You may have noticed a second category on the menu bar to the left – Travel, plus non-pen related posts from five years ago and further back in time. This blog was originally to document my travels for family and friends and previously was hosted on LiveJournal (which looked like it was going to close a few years back). Well in a number of weekends time I’ll be off on my travels for the first time in a while, to Prague, so expect a change in pace, style, and content in my posts for a period.
This might surprise people considering how often I’ve done it. I don’t actually like long distance flying. It’s not a fear thing or cabin fever. It’s not other passengers who’ve hit the booze too hard (as almost happened on my trip out) or screeming babies (as happened on my flight back). It’s the fact I just can’t sleep on planes, which can make me grumpy, and this flight was just typical. I did try to sleep, even spent an hour trying to relax to soft music (Brian Eno’s Music for Airports 1), but all that happened was I got a sore shoulder and felt even more tired. Still aside from the lack of sleep and the crying/screaming kid (who quietened down after about half an hour then only became a nightmare over short periods towards the end) it was a pretty uneventful trip. Still could have been worse. Was sitting next to a girl who works for DFID. She’d come from Vietnam (though with a 2 day stop over in HK on the way back, not the way there) and was heading back to her present base, Sierra Leone via Heathrow..
Once the plane had landed I must have been through in about 45 minutes. This includes the Terminal 5 shuttle train, collecting my bags, and going through Customs. I looked for some one so I could be a good boy and declare the fact I was importing an airsoft gun and then prove I was legally entitled to. Not one was there so I was straight through.
All that was left was to take a taxi back to work to collect the car then a drive home, which I did via the Rickmansworth Tesco, which I pass anyhow.
I really should have got some rest on returning, but instead I’ve been unpacking, doing washing loads, and maybe having a little play with the G5.
An interesting an busy day lay ahead of me. I wanted to buy some snackage for my family, maybe head back to Wong Wa street to see if one shop was open and also to see if I could find a cafe that’s rated as one of the top places for dim sum in HK, then collect my new and adjusted suits and hea to the airport.
Fortunately I was awake when the phone went. I’d considered trying to attend a Masonic meeting over here, but being a bank holiday weekend there was nothing on. My contact had actually help me find the deal I got on the G5 (not much, but I found there’s no negotiation over airsoft stuff in HK), and now was giving me a shout to see if I wanted to meet him, have a wander round the Masonic hall and maybe grab a spot of lunch. It would be rude not to so I agreed and wandered over to Admiralty for just past 11. Ashok is an elderly (though hides it well) amiable man who was playing the guide. We met at the station and caught a bus up to outside the hall (it’s right by the first Peak Tram spot, but that way you have to queue with tourists for the top). The hall itself is actually quite splendid I noted had a decent bar and dining area, both in size and setting. Both of these are open all day and we actually had lunch there, which was cheap compared to down the hill in Central/Admiralty. From there Askok took me on a tour as we wandered and talked. An entertaining afternoon, next time maybe I will manage to make a meeting.
So on to the tailor to collect bot suits, now done. I tried on the new jacket and it fits just nicely (the advantage of a tailored suit). Sandy, the owner/tailor, did quote me for a summer suit, but I just could not justify it. I then wandered back to change in to more suitable travel clothes and to repack the suitcase. My original plan was to swap my light summer trousers for my more normal, warmer, black ones, and to swap the t-shirt for a polo shirt. Only thing was that the weather had become a lot sticker so I just changed the top. On it was, then, to the airtport.
The Airport Express works well with one exception. You do still have to wander through the transit system with all your bags. Sure you can remote checkin your suitcase, if unlike me you have nothing that needs extra checks, but that’s still at Hong Kong station, which is an underground hike from Central. Still I got there with little fuss, just sore arms/shoulders from my bags.
I arrived at the airport some 35 minutes early so wandered, and eventually found the airport lounge by bank account gives me access to (Premium Plaza). This was out of the way, but quiet and comfortable. Not long later I had to head back and got a surprise. The BA checkin was due to open at 19:30 for a 23:15 flight. There was already a large queue and the desk had not yet opened. I ducked through to speak to one of the girls to ask about the security check I required. Not long after the bagage checkin started (about 10 minutes late) she wandered over to me and pulled me to the side. The summoned airport securty (as expected) and they confirmed I had an airsoft gun and then contacted the police. A few minutes later 4 armed policemen arrved to usher me to a secure area out of sight of the other passengers, It was actually a rather pleasant experience, everyone was friendly and helpful and I got the impression (though they were trying to give nothing away) that two of the four might also have been airsoft players. In fact my only issues during the whole process was my bag, before putting the gun in it, was over-weight. Not sure how as the only extras from arriving were one more 3-piece suit and some light snackage for work, RPG and family. A repack was in order anyhow and the BA checkin girl used the airsoft gun to help me get everything away without an extra cost (though the snackage and a couple of books are now in a separate free hold bag, which I’ve got to try and remember about at Heathrow).
I’m now in the Premium Plaza lounge departures side. It’s larger, but not as cosy/comfortable as the other one, but still provides food, snackage and drinks to help me kill the two hours before bording. The one problem I have is the free Internet access is locked down to just email and web so the games I play on the iPad will not work.
There was a chance I would meet up with Ida once more as she had to be back from Taiwan for work tomorrow (leaveing Timo and the kids over there), however she pinged me to me know she was now not due back till ~10 pm so it was lonesome dining time.
Not being sure what I fancied I went through Trip Adviser starting at the top. Ignoring non-Chenese restautants and the big hotels I stumbled across Mask of Sichuan & BejingMask of Sichuan & Bejing. Now every time I’ve gone to Chatham Road (i.e. for dimsum at my old regular or to Sprin Deer) I walked past this place. It’s by the TST East MTR station and actually looks like it’s connected to the pub next door so I had ignored it. The reviews made me reconsider. I’m glad I did. It’s not the bes Szechuan I’ve ever had but the food was good, the menu esxtensive, plus there was a full vegetarian (real Bhuddist style vegetarian) menu as well. Only catch for me was I found the seat uncomfortable.
So my final HK evening meal was done. Leaving the restaurnt I noted that the mist was still over the Island so I crossed over to the bay and the Avenue of Stars to take some photos. It was a nice night and a pleasant walk along the front while taking some suitable shots (JPEG previews being uploaded at the moment) and that was that. Now back at the hotel starting to pack. Check out is by midday tomorrow. I’ll be heading of to the airport around 18:00/18:30, before which I’ll be collecting my altered suit and maybe the new one (which will then need putting in to the suitcase). I also need to work out where I can change as my clothes for over here are too light for the flight and the UK (and also the heavilly air conditioned airport) so I will need to change in to slightly heavier clothing before checking in my luggage. I’m assuming I’ll have to do it at the hotel rather than the airport.
Earlier rise planned due to the possibility of meeting up with Pak and his father for lunch – they have a mid-afternoon familly bash they would have to get to, except, due to unforseen circumstances they could not make it. This meant I had more time to try and find some where to buy post cards before going to lunch. I failed.
Dim Sum was at my pet place, though I noticed that their range is a lot smaller than it used to be. Stil they’re still good and I had a decent fill. Heading back to the hotel for a pit stop I found a post card seller round the corner from the restaurant – so not exactly inb a toursty area. Only catch is I assumed there would be more further on. I was wrong,
Yau Ma Tei and airsoft shops was calling, so over I went, back to Guns & Guys to get my early birthday present. In case you’re wondering, the gun in question (a GHK G5 GBBR for those in the know) plus 3 spare magazines cost me ~£250 (the duty/tax limit when carrying yourself is £390), where is in the UK, if you can find the gun, it either sells for £265 or £285 depending on the shop, and about £70-80 per magazine, so a big saving either way. Only catch is I will have to spend about an hour at checkin going through aditional security checks to prove it’s not a real gun before it goes in the hold – no great issues, just takes time.
Now back for a short break before heading out for … post cards ….
When I first started coming to Hong Kong Tsim Sha Tsui (normally called just TST) was packed full of places targeting western tourists who were after cheap tat and pirated goods. Sine the last time I was here things have changed due to a number of reasons.
1. There has been a big crack down on counterfeit goods and while you still get touts offering fake watches and designer handbags, all those shops that filled the area have gone. No more dodgy clothing, no more pirated CDs and DVDs, just more regular forms of shops.
2. There’s a new tourist in town and he’s over in greater numbers. The Chinese mainlander. Problem with this type is it’s new money and a desire to spend. The net result is the designer goods you see around here are the real thing. Sure just before the park there was a row of designer shops, but now there’s new building and new stores every where sporting names like Prada, Burberry, Louis Vitton, …..
This has caused me a slight problem I was not expecting. Postcards. Now in this modern electronic world I only send them to immediate family, or at least would do so, but the places that used to sell them either were also selling dodgy wares or where dependant on those shops. Additionally I get the impression that mainlanders do not do postcards (personally I think postcards are a European/US thing as I’ve also struggled to buy them in Japan and India).
Simple plan to day. Meet up with Pak. Go for lunch. Go for a wander, Have evening food. Hit a pet bar.
We met up at exit D1 of the Causeway Bay MTR station, the nearest to the Noon Day Gun. We wandered over there with 20 minutes to spare and waited. The blast was, well lets just say I was not expecting it to be that loud. Post being let in to the area and taking photos we wandered on to lunch. I had been tipped off about a place round the corner, King’s Cuisine, which has really good reviews. It comes across as an expensive place, sitting in a big plush shopping centre in an expensive area. The dim sum were good – worth the trip, maybe not the best around, but worth the visit. The biggest surprise was that the bill was about a third less than expected !
On leaving we did something I’ve never done in Hong Kong before. We went for a tram ride, getting off near Central. It was at this point that we were reminded of a Hong Kong tradition. Every Sunday many of the maids in Hong Kong (traditionally Philapino) gather around Central for relaxing and socialising, there’s a good few areas they meet in and those to get noisy. By the old station building there was even an open air dance/beauty/’something else’ contest. with much cheering and yelling. We wandered on towards Central with real real sense of hurry or purpose. Getting to Millennium Square presented lots of photo opportunities of the various fountains and the last gas lights in HK. We then transgressed. Pak will not allow me to let his sister-in-law, Allie, to know that being thirsty and having time to kill we hit a Starbucks (the horror). It was actually my first coffee this holiday since landing. This also gave us time to look for some where to eat. The problem about being a solo traveller is I can’t go for Peking Dusk, but now there was two of us….
We found Monogamous, a modern Peking restaurant that’s mentioned in the Michelin Guide. To get there we had to use the winding escalator up to mid-level then duck slightly back down again. It was worth the trek, for while our vegetable side dish was not the best and I considered out desert to be poorly thought out, the duck was as good as expected and our two main course were superb.
Post eating we wandered back down (the slope is so steep I’d hate to slip and fall) to find Hong Kong station so I could ask about checking in an airsoft gun and if I could do it there. I can’t and I should get to the check in at the airport for 19:30 on Tuesday (when I leave) for the security checks.
Final stop for the night was the old pet tequila bar, Agave, for a margarita or two (and a shot of rather expensive Raizal anejo tequila). By this time it was past midnight and with early starts it was time to call it a night.
Well my plans were to head o Mong Kok, eat there, then wander down to Yau Ma Tei and wander along the Temple Street Nightmare. Problem was I could find lots of eateries for good food, however all were either cafes or lunch time spots for brunch, so I settled with TST. I had a list of 3 places with good reviews and a route covering all. I went to the first one, the Wu Kong Shanghai and got a table after a 10 minute wait. This place has really good reviews, is large and busy.
I settled in, noticing the food on other tables to look good, and promptly ordered a couple of dishes. Problem was that my Fish in Sweet & Sour sauce was nice, but not great and my noodle dish had been ruined as it tasted of burnt oil. Then came the next problem – the bill listed the right number of items (inlcuding the stinger of auto-charing you for the peanuts they put down when you take your table), but with no English I had to guess which was which and am highly certain that they seriously over-charged me for the noodle dish. Was not happy and what’s more had a slightly rough stomach due to the bad food.
Next I wandered up to Jordan then along to Temple Street. To my surprise there was a small, but nearly empty and Temple street was devoid of life. Still I got a couple of photos (with permission) of some locals playing Xiangqi/Chinese chess. I wandered down Temple Street to find the market is now really between two arches (or at least the south side). It ran for about 3 or 4 blocks, but aside from being at night was little different from Lady’s Market. It also was shorter than last time we were here. I then wander along Nathan Rd the rest of the way to Yau Ma Tei station. I saw signs for the north side of the market, but feeling a little dodgy decided not to wander and take a look.
Still tomorrow is another day.
Today’s plan was simple. Head to a popular restaurant (I went to a few times with friends on our second group trip, my 3rd visit over here) for lunch, head to Kwong Wa Street where most the airsoft shops are, then go for a wander.
London Restaurant was my target for brunch. This large dim sum restaurant on Nathan Road covers two entire floors of a large block and is a traditional mixture of pre-order, pick from passing trolleys, and collect from specific counters. Even with so much space and capacity I still found myself sharing a table with a couple of other people (had to do the same regulary at the Win Tai restaurant at the Wing Yip at Staples Corner, London). As is the norm, being white with a bag on my back and a camera around my neck, they assume I’m like many other tourists and have just wandered in here as I’ve seen other people head this way or have read a review and have no clue what to do, still I got by with no problem. Food is not bad, but as with last time, I still prefer the Lin Kee bat Beverley House.
Post lunch it was on to the real purpose for the afternoon. To find some parts for a broken airsoft gun of mine, price up another (as they are a lot cheaper over here and I have pre-arranged with BA to possibly bring one back), the dosome general shopping. It was about 1 pm when arrived, so many of the shops were jsut opening. First stop was the place that online had the parts I needed for my Magpul FPG folding gun. Parts got with no problem. Next was looking around for the GHK G5. Oddly enough a local Masonic contact has a friend who plays and pointed me at one place presently with a website under construction. Result. All bar one additional part in stock and at a very good price. I need to compare with getting the same gun from a Taiwanese reseller who is particularly cheap and ha a good reputation before weighing up if the difference is worth the extra hassle I will have checking in. Prices obtained and confirmation the shop willbe open on Monday I wandered round looking at the other shops. It was a bit like being a school boy in a road of sweet shops, though I was a behaved one and spent no more (for now….).
Anyhow, at some point I was bound to leave (there are only so many shops even when you’re looking for specific things) and so I went for a random wander and did exactly the same as the first time I came to Mong Kok/Hong Kong back in about ’96. Wandered in to the start of Lady’s Market. This is an afternon market where you still get cheap clothing, tat, tourist goods, the sort of thing Hong Kong is famous for (I’ve been informed that Temple Street Night Market is more low market these days – seem to remember similar back in ~2001). Also the vibe I’ve been missing in TST was there. I may go back tonight to catch the neon (and NIght Market), but it was good to see that some areas have not changed to reflect the new money and richer tourists.
Not sure about plans for tonight yet – probably back to Mong Kok.
So the light show has now finished and it’s time for food (well I am me). For tonight I’ve looked up and taken note of a few good scorers on TripAdviser in the TST area. In the end I settled on Spring Deer in Mody Street. Being at the Chatham Road end I wandered along that way rather than navigating the crowds on Nathan Road, especially having survived the hord leaving the Symphony of Lights. From the side I came in the restaurant is easy to miss, being on the 1st floor of a building – from the Nathan Road side there is clear sign to see. Inside it’s not obvious until you reach the first floor at which point you find just how large it is.
The restaurant is pure Pekinese (so Madarin Court food). Being alone I decided not to go for a duck – only available whole and apparently superb here – so if there’s 4 or more of you it’s a place to try. I also resisted the sharks fin, another dish this place is famous for. As much due to the high cost as for the fact sharks fin does nothing for me. I went for 3 dishes (worth noting no plain/boiled rice on the menu), Shredded Beef with Green Capsicum, Mixed Braised Vegetables (Four Seasons), and Pekinese Noodles with Shredded Pork and Chives. All three are comparatively clean and simple dishes. For the first two I ordered small portions (they come in small, medium and large). The noodles was a set side. Depending on hunger and appetite 2-3 small portions are more than enough for 1 person, so 4-5 dishes for two. The noodles, however, were large enough to be a lunch time meal on their own. Despite being busy, there was no hurrying me to finish and get out as I waded my way through then took ‘breather breaks’ while readin my Kindle. The beef was really nice and efectively finished, the veg was nothing special, but well done, and most eaten (all the brocoli and baby sweetcorn, just leaving some of the mushrooms and cabbage). The noodles would have been boring by themselves and really are share food, think I left about half of them. Over all really nice food.
On leaving I wandered back to the hotel via Nathan Road and some of the side roads. I wanted to get some new photos of all the neon. How times have changed, Tsim Sha Tsui is very much a tourist area and used to be full of cheap tat merchandise and lectric neon. Over the years more and more new shopping centres have been appearing (including new buildings) with the results that much of the old colourful lighting is now gone. In some respects TST at night has lost character. I’m planning to hit Mong Kok tomorrow evening and hope that the same has not happened there. About the only colour you see now is above the ever present traditional medicine sellers.