main things I get asked by people in the UK “have you been to see the big Buddha?”.

I can’t say I’ve ever understood what the fuss is about. Yes I have been as a little girl, and yes it’s a big statue of Buddha, what’s the big deal? G, of a mainly western background, wanted to see it so I thought it’d be good to go seeing as my years of living was probably in the single digits last time I went.

A good tip is, if you’re looking to go via cable car from Tung Chung, I strongly recommend booking in advance. If not, then you should definitely turn up early (we got there at 8.45 and there was already a thirty people strong queue waiting for tickets). Getting there early is definitely worth it as it is the quietest in the morning.

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For those with a fear of heights, there are buses available and also a walkway along the bottom of the cable car route for those looking for a gruelling start to the day.

The views from the cable car are stunning and absolutely breathtaking on a nice day.

As soon as you hit Ngong Ping, things get a little strange. They’ve now constructed a new “village” at the base where the cable car terminal is which houses eateries and gift shops – all of which is, of course, extortionately priced.
The entire construct is like a theme park and it’s run by Hello Kitty. This character that has no mouth but the seeming ability to charm the world appears in multiple scenarios ranging from the glass bottomed cable cars, to a large figurine of her in the centre of Ngong Ping village. There is even a wishing tree that is made partly from plastic. It’s super tacky and encompasses everything I dislike about tourism (and no I think tourism is a good thing in general).

After the gate, things start to feel less sparkly and plastic and a bit more authentic.

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We stop off at the temple first to pay our respects and to explore the beautifully crafted building. And it is an absolutely beautiful no-expenses-spared compound.

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I quite enjoy visiting religious buildings; I love seeing the detail and effort people go to in order to build something for a cause they’re passionate about. I’m not religious but I do understand passion and the motivation it provides. The moment that the visit to Po Lin temple really turned it off for me was when I saw the Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas:

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Yes it is impressive, yes it is magnificent but something about it feels perversely garish to me. The tiles on the walls above and below the gold line of buddhas, each tile is a Buddha donated by someone who has their name on there. Personally all of it just feels wrong to me. If you like spectacles of grandeur though, this is definitely one.
Po Lin monastery does have some good food. All of which is vegetarian. We didn’t have lunch there but stopped for some mid morning sweet treats:

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At $25 for the lot on the photo, it is definitely worth a taste.

After that we visited the Buddha which is a steep climb of 268 steps (I looked it up, I didn’t count as I was too busy complaining 😂), so it really isn’t suitable for anyone with mobility problems.
The view from the top is totally worth it though, and I’m not talking about the statue.

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Lantau island is itself an amazing natural setting, if I were to go back, it would be for a hike up the peak of the island.

If you don’t mind it being overly touristy, then I would recommend going. If you, like me, prefer going to places less obviously geared towards tourism, Wong Tai Sin or Man Mo temple are probably the best way to experience the religious traditions in Hong Kong.

恭喜發財! It’s the year of the monkey!

Happy New Year!

It’s been a busy two days here in Hong Kong! On Tuesday, we did tai chi in the morning, yum cha with my grandma and exploring the market streets in Mong Kok like Goldfish Street.

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It’s an interesting place to see but probably one to avoid if you’re a big animal lover. I don’t know what their conditions are like during their tenancy at this shops but seeing a puppy or kitten in a small glass cage is pretty cruel. There are plenty of other market streets around here that are suitable for exploration and lots that have quirky souvenir ideas.

Today, started off with dragging G along with me (sorry G) to the Just Climb bouldering wall near Diamond Hill. I normally climb three to four times a week so was definitely needing a session having not been since last Monday. It was a small but good bouldering centre which makes the most of its space by having a lot of challenging routes mainly on vertical or overhang walls. I did find the routes a tad confusing though as each hold in a route was marked by a tag near the hold and not by the colour of the hold itself which is the more helpful practice – it’s hard to see the tags when you’re on the wall. It was also a lot more expensive in comparison to climbing in the UK. In London, the average place has free registration and shoe rental plus entry is ~£13. Here it was $158 for entry, $100 for registration and $40 for shoe rental if you need it which works out about ~£26. Although having looked at another climbing wall in HK, it seems like this might be to do with the local market.

After climbing we visited Wong Tai Sin Temple on the way back. It’s a beautiful old temple which sits in the midst of lots of high rise residential blocks of flats. Like most landscapes in central HK, it is a pleasant clash of nature, traditional culture and modern day city.

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If you fancy visiting this large, beautiful place of worship but hate lager crowds, any time before midnight on CNY is recommended. Chaos breaks out at the stroke of midnight as people try and be the first to offer incense to the Gods as thanks for looking after them in the previous year and for any wishes that were made and granted. Getting the incense down as early into the year as possible shows a high level of sincerity to the gods so all temples for at least the first week after CNY tend to be full of hustle and bustle. Wong Tai Sin is one of the most popular for people trying to lay the incense down first.

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Last night we went round my mum’s family for a traditional reunion dinner. This happens on the last day of the lunar year and traditionally is the main day of the year families would make the effort to all eat together (usually they would eat at different times according to needs on the farms). We had a Chinese Hotpot (although not sure if it’s called hotpot) which had all the ingredients cooked in the same pot – the traditional meal ate on this day.

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No the picture does not deceive. It was a gigantic metal bowl full of everything. Chicken, prawns, fish balls, squid, pork belly, turnips, beancurds, dried fish, mushrooms, hair moss fungus thing, dried mussels etc. Literally everything.
For dessert we had rice balls, another traditional food for today.

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The roundness of the balls represent unity of the family and symbolise the family gathering.
After midnight and letting off some fireworks (and surviving the one that went rogue), we headed back via a flower market.
These flower markets are pop up stalls that open in local community areas like basketball courts and are open up until CNY selling goods to help celebrate the new year. The goods sold vary by market but generally it’s flowers, toys and food. Last day of the lunar year is the last day these stalls are open so from evening onwards, these vendors will greatly reduce prices in order to shift their leftover stock. By 1am when we arrived, it was havoc as they were trying to flog everything so they could go home.

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The flower stalls in particular have the best deals as obviously they deal with perishable goods. One store was offering vases for $100 and then allowing those customers to fill the vases with all the flowers they wanted. Another was (forcefully) pushing literal armfuls of flowers into the crowd for $50. “Grab all you want and just pay 50, I want to go home!” Shouted the man.

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If you like a good bargain and a bit of a chaotic environment, I would definitely recommend visiting one these markets at night at the start of CNY.

Hong Kong Exploring: day 1

5/2 Friday
10:00 Leave home
10:30 Lam tsuen
11:30 Temple tai po
12:00 lunch at tai wan, 
13:30 star ferry,
14:00 pick up at central
14:30 aberdeen, jumbo,
15:15 pick up at WCH
15:30 Repulse bay,
16:00 chung hom kok,
16:30 Stanley
18:00 Dinner buffet at CWB
20:00 peak.

That was my dad’s proposed itinerary to me over whatsapp. Bearing in mind G and I both landed in HK with a stinking cold, I thought he was being a bit ambitious. We did it though. It’s amazing how much more you can see when you get round in a car – once you get over the appalling driving in HK.

The star ferry was a good highlight as a cheap way to experience the waters that surrounds HK as one of the routes runs between Tsim Sha Tsui and Central. The journey is about 10 minutes long and costs just $2.5 (~£0.21).

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View from the Star Ferry enroute to Central

Another must see is to go up to the Victoria peak which you can get to via the vernacular but the queues for it are usually rather off-putting. Once up though you’ll be treated to stunning views from the highest point overlooking the city. This is particularly stunning at night as the skyscrapers put on amazing light displays that light up the horizons.

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HK night sights from Victoria Peak

One of the most chilled out places we went to was Repulse Bay. This is one of the more westernized areas but this means you get a lot of amazing bars and restaurants with doors that open to a beach view. It is super popular in the summer as it’s accessible by public transport (majority of HK locals don’t own cars) but in Feb-April it is a lovely break from the craziness of central HK.

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Repulse bay

Those are probably my highlights of the day. Sorry about the quality of the pictures, I’m currently writing on my phone so don’t have access to the ones on my DSLR. I promise I will post a post of the highlights from my reel when I get back to England.

New Zealand – My favourite destination to date

As this is post is published, I will still be 30,000 ft up in the air so I thought I’d schedule a post about my favourite travel destination thus far in my 25 years of wandering this earth.

At the time of writing (03,02,2016), New Zealand is still, by far, the place that holds my heart. With its beautiful landscape and laid-back cities and towns, it is the country and land that encompasses everything that I could ever want.

Expansive countrysides and a beautiful range of respected natural features of the land that is revered by its inhabitants. And I only visited Auckland, Rotorua and Taupo in the North Island on my first trip.

If you love the outdoors, Lord of the Rings, good food, good wine or just love travelling. Go New Zealand. I will definitely be going back.

 

Countdown to HK – T minus 12 hours

So I’m off to Hong Kong again tonight. I usually go back once every two years to visit family and this time is no exception. The differences this time with going back are:

  • I’m going back during Chinese New Year
  • My best friend G is accompanying me

Both of which makes this an outstanding trip.

You know how you can live in a city and not do any of the tourist activities because you live there and you don’t want to be seen dead within a five mile radius of a tourist attraction? Well that also happens if you go back to your motherland with a regular(ish) frequency. I have done some touristy things in past trips but definitely not since passing mid-teens. It was definitely a smart choice inviting G along with me. Her enthusiasm and thirst for historical and cultural sights is infectious and our itinerary is looking pretty fantastic.

Plus, it is always useful to know someone who lives abroad from you that can visit and inadvertently take advantage of as a tour guide/ host. In this case, that would be my parents.

Expect more posts as to what we get up to!