Wednesday, October 9th - Wan Chai, Hong Kong

We must have been here for a few days now as we needed to do some laundry in the bathtub this morning. A bit untidy but at least we will smell better. I seriously under-packed for this trip but I was very concerned about the amount of luggage we had with us considering our later trip to Singapore. In retrospect, a single pair of jeans and pajamas was probably not such a great idea.

SO tired this morning. We decided to have a much quieter day today. We slept in quite late before getting up and heading out. We crossed the road to catch a tram to Causeway Bay, just east of us on the island, on the other side of the racecourse. The tram stop is right at the end of the road our hotel is on so it was only a short walk. We had to figure out how to get on the tram and pay. You actually enter by the back door and exit from the front where you actually pay as you leave. Of course, we entered by the back door, went to the front and paid, then sat down much to the chagrin, I am sure, of the other passengers. The narrow trams on Hong Kong Island are another local institution - They may be getting old and are not the quickest but they are firm local favourites (and cheap too). The sight of the tall, narrow, double-decker trams inching their way along the tracks in the middle of the road is pure nostalgia. There is only one seat on either side of the aisle so they are quite tiny, and noisy, inside. They are also not air conditioned.

Island Tram

Of course, we got on the wrong tram and ended up heading west instead of east so we had to get off and get onto another tram heading east. 10 minutes later we realised we had overshot our stop by, oh, several miles so got out, crossed the road (a bit tricky these tram stations in the middle of busy roads) and caught another tram headed west again…Did I mention they were cheap? Just as well.

On Board a Tram

Tram Jam

We were on our way to see the noon day gun. This is an artifact of when Hong Kong was ruled by the English (who returned control of the city to China in 1996) and is something I have never actually seen. Perhaps part of the issue is that no one can actually find it as we discovered. It is fired every day at noon. When the British did it there was a lot of pomp and circumstance but now it is run by a charity and you can pay to have the privilege of having it fired in your honour.

Leaving our third tram we found ourselves in the middle of the hussle that is Causeway Bay. We made our way across the road towards the harbour and passed by the World Trade Centre. I knew from my advance reading of the directions that it had something to do with the Excelsior Hotel opposite the Trade Centre so we went in to ask the concierge where we should go. He helpfully took us outside to point to a small doorway opposite that, below a big sign directing to the underground car park was a somewhat smaller sign “Marina Club & Noon Day Gun”. Thanking the helpful young man we embarked on quite a journey.

Entrance to Car Park

Heading down a flight of stairs it became a game of spotting the signs to figure out where we were to go next. Sort of like a treasure hunt. We were led through the brightly painted (and very clean, it must be said) car park…

Following the signs...

...and more signs

…to another door which led down some steps to a long service tunnel, complete with large water pipes along the length…

Entrance to Service Tunnel

Service Tunnel

…leading to another set of steps

Final Steps

…that led…up to a sidewalk beside the harbour. Looking behind us we spotted the gun. We were 10 minutes early and a bit puzzled - There was no one there.

Waiting for Noon Day Gun

The gun is mounted in a small fenced off enclosure surrounded by a token bit of grass. It points out into the harbour and is probably no more than about 4 feet long but quite impressive. Very modern looking gun as well. Here I was expecting a cannon. The gun and much of the surrounding equipment (including several old cannons on the ground) are all painted a bright blue which is smart looking but, to be honest, a bit odd looking. The brass-painted chains in the fence with the blue, I suppose, add somewhat to the experience. It did all look very well tended.

We stood and looked through the bars of the gate and waited. Eventually from a small hut behind us a man dressed in a uniform, hat and white gloves came out, opened the gate and prepared for the firing. He loaded the charge, did a bit of polishing, then stepped back a few steps and waited at attention looking occasionally at his watch. Amused looking pedestrians passed on the pavement between the gun enclosure and the busy road behind. As the man waited at attention for the time to come. At the requisite time he stepped smartly forward, rang a brass bell twice, walked up the steps to the gun, grabbed the firing rope, looked at his watch more intently to be absolutely sure then pulled.

Preparing to Fire...

The sound was quite a shock as the ground rumbled below our feet (the video I took shows the camera going off at an angle at this point). I am not sure what the cars in the busy road right beside us thought but it was LOUD. To be honest, it is a noisy city so likely no one beyond several dozen feet away probably heard it…The 10 or so of us around it certainly did. After firing he opened the gate and let us wander around the gun to take pictures and view several plaques giving the history of the gun.

The Noon Day Gun

Well, that was interesting. We were now starving. We had not had breakfast. In our haste not to miss this incredible event, we had not had time to stop. Across the busy road I had spotted a Japanese restaurant sign in the World Trade Centre so we made our way back through the labyrinth to return there. The WTC is very modern with a number of very nice shops (including a Marks and Spencers, we noted). We made our way up to the fourth floor where we found a few restaurants including a dim sum place and a sushi restaurant but looking at the menu for “Tonkichi Tonkatsu” I knew we had to eat here as it promised an authentic “Tonkatsu” experience which I have never had outside of Tokyo (my restaurant review here). It wasn’t cheap.

We were shown to a small booth at the window overlooking, quite appropriately, the noon day gun (on the other side of the busy road below). The dark and cool interior was very calming as we were given menus to peruse. Mel ordered the chicken katsu curry while I had the pork and prawn katsu (with a tasty mayonnaise dip). The dishes looked amazing when they arrived - Wonderfully cooked katsu with panko breadcrumb coating served on top of a bed of rice in a dark japanese pottery dish. A side bowl of very tasty miso was also provided. We both had a raw, undressed, cabbage salad which we were told needed to have some dressing applied from the four containers on the table.


We did not really know the correct way of eating katsu so we asked the waiter who was helpful enough to explain: You take some of the provided sesame seeds and put them into the empty bowl with the scored interior. You grind those up. You add some of the sauce he indicated and grind that in as well. You then dip your katsu into this seed/sauce mixture and enjoy. Enjoy we did. It was so amazingly tasty. We worked our way through the meal and looked around at the other diners (initially to see how to do the katsu sesame seeds but later just because we were being nosy) - Most were in suits and appeared to be on an expense budget as they filled their tables with dishes - Magnificent looking sushi and sashimi in addition to the heavenly katsu. At $539 for the two of us it was a bit expensive but very much worth it.

Heading out we walked along the streets of Causeway Bay noting the occasional pet salon, notable shoe shop or fancy item in a window here and there. The streets were crowded and it lacked the character of the old shops in Wan Chai as we made our in that direction.

We passed through the impressive “Times Square” - A massive tall shopping centre in the middle of Wan Chai. Outside there were several interesting half-buried elongated cartoon-style heads on the pavement. Several of which were so large you could go inside of them where there was writing on the interior. Neat.

Statues in front of Times Square

Another visit to 7-11 meant we had to finish our slurpees before we could head in so we spent some time people watching. Many business people were having their lunches around us in the large open area below the shopping centre. It was obviously a popular area to congregate which is understandable considering the way that the streets all around are packed with buildings and shops with no parks at all.

Eventually ditching the empty drink containers we took the long escalator up from the outside into the lower level of the mall. The atrium is impressive - seven stories high with glass elevators whizzing up and down. There were more statues here as the ones outside were evidently part of an exhibit called “Drowned World” by a local artist. A catalogue of their work showed some more disturbing pieces so I enjoyed what we could see instead.

Times Square has a number of high-end shops so held little interest for us other than Mel using the toilet while we were there. I waited looking out into the atrium and, again, people watching. For the most part people were passing through from building to building. There did not seem to be a lot of people in the shops themselves though I suppose they are so expensive if they make a single sale a day they are good!

Inside Times Square

Heading back down the escalator we made our way towards the local Wan Chai market “Bowrington Road Market”. The guidebooks had warned us that this market was not for the faint of heart but it did not bother us too much. Lots of live ocean-dwelling creatures and not-so-alive land dwellers with large carcasses hanging in many of the shops.

Meat in the Market

Mel busily took pictures as I just soaked in the atmosphere. Separate water tanks on the ground in front of shops contain the different live animals on offer. The tanks are very clean with air pumps keeping their occupants alive. Once you pick what you want the owner will use a net to scoop it out then put it onto a chopping block where it is quickly and expertly prepared for you to take home.


...and more Seafood

The prices seemed a bit high but you could not argue with the freshness. The hopping prawns were particularly fascinating. Mel found a bucket of eels and one slithering around on the ground having gone a bit astray. Colourful massive lobsters, razor clams, crabs tressed up with bamboo leaves, snails, clams, squid, dried fish/seafood, etc. Ok, we might see live fish or lobsters in London but never prawns. The sheer variety on display was amazing. Of course there were fruit and vegetable stalls that I also found interesting - A number of things that I have never seen outside of television or as pictures in books. Massive piles of gai lam and other green vegetables were amazingly fresh and inviting.

Fresh Vegetables

You know, the market was not even smelly. We loved it.

Leaving the street market behind we noticed a sign indicating that there were still more shops indoors so we visited there as well. Inside was not quite as exciting as on the street with stalls selling clothing, dried foods, shoes, pictures, etc. There were several levels with stalls crammed in together meaning you often had to squeeze by. Stopping or showing a marginal interest in something immediately had the stall owner coming over to see if they could sell it to you…On the first floor we found a walkway across to the other side of the street where we entered into a massive food court crammed with tables and chairs. Stalls around the outside and in a group in the middle had their own set of tables in front where you sat down and ordered. It was a bit of pandemonium. We made our way around in a loop just to see what was there but did not stop…Here the smell was quite obvious, but it smelled very good!

Back on the street we made our way back to the hotel stopping briefly to pick up some “bubble donuts” which is a cooked batter sheet of about 12-15 small “bubbles” that are hollow. Quite tasty if a bit bland…At $14 they were not exactly cheap either for what you got…

Mel has been wanting to have a massage for quite some time now (years, in fact) so when we got a coupon at the hotel when we checked in for just such a service she was determined to us it. The spa was located next door in the Cosmopolitan Hotel (around the back of it, actually) so I went with her to pay for it then headed out - I had a few things to do while she was being pummeled.

After being denied the other day for tickets to the light show in the harbour we have since been determined that we would go. So, I was off to get tickets for tonight. Having taken the tram I then arrived at the Star Ferry Terminal tour booth which had the blinds drawn with a sign indicating they would return shortly. So, I leaned up against the counter and waited. And waited. People came and went, peering at the schedules or information in the windows but no one opened up the booth. After about 20 minutes the attendant shows up with lunch in his hand. “Can you let me eat?” He asked. I was a bit hesitant, I did not want to wait another 15 minutes here doing nothing. “How about you come back in an hour?” to which I replied, “No, sorry I can’t do that.” He reluctantly rolled up the blinds and sold me tickets for tonight's tour.

Difficult to Find Tickets for Cruise

I returned back to the elevated walkway to return to the hotel stopping by the main post office for some stamps for postcards Mel had purchased. I asked about collecting but language was too much of a problem so, going downstairs and looking around to see if I could find someone to sell me some stamps for my collection, I found a shop dedicated to just that! I quickly spotted a few things that I picked up. I was happy.

I returned to the hotel by tram but was very hot and sweaty by the time I got to the hotel. I had been moving quickly as Mel’s massage was only supposed to be an hour or something. It has also been very humid and hot today (ok, same as every other day I suppose). Mel reported she had very much enjoyed the massage and started filling out her postcards.

The day had just flown by so we had to head out for our tour, but a bit early to have something to eat first. We returned to Central by bus then walked towards the ferry terminal where we were told we were to catch the boat (at 7:15). It was after 6 so time was ticking away for us but after a bit of confusion we managed to find a Shanghai Dumpling restaurant overlooking the Hong Kong Express terminal (“Crystal Jade La Mian Xiao Long Bao”, a chain that has locations throughout the city). It was quite busy but the menu looked quite good. A large portion of chinese greens (again, boy we are having a lot of these but they are so good when they are fresh like they are here) was followed by a massive bowl of hot and sour soup with fresh noodles (the waitress misunderstood that it was just I who wanted it, oh well). We had some Singapore noodles with pork and mushrooms which were quite good. I could not resist having some shanghai dumplings (they are pork dumplings cooked in dumpling wrappers in such a way that their juices form a liquid around the meat core so that when you bite in them they are juicy and delicious)…which was a mistake as it took a long time for them to arrive, for some reason. It was getting very close to 7 and we had a few minutes walk to the terminal so we anxiously asked for our bill. The waitress slowly took our money to the far side of the restaurant and walked away. That did it…we got up and motioned for our change to be brought to us as we madly rushed out the door.

The run to the ferry was cruelly dashed when we learned that even though we were there five minutes early it had already left. The staff did not appear to be too sympathetic to our frustration (and panting). Returning to the tour booth we could see that it was, once again, empty with a sign indicating they would be back “soon”. I found one of the employees of the ferry company to see what they could do so they came with me to the booth and hammered on the door. There was someone inside! The attendant suggested that if we catch the ferry across to the side of the harbour we could catch the same tour boat from from there as it was also scheduled to dock there at 7:55 - We were assured this would not be a problem. So off we went.

We arrived at the tour gate well ahead of 7:55 to find the waiting area crammed with people and no space to sit down. So, standing we waited. My annoyance levels rose significantly beyond their already high level by a kid standing behind me that repeatedly kicked me despite my continually moving away from him.

Eventually the gates opened and, of course, everyone rushed forward in a mad dash to get on the boat. Following the people in front of us we learned we were not madly crushing in the right area and we were told to go to the back of the queue on the other side of the gangway. This was not a good day. We entered on the upper deck of the boat which was really just a standard Star Ferry boat - They have a special tour boat but they use that for their standard “Night Tour” of the harbour which has a large open deck upstairs but not for the light show tour. The air conditioned front of the boat was largely empty due to the fact that the windows could not be lowered and, though it might be more comfortable given the fact we were sweating from all our exertions, we reluctantly went out into the main part of the deck to be in the clear air.

The tour included free drinks and cookies so I quickly grabbed them (coke for us, we needed the caffeine) but meanwhile Mel had checked out the lower deck and noticed that there was no one there. The lower deck is not so nice but it is much more open with great views all around us from the railings. This was a bit of a turn of luck for us.

Taking Pictures

The show started a short time later at 8:00 and we spent the time going back and forth depending on which side the lights looked more interesting on. By and large the best lights were on Hong Kong Island but occasionally Kowloon would light up spectacularly as well. The “Symphony of Lights” show is set to music and is quite impressive from the water.

Central Building Lights

Kowloon Building Lights

Ten minutes later it was over. A bit goaling considering all the trouble we had been through to see them! About 30 minutes after getting on the boat we were let off at Central to make our way back to the hotel by tram (we are getting the hang of those now). What an experience.

Mel is getting quite comfortable here so I figured I would see if she could find her way back to the hotel. She did quite well but I had to step in for the final few turns. We did stop by the 7-11 again…We should be getting a frequent visitor card for that!


I have had a shower. It has been a bit of a rough day towards the end. It is a shame as it started quite well with the gun and lunch. Next time we will have to do a proper harbour night tour and, perhaps, be more than five minutes early!

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. A pattern for our nightly return to the hotel is beginning to emerge…

⇒ Continue to Thursday, October 10th - Wan Chai, Hong Kong