My second vacation during the Summer Holidays saw me visit Hong Kong, and reunite with my best friend, Ginger Rob!
Friday 7th August
So after a stressful morning of having my yearly medical, of being told I shouldn’t have eaten, and may have to rearrange my medical that afternoon, I was aboard my 1207 Miemachi train and on my way to Hong Kong to meet Ginger Rob!
As always, the trains ran fine, and in no time at all I was through security and waiting to board the plane. Three hours passed and before I knew it, it was night and I was wondering through Hong Kong airport, passing customs and out the other side.
And who was there? Why Ginger Rob of course! Handmade sign to boot, to welcome me to Hong Kong!
He is sooo ginger!
After collecting my free Hong Kong rubber duck, we tried on our adventure time hats and headed out to the airport bus – and boy was it hot outside!
Only discovering as we attempted to board the bus that you had to pre-buy tickets at a special counter, a short ride later we were in Tsim Sha Tsui (TST), the Southern tip of mainland China closest to Hong Kong Island. Thankfully I had watched the hostel’s “How to Find Us” video, and we soon debagged, beer in hand overlooking Hong Kong from the balcony; it was like nothing had changed in a year!
Saturday – Kayaking in Sai Kung
Not ones to dilly-dally, our first day involved a 0630 departure to get to our Kayaking meet point of Sai Kung. The best the site could offer as guidance was a bus number and MRT station to get to. We managed this much, buying ourselves Octopus cards (think super useful Oyster cards) and arriving at the MRT stop, buying breakfast and lunch en route.
Ignoring the website’s (incorrect) directions to the bus stop meant we eventually found it, and attempted to board the minibus at the stop, only to discover it was full, and the queue at the bus stop was actually waiting for the next minibus of the same number.
Heading to the back of the queue red faced, we waited inline, and were soon being whisked out to the countryside.
Many of the buses in Hong Kong are actually minibuses, designed to carry 16 passengers, and thus run pretty frequently given the few people it carry. What is most convenient is that though (they seem) privately run, they do in fact take Octopus cards as payment 😀
We arrived with time to spare, and so had the opportunity to explore the area.
As whenever abroad, the issue of getting money reared its ugly head, and Rob’s money card was not complying! Thankfully, for once I didn’t have an issue and so we could at least survive.
Survive we did and much more! Buying super awesome hats to protect our faces and sausage bread things for breakfast!
Unfortunately, just because we had arrived on time, didn’t mean others would, and it wasn’t until after 9am that we headed out to the kayaks via a speed boat – luckily our cool new hats had handy strings to keep them on our heads!
Docking at a small island, on side was the pier, the other a beach with kayaks laid out on the sands. After a quick lesson on kayak technique – the front person’s the engine, the back the steering, and paddle on the same side together – we were on our first jaunt to a nearby beach.
“Not too bad this kayaking malarkey” I thought to myself, and to be honest, I was right!
After a bit of splashing and posing for photos, we were back on the kayak’s and heading across more open water to the next beach. The open water made it much harder to paddle in a straight line, but we kept ahead of the pack, kept off the coral and landed the boat onto the beach, allowing us to watch the others, especially the family with children, get forced over the coral and along the rocky shoreline before getting onto the shore..
After a few snacks provided by the company, we hiked up through the low, densely back shoreline forest, and up the rugged hills to the small peaks on the top of the island, receiving a cool breeze for our efforts, and some stunning views down to the rocky waters below.
By the time we returned, the sea was now full of party boats – apparently many of the big companies have boats its employees can hire out, and so expats often have parties on these.
The speedboat then took us out to a sea arch a bit too far out and open to kayak round to, and we posed for the obligatory photo in front of it.
The final leg had to most exciting part to it – kayaking through a sea arch! After what felt like an age of paddling, and being pushed into the rocks by the sea, we reached the arch!
We were the first pair to go through. We lined up, and were told to time it so that the swell would carry us through the arch…
Whether we actually did that, I don’t know, but we paddled away, entering the cool, echoey sanctum of the arch and watched the water rise up and build in front of us. We paddled hard trying not to get to washed back out, only to then have our speed boosted as we rode back down the swell. Approaching the rocky side at speedy, I had to rudder and turn the nose of kayak to the left, then the right, narrowly avoiding the sides of the arch, and then we were clear, and back into the heat of the sun – we’d done it!
Thankfully, the return journey was in the speed boat and we shortly back on the island and ready to board the boat back – at least Rob and I were.
Turned out we had to sit in the restaurant for over an hour, as the others in the group dined in the restaurant and the guides cleaned out the boat.
By this time it was late afternoon and we headed straight back to the hostel, ready for the BBQ in the hostel that evening.
Beers in hand, we sat in the small common room, beers in hand and chatting to our new hostel friends. Come 2030 we were wondering were the BBQ guy was to take us to it – turned out we hadn’t confirmed our places early enough and it had been cancelled!
Gutted, but enjoying our company, we headed over to Lan Kwai Fong (LKF) on Hong Kong island, an area dedicated to bars and restaurants, for a night out.
What we hadn’t anticipated was the beer festival.
The lines of stalls along one side of each street created a bottleneck and slowed a mass crowd to a snail’s pace. Within 30 seconds the group had gotten split in two, with the others never to be seen again!
After a sandwich at 7/11, and a thorough explore of the area, we gave up! Finding neither a dance floor, or anywhere sufficiently cheap enough to drink – all in all, the famous LKF had been a let down, and we finished the night with a cheeky Maccies.
Sunday – Peak and Party
Taking our time to rise, we grabbed some food from a local cafe, before setting out to Hong Kong island to board the famous tram to Victoria Peak.
Victoria Peak was formerly home to the colonising elites, who chose it for its cool breezes and lower temperatures than the rest of the island and neighbouring territories. Due to the heat, these elites didn’t like to climb the slopes of their home, so employed people to carry them up in sedan chairs. Eventually in the 1880s Alexander Findlay Smith began construction and opened the first tram up to the peak, helping to speed up the area’s development and popularity.
Today it takes tourists (and maybe some locals) to the Peak and the two shopping malls located there.
Whilst the history is interesting and the ride fun, it does feel kind of empty to be let out into an airconditioned mall, filled with restaurants, and a DC shop – slightly surreal!
Heading back down into more central Hong Kong, we’d heard that Sunday afternoon is a great party time in Hong Kong, since all the employed house staff are required to leave their employers houses on Sunday, many of the choose to party.
And so at 4pm on a Sunday afternoon, we found ourselves transported to 1am on a Saturday morning, dancing to an eclectic mix of Western, Indonesian and Filipino music.
After getting a good sweat on dancing, the club began to empty out, and as we picked up drunken takeaway food, it was about 7pm – surely it was bed time though?
Back to the hostel, we spent a few hours on our devices before hitting the hay, feeling worse for wear.
Monday – Exploring TST and home foods
It was time we took to the streets of Hong Kong, so phone in hand we followed a route of the TST area, and learnt about its more opulent and glorious past as the gateway between the island and mainland, and the buildings that welcomed its elite.
We hit up the Avenue of Stars, a gangway that juts out over the waters, and is perhaps the Asian equivalent of the Hollywood Walk of Fame – a series of plagues, many of which with hand prints of named star, and a few statues here and there. To be only honest, I recognised 3 names – have a guess who they were…
Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Bruce Lee!
Next we found a delightful French bakery that had a turkey and brie sandwich on artisan bread (it had nuts and honey) and I nearly cried it was so good. Then I nearly cried when I’d finished it.
As I’ve said before in other posts, leaving Japan is a time when I get to enjoy home food, be that a pizza hut, pub grub or a good sandwich! But in Hong Kong especially, this idea of ‘local’ food vs ‘western’ food is exceptionally blurred, given 150 years of British history in the area.
We then headed up to the Science museum – it’s super cool! We spent a good couple of hours doing their fun puzzles, life science and experiments, the mirror world and many other things!
Lunch had come and almost past, so we headed to Pizza Express for a much needed pizza fix – OH MY GOD it was so good! I’ve missed it so much! So pizzary and the base is dry, with normal toppings! Again, I nearly cried!
Finishing up the tour took us past some former school, and through a park next to the hostel. Walking around we came across a really nice supermarket with cheap fruit (compared to Japan) so I bought tons and gorged myself!
As the late afternoon drifted into night, we set up going to the Temple Street Market – after all, it’s in all the tour books!
What a disappointment!
I should have learnt from the famed markets in Taiwan. The market was just some stalls in the street selling stuff for tourists – leather wares, electronics and jewellery. Even the ‘delicious’, ‘plentiful’ street food was lil more than a few restaurants on the side of the street, food served on plastic bowls under harsh fluorescent lighting. It was a sharp drop from the joys of lunch, and cost almost as much – I do wonder how the tour books can advertise these markets and something extraordinary? Perhaps the only extenuating circumstance was that it was a Monday rather than Saturday evening?
Tuesday – Beaches, beaches, beaches
With the weather looking hot and sunny, it was beach day. What neither of us had realised was that… we are not beach people. Between burn and boredom, there was no real reason why we would be beach people!
Setting off we caught the bus round the island to the first beach, Deep Water Beach Bay, swam to the platform in the water and then ran back for the shelter of the trees.
We walked around a platform/gangway to the next beach, Repulse Bay, and to our relief, it was much more developed and had shops! After exploring the streets, we picked out a Cantonese restaurant on the beach front, and enjoyed a lunch of noodles, BBQ rib rolls and Chinese donut roll – the last item was very strange – a donut wrapped in the white translucent ‘paper’ of a spring roll. Followed down by a (very expensive) cocktail in a shop further down.
After crisp sandwiches (I was still hungry!) we set off for South Bay beach on the hunt for the bio luminescent algae that lived in the waters.
Unfortunately, it was still about 5pm when we arrived, and so we had to wait out the sunset. We do so with a lil swim, some smoothies and a number of handstands as the sun was setting.
Yet even in the dark, we saw no glowing algae, and eventually had to admit defeat.
Thankfully for us, as we showered in the beach washrooms, we got talking to a Malaysian guy who lived in Hong Kong, who offered a lift back in his Mercedes, and took us all the way to the Star Ferries port!
It was most surreal driving around Hong Kong, the fast and strong contrast between dark hills, then towering buildings gave it a real video game quality!
Crossing on the ferry gave us the nighttime panorama of the Hong Kong island lights, again upr surreal.
Our final aim of the day was to hit a guidebook restaurant! So in our finest swim shorts and vest tops, we followed the guidebook to a cheap cantonese restaurant, into a mall, up the escalators and into a posh restaurant filled with men in shirts and women in dresses…
Vastly underdressed, but if the staff were bothered, it didn’t show, and we ordered a feast of dumplings, and noodles. They were delicious! My beef stew full of flavour, and tender chunks of beef – a good food day!
Wednesday – Riding the Dragon
We’d been putting it off cos of the heat, but today was the day we’d tackle the Dragon Back ridge. It was another bus jobby, popping out of a station on the island, and catching a bus round towards the bottom of the island.
Why is a dragon back? I don’t know. Why is it a ridge? Again, I don’t know, it was particularly steep on either side. Was it a good idea to do it in near 40C heat? Probably not, but thankfully it was pretty short!
The initial climb is up some rugged terrain, exposed to the sun, and continues that was until just after the main peaks. The peaks over views of Stanley to one side and the SOuth China sea to the other, oh, and a golf course!
Compared to Taiwan the previous week, the hike was really nothing, but did offer contrasting views of nature against the sprawl of urbanisation.
The latter half of the trip is spent in the shade of trees, winding their way back down the hill, then round to Big Wave Bay. By the time we reached the bay, we had been hiking for maybe 2.5 to 3 hours.
Big Wave Bay is far more european than the beach we went to, with a number of small shops selling refreshments and hiring beach equipment, and the beach had many more sunbathers and people in bikinis and speedos than elsewhere we’d been. After a dip and drying off, we headed back into the bustle of central Hong Kong and to the escalator street.
Called the mid-levels, it’s a strange area, with a number of outdoor escalators that take you up (and not down) the streets, and on which are a good number of restaurants and bars.
Capitalising on happy hour, we got some wine and beer, before looking for somewhere to eat.
After trying to get served in the Butcher Club burger house, and being ignored, we ended up a wee bit further up the street at Cochrane’s Bar & Grill, which not only served us, but gave us free monkey nuts and came with fries – deliciously pleasing.
Thursday – History of Hong Kong
A slow start saw us heading to Pizza Hut for a brunch – and boy was it fancier than I was used to! With a full menu, not a whiff of a buffet bar and nicely furnished but… the pizza did taste like McDonalds though :/
We had planned to go Macau, but looking at the options, it was going to be expensive, so we had to cobble together a plan.
The Hong Kong History Museum was that plan. Funnily enough it was next to the Science Museum, and annoyingly, had been free on Wednesday! Oh well!
The museum was well put together! Covering Hong Kong history from well over 340 millions years ago, right up until 1997 when Hong Kong was handed over to China when the 99-year lease ran out.
It was fascinating to learn about the 4 ‘native’ peoples of the area, and traditions, and the insight into the effect of British and Japanese rule. The museum has full sized replica buildings that house the exhibits and displays – great for keeping the kids entertained imagine – it certainly kept Rob entertained!
Finishing up at the museum, we decided to get a drink, and spotting a tea house on a second floor, headed up. It really was a tea house! You bought dry tea, boiled your own water and made your own tea!
Weirdly, you had to buy tea per person… And let’s say it worked out a lot more than a Starbucks!
I don’t think I’m a tea person :/
Our final night in Hong Kong required us to celebrate in style – Korean BBQ style! We visited a few restaurants, before settling on one and pulling up our seats at a lil BBQ table – it was just like being back in Korea! We chose some garlic skirt meat and chicken to BBQ, and some pork rice to go with all the sides we got – it was pretty damn tasty!
We took a quick trip to the Irish bar, Delaney’s, as it was celebrating it’s final last call (it was shutting down permanently), but it didn’t even have diddly-diddly music, so we didn’t stay long.
With the free time we gained, we went back to Temple Street, only a different part which we hoped would be cooler – it wasn’t. But we did get cool friendship bracelets, then headed back to the hostel.
Friday – Back to Japan
Wanting to get to the airport with a fair amount of time to spare, we hoped to check out of the hostel at 0900, get breakfast and head off at 0930. Only, the cafe front of the hostel had its shutters down! With the hostel taking my driving licence as a deposit, we had no choice to wait around, then find some wifi, then ring the hostel.
Finally they showed up and we checked out. Thankfully, it was a quick couple of trains and we were at the airport, messaging our friend Becky about our evenings plans in Fukuoka, and when we were to meet and what we were going to do.