Back in mid 2008, one of my best friends, Steve Reynolds, found out that his best mate from Australia, Mark Foster, had been transferred to Hong Kong. Then in November 2008, Mark stopped in the Bay Area to visit Steve and invite him out to Hong Kong for a visit. Well it just so happens that Mark showed up when I was having a get together at my place for my birthday so Steve brought Mark. We hit it off immediately and before I knew it, the invite had been extended.
By the time we started looking into flights, a 4th person had been added to the mix, Kyle Tucker. When Steve first moved to the USA from Australia he was living in Boston where he met Kyle and became close friends. I've met Kyle on several occasions when he flies out to the Bay Area to visit Steve, including several of our annual Dandy Warhols concerts (a band Steve introduced me to).
We all were using our flyer miles from work travel so our round trip tickets cost us a $36.00. And with us staying in Mark's apartment in Hong Kong, lodging would be free as well. Talk about a cheap vacation…if you don't count the food, drinks, and entertainment. And on the entertainment side, Mark's managed to arrange several excursions through his connections including a Chinese Junk cruise, horse racing at the Jockey Club, and an afternoon/evening in Macau.
Steve and I began counting down to our vacation at about 6 weeks out. It was like two boys waiting for Xmas to arrive…LOL
Steve and I met up with Kyle, who flew in from Boston, at SFO where the 3 of us boarded our United flight bound for Hong Kong. 13 ½ hrs later we arrived in Hong Kong, none the worse for wear. We were on our own getting to Mark's place, but I was quite familiar with the trains and taxi's in Hong Kong. So it was no sweat getting there - from the airport we took the airport express all the way to the end, the Hong Kong station. There's tons of taxi's waiting there and we all jumped into one and gave the guy the address…Old Peak road, Mid-Levels.
The climb up to the mid-levels is no easy run for a taxi, and with 3 guys and luggage it was like Thomas the Steam Engine…I think I can, I think I can…we made it up to the mid-levels and Mark's apartment tower. It is a very posh place complete with door man. I guess Mark must have told them we were coming because when we arrived and said we were here to see "Mr. Foster" they immediately grabbed all our bags and got us into the elevator and up to Mark's without ever calling him in warning…Mark laughed and said if they had called he would have told them "Not to let the those fucks into the building."
It was about 8pm by the time we got to Mark's. He had cold beers and a fantastic lasagna dinner waiting for us. We decided to stay in for the evening but that didn't stop everyone from consuming lots of beer and smoking way too many cigarettes (all 4 of us smoke).
For our first full day, Mark suggested we walk up to the Victoria Peak Tower. As I mentioned, Mark's place is in the Mid-Levels, of Victoria Peak, so already being half-way it seemed like a good idea. What Mark didn't tell us was that the route (about 1.2 miles) up to the top would mostly be at a 45 degree (or more) incline. By the time we got to the top I thought my heart and lungs were going to burst from the climb (too many damn cigarettes and no exercise). But once I caught my breathe, the walk around the peak (2.5 miles) and then all the way down to the BOTTOM levels (almost 3 miles) was no sweat. It took us 5 hours to do the entire walk. 5 Hours of walking/hiking is a major exercise achievement for me.
At the bottom we found the closest pub. Had a LARGE beer and then went looking for some real chinese dive food. We found this great place in one of the side alleys and proceeded to chow down until we were pleasantly full. We then wondered around a bit, caught a bus into Wan Chai (one of the seeder districts) to check out possible bars to hang out in later in the week. We then took a taxi back to Mark's place (no one was interested in walking back up the hill to the mid-levels).
By 4:30pm the other 3 we're passed out from the days walk. I stayed up watching a sports channel. I knew if I took a nap I'd never sleep for the night. The guys all woke up just as I was getting ready to call it quits. I finally called it quits at 11pm and went to bed knowing at least 2 of the other would be heading out to do some serious bar hopping. Mark decided to not abuse himself and also called it a night. Steve and Kyle on the other hand went out bar hopping and didn't get in until 6:30am in the morning.
I was up (6:00am is my normal wake up time) which was a good thing because they came in yelling and screaming with the intention of waking us up. Poor Mark. He's used to a quite, peaceful place, and now he had a bunch of partying drunks…Mark and I knew they would be hitting the sack any moment and were looking forward to waking them up in a few hours for our Chinese Junk cruise in Hong Kong bay - 3 hours of rocking up and down on the boat will definitely be payback for waking Mark up…LOL
With Steve and Kyle planning on sleeping until at least noon, Mark and I decided to put in a bit of time online (mark with work, and me with personal email and watching a couple episodes of Dexter season 3). Once Steve and Kyle were back to life, we headed down to hong kong harbour to our day's scheduled event - an afternoon spent on the Maraboro #1 cruising around Hong Kong Island.
The Marlboro #1 is one of two Chinese Junks that Philip Morrison has available for any employee's use (seriously any employee can book one of the boats for a day of sailing around hong kong). Mark 's mate, Jammie, joined us for our boating and dining adventure. The boat picked us up at pier nine and took us on a cruise all the way around Hong Kong Island with a seafood dinner detour to Llama Island (I had pork, spring rolls, and vegatables). The cruise was beautiful even though everything was hazy and smoggy. And the food at the Tai Yuen Shark's Fin Restaurant was amazing. The guys ate calamari, calms, abalone, jumbo shrimp, some sort of sea worm-ish thing, crab, lobster, two bottles of wine, and all the free beer one can drink. After dinner we enjoyed a nice night cruise back to Hong Kong harbour before heading back up to Mark's place.
After a short rest and a change of clothes we all headed down to the clubs in Wan Chai; a very seedy district to say the least. We ended up in a place called Club Neptune which was filled wall-to-wall with people (approx 500 people with about 2/3rds of it young women from all over Asia). It wasn't long before I was feeling totally hemmed in and wanted to get out of the place. Luckily for me, Steve was feeling like shit from eating way too much seafood (can you believe there was leftover Lobster and Crab) and wanted to head back to the apartment. Using that as my cue to get out of the crowd I offered to head back with Steve leaving the others to the music, drink, and entertainment. Once we got back to the apartment, it took all of 5 mins for Steve to be fast asleep and I was soon to follow. Mark and Kyle on the other hand got home around 5:30am with the full intent of waking Steve and I up with lots of noise and banging about. I don't know how these guys do it.
As I expected, the day turned into a day of rest. Steve and I spent the morning wandering around hong kong and grabbing a bite to eat while Kyle and Mark recovered from the previous nights outing. Then while Steve napped away the afternoon (Mark and Kyle were still asleep) I decided to get in my Dexter Season 3 fix by watching ½ dozen episodes. Everyone was up and semi-alive by dinner time so we headed down to the Causeway Bay area to get some BBQ Chinese. We found a place that provided us with a nice selection of BBQ pork, roast port, soy chicken, roast duck, and roast goose. After stuffing our faces we all headed back to Marks to just hang out, drink beer, smoke way too many cigarettes (again) and eventually call it a night.
Day 6 had everyone up and about by 6am…I guess everyone finally got caught up on their sleep. We have the whole day to do that shopping we never got to and decided to head over to Stanley Market on the other side of the island. But first everyone wanted Dim Sum for breakfast. It had been a couple days since our Victoria Peak climb and everyone's calves, shins and thighs were finally getting to the point we didn't say "oh," "ah," or "ouch" every time we took a step down (quit laughing now), so we decided to walk down via the mid-level escalators. This series of escalators is the largest/longest escalator in the world. It was very interesting working our way down and within no time we were all the way down to Central.
From Central we did a short walk to the Causeway Bay area were we found our desired restaurant, the Luk Yu Tea House (try saying Luk Yu 3 times quickly). Once we'd been seated, it didn't take long for us to have a table full of steamer baskets from the various cart ladies. Half the time we had to call our "waiter" over to help tell us what was what. Obviously I avoided anything with seafood, but had my fair share of BBQ pork (char siu) and BBQ chicken steamed buns. I even tried this weird baked char siu bao that had more of a cookie consistency as opposed to baked bread. After we'd gorged ourselves we asked for the check, a whopping US$35 for 4 people…;)
From Luk Yu we walked back to Central so that we could take a bus over to Stanley. The route we would be taking would be Central Station up over the mountain and down the other side. The route up the mountain was quick but very very windy. But the view as the bus climbed was absolutely beautiful. We even got a good view of the Hong Kong Jockey Club, our evening's entertainment. Talk about a huge grandstand. That place is a city in and of itself. Coming over the top of the mountain, we got a great view of Deep Water Bay and the Hong Kong Golf Club down at the bottom of the other side. Too bad golf is way too expensive to play in Asia.
As it did coming up the mountain, the bus took us down a windy road through some very posh houses in an area called Repulse Bay. As we continued down the mountain and along the coast to Stanley we saw a mixture of lush jungle, skyward reaching mountains, and panoramic ocean views. Unfortunately it was impossible to take any pictures with the bus zipping along turning left and right as it made its way along the road.
The bus arrived and let us off just outside the entrance to Stanley Market. We decided to take a leisure stroll through the market to see if there were "souvenirs" we could take back for our kids. We all found a few things that we'd purchase when we were done in Stanley. Satisfied that we'd have the shopping check box (we had a number of things we wanted to do while in Hong Kong and whenever we did one, someone usually says "we can check that box off" ) marked, we immediately went looking for a place to have a "beer and a smoothy" (smoothy=cigarette). Just outside the market, along the waterfront we found a place called "the Smugglers Cove" where we proceeded to stay, drinking tall Tiger beers, watching all the lovely expat-wifes out for a stroll until it was time to go buy our souvenirs. At one point I thought I was in Sweden or Finland as I've never seen so many "blonde" women in one location, especially in Asia. It turns out that Stanley is where all the expat-families live. After getting our souvenirs, we realized we still had plenty of time before we needed to go back so we went right back to the Smugglers Cove. This time I noticed they had Strongbow on tap and proceeded to pound a couple of those before we eventually decided it was time to head back to get ready for our horse racing adventure.
When you step onto the concourse at the Jockey Club and look up, your first impression is "this place is frikin' massive" and packed with people. Of course the first thing to do was find more beer which wasn't hard as every major brewer has a booth willing to sell you mugs or pitchers of beer. For this evening Asahi would be the beverage of choice. With beer pitcher in hand we wormed our way up to the fence so we could be right there when the horses raced by. We totally lucked out finding this spot that allowed us to be at the fence while at the same time blocking anyone from crowding us from behind. It didn't take long for all of us to start chatting with the various people around us and before we knew it we had a newlywed aussie couple joining our little group. I even surprised myself when I just started chatting up this drop-dead gorgeous Asia woman. Both of us had cameras trying to take pics of the horses which made it easy to strike up a conversation. Sadly, it turned out that she was with her boyfriend, but that didn't stop her from a little innocent flirting and conversation.
After the races, we were famished, having missed dinner, and headed out to find some hot-n-spicy soup (sinus clearer stuff) and ended up at a little corner dive for Thai food. Then it was off to find another local bar for more beer before calling it a night.
It's now been our 5th full day in Hong Kong. Once again the mornings were spent dealing with emails and photos from the day before. Surprisingly all of us were up by 7am, but by mid day the other three were down for naps. I watch another episode of Dexter and did a bit of reading. We'd decided to head out to Macau at 3pm, catching the TurboJet (similar to a hydro foil) from Hong Kong harbor to Macau. We booked Superior Class for the bigger seating and a meal on the way over. The ride on the TurboJet was incredibly smooth and we hit Macau before we knew it. From the Macau harbor we caught a bus into the Macau Central district to check out some of the Portuguese architecture. We found a long promenade with lots of shops and old buildings interspersed and eventually made our way up to Ruinas de S. Paulo and the Fortaleza do Monte (Mount Fortress). Now all that exists is the original front façade of what was originally the Church of Mater Dei built in 1602-1640, destroyed by fire in 1835, and the ruins of St Paul's College, which stood adjacent to the Chruch. The church, the college, and the fortress, know as the acropolis of Macau, are all Jesuit constructions.
From St. Paulo we headed down into the central casino area, stopping in at the Grand Lisboa for a few beers, a stage show, and some gambling. We actually gambled very little (I lost HK$3 and Steve HK$10), but spent a lot of time watching Baccarat. Steve had an interest in craps (my favorite game) and we finally found a table for him to watch and play on. I joined the game when I had a chance to roll and had a good run (especially for the other end of the table) before finally crapping out. Steve had fun and the next morning was found playing online craps to learn more. From the Grand Lisboa we caught a taxi to the district/city of Coloane along the coast to have dinner at Fernando's, one of the local Portuguese favorites. For dinner we had two garden salads, soups, a plate of large grilled sardines, large puffy rolls, Drunken Steak (Flatiron or Skirt in red wine sauce), Roast Pork Ribs, Garlic Shrimp, and a pitcher of Sangria to top it off. Bloated and beat, we headed back to the casino district to catch a taxi back to the ferry. We did a quick walk through the Wynn Casino and would you believe we couldn't find a bar to get a drink…LOL
At midnight we decided to head back to Hong Kong, again booking superior class. The boat this time was the larger of the 3 we'd seen. As it turned out, it didn't matter as everyone fell asleep once the boat took off and didn't wake up until we docked in Hong Kong. A quick taxi ride up to Mark's place and everyone headed off to bed. One of our earliest nights of the trip.
For our last full day in Hong Kong we eased our way through the morning then went out for some hot Shezuan food and more beer (I definitely have to go on the wagon after this trip). The afternoon was spent getting ready for our return tomorrow and napping so that we'd have enough energy for our last night in Hong Kong.
We decided to take the Star Ferry over to Tsim Sha Tsui and then catch the MTR (train/subway) a couple stops up to Mong Kok for dinner and a walk through the Night Market. It being a Friday night, the area was packet with young people. Steve was appropriately impressed by the massiveness of the Night Market and the crowds. We found a food place on one of the side streets ordering several different fried noodle dishes, veggies, and 3 large bottles of Tsing Tao. After dinner we decided to dive into the Night Market with a rendezvous location so that we could go at our own pace. I figured I'd be the first there as I hate crowds, but ended up being the last one. Everyone saw lots of fakes and cheap crap as expected. No one bought anything which was no surprise. After that we took the MTR all the back to Hong Kong island going through an under water tunnel. Then we all jumped into a taxi back to Mark's. No one was in the mood for a hang over with morning flights.
Sadly it's now our day of departure and everyone has gotten up early (6:30am-7:00am - 3:30PM Fri USA) to start packing and getting ready for our return flights to the USA. Steve and I would be flying to SFO and Kyle would be going to Boston via Chicago. Personally I'm looking forward to sleeping in my own bed, losing some weight (I'm guessing I've put on 8-10lbs), and going on the wagon for a while.
Thanks for sharing in my adventure...:)