Monday, February 14, 2011

Hong Kong Part Two - The Sights

I think I've finally recovered from jetlag so I'm able to stay awake for more than two hours at a time - so what's the first thing that I have on my to do list?  Blog, of course!  This blog is as much a journal as it is anything else, so I'm sure twenty years from now when I'm a world famous blogger with kajillions of followers, I can look back on my posts and think "oh, remember when we went to Hong Kong?"  Ha!  Anyways, as I wrote in my first Hong Kong post, my second post is going to describe all the sights that we saw of the city.

So where to start?  For this portion of the program, I'll go day by day as it's easier for to remember all the stuff we saw and did on our trip.

Day One - Off to The Races

One of the biggest attractions that Hong Kong has is the Happy Valley Horse Races - millions of dollars run through this place every Wednesday, when the races are scheduled every week.  The people of Hong Kong love betting on horses, and it was definitely on our list of must-dos.  However, this must-do was the first thing scheduled on the day we arrived.  Have I mentioned that I'm insanely jetlagged?  We flew out from Vancouver on the 2am flight on a 13 hour flight, and with the time difference (16 hours ahead of Victoria), we landed at 7am in the morning.  The flight was horrific as Cathay Pacific has changed their seats so they don't we barely slept a wink and were insanely tired when we landed.  So anyways, the reason why I'm telling you this is that the races were at 8pm on the first day that we were there, so we had to stay awake for a full day after not having slept.  SO not fun, and we were desperately tired but we managed to stay awake and somewhat coherent so we could watch the races.

Here's a picture of the track from the stands:

The rabid horseracing fans in the stands:

The horses being shown before the start of the race (there were seven races that night):

And they're off!

The winner:

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Day Two - Checking Out the Market

After sleeping like zombies on our first night in the city, we headed off to Stanley Market the next day.  This market is in Stanley (surprise!), which is located towards the southern end of Hong Kong Island and required us to take a 45 minute bus ride.  The market wasn't really my first choice as I'd heard it wasn't quite what it used to be, but in the end it was worth the trip because of the journey to and from the market.

I've mentioned before that the taxi drivers are insane there...well, the bus drivers are even worse.  I sort of recall this from my first time there, and vaguely remembered not liking sitting up on the top level of the buses, as they're all double deckers.  On the way to the market, I thought was probably because I was younger and I'm waaay more brave now.  Not!  The ride is definitely not for those who are faint of heart - the driver drove on narrow windy roads at top speed - you could hear the plants and tree branches hitting the side of the bus, and a few times when the ride was bumpy, we actually went airborne and came up off the seats...there were a few of us sitting up top and I remember us all giggling hysterically...that kind of nervous laughter that happens that with false bravado, because you really are afraid, but don't want show really just how afraid you are.   A few times we thought the top deck of the bus would hit the side of the rock was THAT close.  Here's a photo taken out the front of the bus:

And a cemetary that we saw along the way - amazing (sorry for the crappy pic).

The narrow road wasn't the worst thing though.  To get to Stanley, the road is on the side of multiple hills or cliffs where it's a stomach churning drop to the bottom...unfortunately, I was sitting on the window side, so could see exactly how far up we were and juuuuust how painful it would be if we were to plummet to our deaths below.  I actually thought in my head...I wonder if I hang on tight to this pole, will I live if the buses does multiple rollovers?  Note there are no photos of how we were teetering on the edge of the cliff because I spent most of that part of the ride with my face buried in Hubs' shoulder.

Finally we arrived at the market, and I have to say...meh.  It was touristy, and the stuff in the market wasn't the greatest but you could find some trinkets or neat little things. 

Stanley itself was kinda cool though - it was on the water, and much quieter than Causeway Bay (where we stayed):

Here's the main strip of Stanley, where the restaurants are decidedly Westernized - Stanley is a common place for ex-pats to go to.  I'm once again being a goof and doing "hearts"...another common Asian photo thing. 

And a view to the water.  It was kind of overcast, but still a pleasant, warm day. 

So I've said the ride there was pretty scary.  However, the ride back was even scarier.  Why, you ask?  Because we were subjected to who Hubs and I have now dubbed "Crazy Bus Lady".  I'm pretty sure she should have been on some heavy duty meds, but wasn' people got on the bus, she'd roundly curse you out in Chinese.  Now I'm not the best at Cantonese, but I know what those words mean and they weren't good.  There was a lady who kept talking on the bus, and Crazy Bus Lady must have decided that she had enough.  She got up, and started screaming at Talking Lady, cursing her out in Chinese and English, threatened to report her to the police and told Talking Lady's young daughter who was sitting next to her that her mom was a bad, bad lady.  Whew.  So OK, that blows over....but Crazy Bus Lady decides that Cell Phone Lady who was sitting across from her was pissing her off too.  She stands up, curses her out but then throws in cursing out her parents, her children, her future children and all her ancestors.  Nice touch.  We actually got off the bus early, careful to avoid any eye contact so as to not raise her ire...look away, don't draw attention to yourselves!  Hubs, being the cheeky monkey he is, thought about taking her picture as we got off the bus and as the doors closed.  He was mostly brave because we decided to get off in front of a police station.  Ha ha!

Day 3 - Riding the Ferry

In my first post, I described how Victoria Harbour is the body of water between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island.  There's a bridge you can take to get from one side of the other, and you can get there in minutes on the MTR...but the coolest way to get to Kowloon and vice versa is to take the Star Ferry.  It's this little ferry boat that takes you on a short 10 minute or so ride, and it's pretty neat.

The Star Ferry pier:

One of the ferries:

Crossing the harbour:

Poor Hubs...he was too busy looking around and excited about the ride, he didn't notice his seasickness sneaking up on him.  By the end of the ride, he was a little green around the gills!  He felt better fairly shortly, but the feeling of being out on the water actually stuck with him for a few days.  Poor little bugger.

Day Five - Victoria Peak

By Day Five, we'd both become smitten with the city.  We'd tasted what Hong Kong had to offer for shopping (sigh) and we'd definitely tasted the food (double sigh), so we were ready to see one of the sights that Hong Kong is famous for, the Victoria Peak.  The only way to get up to the Peak is by the Peak Tram, which is a cable car built way back in the day.  It's pretty old, but apparently has a spotless record for safety.  Good to know, especially as we would be pulled up a hill at impossible angles!  Day Five was the first clear day that we were there, and it turned out to be the best day out of the trip to go, as the smog had cleared and it was a fairly sunny day.

The Peak Tram:

On the way up:

Ahhhhh...we're here!  Gorgeous, no?  You can see the Bank of China building with all the triangles. 

Day Six - The Big Buddha

Day Six...holy, the trip is more than half over!  Yikes.  Time was going by way too fast.  We were blessed by another gorgeous day, so we decided to head to Lantau Island (on the map from the first post, it's the island in the lower left corner) to see the Tian Tan Buddha.  This is the largest seated statue of Buddha in the world - 85 feet tall and beautiful.  I actually got a little verklempt seeing the statue, as the surroundings and the statue itself were so beautiful.

My first sight of the Buddha on the hill:

The gates to enter the complex:

One of the seven statues that lined the walkway when you walked in:

At the bottom of the steps to walk up to the Buddha - there were 260 steps!  We were a little out of breath after getting to the top:

At the top!  Cool.  Serene.

The bodhivistas that surround the Buddha (there were six statues) - aren't they amazing?

I have to say, this was probably the most memorable part of the trip.  I mean, I loved the food and the shopping, but seeing the Tian Tan Buddha was really something else.  Sigh.

Day Eight - Hong Kong Museum of History

Waaaah!  Only two more days left.  We'd read through our guidebooks, and while the Hong Kong Heritage Museum was more highly rated, it was going to mean transferring on three or four different subways to get there.  Ummmm, no...that was going to take far too much time away from eating and shopping.  We decided to go to the Hong Kong Museum of History, which was totally awesome.  There were different exhibitions, which started off with how Hong Kong was formed geographically, the culture of the people, how people lived, the British occupation, and most interesting (to me) was life in Hong Kong during the Japanese occupation during World War II.  I would highly recommend this museum to anyone who visits Hong Kong.

Dinosaur eggs, found in Hong Kong:

Early peoples:

A fishing boat:

Replica of a typical Chinese home in a village:

Wedding caravan:

Traditional wedding dresses:

Huge Chinese statues:

Traditional Chinese opera singers:

Replica of the bun mountains - these things are 10 metres tall and covered with 6,000 buns.  On Cheung Chau Island, they have a Bun Festival every year.  On the last day of the festival, people would be set loose to scramble up the bun mountain and grab a bun as they're considered good luck...however, one year one of the mountains collapsed and people were injured so they discontinued the practice.  They've restarted the practice fairly recently though with a tower made of metal and simulated buns.

Day Ten - Chinese New Year's

When we were planning our trip, we were sooooo excited that we'd be there during Chinese New Years.  CNY is like Christmas here at home (maybe even more so), and is a crazy big deal in Hong Kong.  There were decorations everywhere, and...this is going to sound made me really proud to be Chinese.  It's not that I'm not proud of my heritage, but I honestly don't think of myself as Chinese first and foremost - I think of myself as Canadian.  Does that make sense?  I was born in Canada and live a very Westernized living in Victoria where there isn't a really large Chinese community means that there really isn't a huge focus on all things Chinese.  But being in Hong Kong - I really appreciated having a cultural identity and the things that come along with it - the language, the food, and the customs.  Awesome.

A few day's before CNY, big flower markets open up as a Chinese tradition is to buy fresh flowers for the holiday season.  One of the biggest ones was in Victoria Park, which was almost right across the street from our hotel in Causeway Bay.  It opened up about four days before the first day of CNY, and every night it was absolutely heaving...on the night before CNY day, it actually stayed open all night and the MTR stayed open until the wee hours of the morning as well to accomodate the hordes of people coming from all over Hong Kong to buy fresh flowers.  It's also seen as good luck to walk through the wanting to win the lottery sometime in the very near future, we trucked our little butts over to the market for a little look-see.

View from our hotel room at night - the bright blaze of lights is the flower market...and you can just make out how totally crowded it is with all the people:

The flower stalls:

Look at all the orange trees (very auspicious for the Chinese):

Lucky bamboo:

Cherry blossom branches - unfortunately these didn't open in time for CNY, so they were being offered at huge discounts the night before CNY:

The throngs of people:

It was so crowded at one point, that you didn't walk as an individual...the crowd kind of carried you along and it was like you were moving as one body! what do the Chinese do amazingly well?  Probably better than any other culture? math...and definitely not so great at driving (ha ha!  actually I think I'm a pretty darn good driver), but what else other than FIREWORKS!!  On the second lunar day of the new year and the day before we flew out, there's a huge fireworks show in Victoria Harbour, and we'd have an unobstructed view from our hotel.  We decided to do the special CNY dinner at our hotel, which allowed us to go up to the pool at the top of the hotel and watch the fireworks.  This was amazing...the fireworks really were something else.  Set to music, you could make out 8s, bunnies, happy faces, and XOs...the show went on for at least 25 minutes, and was absolutely the best fireworks display I've ever seen.  They looked huge from where we were and we were 32 stories up!  What a way to end an incredible trip.  Here's a short 3 minute video of the fireworks from Youtube...Hubs had videorecorded it, but it's long and our camera went out of focus a few times so I thought I'd spare you all. The video just doesn't do it justice though. I was awestruck.

The next post - the shopping...oh...the shopping...

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