re: Macau

A story in two parts.

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When my family visited we took a trip to Macau, on a brisk whistle-stop tour of the SAR’s main attractions. It was our second attempt to visit since no one thought to bring their passports (and I also forgot to remind them, oops). An easy mistake to make, but even then, our second attempt wasn’t without event. As usual, the ferry ports were ridiculously busy and we ended up purchasing a late afternoon ticket with late evening return.

With 8 members of my family in tow and an age range of 12-65, I was anxious we wouldn’t get round to seeing all the sights in time. However, the benefits of travelling with your family (and to an extent, a large group) revealed itself when we arrived in Macau. Approached by a lady, we managed to arrange our own private car to drive us around for the day at a pretty respectable price! Feeling a bit luxurious as we were chauffeured around, my worries subsided (after we were sure this wasn’t some scam) and we were able to see Macau’s main sights in the short period of time we had there!

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Stopping first at the Kun Iam Statue, which was quite stunning to view but really offered not much to do otherwise, we hopped back in the car to A-Ma Temple. We were greeted with a serendipitous performance of traditional Portuguese Folk dancing before we wandered off to explore the little temple and its surrounding area where we found stalls selling freshly made snacks! I loved the little streets and buildings around this area, which due to the Portuguese administration were refreshingly different from the typical Chinese style I had become accustomed to. If it wasn’t for the Chinese signs, it was almost as if we had gone on our usual European holiday.

This feeling only intensified as we walked around Senado Square and also reminded me of Ho Chi Minh City (or more chronologically, HCMC reminded me of Macau – my posts have become a bit disorderly since returning!). I really enjoyed being surrounded by this style of architecture, it appealed greatly to my love of quaint pastel designs (I mean, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a dream to watch, heart-eyes all around)! Most sights are within walking distance from here and there’s plenty of great street food around this area so we stopped for a quick bite.

Part II coming next week!

re: Hong Kong

Off The Beaten Track, pt. II.

Pt. II of Off the Beaten Track, because I like small bite-sized blog posts.

If possible, I would just skip the idea of a ‘holiday’ altogether and live in Hong Kong for a couple of months, explore its offerings at a lackadaisical pace and soak in the sun.

Kowloon; the suburbs.

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Venturing a bit further out when visiting Kowloon and you’ll find another local favourite, BBQ! From my experience, it’s around £20 for all you can eat food, usually without a strict time limit on your stay. Depending on the place, this can also extend to all you can drink, or be limited to just one free drink. In any case, it’s always good to carry a bottle of water on your person at all times when in Hong Kong.

I’ve written partly about this about this before, but if you’ve already trekked out to Kowloon, why not make a day of it? Go for a bike ride and work up an appetite to truly take advantage of the all you can eat deal in the evening! It’s another local past time and it’s easy to see why. Being away from the inner city allows for designated bicycle lanes and you can follow one route that takes you all the way from Tai Wai to Tai Po. Don’t worry about the cycle back either, you can return the bikes at another location and take the bus or taxi back to the nearest MTR station once finished. There’s really no reason not to do this when visiting Hong Kong, you’ll find your view of the city thoroughly broadened and return with a fresh perspective that most visitors won’t have acquired.

CNY: Lam Tsuen Wishing Tree

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Finding yourself in the city during Chinese New Year, make sure to visit Lam Tsuen Wishing Tree! During the festive period, the area’s full of interesting sights from food, souvenirs and traditions. It’s a small but packed occasion, enjoyable nevertheless for visitors who wish to experience the community spirit of a 700-year old village. The wishing tree presents a fun opportunity to take part in a tradition wherein you attach your new year’s wishes onto a (fake) clementine (satsuma? orange?) and throw them up into the tree. The higher the branch, the more likely your wish will come true! I made two attempts at this when a young girl snatched up my orange (and wish!) before I could pick it up again. Equally hilarious was watching my friends throw their oranges only to accidently bump some poor stranger on the head.

Regarding the TST parade, this you can definitely skip. We secured a spot quite early on and found it not worth the wait. Rather than a continuous flow of music and celebration, there were 5/10-minute wait times between each section and the while the performers were wonderful in their own right, the majority of (if not all) floats were pretty much just decorated pieces of advertisement. I can appreciate a celebration of a country’s brand and businesses, but this was too much.

So this concludes my series of posts on Hong Kong! I hope this has proved useful or at least enjoyable for those who slogged through and read what I have to say – it really is appreciated, thank you!

re: Hong Kong

Off The Beaten Track, pt. I.

I called my first posts on Hong Kong unmissable sights, but that’s not to say the following things should be missed when you visit. Once you’ve ticked the main locations off your itinerary, do something a bit different to bolster your experience. I managed to write about some places before, my favourite being the near-fail of a hike to see the waterfalls (please learn from my mistakes), but there’s also the hike (another one) to the highest peak on Kowloon and tasting the rainbow via multi-coloured soup dumplings! Let’s add another two to the list to fuel your curiosity:

Lion Rock

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So I’ve already written about two hikes, why not introduce another? The city battles with the mountainous terrain of its natural landscape and you’ll soon find that every day is leg day when walking in Hong Kong. For stunning views inside the city, Lion Rock is a famous landmark amongst locals and the perfect counterpart to Victoria Peak’s harbour views. Named for its resemblance to a lion, the trail can be accessed upon leaving Won Tai Sin MTR station (exit B3).

Make sure you stock up on plenty of water as the hike is basically one long staircase to its peak. On hindsight, it’s not a bad idea to bring lunch too! From the MTR exit, there’s two choices: follow the instructions on this blog and walk to the start of the trail, or save yourself a good 30 minutes and take a taxi (~30HKD) to the starting point. When I took my friend Hazel, I was slightly hungover so we smartly opted for the lazy taxi option.

Visiting in late February, the weather wasn’t nearly as hot or humid as in summer, but we still ended up drenched in sweat upon reaching the top. Luckily there was a light breeze to cool us off and we relaxed on the rocks, soaking in the view until sunset. I really recommend starting the hike late afternoon as temperatures will be cooler and watching the sun set over the city is one of those magical experiences you can’t miss. I’m in love with this city at night and with Lion Rock as a vantage point, it’s hard not to be captivated by its glittering lights.*

Cheung Chau (長洲)

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Popular with locals, this little island is a food heaven and only a short ferry ride from Central. First time visiting, my friend and I were amazed by the giant fish balls and the sheer amount of food. Head to the food stalls for lunch and to the harbour restaurants at dinner for fresh seafood at decent prices. Note that although the menus here come in Chinese, some do have photographs you can use for reference. For the best experience, take a fluent Cantonese speaker (friend or family) to do the hard work of ordering for you.

Come with a big appetite to sample everything on offer, but definitely don’t leave without eating the mango mochi. From the ferry pier, head left and you’ll recognise the shop by its consistently huge lines. Don’t be deterred though, this is mochi like no other. Beautifully soft mochi is wrapped around a slice of fresh mango making for a deliciously refreshing bite. To the thrill seekers amongst you, try the durian flavour for a step out of your comfort zone. Personally, I’m not fond, but you might strike lucky and find it your cup of tea!

Cheung Chau is more than its food though, keep heading right from the ferry pier and discover the reclining rocks for change of scenery and a quick get-away from the hustle and bustle of the street food scene. The crowds of people start to disperse and you can take a moment on the rocks to relax and nurture your newly acquired food baby.

[Part II coming next week!]

*Getting back down in the dark can be quite tricky, our method consisted of using the lights from our phones and keeping close to a family of three who had the good sense to bring a proper flashlight.

re: Hong Kong

Unmissable Sights, pt II.

Continuing this simultaneous journey down memory lane/informational piece for potential visitors to Hong Kong, I should note that these destinations aren’t in rank order. It’s whatever comes to mind quickest, which I suppose has its own bias, but I assure you they’re all worth visiting when in Hong Kong! Anyways, here’s part two of unmissable sights:

Star Ferry & TST harbour

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Hong Kong is at its most attractive when you’re stood on the TST promenade looking out across to Central. Get the Star Ferry in the evening and experience the magic once you’re out in the open water surrounded by the lights from either side. Admittedly, I’ve never had enough interest to get there in time for the light show (it takes place on both sides of the harbour), the city lights glittering off the dark waters alone provide enough enjoyment for me.

You’ll be surprised (or not, considering Hong Kong is a 24 hr city) at how many people are casually roaming about or relaxing on the pier during midnight hours. I found it a perfect place to grab drinks from a nearby 7/11, find a comfortable spot to perch on and chat the night away with friends. If you’re feeling hungry, there’s bound to a place open late at night. 3am dim-sum is, in fact, the best concept ever when it comes to late night snacking.

Another point of interest to include is the Avenue of Stars (now temporarily the Garden of Stars as renovation work takes place until 2018). For film lovers out there, it’s a wonderful tribute to the people who established Hong Kong cinema as its own entity in the cinematic landscape. Even if you’re a bit clueless on Hong Kong cinema, it’s fun to find the names we all know and love, i.e. Jackie Chan and there’s also a Bruce Lee statue (srsly, who doesn’t know Bruce Lee) to pose in front of. To be honest, I couldn’t appreciate it fully, the first time I visited (had I even watched any Cantonese movies before?), but after taking a Hong Kong cinema module in first semester, I found it a really great informative exhibit of talent and creativity.

Dim Sum & Street Food

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As I typically describe it to my friends, dim-sum is reminiscent of Spanish tapas. Usually eaten for lunch, you choose a variety of dishes to share with your table. A popular spot to go to is Tim Ho Wan, an affordable, yet delicious Michelin star place with a couple of branches within Hong Kong. The one in Central MTR station (weird, I know) is quite small and usually has huge queues, so I often go to the branch in Fortress Hill/North Point. It’s likely you’ll have to wait a couple of minutes beforehand, but it’s worth it! My friend swears by their famous (?) pineapple char sui buns, but I’d rather just eat more of everything else. Hong Kong style seating arrangements means you’ll probably end up sharing a table with some random strangers (it’s ok, you don’t have to share food, just table space), but personally I like the amusement that comes with sitting next to a random person.

For street food, head back to Mong Kok and peruse the area around Ladies Market for new foods to try. Fish balls are a Hong Kong staple, and egg waffles are on that list too. But for something a little different to western tastes, try the pigs blood soup with intestines! If you’re not up for being ~too~ adventurous, there’s always the relatively safe option of stinky tofu. Sure, it might have a very potent smell, but it does taste good! The array of food options out on display never fails to catch the eye and they’re a perfect snack to grab when you’re caught up in the rush of this fast-moving city.

Chi Lin Nunnery & Nan Lian Garden 

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When my friends came to visit, it was in the midst of Chinese New Year celebrations that we visited Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Gardens. We stopped off at Wong Tai Sin Temple beforehand and it was packed full of people burning incense and putting up offerings to welcome in the new year. The atmosphere was amazing, extremely busy and colourful, so it was pleasantly surprising to find a spot of quiet in the nunnery and gardens. Of course, there was still a huge amount of people around, but overall much more peaceful within the grounds. Stepping into both is like walking into a different world. The architecture is modern in age, but still retains the timeless elegance of the past, making it easy to forget you’re in a city full of technology. It’s funny to see the contrast in styles when you look up and see the tops of the sky scrapers peeking through against the foreground of the idyllic grounds.

This wraps up what I think are items on any traveller’s guide to Hong Kong. If you want to hear more about my most beloved city (sry London), watch this space, I’ll be writing up a summary of the things that may not feature so prominently in guides to Hong Kong, but which are equally as important!