Sunshine warming the urban-rural clash landscape
Leave the Pigeons alone!
Light on lake and gazing through the fountain
Only got slightly cold walking to the centre of the fountain…
The day we went to the Big Buddha, we were lucky to experience glorious weather even if for my travel companion, we had another cable car to endure. Transportation was efficient (as is typical of Hong Kong) with us taking the MTR to Tung Chung station (which took about an hour from where we were). We then walked to the Ngong Ping Cable Car, which took us up to the mountainous area where the Big Buddha shrine sat serenely.
If travelling by cable car (the np360), you have a few options available to you. You can take a standard cabin cable car, which has see-through windows but a covered floor, and also slightly less of a surface area available to look through the window. You can take a crystal cabin, with a clear bottom and a larger window surface area than the standard cabin. Or you know, you could slum it in a private cabin (but lets be realistic here).
We decided to go crystal cabin on the way there, standard cabin on the way back. This was a huge triumph for my friend in terms of battling his vertigo- we ended up in a crystal cabin with a lovely family, some of whom also suffered from vertigo, and he ended up reassuring them!
The NP360 and some views from the Crystal Cabin on the way there…
Our sunshiney day Seeing the sea beneath your shoes
Upon arrival at the other cable car station, we explored the area surrounding the Big Buddha (a.k.a. Tian Tan Buddha). There is a viewing deck where you can take clear photos with the statue in the background:
We walked around amongst smaller statues and souvenir stalls.
The area surrounding the Big Buddha statue
We also came across a wooden fork specifying how many miles away we were from various famous attractions across the globe, which was quite fun to read!
Only 1972 miles from the Great Wall and 9632 miles to Big Ben!
We climbed the stairs to the Big Buddha, attempting to avoid tripping over the tourists who suddenly stopped at various points to take a picture (we were guilty of this as well) 🙂
Upon reaching the summit, you are presented with beautiful views of Lantau Island, where the tribute was built:
Within the Buddha itself is a museum with facts about the Po Lin monastery and surrounding area. The main appeal of the attraction to me, though, was actually standing so close to the statue and admiring it’s sheer scale and beauty. It has obvious significance to Buddhists, but even for those of other or no religions, it is undeniably spectacular.
As the afternoon drew onwards, we returned to the cable car terminal (see below):
And on the way back, we saw Hong Kong at night- still beautiful amongst the smog.
As much as we’ve pretended to be cultural during travel (and some days, managed to succeed), occasionally you need to just be a big kid and have fun. When my travel companion suggested OceanPark Hong Kong, I wasn’t overwhelmingly excited. It had been a while since I’d been to a theme park, and I reasoned that it would not be particular different to UK theme parks like Thorpe Park or Alton Towers.
I was wrong.
We had an absolute blast.
Because OceanPark finds a rare balance between accommodating to all ages, wowing with beautiful animals and giving an equal amount of attention and input to all the themed areas of the park.
And- most momentous at all- this is the place I broke a 13 year ban on eating McDonald’s and ordered McDonald’s chips as sustenance (vegetarian in Hong Kong, since they are cooked in vegetable oil) . To be fair- since all the food outlets in the park are fast food places, it is the lesser of all evils. Better the consumerism devil you know than the one you don’t.
To get to OceanPark, we took the MTR (train network) to Admirality station and then took the Citybus (Route 629) direct to the attraction. Upon arrival, it was an overcast, grey day- not cold, but not warm without the presence of the sun. In spite of that, the park is awash with colour- both outside (the grass dolphins on the left) and upon entering the main square or centre-point of the park itself, called Aqua City (the photo on the right).
Note that these fountains are present and on automation throughout the day within the park and at night, are lit up in different colours to create a beautiful spectacle.
The fountains lit up at night
We started our day by venturing towards the Aquarium, an attraction in Aqua City. It is laid out beautifully, with sound effects, coloured lighting in some parts and placards with facts about the marine creatures shown. Here, we saw an array of sealife including ribboned pipefish and stingrays (amongst other things).
We were in the Aquarium for maybe half an hour/forty minutes. To leave, you pass through a visitor shop (as is common of many themed attractions) and whilst we had fun putting on ridiculous cuddly shark and penguin hats, there was nothing that we felt was justifiable to spend money on.
Over the next few hours, we got to see Pandas and Alligators in the Amazing Asian Animals section of the park (I took a particular liking to An An the panda) and watched a wonderful seal show (for Psychology enthusiasts among us, that was a fairly overt display of conditioning).
Hi An An Chilled out panda
I also enjoyed seeing these little fellows
A photo from the seal show
We caught the final 15 minutes of a spectacular dolphin show, whereby dolphins were woven into a heroic story. The atmosphere was created by cinematic screens and sound effects. The crowd was enthralled and so were we. Dolphins are undeniably beautiful and talented animals and it was unfortunate that we couldn’t see the show in full.
Around about this point, it was nearing lunchtime. After my travel companion said a quick hello to an old friend:
We decided to head to the other section of the part (accessible by train or cable car) since there were more food outlets there. We queued for the cable car- the station of which is built in a section of the park made to look like Hong Kong during it’s British colonisation.
Apologies to those with vertigo for this photo (including my travel companion, who- as always, was amazing and dealt with this):
We had to wait a while, but finally arrived at the other side of the park and into Marine World. Presented with ample choice of pizza, McDonalds, hot dogs, chicken and the like, we both had McDonalds for lunch. I just settled for chips, whilst my friend ordered a more filling amount of food. Happiness came in the form of the ice cream stall nearby, allowing a chocolate Magnum to complete an incredibly healthy and balanced meal.
Next, we attempted some arcade games- with my friend picking up a few stuffed toys on a frisbee like game and basketball. I failed miserably until the launch the frog onto a lilypad game- the first time in my life I’ve won anything from this kind of arcade stall.
The arcade stalls
I was kind of chuffed to win my new friend…
Over the course of the afternoon, we went on a range of rides. Particular favourites of mine were the swings and the rapids, which left us in fits of laughter.
Swings > rollercoaster (controversial) Photographing others during their rapids torment
We ended our time at the park in the Polar Adventure section, where we got to meet some adorable penguins and see an Arctic fox.
We left to queues of people waiting for the bus. But it didn’t matter, because we had a lot of fun that day. The kind of carefree silliness that you need to invite back into your life sometimes. My second stint in Hong Kong was going just as well as the first time round and better yet, there was still more to experience…
Today I woke up to bright sunshine in Hong Kong, which was fortunate since my friend decided it would be nice to visit Cheung Chau. Cheung Chau is a small Island 10 km southwest of Hong Kong Island and is a very popular destination for tourism, as well as being renowned for its street food stalls.
In order to get there, we got the train (MTR) from Tin Hau to Central, picking up some breakfast from a bakery on the way to Tin Hau station. I’m ashamed to say that I caved into temptation and got a coffee cake for breakfast, but I still feel that this was a better shout than the spam, cheese and tomato ketchup bun my friend decided to have!
Upon arriving at Central, we headed to the ferry terminal (terminal 5) and just before we got there, were greeted by some stunning views of the harbour.
The view from Central, near the ferry terminal
This made me smile
Arrival at the Ferry terminal
I was somewhat apprehensive about the 35-minute ferry journey, having been prone to occasional bouts of motion sickness in the past. However, the water was very smooth and the journey to Cheung Chau seemed to fly by (no travel-related pun intended). The only slightly annoying point was that in the downstairs deck where we sat, the windows were quite murky so photos didn’t come out quite so well. Fortunately though, this was not the case on the ferry journey back 🙂
My attempt at taking a photo from next to the window on the way to Cheung Chau
Upon approaching Cheung Chau, you witness beautiful sparkling water, with boats and fishing boats dotted across the harbour and a backdrop of stalls selling everything from jewellery and clothing to food stuff and bubble tea.
I think my favourite view, however, was when we were able to observe the boats from dry land:
Walking along the harbour front was probably my first prolonged experience of the humid heat that my friend told me I would experience in Hong Kong. Whilst this occurs on the main island, many buildings, shops and restaurants have incredibly efficient air conditioning, meaning that sometimes you even find yourself reaching for your jacket! Nonetheless, the heat went hand in hand with the sun, which made all the colours of the harbour brighter and led me to make the urgent purchase of a pair of sunglasses (my original pair somehow broke in my backpack during my London to Hong Kong flight).
Alongside sunglasses, I found some over really nice gifts and was particularly impressed by a shop whereby you could select your own pearl from an oyster in a bucket of water. You then got to pick a pendant and watch the jeweller as she polished the pearl, drilled a hole into it (if necessary) and set it into the silver pendant (within whichever shape was picked). This is actually a gift for a friend I’ll be visiting soon, and I was also allowed to take a video of the pearl selection so have that to show her. But it does mean that I’ll have to block her from seeing this particular post on Facebook!
Although the island has plenty of street food, and although my friend was desperate to try a twisty fried potato that was being sold on a street stall as well as mango filled buns, he decided to take me to the Rainbow Café along the harbour front for lunch. This was a good place to go because although Hong Kong caters very well for Vegetarians, fish is a fairly big deal on Cheung Chau and many restaurants serving Hong Kong food on the waterfront were using fish or fish sauce in their dishes. The Rainbow Café, however, was a contrast to this since it serves some Western dishes too (one of the rare occasions where I didn’t have some form of delicious Asian food). However, I couldn’t complain too much because part of me enjoyed returning to the home comfort of potato wedges and garlic bread (I’m not going to lie though, Dim Sum still wins). What was particularly lovely was being able to sit in an air conditioned café, which was light and cosy with little bear cushions and lots of written messages from past visitors, and sipping on an ice cold Lime Soda. Total bliss when wanting to take a brief break from the glorious sun.
What’s more, the Rainbow Café has a service whereby you can pick however many postcards, write them and then pay for them to be delivered (including international delivery)- all whilst eating your food or enjoying your drink. So mum, dad and sis- postcards for you and the rest of the family should be there in a week 🙂
After lunch, we went back to roaming around the harbour front. As previously mentioned, there are lots of street food stalls (see the first picture below) and fresh or dried fish stalls (see picture two).
A street food stall One of many dried fish stalls
And just because this really impressed me:
See the fruit in the white crotchet coats? That is to maintain quality and ensure that the fruit does not bruise.
Much of the rest of the time was spent chatting and enjoying the sun or taking pictures. Oh, but we did find these really cool steps by the ferry terminal on Cheung Chau:
We only had to wait around fifteen minutes for the next ferry back to Hong Kong Island and the journey once again was relaxed and pleasant (cooler too since the windows were open this time). All in all, I’m very glad I got the chance to visit Cheung Chau- it was a beautiful place with a really friendly ambience.
I hope you’re enjoying these blogs so far! On Wednesday (or tomorrow since this is probably when I’ll post), I’m heading over to Tokyo so I hope to keep you informed. I am very excited for Japan, so if anyone has a heads up on what I should see there, let me know in the comments below.
Will blog again soon!
Today was the day where I got to go to my first real tourist-y attraction in Hong Kong. The Peak is over 396 metres above sea level and from this area, you can see Victoria Harbour, the International Finance Centre, and Mong Kok (on the Western side of Kowloon) alongside many other buildings and regions of HK. Over the past few days, protesting in certain parts of HK meant that my friend steered me away from these areas and subsequently, what activities we had planned during my first stint here were susceptible to change. However, because the Peak is not too close to Central, I got the chance to go up there today. And it was this that made me really appreciate Hong Kong’s beauty. Because from a natural scenic perspective, this may not be the first place that comes to mind (or indeed, a place that comes to mind at all). But from an urbanization viewpoint, the Hong Kong skyline does for the eyes what any form of chocolate does for the soul. It is an absolute visual treat!
Getting to see HK from above!
Hong Kong skyscrapers during the day
A different viewpoint from Sky Terrace 428 (as was the photo above)
Hong Kong at night (from Café Deco terrace)
Note that the Sky Terrace 428 is at the top part of the Peak. You have to pay an extra 45 HK dollars but it is well worth it for 360 degree views above Hong Kong.
Upon arriving at the Peak by taxi (because the queue for the tram was unbelievably long and today has been hot and humid), we walked around the shopping centre which lies at the bottom of the free viewing platform and the higher Sky Terrace 428. Normally there are different displays on- my friend told me that a month ago the display was Mr Men and Little Miss (which, truthfully, I would have quite enjoyed). Today however, in preparation for Halloween, a number of attraction employees were roaming around dressed as clowns, headless individuals, zombie girls (with zombie teddy bears) etc and Halloween decorations were dotted around the shopping centre. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, it could be fun, but on a warm, bright day when you want to take scenic photos, having to watch out for Halloween characters creeping up on you or jumping behind you is a little bit of an inconvenience. And ironically, later in the evening when such characters would have created more of a stir, we were unable to see any of them roaming around (although this may have just been coincidence).
My new best friends!!!
Another thing I’ll say about the Peak shopping centre is that a couple (though not all) shops have policies on individuals not being able to take photos or touch items. And as someone who has been to other shops in Hong Kong whereby these rules are not applicable, this does irritate me a little. Also, if you are not obviously local or bilingual, watch out for shop owners negotiating a smaller price drop downwards, especially since some items are costly. My friend speaks both Mandarin and Cantonese, and shop owners were more keen to drop prices for him. However, this is just a minor point, because the shops (though obviously geared towards tourism) had some really quirky and cheap items in them (such as a Dim Sum compact mirror- I had to get it, it was only a pound!). Plus I found my sister part of a present but I won’t say what it is in case she reads this 🙂
We decided to queue for the tram upon leaving the Peak that evening. Although the queue looked long, we were pleasantly surprised at how quickly the line moved.
A to-scale model of the tram at the Peak
The back wall of the tram station turns a rainbow spectrum of colours. It’s very pretty!
The ride home was quick, only 7 or 8 minutes, and is very beautiful but here’s something to bear in mind; when the tram arrives (if you are taking it at a busy time), you won’t get a seat waiting patiently to get onto the transportation. We experienced a situation on the tram whereby one women purposely prevented a whole bunch of people from sitting on a free bench next to her in order to make room for her female companion who had drifted behind in the rush that was boarding the tram. And if that happens and you stand, your calf muscles will get a fairly intense workout as the tram is downhill and quite fast. I would suggest that if it looks too busy, get the next one (they run every fifteen minutes) and make sure you look out for the yellow markings on the platform to stand at since this is where the tram doors will open.
Overall, the abundance of shops and restaurants, alongside some gorgeous viewing points, made the Peak a lovely way to spend the afternoon and part of the evening. Not only was the Sky Terrace 428 particularly spectacular, but having paid entry you get free audio-guides in whichever language, allowing you to learn more about the history of the Peak and the buildings and regions of Hong Kong identifiable from the viewing platform. Note that the Mandarin and English version contains slightly different facts and sound effects (the English version had few sound effects, the Mandarin version apparently had more). This is not a bad thing, just something to be aware of 🙂
A huge positive of the Peak and it’s surrounding amenities is that a number of restaurants have similar spectacular views over Hong Kong (and these don’t necessarily have to be pricey, such restaurants include Burger King and McDonalds and also include many non-fast food restaurants). These views can make for an enhanced dining, dessert or drinks experience.
My really nice dessert and drink (watermelon cocktail) experience at the Café Deco terrace.
I hope you enjoyed reading this blog!
*Note that the opinions regarding the Peak in this blog post are purely my own, and in the interests of being honest, I wanted to include both the favourable and not so favourable aspects (in my opinion) of the attraction.*
Bakeries and patisseries are rife in Hong Kong. Note to self: try an egg tart (bottom middle cake).
To be honest, I’d eat any of them!!!!
A street in Fortress Hill.
Advertising Halloween, Hong Kong Style, Laforet Shopping Centre (a less than conventional approach to advertising a scary holiday).
My travel companion pandering to the awkward vegetarian
Sichuan style noodle soup (dam dam mein), steamed vegetable dumplings, dipping sauce and at the front of the photo…
Pan fried spinach buns (san jin bao). Despite initial scepticism (I thought nothing could beat noodles), these are unbelievably delicious and just a bit addictive!
From Central to Causeway, politics permeating.
Most efficient metro system? My travel companion wanted me to say “simplicity and efficiency absent from London underground”. Which might be true, but nothing beats the Metropolitan line (childhood bias).
Hong Kong mini-bus
First scenic (ish) shot of Hong Kong. The harbour in the background, skyscrapers in the foreground.
Thanks to “no name travel companion” for making the cheesiest caption suggestions ever (and since I lack that level of wit, I had to reject them or my envy would overwhelm me).
Hope you enjoyed this slightly different (to my usual essays) blog post!
Hot Almond and Black Sesame Soup?
Black glutinous rice and wheat congee in coconut milk?
Yes, I’m ashamed to admit it, but less than 24 hours into my arrival in Hong Kong and already I’m having a bit of a love affair with the food. The above soups are two traditional desserts which I’m told are popular with the locals in Hong Kong and which I got to sample as a late afternoon snack at Ching Ching Desserts, a dessert restaurant in North Point. Picking a sweet when a) the concept of having a soup for dessert is unfamiliar and b) the menu is full of glorious pages of colourful and varied concoctions definitely led to some feelings of confusion (although this also may have been a result of jet lag). But eventually, having just sat down after being caught in an unexpected bout of rain (and in spite of the heat and humidity), I chose the hot almond and black sesame soup, while everyone else went for black glutinous rice and wheat congee in coconut milk. My travel companion and his mum told me that if you take a traditional Chinese approach to medicine, almonds are good for the skin and thought to “nourish internally” whilst black sesame (which I had never tried before) is supposed to be beneficial to the kidneys, regulating many bodily functions. In addition, the soup was really nice- rich with a creamy texture and akin to the kind of sweet, warm drink you sometimes want to enjoy before going to sleep. As someone who is not a big fan of rice pudding, I was also pleasantly surprised by the black glutinous rice and wheat congee. I think the word “glutinous” made me reluctant about the dish but the texture was similar to porridge and the coconut milk base made it very tasty! The restaurant itself was small, casual and brightly lit, as well as being not too busy.
I also really enjoyed the dinner that my friend’s mum made, lettuce wraps filled with peppers and beancurd with a small bowl of sticky rice. The first snack food I’ve tried in Hong Kong (mango covered biscuit sticks), are also incredibly moreish and so far, I’m finding food to be very light. This means that you can eat something full on flavour without feeling as though you are caressing your very own food baby 🙂
Almond and black sesame soup The outside of the dessert restaurant
Flying with Cathay Pacific
The past 24 hours have been very eventful, mainly because they consisted of a last minute panic regarding packing, saying bye to my parents and sister at Heathrow, an 11 hour flight between London and Hong Kong and submitting a china visa application in Hong Kong.
But the flight itself was a particularly interesting experience. As a girl who has travelled (at most) maybe 4 and a half hours in an aeroplane before now, I figured the flight might be challenging for me. However, I cannot condemn Cathay Pacific. Although I struggled to face my greasy hash brown and omelette breakfast after 8 hours (at that point) on a plane, the staff were helpful, the earlier dinner was was edible, the plane was nice and the woman at the check-in desk was amazing and gave me a better seat than what I had originally been allocated (still economy but with more leg room). So thank you to that lovely member of staff!
On the flight itself, I was lucky as I had another passenger next to me who was very nice, and who I ended up chatting with. And after 4 hours in the air went fairly quickly, I didn’t know why I had worried about being on the aeroplane for so long. However an hour later, I found myself inadvertently adopting a new persona. Picture Tigger from Winnie the Pooh on a long-haul flight and you’re not far off! Because, maybe it’s just me, but there’s something about knowing you have to sit for such a long time (even if you do stretch your legs) which makes you want to be doing anything but sitting still. I also had a massive struggle with sleep, which I think was because I could not trick my body into believing that it was in a natural sleep-like horizontal position (as you normally are in a bed or in a sleeping bag). I’ve discovered in the past that I can’t sleep in cars or on trains, and I can now add to that as I couldn’t sleep at all on an 11 hour flight! However, feeling sick with tiredness couldn’t numb how excited I felt when I first spotted the islands of Hong Kong and their skyscrapers from the sky. And whilst I really struggled with jet lag during the late afternoon, taking a nap and having some food helped me feel more human again.
Initial impressions of Hong Kong
This is a tough one because as previously mentioned, tiredness and jet lag have definitely been affecting me today. Also, I’ve not done too much exploring yet! But on first impressions, so far so good.The places I’ve seen have a brilliant buzz, the metro system is efficient and shop and café fronts are so much more colourful than what I am used to back in the UK. Although I have caught sight of a few protesters from a distance, this isn’t really something I wanted to focus on as my blog across all counties is intended to be from a tourist’s perspective surrounding food and attractions. I make this point just because I know a few people might have stumbled across my blog post under the category or tag “Hong Kong” and expect to see a minute-by-minute account of what’s happening politically. Nonetheless, I hope you found some interest in what I had to say 🙂
Thanks for reading!