Hong Kong 2015 – Overview

8 Days in my mother’s birthplace, Hong Kong.

My third time here, but honestly it’s been so long that I barely remember the previous times, my last time here was 2004ish, and of course I didn’t have a blog or camera back then…

Ended up taking about 1200 photos, of which were pruned to around 700 good ones and of those, maybe 300 photos were uploaded here.

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View all posts in chronological order (Warning, approx 340 images)

View Photo Album // Flickr Album

S.Korea 2015 – Day 7 – Ehwa, Bukchon Village, Banpo bridge

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Spent some time in the morning browsing the shops at Seoul Station, trying to find some nice souvenirs, but not much luck, had a chocolate donut though so was K.

We were headed to Ehwa, home of Ehwa womans university which meant the place was filled with smart looking korean girls and the shops they might go to. Had a poke around the university as well, which boasts some very impressive and unique architecture – a selection of classy looking manor houses on hills and then some form of artificial valley with a staircase which hurt to even look at.

Early lunch was curry stew with tofu and a selection of beef and octopus, nice but oh god so spicy.
Bukchon Hanok Village was next on the list, though upon arrival at the train station, and a very long walk down the road where it was supposd to be, we weren’t sure if we were already there or not… if that makes sense. The village is supposed to be a collection of old style buildings, and the road we were walking down certainly had it’s fair share of them but the effect was somewhat underwhelming. We’d turn back eventually, still unsure of whether we were looking at the right thing or not.

Trip back to Myeongdong shopping district for some final day shopping, bought a vest, top and summer jacket, but still didn’t end up buying nearly as much as I anticipated I would. Dinner at another fancy BBQ place, where we ordered far FAR too much – the amount of side dishes provided were somewhat ridiculous, 3 small pots per person for sauces alone, and then all the kimchi, radish, and so on meant that the table was quickly filled – even though we were sitting 5 on a table for 8. Great last meal though, highly recommend, owner was very friendly too – Woori Garden, Myeongdong.

Final stop of our holiday was Banpo Rainbow Bridge, situated a very long walk away from Sinbanpo station, we’d end up walking for ages until we hit the riverfront to witness the bridge show which consisted of the bridge spraying water out of it’s side with some music and lights, it was still earlyish and thus not completely dark which meant the lights were duller and less obvious than I would have liked, but oh well. Possibly more impressive was the plaza near the bridge/riverfront where groups of koreans had gathered to have picnics – they order fried chicken and beer from local shops who deliver it to them via motorbike, these guys are living the life. Also near the banpo bridge were 3 large structures lit up on the water, no idea what they were, but with lit bridges and walls it was hard not to have a wander around.

A very very long walk back to the train station, a stop off at the arcade where my eAmuse card would stop working, an ice lolly and a chilsung cider, and one final blog post and my holiday would more or less conclude.

 

~ Epilogue ~

Had a great time in Korea, the language barrier was a little annoying at times, and having to wear a mask on the tube was hot and bothersome (and hopefully I don’t have a case of the MERS), but other than that, South Korea has been pretty welcoming and i’d love to maybe come back some day, though I think we’ve seen the majority of Seoul now, maybe Jeju and Busan if there’s a next time?

ps. I’ve heard enough of Exo’s ‘Call me Baby’ to last me a lifetime. That shit was playing everywhere, goddamn.

 

S.Korea 2015 – Day 8 – Long Ride Home

Woken up at 6am, where one of the longest journeys of my life would take place…
Seoul Flat -> Seoul Station -> Incheon Airport -> Hong Kong Airport -> London Heathrow Airport -> Home
Taking a grand total of 24 hours. I slept maybe 1.5 of that, and spent the rest of the time trying to sleep, playing on my phone, playing through some of Zelda LBW, and watching films Ex Machina (SciFi Thriller, Really good!) and Love Forecast (Korean Romcom about breaking through the friendzone, also good but the ending was so very Korean…).
Considering the time zone changes, leaving at 7am Seoul, and arriving home at midnight UK – it feels like the longest day ever ~.~
I guess tomorrow I start going through the photos and cleaning up the blog posts, though I start work tomorrow again as well, brutal.

S.Korea 2015 – Day 6 – Gyeongbokgung, Gwanghwamun, Hongdae

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Started the day with brunch today, sort of to get it out of the way, but also as the restaurant we were going to is very popular and apparently has queues outside if you go too late. The restaurant was called Tosokchon, well known for it’s Ginseng Chicken soup, and not too far from Gyeongbokgung station. Mildly expensive, the dish consisted of a bowl of soup with whole boiled chicken inside, the chicken itself is stuffed with glutinous rice and other goodies (big ol’ root of ginseng included). It was okay, flavour could have been better, but i guess this is the sort of dish you eat for health and wellbeing more than taste.

A walk around Gyeonbokgung was scheduled next, a big ol fortress collection of temples in the same style as changdeokgung that we saw a few days ago. It was slightly boring given that we had already walked the same scenery before, and the sun as usual was in full force, it was hard to even see properly because the light coming off the sandy dirt on the floor was so bright. As we went to leave we got to witness the changing of the guard, which was about as much of a ceremony as it is in England I guess – a loud procession and march of men in brightly coloured clothes and carrying weapons.

We’d then walk the huge plaza across the road from the palace, a huge stretch surrounded by 5 lane carriageways. Some sort of Embassy Day was occurring, and the plaza was filled with a long row of shops manned by what I presume was all of the foreign embassies in Korea, lots of stuff for sale, but the strong sun was pretty discouraging.

We’d arrive at King Sejong’s Statue at Gwanghwamun Square after, and toured the 2 underground museums there for a little while, learning about the King and Admiral Sun-shin. The statues on ground level were more interesting than the museum exhibits however.

Toward the end of Gwanghwamun square was a somewhat depressing memorial / petition for the 300+ teens who died in the Korean Sewol Ferry incident (Wiki Link) almost 2 years ago, complete with old men holding boards asking for support for their children whose bodies have not yet been recovered, very upsetting.
Nearby was Cheonggyecheon Stream which we’d walk down for a while before taking a break and then heading to the nearby metro station to make our way to Hongdae.

Hongdae is actually named after Hongik University which is nearby, the area too reflects this fact with the shops being a very youthful mixture of trendy clothes shops, restaurants, bars and clubs. Before properly wandering around we headed to the Trick Eye museum, which was now coupled with an Ice Museum. The TrickEye is filled with visual optical illusions and practically designed for adorable korean couples to go and take photos with each other – fantastic for those who are good at facial expressions, and somewhat sad for those who have a face made partially of stone like myself. it was interesting, but a lot of the picture opportunities look obviously fake without some good photoshopping as reflections from lights and dark spots at the bottom of walls make the illusion too obvious.

The Ice Museum on the other hand, was pure awesome. The woman staffing the door was wearing a gigantic freezer coat, which was kind of an indicator of what we were into. A gigantic freezer door leads into the exhibit, and from there was an array of ice structures and sculptures to take pictures with. It was literally freezing inside, not really helped by the fact we were all in shorts and tshirt from the 30 degree weather outside.

Fried chicken again for dinner, though this time at a designated chicken and beer place, we ordered up a selection of fried chicken in different sauces and styles.

Then for the next few hours we’d explore Hongdae, one of the main streets was filled with buskers and street performances, presumedly students of the nearby Hongik University. Female singers and both male and female dance groups were common, busting their moves to kpop. Rather impressively there was also some goofy comedy routines, acrobatics, magicians, and a super old korean guy playing like 6 traditional instruments at once.

We’d also see a gigantic dog, guys riding electric unicycle segway things, and a shop with gigantic tanks of liquid nitrogen outside – Sort of irresistible to not go in for a closer look, they use liquid nitrogen to make ice cream, we went inside to order one and one of the guys gave us a cookie thing ‘cooked’ in nitrogen, still steaming and painful on the tongue if you hold it there. I think they realised we were attracted by the white gas spilling everywhere and started trying to drum up more business… by just pouring it fucking everywhere, one of the staff went out to the front tank and just let it run a little, before filling up a beaker and throwing it on the floor not even 1 foot away from us. I’m no stranger to L.N from my bio lab days, but this was so awesome (we were never allowed to literally throw the stuff around after all).

 

S.Korea 2015 – Day 5 – Spa, Bongeunsa Temple, Dongdaemun DP

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The heavens had opened up this morning, with heavy rain and thunder and lightning crashing and fulfilling the weather forecast we’ve been having for the past 2 weeks. So we went out for a a korean spa experience, known locally as a Jimjilbang – Kind of a bath house, sauna, and relaxation area all in one. For a reasonable price of 10000 won (about £5.50) you can stay for as long as you want. The Siloam spa near Seoul Station is just a walk away from where we were staying, and according to reddit, is one of the better spas around Seoul in terms of features.

The basement floor is a gender separated bath house, where all the men are naked. I took an initial peek down there and I think I double the amount of cocks I had seen in my entire life in about 5 seconds. Thankfully, you get used to being naked after a little while, and down there to enjoy are a variety of sauna and baths including a cold bath, mugwort bath (which supposedly reduces vaginal discharge, which would explain the old man sitting inside), salt bath, jacuzzi, cold bath, and a bunch of other stuff like a waterfall shower (which hits hard) and massage area, complete with possibly naked masseuse.

The upper floors were dedicated to relaxation, with a variety of activities (GO, table tennis, video games) and then more traditional hot rooms where you can just lounge around. Some of the hot rooms were filled with hot stones and things to surround yourself with (small stone balls, giant salt crystals, jade rock), though actually laying on it or burying yourself in it is a pretty bad time because the rocks are heated to like 60 deg C. One room in particular called the fermentation room (?) was at 85 deg C, and was ridiculously hot, I went inside for a quick sit and take a picture and could already feel the sweat pores on my finger open up as I held my phone up. Thankfully, there was an ice room just next door. We’d bathe and chill (or in my case, sweat on a bed of hot salt rock) for a couple of hours before heading back home in the pouring rain.

Cold soba and tempura for lunch, and then we headed to the Coex mall at Samseong, which was an absolutely gigantic mall, possibly one of the biggest i’ve seen, though only one floor means it takes ages to get anywhere and you can get lost easily. The mall was nice, but kind of soulless and uninteresting, very few photos as a result as it just looked like a generic posh shopping area.

Thankfully, just across the road outside coex mall is Bongeunsa Temple, consisting of about 5 temple buildings and a big ol’ buddhist statue. As we walked up the steps toward the main temple, there was a covered area which practically featured a ceiling of paper lanterns with charms hanging from them, very pretty. The rain would stop us from properly exploring the surrounding area, but we ventured out enough to catch a peek at the statue hiding behind one of the smaller temples.

Next stop, Dongdaemun design plaza – a kind of contemporary art centre but actually interesting and not shit. The structure itself was a strange shape, like someone stuck their thumb into a ball of playdough a few times, and the inside similarly kind of odd, a mixture of empty halls which go on forever and unique architecture and furniture. One of the large rooms looked to be a huge sales space for unique stuff, and had a lot of neat inventions or designs which I have yet to see elsewhere, who knows whether they’ll catch on or not. Japanese sushi/udon/katsu set for dinner, and then a venture outside to see the surroundings at night. The outer dome of the design centre lights up at night, and similarly we found a whole ‘field’ of flower lights.

The oldies had left us for the night, so we returned back to Seoul Station to check out ‘Seoul Game station’, an arcade we found by accident the a few days ago when we left the station via the wrong exit. It was cosy inside, a large open room with a slew of mostly music games and a collection of tekken cabs. We had a bit of a rough time working out how to play but eventually figured it out, without much help from the attendant who spoke no english. Had a nice play of the latest bemani (sdvx3 gravity wars, pop’n lapistoria, reflec groovin upper) and also gave EZ2DJ and Taiko a try, the latter was such fun, i completely forgot how good taiko was. Just as we were turning to leave though, my brother suggested we try the karaoke booth… We ventured inside and had a browse through the gigantic song book of Korean, Japanese and English songs – would have loved to try singing some korean song, but we wouldnt have been able to read the lyrics, would have loved to sing something in Japanese, but was unable to find anything in the book as the songs are listed by Song Name (rather than artist name), so we tried to find something we could both sing….

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Great fun, though hard to sing at times because we were laughing so hard. We headed home, then headed back to the arcade because we forgot the umbrella, goddamnit.

S.Korea 2015 – Day 4 – Garden of Morning Calm, Itaewon

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We were out this morning to tackle Gapyeong county, way out to the east of Seoul, the train ride was long going into maybe 2 hours ride out into the countryside, where the skyline slowly turned from office buildings to vast forested mountains. Initially we were going to do Nami island as well, but my brother hasn’t been faring so well on ferries as of late so we decided to skip it and head straight to the second destination of Gapyeong’s tourist shuttle bus – Petite France.
Oh, we also got to watch some girl doing the floppy head dance on the train as she was drifting in and out of sleep, it was hilarious.
The bus driver of the shuttle was unintentionally comical and terrifying, with possibly the worst case of road rage i’ve ever seen – hornblasting about 1 in every 3 cars that pulled out in front of him, at one point he literally pulled alongside another car and started swearing at them in korean.

I had seen a little bit of Petite france from an episode of Running Man, and so was kind of intrigued in seeing what it was like in person, however shortly after we paid our entrance fare and walked through the main plaza, we knew our stay at petite france would be a short one.
We were actually pretty desperate for some food, but the bistro inside was closed, and the ‘town’ is pretty isolated from the rest of the world, basically just a stop on the side of a large road through the mountains, we ended up paying an extortionate amount of money on a bunch of shitty snacks from a small shop, maybe twentysomething pounds for what was essentially microwave food, lesson learnt – eat before leaving Seoul.

We’d poke around a little more, wandering up the steps and checking out the small european styled buildings which are dotted around, though it was all basically over before we even began, the path we took to the snack shop essentially being the entire width of the place, and only a small staircase which lead to nowhere was left for us to explore – and that ended up leading to a room with creepy clown dolls and shit. On our way back, a show had started up in the main plaza, and everyone had gathered around to watch a piss-poor puppet show. I hate to be that guy, but even punch and judy would have been more entertaining, perhaps the show was designed for kids, but something about seeing a grown woman jump some dolls around in time to music and an actual crowd of people watching was just.. depressing… The doll even had to practically beg for applause afterwards.

Back on the bus for another ride round the Gapyeong mountains til we eventually landed at the Garden of Morning Calm, again situated in pretty much the middle of nowhere, yet at least this time it worked in it’s favor. Didn’t really know what to expect from this, but it was an absolutely huge national park style area situated between some very picturesque valleys. The park was littered with asian style bonzai trees and buildings, and featured waterfalls and streams, along with plenty of well maintained flowers. We also found a semi-dry stream bed which people have evidently transformed into ‘tiny stone tower’ land, similar to what we found in Iceland, we of course helped and built our own small tower. At one point it looked like it was about to rain, so we popped into a cafe to have some dessert of shaved ice, ice cream and peanut mochi – the weather held out in the end though (even though we’ve been predicted thunderstorms for pretty much the whole holiday).

After our long trip back to the city, we’d head for Itaewon – we sort of knew that the area had something to do, but we weren’t entirely sure what, it’s just one of those names that sounded familiar, not entirely unlike Gangnam. Upon arrival, the main road seemed about the standard for Korean fare, though we did notice a surprising amount of Kebab, Halal and Turkish restaurants. A further explore would reveal a whole other world thriving on just the other side of the main road, consisting of night clubs, bars and restaurants of surprising variety. The majority of places in Korea only seem to serve korean food, or maybe pasta on occasion, however Itaewon was fully representing just about every cuisine from British Pies to Thai/Japanese fusion over multiple stories (as, lets not forget, Koreans like to build vertically as well as horizontally). Essentially, where other cities have chinatown, Seoul has Itaewon’s InternationalTown, the huge variety of food (along with the fact it was friday night) meant the place was absolutely heaving with people, MERS be damned.

Ended up having dinner at a place called Busan Galbi, which was actually amazing, as soon as we finished ordering they brought out about 10 small side dish plates, before following up with the BBQ pit and cuts of beef and pork – unlike other BBQ places however, they cook the meat for you, meaning all you have to worry about is eating (you can cook the meat yourself if you want of course). Aside from 4 servings of BBQ meat in lettuce with trimmings, we had a cold noodle dish, and a raw beef/pear salad thing again as we had developed a taste for it in the other BBQ restaurant we visited.
While walking around after dinner we also saw some crazy looking ice cream with smoke coming out of the cup, not sure if that was nitrogen or dry ice or what but it looked cool as hell, didn’t get to try it though as we were too full.

S.Korea 2015 – Day 3 – Changdeokgung, Insadong, Namdaemun Market

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Off and out of the house to head to Changdeokgung, we had a tour booked so we made sure to get out of the house earlyish today. Before arriving at the palace we stopped off in a local looking small restaurant for brunch, ended up having beef in soup with some sticky rice, which was odd – we began noticing that everywhere in korea they seem to give a crap ton of side dishes with every meal, usually 2 kimchi and something else.

Arrived at the temple, sun shining brightly as always, we’ve been to so many temples now that I feel each additional one has diminishing returns, that said this one was quite impressive and big, even though it is supposedly the smallest of the 3 palaces in Seoul.

After walking the grounds for a while, we went on what was called the secret garden tour, presented in English for our benefit. We apparently had a full tour group of 50, which is probably the most tourists i’ve seen in one location during the holiday so far, we can probably attribute this to the fact the tour only runs once every few hours or so. Turns out the garden wasn’t actually a conventional garden at all, but a forest with a few smaller temples and old buildings interspersed throughout the wooded hills behind the main palace grounds. The tour was okay, though somewhat disappointing as we were expecting something with flowers – I guess after visiting Suwon village just yesterday, more old buildings wasn’t what we were looking for.

We’d try looking for bukchon village after leaving the palace, supposedly another small cluster of old buildings, but ol’ google maps said it was far away so we didn’t bother pursuing it and instead opted for Insadong which was also nearby but in the opposite direction.

Insadong is essentially a huge touristy street, filled with souvenir stores and other traditional korean ware you may want to take home. There were lots of interesting things on sale, one of the standouts being these super tiny potted plants. There were lots of little neat spots too – like a staircase filled with graffiti and yet another spot filled by couple charms.

We had a nice little shop around, tasted some of the snacks on offer, and watched a show featuring korean traditional sweet ‘Kkultarae’ – of which a full show you can find on youtube, but basically involves stretching a clump of honey into 16384 individual strands before using it to wrap some peanut filling, really cool to watch and only £2.50 for a box so probably worth it for the show alone. We also had Jipange Ice Cream after being intrigued by seeing the guy outside the street making the cones – a machine kind of farting out these long lines of cone and and a man curving them and throwing them onto conveyer belt. The result is this long thick cone shaped like a crowbar, and they fill the whole thing through with ice cream resulting in what I can only describe as a thick crunchy churro with an ice cream centre, it was really good.

Last up today was Namdaenum Market, a long market trawling down half a dozen roads and filled with disappointingly generic market fare, seemingly operated by and catering for old korean women – it was sort of interesting for the show of watching a bunch of market stall owners gathering round to share a hotpot in the middle of the road though.

In true Meng family style, we’d then head out for two dinners, the first was Samgyeopsal, a do it yourself BBQ pork meal, with fatty 3 layer pork eaten with kimchi and encased inside a lettuce wrap. The food itself was nice, but oh god it was pretty much the opposite of a relaxing meal, having to cook the pork and then the pork fat popping and spitting at us throughout the meal (burned my arm a few times), then the meat itself was a little too fatty to be able to eat it with a clear conscience (and chewy). We ate our fill then moved on to a different restaurant to fill ourselves the rest of the way.

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Back home fairly early, giving us a chance to recuperate a little bit, I’ve also discovered the wonders of Korean TV, with channels showing LoL and SC2 tournaments (and other weird games i’ve never seen before, some ‘Kart Rider’ game was on this morning…), and then the music channels showing constant Kpop (Crayon pop was on last night <3 ).
I just actually finished explaining league of legends to my dad because he’s like ‘What the fuck is happening why is there a big snake fighting a flamethrower guy’.

Have some city life night shots

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S.Korea 2015 – Day 2 – Korean Folk Village, Gangnam

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Slept better in the lounge on the futon, woke up at a decent time and then headed out for a quick snack breakfast before heading for the metro to head south for the main attraction. We would somehow end up missing the shuttle bus though, and went to query a nearby tourist information desk, where we were greeted by a man who had likely not seen any business for weeks – he was ridiculously over eager and overexplained fucking everything, taking up way too much of our time.

Train and a bus later, and we arrived at the Korean Folk Village (Aka Suwon Folk Village), a large outdoor museum of sorts, in the form of a preserved old style korean village – though there was a more modern theme park style area attached to the side as well. We arrived pretty late, the trip time from seoul taking maybe 2+ hours, however we made it just in time for some of the shows – the first of which was supposedly a farmers dance, and then an old man on a tightrope. The farmers dance was pretty impressive, a parade of men with instruments and silly hats dancing around in circles and doing somersaults.

After watching the shows and having a lunch of onion pancakes and bibimbap we walked around the folk village, checking out the inside of the houses and just generally wandering around. The entire place was pretty empty, only a few tourists here and there, supposedly there are usually lots of demonstrations but it’s unclear whether there were few of these because there were no tourists or because we arrived too late in the day for them. The lack of tourists did work in our favor though, making for much easier photo taking and making the queues for attractions nonexistent. The more modern theme park area in particular was a complete ghost town, you have to pay extra to go on the rides so I guess that wasn’t helping the situation, if not for the staff standing around playing with their phones you’d probably think the place was closed/abandoned.
During our short stay at the village we’d…
– wander temples
– play traditional games (Throw the stick into the vase-thing)
– contemplate going into a haunted house attraction (which… naw. we good.)
– visit an area used in a bunch of historical drama filmings
– Catch the end of a traditional korean marriage performance
– other stuff I can’t remember

After walking around and having our fun at the Korean Folk Village, we’d head to the metro again to find our next destination – we had originally planned to do Insadong, but closer inspection of the subway map told us this would take probably 2 hours… However there was another location on the map nearby which, whilst we didn’t know exactly what was there, was sure to be an interesting location…

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Official: Menger is now Gangnam style.
I was under the impression that Gangnam style referred to a particular clothing style, however all we found in Gangnam was an endlessly long street filled with brightly lit signs, neon, and restaurants – just endlessly stacked restaurants, going horizontally and vertically, down both the main strips and down the side roads. I’ve never seen anything like it, even in Japan there was some variety in shops, but this was pure food. We had korean BBQ for dinner, at a pretty good price of 10,000 won per person for a good amount of beef strips and some crazy good beef tartare with pear which was to be eaten raw. Later on, we’d have shaved ice with mango and strawberries for dessert, and that was amazing too.

We certainly could have done more today, but all things considered – missing the shuttle bus and generally being delayed a lot, we made the most of the day. Hopefully we’ll get out earlier tomorrow.

S.Korea 2015 – Day 0+1 – Arrival, N Seoul Tower and Myeongdong

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Day 0 –

Didn’t do a whole lot on the final day of our stay in Hong Kong, we would end up going to a really bad local ‘cafe’ and ended up eating some pretty plain rice vermicelli noodles with a pork cutlet, it was cheap as fuck and clearly aimed at locals, but sadly not very tasty.
Left for the airport pretty promptly after, and you know how the rest of it goes… bus ride, check in, gate 71, beef curry and rice on the plane, touchdown, immigration, etc etc.

By the time we arrived it was around 8pm, we walked through the giant (and surprisingly empty) airport train station and got on the AREX (express train to Seoul). Our Airbnb host Brody graciously came to meet us at the station and walked us back to the flat we would be staying. The flat was was a fair walk from the station, situated on the 7th floor, and featuring a doorpad code rather than a key. After talking us through the flat’s features – and explaining that most restaurants close at 10pm, he helped us order some of Korea’s famous fried chicken, which was of course delivered straight to us (I actually hear you can get it delivered to a street corner, park, or wherever else).
it was absolutely amazing, maybe we were just hungry but oh my god it the skin was fried to a crispy finish unlike any fried chicken i’ve had in the UK – and accompanied with a mustard, and a spicy sauce.

Yes i took a picture of the fried chicken. Fight me.
Yes i took a picture of the fried chicken. Fight me.

After, we headed out for a little walk in the local area, and did a quick grocery shop / poke around the nearby lottemart – nothing too insanely different, though a special mention for the entire aisle of ssamjang sauces, and huge fresh kimchi island.

Day 1 –

Mediocre start after having a bit of a crappy night, a combination of cheap bedding, no aircon in the second bedroom, and timezone change. We’d spend the majority of our day today around Myeongdong, but to get there we’d need to first work out the metro system.

Over back at the train station we arrived at yesterday night, we figured we’d have brunch first before heading out – a ‘traditional korean restaurant’ in the train station seemed like a logical, and relatively safe choice. A beef tartare hot stone bibimbap was my choice, pretty tasty as bibimbap goes, though hopefully better meals will come.

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We’d spend around 5-10 minutes trying to work out how to buy and top up a transit card, the automated machine only had sparse english at best, and each screen would flash some form of warning message before continuing.. Got there in the end though, and we were on our way to Myeongdong, 2 stops along. The original plan here was to catch some form of shuttle bus up to the N tower cable car, but we were unable to find it so we ended up hailing a taxi instead – turns out the cable car was maybe 3-5 minutes walk from where we were, but actually pretty far by car as there is no direct road there.

The cable car reception was oddly empty, only a small handful of people waiting to ride. Apparently on tripadvisor, some people have stated they had to wait around an hour just to ride the cable car to the second area, but evidently the recent MERS scare has driven away all the tourists.

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/// Oh yeah, for those who aren’t in the know, theres apparently an uncurable disease going around Saudi Arabia and S.Korea atm known as ‘Middle eastern respiratory syndrome’ (MERS), many asian countries including Hong Kong have put up the red flag for SK, basically stating non essential travel should be avoided. You can read more here if you fancy – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Middle_East_respiratory_syndrome ///

So yeah, anyway, we ride this cable car (with our masks on because I guess getting an uncurable deadly disease would kind of suck) and arrive at the top to be greeted by a huge staircase leading up to some flatter areas. The first main area we reach up there is filled with fenced railings almost completely engulfed in love padlocks, like… fucking everywhere holy shit. At this point new couples aren’t even attaching locks to the fence anymore, but daisy chaining them off other padlocks.

Mum wanted to get in on the love-lock action, so we she grabbed one from a nearby salesman near the fence and we set to work to find a sweet space to put it, it’s at this point we started to realise that we were far from the only people to try thinking outside the box, nothing was sacred, and closer inspection would make us realise that love locks had been attached to everything from nearby light poles, to tree branches and everything inbetween. We did our best and attached ours to a small cluster hanging from a security camera pole. Check the picture of a tree to see some of the more ridiculous ones we saw though, god knows how they managed to get them there.

Further up we’d see the N Seoul Tower (aka Namsan Tower) a little closer, along with a big empty plaza which I can only assume is busier normally, there were even more love locks up here, with full tree structures of them as well as plenty of full fences. We grabbed tickets to go up the observatory, which practically came with free popcorn and drinks, which was nice. The elevator going up the tower was accompanied by a hilarious and ridiculous video playing on a TV screen on the ceiling as you ascend – basically suggesting you are ascending into space, and accompanied by heavy EDM/DnB.

Top of the tower was super empty, with only a handful of tourists walking about, it was actually fantastic for us, we could even sit down on one of the raised sections to eat our popcorn and the staff didn’t give a shit. The views were great too of course, though visibility could have been better, I feel however that Seoul doesn’t have as many recognizable buildings as some other countries, or maybe I just don’t know them yet. Lower floors of the tower were filled with yet more tributes to couples – a wishing well, tiles they could draw on and attach pictures of themselves to, and even more fucking love padlocks attached to the outside of some windows.

After descending back to the city via cable car, we’d shuffle across the road to Myeongdong, a grid like pedestrian city stretching maybe 4×4 blocks and filled with shops and restaurants. Shops were often quad stacked or more, with the space between 1F and sky littered with signage for businesses on upper levels of buildings. Business was fierce on the ground as well, with the many cosmetic shops battling for customers by sending staff out onto the street to harass, give out flyers and in one case literally pull you into the store (mum is too easy of a target)

We’d spend pretty much the rest of the day just shopping around and flitting between roads and shops, stopping for toilets, desserts and eventually dinner at a some sort of open wok restaurant – you call for a dish to share and they cook it at your table, we ordered a mixed seafood and chicken one and it was fantastic, and not as spicy as it looked thankfully.

By the time we had finished dinner, night had come and the streets had transformed once more, with hawkers and market stalls setting up along the road and featuring a selection of korea’s street foods. We’d wander the streets a little longer, just checking out some of the hawker stands and their wares.
We ended up trying:
– a weird egg-bread-cake thing (sweet bread, with salty egg baked onto the top)
– Chicken / Tteokbokki sweet and sour skewer
– Strawberry mochi
– ‘Water droplet pudding’, which was an odd watery jelly topped with syrups and nut powder. Very strange, but great photo material.

After eating everything we could stomach, it was off back to home, to which we would obviously lose our way and end up taking ages to get back.

Oh yeah, and due to last night’s sleeping issues, the lounge is now my sleeping space, we’re going to try and use some futons because at least the lounge has air-con…we’ll see how that goes.

Hong Kong 2015 – Day 8 – 10,000 Buddhas and farewell dinner

Today’s main event was the Ten thousand buddha monastery in Sha Tin, but of course for this family, food comes first. We popped into Mong kok mall for lunch, which turned out to be a huge mall and physically attached to the train station, on one of the 6 floors was the food court with a stall for every asian food style, I ended up having a japanese katsu curry, though we all shared a bit of each other’s food so we could try as much as we could. (So much yummy food, excuse the pictures)

Arrived at Sha Tin to hunt around for the 10000 buddhas, you’d think they would be easy to spot but the mountain path basically cuts through a forest, and is behind all of the buildings on the main roads and side roads. We actually ended up visiting a cemetery first by accident, of which i wish I had taken a few more pictures as there were some peculiar chinese things going on – old fashioned chinese people believe that burning items can send them to the afterlife for your relatives, so the outside of the main cemetery area was littered with paper models of familiar objects, we saw a bed, a small car, people (servants presumedly?), and lots of ‘money for the dead’ being burnt. Rather annoyingly, there were escalators going up, but only stairs leading down, meaning we were already working up a sweat before catching a glimpse of a single buddha.

Back down at street level, we eventually spied a sign for the monastery entrance, better late than never I guess.
Then the stairs started.
A long, steep stone staircase which curves back and forth as far as you can see, surrounded by trees and life sized golden statues – each individual and unique. The sun at this point was going for some sort of world record, really beating down on us as we climbed. There was a small shop looking area to one side, with some drinks fridges, a sign basically stating it was an honesty box system – we grabbed two cold water bottles and continued. By the time we made it to the first set of temples we were on the verge of quitting, sweaty as fuck and exhausted, took some pictures and then had to stand around a while to consider whether we wanted to keep going.

We pushed on, and after some more steep staircases, we were eventually at the end of the path, there were more temples along the way but they ask for no photos, which is a shame as they look really impressive inside, adorned with literally thousands of small buddhas (each dedicated to a deceased and treated as a tombstone). Some nice views at the top, as well as more statues and a large white guanyin at the top most point.

Slow walk back down, and then back to the metro station to meet the up with family, we’d walk around the huge mall for a while, their department stores are quite impressive in that they have demonstrations and promoters for a lot of the items, so you can often snag things to eat or find out how stuff works while you walk around.

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rotating chicken spit in a tiny oven.. also does popcorn!

Eventually it was back to Sheung Shui for our farewell dinner, which was also apparently being dedicated to fathers day (even though that’s technically next week), this meant I was expected to foot some of the bill… It was at a fancy place with chandeliers, fish tanks and a massive queue outside the door, but we had prebooked so we just waltzed right in. We were going for the 3000HKD course, which included a feast of suckling pig, lobster with noodles, octopus, fish, sharks fin soup, chinese roast chicken, and lotus buns too. Lobster noodles in particular were incredible, tasting like they were basically boiled in liquid butter (noodles included). Then the bill came, and I had to literally empty my wallet to pay (and still didn’t have enough to pay my share), for comparison sake, it was around £50, and I only had around £45 on me.

Said our final farewells, and headed back to our accommodation to blog and eat grass jelly, and then start packing for the next leg of our trip… for tomorrow, we would fly to Seoul, South Korea.

Hong Kong 2015 – Day 7 – Cheung Chau Island

Very relaxed start today as woke up around 8am but wasn’t required to head out until 10am or so, we went to McDonalds for breakfast for some reason, though at least their menu is slightly different – had a macaroni pasta soup thing with grilled chicken.

Then it was off to the pier at central for a ferry to Cheung Chau, we met up with the rest of the family at some point along the way (and I mean all of the family in the country), so the 11 of us marched onto the ferry at pier 5, and went on our way to Cheung Chau island.

Cheung chau used to be primarily a fishing village, and the masses of fishing boats and trawlers constantly remind you of this fact. The island is now mostly a tourist location for locals, the slightly slower pace of life and small village kind of vibe is a nice change for those raised in the concrete jungle that is central Hong Kong.

The sun as expected was blazing in the sky, the heat around 33 degrees probably. We walked along the narrow streets and touristy main sections to take in the sights, before eventually heading into a small restaurant for lunch – a rather disappointing smattering of rice and noodle dishes. We chose the right time to have lunch at least, as it began to rain pretty heavily while we were eating, it had cleared up and the sun was back out by the time we were done though.

Not a massive amount more I can say about the main town area, it was mostly food shops in the centre, and then random smaller local businesses down all of the side roads and alleys, the latter was a bit of a nightmare to navigate as cyclists and forklift trucks seemed to be doing laps down the roads despite them being filled with people. To try and keep the heat at bay I took the liberty of eating as much cold stuff as I could find – fried ice cream, ice cream donut, watermelon crushed ice…

Along the way we came across a fence filled with brightly coloured love locks, my aunt (HK Local) had come prepared for this, and unleashed a rather ridiculous industrial strength metal padlock to attach to the fence, probably not the most cutesy love tribute in the world, but I guess metaphorically the love should remain strong and unbreakable?
We also walked down by the beach and got to watch a helicopter take off, and of course check out the bikini girls (though in true asian fashion, most of the girls were covered up or flat).

After touring the main area, we headed down for a longer walk down the coastal path towards Po yue wan, a branch off the island down southwest with a forested mountain and cliffs. The walk was long and hot, though there were some nice views when you had time to think about anything other than how sweaty you were.

After finally arriving at the base of the mountain, I get informed that we’re hiking up and over it… Great. So off we went, hiking through this mountainous path through as forest, staring at cicada’s a third the size of my hand, and gigantic spiderwebs filled with fucking gigantic disgusting spiders and oh god so many mosquitos, whose idea was this?

The path curved to the right and one of my uncles lead us to a cave, “it’s great fun” he says, and motions for us to come closer to go in. It’s basically a small crack between the rocks, just large enough for a single person to fit through at a time (hambeasts probably wouldn’t fit through this cave opening, let alone make it through). A local salesman has set up shop by the opening to sell torches, which is always a great sign.
After some convincing, we followed him in, just making it down to the entrance hole was kind of a struggle, and once you were inside it was a steep decline down via a rock staircase. There was no light inside, thankfully I had my mobile phone torch, but it was still hard to navigate inside as you’d effectively be down to only one hand’s mobility – and the caves innards are tricky enough that you may actually need both hands just to get through. I was second to last in, a young girl of asian age (anywhere between 16 and 29) was behind me – and for whatever reason she decided not to bring any form of light, the ladder (literally a small ladder that someone had put inside the cave to clear a steep drop) was completely dark for her so I had to help her through, she stuck pretty close after that and we shared a little moment, nothing brings strangers together like being stuck in a pitch black cave with only one torch it seems. We eventually made it through mostly unscathed, I say mostly as I hit my head once.

Few more photos and it was back to the main town for dinner, we walked pretty far along the harbourfront before stopping at a seafood specialist restaurant – some of the older folk went to a nearby seafood shop to buy fresh stuff, and then brought it back and handed it to our waitress who would pass it through to the chefs (literally pick out your own seafood and give it to them, for them to cook it for you). We had fresh prawns, clams, razor clams, scallops, fish (tilapia?) and some other dishes. Headed back shortly after dinner, taking in the night scenery.

Macau / HK 2015 – Day 6 – Galaxy and Temple Street

Checked out in the morning and left our luggage with staff, only one night stay in our lovely hotel sadly. Off to the food court inside the hotel mall for breakfast where I had just some bits and pieces, had a chance to try out Macau’s supposed signature food – a pork chop inside a bread roll, it was pretty nice, though the bread a little on the dry side.

Taxi ride to the Galaxy hotel, yet another gigantic hotel complex, this one large enough to pay pretty women to basically just stand around and smile at guests. The lobby of the Galaxy was gigantic, and featured a huge fountain as well as a multi colour lit ceiling and backdrop walls to hide the sprawling casino behind. Took some pictures as normal and then we started to walk off down one of the side trails.. while turning around to get a wider shot of the fountain, I noticed that the lights in the chandelier had turned off..

A roaring crack of thunder, and bright streaks of white began to tear through the long chandelier – Looked like something was about to kick off, we rushed back to see what was happening, along with just about everyone else in the area. Music started to loudly play through the speakers, and the ceiling lights danced and pulsed to the beat, segments inside the chandelier started to reposition themselves, this went on for a minute or two. Just as we thought it was over, the fountain pressure got turned to 11, and the middle segment of the fountain began to rise high into the air until it was maybe 2 or 3 meters higher than it used to be. An impressive sight, who would have thought that the fountain’s structure could move, and then… in true Macau casino style, my mind was about to get blown again.

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Yep. what the fuck.

Fountain secret – pic 1  ,  Fountain secret – pic 2

 

We’d walk around the Galaxy some more, before eventually heading through to the Broadway Macau, a new building across the road which had apparently only opened 2 weeks ago, it contained a theatre as well as an outdoor section similar to Downtown disney – a small road filled with just food and hawker stalls, with loud music playing outdoors through speakers – it felt just like being at an amusement park. Sadly, not a whole lot else in Broadway for now, or if there was, it’s not signposted well enough for us to find it, so we headed back into the Galaxy to try our luck in the casino. No pictures as cameras are forbidden inside, they actually wanted me to put it in a bag or hand it in at a desk.

Now, regular readers may remember the last time I went to a casino, I started with £5 and walked out with close to £200 over about 3 spins of roulette, I was really hoping to keep the trend going here but well…
The first game we had a go at was apparently a chinese one called ‘Sic bo‘, the jist of which is 3 dice are rolled, and you bet on what you think they are, the machine itself was pretty unique, with touchscreen gambling terminals around a clear hemisphere in the middle with the three gigantic dice rumbling around, players can smack a big red button to whomp the dice from behind and stop the roll. I went with odds and picked low, the previous 20 rolls being about 14/20 as ‘low’, I won once, then lost 3 times in a goddamn row. $100 HKD gone.
Shit. Maybe i’ll try Roulette, as that was what I won at last time. I got my hundred dollars out and went for black… win. Sweet, black again then!….Red… then red… then red… then I had no more money. Of interesting note, number 28 did come up once, and I would have totally made some bank if I had bet on it, but shit man, what are the odds? :|
$200 HKD gone. My family in total lost £500 HKD to that casino in about 20 minutes, though that’s still less than the minimum bet of some of the baccarat tables ($1000 HKD minimum).

Left the casino, slightly bitter, from here we wanted to check out the old town, or well, i say we, mum said it would be interesting. We walked through the heat and across the road to another area. I sort of kept expecting us to arrive, and at some point we were apparently already there. Really not a whole lot to see, though I guess the architecture of the buildings did seem more like rome or spain than somewhere next to China. Ended up in a McDonalds to cool off at some point and had some sort of apple pie inside a bowl of ice cream, was pretty good, why don’t we have that in the UK?

After baking in the heat for what felt like forever (all of my clothes literally stuck to me), we went back to the hotel to kill some time before our ferry. Laid by the pool with the shirt off and just generally relaxed while playing on my phone. This was followed by a coach back to the ferry terminal, and then a good bit of travel via both boat and train and sushi for dinner. We’d hang at our original airbnb room for a little before heading back out to Temple street Market.

Temple street is a night market, not too dissimilar from the one we visited a few days ago – tightly packed stalls in the middle of a road, with only enough room for 2 columns of people to walk through. Majority of the stalls here were the usual market crap, though there were a few more impressive ones selling hand crafted wares or jade carvings. Most of the sellers in the market give you really bad looks if you start photographing everything without buying, still snuck a few shots though.

Towards the end of the street is where things started getting a little more odd, some smaller (almost certainly unlicensed) stalls were set up, some selling things literally out of a briefcase on top of a piece of wood. There were shops selling sex toys, bongs, and other weird things here as well, with lights strung up to car batteries with some crocodile clips attached.

10/10 art right here
10/10 art right here.

Then down the next road were the fortune tellers, a whole road full of them on both sides, some were popular and had queues outside, while lonely old men filled others.
A little further and the oddities continued, there was street Karaoke…
Small shacks set up with microphones, live music and even chairs for spectators, all open air, and with their speakers blaring forwards towards the road. These karaoke shacks were almost competing with each other, literally next door and blaring out their different songs and music, people passing by would clearly divided into those who were covering their ears as they passed, bewildered tourists, and those who were far too familiar with the area to bat an eyelid.

 

Macau / HK 2015 – Day 5 – Hotels, St Paul’s Ruins and Senado square

After a late night and packing our bags, I was woken up at around 9am – enough time to get ready to head to Sheung Wan for the ferry to Macau. We sort of got out of the house too late for any proper food so we would dine at the most chinese fast food place we could find – KFC. Turns out they at least have a slightly different menu over here, I had fried chicken and cheese in a breakfast muffin, which was pretty damn good though a far cry from authentic chinese cuisine. We boarded our ferry shortly after – with first class tickets no less (apparently it was only a few quid extra per seat, and comes with free food and drink, as well as priority de-boarding on arrival.The boat ride was around an hour, upon arrival and going through immigrations (as Macau is it’s own country) we got on the shuttle bus to our hotel for the night – the Sheraton.

Bus eventually pulls into this grand looking hotel, the air-con hits us from outside and we are greeted with an over the top looking lobby with miniature indoor forest, casino in the back and a lobby that is probably larger than some airport departure lounges i’ve been to. View from our hotel room was equally as impressive, up on the 28th floor, we could see the swimming pools below as well as everything else nearby – including an under construction eiffel tower from the looks of it.

After dropping our bags off, we went to check out our hotel, part of a cluster of two or three hotels, they literally merge together through common spaces in the form of posh malls and restaurants, presumedly so that any money people win from their nearby casino has a better chance of being absorbed into local purchases rather than elsewhere. Oh, just remembered, the first large set of slot machines we saw in the lobby had a grand prize of 5 million HKD, or around 400k GBP, literally cannot even imagine pulling a slot machine lever and winning a 3 bedroom house.

After browsing the ridiculous mall inside the hotel, we went for lunch at a hotpot restaurant, this particular one actually uses individual burners and even offers a variety of different soup bases to choose from, along with a vast selection of things to cook in it.

Filled to the brim after lunch, we went across the road and checked out the hotel there – a place called City of Dreams, we’d only check the main lobby, which was populated by a wall of cascading water and a topless mermaid swimming about on the wall. Caught a taxi from the hotel front and headed for Macau’s supposed most famous location, St Paul’s Ruins, the ruins as well as old town are actually on a different section of island to where our hotel was, and then we got stuck in a traffic jam, so we actually lost a lot of time in transit just trying to get there, but I was asleep for most of it anyway so this story is irrelevant I guess.

St Paul’s Ruins on the outside was sort of cool I guess, reminded me of a lot of the ruined architecture we saw while in Rome, there was a crypt inside, along with a large sign outside which read “Crypt, please be quiet” or something to that effect, we opened the door to be greeted by a large group of chinese tourists from mainland china, loudly talking in their language made from Z noises and talking selfies with the corpse remnants on display.

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We hit up the Macau museum next, as it was only a short walk away from St Pauls, it’s a history museum filled with… stuff… figurines, remnants from history, and just generally old shit which they found which hasn’t completely fallen apart yet. Wasn’t the most interesting place i’ve ever been, but the it was well cooled inside at least, and not too expensive to enter.

St Paul’s and the museum are actually atop a hill, with Senado square towards the bottom at the end of a stone paved road. The road to the square is (for some reason) completely filled with snack shops, these shops all compete directly with each other and so try to draw in customers by handing out free samples on the street, so basically every single shop has a dude outside, shouting at you and asking if you want to try their biscuit / waferthing / pork jerky. There are worse issues to be had, sure, but it was pretty ridiculous nonetheless to have free food shoved in your face constantly.

Did I mention this whole area is in a kind of spanish/portugese style? Macau is actually a former portugese colony and so there are a bunch of small quirks like this to be found in the country. At the bottom of the road was Senado square, marked via a large fountain filled with people taking selfies. We’d head down the road after this, to get to where all of the larger hotels and casinos are.

view from the top of the museum
view from the top of the museum. Old macau isn’t the most modern of places, evidently.
I like this shot a lot. It's like juxtaposition or some shit. very art.
I like this shot a lot. It’s like juxtaposition or some shit. very art.

First one up was the Lisboa, which you can actually see in the distance in a few of the pictures earlier, given that it fucking towers over the entire city with it’s ridiculously flashy architecture and the bit where it’s coloured gold and decked in moving lights. This hotel was even more ridiculous than ours, with gigantic chandeliers and intricate carvings made from mammoth tusk in the lobby. We had a walk around and took in the scenery, I tried to take a picture of the casino area but was caught – they are pretty strict with that stuff it seems. After leaving, we’d see a couple of dudes on the road having a full on argument about to evolve into fistfight – as you can see from the picture, Chinese people are not well known for minding their own business (it ended peacefully, though im still not sure what they were arguing about).

Next door is the Wynn Macau, which is yet another Hotel and Casino, infact all of the hotels here have casinos and a shopping complex inside – I can only imagine how many goddamn Gucci/Prada etc stores are in Macau on the whole, as it seems just about every large hotel has one if not more. Unlike the others, we actually went into the Wynn’s Casino to take a look around, it was gigantic inside, easily some hundred games tables, and probably digital slot machines in the thousands, this was over 2 floors and included VIP rooms with a minimum bet of £200 and a maximum of £50,000.

In a lobby area outside of the casino, there was an impressively intricate ceiling display and a large hemisphere in the center on the floor, adorned with the chinese zodiac and constellations respectively. Mum passed me a few coins and said to throw them when ‘the thing happens’. We stood around for some 10-20 minutes waiting for ‘the thing’ to happen, and then it finally did and holy shit.

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So first, the intricate ceiling with carved chinese zodiac? Yeah apparently that opens up, behind it was like a hundred foot circular LED TV playing some psychadelic shit (music is blasting like crazy right now). Wow, this is pretty cool I thought, then the video on the ceiling TV ends… and the fucking TV splits in two and opens up, and down comes this gigantic neon chandelier. Wow okay, that’s insane. But what do I do with these coins? So then the hemisphere in the floor splits open, and at this point im thinking ‘okay theres probably a water fountain or something under there’… Nope. Like a 2 story deep cavern and a gigantic golden tree which raises up two stories high – and is big enough that the gigantic chandelier has to retract itself up into the ceiling again a little bit. The fucking tree then starts to rotate, and this super loud chinese ballad starts playing, and all these chinese people around the display start launching full fucking fists of coins at this poor tree, there are cameras flashing everywhere, coins are pinging off the tree and bouncing all over the goddamn place, the tree is STILL rotating… Yeah, that was a hell of an experience.

After touring the casino, discoball tree and the hotel’s mandatory mall, we ended up in one of the lobbies overlooking the fountain outside, and just caught the end of a fountain show (literally the last 2 seconds or so). We headed outside to wait for the next one, I was busy taking photos in the meantime anyway so it passed pretty quickly.
As the sky slowly began to darken, some water cannons poked their head out of the water, and the show began. Bonnie Tyler’s ‘I need a Hero’ starts playing over the speakers and we are treated to a fantastic show with water and lights – and rather unexpectedly, fire cannons too. I say rather unexpectedly because I was still looking through my viewfinder when suddenly this wall of heat and light hits me.
We stuck around a little longer afterwards for another show and to let the sky darken a little more so we could enjoy the vegas-esque views, the second show was more mellow with some sort of ballet kind of song… it was also about half the length and featured no fire, boo. We were spoiled by the first one i guess.

One last stop for today on our speed tour of Macau, we hailed a cab to get to The Venetian Hotel, which is just across the road from our own. The Venetian is styled upon the famous hotel of the same name found in Las Vegas, Macau’s edition is smaller for sure, but still manages to amaze. Along with the stunning lobby and 3 floor designer mall that just about every hotel seems to have, the Venetian also has its signature decoration style intact in the major shopping area, with walls disguised as full buildings, bright blue artificial sky and river flowing through the middle – though there were no singing gondola men on duty at 8pm it seems. We had dinner in the food court here, a mixed meat noodle soup for myself, and then headed back home… or well, attempted to – we got lost for about a half an hour trying to find our way around the hotel and it’s 2+ malls (it’s that big.).

Absolutely exhausted, we had planned to go gamble some in the casino but everyone just wants to collapse into bed, or just generally not be on our feet for a while. Quite desperately need a spa/rest day.

 

 

 

Hong Kong 2015 – Day 4 – Tai Po, Diamond Hill and Victoria Harbour

In a twist on yesterday’s events, I was last awake today, and everyone else had apparently already been out for a morning walk and breakfast. We’d leave the house around 10ish to head to Tai Po to meet a family friend for ‘yum cha’ – basically the chinese word for ‘Dim Sum Lunch’, not to be confused with the awful DragonballZ character of similar name.

The Dim Sum restaurant we went to seemed fairly posh, but the prices were reasonably cheap. We had an assortment of traditional dim sum dishes, and some less common ones as well (such as Date Jelly). The best one here was probably the BBQ Pork ‘Pineapple Bun’, a small crispy bread bun filled with sweet sauce and thin slices of honey cooked pork. It was hard to take any proper pictures as all of the dishes come out as soon as they are ready, oh well.

Lunch was followed by a quick walk around the local adjoined mall, and then a walk around Tai Po Market – a 3 floor indoor market with large sections of specialized fresh food stalls. The fish and seafood stalls were teeming with live flapping fish and shellfish still squirting water about, staff would stand by and rather cruelly bash the fresh fish in the head with a small rolling pin, in hope that they stop flapping about and splashing water on potential customers. It’s kind of a sad sight seeing these still living fish, crustacea and even frogs treated in similar fashion, just crammed into the smallest container possible and left to flop about until it comes their time to die, but sadly this is the nature of the asian style food market, where freshness of ingredient is king. Amongst the other floors and sections were stalls filled with fresh fruit, veg, clothes, and meat and bone suspended from hooks. The top floor of course was a food court, where the chefs can easily pop downstairs if they need to procure more ingredients – the usual culprits were here, though we didn’t really eat as we lunch was less than an hour ago.

Next on the agenda was Diamond Hill, home to both the Nan Lian Garden and Chi Lin Nunnery. The gardens were only a short walk away from the station, a lovely scenic path which cuts through the busy metropolis which is Hong Kong. The garden path winds around in a large circuit, with a few exhibits along the way – Photos are prohibited inside all of the exhibits but I managed to sneak a couple. The centrepiece of the garden is the large golden monument in the middle of the pond, not unlike the one in Japan but significantly smaller in size, still makes for some nice photos though.

Directly attached via a bridge is the Chi Lin Nunnery, a pretty large Buddhist temple built with traditional chinese techniques and architecture. There are two main parts, the inner temple which is filled with pillars and the main building (and totally looks like somewhere you’d want to film a fight involving katanas), and the outside plaza area filled with ponds containing koi, fountains, and more bonzai trees. Shortly after arriving and taking photos of the plaza, the sky began to fall. They say asian rain hits hard and fast, and that’s pretty much exactly what this was, a small pitter-patter turned full on rainstorm which lasted only 5 minutes or so, enough to take some dramatic photos and cool us down, but not enough to really impede on our sightseeing.