|Honk Kong - 2007
Prior to the QE2 Silver Jubilee World Cruise Sector to the UK
The stay in Hong Kong was a interlude in a much longer holiday. We spent 6 weeks in New Zealand touring and sailing before flying with Air New Zealand to Hong Kong where we had booked to stay at the 4* Kowloon Hotel, making use of some of our remaining Air Miles - we worry that the 'value' of such points tend to reduce with time so had decided to stop hoarding them. We then continued our journey on to Southampton and hence home on the Cunard Queen Elizabeth 2 cruise liner. The other two parts are also written up and the navigation links at the start and end of this page allow one to put all the parts together.
First impressions of a place are always important and we were very impressed at how smoothly everything went at the airport and getting into Kowloon. The transport system from the airport was a good example of the efficiency of Hong Kong. When we landed we had a short walk to a train which took us to the arrivals area where the queues were short and after collecting the luggage it was again only a few minutes walk to the station. On the way we stopped at the enquiries desk which suggested we went by train to the Kowloon stop where we were told that shuttle buses ran round the main hotels at 12 minute intervals, in our case the K3 line. On the platform we were assisted in loading the cases on and the fast clean train had us the 30 kms or so to downtown in a short time where it was only a couple of minutes walk to a coach which departed immediately for our hotel - what a contrast to our last experience at Heathrow.
When we got to the Kowloon Hotel to check in it was still only 0745 after landing at 0600. We were offered an upgrade to the Harbour Club for 420 $HK (£30) which gave us breakfast, an exclusive lounge with coffee etc all day, tea, unlimited complementary drinks from 1800-2000 with hors d'oeuvre and various other perks such as pressing of clothes, fax machine etc as well as a room with a harbour view - we accepted. We were installed in the lounge by 0800 where there was a light breakfast while they prepared the room early at no extra cost
We first walked the ten minutes or so down to the waterfront where we walked along the Avenue of Stars (entertainment type) then back the other way to the Star ferry terminal and into the Ocean Terminal complex. This was our first introduction to the network of multiple levels of walkways and shopping centres above and below ground which , for the most part, mean you are separated from the traffic and the elements. When we got outside we could see that the complex consisted of three levels of malls and walkways interlinking the piers for shipping and a number of towering office buildings - more outside walkways bridged the roads to the nearby park etc. We found CitySuper on level 3 in the Ocean City sector providing food for the workers and locals much like the underground Food Courts we had enjoyed in Singapore. One ordered from one of a number of fast service outlets around central seating and paid at common tills whilst the food was being prepared. The food was good with huge portions at silly prices. We ate there several days and averaged under 50$HK (£3.50) for 'sets' (meals with drink, starter and sometimes a sweet) that were so filling that we never bought an evening meal but just settled for the complimentary hors d'oeuvre with the cocktails.
After our first lunch we worked our way across to Kowloon Park with it's sculpture park, lakes and Chinese gardens and exited the other side onto Nathan Road which was a little like the Tottenham Court road and full of cheap electronics shops. We later found it is known as the Golden Mile and has more than just electronics shops. As one works up it there are blocks offering rooms by the hour to the week mixed in with apartments and workshops. It is an experience and very busy - the pedestrian crossings are up to 30 feet wide and even then one has to fight ones way across.
We recovered back in the Harbour club with coffee and delicate cakes before descending for the complementary cocktails and hors d'oeuvre. The Campari and tonic was dark red and the margaritas must have been pure tequila and lime and we grazed the dishes of hot and cold hors d'oeuvre We finally dragged ourselves into the cold drizzle to watch the Symphony of Lights display at 2000. The sky scrapers are illuminated and project searchlights and laser beams on both sides of the harbour - it was very effective with the low hanging cloud and mist giving an eerie atmospheric effect. We were lucky we chose the first night as cloud base was at least level with the building tops.
By then it had been a long day after an overnight flight leaving at 2330 taking 11 hours followed by a 0600 start and aided by the cocktails we slept like logs and made a miraculous adaptation to the time shift.
We were already impressed by the hotel but the breakfast confirmed this with arguably the best breakfast buffet we have experienced. We paid for the hotel by air miles but we are told the usual rack rate is 1100 $HK on top of which we paid 420 $HK, plus taxes of 13%. In 2007 there were $HK13 to £1.
We took the Star Ferry to Hong Kong Island and walked through the financial area with it's incredible sky scrapers – Hong Kong has some of the tallest in the world including the new International Finance Centre building built in 2003 on reclaimed land and the unusual Bank of China Tower which is 1209 feet tall which is surmounted by two antennae resembling a pair of chopsticks and has sharp corners pointing at other financial institutions and radiating bad feng shui onto them. One can walk on the central walkways well above ground level past and through the various buildings.
We walked to the
Peak Tramway, a funicular railway, which takes one
to the favoured residential area which, on a clear day has spectacular views over the sky scrappers and out over the harbour and Kowloon and out to the sea.
The tramway normally has queues as it only carries a hundred or so people in it's two cars and the trip takes ten minutes. At the top is building which spreads out into a viewing platform after one has threaded ones way up 5 stories of shops and elevators. There are a number of walks and we did the Peak Circle Walk of about 3 kms following Harleck and Luggard roads. We bought a painting of the harbour with a junk in the foreground which we bargained down to 150$HK (£11) as a souvenir of Hong Kong before we descended and walked back to the Star Ferry. As we reached Central station we wondered whether to take a short trip on the electric tram, but we waited at the stop and every tram was so full of people we decided to abandon the idea.
We decided to go back to the CitySuper and had excellent Indian sets with breads which we watched the chef preparing from dough which he spun until one could almost see through before forming into a shape reminiscent of a turban. We found there was a free harp concert in the Ocean Centre which we listened to for a while before returning to the Hotel Harbour Club for a coffee. We stocked up on a few Mai Tai cocktails and hors d'oeuvre before walking up the Golden Mile to the Night Market, quite an experience. Pete bought a 8 beam LED torch run off an AA battery for 13 $HK and got criticised for not bargaining harder.
we went back to Hong Kong island to fill in the
bits the guide book said we had missed. We followed the suggestion of going on the elevated walkways to the Landmark building with its central atrium, if that is the right word for a multiple level 'courtyard' in/under the building with fountains and stages where concerts are held.
We then ventured out in the mizzle to an area known as the lanes which is a complete contrast of narrow alleyways between the old buildings so packed with stalls selling clothing, fabrics and various counterfeit goods that it was difficult to pass another person.
We then worked our way up to the botanical gardens and zoo. The mist and mizzle was unfortunately now turning to rain and the buildings were disappearing from view. Even so it was interesting to have a quick look round. The aviaries were all closed off because of fears of avian flu. We watched through the bars the Jaguar watch the people through the bars watching the Jaguar - it reminded us a bit of Berlin where one never used to be sure of who was in the zoo.
We then went across to look at Government House which dates from the 1850s although it was extensively remodeled by the Japanese during the occupation in WW2. We had only expected to be able to stare in through the bars but we were incredibly fortunate to have come on one of the two days a year that it is opened to the public and even more so that the weather was so atrocious as they were set up for long queues but we were able to walk straight in. We followed the long line through beautiful gardens and eventually reached the house where we could walk through the ground floor and take pictures.
It is set in an island of greenery between the office sky scrapers below in the financial district and the tower blocks of mid levels above and around it. It is not clear what the future is for Government House but in the meantime the grounds and house seem to be being maintained to the standards that Chris Patten would have set.
We got back very cold and wet and tried tea in the Middle Row Bar but were not impressed so went up to the Harbour club for a coffee and discovered Dragon Fruit which is a bit like an overgrown Kiwi Fruit - one cuts it in half and eats it with a spoon the same way but it has a white flesh with small evenly spaced seeds. We completed warming up with a few Mai Tai cocktails at 1830 and again were seduced into sufficient hors d'oeuvre that dinner was redundant.
On Monday morning
we had an early start so we could go and watch the QE2 come into port - we never normally see her moving. The atmosphere and cloud was even worse than at the weekend. We got down by 0830 but there was no sign and we eventually discovered that her arrival was being delayed until 1100 as the berth was not free. By the time we got back we found the pollution and humidity was making one quite out of breath - we both noticed it. We went back down for 1100 and watched her emerge out of mist and be slowly edged into the dock by the four accompanying tugs. Very atmospheric. We had a look at the embarkation arrangements and went to have an early snack lunch, this time Udun cooking with tea and octopus balls accompanying a fried beef so thin that the edges waved in the air as if it were alive - we thought we had had one Mai Tai too many.
When we got back to the room we got another indication of the quality of service - having commented favourably on the Dragon fruit in the Harbour Club we found that our fruit plate had one added in the room. We forgot to say that another perk was a fruit plate kept topped up in the room. We rang in to get Pete's jacket collected for pressing, another complementary service.
In the afternoon
we walked up the Golden Mile and branched off to the Ladies Market, even more packed and large than the others. Pauline wanted to buy a fake ladies Rolex studded with fake diamonds and there were lots of stalls with Rolex brochures to select - they would then rush off to suitcases hidden away and extract a copy for viewing. The prices were higher than we expected at 280$HK rack rate and in the life they looked too ostentatious so we never got to serious bargaining although Pete picked up a fake Swiss Navy watch for $30HK which was cheaper than a new battery for his old Tissot and looks very good - we can at least say we have done our duty on the tourist things and we have bought fake watches and cheap electronics for an investment of only a few pounds. The day was becoming steadily more oppressive so we returned for tea and wrote up some of the trip so far whilst waiting for cocktail time - one can understand the ex-pat life well after a few days of Mai Tai cocktails and Campari. After a few weeks in the climate even gin would seem good!
We emerged to have another look at the Symphony of Light presentation, and then took the Star Ferry across to Hong Kong to admire the buildings all lit up. The IFC Building was very spectacular. Hong Kong closes early, and many of the shopping malls and covered walkways were closed, and as we explored we found we were limited more and more by padlocked gates and serious security men. Eventually we found a route outside and back to the Star Ferry.
We had been intending to buy a days broadband which was 120$HK for 24 hours but we had not finished writing up and Pauline had not completed her Open University tasks so in the end Pete just collected email with the phone and to our surprise found an email had come in a couple of days earlier from an old college friend, Phil, who had a round-the-world airline ticket and had found the Philippines so disorganised that he had decided to come to Hong Kong and had been greeted with our newsletter saying we were also in Hong Kong.
Time was a bit short
but we arranged to meet up and had a while to get up to date and took the Star Ferry Harbour tour between the various stages of checking in. It was a great pity we did not find the message earlier as he was staying on one of the islands and had just done one of the visits and walks we would have liked to have done. We did some last minute shopping including some Chinese red wine and a spirit we hope is a sake based one but all the labels were in Chinese - foreign wines and spirits are very expensive in China and we needed to educate ourselves. Some three weeks later we decided to open the Chinese red wine, a 1999 Great Wall Dry Red Wine which is made from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. It was described as presenting a clear ruby colour, with elegant and rich aroma and harmonious, mellow and heavy wine bouquet, pleasant and lingering aftertaste. The label says it was produced by the Chinese National Cereals Oils and Foodstuffs Corp. It did not have the strong blackcurrant taste of Australian or South African cabernet sauvignon, and there was no obvious sign of having been matured in oak barrels. It was, however, very pleasant. We were surprised to find reference to it in one of the wine books in the QE2 library. The DK wine book said that in 2004 there are 165,000 hectares of vineyards in China, with many of the best grape growing areas found in the cooler coastal provinces of Shandong, Hebei and Tianjin and that the Huaxia Winery in Changli, Hebei, is responsible for Great Wall Red. We had made a good choice.
We are now on-board and Pete is writing the end of the stay whilst Pauline carries out her favourite task of unpacking - we left two suitcases on board when we completed our last cruise with evening clothes which we could not carry via New Zealand. Pete has been down to the gym to book for 0730 in the morning to try to recover from all the interesting food and lack of proper exercise.
We learned a lot more about Hong Kong from Phil and we will try to time our next visit for September or preferably October when the skies are likely to be clear and the smog lifts. The Hotel is one to return to although the islands also sound very attractive - the fast ferries run regularly and late so the location is less important than we realised.
The saga will continue in the QE2 World Cruise 2007