Monday, October 7th - Wan Chai, Hong Kong

So the idea today was to enjoy a bit of the sun and ocean. I had always told Mel that one of the things I initially found surprising about Hong Kong was the fact that there are a number of quite nice public beaches here and from our hotel they are just on the other side of the mountain for us - Several buses go there from right outside our door. After the large amount of walking yesterday a bit of relaxation sounded good.

We were out of food from the bakery so headed out to find somewhere to eat. Yesterday we had noticed a place beside the bakery serving Dim Sum so we decided to give it a try today. “Dim Dim Sum” (my restaurant review here) does not sound too promising but the front doors were plastered with very good reviews from a number of papers. It was very quiet in the long diner-type interior with only a couple of other tables having people sitting at them. It was a bit early for dim sum, but what can you do. We were seated near the back and given a very helpful menu with lots of pictures and English. Let’s see, we had the:

  • Deep fried wanton baskets with mayo and fruit with shrimp that was oddly served cold but very nice.
  • “Har gau”, that is, steamed prawn dumplings that were very sticky and quite a trick for me to remove from the steamer paper. I am not sure if any of them I had were intact by the time I was able to eat them…
  • “Char sui bau”, that is, steamed pork dumplings
  • “Gai lam”, that is, steamed Chinese vegetables (I think this is the third meal in a row now for this)
  • Steamed beef balls w/orange peel
  • Steamed shanghai dumplings (pork with truffle) which are one of my all-time favourites as the way the dumplings are cooked means that the juices from the meat form a liquid around it within the wrapping…like biting into a ball of delicious soup.
  • A “normal” dish of rice with beef and egg

At $130 this was one of the cheapest dim sum meals I have ever had and the quality was very good indeed. We did regret not having the “Piggy Custard Buns” we saw ordered at another table - they were cute pale steamed buns with pig ears, snout and eyes on them.

We are starting to need public transport so it made sense to see about getting a stored value transport card to use where you touch the card against readers to pay for your journey. The only place that sells these cards, called “Octopus” here (in London they are “Oyster” so there is an ocean theme involved it seems), are the MTR (subway) stations so we headed down Hennessy Road to Wan Chai, our nearest MTR station. The cards have a $50 deposit but we also added another $100 to get ourselves started. 11:30 and we were ready for our day on the beach!

Exiting the busy (but clean and very modern) MTR station we found a bus stop a few stops over and boarded the #6 bus using our freshly-minted Octopus cards. There are several incarnations of this bus: The standard “6” stops a lot and goes over the top of the mountain (so is a bit fun too) while the “6x” is an express bus that takes the boring route through the mountain but they both go to the same places: Past Repulse Bay and over to Stanley, both on the south side of Hong Kong Island. The modern double-decker bus was quite crowded so we ended up at the back of the upper deck. The air conditioning was on full blast which seems to the norm here - Our hotel room is still incredibly cold despite turning the thermostat up to higher temperatures every day (the cleaner turns it back down).

The bus follows Queen Street East along the base of the mountain, turning to climb the mountain just before getting to our hotel. It follows the winding Stubbs Road up the mountain past the cemetery we see out the back of our window and a number of tall office blocks before these are left behind and all that is left is a narrow track with mountain to the right and cliff to the left overlooking the high rises of Happy Valley - Spectacular. The bus stopped several times on it’s way to the top in what seems to be the middle of no-where but looking closer you can spot there are small walkways leading to apartment buildings clinging precariously to the steep slopes or down to one of the many buildings beneath us. Many of the apartment buildings here look to be extremely posh with nice looking lobbies and doormen with expensive cars turning in all the time.

Climbing up and up eventually we topped the mountain and had our first view of the south side of the island and Deep Water Bay. The bay had a number of yachts anchored in it including one looking like it was straight out of a Bond film - Long, black, massive and sleek - Dominating any of the lesser vessels near by. To the right of the Bay I could make out Ocean Park - A local amusement park we hope to visit while we are here that has a number of rides but also a lot of sea-life and exhibits. Ocean Park is fairly easy to spot as it has parts of it on the bay but it also has a ski lift that takes you to the top of a mountain where there are more sections and, as I know from a previous visit, another section at the bottom of the far side as well. It is quite spread out. The road down has less buildings than on the other side but those that are here are much smaller and expensive-looking villas.

View from the Bus

I believe that the Deep Water Bay area is quite exclusive. The bus made it’s way down the ever-winding road with the mountain now on our left and the views to our right as we turned away from Deep Water Bay to enter into the Repulse Bay area. This area is full of resorts as well as a large public beach that we would be visiting later today. One particular building is eye-catching - A wavey frontage with a square hole in the middle of it.

The road along the southern coast is quite good as we climbed up again out of Repulse Bay over a pass into Stanley (wonderful views again though taking pictures is quite difficult as we were moving quickly and there are the inconvenient trees that seem to pop-up exactly when you want to snap) - A small village visited mostly for it’s market. We left the bus and made our way across the road to the market. After the cold of the bus the heat and humidity was quite hard to take. Walking down the road past a small roundabout we were on the outskirts of the market where, taking a bit of interest in some pearls, we were immediately approached by the assistant who proceeded to try to sell us a number of expensive items - To be honest the unusually shaped pearls in an assortment of colours were quite amazing. I did not know such shapes were possible in natural pearls but they certainly were eye catching. Tactfully we made our retreat to continue exploring the area.

Over the years since I have been visiting this has become much more touristy and now we found walking through the narrow lanes there is air conditioning and much of the stalls now sell much more expensive higher-end items. I remember a few years ago coming here for cheap clothing a bit more of a local feel. It has certainly lost some of this magic now. One of the stalls selling prints did catch our eye and we ended up buying a couple of painted pictures of Hong Kong with only a small bit of haggling. Language was not an issue here.

We were thankful to get to the end of the market where we walked away from the harbour towards some smaller shops and houses we saw to the left. Around the corner we found a small fishing boat landing area where we sat and spent a few minutes watching a fisherman in his small boat setting his nets only a short distance from shore. A tour guide was chatting to his two clients about the area but we were just content to watch under the shade of a large tree. Getting up we continued walking along the small road and passed a number of houses built extremely close to the path. As we followed the path up the side of the hill we found a sign that indicated that these were squatter houses which threatened dire consequences to anyone that builds any more. As we returned down we noticed that each house had spray-painted notices on the outside indicating the size of the building and any attached extensions. They were largely pretty basic and at times spilled out onto the path as we pieced our way through their handing laundry and cooking implements arranged on the ground.

The Path Beside the Squatters

We walked past the market down to the small harbour. Stanley harbour consists of a large concrete breakwater but we found some rocks that we were able to sit on (hot!) for a few minutes to enjoy what there was of a view - Some fairly utilitarian boats ferrying local people around and some not terribly attractive buildings. The harbourfront has a number of open-air restaurants that were serving a few tourists under sunshades. It was quite quiet and peaceful. I ended up taking off the sandals I had been wearing all day and putting my feet in the water - Taking care as the rocks were quite slippery. The water is very cool, clear and clean here. My feet were very happy to receive such treatment!

Stanley Harbour

Eventually moving out of the full onslaught of the mid-day sun we followed the breakwater back into the far side of the market. Nothing here was particularly interesting so we headed back to catch the bus stopping briefly at a rather nice pharmacy to pick up some Dristan for Mel (she is still suffering from the cold) as well as some drinks. Many of the drugs on the shelves were immediately recognizable with their English names despite having the rest of it in Chinese.

After a bit of confusion about where we caught the bus (and which direction it would be going in!) we eventually found it in the bus depot. This time we were able to sit in the top of the upper deck for much better views on our return trip into Repulse Bay. We have been using our Octopus to board the bus but evidently if you also use it when you leave you will receive a refund for the part of the trip you have not used but since the reader is at the front of the bus and not near the exit you would probably annoy the people getting on so we have been giving this a miss. Odd.

This was a 6x and I am not sure if the driver knowing it was an “X” was determined to show that he was a failed racing driver as he sped along the road. We held on and before we knew it we were getting out at Repulse Bay.

The Steps Down to the Beach

The road is a bit up the mountain from the beach so we had to go down some concrete steps. To the left we spotted the changing rooms (oddly back up some steps) where we got into our swim suits. This is a public beach and is free for anyone to use - Including the change rooms and outdoor showers. The male changing room was basically a big room with benches around the outside - Not really terribly private but there were only a few people there so I quickly got changed (I am shy, you see). Mel said the female changing room had separate cubicles to change in. After splashing a bit of water over me in the shower to cool down I waited for Mel before we headed back down to the beach.

The Hotels Around Repulse Bay

The beach was not terribly busy and we found a spot near a lifeguard station only a few meters from the water. We laid our towels that we had borrowed from the hotel room down on the sand and proceeded to get to the serious job of relaxing. The sun was relentless so I ended up with my hat over my face as I laid down. I am not really one for beach-type holidays so I was quickly up and in the water. The water here is quite wavy so it is not as clear as in Stanley. The bottom quickly drops off so only a few meters out and you are already up to your shoulders. I did my normal puttering around - I don’t go in for the serious business of other swimmers who do laps and the like - I am one that sits on the bottom, floats on the top, does a few summersaults, etc - Anything that amuses, basically. We took turns so I sat down on the towel again to watch Mel play about in the water pretty much the same way as I had.

Mel Swimming...Er, Floating

We were there for a few hours as I watched the people around us - Sleeping was not really for me.

The Beach

Eventually I ended up returning to the water but this time with a purpose…

There are sharks in the water here so there are two sets of nets that surround the swimming area in the bay as well as a boat that patrols the outside of the last net. There were also several lifeguard stations along the beach and another lifeguard who made his way back and forth in the water on a small platform with large paddles that he operated standing up. There did appear to be a bit of a thing with the lifeguards about who would have the rather arduous task of patrolling in this way with quite a lot of dialogue going on as I watched throughout the afternoon. But, anyway, there is also an initial line of buoys near to the beach that, I suppose, indicate where the deep bit really begins. It is between this line and the first shark net that there are a series of platforms tethered along the length of the swimming area. I could see a number of people swimming to these and jumping off but it is quite a ways away from the beach.

I have a bit of a phobia about not being able to see what I am swimming in - That is, not being able to see the bottom. So I have always had a bit of a terror seeing this platforms way out there with goodness-knows-what in the water below them (yeah, I know, nothing to be afraid of particularly since I can swim quite well, but bear with me here). So, the goal of my second visit to the water was to go out to one of these platforms. Mel was encouraging as I sucked it in and went for it. Swimming on my back so I did not have to look down I slowly made my way out correcting my course as I puttered my way closer and closer. Eventually I was able to grab the rungs of the ladder and haul myself out of the water. I had made it! The round platform rocked quite a bit but was quite substantial, encircled by a layer of rubber tyres, and covered with astroturf on the top. I posed for a few pictures from Mel as she motioned me to get in the right position then sat down to enjoy the view. It really is quite a way from the shore, I would say about 100m or more. The sand beach stretched out in front of me to the left and right with the trees further back, and the large resorts poking up out of the tree-covered mountain behind. Quite a view, indeed. Very peaceful out there too.

The exterior of the platform warns against diving but it did not say anything about jumping so I did a massive cannon-ball then headed back slowly to the shore. I had done it and was applauded by Mel as I returned.

Ready, Steady, Jump...

Throughout the afternoon people came and went but we did notice that groups of Chinese tourists would come, fully clothed, to the beach on occasion, take pictures, then leave. I can swear they are tour groups that stop to have a look. I had noticed this in previous years as I remembered last time when a group of men stood all around two scantily-clad lady sunbathers and two pictures. No repeat of that this time but it is still a bit off-putting. Thank goodness they were not so overt this time.

At about 5 pm the sun was already setting behind the mountain so we decided to head out. I was pretty sunburned despite having put on sunscreen earlier in the day. We had a shower as I tried to get rid of the sand that was, by now, everywhere. The sand in the sandals was particularly bad as my feet would not be happy with that! Washing them in the shower too helped a bit. After changing we headed across the small road beside the beach to a REAL 7-11 (you know what that means!) so two slurpees in our hands (coke and fanta if you want to know) we headed up the stairs to catch the bus back to the hotel.


It was quite busy as we had to stand on the bottom level basically the whole way back up over the mountain. Figuring out the correct stop we returned to our hotel room where we hung up our wet stuff to dry, including the towels. I had been wondering if the maid had thought we had stolen them as we found a new fresh set waiting in the bathroom for us. Well, tomorrow she will have four!

My feet were not too happy with the sandals today - They are not really used to them so I have a bit of a blister on my heel. Putting on socks and shoes we headed out again for some more adventure.

Walking again back to the Wan Chai Star Ferry Mel was tired. It has been a series of long days and we are still, no doubt, suffering from the jet lag. At the Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry terminal we went to see about picking up tickets for their “Symphony of Lights Harbour Cruise” that happens every night to see, of course, the “Symphony of Lights” (the laser show I described the other day). The small tour window had a sign that indicated they would not be back for a few minutes so I left a very tired Mel at the window to wait. In the meantime I figured out what bus we need to catch to visit the Temple Street Night Market and picked up some small chicken pies ($15) to give us a bit of energy. Returning to the queue in front of the tour office, 15 minutes or so later someone showed up and told us that we could not actually book the tour except on the day (we had been hoping to pick up tickets for later in the week). Oh well, a bit of wasted effort.

The Star Ferry terminal has a large bus terminal right in front of it so we found our way to the #2 stand to wait for our chariot. The bus took us along the harbour past the cultural centre and art museum then turned up the busy Nathan Road. This is the first time Mel had seen the “Oxford Street” of Hong Kong with it’s tall buildings on either side with neon signs everywhere and crowded sidewalks. It is quite an interesting experience. Passing Kowloon Park we disembarked and made our way over a few blocks to Temple Street. Before even getting there we determined to have something to eat so stopped at a small corner restaurant and managed to order a few things despite their being a bit of a language barrier. We ordered the “Hong Kong-Style Noodles” ($12) which took the longest to arrive - Basically a Singapore-noodle style stir fry with a bit of vegetables and egg that was given to us dumped in the bottom of a plastic bag (!). I had two skewers that Mel abstained from: One with deep-fried squid and another with deep-fried fish balls (both $10 each) that were quite tasty as well. We ordered from a small window into a manic kitchen behind. They were well prepared for crowded with stacks of food cooking everywhere.

Ordering Dinner

At the market there were a lot of stalls selling clothing, trinkets and cheap souvenirs. We slowly made our way down the very narrow aisle between stalls on the left and right sides of the road.

Temple Street Night Market

Mel would occasionally want to stop to take pictures of the small dark side roads with the space above crammed with lit up signs sticking out all the way across the street - Most in Chinese but some in English. It did not matter the size of the business they seemed to have a sign - Lawyers, 7-11, McDonald’s, they all have their signs. This is old-school Hong Kong.

Side Streets

More Side Streets

Moving onwards I quickly spotted one of the destinations for our trip tonight - A small shop selling bowls of a sweet herbal tea. We sat for a few minutes to enjoy the soothing drink and looked around the small shop.

Eating Establishments in the Market...

The first stretch of the market gives way to a temple and, for some reason, the wares on offer start to change dramatically with shirts and phone chargers giving way to dildoes and condoms. It is a slightly seedier part of the market and the crowd noticeably thinned as we continued onwards. Eventually the market simply stops with a series of fruit and vegetable stalls.

Back on Nathan Road, we picked up some pears and unusual local oranges that look like clementines but taste a bit different. At $10 a plate we could not really argue.

Mel stopped at a medicine shop and was shocked at what was on offer so, sneakily, took a few pictures - Dear antlers, dried sea horses, and all sorts.

We took the easy way out and ended up eating at McDonalds. They did not understand us (despite reading the menu items to them) so ended up giving us the picture menu to point at. We shared a “Tonkatsu burger” (basically, their “McChicken” sandwich) with fries and a “Honey BBQ Shaking” - You dumped the fries into a bag then added this powder then shaked it like mad. Tasted a lot like sour cream and onion, in our opinion. Of course, the interior of the McDonald’s could have been anywhere in the world with the only difference being the clientele.

It was late so we took the subway, MTR, back to the hotel. The MTR is a clean and very efficient subway that operates throughout Hong Kong. All platforms I find very safe with a safety glass wall between you and the tracks. Glass doors open precisely when the train arrives for you to board with clear markings on the ground (that, ok, people tend to largely ignore) indicating you are to stand to the side when boarding as others get off. The trains are quite long with no doors between carriages meaning you can see down their whole length when on board. On our Tseun Wan line train there were electronic signs above each door that had a map of the service with the current direction of travel and our location clearly lit. Helpfully, it also indicated which side of the car the doors would open on at the upcoming station (other subways could learn a lot from this, are you listening TFL?). The air conditioning was on quite high here as well as we took the train under the harbour to Admiralty where we changed from the our train to the Island Line, following the masses of people as they seemed to know where they were going - It was actually quite a long walk through a bit of a maze of corridors. Eventually we boarded for the single stop to Wan Chai where we once again emerged on Hong Kong Island for the short walk back to the hotel along a smaller side road.

We are tired but I am assuming you, dear reader, might hear that a lot in these pages. Television, copy photos to laptop, charge the phones/cameras (in the somewhat oversubscribed power outlet on the wall), have a bit of a snack and some water. We are getting into a bit of a routine now.

⇒ Continue to Tuesday, October 8th - Wan Chai, Hong Kong