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Day 12: Hong Kong, China (6th cruise day)

Hong Kong, Hong Kong

Day 12: Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

6th cruise day: Hong Kong, China

Wow! What a day in Hong Kong! Just as everyone predicted, Hong Kong is our favorite city so far on this trip. It is remarkable with its beautiful city skyline, picturesque green mountains and pretty beaches. Plus, the city is one big shopping mall after another – we thought Beijing and Shanghai had a lot of malls, but this was unbelievable. We seriously went into 5 giant shopping malls yesterday and didn't cover even a ¼ of all there is in Hong Kong. They are serious shoppers! Luckily the prices are so high – especially electronics – that we aren't buying anything here because we can get the same stuff much cheaper in the US. And the things that are really cheap – stuff they sell in the local markets – is of such poor quality that we're not even bothering to do any real shopping. It looks like we won't need to buy another suitcase after all as we didn't buy a lot in China thinking we would get stuff in Hong Kong, and then realized Hong Kong was too expensive!

Our day started early and we were off the ship by 8:30am after a quick continental breakfast from the buffet. Princess docked in Kowloon, at the Ocean Terminal, which is of course connected to a giant shopping center. We walked towards the Star Ferry terminal through one floor of the shopping center that was nothing but children's stores of all high end brands, like Burberry. We didn't even know that these designers make children's clothes! There was an information booth at the Star Ferry and we found out we could only buy a transportation “octupus card” from a metro station so we used cash to get a token for our first ferry ride over to Hong Kong Island. It was a very fast ferry ride and we were amazed to see so many boats in the small harbor...this made the water very chopping as all these ferries and fishing boats passed back and forth, but luckily Hunter didn't get sea sick because it was only a 10 min ride. The ferry dropped us off at Central and we made a detour into the nearby metro station to buy the octopus card so we could have a “fast pass” for paying for all the bus rides we were going to take. Each card cost $150 HKD with $100 in transportation and $50 as a deposit. If you return the card within 30 days for a refund, they assess a $7 HKD fee. We then walked to Exchange Square and passed IFC I and II, two giant glistening glass buildings, one of which used to be the world's tallest in the late 1990s. One of those buildings housed the Capital Group offices. Exchange Square is the main bus terminal and we easily found Express Bus 260 which took us to Stanley Market.

The bus ride to Stanley Market made it worth the trip just in and of itself. The bus system is amazing in Hong Kong. Most are double-deckers, with giant widows and comfortable seats, like the ones you would find on the coach buses in the US. But the buses are really narrow in width, which we found out is needed because the country roads are so narrow! These bus drivers give the NYC taxi drivers a run for their money in daring driving. Hunter and I sat in the front two seats on the top deck so we had great views of the trip, and we were holding our breaths as the bus would stop at a stoplight literally inches behind the bus in front of it! There were buses EVERYWHERE in the city and getting out of the Central district to the roads leading to the southern end of the island was a bit chaotic. But we got to see the Central district as the bus drove through the crowded streets of skyscrapers and shopping malls. Then, once out of the busy section, we got to enjoy the beautiful scenery. The bus route to Stanley Market took us up over the mountains, past Repulse Bay, where we got to enjoy incredible vistas of the crescent shaped beach with smooth sand and blue water. We couldn't believe such a fast-paced NYC-like city could also have the advantages of such nice beaches! The roads twisted and turned and the bus crisscrossed lanes whenever it felt like it, but made sure it got back to the left side of the road before the oncoming jaguars and bentleys and mercedes benz cars came zooming past us on the other side. The bus drivers actually have speed reader boxes handing from the ceilings so passengers can see how fast they are going – I guess it's to allow passengers to complain if they're going too fast?

We made the bus ride in one piece and got off at Stanley market. It was still early, around 10am and the market stalls were just setting up. There were a few toy stores in there and a lot of the same goods we've seen elsewhere – chinese scarves, shirts, ties, etc. Surprisingly we were never hassled to come in and look around – they left us alone as we walked up and down the stalls. We then ventured down to the promenade, then started to walk towards St. Stephen's beach until we could peer down from the top of the hill to see the view. We then walked through Stanley Plaza, another shopping center, where we visited the ATM and pharmacy. We ended up at the bus stop, but we didn't see signs for bus 73 which we wanted, so we asked a young British man if any of the buses went to Aberdeen. We found a few and then boarded a minibus (#52) that pulled up. The minibus ride was also fun – he sped along down the winding roads until someone ran the bell to stop and they got off.

The area around Stanley Market is home to some beautiful and very expensive apartments because the views of the water are so incredible. We passed some real estate stores and saw that even the rundown apartments of less than 1,000 sq ft were going for over $1 million USD. There were a lot of international people (mainly British) in the area, walking their dogs in the morning and eating in cafes, and all of the signs were in Cantonese and English so it was very easy to get around.

We got off the minibus at Aberdeen, which is also on the south end of the island and is where the local fishing people live in their boats. We walked along the riverfront promenade and found a sampan ride which took us for 30 min around the harbor area past all the boats. This was a unique experience. We picked a sampan operator that was run by a very old woman with tons of wrinkles and a funny pointed hat, like what you see in the old movies. She looked like something right out of a picture of Hong Kong 30 years ago. Her partner in crime was a one-eyed Chinese man who spoke almost no English and just yelled at passer-bys to hop in the boat. Or at least we think that is what he was yelling about! The sampan itself was cool – it was an old wooden motorboat that could probably hold a good 25 people sitting on the hard wooden benches around the side of the boat and on a strip up the middle. ¾ of the boat was covered in a canvas roof, offering shade protection. The keel was covered in side by side rubber tires. There were lots of tires everywhere, held together by thick rope so the boats could crash into things without damaging anything. The boat ride took us around the Jumbo, the famous floating restaurant, and we saw the beautiful red/green/black chinese decor-ed front, and then the decrepit, falling down, moldy section of the back! Talk about fake appearances! The boat then drove past hundreds of wooden boats, from large fishing boats, to smaller houseboats, to canoe-like boats with 3 people. Some of these boats are where people live full time. We could see lines of clothes and pots and pans hanging out to dry. Our favorite boat was a medium sized one that had two rows of dead fish drying out clipped to the clothes lines, and then a third clothes line of men's and women's clothes. Yum – how good those shirts must smell after they are dried out! One thing that really surprised us was that the water was actually pretty clear. We expected to be floating in dark, murky brown water, like you would see in the Atlantic, because of the pollution from all the motor boats, but surprisingly the water was a clear turquoise with very few pieces of garbage floating in it.

After the interesting boat ride, we took another boat that dropped us off at the Jumbo restaurant. We decided to splurge on an authentic chinese lunch of dim sum as the restaurant is very famous. The inside was exquisite. Everything was very fancy with hard wooden slabs that served as charter plate, and heavy carved chopsticks. The chairs were arranged in groups around the table. We had a table for 4 and two chairs were placed side by side on the pointed ends of the table. They moved two of them to the side so we could sit down facing the flat part of the table, but Hunter went to move another chair back to its side of the table and they promptly moved it back to the pointy end of the table. That was the first of probably several taboos we made in the restaurant. We figured out how to order dim sum and then just picked at it with our chopsticks, and only later realized they gave us a third set of chopsticks to use to remove the pieces from the platters onto our plates. The waiters hovered over us so as soon as the last morsel left the serving plate, they whisked it away and plopped down the next dim sum dish. The food was very, very, good, although it gave us our fill of dim sum for a while! We stuck to pork and shrimp dishes. The restaurant had very high end food on the dinner menu and we saw one dish of a very rare fish that was sold at $15,000 HKD, ~2,000 USD! That must be some tasty fish!

After the boat ride back from the restaurant to the promenade, we walked to the bus terminal and found one that took us to Causeway Bay, probably the largest shopping area on Hong Kong Island. This place was unbelievable! There were literally 10 giant shopping malls all in the same area. We walked through 4 or 5 of them, wide-eyed, counting all the different stores we saw. Many were the American brands, and we spotted several Starbucks cafes, crepe shops, gelato stands, and even Toys 'R Us. As we said before, the prices were much higher compared to the US, so we didn't buy anything, which saved us a lot of money!

It was well after 4pm by the time we finished up with the shopping malls and we took the metro to another district called Wan Chai, where we visited a “computer mall” which was nothing but tiny shops selling computers, camcorders, cameras, flash drives, etc. There was one really cool store selling spy gear with hidden video cameras! Luckily everything was too expensive so we didn't buy yet another computer! We then hopped on another bus which drove towards the Central District. The bus driver spoke English (as it seems everyone does in Hong Kong and their English is very, very good, too. We had forgotten it was under British authority before passing to China and you can definitely see the western influences the most in HK than in the other cities we've visited so far). We asked the driver to point out which stop was closest to the Victoria Peak tram, and he did, and it was only a short 5 min walk uphill to the tram. The tram is a very old cable-car transportation system that takes you up to the top of Victoria's Peak, the highest point on Hong Kong island. It was very crowded with people as it was getting to be around sunset and people were going up to the top for the nighttime views and for the eating in one of the many restaurants housed in the shopping complex at the top. One restaurant was Bubba Gump's Shrimp Company! We got there after 5pm and it took about 40 minutes of waiting in line and the tram ride included to get to the top. It was well worth the wait and the money to see those views! Unfortunately the nighttime fog was starting to set in, but it was still breathtaking to peer down on the tall skyscrapers twinkling with white and colored lights, and to watch all the boats in the harbor and the ferries making their crossings back and forth from the island. There is a lot of history on the peak tram and its role in WWII and we saw a display that had an actual newspaper from 1941 with articles about Hong Kong Island's surrender to the Japanese. We took a lot of photos and some video and then waited in line to take the tram back down.

Our timing was perfect and we caught the Express bus (15C) back to the Central ferry pier to take the Star Ferry back to Kowloon, where we walked to the riverfront promenade. It was 7:45pm at this point and the place was packed with throngs of people waiting to see the 8pm light show. Everyone had told us to be in Kowloon for the light show, as the lights on the buildings on HK Island are much nicer than the buildings on the Kowloon side. We found an opening near the front and were able to hear the narration and the music as the lights danced and flashed in synchronization to the music. What a fun light show! It was like seeing the 4th of July fireworks, but you can see this every night! It was only a 10-min show, but worth the trouble of seeing it from the promenade.

After the light show, we were STILL GOING (like little energizer bunnies) but decided we needed food to keep moving. We started walking down the famous Nathan Road in search of a restaurant. Most of the street was flanked by stores and yes, you guessed it, more shopping malls so it took us a while to find a restaurant (which we found in the i-Square shopping mall). It was a cafe that sold American and Chinese food. Hunter ordered a bacon cheeseburger and
I had spaghetti bolognese which came covered in melted cheese like a ziti.

Nathan Road area reminds us of Time Square and is what we pictured Tokyo would be like. There are huge neon flashing billboards that are suspended over the street or attached to the large shopping complexes. And there are crowds of people everywhere! It was like walking down the Strip in Las Vegas at 10pm and being amazed at how many people are still up and walking around. Even the side streets off Nathan Road were glowing with neon signs and filled with people. We wonder if it is always this crowded, or if it is especially so since it is one day before Christmas Eve. It is also Winterfest, a 5-week celebration in Hong Kong where the city is adorned with Christmas displays of brightly lit christmas trees and giant bells and snow flakes, etc., so we saw a lot of families and groups of teenagers taking pictures in front of the displays.

We managed to walk all the way to Temple Street without our legs giving way and started the long market walk. There were stalls upon stalls of the same stuff – mostly junk – so we didn't buy anything but thought it was fun to just watch all the people combing over the hair ties and bracelets and fake watches and leather belts and broken electronics. Surrounding the market stalls were two rows of local cooking stands. Temple Street Night Market is supposed to be a good place to try local delicacies, but after our dim sum lunch, we thought we had enough local flavor for the day! We then passed by streets of jade sellers, near where the jade market was, which was closed at night. We are glad we made it to the temple market because the busy activity was something to see.

At 11:05pm we flagged down a taxi, thinking our busy day was over and we were on our way safely home to the ship. But we had one more fun adventure. We told our taxi diver to take us to Ocean Terminal where the cruise ship was and showed him the spot on the map. He said, “oh, ok, Ocean Center” and we thought Center and Terminal could be interchangeable so we said ok. He then proceeded to drive us to the outskirts of the city, which didn't look right, and then stopped in a parking lot full of cars and teenagers sitting on the cars. He brought us to a drifting challenge! We immediately said, “no, no, this isn't right” and took out the map again. He took a more careful look and then laughed and said he knew where that was. Thank goodness! We didn't want to get abandoned at a drifting challenge! Luckily, we made no more detours and we got back on the ship in one piece, a little after 11:30pm. What a day! We crashed immediately and didn't wake up even once during the night.

permalink written by  mohicanfan on December 23, 2009 from Hong Kong, Hong Kong
from the travel blog: Beijing/Shanghai and a Princess Southeast Asia Cruise - Dec 2009
tagged HongKong, Asia and Cruise

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At the time I am writing this bio (Jan 2010), I, Meredith, am a 28-year old woman living in Virginia Beach, VA with my husband of almost 6 years, who works in New York 4 days a week. We are both avid travelers and beach lovers and I enjoy writing and reading. I am also a fastidious recorder of...

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