The start of a new adventure and a ‘new’ country for us visit! I woke up with nervous excitement but having everything packed and ready was able to enjoy a leisurely breakfast at home before setting off.
We had booked an evening flight from Manchester which meant I could travel into the city and spend the afternoon there. Unfortunately, it was a cold, damp day and I didn’t really feel like wheeling my luggage round the shops so opted for a cosy cafe instead before heading off to Piccadilly station for the train out to the airport, the journey taking only 20 minutes. Here I met up with my travelling companion for our Asian adventure!
Our flight with Emirates was scheduled to depart from Terminal One. Check in was already open when we arrived but there wasn’t a queue so it only took a few minutes. Being a Thursday evening the airport was very quiet with very short waits at both security and border control.
Formalities out of the way, we enjoyed a pot of tea in one of the airside cafes before boarding our flight to Dubai. We’d chosen seats in economy class on the upper deck of the A380 airliner as there is no longer any first class on this aircraft, an airbridge took us directly to this level. We were seated by the window at the very front of the aircraft and the configuration being 2-4-2 meant that we didn’t have another passenger next to us. Being on the upper deck the windows slope down steeply resulting in window tables with extra storage cupboards below and more space.
The flght departed promptly at 21.20 and dinner was served approximately 90 minutes into the flight.
Following this, we settled down with a glass of wine to watch some films on the Emirates ‘ICE’ entertainment system which is one of the best I have used, the A380’s having large seat back screens. I started off with ‘Brooklyn’ which I’d been wanting to see for awhile and thoroughly enjoyed, then moved on to ‘The Dressmaker’ with Kate Winslet, a film I thought I would like but didn’t, perhaps because I was tired, so gave up on that after 30 minutes.
Prior to landing in Dubai hot drinks and a chocolate bar were served, I’m always ready for a sweet treat! We landed in Dubai airport at 7.30 am local time, the journey taking around seven hours. Time to stretch our legs before our next flight.
Our transit time in Dubai airport was 2 hours 15 minutes and we needed to take the Sky Train to Concourse B for our connecting flight. I wasn’t really hungry but we sat down in a cafe for a tasty snack and a drink to keep us awake as well as passing a little time. We then wandered around the terminal, window shopping in the high end stores whilst taking a little exercise.
The flight to Bangkok was again on an Emirates A380 airliner but on this occasion we were seated on the lower deck as upstairs was reserved for Business and First class passengers. Awaiting to board with us was the Thailand Wheelchair Basketball Team who had been taking part in a tournament here in Dubai.
The configuration on this flight was 3-4-3 but we were fortunate to have an empty seat next to us, so once again we were seated on our own. Prior to dinner being served I watched ’45 Years’ with Charlottle Rampling which was reasonably good. I then pulled out my iPad and sent my first ever in-flight email. Emirates now offer 10MBs of free access and a further 600MBs for a token US$1, I only used the free access as Wi-Fi is unavailable whilst flying over India and also China for our subsequent flight, and I really preferred to watch some films. It was fun though being able to take a photo mid-air and email it home. Sadly, I didn’t receive an on-board reply as they were sleeping but they would, of course, receive the message at breakfast time. After dinner, I managed a few hours sleep then had just enough time to watch Maggie Smith in the Alan Bennett play adaptation ‘The Lady in the Van’ which I’d seen at the theatre some years ago but still enjoyed watching on film.
Again, the flight arrived into Bangkok promptly at 7.00 pm local time, immigration was reasonably quick but our luggage was almost the last to appear on the baggage carousel. Before leaving the airport, we obtained some Thai Baht from a cash dispenser then bought tickets for the Air Shuttle train into the city centre, these cost 90 Baht for two (about 45p each), there was step free access to the train.. From here, we connected to the BTS Skytrain, two tickets for the single journey costing 76 Baht (only cash transactions permitted for Air Shuttle and BTS). No step free access here so we had to manoeuvre our luggage on the stairs. We needed to change at Siam Square which was a very busy interchange station on this, a Friday evening and there didn’t seem to be a lift here either so we had to struggle once again with our luggage on the stairs to find our platform. There was high level security at each barrier with police officers running an electronic ‘wand’ over our luggage as we entered and exited the stations.
The train to Surinam station was very crowded and few passengers seemed to want to leave at our station so it wasn’t easy getting off with our luggage – but somehow we managed it. We’d checked out the route from Surasek station to our hotel in advance on Google street view so we had some idea of where we were heading. The heat hit us on leaving the station and wheeling our luggage along Bangkok’s pavements was a challenge, uneven paving stones, obstacles in the way and sometimes no pavement at all made us wish we’d opted for a taxi but we finally made it and soon the concierge of the Holiday Inn, Silom was taking care of our luggage whilst we checked in. It was interesting to note that there were groups of Emirates cabin crew in the foyer so they obviously use this hotel for air crew stopovers between flights.
We’d arranged to stay for 3 nights and our spacious room on the 5th floor was elegantly furnished and ideal for our short visit.
After freshening up after our two flights we headed back downstairs to enjoy a drink in Harri’s Bar where a duo were performing. It was relaxing sitting in the cosy bar and as it was already late evening we decided to leave exploring until the morning. After unpacking and making a bedtime cup of tea it was off to bed shortly after midnight, falling asleep as soon as our heads touched the pillow.
We had a full night’s uninterrupted sleep not waking until 7.30 am local time which was good. The hotel breakfast had plenty to choose from and we enjoyed a relaxing start to the day sitting by the restaurant window observing Bangkok’s chaotic traffic pass along the road. Tuk-tuks, scooters, cars, vans, cyclists and old fashioned buses with passengers leaning out of windows trying to get some air – the organised travel chaos of Thailand unfolding before our eyes.
Leaving the hotel at 10.00 am and navigating using a mixture of paper maps and phone sat nav, our first stop was to Sathorn (Central Pier) from where we purchased one day passes for unlimited travel on the river boats. These cost 150 Baht each (£3) and can be used on both the tourist and local services. Tourist boats have English commentary whilst local services are more frequent so it’s useful to be able to travel on a combination of the two. The tourist boat runs every 30 minutes and was just about to depart so we jumped on board. All the seats were occupied so we decided to stand at the back which turned out to be the best plan as from there we could take photographs along the way, not so easy from inside the boat.
We left the boat at the Tha Tien pier as we wanted to visit the Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho. Tickets cost 100 Baht each including a welcoming bottle of chilled water. Do remember to have plenty of cash available as credit cards are not widely accepted. Gowns were available to borrow for visitors deemed inappropriately dressed but we were both given the all clear. (I was wearing a knee length dress with cap sleeves and my son was dressed in long shorts and a short sleeved shirt).
Instead of leaving shoes outside, visitors pick up a cloth shoe bag and carry their shoes around with them, returning the bag to a tub on leaving. I haven’t come across this system before but it was a good idea as there were no worries that your shoes might have disappeared on leaving the temple.
The Reclining Buddha is huge (46 metres) long and visitors can walk along each side of it in the gilded hall. The soles (feet) are currently being restored but we were able to see everything else. Stepping outside, the grounds are attractively laid out with flower beds and a carp fish pond.
Moving on, we strolled back to the boat pier and took the ferry across the Chao Phraya river to visit Wat Arun. This ferry isn’t included in the day ticket but costs only 3 Baht per person for the short river crossing. Sadly, the exterior of Wat Arun is currently shrouded in scaffolding so we’ll have to return sometime in the future to admire this most beautiful of temples.
It was still possible to visit, admission costing 100 Baht each. Steps up to the temple may prove troublesome for the less agile as they are extremely steep and narrow without handrails but if you can manage the climb it’s worthwhile. We admired the elaborate ceramic tiling inside the Temple of Dawn (Wat Arun) which thankfully was free from scaffolding.
Retracing our steps we returned across the river on the ferry and then walked along to the Royal Palace just as the midday sun came out. The temperature was a blistering 38 degrees Celsius but felt more like 44 in the sun and we felt ourselves wilting in the heat. After a little sit down under a shady tree we managed to continue sightseeing with the aid of sun hats and chilled water .
Strolling back to the river, we took the ferry towards the Khao San Road district and alighted at Phra Arthit Pier. We found a delightful small cafe on a surprisingly quiet tree lined street for something to eat and a rest. I ordered mango sticky rice and enjoyed every mouthful, it was absolutely delicious and I could easily become addicted! To drink, we selected the local Chang beer which arrived chilled, I don’t think I was ever more in need of a refreshing beer than this afternoon!
Feeling revitalised we set off again for a walk along the famous Khao San Road, a mecca for western backpackers arriving in Thailand. It was late afternoon and the street was still fairly quiet but comes to life in the evenings with throngs of people in the bars and cafes. It was interesting to observe life here – travel agencies on every corner advertising cheap bus transfers to other parts of the country, low price hostels, bars and countless Thai massage parlours. The aroma of Pad Thai and Satay filled the air from the plethora of street food vendors whilst tuk-tuk drivers were constantly trying to persuade us to take a ride.
Feeling tired, we headed back to Phra Arthit ferry pier and only had to wait a few minutes for a ferry back towards our hotel. We got off at Oriental, a request only stop which was a short distance from our hotel and a pleasant walk passing some colonial buildings and the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.
After a welcome rest and a refreshing cup of tea we took a look in the Fashion Designer Outlet conveniently located next door to our hotel, this was arranged on several floors and although called a ‘fashion’ outlet, it also sold household and other items. There was even a Marks & Spencer outlet tucked away in one corner, not sure I’d call M & S designer though! I was planning on buying some clothes in Hong Kong but was already tempted into buying a dress here from one of my favourite HK designer labels. Being petite, clothes shopping is a dream for me in Asia as I’m only 5ft tall which is the norm here and not the exception!
Back at the hotel we had planned to go for a swim but it was already 7.00 pm and we’d made plans for later, so we ordered a snack from room service and then had a short rest before venturing out again. The temperature had fallen and the heat seemed pleasant this evening. We walked along to Sathorn (Central Pier) taking approximately 20 minutes to the free boat shuttle service to Asiatique. On arrival at the pier we couldn’t believe how long the queue was – a mixture of tourists and locals going out on a Saturday evening, so we didn’t expect to board the first boat. When the boat docked and passengers started to board the queue moved quickly so that we were some of the final passengers allowed on board. The boat was packed tight with people standing in every available space and I doubt it would have passed UK Health and Safety regulations! We couldn’t move anywhere so stayed at the back for the 12 minute journey which fortunately meant we were one of the first to disembark.
Asiatique opened in 2012 and is a large leisure complex overlooking the Chao Prahya river, featuring shops, restaurants and bars, with a large market at the rear. It’s open daily between 7.00 pm and midnight and can be reached either by boat or car. We strolled along the promenade, debating whether to take a ride on the big wheel but decided against it as it was dark and there wasn’t so much to see. There were bars and restaurants to suit every pocket and we opted for one that was full of locals – a sure sign that it would be of a good standard.
We enjoyed our favourite – Singapore style steamed chicken, delicious! Our return boat was much quieter and we even managed to find seats. Feeling exhausted back in our hotel room we were sound asleep in seconds.
We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant then walked to Surasak BTS station to take the Sky Train to the National Stadium from where it was only a short walk to Jim Thompson’s House – our first place to visit today. Jim Thompson was an American entrepreneur and soldier who founded the world renowned Thai silk company, his house consists of 6 traditional teak Thai houses which were constructed in 1959. Jim disappeared whilst on a holiday in 1969 and little has changed in his house which is now a museum. We took a 30 minute guided tour of the house and gardens, (150 Baht admission), tours taking place in several languages.
There were only 8 people on our tour and our guide, dressed in local costume, was very informative introducing us to the fine silks, ceramics and furnishings of this beautiful home. Photography is not allowed inside the house so I’m unable to show you how exquisite it is. At the end of the tour we were able to wander around the garden as we pleased and we enjoyed drinks on the terrace of the idyllic garden restaurant.
Moving on, we returned to the BTS station taking the sky train one stop to Siam. Siam Center Mall is integrated within the station so we glanced around the shops there before crossing the road to visit the upscale Paragon Mall which is glitzy and full of designer stores. On the lower ground floor there is a large food hall, deli counters and cafes. We ate some cinnamon buns from Cinnabon which tasted delicious (almost as good as the ones we buy in Finland) and watched as they were being freshly made. A little more window shopping then it was time for our first ride on Bangkok’s MTR to Hua Lomphong a short distance from Chinatown. Crossing Bangkok’s busy roads is a nightmare, there are very few electronic pedestrian crossings and if you step on a crossing don’t expect traffic to stop as the motorists completely disregard the crossings leaving us with cars passing in front and behind – somehow we survived the experience but do take care if you plan to visit Bangkok as it can be a bit scary!
The ornamental ceremonial gate at the entrance to Chinatown is similar to those found in cities across the world but this one is strangely positioned in the middle of a traffic island.
One of the places we wanted to see in Chinatown was Wat Traimit, home of the largest gold Buddha. The temple’s exterior is gilded and very ornate, it’s free to visit the Buddha here and an entrance payment is only required for the museum.
We continued through Chinatown which was bustling with activity with street hawkers selling their wares, shops spilling out onto the pavement, traffic jams and an intoxicating aroma of spices, cooking and petrol fumes rolled into one. Leading off Yaowarat Road is Sampang Lane a long narrow street housing a myriad of stalls under brightly coloured sunshades selling anything and everything , cluttered together with barely enough room to pass.
We visited Wat Mangkol Kamal Wat temple nestled in the heart of Chinatown. This Buddhist temple contains Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian shrines and it was interesting to observe worshippers waving their incense sticks. We then headed back to the Chao Phraya river at the Rachawongs Pier to catch a ferry boat back to Oriental.
Returning to the hotel our calf muscles ached after walking more than ten miles in the blistering heat, we passed many massage parlours offering inexpensive foot massages, the thought of which was appealing but we didn’t have too much time. After a short rest in our hotel room and a bite to eat from room service, we relaxed around the pool for a couple of hours. This was blissful, the pool being surrounded by high rise buildings providing plenty of shade so it was very pleasant to relax our aching muscles on the comfortable sun beds.
Our evening excursion was to the Patpong Night Market which was bustling with activity when we arrived at 7.30 pm. After wandering the stalls we decided to eat indoors as it was cooler. We ordered Thai green curry and were asked if we wanted it spicy or non spicy. We opted for the latter which was a good plan as it definitely was spicy and we couldn’t have managed it any stronger! Returning to the hotel we gathered our belongings together in readiness for our departure tomorrow after a fun filled stop over in Bangkok.
Our final morning in Bangkok but plenty of time to enjoy one last omelette cooked to perfection from the hotel’s egg station. After checking out of the Holiday Inn Silom we returned to Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport via the BTS Sky Train, changing at Phaya Thai for the Airport Express. Thankfully, it was much quieter than when we arrived on Friday evening.
The Emirates check in desk was empty so bag drop took no time at all and as we were quite early we found some comfortable seats in one of the airside cafes and settled down with cappuccino’s and our iPads. King Power who run the Thai Duty Free shops are also owners of Leicester City Football Club and they had a large stand selling club merchandise as the team have just been crowned champions of the UK Premier League against all the odds!
Our Emirates flight to Hong Kong departed on time, another A380 for this short (3 hour) flight which seemed to pass very quickly as we were served drinks and a full meal.
Passing through Hong Kong’s airport was quick and easy and just outside the arrivals hall we boarded the City Flyer bus (A11) to North Point where our hotel was located, fare $HK40 each. The double decker buses have plenty of luggage storage space and comfortable seats for the scenic journey which passes along the Lantau Link and Western Harbour on its way to North Point. This is my 4th visit to Hong Kong, one of my favourite destinations and the second time we have stayed at the Ibis Hotel, North Point. The bus terminated in North Point bus station just across the road from our hotel so we had no difficulty manoeuvring our luggage.
We’d again booked a room with a harbour view which was on the 20th floor. Rooms are small but fully equipped with the large window and high ceiling making it seem light and airy. After settling in, we wandered round the North Point neighbourhood, the temperature here being cooler than Bangkok and just perfect for us.
We settled on a restaurant called Sun Chiu Kee on the King’s Road for dinner, sharing two dishes – braised beef with fried noodles and a chicken curry with rice, just having green tea to drink. We continued our walk, taking in the bustling street scene and admiring the delightful old trams as they rattled along the road. We then returned o our hotel feeling happy to be back in this vibrant city for the next week.
Waking up to our first morning in Hong Kong we enjoyed breakfast in the hotel then walked the few steps to North Point MTR station where we purchased Octopus travel cards HK$150 each including a refundable deposit of HK$50, (only cash accepted for visitors). We topped up the cards an additional HK$100 each then took the Kennedy Town line to Admirality, the train was crowded but we just managed to squeeze in.
Leaving the station we took a series of escalators up to Hong Kong Park. This small park with its waterfall and ponds is a haven of tranquility in Central. We spotted numerous turtles, some swimming whilst others rested on rocks on top of each other.
Across the road from the park lies the Peak Tram station and there was already a lengthy queue when we arrived at 10.00 am. Although we didn’t need to purchase tickets (we intended to pay using our Octopus cards) we still had to join the main queue and it was 40 minutes later when we finally boarded the old wooden tram. Fortunately we were at the head of the queue by then so we were able to choose the best seats for the 8 minute journey. If you plan to ride the Peak Tram try and sit on the right hand side from where you can see dramatic views looking down as the tram climbs to the Peak. We’ve taken this journey on each of our visits to Hong Kong and never tire of the enthralling experience.
It’s always busy with tourists at the viewpoints nearest to the tram station and the Peak Galleria shopping centre but if you take the ‘Morning Trail’ a 3Km walking trail round the Peak you can enjoy uninterrupted views down to Victoria Harbour below whilst strolling amid lush vegetation with only a few walkers in sight, it really is tranquil. Finishing our walk we sat on the terrace of La Galleria sipping refreshing glasses of iced tea.
We then felt ready to continue so, instead of joining the lengthy queues for the return descent on the tram we opted instead to take the No.15 bus back down to Central. Luckily, we managed to get the front seats on the upper deck for this scenic journey. It’s almost like riding a roller coaster as there are so many twists and turns on the steep descent, again with some dramatic views of the many skyscrapers and the harbour below.
Located across the road from the Exchange bus station in Central is the International Finance Centre mall (IFC) a gleaming upscale shopping centre filled with high end retailers. For some spectacular views of Victoria Harbour and the Central waterfront take the escalators up to Podium Level 3 where you will find an open air public terrace. Office workers were relaxing and eating their packed lunches whilst we enjoyed the amazing views.
It was then back to the bus station to take a ride to Stanley in the south of the island (buses 6, 6X and 260) can all be taken. Again luck was with us and we were able to sit upstairs at the front. It’s another scenic ride taking around 30 minutes and passing the beach resorts of Deepwater Bay and Repulse Bay before terminating in Stanley. On arrival, we found a cafe for some lunch then enjoyed a stroll along the delightful waterfront firstly to Blake Pier and then on to the Pak Tai temple at the far end of the coastal path.
Retracing our steps we headed to the nearby Stanley Market which nowadays is primarily tourist orientated. We wandered around the stalls but weren’t tempted into buying anything though it was interesting to look. We returned to our hotel in North Point on a direct bus (No.65) which took around one hour. We then experienced our first rain shower of the holiday so we made a dash from the bus stop to our hotel to try and keep dry.
After relaxing for awhile we caught the MTR to Jordan to visit the Temple Street Night Market in the Mongkok district. It was still raining but most of the stalls were protected with covers and we also had our umbrellas. Our plan for dinner was to eat at the same Dai Pai Dong (traditional street food cafe) we’d dined in two years ago, managing to find it again we weren’t disappointed – the food was delicious and polythene walls and a tarpaulin roof had been erected to protect diners from the rain.
To round off our evening we took the MTR from Tsim Sha Tsui so that we could cross Victoria Harbour on the Star Ferry – this iconic ferry ride is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful in the world and inexpensive too – HK$2.50 upper deck and HK$$2.00 lower deck . We sit on the upper deck for the best views and photo opportunities. Our final treat of the day was to return to the hotel from Wan Chai on the top deck of one of Hong Kong’s old trams affectionately known as ‘Ding Dings’. There is a flat fare of HK$2.30 for tram rides, passengers board at the back and leave at the front, paying the driver or presenting the Octopus card. Sitting on the upper deck on the old wooden seats is one of the best ways to soak in the vibrant, fast paced atmosphere of Hong Kong as the tram rattles along.
This morning we took the MTR to Tung Chung so that we could take a ride on the NGong Ping 360 Cable Car to visit the Po Lin Monastery and the Big Buddha. The MTR was crowded with commuters but queues are orderly and trains run at one minute intervals.
The cable car station is adjacent to the MTR station but when we arrived at 9.50 am, ten minutes before the booking office opened, there was already a lengthy queue building up so it was almost an hour later when we boarded the cabin. We bought single tickets at HK$160 each as we intended to return via a different route. The journey to NGong Ping Village takes 25 minutes and dramatic views of Lantau Island, Hong Kong’s Chek Lap Kok airport and the South China Sea can been seen. As the cable car reaches its highest point the famous Tian Tan Buddha more commonly referred to as ‘Big Buddha’ comes into sight majestically sitting at the top of Mount Muk Yue Peak. The Big Buddha faces north to look over the Chinese people.
After leaving the cable car we walked through the touristy ‘village’ from where we could see long flights of steps leading up to the Big Buddha. We climbed the 268 steps to admire the bronze Buddha which stands 34 metres tall. Inside the pedestal we looked around the museum of Buddhist relics before returning down the steps to visit the nearby Po Lin Monastery which is a world renowned Buddhist sanctuary. It’s an architectural delight, adorned with flowers and even has its own popular vegetarian restaurant where we stopped for cold drinks.
Near the cable car station lies the bus station and from here we caught Bus 21 to Tai O village, a 15 minute journey. We paid using our Octopus cards but please remember if you pay in cash to have small coins as no change is given.
Tai O is a small fishing village built on stilts centred around a creek. As we walked down the narrow streets the smell of pungent fish filled the air as almost every stall sells dried fish hanging from hooks or displayed on large trays.
Small boat trips are available and depart every few minutes. We took a 25 minute tour (HK$20 each) with only four other people on board. I highly recommend these boat trips as we were taken along the creek and could observe local village life with their wooden homes propped up on stilts over the water. The boat then left the confines of the harbour, gathered speed taking us out to sea for some dolphin watching. We were fortunate to be able to see some but you will have to take my word for it as they moved too quickly for me to photograph!
Leaving the boat we were feeling hungry so we bought some delicious coconut buns from the local bakery and sat on a bench in the village square to eat them. Some more exploring around the village followed before catching Bus No.1 to Miu Wo ferry terminal, this journey taking 40 minutes and passing through some splendid scenery on the edge of the Lantau Country Park. Arriving at Miu Wo we noticed a ferry already docked on the pier so we ran to the terminal to catch it but it wasn’t due to depart for a further 20 minutes so there was no need to rush.
We returned to Central on the fast ferry, paying using our Octopus cards. The seats were comfortable airline style so it was nice to sit back and relax awhile taking in the stunning views as we neared Hong Kong.
I have divided today’s post into two parts – our evening activity follows shortly!
After a very short rest we left the hotel at 5.15 pm and took a tram ro Happy Valley in order to spend the evening at the Hong Kong Jockey Club ‘Happy Wednesday’ race meeting. We spent a memorable evening here on our last visit to Hong Kong and were eager to return.
Ground entrance costs HK$10 (90p) which entitles spectators to view from the rails or seats at ground level but these seats cannot be reserved so if you leave them other people can sit down. A better option is to upgrade to seats in the Grandstand costing a nominal HK$20 each (£1.75) and as we were early our allocated seats were on the front row near the winning post and enclosure. The seats (pictured above) have a desk in front and are available in pairs and they are booked out for the entire evening so that we could leave them and return as we wished.
Included in the ticket price is a comprehensive race catalogue with detailed information on the horses and jockeys. There are 8 races during the evening and we decided to have a small bet on each one. We glanced at the race catalogue but rather than studying the form we selected horses on the following criteria -most attractive colour of Jockey’s outfit, nicest name of horse and country of origin of horse!
We decided to make the minimum bet on each race HK$10 and completed the betting slips as best we could but found them very confusing. It was then off to one of the cash desks to pay and place our bets. Despite the fact that we think of ourselves as being reasonably intelligent, we failed miserably at completing the betting slips but a very polite steward helped us out and filled them in correctly for us.
We are not gamblers and we’ve never been to any other race meeting than Happy Valley but having a tiny flutter on each race added excitement to the evening. The racing commenced at 7.15pm as darkness fell. It’s an amazing spectacle seeing the race track surrounded by high rise buildings and the atmosphere is electric – I’d recommend it to everyone visiting Hong Kong.
There’s no danger of becoming bored as before each race the horses are paraded in the enclosure, the race then takes place and is then replayed on the giant screen. Races start at 30 minute intervals and in between a band play live music, it’s all very jolly. There’s champagne and wine bars but as it was hot we quenched our thirst with pints of lager and tucked into giant hot dogs (tonight being our only concession to western food).
During Race 7 a horse pulled up lame and it was impressive to observe the animal’s welfare was attended to promptly. Stewards erected privacy screens around the horse and a land rover with a horse box ambulance arrived quickly and the horse was driven away to the vets. An announcement at the end of the race meeting stated that thankfully the horse had recovered and all was well.
The race meeting finished at 11.15 pm and we’d had a splendid time even though we didn’t win any money! Our selected horses were never last, our best result was third but it didn’t matter we’d had so much fun.
Have you ever been to a ‘Happy Wednesday’ race meeting and, if so, what was your experience like?
After breakfast we hopped on the MTR to Central so that we could take a ride on the Hong Kong Observation Wheel which stands 60 metres high and has 42 cabins. The wheel has been open less than two years so we hadn’t been on it before. Tickets cost HK$100 each and there was no queue so we were able to take a cabin to ourselves. It’s much smaller than either the London Eye or the Singapore Flyer but offers some stunning views across Victoria Harbour. The ride lasts 30 minutes with three complete revolutions and it was fun to sit back and relax taking in the stunning scenery, who doesn’t enjoy a ride on a Ferris wheel!
Leaving the Big Wheel, we walked across to Central Pier, jetty No. (5) for a ferry to one of Hong Kong’s outlying islands, Cheung Chau located 10 Km to the south west. Ferries run every 30 minutes alternating between slow and fast (catamaran) services. As we arrived a slower ferry was due to depart so we stepped on board for the 55 minute journey, paying our fare using our Octopus cards. We decided to sit on the open, upper deck so that we could enjoy the view and take some photos.
Cheung Chau’s promenade is a riot of colour and bustling with activity. Small shops and cafes adorned with brightly coloured parasols line the seafront, cyclists try to weave their way through the crowds and in the harbour you will find dozens of small fishing boats and sampans. No cars are allowed on the narrow streets of the island but cute little electric vans and carts are used to move goods around.
We strolled along the length of the promenade and then visited the ornate Yuk Hui Temple slightly inland. Before exploring the other end of town, we stopped for refreshing glasses of iced tea then feeling ready to continue, we glanced in the wet market and were tempted into buying 4 ‘Pasteis de Nata’ – Portuguese custard tarts from a bakery. These tarts are popular in Hong Kong as they are to be found in the neighbouring Portuguese island of Macau. We found an unoccupied bench on the pier, so sat there enjoying the delicious warm tarts feeling glad we had been greedy and bought two each!
We then felt ready to head back to Central and fortunately the next ferry to depart was one of the faster ones so we returned in 35 minutes. These catamarans are not suitable for taking photos as the spray hits the windows so it might be a good idea to travel one way on the slower (and cheaper) boat if you want to use your camera.
After a lunch break in the air conditioned IFC Mall we explored the Central district being especially interested this afternoon to walk up Pottinger Street also known as ‘Stone Slab Street’. To locate it, start from the bottom of the steps on Queen’s Road, it’s adorned with red paper lanterns and small stalls selling almost everything spill out onto the steps.
Nearby, the Grahan Street Market, one of Hong Kong’s oldest is spread along Graham, Gage and Peel Streets and located between Queen’s and Hollywood Road. It’s a wet market, so called because they are hozed down every day. It was mid-afternoon and bustling with local people shopping. Here you can buy fresh produce, meat, flowers and stop to eat in one of the Dai Pai Dong’s (traditional hawker food street cafes). It couldn’t be more different than just down the road where the likes of Louis Vuitton, Armani and other luxurious stores are to be found.
Continuing, we travelled up the ‘Mid Level Escalators’ which link Central with the Western district. This series of escalators covering 800 metres transports an average 85,000 people daily. The journey takes around 20 minutes to reach the top but passengers can stop off anywhere along the way. The escalators were built to enable commuters to access Central more easily and operate downhill until 10.00 am each day before reversing to uphill travel. This afternoon we only travelled on them as far as Soho where we stopped off to explore this lively hipster neighbourhood. On our previous visit we had travelled the full length and visited the Botanical Gardens and the former Governor General’s residence both located near the summit.
Before returning to the hotel for a rest we spent an hour shopping on the King’s Road in North Point near our hotel, returning with some irresistible coconut buns to accompany our afternoon cup of tea.
For our evening excursion we headed back on the MTR to Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon and by leaving the station at the Peninsula Hotel exit it’s only a short walk across the road to the waterfront where there are breathtaking views of the twinkling lights of Victoria Harbour. Here you will find a raised viewing area with seating to soak up the atmosphere and views. Moving on, we crossed the harbour on the iconic Star Ferry, our boat being called ‘Twinkling Star’ then returned to North Point on an old wooden ‘Ding Ding’ tram for dinner and a good night’s rest.
From North Point station we took the MTR to Sheung Wan as we wished to take the Turbojet ferry to Macau. Ferries depart at 15 minute intervals on hydrofoil boats, the journey taking only one hour. A single fare is HK$164 and there is no discount offered if you buy a return. We just purchased outbound tickets so that we had the flexibility to return when we wanted. Remember to take passports as these are required when visiting Macau. Allocated seats are provided and these are very comfortable – so comfy that I fell asleep for most of the crossing.
The historic centre of Macau is quite a long walk from the ferry terminal but there is no need to call a taxi, just cross the road to the bus station. Here you will find dozens of coaches offering free transfers to the casinos both in the town centre and out on the Cotai strip, anyone can take advantage of the free buses irrespective of whether you wish to use the casino hotel facilities or not. As we wished to start our sightseeing in the historic quarter we boarded the ‘Lisboa’ bus which saved us a good deal of walking. We did take a quick look round this casino hotel, one of the oldest on the island.
Leaving the hotel, Senado Square was just a short walk away. This UNESCO World Heritage square forms part of the historical centre of Macau. With its Portuguese architecture and mosaic tiled pavements it is reminiscent of Lisbon. After a welcome cup of coffee we climbed the steps to the Ruins of St. Paul’s – the most treasured icon in Macau (see main photo). Only the staircase and facade remain today of the 16h century church of St Paul. To preserve the facade it has been reinforced at the rear with steel girders.
Retracing our steps we bought some Pasteis de Nata (Portuguese custard tarts) which tasted delicious. Hong Kong dollars are widely accepted in Macau but change is often given in Macau Pataca. We wandered along the narrow streets filled with locals and tourists then caught a bus from near Senado Square to Coloane Village in the south of the island. The fare was $6.40 and no change is given so we overpaid slightly as we did not have enough small change.
Coloane Village is a remarkably unspoilt village with a colonial centre featuring some fine examples of Portuguese architecture. One of the reasons for our visit was to have lunch in Lord Stow’s Cafe. Andrew Stow was an Englishman who opened a bakery in Coloane in 1989, he wasn’t a Lord but used this title for his bakery and later in the same year devised his own recipe for egg tarts which have since become an icon in Macau, there are now three cafes in the village. Our lunch , in an elegant dining room, was served in a quintessentially English style, the menu included both English and local specialities. The waiters were very friendly, chatting to us and lunch was of a high standard.
Strolling through the village, we came to the waterfront where we could see mainland China just a short distance across the bay. It was very peaceful here, a contrast to the hustle and bustle of central Macau.
From the village square we took a bus to the Cotai Strip (think Las Vegas), this journey only took ten minutes and cost $5 each. The newer casinos are clustered together in Cotai and extensive building work is underway of more themed casinos. A replica Eiffel Tower was nearing completion, part of the soon to be opened ‘Parisian’ casino and a monorail is also being built.
We headed to the ‘Venetian’ with its replica Bridge of Sighs, Grand Canal and St Mark’s Square. Stepping indoors it’s opulent interior creates the impression that you are actually in Venice. Visitors can take gondola rides and be serenaded by a gondolier as they float along. The complex is lined with high end designer stores and, of course gaming rooms with their card tables, roulette wheels and slot machines.
When we were ready to return we followed signs to the shuttle bus area and took advantage of the free shuttle bus back to the ferry terminal. After purchasing tickets for the next available ferry back to Hong Kong we welcomed the ferry ride after a busy day of sightseeing.
There was time for a rest back at the hotel before eating dinner in a pleasant local restaurant nearby.