This is my ninth trip to Hong Kong and I'm
still finding new things to do. My parents (who are retired)
were going to New Zealand around the same time and decided to make
a stop over at Hong Kong to see us. After my parents signed
up to join us, some of their friends (Ann and Rick) decided to tag
a long as well. And then their Ann and Rick's son and
girlfriend realized the dates worked for them so they joined
us. My wife had some friends in Taiwan and they figured they
were free around the same time. So it was us and nine
friends for an adventure in Hong Kong!
Peak in Central
Day one. My Parents, Ann and Rick,
Alex and Aty arrived in Hong Kong in the morning. After a
check in at the hotel, we figured we would cross the number one
tourist destination off the list - visit the peak! We took
the bus to the Star Ferry terminal, the Star Ferry to Central and
then got stuck. Turns out the Occupy Central protest (also
called the special incident, or the umbrella revolution) had made
a mess of the bus routes and taxi's were really reluctant to take
us to the tram station because we had to go around two different
protest zones and the traffic was horrible. My wife found
some taxis that took pity on us and half an hour later, we get to
Traveling with people really is the best
way to understand them. When I traveled with my wife, it was
Chinese food pretty much every meal for the whole stay in Hong
Kong. Traveling with my parents generation, they wanted a
lot more western food. At the top of the peak tram is a
building with a Forest Gump themed restaurant - exactly what my
parents generation wanted for lunch. At least it had a nice
After lunch we made it to the top of the building and took in the
view. It was a bit overcast so we couldn't see that far.
The itinerary had Man Mo temple on it after the peak, but the
people from a far away time zone were just too tired so we all
went home for naps.
Day two - We have nearly everyone (One of
Helen's friends had to return to Taiwan) and this was our big day
together. We decided to do the second most popular tourist
thing - see the Big Buddha. We took the MTR out to the
outlets (people were happy we would end the day there) and got on
the gondola to ride up to the big Buddha.
I'm a bit sensitive about visiting temples. If someone
walked into a church while it was in service and started taking
photos, it wouldn't be well received. Buddhist temples don't
have "services" - it's more of a continuous process - always in
service. This temple complex is pretty cosmopolitan (read -
full of tourists) but that doesn't mean there aren't people here
who are sensitive to the behavior of others. We didn't dwell
for a long time in the temple complex proper - we basically headed
straight up to the Big Buddha. I do have photos of
the temple from a previous trip I did with Mark.
After the big Buddha, we took the bus down
to Tai O village. We wanted to visit a new place for lunch -
the Tai O Heritage Hotel restaurant. You can either walk
there (20 minutes) or take a water taxi (10 Hong Kong dollars -
less than a dollar fifty each). Claira really enjoyed the
boat ride - possibility her first, but shortly after the ride she
fell asleep in my arms.
After lunch, we had to take the ferry back
to Tai O. That was 10 Hong Kong Dollars per person. If
we splurged and extra 15 Hong Kong Dollars we would get village
tour and dolphin watching tour. The village tour was brief
(the tide was out so we basically couldn't go anywhere) but we did
get to see dolphins! Considering I paid something like 700
Hong Kong Dollars for a day trip dolphin tour, this was quite the
It was getting late in the day and we had to be
back home for dinner so we didn't stay long.
Shopping at Causeway Bay
This morning the rest of Helen's friends
flew out. When we built our itinerary, we tried to alternate
light and heavy activity days - today was a light day so we went
shopping. We went to causeway bay and went shopping at Sogo
and Time Square. Hong Kong has many strata of shopping -
everything from super high end designer to cheaper than
Walmart. Causeway Bay shopping is high end enough that it
surpasses general shopping in Canada but not so high end that it's
completely unaffordable. There isn't much point in bringing
Junk Tour in Sai Kung
This is a new thing for me. Hong Kong
has some amazing columnar basalt formations in Sai Kung. I
actually had no idea they were there, but one year I saw the
winning entry from the Hong Kong Photo contest with what looked
like the Giant's Causeway in Ireland. I had to figure out if
I could go there. When I asked Helen's family, they said you
don't hike there because illegal immigrant mainlanders will rob
you, take your clothes and leave you tied to a tree.
Turns out that's not quite true (there
aren't any trees) but I figured a boat trip is the easier way to
do it. Finding a boat tour is no easy feat though - the web
sites are thin on the ground and we had to get some help to make a
reservation in advance. I did find an english website, but
it turns out they didn't want the business (the mostly work around
Hong Kong Island so they asked 10K HKD. Helen found a place
with a chinese only website that was 4.5K HKD, but they were a
little too sketchy. Finally our woman in Hong Kong found a
place for the same price that wasn't sketchy - even came with a
guide and lunch.
The water around Sai Kung is pretty
protected so the first hour was spent driving out to where we
could see the columnar basalt. Turns out even a bit of waves
was enough to make Nara sick so she went to hide in her
tent. As we left the protection of the islands around Sai
Kung and found the open water Claira also decided it was nap time.
When we made it to the open ocean where
we could see the cliffs the waves were coming in steady and
hard. The boat was fine but we were getting pushed around a
lot - standing didn't seem like a very good idea. We made it
out far enough that we could see the cliffs but couldn't get close
because of the waves. There is only so much seasickness you
can put up with to see some rocks, so we turned around and headed
back into the protected islands area. The captain said we
missed calm water by only a few weeks - in the summer this area is
quite calm. Oh well.
As we tucked behind the islands, we got
used to flatter travel and had some lunch. Lunch was simple
but filling and there was lots of beer and drinks. We found
a group of kayakers going around the islands and poked around a
few caves. We saw the iconic Black-eared Kites riding the
thermals and shore birds in near the water.
The beach (on Kau Sai Chau) was a real eye
opener for me. This is boat accessible beach - weekdays it
has almost no visitors. There were garbage cans at the high
tide point for people to put garbage in and it seems like people
were cleaning the floating trash off the beach. There were
shells - good shells - littering the beach.
Most impressive to me were the ghost
crabs - first apparent by their burrows, but later visible by the
high speed dash to the ocean. The burrows were up high on the
beach - well above the splash zone and near to where vegetation
started to encroach. I figured one walk down the beach would
have swept all the crabs into the ocean (I never saw them return),
but sure enough, walking back I saw more. If you didn't know
they were crabs, you would swear it was a leaf blown by a strong
gust of wind.
All good things. A little waving and
the small motor boat came back and picked us up. There was a
fresh water shower on the wet deck at the back of the boat - kids
first and then dad. The day was getting late so we headed
back to shore. As we got closer to Sai Kung, the
traffic and buildings filled in an we were soon back to the bustle
of the city. Sai Kung has a large number of seafood
restaurants on the peer - if my wife knew how close and fresh they
were, I'm sure we would be visiting more often.
Mai Po Marshes
I visited the Mai Po Marshes on my
first trip and then the Hong Kong Wetland Park
on a later trip. I quite enjoyed the Mai Po Marshes trip
(with a guide) so I thought I would sign up again. Turns out
the program has changed - what used to be an all day trip is now a
half day event. What used to run just once a month now runs almost
Our guide was a volunteer - a post doc studying ecology at Hong
Kong University - and definitely a birder. He apparently
guides once a month and he knew every species we saw at a
glance. He had lots of background on the black face
spoonbill - the star of the day. It's endangered - only a
few thousand left. It mostly summers in North Korea and
winters in this part of the world.
We spent a lot of time poking around the ponds looks at smaller
birds until we got to the large blind. As a group we really
wanted to see kingfishers (I think we spotted Kingfishers in four
different locations). After the large blind we took a break
at the info center.
With little time left, we headed back via
the fresh water pond. This pond has an amazing selection of
Lotus flowers. After the flowers, we took a walk through a
small mangrove forest and then headed to the door. Just at
sunset there were huge yellow butterflies dancing across the tops
of the mangroves - try as I might, I couldn't get a single photo.
We were back at the gate by 5:30.
Turns out this is the worst time to try and get a taxi - it's
shift change. The front desk kindly called, but no taxi
company would answer. We started the 20 minute walk out to
the highway to try and flag one down - we were lucky to find a
taxi heading back to town. Taxi, KCR, KCR and we were back
in high density Kowloon - the complete opposite of the quite
Jennie kindly organized dinner with her
son and fiancé at a trendy restaurant in Tsim Sha Tsui.
Shanghai Min serves Shanghai-nese food from the 10th floor was a
grand view of the harbour and evening lightshow. The
lightshow was on my parents "to do" list, but we really came for
Vancouver is blessed with huge selection of
Chinese food - Shanghai-nese being one of them. It was nice
to see the crossover with southern Chinese and see some elements
in common - Hairy Mitt crab for instance. Amazingly, there
were several vegetarian dishes and our "just from the marshes"
look wasn't frowned upon too badly (but we were under dressed).
The restaurant is in one of the posh
buildings (1 Peking Road) in Tsim Sha Tsui. There were just
getting their Christmas tree decorate when we left - most other
retailers are fully decked out in Christmas by now.
Life in Hong Kong
The reason we go to Hong Kong is to visit
Helen's family, primarily here Grandparents, Aunt and
family. We usually wind up doing some house work or working
through problems. This time we found the fridge is doing
poorly - turns out it needed a thorough defrost. I brought
an extra loud phone and a Pocket Talker to help improve grandpa's
communications, but the telephone system in Hong Kong required a
little adapting to work with a North American phone.
We have breakfast and dinner with family most nights and I hope
that seeing the great grand children brings a bit of youth to
Hong Kong is full of so many great photo
opportunities, not all of them fit into a narrative. Helen
and I sometimes got time away in the evenings while the kids slept
and family was around to watch them.
Other nights we took the kids
out. Close to Helen's Grandparent's house is Sai
Yeung Choi Street - a commercial street that is mostly
closed to vehicles every night. Many of the shops
target mainlanders - the bus terminal and travel service
is few blocks away. The rent is high and the shops
are constantly changing. You don't see a lot of kids
out at night and it might be because this area is
dominated by tourists who left their kids at home.
Some of the most beautiful things I have
seen in my life, I have seen in the Goldfish Market and the tank
had a "No Photos" sign on it. The goldfish market is really
a bit of a challenge to photograph. First - it's very easy
to take photos of the objects and loose the sense of place - you
have a photo of a fish that could be in any tank anywhere.
Some of the more compelling things I've seen are kids watching
things in tanks and thankfully, I have two kids!
Trying to get a photo of someone looking at
something, and the thing they are looking at is a bit of a
challenge. The low light meant I used my 50f1.4 - not
exactly a wide lens. The tight quarters don't help
either. If you have any suggestions, I'm all ears.
Helen's Grandparents live about a 15 minute
walk from the bird market. I've been lots - as far as I can
tell, the best day to go is on the weekend because people bring
their own birds out to socialize. This time I decided to
focus on those large birds.
I looked them up online - most of the birds are in the "not good
as pets" category - require almost constant attention, chews on
things and have really loud calls. Those warnings made me
think of my own kids.
My mother kindly offered to take the kids
for a day. What do you do for a day without kids in Hong
Kong? Go shopping of course! My wife read about a
Prada outlet store in Aberdeen and an outlet mall within walking
distance from that - off we went! There isn't much to
photograph inside an outlet store, but walking from one to the
other, I spotted a black-eared Kite perched on a branch.
These big raptors and common in Hong Kong, but I have always seen
them flying - never perched. My wife and Jennie went to the
next shop and I hung out and took some photos.
A surprise to me - the outlet mall (in
Aberdeen) has Ferrari dealership. There is also a nice one
in Repulse Bay, and another in central - Ferrari is become very
common in Hong Kong.
At this point my parents and all the
friends had gone to the next destinations - it was just the
immediate family. With our two remaining days we had one day
for Helen (shopping!) and one day for everyone else (beach!)
There aren't many photos from a shopping day, but the beach was a
lot of fun.
I went for a little walk along the beach while the
kids were playing and found a photographer - wide angle lens on a
big digital body. He seemed a little lost for photos -
obviously looking for a composition, camera in hand, but never
really taking images. Beach images really cry out of for
people - the affix the scale and provide a way for the viewer to
relate to the image. I felt sorry for that lone photographer
- he was going to have a tough time making that compelling image.
While I was taking photos of my kids, two women in bikini's (white
tourists) walked through. I did feel a bit sheepish with my
big lens on my big camera and them in the target zone, but they
didn't seem to care.