I’m fortunate to be off on my travels again, this time to Hong Kong and Taiwan. Hopefully a good balance with a week in a firm favourite of Hong Kong followed by our first ever visit to the beautiful island of Taiwan. We’re planning on seeking out some new places to visit in Hong Kong alongside the iconic sights that draw us back time again to this bustling metropolis.
Yesterday afternoon I took the train down to King’s Cross station in London from where it was only a short walk across to the adjacent St. Pancras station for my Thameslink connection to Gatwick Airport. St. Pancras International underwent a multi million pound refurbishment back in 2007 and the station is now a joy to behold and as I had plenty of time to spare I took a closer look before boarding my airport train. On the balcony, over the main concourse stands this marvellous larger than life statue of the poet Sir John Betjeman. The seven foot high bronze statue located near to the Eurostar platforms depicts Betjeman just as he was remembered, appearing to be viewing the wrought iron station roof whilst holding onto his hat with his coat blowing in the wind. It was thanks to Betjeman that St. Pancras was saved from demolition in the 1960’s as his passion was Victorian architecture and trains.
Also to be found in the Eurostar terminal is this gorgeous 20 tonne Bronze statue of lovers embracing, reminiscent of the film Brief Encounter. The statue depicts the familiar sight of couples either being reunited on a station platform or bidding each other a fond farewell just before one leaves to catch a train.
After enjoying a cappuccino on the main concourse I located my platform taking the Three Bridges train as far as Gatwick airport. Our overnight accommodation in the Premier Inn (North Terminal) just a couple of minutes from Gatwick’s railway station via its shuttle train service was ideal. After dropping off my luggage I returned to the South Terminal to make use of my complimentary one hour pass to the Regus Business Lounge and enjoy a couple of cappuccinos. If you plan to travel from London Gatwick consider signing up for the My Gatwick Rewards scheme which offers discounts on parking and a visit to the Regus lounge. The Lounge is to be found in the Departure Terminal and by registering flight details it’s possible to gain access and enjoy some complimentary cups of tea or coffee. Free voucher access is for one hour but as I arrived at 4.15 pm and the lounge was closing at 6.00 pm the receptionist suggested I stay until it closed.
Feeling refreshed from a good night’s sleep we took the Rail Shuttle to the South Terminal in good time for our Cathay Pacific flight direct to Hong Kong. We’d already checked in on online and chosen our preferred seats 48 hours earlier so all that was left to do was to take our luggage to the Bag Drop and pass through security allowing us just enough time for a cappuccino in Pret a Manger before boarding our A350-900 airliner on our 11 hour 45 minute flight. It’s a long time since we last flew with the Hong Kong carrier Cathay Pacific but it was good to note that they have maintained their high standards of service and are deserving of their five star airline status.
A pre lunch drink followed by sea bass with a pea puree then chocolate Häagen Dazs ice creams for dessert, my photo doesn’t really do it justice! The flight was smooth and time passed relatively quickly. I’m not really a cinema goer so long haul flights give me an opportunity to watch a few films – today I selected La La Land and The Girl on the Train. The in-flight entertainment system (IFE) worked extremely well and came equipped with large, touch operated seat back screens.
I chatted a little with the passenger next to us, another reason I love travelling so much are these chance encounters with people we would normally be unlikely to meet. Finally, just before landing we were served a tasty breakfast and arrived in Hong Kong on schedule at 7.00 am local time the next morning.
Hong Kong’s Chek Lap Kok airport is both large and well organised, meaning that reclaiming our luggage and heading out to the bus terminal to catch the City Flyer A11 service to North Point only took a matter of minutes. Rather than taking the Airport Express train from where we would have had to change onto the MTR at Central, the bus offers a door to door service as the North Point Bus Terminus is just across the road from our hotel. Being early, traffic was light and within less than an hour, we were checking in to our hotel at 9.10 a.m. The helpful staff at the Ibis Hotel, North Point let us have our room immediately which enabled us to enjoy an hour’s rest followed by a refreshing shower before setting off out. Our room on the 24th floor had splendid views across the harbour and although rooms are compact, they are well designed with everything needed for a pleasant stay.
Our first stop was to an ATM for some Hong Kong dollars so that we could buy two Octopus Cards from the MTR station for use on transport, these can also be used to pay for other goods and services if required. Hopping on the Island Line of the MTR to Central we took a look in the gleaming, high end International Finance Centre (IFC) Mall which has a viewing terrace overlooking Victoria Harbour on its Podium 3 Level.
It seemed a long time since we’d eaten breakfast on the plane so we stepped into a branch of Café de Coral where we tucked into Chinese Beef Ribs and cups of coffee for lunch. Continuing our walk, we strolled through the narrow lanes of Central where wet markets and designer stores happily rub shoulders. Looking up, we marvelled at the sight of builders working on bamboo scaffolding, at every turn there is so much to absorb.
Soon, we had arrived at Statue Square where we paused for photos before walking across the elevated walkway towards Central Pier. Dozens of people were crowded on the bridge, peering over to watch a film set in progress. We didn’t find out what the film was but it seemed to be Ninja related.
It’s my 5th visit to Hong Kong and it’s a necessity on my first day back to cross Victoria Harbour on the iconic Star Ferry as this must surely be one of the most beautiful yet inexpensive journeys possible. For the best views try and sit on the right hand side of the ferry between Central and Tsim Sha Tsui (TST). Passengers can sit on the upper or lower decks, the upper have windows which can be opened for taking photos or better still, if the weather is good, the lower deck has open sides making it easier for photography.
On leaving the Star Ferry, we strolled along the TST seafront passing the old clock tower, the only remaining part of the Kowloon Railway Station. Just at the side of the clock is a large viewing platform offering spectacular views of the harbour and a perfect location to view the Symphony of Lights which takes place each evening at 8.00 p.m.
Our stroll then took us alongside the famous Peninsula Hotel and onto Nathan Road for some window shopping. Nearby is Kowloon Park, a haven of tranquillity amid the hustle and bustle of city life. This urban park stretches for quite a distance and features a lake with flamingos and several fountains. Feeling weary from our 8 hour time change we then headed back to the hotel for a little rest, setting our phone alarm so that we didn’t sleep too long.
By 7.30 p.m. we were feeling re-energised and ready for dinner which we ate in a small, family run restaurant on the Kings Road that I’d visited on my last visit and has a homely atmosphere coupled with delicious food. Finishing our meal we strolled along the road as far as the Fortress Hill MTR station where we could see the old trams rattle along amid a sea of neon lights and crowded streets.
Feeling drawn back to Victoria Harbour we took the MTR back to TST where we gazed at the awe inspiring night time view of the harbour, our cameras clicking constantly. Near the Clock Tower, we viewed a temporary art installation entitled ‘Super Pools’ with constantly changing lights that people could jump on, it’s part of the Hong Kong Arts Festival.
Returning across the harbour on the Star Ferry we sat on separate rows so that we both had uninterrupted photo opportunities. It was then back to the hotel by MTR after a fun filled first day back in beautiful Hong Kong.
Despite the 8 hour time difference we slept until our alarm went off at 7.00 a.m. We couldn’t see across the harbour from our window as it was so misty but were hopeful that it would soon clear. Breakfast followed in the hotel’s restaurant – a good selection of fruit, yoghurts, pastries and hot dishes to set us up for a few hours.
Despite the mist, we kept with our original plans taking the MTR to Admiralty and walking through the lovely Hong Kong Park on our way to the Peak Tram station. Queues for this historic 8 minute tram ride can become very long so it’s a good idea to arrive early to beat the crowds and save at least an hour standing in line. We only had to wait a few minutes, paying for our tickets using our Octopus Cards as this is both quicker and cheaper. As our turn arrived to board the tram we discovered we would have to stand and taking photos would be difficult so we held back a few minutes for the next tram where we were first to board and able to get the best seats at the front of the first carriage. Try and remember to sit on the right hand side when travelling up The Peak as from this side passengers can take in the dramatic views looking down.
The Peak was still shrouded in mist so we paused for coffees in the Peak Galleria before taking the Peak Trail around Victoria Peak. This is a delightful walk and is lovely and peaceful as most visitors just pause for photo opportunities near the Peak Tram station and don’t venture further. The trail starts on Lugard Road and is 2.4 km long providing spectacular views around the island on a clear day. Lugard Road is named after Sir Frederick Lugard, Governor between 1907-1912. Much of the walk is under dense tree cover with canopies of Indian Rubber trees and other sub tropical vegetation. Helpful information boards are provided at regular intervals explaining the local flora and fauna, the trail ending at Harlech Road but, of course can be traversed in either direction. It’s popular with locals either enjoying a morning jog, walking their dogs or practising Tai Chi in the small parks.
Near the upper tram station we took some photos at the Lion Lookout, there are excellent views from here but it tends to be crowded with tour groups. Instead of queuing for the Peak Tram, we took Bus No.15 down to Central which is almost as exciting as the tram itself especially if you sit on the upper deck and hold on tight as the bus twists and turns it’s way down the steep hillside.
Being a Sunday, Central is transformed from a district filled with city workers to one filled with Filipino and Indonesian maids making the most of their one day off. They meet up with their friends, filling every available space around. It’s like cardboard city as they set up camp for the day on opened cardboard boxes, some even building sides around their zones for extra privacy. It’s all good hearted though, one can observe the girls playing cards, enjoying picnics, sewing and giving each other foot and neck massages. It all happens around stores such as Cartier, Ralph Lauren etc. where certain roads are closed for the day and the girls enjoy line dancing and having fun.
A large organic food festival was taking place so we toured the stalls and were offered a variety of samples to try before stopping off at a branch of Café de Coral again for lunch, this time at Admiralty. After enjoying a sit down and something to eat we made our way to the Mid Levels Escalators – a 20 minute ride through SoHo. The escalators run downwards until 10.00 am and then reverse for the remainder of the day, being built to assist residents in the Mid Levels getting to and from work in Central. It’s fun to take these escalators and observe life below as you glide along and, of course, one can stop off anywhere on route and rejoin the escalators later.
Reaching the top we followed signs to the Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens which has free admittance. The zoo is only tiny mainly consisting of a few monkeys and birds but the Botanical Gardens located across the street are very pleasant with attractive flowerbeds and fountains. Feeling tired from so much walking we headed downhill pausing to glance through the railings of the former Governor’s House on the way. Returning back to the hotel by MTR we rested our feet awhile before setting off out again.
Before dinner we looked in some of the stores around North Point and then had supper in a food court of one of the large malls. This proved to be a bad idea as the meal was below standard and the food lukewarm. Never mind, we won’t make that mistake again! Next, we boarded one of the narrow, old trams known affectionately as Ding Dings. Passengers board at the back and pay on alighting at the front by the driver’s cab. Trams have a flat rate fare of about 23p for any journey and sitting upstairs, either right at the back or front is a real treat, especially in the evenings when you can gaze down at all the bright lights and the constant hustle and bustle of life on Hong Kong island.
Our tram ride took us to Causeway Bay, an upmarket shopping district with a flagship branch of the department store SOGO. I love looking round this store so we started on the ground floor and managed to look around several floors before it closed for the night at 10.00 p.m. Returning back to our hotel by tram we just managed a cup of tea and a KitKat before falling asleep – my Fitbit didn’t really need to tell me that I’d walked over 30,000 steps today – my calf muscles and feet knew that already!
Another misty morning, and an unusual hotel breakfast combination of Chinese dumplings and Scotch pancakes with maple syrup but equally tasty. Leaving our hotel we called in to the nearby Java Street market, a large indoor wet market over three floors selling fish, meat, fruit vegetables and flowers. The fish market was the most interesting as live fish swim in aerated tanks and early morning shoppers were busily selecting their catch of the day ready for the fishmonger to prepare.
Crossing the road to the North Point ferry pier we caught the New World Ferry across the bay to Kowloon City, the journey taking around 15 minutes and providing us with good views of our hotel looking back towards Hong Kong Island. From the ferry pier bus station we then caught a bus towards the Kowloon Walled City Park, the nearest stop being close to the Holy Family Primary School so our offline phone map came in useful working out where we were.
The park was an ungoverned densely populated settlement in Kowloon City. Originally a Chinese military fort, the Walled City became an enclave after the New Territories were leased to Britain by the Chinese in 1898 and at one point up to 33,000 people resided in its 6.4 acres. An eviction programme began in 1993 with demolition taking place two years later. The Walled City Park opened in 1995 retaining some historical artefacts and remnants of the South Gate. It’s a peaceful open space and we certainly enjoyed our short visit.
By mid morning the sun had come out, burning off the low lying mist. Unfortunately I’d left my sunglasses in the hotel but just about managed the bright sunlight without squinting too much. Near the Walled City Garden lies the Hau Wong Temple so we took a look inside. Visitors are welcome in all temples but we always try to be respectful by not disturbing anyone.
An uphill walk followed to the nearest MTR station where we alighted at Diamond Hill. The modern Plaza Hollywood Mall is located here so we popped in for cool drinks and a little look around before crossing the road to visit both Nan Lian Gardens and the Chi Lin Nunnery. The gardens designed in Tang Dynasty style with ornate pavilions and water features were a joint project of the Nunnery and the Hong Kong government, both opening in 2006.
I visited the beautiful Nan Lian Gardens last year but it was just as nice strolling through them again. Although the Chi Lin Nunnery is connected via a bridge and Lotus Gardens, for some reason I hadn’t visited there before but I would strongly recommend it as the Nunnery is equally attractive, surrounded by ponds of gorgeous flowering water lilies.
Before leaving Diamond Hill we stopped off for some lunch in a branch of Super Super and then spent the afternoon in the delightful town of Stanley in the south of the island which we accessed by MTR and then minibus. Stanley’s famous market is near the bus station so we wandered around there first but weren’t tempted into buying anything.
Next, followed a walk along the attractive seafront promenade to the picturesque, colonial Blake Pier and Murray House both of which were originally located in Central but were moved here in 2007. Further along the headland we visited the tiny Pak Tai temple and then followed a series of nature trails to a secluded beach and lookout point on top of the hillside.
These boardwalk trails looked quite recent and I hadn’t been on them before but they provided us with a pleasant late afternoon stroll and some fine views coupled with useful information boards highlighting the key features. More cold drinks followed at one of the promenade cafes before returning to North Point by a direct bus which took about an hour at 6.00 p.m.
After yet another action packed day we needed to put our feet up for awhile but managed to get over to the Tsim Sha Tsui promenade for 8.00 p.m. just in time to view the Symphony of Lights show across Victoria Harbour, shows take place each evening.
Despite the mist rolling in, we still enjoyed good views across the bay. Knowing that the Star Ferry would be at its busiest when the laser and light show ended, we looked round the vast Harbour City Mall before returning to Central on a quieter ferry. Do remember to sit on the left hand side of the boat when travelling from Tsim Sha Tsui to either Central or Wan Chai as the best photo opportunities are to be had from this side.
This evening we chose to travel on the lower deck which is slightly cheaper but as it only costs about 25p on the upper deck, cost saving wasn’t the real reason. As I’ve mentioned previously, the lower deck is open whereas the upper deck has sliding windows, so taking photos is easier lower down.
Returning to North Point by MTR we had not yet eaten so we opted for our favoured small restaurant where we had dined on the first night. This evening I selected pork with ginger and cashew nuts which tasted delicious, the soft tender pork with the crunchy cashews, a perfect combination.
It was drizzling slightly as we caught a rush hour MTR train from North Point station to Sheung Wan for the ferry to Macau. On arrival in the ferry terminal we discovered ferries were subject to delays due to dense fog in Macau and we were unable to depart until 10.30 am so we found a coffee shop to pass an hour before getting underway. Turbojet ferries run regular services from both Hong Kong and Kowloon to Macau. There isn’t any advantage in purchasing return tickets and as passengers need to select a particular sailing we find it easier to just buy single tickets at each port. If you are planning on making the trip please remember to take passports as these are needed for the journey.
Turbojet provides reserved, comfortable seats and we soon found ourselves dozing during the one hour crossing. Fog had lifted by the time we arrived in Macau but unfortunately it was raining heavily. Across the road from the ferry terminal there is a bus station with free shuttle bus services to all the casinos. As we wished to start the day in the historical part of the city we boarded the Grand Lisboa shuttle bus which is located fairly near to Senado Square. Passing through the casino we glanced at the gaming tables and slot machines which were already in demand and it wasn’t even lunch time.
With our hoods up to protect us from the warm rain we explored the old town with its Portuguese influenced architecture and pavements. Senado Square is particularly beautiful with its candy coloured buildings and ‘wavy’ pavements. Despite the rain, the narrow streets leading to the Ruins of St. Paul were crowded with tourists sporting umbrellas in every colour imaginable.
A necessity when visiting Macau is to sample the local Portuguese egg custard tarts, Pastéis de Nata which are served warm and have a thin crispy pastry case. These are sold on nearly every street corner and most people return for additional ones, as we were tempted to.
Our original plan had been to take a bus to Coloane Village in the south of the island to have lunch in Lord Stow’s cafe but as the heavy rain persisted we decided to head straight to the Cotai Strip where we would be able to take shelter in the huge themed casinos.
Our first stop was to the Parisian which has only been open for five months and comes complete with a half size model of the Eiffel Tower. The interior is opulent and French themed boulevards are lined with designer shops but we were surprised to find very few visitors to this multi million pound themed village.
We explored the base of the Eiffel Tower which overlooks a replica of the Champs de Mar gardens but we didn’t feel the need to take the lift to the top as we’ve experienced the real thing in Paris but it perhaps appeals to visitors who may not have an opportunity to visit Europe.
An indoor walkway links through to the Venetian, now nine years old but still immensely popular compared to its new neighbour. Whilst the Parisian offers opulent shopping avenues, it’s malls lack the appeal of a canal winding its way through a replica Venetian street scene and St. Mark’s Square. After cool drinks in one of the many cafes we were ready to continue on to Cotai Central which lacks the glitz of Venetian but again is a complete self contained ‘village’ with gambling halls on the lower floors.
Having no wish to gamble, we returned to the ferry terminal on one of the complimentary coaches which run at 15 minute intervals and from there we booked seats on the next Turbojet ferry to Kowloon as it was departing earlier than the Hong Kong one. Again, we had no difficulty in booking single tickets and boarding the next available ferry. After a full day’s sightseeing we were ready to sit back and relax in the comfortable seats and before we knew it, were back in Kowloon.
This ferry terminal is located near Mong Kok so we made our way to this most densely crowded of districts. Dazzling neon lights aplenty and an illuminated archway lead through to the touristy Temple Street Night Market where one can buy fake designer goods, clothes, trinkets and electronic gadgets. It’s interesting to stroll around but we didn’t want to buy anything and instead returned to North Point by MTR where I feasted on sizzling steak with leeks and root ginger in a restaurant on the Kings Road. Then, finally after a long day we returned to our hotel room for a cup of tea and a good night’s rest.
A bright, breezy morning and after a leisurely hotel breakfast we wandered across the road to the North Point bus station to take bus no. 38 to Aberdeen, the journey going via the Aberdeen tunnel and taking only 30 minutes. Aberdeen is located in the south west part of the island and is famous for its floating seafood restaurants.
Our exploring here began on the seafront which is filled with brightly coloured sampans, junks and fishing boats. Several people tried to persuade us take a sampan trip around the bay but we politely declined as we were happy strolling along the promenade.
Heading into the centre of town, a large Chinese Gate led us into Aberdeen Square where we glanced in some of the small shops and the large wet market before heading up Yue Kwong Road, an extremely steep hill towards the starting point of the walking trail in the Aberdeen Country Park. The trail took around an hour to complete, taking us from the east bank of the lower reservoir over to the dam of the upper reservoir.
Our walk provided us with some good views over Aberdeen and the surrounding countryside. Few people were about on this Wednesday morning but as there are plenty of picnic tables and outdoor barbecue grills, I guess it’s popular at weekends and during the warmer summer months.
Returning to the town centre again via the steep road we visited a small temple and then enjoyed a mid morning cup of coffee and bun before setting off again. Next, we took a bus through the harbour tunnel, alighting at the first stop afterwards in Kowloon City where we walked a short distance to the Hong Kong Museum of History which has a splendid, vast exhibition entitled ‘The Hong Kong Story’.
Admission is free and the large, attractive galleries detail life in Hong Kong from prehistoric to modern times. There’s a reconstructed street complete with shops and temples and a photo gallery illustrating the handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997. It was my first visit to this museum and I would highly recommend spending some time here as we enjoyed a fascinating couple of hours learning about the history of Hong Kong.
Also located in Granville Place is the Hong Kong Science Museum and as we have an interest in anything scientific we needed to take a look. There is usually an admission charge but the museum offers free admission each Wednesday. Covering all three floors is a giant energy machine (marble run) which operates every two hours and we had great fun watching the large red balls roll along, drop down and strike chords on musical instruments including a xylophone, chime, bell and a drum.
The museum includes many interactive laser exhibits and we could easily have spent more time there but we needed to head back to the hotel for a short rest as we wished to spend the evening at the Happy Valley Racecourse for their weekly Happy Wednesday race meeting.
There’s a lovely small bakery just around the corner from our hotel and we seem to have got into a habit of buying cakes there on our way back into the hotel. Today was no exception and we returned with a coconut bun and an egg tart each to enjoy with our afternoon cup of tea.
Soon it was time to set off again and getting to Happy Valley is easy as trams run frequently from North Point terminating near the racecourse. Admission is only HK$10 (about £1) which we paid using our Octopus Cards, gates open at 5.15 p.m. with racing commencing at 7.15 p.m. It was just before 6.00 p.m. when we arrived but we still had a good choice of seats in the 2nd floor grandstand, these cost an additional HK$20 each but money well spent as they provide excellent views and are reserved all evening. After picking up a race catalogue we selected a horse for each race, placing the minimum bet of HK$10 (£1) to add interest and a little fun. The evening’s racing got under way as darkness fell, Happy Valley looking stunning, illuminated by the tall skyscrapers surrounding it.
Tonight’s Happy Wednesday meeting was a themed Australian ‘Boomerang’ event with a selection of Australian food and wine on offer together with all the usual favourites. Between races, live music takes place and there is always something interesting happening during the four hour long meeting.
It’s my third visit to Happy Valley and our luck doesn’t appear to be improving – no wins to report but we were very unlucky in one race as our horse was in a photo finish for first place but sadly we were placed second, so no payout! There are lots of food counters and we spent the evening munching crisps, hot dogs and chocolate whilst sipping pints of lager. Not the most healthy food choices, but appropriate for our fun filled evening at the races!
Returning to the hotel was easy as trams and buses were lined up outside ready to take racegoers back home, unlike our recent visit to a Rugby International in Edinburgh when there wasn’t a tram in sight and we had to walk! For more detailed information on spending an evening at Happy Valley you can check out my previous post here.
A clear morning with no signs of any mist so after breakfast we took the MTR to Tung Chung, located at the end of the Tung Chung line. Our plan for this morning was to visit NGong Ping to see both the Big Buddha and the Po Lin Monastery.
On recent visits I have travelled on the NGong Ping 360 Cable Car but we knew in advance that this was out of action until June as the ropes were being overhauled. A bus replacement was in operation, advertised as being outside the MTR station but actually located at the far end of the bus station, but still quite easy to find. Buses seemed to be leaving at regular intervals and we were able to pay for the journey using our Octopus cards. The journey was quite scenic passing through the Lantau Country Park as the bus wound its way up the mountain.
Alighting from the bus we clambered up the 268 steps to the Big Buddha statue, also known as Tian Tian. After taking in the views we glanced in the exhibition hall located in its plinth. Returning down the stone staircase we wandered over to the beautiful Po Lin Monastery and quietly observed worshippers lighting incense sticks of various dimensions, their intoxicating scent filling the air.
Strolling through NGong Ping village feral cattle were wandering around and one tourist who had placed her bag on the floor whilst taking a photo, turned round to find the cow had removed her packed lunch!
Moving on, we took Bus 21 to Tai O village, 15 minutes away. This bus only operates hourly so it’s best to check the times in advance to avoid wasted time standing at the bus stop. This service is operated by the New Lantau Bus Company and card readers are installed enabling payment by Octopus cards.
Tai O village is built around a creek with homes built on stilts over the water. It’s very picturesque and far removed from the ultra modern life in Central. Several companies offer boat trips along the creek and then out of the sheltered harbour in search of dolphins. Prices vary but all tours seem to take the same route and last approximately 25 minutes, our boat trip cost HK$20 each.
Boats depart when there are sufficient numbers of passengers and we were fortunate to board first and take the single front seats on each side of the boat and only have to wait a few minutes until several other tourists joined us. Sadly, no sign of dolphins today but a pleasant boat trip nonetheless offering us a different perspective of the village from the water.
Feeling peckish, we bought some pork dumplings and leek and pork pancakes from street vendors, finding a bench in the main square to sit down and enjoy our lunchtime snacks. Feeling re-energised we wandered along more of the narrow village lanes, the aroma of dried fish filling the air.
A further bus journey to Mui Wo (Bus No. 1) taking 40 minutes brought us to the ferry terminal and with 20 minutes to spare we had time for a cup of coffee and McDonalds seemed to be the only option. Our round trip concluded with a one hour journey on the slow ferry back to Central. If you take this route I suggest sitting on the upper deck at the right hand side of the boat for some excellent photo opportunities when passing Kennedy Town and approaching Central.
We then popped into the IFC mall for a little window shopping and whilst there, we used the free wi-fi to check-in for our upcoming flight to Taipei in 48 hours time. Cathay Pacific now charge for pre booked seats so it’s a good idea to try and check-in and select preferred options as early as possible. We had no trouble selecting the window seat and the one next to it in a good position on the aircraft.
Returning to our North Point hotel we again bought coconut buns and warm egg custard tarts to take back in with us for afternoon tea. Back in our room, we saw the huge P & O. cruise liner Arcadia sail past our window and on looking up her voyage on our iPads, we discovered the ship was on a world cruise, now heading for Vietnam.
After a little rest and a catch up with news on TV, we were off out again. We strolled along to Fortress Hill, glancing in shops along the way. Hung Hom Cafe looked inviting and as there was a short queue outdoors we thought it must be a good sign. Our meal tasted good and on leaving the restaurant we continued our walk all the way to Causeway Bay. I always love the fast paced evening scene here with the bright lights of Times Square and Hyson Place still bustling with people shopping at 10.00 p.m. in the evening. We weren’t tempted into walking back so hopped on one of the lovely old ‘Ding Ding’ trams, sitting upstairs at the back for excellent views as we rattled along Hong Kong island back to our hotel for the night.
It’s hard to believe that it’s our last full day in Hong Kong – the days have flown by. This morning we decided to visit one of the outlying islands so we travelled on the MTR to Central and then walked across the footbridge to Central Pier for the 9.45 am fast ferry to Cheung Chau. Sitting on the upper deck we had some good views on the 40 minute boat trip. I’ve visited Cheung Chau before but this morning we planned something new, a hike over to the island’s north lookout point.
On leaving the ferry pier we turned left, walking along the promenade as far as the basketball pavilion where we stopped awhile to look in the nearby Pak Tai temple which is guarded by four small stone lions.
On leaving the temple the hiking trail leads to the right passing behind the Cheung Chau Aged Persons Home from where it’s easy to follow the well maintained path. It was a very warm morning as we climbed the seemingly never ending stone steps but on reaching the lookout point we were rewarded with some stunning views of the narrow strip of Cheung Chau town with its harbour on one side and the beach on the other. The path continues to further viewpoints and we enjoyed the trail almost to ourselves. Hundreds of butterflies fluttered through the hedgerows, we spotted four varieties but they seemed impossible to photograph despite frequent attempts.
Returning to the bustling seafront we relaxed with cold drinks and our favourite coconut buns, then continuing along to the far end of the bay and across to the beach we spotted a statue commemorating Hong Kong’s only Olympic gold medal, by a local windsurfer. We took the slower ferry back to Central which only takes an additional 20 minutes and is much better for taking photos of Hong Kong island as the boat approaches the coast. Not too far from the ferry terminal lies Hong Kong Park where we’d visited briefly on our first day heading towards The Peak tram.
This afternoon we wanted to visit the colonial Flagstaff House which is home to the Museum of Tea Ware. Looking around the historic building which has free admission was quite interesting but we found the majority of the exhibits to be disappointing as they were modern competition ceramics rather than old tea sets as we had expected. The exhibit below being the only traditional tea set we could find.
Afterwards, we strolled through the gardens where we spotted numerous turtles huddled together in small heaps as well as several bridal parties awaiting their weddings in the park’s register office – a delightful location for post ceremony photo shoots.
A short break followed back in our hotel room before raising the energy to board a tram to Victoria Park in Causeway Bay, the venue for the annual Hong Kong Flower Show taking place during the week of our visit. Admission is only HK$14 (approximately £1.50 each) which is a real bargain as the event is huge. It’s open during the day but in the evenings the floral displays are illuminated taking on an enchanting appearance.
Rather than individual vase floral arrangements, this flower show features high quality themed gardens plus a live stage where we watched some dancers dressed in exquisite orchid costumes. It was the perfect end to our week in Hong Kong and after a final meal in Café de Coral we returned to our hotel to pack and prepare for the second part of our holiday adventure.
It was a bitter sweet feeling needing to pack our suitcases after breakfast, the Ibis North Point again having been a good place to stay and Hong Kong being a much loved destination. After pulling our luggage along to the step free entrance of the MTR station we rode the metro for the final time this holiday on our way to Central station where we deposited our luggage at the Cathay Pacific desk of In-town Check-in after purchasing tickets for the Airport Express train. Tickets cost HK$100 each from the machine but if passengers go direct to the Customer Service desk and ask for a ‘Group of 2 Ticket’ the combined price is only HK$170.
Free from our luggage, we strolled across to the iconic Central Pier for a ride across Victoria Harbour on the Star Ferry, remembering to sit on the right hand side for the finest views. This morning we opted to sit on the lower deck as, with its open sides, it’s easier to take photos and is slightly cheaper too!
Wandering along the Tsim Sha Tsui promenade one last time we admired the old Kowloon station clock which was erected in 1915 as part of the Kowloon – Canton Railway terminus. The station was demolished many years ago but this colonial red brick and granite tower remains as a reminder of the age of steam.
Continuing along Salisbury Road we passed the elegant Peninsula Hotel and slightly further on, the former Marine Police Headquarters which were completed in 1884. This is one of the four oldest surviving government buildings in Hong Kong and is now known as Heritage 1881, the stunning colonial building now transformed into a heritage hotel and deluxe shopping arcade. Several brides were using the backdrop of this beautiful building for photo shoots, the nearest register office being just across the road.
Also located here is the Signal Tower, commonly known as the Round House. It was constructed to provide time signals to ships in the harbour, the ball dropping at exactly 1.00 p.m. each day. Its use ended in 1907 when the time ball apparatus was removed to Signal Hill, Kowloon.
Before taking the ferry back to Central we treated ourselves to a sweet potato and vanilla ice cream cone, sitting on a bench to savour this new flavour – and our verdict, delicious! A few minutes to spare so a quick glance in the Harbour City Mall before boarding the Star Ferry, this one being called Day Star, for our final glimpse of Victoria Harbour.
Then all that was left to do was to obtain refunds from our Octopus cards, less a HK$9 admin charge. The Airport Express train takes just 24 minutes to reach the airport and comes complete with personal speakers in seat headrests for passengers who may wish to view the video screens.
As we’d already checked our luggage in earlier in the day we proceeded straight to security and passport control. Chek Lap Kok, Hong Kong International Airport is spacious and we stretched our legs browsing the shops and duty free outlets before settling down for a coffee and a few fries in McDonalds. As it was crowded we shared our table with two people who, by chance, were from Taipei so it was interesting chatting to them about our forthcoming plans and hearing a few suggestions of additional places to visit.
Boarding for our short (90 minute) Cathay Pacific flight to Taipei, again on one of their new A350-900 airliners was well organised. We had selected window seats on the right hand side of the aircraft as we’d heard that we might get some good views of the Taipei coast just before landing. Passing the time on the flight I was able to finish watching the film Bridget Jones Baby that I was part way through at the end of our previous flight. Attractive meal bags were provided with a plentiful supply of food for such a short flight. The snack included a Portuguese style chicken lattice pastry, an Anzac biscuit plus a carton of lemon tea. Other drinks were available on request but we were happy with our lemon tea.
Descending into Taipei, thick cloud prevented photo opportunities but we were soon disembarking at Taoyuan International Airport where baggage reclaim was efficient and finger printing was taken at border control with this taking several attempts until it worked successfully. Before leaving the airport we registered for free Taipei wi-fi at the information desk, needing to produce our passports to enable access. It’s not that we are obsessed with being online but thought it would be useful for such things as looking up train schedules and checking in for our inbound flights if we are not in our hotel. Other essential tasks were to obtain some NT dollars from an ATM and purchase EasyCards for the travel system. These travel cards cost NT$100 (£2.50) and give a 20% discount on each journey. We topped up each card with NT$500 to begin with.
Ready to go, we boarded the new Taoyuan Airport MRT into the city centre. This had only been operating for two weeks with fares at an introductory rate of NT$80 each (half the normal rate).
From Taipei Station we needed to change to the MRT. In case you might think I’ve made a typing error, in Taipei the metro system is known as the MRT whereas in Hong Kong, their system is known as the MTR. Negotiating our luggage on the MRT was easy as all stations have at least one exit with step free access and within a few minutes we were exiting Sonjiang Nanjing station which was only about 5 minutes walk from our hotel, the Green World Hotel Grand Nanjing. This Taiwanese owned, Japanese style business hotel has only been opened a few months and our first impressions of a bright, modern reception area were good. Check-in was speedy and efficient and we were soon taking the lift to our 10th floor room (1010) our home for the next seven nights. The room was luxuriously appointed with every comfort imaginable including a cosy window seat enabling us to view the city life of Taipei.
The huge bathroom had both a large shower cubicle and deep bath tub. The bath having an LCD television with a built-in remote control. Another feature new to us was the Japanese toilet complete with side control panel with numerous options available including a heated seat.
Yet another interesting device that we hadn’t come across previously were buttons to press next to the key card holder indicating that we would like the room to be cleaned or that we did not wish to be disturbed. I wonder how long it will be before such a device is commonplace, moving on from hanging out a piece of cardboard on the door handle!
Resisting the temptation to fiddle with all these gadgets, we headed out to experience our first Taiwanese night market. Hopping back on the MRT was so much easier without our heavy luggage and navigating the Taipei metro system seemed relatively easy. We headed for Taipei’s famous Shilin Night Market which was a feast for our senses with the heady aroma of cooking spices drifting by.
Taiwanese cuisine incorporates Chinese, Japanese and local influences with noodle dishes, dumplings, pork and seafood seeming very popular along with locally grown freshly squeezed fruit drinks. The evening was warm with light drizzle but that didn’t spoil our fun as we munched our way through cuttlefish balls, chicken skewers and Gua Bao (Taiwanese pork belly buns in a soft dough) which melted in the mouth and tasted divine. I can already predict that our week in Taiwan will focus on much street food eating!
At almost midnight we returned to our room and we were both sound asleep the second our heads touched the pillows in our exceptionally comfortable bed.
We woke at 7.00 am but struggled to get out of bed for another half an hour. Fortunately the monsoon shower head invigorated me and we were soon ready to experience our first breakfast in Taipei. The hotel’s restaurant, located on the 2nd floor was called ‘Find the Life Kitchen’ and had modern furnishings.
There was a good selection of Taiwanese dumplings in various colours (we were soon to discover the significance of this and how they varied in taste), noodles, eggs, other hot dishes as well as fresh fruit and toast. The coffee tasted good too, I dislike strong coffee but this was just to my liking and I happily returned for more.
Having a full schedule ahead of us, we took the MRT to Taipei main station and then searched for the bus stop servicing route 260 to the Yangmingshan National Park as we planned to visit the final day of the Cherry Blossom Festival. This volcanic park is located across parts of Taipei and New Taipei City and is famous for its cherry blossom.
The bus taking 40 minutes, terminated by the Flower Clock which was very attractive and fully functioning. Cherry blossom trees were coming towards the end of their flowering season but still looked a beautiful sight. Being a Sunday and the final day of the festival, there were many people enjoying a day out in the warm sunshine, so warm in fact that we paused under a shady tree to apply some sun cream.
In addition to cherry blossom, azaleas bloomed profusely and we followed the small paths admiring the flowers amid the delightful national park scenery. Coming across a stage we paused to watch some Taiwanese folk dancing and a local orchestra entertain us with some tunes. There were various cafes dotted around and we stopped off for our morning coffee in one of them.
It had then been our intention to visit the Hot Springs but whilst queuing for our bus we noticed crowds of people waiting for other minibuses and wondered where they might be going. Fortunately for us, the bus station supervisor spoke some English and informed us that, at a higher elevation, it was peak viewing time for calla lilies and suggested we take a look. Joining the lengthy queue, by the time it was our turn to board a minibus no seats remained so we had to stand and hang on for dear life as the bus navigated the hairpin bends along its route.
Arriving at the lily farms, it seemed utter chaos, the whole of Taipei appeared to be there, narrow roads were congested and people were everywhere. The only map we could find was in Mandarin and was impossible for us to understand so we asked a girl who had also been on our bus if she knew which way to go. She was actually from Singapore and it was her first visit too, but at least she could understand Mandarin and suggested that we follow the trails together which proved to be an excellent idea as she was so nice and interesting to talk to.
There were fields of calla lilies as far as the eye could see and we followed a marked trail for about an hour admiring the blooms. Passing some street food vendors we bought some sweet, soft dough buns, one coffee and the other a sweet savoury combination of cheese and chocolate which tasted delicious and was recommended by our new friend. It was much cooler up here with low lying mist, so different from earlier in the morning when we felt the sun burning our skin.
Bidding farewell to our companion we caught a minibus to Beitou, this time managing to get seats. Paying bus fares by EasyCard is quite complicated as sometimes one has to tap in when joining the bus or at other times one needs to tap in only on alighting and sometimes both – depending on the length of the journey. The above illuminated sign explains to passengers when they need to pay but there still seemed to be some confusion, even with locals.
On arriving in Beitou our first stop was to the gorgeous public library which has been included in a poll of the 25 most beautiful libraries in the world (you can read the article here) and it was easy to see why. We strolled around and looked out from the wooden balcony where people were sitting on wooden benches reading. The library was busy with people working at tables and browsing book shelves which was pleasing to see and also that it opened on Sundays.
Next door to the library stands the Beitou Hot Springs Museum, admission is free but visitors are requested to remove shoes and wear the slippers provided to prevent damage to the polished wooden floors. The small museum was very interesting and after learning something about the history of Beitou Hot Springs we went outside to follow the Beitou Hot Springs Trail where we were able to both smell the sulphur and feel the hot steam rising from the stream.
Combining visits to both the Cherry Blossom Festival in Yangmingshan National Park and the Hot Springs in Beitou worked well being only a short distance apart and with our unplanned detour to view the lilies we had still managed to fit both in without needing to rush.
To complete our first full day in Taiwan, we took the MRT from Xinbeitou to Tamsui, a popular riverside resort in the north of the island on the banks of the Tamsui river, being a 40 minute metro journey if travelling from central Taipei.
Darkness was just falling as we arrived in this lively resort and we enjoyed strolling along the tree lined promenade where we found a large number of food stalls to tempt us.
Ordering two steaks from a street vendor, he chopped the beef into small pieces and then cooked them to perfection using a blow torch, handing them to us to eat with skewers. A little further on some pork filled steam buns also tempted us, the dough being soft and the inside tender and juicy.
From another stall we sampled some squid and for a sweet treat we bought two cakes to share – one with a vanilla filling whilst the other had a red bean paste filling. We both preferred the sweeter, vanilla cake but it was interesting to try the red bean to see how it tasted.
Having eaten our way along the night market and experienced another fun filled day in Taiwan, it was time to return to our hotel and soak in the bath tub whilst watching television!