The flight from Taiwan was fine, I took an earlier flight because it was such a short flight that I was there in WAY too much advance even despite the driver being late. Then, once in Hong Kong and clutching the very informative emails from my mum's friend who lives here, I braved the MTR from the airport, and ended up at my very small but very clean hostel. There, I found a girl named Liz, who was from England and on her way to Brisbane and Sydney with her friends for a couple of months. It was good, we went to lunch and she went to see Victoria Peak but I thought I'd leave it for another day because my ears by that point were really wigging me out, they were hurting and changing pressure when I moved my head, which was not exactly comforting. So I wandered around Causeway Bay, but of course I forgot all of the informative emails in the room so I just sort of walked and walked around the place.
After my walking around I had about six cups of chamomile tea and a ham and cheese croissant at a place in one of the malls around "fashion walk" (just a collection of malls). That was a nice break, I killed probably a good forty-five minutes reading Vanity Fair and just looking at my surroundings (which were rather nice for a shopping mall). For dinner I just picked up some instant noodles from the supermarket across the street from the hostel and ate them in the room, and fell asleep probably at about 10PM, I was tuckered out entirely.
Then, the next day I headed into Central to find myself somewhere to eat. My plan was to eat there, then maybe wander around for a while before heading up the Peak. Which isn't what happened at all, in the end! I did, indeed, have lunch in Central, at a nice Thai place I only realized afterwards I spent about $17AUD on (though admittedly that was a three course set meal and a nice drink). Before lunch I was feeling pretty wretched from my cold, wondering if I should go back to the room and abandon all plans for the rest of the day, take a taxi, it was awful! But during lunch, of course, I started to feel much better. I read my book (Nick Hornby, How To Be Good), watched the people outside (so many suited foreigners, clearly the hangout of the rich and western), and my ears unblocked after a while too. So I was refreshed and replenished for the day ahead.
I went walking for a while, Central's really hilly but I took it slowly. Hong Kong has these tourist signs everywhere, so I followed one to a Temple right in the middle of the city and had a walk around. I skipped over "Hollywood Road" because it was just antiques shops and that's kinda boring if you're not going to buy anything. So I just followed the signs back to the MTR and hopped on a train, planning to go a couple of stops to check out Hong Kong Park and the Museum of Teaware on my way up to The Peak.
But I got off at the next stop and decided to connect over to the Tung Chang line and caught it all the way to the end - to Lantau Island. From there I took a bus to the Po Lin Monestary and the Great Buddha. I'd heard of these places before in my travel book and things that mum's friend had sent me, so it wasn't entirely random, but it felt a little bit like it, because I hadn't really planned on it. I just sort of got off at the right stop. It was a little confusing, but eventually someone asked "buddha?" and pointed me to the right bus. It was $16HK ($2.50AUD or so) to get to Nyong Ping (the town), and it was definitely worth it. Just the bus ride was entertaining! It was up and down these huge hills with tiny, winding streets that of course were having roadworks done on them as well! It was loads of fun just getting there.
Then the Buddha statue and monestary itself was amazing too. The Buddha was on top of a mountain (you could actually see it from the drive, but I'd fallen asleep on the way in and only saw it on the way back), so I had to walk up a lot of stairs to get there. Not being 100%, I stopped halfway through and took some very tired-looking pictures of myself. I wandered around at the top for a while, which was a lovely view and also nice and windy, which was refreshing after all the walking. I looked out at the big mountains surrounding us and the clouds that settled over them, which was gorgeous and definitely photo-worthy.
After wandering around the monestary and Nyong Ping (which has been built up for the grand opening of a cable car from Tung Chang to Nyong Ping, which will be gorgeous), I took the bus back to the MTR, the MTR back to Admiralty station, which isn't the one that's conventionally for the Peak Tram but I managed my way around with the tourist info signs, basically (thankfully I'd had a look around and knew that the Hong Kong Park was close by, so I followed signs to there first and then from there to the Peak Tram.
It was crazy busy on the Peak Tram, but it was well worth it. the tram is certainly an experience, and it only cost $5AUD! It goes basically at a 45 degree angle up the side of the mountain, which was pretty awesome. The top is nothing special except for the view. I was there at around 7PM, and there were lots of people around, but the viewing platform was closed so you had to take pictures from outside. I had a wander around there, a rather LONG wander because I thought you could stop the tram on the way down as well as the way up, but it turns out you can't, so I made it all the way down to the first stop and then had to walk all the way back up! It is a very steep hill, did I mention the 45 degree angle! So by the end of it, I was grossly grossly (in both senses of that word) hot by the time I got back to the top so I had a frappacino at the Peak Tower, cooled off, and then headed back to my hostel via the Central station.
The next day (Wednesday I guess it was), Liz and I went around together for most of the day, starting out at around 10ish, I guess. Our first stop was dim sum at the Kowloon Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui, generally a tourist trap and the whole ordeal was pretty pitiful as well. I mean, the food was okay, and the decor was nice and hotel-sterile, but it was at a hotel so there was none of the raucous cart-pushing, just a set menu that cost us about $50 in the end! The trouble was, we couldn't find any other dim sum places, and I didn't really want to drag Liz on a wild goose chase to find one. So I went with the one in the Lonely Planet book and it was hideous. It was made worse by the fact we were sat in a god-awful position between two sections of the hotel dining area (one half for dim sum, one half for Italian buffet - can we say wtf?), so the whole palava took around two hours to complete!
Anyhow, then we got on our way, and we went to see the Museum of History. It's like this park that has a bunch of museums, and I think Wednesday must be general free admission day, because there was a MASSIVE line out front of the Museum of Science - I can only imagine that Wedesday is a popular field trip day. The whole place was a little confusing and difficult to get a grip on, and I thought it was a function of the amount of people that were there, but after a while of going through the various historical periods of Hong Kong's history, trying to keep up with the story and understand it as told on the boards, I realized it was a function of the museum itself. It was so badly organised you didn't know what to read next. Case in point: We went to the first interesting bit about the beginnings of foreign trade up to the Opium Wars (section 5). You walk into a wide open area that has random cannons in the middle of the room, and the next thing you see is a big sign for section 6. Any pertinent information is hidden away on walls, or in a video room which we got to see but only because some guard lady who couldn't speak an ounce of English ushered us into a darkened room. It was awful! Trying to follow the story chronologically was just impossible, and I even knew what event was supposed to lead on from the next!
At any rate it was a good sight-seeing trip, something interesting that taught Liz about the history of Hong Kong and for me at least I saw a bunch of artifacts from the time periods I've learned about once or twice (the cannons were actually cool, and there were boats and post boxes and mock pawn shops, and the section on popular culture was cool). At least it was free, haha!
Then we walked back, went on a wild goose chase for a bank because Liz had to get some travellers cheques exchanged and the woman at HSBC told us that this place on the 9th floor of some building (it turned out to be a Travelex; harmless, but still weird that it was on the ninth floor) would do it for free. So it was a bit of a walk around but we managed to find it and it all got sorted.
Then we were on our way again, to a temple. It was about 5 by this point, and by the time we got to the temple, it was bloody well closed! We took some pictures at the gate anyway, just because we'd gone out of our way to see what seemed like a very reasonable-looking sort of temple, and then we hopped a taxi to what we thought was the Kowloon Park, where there was an old walled city.
Somehow, we ended up at the water's edge, Seafood Alley or something like that. It seems the picture we had pointed to in Liz's guidebook had been mistaken for the one on the opposite page. Still, we paid the $70HKD fare and got out, just because - well, the driver didn't seem like he was prepared to admit it was his fault, and also really, what was one tourist destination from another?
So we decided to take a gander. The tourist signs told us there was another temple, and a lookout point, through Seafood Alley (which I shall henceforth call it). Seafood Alley, I must admit, was pretty foul. It smelled terrible, there were fish heads everywhere, and people asking if you wanted to eat in their restaurant all the way along. I wasn't particularly skittish, but I was heartened by the fact we saw some other people wandering through like tourists as well. We kept following the signs, following and following, and we found the lookout. It was actually gorgeous, we couldn't have picked a better time if we tried - it was just on dusk and the sun was setting over the harbor, it was quite pretty and we definitely took some snaps there. But the damned temple was still strangely missing from our adventure.
We kept walking, prompted on by the occasional sign, and we seemed to be going through people's back yards. In fact, that's what they were, we knew, because there was a gate with a name on the door, and letter boxes, like an apartment complex. Only, it wasn't an apartment complex, just these small squat houses and people hanging around outside to keep cool. It was a bit bizarre, wandering through there, but it was interesting anyway. And even more bizarrely, nobody seemed to give us funny looks as we walked through their streets! So we figured we were on the right path. Eventually, after much confusion and wondering whether we were, in fact, going to stumble onto this fabled temple any time soon, we turned a corner, the houses cleared, and there was a little red temple at the end of the windy shore pathway. It was stunning, right on the water's edge, lots of rocks and the water and mountains in the distance, it was gorgeous!
Anyway, back through the people's houses and fisherman's alley, and we were so gross and sweaty and smelly that we caught a $15HKD taxi to the closest MTR station. It wasn't far, but it was up a nasty hill, so we felt justified enough. There was a handy purple line taking us from where we were to a stop before where we needed to be, so Liz got back to the room on time to get to the airport, and I went on to Causeway Bay because I knew I was going to want to use my computer for longer than the hour it tells me my battery only has, so I needed a converter. I wandered for a while, took a tour on the escalators of the local department store, SOGOs (they had no travel section! I was confused) before I found an electrical place I had spied earlier and I got my converter for $15HKD - very fair, I think!
With that accomplished, I had nothing better to do so I wandered to Times Square, a HUGE mall (15 floors or something insane) that was still open at something like 8PM (my phone also ran out of batteries so i failed at knowing the time). I went to Page One, a bookshop with an extensive English range that Shiva introduced me to in Taiwan. There, I was able to find a proper Chinese dictionary for myself (proper as in, it uses simplified script instead of traditional) and, my reward for the find, another Nick Hornby book. After that, I was only missing 31 Songs and Fever Pitch.
Then I was LAME and went to California Pizza Kitchen for dinner. Cost me $106HKD, expensive really, and I had to watch everyone being all happy chappy with their birthday parties and dates, haha. It ended up being all right, eating alone, and I had some good quality time with my travel book. Which is when I came up with the FANTASTIC idea to visit Macau for the day!