Thursday, February 26, 2015

hongkong o4 :: of modern central + kowloon friday nights


day o4. 
the bustling pace of progressive chung wan ("central")


{ day o4 } victoria peak tram • victoria peak • ding ding tram • mid level escalators • starbucks at duddell street  • markets exploring • ifc mall picnic • times square • ladies street (mongkok) 


#sianstakesonhk part four has finally brought me upclose and personal to what left me breathless at victoria harbor (re: kowloon entry) - the iconic skyline of 'chung wan' or better known as central, hong kong island. we've had a previews of hk island from the previous two days after the evening star ferry ride and also during our en route to macau



however, this was a day dedicated to explore the other side of hong kong (both literally and figuratively) - the business hub within the modern progressive city of hong kong that reminded me very much of downtown singapore with its own twist.

and my hong kong friend and i finally managed to coordinate our schedules in the midst of her busy graduation month prep!


--- {AWESOMESAUCE travel snippets of day o4} ---

one | a MUST have in hong kong -- the preserved century egg. what better way to savor it (besides having it on its own) than to slurp it down with a bowl of smooth, warm congee. after my extensive research on this local favorite that leaves your insides fuzzy, wong chi kei was the top pick among the masses.. the high quality preserved century egg may have been the best one i've ever tasted..so far.... yum! :)  (more on a separate entry)



two | view the hong kong skyline from a different perspective -- from hong kong's highest point at 582 meters, victoria peak!



there are multiple ways to get up there (i.e. bus/car/taxi) but you wouldn't want to miss the ride on the 125 year old victoria peak tram, which is a trolley that is pulled up the very steep slope by a single steel cable. an interesting 10 minute climb that occasionally had us at the edge of the seat at a 45 degree angle.




[#protips] :: victoria peak tram 
o1. go on a clear, beautiful day. avoid weekends or public holidays.
o2. nearest mtr to the peak tram lower terminus station : central station or admiralty station (10 minute walk)
o3. the peak tram is less crowded in the mornings. in fact, operation starts at 7am.
o4. get seats on the right of the tram carriage going up to get better view. 
o5. ticket price for adult is hkd 28 (single); hkd 40 (return)




the panaroma of the dense population of skyscrapers that filled the clear blue skies, where the central district ends at victoria harbor to arrive at the view of tsim sha tsui across the water. the best photo spots are outside of the peak market/peak galleria, which are of pretty short walking distance. take your time to explore where the peak was flanked by nature -- a stark difference from the city itself -- a green escape from the concrete jungle within the metropolitan.




[#protip] there are also nature trails for leisure walking that can be completed within an hour --hartech and luggard roads, which loop around victoria peak.


three | the coffee chain giant, starbucks on duddell street pays homage to the 'bing sut' concept by juxtaposing the decors of old against the modern -- the back half of the store's theme was dedicated to the downmarket cafes from the 60s, adding character to its typical and unassuming usual front of the store, making it somewhat an endearing space.







four | instead of indulging roast goose at the world's famous yung kee, there is another counterpart that has made a name for itself -- yat lok restaurant. it may not have received a star by michelin but earned the status as a bib gourmand restaurant and was featured in anthony bourdain's 'no reservations' when he visited the original shop in tai po. he quotes "that's worth flying all the way to hong kong for" -- pretty much testifies to the must try aspect of this restaurant (more on a separate food entry)




five | rest your aching feet (maybe just for a tad) as you ride on the longest outdoor covered escalator system in the world that spans 800 m in distance, the mid level escalator. the escalator brought us across some parts of the town where the scene changed from the central business district to hipster/artsy streets with several petite cafes and shops and luxurious apartments.






[#protip] take the mid level escalators as it goes in the ascending direction (it was at going up during the afternoon hours) since it will be a lot easier to walk down the stairs once you reach the upper point. also, look out for the hkd 2 refund machine (only valid when used at central/hk mtr stations) somewhere along the escalators where you can tap your octopus card.


six | my most favorite part of the day -- taking the ding ding tram, which in my opinion is best way to experience and be a small part of the local lifestyle, the traffic, the people, the hustle and bustle of this very busy city -- all from the upper deck of the double decker tram. i wished we had taken this from one end to the other and probably would have been better if we took it first thing in the morning after the first wave of rush hour.







[#protip] :: ding ding tram
o1.  enter the tram from the back, pass the revolving "gate" up the stairs. exit at the front and pay with octopus card or you'd need exact change. move towards the exit before you get to the stop. 
o2. most lively portions will be between sheung wan and north point.
o3. get on board starting at the terminus and get a great front seat in the top deck. 
o4. tripadvisor tips: take #120 and take it from central to western market direction. 
o5. the tram route spans roughly an 8 mile stretch - which will take about an hour and a half.


seven | discover the unexpected great photograph spots in central, hong kong island. after several different photos, it does seem that stairs and narrow roads are the main features in most of these locations. hehe.









*                            *                                *               

while we spent most of the day part in hong kong island, we ended up spending the evening, traversing along some parts of kowloon that we missed on day o2, completing some of our last minute souvenir shopping.


eight | two words. street food.

after many char chaan tengs and restaurants, i wouldn't wanna miss out on the local delicacies sold at stalls along dundas street. especially at the ever crowded and endorsed by the typical long lines at fei jie street snacks for snacks on skewers.

[#protip] do not take photographs at fei jie stall which you may get yelled at unless you're really good at ninja photography. ;)


or try out kai kee street snacks at the corner for my first "chow tofu" aka stinky tofu -- where its flavors were really muted to a milder version to suit the tourists' tastebuds, who may be put off by the stinky odor.


[#protip] nearest mtr :: yau ma tei station, exit a2.


nine | revel in the boisterous liveliness of sai yeung choi and fa yuen streets while haggling for bargains on local souvenirs at ladies street night market on a friday evening. the streets are lit by colorful billboards, echoed by calls of street vendors as they try to attract the bandwagon of tourists and locals welcoming the start of the weekend.













ten  | "stand out" from the sea of people or be a part of the crowd in kowloon -- whichever your preference may be. btw, i'm in the below photo somewhere - "catch" me if you can ;)



{ travel notes }

o1. ifc mall was covered in the itinerary (that is building ifc two) for the picnic at the rooftop but when we found out it was closed for our reservation...my heart sank. oh, remember that passports are required for registration. it is worthwhile for rooftop view of the city, within the city. probably best to go on early evening and you could get some snacks from the stores in the mall before heading up top.

o2. temple street night market wasn't quite my cup of tea and it paled in comparison to the exciting tung choi street. however, there were a lot of dai pai dongs if you fancy an al fresco meal by the side of the street for local stir fry dishes.




our adventure in hong kong island was a lot more relaxing though it left me wanting to do a little more. i'd love to go for another of the ding ding tram rides, taking from one end to the other while watching hong kong go by. friday nights at the heart of kowloon at tung choi and sai yeung choi streets are definitely THE place to be. despite my earlier indifference towards the city due to the very many similarities to home and its familiarities, hong kong grew on me over time.

after sharing my four days in hong kong, #sianstakesonhk series will end with #sianseatshongkong entries for coverage on my food tasting throughout the different parts of hong kong and macau. those will get started very soon. :)


disclaimer this is written based on personal experience and opinion. experience and taste buds may vary for others.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

{hk o3} :: a day in macau



day o3.
embracing the portuguese architecture away from portugal.


{ day o3 }  ferry terminal • grand lisboa • ruins of st paul • macau museum / fortress • macau tower • mgm • wynn hotel • senado square • ferry terminal 

when one does hong kong trip planning, it is almost a natural thing to include macao (or macau) into the itinerary, which is part of the reason why this entry's title deviates slightly from the other entries in this series - not quite hk but it was part of my hk trip.

#sianstakesonhk makes a temporary switch to  #sianstakesonmacau as we reserved a day to embark on a day trip to 'vegas of the east'. similar to hong kong, macau potrays its own personality with a distinct portuguese influence in its architecture and street names. 



hong kong (hkg) / kowloon (kln) - macau (mac) merely takes about one hour via turbojet, which you can decide which of the two terminals to depart from. despite us staying in mongkok, we took our ferry from hong kong (my mistake from missing out kowloon terminal in my research) that resulted to a very early morning since we aspired to take the first turbojet out - 'aspired' being the operative word here...lol. it could've happened if i trusted my instincts but instead we took a wrong turn and ended having a morning brisk walk and taking a huge circle to return to our starting point.




it was one of those rare times of the day where the traffic is quiet in central, hong kong with the gentle breeze blowing.

[#protip] taking mtr from kowloon to central to finally arrive at the turbojet jetty which connected within the same building just a few escalators up. look up for signs. 

[#protip] you only need passport to enter macau via hong kong. no chinese visa required.

as we approached the jetty, the city seemed to be shrouded by a mild fog. disembarking at macau ferry terminal, the atmosphere was a lot different from when we first reached hong kong. the tourists were a lot louder and seemed to always be in a rush to get somewhere.. 

[#protip] to get to macau's main attractions, take advantage of the complimentary hotel shuttles. in our case, we chose grand lisboa and used it as our starting location for our itinerary planning! the hotel shuttle stops are to the left as you exit the ferry terminal.

[#protip]  hongkong dollars (hkd) are accepted in macau but any change will be made in macau pataca (mop). the vice versa does not apply -- mop cannot be used in hong kong.. so use up your mop while in macau!


--- {AWESOMESAUCE travel snippets of day o3} ---

one | start your morning with a must-have of macau, famous and much loved cafe e nata margaret's portugese egg tart. it was on the way to our breakfast chosen spot and we made a quick pit stop, thrilled to find that there wasn't a queue yet but the cafe was full! modus operandi. order at the cash register, pay, pick up, (find a spot at the cafe, if you're lucky), and savor.


sweet, soft and almost melt in your mouth egg custard, cooked just nice balanced well with the flaky and buttery tart shells. the caramelized layer topped it all off to make it really yummy. oh, btw photography is NOT allowed in the store. 


two | have your breakfast (after that delish snacking above) at the old macau cha chaan teng, nam peng cafe, an old fashioned teahouse with a relaxed atmosphere is indeed a rare find. the fact that it has been around for many years and still retains it old staff and customers is a reason to have a meal there.  if not for the food, do it to experience the cha chaan teng culture. (more in a separate entry! ;))



three | the trip to macau would not be complete without a visit to ruin's of st paul cathedral. officially listed as part of the historic centre of macau - a unesco world heritage site, this facade of the church is what is left after much was destroyed by fire in 1835. 


the biggest challenge is probably getting a photo at the landmark without a huge crowd in the background, proven almost impossible if taken at the steps.

[#protip] you may be able to by trying to get a photograph at the top of the stairs and be ready to snap at the right moment. photographer may have to angle the camera from the bottom to get the full facade.




four | soak in the liveliness of the petite shops and little eateries, the architectural details of the lovely old buildings, the colored tiled walls and floors, the intricate details of the balconies and steps, the vibrant colors and the narrow lanes as you walk your way around the city. all tinged with a touch of portuguese culture.









the heart of it is the iconic largo de senato or better known as the senate square. it is the centre of old macau and in 2005, it was inscribed on unesco's world heritage list as part of the "historic cenre of macau" collection. the tourist fills the square as the day passes, making it very packed in the evening. 



five | my most memorable and exhilarating part of the trip. skywalking 233 m above ground around the outer rim of macau tower with no handrail in sight! perfection for someone who is afraid of bungee jumping (here stands the world's highest bungee jump!). i suppose i could say i'm taking baby steps, if you will ;)



although it was a slightly hefty pricetag at mop 848 (~myr 380) that covered both skywalk + tower admission fee, i thought it was well worth the 20 minute experience and the best part is the breathtaking photos that came with it. the package also includes: skywalk e-certificate, exclusive skywalker's t-shirt, photos of you by their photo crew and aj hackett international membership card.





[#protip] s.o.p.: get your tickets at the counter - take the lift up to the outdoor observatory on the 61st floor - register at the counter with the receipt - change into your exclusive skywalk t-shirt and the shoes provided - wait your turn - say hello to your guide - strap on - take a deep breath and have fun!

[#protip] if you have friends with you, have them take pictures of you from the inside (as long as they have the tickets for outdoor observatory)







on top of having cool, sunny day, i was really lucky to be the only one for this session so i could enjoy it at my own pace. standing on the rim of the tower with my slight fear of heights, my palms became sweaty, occasionally clinging onto the harness for my dear life and while posing for a photo, my knees were weak, my legs shaking mildly as i looked down, all 233 m from ground level. even so, the exhilarating skywalk ends with a sitting at the edge, slowly inhaling the beautiful view.



[#protip] :: skywalking macau tower
o1. best times to visit: mon - fri 11am or sat - sun: 10 am; preferably when the weather is clear
o2. if you are planning for night walks for the best view of night lights from the tower, probably best to make reservations. those are very popular times.
o3. arrive at the counter 30 minutes prior to reserved time.

while you are here, take the elevator down to the 58th floor for the observatory floor for a quick look around.






six | take a walk around the other side of the city - "the vegas strip of the east" the interior of the luxury hotels itself are attractions. wynn has a couple of complimentary shows for visitors - the fountain show at the open waters in front of the hotel where the fountain patterns change with background music every 15 minutes from 11am to midnight or look out for tree of prosperity/dragon of fortune that alternates every 30 minutes at the wynn atrium




seven | don't leave macau without buying snacks at the most popular food souvenir chain, koi kee bakery where there were many samples to try to find your favorites. although there are many branches, almost every shop was still packed and the lines at the cash registers were long.. their freshly baked signature products are almond cookies, egg rolls, crunchy peanut candy and almond cakes.




my favorites are definitely the egg roll with seaweed and pork floss and the chewy peanut candy. the egg rolls are a crunchy, slightly sweetened accentuated and contrasted by the floss echoed by the saltiness of the seaweed. the chewy candy has a satisfying crunch from the fresh peanuts and sesame seeds and balanced wonderfully with the soft sweet chewy candy.

{ travel notes }

o1. you could ask for complimentary macau map at the concierge of the hotels. we requested for one, which was given rather willingly.

o2. while we walked most of the time, exploring different parts of macau, the other mode of transportation was by bus. even so, the first time we took was going in the wrong direction -- we ended up riding the bus towards north to the bus terminal, only to return to the south to where we started before heading to our direction. >.< in the optimistic sense, we could watch 'the life in macau' as we 'explored' the other part of the city on the bus.

[#protip] best to remember to confirm with the bus driver if you're headed to your destination. get the bus schedule online for the corresponding bus numbers for your destinations. have exact change ready when you get on the bus.





returning later than planned, the neon lights from the hotels and casinos were the closing act to our one day trip to macau. since we weren't certain on what time we were heading back, we rushed to the ferry terminal to purchase tickets for our return to hong kong. however, tickets were mostly sold out and we ended up waiting for about two hours at the terminal to get the next turbojet out. might be a good idea to reserve/purchase return tickets although it leaves no wiggle room for change in plans.

starving and exhausted, we had a very late dinner at the nearest restaurant, lan fong yuen when we arrived at hong kong. in fact, they were taking last orders as we sat down and gobbled down our dinner quickly as soon as it was served while the staff cleaned up for closing. (more in a separate entry!)




macau reflects an interesting mix of history, culture and architecture with influence from the portuguese intermixed with the bright neon lights and modern hotels and casinos - a day wasn't nearly enough. even our macanese food adventures were too few since it was a rather short visit with our packed itinerary. i was left wanting to view the night life of the city and taste more of its local cuisine.

part four of the #sianstakesonhk series brings us back to hong kong island. watch out this space! :)

disclaimer this is written based on personal experience and opinion. experiences and taste buds may vary for others.