Friday, December 4, 2009

Hong Kong - It's still there.

Our last visit to Hong Kong was 1996. The Union Jack was still flying over the city but the countdown was well under way for China to reclaim the territory. Many of the wealthy and influential had fled the unknown future that was to cloak Hong Kong the following year (1997).
Today, Hong Kong is pretty much unchanged although a bit shinier, and perhaps glitzier.
Many who fled prior to 1997 have returned.

Hong Kong currently ranks as one of the top 10 most expensive destinations in the world. Staying at one of the upscale hotels will certainly make a dent in your wallet. However, there are very reasonable choices in the mid range price category.

The area to stay, if you want to be right in the thick of it, is Kowloon, or specifically the Tsim Sha Tsui area.

For about $110 USD a night, we chose the Butterfly On Prat. Hidden in a small alley, as many of the best secrets in Hong Kong usually are, is this small, unassuming property. We walked right past it on our first visit there and the doorman fetched us a few doors down the road to ask if we were looking for "the Butterfly".

Standard rooms are on the smallish side but very modern and nicely appointed. We didn't expect much of a view based on the location and size of the property (122 rooms), and we didn't get one. However, the best thing about this property is the staff. Everyone we encountered were helpful, courteous, and professional. Never mind that they put us in room 911.

Christmas is coming in Hong Kong.


Entrances to Buddhist Temples.
Wherever we go in Asia, we try to visit the local temples.
There are still temples scattered around Hong Kong but praying in them is more limited to "the few" and visiting tourists. Only on specific Buddhist holidays do the masses make their visits.



For a slightly more upscale property, try "The Mira". Located right smack on the bustling Nathan Rd., right across the street from Kowloon Park, is this ultra-modern chic property with it's 500 rooms. Prices start at $200 USD per night.


The only junks left in Hong Kong Harbour are the "billboard junks".


Preserved meats and sausages. Hanging on top and on the bottom right are preserved duck (lop-op).
This oily, slightly smoked and dried meat is a very useful ingredient for flavoring just about anything from vegetable to rice dishes.

The local meat markets are the same as they are all over Asia. Just tell them what you want and they'll whack off a piece for you.

I don't believe there are ANY parts of a pig that are not edible. Well, maybe for some people.
Hearts, livers, brains, kidneys, tongues; tell me you haven't had pork rinds before.


Repulse Bay.
Once a haven for pirates, Repulse Bay today is an upscale beach area located on the southern side of Hong Kong Island. Until the early 1960s building was restricted in the area but today, high rise housing complexes line the hills behind the beach.

At the eastern end of the beach is a temple with large prominent statues of Quan Yin and Tin Hau overlooking the sea.


Stanley Park.


The developed area of Stanley Park has recently been labeled a "tourist trap" by many, and maybe rightly so. Gone are the colorful local eateries and shops which once inhabited the area. All replaced by a small shopping complex with uninteresting stores and dull restaurants serving even duller food.

There is however a bit of shoreline and an historic old covered pier.

Believe it or not, there still is room for another high rise complex on the Wan Chai shoreline on Hong Kong Island.

It's Hong Kong. So there must be a dragon somewhere.
And yes, we ran into one in Kowloon Park.

Shopping is still one of the big reasons why people come to Hong Kong.

It's no longer a "cheap" place to shop, especially for big ticket items (cameras, electronics, watches) but still is a haven for inexpensive trinkets and souvenirs.

One such area is called "lady's street". I don't know why it was labeled that. Sure there are many items for ladies but no more than any other tourist market anywhere else in Asia. You'll find some interesting items at pretty good prices (be willing to bargain) as well as a multitude of things you would never consider buying back home. But who cares, you're on vacation.


Then there's the Jade Market. Located on Kansu and Battery Streets, it's about 400 small vendors selling everything from jade to mah-jong sets.

If you don't know anything about Jade, you'll probably pay too much for some worthless piece of stone. But there are some cheaper jade bargains here, if only for souvenirs or gifts for your friends who know as much about jade as you do.

If you do know a little about jade, you'll probably spend a couple of hours here.

Goldfish Street.
You've probably never seen anything like it.
Tropical fish are bagged-up every morning in plastic bags ready for sale.

Goldfish street is only a short block long but filled with more tropical fish vendors than probably anywhere else on earth.

Cruel you say? Maybe, but keep in mind that tropical fish are shipped in these little bags around the world every day. And shipped fish certainly stay in the bags a lot longer than just the business day.

Lemme out.


And finally the Bird Market.
Birds are prized possessions, not just for the Chinese but many cultures throughout Asia.
The primary Bird Market is on Yuen Po Street, in the Mong Kok area of the Kowloon Peninsula, where birds are not only sold but where many bird owners come to show off their birds (mostly elderly men). The original Bird Market in Hong Kong was located on Hong Lok Street but relocated here in 1997.
You can get anything and everything you need for keeping birds; cages, made from bamboo or teak,, live crickets by the sack full, fancy water vessels, freshly roasted sunflower seeds, and yes, the live bird of your choice. The price of many birds are determined by how well they can sing.




The view from Victoria Peak on Hong Kong Island.

Victoria Peak is one of Hong Kong's favorite destinations for tourists, and not just because there's a Burger King there.

"The Peak" as it's often referred, sits on a bluff on Mt. Austin at the elevation of 1,810 feet overlooking Hong Kong harbour and Kowloon.

Trams run up and down the steep hillside bringing visitors to and from the observation area above.

It all began in 1888 when "sedan chairs" took, mostly non-Chinese, residents up and down the side of the hill.

Today, nearly seven million visitors visit it annually, making it one of Hong Kong's most popular sights. Two small shopping centers have been developed recently on the peak to accommodate the visitors.

The early evening view of Hong Kong Island from across the bay in Kowloon.

Hong Kong is a vibrant, exciting city and certainly worth a visit, even if you're not a shopper. The food is very good, and when you think about it, isn't any more expensive than eating out back home. Especially since there's no tipping here. The best bargains are still the small restaurants where you can get a bowl of "jook" (rice porridge) in the morning, or noodle soup, wontons, or roast goose well after midnight.



Even if you're not a shopper, stroll the market areas and take in the color and excitement that is Hong Kong.

*Hong Kong Tip: Purchase an Octopus Card and use it on Buses, the MTR, Ferries, Convenience Stores and for many other purchases. Just look for the Octopus Card logo. Every time you scan your card, it gives you a reading of the balance left on the card and you can top it off at many locations throughout the city. It's valid for up to three years after your last top-off date.

Hong Kong time:








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