So here we are on our first day and, as is tradition with these long haul flights to Asia, I started the day with a headache which stayed with me all day. Remember guys, stay hydrated and get plenty of rest – I don’t listen to that advice but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.
Anyway, it was a bit of a slow getting ready to leave process, but eventually we dragged ourselves out and onto a double decker tram into the Central district. Our destination was the IFC mall as we heard there was a nice rooftop garden with decent views and it sounded like the perfect place to have a light breakfast.
On the way, we saw the first real signs of the aftermath of the protests in daylight that I am guessing will be fairly common for the rest of the week. Graffiti, both readable and covered up. Various posters and the signs of posters that had been hastily torn down by the police. Also, the occasional broken brick which I guess is from the road barricades that were set up last week during the week of protests here in Central.
Being a Sunday, we also saw something that we felt the need to look up later. Hundreds of woman sitting on cardboard in the streets with food and large bags stuffed with various things. At first, we thought these were people collecting for the protests; turns out that these are maids and other domestic workers on their day off. The sheer number here is astounding and kinda gives a weird insight into the how many people here in this area are rich enough to afford this – which is a massive contrast compared to some of the places I saw later today.
Then came breakfast, our first of what I am hoping is a number of visits to a Chinese bakery. We ended up with a chestnut Danish, a big bacon and cheese bun and a bun with peanut butter custard. The views themselves were nice, but the real attraction of this is having a nice breeze in a quiet place surrounded by nice urban greenery. We needed this bit of a further recharge as it was a long journey to our first destination.
Even though we got super lucky with both of our connections on the way to Sha Tin, it was still nearly an hour long journey to get there. I shouldn’t complain though, as not long after we left the police rolled in and the station got closed. The reason we were here was to visit the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery. It’s a short walk from the station and past a banner warning you against the feral hogs – but it’s obvious that you’ve arrived because of the first golden Buddha statues.
First of hundreds. The monastery itself is up a hill, but to get there you walk up and through a procession of hundred of Buddha sculptures. The great thing about them is the sheer amount of variation in the poses and the quality of the sculptures. Some are perfectly normal and serene, others are pretty wacky and then there’s those which are just plain bizarre. It’s one of those things where it is hard to know where to point the camera and which ones to take pictures of.
Once you are at the top this temple provided you with a number of rewards. First, there are the views you get from the top as the ultimate reward for climbing so high. I am a real sucker for a high elevation view, but these were particularly lovely.
You also have a lot of other sculptures up here, a large pagoda and, of course, the main temple itself. No photos allowed of the inside itself, sadly, but you had wall covered in small Buddha statues (ergo the Ten Thousand in the name) as well as the lacquered body of the temple founder in the middle. Thankfully this is not one of the instances of self-mummification that monks used to do, more the preservation of his dead body.
Even further up, you have golden statues of female Buddhist deities and other statues, there are also some other smaller places of worship and sadly a whole section that has been blocked off for restoration works after it was gotten by a landslide. We bid goodbye to this temple and took with us a can of sugarcane juice for the road as we got back on the MTR and headed for the next temple.
Next was the Sik Sik Yuen Tong Wai Sun Temple. The surroundings of the MTR station and the temple were covered in plenty of leftovers from past protests, which I felt a bit odd taking pictures of. Since there was more restoration works going on, the whole temple complex was split in half. In the larger half of the complex you have both Taoist and Confucian shrines, but also the reason we came here: the gardens.
The Good Wish garden is the sort of Chinese garden that I was really hoping to see whilst I was here. With its serene pool filled with fish, the bridges and the many pagodas it’s one of those places that I just could spend so long just sitting in and taking in the peace. I can imagine that if I were a Hong Konger, this would be somewhere I would just come to every now and then to find peace, despite being surrounded but high rises. Absolutely gorgeous.
By stepping out and going via the alleys full of fortune tellers, you get to the main hall of the temple with zodiac sculptures and water misting apparatus to help keep people cool when worshipping on hot days. The smell of incense was pretty intense with some people clutching burning bundles at least 10 thick.
Final religious stop of the day: the Nan Lian Garden and Chi Lin Nunnery. These two are connected, which we didn’t realise until later when we went out in search of the nunnery only to realise we’d already walked through it. What probably did not help was that so many areas of the garden were walled off for improvement works (which appears to be a common theme of this holiday so far) so we were done with this area a lot sooner than we expected.
It was nice enough with a lovely gold pavillon, interesting buildings and a bonsai collection – but given how high this place appeared on different travel lists, I couldn’t help but feel a bit disappointed. I guess it was either expectations set too high or the garden wasn’t exactly representative of everyone else’s experience. Anyway, we left to go to the Prince Edward area in search of lunch.
When looking up a good quality (but not pricey) place to find dim sum, the name that comes up everywhere is Tim Ho Wan. There’s a number of these around the city, one of them being Michelin starred and the others being in the Michelin Guide. The one we were at was not the star one, but the food was still gorgeous. We also managed to get in right away, which I was so thrilled with as that had been a bit of a worry.
Originally we were meant to head south to the Ladies Market, but reports on the Telegraph app told us that the protests and the police were heading towards it and then further north to our current location, so we and plenty of others were making for the MTR station to get out of there. Good thing to, turns out we missed out on a potential tear gassing by 30-45 minutes as did the mass of people on the carriage who were escaping Mong Kok.
We therefore moved straight to the ICC building – the tallest building in Hong Kong and the 10th tallest in the world – so we could visit the Sky 100 observation deck. One of the cool things about getting there earlier was that we ended up getting a 25% discount as part of the observation deck was closed for a private event… which was ending in ten minutes. Brilliant stroke of luck!
Standing up here, you really come to realise two things about the city of Hong Kong. Firstly, just how green the mountains surrounding Hong Kong are. Also, just how homogeneous the buildings on Kowloon get once you leave the harbour side. I guess you can see how it happens when you have a burgeoning population and you need places to put them, but it doesn’t make for the best looking city areas. Probably why I set up camp on the side of the observation deck facing towards Hong Kong Island.
From here we walked through the fancy Elements mall and made for the Temple Street night market via some lovely elevated park walkways. This isn’t a night market with street food like those we frequented in Taipei, more a place with lot of goods and knock off clothes. It’s was pretty gratifying to see how much life just continues on despite the fact that protests and gassings are happening not too far away.
Another, but final, long walk now to the Harbor City Mall. It’s our third luxury mall of the day and, as such, was the third time seeing some of these brands. I guess there’s a point to be made about globalism here because how many Louis Vuittons does a city really need to have.
We were here for the Ocean Observation Deck which gives a 270 degree view to the west where you can see out to the sea and you can see most of the tall buildings on Hong Kong Island. By this point my body was giving way a bit, so we took our time to take in the nighttime sea views. Really worth a look if you want somewhere not too crowded for a nighttime view.
To get back to our hotel we took the famous Star Ferry across the bay. It’s one of those ferry journeys that every tourist needs to make at least once whilst here. Like the rest of the public transport, as this ferry is one of the quicker routes across the bay, this trip is dirt cheap compared to London and is just such a relaxing journey with a chance for some great views of both sides of the bay.
By the time we reached the hotel, I was in full blown sick mode. Fever and sweating and shivering. My poor husband went to get some food for himself and ate it in the hotel whilst typing up notes for the day so I could make a post when I was feeling better. Looking back, I was so concerned that this would be one of those bugs that would linger, but luckily it passed with some sleep and we decided to postpone our trip to Macau for a day so that we could remain in Hong Kong just in case I had another shivering spell.