10.00, checked out of He Dong hotel and caught a taxi to the train station. I was feeling pretty grim - hot then freezing cold again (man flu at its worst). To make matters worse our taxi driver crashed into another taxi right near the station, after a bit of banter our driver popped a note into the other drivers pocket and he was soon back behind the wheel again.
At the station you simply follow signs for Hong Kong and eventually pass through border control before entering no man's land; a strip of land in-between China and Hong Kong. This wasn't a pleasurable experience, it was pretty busy and my t-shirt was now wet with sweat, from carrying my oversized rucksack. We walked across a large footbridge which stretched over a river; razor wire stopped people from crossing over this strip of land in both directions. Within in ten minute we were in Hong Kong and on the KCR (Kowloon Canton Railway) heading to Mong Kok where we'd hopefully find Hotel Oriental Lander. Over an hour passed and we knew we were close to the hotel but couldn't locate it, the area was pretty unsightly and we seemed to be going around in circles like two lost Sherpa's. We gave up and jumped in a taxi, the driver could speak English - we were so excited.
The hotel looked ok from the outside but then we walked into the room it was obvious that we'd have to go somewhere else when the girls arrive. We both piled in to the room at the same time and therefore were locked into position like two bodies trapped in a wardrobe.
I was excited to be in Hong Kong but also gutted that I was ill and trapped in a room which resembled a dolls house. For tea I ate a McDonalds followed by a paracetamol, ibuprofen and a diazepam washed down with a glass of red wine; I woke up the next day.
Still feeing grim I decided to stop in bed for most of the day. 14.00, I realised if I slept all day I wouldn't be able to sleep at night so we went for a quiet stroll. I soon realised that you can't have a quiet stroll in Hong Kong, I've never seen such busy streets and everyone seemed to be walking towards us. We walked all the way down Nathan Street until we saw the panoramic view of Hong Kong Island from South Kowloon. I've never seen a skyline like this before; it was quite a cloudy day but the view was still spectacular, almost fake like, as if someone had painted it onto a colossal canvas. We caught the Star Ferry from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island before catching the MTR (Mass Transit Railway) to Causeway bay and ate in one of the side streets next to the Time Square building. If you can work out the London subway system you wouldn't have a problem here, we purchased our Octopus cards (London's equivalent to the Oyster card) and soon mastered the system.
I definitely wasn't well but my brain had forgotten about the 'man flu' - it was trying to process the mass amount of information my eyes were taking in, I've never seen such a lively place. We headed back to Kowloon during rush hour; workers filtered onto the escalator and onto the heavily crowded MTR like trapped rats, I've never seen human traffic like it.
With a land mass of 1,104 km2(426 sq mi) and a population of seven million people, Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated areasin the world.
Back at the hotel it was nice to have a sniffly Skype session with the Jonesco workers whom I miss dearly. I actually forgot what work looked like and after chatting to the boys back in the office I was still left wondering;)
I woke up feeling a bit better and my stomach was rumbling (I must be on the mend). We headed to Tim Ho Wan restaurant in Mongkok which isthe the cheapest starred restaurant in the famed culinary kingdom of the Michelin Guide. When the Michelin Guide first launched in Hong Kong in 2008, it met plenty of criticism - as the mythically snobbish French guide invariably does when it enters a new city. When we arrived we couldn't believe the queue outside the steamy windowed, tiny establishment. You had to get a ticket outside and queue amongst the snake of hungry punters; we were far too hungry for that so ate next door. We'll return back to Tim Ho Wan when the girls and my fellow colleague Mr (food snob) Thornton arrives and produce a combined review of this dim sum haven.
We wanted to check out hotel Jen, which is the hotel we'll be stopping in when the girls arrive in two days; using our octopus cards we caught the MTR to Hong Kong island then an onwards tram to Hotel Jen, it's amazing how much ground you can cover in so little time. The receptionist only had one reservation under my name and nothing for the first few nights, just to confirm we were supposed to be stopping in...
Hotel Jen for 3 nights
Grand Harbour for 3 nights
Then back to the hotel Jen for 4 nights
She was unaware of the first reservation which sent a cold shiver down my spine. I could have booked it there and then but if you book through elong.com (online) you get massive discounts, so we raced back to our hotel in Kowloon to resolve the matter. We were both relieved when my online account flashed 'confirmed', we really didn't want to bring the girls back to the Oriental Lander.
Another alcohol free night for me so Lloydy was drinking for two, I'm hoping that tomorrow will bring sunshine and an end to man flu.
We checked out of our tiny room in the Oriental Lander before catching the MTR to Hong Kong Island. Exiting the underground we piled onto a tram which was awful, I had nowhere to sit and was fully loaded with luggage. Exiting the tram was even worst, my bag kept getting stuck on the roof so I had to bend my legs and almost crawl off the tram like a drunk. Sweating profusely we checked into our much much larger room where we could wash and hang our cloths out before the girls arrived.
After eating some pork and rice from a local restaurant we caught a tram to the Harbour Grand Hotel (the hotel we'd be stopping in for Valentines and Chinese New Year). The tram ride is a great way to see Hong Kong Island and for 20p per trip you can see why 240,000 residents per day use this public form of transport. We'd travelled from Whitty street to North point before walking the last 100 metres to the Harbour Grand which towered over us; the high rise hotel looked very impressive. We were a bit reluctant to walk into the lobby because of all the posh cars pulling up outside and we were dressed in our scruffs, however like any other visitor the doors were flung open for us and we walked in to what was the most striking lobby I've ever seen. Chandeliers glistened above us and a large beautiful water feature trickled down the wall of the grand staircase. We confirmed our reservation and I asked if we could see a suite as I'd be stopping here next month on business (lie).
At £600 per night the suite was unreal, it had a huge living area with panoramic views of the city's skyline, the room was pristine and the only dirty things in there were me and Lloyd. However the next time I visit the Harbour Grand I'll be nice and fresh and also have a gorgeous girl with me.
After a sweet and sour chicken breakfast / lunch we headed to the airport to pick Mel and Katie up. First we'd catch a tram then the MTR and then the airport express shuttle train. The express train is exceptionally clean and roomy and has a business class feel to it (£8 for a round trip).
We waited about an hour before the girls appeared, I felt pretty nervous - would Mel still fancy me with my huge afro? However when I saw her again it was like we hadn't been apart. Even though the girls were probably suffering from jet lag and exhaustion they both looked fab and we couldn't wait for the week ahead.
The four of us checked back into Hotel Jen and met up again later in the evening for some food and a celebratory drink before retiring to our rooms.
Late morning Mel and I headed to the New Year Flower market which sounds a little gay however
The traditional Chinese New Year's eve flower market has become both a flower market and a market for all sorts of stuff. It was packed with people and at certain times it was so crowded that we were pressed against other bodies' just like during rush hours in anMTRtrain.
People exchange fresh-cut flowers, potted flowers and trees to express good wishes. Everyone buys either a plum, peach or quince tree; like a Christmas tree the fruit tree decorates the homes and businesses.
We met up with Lloyd and Katie as well as the Thorntons (Andy, Wendy and Alex); having not seen any family or friends for a couple of months it was nice to be surrounded by familiar faces. The girls could have chosen from an array of beautiful flowers ranging from Narcissus to Peonies however they both left the market with a windmill type thing with a frogs head on it.
We took the girls to Time square which was beautifully decorated with Chinese decorations. Me and James spotted a music shop boasting a million dollar piano, the shop also had a number of guitars in it, one of which I plugged into a nearby Marshall amp and had a little blast. We arrived at the top floor of the Time Square building before catching the external transparent lift back down to ground level. We ate in a traditional fast food restaurant in a side street just behind the Time Square, beef tendon, mushroom and sausage noodle soup. The meal was pretty good for about £2 but the tendon was a weird texture and we all agreed we wouldn't be eating it again.
In the evening we met back up with the Thornton family and headed towards the Michelin star dim sum restaurant however it was shut for New Year. We were a bit disappointed but found another restaurant which seemed popular with the locals so we ate there instead. After a walk round the night market and a few gun shops we headed back to Hong Kong Island via the Star Ferry. Founded in 1888 the fleet of twelve passenger ferries carry 70,000 people across Victoria harbour every day.
It was the first time we'd see the stunning the skyline in the evening and it was a spectacular scene, I've never seen so many lights; from lasers to animated light shows the vista was stunning.
After a couple of drinks in Soho we headed back to Hotel Jen for a night cap.
Valentine's day and Chinese New Year
Catching the tram to the Harbour Grand with both Mel's stuff and mine was a bit of a struggle however we eventually arrived and both made our way down the red carpet to the check in desk. I had already seen the lobby however this time was exceptionally special as a harpist was playing on the top of the grand stairway.
The room was made up of a bathroom, bedroom and living area, we sat on the couch and Mel opened an array of presents which I'd collected for her on my travels.
Later that evening we met up the rest of the gang, bought a load of beer from the seven eleven and watched the New Year parade; considered the focal point of the city's celebrations, the Chinese New Year parade in Hong Kong is truly spectacular. Winding through the streets of Hong Kong, the parade is a cavalcade of colour and noise, packed with both home-grown floats and those from abroad. Seemingly half of Hong Kong turns out onto the streets for the Chinese New Year parade and the energy and enthusiasm of the parade is matched by the crowd.
All in all it was the best Valentine's Day ever.
After an early morning swim in the outdoor pool overlooking the harbour followed by asauna and steam room we grabbed a couple of cakes from the local bakery before catching an MTR to the space museum in Kowloon; however it was shut because of the New Year festival. As an alternative we decided to go for a lovely lunch at DG's located next to 1881 shopping area, Camembert Balls and Tempura Prawns to start followed by a pizza; Mel insisted to pay for the meal as a valentines treat. We visited Tiffanies before walking into the Peninsular Hotel (one of the grandest in HK), however to have a cup of tea here it would have taken an hour to queue, which we thought was a pretty long time to wait for a brew.
We walked along the front which overlooked Hong Kong Island and couldn't believe that at 16.30 people were preparing their tripods for the firework display at 22.00.We wondered through the World Trade Centre before tea and scones in the International Hotel which boasted panoramic views of Hong Kong Island. Mel and I ordered freshly made scones which we washed down with two delicious beverages, Mel had a traditional cappuccino and I had Marco Polo tea which was stupendous.
The fireworks were due to kick off in a few hours so we decided to head back to the Harbour Grand for a siesta. We both woke up in a mad panic at 19.30 and were meant to meeting the others in the lobby at 19.45, we loaded Mel's bag with booze which we'd bought from the 7/11 and got into the lift. The lift took about 15 minutes before eventually stopping at the ground floor (up, down, up, down); 19.59 and no sign of the others we raced to the door and showed our ID to the security staff before racing across the car parkto the water's edge. We were half way across the car park and heard a huge explosion; the display had just started lighting up the entire sky which helped us locate the rest of the crew. Fireworks were fired from boats lit up the sky, the sound was like something from a war movie, sound waves bounced off the skyscrapers like mini sonic booms, the scene was breath taking and probably lasted between 20 minutes to half an hour.
We retired to Andy's room (in my white robe) for drinks and food, all in all a perfect day.
It was a reasonably clear day so after a couple of egg tarts from the bakery we headed to Hong Kong peak via Hong Kong Park. We met up with the others outside the tram stop and joined the huge queue; it seemed that everyone in Hong Kong had had the same idea about visiting the peak on such a clear day. After about an hour and a half we fought our way onto the tram and raced to get a seat, the locals were pushing and shoving so we stuck our elbows out forming a small Chinese barrier. The Peak Tram's route from Central district to Victoria Peak covers a distance of about 1.4 kilometres and a height difference of just less than 400 metres. The line has two pronounced curves, one to the left immediately after leaving the lower terminus, and the other to the right in the upper half of the ascent. The gradient also varies considerably throughout the ascent making photography particular difficult in areas. We arrived at the top and made our way through the shopping centre to the viewing terrace. It was definitely worth the long queue to see Hong Kong Island and Kowloon from such a high vantage point. Mel and I stopped on the terrace for quite a while mesmerised by the view and buzzards soaring above us.
We had a quick bite to eat in a Burger King which must be the best Burger King in terms of views ever. The queue back on the tram was as big as it was at the bottom and we were now chasing time as we had a meal booked at 188 degrees for 19.30 (Harbour Grand Restaurant) so we caught a taxi back to the Harbour Grand (£6).
After another bath and couple of drinks in the room Mel and I joined the others in the restaurant, we arrived at the forty first floor and made our way to the table. I felt like a million dollars, the panoramic views of the city were magnificent and Mel looked stunning. Everyone had made an effort for the evening but Alex stole the show with his little waistcoat. We ordered a bottle of Deakin Estate wine (Mel's surname) and a cocktail each, I had the Pina Collada and Mel had the rainbow coloured 'Punched'. The drinks arrived at around the same time as the light show; this multimedia display, already named the "World's Largest Permanent Light and Sound Show" by Guinness World Records, has been further expanded to include more than 40 buildings on both sides of Victoria Harbour.
After a foam pallet cleanser our lobster bisque arrived followed by pork confit (cauliflower coated poached egg, bread crumb coated pork filled ball and an oyster) and foie gras (foie gras, jus jelly, brioche and some kind of powder). We shared our starters before the main course arrived, tender strips of beef which melted in our mouths, I can honestly say I've never eaten meat like it before. For desert we all had apple and cookie dough served in a jar with a dipping stick which popped and crackled on our tongues. Every mouth full of the meal was delicious and the restaurant was also first class, I'd definitely recommend 188 to anyone visiting Hong Kong.
We packed our bags and checked out of the Harbour Grand, it was definitely the most difficult of hotels I'd ever checked out of as we'd fallen in love with the place from day one. We checked back into the hotel Jen but this time were on the 17th floor with a view of the harbour, it was nothing like the Harbour Grand but still pretty nice. We joined Lloyd and Katie in a local fast food establishment where we ate goose and rice, later that day we bought our ferry tickets to Macau; it was pretty difficult communicating with the ticket vendor as New Year dragons and drums paraded through the building.
Andy and I were jumping from the Macau Tower in the morning (which is the world biggest bungy jump), now we had the ferry tickets there was no turning back.
That evening we were pretty tired, Mel and I decided to have a slob night and watch a film, I needed an early night to mentally prepare myself for the jump which I was starting to get slightly nervous about. We ate a McDonalds on our high window ledge overlooking the hustle and bustle below, it was funny to think that the night before we were dining in such luxury and now we were eating a McD's, I suppose that's the beauty of travelling.
After a shower and some serious mental preparation which involved listening to heavy rock music we met the others at the ferry terminal. We'd bought the tickets the day before and was told that the ticket was an open ticket, however once we'd passed through passport control and tried to board the ferry we were told that our ferry disembarked at 7.00 and we'd have to wait in a 'standby queue' which was ok until we realised that the queue was massive and the people waiting were hoping to get on the 10.45 ferry. We told the staff our predicament and that we had a bungy jump booked for 11.30 the staff member told us he'd see what he could do but he soon disappeared. Our plan was to get to the ticket office and change the ticket for the afternoon and also change the bungy jump time, however because our passports had been stamped we were trapped in no man's land and nobody seemed to know what to do including passport control. After a lot of shouting and balling we were escorted past the 'stand by queue' and onto a ferry (I don't think they wanted to cause a scene - at this point we were all losing our tempers).
The one hour ferry ride was quite enjoyable and we were lucky enough to pass a Nimitz. One of ten nuclear powered aircraft carriers in service withthe United States Navy. With an overall length of 1,092 ft (333 m) and displacements of over 100,000 long tons, they are the largest capital shipsin the world.
We arrived in Macau at around 11.00 but then had to join another queue for passport control; we tried to ring the tower but couldn't get through. 11.35 We eventually flagged down a taxi which raced us to the tower, 11.55 Andy and I ran into the 338m tower only to be told it was too windy to jump. I was furious but kept my cool whilst Andy spoke to the jump master on the staff phone, after a bit of negotiating we were told we could do a sky jump for half price as well as a free Sky Walk.
The Sky Jump is a fast controlled decent from the same height as the bungy and the free Sky walk is a walk around the towers outer rim.We were disappointed we couldn't bungy but excited for the other activities; we signed the declaration and started to harness up. Jump Master Charlie approached us and told us he had some good news "the wind has dropped and you boys can bungy" my stomach turned and I felt sick. Everyone started to rush around and things seemed a little hectic and unnerving, a crowd of Chinese people had started to form and were talking photos of me and Andy. Forcing a smile I said my goodbyes to the others before walking out onto the cold and windy platform. Andy was up first, the crowd of people had now doubled, and he uttered a few nervous words to the video camera before the countdown. Before I knew it he'd jumped hurting towards the floor at terminal velocity, my mind was playing tricks with me and my stomach was all tingly, I kept telling myself I'll be at the bottom within seconds but it still felt slightly suicidal. I lay on a cold metal desk and the jump assistance bound my feet together - everything seemed slightly dreamy, I remember talking to the video camera but can't remember what I said, I waved to Alex and Wendy and the crowd of Chinese tourist before standing up shuffling my way to the edge. Mel, Katie and James were watching from a lower floor, within seconds I'd fly past their window. My toes where now overhanging the platform, Mel could see my toes from below, a final wave to the camera on my right and the terrifying countdown began, five, four, three, two, one bungy. My brain was going crazy - high with endorphins, I stuck my arms out and chin up before dropping past the viewing window and towards the ground. The jump was amazing and definitely the hardest metal challenge I've ever completed 'would I do it again' - probably.
Andy was waiting for me at the bottom with a big smile on his face we were both pretty ecstatic to see each other alive again.We waited at the bottom of the tower for Alex to perform his Sky Jump, at one point I thought the seven year old dare devil had opted out but soon enough we saw two bodies hurtling towards the crash mat. Alex and the staff member touched down with smiles on their faces, Andy embraced Alex in what was probably one of his proudest moments. The three of us caught the staff lift back up to the top where the rest of the gang were waiting. After a few high fives and group hugs we were harnessed up ready for our Skywalk except this time Mel would be joining us.
We began to make our way onto the windy outer rim that encircles the tower, there were no hand rails and we were 233 metres high. The harness was connected to a rail above our heads via a seatbelt mechanism, if you tugged the belt hard it would lock, but if you pulled it slowly you could get enough slack to hang off the edge of the rim. I thought it would be a walk in the park after doing the bungy but it was pretty scary and my legs were a little wobbly to start with, however we were soon playing games and tasks set by the staff member. The first task was to stand on one leg and hang off the side of the tower, this built up everyone's trust with the equipment; before we knew it we were using the belt and harness like a zip line, taking a run up and propelling ourselves from the platform with our feet in the air. Mel and I sat on the edge of the platform overlooking the grand casinos and hotels in Macau.
The seven of us ate in a restaurant at the bottom of the tower before returning on the ferry after an adrenaline fuelled day.
Later that evening we met up with the Thornton's and Mel's friends Carly and Dave for a celebratory drink in Soho, it would be the last drink we'd have with the Thornton's before their flight home.
After a stroll to the bakery for breakfast the four of us caught the Sub way to Lantau Island. In Lantau we caught a cable car into the mountains to visit the large Buddha, the ride up wasn't brilliant with visibility down to zero. We exited the cable car and walked into a small village with tourist shops on both sides, if there hadn't been so many people walking around the place it would have been extremely eerie because of the dense mist. We walked up some steep stone steps and about half way up we spotted the outline of the huge Buddha looking down at us, it was like a giant coming out of a the clouds. We walked around the monastery before heading back down the steps and into a shop where the girls bought some decorative chopsticks. We were about to head back but heard a drum beating in the background, the visibility was now only metres but through the mist we found another monastery and some incense burners which we lit in a large caildron. In the queue for the cable car the mist broke revealing a magical glimpse of the large Buddha. Sat on a hill with clouds swirling round him, it was a perfect ending to the day. The cable car home was pretty impressive as clouds danced through the valleys below at a rapid speed; it was like a scene from Lord of the Rings.
In the evening we ate at our hotel Sky lounge and treated ourselves to sirloin steak and fish and chips both the meals were delicious; the scenery wasn't as good as the 188 degree restaurant but still pretty amazing.
10.00 Mel and I met James and Katie in the hotel lobby and caught a taxi to Ocean Park which is Hong Kong's equivalent to Alton Towers. Initially we had planned to visit Disney Land but everyone we spoke to said it was a tacky rip off of its American equivalent and extremely bias towards very young children; we wanted Roller Coasters not a hug from Mickey Mouse and a ride in the tea cups. Ocean Park was great fun consisting of two large sites linked together via a cable car and train ride; we headed for the cable cars which dropped us to the site where the bigger rides were sited. We were pretty lucky we had beaten the tourist to this section and only had to queue for a matter of minutes to ride on the rollercoaster, log flume and Abyss which was a large pole to which you ascend in a harness seat only to be dropped at terminal velocity.
After a bite to eat we visited the jelly fish centre before watching the dolphin show which was one of the highlights of Ocean Park. On our way back to towards the exit we visited the Panda sanctuary and watched pandas (including the rare red panda) play, I was a bit sceptical about the sanctuary at first thinking the pandas would be in small cages, however the runs were pretty roomy and a the pandas seemed to be pretty happy and care free.
Back at hotel Jen, Mel and I had a huge sleep before heading to Soho for what would be our last night out together for a while. We spent the night in Insomnia; a classy club which played live music, the band were pretty good playing a selection of western songs. The club had a good vibe to it but for £8 a drink we had soon spent up and headed back to the Hotel Jen for a night cap.
After a huge lie in we met up with James and Katie and headed across to Kowloon and ate in a Vietnamese restaurant. Mel bought one or two things for her family before we returned back to hotel Jen for what would be our last few hours together. We both reluctantly packed up our belongings; it had been a perfect week together and we really didn't want to be parted. 21.00 James and I escorted the girls to the airport and said our farewells, 'I hate goodbyes'.
After the girls left us we headed back to the strip club and massage parlour (only joking Mel) we had a McDonalds and took the meal back to our now empty rooms where we spent our first night in months alone. I was sad Mel had gone home but excited for the next leg of our journey - Vietnam.
Favourite area - Soho
Favourite accommodation - Harbour Grand
Favourite person - Mel
Favourite food - 188 Meal
Favourite drink - Guiness (Speical Import)
Favourite moment - Firework display at New Year
Worst area - Some parts of Kowloon
Worst accommodation -Hotel Oriental Lander - tiny room
Worst person - The number of people who push on the subways
Worst food - Beef Tendon
Worst drink - Ice cream soda drink
Worst moment - Packing my bag and saying goodbye to Mel
Favourite area - Soho
Favourite accommodation - Harbour Grand
Favourite person - Kate
Favourite food - Le 188 restaurant
Favourite drink - Lemon mint daiquiri (amazing)
Favourite moment - The abyss at ocean park (also amazing)
Worst area -North Kowloon
Worst accommodation - Oriental lander's tiny room
Worst person -Subway attendants
Worst food -Tendon soup
Worst drink - Warm beer
Worst moment -N/A