Saturday, December 4, 2010

Day 11

Today was the day Michelle and I planned to do our own separate things. Michelle needed a day to her self to just relax, sleep in and not worry about doing sight seeing or anything like that. So while she stayed at the hotel I planned on heading out to Lantau Island!
Lantau Island is home to the Big Buddha and is nearby to a bunch of other islands, but the Big Buddha is the main attraction.

We headed down to breakfast together and got a fairly nice surprise. Instead of getting directed to a couch and table like normal, we were directed another way behind the bar and pointed in the direction of heaven... or at least a heaven themed function room! It was all white and silver, with fancy chairs, the table was like a big patterned mirror, there was a framed tv and a ceiling that looked like liquid light!

We got pretty excited and didn't even know they had themes function rooms! We had to take a look around only to find another 2 rooms.
Right across the hall was hell, which was pretty dark, everything was black and red and there was blood spatters underneath the floor tiles in the entrance.

Just down the hall was the last themed room - Eden. This was Michelle's favourite. Everything was green and white with "lovely" couches and a swinging chair, the carpet looked like grass and there was a table and chairs surrounded by vines of flowers hanging from the ceiling. Apparently some of the staff go in there when its quite to take a break and relax.

After breakfast I did a bit of research to see how to get to Lantau Island. It was actually quite simple just by looking at the map of the MTR lines. Google told me I needed to get off at Tung Chung station on Lantau Island, which was at the end of the Tung Chung line. Our hotel is pretty close to the MTR station which is on a different line (The Tsuen Wan line), so I headed there and hopped on a train to Lai King station, where I could change trains to get on the Tung Chung line, which would take me all the way to Lantau Island - just 2 trains, I take more to get to work everyday!

When I got off at Lantau Island, it was like I arrived in Melbourne Central. There were shops everywhere and quite a few people. From there I followed the signs to the cable cars. The Big Buddha seems like its on a smaller island off Lantau Island because we cross a bit of water, but its not. From the ground it looked like the cable cars went quite far! (Look into the distance on top of the mountains on the left side of the photo below)

The queue seemed reasonable, until it turned a corner and it was alot bigger than I thought it was. After a little while the ticket counter was in sight where I learned that for a little bit extra I could ride in a crystal cabin - which is just like a normal cable car cabin, except with a glass floor! The return ticket was only $169 HKD (just over $20 AUD), so I couldn't say no to that. Once I got my ticket I followed the signs only to face yet another queue! This time there were 2 queues, one for the standard cabin and one for the crystal cabin. Unfortunately the crystal cabin queue took a bit longer. This line was probably the longest so far.

Finally got into a "crystal cabin" and was on my way to the Big Buddha (aka "Tian Tan Buddha"). The Big Buddha is still located on Lantau Island, but it is surrounded with a lot of park lands. The cable car basically cuts straight over these forests and with the glass floor gives a really nice view!

While I was riding over to the Big Buddha, we went past alot of natural forests with a fairly small, winding foot path following the cable car lines. I also met a couple from Vancouver (sort of pictured above) in the cabin and after some friendly chatting they offered to take a photo of me with the Buddha in the background :)

After the cable car turned a couple of times, we eventually landed at our destination. There was alot of people, shops and (at least what looked like) temples. After walking past all the little gift shops, food stalls and more traditional looking features like the wishing tree, I got to a large open area with lots of statues and arch ways before noticing the steps that lead to the Big Buddha! Wikipedia tells me I climbed 268 steps to reach the top - it was quite tiring :)

At the top you can walk around and through this giant marvel, but sadly the inside is not quite as nice as it has more gift shops in there :( The Buddha is so big that you can pretty much see it from any part of this area, it just towers over everything! After some photos I headed back down the steps to check out the rest of the area.

At the bottom there is a number of temples, shrines and gardens. There are also alot of statues and pits for people to place there incense candles and pray. It is actually a pretty pleasant place to walk through :)

Every so often some sort of ceremony would be performed and just like the Muslim temples in KL, the sound of the prayers could be heard from almost anywhere in the area. There were alot of people burning incense and praying everywhere I looked and not just in the temples.

As the place was so scenic, I couldn't resist pulling out the macro lens and trying to capture just how nice the environment was.

After spending some more time looking around and taking photos, I got some snacks and headed back to the cable car station. I saw the huge line and got a little disappointed, but this time it seemed like the crystal cabin line went alot quicker than the standard cabin line and I basically skipped the whole queue :)

On the ride back I met a very nice family in the cabin. No one was speaking English, but a there were a couple of times it didn't really sound like Chinese, and I was quite proud to be able to determine that the language I was hearing was actually Japanese - normally I'm not very good at picking this sort of thing.

They were a group of 4: 1 man, 2 women and 1 older lady. One of the women and the man were a couple and were really nice, he was Japanese, she was Chinese and they lived in Japan. They were here with his grandmother (the older lady) visiting Hong Kong to see her sister (the other woman). We got along pretty well and were comparing Melbourne to where they are from in Japan and contrasting that with Hong Kong. When we landed back at the cable car station, we said farewell and I started to head towards the MTR station.

On the way there was a water feature and all these kids were laughing and playing in the jets. It was pretty funny, one of the kids was kinda of walking through the water making all the other kids laugh and he had a bit of an audience, so I stopped to have a snack and watch his antics.

I got back to the MTR station and went back the way I came. As I was changing trains at the interchange station at Lai King I happened to bump in to the family I had met on the cable car and continued our conversation only to find out they are staying in Tsim Sha Tsui aswell. When we got to our familiar TST station I asked a stranger to take a photo of all of us, and they got one with their camera too.
As a parting gift, the lady (pictured on the right, who is married to the Japanese guy) gave me a snack that they had bought and absolutely loved!

I got home and told Michelle about my adventure and opened the snack I got from the group on the train. From what I could tell it had (at least) flavours of coconut and peanut and was really sweet and soft. They were really good :)

Especially after that delicious snack, we decided to go get some dinner on (or around) Nathan road and then head back to get ready to go out because tonight she Michelle had planned to meet David Wong (the photographer from yesterday) for a photo shoot.
Originally he was going to come over to our hotel room, but because he just returned from a China and was really tired, he asked us to go to his studio/shop in central. As he was just some random stranger asking to take photos of Michelle at his place, Michelle felt a bit safer if I came along as well. Michelle packed a bunch of clothes and we caught a cab to Central.

When we got there we could tell he was quite tired, but he still wanted to go ahead with everything, so we had a bit of a chat about what they were going to do and I he showed me a couple of photography specific things before he set up and started shooting. Michelle looked like she was having fun. David's wife runs the fashion shop side of the business and so Michelle had a pretty big variety of outfits to choose from.

As the shoot was going on, David felt that while I was watching the photos wouldn't be as natural, so I sat around the corner and waited a while, then it was smoko time and I went outside with Michelle. She told me that David still felt like it would be better if I wasn't there, and that it would probably take quite a while, so to save me from getting bored and to make David feel more comfortable it would be better for me to leave them there for a while.

Michelle said she now felt comfortable staying there alone, but she didn't want me to go back to the hotel, so we came to the agreement that I would wait a while and if I couldn't keep myself amused for the whole time I would give them a call to check up and then go back to the hotel.

I headed off and took a walk through Soho where there was lots of people partying and getting rowdy, which I didn't really want to get involved with, so I ended up at a "Pacific Coffee" shop which had a couple of computers with free internet access for customers. So I bought a hot chocolate and continued on with my blogs.

This is where I met the notorious "Facebook Roadblock". Because I was using a public computer, Facebook detected suspicious behaviour and blocked my account. To unblock it I had to follow quite a lengthy process of identifying myself and proving that I know who my friends are by looking at some sample photos from my albums.

After a few hours since leaving Michelle at David's, I was tired and decided it was time to go home. By this stage it was after midnight and I wasn't sure if the MTR was still running, so as I walked over to the station to investigate I called Michelle to check how long she would be and she said she would probably be a while, so I headed home. The trains had stopped by this time, so then the hunt was on for a taxi and after walking around for a while I found one and got home. After a little bit more blogging I went to bed.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Day 10

We spent a little bit of time to plan out how to spend the rest of our time here in Hong Kong and today was was not going to be very busy for me. There was 2 things planned for today: Julia is due back to Hong Kong for today only before she flies back to America and Michelle had a casting appointment in Central with one of the biggest modelling agencies in Asia -"Starz People".

We headed to Central for lunch to minimise the possibilities of getting lost. We were both surprised how many westerners there are in this area.We ended up asking a some Aussie business people where we could find a good dim sum place and got some directions to Treasure Lake Restaurant.

After lunch I looked up where this modelling place is and we started walking there. We got there a bit early so we grabbed a coffee and then I wished Michelle good luck and left her to her interview and I started exploring the Soho Central area.

Soho is really nice! It is really hilly and it is full of restaurants, bars and small little boutique shops. Some the walks are so steep there is an escalator to get up, but not down - I guess down is easier!
This shot was taken later, and doesn't show the escalators, but it does give a little bit of an idea how steep everything was..

Nearby the modelling agency there is a fresh food market so I started walking through there and saw a lot of locals picking up (what looked like) really fresh vegetables, fruit, seafood, meat and just about anything you could think of! Not quite as many westerners here as in the business district.

I kept walking around and followed the tourist signs to the Man Mo Temple. I wasn't allowed to take photos in here, but there was so much insence it made my eyes sting! It was pretty cool to see, they had insence candles of every size and shape, including some pretty big spirals hanging from the cieling.

After that I kept walking around and found were all the bars were. Some of them looked pretty fancy - considering the next street had some pretty old looking houses - pretty big contrast.

It was approaching the 1 hour Michelle needed for the interview so I messaged her and headed back to the agency. I was waiting outside the building when Michelle approached me from the street. She was already out and was with some local guy. Turns out he is a photographer and spotted Michelle from his window and rushed out to ask her if he could take photos of her. Naturally Michelle was flattered :)

His name is David Wong and he seemed like a nice guy. Michelle had already been up to his shop, but they came to get me, so I followed along and he let us look through his portfolio. The shots were very nice. Michelle and David had a chat and set up an appointment to do a photo shoot.

After talking with David Wong for a bit we headed back to the streets of Soho to find a restaurant for lunch. We went to what looked like a cool cafe/bar, which ended up to be a Nepalese restaurant. I ordered a fairly simple meat dish, but I had to ask it was spicy. It wasn't actually hot, but Nepalese, Indian, etc. is one cuisine that I haven't really found anything I really enjoy. The meal had a lot of flavour, but I wasn't big on it.

It was quite an eventful dinner in terms of scenery, we saw a newly wed couple (or so we assumed) getting there photos done, which looked kind of funny because they were just walking along holding hands, etc. and there was one guy running ahead with a flash on a pole and a photographer running circles around them. There was also a lot of people walking their dogs. Michelle fell in love with one of them, its not very common in Australia to see a dog like this..

After that we thought we would check out Wan Chai on the advice of David Wong. Wan Chai was where we were originally going to get our hotel. We walked back to the main steet in Central and asked some locals how to get there. The best way was by tram so we found a tram and jumped on. We weren't sure where to get off the tram so I asked someone on the tram too. The person we asked was really friendly. Her name was Diana and she kinda told us that theres not too much to do in Wan Chai and recommended Causeway Bay, or if we had alot of time, we should go see Stanley. We thought Causeway Bay would be nice to check out properly as we had only really been there for the wedding.

From Causeway Bay we messaged Julia and decided to meet at Times Square, so we looked around and spent some time at a fancy coffee shop, then met Julia. There was some cool looking art work out the front of Time Square, so we took some photos and started walking around.

There was also a couple of people all dressed up cosplay style! Nothing like Japan, but still worth taking a photo of.

This meeting with Julia was pretty significant as this would probably be the last time Michelle and Julia would get to spend time together before she goes to America. Another thing on the list of things to do was Lan Kwai Fong - which is a night life area on Hong Kong Island. This seemed pretty fitting due to the circumstances, so we caught the MTR to Central and went to Lan Kwai Fong for a drink or two.

Lan Kwai Fong was pretty cool! It was like a bigger, more busy version of Knutsford Terrace. We ended up drinking at a place called Coconuts. Looking at there cocktails menu, I thought I start off with a girly drink to celebrate, so I ordered some fruity vodka martini thing, which was actually really nice. The funny thing was Julia ordered a beer and got a pint! So I felt like the roles were reversed here :P

As it turns out Julia couldn't drink her beer, so we ended up swapping anyway.
The bar was nice and we could just relax and chat. the problems arised when they brought out a second round without asking, then they stuffed up the bill and overcharged Julia's card, but apart from that, it was a nice night.

After a few laughs we had to part ways as Julia had an early flight, so we walked back to the MTR station. The farewell was so dramatic! Julia got a bit emotional and I did get some photos of the event, but I promised I wouldn't post them up. We wished Julia all the best and sadly parted ways.

Day 9

Yesterday was a pretty big day and so naturally we slept in quite late.
When we eventually got up I started looking into Macao. When we were at Julia's wedding, I was having a chat with Sheeta, one of Julia's cousins and her partner Balu (not sure on the spelling there). We were talking about a show in Macao that was created by the same people as Cirque De Soleil and is supposedly underwater and pretty impressive.
I looked up this show and it is actually called The House of Dancing Water and is created and directed by Franco Dragone, who was a major director for Cirque De Soleil. The cheapest tickets are $380 HKD, which works out to be about $53 Australian. The only tickets that were at this price, available and allowed Michelle and I to sit next to each other was on Sunday at 8:00PM - the day before we leave. I eventually talked Michelle into going and we agreed to book it!

Soon after that we headed out to the street as Michelle was in search of H&M for some clothes shopping. Following the conversation we had with Brian and Cellia and asking the locals, we discovered Canton Street. This street is kind of like the "Paris-end" of Collins Street in Melbourne with all the big name brand shops, etc.

I had a quick look around and actually did like a bit of the clothes there, but as I hadn't eaten yet, my hunger was stronger than my need for shopping (not surprising I guess). I left Michelle there and headed next door to get some food.

I ordered a Singaporean dish (cant remember the name) with coconut rice and chicken. It was pretty good, but I left the chilli on the side and the guy next to me was actually Singaporean and told me I should be mixing the chilli in to the rice. I gave it ago, but I still really don't like chilli, haha.
I spent a bit of time having a chat and it turns out he goes to Australia once a year for a fishing trip with his friends to a fishing town outside of Perth. We were exchanging stories when to my surprise I got a call from Michelle telling me she was finished.

I headed back to H&M and got some fashion advice from the expert on some jackets I was interested in, but the roles had really reversed by this time. Michelle was feeling a bit sick and wanted to go, and I wanted to stay longer and buy a jacket. I kept it brief and bought one and we started heading home.

Once we got back to the familiar territory of Nathan Road and Michelle was comfortable enough to get back to the hotel so she could go to sleep, we parted ways and I went to checkout the TST Ferry Terminal to get to Macao and check out the rest of this area.

I got some food walked around for a bit and found the ferry terminal, which form the outside is quite subtle, from the inside on the first floor however was completely different. It was like the elevator took me from the city straight to the airport! There was a luggage terminal, passport checks and everything.

I searched for some sort of information desk and found one for Macao, got prices and a schedule and headed back to the hotel. It would cost around $360 HKD (around $50) for a late return trip by ferry from TST to Macao. The transport from Hong Kong Island is a bit more frequent, so this will be our backup plan.

On the way home I was looking at the map on my phone and realised that we walked the long way, and also that the only thing separating our hotel from this area of TST was a big park, which is aptly named Kowloon Park. I decided to check it out and see if it actually was a quicker route.
Walking through was a bit strange. There were some quiet areas with couples enjoying their night, there was another area with (what sounded like) salesmen, and there was even people practising Kung Fu. The park has a water feature, an aviary (which I didn't get to see in person, just from the map), a sculpture garden and even a hedge maze!
I took a few snaps and exited the park directly across the road to were we normally exit the MTR station.

When I got home Michelle was feeling much better and so we headed over to Joe's Billiard Bar to play some pool and have another chat with Man. Stayed there for a bit then went home to relax and do yesterday's blog - which meant another late night (yesterdays blog took a while).