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Travel blog I don't mean to brag, I don't mean to boast, but I'm intercontinental and I eat French toast (Beastie Boys) | | | Photos available at www.istockphoto.com/georgeclerk

Hong Kong and Macau

MACAU | Wednesday, 21 November 2007 | Views [5855] | Comments [3]

Statue of Hong Kong hero Bruce Lee on the Avenue of Stars in Hong Kong.

After a short and fast train journey from Guangzhou, I arrived in Kowloon, just across Victoria Harbour from Hong Kong Island. So far since leaving Scotland, Hong Kong is the first place on my route where I've been before, on a two night stop-over last year.

More because of a recommendation than the lyrics by The Smiths, I'd booked myself in at the Y.W.C.A., and liked it there so I stayed for four nights. Despite being the Young Womens Christian Association, men are allowed to stay there too, and it's on Man Fuk road in the Mongkok area of Kowloon.

The day I arrived was Miro's (of car share at work fame) last day there on a work project, so after dumping my stuff and going to order a new pair of glasses, I took another super-efficient and clean MTR (underground) journey to meet Miro in Central on Hong Kong Island.

Kowloon Park with flamingos

We then took the mid-level escalators (longest outdoor escalator in the world!) up to Lan Kwai Fong, which on a Friday night was pumping with music and packed full of ex-pats, and had some beers and a good meal before Miro had to head off to catch his 1am flight home.


The streets in Mongkok where I stayed were also packed, but with people shopping rather than drinking. They have a long streets there just for buying particular things - separate streets for aquarium fish; dogs and cats; electrical goods; sportswear; car audio and market stalls. The fish above isn't magnified by a trick of the light or anything - it really was a huge fish in a tiny bag, and there were loads of them all down the street. There also lots of tiny fish too...


Reclaiming some more land for Hong Kong Island

One mission I had in Hong Kong was to buy a Gitzo copy tripod, and to finally replace the camera lens that I had stolen in St Petersburg. With ridiculous, higher than UK prices in both Russia and China, I'd decided to wait. I shopped around MongKok and Stanley Street (on the Hong Kong side, where there's a bunch of professional photo shops), and having found a good website where the best prices that people have got in Hong Kong are displayed, I knew what kind of prices were possible. But trying to negotiate with these guys seems to be a fine art, especially on a busy Saturday. Eventually, having found the only shop that stocked the exact tripod that I wanted to buy, I got properly shouted at by the stroppy dealer, who in the end gave me zero discount! But he did also have the best price for the lens, only £15 more than the skilled local had got, and anyway I got it way cheaper than the original that I bought at home.

The tripod is great, but does add a bit of unwelcome extra bulk and weight to my backpack. But now I can take lots of pics like above and Bruce Lee at the top, so prepare to be bored with lots of long exposures like this...!

Anyway, coming from the Chinese mainland, I was surprised how utterly different Hong Kong feels - obviously there's much more money and general plushness in Hong Kong, but the feel of the place and the people were also totally different. I wasn't surprised to see a group of tourists from mainland China looking completely bewildered and bemused, but maybe Hong Kong residents feel the same way when they go to Shanghai. One small difference is the traffic situation. In a way I'm quite surprised the Chinese government didn't force Hong Kongers to drive on the right after 1997, but it was nice to be in a place again where - unlike Russia or China - when you see the 'walk' green man at the traffic lights, it does actually normally mean that you won't get run over! Despite employing more than 20 wardens at major junctions on the mainland, crossing the road is still like a game of Frogger!

Mmmmn, tasty!

Every Monday night there's a big lightshow complete with smooth announcements and piped music. It's the Guinness World Record Breaking longest permanent regular city light show or something. I watched it from the Avenue of Stars (where Bruce Lee and lots of other local stars feature) and as each one of a long list of buildings taking part is announced, it lights up funkily and does some laser or neon flickering in time with the cheezy syntho-pop music.

Surely a bit early?!

And - just to keep Will happy, a clothes shop in MongKok...


Macau

Then on to Macau via a one hour fast boat from Kowloon. I arrived two days after the annual Grand Prix, and the cars were still being carted away, and the barriers all over town being taken down. It's a former Portugese colony which was handed back to China in 1999 (apparently Portugal tried to hand it back way before, but China didn't want to take on the triad, gambling and economic problems). Now it's booming, with massive building projects all over the place.

It's quite a bit smaller than Hong Kong, but the only place in all of China where casinos are allowed, and gambling seems to be very popular with the Chinese! I didn't take any pictures of the main casinos, but they're almost on a Las Vegas scale, and now include super plush new outfits like the Sands, the MGM Grand and Wynn as well as lots of huge older casinos. I went into the the Lisboa, but my plans to blow up to 100 Mops (Macau currency, almost the same as Chinese Yuan or Hong Kong Dollars) on some pontoon hands were thwarted when I realised that the very cheapest tables started at a minimum bet of 300 Mop per hand. So instead I quickly lost some coins on the one armed bandits and had a look around. Considering that it was a Monday night, there was a serious amount of money changing hands, with exclusively Chinese clientele playing for big money, unless they were watching a bizarre dancing show featuring three white girls.

No Fakes at this pharmacy

Supposedly there was a big embarrassment a few years ago when several Government officials on a trip from the mainland blew a lot of public money on a gambling spree.

The wiring in my room left a bit to be desired! Since all the cheaper hotels were full, I stayed at 'The Metropole', and was expecting lavish luxury, but got a windowless box room complete with suspicious smells! But to be fair, the staff were very nice, and the breakfast was great.

Macau became a Portugese colony several centuries before Hong Kong became a British one, and there is lots of Portugese-ness about it, including all Portugese street names, narrow cobbled streets and lots of impressive old buildings and gardens dotted around the older parts.


Leaving China on a Jet Plane

So having got from the UK to Macau by boat, bus and (mainly) train, I'm flying to Bangkok tomorrow to meet Dom and Nicole. After seven great weeks in China I'm sad to be leaving, but also can't wait to go to Thailand for the first time.

A few more general things about China - could be useful for anyone planning to go soon...

- The Chinese people are incredibly friendly and tolerant, often smiling with 'hello', just smiling kindly, or saying kind one-off lines like 'you are welcome to Guangzhou!' On the whole people go out of their way to help, and also tend have a great sense of humour.

But when you get someone on an off day, or someone who just can't be bothered with foreigners generally, they can be impressively rude, sometimes shouting angrily, or - more commonly - totally refusing to acknowledge the fact that you're standing right in front of them. Sometimes they just turn their back to you as you approach.

- The trains are great

- The big cities are noisy places, as well as the ear-splitting airhorns that are well used by almost every bus and lorry, on the streets there's lots of street vendors and shop workers making crackly amplified announcements to one and all.

- A few times I've felt guilty when asked by people about my travelling plans, when it's clear how much they would love to see other countries, but can't, as much because of the bureaucracy involved as the cost.

- Some things take a bit of getting used to, such as loos which can smell worse than day 3 at Glastonbury portaloos. Never any toilet paper there either. At least I got used to squat toilets after a while!

- Apparently the one child policy is more complex than I'd first thought... Parents from ethnic minorities and couples who are both only children are allowed to have more than one child. [[Actually, having just looked it up on Wikipedia (which has been available since I've not been in Mainland China) it seems that it's even more complicated than that.]]

- The hostels are mostly very good, with dorm rooms normally around £1 to £2 and single ones about £3 to £6. I split it about 50/50, but met lots of hardcore travellers, who wouldn't dream of _not_ staying in the biggest(cheapest) dorm available. Only bumped into very occasional rats or cockroach. Most hostels have 24 hour hot water but in a few where it's only for available 2 or 3 hours in the day.

- As well as the impromptu musical gatherings, lots of people sing in the streets as they're wondering along, normally quietly, but sometimes belting songs out for all to enjoy.

- Chinese beer is cheap, mostly 2 to 5 Yuan (about 10 to 30p) a bottle, but not always good. Cigarettes are about 3 to 13 Yuan, some good brands there. Li Yong in Chengdu described Marlboro Lights as 'junk food'! Maybe he's right!

- I was gutted not to find any that fitted me, but there are some great fake brands, including Nkie, Abidas, Abmdas!

- Pleased to report that I've now pretty much got used to squat toilets, but the availability of Western loos - some even with loo paper in Hong Kong was welcome!

Tags: Sightseeing

Comments

1

It's the best travel blog ever. Keep it up! Hope you are having a great time in Thailand. Love Win

  Win Dec 4, 2007 8:26 PM

2

George, I've been reading your blog for a while now and I've been wondering what make and model camera you use.
Thanks

Your blog is great by the way.

  nomadnorrie Dec 20, 2007 1:56 PM

3

Hi Paul, thanks - I use a Panasonic DMC-LX1 and a Nikon D300. Got that Nikon in Bangkok to replace a D80.

  George Dec 21, 2007 10:26 PM

 

 

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