Day 25 - Monday March 22nd 2010
Today I caught a turbojet ferry to macau and back. Its about a 1 hour ride and about $20 each way, which I thought was pretty cheap. The ferries are fast, quiet, good seats and I even got a meal on the morning service. As Macau is a different special administrative region of China, with its own currency and government, you have to clear customs to go there, but this was pretty smooth.
Once you arrive its a bit underwhelming, the ferry terminal is on the edge of town and its sort of expected you will take a shuttle bus to a casino...not me of course, I set off on foot.
You walk past a lot of apartment buildings, watch shops and a heap of brothels. I think the sex tourism thing is actively encouraged in Macau, much like the gambling, as theres big signs, some of them have english saying 'Sex Shop' with a pricing menu, Russians cost most.
Its about a half an hour walk to the casino area, and its not dissapointing (if you like casinos). The buildings are exceptionally huge, shiny and new looking. Theres also a lot of construction going on. Most impressive is the gold lotus flower building, which worryingly is bigger at the top than the bottom (see pics below).
I dodged going into the casinos for a bit and walked further to the old Portugese part of the city. This is the non sleazy part and lots of round eye tourists (or perhaps portugese locals) were there. Its also the only part of town where you find stores like mcdonalds, starbucks etc, the rest of the city is exclusively for mainland china people.
There is very little signage in English, you get portugese instead, but its not too bad, you can understand it enough the things like conveniences publicio would be public toilet etc.
I of course had a portugese egg tart, which is what this place is most famous for apart from casinos, and it was actually delicious. I have had them before in Australia and not been a big fan, but these ones were denser, sweeter and less eggy tasting, a fair bit more burnt than Australian ones also, which I liked.
After wandering around and admiring some of the Portugese architecture I went back to the casino places and wandered in. They are very large, and Chinese people were super excited. There was plenty of screaming and cheering going on. I went upstairs in the MGM Grand to the 24 hour coffee shop and ordered a latte, skim milk please. They spoke no english at all, so I repeated cafe latte? milk coffee? and she wandered off.
5 minutes later I got a newspaper to read, an english one at least, south china times.
10 minutes later still no coffee, I was concerned it wasnt coming, but then there it was...and it was absolutely fantastic, best coffee I have had on this trip.
After the casino I checked out a couple more, one of them had an upmarket western mall attached, I think its the casino owned by James Paker, there was not a single shopper in this mall, lots of security and cleaners, but no one at all shopping.
On the walk back to the ferry I noticed a village type of place, it was all fake and new and full of shops. I think this is where mothers and children get sent while fathers gamble and procure women.
The best part was the games arcade under the volcano which had what they claimed is a real Formula 1 simulator. I had 2 goes on it, the first one on my own, the second one the guy running it told me I seemed to know what I was doing and he would race me on the other car. He won but not by much. I am not convinced it was a real F1 sim, if it was it had been tweaked to be easier to drive and to allow oversteer without spinning, which never happens in a real F1 (nerd mode off).
I just ran onto the ferry with perfect timing to go back, cutoms at both ends was fine again, I also noted that my complaining about the smog is justified, theres a big story in world news services today about Hong Kong being enveloped in a toxic stew of smog, the worst ever! I sure hope it clears up so I can go to the peak and take photos tomorrow.
A couple of other Macau observations, Its much more like Malaysia than Hong Kong, the streets are very wide, and everyone rides a scooter.
I saw 2 people get hit by cars in my 1 day visit, both at zebra crossings, both people that got hit seemed ok, and they assumed cars would stop for zebra crossings, in macau they do not!
The surprise breakfast I was served on the ferry.
My ferry, turbojet trimaran.
The volcano I would visit on the way back to race F1 simulators under.
Sands casino (I think?)
They love scooters in Macau.
The terrifying Lotus flower casino building, looks to me like it could topple at any time.
The main Portugese area of the city.
Chinese style junk markets still run off the side streets.
The ruins of St Pauls cathedral.
Egg tarts....I dont really like them but when in Rome....
Have an egg tart - and it was good.
Some sort of grand building with guards, maybe the governors house.
A nissan cube, click to enlarge to look at the cool dashboard.
The Australia shop had absolutely nothing in it I recognised as being from Australia, there were lots of lamb foetus creams, eucalyptus oils and platypus beak powders.
I dont even know what casino this is.
This is a fake facade inside a casino, its pretty nice though, the flowers and trees are real.
The central boulevarde area of a street, lots of nice gardens around Macau.
The family village area.
The formula 1 simulator.
In the evening I caught the train to Central and found the mid level escelators, which are a long interconnected outdoor escelator and moving walkway system that takes you up the side of the mountain.
About half way up you get to Soho, which as I had found out is where the remaining expatriate community of English, American and Australians tend to congregate.
Finally there were restaurants where I would be able to get food, they seemed to be cheap, all types of cuisines, modern looking and plentiful.
I chose mexican and think I chose poorly, as my dinner came out in an aluminum foil bowl thing with plastic cutlery. Still it was quite nice, but gave me hiccups for over an hour.
I think I will go back there tomorrow and try one of the Chinese restaurants in the area, they seemed to be more cafe style rather than the huge round tables for parties of 10 like the restaurants in kowloon.
I absolutely failed to take photos of Soho, its built very steep slope, and the roads are narrow and theres basically no cars there, it was quite a surreal place, with massive buildings towering over the twisty laneways.
I then walked all the way back to my hotel in Causeway bay, which took me onto the wrong side of the tracks, a deserted area full of building sites and half completed highway flyover walkway things.
When eventually I did cross I found myself in Lockhart road, which is an area full of Phillippino and Thai girls who grab hold of you (literally) and try and drag you into karaoke bars. There were many sad looking white men in suits sitting at tables alone out the front of these places.
Along my journey I couldnt resist taking a few more photos of buildings, the smog actually seems to have cleared a bit
A very large building.
Crossing the road.
A huge building with many lights.
A row of colorful billboards on large buildings.
Day 25 - Tuesday March 23rd 2010
Botanical Gardens and Zoo
This morning I decided to do something peaceful, and hiked up the side of the hill to the botanic gardens and zoo. Actually first you go through Hong Kong park, which is also pretty great.
Its all free and strange to have such a big well maintained park, quite deserted, in between sky scrapers.
The only people in there seemed to be old people volunteering to maintain it, this should be a lesson to the lazy old people in Australia who just sit around and complain that evereything isnt free.
The Zoo is small, and mainly monkeys, but who doesnt like monkeys?
I then caught the train across to Mong Kok to have a look in the junk markets before it gets too crowded, most places were still opening when I got there, but it was indeed a lot less crowded.
No one really pesters you to buy stuff these days, its pretty casual, or maybe they were just frightened of me? I tend to look angry all the time.
I have again taken many more photos than people are interested in looking at.
This family of statues is really going places.
Hong Kong park has many waterfalls throughout.
I believe this is where they presented the olympic medals won for equestrian which was held in Hong Kong.
This cool tower is right in the park, of course I had to climb up it.
View from top of the cool tower.
Me enjoying the view.
Theres also a giant bird aviary in the park, with a river running through it.
Heres my snack, the guy serving me was well over 100 years old. It cost like $2 in total for that, Pocari Sweat is my new favourite drink, its an uncarbonated ion replacement drink, like gatorade I guess?
This monkey was going crazy.
This turtle was not.
urangatans however you spell it.
Strange pink colored birds, most only had 1 leg.
Just like the escelators that go nowhere, theres also stairs that go nowhere too.
All locals have to be registered, and each gets a plaque with their registration number on it.
My lunch, the custard filled thing is made as you wait, served hot, and is very delicious, but I suspect quite fattening.
The peak, and the smog
After waiting as long as possible for the smog to clear, I realised this wasnt going to happen, and since its my last night in Hong Kong, it was time to go to the peak.
This is the most popular attraction in all of Hong Kong, and the main way to get there is on a cable drawn tram. It takes only a few minutes to get to the top but thats cause it goes straight up the mountain, at a maximum angle of 37 degrees, which feels more like 60.
Once you get off the tram, its kind of amazing, theres 2 shopping mall things, but the view is ridiculous.
I took it all in for a while, had a coffee, then set off on a walk.
The walking trails are also fantastic, wide, concrete, with lights, signs, phone points etc.
I selected a walk that took about 90 minutes, all along you get views of different parts of the city, and the other side of the island, the ships in the harbour, and some awesome mansions perched on the mountain. These mansions are somewhat hidden, theres no car access so I presume mainly helicopter. One of them had razor wire and guards in suits around it, but I couldnt get a photo through the trees and darkness.
Once I got back it was nearly dusk, so I headed up to the sky deck viewing area and started taking photos, perching my camera wherever I could to get a long exposure with my terrible cheap camera. The binocular/telescope things made for a perfect tripod.
The annoying part was the japanese tour groups, with their tour leader carrying a flag, all their matching hats, and most had ALL of their luggage in tow, it was ridiculous, but you see it all over the world.
I have done my best to not post too many photos, I took a lot more.
People falling out of their seats, a lot of luggage and whatever rolled straight to the back of the tram as it left the station.
The peak skydeck.
The other side of Hong Kong island, you cant tell by the pixels, but theres a heap of ships in all these photos.
Admiring the smog.
The nature walk occasionally comes to a spot like this.
At the end of the walk you turn a corner and realise you are almost back.
People on the skydeck.
The peak itself is not the highest bit of the mountain, its up there somewhere, theres communications towers up there, but its obscured by smog.
Starting to get dark.
If you sit still and just stare, you notice the lights come on all over the place.
Almost dark...shame about the smog.
Still the photos came out pretty good.
Much better than everyone else hand holding trying to use a flash to illuminate all of East Asia.
On my walk home I came to a window with lots of pro photographers, in vests with tripods and lights and everything. I dont care if they are pro or not, I pushed them aside and took a photo anyway, the girls arent dummies (well...maybe they are) they are actual real models.
Day 26 - Wednesday March 24th 2010
Last day in Hong Kong
My flight isnt until 8pm, but I have to check out by 10am, I can leave my baggage at the hotel though so thats ok, but my feet are very sore, so it could be a long day!
Of course, I decide the best plan is just to walk around constantly until around 4pm, then head to the airport, which was quite painful!
I wandered in the other direction from my hotel, which I thought was away from all the action, and to my surprise ended up in a much nicer area of Hong Kong, should have gone there sooner. I happened upon a flower show, not my kind of thing but might be nice to sit down and look at for a while, and it only cost a dollar to get in so why not.
It was fairly dissapointing, I think it was one of the last days and most of the things were dead.
For the remainder of the day I wandered around malls, stopped for coffee and enjoyed comfortable seating, and tried to buy crap to take home and failed.
Eventually it was time to go to the airport, collecting my bags was fine, the Holiday Inn Express was very impressive with their efficiency at check in/out, bag storage, room cleaning, I would stay there again (enough of that, they arent paying me).
Getting to the airport was super fast, I had allowed 100 minutes, but it took 25 to get there, which included changing trains.
Unfortunately this meant I was there quite early, I had assumed I wouldnt be the first qantas flight and would be able to check in, but I assumed wrong, and now I had to wait for qantas staff to arrive. That was ok, I could hang out in a cathay arrivals lounge until then and enjoy free everything.
That got boring after a while so I wandered around the airport prior to check in, and ate some chocolates from Ichi Ban, all the time lugging my huge heavy bag, but by now I could check in.
The whole process of check in, customs, security was very smooth and fast (this has been a theme of my whole trip, and people complain a lot about this lately??).
I settled into the qantas first lounge, they had a haagen daz ice cream bar, with all the flavours in little tubs to choose from, so I had one, and some nuts, and some fruit, and generally ate too much.
After 3 diet cokes, it was time to wander the airport post check in, much easier now that I dont have my bag anymore, I didnt buy anything but I like to wander, so despite my sore feet I walked the length and breadth of the airport.
Entrance to the dissapointing flower show.
Enough of the flowers already.
OK one more - squid flower, it moved.
Even inside shopping malls, bamboo scaffolding is employed.
This is unusual, I have mentioned the low crime rate in Hong Kong, I have seen something like this more than once, someone has chained their suitcase to the fence, probably while they go to a meeting nearby.
Inside Hong Kong airport.
My snack in the lounge.
View out of the lounge window was great.
I was again upgraded to business class, but since on this flight they actually sell first class, I got a business class seat, but as it turned out I like it better than the first class seat for comfort.
It still lays almost flat and you can fully stretch out, it was also leather and softer than the first class one I had from London to Hong Kong.
I got another set of pyjamas and this time I got a female amenities kit which I stuffed into my laptop bag, which is good news for all as it meant I couldnt get my camera out easily, so you dont have to suffer through more photos of airline food!
However the food was good, entree was a cream of mushroom soup which I thought was delicious, main was an actual scotch fillet steak with roast vegetables, cooked to medium which is too much, but still its impressive they can serve up a steak on board a jet.
I didnt really sleep again I dont think, I layed awake for what was only a 9 hour flight, the only movie I watched was the invention of lying with Ricky Gervais, which was very boring.
Arriving into Sydney I got an express customs pass thing, and breezed straight through, didnt have to open my bags or anything. Channel 7 were filming their border control tv show but they stayed right away from the express line.
Then there was chaos, the transfer bus area managed by qantas was full of about 100 people, all stressed, some crying, you check onto your domestic flight here, and some people were trying to take screwdrivers and a sword in their hand luggage, which of course you cant do. I suspect they transferred these things from their main luggage to hand luggage between customs and domestic check in thinking they were past all security, they were wrong. And they were lecturing the qantas people about their rights as USA citizens which was pretty amusing. I went to the business class line and got on the bus.
And that was the end of my holiday.
In summary, I really enjoyed Hong Kong and would like to go there again, very happy I went to Macau for the day, its a significantly different experience to Hong Kong. London was still good, but I could have used a couple more days in Hong Kong, this may be because I have been to London before.
Not to worry, Im sure I will be back soon, at which time you can be further bored reading me dribble crap onto the internet.