Thursday, December 29, 2011

Exploring Hong Kong

So it had to come to an end - on the 27th it was time for us to leave the magical world of Disneyland and move to our hotel in Kowloon. Fortunately it's still quite rarified here - we're staying at the Langham, which is really nice, and located very near the harbor, plus round the corner from Canton Road which I've heard described as the Rodeo Drive of Hong Kong:

The service is fantastic, and the rooms are incredibly comfortable. It's also nice that they were able to put the kids in a connected room to Emma's and mine, so it feels like we have a mini-suite. None of us has been to Hong Kong before, but so far we're really impressed - it seems very easy to get around, it's incredibly clean especially considering the concentration of people, and the food and shopping are phenomenal.

Yesterday we took some time to find our bearings, and did one of the things we'd heard is pretty much required for tourists - going up the Peak to see the panorama of the city. We had to wait a long time to catch the tram to the top, but the view once we got there was amazing:

Looking down at a winding road
We had a very expensive Japanese meal at the top (which was balanced out by the fact that we'd just had Starbuck's for breakfast and got sandwiches from the 7-Eleven for dinner), and the time at the lookout station was marred only slightly by the fact that Dara was complaining that she wanted a robot dog she saw in one of the totally over-priced shops. We did see a cool temple near the top, and I thought it was cool to see the road markings which look so British, but have Chinese characters too:

There was also a really nice playground where the kids were able to play and Dara made some friends
We got back across the harbor in time for a beautiful sunset, then explored the Ocean Terminal shopping mall - it's busy but totally great, loads of brands we know, including alarmingly expensive kids' shops - kids' versions of Prada, Gucci, Paul Smith etc. But again really neat to see after the shopping deprivation of Bangalore.

Today we decided to have a good old explore of Hong Kong, so we bought tickets for the Big Bus tour, which gave us 48 hours of riding open top busses, plus ferry rides on the Star Ferry, a sampan tour of Aberdeen Harbour, and the Star Ferry tour of the main harbor. It was so incredibly easy to get this organized, and the bus tour guy was so helpful - it's such a difference from India, where you feel that you're getting scammed by everyone in sight. For example last time we did touristy stuff in India at Mysore Palace, I asked a guy where I could find something - he showed me but then told me I needed to pay him 20 rupees. By contrast here it just feels that people are actually being helpful because it's nice to be helpful - it's very refreshing. The only downer was we found that our bus tour ticket would also get us tickets for the tram to the peak - we could have saved a bunch of money, but it's a good reminder to do bus tours on the first day you arrive in a new city.

Anyway, we had a good ride across the harbor to Hong Kong Island on the Star Ferry, and got on the bus. It was a lovely day - probably around 20C, and with a bit of a sea breeze it was really refreshing. The bus has built-in audio so there was some good info about where we were going, and we had a nice chat with some guys from New Zealand who were sitting next to us. Emma had been told that Stanley Market was a good place to go, so we took the green route to get us there, and sure enough it was a really cool market. Loads of different shops along alleyways, some of which were kind of crappy, others were quite high-end, and Emma got a couple of really nice dresses from Monsoon, one of her favorite clothes stores from the UK.

The only store in the market which was closing

We had enjoyed the awesome buffet breakfast at the hotel, so Emma and I didn't need anything for lunch beyond a Pepsi, but the kids had a wee sandwich, then we hopped back on the bus to go past Repulse Bay (beautiful and if Emma and I ever get incredibly rich we're going to retire there) and to Aberdeen Harbour. For me having grown up in Aberdeen, Scotland, this was rather amusing - I'm pretty sure it was a lot sunnier and warmer than the Scottish version:

The road to Aberdeen

Amazing apartments at Repulse Bay

Our sampan pilot

Aberdeen boat club

On the sampan outside the Jumbo floating restaurant
Once we were done with the sampan we got back on the bus through towers of buildings, then to visit St. John's Anglican Cathedral:

Then back to the Ocean Terminal, where I had to get some stuff from Marks and Spencer's - Emma and I got very emotional at the food and wine offerings! We also saw the coolest Christmas tree ever:

We wanted to get a fairly traditional dinner tonight, so after a couple of glasses of Marks and Spencer wine in our room, Emma asked the concierge about something good and inexpensive nearby. He recommended the Sweet Dynasty which was just a couple of blocks away. We were the only westerners there, and there were some pretty crazy dishes - lots of pigs kidneys, cow innards and tendons and jellyfish. We went a bit tamer, but Emma did try the pork and shrimp dim sum - even though she doesn't like shrimp she really liked it. Toby did really well with his chopsticks and we all ate tons. I'm sure there are cheaper places around but it was very reasonable compared to other places we've been, and it certainly hit the spot.

So far we're really liking it here - Dara asked four times if she could go to school here. Now I think it's time for a drop or two more vino!

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