Hong Kong and Macau: Exploring Hong Kong

Delta Economy Comfort ECP-ATL-SEA-NRT-HKG
W Hong Kong
Exploring Hong Kong
Conrad Macao
Exploring Macau
Conrad Hong Kong
Delta Economy Comfort HKG-NRT-SEA-ATL-ECP

Given that I have been wanting to visit Hong Kong for a long time, I had planned to make sure I maximized my time within the city as much as possible during my trip while of course still leaving a little time for visiting Macao. To do that, I spent my first several days within the city and then two days following side-trip to Macao, which gave me roughly five days to explore. It didn’t take long for me to realize that even five days wasn’t going to be enough to explore this city. I thought I understood the size of it all, but some of the things I had planned, like spending a day hiking in the New Territories never came to fruition. Part not enough time and part starting to feel ill on the last few days of my trip. Still, I managed to cross off many of the sights and activities that I wanted to do, so I’m not disappointed one bit. It just means I have things to do the next time I go there!

Note: I’ve decided to try out YouTube, Flickr and Vimeo for some videos that I’ve embedded into this post. Let’s see which one works best!

Getting Oriented
As usual, I find myself on the first day in a new place trying to get a feel for the city, the transportation options, and walking around semi-aimlessly while usually trying to get some of the big tourist crowded spots out of the way. Considering that I was staying in Kowloon at the W Hong Kong, I decided that I would cross over to Hong Kong Island and Central to start my day off. Getting over there was easy; it’s a one stop train ride from the Kowloon station that the W Hong Kong is attached to over to Hong Kong Station right across the water. I walked out of the station through the IFC mall and soon found myself on the elevated walkways above the roads. I still really wasn’t too sure where I was going, so I managed to work my way over to the opposite side on street level.

I knew the first order of business for me was going to mean getting a SIM Card. I had looked for something within the IFC mall, but I couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for (which is funny, because I’m sure there were a dozen places I could have gone to). Not having done much research in advance I figured I would try to track down a PCCW store so I could pick up the 8-day Discover Hong Kong Tourist SIM Card. Considering it is only HK$96 (~$12USD), it really is a fantastic deal! You get:

  • Unlimited local calls
  • Unlimited WiFi at PCCW Hotspots
  • 5GB of local mobile data
  • HK$0.45/min flat rate International Direct Dial (IDD) which included the US
  • HK$35 Credit for calls and SMS

It’s practically a no-brainer to me; in comparison if I used my Verizon Wireless service, I would have been stuck paying a lot more for a lot less. It almost is always best to pick up a local SIM card as a result regardless of where you are visiting. I will also say that the staff at the PCCW shop were great too, especially after I told them I needed a nano SIM when I really needed a micro SIM and had already opened the package. The location on Des Voeux Road in Central just around the corner from Hong Kong Station was convenient for me that first morning, but there are stores located all over the city.

With my PCCW SIM Card installed in my phone, I was able to get about walking around this great city! Starting out, I headed East back down Des Vouex Road and found myself at the Old Supreme Court Building and the Cenotaph. Since I’m not much of a planner, I used the time spent walking down there to figure out what I would do with my day. I quickly decided that once checking those two places out I would make my way to Victoria Peak.

Old Supreme Court + Cenotaph

I kept wandering, although there wasn’t a great distance to cover between where I was and the Peak Tram. As I wandered I stumbled on St. Johns Cathedral, which happens to be the oldest western religious building in Hong Kong. It wasn’t overly ornate, but the it’s always interesting to look at scenes that get depicted in the stained glass windows; there was even some clues of the British colonial heritage with one chapel with what I can only assume were the standards or flags of various armed forces units that were resident in Hong Kong, including the Royal Navy.

St. John’s Cathedral – Exterior

St. John’s Cathedral – Altar

Victoria Peak + Peak Tram
This is probably one of the most popular tourist stops in Hong Kong. Victoria Peak, which happens to the highest point on Hong Kong Island, offers fantastic views of the Financial District/Central and Kowloon across Victoria Harbour. There are three ways that I know of to get to the top; hike your way up through the wooded slopes on the Old Peak Road or take a bus, or take the Peak Tram. The Peak Tram is obviously, the more popular option and I went with that for my ascent to the peak.

It was the first spot where I really managed to get snagged by a crowd during this trip, even though it was mid-morning, almost everyone and their uncle was trying to get to the top. I shouldn’t have been surprised, it really was a beautiful day that morning! Just a tip for anyone going, if you have an Octopus card for use on public transit, you can use it for the Peak Tram and avoid standing in the line to buy a ticket…especially since I think the ticket windows are cash only.

Everyone Wants To Ride The Peak Tram…Everyone.

Onboard the Peak Tram

The ride to the top maybe took 5 minutes or so, and offered some decent views on the way up once past some of the apartment towers. They don’t over cram the trams (heh), but don’t expect an empty seat next to you. Once at the top you’ll find yourself at the Peak Tower which seemed full of touristy type of stuff, so I quickly made my exit and headed left along the paved path. You don’t have to go far until you are past the Tower and you find a little viewing spot. From here there were excellent views of everything down below…it really was fantastic! I probably sat here for at least 30 minutes taking it all in and enjoying the sunshine.

You Get A Few Good Views On The Ride Up

Following The Path…

Central + Kowloon

Kowloon Star Ferry Pier (From Victoria Peak)

Me On The Peak!

Before I headed back down I checked out one of the observation decks at the building across from the Peak Tower which gave a very different view on the other side of the Peak.

The Other Side Of The Peak

Old Peak Road…Just A Steep, Narrow Path Now

Street Eats
Once you get to the bottom of the Old Peak Road, you empty out into what I think was a primarily residential area. Not really anything to see, but it was fun getting Google Maps to try to get me back into middle of it all. That would eventually lead me to the Central–Mid-Levels Escalator and Walkway System, which is the longest outdoor covered escalator in the world. Turns out though that it’s pretty much only escalators in the up direction, so it was down the stairs for me. I took it until about Hollywood Road and from there I started to wander. I made my way through several street markets until I finally made my way to Graham Street and picked a outdoor food stall for a cheap and easy lunch. Luckily the one I stopped at, Chung Kee had a menu in English and Cantonese, and found myself going with fish balls and noodles with a side of whatever the seasonal vegetable was (steamed leaf lettuce?). Honestly some of the best food is street food in my opinion and this was no exception; part of it is of course the food, but just being out there on the street is part of the experience. Especially when you are me and sitting on a plastic chair that you think was designed for a small child, praying that the chair isn’t going to fail spectacularly and send your bowl of noodles flying on to your head. Not that has ever happened to me…

Street Market

Graham Street Food Stalls

Lunch Is Served!

Star Ferry
After my late lunch I took my time to head back to my hotel in Kowloon; to get there I would finally take the Star Ferry across Victoria Harbour. One of the essential to do items in Hong Kong, I unfortunately made my journey across as the weather was starting to take a turn for the wet. The views were still pretty good of the harbor, and you really can’t complain about only paying US$0.32 (HK$2.50) for any mode of public transit. I would wind up riding the Star Ferry multiple times through the course of my stay; it became a great way to get between the two halves of Hong Kong while keeping things on leisurely side.

Star Ferry in Kowloon

Hidden Drinks
It being my first full night in Hong Kong, I decided that I didn’t want to try to do the Lan Kwai Fong circuit of drinking, in fact I decided that I just wanted to take it easy and find somewhere that wouldn’t be overly pricey or overrun with other tourists. Through some quick research back at the hotel, that meant heading to a place called New Discovery. The location of this bar really cannot be beat; it’s right on top of one of the ferry piers in Central! Sitting there at night you could see the lit up buildings in both Central and on the Kowloon side while sipping cheap beer and snacking on typical pub grub. I will admit that it was a bit on the chilly side that night (it’s all outdoors), but a buy two get one free special kept me there for a while. There was also live music and unlike what I would find in Lan Kwai Fong the next night, this was definitely a more relaxed environment.

Cheap Beer!

Lit Up Hong Kong From New Discovery

Live Music And A View? Awesome!

Exploring Hong Kong Island By Tram
Along with the Star Ferry, Hong Kong has another old and very inexpensive mode of public transport: the Hong Kong Tramways. These electric trams go across Hong Kong Island and despite the distance that you ride, only costs US$0.30 (HK$2.30). This makes for an excellent way to see the city, especially when on the upper deck as it snakes through the crowded streets. For my journey, I hopped on in Central and rode out to the Happy Valley Racecourse. Honestly, I should have probably have done this on my first day in Hong Kong and just rode as many of the lines as possible instead of going to the Peak first; it would have made for a great introduction to the city. That being said, after getting out to Happy Valley, there wasn’t really anything for me to do, so after a quick look at the Racecourse grounds, I hopped back on and made my back into the middle of town.

Let’s Hop On!

Happy Valley Racecourse

This Feels British…

Passing A Busy Side Street

Computer Markets
Given the number of electrical components and devices that I’ve bought online that always seem to come from Hong Kong, I figured it might be a good place to peruse for these types of things in person. In my head I was picturing something along the lines of Tokyo’s Akihabara district (which I spent way too much time in back in 2011 on my trip to Japan), and decided to lookup what were the local computer and electronics outlets. My first stop: Wan Chai Computer Centre. This, I believe (and someone can correct me here), is the larger of the computer markets in Hong Kong. Multiple floors hawking pretty much every sort of computer, camera, and other technology devices. There were several things that I found that interested me, but to my surprise the prices were not any better, if not worse than the prices back home. Here, I was expecting to find some bargains, but that was not the case. There was one other place that my phone was pointing me to, which was the 298 Computer Zone. It was pretty much a much more run down version of Wan Chai Computer Centre; half of the stalls were either closed or out of business, the prices were not any better, and figuring out how to leave was interesting (the escalators only go up and eventually I found the exit, which turned out to be some back of building stairwell that wasn’t marked very well). Heck, I didn’t even find a single place selling individual components either. Perhaps I was looking in the wrong places and there were other markets in Hong Kong that are better? I guess I won’t be finding out anytime soon, but I guess I’ll just stick to eBay for those Hong Kong purchases!

Roasted Meat
BBQ…Is there a more perfect food that exists out there? Well, during my planning for my trip to Hong Kong, I kept seeing mention of a place called Joy Hing Roasted Meat online, in my guidebook, and on TV. The promise was excellent roasted pork and a very affordable price in a very hole in the wall establishment. I knew that I just had to try it based on everything I kept hearing about it. After escaping the 298 Computer Zone, I started my search on Hennessey Road for this hole in the wall, but I could never seem to find it. Perhaps the address I had was wrong, but I eventually found it just a few steps from Hennessey Road on Steward Road on the left hand side. Immediately as I entered, I was taken to a table where others were already sitting and quickly placed an order for pork + rice + beer. Not more than a minute later, I had a plate with a heaping pile of rice, a few slices of pork and a Tsingtao tall can in front of me. I have to say, it really was some of the best pork that I had; excellent cooked with it being moist and full of flavor. I finished fairly quickly and made my exit quickly having only spent a little less than US$5.00. Not quite as cheap as the public transit, but still a good deal in my book.

Joy Hing Roasted Meat

Pork! Rice! Beer!

Hong Kong Park
After a filling lunch, I made my way to Hong Kong Park. Essentially Hong Kong’s version of Central Park, I spent some time in the Aviary checking out the birds before wandering around other areas of the park. From my time walking around, it seemed like there were a fair number of office workers strolling around as well, perhaps to get out of the office for a bit to refresh one’s self? Definitely convenient given it’s location.

Colorful Bird!

Wedding Photos?

A Calm Patch Amongst Skyscrapers

Temples, Markets, and a Museum
I have to say, that my afternoon on that Wednesday was ridiculously busy or at least seemed that way. I found myself in a Temple (Man Mo Temple), a market (Cat Street Bazaar), and the Hong Kong Museum of History. Starting with the Temple, I had more or less stumbled on it, and decided to check it out briefly, although it did appear to be under renovation, but one could still see the ornate decorations spaced throughout the small space.

Man Mo Temple Entrance

Man Mo Temple

Man Mo Temple

Cat Street Market is known as a place to buy curios and knick-knacks. I had pictured a bustling street market, but when I showed up there was a few stalls (all pretty much selling the same items) and a not really anyone else. Pretty disappointed with the offerings, I didn’t buy anything, not even the smallest trinket.

Cat Street Market

From there it was back across the Star Ferry to Kowloon and from there a walk to the Hong Kong Museum of History. It was a good 1 mile (approx.) walk from the ferry to the Museum and normally I wouldn’t have cared so much if it hadn’t started to drizzle a bit as I got halfway there. Luckily it never started pouring, so at least I was spared from getting soaked and not being able to enter the museum. By the time I made it to the museum it was already 4PM and knowing how museums can be, I was curious if I was even going to get in, since most aren’t open very late into the evening. Luckily, not only was it open, but for whatever reason today was a free admission day! Being a bit of a history nerd (in additional to several other types of nerd), this place was fantastic. Especially of interest to me (and I bet many others) was the colonial period of British rule, of which there were several excellent exhibits. Including even a reconstruction of a city block that showed exhibits on the wartime occupation of Hong Kong by Japanese Forces. There was so much history that I obviously did not know about this city, and several of the exhibits definitely taught me a few things and a bit about some of the cultural aspects as well. I probably could have spent even longer there, but I knew after two hours or so hours I needed to get back to the hotel to get ready for the evening.

The Opium Trade Definitely Had A Big Impact

Boundary Marker From Prior To The Lease Of The New Territories

Japanese Occupation Exhibit

Standard Of The Governor of Hong Kong

Lan Kwai Fong
After getting back to my hotel to change and then eat dinner at Classified: Mozzarella Bar (in IFC, after my first choice for dinner was beyond filled to the brim), I made my way into Hong Kong’s own district for drinking: Lan Kwai Fong. With not much of a plan, I made a few circles of the blocks before settling into the first bar of the night: Hong Kong Brew House. What drew me to this place was what looked like a very extensive selection of beers from around the world, claiming upwards of 90 different selections on tap and in bottles. While I could have had some excellent beers from back home, I mostly found myself sticking to European beers. In fact, the selection of Asian beers was less than anticipated, and I just didn’t feel like drinking some of the more standard ones that again I can easily get back home. Sitting at the bar, I made my way through a few with the intention of heading downstairs eventually for the comedy night. For whatever reason I decided against that and ultimately left the bar in search of a new home.

Follow The Path To LKF

LKF Outside Hong Kong Brew House

That new home would turn out to be a Canadian bar. You heard that right, Canadian. I didn’t know it until I walked in and found beavers on the walls, hockey on TV and Molson freely available; I had found myself at The Keg. The bar was incredibly small, and I think I lucked out when I grabbed what had to be one of the six or eight tables for myself (there wasn’t even any counter seating it was that small). While I spent the rest of the night at this bar, it was times a little weird, but not necessarily in a bad way. I mean here I was sitting in Hong Kong (China), in a Canadian bar, drinking a Mexican beer (Corona), listening to too much country music and Nickelback, and eventually making some small talk with two Canadians that I accidently called Americans. Perhaps almost surreal; there were way too much meshing of cultures at play here and honestly I didn’t think I would be on the opposite side of the world from Northwest Florida and having to hear country music. I mean, who would have thought? Still, a good time was had before making it back to the hotel to inevitably pass out.

Drinking Mexican Beer In A Canadian Bar In China

I woke up on my third morning of the trip, admittedly with a slight hangover. Nothing that some water and ibuprofen and a greasy McDonald’s breakfast can’t cure. Once that was taken care of, I was off by foot to find myself the Happy Foot Reflexology Centre. A place that as far as I know only does foot massages and after two days of walking all across Hong Kong, I decided that my feet could use the rub down. Plus I just wanted to take today easy as I planned to take the Ferry to Macau that afternoon once I checked out from the W. The first address I had in Foursquare was the one that was in my guidebook and after spending about 15 minutes trying to find it where it should have been I found out that it had closed down. Luckily they had reopened a few blocks down in a tower (actually in LKF at that), so off I went.

The elevator dropped me off in the lobby and I saw the prices for all of the options and it was cheap! I mean for about US$25 you got a 50 minute foot massage which just seemed like a steal! They led me around to the other side of the wall to a room with about six or so chairs and started to go to town on my legs and feet. Even managed to work in my neck and shoulders too (which I had not expected), but seeing as I had been carrying around my messenger bag for the past few days everywhere, it was definitely appreciated. By the time I wrapped up here though, I had to head back to the hotel to finish packing and grab something to eat.  From the hotel it would off to the ferry terminal to hitch a ride over to Macau.

This might not make the most sense, but I’m jumping around a bit here; the next two posts will cover my time in Macau, but the sake of keeping like things together, I’ll pick up after I arrived back in Hong Kong a few days later.

There was still that I had wanted to do in Hong Kong before I flew on that Monday back to the US. The first goal was to make it down to the Southern side of Hong Kong Island to Stanley for that evening; I thought that it would be nice to sit out next to the water as the sun set and enjoy the evening in a more laid-back area. Like everywhere else, the best way to get there is using public transit and being no stranger to using public transit systems around the world, I set off on my journey. It seemed so simple; take a bus from Central to a spot on the other side of the peak, transfer to another bus and take it straight to Stanley. It was anything but simple. It seemed to be going all so well, but then I couldn’t find where the connecting bus left from after Google Maps told me to get off. Seriously; I figured it would be at the same spot where all the other buses were stopping along an expressway, but after not finding the number I found out there was a bus terminus nearby and figured surely I would find it there. After venturing through a construction zone and reaching the bus terminus, I again was met with no joy. At this point I was rather confused and was starting to wonder if there was an adjustment to the schedules or routes that Google Maps did not know about or something else. All I know is that for the first time ever, a public transit system had bested me. I started walking back to where I got off and grabbed the first bus into Central as I admitted defeat.

Unfortunately that would be only the start of a less than stellar night. After getting back to my hotel so I could regroup and take a shower, my gut really began to feel uneasy. I wasn’t sure what was the cause as I hadn’t really ate anything that strange or anything the past few days, but what I do know is that it killed my motivation to do anything. Eventually though I decided that I would go and try to eat something and see if perhaps it was just that I was hungry. Sometimes you just never know…

So off I went in search of familiar food. In the event that my gut really was messed up I didn’t want to shock it with something strange. What did that mean? McDonald’s. Yes, it’s pretty lame, but you know it’s pretty much a constant the world over, so I figured the risk was low. Aside from the fries appearing to not have been fried all the way, it was perfectly a normal American fast food meal, but didn’t settle my gut. Although I had wanted to go out to Lan Kwai Fong again that night I decided to “do the right thing” and go back to my hotel to go to bed early and try to sleep.

Waking up the next morning I was definitely feeling a bit better, but still just a little off. You know that point where you don’t feel sick but you don’t exactly feel 100%? That’s where I was at. So after breakfast I actually decided to just hang out in the room for a bit. Just staring out the window at the Peak watching the morning sun hit the trees and buildings and almost losing myself in thought. I wasn’t sitting there for long when out of nowhere this hawk or eagle or something swopped in and perched just outside my window on the 55th floor! I’ll admit that for far too long the bird and I were staring at one another. At multiple points the bird kept tapping on the window; perhaps it wanted in? After probably 30 minutes or so, the bird flew off and it was time for me as well.

My Winged Visitor

Although the previous night had left me doubting my skills of navigating public transit, I decided that today I would take it very, very easy and attempt visiting Stanley for the day. This time I was much more successful and actually hopped off the first bus at Repulse Bay Beach. I wasn’t going to get in the water, but I did go for as stroll along the length of it before happening upon the Kwun Yam Shrine at the southeastern end. I checked out several of the mosaics and other features, including what I think was a concrete memorial to the Hong Kong Life Guard Club from a bygone era that would have seemed more in place in a former Soviet republic.

Repulse Bay Beach

Guess The Water Was Too Cold; No One Wanted To Swim..

Kwun Yam Shrine

Kwun Yam Shrine

Memorial To A Bygone Era

With enough sand in my shoes, I grabbed a public light bus (small, no more than 16 seats) for the rest of my journey to Stanley. It was most definitely a beautiful day and it appeared to have been the final day of the Hong Kong Wine and Dine Festival and as a result at Stanley Plaza there were concerts and acts on the stage there. I stopped by a few times during the day and took in a musical act and then later some apparently popular Korean act. I had no real goals for the day and ultimately I just spent the entire day meandering around the core Stanley area; checking out Stanley Market, had a sandwich at Lucy’s on the Front, and then ultimately spent a few hours kicking pack in a pub, The Smugglers Inn. It was a great way to take it easy and I was actually feeling decent throughout it. I stuck around for until the sun started to set and realized all too late that I should have planned this better so I could have taken the Aqua Luna (I think one the remaining junks still sailing around HK) back to Central, but just reversed the route on buses.

Murray House (Next To Stanley Plaza)

Stanley Waterfront (Panorama – Click To Enlarge)

I Recall This Band Play Bob Marley…

The Aqua Luna Pulling Into Stanley Harbor

Stanley Market

Tasty Sandwich From Lucy’s on the Front – Great Spot To People Watch!

Smugglers Inn – Kicking Back And Drinking

As The Sun Sets In Stanley

Sadly I Did Not Raise My Hand Fast Enough To Represent ‘Murica In This Beer Drinking Contest

Once back in Central, it was pretty much now dark, so I decided to roam around a bit but not to stay out very late since I had a relatively early morning flight the next day to Tokyo. As such I grabbed a beer and some calamari from Red Bar + Restaurant on the roof of the IFC mall. There were some decent views, but the beer was overpriced so after one drink I headed down and decided that I would stop off at New Discovery for one more drink so I could take in the lit up skylines of both Kowloon and Central.

Hong Kong from Robert Gysi on Vimeo.

Red Bar + Restaurant

As I sat there I reflect on this trip and how much I had enjoyed myself over the week out here and very, very glad I decided to take the plunge and visit this city. Hong Kong definitely became one of my favorite places that I’ve visited; the mixing of cultures from around the world and the opportunities for exploration here kept me busy and wanting more. I didn’t quite hit everything on my list, especially on the last two days in Hong Kong where I had planned to take in some hiking in the New Territories. Actually the New Territories and some of the islands that I had wanted to check out were left completely unexplored on this trip, but sometimes that happens. One could say that this leaves something to do on a future trip, but honestly I don’t know when I’ll make it back to Hong Kong. It being half way around the world and require almost too many hours of travel to reach there, it’s going to be difficult to go back; especially as I have other areas in Asia that I want to visit and still have Africa completely unexplored. With that said, I will make it back here somehow in the future, even if it takes me 10 years.

Star Ferry At Night

All Lit Up At Night!

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