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Fun, Fashion and Fairytales at Forty

3 nights in Hong Kong, April 2019.

Traditional Junk Boat

You’ll have to bear with me on this one as the trip was a year ago and whilst I remember the things I did, the little details are sketchy.

One thing that my memory is not vague on is the flight into Hong Kong! We flew with Finnair (the we this time is myself, my older brother, my mum and her partner). We arrived at Heathrow well ahead of schedule as it was at a time when there was loads of protesting going on trying to cause upheaval at the airports but fortunately we didn’t encounter any and we had plenty of time to enjoy a meal and chill before boarding. The first leg of the flight took us to Helsinki and then we boarded the flight to Hong Kong.

The flight wasn’t completely full, so my brother and I had a spare seat beside us giving us a bit of extra room. The service with Finnair was great and the flight was uneventful until we approached Hong Kong. We hit some heavy rain, thunder and lightning and serious turbulence. Not the little bumps that planes commonly experience that make you a little nervous if you’re not a keen flyer. Our plane was literally dropping out of the sky, levelling up, dropping again, levelling up. So many people were screaming, and a large amount of people were throwing up. It was absolutely horrific. Thankfully we all lived to tell the tale but hands down that was one of the scariest moments of my life (it’s worthy of the dramatics, lol)!

The airport was really busy and we were queuing for passport control for ages to be told that we had to fill out an arrival card which are usually given out during the flight but obviously due to the near death experience had been skipped, so we had to leave the queue, fill out the card and then get to the back of the queue. We had pre booked a driver to take us to our hotel on Hong Kong Island.

We were staying at The Dorsett Wan Chai overlooking the Happy Valley Racecourse. It’s a lovely hotel with large, well equipped rooms. They also provide daily bottles of complimentary water and the lobby has a complimentary coffee station in the mornings and a sweet stand in the evening. We took some time to freshen up and change before meeting in the lobby to explore. The hotel had umbrellas to borrow and a free bus service to take you to different areas, such as the train station and Causeway Bay which is where we were heading.

Causeway Bay is a very lively area, lots of shops and restaurants, bright lights and trams (more on those later). We had a little wander around and looked for somewhere to eat. We ended up in a restaurant called Tsui Wah on Sugar Street. I can’t remember the name of what I had but it was beef and rice and very nice. They had a good selection of food and it was very reasonably priced too. From there we walked to Times Square. There was a big circus tent display set up with lots of scenes set up inside for taking photos on in celebration of the Release of Dumbo. Obviously, I had to plant myself inside a cannon for a quick picture. After some generally wandering we head back to the hotel for a drink in the bar before bed.

Causeway Bay

The following day I had pre-booked us tickets through Viator for us to take the cable cars across to Ngong Ping to see the Tian Tan Buddha. The total for all four of us was £114.64. this was for the glass bottomed car going up and the regular one coming back.

We took the hotels shuttle bus to Central Station and took the metro to Tung Chung. The cable car terminus is a short walk from there. Although we had pre-booked, we still had to wait in a short queue to collect our tickets. It was early so we didn’t have to wait to long and it was pretty foggy that morning which probably kept the crowds at bay for a while. The cable car takes around 25 minutes to reach the top and it’s not for the faint hearted, especially if you do choose the glass bottomed one. There is a bus terminal opposite Tung Chung station which takes you up to Ngong Ping too if you don’t want to take the cable car, I believe it takes about 50 minutes on the bus.

It was a foggy day but despite that, the views were still phenomenal as we travelled upwards. There was a bit of light drizzle too, so we stopped for a drink before heading towards the buddha. There is a good selection of eateries to choose from, even a Starbucks, lol. The rain cleared and the fog lifted a little, so we made our way to the Big Buddha and up the 268 steps to reach it. The higher we climbed, the more of it emerged from the fog. I should imagine that on a clear day the views from the top are stunning.

Also, worth visiting whilst at Ngong Ping is the Po Lin Monastery, founded in 1906. It was initially known as “The big hut” but was renamed in 1924. As with most religious places, you can’t take photos inside but can take plenty outside. You can also purchase incense to light, you’ll see plenty of places where you can put it. After some lunch, we took the cable car back down, took a little time to browse in the mall but it was super busy so we took the metro to Kowloon Station and took a stroll around the West Kowloon Cultural District which is a park with some modern art structures in, a child’s play area and a pavilion.

View from the cable car to Ngong Ping

Tian Tan Buddha

At the top of the Tian Tan Buddha stairs.

Incense at Po Lin Monastery.

From here we took a taxi to the Space museum, admittingly we didn’t go in, but this was a good starting point to view the Avenue of the stars where stars leave their handprints like in Hollywood. The stars are obviously of Chinese origin but there will be some names that you recognise such as Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee, there is also a Bruce Lee statue.

This is a great area to stop for something to eat of drink too, with great views across the river to Hong Kong island. We then wandered around the bay and past the ocean terminal where some of the smaller cruise ships stop over. We stopped here at BLT Steak for a couple of cocktails outside and watched as all the city lights came on as the sky darkened.

We then found somewhere to eat on Canton Road. I can’t remember the name but in all honesty the food wasn’t great anyway so I wouldn’t recommend it.

We took a metro back to the nearest station to our hotel. It was probably about a 10-minute walk from there, but we were all exhausted so decided to take a taxi. Taking a taxi really isn’t as easy as it sounds and I’m sure if you’re a local you are aware of the rules that apply but as a tourist it was very confusing. Outside of the station was a long line of taxis so we told the first one where we wanted to go, and he simply shook his head. So we asked the one behind him. He also told us no but informed us that we had to go to the other side of the road to take a taxi. A driver that side also refused us, but we put out our hand and hailed another who took us. You will notice that the taxis are different colours, I honestly don’t know which colour applies to which tariff but basically some taxis only take on longer journeys, some only short ones, some stay on Hong Kong Island, some stay on Kowloon etc. I’m not even going to try and understand, it is what it is, and, in all honesty, we didn’t have to wait too long.

Avenue of the stars at Kowloon.

The following morning, we took a little time to explore the local area. We walked to Pak Tai Temple which is so pretty but totally hidden away on a housing estate, you could smell the beautiful incense before you could see the temple. It is free to enter, and you can take photos without a flash, just be respectful. As with all temples you can purchase incense to light.

Close by to this are three coloured houses, the blue house is the most famous but there is also an orange one and a yellow one. They were built in the 20s in a cross between eastern and western styles. They have had several uses over the years including a kung fu studio, they are now mainly residential. Also nearby is the smaller Hung Shing temple built atop huge boulders. It used to overlook the harbour but over the years the waterfront ebbed away, and it is now along a street.

From here we took a quick look around the Wan Chai food market. It’s not for the squeamish but it’s fascinating to see the weird and wonderful products. Note, it’s obviously all raw, you will see everything from tongues to testicles, weird and wonderful fish and full pig heads amongst other things. Oddly, after leaving here we were hungry ha-ha. We found a café along the lines of a Starbucks to eat something a little more palatable before taking a tram back to Causeway Bay so that we could catch the star ferry back to Kowloon bay.It’s just a short 10-minute crossing and you purchase tokens from a machine. It’s around 3HKD each way.

Incense at Pak Tai Temple

Star Ferry.

Our reason for crossing to Kowloon again was to fulfil my lifelong dream of sailing on a Junk Boat (Sampans). They are the traditional wooden sailboats with the big pleated sails, commonly red. Years ago you would have seen hundreds of these in the bay carrying goods but now just a few remain and have been repurposed as passenger/tour boats.

I wasn’t too sure where the pier to board was but saw it pulling in so ran along the bank until it stopped and got on. For future reference it’s at Tsim Sha Tsui pier 1 at the back of the Space Museum. It wasn’t really a pier, but help was given to climb on board.

It was 160 HKD for an hour-long tour. There are night-time tours and various other tours available too. The day time tour has four stops which I believe you can get off and re-join the boat later (like a hop on hop off tour) but we stayed on for the hour and enjoyed a drink as we sailed and took in the amazing views. There was a small handful of people on the boat during our trip but there was plenty of seating, including some comfortable sofas on the upper deck.

On board the Aqua Luna Junk Boat.

After the tour we grabbed some lunch at a pizza place (yes, I know, not very Chinese) by the Bruce Lee statue.

The infamous peninsula Hotel is a short stroll from here if you’re feeling flash and want to stop by for a cocktail.

Our plan from here was to go to Temple Street night market via Kowloon Park. Fook Tak Ancient Temple is nearby too but it was closed when we came past.

Kowloon Park was a great resting spot with several ponds, an aviary and a Chinese garden. It also boasts the smallest McDonalds I’ve ever seen, ha-ha. They only serve drinks and we opted for an orange Fanta ice-cream float which was so refreshing in the heat. There is also a Lido (Outdoor pool) in the park. It is 8HKD each, great if you need to cool off. There was also a lot of comic style statues on display there too, I’m not to sure if that was a temporary exhibition or a permanent thing but they were very cool.

We exited the park and continued up Nathan Road towards the market which is on Temple street between Man Ming Lane and Nanking Stand, we started at the furthest end and made our way back down. A lot of the stalls sell the same sorts of things, tourist gifts as expected and the prices have a little wiggle room for negotiation. There is lots of clothing available, gifts, bags, shoes, jade items (though probably not genuine jade). I bought a fan that plugs into my mobile which I was very grateful for in the muggy night air. I purchased some novelty chopsticks too. Mostly I was just browsing.

Once we had finished shopping, we took a taxi back to the harbour to catch the ferry back to Causeway Bay. Due to the unpleasant meal the previous night we decided to go to the restaurant where we had dined on our first night. A part of me wished that we had tried somewhere else as there are most likely so many good places to eat in the city, but we were tired and hungry and just wanted to eat something we knew we would like.

Fanta ice-cream floats.

Building on Nathan Road.

The next morning, we had a few hours to kill before heading to the cruise port. My mum and her partner decided to just chill at the hotel, but my brother and I ventured back out. We grabbed some breakfast and took a tram to Hong Kong Park.

The trams (affectionately named ding dings by the locals because of the sound they make) are a great way to get around Hong Kong Island and they are so cheap. The fare is just 2.30 HKD per ride, regardless of length. You pay in cash as you get off so keep some coins on you as no change is given. The trams are double decks so you get some great views as you travel, they can obviously get very busy during peak times but mostly are a very comfortable ride. They are very regular too, so if you miss one, another will be along just a few minutes later. I loved them (borderline obsessed ha-ha), they were all different colurs. I have a ridiculous amount of photos of trams.

View of a tram from the back of a tram.

In the park, which is an oasis in the middle of the city’s skyscrapers, you will find stunning plants and water features, lily ponds and playgrounds. There is also a green house which is beautiful cool and offers great respite from the outside humidity.

There is a fantastic aviary too which houses more than 80 species of birds. Both the greenhouse and aviary are free to enter.

You’ll also discover Olympic Square which as an outdoor amphitheatre seating just short of 900. It’s a great place to rest and admire the views. It hosts plenty of events throughout the year too from sporting and music events to puppet shows. We spent a couple of hours in the park and then looked for the peak tram to take us up to the top of Victoria Peak but unfortunately it was closed for maintenance work so we made our way back to the hotel to wait for our pick up to the cruise terminal.

Inside Hong Kong Park.

Our ship wasn’t due to leave until the following afternoon, so that evening we had an excursion booked through the cruise line to watch the Symphony of lights show.

This is an 8PM daily show and totally free. The best place to watch this from is along the waterfront at Kowloon or one of the evening boat tours. 42 buildings take part in this show and illuminate in a manner of different ways to music. It’s very clever.

After this we drove to the top of Victoria Peak to Peak Tower. The sky terrace here is 428 metres above sea level so offers fantastic views out across Hong Kong. I’m gutted that I hadn’t seen it during the daytime too, but the night views are not to be missed.

Hong Kong has so much to offer, I barely scraped the surface during my three-day trip so would love to return one day. If I’d more time I would love to have seen more of the stunning temples such as Man Mo and Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin. I would have taken a trip out to Macau to see the ruins of St Paul’s church. I would have visited the Aberdeen area and the Jade market. I would have spent a day at Disneyland on Lantau Island, also on Lantau Island is Tai O fishing village which I’m gutted to have missed. It’s a traditional village that seems untouched by time, with houses still built on stilts.

Hong Kong really is a fascinating place to visit, a hub of state-of-the-art modernity but steeped in ancient tradition. There is something here for everyone and I think it definitely pays to do your research before going and maybe work out a rough itinerary. Other than the trip to Ngong ping we just totally played it by ear I feel like I could have crammed so much more into my visit with more planning.

Symphony of Lights.

Causeway Bay.