Hong Kong April 2004



Sunday 9 May
We had a very good flight to Hong Kong. There were only about 30 passengers on the whole of the jumbo jet! We could sit where we pleased in the economy class compartment and Blake was soon laid out asleep across a row of 4 seats. We landed at the new airport, Chek Lap Kok on Lantau Island, and were met by a Kuoni rep and travelled by mini-bus to our hotel. We drove over the new Tsing Ma Bridge to get to Kowloon and were amazed by the sight of the skyscrapers on the opposite side of Victoria Harbour on Hong Kong Island. Kowloon Harbour was full of freighters, tugs, hydrofoils, junks, ferries, sampans and yachts and a cruise ship was moored at the Ocean Terminal. The guide told us that the population of Hong Kong was 6.8 million. We passed a vast number of ugly high rise flats all looking exactly the same and were told they were high density government housing. The International Finance Building at 88 stories high is the tallest building in Hong Kong. We passed a massive container port. We struggled through the Kowloon traffic (trams, buses and taxis) and through the Cross Harbour Tunnel to get to the Causeway Bay area of Hong Kong and the Excelsior Hotel.

At the hotel, we upgraded our room to include breakfast and afternoon tea in the executive lounge. We also received a complimentary basket of fruit. After enjoying afternoon tea, we walked with Maria and Ryan (and Blake and Judy) to the Star Ferry to cross to Kowloon. The ferry deck hands wore blue sailor suits and the packed ferry wove in and out of the craft in the harbour. It was very warm and extremely humid.

We admired the many exclusive shops in the very modern shopping arcades – window shopping only! We walked down Nathan Road, the main shopping street – it was buzzing with people and bright lights. After a drink at Tony Romas we ate at the Hard Rock Café. Then it was on to the Temple Street Night Market, open from 4 p.m. but it only really comes alive after sunset. We had a good browse round but were not tempted this time.

Monday 10 May
Today the weather was hazy, hot and muggy with humidity of 82%. We decided to do a ‘self’ tour of Hong Kong Island. First we walked to Statue Square past many bathroom and household fitting shops. The Cenotaph in the square stood amid new, beautiful, commercial skyscraper buildings; the HSBC building was particularly striking. The aim was to walk to the tram stop (for the ride up to Victoria Peak), but we soon found ourselves hot and bothered and Blake got a telling-off for deceiving us about the distance we had to walk in the heat! So we jumped into a taxi and arrived at the tram stop better tempered! The ride up to the Peak Tower is by funicular railway and rises up 396 metres above sea level. It carried its first passengers on 30 May 1888 and has been modernised many times since then. The panoramic views of Hong Kong and the islands from the newly built wok-shaped Peak Tower are stunning. The Peak is home to the rich and their expensive houses and apartments. The very large and grand building near the Tower used to be the British Governor’s official residence. We took a taxi down to Aberdeen, passing by Repulse Bay where the beach looked very inviting. Aberdeen is a fishing village with a ‘floating community’. We took a junk to tour the “sampan” community where the Chinese live on houseboats. In this close up view of life on the water, we saw washing hung out to dry on the boats along with fish for curing. As we snaked in and out of the sampans we saw speedboats darting about and luxury yachts moored. The four of us had the junk to ourselves for £6 each. Large tanks containing fish for the huge colourful floating restaurants could be seen at the back of them; but we were not tempted because Stanley market beckoned. Stanley is on the south of the island and has a picturesque coastline and a restored colonial building, Murray House, which was moved to Stanley from its original site in Central. We found the stallholders not at all pushy like they had been in China – it was all much more civilised and low key. We managed to complete our present and souvenir buying in good time to get back to the hotel for afternoon tea, where we met Maria and Ryan who had had a similar day to us but on an organised tour which had also included a visit to a jewellery factory. Tonight we ate at the Outback Australian restaurant near the hotel. Very good steak and pina colada! We wandered round the nearby SoGo department store before retiring to bed.

Tuesday 11 May
It was brighter today – sunny and hot (as usual). Poached egg and smoked salmon bun for breakfast. We took the train to Wan Chai and found the kites Judy wanted for her grandsons. We also saw lots of stalls selling dried food, and fish and crabs and chickens. Trained back to Causeway Bay where we did some final shopping in SoGo before watching the firing of the Noonday Gun. It was an enormously loud bang followed by eight bells signalling the end of the fore-noon watch. The gun is also used to welcome in the New Year at midnight on New Year’s Eve. We walked to Times Square to admire the shopping arcade and look at Marks & Spencers which had a very limited range. The temperature was 82ºF with 81% humidity! After lunch we headed out by train to Mong Kok on Kowloon to the Ladies Market in Tung Choi Street for (more) handbags of the fake designer variety! Then we walked to the Flower and Goldfish Markets. Tulips, roses, lilies, orchids, carnations and bamboo, brought in from as far away as Holland, were for sale at very reasonable prices. All kinds of fish; koi, goldfish and aquarium fish of all shapes, sizes and colours, and also terrapins, were available. Some of the fish were kept in plastic bags awaiting sale; this seemed very cruel as they had hardly any room to move. We also saw pet shops with cats, dogs, and rabbits. There was not much room for them either and some looked a bit sickly and lethargic. One or two buildings had bamboo scaffolding erected for renovation work.

On to Ocean City for some up-market shops and well-earned refreshment. Graham and Judy tried out some wonderful massage chairs which also played your choice of music. I made do with a handheld warm air turbo massager which was excellent. We admired the fantastic plasma screen TV’s – the picture quality was vastly superior to the UK’s. We walked round the outside of the Culture Centre on Kowloon waterfront from which there were wonderful views of Hong Kong – we could see our hotel. We had a small, early dinner in the lobby area of the Peninsula Hotel. A stunning looking hotel with luxurious décor in opulent turn of century late Victorian style. The waiting staff was very attentive and the food pricey but excellent and it was our last night. We took a room tariff just in case we return having won the lottery! We hurried on to the waterfront again to join the crowds to watch the laser light show on Hong Kong side of the harbour. All the buildings were lit up in turn with colourful lights and laser beams shone up into the night sky – it was very pretty. We walked along the Avenue of Stars on the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront promenade. We found the stars for Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan plus loads of other Chinese favourites we did not know.
Wednesday 12 May
Our last day and it was up at “Dianne o’clock” to see the pink dolphins off Lantau island. We had to drive out on the Tsing Ma Bridge heading for the airport on Lantau (a trip we would be making again later on in the day). It was a very hot and sunny day – definitely high factor sunscreen needed. The boat took us out past the airport and into the ferry lane. In this busy and noisy waterway, in addition to a power station, there is also an aviation fuel store where airplane fuel is offloaded from tankers, then pipelined along the seabed to the airport platform. All this is hardly conducive to a quiet life for the dolphins; it is hardly surprising that their numbers are in decline. We were lucky to see about 15 in total; they were a pale pink in colour and very difficult to photograph. We returned to dry land and the coach took us back to Hong Kong island. We were told that the Penny’s Bay area on Lantau is being reclaimed for Disneyland and a 6-lane highway will be built from here to the airport.

After a late lunch we showered and packed our bags ready for the journey home. We had arranged a late check-out but even so had to vacate our rooms by 4 p.m. So we relaxed in the lounge, had late afternoon tea and read our books, and then a final stroll round SoGo before being collected at about 8 p.m. for our 11.15 p.m. flight. The flight home was great. We were served a good meal and then were able to sleep/rest for 8 hours before breakfast at 4 a.m. and landing at 5.15 a.m.

All in all, a wonderfully interesting and enjoyable holiday.