Sunday, October 6th - Wan Chai, Hong Kong

9:10 the next morning a banging on the door: “Housekeeping” (well, only after several “huhs?” did this become apparent) to whom I told “come back later!”. I did not really have a great night of sleep. Though we were in bed at 12:30 I don’t think I managed to get to sleep until about 6 am as I was tossing and turning with the caffeine in my system and my mind going at a million miles an hour thinking of what we can do here.

Having a shower was a blessing as it was so much warmer than the room which is an absolute fridge. I zoned out for a few minutes while Mel got ready with CNN and National Geographic.

Daylight View out of Window

Always the thing I suggest to people to do when they come here is to first go the peak. This not only gives them a great view of the city it also gives them an idea that Hong Kong is not all concrete and skyscrapers. So, with that in mind we prepared ourselves for a bit of a trip (complete with water and a new map replacing the one we misplaced yesterday) - our first day in Hong Kong!

Our Hotel

We took a different route from the hotel as we turned right past the Cosmopolitan hotel then took an underpass to get to the other side of the large road (really a highway - an elevated road above a large road complete with a tram line running down the middle) beside the racecourse then headed towards the harbour. We passed by a small park with a small skateboard track through some trees and watched a young boy attempt the somewhat hilly concrete track. Passing the park there were some large, expensive looking hotels and in the middle of the road was a magnificent looking gold dragon statue that Mel, the shutterbug, insisted on visiting.

The Dragon

Continuing down the road we found a local pharmacy spilling out of it’s shop onto the sidewalk - Mel seems to have a bit of cold so needed something for her sinuses (she has also had a terrible chesty cough and difficulty breathing). A brief pantomime of Mel pointing at her nose quickly resulted in a purchase of some decongestants - Well, we think they are.

The Streets Near the Pharmacy

The busy area had a small bakery opposite that we visited. The shop had a series of shelves with covered containers containing various baked goods (which appears to be the norm here). In this case there was helpfully an english description as well so we picked a few things for snacking and, possibly, breakfast. An interesting looking dim sum place next door may be up for trying later…today we wanted to try “Congee King” that we saw last night so we headed over the few blocks to find it. It was worth it (my restaurant review here).

The clean, relaxing interior was very quiet. We were early but noticed it only opened later in the day which is a bit odd as I thought congee was really a breakfast thing but, hey-ho. I had the beef with ginger while Mel had the shredded chicken. I also had a fried donut on the side which is savoury that is often eaten soaked in the congee, as I did - Absolutely delicious, the whole thing. The congee (thick rice soup) was wonderfully tasty. I know it sounds bland and perhaps this is also why I love potato and leek soup - also bland. At $105 (£10.50), including drinks, it was a reasonable meal and quite filling.

I love the choices of transport here but in this case we did not have a lot in mind for today so headed out under our own steam walking along Hennessey Road which is quite busy with a tram running along it and goes east west. We headed west towards Central and soaked up the atmosphere. The small shops topped with residential apartment buildings gave way to massive and ultra-modern office buildings with their super-clean lines and modern shops. We were surprised to come across a busy sportsground wedged between the high-rises - A football match was underway with a small group of onlookers sitting in a small covered grandstand.

Southorn Playground, Wan Chai

In all of this hussle it was nice to see people being normal - Just relaxing and having fun. We sat for a few minutes to watch as well…

Lippo Towers on Right, Bank of China on Left

Continuing our journey we passed the two Lippo Towers - Odd puzzle-shaped buildings - and just before the distinctive shard of the Bank of China we headed into Hong Kong Park (well, we didn’t, we headed up a staircase in the corner of the park that led us to…an apartment complex…our embarrassment, though, was shared as there was another tourist there doing exactly the same thing, luckily I had some memory of the area and was able to point her in the right direction that we also then followed…). The walk off of the street into the leafy and lush park was very steep and we had to stop several times in it’s relentless upward journey. It was, of course, well worth it. The top of the path ends in a modern water fountain that was crowded with people…I sat down on a convenient bollard but, critically, in the shade while the photographer got to work.

Relaxing at the Fountain

Catching our breath - it really was steep - we followed the signs and headed off towards the conservatory. As we continued upwards (the whole park is on the side of the mountain) on the way we passed by an artificial waterfall and a lot of plants.

The Waterfall

It really is quite the haven from the city which you can see all around you but, thankfully, not really hear it. The conservatory was interesting with several rooms - The first as you go in was a room full of a number of flowers including some orchids we had never seen the like of before. Halloween is in the air so there were a few scary props for the kids as well. To be honest, one of the biggest attractions of the conservatory was the fact that it was much cooler and less humid than outside (give us a break, we are still acclimating and are also doubtless suffering from jet lag…) Upstairs we entered the “Dry Plant House” which had a number of different cactus then the final room was the “Humid Plant House” (entering with a bit of trepidation as it was hot and humid like outside) which had a small creek running through it and waterfall at the end. Several visitors spent ten minutes taking pictures of their daughter in front the waterfall as she kept posing…Oh dear. She was quite good at posing so either she is training to be a supermodel or she has done this before…

Inside the Conservatory

Reluctantly we returned to the outdoors and the heat again. I had forgotten there were bird cages outside but they were very impressive, large, structures with some very colourful birds. Mel suggested this was the first time she had ever seen a hornbill “in the flesh” (as it were) and was quite fascinated by their odd look. To be honest, they didn’t seem to care spending the entire time staying as still as possible (they are not stupid - in the heat of the day you don’t move too much). So, we continued moving too much…onto the Edward Youde Aviary which is always a favourite place for me to visit. You walk through two chain curtains into a large mesh tent with a walkway suspended about 10m from the ground. In the aviary the birds fly freely all around you though, again, they mostly seemed to not be moving too much (see previous comment).

Edward Youde Aviary

At one we watched several mynas eating some fruit very close to the walkway then a keeper started feeding one right on the railing itself. The “java sparrow” (small like a finch) and “lory” (very colourful) were definite highlights though I was disappointed not to see any pelicans which we were told were there…probably resting.

Friendly Bird

We had been working our way through the park to get to the Peak Tram station on the other side - A rather pleasant way to get there if you ask me. We crossed out of the park and entered into the long queue to buy tickets. We avoided the professional photographer offering to take our photo in front of a static image of the tram as we paid for our tickets (cash only, $75 each which includes entrance to the viewing platform at the top). The queue after we got our tickets was incredible. It moved forwards in fits and starts as a tram would arrive, take away a bunch of people, then the people behind move forward to take their place. On the way we passed by the old machinery used for the tram and some other historical displays but, to be honest, we could not really see it from the middle of the mass of people nor did we want to give up our place in the tight group…The Peak Tram has been around for many years and it was odd to see the pictures of Hong Kong people from back in the early 20th century wearing their old-style clothing on the tram.

Waiting for the Peak Tram

About 45 minutes later we were lucky enough to be near a door when a tram arrived so had a seat against the window. I had forgotten how steeply the tram actually travels as it winds its way up through the trees and forest past the high rises that are found all the way up. We stopped a couple of times for locals to get on or off (if you live there you get discounted tickets for the tram and you don’t have to go in the tourist queue…). Mel snapped away with her camera as we made our way up. There is no way you could stand in the aisle at some points - We were literally pushed back into our seats! The view as you approach the peak terminal is amazing as it looks out over Central, the harbour and Kowloon.

The View While Climbing up to the Peak

Arriving at the peak terminal - Well, more a shopping centre than terminal - We exited through a series of shops. Mel was interested in some name calligraphy. Not finding her name (“Melanie”, a bit unusual) someone from the shop approached us and said they could do it for us if we wanted. Heading towards the back of the shop a man asked her name and he determined the best Chinese characters to fit the pronunciation and wrote it very elegantly on a card. It was quite nice and the personal touch was much appreciated rather than just picking it off the rack. Of course, they wanted us to buy other items but we have only just arrived!

We found our way through the “terminal” and found a coffee shop where we stopped for a cool drink. It is right above where the tram is and has large glass windows looking out over Central - A great view. We were not initially able to sit at the windows but eventually inched our way there as people left…”Pacific Coffee”, not exactly a Hong Kong institution…Leaving the terminal there is another shopping center opposite - The Peak Galleria - boasting a FREE viewing platform on their roof as opposite to the one in the terminal which you pay for) with an old tram parked outside which turns out to be a Hong Kong Tourism office (neat idea that).

Peak Tram Station

On the other side of the road is The Peak Lookout restaurant which is a place I love to visit when I am in Hong Kong - Great views, very quiet but expensive, and not really that great, food. I was disappointed to see that there was a private party going on so dinner there was not going to happen (trying to impress Mel on the first day…).

When I visit the Peak I like to take the walk up to the park at the top. You see, where the tram stops is not really at the Peak - It is another half mile up some steep winding local roads before you get to the highest point on Hong Kong Island. So, up we went. The road takes you by many very expensive properties but I can’t say they looked all that nice - Old and a little decayed. It was good to see a small park along the way being well used by people sitting on the grass and eating, children playing…On the street were some wonderful cars including a lamborghini. After that park the buildings pretty much stop and you are walking on this narrow road with trees on either side of you and having to stand in them whenever a car tried to go by…

Victoria Peak Garden

Eventually we made it to “Victoria Peak Garden” at the top of the mountain only to find a number of couples having their marriage photos taken there (seriously, at least two separate groups with a number of people posing and preening them) as well as a number of other people wandering around or having picnics. There are several gardens here - A lower one which is mostly lawn, a middle garden which is quite formal and an upper one with a gazebo and a small shop selling drinks and treats. Of course we were primarily here for the view so we took it in - The south side of the island and looking out into the ocean with various islands in the distance. Below us, at the bottom of the densely forested mountain there is the Pok Fu Lam reservoir and dam with Pokfulam Village behind. The view was not great as it was quite hazy but it is still quite pleasant.

The View

Deciding to get away from the crowds a bit we followed a small path leading to another viewpoint off to the side. An unoccupied bench beckoned. We sat down (well, I laid down, Mel sat) and I helped myself to the now soggy egg tarts we had purchased at the bakery earlier. Relaxing after a long and hot walk it was quite pleasant.

Now, even here is not the real top of the mountain - That honour goes to some communication or radio masts that are on the real top in a fenced-in enclosure. Seeing a path along the side of the fence leading promisingly towards the other side and different views…we found a dead end about 20m in with no views except fleetingly through the dense tree cover all around. We were not the only ones thinking this as others turned around as well…

View of Bridges in the Harbour

The sun was beginning to go down so we decided to head back down to the tram terminal. Along the way we noticed some people pointing at the road - A small snake was slithering along (about 30cm long). Mel stopped to take pictures and admire this gift from nature…she was not the only one doing this either! The trip down was a bit easier than the trip up though a bit of tension at one bit where two cars met going in opposite directions (it seemed to take one of the drivers a long time to realise he needed to get out of the way). At one point we noticed a great view behind a bus stop of the city and even looking down on the tram station itself. A few people were taking pictures there…There do seem to be a lot of people around today, I can’t remember this many people ever being in this area before.

Bus Stop View

Back at the terminal we paid a quick visit to the Tourist Information place in the tram (yes, and took a few pictures). We were told that there are a number of paths in the area and it is possible to actually walk from here down to the dam at the bottom on the far side of the island and takes about 2 hours. We agreed this sounded like something good to do another day (it was almost dark, getting late and we were tired)…The lady serving us also reminded me of something I had forgotten: Raymond, a friend that lives here, had told us that it was the end of “Golden Week” (well, tomorrow is the last day of the week) - A holiday period where Hong Kong is inundated with people from the China mainland paying a visit. That explains a lot of what we had been seeing - The queue at the tram, the number of people at the peak, even the number of people we have been seeing on the streets in the middle of the city office districts considering it is a Sunday…

The modern shopping center across from the tram looked less busy so we wandered around for a little while, stopping in a small grocery to buy some snacks - I picked up some (Japanese!) “instant noodle snacks” (basically dried ramen noodles smashed into pieces with spice added) and Mel picked up some “prawn crackers” (which she later discovered were made with REAL prawn - too fishy for her but I don’t mind them…).

Really, one reason we were here is to look for somewhere to eat. McDonald’s was not appealing and the Vietnamese street food place was not exactly local. So, we chose “Mak’s Noodle” (my restaurant review here) which is a Chinese noodle restaurant that has been around since 1960 and specializes in hand-made noodles (which they make right in the window). Earlier the restaurant was not terribly busy but now, 15 minutes later, it was quite busy so we ended up with the last table right near the entrance to the kitchen where for the first part of the meal I watched a lady sloping large amounts of water around on the floor in her efforts to clean it (to be fair, it did have drains in the floor to allow for this cleaning method). It was nice to sit and immediately have tea put in front of you…good tea at that. It made me feel we had made the right choice…and we had. We both had the hand-tossed noodles, Mel’s was topped with beef while mine was topped with beef AND tendon (which was very tender and very gelatinous which Mel is not a big fan of). We had a side order of Chinese vegetables that were also very nice indeed. A simple but very tasty meal.

For dessert we decided to have some ice cream so picked up some from a gelato place outside the terminal building. It was OK but VERY expensive.

When we bought our tram tickets we also purchased tickets for the terminal viewing platform so we made our way back into the terminal then up a series of escalators leading to the roof. As we made our way up it got busier and busier. On the roof it was packed. We could not get to any of the railings that stretched all around the roof of the building except at a far corner above where the tram arrived where the view was not great, but passable. We had to push our way to get to anywhere up there. The professional photographers from the company taking pictures of people posing at the railings at two separate places on the railing (so, effectively, removing that part of the walkway from traffic) did not help a lot. Golden week, sigh…

View of Harbour at Night

The city is beautiful at night and it is a great view from up there. We noticed that one tall building had a series of lights along its entire 100-story height that was, effectively, a giant video screen with images and a count-down to the night show at 7:45..We could see what looked like the beginnings of this nightly display in the buildings below with several flashing lasers and different coloured lights along their surfaces. Amazing.

Getting tired of the crowds we made our way towards the exit only to see that a free audio tour was available for us so we decided since we had effectively paid for it…we managed to find a bench away from the crowds and sat down to play with our new toys. It was a very interesting multi-media device that allows you to select what you are interested in and listen to information about the different areas. We learned that 70% of Hong Kong is green and of that green, ? of it is protected park. Amazing to think that people believe Hong Kong to be all city and cars! We also learned there is a one hour circle walking tour around the top of the Peak and, now that they mentioned it, I could see the path lit up below us as it snakes its way through the trees…Funny I had not noticed that before.

Audio tours returned we fought our way back to the escalators then headed across to The Peak Galleria where we picked up two slurpees. There was a REAL 7-11 in the mall! Only coke slurpees on offer so we both had one and sat outside near the fountain enjoying the cooler night air. Of course, we were a bit too close to the fountain and got a bit wet but anything to cool down…


It was a long queue to take the tram back down the mountain - 30 minutes - Though, due to the large numbers of people, we were not able to sit beside one another (sigh). The trip down was a bit less exciting and a bit more headache-inducing as we were going backwards the whole way (and remember how steep I said it was?).

It had been a long day. The lower tram station is a bit up the side of the mountain so getting back to the hotel by public transport would have been difficult as we would have had to first walk to the bottom then catch transport across to the hotel so we gave up and took a taxi ($33.50 but worth it - he was quick as he followed the expressway along the harbour then up past the racecourse near the hotel).

We are very tired. I managed to move the many hundreds of pictures from Mel’s camera onto the computer so she is fresh and ready to take many more tomorrow! We had been debating bringing this laptop with us but at the very least it is a handy device for storing things like this and it is certainly easier to type on than the phones!

We finished off our remaining bakery items while relaxing on the bed - A BBQ bun, chocolate bun and a coconut bun. All very nice indeed. Some television along with hanging up of the “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door handle (we don’t want a repeat of this morning) we are ready to call it a night. Night!

⇒ Continue to Monday, October 7th - Wan Chai, Hong Kong