Travel Roundup: Hong Kong & Macau 2019

Public art is showcased at PMQ

I thought I’d write a post about my latest trip to Hong Kong and Macau (we returned home about a month ago). It’d been about two and a half years since my previous visit, and this time I had my parents and Kirk in tow with me.

While we still did some of the usual things a tourist would do (it was Kirk’s first time there, after all), the primary reason for our vacation was to see my extended family, especially my grandparents who are both in their nineties. We wanted to have a big reunion ahead of our upcoming wedding in the fall as it’d allow us a chance to celebrate with them in case they couldn’t make it to Edmonton for the real deal.

From the standpoint of culture shock, I’d say that Kirk did better than me with aspects like the crazy crowds while I fared better when it came to heights; three of the world’s 50 tallest buildings reside in this territory and being the fourth most densely populated region on the globe, you can image that everything is built up, not out. What’s great about Hong Kong, though, is it’s quite easy to navigate. English and Chinese signage is everywhere, and a large portion of the residents speak English, too.

I’ll try to do a short recap of each day of our trip here. If there’s anything that was covered in detail in my past write up, I’ll refer you to that. Hopefully, for the restaurants that we had a chance to try, I’ll be doing separate posts at a later date.

Day 1 – Hong Kong

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We arrived in Hong Kong around supper time. Once my parents had gotten their suitcases from the luggage carousel (Kirk and I only packed carry on for the two week vacation), we picked up Airport Express passes and made our way on the train to Hong Kong Station. From there, my uncle and aunt picked us up. Being around rush hour — many people work from about 10:00am to 6:00 or 7:00pm daily — we hit some traffic. However, it didn’t take too long, and next thing you know, we were in the super convenient area of Causeway Bay being dropped off at the Holiday Inn Express (my cousins were very kind to treat us to our stay there).

Once we’d checked into our room, put away our bags, and freshened up, we walked across the street to Times Square to meet up with the four of them for dinner. On the tenth floor of the mall was Greenhouse, a Southeast Asian restaurant. Honestly, we stuffed our faces here with roast chicken, pizza, salads, and steak. When we finished our meal, Kirk and I decided to walk off the food by perusing some of the shops, including a very cool whiskey store with lots of limited edition bottles, and a business that only sold Totoro items.

After twenty hours or so of travel, we were exhausted. We settled in and went to bed. Best of all, it was late in the evening in Hong Kong, so we got into a good rhythm right away. Thankfully, we didn’t experience much, if any, jet lag during our time there.

Day 2 – Hong Kong

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We took it pretty easy on our first full day in Hong Kong. Once we’d gotten ready to go, we actually went to visit with my grandma in Wanchai before doing anything else. It was so great to see her again and she finally got to meet Kirk. Language barrier aside, they were pretty adorable.

For lunch, we headed back to Causeway Bay where we ate at Din Tai Fung. While it’s not a local restaurant, it’s famous for their Xiao Long Bao (soup dumplings). My mom wasn’t overly impressed with them because the dumplings weren’t hot enough. Although I agreed with her on that point, I still love their too expensive (over $30 CDN for six) black truffle and pork variety. Their wontons are pretty delicious as well.

After that, we explored Causeway Bay, giving Kirk a chance to get a lay of the land. We stopped in SOGO, a fancy department store in the middle of the area. My mom wanted to show Kirk the basement-level grocery store with the pricey imported fruits. Honestly, they’re beautifully packaged, looking pristine and at peak ripeness, but I still can’t fathom why any of them cost as much as they do.

As we walked around that area, we found a kiosk for BAKE Cheese Tart (actually a Japanese chain). They’re famous for their pastries and they literally sell only one item. These bright yellow rays of sunshine look sort of like an egg tart, but they’re a little more savoury because of the cheese and the consistency of the crust is more like a cookie than a pie.

If you haven’t guessed yet, a lot of our time in Hong Kong consisted of eating. That night was no different. We met up with another uncle and two of my aunts for dinner inside the Conrad Hotel at Brassarie on the Eighth. To my family’s dismay, they had sold out of the Tomahawk steaks that they had their eyes on. But, in the end, everything that we had (minus the undercooked souffles) were wonderfully prepared. I quite enjoyed my indulgent four-course meal.

Day 3 – Hong Kong

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The smog cleared up a bit on our third day in the city, so we decided it’d be an opportune time to take Kirk to Victoria Peak. From there, you can see expansive vistas of the valley. My dad insisted that we walk along Victoria Peak Loop (from what I could find online, I believe it’s 4.5 kilometers in length) as he wanted to reminisce about his childhood days when he and his brothers would adventure nearby. He kept saying that there were great views. Initially, I didn’t believe him because all I could see were trees along the edge, but eventually, they opened up to reveal those postcard images.

Even though the path was even and paved, it was a slower walk than we’d hoped. No one had really prepared for the distance (because we didn’t know we’d be walking this trail) and the creeping heat. So, it was nice when we made it to the end and sustenance was in sight. My relatives had told us about the new Bread Street Kitchen by Gordon Ramsay on the Peak, and I had my heart set on going there for lunch.

The restaurant serves elevated pub-style dishes. Both my dad and Kirk went for the Dry Aged British Beef Burgers. My mom ate the Fried Buffalo Chicken Burger. Me being me, I had to sample a few different things, including Mushroom Arancini, Mixed Grain Salad, and Smoked Steak Tartare. Nothing disappointed. Everything was prepared well with ample flavour.

When we finished our meal, we caught the bus back down the mountain (double decker buses driving along the narrow winding roads with very short barriers are always a little hard to get used to). We rode it all the way to Central Station. That’s where you can catch a Star Ferry boat over to the Kowloon side. Fun fact: the reliable ferries have been in use since 1888 and many still retain their original wooden seats.

On the Kowloon side, we stopped into the famous Peninsula Hotel. Our original plan was to have high tea there, but at a minimum of $350 HKD (approximately $70 CDN) per person, we opted not to stay. Instead, we walked around the Avenue of the Stars and 1881 Heritage — the past Old Marine Police Headquarters now reestablished as a luxury shopping landmark — before heading back over to the island. It was our intention to stay on the Kowloon side longer, so that we could see the nightly light show across the water, but it would have meant killing quite a bit of time, and everyone was rather tired, especially my father.

Day 4 – Hong Kong

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One thing I can never recall doing during all of my past trips to Hong Kong is riding the tram. Yet, I’d highly recommend this affordable transportation now. Each of these cars have two stories on them and if you can snag the topside seats at the front (or even the back), you’ll have fantastic views of the streets that you pass by. It’s definitely a more leisurely ride, so don’t expect to get anywhere as quickly as you would compared to the subway or the bus. We rode all the way from one end of the line at Happy Valley to the very end at Sheung Wan.

In Sheung Wan, we stopped to check out the views of the harbour and then we sought out a place for lunch. Gioia caught our attention with their lunch special: purchase three meals and the fourth was free. Plus, the set lunch menu of three-courses and a beverage for about $20 each was already a steal.

Once we completed our meal, we explored the area on foot, passing through wet markets and stopping to look at real estate listings. We also noticed that there were more elderly milling about. It seemed like they had regular routines and most were still going about their days on their own even though they were probably in their eighties or nineties. Lots of props to them for keeping up with an active lifestyle.

That night, we took it easy with dinner at my grandma’s. Her helpers prepared such wonderful Indonesian-style dishes for us. They pulled out all of the stops, and we were stuffed silly.

Day 5 – Hong Kong

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On this day, we ventured to the Diamond Hill district where we paused for lunch at Genki Sushi. They’ve revamped these restaurants to utilize online phone ordering and the trains that come right to your table to drop off each plate (similar to what you might find in Japan). While my cousin has stated that the sushi from here is next to inedible, it’s still pretty decent to me. Coming from landlocked Edmonton (where, don’t get me wrong, we do have some good sushi available), anything we can get in Hong Kong, due to it’s closer proximity to water, is going to be fresher than home. Also, sear the seafood and toss some sauce on it, and it will be good.

For dessert, there was a Mamma Mia Gelato kiosk right outside the doors of Genki Sushi. I couldn’t pass up some scoops of the black sesame, matcha, and pistachio flavours.

We followed lunch up with a trek across the street to the Nan Lian Garden and Chi Lin Nunnery. I’ve gone to this spot every single time on each of the last few trips I’ve taken to Hong Kong. It’s because it’s one of the most tranquil locations in the city. Whenever you step into the fenced garden, it’s like quiet envelops the entire area, making it a respite from all of the hustle and bustle.

In the evening, we had our big family dinner with all of my uncles, aunts, cousins, and nieces on my mom’s side. This was Kirk’s opportunity to meet everyone (before they all jetted off on their own holidays or work trips). We had a traditional multi-course Chinese meal and we passed out our wedding invitations in person.

To cap off the night, we stayed at the Hong Kong Jockey Club Happy Valley Clubhouse bar for drinks and snacks. The bartender really knew his stuff when it came to whiskeys and cocktails, and there was live music, which my dad loved.

Day 6 – Hong Kong

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We spent most of this morning and afternoon visiting with my cousin and her family. They made us brunch (delicious Australian wagyu burgers) and gave Kirk whiskeys to taste while we held and played with their baby girls.

When it came to supper, my aunt, uncle, and cousin took us to the iconic Jumbo Floating Restaurant. Reaching the marina, we then hopped on a boat that brought us across the water to the entrance of the building. The restaurant has so many ornate details to it, and I get why it’s become such a landmark. The Queen of England has dined there, and my grandparents even celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary at Jumbo when I was just in my early teens. I hadn’t been back since.

The food was incredible and they really put on a show for their customers with certain dishes like our drunken prawns prepared tableside. It’s certainly a spot that’s unforgettable.

Day 7 – Hong Kong

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We head back to Kowloon to meet with my dad’s side of the family over dim sum and roast pigeon. They even bought us a personalized cake to celebrate our engagement. It was a really nice get together.

Since we were at Olympia Plaza, we decided to do some shopping. Hong Kong is littered with shops along every street and corner. There are malls all over the place, too. However, if you find yourself there, you’ll likely notice that most of the stores are high end brands that the average tourist probably can’t afford to shop at. Olympia Plaza is a great mall with a variety of businesses that sell goods at much more reasonable price points. They even had a Muji! In the vein of IKEA, but born out of Japan, their food section sells ample matcha flavoured snacks. I filled up a basket with every single matcha item I could find.

More relatives of ours wanted to meet up, so we arranged dinner with them at Fini’s. An Italian American restaurant, we were served burrata, eggplant parm, a huge pizza, and pasta galore. It was such a filling, yet satisfying meal.

When we finished supper, my cousin wanted to show us the SoHo area where most of the nightlife can be found, particularly around Lan Kwai Fong. We found some of the staff at the busier bars to be quite aggressive as they attempted to lure customers in as we walked by. Rather than go to any of those places, though, my cousin treated us to customized drinks at the hidden J.Boroski. We also popped into Iron Fairies next door to see the hanging butterflies prior to catching a cab back to the hotel for the night.

Day 8 – Macau

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In the morning, once we were out and about, I started noticing weird red welts on my left foot. I’m not sure what happened and when exactly, but I must have been bitten by one vicious bug. I mean, no trip of mine is ever complete without me having some sort of reaction to a bug bite and a potential infection, right?

Anyway, I tried not to think about it too much. We got to the ferry terminal to take us to Macau. TIP: Don’t forget your passport as they are required (Kirk had to hilariously crouch down for the camera after he scanned his documents to get through the customs area). Our tickets were for the regular class on the TurboJET ferry. It takes about an hour on the hydrofoil boats to get from Hong Kong to Macau, so we arrived well before noon. From the Macau ferry terminal, we caught a shuttle bus to The Venetian. Kirk wanted to try his hand at the roulette tables at the casino there. However, with a gaming industry that is seven times larger than that of Las Vegas, required bets were high, and our small amount of money didn’t last very long.

Still, we wandered around to the Parisian (gorgeous marbled building, by the way) where we found a lovely set lunch menu at a French restaurant called Brassarie. With full stomachs, we then took another shuttle bus back over to the Sands where we caught a cab that dropped us within walking distance of the Ruins of St. Paul’s.

St. Paul’s was a Catholic church and college that were destroyed by fire during a typhoon in 1835. Only the facade of the church remains standing at the top of the steps. This is one of Macau’s main attractions and, thus, it’s always crowded with tourists. Slightly to the east, you’ll find the Monte Fort (a.k.a. Fortaleza do Monte), which provides 360 degree views overlooking the city.

No trip to Macau would be complete without purchasing some almond cookies from Koi Kei Bakery (and probably some fresh Portugese egg tarts, which we failed to seek out). These are a very popular souvenir to take home. My mom told me that these are currently the favourite, but back in the day, another bakery was actually considered the best until a Chinese soap opera advertised the Koi Kei brand, allowing it to surpass the other in sales.

We returned to Hong Kong right before the dinner rush, so we popped into Genki Sushi at the ferry terminal for a quick meal. The rest of the evening was pretty lax with a run to 7-11 for treats.

Day 9 – Hong Kong

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We spent the day in Stanley where we perused the market stalls, checked out the pier and Murray House, investigated the shops at the plaza, and grabbed burgers for lunch at Beef & Liberty. On the way back to Causeway Bay, we made a pit stop at Repulse Bay, so Kirk could dip his feet into the water at the beach.

Returning to the city center, we made our way to a street market stall to buy socks ($15 CDN for 10 pairs of quality Korean knitwear). Then, we walked to the Fashion Walk food district for dinner at MINH & KOK, a Vietnamese and Thai restaurant.

Day 10 – Hong Kong

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Kirk saw an ad in one of the local papers for a tailor offering a deal on custom made suits, so my mom made him an appointment. Much to my dismay, the weather gods were not our friends, and we ended up leaving the metro station to find it pouring outside. We did more running around than we needed to, but we eventually found the teeny tiny shop. Alas, it was decided that they were not our best option, and we ventured back underground where it was dry and warm.

The metro station led us to K11 Art Mall (also a mall with a variety of stores that are much more affordable and it doubles as an art museum). There, my dad settled on us having lunch at an eatery called BU Healthy Dining & Gathering. The prices were right. I can’t say much for the service as it was pretty shoddy, and the soup was so-so as was my iced milk tea. Nevertheless, I found my Thai curry pasta to be quite good. It hit the spot with its creamy sauce and level of spice.

While we were at the mall, we decided to do some shopping before we headed back to Causeway Bay. We killed some time at Lane Crawford Times Square and then we got ready to go to the horse races.

My aunt and uncle were kind enough to bring us along to a buffet dinner in one of the members only areas of the Happy Valley Racecourse. Throughout our meal, we were able to place bets on the eight races that ran throughout the evening. I think, all in, Kirk and I spent about $50 CDN between six or seven of the races over a four hour period. Considering the amount of time we spent there and the entertainment value, we thought it was worth the money even though we didn’t take home any winnings.

Day 11 – Hong Kong

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It turned out to be another rainy day in Hong Kong, which meant our initial plans of walking around Sheung Wan’s outdoor markets (specifically in search of Chop Alley) were thwarted. We ended up staying indoors at the IFC Mall, using pedways to connect through to LANDMARK and the HSBC Building.

When we got hungry, all of the places in LANDMARK were full for high tea, so my mom took us to a cafe she knew about in a neighbouring mall. The building (2 Chinachem Plaza) that we found ourselves in was pretty run down, but Delifrance was alright. The place was clean and bright, and the food was tasty with the tea served hot. Just don’t ever go into the bathrooms in the building. If Kirk’s not willing to use them, you know it’s bad.

Eventually, it was time for dinner. We met up with my uncle, aunt, cousin, and my dad back at IFC for a pretty memorable meal at La Rambla by Catalunya. The authentic Spanish dishes were to die for with some pretty succulent seafood. Additionally, meat like the Tomahawk steak and the beef tartare just took things to a whole new level. Kirk was in his happy place before being surprised with cake and a sparkler for his upcoming birthday.

Day 12 – Hong Kong

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After passing by Mother of Pizzas several times during our vacation, we thought it was time to sit down and try it. It costs a pretty penny for food there and the pizza is a tad greasy (at least the one with pepperoni), but it was damn good.

With that satisfying lunch out of the way, we made it to Chop Alley. This narrow street is full of stalls that sell hand carved stone stamps. We were told that they made the best ones, but for the price and the quality, we actually thought that the ones we found in Stanley Market were better.

Talking about hand-crafted items, we then ventured to PMQ (formerly the Police Married Quarters), a building that has been restructured into an arts district. The main courtyard serves as a showcase for work from local artists and the surrounding units are filled with shops that sell their own locally made items and designs. I could have spent hours there.

Lastly, we passed by Ladder Street and the Cat Street Market, specifically known for antiques (I do wonder if they’re legit antiques though). With the rain and the time of day, most of the stalls were beginning to pack up for the evening.

Our final dinner on the trip was back at the Fashion Walk. I’d seen a sign for a place called Little Bao during our previous visit to MINH & KOK, and I sought it out on this night. It’s a contemporary take on those traditional Chinese bao pockets filled with meat. Here, they served their baos like burgers. My favourites were definitely the pork belly and the salted ice cream baos.

The next day, we had several hours left before our flight home. We spent it with my mom’s family at their weekly Saturday lunch gathering and then at my aunt and uncle’s home. After one last visit with my grandma, we took off for the airport.

We were totally spoiled on this trip. My family showed such hospitality to us and Kirk has been having Hong Kong withdrawal ever since we got back to Edmonton. It’s safe to say that Kirk loved it there, and he’s already been asking when we’ll be returning. I’m so lucky to have these opportunities to explore the world and I’m even luckier to have Kirk who’s willing to do so with me.

Travel Roundup: Hong Kong, Macau & Japan 2016

Victoria Harbour

Victoria Harbour

It’s a brand new year, and four weeks in, I find myself looking back at 2016. It was quite the whirlwind, and I’m reminded of just how lucky I am, especially when it comes to travelling.

This past November was a big month for me. Not only did I spend another birthday in Vegas, but I was also able to take a fortnight off from work to do some exploring with friends in Asia, specifically Hong Kong, Macau and Japan.

Admittedly, I was slightly worried about being the so-called “guide” for our trio in Hong Kong. When my friends suggested that I go with them because my family is from there and I’ve been several times before, I smiled and agreed. Yet, in the back of my mind, I was thinking I could totally disappoint them. Sure, I’d gone in the past, but I was no expert. My trips to Hong Kong were always oriented around plans with relatives, often leaving very little time to be an actual tourist. They trusted me though, so we forged ahead with putting together a holiday.

What I originally thought was going to be a break primarily situated in Hong Kong ended up including a mini trek across Japan. About eight months before we travelled, the YEG Deals website flagged a round trip flight from Edmonton to Tokyo for a fantastic price and we opted to go for it. This was much to my mother’s dismay. My mom kept telling me that we would have saved money had we booked connecting flights from the start or if we waited for a special on a direct flight to Hong Kong. It was too late to change the booking though and we were determined to make it work.

When November rolled around, I wouldn’t say we were exactly ready. Personally, I felt slightly discombobulated because, for the first time in a while, I wasn’t leaving for a holiday with any sort of itinerary in hand. We did pull it together enough to make sure we had accommodations in all of the cities where we’d be staying. We also found comparatively affordable connecting flights from Tokyo to Hong Kong and Hong Kong to Hiroshima through discount airline HK Express before departing Edmonton. The three of us weren’t totally winging it, but this was unusual for me. I was out of my comfort zone with no clue as to what we were going to do on a day-to-day basis.

Thankfully, our trip happened to coincide with my parents’ holiday to Hong Kong, which means we had a good support system, if necessary. The day we flew into Hong Kong (dead tired from 30 straight hours of travel), they actually met up with us upon our arrival in Causeway Bay. My relatives were gracious enough to let us stay in an extra apartment that they own, and my parents were there to let us into the unit. Although we experienced a few hiccups on the first night of our stay, all issues were remedied by the following day. Our adventure had begun.

I have done a previous post (in photo format) about Hong Kong, so feel free to check that out in addition to what I have to say here. Also, I will say that I’m so pleased that I finally got a chance to explore this territory with minimal family obligations required. Being able to see the city from a different perspective with friends who have never been allowed us to take full advantage of what was on offer. We went at our own pace and it made me feel like this was truly a locale to visit (outside of the usual family reasons).

Accounting for all of the travel time between destinations, we really had to make the most of our days at each destination. Hong Kong was our initial stop, and aside from indulging in all of the food, we thought we’d take in some of the highlights.

Day 1 – Hong Kong

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Day one consisted of a bus ride to the top of Victoria Peak where we got a panoramic view of the city below. We also rode the MTR (one of the best city train systems I know of) to the Kowloon side. There, we waited to see the nighttime laser light show that took place across the water. When it was over, we hoofed it to Dim Dim Sum Hong Kong in Jordan. Named one of the world’s 101 best eateries by Newsweek, we wouldn’t relent until we sought it out. Two words: soup dumplings.

Day 2 – Hong Kong

Dim Sum at the famous Din Tai Fung. Truffled xiaolongbao!

Dim Sum at the famous Din Tai Fung. Truffled xiaolongbao!

We began day two with dim sum at Din Tai Fung, a Taiwanese chain with locations worldwide. Two of their branches in Hong Kong, including the one in Causeway Bay, were awarded one Michelin star each. More expensive than the dim sum we ate the night before, it was absolutely worthy of our money. Again, the soup dumplings (Xiaolongbao) were the way to go, but I’d praise the wontons and buns, too. I also love that you can watch the staff in the kitchen. Through the windows, at the entrance to the eatery, we could see them making all the little dumplings and wontons by hand, so we knew the food was fresh!

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When we had our fill, we worked our way to the 10,000 Buddhas Monastery. Missing the sign directing us there, we wound up getting a little sidetracked. We spent some time climbing the steps of what looked to be a memorial before we gave up and went back down to level ground. That’s when we happened upon the correct entrance. As we scaled our way up the steep hillside on a particularly hot and muggy day, we took in all of the golden gods lining the trail. Eventually, we made it to the top! It’s a beautiful little space filled with colourful statues. Despite the somewhat challenging ascent and the vertigo inducing descent, this off-the-beaten-track spot is one to see.

Next, we stopped in Diamond Hill to check out the Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden. This is actually one of my favourite attractions in Hong Kong. Located in Kowloon, it’s a surprising respite from the surrounding hustle and bustle just outside of the garden walls. The nunnery is also a quiet area that magically reverberates with the soul piercing sounds of chants from those who pray within.

Our second evening consisted of barhopping in Central. 001, a “secret” speakeasy with stylish décor and fancy cocktails, kicked off our plans. We then skipped to Brewdog, Tipping Point SoHo and Shack Tapazaka back in Causeway Bay.

Day 3 – Hong Kong

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Day three was sort of a write off when it came to being a tourist. I had lunch with my family at the Crowne Plaza near our apartment, so we spent much of the morning wandering until about one o’clock when we split up for a few hours. When my friends and I reconnected, we chose to take the bus to Stanley Beach. It’s a tranquil site in Hong Kong with sights of the water and a number of restaurants. After we walked the pier and the boardwalk, we settled in for dinner and drinks at Beef & Liberty (suggested to us by the owners of Moonzen Brewery). For a burger joint, they did that type of food really well. The only downside was the slow service, so it’s a good thing we weren’t in a rush.

Day 4 – Macau

A pretty building by Senado Square in Macau.

A pretty building by Senado Square in Macau.

On the fourth day, we ventured to Macau on a TurboJET ferry. Now, most of the hotels in the coastal city offer free shuttles to and from the ferry terminal. It’s simply a matter of finding the right bus. To save a little money and allow ourselves two rooms for our one night stay, we opted to book at the Crowne Plaza. The accommodations are awesome – modern in both style and technology – and, built in 2014, the hotel itself is relatively new and affordable. Unfortunately, the shuttle doesn’t come by to pick up guests as often as some of the larger resorts and it’s also a little further away from the main attractions. In fact, the cabbie who dropped us off at the end of the evening gave me a talking to; he stated that it was too far and we shouldn’t have booked there. That’s just his opinion though. The location certainly isn’t that bad.

Regardless, we had a good time in Macau. Senado Square is an open gathering spot that constantly looks as if it’s filled by a giant mass of people. With its Portuguese origins, the architecture is colourful with intricate details, but it has become pretty commercial. From there, we followed the signage that led up to the Ruins of St. Paul’s. The façade of the old church made a nice backdrop for all of those who were taking selfies on the steps. I quite like the Fortress of Macau. The vantage points at the top of the building allow visitors a sprawling outlook over the city.

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Since Macau is the Vegas of China, we also made a point of checking out the major hotels and casinos. That included the Grand Lisboa (I’ve stayed here previously), Wynn and MGM. Interestingly, most of the gamblers weren’t drinking or smoking; this was a total 180 from our observations in Las Vegas.

Dinner and drinks were had at Heart Bar. I had read about this location in a brewing magazine back at Brewdog in Hong Kong and it pretty much materialized in front of us. The pizzas were okay, but the cocktails were stellar and so was the bartender. He happened to be the one who seated us, and he had excellent recommendations. We completed our night by working off those calories as we searched for a way to get to the lighthouse on the peak (Guia Fortress). Venturing towards it, we finally found a route that led us to the structure. We weren’t able to enter it though, so when we were done, we worked our way back to the main part of town. Not ideal in the dark, but we ultimately made it to a more populated area without having to take any pitch black, narrow staircases down the hill.

Day 5 – Macau & Hong Kong

Lunch at North

Lunch at North

Our fifth day was scant in terms of sightseeing. We stopped at the Macau ferry terminal in the morning to book our tickets back to Hong Kong. Knowing we had some time to kill before our boat departed, we jumped onto the shuttle to the Venetian. It’s very similar to the resort in Vegas, so it was somewhat old hat for us. Although, I would argue that our lunch at North – specializing in northern Chinese and Sichuan cuisine – was a great way to end our time in Macau.

When we returned to Hong Kong, we dropped our bags off at the apartment and then we immediately set out for our most indulgent dinner on the trip. Tate Dining Room & Bar, run by Chef Vicky Lau, is another restaurant that has earned its Michelin star. At 980 HKD (approximately $170 CDN) for a 6-course meal – drinks not included – one has to be willing and ready to appreciate the flavours and the visuals. We loved it. From start to finish, this was a dinner that surprised and gratified us.

Day 6 – Hiroshima

The following morning we commenced our journey to Hiroshima, so it was chiefly a travel day. By the time we arrived at the Japanese airport and bused into the city, it was quite late. Another long day of travel exhausted us. Arriving in Hiroshima, we wanted to freshen up. Our apartment was easy enough to find and we had no problems getting into the place; however, it wasn’t exactly as advertised. Essentially a micro unit, this apartment was ideal for one person, two at the most. Advertising the place as able to accommodate three people was surely pushing it, but we managed. Otherwise, it was clean and well-appointed. We finished our evening with a satisfying supper at Orenokushikatsukuroda Hiroshimaminamiguchiekimaeten (what a mouthful) where we stuffed ourselves silly with a bunch of deep fried veggie, meat and cheese tempura battered skewers.

Day 7 – Hiroshima

The ferry from Tadanoumi to Rabbit Island.

The ferry from Tadanoumi to Rabbit Island.

Day seven marked a full week of vacation and our second day in Hiroshima. It actually brings up mixed feelings for me. My morning consisted of attempts to exchange my Hong Kong Dollars for Japanese Yen. I wasn’t able to find a nearby money exchange, and the first bank didn’t accept my cash. The second bank did, but at a hefty fee. Since I didn’t have the option to go elsewhere, I went ahead with the transaction.

When that was completed, we rode the train to Tadanoumi. From there, we caught a ferry that took us to Rabbit Island (Ōkunoshima). This was the single reason why Hiroshima was tacked onto our itinerary. My friend has a pet bunny and is basically obsessed with rabbits in general, so when she learned of the isle’s existence, there was no question we were going there. All-in-all, it was an enjoyable time. The bunnies that have somehow occupied the landmass (they’re apparently not the ones from the old labs that used to be there) are very friendly and will approach if there’s food. Indeed, they can be extremely excitable. One rabbit, found in a more secluded area, came up to me, and upon being fed, was so thrilled that it not only did a full 360 degree leap in the air, but while doing so, it also managed to pee itself at the same time. That urine struck me square in the right arm and leg. My jacket and jeans ended up moderately soaked. So, cute as these rabbits were, it ended up being a damper (pun intended) to the visit for me. Thankfully, my clothes dried quickly due to the windy conditions on the island and there was no stench. I was able to last the rest of the day without needing to detour for a change of clothes.

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For me, the day was saved with a meal at this amazing little ramen shop called Ippeiya. We learned of the joint through a Google search, and wow. The scrumptious bowls served to us were absolutely worth the chilly walk. I’d even go as far as to say I’d fly back to Hiroshima just to have another helping of their curry ramen.

Day 8 – Hiroshima & Kyoto

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Week two started with our last day in Hiroshima. Once we stored our luggage at the train station, we used our last few hours before departure to amble over to Hiroshima Castle, and, in fairly ominous fashion, we also took in the remaining ruins of the Atomic Bomb Dome (Hiroshima Peace Memorial) and Peace Park. Oddly, this was a rather fitting place to be seeing as how, just the day before, we had witnessed the results of the U.S. Presidential election and Donald Trump’s victory. The location isn’t without its beauty though. I’m glad we stopped there to stand in the presence of history.

Once we had perused the whole park, we realized we had better hoof it back to the station. While we missed the bullet train for the hour we booked (they are super punctual), our seats were non-reserved, so we were able to catch the subsequent one without any penalty. Approximately three hours later, we were in Kyoto. Our Airbnb here was more than we expected, mainly in comparison to the accommodations in Hiroshima. This place was huge! It was an open concept apartment with six single beds, a big closet, full kitchen, a large shower room, separate toilet and in-suite laundry (desirable after the rabbit incident). The only difficulty we encountered was the terrible portable Wi-Fi. Other than that, we couldn’t have asked for more.

My one travel companion knew someone in Kyoto, so we got a hold of this friend who graciously took us out on the town. The three of us were dying for some kaiten (conveyor belt) sushi, so he drove us to one where the majority of the plates are 100 yen each (roughly $1 CDN).

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If I’m correct, the one we went to was called Muten Kura Sushi Kyotogaidaimae. It was amazing. Not only was there a constant stream of plates running by at table-level (although, we did see a very rare crash on the course, which stalled things), but there was also a second conveyor belt that was used specifically for dishes we ordered through the tablet. Whenever we had a craving for something that we didn’t roll by ready-made, all we had to do was press a few buttons and it’d be there in minutes. Plus, for every five plates returned through a slot at the far end of the table, a game would be triggered on the tablet, providing diners with a chance to win a prize from the machine located at the top of the conveyor shelf. We only got one toy after giving back about thirty plates, so the system may be rigged. That’s okay though. It was still a lot of fun, and everything was delicious and fresh.

Next, we were taken to Shogun-zuka Seiryu-den Temple where I attempted to snap dozens of photos of the temple, grounds, red maple trees (still in the midst of the transition from summer to fall) and city in the dark. Inside the temple is a replica painting of Aofudo (Blue Acala). Considered a masterpiece of Japanese Buddhist art, the actual piece is enshrined out of sight. The temple also has a huge observation deck that provides views of various Kyoto landmarks.

Our new Kyoto guide then led us to his friend’s bar, Loop Salon. There, we spent the rest of our evening imbibing on some refreshing cocktails (I NEED that bottle of FAUCHON Paris tea liqueur!), gin from the fairly new Kyoto Distillery and gyoza that we had delivered as a late night snack. A few hours passed and we determined that it was time to hit up a 7/11 before heading home.

Day 9 – Kyoto

Ramen at Kobushi

Ramen at Kobushi

When the four of us awoke in the morning, we didn’t have to go too far for food. Within a block from our apartment building, on either side, were several eateries. Failing to get a table at the first place we selected, ramen felt like an excellent second choice, so we opted to try Kobushi. With fish broths, we were taking a bit of a chance since my one friend is allergic to shellfish, but we managed okay having a local there to ask questions for us. The restaurant itself is tiny and all the table/counter space is shared. Rather than going with a soup ramen, I went for an oil-based dish instead. I appreciated trying a different take on this Japanese staple, and I’d undoubtedly eat it again.

Once we ate enough, we hopped on a bus that took us to the Zen Buddhist Temple of the Golden Pavilion (Kinjaju-ji or Rokuon-ji). What a gorgeous and bright day to see this National Special Historic Site. The sunlight reflecting off of the pavilion and the water was picturesque. Following that, we rode another bus to the Ryōan-ji Temple. Known for its large rock formations in the Japanese Zen garden, I found this to be an interesting locale. Maybe I’m a little too restless for a place like the garden. Nevertheless, the land was lovely with its large pond, unusual landscaping and colour-changing trees. Our last stop on the historical tour was the Kyoto Imperial Palace. Regrettably, we got to the grounds a tad too late to make the last entrance.

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With nothing more to see in the area, we went back to downtown Kyoto where we picked up some alcoholic beverages from a shop, cracked them open (yes, you can drink in public), and then perused the Nishiki Market. Basically a long, narrow alleyway filled with stalls and storefronts, it was a lot of fun to see all of the different trinkets and traditional Japanese food available for purchase. For supper, we went to Yamachan for maboroshi no tebasaki (deep-fried chicken wings). These were ridiculously delicious. Complete with instructions on how best to eat them, the meat was fall-off-the-bone tender and these wings satisfied any salty cravings we may have had.

Dessert followed at Saryo Tsujiri Gion where we ordered fancy parfait glasses filled high with matcha flavoured ice cream, mochi, cake and whipped cream. We then investigated the maze-like streets, which led us to the Hokanji Temple and Yasaka-no-to-Pagoda. The structure was subtly lit against the backdrop of the dark sky, making for a striking image. We then returned to Loop Salon for a second low-key evening of drinks.

Day 10 – Kyoto

The gates into Fushimi Inari Shrine.

The gates into Fushimi Inari Shrine.

On day three in Kyoto, we ventured out as a trio and made our way to the train station where we had soba noodle set lunches at Kyoto Tagoto and dessert at Mister Donut. Afterwards, the train took us to Fushimi Inari Shrine where we climbed Mount Inari. It’s no Mount Fuji, but it was enough of a workout for me. The higher you go, the quieter it gets though. I’d say it’s definitely a worthwhile hike.

To-ji Temple was next on our list. There, we saw the pagoda and exhibits featuring Esoteric Buddhist art. Getting a chance to go inside the main floor of the pagoda to see the interior was neat. All of the detail was spectacular. Some of the larger statues are also very remarkable when seen close-up, especially the statue of Yakushi (circa 1603) found in the Kondo.

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Done with the temple, we wandered to Kyoto Brewing Company where we had a few drinks on their makeshift patio. Complete with a food truck to feed the masses, it’s a cool venue to hangout for an hour or two.

Beers were followed by some shopping and sustenance at Gyu-Kaku, a Japanese BBQ restaurant. We tried everything from fondue chicken to beef tongue and pork belly to horse meat tartare. The flavours were delightful and the cuts of meat were easy to cook ourselves.

Now, I’m certain that our local friend picked Gyu-Kaku on purpose. Situated on the second story of a building, the main floor housed part of Club World. We’d heard stories of the latter throughout our holiday, so it seemed fitting to the guys that we should go. My girlfriend and I reluctantly went in with them. Although we had our reservations, it turned out to be a blast. The main space of the nightclub is much smaller than we expected, meaning it got cramped. But, the other room, where a different DJ was playing, had a lounge-like atmosphere that we appreciated for a good chunk of the evening. Festivities for our last day in Kyoto ended with the worst bowl of ramen I’ve ever had. Apparently, the food at this one shop only tastes okay if you’re drunk. I guess I didn’t get near that point because I couldn’t even eat it. Those noodles were just too undercooked.

Day 11 – Tokyo

Chicken wings at Kawara Cafe.

Chicken wings at Kawara Cafe.

Day 11 consisted mostly of travelling from Kyoto to Tokyo. When we arrived in Tokyo, our Airbnb in Shibuya wasn’t available for another couple of hours, so we hunkered down at Kawara Café & Kitchen for a late lunch. Once we were able to drop off all of our stuff at the apartment (also wonderful with a small kitchen, two beds in the living room, a separate bed room, full bathroom and laundry), we went back out to explore the neighbourhood.

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To satiate ourselves, we combed the internet for sushi places and came across Uobei, another conveyor belt restaurant that is actually owned by the Genki Sushi chain. Rather than having plates that constantly make their rounds, diners are actually seated in rows where each line has their own belts. A tablet assigned to an individual is used to place orders of up to three items at a time, ensuring that every plate comes fresh from the kitchen. To avoid any wait, the belts are stack three high, so food can be delivered on multiple levels. Admittedly, the atmosphere does make one feel as if they’re part of a weird assembly line; however, it’s efficient. I also loved that the tablet had buttons that provided multiple options for each sushi order (i.e. no wasabi). Plus, it’s affordable.

Day 12 – Tokyo

Good Town Doughnuts

Good Town Doughnuts

A dozen days into the trip and it occurred to us that our vacation was coming to a quick end, so we packed it in on our last full day in Tokyo. We started off by seeking out the Good Town Doughnuts shop (I read about it in a Japanese magazine). Since we kind of ambled and popped into other stores along the way, by the time we got there, our snack ended up being our lunch. What a treat though. I’d say their fluffy pastries are the closest rival to Lucky’s Doughnuts (in Vancouver) that I’ve managed to find. Turns out I just had to travel half way around the world to do it.

Eating completed, we strolled to Harajuku (Takeshita-dori) where we did a bit of shopping. Towards the end of the area, we made a turn down a narrow street where I found a stall selling some clothing, including the now ubiquitous bomber jacket. Instead of a satin one, as seems to be very popular, I noticed one hanging there made using black velvet. Decorated with appliques of embroidered flowers and tiger heads, it was the best one I’d seen. I didn’t think it was my size, but the vendor had already pulled a mirror out, so I could see how it looked on me. It fit like a glove and I adored it. It was also a steal at about $60 CDN. That’s about half of what I would have paid at home for something similar and of the same quality. Looking at Wikipedia as I wrote this post, I learned that some of the stores in Harajuku are known as “antenna shops” where manufacturers provide prototypes as a way to test the market. That’s really cool because that means one can walk away a trendsetter and not even know it.

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We continued our walk by heading to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Tower (Tocho) in Shinjuku. There, we were able to take the elevator up, free of charge, to one of the observation decks on the 45th floor. My friend said that on the other side of the block is where he remembered seeing the homeless cardboard housing, and that’s something I had wondered about. As a child, I had been to Tokyo, and I distinctly remember seeing dozens of large cardboard boxes lined up outside the train stations. Those were people’s homes. They probably still exist, but we never saw them during our holiday.

Ready to head back to Shibuya after a long day, our quest for a good spot to dine turned into our goal. It was raining out (the only time during our whole trip), so we didn’t go too far from our apartment. Yet, we still lucked out when we stumbled upon a dining room called Jibieno Hut (I found the site by Google translating while in Tokyo, but it eludes me now; if you’d like the logo/Japanese name, email me for a photo. I found the website again!), specializing in wild game. Our night was completed with shopping at Loft department store and one last ice cream bar from 7/11.

Day 13 – Tokyo

The final day of our vacation crept up all too fast. We had to be out of our apartment pretty early, so we stored our luggage in lockers at Shibuya train station first thing in the morning. With our few remaining hours, we decided to take a look at what was on the other side of the building (not a whole lot). We did, however, get to use a vending machine that dispensed tickets, which we gave to the restaurant cook who then whipped up a fresh order of food for us. That was different. We don’t know how to read Japanese, so we relied on the photos. If there are no pictures and only text on the buttons, it’s a chance one has to take when making their selection.

A bit more shopping at UNIQLO and 109 Men’s, a snack at Uobei Sushi, a ride on the Narita Express train, and then we were back on a plane to Edmonton. Just like that, it was over.

I’m so happy to have had this experience. I know that my travel companions are people that I can get along with for a prolonged period of time and I made a new friend in Kyoto. My single disappointment is that my passport is only one “stamp” fuller as Hong Kong and Macau no longer issues them. Japan was the only place where I received a sticker. My one regret is that my boyfriend couldn’t join us this time. The upside is that I know I’ll be going on more adventures, so there will be more chances in the future.

Asian Adventures Photostream: Hong Kong & Singapore

DSCF2621 - CopyWhat exactly does it mean to travel? Depending on the situation, travel can mean exploration, reconnection, growth, experience, relaxation or any number of things.

This past May, I spent three weeks in the city of Hong Kong with four and a half days in the middle touring the small island country of Singapore (it’s just 34 square kilometers bigger than Edmonton). Under any other circumstance, you would not find me traveling to Asia in the spring or summer. I typically find the kind of heat during that time of year – highs of 30 to 40 degrees Celsius including 80 to 90 per cent humidity – to be completely unbearable. However, in the name of family, I succumbed and flew with my parents to Hong Kong to celebrate my cousin’s wedding.

It’s unusual for me leave everything to others when I go on a trip, but I planned absolutely nothing. With all the family gatherings that would be taking place, I figured it would be pointless to get my heart set on anything specific, so I didn’t.

While we endured some flight delays, weather extremes and higher costs than expected, the holiday was still a success. A full three week break from my every day life was exactly what I needed. I visited with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and my little nieces. I got some new stamps in my passport (well, only in Singapore). I ate a ton of food. Too much food, really. I did end up doing some shopping, not just window. After all, eating and shopping are major pastimes in Hong Kong. You can’t expect to go and not do either of those things. That would be impossible. By the time the trip was over, I almost felt acclimated to the heat, too. One of the best things though? I finally had a chance to test out the Fujifilm X10 camera I bought a couple of years ago.

So, this post is going to be more like a pictorial journey of my vacation. There’s a lot of food porn. But, those of you who follow this blog would expect that. Otherwise, it’s a mix of everything that I saw or did during my time there. The majority of the photos were taken on my Fujifilm camera. There are also a few here from my HTC One M8 and my mom’s Sony Cyber-shot DSC-WX80 (for those times when my camera battery died). I hope you enjoy the pictures.