Sunday, 27 February 2011

Hong Kong - Day 1

6 days sailing from Cairns through the Celebes Sea, Sulu Sea and the South China Sea and we anchored in Junk Bay, Hong Kong on Friday. Originally the plan was to dock in the port, but due to reasons that we will never really get to know, we got a letter in our post box telling us we would be tendering into Hong Kong. The way the letter read, my first thought was that we wouldn't be stopping at all, so it was a small relief to learn that it was only a minor change to the plan. I'm sure it made a few people unhappy, but on the positive side, we would be dropped off pretty centrally, and within easy reach of other ferries and transport links.

Like in Sydney, we'd be here for 2 days, and our first day we'd booked a "Grand Tour" so that we could orientate ourselves better for the time that we were here. As an aside, we were worried at first about the amount of time we'd get in each place, and there are places where more time would have been great. However, we're finding that we are really getting the most out every port of call by planning ahead, and packing as much into each day as possible. For example, I think that if we'd had a week in Sydney, we'd have done one thing each day. Instead, we're doing 2 or 3 things. Inevitably this means some long days, but we have the time at sea to catch up on non-essential things like sleep and food.

Hong Kong was no different. We were boarding our Junk boat for a bay cruise at 9am on Friday and this took us directly off the ship, into and around the bay and dropped us at a waiting coach and our guide, Stanley. I forget where the name "Junk boat" originates, but it appeared sea worthy and didn't require balancing with people on each side in order to stay upright. Other boats that day, did. Stanley herded us like good sheep towards his waiting coach, while at the same time managing to humor Katie as she tried out her newly learnt Mandarin Chinese phrases. It turns out that Hong Kong locals speak Cantonese. She wasn't to know, but on the plus side, Cantonese for "Good Morning" was much easier to remember. It came in very useful as a phrase, right up until about noon. The official languages of Hong Kong are English and Cantonese, and as we were driven through the city on Hong Kong Island, you could see that all the road signs, advertising, and place names were written in both languages. That's a really good thing because even with Katie's 24-in-1 multi-lingual mini-translator, we'd have been stuffed, especially as it appeared to have a preference for Mandarin.

Our first stop of the day was about 30 minutes drive away. We passed through the city then, heading south along a coastal road overlooking some stunning views of cliffs, thick-forested hills and empty beaches, arrived at Stanley Market. The market, in Stanley, is a permanent fixture, frequented it seemed by locals as well as tourists and sold the standard tourist guide book fayre. " is great for finding locally grown flowers, clothes, cloth, leather goods and hand carved local souvenirs". Leather goods seem to be popular everywhere we've been, why make an exception here?! If you'd have told me all this before arriving, I'd have happily spent a while browsing before moving onto the next stop, a pleasant way to spend an hour. But when we got into the thick of it, we had to be pulled out, agreeing that we would go back in our own time the next day. The range, size and extraordinarily low prices kept us looking for bargains long after we should have been heading back to the coach. The best way I can describe it; like having eBay in front of you, you just had to find it, and secure your price. The difference here was that you didn't have to know what you wanted to find things you never knew you needed!

Most of the "Bricks and Mortar" shops had fixed prices in Hong Kong or didn't display prices at all, meaning you had to ask, and therefore have a price assigned to you depending on how you looked, what day of the week it was, and even what mood the seller was in. The market stalls had prices displayed but pretty much everything was negotiable. Because Katie is not British, her bargaining skills were better than mine. Her best example was getting 10 individual items originally priced at HK$450 down to HK$200. You had to be prepared to walk away, or face a lengthy exchange. Usually I gave up when I realised I was "exchanging" over a matter of £1.50. Even the currency exchange rate at which we changed some money was up for debate, moving from HK$10 to the pound, back to a more reasonable HK$11.5 after a bit of persuasion. I pity the poor tourist that takes everything at face value. After 2 full days of haggling over any number we came across, we felt like trying to drive down the cost of a beer back onboard Arcadia!

After another 20 minutes on the coach, and more entertainment from Stanley, our next stop was a trip around a busy marina on a Sampan boat. Can I ask you to imagine a James Bond film, with a boat chase through a busy waterway? Got the image? Well, a Sampan boat would be the boat that James jumps into when his first choice crashes or runs aground. You know the one. He jumps onto its cloth roof, ripping a hole in it, and lands on the deck startling the tourists and the old local woman driving it. This one looked like James had already been to visit, except that the old local woman was still vaguely in charge of the helm. I say vaguely because the ring of used tyres strung around the outside of the boat would come in handy several times as we weaved and, in the main, dodged the water based traffic. But don't think it was all plain sailing, with only 10 people on each boat, we played our part too when she screamed something in Cantonese and waved her hands wildly, it meant we had to move someone from the left side of the boat to the right. This was particularly useful to stop the boat tipping over and so we duly obliged. I did contemplate the temperature and depth of the water a couple of times, it actually looked surprisingly clean and clear considering the traffic, but we thankfully arrived back at the small dock completely dry.

After such excitement, lunch was a welcome sight. It was arranged as part of our tour which took the thinking and deciding out of the equation, as we were led to the Marina Yacht Club, and a huge, very elegant ballroom with chandeliers the size of our dining room table hanging from the high ceilings. It had obviously been set aside for P&O as part of several tours where lunch was included, and was busy with other passengers, all of us feeling extremely under dressed. You may have already seen the pictures that Katie posted while we were actually there. If not, scroll down or look up the post titled "Typical Chinese Lunch at Marina Club Hong Kong". The food was lovely, and as a bonus, the place had free and fast wifi.

After a stop at a Jewelry factory which made us think that Stanley and indeed P&O were on commission, we headed to Victoria Peak. Pretty much the highest place overlooking much of Hong Kong Island and the bay, we took pictures and marveled at the views. Skyscraper upon skyscraper stood in the haze and we amazed ourselves with the thought of the number of people who lived down there. About 7.5 million, the majority of whom live in an area not much bigger than Reading.

From the peak of the city, we took a funicular railway back down into the city. Now this particular funicular also claims to be the steepest in the world and for those of you who read my Sydney post (if not, why not?), you will remember that I doubted similar claims made by the railway at the Blue Mountains. However, now that we are experienced funicular riders, and without knowing the exact statistics, I would give credit to the Blue Mountain's claims. If anyone knows of any other renowned funiculars, please let us know, we'd be more than happy to sample their steepness. I feel a book coming on.

We were dropped back at the ferry terminal where most people headed back to the tender and hence the ship. It was about 5pm by this time, and despite having had a full day out we decided that the 40 minute one way ride back to the ship meant that we wouldn't be back on shore before 8. So we decided to stay out and catch the ferry to Kowloon. Hong Kong is essentially an island, and Kowloon is back on the mainland. If you were to continue north by land for another 25 miles, you'd reach the border with China proper. The ferry ride is only 7 minutes, costs about 15 pence each but it may have well been another world away. We thought Hong Kong Island was busy, but Kowloon was the bustling, colourful maze that made us think we had really arrived. Walking along the street up from the ferry terminal, we saw only locals, and with the 4 of us in our best tourist day wear, I was quite aware of how much we stood out. Nevertheless, apart from the first 5 minutes when Trevor was pursued relentlessly by a tailor who made custom suits to order, we were not bothered by anyone. Our walk took us over a mile north up the main road, through some gardens, and towards the night market on Temple Street which was just getting started when we arrived. If we thought that Stanley market was big, varied and well attended, then the Temple Street night market was something else. The stalls were set up down the middle of the street, with local food "outlets" on each side of the road serving everything you would expect from a Chinese street cafe. The relatively normal stuff like fish, shell fish, snails and eels, and then the weird things like chickens feet, fried insects and things we could not readily identify let alone allow into our mouths. Goods being offered on the stalls were far more varied than in Stanley. More electronics, and electrical "bits and pieces" which I took great delight in perusing, leather bags of all different brands, shapes and sizes, computer games and consoles, clothing, decorations, and a multitude of different types of crap - from Nail Clippers to Pens and Pencils and back to glue and headphones. There wasn't much you couldn't have found, and at a price that made you want to buy a lot of it. Every time we thought we had come to the end, it continued over the road. Once again, haggling over the price, or at least getting a discount, was the norm, and a lot of people were taking advantage of that. While the pace of movement was relatively slow, the generally accepted way of moving around, seemed to be just to ignore people in front, behind or to the side of you and bump and jostle your way through, it was a pick pockets' dream. Needless to say, we kept a tight grip on our belongings and each other! We spent a good couple of hours there, and as the evening progressed, the items on sale progressed too. Several more stalls selling fake watches appeared, mostly Rolex, but after examining a few I decided that despite their price (about £30 after discount) the quality wasn't as good as I had been hoping for and so we passed.

When our stomachs finally won over we decided to give the street food a miss, and headed back to the main road to find a normal looking restaurant. We found one just off the main road and had a nice meal consisting of a starter, main course with rice and a large beers for about £10 per head. We were the only non locals in there.

We walked back down the main street towards the ferry terminus. It was about 11pm by this time but the streets were still full of people and colourful neon signs, advertising even the smallest hotel or restaurant. I think we caught the last ferry to run that night and then jumped on a tender boat to take us back to the ship. The tenders were running all night, but this one was fairly busy, we even bumped into Dave and Ann, our other table mates, and one of Arcadia's doctors with whom we've become friendly. As Katie sat inside, I ventured out onto a dark deck to watch the Hong Kong skyline. It was surely impressive, and we were to get an even better view of it the next night.

1 comment:

  1. well I don't know where the steepest funicular railway is but I do know where the smallest is! Italy. =)