Well we're day three and having an awesome time! It's 7.30pm on Thursday and I'm writing to you from the rooftop garden/bar (29 floors up!) of our hotel, while Tom's doing his first teaching session. After three days of slogging it around in the 34 degree heat, this is a VERY welcome break, it's like there's different air up here! I wish I could get a picture but my camera is not up to the night/city lights type shot, I'll have to get Tom up here some time. It's AMAZING, I feel like a very lucky girl sitting here! We're probably about a mile from the harbour (I'm not sure, my measuring skills aren't the best) and yet I can still see all the way to the island! Best seat in the world for the 8pm light show? We'll see!
Anyway, trip so far...
We arrived out our hotel mid afternoon on Tuesday, it's a really lovely hotel, brand new. We we're greeted with a cup of lemon ice tea on arrival which was a nice touch, especially as BA had not been particularly forthcoming with drinks on the flight. In line with the usual Hong Kong standards the room is pretty small but very nice. There's free wi-fi and, a particularly nice touch, they even provide a mobile phone, with full 3G internet access and free local and international calls! Completely free to use. The 3G is very useful when we're out and about and the call's mean we can have a chat at sometime,although the 8 hour time difference may make that tricky I guess.
All checked in a freshened up we wandered down to the harbour and partook in our favourite 20p entertainment: a ride on the Star Ferry! On arrival in HK island we resisted the temptation to turn straight around and Star Ferry back and instead took a leisurely stroll along the promenade. Returning to Kowloon (yes, on the ferry) we continued our strolling in the direction of the bars, making a quick pit stop for some food on a stick (lobster and chicken balls we think, but that's only a guess!). A couple of drinks more relaxed than usual we headed over to one of our favourite restaurants, Spring Deer, where we had a dinner of spicy chicken, spicy tofu/pork and some kind of lamb dish, before heading back to bed. A short and casual reintroduction to HK but we we're VERY tired!
Wednesday started fairly early, and by 9am we had our filled bread rolls and cans of iced coffee in hand and headed over to HK island where we enjoyed our breakfast by the fountain in HK Park. The park is lovely, it's a large space nestled right in between all the skyscrapers, full of trees and flowers from all over the world. I'm sure I read a few years ago that the idea was to create as beautiful a place as possible as a get away for the city workers, I reckon they came pretty close! While there we took in the Tai Chi pavilion, popular with the older residents, and took the 102 steps up to the viewing deck (no easy feat in the heat/humidity). We also visited the outdoor aviary, which has a tree level walkway to put you right up with the birds. On from there we made a quick stop at the Botanical Gardens and Zoo, and then continued on our "leisure walk" which took in more unusual buildings such as the government buildings, the court of appeal, and St John's Catherdral which was small but beautiful and we were lucky enough to catch it when there was a live pianist/flautist performance!
After our walk we headed back to Central district of the island where there's a teahouse that we visited on our very first trip, that we always look back on as our first and best true HK dim sum experience. In fact a foodie guide recently described it as "more Hong Kong than most of Hong Kong". It's very informal, VERY LOUD and can be quite intimidating if you don't know what to expect! It's basically one enormous room with big round tables seating between six and eight people, you find a seat wherever you can (this time it was so busy we only got seats on our second attempt) and grab a waiter to bring you a pot of tea. Then begins the cleaning ritual: in many of the more informal dining places, you are brought a bowl in which to wash your teacup, rice bowl, spoon and chopsticks using the first lot of tea from your pot. It's not really necessary as everything is already clean but it's very traditional, also it uses up the first of the tea which is always bitter, the leaves make much nicer, milder tea the second time round. It took us ages to settle into this as routine, but we're starting to feel like locals now! Eating in this teahouse is also very traditional, there are little old ladies (NONE of whom speak English) pushing around trollies stacked high with bamboo steamer baskets, so it's very much grab one and take what they've got, try to avoid chicken feet, be brave and hope for the best! This time we managed to identify mostly everything except one dish, which we think was some kind of liver but with something else very delicious but we have NO idea what! It was pink, very soft and tender, looked a little like brain but tasted DELISH!! We thought at first it might be sweetbreads, but it seem to 'fit into' the liver, so we're not sure! It was nice anyway!
After lunch we headed to Chi Lin Nunnery and the Nan Lian gardens in Diamond Hill. Again, this is somewhere we've been before, but it's really nice, you'd probably recognise a lot of the photo's from our house. by the time we were done there it was around four pm and we were not only tired, but feeling pretty gross from the heat, so we headed back to freshen up.
In the evening we headed to Lok Fu which was the site of the old Kowloon Walled City. The "City" was destroyed in 1993 and is now a park, but if you don't know of it you should look it up. It's essentially an area where the buildings themselves formed a wall enclosing an entire community. They had their own laws and everything, it held an estimated 33,000 people which equates to a density of 1.2m per square km!! The park that is there now is very nice though, and good for a stroll when the temperature drops after dark to a more manageable 28/29 degrees(!). Our main reason for heading to the area though was food! We went a couple of years ago with Jet, a local Tom know's through his teaching, and the area is known for very good, authentic Thai food. So with our OpenRice app in hand (you've got to love a community so into food they have a whole social network/review site centred around where to eat!) we set out in search of a good meal and we're not disappointed. We plumped for one solid "know we'll like it" dish of seafood soup, one "pretty sure we'll like it" dish of pork neck salad and one, "who knows" dish of stir fried frog in spicy salt! The soup was pretty good, but nothing you couldn't get back home probably. The frog was also pretty good, the coating was delicious but the meat itself didn't taste of much and as you may have guessed was fairly boney. Nice to say we've tried it though! The pork neck salad not he other hand was a winner! Second time I've had pork neck now and I'm definitely a fan, very tasty!
Today we were up and off by 8.30 (the plan for this trip, believe or not was to take it slower than usual!!!!), and again with a bag of yummy bready treats and canned iced coffee in hand we headed out to Siu Hong in the New Territories where we were hoping to visit the Gig Lok monastery. Like a lot of the New Territories Siu Hong is very much off the tourist trail, but we'd seen pictures of the monastery online and it looked very unusual so we thought we'd give it a go. We managed to find the correct street and could see the monastery as we were walking up, but very unusually it appeared to be behind locked gates. Quickly hatching a cunning plan, I grabbed Tom to slow down (something I'm having to do surprisingly often despite the heat!) as there was a women walking just a little ahead of us appearing to be heading to there. Sure enough, she presses a button and is buzzed in. Just as we've decided this is some sort of "members only" place of worship, she sees us looking all confused and very happily gestures for us to come in. We're so glad she did! It was lovely, nothing like the big touristy monasterys we've visited before. We had a wander past a building where we could here the singing from the ongoing service round to the back where there was a large shrine hall. We hovered a little on the steps looking in to giant Buddhas at the other end of the hall. All of a sudden we were approached by a young man dressed in robes who told us to go in an look around if we wanted and pretty much make ourselves at home! He was very kind and welcoming, very happy that we'd found them and even invited us to join them for lunch if we wanted to come back after the service was over! He told us all about the monastery, apparently they have several around the world, even one in Bristol! It was a great,we often find the smaller temples, monasteries etc are the best/most welcoming.
From there we headed to the Miu Fat Monastery which, despite being a little more on the tourist trail, is still very much undiscovered. This is, without a doubt, the strangest monastery we've been to. It was a relatively large complex with two Shrine Halls. The first was very traditional: old building, very colourful and ornate. The second was so modern it was hard to believe it was even vaguely a religious site! Very white concrete and glass building. The shrine hall itself was on the seventh (top) floor and was a massively high ceilinged, very white room with glass walls. It was very strange to see the huge gold Buddhas sitting in such modern surroundings. As this was a more touristy place (although you'd be forgiven for thinking so - we were the only people there!!) Tom could take some pictures so I found myself a rare seat in shade to have a rest. While I was there, a little old, very smiley, lady wandered up to me: "hello!" So I said hello back. Now, despite the younger generation all speaking very good English, much of the older generation (especially in the New Territories) doesn't and sure enough she was no different: she follows up with something like "or me tor fat", cue a blank and rather panicky look from me! Again, she persists, still smiling and this time with her hands together and little bow: "or me tor fat" so, I think catching on but who knows, I return the gesture and my best attempt at pronunciation, she grins very happily and continues on her way! If only I was learning Cantonese and not Mandarin! My teacher is actually Cantonese so I'll have to ask her.
We continued what was rapidly becoming our Temple Day with a trip to Wong Tai Sin, an INCREDIBLY touristy temple. Honestly, there must have been several hundred people there, but we were expecting this from past experience. However, also from past experience, we know the Good Wish Garden, part of the complex, is always quiet so we had a nice stroll round there.
As it's getting on for early afternoon by this point, we decide to head for lunch at another of our top choice dim sum places in a mall next to the temple, only to find it's gone! There were almost tears I tell you! We did find another place though, but it was quite an experience. We though we had most restaurants in Honk Kong down now, but this one caught us out! There was a bit of a queue (which we always take as a good sign) but we eventually manage to grab the hostess for a number (they kind of work like supermarket deli bars: grab a number and wait your turn) only this time, she scribbles down 73 and waves us towards the back of the, typically very loud, very busy, restaurant. Surely we're not getting seated straight away? We hover around feeling kinda lost, still not really not knowing what to do, only to be waved towards the back of the restaurant again, so off we go and sure enough there is an empty table 73, so a little flustered, we sit down. And are brought tea. Phew ok, got this far! Next, how do we order? There are no trollies being pushed around so it must be a tick what you want kind of job. Sure enough, after a bit of a root through the various bits of paper we find one that looks like a dim sum tick sheet, only.... It's entirely in Cantonese! Now unfortunately, although I can read a lot of Chinese script I can only read simplified script, which replaced traditional script in most of China fifty years ago.... Except Hong Kong! so now we're faced with the prospect of having to go by the few characters that are the same: beef, rice, or just going for it and seeing what we get! Thankfully after a fraught few minutes a waitress grasps that we're English and brings an English menu! We ended up with a very nice lunch of grouper fillets, squid, mini pork ribs, shanghai dumplings, chashao style dumplings (no idea, don't ask!) and little coconut, sesame paste dumplings. Yummy!
You bored yet?!
After lunch we went to look up somewhere new that we'd read about recently, being the roof garden of the IFC mall back on HK island. to Hong Kong standards it's not that high, probably only about seven stories or so, but as it's near the harbour it still offers quite a nice view - for now anyway - it looks like they're building a new tower right in front of it! They've created a really nice garden type space up there and although there are lot of bars and restaurants, most of the seating is completely for public use. Apparently a "recession busting" trend is to buy your booze from the supermarket inside the mall and take it up to the roof! We may go back and try that one evening!
After that, we had a very quick stop off at a tiny Tin Hao temple on Nathan Road, another we've seen before but it's so lovely, before heading back to hotel.
After waving Tom off to do his teaching I had a nice relaxing bath, to soothe my aching feet mostly!, before heading up here to the roof, where I've now been sitting for nearly three hours writing this! (Dad, that'll teach you to ask me to write!)
I've had two glasses of wine so forgive the typos, and misplaced/missing apostrophes and I hope you've enjoyed the update. Shorter ones will follow!
Bye for now!