2010 Asia – Hong Kong & Macau

Something new…

Thanks to an 8-hour stopover in Kuala Lumpur it took us almost 30 hours from the moment we left my brother’s house in Alphen a/d Rijn until we finally checked in at Eaton Hotel in Kowloon. Tired? Guess that’s the understatement of the year. A shower did absolute wonders so we decided to go to the harbor side and watch the famous skyline of Hong Kong Island.

At first glimpse we totally forgot how tired we were as it was absolutely breathtaking! The Skyscrapers, the lights, wow, I really do not know how to describe it. Of course we knew what to expect from pictures at websites and travel magazines but being there is a totally different piece of cake.

We strolled through central Kowloon and enjoyed the almost surreal atmosphere. We felt like giants in an ant’s nest with people, most of them 2 heads smaller than us, going into whatever direction their shopping drifts led them. In a way the surroundings were very western with the neon light adverts of certain well-known Swiss brand watches that most of us cannot afford, mixed with several outlets of traditional Chinese medicine. The last ones were easily recognized by the smell of dried fish once we passed by.

That smell did not raise the appetite but as we were still looking for a bite to eat we scanned the area for any sight of an acceptable restaurant. Pictures of delightful sushi, and a pretty girl who was praising the food, caught our eyes. O.K., we’re game. Then came the surprise, we were lead through a drugstore at the back of which we were brought to an elevator.  We were told to go to the 6th floor and voila, there we were. We opted for a full-blown sushi meal accompanied by a pot of sake and that turned out to be the perfect decision. Completely satisfied we returned to our hotel and not much later we were asleep.

We almost slept the clock halfway round but felt totally refreshed from our traveling the last two days. We felt good and were ready to explore. Our first day in Hong Kong could not start without a good overview of the city and there was no better place for that than the well-known peak. At ease we strolled down Nathan Road back to the waterfront of Victoria Harbor where we boarded the star ferry for a smooth ride to Hong Kong Island.  From there we took a double-decker bus to the peak tram station where we realized that a Sunday might not have been the best day to go and visit the peak. The queue was long but we did not need to worry, as it did not take us long before we could board the tram. A steep, very steep trip brought us in 8 minutes to the top where we could get the best view of Hong Kong, Kowloon and Victoria Harbor. It was magnificent! To get an even better view we went even further up to the peak observation deck from where we had an unobstructed, mouthwatering view over the area. It was absolutely amazing!

Just opposite of the observation deck was a nice looking colonial style restaurant so we went in and had our first Chinese beer over there and a light lunch. After that we took the tram back down (This time it seemed to be even steeper as we were driving backwards) and once back at the lower terminal we started a little stroll through Hong Kong city. As this is the business district it was not as lively on a Sunday as Kowloon but we witnessed a large group of Pilipino women who gather here each Sunday for a picnic, karaoke and a good gossip. It was a nice event to witness. Back at the harbor side we had another beer at a pub (Which seem to be difficult to find over here or we must not be looking at the right places) after which we took the star ferry to Kowloon and slowly strolled back to the hotel where we could not resist the temptation of a nice swim.

Totally refreshed we returned to the waterfront promenade in order to witness the symphony of lights, a daily light and laser spectacle which tells the story of Hong Kong and literally puts over 20 remarkable buildings in the spotlights. As this evening the narration was in Cantonese we did not understand a lot but that did not make the enjoyment less. It’s indeed a spectacle not to be missed once in Hong Kong and we were absolutely stunned by it. After the show we went to a Chinese restaurant for a nice meal and a beer or two after we called it a day.

Monday morning, unlike normal we had been really looking forward to this. We were going to do something really special and in for that we had to travel to Macau. After breakfast we took a taxi to the China ferry terminal where we wanted to buy our tickets to Macau only….. To realize that in all our enthusiasm we had forgotten our passports in the safe of the hotel. Oops!

Oh well, tomorrow is another day so we changed plans and took the underground to Lantau instead. The underground in Hong Kong is perfectly organized and it’s easy to get around once you made up your mind where to go. In our case that was Tung Chung where we walked to the cable car terminal where we went on a 5.7 km ride towards Ngong Ping Village. We had chosen the crystal cabin for our ride, which meant that the floor was totally made of glass, a nice feature for Paul with his fear of heights, but then, if we had brought our passports things could have been much worse…. The views were stunning, Hong Kong National airport, Lantau North country park, and finally Ngong Ping Village with it’s famous Buddha bronze Buddha statue which is the largest in the world.

What should I say about the village, well, both of us felt as if we had arrived at Disney land for Buddhists; Restaurants, souvenir shops selling all those precious things you really do not want to take home, and even a full plastic Bodhi wishing Tree. Wow! Impressed? Not! So we quickly passed through the village and made our way to the Tian Tan Buddha Statue. This looked much more impressive so we spent quite some time here. After that we visited the Po Lin Monastery, which was quite nice. We enjoyed a nice vegetarian meal over here after which we rushed back through Ngong Ping village towards the cable car.

The ride back was spectacular again and back at the lower terminal we took the underground to our next destination, the Wong Tai Sin temple. It was a beautiful temple, in spite of the fact it was being renovated we could enjoy most of it. Lots of people were praying and offering incense, which created a serene atmosphere. The temple was surrounded by a nice garden and although surrounded by huge skyscrapers there was this feeling of being in a silent oasis in the middle of a hustling and bustling town.

A couple of stops further with the underground we arrived at the Nan Lian garden. Strangely enough it was surrounded by highways but still breathed a tranquil, almost surreal atmosphere. Beautifully landscaped in Tang Style. Artificial Hillocks, ornamental rocks, water features, timber structures and many beautifully shaped old trees. It was absolutely phenomenal. We enjoyed the peaceful atmosphere, which was enhanced by classical Chinese music that came out of speakers hidden in the landscape. There were huge kois in the ponds, a waterfall, and what’s that; a second look at the waterfall showed us a restaurant behind it. Needles to say we had to go there for a nice fruit juice accompanied by four sweet temptations, are we still in Hong Kong?

Behind the gardens was the Chi Lin Nunnery but as it was already 17:00 we could only see the outside of it. Oh well, one can’t have it all and it had already been an impressive day. We had seen a lot and we started to feel our feet, therefore we decided to go back to the hotel for a refreshing swim.

In the evening we went to ladies market, an outdoor evening market where all sorts of things where sold. Fake designer accessories, fake clothing, fake designer handbags, even more fake genuine copy watches, cheap clothing and toys. Even naughty toys for adults were for sale  (We wondered whether this is why the place was called ladies market…)

It was a good laugh to see the merchandise and the absolute tackiness of some of it. We strolled a bit through the streets that were heavily lit by neon advertisements, after which we opted for Vietnamese restaurant. With a full tummy we continued our stroll and before we realized it we saw Eaton Hotel. Before we returned there we took a little detour over Temple Street, which housed another street market with even more precious things. Once our senses were satisfied we returned back to the hotel, a fresh shower, and off to bed we were. Tomorrow will be another exiting day, that is, in case we do not forget our passports this time…

Tuesday morning, same taxi ride, same ferry terminal, one difference, this time we did bring our passports. About 75 minutes later we arrived at Macau where we took a taxi to the Macau tower. There we took the elevator to the top, well, just a bit over. Most of the people got off at the 58th floor for the main observation desk but we wanted just that extra touch of excitement and got off at the 61st floor. What can I say, the view was absolutely breathtaking, and from here we could see way over Macau, absolutely stunning. We could also see that ground floor was a long way down but we had already made our mind up not to take the elevator back but take a shortcut… 

For those of you who have the Guinness book of records you might find the Macau tower in there. No, it’s not the highest building in the world, far from that… But it does have the highest bungee in the world and that was exactly the reason for us to come here. 61 floors, 233 meters in just over 5 seconds.

Nervous? Of course we were, although I must admit that Paul was much calmer than I was. We checked in, received our boarding pass and then went over to get our harness fitted.  At this time I was not to sure whether this was a good idea or not but as we already came this far there was no way of getting out of it… We had to wait a while as there were still two people ahead of us but finally it was our turn to enter the jumping platform.

I was the first to go so my legs got strapped and after everything was double-checked I was led (with wobbly knees) to the edge of the platform. This was the worst part of the jump and I seriously considered chickening out, good that things went so fast. 30 seconds…  smile for the camera please, yes thank you, do you really think I’m in the mood for this? A bit further to the edge please, hmm, is that a good idea? Spread your arms, 10 seconds to go. Relax, easier said than done, 5, shit, 4,3,2 ehhh, 1, GO !!!! Ohh, to hell with it…. Off I went! Strangely enough as soon I had left the platform I felt great, I did it and within 5 seconds I was close the ground, only then to bump halfway up again, now this was great fun! After a couple of times of bumping up and down I was gently brought to the ground where two assistants waited for me to get me out of my harness.

Adrenaline was rushing through my veins, I had done it, and now it was Paul’s turn. I lied down on the floor in order to see him falling down, it seemed to take ages but then suddenly things started moving and I could see a small figure coming down and quickly become larger and larger before he bumped up again. It was great to witness but I do not think Paul did not see me waving at him at all. When we reunited again the both had a big grin on our faces, we had just done the highest bungee in the world, wow!!!

I can see the madness down from here…
Paul seemed to be a bit more confident than me, or was it all show?

Totally with our heads in the clouds we went back to the tower and went back up to pick up our belongings, but most important, the DVD that was shoot from our jump, the photo’s and our certificate. An additional bonus was a voucher for a free beer, something we had already promised ourselves anyway. We went back to the observation deck in order to enjoy the views a bit more after which we decided to take the elevator down for a change.

After we had enjoyed our complimentary beer (and that one tasted very good, In spite of it being Heineken) we took a taxi down to the historical center. Enough thrill seeking for the day, now it was time to taste some culture.

A short taxi ride later we found ourselves at the A-Ma temple, one of the temples that already existed before the city of Macau came into being. There were several prayer halls to be enjoyed, well, as far as the burning incense was not overwhelming us.  Enormous spirals were hanging on the ceiling spreading out a thick layer of smoke. It burned a bit in the eyes but the atmosphere was great.

We continued our stroll through the streets of historical Macau and passed by the Moorish Barracks, which was built in 1874. As I was closed we continued on but not did have to far until we reached St. Lawrence’s Church. A weird feeling got hold of us, as Macau has been under Portuguese government for years, like Brazil, the similarities in building style were obvious. Soft pastel colors, same building style, we had a bit of a déjà vu and it felt more like we were in Brazil than in China, a strange feeling.

Old Macau is very hilly, and to make it worse it was very warm so we were sweating like there was no tomorrow.  We visited another church that we really enjoyed. Well, the architecture was fine but even the best feature were the fans so we could cool of a bit whilst standing in front of them.

By the time we arrived at Senado square, Macau’s urban center for centuries we were ready for a drink and something to eat. We fond a nice Portuguese restaurant where we ordered a bottle of Rose and some food that tasted better than ever. Still we were on a bit of an adrenaline rush of our jumps and we could not stop laughing.

Of course we could not leave Macau without having visited its most famous landmark, the ruins of St.Paul’s. The only thing left was it’s façade but as it was on a hill we had a nice view over historic Macau. Also we saw some grotesque casinos so we decided to go over there.

The Casino Lisbon is without doubt the most monstrous building one could imagine, it was built in the shape of a pineapple and gold and glitter was everywhere, absolutely horrible, even the three Bentleys parked in front of it could not change that. Inside was even worse, in spite of our shorts and bungee T-shirt we were allowed in (Guess they did not realize we would not spent a single Macau Pataca in there). We only saw the first two halls, which were filled with Baccarat tables. Huge Crystal(ish) Chandeliers on he ceiling, girls doing a form of Chinese pole dancing, where the hell had we arrived. The croupiers looked as cold as ice, no trace of emotion was to be found on their faces. Not our idea of fun…

Back on the street we strolled a bit further in order to see some more casino’s. They were all quite impressive from the outside but we were not interested to go in at all. It was amazing to see so much glitz in one area and we realized this was only the top of the ice berg as most of the casinos are on another island of Macau. Oh well, there’s only so much one can do in one day…

We had one final glimpse of the Macau tower after which we decided to call it a day and make our way back to Hong Kong. It had been a fantastic day but also tiring, we never realized that having an adrenaline rush like we had today could be so draining. Back in the hotel we went for a short swim after which we had dinner and a beer (or two) in a fantastic fish restaurant. Another day had gone by.

I guess that after yesterday’s adventures you’re not surprised we did not hear the alarm this morning so we had a bit of a sleep in until 9. After that we went to Starbucks for breakfast and write some postcards. We have a day and a half left before we fly back to Kuala Lumpur. There are a number of options on what to do and we still have to make our choice.  A week is just not enough to see Hong Kong but we are getting a good feel for it. Maybe the most impressive thing is how clean it is. One would never have expected that. Everything is extremely well organized and it’s easy to get around. Not everybody speaks English but a smile does a lot and we got a little list of Hong Kong’s most famous attractions spelled out in Chinese so it’s easy to point out to the taxi drivers. The underground is also fantastic so we do not need to worry how to get from A to B and can concentrate on enjoying ourselves.

I had already mentioned there were a couple of options to choose from. The first one was a visit to Hong Kong wetlands, an ecological park, the second option was visiting the 2nd biggest outlaying island of Hong Kong, Lamma island, where we could do a hike and enjoy fresher than fresh seafood. Oh well, Lamma island won…

We knew by now how to use the underground so that was a piece of cake. At the pier we took a ferry to Yung Shue Wan and within 30 minutes we arrived at Lamma Island. The contrast with Hong Kong could not have been bigger. In spite of being only 30 minutes from Hong Kong we had arrived in a sleepy fishermen’s village, the pace was so much slower over here we could hardly believe it.

The only thing which revealed Hong Kong’s presence were the three big chimneys of the power plant that takes care of Hong Kong’s massive electricity hunger. In one of the local restaurants we had a perfect lunch of stir fried shrimps and steamed cuttlefish. Yummie! With full stomach we started our hike. It was extremely humid today so it did not take us long before we were soaking wet. Going uphill did not make things any easier. After about 20 minutes we arrived at Hung Shing Yeh beach, quite idyllic if you forgot about the shark protection net and the view of the powerplant on the slopes of the hill. It all was a mater of watching in the right direction.

We decided to continue our hike, which led us further uphill and made us even more soaking wet. The scenery was worth I though. Birds were singing, eagles flew in the air and wherever we could see it was green. A total different view than one will expect from Hong Kong. Fortunately we had passed the highest point and we could start descending again. In the distance we could already see Sok Kwu Wan, the end of our hike. We had a good overview of this sleepy village from a well-situated viewpoint and whilst going further down the hill we passed a small settlement with a couple of houses.

Once in Sok Kwu Wan we settled at a terrace with a couple of beers, over watching the harbor side and enjoyed the fishermen bringing in their catch. Although we had enjoyed a late lunch we could not resist the temptation of a small snack so we ordered a fried lobster with chili, ginger and garlic. It turned out to be the perfect finishing touch of our visit to Lamma Island.

That visit was soon to end as our ferry was leaving back to Hong Kong pier. From there it was another ride in the underground and we were back close to our hotel. Instead of going straight there we took a little detour through the temple street market. It was fun to watch but because of the quality of the offered merchandise we were not tempted to buy anything at all.

Back at the hotel we enjoyed a refreshing swim after we went out for a bite to eat. Time flew by far to quick and we were still a bit tired of all the impressions of the last couple of days. What a treat this had been, we never imagined Hong Kong had so much variation in attractions and we saw only (a small) part of it.

When we woke up again we realized it was already our last day in Hong Kong so time to pack. With a couple of hours to spare we decided to have a last walk through the streets of Kowloon, which turned out to be a good decision. We visited a couple of shopping malls but they turned out to be like thirteen in a dozen and since we were not really in a shopping mood (It’s amazing what weight restrictions on Air Asia can do for you 😉 we opted for something different. A couple of streets away from Nathan Road we discovered a market, now that was something that really caught our attention, fresh vegetables, eggs, fish, meat and so on.

Maybe the most surprising thing of all was that flies didn’t cover the fish and meat, something we were expecting after our previous visits to Asian marketplaces. It just seemed to be a continuation of the rest of Hong Kong, amazingly clean… (At least the places we’ve been to, we can imagine there are less developed areas, which are not so spotlessly clean to say it in a nice way).

Markets are always my favorite place to make pictures so we spent quite a bit of time over here before we headed back to our hotel, checked in online and grabbed our luggage. A short taxi ride later we were at the Kowloon Airport.

It was time to say goodbye and fly to Kuala Lumpur. We spent one night in an airport hotel and the next morning we flew to our next destination: Sepilok & Lankayan.

Note: the pictures on this page are unedited RAW material, Due to a system crash I lost all edited work on this trip. Time permitting I will rework those pictures and present them in the brilliance they deserve, for right now I decided to temporary publish the unedited material.

Continue the journey at Sepilok & Lankayan