Hong Kong – Day Trip to Cheung Chau Island Part 2

Hong Kong, April 2018: The ferry slows as it enters the Cheung Chau harbour crammed full of little boats. Among the few modern vessels one can see a fleet of vintage stock – Junks, sampans and a couple of fishing trawlers looking like they’r ready to fall apart. Its a scene of relative peace as the ferry chugs slowly towards its docking pier after the 25 minute ride from Central. A harbour that is serene, picturesque with the town flanked on either side by green forested hills. Of a character one might say is little changed from the past – no swanky condominium towers and no hi-rise housing blocks here either, well, not that I’ve spotted so far. A real change of scene from the hectic pace of life in Kowloon and the Hong Kong downtown.

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The main street appears to be the one running parallel to the harbour wall. Locals going about their business, in and out of small shops selling all manner of goods to sustain local life. In-fact I’d say the place is positively thriving on this sunny warm spring morning, but something here is amiss. Takes a few seconds to figure it out then the penny drops – no cars, buses, taxis, scooters. A place without the throbbing of engines, where one can breath air, clean and sweet, must be called paradise! There is of course the occasional motorised sampan boat crossing the harbour, but the gently throbbing engine is hardly noticed.

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Harbour Front Street

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Motorised Sampan Boat

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Harbour Front Street

So, the thing to do now is aimlessly stroll around watching the locals watching me! groups of old timers passing the time of day in the towns square and on the public pier where a nice breeze tempers the humidity. This pier is the place to catch a ride to Aberdeen, a town on the southern shores of Hong Kong Island. There’s an indication here that Cheung Chau could be a busy place on weekends when the ferry schedule almost doubles. For today though, a rather quiet Tuesday morning soaking up the charm of this quiet little Island town. Plenty of empty cafes the place making me feel a little on the peckish side, however its still only mid-morning and there appears to be little action from within. A somewhat laid back appeal exudes from the town here which I don’t mind at all.

The market place is, as so often in Hong Kong, under cover in a purpose built building. some activity here as locals barter for their daily groceries.

Cheung Chau, laid back, easy going…

NEXT.. Cheung Chau part 3, Hiking

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Hong Kong – Day Trip to Cheung Chau Island Part 1

Hong Kong, April 2018: Waking up to reasonable weather for a change. Out-brakes of sunshine are occurring quite frequently which until now has been at a premium. To make the most of this good weather then, a trip out to one of Hong Kong’s many Islands today. Trouble is, which one? The most popular Island is Lantau to the west. The place has big hotels, Disneyland and a plague of tourists queuing for the cable car ride to see a giant Buddha statue according to some quick research. No, I wont be going there then. A quick scan of some names on Youtube comes up with Cheung Chau as a pretty decent place for a day trip. A ferry leaves Central about every 30 minutes and costs about £2.50 single trip ticket. So, today’s excursion is a visit to Cheung Chau Island which lies southwest of Hong Kong Island. (Google Map)

How to get to Cheung Chau from Kowloon takes a bit of research and the consensus from around the web is one needs to be on Hong Kong Islands Central Pier number 5 for the ferry. This of course necessitates another ride on the Star Ferry which conveniently docks at Central Pier number 7. As ever, everything around here is well signed and labelled so even Karl Pilkington (An Idiot Abroad) couldn’t get it wrong and end up on a ferry to China! In a nutshell – purchase a token for 2.7 HK$ which will allow one through the turnstiles and onto the Star Ferry Pier Kowloon. Once at Central turn right and pier 5 is the second on the right. Depending on the timings (may have to wait) purchase an out and return ticket to Cheung Chau and wait for the next ferry.

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There appears to be 2 types of ferry service – fast or slow. The next one to leave is at 9.45 and is a fast service costing 50p more than the regular slow boat which leaves in 66 minutes. Fast boat then to Cheung Chau for £5.36 return although the ticket office is empty right now! With just 15 minutes before departure the ticket office finally opens and thankfully I’m first in the queue with what seems like hundreds behind. Not many tourists, a few, but mostly the local population going about their business between Cheung Chau and Hong Kong.

A very comfortable air-conditioned ride away from Hong Kong and southwest to Chenug Chau Island. For those that like boat spotting, well there’s plenty to see such as the Macau casino shuttle and a plethora of ferries heading to Hong Kong’s outlying islands. A 25 minute ride before reaching the harbour at today’s destination, and what a picturesque sight it is!

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Hong Kong Island western flank

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Macau Casino Ferry Shuttle

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Arriving into Cheung Chau Harbour

Hong Kong – Ghosts of Old Kai Tak Airport

Hong Kong, April 2018: Kai Tak, a name that will resonate with just about everyone in Hong Kong for it was the home of Hong Kong’s airport for 73 years. Those living within the vicinity had the daily spectacle of seeing jumbo jets swooping low across rooftops of the densely built Kowloon city while residents living under the final approach could almost touch the aircraft’s undercarriage – well perhaps not but those floating urban myths serve to illustrate how close Hong Kong’s airport was to the city. Nowadays planes have been replaced by a plethora of cranes as Kai Tak airport is bulldozed to make way for swanky condominium towers and a new MTR station. Today my urban wanderings have led me towards Kai Tak airport so that I can discover what, if anything, remains of this iconic piece of Hong Kong’s history in 2018.

I was last here in 1987 although back then I didn’t really pay much attention to the surroundings and so memories of Kai Tak are pretty vague.  I do remember the passenger terminal though – about 3 to 4 floors, full of students doing homework and it was the only place I could make an international phone call which had to be booked 24 hours in advance! Now, its all gone, the place obliterated from the landscape with nothing to indicate there was ever any building or structure sited as one looks on from the Prince Edward Highway. All there is to see are cranes, fences and stacked containers serving as constructors offices -progress they call it. All that remains is a section of an elevated access road that would have taken passengers to the check-in halls at Kai Tak International Airport.

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Looking on from the edge of Kowloon City

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All that’s left of Kai Tak’s Airport infrastructure

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Furure MTR Station Kai Tak

Further along the perimeter fence and one comes to the former RAF Kai Tak base. Situated in the northeastern corner of the old airfield and still intact are a couple of hangars along with the aircraft pans. Vacated by the RAF in 1978 the site was primarily given over to civilian use with the support of the Hong Kong Auxiliary Air Force. Surprisingly the place looks in pretty good shape today, separated from the main redevelopment by a line of hedging with at least on of the buildings housing the Hong Kong Aviation Club! Yes, a flying club without a runway sadly, but all is not lost since the wonders of flight simulation allow folk to relive Kai Tak operations albeit from the safety of an old hangar (More on the HKAC here).

Here’s whats left of Former Royal Air Force Kai Tak…

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Hangars at the former RAF Kai Tak base

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RAF Kai Tak aircraft parking pans

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Former taxiway from RAF Kai Tak base 

For now at least, one leaves in the knowledge that this small section of heritage is being preserved and put to good use. My curiosity doesn’t end here though, and since there’s still public access to the old Kai Tak runway 13, a good opportunity to grab what could be the final ever photos from the runway of the old airport. Most of it is a car park and tour bus parking lot strewn with garbage around the edges. Since the airports closure in July 1998 some original surfaces have been replaced or simply bulldozed, but there are sill patches of the original runway left – concrete slabs with friction grooves.

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Looking south along Kai Tak runway 13

 

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Looking north along Kai Tak runway 31

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Kai Tak Airport Obliterated! 

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Nothing left except the elevated access roads at Kowloon City

In Summary…

Clearly not a mainstream tourist activity but perhaps a last chance for those with fond memories of the Kai Tak days to take a wander down memory lane. For a complete Kai Tak experience I’d recommend combining a visit here with a trip to the Checkerboard Hill (That post here)

The easiest way to access Kai Tak is via a 30 minute hike from Lok Fu MTR Station down through Kowloon City. There’s plenty of Youtube content on Kai Tak such as this excellent 12 minute video

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And lastly… I didn’t see or feel any ghostly presence, but it was daylight. Perhaps a visit at night might produce a very different experience!

Hong Kong – Pok Fu Lam, The Last Village On Hong Kong Island

Hong Kong, April 2018: When one needs to find some sightseeing options, Google maps is often a good starting point. Turn on the satellite imagery function and use street view to discover whether a place looks worth a visit. Today, Pok Fu Lam (Google Map) has caught my attention. A small town or perhaps a large village situated on the western flank of Hong Kong Island with an area of dwellings somewhat out of character with the rest of the Island architecturally speaking, so I reckon its worth a look. Google maps, helpful as ever, gives a few public transport options and today I’m going with the number 22 green minibus from Exchange Square – this of course means another ride on the Star Ferry, oh isn’t this travelling lark tough!

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About half an hour meandering along the back streets of Hong Kong’s downtown before arriving at Pok Fu Lam. One has to hike backwards since I missed the intended bus stop but its not far and pretty soon one is at the settlement spotted on Google maps earlier. From here it looks like an original village, built on layers up the hillside – could this be Hong Kong’s very last village I’m wondering? Flanked on the right with public housing towers and on the left with swanky condominiums and a mall under construction. Right in the middle, we have what initially looks like a squatter camp. One has to stop and look a while to see that the place has all the hallmarks of an original community.

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The more one looks, the more one gets drawn in by the view of the stacked dwellings and questions begin to circulate. Questions like, why hasn’t the place been bulldozed, who’s living here and whats it actually like right in the middle of it all? well, only one way to find out, but later. Right now I’m on a mission to find some food and as luck would have it, I’m standing right opposite the door to a shopping centre which is leaking a cacophony of food aroma. So, following my nose to what looks like the local cafe and hopefully a good nosh up.

£3.20 gets a good bowl of noodle soup, 3 dumplings, a chicken wing and a mug of tea – marvellous value for money! Its tasty too, even the tea seems tastier than normal. Before heading into the settlement lets take a quick look around the modern side to Pok Fu Lam  and having discovered the local cafe, the rest of the shopping centre has a definite local flavour and character, thus far isn’t found among the metropolis’s townships.

Outside on the centre’s terrace and one is treated to a view of Lamma Island and would make a nice photo. Today though its a little hazy and the light isn’t good for scenic photos.

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Waterfall Bay with Lamma Island in the backgroung 

Modern Pok Fu Lam Village with public housing towers, a school and sports facilities…

So having had a quick look around Pok Fu lam’s modernity, time to head over to a more traditional scene and explore what I presume is the original village. A densely packed  1/2 square mile of prefabricated units of corrugated aluminium, rusting and dilapidated is some cases. Elsewhere, well kept and maintained houses, some of brick with tiled roofs give the village a distinctly continental European atmosphere. Narrow lanes barely wide enough for two big mamma’s to pass leading to stone steps as the constructions extend uphill.

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For the most part, its a pleasant stroll around the place. The lanes are in good condition and no-one here seems to mind me aimlessly walking around snapping photos here and there, infact its very quiet, almost like everyone’s gone to church on this late Sunday afternoon. I guess Hong Kong Island would have had several villages such as this once, before the idea of bulldozing everything was implemented. Here is a great example of how it was then contrasting with how it is now and I’d say well worth a visit. One cant help but wonder how far away those bulldozers are from here, how long will Pok Fu Lam survive?

Briefly… 

Some background to Pok Fu Lam gleaned from the ever knowledgeable folks at Wikipedia.  

‘Pok Fu Lam Village is a historic village, which has existed since the beginning of the 17th century. Local residents in the past have repeatedly asked the government to give indigenous inhabitants of Pok Fu Lam the same recognition as residents of the New Territories. These claims have been rejected by the government which also threatened demolition of the village.

In the Kangxi period (late 17th century) of the Qing dynasty, approximately 2,000 people seeking asylum from turmoils in mainland Chinareached this village. The early villagers, mostly with the surnames of Chen, Huang and Luo, were farmers. The “Xinan County Journal” of 1819 mentioned that Pok Fu Lam Village was one of three villages on Hong Kong Island (the other were at Stanley and Wong Chuk Hang). It was described as “built alongside the hill and the creek, its structures are quite elegant”. After the Second World War, the massive refugee influx seeking asylum from mainland China reached Hong Kong, resulting in the village population increasing from 20-odd households to more than 100 households. The original vegetable gardens were replaced by houses. It was not until the 1980s, when the Hong Kong economy experienced raid growth, that the village population began to decrease, but many villagers remain in the village today’.

Hong Kong – Cha Kwo Ling Village, Hidden Heritage Discovered, Kowloon

Hong Kong, April 2018: Situated along the eastern flanks of Kowloon is Cha Kwo Ling village, stumbled upon as I was stomping between Yau Tong (Google Map) and Kowloon Bay (Google Map) a few days ago. A quick history lesson courtesy of Wikipedia – the place was established mid 1800’s as a mining settlement. The surrounding hills rich in stone made for ideal building material as Hong Kong expanded. Post war and an influx of Chinese immigrants turned the place into a squatter camp which is why Hong Kong villages are anything but picturesque, thus far on my explorations anyway. The village is flanked by industry to the south and public housing blocks to the north and so having survived the wrath of the bulldozer, time to take a look around this little piece of Hong Kong’s heritage.

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Village Hall and rooms

The first building one comes to, and indeed an indication a village exists here, is the village hall building. From the inscriptions one has to assume it was constructed in 1956 and belongs to a Chinese Association. A great little piece of heritage nestled at the base of Cha Kwo Ling Hill. Moving along the main road a few steps and one discovers another piece of heritage – a good old fashioned dragon boat! Not a very scary dragon I have to admit, but nonetheless another hidden little gem of Hong Kong life, and its right on street for everyone to see (Google Map).

Judging by the thick layer of dust I’d say this boat hasn’t seen water for a while. once upon a time, before the days of mass land reclamation programs (according to Wikipedia), this dragon boat would have been just a few steps from the waters edge but nowadays the village men folk would have to carry it some distance to find the waters edge.

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Complimenting the place is the village temple located a few more steps along the busy main Cha Kwo Ling road. Hardly elaborate compared to other Chinese temples, this small building sits set back displaying at least a couple of scary dragons! Yes, another little bit of hidden heritage has been discovered.

The Village opens out and up onto the hillside from hereon in . Consisting of dark narrow alleyways the place resembles some of those Hong Kong movie-set’s we’d see growing up in front the television, 1970’s. A village shop, a cafe complete with village old-timers sitting around passing the time of day. I wounder how long it will be before the bulldozers arrive! Oh, has a kindergarten too..

 

In Summary…

I stumbled upon Cha Kwo Ling quite by accident. At first the place can feel intimidating but a few smiles and nods to the elders and one can freely roam without any problems. Definitely off the Hong Kong tourist trail and well worth a look if one is in the area. A good example of a Kowloon village before mass post war development took hold.

Hong Kong – Sha Ha Beach, a Woeful Tale

Hong Kong, April 2018: Quick recap. About an hour ago I arrived at the rather nondescript town of Sai Kung situated along the eastern coastal region of Hong Kong’s New Territories. Arrived to a malaise of tourists getting on boats and about 1/2 a dozen plastic tubs looking like boats from which persons are supposedly selling fish, and the air is thick with diesel fumes.

Since the point of today’s outing is to find some beach time I’m heading about 1/4 mile east along the Sai Kung promenade to Sha Ha Beach (Google Map). 20 minutes and there’s the beach alright, but what a disgraceful sight! I’ve seen better beaches is underdeveloped countries like India and Cambodia. A narrow stretch of sand, just enough to stick a deck chair on and its full of garbage!

Garbage, oh well, never-mind, perhaps I can grab a coffee and admire the scenery across the bay instead. To walk off sand one has no option but to tramp through a restaurant for onward access further along. The place is deserted, not even a coffee bar here in what looks like an expensive establishment.

Here’s some of the menu…

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£58.80 for a seafood combo, £38.80 for high tea and £11 for 7-8 raw prawns this is one place I can easily skip quickly past! Looks like I’ll have to forgo my morning coffee break too since there are no other refreshments around here, not even a hotdog stand. The rest of the beach is just at bad as the first section as a walk along the shoreline reveals. There’s a stench in the air too, a strong smell of diesel. Its in the water, yes, diesel is being washed up in the wavelets here. I’d say this has to be the worst beach experience I’ve had anywhere in the Asian continent!

Disgraceful Sha Ha Beach…

So, if one can accept a bit of garbage, water pollution and lungs full of diesel odour then Sha Ha Beach in Sai Kung is the place to come and relax. Oh, if one intends to eat at the restaurant here better bring minimum £100 because I have a feeling that coffee is going to cost a fortune. Personally, its not for me, a big disappointment as I was looking forward to some sea air, not lungs full of diesel fumes. Lunch via town before bus back to base.

In my opinion…

Unless one is dead-set on a boat trip from here, I’d skip Sai Kung completely and look for alternatives.

 

 

In Transit

Malaysia June 2018: Dear readers, I’m in transit to Kathmandu then Pokhara so sadly no blogs for a couple of days. Do stay tuned though, plenty more from Hong Kong in the pipeline including a visit to wonderful Cheung Chau Island.

Thank you, from Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

Japan – 5 Good, 2 Bad and 2 Ugly points about Fukuoka

Fukuoka, Japan April 2018: As this visit to Fukuoka Japan comes to an end here’s my summary of the good, the bad and the ugly of the place.

Good point 1: Prices are reasonable. I had expected Japan to be pricey. Growing up in the eighties when Japan was buying up all of New York, we’d here about how Japan is the worlds most expensive country to live in. Today, 2018 I can tell you its not. While still expensive on some items, generally prices for groceries here are not unreasonable compared to other destinations like Seoul for example.

Good point 2: Super easy public subway transport. Yes, getting around is made simple in Fukuoka –  there’s only 4 subway lines and the price of travelling them is cheap. Between 90p and £1.20 for journeys on the subway trains across the city with stations convenient to points of interest.

Good point 3: Food is tasty and good value for money when eating out. Even plain and simple noodles in broth is a cheap tasty favourite and with the local Coco curry house serving up delicious pork cutlet curry for about £3.80, well, I dare any budget traveller to complain!

Good point 4Polite and helpful. We often read or hear about how super polite the Japanese are and how helpful they can be. Well, let me tell you its absolutely true, most of the time. If one looks confused, soon there will be a gathering of locals offering help and advice.

Good point 5: Clean living culture. There’s an obsession with clean living and that’s no bad thing. There is minimal traffic pollution and just the occasional piece of garbage blowing around in the wind. While at traffic lights, a good number of cars have their engines switched off and buses are using the cleanest fuels with low emissions apparently, either way, one won’t be suffering with lungs full of diesel fumes in Fukuoka. While Westerners struggle with their addictive personalities, not so here. Smoking is a dirty word as are any kind of drugs. Rolling around the streets at 10 AM clutching a can of lager just doesn’t happen around here.

Bad point 1: Bad weather. Fukuoka’s weather is subject to maritime influences and coupled with the Northern hemispheric airflow and weather front circulation, its no surprise to find it frequently rains here, very cold too during the winter and spring months.

Bad point 2: Premium coffee is expensive. Yes, premium coffee lovers will find that cup of Starbucks is going to cost more than a bowl of noodles, so budget travelers you have been warned!

Ugly point 1: No architectural charm. Most cities around the Asia Pacific have a degree of architectural charm whether modern or historical. Fukuoka has neither sadly.

Ugly point 2: Well, i\’m really struggling to come up with anything else, so that’s it.

So there you have it – my subjective list of the good, the bad and the ugly of Fukuoka city.  My objective from the outset was to grab a taster of Japanese living away from full-on mass tourism that comes with Tokyo. That objective has been met with success here in Fukuoka where apart from Koreans, there really ain’t many international tourists here at all. Perhaps the place is more of a domestic destination in the summer and perhaps that’s why prices are reasonable. So, if you want an introduction to Japan that’s gentle, un-rushed then Id say Fukuoka fits the bill – just try to make it for the spring blossoms and bring warm cloths!

So What did 9 days in Fukuoka cost? here’s a rundown of the expense account:

Air BnB private room in a shared apartment – £24 x 9 = £216                                                  Daily food costs averaging £13 x 9 = £117                                                                                          Getting Around by subway return journeys £1.80 x 5 = £9                                                            Return train ticket to Nagasaki £30                                                                                                    Return air fare from Hong Kong £130

Grand total £502 give or take a few pounds.  That’s probably about as cheap as one can get for a visit to Japan staying in a private room. There is of course the option of sleeping in dorm beds, on floors or on couches where a few more quid can be saved, but personally, that’s all in the past.

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Japan – Fookwarker Castle Again, Hurrah for the sun

Fukuoka, Japan, April 2018: Just to recap quickly, my first day in Fukuoka was spent stomping around the remnants of Fukuoka Castle (That post here). Cold, wet and windy weather didn’t make for the best of times here and so I promised to return on a day when the sun makes an appearance – that’s today. So, after gulping down my economic breakfast of banana porridge, its off to the subway and another ride over to the Old Castle.

Two things to be thankful for right now – the suns still shining and the cherry blossoms are still here, displaying gloriously under the big blue sky. This really must be the very last of this years Sakura, so how lucky am I to catch it on such a sunny day 2nd week into April.

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Very few people are here on this warm spring morning, well it is a workday after all, but even so for being the city’s only major attraction there’s even a lack of tourists. So, with the place practically to myself, here’s another round of photos from the old medieval castle and the surroundings.

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The old castle is also the place to get that skyline view. A short climb up to the high-point and one is presented with a panorama of scenery incorporating the Fukouka central business district with Ohori park (Google Map) in the foreground. Other than the stone walls and a couple of look out towers, there’s really not much to see around the place, so about an hour here i’d think will suffice for most inquisitive tourists. For keen photographers, arrive before 11 AM for the best sun position and detail.