Category Archives: Hong Kong

Travelogue Hong Kong 4: Hong Kong Island & Kowloon

HONG KONG ISLAND & KOWLOON
27-31 March 2014

Having pre-booked our ferry transfer to Hong Kong – for a very civilised 10h30 – our evac from Macau was quick and painless.

The breakfast buffet was quite different to the previous day, sadly missing the things we favoured (quiche, aloo curry, baked beans with sausage medallions) but still with enough basics (bacon, chicken sausage, eggs etc) and some new additions (french toast) to sate.

Fascinating to watch the bizarre combo of things such a diverse cross-section of people choose at these buffets. Not at all uncommon to see a single plate with a small portions of scrambled eggs, bacon, noodles, cooked veg, dimsum and fresh fruit… all eaten with chopsticks! Toast doesn’t seem to feature – likely because it can’t serve as the delivery vehicle it does when you’re using a knife and fork.

Chopsticks must be a nurture art of practice, as we discovered when the little Chinese boy (no more than 4 or 5) alone at the table next to us dropped something through his chopsticks onto his plate, setting off a domino effect that resulted in his glass of milk landing on his chair next to him and rolling onto the floor. He froze and his eyes went so big they were almost round! We quickly rounded up all the serviettes on our table and helped him dab most of it up, so by the time his mom got back from the buffet a minute later, there was little evidence of the carnage from the recent milk tsunami. Obviously the little chap wasn’t one to keep secrets though and soon mom was smiling, head-bowing and rapid-fire Chinesing obvious gratitude to us.

The ferry ride was quick and comfortable – and again, completely full – and an hour later we were deposited at the Hong Kong Island Central Pier.

First order of business was to collect our apartment key from our host’s tea shop, which a Google Maps search had indicated was two rights and a left from the station. Sounded easy enough… until we realised, as we had in Taipei, the station has several exits in different directions and starting the instructions with “head East” wasn’t largely helpful when your luggage is all shoes and no compass! So we jumped in a taxi, which took us exactly 1 block parallel to the station, but was worth the R45 to save the anguish of wandering aimlessly on the busy streets with our considerable luggage in tow.

The girls in the teashop revealed that our host was currently travelling in Shanghai, but were able to give us the apartment key, directions and instructions to leave the keys with the 24 hour doorman when we were due to leave on Monday morning (a relief to not have an extra chore to drop off keys as we were headed to the airport at 5am).

The directions were easy enough and we were soon at our apartment in Hollywood Street (famed for antiques shop and opposite the famous Man Ho Temple, which made us giggle), with the only challenge being the 120 or so steep steps up Ladder Street to get there. Although it could’ve been way worse, seeing as Ladder Street continued to ascended as far as the eye could see!

Our apartment was tiny – no bigger than my bedroom at home – but well apportioned, newly renovated and with TWO balconies (a long one running the length of the flat overlooking the street and a smaller square one running the width of the flat, off the side nestled into the building above the entrance hall), which has to be a coup in Hong Kong. The bedroom is no more than an alcove built around the double bed; the bathroom a glass sliding door off the entrance passage with a shower, loo and basin. The kitchen area is a double cupboard with undercounter fridge, 2 plate stove on one side and small sink on the other. A convection oven the size of a small microwave sits on a rolling trolley island. Just enough to be able to do anything you need to do, not enough to really want to do anything. Presumably the locals have as big an eating out culture as the Taiwanese.

We put our bags down and hit the town, first port of call being to find the Gieves & Hawkes store in the International Finance Centre (commonly known as IFC) mall to collect Christian’s suits. Luck was on our side and our rough plan to head towards the water and take it from there serendipitously led us directly to the mall, and the store was at the top of the first escalator as we entered. More fortunately, the suits were perfect and looked great on! We asked the attendant to hang onto them so we could do a bit of sightseeing unencumbered and pick them up en route home.

We were in no particular hurry so, since we found ourselves at the central terminus, decided to take a bus up to The Peak, a shopping mall with viewing deck. As the bus wound up the mountain, the cars got flashier and the entrances more impressive. Clearly, the better the view, the higher the price tag!

The Peak Mall was nothing special in itself – perfectly lovely, with lots of restaurants and high-end shops – but boasted a rooftop terrace with gorgeous views of the far side of the island, as well as Lamma Island and Lantau (where we started our trip).

At the base of the mall was a viewing deck for the Victoria Bay side of the Island, with a winding walking path to get varied vantage points. Great spots to take pics (and selfies of course).

The Peak Tram runs from top of the walking path and had been recommended to us to try. We thought it would be a tourist activity but, based on the bussle and jostling, it appears to be a popular public transport alternative. It’s HK$28 for the tram as compared with the bus at HK$9.50, but only takes a couple of minutes – belting near vertically down the mountainside – versus the bus winding slowly and gently upward for 45 minutes.

Alighting at the end of the line, we consulted the map to see that we were at the end of the Causeway, which meant we had to walk the length of the pier to get back to IFC.

Hong Kong Island is easy to move around using a set of wide pedestrian skywalks that interlace all the malls and buildings, so you don’t need to contend with the shops and cars while getting from place to place. Since everyone seems to be in a hurry to get somewhere, this must be a godsend!

We navigated through the skywalks and back to IFC. We stopped en route to the suit shop to grab a sundowner at Liberty Exchange, a swank bar full of banker and stock broker types (and not an Oriental face in sight). The chap next to us at the bar spotted us to be tourists immediately and introduced himself. Of course, he turned out to be a Saffa – a chef who has been on HKI for 10 years and is now, funny enough, looking to move to Taipei. He’d never been there and we’d never been here, so we shared insights on where to go and what to see.

Suits in hand, we manoeuvred back to the apartment to drop them off and head out for the evening, to check out Wan Chai, which is infamous as the playground of the 7s since it’s so close to the stadium.

The MTR metro system is particularly simple to master since it’s a single straight line that runs the length of the bay, so we were soon at our destination and being swept up in the throng.

The road is a mess of bars and clubs spilling onto the streets with touts and hostesses willing people in as they attempt to pass by. Lots of neon signage with flashing icons and logos fighting for visual attention. And lots and lots of lager louts soaking it all in and allowing themselves to be lured along a bar hop. Not surprisingly, most of the clientele was English, Irish, Aussie and Kiwi with the odd Saffa group.

We did a tour of the road – careful to avoid the notorious girlie bars with their curtained entrances (and unscrupulous billing tactics!) – concluding with dinner at the curry den at the top of the street.

Friday had been allocated to Kowloon exploring, with no rush to head out since our Saffa friend had warned that HK is a city that starts late (11ish) but ends same. It was a simple journey since it’s only a few MTR stops from Central Station on Hong Kong Island to Mong Kok on Kowloon and we were deposited right at the entrance to the Ladies Market, which seemed as good a place as any for our sightseeing to begin.

Kowloon is grimy and cluttered. Not dirty exactly – obsessively swept so there’s no litter or garbage – but just a general grey and dingy feel. The buildings are completely unmaintained , which probably adds to the overall impression, along with the general clutter that comes along with so many people in such a confined space (to the point that someone told us that, should a fire break out in Kowloon, there wouldn’t be enough space in the streets for everyone to evacuate). Despite the impression our shopping bags might present, we were underwhelmed by Kowloon and keen to get back to the Island.

By stark contrast to Kowloon, we spent the evening in SoHo, which was made infinitely easier by our Saffa friend’s revelation of the world’s longest operational escalator, which runs up the hill through SoHo (or our adventures might’ve been severely hampered if relying on us ascending the steep – and seemingly endless – stairs on Ladder Street in foot!)

SoHo was teeming with people. Every establishment had loads of patrons – all Westerners – and there were restaurants themed to every nation and menu imaginable. Bars overflowed onto the central walkway and restaurants occupied every square inch of the little terraces carved out on the side streets. Very upmarket, with most dressed to the nines; proper inner city cosmopolitan with people clearly only arriving as we were finishing up for the night.

Our weekend itinerary had been dedicated to the Hong Kong Sevens Rugby tournament, so we were bleak to wake up to dark skies and rain on Saturday morning. We hadn’t yet managed to secure tickets – but were confident, based on popular opinion, that we’d get from touts around the stadium – so reconciled ourselves to the possibility of watching Saturday’s games in a pub and going to the stadium on Sunday rather. With new optimism for our win/win plan, we headed to our local, The Cottage Gastropub, for a breakfast pizza. What a great idea putting sausage, bacon, mushrooms etc on a pizza and topping it with fried eggs!

The combination of pizza and the spirit in the bar (which was of course showing the Rugby) we used a gap in the rain to dash out and head in the direction of the Hong Kong Stadium.

As soon as we surfaced from the subway station, we were approached with tickets for sale. Not wanting to be duped into fakes, we decided we’d only consider buying tickets right outside the stadium, where their validity could be verified at the gates. And there was no shortage of opportunity – lots of scalpers… and, weirdly, a good few people with “tickets wanted” signs. Why didn’t the people looking to buy, just buy from the hordes of people trying to sell to us? Justified our paranoia!

It was really easy to find the stadium: just follow the crowds and the loud cheering. Apparently, the weather hadn’t deterred the fans nor dampened the spirits!

On arriving at the stadium we saw the fanpark across the road and decided to give that a gander before committing to tickets (by now it was about 1pm, so we’d missed the first half of the day’s play thanks to the rain). The fanpark was brilliant! We managed to get ourselves a pair of pints and a prime-sited cocktail table – under a big umbrella – right alongside the main big screen, probably because we’d arrived during the break in play for lunch.

By the time play resumed, so had the rain and we were thanking our lucky stars for the umbrella, crushed in alongside our new friends (2 Englishmen based in Hong Kong and 3 Irishmen dressed in matching tutus and candy-coloured wigs). True to form on what we’d heard about the 7s, it was lots of beer and laughs loosely set to the sporting backdrop. Spirits were high all round and the dress-up makes for superlative people-watching. What a fun way to spend an afternoon!

Sunday morning was rainy, so we hibernated with our leftover Pizza Hut duo (we’d secured en route home the night before) and TV. Really good to get in some downtime on the last morning of what had turned out to be a hectic holiday!

At noonish we up and outed to the Sevens Fanpark at Central Pier. It was quite different to the one we’d been at on Saturday, with a funfair set-up as well as the big screen and food/drink stalls. Speaking the testament of the game stalls, there were lots of stuffed animals interspersed in the crowds and regular intermittent whoops of completely non rugby-related delight. A completely different vibe to the day before, but equally fun.

We rounded off the outing with a late lunch at SuperSuper – a fitting conclusion since it’s the same chain we’d had our first local meal at in Discovery Bay.

Then it was home to pack, which was easier than it could have been since Christian had bought a new suitcase (as well as the suits, our shoes and a bunch of other things). The bright side about our postage stamp apartment is that it was easy to pack up since nothing was more than a generous arm’s reach away!

We had been very lucky all afternoon since it had been quite clear of rain, then poured down while we were packing and, since it had stopped again, we thought we’d take advantage of the good fortune and take a walk up to SoHo for a farewell bite. With nothing even vaguely traditional tugging at our conscience, we threw caution to the wind and chose a cosy little Mexican restaurant, positioning ourselves at a corner counter window seat so we could watch people (helter-skelter, as it was raining again) on the main passageway as we ate our burritos, tacos and nachos.

An eye of the storm gave us enough opportunity to get home, via 7Eleven to grab chocolate milk and TimTams, the holiday snacks of choice – and the wisest nightcap option with our super-early start for the morning.

After a restless night, worried about sleeping through the alarm, we were up at 4.45. We were also worried about not finding a cab so early so had built in a bit of fat in case we might have to walk to the station (which we’d timed to be 8 minutes sans luggage). Turned out to be unnecessary and after a 2 minute wait, we were able to flag down the first cab to pass, right outside our apartment block.

Central Station is brilliant – the ticket office opens at 5.30 with the first Airport Express train at 5.50. The cherry on the top is the bank of airline desks where you can check-in and book through luggage. Genius! Except Emirates only opens at 7, which would have been too long a wait for checking into our 8.25 flight… and a good thing we hadn’t planned on doing that since our flight had at some point, unbeknownst to us, moved forward an hour to 7.25. We were very tight for time and in the sticky situation where any possible Plan B would take longer than the Express train!

Amazing how slowly time moves when it’s 5.35 and you realise you’re short an hour. And you’re waiting for the 5.50 train.

Amazing how quickly the minutes fly by when you’re on the train and the 6.25 check-in time is approaching.

We were very fortunate that the train deposited us right at the entrance to Terminal 1, and right outside Row G, as required. After a mad dash, 3 suitcases wheeling madly, we got to a blessedly non-existent queue and were checked in with no more than a minute to spare.

A happy ending (were it not for sacrificing breakfast at the airport in the time-crunching process) indeed.

Travelogue Hong Kong 3: Macau

MACAU
25-27 March 2014

It was a very early start for us to get to the airport for our 07h55 flight. Fortunately, our timing meant that the roads were pretty empty (but we still had no trouble flagging down a taxi on Xinyi Street even at our 05h15 departure from Honey’s flat.

When we got to the check-in desk, the attendant told us the flight was full. I readied for a fight as we’d even pre-booked specific seats online… I was surprised and delighted when it was revealed that the implication of the overbooked flight was an upgrade for us to Business Class. Winner!

It was such a blessing as we were bushed from our jam-packed  weekend and early start, so being able to make the seats into an almost horizontal bed – and being given a real pillow and duvet – made for a very comfortable snooze on our flight back to Hong Kong. 

On arrival, we had to catch a bus from the airport into Hong Kong to get the ferry to Macau at 12.15. The ferry ride is an hour and every boat while we were there seemed to book to full, with boats every 15 minutes around the clock. That’s a lot of traffic! 

Arriving in Macau, it was the old routine: draw local currency from an ATM, find the tourist desk, get a map, call a taxi. Easily done and soon we were off to our hotel, the Regency. We’d chosen this hotel specifically for its location, on the coastline at the Taipa end of the bridge that connects the island to mainland Macau. This would provide us a central location with easy access to Macau to our north, Taipa around the hotel and Coloane to the south. 

Taipa and Coloane were previously 2 separate islands, which have now been connected with an expanse of reclaimed land that has been named Cotai. Not only does this provide more land and the convenience of being able to move between the previously separated islands, but they’ve also added the Lotus bridge to Zhuhai Shi city in China for easy access to and from there as well. With the inevitable dependence of islands on mainland for supplies this no doubt is a big win for the Macanese. Also, 94% of the population is Chinese – although you’d never say such a small percentage are foreigners  since all signage is in Chinese and Portuguese as standard (and often in English and French as well on advertising messaging). After checking into our hotel and getting settled, it was already 3pm, so we decided the flight path to be a taxi to drop us at the very southern tip of Coloane, where we’d have a bite and then wind our way back up, catching a bus or taxi whenever made sense.

The drive showed us a lot of 2 things: construction and casinos! It looks like there are lots of massive developments on the go, with enormous  hording and flocks of cranes. The casinos were plentiful, stupendous and garish with outsized statues, fountains, columns etc and the promise of enough neon to make nighttime as bright as day. It was like being a Lilliputian in a very kitsch Gulliver Land.

The taxi dropped us at Cheoc Van Bay, where we expected to see a row of beachfront shops and restaurants. There was nothing of the sort. A pleasant stretch of beachfront, a public pool, a tea house and (fortunately) a terrace café overlooking the sea, where we had a great bacon and pepperoni pizza (not very traditional, but very necessary).

With a new lease on life, we took a walk around the western peninsula and into Coloane Village, which is little more than a few houses, a small town square, some stilt houses… and Lord Crow’s Bakery, where we indulged in locally-famed Pasteis de Nata (Portuguese egg tart). Catching the bus was easy as it was right outside the bakery and almost all routes went past our hotel. It was only 4 Patacas (about R6) each for the journey, a bargain at the price as it slowly wound around the side of the island we’d not yet seen, so doubled as a tour (including great views of China across the channel). The taxis aren’t expensive either, costing us less than R50 to get from the pier to the hotel and less that R40 to get from our hotel across the full length of Taipa and Coloane. The currency is completely interchangeable at 1:1 with Hong Kong Dollars (you can pay in HK$, but will only ever get change back in Patacas) and everything is marked with the $ sign, even though they mean Patacas. 

We got off the bus earlier than planned, jumping off at Sam Po Temple for a sunset walk around Taipa Village, and to scope out prospects for dinner. We’d set sights on Rua de Cunha, which the tourist brochures had all earmarked as the foodie street, but it was all bright neon, too many people and a bizarre number of the same bakery chain stores a few doors apart from each other (like 7Eleven does), all selling the same things. Having decided against eating there and noticing pubs conspicuous in their complete absence, we meandered back toward the hotel.

We found a brilliant Korean restaurant at which to have dinner and tucked into a feast of roasted pork belly, smoked and glazed duck and a deliciously rich tomato and onion beef stew. We had ordered everything together, but it was served as courses, which worked out rather well!

Wednesday was dedicated to exploring Macau. The historic centre includes the oldest western architectural heritage on Chinese soil today, interspersed among Macau’s traditional Chinese architecture and traditions. Historically, Macau has been an important gateway through which western civilisation entered China over 500 years ago, when Portuguese navigators in the mid 16th Century and developed it into an international trading port. For almost 3 centuries, until Hong Kong was colonised in 1842, Macau’s strategic location at the mouth of the Pearl River offered unique position to the South China Sea, serving as the hub of maritime trade – and bringing people of all sorts of nationalities, which have left their marks in and around the old city.

The tourist maps made the plan quite simple, with 25 “must see” points of interest winding their way on a manageable course from the south (at the other end of the bridge that run from in front of our hotel) up as far as the middle of the island then cut across to Guia Hill, which was conveniently adjacent to the ferry port so we could book our tickets back to Hong Kong and then conclude with sundowners on the Fisherman’s Wharf.

We set out at 11am and spent 3 hours exploring the 12 churches / temples / cemeteries, 4 fortresses / old city walls, 3 squares, 3 buildings of interest, a library, a theatre and a garden. While some points of interest are more points than interests, it’s a manageable walk following a logical route, so worthwhile seeing the lot. We did finally get in a gondola ride (after 2 false starts with both the Lantau and the Taipei ones closed for maintenance) – and a bargain at the price of 3 Patacas (R5) each for a return ticket. We ended up ditching the return as the walk down from the lighthouse at the top spat us out neatly at the Pier, as we’d planned.

We were able to pre-book our ferry to Hong Kong for the next day (for the princely sum of 159 Pataca (R230) each, so the wheels were in motion to move on the next day at 10.

Our traipsing had worked up quite an appetite so we headed over to the Fisherman’s Wharf, having decided that a Portuguese seafood meal would make the most sense in context (and provide a break from the fare of late). Easier said than done. We were shopping between conventional mealtimes and all the kitchens were closed! We found a Thai restaurant open though and had a lovely red curry duck and pork with morning glory and rice sticks (noodles), run on the water’s edge overlooking the wharf, bay and bridge.

We decided to see what all the fuss was about, so caught a taxi to Cotai to the Venetian, which had been recommended to us by the Aussie on Elephant Mountain in Taipei. Everything he had said paled when we experienced the real thing. New words have to be created to describe the enormousness, the stupendity, the opulescence of the casinos!  They are each and all buildings grandiose beyond belief, clustered with ridiculously mammoth adornments and ?goliath features. A complete sensory overload. Like Vegas + Times Square + Dubai. In one place. At one times. 

Then you go inside.

And everything’s multiple volumes.

With marble floors and chandeliers. 

It’s like Liberace has been reincarnated into a suburb!

And it is a suburb because all of the casinos interlink with passages and walkways, seamlessly taking your journey from game floor through food courts, through world label shops (lots and lots of watches and diamonds, must be the impulse purchase if choice for gamblers) and fancy restaurants and hotels and, um, gondola rides. Back at the Venetian. Time to go home. Not getting tangled in this web.

Dinner was a far more modest affair. We found a diner called Brilliant Gourmet close to our hotel and had a Seafood Baked Rice (al forno cheesy seafood number with rice instead of pasta) and Christian a super-legit beef curry. No ambience whatsoever in the restaurant – no music, bright lights, laminated menus and enlarged food pics on the walls – but an amazing meal, with Tsingtao to wash it down. 

Macau? Glad to have seen and done it. 

Travelogue Hong Kong 1: Lantau

LANTAU
19-21 March 2014

It really is a long haul from Joburg to Hong Kong… but thanks to virtually empty flights, Emirates’ superlative entertainment options and delicious food and a mercifully short (2 hour)  stopover in Dubai, it wasn’t so bad. 

What was a bummer was finding out on landing at Hong Kong International Airport that we’d just missed the bus to Discovery Bay and had an hour to wait until the next one. Although not so bad, since it gave us chance to get local currency and – since the busses only take exact change and we were now only packing HK$500s – *have to* spend some.

I suggested a bottle of water, but Christian returned with 2 beers, seemingly “a sign” since they amounted to HK$30 and we needed HK$70 for the bus. Amazing how much brighter the small things seem after 5 hours sprawled across 3 seats on the first flight plus 2 hours and some change over 2 (well, 2.5 if you consider that my head was on Christian’s lap) seats on the second. With a hearty “cheers”, we celebrated our arrival. 

We had had no choice but to wait for the bus to take us to Discovery Bay because they don’t allow cars or taxis on that part of the island. We tried googling (using the airport’s free wifi – very civilised) but came up dry. What we did find out, is that the utility of cars has been replaced with golf carts. There are only 500 licenses though, so sometimes golf carts can cost up to HK$2 million!

There wasn’t much – besides blocks and blocks of apartments, mostly 30 stories high! – on the drive from the airport and we were disappointed that it was foggy as we drove into Discovery Bay (by now around 11pm), so we couldn’t see anything nor get our bearings. By the time we’d wound downhill to our destination, the Auberge, at the water’s edge, the mist was palpable! The air was the kind of wet that makes your hair curl as you step off the bus. Literally. :/

The hotel is gorgeous! Enormous cavernous reception with elaborate strings of fist-sized blue/azure/grey crystals hanging like chandeliers, grandiose escalier up to the left, 2 decadent curves of couches parenthesising a central  lounge area, concierge to greet us, porters to serve us, reception ma’am and sirring up a storm to us… certainly above our usual modest level of holiday accommodation! 

We completed check-in (a lot longer than we’re used to since there were so many more features and facilities for us to be briefed on), freshened up in our (beautiful) suite and were out the door to go exploring.

Fail.

While it’s super convenient that the Auberge annexes the Grand Plaza, everything was closed – judging by the signs, at 10. Fortunately we’d eaten our fill on the flights (yes, 2 unchoosebetweenable options had again led to a “chicken [nasai goreng] AND fish [in cream parsley sauce with oregano potatoes]” answer to the stewardess’s predictable question), so didn’t need fuelling and it was nice to take a walk around anyway and stretch legs and whatnot. 

Discovery Bay is situated on the NNW coast of Lantau Island, which is connected to the mainland by a bridge. The Auberge is situated at the top end of a curved bay, with a beach to the North and Disneyland to the North West. We walked south to see what all we could see along our bay’s shoreline.

It was a crisp evening, so a lovely walk. Discovery Bay is clearly the fancypants part of Lantau and everything is Stepfordly perfect. There is still a large concentration of apartment blocks, but with a smattering of townhouse strips, that must cost a pretty penny! It’s very lush and green with precise, manicured gardens – even in the apartment complexes, where buildings are raised off the ground to start on what should be the first floor so that the space on the ground accommodates more greenery. And bicycles. Lots of bicycles. Not chained or locked, just neatly slotted in bike racks.

We walked through an area called Sienna, which seems to be creme de la creme. Townhouses replaced apartments and golf carts replaced bicycles. Very weird to see parking lots of golf carts and not a car in sight. The roads are eerily quiet, although lit up like a Christmas tree because it seems to be standard practice for buildings to leave (neon) lights on in their entrance hall and up the stairwells. Would make a killing introducing the concept of motion-sensor lights here, to be sure!

The area seems very self-contained and completely accessible (not a high wall or locked gate in sight!) and we walked through a school, playground, sports centre, “Central Park”, a very lovely pond area with paths and bridges, and back onto the dockside walkway back to the hotel, for the most excellent night’s sleep under the fluffy white duvet and between the silky soft sheets.

Breakfast was amazing, starting off with full Eastern and moving onto full Western. Very exotic to be eating beef su mei, pork and prawn dumplings, noodles and egg custard balls to start. Equally extravagant to follow with protein-intensive eggs, bacon, sausage, beef hash, salmon and beans!

A good start to what was planned to be a long day.

As all research had hinted it would be, public transport is cheap and easy. Also helpful that on Lantau there are only really four routes of interest. We caught the bus down to the Pier, which is the main junction on the Discovery Bay side. There we caught the bus to Tung Chung, which is the main junction to travel to anywhere on Lantau, or get to the airport or the mainland. We were headed to Ngong Ping to see the Big Buddha Unfortunately, the (widely and highly recommended) cable car was closed for the day for maintenance so we had to take the bus. 
 
The bus rides gave us chance to see most of the island. Despite the impression that all the condensed apartments might give, there is still much undeveloped land on Lantau. There are stretches that resemble Mauritius with a smattering of small houses (tiled on the outside) on narrow hilly roads, with very tropical trees and shrubbery everywhere. Were it not for the cowboy busdrivers and their deathwish rollercoaster driving style, the transport might’ve felt less logistical and more recreational! 

We were deposited at the Pai Lao gate where we could walk up Bodhi Path, admiring the 12 Divine Generals stone statues (showing which animal of the Chinese zodiac each represented) up to the Di Tan circle at the base of the steep staircase that would take us up to Big Buddha. Hard to tell whether the people bowing in the Di Tan were praising Buddha or just asking him to give them the strength to survive the hundreds of steps!

We managed the steps with a single stop on the way up – conveniently a couple of monks were making their way down on the other side of the stairwell, which made for a great excuse to stop and rest… i mean, take a photograph. 

The Big Buddha really is, well, big. An enormous statue perched atop a peak with breathtaking panorama of Lantau – not surprisingly, from our experience at ground level, very green and lush. He has worshipper statues all round, of slanty-eyed dancy people offering him lotus flowers and the like. Lots of fun watching tourists emulating the statues’ poses in their pics! 

It was a far easier journey on the way down.

We worked our way through the rest of the complex quite quickly (mostly since the leisure spots all seemed to centre around vegetarian food) and took in the Po Lin Monastery, Hall of the Great Hero and Hall of A Thousand Buddhas in minutes, stopping to snicker at the Fat Ho Memorial Hall, which sadly didn’t have a big sign we could photograph. 

The only other thing on Lantau I wanted to see was the Tai O ancient fishing village on the West coast, which turned out to be simple enough by catching the same 21 bus that had brought us to Ngong Ping. We’d learned at Tung Chung (from an Australian on the bus with us) that it was a advisable to buy an Octopus Card, which could be loaded with cash credit and swiped on all the public transport to avoid the exact change requirement, so hopping on and off busses was proving to be very simple and convenient. 

Twenty minutes on the bus and we were at Tai O, met at the door by a lady peddling tickets for boat ride tour of the fishing village, General Rock and (potential) White Dolphin sightings. For only HK$25 it seemed like a good deal.

The fishing village is quite something. An entire village of houses on stilts, some quite neat and tidy, others little more than aluminium shacks. It would appear as if most have primary access from the water and there were loads of people pulling up to cafés and neighbour’s porches in their boats, climbing ladders alongside the stilts to get to the buildings above.

The boat then u-turned and headed back out to sea. The skipper pointed out General Rock, which was very aptly named because a more general rock you never have seen. Allegedly an outcrop section resembles the profile of a General. Allegedly. 

Sadly, we didn’t see any dolphins on our trip. The Aussie who had given us the advice on the bus had warned that it was luck of the draw… but it was a cheap tour so worth the risk.

Thinking there might be more to the village, we crossed the river and walked the length of Shek Tsai Po Street. Not much to see, just the residential area. Although, quite a culture shock, again with no cars, and nothing locked up or tied down – including baskets full of shopping outside what seemed like a community meeting at the community hall. Noticeboards dotted at intervals along the walking path (there was no road to speak of) broadcast news and a small post office was the only official building. Heart-warmingly, even such a ‘simple’ society has split bins along the route for rrecycling.

Done with our day’s adventuring, the plan was to head back to DB Pier (where we’d caught the bus out) and have an early dinner. For this we needed to connect at Tung Chung. With a gap between buses, Christian suggested we visit the adjacent mall, which turned into a far longer than planned interlude when first I found the Adidas/Reebok shop and *had* to get 2 new pairs of sports shoes (Christian also got 2 pairs, just to be sporting), then Christian found Gieves & Hawkes (of Savil Row) gentlemen’s outfitters and treated himself to 3 new tailored suits for work.

An hour later, spent (in more ways than one)?, we got the bus to DB Pier. 

The Plaza at the Pier was a jovial affair, with an amphitheatre style arrangement in the centre that was filled with kids in the middle, playing, and moms on the low, wide steps around them, onlooking and socialising among themselves. Restaurants and shops surrounded the amphitheatre, providing another level of entertainment and adding to the buzz and movement within the area.  Walking through the plaza took us to the waterfront, with bars and restaurants opening onto a wide promenade, overlooking the pretty bay (the water in Lantau all seems to be a light translucent jade colour) and the stretch of beach at the inner side of the inlet.

We went with tradition and chose the Irish pub, McSorely’s, for a sundowner Guinness, but couldn’t bring ourselves to eat dinner there as their menu was all curry and burgers and this was, after all, our first meal in the Far East so it seemed only right to have something local and traditional. 

Easier said than done. The restaurants were all world fare – German, Italian, American etc – as was the clientele, which we confirmed more and more now that we’d noticed. It seems that Discovery Bay’s niche is ex-pats. Mostly Irish, some English and a few Aussies from our vantage points, not a Chinese patron in sight.

Sundowners behind us, we found a noodle and congee bar option for dinner and decided it was the right thing to do. Tucked away and barely branded on the outside, we found it to be more like a canteen than a restaurant; Super Super was neat, tidy and efficient. We ordered 4 meals to share, expecting to get tiny portions based on the prices (less than R200 for everything), but were proved mistaken when a few minutes later we were feasting on a tableful of food! Not a problem – everything was delicious! A prawn wanton soup (with noodles), spicy stripped pork and noodles, pork with rice (topped with pork mince, which was my best!) and chicken and prawn with rice. We ate all the good bits and our fair share of the starch, but there was still enough rice and noodles left for another person to eat their fill.

Congratulating ourselves on a dinner well done, we went to catch the tail end of the (3 hour) happy hour. It was a bit disappointing that there is no local brew, so we had to settle for the German, Brazilian and Japanese beers options we were presented. Beers are quite expensive – no doubt since they’re imported – at HK$50 each. There was not a local patron in sight; everyone again Irish, English and Aussie, with an American family for good measure. Not sure if it’s Discovery Bay thing or a DB Pier thing… 

The buses run all night so we had no trouble (and no more than 5 minutes wait) to hop on and head back to our hotel to drop off our shopping and have a nightcap on the big, manicured hotel verandah overlooking the sea and then another in the big, beautiful hotel bar.

All in all, a great first day, perfectly ended with a flop into the kingsize bed with thick and fluffy duvet and silky soft sheets – a far cry from the airline seats of the night before!