A Travellerspoint blog

Day 6 - Outlying Islands

sunny 30 °C

I don't think anyone should complain about the UK's un-envoronmentally-friendliness until they have seen China. Even Hong Kong, which largely does without the smog, is an incredibly consumptive city - sewage still goes into the harbour, as do the fumes from the diesel-powered ferries and boats. There is absolutely no recycling and every air con vent pumps put enough nasty chemicals to choke an average adult to death, not to mention the power all of those units, street signs and lights must consume. And it's all coal-powered too, so I think we are doing rather well, relatively-speaking.

As our ferry to Cheung Chau leaves the vicinty of Hong Kong Island a wall of hay smog seems to spring up behind us. The air out on the sea is remarkably clear and there are sampans and fishing boats everywhere. Within 20minutes we have reached Cheung Chau and disembark onto to the splashing of fish in buckets and the calls of sea birds.

Walking along the seafront gives a vivid picture of maritime life on the South China coast. Seafood restaurants and wetmarkets abound, men and women in wellies tossing live shrimps from polystyrene vats into display boxes and cutting up live, squirming eels. We stop for lunch and sit on the edge of the promenade watching the little fishing boats go back and forth, debating what the pot of boiling water and bowl on our table are there for. As a Chinese family sit down beside us we discover it is for washing your bowls and cutlery, and begin to wonder what sort of place we have walked in to.

When lunch arrives it is huge, and we have ordered seasonal vegetables, scallops, fried fish and noodles. Despite the size of the order (which almost fills our table) we polish it all off, much to the amazement of the Chinese family-of-four behind us who have ordered half as much. It all comes under $200, $30 of which is Freds coke.

As we leave the restaurant we hear the wail of a siren and duly move to the side, only to see what looks like a Peugeot city van, far smaller than a transit, with "Cheung Chau Fire Station" in white letters on the side of it. Fred dissolves into mirth and has only just recovered a few minutes later when there is another siren and we turn to see what can only be described as a large golf buggy whistling towards us with a big red cross on the side. Fred nearly faints and I decide it is time to get back on the ferry to go to Peng Chau.

The journey takes 50 minutes and stops first at Mui Wo port on Lantau. More fishing boats, a Boeing jet ferry and jumping fish are just some of the sights to keep us occupied on the way and before we know it we have pulled into Peng Chau Ferry Port. The pier is fairly quiet and the sun is now out in full force and it is blisteringly hot, not a hint of the pleasant sea breeze we had on Cheung Chau.

As we cross the marina there is a canopy being put up but as yet nothing appears to be going on so we wander up towards the Tin Hau Temple. Inside is what looks like a gigantic black wishbone below coils of incense - speaking to the temple curator we find out it is a whale bone, now blackened from the dropping ash and has been there for over a century. Beside the temple is Wing On St, a winding alley full of little shops selling porcelain and bric-a-brac - everyone is very friendly and keen to test their English on us.

The town itself is very tiny and very run down - crumbling houses and rusty bicycles line every street, looking as of they had been there since the dawn of time. There are even some spray-painted warnings on some houses of the plague that hit these islands over 70 years ago, telling visitors not to come in. The roads are concreted and there are signposts for tourists but the local people appear to have got nothing out of this arrangement.

The island's highest point is Finger Hill, 95m up. The climb up to it was described to us as "light exercise", probably by an iron man as we climb over 400 steps in the roaring heat and still no sign of the top. But soon we reach a pavilion and some truly spectacular views of Hong Kong Island and Lantau (Kowloon is hidden in smog) and it is all worth it.

On our way back down we are bombarded by hundred of huge and colourful insects and butterflies. We pass a remote water pumping station, a tiny secluded beach and numerous farms, people and dogs, all rusting and crumbling still. Peng Chau must have been what Hong Kong was like before the British stuck a flag in it - just a little fishing outpost, hilly and green, sparsely-populated with people living simple lives. We can hear Cantonese opera drifting tinnily from open doorways hung with lace and elderly men sit outside playing Chinese checkers and mahjong and it's all very rural, in stark contrast to the glittering maze of skyscrapers and shopping malls just across the gap of South China Sea.

As we near the ferry port again there is a great noise of crashing gongs and cymbals - a funeral procession. A coffin wrapped in silk is carried through incense smoke from bowls placed along the streets followed by mourners in white. They each have more incense and two carry a large framed picture of the deceased. They come to a halt among rows of flower arrangements under the canopy by the pier and the whole scene becomes a scuffle of activity - the mourners stand quiet while shouting Chinese run back and forth with candles and mats. A few minutes later and the space under the canopy has been transformed - red and gold brocade drapes hang at the sides, statues of Tin Hua and Buddha stand either side of the coffin which has been placed in the centre among more flower arangements and candles. Bronze bowls with Fu Dog handles waft clouds of incense overthe whole scene and one by one the people in white add theirs to the bowls, bowing three times to each statue and the coffin.

By now it is about four o'clock and the last ferry back to Central is due. This time it's a high speed one, with proper inside seats and a streamlined silhouette. We can just about see the funeral procession walking back along the seafront as we back out of the harbour. Fred quickly falls asleep as we speed along and I contemplate what to do tomorrow, our last day. Maybe it will come to me after a soak in the jacuzzi, a sauna and a swim.

Posted by fredginger 07:45 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (2)

Day 5 - Tian Tan Buddha

28 °C
View Fred & Ginger Go To The Land of Kangaroos... on fredginger's travel map.

Late to bed, early to rise : many sweet things from Saint Honore cake shop had to be consumed before boarding the metro to Lantau. The weather has clouded over again slightly but it's blasted hot again when we stumble into sunlight on the other side. Polishing off the last of our cakes we spot two Buddhist monks resplendent in their brown and gold robes and we decide that if anyone can lead us to a gigantic statue of Buddha, they are the ones. Excited, we set off in pursuit of the rapidly-disappearing holy men.

But as we round the first corner, the cable car terminal to Ngong Ping comes into view. "Oh," says Fred, "we'll not bother then." We buy two tickets for the Crystal Cabin - it sounds more interesting than a normal cabin - but is also more expensive. We can see the cable car lines stretching out across a bay and over a peak to our left, our FAR left, and we decide Ngong Ping Village, the Tian Tan Buddha and the Po Lin Monastery are over it. We are given a map of the village.
"Sewage Treatment Information Centre?!"
This time he is actually right - Ngong Ping Sewage Treatment Information Centre is clearly marked on our map.
"Oh, how glorious, we simply must visit."

As we are beckoned forward through the ropes and into a cable car, we realize why it is called a Crystal Cabin.
"Oh, God," says Fred. The entire floor and walls of the thing are glass, and see-through, which makes for a 360 degree view as we climb out of the terminal and across the water. From an elevation of 100 metres the airport and misty hills look impossibly beautiful, but Fred and the large, burly-looking Kiwi in our cable car are too busy staring at the teal water below, eyes as wide as dinner plates. We spot a trail as we climb, and discuss the possibility of walking back down.

This possibility dissolves as we surmount the first peak. There are at least four more mountains ahead, then the cable car lines disappear into the hazy mist, looking as if it would never end. The trail still snakes about below us, some parts so steep there are ladders, and some people are walking it - hah, fools, do they not realize there is a cable car? We wave at them and decide they must be mad, partly for wanting to hike up what seems like miles and miles of mountain and partly because they are willingly missing the view. The New Zealander looks down at them with kind eyes. "Stupid beggers," he grunts.

When we finally reach Ngong Ping station our legs are unsteady from the swaying motions of the cable car. Wobbling out of the terminal we see a plastic village packed with tourists - Malay, Thai, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, British, American and Australians. Everyone is milling around taking photos - Fred is pouting about the fact that everyone there has a more expensive camera than us. I tell him that the primary difference between guys with the kit and photographers is that the guys guard their kit with their lives - almost imploding if a drop of rain falls on their precious lens. Photographers couldn't care less about either their stuff or their personal safety if there is a great photo to be had. Passing through Ngong Ping is a bit like passing through Regent Street at Christmastime so we head for the Buddha instead.

It isn't easy to miss. Sat majestically at the top of about a million steps, Gautama Siddhartha gazes benignly upon the valley and the Po Lin monastery, one hand raised. "He has creepy eyes," Fred says. Around him are sat guardian deities with offerings, lotus flowers, perfume, medicine. People kowtow before the statue, putting money in the donation box and introducing their children and grandchildren to it. Despite all the flashy cameras it's a rather touching scene. We are astonished to learn that this huge statue has only been there since 1989 - it is 70 years younger than Old Trafford. That must be why all the Chinese tourists come from so far to see white scaffolding and grass, then. We also learn about how the statue was constructed, as we had been discussing it on the way up. It had to be carried there as it turned out, up in 202 sections and then pieced back together in 8 layers and with miles of welding at the top.

The monastery is pretty but unremarkable, although they are giving out Sutra books in Cantonese, two of which I pick up for posterity and we elect to head back to the village and visit the Bodhi wishing tree instead. On the way we wander into a shop called Chopstick Gallery and end up wandering out again plus two pairs of chopsticks and two rests, beautifully made sand decorated with dragons and phoenixes.

Back down in the cable car again, this time with an older Australian couple. Fred has lost his fear of the glass floor and is up and down and all over the place - he has just had lunch and full of the joys of spring. We chat about Australia and find that they live in Sydney and know a few good places to get film developed - I doodle the addresses and thank them profusely. At the bottom we hop back on the metro to Fortress Hill, to spend a more holiday-ish evening in the hotel's outdoor pool and sauna.

And there, friends, is where I shall leave you for this evening. Back in the metropolis of North Point we prepare ourselves for tomorrows excursion To Cheung Chau and Peng Chau, to seek out more temples and fishing villages. Adieu!

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Posted by fredginger 07:35 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (0)

Day 3 - The rain hits...

rain 25 °C

Day 3 - The rain hits

Hello everyone, Fred here again. The is morning we had a sleeping-in issue; we managed to ignore three alarms and didn't wake up until 1:30 in the afternoon. When we realized the time there was a lot of banging and crashing around to get ready in a hurry and Ginger was very annoyed about pretty much everything. However we had managed to leave the hotel by 2pm and we were off on our way.

We decided today was the day to go the Peak. It was a fairly long taxi ride away but again the taxi cost us very little and on our way we took in great views of hong kong island and travelled up very steep hills at times behind slow lorries; some things are the same wherever you go in the world. On stepping out of the taxi we found ourselves in a middle of a shopping centre that had the greatest of viewing platforms out over the island.

Whilst we were there it was quite misty but it added to the sense of mystery that the hills around us gave. It then began to rain, and by rain I mean absolutely throw it down. We took this as our cue to go find some lunch in the centre below. We found a restaurant selling all types of food, Ginger had eel with rice, and I decided on beef with rice. It was really nice and quite cheap and afforded great photo-taking opportunities.

It was still raining very hard so we decided after dinner was time to take leave and head back down the peak. They had a peak tram that we could catch: not one for anyone with vertigo. Unfortunately most of our photos didn't really come out or didn't capture the essence of what was going on but when it went over the edges of the hill it bit the view and the incline were quite amazing.

At the bottom, we both huddled under an umbrella and started on an explore around Lan Kwai Fong and Central. Thankfully we managed to find an undercover walkway that meant we didn't quite get as wet as we could have done and meant that we could still take many photos. We found the government buildings, cathedral, hong kong park and lots of very expensive shops, including the massive (and massively expensive) Pacific Plaza shopping mall. We decided it was time to head back to our hotel and get some change of clothes to get ready to go out for the evening. But first we had to try and navigate the metro from Admiralty to Fortress Hill.

On arrival at the metro station we managed to find a ticket machine and pay for our tickets, again we were taken back by the price, £1 for us both. Whilst wItting for the train we both commented on how nice and clean the trams were and how new the stations all looked. I also managed to try and exit the station with my peak tram ticket and had to be corrected by a guard, rolling his eyes after I had been there for a full minute trying to get it right.

After a quick turn around at the hotel, including an unpacking mission, showers etc, we were off again in search of dinner. We thought the bars and restaurants of Wellington street and the roads above was as good a place as any to start.

When arriving in Central again we were met by a large collection of designer label shops, ferraris, aston martins etc. We eventually found a restaurant that appealed, a small Chinese place called dumpling yuan. Run by two little ladies and we were greeted with warming smiles and encouraging Chinese. We decided to both try out some hand-made dumplings, Ginger choosing pork and celery dumplings with noodles and I chose beef and vegetable dumplings- we watched them being made over Chinese tea and a coke and when they came they were delicious - and the whole meal cost us a princely total of $72, which is about £7.

On leaving the restaurant we both said how much we enjoyed the meal, in our very best Chinese vocabulary. They responded with big beaming smiles and much better English. We decided to go take in the views of Central, with big skyscrapers and a light display on every building, it was a great photography opportunity. With the night going on, we decided to go to a bar that we had spotted earlier. Again we managed to get in some a couple of Tsing Tao each and sat by the door to watch the world at play.

After a few beers we decided to call it a night, and made our way back to the metro to make our way home. What a rewarding day, if only we had got up when we had meant to.

Tomorrow we will be hitting Kowloon and the markets etc at are there, but for now we must sleep but this time not oversleep! (Ginger - WE WON'T.)

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Posted by fredginger 19:35 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (0)

Day 4 - Kowloon

storm 27 °C

Day 4 - Kowloon

Actually got up at a decent hour today - we think the jet lag is gradually fading. As promised we went to Kowloon today, arrived on the good old metro then spent an hour trying to find breakfast in English/with friendly staff who were willing to speak English. When we did we got tea, a rice dish and soup each and lemon tea/coke for $80! well worth it. Satisfied, we ventured out into Mong Kok only to get lost trying to find flower market in pouring rain; when we finally reached Flower Market Road we were very wet. Well, I was very wet, as I'm not tall enough for the tiny umbrella Fred and I were sharing to be effective in any way.

The Mong Kok flower market is pretty much just one side of a long road lined with plant shops. As soon as you round the corner the scent of flowers and fruits hits you and it's full of colour and some very impressive arrangements. You can find bonsai trees, bunches of flowers and water features along with some rather random shops selling school uniforms & shoei helmets dotted about. We got a bit hungry at this point so we stopped at a bakery for sausage rolls which turned out to be a mistake - apparently they make them with sweet fill pastry here. Must be a Chinese thing as it didn't appeal much to either of our European palettes.

We got to the Yuen Po Street bird market around midday. It is very noisy and smelly but they have some astounding varieties of birds there, all in tiny cages with little decorated ceramic water and food bowls affixed to the wooden bars. Fred spent much of our excursion hiding behind me because of the huge mesh filled with crickets and grasshoppers. I was amazed to see a man sitting with his arm in a cage of huge crickets holding a pair of chopsticks - he plucked a cricket mid-jump from the middle of the cage with them and drew it out to feed it to one of the birds. I concluded he must be a ninja. They had hundred of cockatils, budgies and little finches plus a big blue macaw parrot that said "Wei" to everyone passing by ("wei" means hi or hey, a casual greeting).

After that we took the metro back to Yau Ma Tei to see the covered jade market which was not quite what I expected, but an experience nonetheless. It was very quiet, probably due to the time of day, and there were only a few places selling genuine jade. Most stalls were hung with nephrite and jadeite on red cords, zodiac animals, lucky cats, buddhas and all sorts of nice trinkets (some of you will get pressies). We did some bargaining and everything, spoke a bit more Cantonese to the sellers ("tai gwai!" - too much, too expensive) and generally had a lovely time out of the rain. We even found time for some dai pai dong or street food next door.

After the jade market we had a little wander around Tsui Sha Tsim and the tourist strip on Nathan Road then came back to Hotel to change into wet weather clothes asI for one was not dressed for the typhoon currently raging outside. That said, as we changed the rain eased off a little so we elected to head doour to our favourite local eatery on Electric Road. Friendly staffs and the food is incredible, and very cheap. Our waiter was teaching us how to say things in Cantonese on the menu - "no food if no remember! Sekong, sekong!" - and we ate while watching the Happy Valley races on the tv at the back of the restaurant.

Evening here in earnest, we head for the waterfront and the symphony of lights. Everything twinkling and sparkling and lit up, it looked amazing even from under our motorway bridge on the North Point of Hong Kong Island. There is a video below detailing this a little more - it's too much to sum up with paragraphs.

The end of day four. It's all flying by so quickly but we are loving every second, not spending any time in our hotel room and all our time out in this dirty, lively, amazing city. It's strange to wander underneath hundred of colorful Chinese signs only to come across Embankment Road, or Portland Street with a Starbucks on the corner. There are thousands of tiny, cramped "micro-malls" and serene parks with groups of people practicing tai chi dotted all over the city, which you'll come across when you let expect it. Hopefully there is a lot more to discover - we will have to go and have a proper look around some more places tomorrow. Anon, one and all!

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Posted by fredginger 19:35 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (2)

The Relevant Proofs

I.e. Photos, and where to find them.

overcast 30 °C
View Fred & Ginger Go To The Land of Kangaroos... on fredginger's travel map.

So we are here as you know and we are putting up pictures on mobile me for the time being, as iPad and JavaScript is a little tricky. If you want to see them, they are here

http://gallery.me.com/dave.sims

In the "Australia" gallery. Enjoy! Although it should be duly noted that the first five are test pictures that Fred forgot to get rid of, so you can ignore those...

Posted by fredginger 19:03 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (0)

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