A Travellerspoint blog

Hong Kong

Haggling for sex toys and visiting Jumbo and the Pandas

Musings from a couple of weeks in Hong Kong.

I spent just over 2 weeks in Hong Kong, and must admit that I enjoyed it imensely. Not the cheapest place in the world by any stretch of the imagination, but strangely comforting to be back in somewhere which was seemingly familiar, multi cultural, and relaxed. I think i could happily live here for a while, although that would seem something of a cheat.

Despite the inevitable fact that all 10 people i know in Hong Kong have been elsewhere the entire time I've been here (not stupid, these people), It was also good to catch up with a few familiar faces again. Admittedly I didn't know Kevin, Solene or Jude before I started this trip, but it was great to see old friends again. And also to realise that all TPers are alcoholics, but on the whole great people. Despite the whole fuffy/furry thing.

Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, and in all likliness, even if you don't, is to walk along Nathan Road, on the Eastern side, and make it from the Star Ferry to Jordan without being offered at least half a dozen hostel/hotel rooms, fake rolexs, tailored suits, money changed, drugs of all descriptions and in most incidences several curries and offers of Indian food as well. Some you can easily avoid, some are easy to fob off (i'll buy a fake rolex only if it's spelt with 4 "L"s, for example). And don't even thing about looking foreign (i.e. not Black African or from the Indian subcontinent) and trying to enter Chunking mansions around dinner time if you don't want a curry. It's just not worth it. But that's another story.

Stayed in several different places, partly by choice, partly not. The first place in the Mirador, as previously noted, was just strange and also lacked the facilities it advertised. And only 1 of the 3 nights i was supposed to be there, I actually was. And the oter two weren't by choice. A few nights in Causeway Bay on Hong Kong Island followed, until, together with Lun, Ananad and an English girl, Clare, we departed on mass from the Wang Fat hostel, spured by several issues, but mainly the discovery that all 4 of us (plus 2 previous residents) were paying completely different prices for the same dorm room, some a whopping 50% extra. Then ended up in another place in the Mirador, the Cosmic, run by 3 absolutely lovely old ladies, (and most of which was stunningly clean and well equiped, if on the cosy side) but due to the changing size of our group ended up in 3 seperate rooms (and price categories).

Some of the days i spent doing not allot, or just wandering at random. I probably covered every road on the Kowloon peninsula south of the old boundary point (south of the boundary was actually ceeded to the british - and HK Island was fully British as well - whilst the New Territories to the North were only on lease to Britain, despite the fact that the whole colony was returned to the Chinese), and at various times took in the Electronic, Ladies, Fish, Flower, Bird, Night, Jade and Sports markets, as well as the famed Stanley Market on the south end of HK Island, which were dissapointingly small and touristy. Wandered along both coasts of the harbour and into Victoria Pak (Island) and Kowloon Park (guess) and just relaxed.

A long story to remain untold it may be, but I will note in passing that there is definitely something surreal about standing on a market road at 11pm earnestly haggling with the stall owner over the price of a specific vibrator, and trying to counter their prices with getting other stuff chucked in for free. All of which whilst trying to avoid joining the unnamed person wanting said vibrator, collapsed in a heap of laughter on the floor. That's just not good haggling technique.

I just love haggling!

Went Laptop and computer shoping through assorted Computer markets and cities with Jude, although didn't buy in the end and shoe shopping with Clare (it's true that i might need my head examined). Went up the escalators again, just for the heck of it, wandered HKisland on the double decker trams (the only ones in service anywhere in the world), crosed the harbour on some of the other ferry routes and under and over it, including of course, the famous Star Ferry. Which at 2.4 (upper) or 1.7 (lower) dollars a trip, was definitely good value, as was most of HKs stunningly efficient public transport. Sorted out some jabs, went to the botanical gardens, went up to the Hong Kong peak twice (the first was hazy, the second wonderfully clear) using the impressively steep Peak Tram.

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Nikki on the Peak tram. Yes, the angle is correct, and thats not even the steepest part

Watched the sympathy of lights a couple of times, wandered with Kevin and Solene, headed out to Lantau island with Nikki to visit the Giant Tian Tan Buddha (the worlds largest outdoors bronze Buddha - good, but not the first or probably last giant Buddha I will see on this trip) and Po Lin Monastery. Also tried miserably to score some HK Rugby 7s tickets for the 2006 tournament in the spring and to get a space on the free Junk ride around the harbour. Oh well, can't win them all. And tried to get my rabies injection, but failed miserably 3 times because (a) it was too long ago i was bitten, so i must be fine or (b) i don't have the offending dog with me (it's a fecking stray in Romania. Why the hell would i have it in Hong Kong). I couldn't even get a possibly out of them, just a straight f*ck off. And as they were less than pleasant about it on all occassions, if i do happen to succumb to rabies in the near-mid future, please can somebody sue the arse off the Hong Kong Airport and HK Island Travel clinic for negligence in my memory. I even had to pay for a "consultancy" to get my jabs,despite the fact i knew what i needed, and my consultancy involved me telling the doctor what i needed for 90seconds and him muttering "ok". If i could get paid about 25gbp for saying ok and listening for 90seconds, i would be a happy chap indeed!

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At the Jumbo floating restaurant in Aberdeen

Headed down to Stanley, Deep Water Bay and Aberdeen on the south side of HK Island with Jude, to discover that Stanley Market was actually quite small and touristy, and the fort is now a Chinese military base who don't like stupid British people wandering around it. Just about avoided a long trip through the underground sewage farm, went for lunch on the self proclaimed "most luxurious floating restaurant in the world", Jumbo, in Aberdeen harbour. It was fairly luxurious, I admit, and the food was good if different (we had Dim Sum, which included classics such as Deep Fried Pork Pie - oddly damned tasty - and something which turned out to be faggotts), although the location was strage. Aberdeen, in fairness, is not the most delightful view for such a restaurant, with rows of high and used looking tower blocks, plus concrete overpasses to greet dinners. And it was debatable if we were actually floating or whether the main building (boat) was actually permanently attached to the seabed. Had a drink on the fabulously comfy rooftop bar though.

And visited An An and Jia Jia.

Expensive, sure, but neither of us had actually seen a giant panda before, and the opportunity was too good to turn down. Housed in the Ocean Park amusement park, they are both at peak age and may not have too many years left, which will be a shape, but normal. Typically, An An was out in the enclosure, but sleepy and barely moved except to roll over, whilst Jia Jia was animatingly eating bamboo as if it's life depended on it - in fairness, it probably did - but in a cage out of view, and only visable on TV screens. Oh well, at least i've seen a Panda. Took in the aquariums, shark tanks, bird and butterfly enclosures amongst others (all of which seemed depressingly small in size) and a really funny dinosaur enlcosure as well as a long cable car ride between the two sections and a huge long escalator ride back down. They like escalators in this city, it seems. Took in a trip to a very strange pizza hut (i'm not used to a pizza hut menu including things like Norwegian Salmon and truffles) and had a dim sum breakfast including chicken feet (tasty if boney) which certain other people weren't too impressed with.

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I can't help it if they don't move into a useful position to be pictured, can I?!

And of course, spent a night at Happy Valley Races. Happy Valley is a HK institution, and when the Chinese took control back, their first statement to the HK people was to the effect that the horses would keep running. The track is squeezed into HK island, surrounded by tall residentail blocks, but has a great atmosphere, surprisingly cheap beer (including yards of ale) and, best of all, free access aftr a certain time. We got to see the last 4 races, and using my patented greyhound trick of picking a number at random and staying with it all night Each Way, somehow picked a winner and came out a hundred dollars for the good for the night. Can't argue. There was also the odd inevitable night out, wandering around LKF and Kowloon with assorted people, which almost all turned out to be great fun (Lun posseses the great trick of being picked up the most desperate HK girls without having to do anything at all) although a return to our New Years haunt went wrong when we discovered everybody there was at least 50years old, almost ended in a huge punch up after a group of young Brits attempted to steal the only decent girl that Lun found.

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Happy Valley Racecourse, and celebrating my winnings with Kevin and Solene

Two weeks or so later, and it's been great fun. And i'll be back as well, but for now it's time to leave again and hit the road. All of the eassorted folks from the last couple of weeks (Andy, Jason, Nikki, Suzanne, Clare, Scott, Lun, Jude, Anand, the Kiwi's and Kevin and Solene amongst others) have left, as people do, to go their own ways (btw, Hi Clare - hope your having fun back home in the wonders of Teddington!) and it's time for me to follow suit.

So, tomorrow, with luck, i go and retrieve my passport from the Vietnamese, hopefully with a shiny new visa sticker (and not a Drugs offence refusal stamp) in it, and then proceed directly (I might even pass go on the way) to.... Shanghai.

Obvious, really, isn't it?!

Posted by Gelli 01:50 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (4)

Feck me, it's 2006 already. The story of a TP New Year

Who stole November 2005?!! And the story of the most amazingly fabulously spectacular fireworks display that you have even seen.

I really can't believe just how quickly things have gone. I really can't. It's now 2006, and i've been travelling since either the 20th April, or 13th May depending upon how you count it. And allot has happened in that time. It really doesn't feel anywhere near that long. But it's scary to think how quicky it's all gone. And how soon I have to actually return. Admittedly there are a few months left to go, but it's still creeping up on me with alarming speed. There's so much more to see and do, and so little time left to see it in and money to spend doing it. But i'm sure i'll come up with some cunning plan (or dip into the candy smuggling business) to keep me going for a whilst longer.

I suppose that some of you want to know about my New Years Resolutions. Ok, I don't really suppose that at all. And in fairness, they aren't worth it. My main one is not to make anymore stupid New Years Resolutions, which i probably actually broke within seconds because i made the resolution about not making anymore stupid New Years Resolutions. On a more normal note, I have resoloved that this year, finally, I will not get arrested, deported or shot at for the entire year. Actually, i'll take any 2 of the above 3, as I think managing all will be virtually impossible. That might sound relatively straight forward, but I've have been making the same resolution for several years now, and not managed yet, so who knows...

Hong Kong is really wierd. Crazily wierd. Spookily wierd. Everything is just so familiar, but completely different at the same time. Granted that it was British run until 1997, but even so, I was surprised at how familiar and almost comforting (yuk, i know) it seems. Stupid things, like the fact that all the road signs are in the same colours as in the UK and use the same font. Foreign looking people are speaking in English, and it's their first language (in some cases). There are white people, Indian people, coloured people all around, and yet you know that some of them are actually normal residents as opposed to most places I have visited in the last 6 months or so where they are either (a) backpackers (b) English teachers or (c) business people on assignment. And of course, many of the shops are the same. Sure, McDonalds and the Body Shop appear everywhere (except Bosnia-H. Dear god, please keep it that way), but seeing Marks and Spencers and Boots is a bit more random.

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Assorted 20HKD notes. Every bank produces their own notes, meaning that mulitple designs of the same note are in circulation.

I stayed first in the Mirador Mansions, a neighbour to the infinitely more infamous Chunking Mansions on Nathan Road, in Kowloown. I can helpfully inform anybody that books the New Garden Hostel through the hostelworld engine (i.e. most hosel sites) that 99% of it's claims are rubbish (internet is not free, reception is not 24hour, there is a curfew etc), and the pictures are certainly not from any of the bits which i saw. And lets just leave it at that.

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Bed sheets at the New Garden Hostel...

Spent a couple of days mostly wandering around HK island and Kowloon at random. Bounced around on the Star Ferry across the harbour, and on trams along Hong Kong Island, both of which were dirt cheap (about 14pence each). On the 30th, I hooked up with Jase007, of TP, and took a trip up the escalator entirely by accident. We didnt know that it was the worlds longest covered escalator when we started, just that we wanted to cross the road. To say it's the longest is a bit of a cheat as it isn't one contnuous one, but 28 or so flights of escalator later (including, oddly, one downhill stretch) and we arrive at a wall half way up the mountain. By that point we were expecting to see a wisened old grey haired man answering questions about the world truth, or at the very least, a crowd of people who had sone the same as us and were now wondering how the fr1gging hell they were going to get back down again. About two thirds of the way up is the self proclaimed last bar until heaven, which gives you some idea of it's scope. Went for a couple of drinks on Lan Kwai Fong, Hong Kong islands man drinking area, where we managed to order the only things not on happy hour discount, and then collected NikkiDutch (also TP, and who i'd met in Beijing as well).

I will say this now as a warning to anybody else entertaining the idea of meeting up with people they come aross online, espeially on travel websites. Meeting TPers can be bad for your health. With the possible exception of Lil J, all have been alcoholics, and with New Year coming up, things were kind of going to go downhill. And from there on in, it kind of became a mad 2 day bender.

Don't anybody say I didn't warn you if TP meetings ends up giving you cirossis of the liver.

End of public service anouncement.

I won't go in to much detail of the following 2 nights activities, mainly because none of us can really remember everything all that clearly. There was something about furry and fluffy, an entirely unintentional visit to a brothel (i think we were trying to find a toilet), a tall bald guy we picked up for no apparent reason, an astonishing discovery that you can get a draught pint of Tuborg Jul ol (Danish Christmas beer) in Hong Kong, which i've never seen outside of Denmark before, a long taxi ride for no apparent reason around Kowloon peninsula in which the automatic doors caused a slight issue, wall climbing to go to the toilet in a bush, a pint which was drummed off the table into my lap, a night spent in the wrong hostel due to 12 flights of stairs plus a band who we managed to get doing request songs, some of which i seem to remember were a tad on the bizare and unlikely side...

By the following night, New Years Eve, we had gained an American friend Andy, and things just went downhill.

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Spending New Years with these people (Jason and random local, Nikki and Andy) is not neccessarrily good for your health...

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New Years Eve is always a strange night for me. They generally are a let down anyway, massively overhyped and normally involving huge entrance fees, plus in my case the sad memory of the death of my best friend Marc, back in 97, which doesn't always exactly lead to a great sense of mind. So i'm generally in a strange mood anyway.

Every day of the year at 8pm, Hong Kong harbour has a laser light show. Kind of fun, kind of cheesy, I admit, but assorted lasers and spotlights, plus 28 buildings changing colour whilst dancing to music (if your on the walk of stars in Kowloon, at least) is probably worth seeing at least once. And they promised a little extra on NYE. So out we sat and watched the show, with the added extra this time of a few fireworks. Enough to make it different, but not enough to be totally 'wow'. Afterall, a firework is a firework, and only the very best displays (such as those you always see on TV as happening in Hong Kong at New Years) are memorable.

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8pm fireworks weren't too bad

After the show was over, the crowd disperse until it was just us lot left drinking on the pavements. Took a quick walk through the strange one way walking system to kill some time, and returned to the front to join the thronging masses. It was somewhat surreal to spend New Years eve sitting on the dock in Hong Kong, with 500,000 or so others, eating Crackers and cheese, drinking 7-11 vodka/brandy and mixers whilst waiting for the fireworks show that you always see on TV and is the most spectacular one going, possibly baring Sydney. It really was oddly great fun.

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The assembled masses await the big moment...

And topped off perfectly at midnight, with a HK island sky scraper light count down to 0 (with utter silence for #4, as that number signifies death in China) followed by.......
Zip.

Nada.

Ingenting.

Absolutely nothing.

Yup. Just that.

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The Midnight sky on the turn of the New Year, Hong Kong

And about 15seconds into 2006, a single red rocket launched on the far bank, went up, puff into 3 sparkles, and that was it.

Welcome to 2006.

But the thing is, it could not heve been any better. It was literally perfect.

From there, it started to get messy again. At various points, we seemed to gain a number of green glowing light sticks, followed by 2 green glowing light balls (one of which just had to be worn as a hat, to the delight and laugher of every HK person we subsequently passed that night). Why Ialways end up wearing silly hats on any kind of occassion, and always to the delight of the locals is beyond me. Which might actually be no bad thing. We then also aquired some beers and a kiwi girl, a german girl, then more unlikely a group of 25 or so goths and some Policemen amongst others, before ending up back in the previous nights haunt for several interesting hours of draught Newcastle brown ale (something else hard to find outside it's home area), probable dancing and sheer drunken idiocy, some more strange masks and hats and some clacky hammers. And probably more furry and fluffy. I really can't remember. I do recall that Andy and I spent the night (or, rather, morning) sleeping first in a corridor and then in a stairwell, due to the previously mentioned lack of professed 24hour access and no curfew.

If anybody would have told me on New Years 2005 that a year later i would be celebrating by drinking vodka on HK harbour front with half a million Chinese people, whilst eating Crackers and Cheese and waiting for absolutely nothing whilst wearing a large glowing green ball on my head, i'm not entirely sure what i'd have said although knowing how these things work out, I wouldn't have not believed him.

And just to top it all off in perfect manner, we arranged to meet to go to an Irish bar for a big fry up brunch on the 1st only to discover that the pub was shut. It really was the perfect finale to an amazing, if slightly different New Years celebrations!

And now, me thinks, it could be time to dry out for a day or two.

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There's always one that has to spoil the festive fun by not paying the electric bill...

Posted by Gelli 23:19 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (1)

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