Ok, I’ve been very poor at updating all this over the past few weeks. For several reasons like lack of time and any internet connection. But at least I’m doing it now!
We arrived by boat into Kowloon’s China Ferry Terminal and wandered out onto the main street. As usual for southern China the heat was oppressive. We headed to the nearest Metro stop through the neon jungle and immediately found the atmosphere very different from the mainland. The people no longer stared at us, there was a much greater racial mix and we heard English spoken widely. First impressions were very good though.
Our destination was the Hong Kong Hostel in Causeway Bay, on Hong Kong island. We breezed there very easily on the excellent Metro system, which felt very similar to Shanghai’s, and after a brief search found our lodgings. We took a small but reasonable enough twin room and went exploring.
We grabbed some food from a local Vietnamese restaurant and then went looking for drinks. I had heard that Wan Chai was the area to go for bars and pubs so we walked the couple of kms there quickly and soon found the right street. On both sides of the road there were gaudy signs trying to lure us in. Several faux-English pubs and tacky looking bars in a few hundred feet was something we’d not had for some time. We settled for one of the ‘traditional’ English pubs (called Horse & Groom or something similar) as it seemed to have the best deals advertised. This is when we learned that the Hong Kong happy hour runs from roughly 11am until 9pm… We were just in time to catch the tail end but the place was devoid of atmosphere. We left after one drink and moved on to the Old China Hand – another English-style pub. This was another slight mistake as it was over-priced and pretty dull. As we left we began to feel a bit despondent as we’d hoped to find some nice music at least. Heading back up the road in the direction we’d come we were suddenly beset by hags from all directions. I seemed to be largely immune but they all clawed and tugged at Martyn trying to get him to enter their shoddy bars as more painted tarts sat and smiled lazily at us from the entrances. Certainly not our usual kind of haunt! We narrowly escaped and darted down a side street hoping the back streets would be better for the down-at-heel, grubby and rocky places we tend to prefer. Suddenly we chanced upon Junk Pub and entered, partly because we were fed up with walking. We were extremely glad we did though as the first track from the jukebox was Led Zep! Finally we had somewhere with great music on demand though a Chinese woman kept selecting the evil that is Shania Twain! We spent the night there playing great tunes ’til late. About 2am I decided I’d better leave as I was supposed to be meeting Kristina the next morning. We hadn’t drunk too much there but the extra couple of percent alcohol volume left us wasted. I remember a very blurry walk home and eating a nasty sandwich from a 7-eleven, and not much else…
I slept very badly with that strange feverish sleep you sometimes get after a harsh evening out. About 6am I gave up trying to snooze and got up. We’d scouted out where Kristina was staying the day before so I headed back out there and finished reading The Picture Of Dorian Gray in the foyer. When she appeared we went back to my hostel and with Martyn went to find food. Just as we found somewhere the heavens opened and within a minute the streets were flooded and people were sprinting for shelter. We sat for over an hour until it abated and then went to the Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence. This may sound like an extremely boring place to visit but it really isn’t. It’s situated on top of a hill overlooking the harbour in the site of an old fortress and has some really good displays. Unfortunately the terrible weather had closed part of the outdoors area though. By the time we left the museum Kristina’s jet lag was getting to her and was on the verge of heading home to sleep. We convinced her to hold off, fight it, and come out for a welcome-to-Hong-Kong-drink. Rather than re-visit Junk Pub so soon we went to the Lan Kwai Fong (sp?) area and found a small German bar. There we sat in the window and chatted until out of nowhere Janus appeared! Small world indeed. He joined us for a few drinks and we all got re-acquainted. We arranged to meet Janus again the next day and headed up Victoria Peak on the funicular. I succumbed to my first Maccy D’s of the trip :o( on the way. The view from the funicular’s carriage was incredible. Unlike Shanghai I found Hong Kong to have a really special and pretty skyline. The flashiness level of the two is undoubtedly similar but the ramshackle and crowded nature of Hong Kong, as well as the fact that it covers everything as far as you can see made it look far better, almost Blade Runner or Fifth Element at times. Sadly when you reach the top of the funicular you have to walk through a boring and touristy shopping center to reach the roof’s viewing deck. Even worse we’d passed up into the clouds and for most of the time we could only get brief snatches of what lay below us. We noticed that the park below didn’t seem to be very cloudy at all so we descended there and walked along a dark trail into the woods. Suddenly I heard a rumbling and I spotted a Chinese porcupine just as it plowed down through the foliage to escape us. Apparently they’re wild there. We did finally get truly great views of the city from a smelly stairway next to the toilets… After that I felt knackered and we all went home.
Monday morning we got up and went to see the giant bronze Buddha at Ngong Ping on Lantau island. We got to the bottom of the cable car by Metro and after a quick picnic we boarded it for HK$88 return and trundled up the hillside. The Buddha really is impressive from the first time you spot it. It’s great purely for it’s size but I believe it was cast in the 1980s which kind of lessens the effect for me. There were however moths and butterflies the size of birds. No exaggeration! As yet more low cloud rolled in we visited the temple below and then made our way back down the hill. It was still quite early and we had quite a bit of time to kill until we were supposed to meet Janus so we went back to Kowloon and tried to visit a Night Market on Temple Street. The name implies it’s only active at night, and that’s correct. It was 5pm when we got there and they were still setting up so we went a-wandering again. We stumbled across a bar we’d read about called Kangaroo Bar and used their BOGOF lager offer to wear down the time until we were to meet Janus. Here we watched Hamilton win his first Grand Prix, during which some other driver explode his car and broke his legs… We grabbed street food in Wan Chai before going to Junk Pub and settled in with a few good tunes. When Janus arrived we chatted for a few hours before me and Kristina called it a night and left Martyn and Janus to it.
The next morning I tried to wake up Martyn as we’d arranged to go to Macau. Unfortunately he was completely comatose. God knows what he and Janus had been up to but he was completely out of it. For about half an hour I prodded him, beat him with his own hands, shouted, whistled and called him names. I got a single drowsy ‘Hello’ from him but that was it. I made one final attempt – A large pile of things on him. Everything I could find in fact (except the TV which I didn’t fancy accidentally smashing). This was accompanied with more shouting but all to no avail. I checked he was still alive before writing him a note saying we should meet in Macau in the afternoon. Then Kristina and I headed to the China Ferry Terminal and bought our return ticket to Macau for HK$314. There was a large crowd by the ferry entrance and the queueing skills the Chinese have learned pretty well elsewhere are non-existent here. There was an announcement in Cantonese and a torrent of people rushed into the ferry, even though everybody had an assigned seat… The catamaran was really comfortable with nice seats, and the ride was fairly smooth, but Kristina felt a little sick when we crossed into the open sea. I think the crossing took about an hour and a half but it passed quickly. Passport Control was easy and we entered the S.A.R. of Macau. Our first sight was a large casino theme park styled with a volcano, colosseum, Venice area and Pompeii. Extremely tacky. We walked into the center of town and found a triangular area surrounded by beautiful colonial-style buildings and a wavy patterned mosaic-style pavement. The sun had been obscured by cloud until now but it suddenly began to pour down and make all the colours of the buildings even more vivid. This area looked great. We stopped for a second before visiting a restaurant on the side of the triangle. We were seated quickly but then completely ignored for some time despite getting eye-contact with a couple of members of staff. Just as we began to get frustrated we were served. The meal wasn’t great with Kristina’s ribs being mainly gristle and my beef being really salty, and equally gristley. At least it filled us up I suppose. We went to the ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral which is supposed to be a masterpeice of Catholic architecture in Asia. I’m no expert but it wasn’t all that really! It was nice enough though. We left some incredibly rude and loud Chinese in the crypt of the Japanese Martyrs where their bones were held (why are they often so loud and disprespectful in sacred places??? I’m not even a Catholic but I felt sorry for a few of the many people around who may well have been) and headed up the hill to the fortress. From the top we got some really great views of the city and wondered if Martyn had woken up yet. I decided if he had then he probably wasn’t up to a boat crossing, so we didn’t go to the meeting point. We visited the Macau museum which was pretty good and then went back into town. Grabbed some Haagen Dazs ice cream as the day was now scorching, and strolled about before going back to the ferry terminal as we didn’t really have time to explore a casino. Macau was well worth a visit but I wouldn’t have wanted to spend any more time there. The passage home was even smoother and bang on time. We went to Kristina’s hotel so I could check my emails and print out my bank statement to satisfy Aussie immigration, then I spotted a newspaper. I turned out that just four hours after we’d left the cable car at Ngong Ping one of the cars had plumetted fifty feet to the ground and crumpled like an empty crisp packet. It had been a test run but it was still a bit odd to think what could have been. We went to my room and found a very very ill looking Martyn. He doesn’t remember much about the previous night at all so it must have been an extremely savage evening. We dragged him out of bed and took the Star Ferry from Kowloon to Hong Kong island to take advantage of the good weather. We got some fantastic pictures of the waterfront. Well I didn’t as my camera battery had emptied itself during the day. After that Martyn was feeling very ill so he went home. We followed soon after when we found everything in the area was closing up for the day.
Wednesday was Kristina’s last day in HK as she flew to Sydney that evening. In the day we just wandered around for a while, visited an extremely expensive souvenir shop where the highest price tag was for a mammoth tusk carved into an elaborate Chinese scene for HK$4.6 million!!! Martyn was still feeling rough but we got some nice roast duck and goose before going to the Hong Kong Museum of History – which was really good, and free on wednesdays. We popped into the Science Museum which was also free but aimed squarely at kids and not too interesting. We were hungry again and went to the Kangaroo Bar again as it was cheap and the food was excellent. Kristina had to prepare for her flight so we said bye and I arranged where I’d meet her in Sydney. Martyn and I went home and watched some crap TV. Suddenly we switched on channel 6 and found it was linked to the CCTV in the building’s lift and foyer! I had some fun going up and down in the lifts, pulling faces and acting a fool as Martyn watched from the room, and I wondered who else was tuned in to this channel. Once the novelty died off we just chilled for the evening as Martyn was feeling terrible again (still!). After some more lovely street snacks I went to bed as well.
Thursday was our last day in China/HK. We scouted out the airport bus’ stop as the train to the airport is HK$100 and the bus is only HK$40. Following this we tried to fix Martyn’s fragile condition with some Belgian brews in a bar called Global. They were tasty but a bit expensive. We stayed there until we had to leave and go to the airport. We checked in after some extremely slow work by the Qantas and Jetstar staff and ate some cheap food at a restaurant in the terminal. Martyn boarded his flight an hour before me but mine didn’t take off until 11pm, about 2 hours late because the plane had a flat tyre. We had taxied onto the runway before they realised! We watched an ancient episode of Mr. Bean in the meantime and I watched half of Groundhog Day. Our meals didn’t arrive with us until about midnight and the trays didn’t get collected up until 1am. For some reason the staff were really slow that evening.
I slept really badly but the next morning woke up excited and saw the map showing us over the Great Dividing Range of Australia. I watched the last half of Groundhog Day, ate a really nice Chinese brekky and watched us descending over Manly Beach into Sydney. The landing was bumpy and left me cringing, wondering if any other tyres would give in, Concorde-stylee… Luckily, as you can tell, they did not. I passed through immigration without any questions at all. I didn’t even need to show how much money I had. With a big smile I entered Australia!