When I look back on our time in Hong Kong, I will mainly remember the rain. So much rain. Torrential rain all day. Super Typhoon Haina was rolling in, which we kept being assured was so unlucky and really unusual weather for October, as the typhoon season should have finished. This did not make it better.
But we’re English, we’re used to the rain. It wasn’t going to thwart our plans! So after breakfast with a bright yellow Hotel Jen umbrella in hand (incidentally I was a disaster with this all day and took a lot of people out, including Jimi on multiple occasions, he was ANGRY) we set out on our first full day in Hong Kong. Luke had written us a detailed itinerary which began with us heading to the Ngong Ping cable car to see the Big Buddha, but the weather meant the cable car was closed all day. Instead we caught the MTR a few stops to head up to The Peak on a funicular. The funicular takes about ten minutes and is really steep, taking you right past lots of Hong Kong’s skyscrapers on the journey. You get off at The Peak, which has a shopping centre with a huge roof terrace, offering 360 degree views across the city. Except when we got up there, all that we could see was cloud. Occasionally the wind would pick up and blow a small glimpse clear of the skyscrapers below us, but I don’t think we got the full experience!
Once we got back down we headed over to the harbour to take a look across the bay (with plans to stroll along the promenade). But again the ‘inclement weather’ had other ideas! We gave up pretty quickly after realising all that was happening was we were getting drenched, and instead followed Luke’s instructions to find a Cantonese restaurant, bizarrely called the American Restaurant: Peking Food. Jimi and I made the classic mistake of over-ordering (it all seems so cheap in another currency!) and ended up with way too much lemon chicken, sweet and sour pork and chili beef. It was delicious, though Jimi maintains the neon coloured lemon chicken sauce stained his fingers for the rest of the day which was a little worrying.
After lunch we headed to Nathan Street, the main road that has all the neon signs along it, and the markets run off this road. We visited the goldfish market first – a street almost exclusively made up of tropical fish shops, so Jimi was in his element. They also had a number of other pet shops, with tiny puppies and cats for sale in cages which I found quite sad. Next we went to the Ladies market – more of a traditional market with stalls selling fake purses, watches, bags and other touristy merchandise. I may have accidentally got talked into buying a purse I didn’t really even want… but never mind! You can never have enough purses right?
We headed back up the road to the bird market after that, but by now it was about 5.30pm and most of the stalls were packing up because of the weather. We did get to see a couple of huge parrots though, one of which kept squawking ‘Hello’ at us, as well as lots of more traditional domed cages housing tiny birds of all colours and varieties. We walked back through the flower market, then caught the MTR a couple of stops south to Temple Street Night Market. This was just getting going when we arrived, with lots of restaurants clamouring for trade along the street, and stalls with wares similar to the Ladies market we’d been to earlier. We wandered around and snapped some photos before heading back onto Nathan Road which by now was all lit up with flashing signs and neon adverts – looking all the more impressive with the mirrored reflections in the puddles on the road. Luke had advised we try Dim Tai Fung for dinner – a restaurant at the top of a luxury shopping centre, which has branches across Asia and a Michelin star! It is famous for its pork dumplings, so we ordered a few different plates. I was getting better with chopsticks, though still managed to make an impressive mess. The meal was delicious though – really good value and seriously tasty.
After we’d eaten we were ecstatic (genuinely) to discover a brief respite in the rain, and so we hot-footed it to the Star Ferry while the weather let up, to take a short hop across the harbour by boat. Tickets were 55 HKD each (about 55p!) and the ride was amazing, taking us right by the lit up waterfront with all the skyscrapers. On the other side we walked for about half an hour looking for the Woo Loo Moo Loo restaurant, which has a brilliant bar on the roof but when we eventually found the building (31 stories tall, with a petrol station underneath it…) we discovered that it was too windy for the bar to be open today. BOO! Instead we decided to call it a night and headed back to the hotel to catch up with everyone in the UK and to try and get an early(ish!) night.
The next day was Wednesday, and we had the cruise ship to catch in the afternoon. We still had the morning though and the wind had dropped so the cable car was open. Leaving our cases at the hotel, we headed straight to Tung Chung on the MTR (passing the Disneyland resort on the way! Huge restraint that we stayed on the train!) to finally visit the Ngong Ping cable car. The cable car takes you on a picturesque route out of the city, across the Tung Chung harbor (with great views of the airport) and up into the mountains. It’s about a 5km journey and should take around 20 minutes.
We bought our tickets and didn’t have to wait too long to get escorted to a car, but almost as soon as we got moving the car stopped and an announcement said they were temporarily halting service because of the weather. We got moving again a few minutes later but MY GOD. The wind had really picked up, and the rain was lashing at the cable car, so we were swaying violently about 150m over the harbour. As someone who often gets motion sick (a cruel twist of fate for a cruise-aficionado) this was not ideal. Jimi also had me panicked as he was craning to look at the cable, with a ‘this-looks-unsafe’ expression on his face which was far from reassuring.
Eventually though (after much longer than the standard 20 minutes) we made it to the other end. Obviously it was pouring with rain again but I didn’t care! GROUND! I love ground. Ngong Ping is this cultural man-made village, (with an extra-cultural Starbucks and Subway) but the main attraction is the Big Buddha and the monastery, about 5 minutes walk away. When the rain eased off we headed off to explore.
The Buddha was huge, and hugely impressive. We had to climb about 150 stairs to get to the top, and it’s only once you’re there that you can get a real sense of the size and scale of the statue. It sits atop a massive circular building, which we couldn’t go in, but could walk around the circumference (which took a few minutes to give a scale of the size!) The weather meant the top of the Buddha was shrouded in mist though on a clearer day I’m sure the views were incredible!
After snapping some pictures we headed back down towards the monastery. The scent of incense hung in the air, and there were huge burners the size of wells around the monastery where lots of visitors were lighting sticks and praying. The monastery itself was stunning – with a traditional Chinese roof, and ornately decorated in bright jewel colours with gold detail of dragons, flowers and lettering.
In the mountains, with the mist rolling in from the trees the whole place felt a little magical and it was a shame to have to head back to the modern village, and to the cable car once more (blagh). Fortunately the way back was much calmer and the clouds had lifted so we really did see some of the amazing views as we came back down.
We headed back to Tung Chung station after that, and spotted a bakery so decided to grab some pork buns for lunch. Jimi and I are obsessed with pork buns from a bakery in Chinatown in Soho, so it was good to try an authentic one for comparison! (For reference, I preferred the dough of a London pork bun, but the filling of the Hong Kong one).
Our driver on the way to the port was great fun – he was telling us how he used to be a detective, working for the British services but after Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997, the British gave him and his whole family British passports and made him sign the Official Secrets Act. He was forced to retire (at the age of 33) so now drives taxis for a living, while his two daughters go to university in the UK. I don’t know how much of this he should have been sharing, but it was fascinating to listen to him talk!
A road had flooded which meant that the trip to the port took longer than planned, and we ended up arriving around 5.30pm. There was hardly anyone around (and a terrifying moment when the first woman we met looked blank when we asked where the ship was, ‘Ship? What ship?’) but fortunately we found where we were heading and soon checked in. Most people were already on board and we arrived on deck in time for the emergency drill (yawn) but once that was out the way we headed straight to our cabin – 3108 on Deck 3. In a luxury move we have a window and NATURAL LIGHT, but the room us still 90% bed. We dumped our bags and headed straight back on deck for the sail out of Hong Kong, and to start using our drinks package. We get unlimited glasses of wine, so sat at the pool bar enjoying some glasses of prosecco, before watching as the boat pulled away past the glittering Hong Kong skyline. And for once it had stopped raining!
Once the city was out of sight we headed to the Romeo and Juliet dining room on Deck 5 for some late dinner. The food was pretty good, with some fresh bread that Jimi loved, but we weren’t keen on much exploring after that, so headed straight back to the cabin and to bed!