Out on the briny with the moon big and shiny

The title today is lifted from a song immortalised by Bing Crosby – Slow Boat to China. And that’s what occupied a good chunk of our Friday. Our ferry was scheduled to leave Hong Kong at 8:30 am so we were awake bright and early to make sure we were there on time and didn’t get caught up in any traffic issues. We were actually at the ferry terminal before even the Starbucks had opened so we were in plenty of time. When it did open, we had large cups of tea to set us up for the day then checked our suitcases for travel.

We boarded promptly and, because we had paid the small premium required for first class tickets, we were given seats upstairs by the window so enjoyed an unobstructed view along the journey which allowed Ishbel to take a load of photos of the huge new bridge.


Hong Kong to Jiangmen is around 120km, and we completed the journey in just over three hours. There was actually an intermediate stop, at a place called Dong Men. I panicked when we docked there and grabbed Ishbel’s dobro (which the baggage handlers hadn’t wanted to check) and rushed down the stairs. Well, I rushed about a third of the way down the stairs then surfed the rest of the distance on my behind. I’d like to say only my pride was hurt but my backside was a bit bruised as well. Anyway, no serious harm done, apart from the fright I gave the crew as a large Scotsman and a green, spangly guitar case suddenly appeared at the gangway.

We had organised Chinese visas in London so were hoping for a straightforward experience at the port of entry. It was ridiculously easy as there were only about ten people disembarking at Jiangmen, and the rest of them were all Chinese so we had the two foreigners’ lines to ourselves. We were quite closely scrutinised as we completed formalities but one lady approached us and asked if we were going on to Macau. Given that we had just arrived from Hong Kong, this would have been a very circuitous journey. She asked where we were going and, after saying the name of our hotel a few times (Wanda Realm) to no avail, I showed her the picture of the name in Chinese that I had stored on my phone. She immediately rustled up a taxi driver to take us there and off we went.

The trip from the port to the hotel was one which I had been dreading. I’ve been lucky in my travels in that I’ve always had an ear for language and have usually been able to pick up a few words to help me get by in whatever situation I’ve been in. This is the first time that I’ve felt completely out of my depth linguistically without even the benefit of being able to sound out words in hope of finding a familiar etymological root somewhere. I have become the classic Brit abroad. Speaking English slowly, pointing and attempting to act out my requirements. I don’t like it.

The hotel is lovely, and check in was very smooth. However, it appears that even the concierge doesn’t speak much English, so the art of mime will be our friend for the next few days. We were running short of clothes so, cliche though it may be, we decided we needed to find a Chinese laundry. Google maps indicated there was one a couple of blocks away so we set out to try to find it. It appears the concierge here doesn’t have maps of the area. And looked at us as if we were idiots for even asking. We managed to locate the laundry without the visual aid and handed over our washing.

We relaxed back at the hotel then had an early dinner. Not exactly a cultural experience – we ate at Pizza Hut.

On Saturday we will set about exploring a little more of Jiangmen and hopefully provide a more in-depth perspective on this city.

Hong Kong Observations – and some history

We had decided that we would visit Stanley on Thursday, a fishing village and tourist attraction on the south side of Hong Kong island. Being of a curious disposition, I wanted to double check how the place got its name. Originally called Chek Chue, we Brits determined that it was a pleasant enough place to be rewarded with an English name. And so it was named in honour of the Minister for the Colonies at the time: Lord Stanley (pictured above). He also gave his name to the town in the Falkland Islands and Port Stanley, Ontario. Minister for the Colonies was a surefire way of having your name immortalised back in the day.

Anyway we set out for a quick breakfast at the ubiquitous local coffee chain here, Pacific Coffee, then headed for the bus stop. We had researched the necessary bus numbers, the 40 or 40X, but hadn’t appreciated that both of these were minibuses with a maximum capacity of 19 people. It was a fun way to cross the island.


We got off the bus at the top of the hill leading down through Stanley Market to the waterfront promenade area. We witnessed evidence that there is still fishing activity in the area: a fisherman had set up a fish-drying line on his boat.


We crossed over to the path that leads back up the hill to the Pak Tai temple which has been there since before the town was renamed.


Judging by the number of smouldering incense sticks, it’s still visited regularly by adherents. We continued to stroll around the village for a while before eventually heading back to what we now think of as our side of the island.

This was our last night in Hong Kong as we were scheduled to catch the ferry to Jiangmen in China on Friday morning so we decided to head out for early dinner and pack later this evening. We decided to eat at The Pawn, a restaurant we had already taken a good look at during our architectural heritage walk from Monday.

IMG-0911We decided to have the ash baked French chicken to share, which took ages to cook but was delicious when it arrived. They brought it out straight after the salt and charcoal crust had been broken for us to have a look at, then jointed it for us to make for easier eating.

As it’s our last day here, there are a few observations I’d like to share. This is probably all blindingly obvious to seasoned visitors but, as a first-timer, these are the things that struck me as very different from home.

Pedestrians: older Hong Kong people have a strong tendency to walk like Prince Philip, with their hands clasped behind their backs. Unless they have a phone, in which case they walk like their younger counterparts: blind to what is approaching and engrossed in the contents of their screens. Multiple near misses and a couple of robust bumps have occurred as a result.

Engineering: Hong Kong Island is simply a steep, craggy peak jutting vertically from the sea floor. Undoubtedly there was some flatter shoreline on which settlement occurred originally but the population growth has resulted in some quite astonishing hillside building. I don’t know if there’s another municipality that has a department specifically dedicated to the inspection and maintenance of the retaining walls that ensure the buildings at higher elevations stay where they were put. And on top of that they love to see a banyan tree growing out of the walls.


Taxis: the Toyota Crown Comfort is an amazingly boxy throwback car but that’s what every Hong Kong taxi is. There are 4-passenger and 5-passenger versions, the difference being whether the gear stick is on the steering column or on the floor.


But the overriding memory I have is how friendly everyone is. Almost every time we stopped to get our bearings, someone would ask where we were trying to find and help us get re-oriented. We’ve enjoyed our stay here, but it’s now time to head to China.

Christmas and Boxing Day in Hong Kong

Christmas morning dawned warm and cloudy. Never having previously visited Hong Kong, we had no real idea of what would be operating here on a public holiday. If it was anything like the UK, facilities of any sort would be few and far between. It turns out it’s nothing like the UK. As far as we could tell, everything was operating pretty much as normal.

We were awake early and, since the deal we got with the hotel did not include breakfast, I researched an appropriate venue nearby. We chose a place that offered diner-type food with a terrible punny name, The Flying Pan.

Refreshed after breakfast, we noticed that we had already walked halfway to the Peak Tram, so we decided to carry on and make the ascent. We arrived at the tram terminus before 10am and there was a queue of about 40-50 people. We joined the queue but were informed that we didn’t need to queue for tickets if we had an Octopus card (the equivalent of London’s Oyster cards). Luckily, we had acquired the cards the previous day so we were straight through the barriers and on to the next tram. The ride up is amazingly steep and it becomes obvious why all of the seats face up the slope.

At the top terminus, most of our fellow passengers headed for the Sky Terrace, but we decided to head further up the hill. The tram reaches an elevation of 396m and a series of escalators to the Sky Terrace ascend to 428m. Our hillside walk would take us to the top of Victoria Peak (which, confusingly, is also called Mount Austin) at an elevation of 552m so a good distance above the Sky Terrace.

IMG_0941The overcast weather made for hazy views down over the harbour. On the way up, we shared Christmas greetings with a family who were out to walk their dog. The father identified our accents. He was from Stirling. He insisted that we take a stairway, marked Private Property, and speak to the security guard, Mr. Wong, to say that Andrew sent us to get a photo from the terrace, which we duly did.

After the excursion to the peak, we headed back down to sea level and back to the hotel. By this time, we had walked quite a distance and done a lot of climbing so decided to rest up in advance of going out for Christmas dinner. We had managed to get a last minute booking for a tasting menu at a place called The Optimist, which was very nice. After dinner, we took the opportunity to call family back home to wish them a Merry Christmas.

Boxing Day started bright and sunny and we had set ourselves some tasks to accomplish for the day. We are due to travel to Jiangmen in China on the 28th, but hadn’t yet organised tickets and were struggling to achieve this through the ferry operator’s online booking engine. We decided to go across to Kowloon and visit them in person at the Hong Kong China Ferry Terminal. We were able to buy tickets very easily in person, so we strolled out on the pier at the terminal to get a look at the harbour from the Kowloon side.

IMG_3031 2Although much brighter than the previous day, there’s still a haze evident in the photos. After a wander through Kowloon Park, we took the subway back to Wan Chai and returned to the hotel.

Wednesday night in Hong Kong means “Happy Wednesdays“. The horse race meeting at Happy Valley Racecourse takes place every Wednesday evening with the first race at 7:15pm, so we decided we should experience that. We checked with the hotel concierge how we should set about getting tickets. He immediately provided us with vouchers for complimentary admission and a free beer each!

We ate dinner at a traditional Chinese restaurant. We knew it was traditional as the first four pages of the menu offered different preparations of shark fin. Ishbel had pork and I had chicken. After dinner, we walked round to Happy Valley and arrived in good time for the first race. And Ishbel picked the winner.


That was a nice start to the evening. We had each bet HKD 50, and Ishbel won HKD 245, so we were immediately ahead. Neither of us won in the next two races so we were behind again but Ishbel again picked a winner in the fourth for a win of HKD 375 so overall we were HKD 200 ahead – about £20.

IMG_3032 Hapy Valley is enormous with multi-storey grandstands and plenty of action in the general admission section where we were. Hong Kong obviously loves its racing.

We left after the fourth race as Ishbel had agreed to indulge my desire to watch Celtic vs Aberdeen in a local sports bar. We took the tram along to Bar 109 in Lockhart Road and I was able to enjoy a 4-3 victory for Celtic. As the only Celtic supporter in the bar, I was grateful to them for putting it on to one of the TVs, especially when competing against a full card of English Premier League matches.

We have had a very different Christmas period to our usual experience, but have enjoyed it enormously.

Another flight, a new continent

We were awake early on Sunday morning and, after a quick breakfast at the hotel, we loaded up the rental car and headed or the airport. As was the case in Cape Town, there was a petrol station right next to the car rental return point so it was easy to fill up before handing the car over to Avis.

Our first two flights were with BA and I wasn’t enamoured of their seat allocation and check-in process. The flight to Hong Kong was operated by Cathay Pacific and everything about the experience was better than BA. I had been able to reserve seats online a month ago, at no extra charge, so I knew where we would be sitting. Online check-in opened 48 hours before flight time and was easy. As for the flight itself, Cathay’s Business Class is vastly superior to BA. We had flown on a 777 to Cape Town from London and the seats were arranged 2-4-2 across the plane. Cathay’s 777 seating arrangement was 1-2-1 giving a huge amount of extra room for storage and stretching out. The entertainment system was also better.

So it was that we arrived in Hong Kong early in the morning of Christmas Eve. There was a huge queue at Immigration so it took us a while to be processed and get out to baggage reclaim. After that, it was a straightforward journey into Hong Kong itself. We are staying in Wan Chai at the Dorsett Hotel so we took the Airport Express train to Hong Kong station and then a short taxi ride to the hotel.

We were here shortly after 9am, so we weren’t particularly surprised when they informed us that our room was not yet ready. I had read about the Wan Chai Architectural Heritage trail, which was a walk around some interesting buildings in the area so we figured that would kill a couple of hours.

Thus we spent some time wandering the streets, admiring various buildings from the “Streamline Moderne” style of Wan Chai’s old market…

IMG_0898 …through the traditional style of The Blue House…

IMG_0902…on to the “Guangzhou Verandah type” shophouse…


and many more besides. Having walked quite a long way, we stopped for a coffee before heading back to the hotel in hope of getting into our room and, for the sake of everyone around us, getting the chance to shower. Luckily, a room was available for us.

The 6 hour time difference from South Africa was having an impact on us and we were feeling a little dozy but Ishbel made sure I didn’t crash completely. After relaxing a little, we went out wandering again to find a venue for an early dinner. We decided Chinese food should mark our arrival in Asia and settled on a place called Hay. Interestingly, it was right next to an enormous outdoor Christmas Tree, and it looked as if a large part of Hong Kong’s 20-something population had decided this was the place to take a selfie.

IMG_3017After dinner, we took a slow stroll back to the hotel. This is our first time here and we were fascinated by the bustling night markets and the crowds that thronged the streets. The Christmas theme is wholeheartedly embraced here, but there’s still a sense of business as usual around it all as well.

More by luck than judgement, we’ve picked an interesting place to spend our festive season