Friday, June 05, 2009

Hong Kong and Macau

We just had the Dragon Boat holiday here in Taiwan. To take advantage, we spent four nights in Hong Kong, just to explore the city in more depth than we'd ever been able to before. It was Jenna's fourth trip to HK, my second, and for the first time we had good weather and plenty of time.

On Thursday, we disembarked at the airport having already filled out our health questionnaires to make sure we did not have H1N1 and hadn't come into contact with it. These questionnaires were collected by personnel at the airport who gave them more scrutiny than our arrival cards got.

We stayed at the Wesley Hotel in Wan Chai. The staff at the hotel reception desk measured our temperatures with little electronic devices. We passed.

Central and inexpensive but with very few facilities, virtually nonexistent service and bare, stuffy rooms.

-- Lonely Planet

Now, I suppose that's true, but what we cared about mostly was the "central and inexpensive" part. Granted, our hotel room was tiny, but that's what you get when you stay in the densest part of Hong Kong Island and you don't want to pay extravagantly for your room. What amused me most was, while practically every other cable TV-equipped hotel room I've stayed at in Asia has provided either CNN International or BBC News (or both), our choices for English-language TV news were CCTV (the Chinese government mouthpiece) or FOX News. The same FOX News that you get in the States.

Once settled in at the hotel, our first priority was to get the heck off Hong Kong Island and over onto the Kowloon side. We took the MTR to Central, where we spent a decent amount of time wandering around like clueless tourists looking for the Star Ferry terminal. (This was particularly pathetic considering that we'd both been to the terminal on previous Hong Kong visits.)

At ground level, Central resembles a hideously overgrown Rosslyn, Virginia, and has about as much charm. It's got some of the best-known skyscrapers in East Asia, but these are best appreciated at a distance.

We finally found the Star Ferry terminal and traveled across the harbor to Kowloon. We wandered along the promenade for a while, and took in the views of the Hong Kong Island skyline.

(My camera is not all that great at nighttime pictures, as you can see.)

Then we headed to the Temple St. market for food. We filled up on some excellent seafood and looked through the oddities of the night market before taking the MTR back to Wan Chai.

On Day 2, we'd originally planned to go hiking on either Lantau or Lamma Island. Cool, drizzly weather scuttled that idea, so instead we explored some of the neighborhoods on the north side of HK Island. We ate dim sum for lunch in a shopping center in Causeway Bay - I'd never eaten dim sum in HK before, and since it's the style of food most associated with the city I figured I'd better try eating it in its hometown.

Once we had our fill of Causeway Bay, we took the MTR all the way to the northwest part of the island and Sheung Wan.

I'm not sure exactly what it means, but: many streets in Sheung Wan made me feel like I was in Chinatown in a Western city. I think it was all the Chinese medicinal goods out and on sale, like giant mushrooms and dried lizards.

A lovely little park off of Hollywood Rd. in Sheung Wan. Note the apartment blocks rising in the background.

Stone statues outside the Man Mo temple in Sheung Wan.

Eventually we met up with some friends who live in HK for dinner in Central, followed by relaxation at a bar where THE MUSIC IS SO LOUD YOU CAN'T HEAR THE PERSON NEXT TO YOU. I'm sure that appeals to some people, but I'm not one of them. Fortunately we were able to leave for a more relatively quiet alternative soon after.

On Saturday, we went to Lantau Island. We'd planned to take the ferry to Tung Chung to maximize our sightseeing enjoyment, but when we determined that would require a horribly circuitous route, we took the MTR there instead.

From the ultramodern densely populated new town of Tung Chung, you can catch a cable car up the mountain to Ngong Ping.

The cable car was lots of fun. Every bit the equal of the currently-nonfunctioning Maokong Gondola in Taipei, the views from the cable car are quite impressive (except when it's the smog-shrouded airport you're looking at).

At the top, you can walk through a touristy strip of stops and then you reach the stairs to the Tian Tan Buddha.

The Tian Tan Buddha is relatively new as Buddhas go - completed in 1993 - but it's quite well-known and a major tourist attraction.

We descended by cable car and took a bus to Mui Wo, a port town on Lantau, and boarded a ferry for Cheung Chau, a small island off of Lantau's coast.

The town on Cheung Chau, more than any other place in Hong Kong, reminded me of Taiwan. I can be more specific. It reminded me of the back streets of cities in southern Taiwan. I felt like I was wandering through an old section of Tainan or Kaohsiung. Except the language was different. And there were more Westeners about than I would expect. And there were people in little village greens playing croquet.

A sign in a little store in the Cheung Chau back alleys.

We ate dinner - seafood, of course - at a harborfront restuarant (despite an intriguing name and a mention in Lonely Planet, we gave Morocco Indian Food a pass) and took the ferry directly back to Central, giving us some stunning glimpses of the nighttime skyline along the way.

On Sunday: Macau.

Neither of us had been there, and a ferry from HK is relatively cheap and gets you there in under 90 minutes. For the purpose of traveling it's like crossing a national border, so we each collected a total of 4 new passport stamps in one day (and had to fill out 2 H1N1 flu questionnaires each).

Macau is best known for gambling, which neither of us is particularly interested in. I probably don't have enough self-control for gambling, and wouldn't know when to stop. With disastrous results. So we steered clear of the casinos and headed for historical touristy Macau.

You can still see some Portuguese, although I think maybe I heard people speaking it only once.

The most important old tourist sight is, of course, the ruins of St. Paul's. There is a nonstop crowd of tourists with cameras in the plaza in front.

The old town is beautiful. It feels like how I imagine an old city in southern Europe probably feels to wander through (not that I'd know). Of course, there's plenty of new development along roads that get a lot of tourists, and depending on where you point your camera, you might get this gigantic monstrosity towering above the old-timey cityscape.

But the food is wonderful, including the ubiquitous little almond cookies sold in a thousand little shops. Also, the egg tarts are the best in the world. And I'm comparing them to the ones in Hong Kong.

Macau may be small (however big you think Macau is, it's smaller) but I think I could probably enjoy another visit there. We never left the old city to explore the regions further south. Lonely Planet implies the best food in all of Macau is to be found there.


HF said...

Great post!
Macau is such a wonderful place. Like they say in Portuguese, “não há outra mais leal” (there is no other more loyal).
Helder Fraguas

Rumela said...

Macau is indeed a very small city state. I would suggest a 2-day trip when you are visiting the nearby Hong Kong or Southern China. If time is limited, one day is fine too but it will be quite rush to enjoy the atmosphere and to explore the richness. thank you for shearing your post.

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