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Fresh Hearts and Egg Tarts: Our Silver Jubilee in Hong Kong & Macau

Fresh Hearts and Egg Tarts: Our Silver Jubilee in Hong Kong & Macau

Old Dec 11th, 2013, 03:40 AM
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Fresh Hearts and Egg Tarts: Our Silver Jubilee in Hong Kong & Macau

We recently returned from a nine day/10 night trip to Hong Kong and Macau to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary and a (ahem) milestone birthday. We’ve been home a few weeks now. All the fall Japan travelers have put us to shame, and we realize we are way overdue for a trip report. Better late than never, hopefully…

While one or the other of us may be posting from here on, this (including photos…eventually) is a collaborative effort.

Some background

Some people hold a ceremony to renew their vows when celebrating their big anniversary day. And some couples throw a big party when one spouse or the other hits a round number on the life odometer. But for reasons we can’t explain (and probably won’t need to, given our reading audience), there never was a question that we were going on a trip to a “bucket-list” spot. That’s who we are and what we do. That’s the thing that keeps our eyes fixed forward in anticipation. That’s what keeps our hearts fresh.

Hong Kong has long been near the top of the long list of places we wanted to visit. We first bought a guidebook more than 10 years ago, and every year it seems to come up in our discussions—but the time of year during which we’d be traveling usually resulted in it being knocked off the short list.

This year, we planned our trip for November due to the aforementioned occasions, and this seemed like a good choice based on favorable climate. We also considered Buenos Aires. Our planning threads are here:


We had 10 nights total. And while we didn’t mind moving around one or two times, we wanted to keep our destinations in close proximity—i.e., no flying half way across Asia to add another destination this time. We also splurged a bit more than we usually do.

Ultimately, we divided the 10 nights as follows:
• Six nights in Hong Kong (island side) at Butterfly on Wellington
• Two nights in Macau at the Sofitel
• Two nights in Kowloon at the Intercontinental for “the view” and a relaxing end to the trip
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Old Dec 11th, 2013, 03:43 AM
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Getting there

Lately, our trips have been starting with just a little too much drama for our liking. Last year, we spent 12 hours crossing the Pacific wondering whether we’d miss our connection at Narita on the way to Southeast Asia (unfortunately, we did). In April, mr_go contracted a particularly nasty case of food poisoning the night before our departure to Berlin and we didn’t know if he would make it onto the plane (fortunately, he did). This time, things seemed to be pretty well in control when we went to bed on Wednesday night.

At 4:11 am, the phone rang. In the dark, with no reading glasses, I thought the display said “toll free call” but I really couldn’t tell (we’ve since replaced that phone with one we CAN read). After punching a few wrong buttons, I heard the following coming from the speaker: “This is United Airlines with a flight status notification. United flight 881 to Tokyo may experience a delay of two hours.” Our Narita connection was to have been an hour and 40. We had a problem…

We stumbled downstairs, checked ExpertFlyer for options and saw there were still five seats for sale on the non-stop flight to Hong Kong. I called United immediately. The first call ended in frustration after a “Premier desk” agent answered the call, greeted me by name, asked how she could assist, and then declined to help when I explained the problem because she was “actually on the Global Services desk”—instead transferring me back into the general reservations system. Three attempts at entering my Mileage Plus number into the system later, we were not even close to getting it correct. Deep breath…

I hung up and dialed again. This time, the agent was fantastic. Her first words: “Let me grab two of those seats for you before they disappear, then we’ll figure out what we need to do.” Less than 10 minutes later, everything was settled... we had two business class seats on the non-stop flight! It was now just short of 4:45 am.

Of course that flight was two hours late as well, but no worries as there was no connection to make. One of us slept most of the way. The other made good use of on-demand entertainment.


Despite a two-hour delay, we still arrived before our original Tokyo connection would have landed. We bought an Airport Express two-person group ticket (HK$160) and Octopus cards at the MTR desk right outside the customs hall, took the train to Hong Kong station and then taxied (HK$35) to our hotel, the Butterfly on Wellington (“BOW”). Total elapsed time from plane door to hotel door: approximately 90 minutes. Not too bad.

It was 11 pm on Friday night when we checked in, and things were hopping in Lan Kwai Fong as we headed toward the hotel. We were motivated to get out and join the festivities, so we headed up the famed mid-levels escalator, conveniently located just a block from BOW, for a couple of drinks in a SoHo nightspot before turning in for the night.
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Old Dec 11th, 2013, 03:46 AM
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How we spent our 10 days

As a preface to this, we like to wander and explore and do some hiking when/where we can. We are not shoppers.

Day 1 (Saturday)

We were up early with jet lag, of course. The hotel wi-fi worked really well, and that’s a good thing—as the first thing we had to do was use it to find a manual for the Nespresso machine in our room, after two failed attempts to load it with water that ended with water on the floor and all over the cabinet (yes, we still have a conventional coffee maker at home).

We sought and found the popular Tai Cheong Bakery a couple blocks up on Lyndhurst Rd. for egg-custard tarts and a warm chicken pie. Not health food, but perfect for a quick start. We returned here most other mornings.

Knowing that this would be one of the best weather days for the next few, we headed for the peak. Although it was a weekend, the wait for the tram was minimal at 9 am, and we got to the top quickly. We took our obligatory photos, and then we kept climbing…up Mount Austin Rd to the Victoria Peak Gardens. It’s a bit of a workout, and we were about the only ones doing it. We were very thankful for the kiosk at the top that sold us the cold bottle of water. Views from the top were not quite as good; there’s a lot of foliage, but it was nice to get away from the crowd at the tram station—and it felt good to work off the jet lag and egg tarts.

We started down a long, unmarked, staircase through the trees and bushes with no idea where we were going (“In for a penny, in for a pound” we said…). Eventually, we heard voices and it connected with the Peak Morning Walk, which took us back to the tram station. We kept walking, down Old Peak Rd. to the Mid-levels, through the zoo, and back to Central. Along the way, we chatted with and got a few tips from a couple from Chicago (recognizable by his Bears hat) now living in Hong Kong. All in all, it was a great morning of walking—much more that we’d planned to do, and in hindsight maybe a bit too much walking in TOMS (sore toes).

At this point, it was only noon, and we wanted to take advantage of the sunny although very windy weather—so we continued (after a footwear change) on to the ferry terminal and Yung Shue Wan on Lamma Island. It’s a very nice one-hour or so walk from there to Sok Kwu Wan, with some mildly strenuous up and downhill parts just to make sure we were walking off the calories we’d be consuming. We rewarded ourselves with a late seafood lunch at Rainbow Seafood in Sok Kwu Wan and then took advantage of the restaurant’s boat back to Central. (Note, we’ll report on food later.)

Day 2 (Sunday)

We had an easier time with the coffee maker this morning, although there was still some trial and error to figure out how to get a full cup. We were a little afraid the noise coming from this thing might wake the people in the next room.

Since it was raining, our destinations for the morning were closer at hand: the Man Mo Temple, about a 10 minute walk away on Hollywood Rd.; and a delicious dim sum lunch at Dim Sum Square in Sheung Wan.

After a clothing adjustment for the warm, humid weather, we set out on the MTR to Kowloon to see the flower, bird and goldfish markets up around the Prince Edward and Mong Kok stops. Other stops included the promenade (too windy to spend much time there) and Statue Square to see what the Sunday maid gatherings are all about (the sound of omnipresent conversation is as notable as the sight).

After a rest stop and check of football scores back home, we decided to catch the local tram and ride out to the end to see some other areas. We picked a passing tram that wasn’t too full so we could get seats on the upper level for best viewing. This particular tram terminated at North Point, right in the middle of the Chun Yeung Street Market—which was pretty interesting, until the rain intensified. So we hopped a tram in the other direction for dinner at a little place called Chôm Chôm in SoHo—one of our favorites on the whole trip.
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Old Dec 11th, 2013, 03:50 AM
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Day 3 (Monday)

Our original plan had been to go to Lantau Island and up to the Buddha before making our way to Cheung Chau. The forecast, however, wasn’t promising; nor was the view out our room in Central in the morning. Instead, we decided just to go to Cheung Chau—and found it almost sunny. Lesson learned: find weather forecasts for more precise spots and not Hong Kong in general.

We added dollars to our Octopi at Circle K and then made our way to pier 5 for the fast ferry. There were perhaps 300 children on the ferry, ranging in ages from about 7 to 17 (they were obviously going to some camp, as they had luggage). We wondered if we’d made a terrible mistake. We never saw them again after we got off the boat.

Our day on the island included wandering through town and then heading south toward Sai Wan on an overland route that involved some climbing. It was a nice walk that culminated in a cave, the reclining rock and a couple of temples. We saw no one else on the path, except a few residents in Sai Wan.

This was a Monday, and some restaurants appeared closed. Rather than having a big seafood lunch, as we’d planned, we opted instead for some casual dim sum and managed to order fairly well just by pointing at photos in the menu.

We concluded our visit to the island with a walk to Pak Tai Temple and then took the boat back to Central. Despite the inauspicious beginning, this was a great day trip—we loved the low key, relaxed pace here.

Our late afternoon involved taking the escalator all the way to the top and then walking our way back down…sans map, just wandering.

Day 4 (Tuesday)

This morning we discovered the barbeque pork pies at Tai Cheong Bakery, and that was a good thing (for taste buds, not for our diet)!

Properly fortified, we took five pages of printed directions provided by the peerless Cicerone and set out on the MTR to Chai Wan—our destination, Option 3 of the Dragon’s Back hike (shortened due to a later-than-planned start and less-than-ideal weather conditions).

The directions guided us perfectly out of the MTR station and right to and up through the amazingly vertical Chinese cemetery. Once at the top, we were in the woods—very much in the woods. It was warm, humid, lush and green. We followed the directions, passing just a few people out for fitness walks or runs. Eventually, we turned right toward Big Wave Bay and followed a stone staircase all the way down. The views are terrific, although the cloudy, hazy weather didn’t make for great photos.

We made our way down to Big Wave Bay, right through the middle of a local school weenie-roast, and continued walking past some really nice homes and a country club to Shek O, for lunch at the Chinese and Thailand Seafood Restaurant—which, by the way, may win a prize for most encyclopedic menu ever.

We took a minibus back to the MTR and then the train to Central. After cleaning up, we headed to the Hyatt in Kowloon to meet up with DonTopaz for drinks. It’s always fun to visit with fellow Fodorites and talk travel... and Don’s just a good guy to have drinks with, regardless. Thanks, Don, for connecting with us!

Dinner was at Spice a few blocks away from the Hyatt and was a bit of a miss, unfortunately (more on how we picked restaurants a little later).

We capped off the night with caipirinhas at a bar next to the escalator in SoHo where we’d visited the previous two nights. It’s a nice enough bar, called Bacar, but don’t bother writing that down as it was scheduled to close shortly to make way for a new skyscraper.
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Old Dec 11th, 2013, 03:53 AM
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Day 5 (Wednesday)

Breakfast this morning consisted of piping hot Chinese churros from a vendor on Stanley street and a banana from the wet market just outside our hotel. This, along with the free espresso in our room, was all the breakfast we needed!

The forecast was iffy, but this was our last full day in Hong Kong before heading to Macau, and we hadn’t yet been to Lantau Island. So off we went. Bad decision! When we arrived, it was obvious that the mountain was shrouded in clouds. We had coffee at the Starbucks by the MTR station and contemplated our options. In the meantime, the rain picked up. We decided to cut our losses and headed back to Central.

As an alternative, we hopped the bus to Stanley, after finding and navigating the Exchange Square bus depot. We made sure to get seats on the upper deck. The express bus goes through a tunnel, but the drive is still fairly dramatic—especially when two buses are passing on a curve.

We spent a few hours in Stanley for a light lunch and visits to the Murray House and the market (just looking), then came back, this time in the front seats of the upper level of the bus. The weather hadn’t improved much.

Our plans for the evening included a trip to Happy Valley. We picked up tourist tickets at an off-track betting center several blocks from BOW on Stanley St. (you need to show a passport). It could not have been easier.

We found the racetrack easily enough (follow the crowd) from Times Square. Once there, it wasn’t entirely clear what to do with our tourist tickets, which allow access to the members’ areas. Eventually, after taking an elevator to the top level with some very well-dressed patrons, we figured things out. But after a brief stay in the indoor area, we ended up spending most of our time down in the beer garden where the atmosphere is considerably more festive. We only placed one small bet and, of course, did not win. And we didn’t try the frozen beer. Overall, it was a very good time!

Day 6 (Thursday)

For our last morning at BOW, we couldn’t decide between favorite local breakfast items, so we got both: an egg tart from the bakery on Lyndhurst and a churro from the man on Stanley Street.

After checking out, we left our bags with the hotel and took the MTR back to Lantau Island. It still wasn’t sunny, but things looked quite a bit better than yesterday.

We knew we should have pre-purchased tickets for the cable car! It took about an hour from the time we arrived until we settled in a cable car—time that we killed talking with other visitors from Scotland and Rome. (Note: we could have avoided the wait by paying extra for the “crystal cabin” with clear floor—but that was just a bit too much for my fear of heights). We quickly forgot about that wait once we started up the mountain and the view unfolded.

Since we would be making our way to Macau later in the day, we didn’t have a lot of time. We made a beeline to the Buddha and then visited the Po Lin Monastery (lots of restoration work currently).

We had to make a decision about lunch: Ngong Ping Village, base of cable car at Tung Chung or back in Central. We surveyed options in the Ngong Ping Village, which includes, among other things, a 7-11, a Starbucks and a Subway. Finally, we settled on the Cantonese (Ngong Ping Garden) restaurant, where we had a nice upstairs table with a view of the Buddha and a surprisingly good “champagne pork” dish.

From there, it was back to BOW to gather our bags and bid adieu to the staff and the neighborhood. We took a taxi to the Macau ferry terminal (HK$30) and bought super class (~US$80 for two people; why not? it’s a special occasion!) tickets for a TurboJET ferry about 30 minutes later. Turns out, these were the red boats we’d seen zipping across the water a few days earlier on our trip to/from Cheung Chao.

The hour-long trip includes snacks and drinks in super class. We were among the first off the boat and cleared immigration quickly. We found a desk for the hotels and inquired about the shuttle to the Sofitel. The man at the desk recommended a taxi over the hotel shuttle, as the shuttle was in a temporary location due to the Macau Grand Prix and, thus, a 10-minute further walk.

That’s where things got a little dicey. Mr_go got in a cab line of more than 100 people, but no cabs arrived for at least 10 minutes. I found a Sofitel attendant outside and got directions to the shuttle, and we bailed on the taxi line. It was a bit of a hike across a temporary walkway, but manageable. At the other end, it wasn’t entirely clear where to go. Eventually, we found a Sofitel attendant, recognizable by his uniform, and joined a mass of people standing on some concrete steps in a construction area (this wasn’t just the Sofitel affected; Wynn guests were waiting just across the street). We waited 15-20 minutes for the van, and fortunately the attendant did make an attempt to organize people according to the order in which they arrived. We barely made that van.

With rush hour traffic and rerouting due to the Macau Grand Prix, we moved verrrrrry slowly. Our expectation level was decreasing with each passing minute. In all, it took about 1:15 from the time we disembarked the ferry until we arrived at our hotel. (As an aside, we had no idea until that morning that the Macau Grand Prix was taking place this weekend... so much for our careful planning!)

From that point forward, our expectations were simply blown away. We were sent right to the club level to check in, and then ushered into the happy hour, where we proceeded to consume a full bottle of Portuguese wine and enjoy an array of snacks that were plenty sufficient for dinner.

More on the hotel and the room later, but suffice it to say it was all very nice, and the staff could not have possibly done more.

We spent the evening walking around some of the historic area and over to the Grand Lisboa hotel—the huge and, er, unconventional-looking building that dominates the skyline of central Macau. The weather was taking a turn for the better. The clouds had now passed and the moon and stars were in full view.
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Old Dec 11th, 2013, 04:01 AM
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Day 7 (Friday)

We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast in the club lounge with a sweeping city view of Macau. We’d been told we could use the sixth floor restaurant for a larger breakfast selection, but that would have been overkill. As it was, there was too much from which to select here…and no one there but us to enjoy it.

Later in the morning, we set out on about a four-hour walking tour of sites in the historic section, beginning with the ruins of the church of St. Paul and then a trip up the hill to see the fortress (museum free on Fridays, fyi). Other sites we visited (a few only from the outside) included:
• Senado Square
• St. Augustine’s Church
• Cathedral of the Nativity of Our Lady
• Lou Kau Mansion
• Sir Robert Ho Tung Library
• Dom Pedro V Theatre
• St. Joseph’s Church
• St. Lawrence’s Church
• Mandarin House
• Lilau Square
• Moorish Barracks
• A Ma Temple

Along the way, we did a healthy amount of just wandering in some of the narrow streets of the old town—observing the blending of two distinctive styles (Portuguese and Cantonese) that seem a weird mix but actually are great together. The sidewalks include a lot of mosaic tile work reminiscent of Lisbon. There are more motorbikes than in Hong Kong but not anywhere near Hanoi. We saw very few Western tourists—one of the few exceptions being a man in the midst of a thick crowd who noticed mr_go’s shirt and called out, “Jim Thompson! I’ve got that one too!”

Later in the afternoon, we walked to the other side of the island to see some of the splashy resort/casino area of the city—primarily the MGM, Mandarin Oriental and an extraordinarily upscale shopping mall. After drinks at the MGM’s lobby bar, we decided to take a cab to the top of the Pehna Hill, which we’d missed earlier in the day. It was “golden hour” and the views were quite nice. We lingered, watching a wedding party being photographed and then someone bungy jump from the Macau tower in the distance (note that mr_go was tempted…he did this in Australia a few years ago). We wandered down the hill without a map; just a general sense of where the Sofitel was to guide us. It was a pretty interesting look at some of the side streets in the old town, well off the tourist trail.

We should note that throughout our meanderings today, we heard the constant whine of Formula 3 engines. At one point in the afternoon, we were fairly close and noticed the grandstand behind a barricaded area. Through the fence, we got a brief and not-so-close glimpse of the cars as they raced by in a qualifying round. There was a large-screen TV erected in Senado Square, and every time we passed that area, crowds of locals were gathered to watch race developments.

Back at the hotel to freshen up, we discovered that housekeeping had created “towel origami” in the shape of two swans, thoroughly covered in rose petals, on top of the bed in recognition of our anniversary. We made good use of the club for drinks again (although not a full bottle of wine tonight) before a solid Portugese/Macanese dinner at A Lorcha.

Day 8 (Saturday)

More lingering over breakfast in the club lounge for us this morning. We could get used to this….so it’s probably a good thing we were moving on.

We said our goodbyes to the great staff at the Sofitel and headed to the ferry terminal on the hotel’s shuttle. There was another long walk across the temporary bridge. This time, we knew exactly where we were going. Along the way, we had a good view of the Grand Prix track and grandstands, but there didn’t appear to be much action.

Unfortunately, we just missed out on tickets for the 11:30 ferry to Kowloon (ferries run every 30 minutes), so the wait was just under an hour for the following one. Immigration in Hong Kong was fairly quick; the cab ride from the ferry terminal to the Intercontinental, not so much.

All was better once we reached the hotel. Our BIG anniversary surprise was an upgrade to a tremendous suite (note a junior suite, but a full suite) with sweeping harbor views…and a little bit of the construction site next door (although it was the weekend, so not much activity there). The hotel later delivered a bottle of champagne (Perrier & Joet, in a silver ice bucket) and some fresh strawberries with honey, which we saved for dessert later on.

A note here: this part of the trip was intentionally not packed with activity. We wanted to relax a little and enjoy the amenities of a luxury hotel at the tail end of our trip so that we did not arrive home as usually do, needing a vacation from the vacation. If we had never left the hotel grounds and just sat around admiring the view, we’d have been okay with that.

Accordingly, our afternoon was pretty light on activity. We wandered up and down the promenade a bit, enjoying the substantially nicer (than earlier in the week) weather and then took our obligatory trip on the Star Ferry.

The downside of this was that we didn’t put a lot of time into researching dinner, rather quickly settling on a Vietnamese restaurant at the Royal Garden Hotel. We arrived to a nearly empty restaurant… and were turned away because we lacked reservations. Lacking a plan B, we plunged to the basement level of the same hotel and had a decent, if overpriced, Cantonese dinner.

We also figured we couldn’t leave Hong Kong without seeing the light show on the promenade. Arriving a little before 8 pm, we found the harbor wall several people deep. We were happy to have seen the show once, but the view from our room is just as enjoyable without the crowd.
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Old Dec 11th, 2013, 04:07 AM
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Day 9 (Sunday)

This morning, our destination was the Chi Lin Nunnery and Nam Lian Garden. Rather than heading right to the MTR, though, we instead wandered several miles up Nathan Road as businesses were beginning to wake up on Sunday morning. The little garden of comic book hero statues somewhere along the way provided an interesting contrast to the hustle and bustle of Nathan Road. Once at Mong Kok station, we hopped on the MTR and rode several stops to Diamond Hill.

The nunnery/garden is a very enjoyable spot to spend a couple of hours—with the crowds relatively light. The gold statuary in the nunnery is quite impressive, and that and the garden are a real contrast to the high rises towering around the site. The exhibit of traditional wood architecture in the garden is also interesting—showing how the nunnery’s original buildings were constructed without nails.

It was time to enjoy our hotel some more and, in particular, the poolside lounge. What started as a quick trip in for drinks ended up being several drinks and a light lunch while struggling to peel ourselves away from “the view.” We agreed that if we had to do it over again, we’d have spent more time at that lounge (for example, dinner the night before).

What to do with the remainder of a pretty nice last day? After some procrastination, we decided to go back up to the peak for one last look at a different time of day (remember, our first trip up was windy and hazy). Unfortunately, hundreds of other people had the same idea, and estimated waiting time for the tram was 1.5 hours. Thank you, no! Fortunately, the taxi line was short. We shared a ride with a visitor from Sweden and then lingered for 45 minutes (no additional climbing this time) enjoying the view, although it was a little too early for dusk. We walked back down, again, to our old neighborhood for one last look around and dinner.

We had two options in mind for dinner, both of which we weren’t able to fit in during our stay in Central: Nha Trang, on Wellington; and Iberico & Co. on Shelley’s in SoHo. It was completely a coin toss. We came upon the latter first, started to head down to Nha Trang, and then decided to backtrack and sit down. We were not disappointed—a really great dinner to end the trip!

You might notice that we haven’t mentioned shopping. As we mentioned before, we are not shoppers and we spent almost zero time doing so up to now. Our souvenirs totaled less than HK$150, consisting of a few small items from the shop in the Nan Lian Garden. We’d wandered plenty of markets (wet, bird, flower, etc.) during this trip but had pretty much steered clear of the Temple Street Night Market. It was close to the Intercontinental, and our curiosity did kind of get the better of us, so we took a brief, 10-minute detour on the way back to our hotel—for amusement only and a few photos, no shopping.

It was hard to close the curtains in our room that night, knowing it was our last.

Day 10

We were up at 5:30 to begin our journey home and opened those curtains to watch the sun slowly rise over the island.

We loved the easy check in at the Airport Express terminal in Kowloon. There were no lines, and we didn’t see our luggage again until it came off the baggage claim carousel in Chicago! We also had time to turn in and refund our Octopi.

There’s not much else to report… There was no drama on the way home—aside from an incident in the men’s room of the United Club at Narita that involved a man blocking the exit and a staffer shouting at him, “Sir, you are in a men’s room!” We had a leisurely breakfast in the Thai lounge at HKG. Both flights (HKG-NRT and NRT-ORD) were right on time. And it was back to cold reality…quite literally.
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Old Dec 11th, 2013, 04:10 AM
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Our accommodations

Butterfly on Wellington

We decided early on that we would finish our trip with a few days in a luxury hotel in Kowloon with a great harbor view. Accordingly, we wanted to stay on Hong Kong Island for the first part of the trip, and it wouldn’t be “quite” as much of a splurge. We read all the advice on best areas to stay and about picking a place with proximity to a MTR station. All things considered, we felt the Central/Sheung Wan/Admiralty area would probably best suit our needs.

Lately, we’ve grown fond of self-catering accommodations when staying in a location for more than a few days. And we did research some such options but ultimately settled on this boutique hotel—and we were extremely happy with our decision.

We booked an Executive room, which is a slightly larger (300 sq ft) room on a high floor. Ours was by no means a huge room, but it was well furnished for the size, comfortable, and very quiet; there were only three rooms on our floor (26) near the top. The bathroom was good sized, and the shower was particularly nice. There is no breakfast available, which was fine—there are numerous options in the areas around the hotel. The staff was friendly and accommodating, although we really didn’t avail ourselves of services other than laundry.

By far, the biggest advantage of this hotel, for us, was the location—in terms of both the neighborhood ambiance and the convenience. We had looked at the street view on Google Maps to get an idea of the immediate vicinity, but the vibrant street life, local restaurants (and their aromas), adjacent markets, etc. went beyond our expectations. The other big plus was the proximity to the escalator, about 30 seconds away; to the MTR (Central or Sheung Wan) less than 10 minutes away; and to the ferry piers, also within about 10-15 minutes’ walk.


Intercontinental Kowloon

From our planning thread, you can see we debated this quite a bit. We researched a number of options. View and facilities for relaxation for the last two days of our trip were the primary criteria. The Peninsula was a bit out of our budget unfortunately.

At check-in, we were offered an upgrade to a deluxe suite (in celebration of the anniversary). Duly warned that some suites didn’t offer views comparable to the regular harbor-view rooms, we said we preferred the option with the best view. The woman who checked us in let us look at the suite before making a decision.

We probably didn’t discover every function and feature of our suite or the broad facilities and amenities of the hotel in the 1.5 days we were there, aside from the pool bar/restaurant, which we quite liked. We had a hard time moving away from the long wall of windows to even figure out what was available to us. Nevertheless, we most definitely met our objective to relax and end our trip on a bit more of a luxurious note, and the hotel was exactly what we expected it to be.


The Verdict: Island Side or Kowloon?

Okay, there really is no universally “right” answer. We obviously spent much more time on HK island than we did in Kowloon, but from what we did experience of both, we preferred staying on the island side and specifically in Central – great harbor view notwithstanding, and with all due respect to the great service we received from the staff at the Intercontinental. For us, it just came down to our preference for the area around our base on Wellington. It’s a really fun neighborhood to explore.

Regardless of area, do take heed of the oft-repeated advice to stay within easy walking distance of an MTR station. It makes either area easily accessible to points near and far.

Sofitel Macau at Pont 16

Not to be outdone…

This hotel was a fairly easy decision. Our purpose for visiting Macau was to see the old neighborhoods and historical sites, not to “go Vegas”—so we wanted to be in proximity to those sites. We were intrigued by the Pousada De Sao Tiago but decided the Sofitel offered a more central location for our needs (and thank goodness, because taxis were in VERY short supply during our stay because of the race).

The location, indeed, worked out well. We were able to cover just about everything we wanted to see and do (or, could see and do within the short time we had available) on foot.

We don’t collect hotel points and haven’t earned any level of status with any particular chain (we mix it up too much and often choose non-chain hotels), so we don’t often end up on the club floors of our hotels. This time, we intentionally booked a club room at the Sofitel for our two nights, as the price really didn’t break our budget. We knew we might enjoy the breakfast and happy hour!

The room was very nice, all around, and we were upgraded from a city view to a water view.

The real star, though, was the over-the-top service. The staff on the club floor simply could not do enough and really bent over backward to make sure we had a great and memorable stay—and, from what we observed, that was not just limited to couples celebrating important anniversaries, although we doubt the other guests got towel origami swans covered in rose petals.

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Old Dec 11th, 2013, 04:16 AM
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Getting Around in Hong Kong

We simply cannot say enough about the public transportation systems in and around Hong Kong. The MTR may well be the easiest, cleanest, most efficient and best-run rapid transit rail system we have ever used. And the interconnected network of underground tunnels that connect train platforms and street exits is utterly fascinating… it’s a vast city beneath the city, with all manner of shops, cafes, etc., but without the hassle of crossing streets.

The ferries, trams and buses were also very dependable, on-schedule and a remarkable value. Note: Using the Octopus card is strongly recommended, for its ease of and plentiful options for use. And you can replenish the cash value on the card anytime you want at a local station or convenience store.

And finally, taxis are generally plentiful, convenient and less expensive than you might expect.

Getting Around in Macau

We visited at an unusual time, so local transportation was not operating at peak efficiency for us. Therefore, we shall refrain from comment on this aspect. However, we do feel strongly that, if you are able, you should venture as much on foot as you can while in Macau. Doing so will give you an up-close look at the old neighborhoods and unique Macanese flavor of life away from the casinos and fashion malls.

The Weather

The first half of the trip was windier and a bit wetter than we expected—not prolonged or heavy rain but definite showers here and there and relatively limited visibility at times. We’re assuming this was associated with the outer reaches of Typhoon Haiyan. Considering the devastation it produced elsewhere, we are not in any way complaining about a few sprinkles on our vacation. While it may have affected our photos, it by no means diminished anything about our trip.

All in all, the temperatures were very comfortable 60s and 70s (F)—particularly comfortable for us upper-Midwesterners. But why was everyone else walking around in coats and scarves at those temps (we say the same thing when we visit our relatives in the US sunbelt )?

That's all for now. We'll add food/restaurants and final notes a little later.
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Old Dec 11th, 2013, 04:21 AM
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I'm enjoying your report and looking forward to more. Sounds like you enjoyed your time in HK despite the weather. We spent 3 days there several years ago and did a lot of walking, but certainly not as much as you did.
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Old Dec 11th, 2013, 04:27 AM
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Wow. I can't believe that while I was posting my 3 lines above, you posted the last 5 days and conclusions of your TR. Good for you!!
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Old Dec 11th, 2013, 04:49 AM
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fabulous report!!! thanks
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Old Dec 11th, 2013, 05:05 AM
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I also stopped by Nan Lian Garden on this trip -- it's sort of nestled among highway overpasses which are quickly forgotten. In a place that's as intense as Hong Kong, I especially crave those spots like Nan Lian that are such a peaceful and serene respite from the city's pace and crush.

As for the egg custards, I know of at least one person who detoured 2500 miles out of his way on one trip just to have one (well, ok, two).
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Old Dec 11th, 2013, 05:05 AM
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Thanks, shelley and Bob!

I meant to add earlier...please excuse any typos and misspellings. I know there are some in there. I am a lousy proofreader, and especially when posting so early in the morning!
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Old Dec 11th, 2013, 05:50 AM
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please excuse any typos and misspellings

And feel free to assume they all came from my meager contributions.

Don, I can't agree more about Nan Lian. Several different places are described in the guide books as being "an oasis of serenity in the bustling city"... but it's actually true there. Well worth the visit.
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Old Dec 11th, 2013, 06:24 AM
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Great report, thanks! Glad United got you on that flight. Reminds me of the call we got at midnight informing us that our 11AM flight was cancelled and unless we took the 6AM flight, we would miss our connecting flight to South Africa.
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Old Dec 11th, 2013, 06:44 AM
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Enjoyed reading your great TR. Happy bday and anniversary. One of these days we will get to HK.
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Old Dec 11th, 2013, 08:48 AM
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Wonderful, wonderful report! Thank you.

We are planning for a return trip to Hong Kong (appalled to realize we were last there in 2008) and will look forward to restaurant recommendations.
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Old Dec 11th, 2013, 09:59 AM
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Thanks for the great TR, and congratulations on the milestones.
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Old Dec 11th, 2013, 03:13 PM
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Since I was one of those who voted for Hong Kong on your planning thread, I am glad it all worked out so well. Happy Birthday ms_go and best wishes to you and mr_go on your 25th wedding anniversary!
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