And what a week it’s been, soaking up culture in Hong Kong and dipping our feet into Asia for the first time.
We flew into Hong Kong late on Sunday night. Our flight was delayed, we were exhausted from the day in Saigon, and by the time we got to Hong Kong, we just wanted to get our heads down at the hostel.
Our first panic happened straight out of the airport, when we leapt on the train with a ticket to Kowloon, before realising we should have in fact got the ticket to Hong Kong / Central. As it turns out, we DID make the right decision, but it was quite a panic moment when we had to get off at Kowloon with no clue how to get any further.
We jumped on the MTR (underground) to Hong Kong (which saved us almost $20 / £2) and all was well; we had to change at Central, and inadvertently made the last MTR of the night!! We crept into our room, hoping not to wake anyone up. And then we were asleep.
Monday morning’s schedule began with a trip to the Chinese embassy to get our visas for our brief trip through to Vietnam. Our Asia trip was off to a bureaucratic start.
Avenue Of Stars
We made a quick stop along the Avenue Of Stars, because after all we were in a new city, so we wanted to see something of it before just heading to an embassy! The Avenue Of Stars is much like the Hollywood Walk Of Fame in Los Angeles, with the harbourfront lined with stars and statues.
Of course I played Tourist Director, and I was thrilled when we spotted one of the iconic junk boats making its way through the harbour.
From there, we went across to Hong Kong island on the Star Ferry (a must-do in Hong Kong!), picked up our application forms, and then our second disaster happened: I suddenly felt so sick I almost collapsed. We decided to head back to the hostel and hand in the application the following day instead.
Monday was a write off. I literally spent the whole afternoon and evening in bed or in the toilet – not how I planned our first proper day of an 18 month round-the-world trip to go.
First thing in the morning, off we went to the embassy again.
“You need proof of onward travel and also a reservation for where you are staying overnight.”
“We’ll be on a train overnight, and getting a bus from Nanning to Hanoi.”
“I need a copy of your reservation for that journey.”
“We… can only book that journey in China. We’ll be getting the bus at 8am on Sunday.” I showed her my very detailed itinerary and put on my best pleading face.
“No. You can book through travel agency here.”
I told her we couldn’t – and sure enough, we went to a travel agency and we couldn’t.
Our hostel offered a visa service at a very inflated price which I haggled down, and feeling deflated, we handed our passports in for them to sort for us.
While the weather was (very slightly) better, we went up to Victoria Peak – and the view was not that great. This is genuinely the best view we would have got in the entire time we were in Hong Kong, because those clouds weren’t going anywhere.
I was a bit disappointed that we didn’t get “the” Hong Kong view, but it was starting to sum up our trip!
I also found it strange that you step off the tram and into a shopping centre with overpriced restaurants. That said, it was definitely worth the experience; I enjoyed the tram ride, and the view down the other side over the island was pretty good.
One thing I loved? It was recently Chinese New Year, so mascots and characters were everywhere! In the dull weather, they certainly brightened up the atmosphere!
We went to a rooftop “party” when we got back to the hostel, which led to an outing to a bar in Central which had free drinks all night. One of the hostel owners came over – “I’m really sorry, but the visas have been left too late and you’d have to pay extra for an express service.”
Great. After a couple of drinks, we went back to the hostel where I put my thinking cap on and ended up booking a refundable flight from Guangzhou to Hanoi (I couldn’t find a refundable one from Nanning).
The next day, we trundled over to the embassy again. Third time lucky, surely? “Ah,” she said this time, “you don’t need visa for that journey. You only need transit visa for 72 hours in Guangzhou.”
I wanted to cry. I couldn’t tell her we were planning to go to Nanning as well. This had become TOTALLY not worth it for the sake of a train journey and bus journey that sounded like quite a cool adventure.
At that point, I gave up. I cancelled the flight, and booked one we would now have to actually take, from Hong Kong straight to Hanoi. We wouldn’t be going to China after all, because it was just turning out to be too much hassle unless we paid an astronomical amount of money for the sake of spending a few hours there.
However, we might have been defeated by Chinese bureaucracy, but once this was done, we could ACTUALLY RELAX. This is why I haven’t blogged for a week – we spent 3 days doing virtually nothing.
We checked into our second hostel, wandered around the neighbourhood (which I much preferred to Tsim Sha Tsui / Kowloon), tucked into some food and got back to the hostel just in time to go to their evening event at the races.
Happy Valley Races
Of all the things to do in Hong Kong, I did not think we’d go to the Happy Valley races! It actually ended up being a really good night. We placed tiny bets (and lost them all), drank a fair amount of beer that the hostel owner bought us, and after about 6 races, one of the guys suggested going to some bars.
After a change of clothes at the hostel, it wound up only being the three of us plus a Ukrainian guy who decided to join. I think we only had one rather expensive drink (think London prices) and spent the rest of the evening chatting, wandering along Lockhart Road and eating street food (Singapore noodles for $20, yum yum) until we headed back to the hostel. I feel the need to mention that one of the guys looked identical to Owen Wilson. I can’t remember what his name was. Perhaps he WAS Owen Wilson.
Thursday was one of our busiest days, despite quite a lay in! We wandered over to Hong Kong park which was really quite pretty, and then decided even with the weather that we would get out to one of my more anticipated places: Big Buddha.
It was the right decision. Once our cable car had gone above the clouds, it was sunny. This is the only sun we’ve seen in Asia so far.
The misty cable car actually made for a really good journey. In some parts we got good views; in others it felt super eerie.
Big Buddha was amazing.
I’d heard all about how touristy the village is, and yes, it is. It felt like Epcot at Disney World. A pretend China. But once you got through that and into the main part of the attraction (which let’s face it, is what you’re there for), it’s pretty awesome. The Buddha is incredible and the monastery is really colourful. I loved it.
If climbing a heck ton of stairs means one thing, it’s good views.
By the time we got back into town, the Symphony Of Lights was about to start – something we hadn’t even had the chance to see yet. But with the weather, it was pointless. We saw about three flashing lights amongst the clouds, so it was a complete let down. However, it wasn’t something I’d been super excited for, so it wasn’t entirely a disappointment.
We could have gone out on a bar crawl that evening, but we were wiped and hungry, so heading out for food would mean we’d miss the starting point. And boy, are we glad we chose to eat!! I found a place (on TripAdvisor of course) called Joy Hing, which was pokey and out of the way – but right around the corner from our hostel. It looked like nothing; just your run-of-the-mill Hong Kong cafe. We walked in apprehensively and saw some guys from the hostel, so sat down with them. I glanced at the menu, even though I knew I wanted char siu (BBQ pork), and nothing was in English.
One of the American guys turned to me. “Have the BBQ pork and rice. Trust me.”
It. Was. SO. Good. And our meal, two dishes and two drinks, came to $66. About £5. Who said Hong Kong had to be expensive?! It’s totally doable on a budget.
Another budget tip for Hong Kong – the Star Ferry is only about 20p! I’m giggling at the fact that I really plonked Gulliver down on a seat next to a stranger just for a photo op!
Friday was our last day in the city proper – we were off to Sai Kung to stay with my cousin and his family for a couple of days. We had a final walk around and wanted to grab some lunch before leaving the hostel. There was a huge queue outside a place we had heard about, and eventually we went to the most exciting of places – Pacific Coffee (HK’s version of Costa or Starbucks). However, I had the best cup of tea I’ve ever tasted, though I’m not even sure what made it special!
Somehow, my cousin and I have evaded each other all our lives and have never met as he has lived abroad almost the whole time I’ve been alive – though I suppose Hong Kong is pretty far away from the UK! Still, my family were excited that I was going to see him, as most of them hadn’t seen him since before I was even born. And of course I was excited to finally meet him!
Nan Lian Park & Chi Lin Nunnery
We stopped off a couple of MTR stations before his to visit Chi Lin Nunnery and the surrounding park. I loved it. I got some really crap pictures for some reason, but it was the most peaceful place I found in the city – and we stumbled across a mass prayer inside, which was pretty special.
I loved the contrast between the historic temples and the skyscrapers.
We met Michael at his work, and drove back to his home in Sai Kung for some delicious dinner with the family in their incredible home.
Sai Kung is lovely, but – guess what – the weather wasn’t great, so we didn’t get the postcard-perfect views that we could have done. But it was fine because that wasn’t what this part of the trip was about.
It’s been a lovely couple of days. We drank, we chatted, we lunched (really tasty dim sum along the waterfront!), we walked, and finally on Saturday we visited Ten Thousand Buddhas, which was our last real “thing to do” in Hong Kong.
Ten Thousand Buddhas
Ten Thousand Buddhas is really good. The path is lined with golden statues both sides right up to the monastery near the top. Above the monastery (and inside, and around) are more statues (it’s almost as if the name Ten Thousand Buddhas was a giveaway). It is totally worth the walk, though it’s fairly discreet and I’m not sure how easily we would have found the entrance if we had gone to Sha Tin by ourselves.
There are also some fricking weird and hilarious statues along the way, so it was fun to look out for those!
And now we’re in Vietnam. We made it!!! We had a slight panic AT THE AIRPORT because despite having multi-entry visas, the girl checking us in asked for proof of onward travel! I could not believe it. I told her we would be getting a bus into Cambodia, but we only had flights from Singapore. Looking confused, she asked how we would get a bus from Hanoi to Singapore. We explained our itinerary, and she went to speak to a supervisor. I was ready to cry. She came back and typed furiously into her computer without saying a word to us.
…and then smiled, apologised for the wait, handed us our boarding passes, and off we went!
So here we are. It’s cloudy, raining, our hostel room’s toilet doesn’t work, the door was broken when we arrived but seems to be fixed now, my locker doesn’t work, the beds are hard. But you know what? We’re paying £3 a night, we get free beers for an hour every night, I even got a free cocktail last night, and we went out with some girls who introduced us to a street corner “bia hoi” (beer) bar minutes away, where draught beer is 5000 dong.
That’s 15p. I think we’re sorted.