China is all over the news. Unfortunately, not for a good reason. As this respiratory virus crosses borders and frightens health authorities, I can’t help but remember my month there. I visited both its special administrative regions, Hong Kong and Macao, along with several continental chinese cities and villages. All by train. It was such a memorable adventure, which, just like the country itself, is too majestic to be described in a single post, so let’s focus on the islands for now.
Hong Kong 🇭🇰
The first thing I had on my list was a night walk along the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade with a visit to the Avenue of Stars and the opportunity to admire the Night View of Victoria Harbour. The night was warm and the city was inviting. The promenade is one of the best places to enjoy the spectacular views of Hong Kong’s skyline, and I was lucky enough to arrive there just in time to enjoy a light and sound show, called “Symphony of Lights”, that takes place every night at 8.00 pm and makes you speechless for ten minutes. I could not believe what I was seeing! How come they had a free, beautiful, mind blowing event happening every night that I was not aware of?! A dazzling multimedia show in which iconic buildings on both sides of the harbour showcased a true audiovisual spectacle that included searchlights, LED screens and lasers. I will forever recall this moment as Hong Kong welcoming me with all the best it had to offer.
On my way back to the hostel I stopped at the Temple Street Night Market to have a taste of traditional chinese street food. It was hard to find a place to sit, as the market was very crowded (night markets aren’t as common in Hong Kong as they are in other parts of Southeast Asia, which is what makes Temple Street so popular), but after pushing three or four people I finally found a place where I could peacefully enjoy some dumplings and a fried scorpion on a stick. Fun fact, the Chinese like their street food on a stick: Banana on a stick, fish balls on a stick, fried scorpion on a stick (which, by the way, tastes like chicken). It leaves your hands greasy and your stomach begging for more.
During the day, the Victoria Harbour skyline looks very different without all the lasers and searchlights. Not in any way less beautiful, just different. The best way to enjoy it is to take a ride on the famous Star Ferry (that has been crossing the harbour since way back in 1880). This humble vessel offers a privileged view of the water, the skyscrapers and the mountains beyond. All this for as cheap as a bus ticket.
Although the traffic was very busy, it was not a jungle like in other parts of Asia, and so I walked confidently on the streets for hours, photographing the vibrant atmosphere around me. Colourful double-decked electric trams co-existed in harmony with the numerous cars and motorbikes.
I was traveling solo but, as it commonly happens to me, I wasn’t alone for a single minute. As soon as I got to my hostel in Hong Kong (YesInn @ YMT) I found myself an adventure partner: a german girl coming from Australia that was heading back to England where she lived and studied. She was sleeping in the bed across the room and after a brief chat we decided to explore the rest of Hong Kong and Macao together.
We went for dinner, and after a heavy (but delicious!) dessert of sweet dumplings, we ventured into Lan Kwai Fong neighbourhood, because we both knew no trip to Hong Kong would be complete without a boozy night there.
This small square of streets contains almost 100 bars, restaurants and pretty suspicious nightclubs. Since we didn’t have a specific place in mind, we decided to try out the most appealing bars and just go with the flow. I remember bright colourful cocktails, shot glasses in flames on the table, skinny asian girls pole dancing and drag queens acting like divas. And us. Dancing, drinking, laughing. And then running down the fire stairs of one of the night clubs that set on fire. And the firefighters rushing into the building that was burning in flames like the shots we had drunk before. Thankfully no one got hurt, and the situation was soon under control, but it was pretty scary at the time. Nonetheless, I still recommend this neighbourhood for a night of fun in Hong Kong (definitely a tinder place in every way!).
As if this experience wasn’t enough adrenaline for us, we were soon stuck in another panic situation. I mean, literally stuck in a claustrophobic glass cabin, suspended in the air and lost between the mountains, in a grey, rainy, stormy day. Let me explain. We were trying to reach Tian Tian Buddha, an enormous Buddha statue standing 34 metres high above the Po Lin Monastery in Lantau Island. And a 40-minute cable car ride over forest, water and mountains, is the easiest way to get there. Unless there is a terrifying storm, in which case they close the Ngong Ping 360 cable car for safety reasons. Well, we were “lucky” enough to be the last passengers allowed in the cable car before they closed it that day. I must say I can’t thank God enough for having my new German friend stuck there with me for what were the WORST forty minutes of my life. As we “floated” between the mountains, the sounds of the storm became louder, thick rain drops falling heavily, the wind blowing aggressively, the dense mist around us disrupted only by lightning bolts.
And there we were, the two of us and a scared Chinese couple with tears in their eyes. My friend was by far the bravest one there, and even though she was also uncomfortable, she did her best to keep us all calm. She even managed to make me laugh at some point when, running out of ideas, she suddenly suggested cheerfully that “we should all sing a song!”. It did not work. The Chinese couple didn’t speak English and I was too frightened to even say a word. Thankfully we survived and the Big Buddha was too impressive to make us regret the ride.
The Victoria Peak is another unmissable spot in Hong Kong. We decided to go up there twice, so that we could have a look at the city both during the day and by night. Again, just like the harbour, it was pretty different, but always beautiful.
On an early morning, we took one of the first ferries to Macao. The ride was not long, and we knew the biggest hotel there, the Grand Lisboa Hotel, had a free bus running between the harbour and the city centre every 30 minutes. It seemed easy and quite appealing.
The first thing I noticed in Macao was the similarity with Portuguese cities. The traditional-style pavement used for many pedestrian areas in Portugal was there under my feet, on the other side of the world. And tiles. Tiles everywhere.
Streets had their names written in both Portuguese and Chinese, and how funny these names were! Portuguese aristocratic names of historic figures (like “Almeida Ribeiro Avenue”) seemed to have been randomly assigned, together with the feelings those figures were probably experiencing at the time, like “Street of Happiness” or “ Street of Piety”.
Macao is a place of contrasts, where huge casinos and bright modern skyscrapers stand side by side with multiple churches and old colonial houses. It was hard to ask for directions, as no one seemed to speak English or Portuguese, and we got lost several times.
We visited the A-Ma Temple (that is believed to be the place where the city’s name was derived from), the Maritime Museum (a ship-shaped building at the place where the Portuguese first landed, Barra Pagoda), the Senado Square (with its mosaic-tiled floors and surrounded by yellow and red colonial houses) and, of course, the Grand Lisboa Casino (with its huge saloons illuminated by gold and crystal chandeliers).
The Ruins of St. Paul’s are by far the most famous landmark in Macao. This outstanding stone facade is the only remnant of the complex of St. Paul’s College and Cathedral, originally built in the 16th century, that burned down in 1835.
After a long day of walking non-stop, we managed to get on the last ferry back to Hong Kong.
All I can say now is that I impatiently wait for this corona virus nightmare to be over, so that I can go back to these amazing places in my favourite side of the world.
Wishing everyone safe travels,