hong kong & macau - Where's Byrne?

hong kong & macau

01.02.2012 – 07.02.2012 Cloudy 10 – 20 °C

A mammoth journey was on the cards leaving Borocay. We had the tricycle ride to the port, then the pumpboat to Caticlan, then the minivan to Kalibo Airport, then an hours flight to Manila, a taxi to Pasay Bus Station, a bus to Da’u then a jeep to Clarke gate followed by a final jeep to the airport. All this went as swimmingly as it could apart from the jeep from Clarke Gate to the airport. Turning up we were told, as we were when we left Clarke for Borneo a month before, that we had to wait for other passengers to go to the airport as the jeeps waiting were only going to ‘duty-free’. We could however charter a jeep ourselves for 250P (£4). On reflection, for £4 we should have just agreed but I knew something was up and I had a suspicion we were being ripped off which made me stubborn. We decided to wait to see if any other passengers turned up as the fare would then drop to 50P each and we had time to kill. Half an hour passed with us being asked three or four times if we wanted to leave yet as no one else had turned up. A Yank then materialised and jumped on the jeep followed by the gimp Filipino who thought he was something special (he wasn’t, he looked like a monkey) and he then said only 375P to charter the jeep. As the price had now jumped again we thought fuck these arseholes and went off to get a cab. We knew it would be more but I would have rather walked than give those Filipino trolls a peso. We asked the Yank if he wanted to share our taxi begrudgingly because he was a twat and he replied ‘I’ll think I’ll hang here’. Happy hanging fuckwit. Our taxi was 300P, we got to the airport, confirming my suspicions we were raped as we sailed straight passed duty-free where the original jeep goes, slipped through immigration (another 1200P exit tax) and boarded for Hong Kong. Farewell Philippines. I was definitely glad to be moving on. (And if you’re flying out of Clarke, get on the 35P jeep to duty-free and throw the jeep hustlers a V).

I have to mention one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen was on this journey too. Leaving Caticlan for Kalibo Airport, the two-hour minivan ride was predictably boring except for us pulling up behind a motorbike and sidecar at about 30mph. The side car had no roof and just a metal criss-cross platform throughout except for the seat which had a plank of wood about three-foot long and one thick. Upon this plank of wood sat a white and orange spotted, short-haired dog. Driving behind I could see the back of him, he was tied with a skinny piece of rope to the side car but seemed to be sitting happily taking up about two foot. As we overtook I could see he was perfectly sat on his arse with his two front legs stood up straight and his two back laying flat between them. As I upped my gaze to his head, he was wearing a pair of black goggles like a fighter pilot. Brilliant. It was amazing.

We landed at Hong Kong international at 10pm and it was freezing, well, relatively. About 15°C but we had just spent the last six-months in the heat. And, along with a single Russian guy out of hundreds of people, I was wearing shorts, t-shirt and flip-flops, oh and my rat pack straw hat. Classy. After we got through immigration I went to the toilets to change into jeans. They were the cleanest toilets I’d ever been in, with two cleaners almost following you around to see if you dribbled urine on the floor. Toilet seat gel in the cubicles, two different soaps on sensors and paper towel holders with antibacterial openings made me think they were going a bit over the top but it was a sign of things to come. Hong Kongers are clean freaks. By 11pm we were out and looking for a way to get to, somewhere, to get a hotel. I read on Wikitravel (which is excellent) an S1 bus to a Tung Chung tube station and then jumping on the underground would save $200 (£17) over a taxi. We waited for the S1, which were frequent and boarded with the driver pointing to the big LED sign reading $3 when I asked how much. I gave him a $20 note and he grunted ‘coin’ and shook his head. I took this to mean they only take coins as there was no note slot. He pointed to the door. Back into the airport to get coins then back to the bus stop, another S1 turns up and I stick $6 (50p) in the hole. The driver looks at me approvingly but not saying anything so we sat down and hoped. We got to the tube station (it’s midnight now and getting colder) and jump on the underground to Kowloon station, just because it looked busy, surrounded by other MTR (Mass Transit Railway) stations. This turned out a good decision as we only had to walk half an hour and we started coming across B&Bs. After turning two down because of the £40 quotes and going up and down in a lift we couldn’t get out of in something resembling a tower block from hackney, we found one in a block of flats for $250 (£21). More than we wanted to pay but it was now 01:30 and I was frozen. The room was literally 4×4 foot but I’d been warned all rooms are small in China. And I’d had enough.

Next morning we set off in search of ChungKing Mansions, a dodgy but cheap tower-block of B&Bs clustered together in one huge concrete jungle. We bought a map (£3!) and went to find it. Easy enough, opposite Kowloon Park, we checked in at Kamal Guesthouse on floor five for £15 a night. The room was again 4×4 foot but this time we lost a bit of space for the smallest shower I have ever been in. It was blindingly hot though so all is forgiven. ChungKing has reviews on the net ranging from bad to worse but in all honesty, if you can ignore the hundreds of Indians and Paki’s trying to flog you everything from watches to hookers and drugs, the smell of curry at random times of the day (and night) and having to wait forever for the lift that serves the floors that are odd-numbered, it’s really not bad. £15 to stay in an international city like Hong Kong? The location too was fantastic. Hong Kong’s transport is among the best I’ve travelled on, their underground knocks spots off London’s, and their buses are cheap, frequent and clean. We had five days in Hong Kong and packed four of them in with sight-seeing. This is a good amount of time if you have it spare (plus if you need a Chinese Visa a four-day turnaround, including submission day, is the cheapest option).

Chinese Visa application, Wan Chai MTR station. Day two. A piece of cake to get to and at only $3, you can’t complain. However the 10:00 – 12:00 and 13:00 – 16:00 opening times are a pain. The nosey application form is easy enough to fill in and the price is $360 for a single entry, thirty-day visa for British Citizens. The whole process did take around two hours, factoring in the queuing outside and for the counter inside (where they have the aircon set to arctic yet again). If you’re going for the 10am or 1pm times, get there half an hour before or you will find yourself at the back of the queue.

Stanley Market, Stanley, South Hong Kong Island. A 260 bus outside the Lippo Centre near Admiralty MTR takes you to the bottom of Hong Kong island where Stanley Market is. Known for cheap imitation clothes, this was our first site-seeing stop as all we had were summer clothes and it was freezing. B bought a Bench coat (presumably fake) for £17 which was good value, it’s warm and thick, a wooly hat for £3 and I got a button up jumper for £4. Stanley itself could be modelled on a town in Cornwall. The harbour area is beautiful, with little cafés offering coffee and cake and snazzy restaurants align the coastal walkway including 2 British Pubs that wouldn’t look out-of-place in England along with a Pizza Express! There is a small shopping mall that’s been built in keeping with the rest of the place too which is a nice touch. We finished the day with dinner at a local place in the market, eating some amazing Chinese food, and for $70 (£6) for both of us. Verdict: An afternoon could easily be withered away people watching sipping cappuccinos and a good place to start a winter clothes collection if you’ve just arrived. That’s about it though so if this doesn’t sound like your cup of tea, don’t bother. Personally, I loved it.

Western Market, Sheung Wan MTR Station. Our third day started with a trip to the Western Market. Not great to be honest but the Edwardian style building is smart. It has red telephone boxes inside and has been converted to ground floor toot shops, 2nd floor material sellers and a top floor restaurant. When we went up to have a nose I think it was hired out for the day as it looked setup for a wedding! Far too posh for us. Verdict: Five minutes to go and see it so you might as well.

Hollywood Road, Ladder Street, Man Mo Temple and Soho. Heading north from the Western Market you come across some fine bakeries selling fantastic custard tarts and other goodies. We heavily sampled. Hollywood road was billed as a bric-à-brac and antiques area and, really, I suppose it was. We were halfway round it though before we actually realised because Chinese bric-à-brac is bit different to what we were expecting to see. It was basically a right load of shit which you wouldn’t buy unless you were mental but was good to see. Ladder street is a massive set of steps with road crossings that brake them up, that rise and rise until you reach the Man Mo temple. I wish I hadn’t had that fifth custard tart. The temple was pants, I rushed round holding my breath like a ubiquitous child but I really do hate the smell of incense. I can’t stand it, under any circumstances. Done, cross that off. Lastly we walked east-ward and a little south until we hit Soho, which resembled Soho in London a bit (minus the sex shops). Real nice restaurants and pubs lined the streets and we were spoilt for choice where to have lunch… so we opted for a sandwich from 7/11. Lastly we went to Lan Kwai Fong for a pint. This seemed to be the place where expats and foreign workers drunk and had a nice vibe. Should have kicked around there until night-time really but £4 a pint was too rich for my blood. Verdict: Hollywood Road – pants really. Ladder Street – exhausting. Man Mo Temple – shite. Soho – stop for lunch (no good for indecisive people). Do it all though!

The Peak. ‘A tram takes you to the highest point on Hong Kong island with Panoramic views of Hong Kong and Kowloon’ is what the leaflet said that I picked up from, somewhere. What they don’t tell you, is the views apart from the Hong Kong and Kowloon lookouts, are pretty poor, it’s fucking freezing up there and its $170 (£14) for two. Despite that I don’t regret doing this and would recommend. It takes an afternoon if you stop for grub. There is (another) shopping centre up there and a Madame Tussaud’s. We didn’t go into the waxwork as I think it’s a crock of shite and a rip off but feel free if you like looking a lumps of wax moulded vaguely into narcissistic celebrities. Verdict: Worth it. You can walk it in twenty-minutes from Central MTR or go find the free shuttle bus from City Hall that will take you to the tram station.

Causeway Bay. A bit mental. This is LED central, where all the flashing Mandarin signs you see on TV are, along with, yet more, sodding shopping malls. Times Square is here too and there are pubs and bars and loads of restaurants ranging from local to well up-market. We always like to ‘go local’ at any opportunity if we can and so rocked up into a restaurant full of Chinese and sat down. They handed us a menu with mixed English and Mandarin and we just pointed and hoped. Up comes an amazing sweet and sour chicken with rice for B (wimp – picking a safe dish) and a meatball in sauce with veg and rice for me. The grub really is top-notch all over Hong Kong. Verdict: Definitely go. We probably should have spent the night there having a few beers, but having covered eight miles we were done for so headed back to Kamals.

Wong Tai Sin Temple, Wong Tai Sin MTR. Crap. Going back to my original, small-minded sentiment ‘if you’ve seen one temple, you’ve seen ’em all’. That also applies to waterfalls. Nearly died of asphyxiation from joss stick inhalation, came out crawling on my front like a snake gasping for oxygen, this was the beginning of our fourth day. Verdict: At least it was free. Still miss.

Fung Tak Park. Up the road from the temple. Shit. Supposed to tell a story or something but was lost on me. Walked up to Diamond Hill MTR, which, you guessed it, was attached to another shopping mall. Verdict: Miss.

Avenue of Stars, Tsim Shu East Promenade, near ChungKing Mansions. A nice walk along the embankment with great views of the Hong Kong island skyline, the Avenue of Stars copies Hollywood Boulevard somewhat with famous Hong Kongers signing and imprinting their hand print into a cast in a tile on the floor. The only ones I recognised were Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Chow Yun Fat and Bruce Lee but who knew they were all from Hong Kong? Bruce Lee, quite rightly has a huge statue you can pose next to along the walkway which is good. At the end of the AoS is the Space Museum, the Hong Kong Museum of Art and the Hong Kong Cultural Centre. We opted for the former. Verdict: Good way to waste an hour or two.

Hong Kong Space Museum, Tsim Shu East Promenade, near the old clock tower. $24 for the cinema and $10 to walk around the exhibitions which are both worth it. The museum itself can kill some time while you wait for your film but probably wouldn’t be worth visiting on its own. The film however was brilliant. It’s projected on to the oval roof of the dome-shaped building and your seat it sat right back. It’s kind of like watching an IMAX on a dome ceiling. The film we’d chosen was about Dinosaurs and was excellent. Wireless headphones for English if your Mandarin isn’t too hot. Verdict: Do it!

Po Lin Monastery and the Big Buddha. Our last day in Hong Kong before we headed for Macau. We took the MTR to Tung Chung on Lantau Island and went to get to the Big Buddha. Two disastrous things happened. We discovered that the cable car that takes you to the Big Buddha was closed for two months for maintenance (this was all I was really interested in) and the other option of getting there was by bus was £5 each, one way. I had the ump over the cable car though so thought sod it and knocked both these on the head. B agreed. Verdict: Check the cable car status before spending £6 and three-hours on the MTR.

Hong Kong was brilliant and I would definitely return if in the area. Not sure I’d fly out from home just for a holiday as the resemblance to London is uncanny. Mandarin signs aside, if you took someone who had never been to London or Hong Kong and dumped them in one, I would think they wouldn’t be able to tell which was which.

Onto Macau!

07.02.2012 – 09.02.2012 Cloudy/Rainy/Sunny 20 °C

Portuguese is the word and gambling is the game, having been owned/ruled by Portugal for x number of years, x number of years ago, I’ve no idea why so many casinos are in one place. Informative ah? What I do know is Macau grossed more revenue from gambling than Las Vegas in 2010. Wonga. Didn’t really know what to expect there, so I didn’t expect anything – which turned out to be a smart move.

We MTR’d it to Central Station on Hong Kong island and followed the signs to the ferry port for Macau. Two tickets purchased at $154 each, we had an hour to wait, in a McCafe. Cappuccino you say? Might as well make it a large one! The ferry crossing was fun, but anything but smooth. I think the captain underestimated the waves to begin with and was going way too fast, the front of the boat lifting out the water and smashing back down, leaving your stomach ten foot in the air. Doubled up as a free roller coaster! The crossing went quick though at just over an hour and we queued to get through immigration for yet another stamp in our passports.

Obtaining that we went in search for a number three bus to take us to town, the advice of the very handy tourist information office in the port, who also gave us a map. So far so good. Bus three turns up, we jump on, coins at the ready having learned our lesson at Hong Kong airport and away we go. Following on the map where we were heading, we jumped off in what looked to be the main high street, which fortunately, was right. Finding somewhere to stay proved a little more difficult though. Thought everything was going too well. Five conspicuous hotel enquiries and 1 very rough guesthouse later, that were far too expensive for what was on offer at $300 – $600, we found one stashed on a corner, the name escapes me. $380 down to $350 after flashing a smile at the Macanese bird behind the counter with one expression, constipation, we agreed to stay two nights as we were sick of walking around. £30 a night is not what we would normally pay but it looked as though this was the going rate so lumped it. We dumped our gear and went for a walk to see what was about. Portuguese buildings, Portuguese Egg Tarts and other general Portuguese – ness, is what we found. Signs, bus stops and other literature written in English, Portuguese and either Mandarin or Cantonese (I don’t know which). Macau’s main town, a stones throw from our hotel, was classy with little ceramic tiles making up the pavements and the shops adhering to the heritage of old. The main square had fixed dragons lit up with candles and other lights, still celebrating Chinese New Year with red Chinese lanterns everywhere. Even though it was raining, the place looked amazing. The grub was something else too. My first Portuguese Tart was the best custard tart I’ve had and I knew I’d be munching my way through Macau’s stock of them over the next few days. We went out for a Chinese dinner at a local haunt which was good, but not great, but still only cost us a fiver with drinks. The one problem we did have; finding Wi-Fi. McDonald’s and Starbucks in the town centre didn’t offer it, nor did the smarter McDonald’s with a McCafe round the corner. There seemed to be no restaurants offering it, no coffee cafe’s and no bars offering it either. Weird, seeing as Hong Kong is so very well-connected and has a lightning connection. Back at our hotel, we had to sit in the lobby to use theirs and it was crap too. Better than nothing I suppose…

Next day we were up early as this was our one main day as we had to explore as we had to leave the following day at lunchtime to catch out 15:15 train from Hung Hom train station, Hong Kong to Shanghai. First up was St. Paul’s Ruins (after an egg tart), which we briefly saw the day before on our walkabout. Impressive, although it is just the front, a ruins left from an old church, the back had been preserved and displayed as much as possible and included a tomb where the skeletons of martyrs that sacrificed themselves hundreds of years earlier laid, accompanied but ghostly background music. Next up was the fort and city walls which included the national museum. Walking around the castle ruins was good, they still had cannons poking through holes in the forts walls at the top. The cafes were tastefully added and the museum was informative. Onwards… Only got one day! A walk north to St Andrews Church which was nice and then to a park which included a library and several old Macanese citizens practicing Tai Chi (or the Macanese equivalent?).

Grand Prix Museum. Next we decided to grab a bus to the Grand Prix Museum back near the port where we arrived. We jumped on one, did a complete circuit of Macau town, the port, the shopping malls and some parks and ended up at the very tip near the flood barrier where we decided this isn’t the right bus, jump off, take a picture of Macau’s flood gate and jump on another bus that eventually does take us to the Grand Prix Museum. Only took two hours, but saw a lot of Macau. The Grand Prix Museum was brilliant, and free! On display were old, old race cars from when Macau’s track was first used, in the 50’s, if I remember correctly, right up to David Couthards F1 Car used in the late 90’s. A free simulator, driving around the Macau track and a cinema running through old races capped a really well put together display – that’s how to build a museum. Verdict: Excellent.

Fisherman’s Wharf. With time ticking on we took a stroll through the deserted Fisherman’s Wharf, a complex built with being the number one tourist place in Macau in mind but obviously not worked and gone under. Restaurants and bars still with tables laid and fully stocked drinks fridges but layers of dust and lizard poo lined the main drag. Very strange. It looked like it cost millions to build yet there was no one there. It felt like the aftermath of a world-wide pandemic. Verdict: Don’t bother.

Another bus up the road to the MGM Grand Casino and Hotel and a walk through one of the poshest shopping centres I’ve ever been in, with brands I’ve never heard of, we were approaching the end of our itinerary.

Macau Tower. Finally, it was time for the Macau Tower. We had timed it to get there between 15:30 and 17:00 for high tea, only £2 more per person than a regular ticket to the observation deck. Unfortunately it was just gone 5pm and we’d missed it. The Macau Tower, like Fisherman’s Wharf, was a bit weird. Again, it must have cost millions to build but was relatively deserted. It contained a few random shops such as Lush and Toys ‘R’ Us, a restaurant at the top, what looked like an afterthought, a platform for bungee jumping, claiming it’s the worlds highest, skywalks around the perimeter at the top and some other extreme sports. Deciding against paying £10 each to go up it as it was really foggy, we went to confirm the price at the ticket counter anyway and didn’t see one other person on the way. Dead. We did see a guy do the bungee jump though, which looked scary but not that scary, if that really is the worlds tallest, I’d be surprised. Exhausted from our day sightseeing we went to the towers café for tea and a cake and got into a row. Fantastic. I’d bought a pot of tea ‘for one’ and after sitting down, realised they gave me one cup, understandable. However, when I went up to ask for a second cup, it cued five minutes arguing, but it could have been longer as I wasn’t going to give up. ‘one pot, one cup’ was the sentence being repeated to me which was annoying but I gave them another option of giving me a takeaway cup instead, which I was willing to accept. For £3 for a pot of tea I want another cup. Three retarded, sentence repeating, Macanese bitches later, I finally got a takeaway cup. Idiots. Verdict: Overrated.

Our last bus we caught outside the tower, waiting specifically for this numbered one as it was the only one going back to the high street in town. It turns up, we jump on, pay, drive ten minutes, get turfed off at a bus station, stand five minuets in the freezing cold at a bus stop ten yards away from the tower, the same driver drives the same bus the 10 yards we walked to the bus stop, we get back on, pay again and finally get back to town. What the fuck happened there, I will never know. By this time it’s evening and we were hungry so go straight for dinner. After wandering aimlessly through the markets and town square for an hour, we find a proper local place serving pork and rice for $25 (£2). We’re ushered in and to one of the five tables in there, sitting with one of the locals. Our pork was served on a mountain of steamed rice after pointing to what we wanted from other locals eating the same on other tables and we tuck in. It’s amazing. The only thing up is the smelly Macanese Nick Nolte lookalike next to me slurping his broth and the stench of his drink close to my plate. I don’t know what it was but it looked like vodka, smelt like vodka and was poured from a vodka looking bottle. (Probably vodka?) Whatever it was, Nick, was drinking it neat, a bit at a time. God it stank. Luckily the guests on the table behind us vacated and he pointed it out to us. I got the feeling he didn’t want to share his table with two foreigners and him helping us out but resulted in our own table. We paid up and got home via a McCafe for a coffee at 10pm, clocking up over seven miles on the pedometer. Shattered, we slept well that night.

Macau was a fantastic place to visit but I’m sure you wouldn’t need more than a few solid days to exhaust its attractions. We missed the adjoining islands, Taipa and Coleaine but from what I understand there’s just more shopping malls and casinos there. We missed the Wine Museum next to the Grand Prix Museum and chose not to visit a proper casino (for fear of losing a wad). If you’re in Hong Kong, it’s definitely worth the £25 return to ferry it to Macau.

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