Posts Tagged 'Travel'

Macau Trip!

Recently, a few friends and I went to Macau for the weekend. Macau is the SAR next to Hong Kong, about 1 hour’s ride away on the jet ferry from Hong Kong, and at a pretty affordable price.

We went early on the Saturday morning for our trip, with the feeling of really going abroad when going through customs when we reached there. The free casino buses were eager to take us to their casinos, but people just use them to get around the city for free! We boarded one to take us to the Old Town part.

There we did a lot of photography and sightseeing, particularly looking at the Façade of St Paul’s Cathedral, the only remaining wall of it. We grabbed some lunch from the stalls around that main tourist hub, including some traditional Macanese pork chop bun.
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As it got later, we headed to the night-life sector where all the brand new, huge super-casinos are. Having never been to Vegas, this place gave me that awe-inspiring ‘Vegas-feeling’ and more! Brightly lit up in the dusk, and later, night sky, they were amazing.

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We headed to The Venetian first, which had a mock-style canal similar to Venice (complete with gondolas!). We tried out a few of the casino games there too, only a few bets though. It’s a shame we did not get to see a show this time round, but will try and come again soon.
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After a long night of checking out the casinos, we headed to our hotel. With this being a weekend trip, we stayed at a hotel we found through Hotelclub.com for the night. A much needed rest after the long day we had!

The Sunday, being our last day, we headed out again to check out the Macau tower. This thing is huge! The views were amazing from the top, and, even though we were too chicken to do the skywalk, that looked amazing too. You can actually walk around the outside of the highest point of the tower (safety harness on, of course). This would make a great birthday/Christmas gift for someone who is an adrenaline seeker for sure.

With our last few hours, we headed back to the old town to explore some more and walk the streets. We went past the Lisboa, the most famous and one of the oldest of the casinos there. With it being time to head to our ferry port, we caught an evening ferry back to Hong Kong, ready for work on Monday morning.

All in all, I thought Macau gave the tourist everything they would want. Great food, a new culture to experience, many modern and old places to visit and a great atmosphere. With the price of a ferry from Hong Kong, it is definitely worth a visit if you’re around Hong Kong and have a couple of days to spare.

Singapura Singapore

I’d heard a bit about Singapore from colleagues or students. Before I went I had the impression that it was a smaller, more expensive Hong Kong – British colonial relics surrounded by newer, modern economic buildings of a Tiger economy, boasting an international population living in harmony.

They were right about the expensive part: Nat and I took $380 between us for the weekend and had $27 left for Sunday! Suppose though that you spend what you want and a day can be as cheap as you like if you’re willing to budget.

Our hostel was in the Arab quarter, an area with short, colonial-looking architecture with bars, hostels, restaurants and shops on the ground floors and a Mosque on the street. A really lively place, and very welcoming – not a closed off region of the city one might get the impression of. The hostel we stayed at was the Inn-crowd Backpacker’s Hostel – lots of backpackers from around the world, and it was reasonably priced.

We visited the Mustafa Centre (a renowned shopping place) which more or less reminded me of TK Maxx or something. I had to buy some shorts there as it was 31 degrees and I’d only brought my skinny jeans for the 2 days, what an idiot. But it was a decent place to buy stuff.

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We then headed to Chinatown, which. despite its name, had a huge Hindu temple in the middle of it – the Sri Mariamman Temple. There was a small ceremony going on when we got there with a guy with all his Hindu gear on throwing sheets of cloth into a fire pit while chanting. Having been surrounded in Buddhist temples in Hong Kong and Taiwan for 7 months, this was a welcomed change in seeing different cultures.

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Of course, there was a huge Buddhist temple down the road too – the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, which is named because it claims to have a tooth of the Buddha in the temple. We didn’t see this tooth, so they may have put it in a statue or urn or something, but was beautiful inside. Again, there was a service on where the monks were spraying the congregation with water from a blessed pot while chanting.


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We headed outside and the famous Chinatown markets were there – old fellas playing Mahjong, stalls selling food and souvenirs etc. We went to a Vietnamese restaurant for lunch and bought some stuff. We took the MRT (subway) to the Marina Bay area – a new area (clearly funded from Singapore’s recent economic boom) with the Singapore Flyer (big wheel, think London Eye) and the casino/hotel Marina Bay Sands (weirdly designed building of 3 separate adjacent buildings with a long roof garden connecting all 3). We went on the Flyer, took some amazing pictures there, then had a chill in the midday sun in an outdoor Greek theatre with a Tiger Beer, which was proper nice. We check out the Pit Stop for the Grand Prix circuit too – weird seeing this after seeing it on TV for the past couple of years, a definite highlight!


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View from the Singapore Flyer

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Me at the Singapore Grand Prix Circuit

We headed to a place further around the bay, where the canals begin to flow into the city. Here there were an array of old colonial relics, interestingly preserved. One was the Fullerton Hotel by the quayside, the Cavanagh Bridge, Victoria Theatre and Museum of Asian Civilisations.

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We then did, for me, the highlight of the trip – we headed to the tallest point of Singapore – the roof garden Altitude Bar. It’s on the 62nd floor of a bank building and the views were spectacular. S$25 entry, with a free drink – which of course had to be a Singapore Sling cocktail. We stayed from 6pm to about 9pm there so got to see the sunset too with Malaysia on one side and Indonesia on the other – amazing!

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Me, a Singapore Sling and the amazing view

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Altitude Bar

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We headed to our last stop that day, the Sultan’s Mosque near the Bugis MRT stop. It too was an example of great architecture, and showed how diverse Singapore is. Unfortunately visiting times were over but it looked amazing. We headed back to the Arab Quarter and went to a curry house for dinner. I cheekily made sure we went to the one which had the Fulham vs Stoke match on and enjoyed a beer and curry before calling it a day.

On Sunday, we had a a few hours in the morning before we would head to the airport at 3pm for our flight. We headed to the old British colonial centre to check it out. We went through the grounds of St. Andrew’s Cathedral, a big white-washed Church with the British coat of arms still on its architecture. Next to that was a rugby pitch with a game on, the Cricket fields with a few guys practising in front of the Pavilion. Next to that was the Supreme Court/Government Building, which was being rejuvenated while we were there. There’s also a war memorial in the spitting image of London’s cenotaph, commemorating Singaporeans’ sacrifices in the 2 World Wars.

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A little further through the grass, English-looking public gardens, Victorian waterfalls and lampposts, we found the famous Raffles Hotel, named after Stamford Raffles, the founder of modern Singapore, whose statue had been unveiled in 1887. Definitely had to get a photo with the head porter, although my shirt does look like it’s licking him…

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Our last stop was the Merlion Park – a Fountain statue of Singapore’s emblem/mascot – a hybrid creature of the Lion and Merman. His image is everywhere on t-shirts, models, keyrings and postcards, and tourists love the dude. After a few banter pictures with it, we headed to the airport and headed home with literally S$2 to our name when we got on the plane. Pretty efficient budgeting…

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Overall, I loved Singapore. It was similar to Hong Kong with its colonial parts, which is the bit of history I find really interesting. But also the pace of life was much slower there. Things were open on Sundays but there was fewer people out and about. The MRT was never fulled to the brim like in Hong Kong’s rush hours. 4 of the world’s major religions and cultures lived and worship there – Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhist. There’s a pleasant mix of European, Chinese, Malaysian and Tamil cultures in architecture, people and practises. Things are expensive but not extortionate. It was a warmer, slower Hong Kong: a place, which, if I was loaded, could see myself spending a lot of time there. The retired, old expats and younger Europeans looked to enjoy life there, every culture on an equal footing. Definitely the little gem of South East Asia.

And as per, here’s a video I made of Spectacular Singapore:

The Markets of Hong Kong

Markets are a major part of Hong Kong’s business. Shops selling similar items all locate in the same area – convenient for a customer’s ability to shop around and search for the best deal. This also means because of the higher level of competition between businesses or market stalls, the staff are overly friendly, enthusiastic for you to try things, keen at making deals and a tad more easily persuaded if you haggle the right way.

Ladies’ Market – The most famous market, filled with tourists. The vendors all have calculators to type amounts in, seen as people from an array of different countries are always there. Contrary to its name, it sells an array of items – tourist ‘I ❤ HK’ t-shirts, magnets and souvenirs, football shirts, bags and suitcases, and definitely-authentic designer clothes, bags, wallets and belts. Because genuine Dolce and Gabbana boxer shorts or a Gucci bag are always a couple of quid… The market stall owners work hard putting the stalls up and pulling them down every day – we’re talking long metal scaffolding here, and it doesn’t look like an easy job. Logic says leave the stalls up through the night, but I think there are some legal issues with this common sense, or plainly the owners would rather keep there property under lock and key during the night. I get to walk down the street quite a lot as it’s parallel to the long Nathan Road, on Tung Choi Street. Anyone thinking of going, go for the atmosphere and maybe try your bartering and haggling skills, but there are cheaper options elsewhere, and they can spot a tourist a mile off! Here’s some pictures of the market stalls, including one from above, during night.

Sham Shui Po Market – We came across this gold mine by accident. One evening we had a few friends round, ran out of beers and so the flatmates and I went on a beer-run, trying to find a supermarket closer to our place than the one we knew. We walked right into the middle of Sham Shui Po market – so vast and widely spread out. There are toy shops, costume shops, electric shops galore, with street markets similar to Ladies’ Market on the road, and most evenings, a jumble sale/Car Boot/Yard sale sort of structure. Adrian got his acoustic guitar there for $100 that very night (less than £10) and it can be a real gold mine if you run into the thing you are looking for. I found my favourite stall here – the one shown below where Football shirts and shorts are $45 for both, and they have so many different teams represented. Still searching for an Oldham Athletic or Northern Premier League Premier Division’s finest Ashton United shirt to crop up though. Managed to find Birmingham City one. I’ve bought so many so far, will be swimming in football shirts when I go back to the UK. Thanks to Rich for the photos below of the market.

Goldfish Market – Unlike Ladies’ Market, this one does exactly what it says on the tin and sells Goldfish. And more. We’ve seen turtles, terrapins, lizards, chameleons, dogs, cats, rabbits, hamsters, snakes, crabs and crustaceans sold here, as well as fish tanks, fish tank filters, plants, stones, lights, ornaments, turtle food, dog leads, cages and the list goes on. This is where we bought out Terrapins, Donatello, Ian Brown, Shelley and Squirtle for $10 each (less than a British pound…), who are shown below. The place has a brilliant atmosphere and is a must-see for any visitors to Hong Kong. It’s like Pets-at-Home, but outside, cheap, tacky and just brilliant. Although it does say something about a society where a pet turtle is the same price as a Mars Bar.

 

Stanley Market – located in the town of Stanley on the South of Hong Kong Island, this quickly became another favourite market of mine. It sold a large variety of items, albeit with the usual tourist-friendly products, something which I definitely partook in. Really good vibe from this place, and its quality in atmosphere paired well with the cheapness of the products. The photos below show some of the artwork on sale, as well as the tourists’ favourite ‘Western names in Cantonese’ postcards. Another must-see for any visitor to HK.

Flower Market – Another original name, this market, located on the originally-named Flower Market Road has many florists and mini-Garden Centres.  The street evidently has a particular scent, which is definitely not the drains, and not one for people with hey fever. It is located just near Boundary Street, so north-east of Kowloon’s urban heart. Not much more really to say about this one, apart from that aside from the obvious, it also offers Bonsai, bamboo, garden plants and weirdly a whole shop specialising in rocks.

Bird Garden (Yuen Po Street) –  A little further from the Flower Market is Yuen Po Street which has the famous Bird Garden. The Garden came from the moving of the Bird markets on Bird Street (yep, another original name) due to a development project. The Garden cost HK$29 million to build and is basically a place for bird collectors to come, chat about their birds, buy supplies, even buy new birds, or simply chill out with other bird collectors and let their bird out of its cage for a bit. It seems the HK equivalent to men walking their dogs or something. They literally walk around with cages, hang the cages up and sit. Very unique social circle really. I went there today to check out the local birds (pun highly intended….)

 


Spice Up your Life

This week has been pretty eventful in HK. A mid-week trip to Mr Wong’s place (and a long conversation with him in his limited English about Romney vs Obama) broke up the week, with a rare Friday night in and looking around the Sham Shui Po markets. Turns out we live 3 minutes away from a Subway which will definitely be used more often now. We also went cycling around LOHAS Park on Saturday morning with a colleague from work, Chris the computer tech who always wears a different football shirt every day. Really good cycling place there, with roundabouts, signals and signs etc just for cycling. Great to get out the city for a few hours.

Saturday night was the night of Tony, Suz, Rich and Aaron’s birthday night out in drag. As banterous as it could have been anyway, Tony, Rich, Adrian, Jack and I decided to synchronize our embarrassment and go as the Spice Girls. The Union Flag I brought for our CILL did the job perfectly, with a $28 red wig from the markets too. The girls loved painting us up before we went out too, along to a few Spice Girls tunes on YouTube. Here’s a picture of the finished product.

The night out was well fun too, lots of people wanting photos with us – don’t know if it was because of the Spice Girls or the Union Jack for the British-lovers here. But on Sunday, after nursing a slight hangover, Nat and I went out to the island. We went to the Man Mo Temple – a temple dedicated to 2 geezers called Man and Mo. Lots of incense and offerings to the statutes. We also traveled up the longest outdoor escalator in the world from Central to the Mid-Levels (half way up Victoria Peak). Here’s me at the summit of the escalator:

A short walk away was the Hong Kong Botanical Gardens and Zoo. For a free zoo it was no too bad, saw a monkey fight. But what was interesting was the colonial links there – a memorial to the Chinese who died in WW1 and WW2 in defense of the island against the Japanese and on the Pacific front, as well as a huge statue of King George VI…

We then headed down to see the Duddell Street Gas Lamps – the only 4 gas lamps still working in Hong Kong, before heading to look in the new A&F shop and Marks and Spencer. So weird being in M&S – pictures of Jamie Redknapp modelling clothes, shortbread on sale – we could have easily been in Manchester in there. I got some ginger snaps, proper bread and some Dolly Mixtures and reckon going there will be a routine very soon too. We got the Star Ferry over to Tsim Sha Tsui and finished looking at the Avenue of the Stars, where we eventually found Jackie Chan’s star and the statue of Bruce Lee, as well as the Olympic Torch which was given to HK when it came through on its way to Beijing in 2008. By the time we got there it was night so the view was fantastic.

Monday was a standard day at work but we had Tuesday off due to the Public Holiday. The Chung Yeung Festival is when the Chinese visit the graves of their ancestors to pay their respects. They go to their ancestral graves to clean them and repaint inscriptions, and lay out food offerings like roast pig and fruit, burn some incense sticks etc. For us that meant a day off and Karaoke Bar on Monday night for Suz’s birthday. The bar was great – we murdered Spice Girls, played some dice and had a great time at the Open Bar. The pints of whiskey and coke did not end up being great and led to me coming home earlier than everyone else. Still feeling the pains as I write this and its 9pm on Tuesday now…