re: Macau

Part two of my guided adventure.

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Arriving at the Ruins of St. Paul was a little underwhelming, although I have a tendency to imagine things much bigger than they usually are, so don’t be dissuaded from my thoughts. Somewhat surviving three fires, it is still quite a magnificent structure to visit and marvel at its determination to remain standing throughout such unfortunate circumstances. Since we arrived around 5/6pm, the site itself was incredibly crowded, making it difficult to get a photograph without someone in the background. Instead, we took advantage of the remaining sun and relaxed on the steps with a cup of milk tea and grass jelly before heading off to the next location.

To be truthful, I was actually pretty amazed with The Venetian. There’s a certain charm to all its artificial beauty and it was fun to see what is basically a giant shopping centre structured in this way. There are real, working gondolas equipped with gondoliers to explore its artificial canals, but which we skipped on account of the huge queue and limited time we had there. A very quick breeze around the shops and a visit to Lord Stow’s for their famous Portuguese egg tart (delicious, but a little too greasy) was pretty much all we had time for before we headed back to the port to try and get an earlier ferry back.

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If you find yourself with a return ticket far later than you wanted to stay on Macau, you are able to wait in a reserve queue for an earlier ferry. At the front of this queue, it’s very likely you’ll be admitted on board! We were thwarted by huge reserve queues for earlier ferries, so ended up taking the ferry back at the original time. It’s also worth noting that you can take the ferry back to either Hong Kong Island, or Kowloon, depending on which is more convenient for you! (The ferry does not dock only in Kowloon as my friend Sandy adamantly insisted).

Although it’s only an hour from Hong Kong to Macau, I’d like to return and stay for a night or two to fully explore the city and nightlife. While the private tour was great in allowing us to see the main sights for that day, we really didn’t have much freedom to just walk around and discover sights for ourselves. I’d love to go back and walk around Macau’s old town as well as walk its strip of famous casinos in the evenings!

re: Macau

A story in two parts.

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

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!

re: Osaka

A quick entry today to let you know about my final day in Osaka (sad times). The morning was spent at Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan, on the recommendation of my friend Sandy. It was really great, except I spent the whole time thinking (I’m not even sure why) that there was going to be one huge magical tank. It turned out that the whole aquarium was sort of one giant tank that we walked around, which sounds much more impressive in retrospect, but I couldn’t shake off the disappointment from thinking that there was going to be something better round the corner. My favourite part of the aquarium though, was the replica of the dentist’s fish tank in Finding Nemo!

After spending an inordinate amount of time at the aquarium gift shop, we made our way to Osaka Castle. Here, there’s two options, wait in the queue for the elevator to take you to the eighth floor, or climb. Guess what we did. It was a tough one (for unfit individuals like myself), but we made it and the view from the top was our reward. Going down is like a time machine into the past as you make your way through the museum exhibitions, covering everything from the history of the castle, weaponry and art.

With my friend on a mission to visit every Pokémon centre in Japan, we had to stop by the branch in Osaka. I picked up a couple of souvenirs to give to friends (the Pikachu cup ramen was a novelty item I couldn’t resist), whilst Wesley tried to restrain himself from buying the whole store. Spotting the toy capsule machines, he set his sights on a particular badge, but ended up getting the SAME one 5 times. Admittedly, he did make the mistake of swapping machines halfway through and I’m pretty sure I saw another couple walk away with the one he wanted. For me, it was pretty hilarious to watch, turning into a cringe-worthy encounter when he started to complain to the staff who had a strict policy about exchanging prizes.

We had dinner to soothe the pain of failure and then parted ways, to meet again in Kyoto. Wesley forgot to buy the Japan Rail Pass, so had to take the cheaper options via local trains. Once there, it turned out the hostel we booked (Piece Hostel) had different branches, so we ended up at a different hostel again. Piece Hostel Sanjo definitely marked an upward projection of positive hostel experience though. The beds were so comfy, not to mention designed as a proper enclosed booth! A minor annoyance was that the showers were located in the basement, but with the modern facilities, this can be overlooked.

P.S. Apologies for the lack of photographs in this post!