Monday, February 11, 2013

Day 14 - Hong Kong, China

This may be the first time I am glad a cruise is almost over. Starting from this morning we will have two full days in Hong Kong and then fly home.  While trying hard not to sound like a sourpuss or a "gloomy Gertrude", I wanted to portray accurately what is working on this cruise and what is lacking. I am still surprised our Celebrity experience was so disappointing this time around. Nonetheless we enjoyed all our time off the ship in the various ports. This particular itinerary with so many overnights was the main incentive for booking this cruise in the first place. We will spend today in Hong Kong and the second day in Macau before departing for our flight back to the US.

We arrived in Kowloon as scheduled early on Saturday morning. To say it was foggy would be an understatement! There is nothing wrong with my camera. It is like pea soup - you can hardly see a thing. This is what it looked like from our balcony around 6:00 am.

Very hard to see across the harbor in the early morning

Fortunately an hour after this photo was taken it looked much better!

We can now see Central from our balcony

Due to my cold and being kind of out of it, we are going to take it easy today and try not to make our sightseeing a marathon sport.  Our agenda is to visit a garden, do some shopping and see some of the iconic sites around the city. We will have dinner off the ship too.

Hong Kong, China

This is my first visit to Hong Kong. My mother was here 30 years ago at the tail end of her mainland China and Yangtze River tour.  Hong Kong is designated a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China and has a population of 7 million people.  It is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. After the first Opium War of 1839 - 1942 Hong Kong became a colony of the British Empire. In 1997 China resumed sovereignty after the lease expired.

Hong Kong is currently governed under the principle of "one country, two systems". Hong Kong has a high degree of autonomy in all areas except foreign relations and military defense. However there was a recent brouhaha over school textbooks. Soon Hong Kong children will be required to use textbooks from mainland China and read about events that may be contradictory.

As a leading financial center, Hong Kong enjoys great wealth and its citizens have their choice among a plethora of the best of high-end shops. The local economy is dominated by the service sector and accounts for over 90% of GDP.

Known as a vertical city, 36 of the World's tallest residential buildings are in Hong Kong. It is said that more people live above the 14th floor here than anywhere else on Earth. Framed by the surrounding mountains and Victoria Harbor, Hong Kong's Skyline is arguably regarded as one of the most beautiful.

Hong Kong in Chinese

The literal translation of Hong Kong is "fragrant harbor".

We went to breakfast on the ship around 8:00 am. I had hoped to be getting an earlier start but as I am under the weather I am also not moving too quickly. I just had tea and a little croissant.

We walked down the gangway and into the Harborfront Mall which is connected to the Ocean Terminal. You actually have to enter the shopping mall and walk through it to get outside. This area of the mall has very nice children's clothing and accessory stores.

Ocean Terminal Harbour City Shopping Mall

The mall was not open yet and there was also no one from Celebrity to direct us to the exit.

Silver Cross store in the mall
My twin sister and I shared a Silver Cross carriage when we were babies very similar to the one on the right. It is exactly the same colors too! Ours may have been larger though.

We emerged outside and made our way to the nearest MTR station to take the train to Diamond Hill. Not being a "city girl" I decided to start our day with the peace and tranquility of the Nan Lian Garden and the Chi Lin Nunnery. We had some difficulty finding the entrance to the MTR station. Once inside we bought tickets from one of the machines. I considered purchasing an Octopus card to save money but we could not find where they were sold. The train tickets are cheap enough so we didn't waste any more time looking. There was also a Hang Seng ATM in the station and I withdrew some local currency.

We boarded the train at Tsim Sha Tsui heading toward Mong Kok and then we will change trains.

We changed trains at Mong Kok which was so simple. We just walked across to the other side of the track. It is very easy to tell what station is next and if you are heading in the right direction with the lighted diagram on the train.

The MTR (Mass Transit Railway) has 10 lines and is the easiest and cheapest means of transportation around Hong Kong. My mother is not a huge believer in public transport but the fact that it is so convenient and inexpensive required little encouragement.

Very clean Subway train and not busy on a Saturday morning
The train was spotless. Today is a Saturday and there are not many people about this early in the morning. There were plenty of seats too.  We had to change trains from the "red line" Tsuen Wan Line to the "green line" Kwun Tong Line. Almost felt like we were in Boston. Okay, not really but the red line and green line do intersect there too!

It only took about 15 minutes for the entire subway trip. There were signs when we exited the station and we just turned left and walked past Hollywood Plaza and then about 3 minutes to get to the garden entrance.

Nan Lian Garden & Chi Lin Nunnery

The Nan Lian Garden is located at 60 Fung Tak Road in Diamond Hill, Kowloon.

The Nan Lian Garden is built in the classical style of the Tang Dynasty. There are hills, rocks, plants, water features and timber structures built in the area of 35,000 square meters. The garden was built by the Chi Lin Nunnery and opened to the public in 2006.

The ancient philosopher Laozi said "that man learns from the Earth and that the Earth learns from the heavens, the heavens from the Way and the Way from Nature". Man in harmony with nature is a central concept of Chinese philosophy and this is incorporated into Chinese garden design. The Buddhists religion also seeks enlightenment through nature. These ideas have influenced traditional Chinese landscape gardening.

We spent about 40 minutes walking in the garden before arriving at the Nunnery. The Buddhist pines frame the area with the high rise buildings in the distance. On entering the garden we passed through the Black Lintel Gate.

Nan Lian Garden

It is a beautiful garden and also so peaceful. The Pavilion of Absolute Perfection stands in the middle of a pond. The structure is described as a symbol of absolute perfection and fulfillment in all aspects of life.

Pavilion of Absolute Perfection stands in the middle of octagonal lotus pond
The Nan Lian Garden is a classical Chinese traditional landscaped garden. The Chinese tradition of earth enclosing rocks is adapted to the setting. The path for the garden goes in a circular pattern toward the Nunnery. Myrtle is planted throughout the garden for its beauty and resiliency.

Walking along the Pine Path South
It was not crowded and it was very relaxing viewing the shrubbery and the buildings. The twin bridges, Zi Bridge and Wu Bridge connect the Pavilion of Absolute Perfection to the north and south shores. The bridges are painted bright rainbow red and are reminiscent of the ancient Tang style.

Pavilion of Absolute Perfection

The plants looked very nice and some looked familiar to what I had seen in Japan. This is the the Pavilion of Chinese Pagoda below. It sits in the Blue Pond and is flanked by cedar and elm trees.

Pavilion of Chinese Pagoda

Below is another view of the Blue Pond and the pavilions. The garden closes early on Saturday so we were lucky we came early. Admission is free.

Trees throughout the garden include Buddhist Pine, Japanese Black Pine, Cypress, Pagoda and Common Crape Myrtle. The garden is designed with the intention that one follow a one-way route. The landscaping is based on traditional Chinese techniques such as "borrowing scenes", "concealing scenes", "sheltering scenes" and "penetrating scenes" to create space.

Beautiful Pine Trees

Classical Chinese gardens incorporate rocks as the basis of the structure. They represent mountains and it also said the rocks also inspire thoughts on antiquity and time. The flow of the water in the pond inspires a sense of change and space.

Garden workers walking by a rockery

This photo looks down at the gold pavilion,  the wood trees, timber structure, the water of the pond and the vermilion of the Zi Wu Bridges and the impressive rocks. These are the five elements of traditional Chinese culture.

Six pairs of miniature bronze lions sit atop the balustrades looking inwards and guarding outward

This area below is known as Spring Hill. There is a rustic cottage and a watermill. The mill is reminiscent of a traditional Chinese farmhouse.

Area known as Spring Hill

At the eastern edge of the Blue Pond is the Pavilion Bridge. The double roofed  pavilion serves as a bridge and also provides a shady area to enjoy the view. A phoenix adorns to top of the roof.

Pavilion Bridge

This watermill wheel was historically used to produce grains.

This area of the garden is framed by Sago and Buddhist pines.

After exiting the garden we arrived at the Chi Lin Nunnery

Chi Lin Nunnery

The Chi Lin Nunnery is a large temple complex which was established in 1934 and renovated in Tang dynasty style in 1990. It consists of elegant wooden buildings and treasured Buddhist relics. The complex also includes a series of beautiful temples, some with gold, clay or wooden statues representing Sakyamuni Buddha and Bodhisattva's. As photos were not permitted inside the temple halls you will have to take my word for it that they were quite beautiful.

Chi Lin Nunnery

After walking through the first structure we came to main temple buildings.    
Chi Lin Nunnery complex

The buildings are constructed in the traditional style without the use of a single nail.    

The buildings are magnificently accented by stunning lotus ponds. The lotus is significant in Chinese garden design because it grows in muddy water and yet rises above it in pristine purity. The lotus grows upright and undistracted and signifies serenity, tranquility, joy and peace. The stem of the lotus is symbolic in Buddhist thought as it is hollow and receptive to revelation and enlightenment.

Stunning Lotus Pond

The lotus ponds were very beautiful and enhanced the peaceful surroundings.

We very much enjoyed our serene visit and we were lucky that it was not crowded.

I was able to take a few photos as long as I did not look at the Buddhas in the temples.

It was a very impressive complex even though it was not old.

Chi Lin Nunnery

Before departing we stopped to use the public restroom. It was squat style but also immaculate. One of the nicest squat toilets I have seen.

The complex has a vegetarian restaurant and next to that a large gift shop. The shop was very nice. I purchased some silk fold up boxes as gifts. They came in 3 different sizes. The also sold some nice looking tea sets.

Silk folding box

We departed the area for the MTR and our next stop.

Leaving the garden
We walked back the way we came and took the MTR back to Tsim Sha Tsui for sightseeing. A year ago my sister  complained excessively on how dirty Hong Kong appeared to her.  She spent a week here for her fiance's family reunion in 2011. All we heard about was all the garbage she saw. Apparently  they must somehow have heard her complaints and decided to take action because so far we have not seen any garbage and the city is very clean.

Shopping in Kowloon
We exited the station and walked toward The Peninsula Hotel.

I read about some stores in the shopping arcade so we went to have a look. The shopping arcade is in the basement of the hotel but you can access it from the outside too. It is on two levels and is much larger and nicer than I imagined. My mother liked a store called Kinji that was Japanese and sold very beautiful silk and cashmere scarves and clothing. She took a card but did not make a purchase. They also have a store at the Hong Kong airport.

I fell immediately in love with the Peninsula chocolate store! It sparkled and looked more like a jewelry store. It was so nicely setup.

Peninsula Chocolate Shop

I love chocolate so this was a little bit of heaven to me! I think the chocolates here are more expensive than the ones we had in Brussels.

Elegant Chocolate Display

I would have loved to purchase a big box but we each made the more sensible decision and selected 3 each of the individual chocolates in the large glass case in the front. I had 3 different kinds: lavender, passion fruit and kumquat. They were all delicious!

Wish I could have purchased this box!

Box of 36 chocolate pieces is 1,250 HKD. That is equivalent to $250.00 USD!

Instead I also purchased a small box of chocolates and a little Peninsula bear. It must be my cold because I really didn't need the bear. It was cute but I should have just bought more chocolate!

My box of chocolates is a lot smaller!

Small box of chocolates and Peninsula Bear
We exited the arcade into the iconic Peninsula Hotel.

Peninsula Hotel 

My expectation was that the hotel would be very stuffy and also quite busy with lots of security. It actually was a lot more relaxed and inviting than one would have thought. The lobby was busy with people having tea but I did not feel like we were intruding or being interlopers. I think the hotel has their fair share of visitors so they are used to it.

Peninsula Lobby
I snapped a few photos quickly in case that was frowned upon.

Beautiful lobby with musicians

The ceiling was very intricate and interesting.

We did not venture up to the Graff store.

Graff Store
Mother was doing pretty well with the walking today but I  knew I was going to "lose" her soon if I did not step up the shopping part of our day. We went by Heritage 1881 and then headed toward the Star Ferry to go to Central.

Heritage 1881 

Heritage 1881 
The Christmas decorations were in abundance and added to the festive spirit. We passed the huge teddy bear where a Psy look-alike was having his photo taken by his chauffeur? Everyone else was in line to take their photos too.

"Psy" getting his photo with the bear

Hard to believe all these people want their photos taken.

Gangman Style at Heritage 1881
I was very happy that there were not masses of people walking around and that Hong Kong was not the crazy concrete jungle I had imagined. Of course we are still in Kowloon and perhaps my perspective will change once we arrive in Central. Kowloon was very cosmopolitan and extremely walking friendly.

There were a couple of stores I wanted to see in Kowloon. We first went to Chow Tai Fook which was established in Mainland China in 1929. They currently have over 1700 locations. We first looked in the window. Then we ventured inside.


They also sell Jade. There was a sign that they were having a sale so we decided to have a look.

Jade or Jadeite?
It was hard to tell the prices in HKD as they seemed too cheap. We then discovered that the ones with gold were priced per gold ounce and then you had to multiply. Turned out to be much more expensive than we originally thought. The items were very nice though. If I was in the need for jewelry I would certainly consider buying here.

Mother admiring the Chow Tai Fook merchandise
The store was very interesting and there was no "hard sell". Apparently they have plenty of buyers.

Our next stop was just down the street and right near the Star Ferry at the corner of Salisbury Road.

Chinese Arts & Crafts 

Chinese Arts & Crafts was established in 1959 and specializes in jadeite and other high quality handicrafts.  The jadeite carvings in the window were very impressive!  The name of the store is so basic and does not do justice to the amazing items found inside. Some of the jewelry was especially stunning.

Carved Jadeite

The merchandise is not cheap. Photos are not allowed but I used my phone for a few. This necklace was very beautiful.

Jade necklace

They had a good selection of jadeite jewelry...with prices!

Jadeite on display
There were people buying and business seemed to be quite good. Hong Kong is in many ways a cash society. Plunking down a wad of cash did not seem to faze these shoppers. We really enjoyed this store but sadly did not make any purchases. In addition to the 4 Chinese Arts & Crafts shops in Hong Kong they also have a handful of stores in mainland China.

Surprisingly we walked away from Kowloon bag free except for my little items from the Nan Lian Garden and the Peninsula chocolates + bear. The Star Ferry was just in front of us.

Near the Star Ferry
We also noticed this area right next to the ferry for quitting the Chinese Communist Party. Good luck with that!

Not too many people willing to quite the Chinese Communist Party
The ferry was very easy to get to and actually seemed faster than the subway. They have different lines for the Octopus card or the regular tokens.

Entering the Star Ferry
There are two decks on the ferry and we easily spotted the sign for the top deck. It is just a little bit more expensive for the top but you get a much better view. The ticket machine for the tokens is very easy to use or you can use your Octopus card if you have one for a discount.

Star Ferry Ticket Machine
We got our tokens and walked right onto the ferry. The seats are bench style and it was just a short 7 minutes to cross to Central. The weather now is very nice with bright blue skies and radiant sunshine.

On the Star Ferry crossing to Central
The ride was pleasant but not all that thrilling. We could see the Millennium docked as we departed the terminal in Kowloon.

Leaving Kowloon on the Star Ferry. View of Kowloon and the Millennium. 
Below are some more buildings in Kowloon.

Leaving Kowloon

I was able to get some nice photos of Central as we crossed Victoria Harbor.

The amount of buildings and how densely packed they are is amazing.

Arriving on Hong Kong Island
We departed the ferry and still in need of some retail therapy headed to the IFC mall and Lane Crawford. Unfortunately we found it very difficult to get to the mall.

2 IFC Building
There was a huge construction site directly in front of it. We ended up walking precariously down a twisting narrow road hoping the cars would see us from behind.

2 IFC and the I.M. Pei Bank of China building in the background
I wish I had known about the construction. I probably would have skipped this stop.

Wonder what they are building?
We finally managed to get to the other side after 10 agonizing minutes.

IFC Mall

The IFC (International Finance Centre) consists of two towers, One IFC (39 stories) and Two IFC (88 stories). The 4 story mall at Two IFC also contains a Four Seasons Hotel. Two IFC is the second tallest building in Hong Kong and the 8th tallest in the world.

Atrium of the mall has reindeer
This fashion mecca overlooks the harbor and has 100 stores of diverse interest. The mall is one of the newest and nicest in Hong Kong. It is beautiful place to shop.

IFC Mall
We went to the Lane Crawford store. There were lots of young people in the mall. Most of the shopper appeared to be in the early to mid twenties.

Heading to Lane Crawford in the IFC Mall

Lane Crawford was huge and did not disappoint. The shoe department was quite impressive. We looked around for about 20 minutes but unfortunately our stomachs were grumbling by now so we planned to return after we had something to eat.

Inside Lane Crawford
I read about a restaurant in the mall called Isola. They have western food and you can sit on the terrace outside and enjoy the view. We asked directions twice and finally found it.


Isola at IFC Mall
However, this turned out to be not such a good choice. After we were seated we waited 10 minutes to order a margarita pizza and then nothing came for an additional 20 minutes, not even our drinks. My mother due to the walking was desperate for a glass of wine and I had ordered tea. We were about to give up when the pizza arrived. It was so disappointing! It was a flabby tasteless impersonation of a pizza.

Sad tasteless pizza
We ate the pizza but were still hungry. We did not want to order anything else though. Our drinks still had not arrived. The view was also not so inspiring. We looked out on the construction site and could see across to Kowloon and even to the Celebrity Millennium.

Construction site in front of IFC and looking at Kowloon
We soon determined that it was time to get our bill and leave. We were in a bad mood by now and decided to get out of the mall entirely. We walked to the Four Seasons Hotel and grabbed a taxi. Our destination was Hollywood Road.

Hollywood Road

Hollywood Road is home to numerous trinket and antiques shops. It was the second road to be built when the colony was originally founded. More than 100 years ago Hollywood Road was very close to the coastline. In those days, merchants and sailors would unload the antiques and artifacts they collected from China for sale here on their way back to Europe.

Although known primarily for its antique shops, there are now many contemporary galleries opened on Hollywood Road.

The taxi ride took only about 10 minutes. I asked to be dropped at the top at 1 Hollywood Road and then we would work our way back. This area is near the mid level escalators.

Hollywood Road
There were lots of antique shops and they were quite interesting. Items looked like the "real McCoy" and we enjoyed the window shopping very much.

You can see us in the window getting ready for a photo
It would have been so much better to come here first and not have wasted time at the IFC mall. When we saw the NY pizza restaurant I was really mad at myself! This is Paisano's and it is from New York! They have several locations in Hong Kong. The pizza looked very good!

Paisano's Pizza from NY

We were still a little hungry and as good as the pizza looked decided to keep walking. The contemporary wave seems to also be popular in Hong Kong.

Contemporary gallery among the antiques
Very cute dog
I spotted this very cute dog walking its owner down the street. I know the feeling!

We looked in some stores as well as enjoying the window shopping. Everything looked authentic but it was also hard to tell.

The items were all displayed so nicely. We appreciated their merchandising.

At the middle of Hollywood Road is the Man Mo Temple.

Outside of the Man Mo Temple

The Man Mo Temple is one of the oldest and busiest temples in the city. It is dedicated to the God of War and the God of Literature. We just walked by as we have seen quite a few temples on this trip.

Lots of antique shops on busy Hollywood Road
We were almost at the end of the road. We only had a few more shops left to see. Some of these were the nicest though. I thought this display of these items was great.

I liked everything in this window!
Lots of carved Jadeite
Items small enough to fit in my luggage!

During our walk we also passed by the Press Room restaurant. I had glanced at it in one of my guidebooks. They serve an all day brunch on the weekend. I wish we would have gone there instead of Isola. I am usually much better at planning so I am blaming my cold for my poor judgement and decision making.

We had a great time looking in the beautiful stores on Hollywood Road. We also were seeing more of the "real Hong Kong" so to speak.

After about 90 minutes of browsing we took a taxi back to the Star Ferry to return to Kowloon and the ship.

Star Ferry Entrance

Leaving Central on the Star Ferry
We had some nice views of Central on the way back.

Leaving Central and returning to Kowloon on the Star Ferry

We arrived back in Kowloon and the ferry is right next door to the Ocean Terminal so it was quite convenient. The curved building on the right with the Zegna sign is where we will be having dinner tonight.

Arriving back in Kowloon
Walking back to the Ocean Terminal
The Ocean Cruise Terminal / shopping mall was now VERY crowded. It was so confusing to find our way back to the ship. There were hardly any signs. We met some other Millennium passengers inside the mall also looking for the gangway. We followed them but it was soon obvious after about 5 minutes they did not know how to get there either.

By trial and error we finally found our way back but it took a good 20 minutes.

My mother was really tired from our day and disgruntled from trying to find the ship. Except for wandering aimlessly in the mall, I didn't think it was all that strenuous. I had made dinner reservations in advance online at a restaurant called Aqua Tokyo / Aqua Roma.  It is located at 1 Peking Road and just a five minute walk from the cruise terminal. However, getting out of the terminal is not so easy so we needed to add 10 more minutes to that.

Due to the difficulty of getting through the mall and to the ship, mother was saying she did not want to go out to dinner. I had to show her a map and convince her that it was worth it. When I told her she could eat in Blu if she wanted to but I was going out she finally acquiesced.

We bundled up for our little walk as it was getting cold. It was very easy to get to the restaurant even though it was hard to see the building from the sidewalk. It was just up Canton road and then an immediate right. There were so many people out shopping.

Lots of shoppers out at night
There was even lines in front of Cartier and Dior.

Line in front of Cartier

The young people in Hong Kong definitely have money to burn.

My mother was trudging along beside me and puffed a sign of relief when we entered the building for 1 Peking Road. You take an escalator up and then an elevator to the 29th Floor.

Escalator and then the elevator to the 29th floor
The entry to the restaurant is very beautiful. It is very James Bond like with sliding doors that magically open and close though no one is near them.

Arriving at Aqua Tokyo
The lightening in the restaurant is rather subdued but that adds to the ambiance. We had a nice table by the window. I had looked at the menu online but as I was not feeling that well had completely forgotten what  wanted to order. The menu has Japanese and Italian specialties.

Dramatic high ceiling, low lights and lots of glass

The restaurant noise level was very nice. I was a little worried it would be noisy but that was not the case.

Our table by the window
I thought my mother would order from the Italian section but she surprised me and choose the Black Cod from the Japanese side. The description is similar to the famous Nobu miso black cod but this one sounded even better. I ordered beef which sounded really good too. We had a tempura starter to share.

Tempura starter
The tempura was very good and the batter was thin but it could have been a bit crisper. We very much enjoyed the view of the beautiful harbor and the buildings.

View of Heritage 1881 directly below
Kowloon below looking over to Central
Our main dishes arrived about 15 minutes later. Mother's Black Cod and sea bass is a specialty on the menu.

Mother's seabass looked absolutely delicious!
She said it was excellent! I am glad she is enjoying a great dinner after our rather dismal lunch.

My main course was the beef. It was cooked perfectly and was very tender. The sauce that accompanied it also enhanced the flavor.

I am not usually a big beef eater but the description with the daikon sounded too good to pass up. It was fabulous!

Hong Kong has a light show on many nights. It was not a requirement for us to be sitting where we could view the light show but we had a great view anyway. We enjoyed the beautiful skyline view of Central. The light show was kind of silly though.

Light show on Victoria Harbor
Hong Kong is quite beautiful at night. There was some glare from the windows but I was still able to get some decent photos.

The show went on for a good 15 - 20 minutes.

The finale
 We decided to order a dessert to share. We had the chocolate molten cake with pistachio ice cream. It was divine!

Scrumptious dessert

I took a few more photos before we departed. If I turned sideways I could see our ship to the right and Hong Kong Island in the distance. You can tell we did not have to walk far to get to the restaurant!

We had a fantastic meal and greatly enjoyed the view at Aqua Tokyo. It was time to leave and return to the ship for the last time! We walked through the restaurant lobby to the elevator.

Lobby of Aqua Tokyo
When we arrived outside there were still a lot of people but fewer lines in front of the shops. We stopped to ask at Cartier if there was a special event but were told that they just like to limit how many people come into the store at once.

I remembered to make a note of the Thai restaurant in the Harborcity shopping mall at the Ocean Terminal so we could find our way home.  Once near the Toys R Us it was just a quick walk to the Thai restaurant and then the gangway. Why it is not marked with a sign for the cruise ship or why there are no Celebrity people helping was disappointing but by now, not surprising.

Landmark near the Celebrity gangway
We made it back to our room on the ship. After enjoying the view at dinner, of course the first thing I do when we returned was take more photos from the balcony! I savored the view one last time. Our evening in Hong Kong was a success. I took a couple more photos before going to bed. I think my camera is even tired!

At night from our balcony

We had a great day in Hong Kong despite some setbacks. Tomorrow we will disembark and then spend the day in Macau.

1 comment:

  1. What a gorgeous day. Thanks for showing me what Hong Kong looks like in sunlight.