Day 28 - Hong Kong Day 1

Friday, September 21st, 2007

I can't think how many times we crossed the harbour today. Spent most of our day there. I am not sure if I am complaining, mind you, just noting…Have spent a lot of time on water this trip.

Looking Out of the Hotel Window

After yesterday's less than satisfactory breakfast this time we visited the restaurant beside it that was a bit more local. Finally had our first taste of congee (a rice soup typically eaten for breakfast) on this trip. The small diner has a number of booths along the walls and window – Actually quite American looking. The menu is in English and Chinese so we were able to get what we wanted quite quickly (there are, annoyingly, some breakfast specials that were written only in Kanji that it would have been nice to know what they were…but we wanted the congee anyway). Service was appalling but at least the food was good.

I have never stayed in the Wan Chai area nor really had a reason to go here so it was the first trip I have ever been on with the Star Ferry between here and Kowloon. For those readers not familiar with it, the Star Ferry is a long-time service in Hong Kong providing service between the mainland (Kowloon) and Hong Kong Island. They have a number of old wooden deck ferries (two decks – upper deck is more expensive) and offer service every few minutes. Making our way down some back streets we eventually found the Wan Chai terminal and took it across to Kowloon.

The Convention Centre

There are several navy ships in the harbour today which is interesting.

Aboard the Star Ferry (SW)

Arriving in Kowloon, the Star Ferry dropped us at the terminal. The terminal is located at the southwestern tip of Kowloon right beside the “Hong Kong Cultural Centre” and the “Hong Kong Museum of Art”. Along the promenade, which stretches quite some way along the harbour, they are in the middle of preparations for the Mid-Autumn Festival (Moon Festival) which is being held here on Monday (remember the moon cakes I keep mentioning?). A big dragon is stretched out in front of the clock behind the cultural centre. Should be spectacular at night. They are also setting up a number of grandstands for some live performances and the like. It is a shame we will not be here to enjoy it.

Walking past the Museum of Art we were making our way onto Nathan Road but construction on Salisbury Road (the road that runs east to west following the harbour in Kowloon) forced us to go underground to cross. A bit annoying that as Nathan is only just across the road but the detour (through an underground shopping complex) takes quite some time. Nathan Road is as we remember it – Very busy, construction, cars and people everywhere. As we walked along the sidewalk (pavement) I was approached (not mother, interestingly) from a number of people asking if I wanted a fake watch and suit to the point that I had a bet with mother as to the number that would approach me before we hit our destination. What was our destination?

The Peninsula Hotel on the Harbourfront (SW)

One of the traditional things to do in Hong Kong in the last century has been to have a custom made suit created for visitors within 24 hours. I have visited two other times but never had a suit made for me so I decided that on this trip I would participate in the tradition and visit the most famous Hong Kong tailor of them all: Sam. Sam's Tailor is in a small shopping arcade on Nathan Road just opposite the south part of Kowloon Park. It is quite a small shop (perhaps only about 10 square meters in the public area) but very famous with pictures of many of his celebrity clients all over the walls (and in the changing rooms, I would find out). Between the pictures the walls are filled with cavities storing fabrics of every colour and textile. You name it, he has it. As luck would have it, I was able to shake the hand of the great man himself who actually measured me himself. I was honoured as he took my inside leg. He also helped me in nodding on occasion at my selection of fabrics, styles and cuts for my new suit. I am having two shirts made as well. All will be shipped back to me in the UK. I hope it arrives a bit quicker than my silk duvet which I am told will take up to two months as it is being shipped by boat…Sam has a number of assistants who all seem to know what is going on and helped in the gathering of my suit requirements (to be honest, as long as it looks good I am not too picky about design, really).

Sam's Tailor

Returning to Central via the Star Ferry we had plans for today. Mother has never visited the far side of Hong Kong Island. The last visit there was a monsoon that put paid to that idea. There is actually not a lot on the far side with the big skyscrapers really only to be found on the north facing Kowloon. The far side is where the resorts and beaches are located. Here you will also find Stanley: A small town with a famous market. It was here that we wanted to visit first.

Looking Back at the Harbour from the Bus

Catching a number six double-decker bus from the bus terminal we headed up the side of the mountain. There is a tunnel through the mountain to the other side but I specifically chose this bus that actually goes over the top – Much better views. I was not wrong. As we made our way up we passed by and above the Happy Valley Racecourse up the valley after which it is named. Looking down and back at the city is truly amazing with tall buildings stretching all around down to the harbour. The bus laboured as it made it's way up the mountain stopping occasionally to pick up and drop off local people. Heading over the top (with, strangely, a tall new apartment complex stretching into the sky far above the city) we entered into another world: The far side.

Islands on the South Side of Hong Kong Island

Here there are trees and mountains stretching in all directions with only a few signs of human habitation: At least, this is what you can see at the top as we made our way down via the winding road (exciting in a double-decker bus). This is busy road but not really one that is used by most people in the city who would prefer the simpler and quicker option of going through the tunnel. There are several houses as we continue down the mountain overlooking the spectacular scenery. The blue of the water is amazing.

We eventually arrive at the road running along the ocean on the south of the island. A short while later we pass by Repulse Bay which is home to a number of large hotels and a big beach. Continuing on we once again climb up to pass over to Stanley. Arriving from further up the side of the mountain we pass down into Stanley which is just a small town on a spit of land stretching out into the ocean with small beaches on either side. The bus let us off just above the market area that runs a short distance along the shoreline.

Stanley Market

The market area has been really cleaned up since I was last here. Before it was fairly informal with simple basic stalls but now it looks like it has very much been improved with much more established stores and lane ways. Mother really likes it. We picked up a few T-shirts that are quite amusing and spent a lot of time walking through shops with various items of clothing. The market sells all sorts of things but it is best known for the clothing but we also saw electronics and many souvenirs. There were a few tourists around but not as many as in the markets in Kowloon. The heat was unbearable with no breeze really in the covered market itself though the occasional stall does have air conditioning.

Lunch was at a very busy restaurant in the middle of the market. It appears to be popular with the locals but we did not really enjoy it. We had trouble getting a menu and they did not even offer us a cup of the free tea (they appeared to want to charge us for it!). They really seem to be taking advantage of the few tourists they must get in here. We sat in our corner table and observed the busy restaurant. The noise was quite something. The hot and sour soup was not that bad…

Walking along the lanes we came to the end of the market at the sea-side. Here there is a small temple and a beach. Very pleasant over here. A lot less busy and quite relaxing.

Climbing back up the small hill to the main road we caught a bus back to Repulse Bay. The road here is quite a distance above the beach so we made our way down some steps to the changing rooms. Up some steps to the first floor we got changed into our swimsuits for a welcome dip in the ocean. The facilities here are no where near as good as they are in Cheung Chau but still not too bad (at least they are free!).

As it is a weekday it was not that busy on the sandy beach. We sat down and took turns, once again, having a brief paddle around in the surf. Once again, the bottom drops quickly the further you get from the shore that is a bit disconcerting. The waves are not really that high and quite relaxing. A few groups of Japanese tourists would come and walk down to the water for a few minutes in their clothes then make their way back to their air conditioned coach waiting in the parking lot (car park).

Repulse Bay Beach (SW)

A pair of European ladies dressed in rather skimpy swimsuits sat near us (thongs? I mean, REALLY, on a public beach?). They attracted a number of men in suits that stood a short distance away from the woman pretending not to look directly at them but that is what they were doing! Mother and I could not believe it!

Some people find it hard to believe that there are actually quite good with very clean water and beaches, along with very good public facilities. This area also has a lot of trees and very picturesque surroundings – More like a holiday resort than a major world city.

Onboard the Bus (SW)

The return bus ride took us back to the city after the beach. The roads wind everywhere up and below the buildings all around – Not only the roads but also the pedestrian walkways and staircases that spread like tendrils in amongst the streets. We got out on Queen's Road East which is actually above our hotel so we made our way down a staircase past a school then along some side streets.

Dropping off our swimming things (and purchases) at the hotel we once again headed out and back towards Central. This time we took one of the double-decker trams the few short miles. This was a lot of fun – The trams are very narrow with only a single seat on either side of the narrow aisle. Slower than the trains and buses it is still a bit of nostalgia.

Back to Kowloon by Star Ferry we once again headed to Sam's for my final fitting. It was amazing to see that they already had the fabric cut and a tailor (sadly not Sam himself) eventually made some alterations to what he had done. It did take quite some time for this to happen as the shop was jammed with others having their fitting just like myself. What was very nice was that Sam actually offered me a drink while I was waiting (“coke, water, beer…”). I guess this is what keeps people coming back to him – He treats everyone as if they are famous – We are all equal to him – though that does not mean he doesn't put pictures of the famous ones on the wall!

After Sam's we visited some shops on the far side of Nathan Road. For some reason we ended up in a shoe shop from (they say) London. It took a while before we understood the guy in the shop about a special they had on (which turned out to be buy one pair, get one at half-price). Mother ended up with a free set of socks as she had to borrow a pair to try on the shoes…She has been wearing sandals for the whole trip (I am not willing to risk damage to my feet with all of the city walking we have been doing). I think I ended up paying for her shoes as well…Hum…

Nathan Road at Night

Back across to Central by the ferry we were in a bit of a hurry. One of the things I had done when I booked the hotel in Hong Kong I also booked a harbour cruise. It took a while to figure out exactly where (and when) we could meet. Originally they wanted the cruise to be at something like 3:00 in the afternoon but since this would have meant us hanging around the whole day for the 2-hour trip we persuaded them to change it to the evening but they did tell us it would only be an hour. As it turns out, this was actually a far better choice.

Running from the ferry we were just in time (7:40) to catch the boat from the tourist pier (9) – Oriental Dragon – A two story boat with the upper observation deck open all around (and a bar!). Sort of shaped like a junk we were shown on board the rocking ship (it was very wavy) and headed upstairs. We were the only ones on board and they quickly shoved off. Annoyingly they headed back to where we just came from, Kowloon, to pick up the rest of the passengers who ended up being some, we believe, Germans (we could not really understand them).

Well. It was not a cruise, really. We headed back out into the harbour towards the convention centre (right past the navy ships still anchored here) which actually sits out from the shore on Hong Kong Island (right near where we catch the Wan Chai ferry). Stopping here we realised what the cruise was all about. At 8:00 the light show started. I did not know about it but the ship's PA came on to play music and the sky lit up around us – Lasers and lights running up and down the buildings all around us. The lights were synchronised with the music and it was really quite good. The shores were lined with people watching the show – Very popular. Very pretty and amazing as the sky lit up with many colours. The lasers spanned the harbour with buildings in Kowloon getting into the action – The Museum of Art and Cultural Centre are also lit up in different colours.

Light Show in the Harbour

The show lasted for 15 minutes then one of the crew came up to us and asked us where we wanted to be dropped off so we requested they put us off at Wan Chai (beside the ferry pier). It was interesting getting off at some steps leading down into the water – The water was really rough! The crew made sure we were safely ashore before heading off into the night of the harbour.

I had to have something to eat (mother was not bothered) so I stopped at a Thai restaurant just a few doors down from our hotel where I chatted with the (attractive) waitress while my food was prepared for take-away (soup and Phad Thai…awesome!). Yeah, it is a bit late in the evening but I have to have something to eat…Cross-legged on the hotel room bed…

Day 29 - Hong Kong Day 2

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