Yangshuo to Hong Kong
We managed to navigate from hostel in Nanning to the bus station, and from the bus station to Yangshuo. There was a slight mix up in the station when I tried to buy a snack, but was told that the counter was for business class customers only. It was only selling overpriced sandwiches and juice for goodness sake! We arrived in the late afternoon in the dark, driving rain and freezing cold. Seriously, I just was not prepared! We got to the hostel and were told that we had a free beer waiting for us in the roof top bar. Fantastic, we thought. Turns out it’s an open air bar. We took one sip, then scampered back down to our room and had to get under the duvet to warm up. We headed out to get some food and I was shivering even in the restaurant. I’m not sure how I’ll ever cope with cold weather again. I may need to become one of those people who travel from hot climate to hot climate every six months.
However, we found a DVD collection at the hostel, so warmed ourselves up with many beers, the duvet, and a fairly poor copy of a film to cheer ourselves up. Next morning Mark got up early to get some shots from the roof top bar, where you could see the whole town. By this time the rain had been swept away, and beautiful sunshine beamed down on us. We were really keen to get out to Xingping, as this is where the most beautiful scenery can be found, so we went to get some breakfast, then a bus to take us there. Even the drive was beautiful, a mixture of countryside, rivers and the large hills in the distance. When we arrived in the town we wandered through narrow streets to the river.
We opted to trek along the riverside. You can also take a boat trip up and down the river, but we could see that lots of boat loads of tourists were setting out, and it was quite congested. Of course, you do get to see further along the river, but we preferred to take our own time and enjoy the sights. There is one view in particular which is very famous in China, as it is the picture on one of their Yuan notes. It is an image that I have seen before, of a local man fishing with a cormorant on the river, with the hills rising out of the mists in the background. We were lucky to have a beautiful sunny day, and strolled along taking in all of the scenery, although the lack of mist, oh and random fishermen with cormorants, did prevent us from re-enacting the famous scene.
The landscape was very much like Ha Long Bay but on dry land, with steep hills rising up out of the horizon, covered in greenery. It presented the same visual trickery as well, all the hills looking like one mass until you approached them to see that they were individual. This landscape goes on for miles throughout the region, and the region is very famous for its beauty.
We walked along in the sunshine along the riverside and enjoyed the peace, aside from the busy tourist boats going by. It was such a beautiful day to enjoy the scenery, that we found it a shame we couldn’t stay longer, but we had booked a flight down to Guangzhou from Guilin, to then take a train to Hong Kong to visit my cousin Dino and her family. So we power walked back to the town, took a bus to Yangshuo, and grabbed a taxi to the airport. Yes, we did overspend on our budget here, but the alternative was cross country on a bus, which could have taken days for all we knew.
We could see the same hills that we had seen in Xingping all the way up to Guilin, it went on for miles and miles. My hope was that our flight would take off over the area to see it from another angle, but unfortunately it was dark by the time we departed. Still, we could easily see why it is such a famous region in China for its beauty. We were surprised by the number of Chinese tourists that we saw. It wasn’t so long ago that inhabitants were not allowed to travel outside of their provinces, and it’s great to see that they are now able to enjoy their own country.
We got our flight to Guangzhou then headed down to the train station, where we got thoroughly confused. We went to find a bus station that was clearly signed, but didn’t seem to exist. We were concerned that it was so late by this time, that border control may no longer be open into Hong Kong. Although it is technically part of China, Hong Kong is one of the areas that have been set up as Special Economic Zones, so it for all intents and purposes the same as travelling into a different country. Special Economic Zones are declared to allow consumerism in what is supposed to be a communist country.
In the end we bought train tickets to Kowloon, and hoped for the best. We took our time going up to the departure gate, wondering why we were the only ones wandering about. We were then rushed through in a flurry of Chinese, which of course we don’t understand, and we realised that we had to go through passport control before we boarded the train. This confused us even further, as we thought that we would still have to go through border control from Kowloon to Hong Kong. Dino soon set me straight and made me feel rather stupid, by telling me that Kowloon is part of Hong Kong. Dur. But at least that eased our minds about getting in – and when I checked my passport I realised that they had already stamped me out of China and into Hong Kong.
The train journey was very quick. It was a shame it was dark outside because we couldn’t make out much of the scenery, but we did notice that there weren’t many suburban areas as we approached Hong Kong, each area seeming to merge into a huge urban expanse. We arrived quite late, and bless Dino and Edwin they came to meet us off the MTR and took us back to their place. When we walked in and sat down, my little second cousin Reilly came out of her room looking all sleepy, and without paying much attention climbed into my lap and put her arms round my neck. It has since been mentioned that I look like Dino, which may well have explained it. It was the loveliest possible welcome. We sat up and chatted for a while, but we were all more than ready for bed, so put our heads down to get some rest to prepare us for exploring Hong Kong the following day.
Hong Kong & Macau
We awoke to three very curious and considerate second cousins alternatively peering at us, whispering around us, and just trying to get on with their Saturday morning breakfast routine. It was so lovely to be with people that we knew again, especially family. It was really nice to get to know Dino, Edwin, Ethan, Mark (good name) and Reilly better, as we had only met briefly before. They live in a lovely area of Kowloon, close to the University. Dino took us for a fantastic yum cha lunch, although she did decide to spill half of it down herself before we tucked in. I blame the people who joined our table for crowding us. We took a walk round the area, and jumped on a bus down to Sai Kung. On the bus journey Dino shared with us that she really hates the English. I’m still hopeful that she didn’t include me in that! In the end I realised that she meant the expats who move to Hong Kong, and still think of it as a colony and treat the locals disparagingly. On that subject, I can agree wholeheartedly with her.
I was expecting all of Hong Kong to be a sprawling metropolis, with high rise buildings everywhere. Kowloon was a really lovely surprise. It’s on the peninsular across the bay from Hong Kong Island. There is greenery everywhere, hills for trekking around, smaller islands to take boat trips too, and beautiful sandy beaches. Sai Kung is a small town on the water front, where you can buy seafood fresh out of the water from boats moored in the harbour, and we walked from there along the coast. It was a beautiful sunny day to enjoy the scenery. Of course, we had to stop and have a beer, where we began to notice a theme that continued throughout the weekend. Everybody seems to have a dog, and most people dress them up. Some are in T-shirts – not so bad. But one poor unfortunate was dressed up in a Britney Spears outfit circa the “Hit Me Baby One More Time” era. I only hope that it was a female dog.
After the early afternoon beer I needed a nap. Yes, it’s getting to be that way. So we headed back for a few hours, and headed out in the evening to Hong Kong Island. It was a clear night, and we headed up Victoria Mountain, or The Peak, on the first funicular train to be opened in Asia, in 1888. Hopefully it has been upgraded a few times since. Half way up The Peak is Middle Hill. There are sets of escalators running up and down to the residents who live there. It’s most bizarre. Mark made the point that if you leave in the morning and get half way down the escalator before realising that you’ve forgotten something, you’re in a bit of a pickle. You would have to go all the way to the bottom before you could ascend again, and vice versa when you’re heading back up in the evening.
The ascent on the funicular is so steep, that at some points it feels as if gravity is not in control anymore. All of the buildings that you go past seem to be at an angle, when in reality the train is. At the top there are shops, bars and restaurants (all hugely overpriced – we settled for a coffee), and the most stunning views across the city. We were lucky to have a clear night, and we could see all the way across to Kowloon Bay.
After queuing for what felt like hours (it was once a British colony after all, and some things do stick), we headed back down again, and across the bay on the ferry, where Dino treated us to first class seats. She’s so posh lah. Then we jumped on the MTR to Mong Kok. When you come out the MTR it’s as if you’ve stepped into daylight, it’s so bright! Lights, shops and market stalls everywhere – wah what a sight! We walked through all the market stalls, which sold everything under the sun in terms of ladies clothing and soft goods, and electronics. We then went to one of Dino’s favourite haunts for dinner – delicious Chinese food washed down with Party Beer. That’s actually the brand name. Love it. Unfortunately time had run away with us, so the market was closing down by the time we finished eating. But that’s probably for the best in terms of our budget.
We grabbed a taxi back to Dino’s. Taxi drivers seem to have about seven mobile phones attached to their dashboards. And they can be grumpy if you’re not going as far as they would like the fare to go. Joy of joys, the Man U vs Aston Villa game was on. Dino told me that she loves watching Man U games, not because she supports any team, but because she hates Man U so much. When they lose, no matter what the time, she calls her Mum, and avid Man U fan, and laughs down the phone to her. I was keen to do the same, but unfortunately it turned out to be a loss for Villa. Good old relegation specialist Alex Mcgleish.
After a quick sleep, owing to the football being on until 3.30am, Mark and I managed to rouse ourselves sufficiently to head out and take a ferry to Macau, an old Portuguese colony, that we were given to understand was now basically an island of casinos, rivalling Las Vegas. Would we dare try to double our travelling and wedding budget? We would not. We’re too sensible/chicken. We probably spent more time on the ferries and in customs than on Macau itself, but it’s a small enough place to get around in a short space of time.
It’s a fantastic mixture of European and Chinese, from the small alleys covered in Chinese advertisements, to the street name plaques in a very European style of white and blue tiling, with names such as “Rua de Xangai”, also spelt out in Chinese characters. The biggest shock was the huge golden casino and hotel called the Sands Macau that dominates the skyline from wherever you may be. If you can ignore that and all the other casinos, and walk off the beaten track a little, you can soon discover the more traditional Macau, which is very charming, with small side streets and steep walks up hills to overlook the island. It being the run up to Christmas, there were decorations everywhere, and even a nativity scene in one of the squares. The most amazing remnant of the Portuguese colony was the ruins of St Pauls Cathedral, where only the façade remains, but you are still able to imagine how magnificent the whole building would once have been.
When we got back to Hong Kong Island we walked through Central. This area is populated with high end fashion stores, and on a Sunday it’s filled with Hong Kong hired help in all shapes and sizes, enjoying their weekly day off. There are thousands of them who hang out with family and friends, play games, relax, and sing and play instruments. Because most help is live in, they don’t have their own places that they can invite people round to, so this is their hang out time and space to catch up with people. We made our way through the throng, enjoying the vibrancy and life that it brings to what I would imagine is usually a very staid area, reserved for those that have so much money that they don’t readily show emotion.
We met Dino and Edwin at Lan Kwai Fong MTR, to go and celebrate our impending nuptials. We started off with another delicious meal, a fantastic mixture of Chinese delicacies, before heading off for a few drinks. We were happily drinking and chatting when suddenly there was a loud commotion, and a very drunken Ang Mo staggered into the front of the bar and fell at the foot of the front table. Cue much screaming from the young girls sitting there. He was soon dragged out by the bar staff and chucked into the street, only to repeat this remarkable Sunday night activity in the next-door bar. Cue the biggest excitement in the area since time began. Fifty policemen with questionable hair styles (leading us to believe that they had all been called from their beds expressly to deal with this wayward whitey) descended on the area, cordoned off the bar the guy had fallen into, and then took a great deal of time to remove him from the premises and restore order. Not before we had all had a good gander at what was happening, and had seen him sprawled on the floor with at least five officers sitting on him, or otherwise restraining him. We all thought it was a great laugh, but did at least feel a little sorry for how he was going to feel when he woke up with the worst hangover in the police cells.
After this brief interlude, we headed to watch a Pink Floyd tribute band. The covers bands that we had seen in Asia up to this point had ranged from the ridiculous to the downright tone deaf. But this group were amazing. The guitarist could easily have rivalled Dave Gilmour, and the rest of them were none too shabby either. We ended our fantastic Hong Kong night out on a high, pleasantly drunk.
On the downside, Mark and I had to catch a taxi to the airport at 8.30am the next morning. It was with heavy hangovers and heavy hearts that we bade farewell to the hospitality, friendship and love that we had enjoyed, and that had been fostered over a single weekend. We winged our way to the airport, had some quite unpalatable food to try to get us over the worst of the booze blues, and settled in to nap, until it was again, Singapore time!