Hong Kong - Oct 12-16
Oct 16, 2009
After the ferry back we dumped everything back at the hotel and I played around on the internet trying to get a flight sorted from HK to Shanghai, trying to avoid having to get the train back to Guangzhou like originally planned. I found one flight which was really cheap and went through the booking process. The trouble was, they needed everything and the kitchen sink to authorize my card as I was not Chinese. This included copies of my credit card, passport, a signed authorization form, etc, etc – they had enough to clone my identity, never mind book a cheap flight. On one occasion on the phone I pointed this out to the call centre girl and she burst out laughing. Amusing as it may seem, I spent more time over the next TWO days trying to arrange and authorize this booking through emails and phone calls before eventually telling them to forget it the day before we wanted to leave.
In the evening we headed out to the Mong Kok area and Tung Choi Street which is known as Ladies Market. The streets here were lined with stalls selling all kinds of stuff. As well as lady’s items, they had plenty of men’s too and I was able to buy a replacement wallet for mine which was a bit worse for wear (and only three months old). We also got Elizabeth a new pair of flip flops as hers were on their last legs. From there we continued south to Temple Street market which was equally busy and equally touristy selling everything from tacky souvenirs to sex toys to dodgy watches and handbags. Other than anything else, this was just a great place to people watch and be immersed in the crowd.
On our way back from Macau, we’d found a magazine which highlighted some good street places to eat in HK and a couple of them were near Temple Street and we found them as we wandered. The first was Man Ka Clay Oven Rolls and we tried a roll each – these were basically rolls stuffed with minced meat and they tasted great. The magazine described them as one of the most traditional Chinese folk snacks. To counter that, the second stop was called Ireland’s Potato, which is actually a chain started in Taiwan. On the walls there was an Irish proverb warning against joking about only two things – marriage and potatoes. Potatoes here mean large fries with specialty sauces and we shared a portion with special cheese. These were also very yummy as was the fruity sparkly tea drink I had with it! Unfortunately, not all shops in the area were as pleasing – walking past one earlier Elizabeth and I had nearly puked up as the smell was so disgusting coming from the seafood they were rustling up!
To get back, we took the Star Ferry rather than the MTR to get some views of the islands from within the harbor itself. The tickets were only HK$1.80 each – that’s about 20cents – and the views were amazing. Even though we’d seen the HK island shoreline lit up previously, it was definitely a different perspective from the ferry and bloody cheap too! A great bargain.
Today we headed to Ocean Park, HK’s best amusement park with a curious and unfounded claim for the world’s largest aquarium!
On arriving at the park, we realized it was spread out on two levels and the rides and much of the good stuff was at the top so we did the stuff at the bottom first. Down here, they had a couple of giant pandas which were popular amongst the annoying tour groups (who takes a tour to an amusement park for God’s sake?) and then onto the giant panda enclosure where there were no giant pandas to be seen – all sleeping and avoiding fat cruise passengers, I suspect. We did see some more red pandas but nothing to compare to those we’d seen in Chengdu.
Also down at the bottom was a cool little area filled with small tanks with various goldfish in them – they were weird and wonderful and much different from those you keep as pets at home. These ranged from ones with huge, bulbous eyes to ones with bellies so big they could hardly wiggle their tails to swim. It’s always great when you see something new at places and these were definitely a new sight for both of us.
We then took a train to the top. It was advertised as some kind of magical experience and we thought it would be like a roller-coaster type ride. It wasn’t. It was a basic sort of train which played some daft music and flashy light thing for 30 seconds while you went through the hillside to the summit. Tacky.
We headed straight for the rides after that only to find the main rollercoaster, the Dragon, was shut forcing us to continue on round to the Galleon, the big swinging ship thing. I’ve never been a fan of fairground rides and stuff and this proved to be no exception, the only fun really being to watch the stupid faces around us screaming as if their lives depended upon it. It was the same on the other rides too, the farcically named “Abyss” (drops you at great speed, apparently, from about 10 metres… whoppee), the puke inducing, dizzy-fest called the Eagle and a crappy rollercoaster called the Mine Train. Getting off this, you’d have thought the locals had just had the ride of their lives – it lasted about 30 seconds and I’ve seen grannies driving to church faster on a summer Sunday morning. The only half decent ride was the Raging River which wasn’t remotely raging but at least gave you a good soaking at the end to cool you down from the oppressive heat and humidity.
In between, we had visited the Atoll Reef, which was actually very cool and had some amazing creatures there, including many large rays, black-tipped reef sharks, nurse sharks and a couple of green sea turtles as well as the usual collections of cod, groupers, barracudas and the like. At the top, you got a good view down into the pool with the rays and turtles often poking out above the surface. As you walked around, there were two underwater viewing levels where you got some even better views. I never tire of aquariums and even as a diver who can see much of this stuff in the wild, I’d love the chance to dive into one of these tanks one day!
There was also a funky display of jellyfish near the cable car back down. There were various shapes and sizes and all were in tanks with changing lighting, giving some brilliant effects through the bodies of the jellyfish.
After that, we headed to the lower level, this time choosing the cable car over the “magic” train! This proved to be a much better choice as the views were stunning over this southern part of HK Island, the expanse of the park itself aside.
Back at the hotel, we decided we would visit the Peak again – this time at night to get some different views. Also, I’d found out there was a Hard Rock shop up there and it was a chance to get another magnet. I know, pretty sad, but just about everyone collects something, right? When we got there we decided to treat ourselves to dinner and found a lovely little Italian restaurant, once again avoiding anything Chinese! The waitress suggested sharing one pizza dish and one pasta dish so we got a spicy pizza and a Bolognese, both of which were lovely and even better with the decent bottle of Chianti we got!
Back on top of the Peak Tower, the views were brilliant and I felt we’d seen HK from all angles in all different lights now. It was truly stunning, maybe not naturally, but the artificial skyline created and lit up by all the skyscrapers was brilliant. We even splashed out and paid for a photo of both of us at the top overlooking the city.
I awoke today to have to still be dealing with the flight I’d tried to book to Shanghai and I was fast getting nowhere. We were heading out to the large Tian Tan Buddha statue on Lantau Island and I had to field a few calls from the travel agency while on the MTR trying to resolve the situation. It was hard not to lose my patience and tell the girl on the phone what an incompetent bunch of fuckwits they were but I just managed! Eventually, I ignored the calls and decided to just enjoy the day and deal with it later. It hadn’t been much fun with flights of late as we’d had another flight cancelled which I had spent hours on the phone trying to get a refund – Expedia told me to contact the airline directly, the airline told me I had to go through the agent, then Expedia told me I had to go to an airline counter. The flight was with Olympic Airlines and they couldn’t comprehend I wouldn’t be in London for over 10 months and wouldn’t be in Athens, well, ever. Thankfully, I got that one resolved with the airline in the end so I hope the money comes through soon!
Anyway, onto the Buddha. The MTR ride was nearly an hour to get to the bottom of Lantau Peak and we joined the queue for the cable car to the top. The cable cars were so hot inside and Elizabeth felt quite queasy on the way up the 25 minute ride. The Buddha itself was amazing as we saw it from the cable car.
On terra firma, Elizabeth felt a bit better after a bottle of water so we headed up the steps towards the statue, taking our time and taking in the views. We eventually reached the top where we soon found ourselves surrounded by a tour group – the same one as yesterday!
After wandering around and having a truly horrible lunch, we headed back down the cable car, this time with some breeze to make it a little more bearable.
Back at the hotel, I called the travel company about our flight and cancelled it. They still had trouble authorizing it and I refused to give them any more personal details. I just had enough and booked a flight elsewhere instead.
In the evening we headed to Happy Valley Racecourse for the night racing meeting and a bit of fun. We got there in time for the first race but didn’t really know what was going on so I picked a horse at random. It was our last night in HK and we were low on HK$ so we weren’t betting much per race. Our horse in race 1 turned out to be called Daily Double and was second or third favourite but finished way down the field. After that, we got hold of a race card and started choosing horses by name rather than by blindness.
In the second race we picked Soviet Pearl which won at odds of 2.95, followed by Win-a-Lot in race three which also won at 6.6. Elizabeth liked the sound of Best Noodle in race 4 and that proved our most profitable winner at 9.15. In race 5, our run stopped as our horses called Elite Fortune and Amazing Fortune ended our fortune with Amazing coming in last! Race 6 was back on track though as another Elizabeth choice, Holey Dollar, won at 4.75. We decided to make race 7 the last one and quit while we were ahead. Elizabeth picked Antipasto and I picked Fat Dragon – both were long odds so we did them to place. For this race we went down to the front and stood by the winning post. Antipasto was really long odds but eventually made a great run to just miss out on 4th place. However, Fat Dragon made a great run and we had another winner at 5.5! We had bet on 7 races and picked 5 winners and we had tripled our money!
On the way back, we got a street snack as we were both a bit hungry – we tried crispy hot sandwiches; mine with tuna, corn and onion and Elizabeth’s had bacon, potato and onion. A tasty end to a successful night and a good week in HK… which was soon to be extended…
We got up nice and early today and finished our packing and got onto the bus to the airport. It took about 40 minutes and we were there in plenty of time for our flights. That was where the problems started!
When we tried to check-in, the China Eastern rep told us that Elizabeth’s visa was out of date. It said Enter before October 13. Our visa agency had told us that this date meant that we had to enter China before that but could re-enter for our second time at any point 30 days after our first entry. This appears to be complete crap and we had no option but to try and get her visa updated. We found a company who could help but it would take until tomorrow to get it and would cost HK$1,600, over US$200. Not a cheap mistake.
We changed our flights to October 16 for a cost of about $25 and gave up Elizabeth’s passport to be sent off to be updated and headed to try and find a hotel. The one at the hotel was closest and we were told it was about HK$1,000 a night. Given the closeness and accessibility we decided to stay there. When we got there, it was actually HK$1,950 a night – not including tax. The cock up by the visa company (which admittedly we should have checked but sometimes you rely on the experts) had cost us over US$500, not to mention the hotel in Shanghai we’d still have to pay for.
So, here we are in a pricey hotel at HK airport, in a room overlooking the actual runway and at least I had time to update my travel journal!
We got to the airport today just after we checked out of the hotel. Our new flight was at around 3pm and we had to pick up Elizabeth’s passport at around 1pm. We headed straight to the visa agency and they had the passport and visa ready and waiting. Elizabeth had been nervous that it wouldn’t be ready so she was relieved and even more so once we had checked in and had our boarding passes.
HK airport had lots of shops so we had plenty to look at as we wandered around and wasted our time. Our flight left on time and a couple of hours later we were in Shanghai; better late than never!
We got a taxi from the airport to our hostel. We’d heard that English in Shanghai was worse than most places in China so we made sure we had the hotel name and address written down in Chinese – this didn’t seem much help at first though as the man in charge at the taxi stand didn’t have a clue where it was and looked at it as if it was in a foreign language!
Thankfully, the taxi driver knew and just over an hour later we were at the hostel.
The room itself was nice – it was more like a hotel than a hostel with a small kitchen area, a table, desk and a decent sized bathroom, too. Most importantly, it was clean! The more places we stay at, the more I’m sure we’ll consider the place at Chengdu to be a complete dump!
After grabbing some snacks and dinner at the nearby supermarket, we got some sleep so that tomorrow we could actually see some of Shanghai!