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Down UnderSafely Back Home

On 4 November 2004 from Reuver, The Netherlands | comments closed

Tuesday evening I made my way to the new airport in Hong Kong, built on an island that was literally flattened and extended through land reclamation. For the last time on this trip Cathay Pacific made sure I had an excellent flight back home. In between watching ‘Collateral’ and ‘The Bourne Supremacy’ I had some short light sleeps, but I was still pretty tired when I arrived at Schiphol early Wednesday morning. After customs (luckily I did not get checked, as I was slightly over the spirits limit) my parents were already waiting, and it was really good to see them again. Trying to avoid the traffic jams we had some coffee at the airport, but still ended up in one and only arrived home at 11.30 (the plane landed at 6.30).

I spent the rest of the day unpacking and having some of the Dutch foods I missed most: “rijstevlaai” (rice pastry of a local bakery) and “verwenjoghurt” (delicious thick fat yoghurt, unlikely the tasteless 99%-fat-free yoghurt dominating the Australian supermarket’s shelves). In the evening we watched the video my dad has made in New Zealand, but I fell asleep halfway through it, still tired from the flight and slightly jet-lagged. At least I did have a really good sleep in my own bed last night.

Down UnderShopper’s Paradise

On 2 November 2004 from Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR | comments closed

After dinner on Sunday evening I walked along the waterfront of Tsim Sha Tsui, looking at the amazing skyline of Hong Kong Island. It was quite busy with lots of people in weird Haloween costumes, which was fun to watch.

On Monday I took the Star Ferry to Central, where I walked around among the skyscrapers for a while, before catching a ferry to Lantau Island. Hong Kong’s largest island also has the largest bronze outdoor seated Buddha statue, and that was where I was headed. From the island’s ferry terminal it took another 45 minutes or so to Po Lin, the monastery and temple complex. With a height of over 26 metres and located on top of a hill, the Tian Tan Buddha statue is quite impressive indeed. After wandering around the temple complex and statue, I took the bus and MTR to Mong Kok. However, I could not find the shops I was looking for there, and went back to Tsim Sha Tsui.

In the evening I took the Star Ferry to Central, and the bus up to The Peak for the last time. The skyline looked really impressive from there, even though it seemed a bit foggy during the day. But that was probably smog, although there are not as many cars as I thought there would be. Lots of busses and taxis, and every other car seems to be Mercedes, BMW or Jaguar.

Today I planned to visit some museums in Tsim Sha Tsui, but I had forgotten to check their opening days, and it turned out that all the interesting museums close on Tuesdays. My impromptu alternative was to take the train to Sha Tin, where the 10.000 Buddhas monastery is located. I did not count them, but reliable sources conveyed to me that there are actually more than 12.000 Buddhas in the monastery, and I had no trouble believing that. After seeing enough Buddhas for the day (week, month, year…) I took the train and bus to Kam Tin. There are two walled/fortified villages in this area, and I visited them both, but somehow the villages completely failed to impress. I could have saved myself quite some time here, since the villages were in the New Territories, quite a distance from Tsim Sha Tsui.

I decided to spend the rest of the day doing what Hong Kong is most renowned for: shopping. Hong Kong is really a shopper’s paradise, from small Chinese shops to large luxurious malls, the city’s favourite pastime is definitely shopping. I am pretty sure clothing is a lot cheaper than back home, but I just could not be bothered getting any (it would not fit in my backpack anyway, but I would be rich now if I got 20 eurocents for every time a tailor’s businesscard was offered to me). However, for electronics the city does not always compare favourably with Dutch internet shops. The new watch I want is not available in Asia (presumably because there are no time calibration radio signals broadcasted). Mobile phones are only slightly cheaper, but the contract discounts in the Netherlands do not make it worthwhile to buy a new mobile phone elsewhere. I did get an Apple iPod mini though, since they were some 20% cheaper than back home.

This is the last post I am writing from abroad (I hope to be back in the Netherlands Wednesday 06.30 CET). I will probably write some more things once I get back home, but for now there is only one thing I still want to mention. Recently I realised that one common element of all the countries I have visited in the last 11,5 months (Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Macau) is the fact that in all of these places people were driving on the left hand side of the road, and I got completely used to that. You may want to remember this when I hit the road some time next week…

Down UnderMacau

On 31 October 2004 from Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR | comments closed

After posting on my website yesterday I walked up to Victoria Peak, the highest point on Hong Kong Island (not the highest point in Hong Kong). Unfortunately the views only got worse compared to the observation deck at the upper terminal of the Peak Tram, so I went back there. I decided to splash some money on the attractions there, notably the Peak Explorer and Ripley’s Believe It or Not Odditorium. When I got back to Tsim Sha Tsui I found a good Japanese fast-food restaurant (‘Yoshinoya’) that serves big bowls of rice, chicken and vegetables for only 2,60 euro. After dinner I walked around Tsim Sha Tsui, checking out all the electronics for sale.

Today I took a ferry to Macau, another Special Administrative Region of China. Instead of being ruled by the British, like Hong Kong, Macau was ruled by the Portugese until 1999. I found out that it could have been ruled by the Dutch though, since we invaded the peninsula in 1622 with 800 men and met very little resistance. But a single cannon shot from a Jesuit priest (hitting a barrel of gunpowder) caused them to flee. What a shame. Anyway, Macau nowadays has still quite a few Portugese buildings remaining, and it is weird to see the mix of Chinese culture and Portugese heritage. I spent all day doing the Lonely Planet walking tour around the peninsula (including a visit to the excellent Macau Museum), and had to rush to catch the ferry back to Hong Kong. I really start to like this Pacific Coffee Company, if only for the free internet access at their coffeeshops (no weed here, strictly forbidden).

Down UnderHectic Hong Kong

On 30 October 2004 from Hong Kong, Hong Kong SAR | comments closed

Yesterday I successfully managed to pack all my stuff in my bag, and to my surprise my large backpack was only 19,5 kg when I checked it in at the airport. It could have been 25 kg, because over that amount Cathay Pacific charges extra. I guess I am getting better and better at travelling light.

After packing all my stuff and bringing some old clothes to the Salvation Army, I sorted out the last photos I made in Australia, did a final e-mail check, and said goodbye to some friends I made in the hostel. Then I took the bus and train to the airport, where all went according to plan as well (I must say that I have had no problems or even delays with any flights on this trip so far). Cabin service on the Cathay Pacific flight was impeccable, and I arrived in Hong Kong well-fed, albeit slightly tired. I watched 3 movies on this flight: ‘Around the World in 80 Days’, ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’ and ‘The Terminal’ (not that anyone cares, but I just felt like mentioning it).

Upon arrival in Hong Kong I took a bus to Tsim Sha Tsui, where I arrived a little after midnight. I was slightly worried about not having booked anything in advance, but that fear proved ungrounded, as I only had to walk in the busy street for about 5 metres before someone approached me with an accommodation offer. I took up the second offer, and got a small basic double room on the 13th floor of Mirador Mansions. I do have to move to an actual single room in Chungking Mansions today though, but for an average of 10 euro a night I do not really care, I only need a place to sleep and leave my backpack during the day.

Today I slept in a bit, before getting out into the city. I tried to find a bakery for breakfast, but bakeries are fairly uncommon around here (I found plenty of curry shops already open), so I had to settle with some bread roll and orange juice from Seven-Eleven. In Kowloon Park I tried to figure out where to go today, and met a 90-year-old medical doctor, with whom I had an interesting conversation. It basically came down to the fact that I should read the Bible myself, because people that are 90 years old (and he was still in his right mind, I must add) are wise. I told him I would consider it (that is, when I am stuck on an uninhabited island with nothing else to read), and took the MTR to Central.

“When it comes to public transport, nobody does it better than Hong Kong.” [Lonely Planet Hong Kong & Macau, 2004] I must say I fully agree with this statement, even though I have only spent a few hours in Hong Kong. I got an octopus card at the MTR (Mass Transit Railway) station. I only have to hold it over a sensor when going in and out of trains, busses, ferries, trams etc. and the correct amount is charged. Too easy. In Central I took the Peak Tram up to the Peak, where I am writing this post now. After all, I needed a cup of coffee (2,10 euro) and got free internet with it, not to mention views of an uncountable amount of skyscrapers when I look outside.