Posts from the ‘China’ category

Minus 35° Celsius. Time for a swim

By Chris K

Today’s Itinerary

Only a couple of days ago it was Minus 35° Celsius in Harbin. (That’s about the same in Fahrenheit – and ridiculously cold whether you speak imperial, metric, or Klingon.)

Naturally, temperatures like that mean only one thing: we’re going for a swim.

Swimming in the river of ice, because you only live once

Apparently, when it is ridiculously cold in China, you go swimming. This is because it ‘feels nice’, and is ‘healthy’.

We didn’t really believe that people would willingly participate in such an obviously mad activity, which involves immersing themselves in water that is just barely this side of being a solid.

And yet – here’s the proof.

We quote from the video;

“people enjoy the way it feels”.

Yeah. No.

Tiger Tiger Burning Bright

Not actually brave enough to risk losing limbs to frostbite, we’re heading on to a different activity – one that doesn’t involve grievous bodily harm. At least, that’s what we’ve been told.

Photo by mickey, Licensed under CC.

Photo by mickey, Licensed under CC.

Looking at that photo we’re not so sure.

We’re off to see some tigers. As we mentioned yesterday, Harbin was originally a Russian city on the edge of Siberia – though it is now (and has been for a long time) China’s northen-most major city. In apparently the largest park for Siberian tigers in the world, you can observe the tigers up close as they wander through a natural environment.

Photo by mickey, Licensed under CC.

Photo by mickey, Licensed under CC.

Feeding time is a little bit more confronting, often involving food that isn’t quite as processed as that bacon and egg roll you had for breakfast this morning.

Photo by TaQpets, Licensed under CC.

Photo by TaQpets, Licensed under CC.

This guy just wants to give you a big hug. Sort of.

Mostly hug. Just a tiny little bit of gnawing.

Saint Sophia Cathedral

In another Russian connection, Harbin is also home to the “largest Russian Orthodox church in the east”.

Built from timber, it fell into ruin until a charity drive raised around $1.5 million USD to restore it to its former glory.

Photo by timquijano, Licensed under CC.

Photo by timquijano, Licensed under CC.

More of the Harbin Ice Festival

Although that feeling of wandering around a magical wonderland is not quite as strong during the day, it is still very worthwhile revisiting the Harbin Ice Festival.

In some respects, daylight gives a sober view of the sheer scale of some of these architecture marvels.

Photo by Rincewind42, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Rincewind42, Licensed under CC.

You may also encounter some of the wildlife. This is a local Arctic fox, the wild strain of the infamous domesticated Siberian fox. Sadly Sibfox, the company that sold Siberian foxes as pets, is no longer operating. Happily, there are still some photographs of baby foxes (pups) online!

Photo by Denise Chan, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Denise Chan, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Rincewind42, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Rincewind42, Licensed under CC.

Want to Go? Need to Know!

  • Founded by a Russian citizen of Polish descent (aka the Lord of Alcohol), Harbin beer is one of the most popular beers in China, and possibly also the first.
  • According to Shanghai local Nick – Harbin should technically be spelt Haerbin, as it is pronounced in China.
  • There’s not an enormous amount of English language guide information for the (to use the full name) Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival. However, we can point you to Wikipedia for more history and loads more pictures of the incredible sculptures created over the years!.
Photo by Ivan Walsh, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Ivan Walsh, Licensed under CC.

The memories of those ice towers will (hopefully) last a lot longer than the frostbite! But there’s only just enough time to see them all before tucking in to one last warm dinner of Chinese food. We have an early flight tomorrow from Harbin to Osaka, Japan.

Have you been to Harbin? What did you think? Tell us in the comments!

Hong Kong Days and Harbin Nights

By Chris K

Today’s Itinerary

Goodbye Hong Kong

We knew we couldn’t fit even a tenth of what Hong Kong has to offer into two short days, but we gave it our best shot, twice.

But destiny calls, and so we bid Hong Kong farewell – with a very quick hunt for some bargains. Just a quick one.

Insert Flight to Harbin, China

Despite being amongst the ten most populated cities in China, Harbin doesn’t really register that strongly on most people’s travel radar. In the north of China, it doesn’t rank the way that Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, and Hangzhou do.

Actually founded by the Russians, this city experiences some of the most bitter winters imaginable.

Which doesn’t scream “visit me!”.

But when life gives you devastating cold and frostbite for months and months every year – you make lemonade.

Or in Harbin’s case – you make an Ice Festival.

In the Kingdom of the Frost

With a midday flight from Hong Kong, we don’t properly arrive at our hotel in central Harbin until mid-afternoon. The sun will set in just an hour, and then, my friends, cometh the frost.

Also – the ice slides.

You see – Harbin have turned their possibly disadvantageous winter of freezing cold into one of the most unique festivals in the world. A celebration of all things that chill the bones. Just wandering into the Ice Festival in Harbin is jaw-dropping, and the marvels are everywhere.

Giant slide made out of ice. Check.

Photo by Ivan Walsh, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Ivan Walsh, Licensed under CC.

Giant palace made out of ice. Check.

Photo by Dayou_X, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Dayou_X, Licensed under CC.

Giant weird-looking but ultimately pretty cool things made out of ice.

Photo by Hugh Lee, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Hugh Lee, Licensed under CC.

Check.

Photo by Hugh Lee, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Hugh Lee, Licensed under CC.

Double Check.

Teams of ice sculptors come here to compete. Let’s say that again – people willingly travel to a location where it can be -35° Celsius outside, to build palaces made out of ice with their hands.

You know it has to be entertaining.

History of the Harbin Ice Festival

According to travelchinaguide.com, the festival’s traditions originate in the practice of;

local peasants and fishermen [who] often made and used ice lanterns as jack-lights during the winter months. At that time these were made simply by pouring water into a bucket that was then put out in the open to freeze. It was then gently warmed before the water froze completely so that the bucket-shaped ice could be pulled out. A hole was chiseled in the top and the water remaining inside poured out creating a hollow vessel. A candle was then placed inside resulting in a windproof lantern that gained great popularity in the region around the city.

So we wandered out into the cold

It is these experiences that we should seek to travel for. To marvel at human ingenuity, mixed with more than a small dose of sheer bloody-mindedness. It’s exhilarating, and not just because of the cold.

It is a quite contemplative experience. The sharp precision of the cuts of the ice-blocks (some of them completely clear, like glass) lit up from inside in shocking neon colours…it is a wonderful experience.

Magical, even.

But bloody cold.

Photo by Dayou_X, Licensed under CC.

Photo by Dayou_X, Licensed under CC.

More photos of the Ice Festival, please

Find the best view in Hong Kong. Twice.

By Chris K

Today’s Itinerary

  • we reveal the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant
  • what else can you do in Hong Kong? That’s right – shop
  • there’s more to our hotel than just amazing food
  • find the most incredible view of Hong Kong
  • and then beat it with an even better view!
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Photo by Roger Price, Licensed under CC.

Yesterday our expectations were changed by a surprising experience in Hong Kong that we didn’t know you could do in such an urbanised, cosmopolitan city. Today, we’re going to throw ourselves into the intensity of Hong Kong’s cuisine and shopping experiences – because when a city does something well, it’s a shame to miss out.

There’s a secret that we don’t want to tell you

You know the place – everyone’s got one. That little cafe or pizzeria, just around the corner, down the alleyway, past the mean-looking bikers (they’re actually really nice), right at the abandoned liquor store – there it is – that hidden place; your secret.

We all have that little place we like to think is our own, and we pass it on in whispers to our friends and family – because we want to share the secret (but not too widely).

Goodness – it might become popular! And then the tourists will come, and the queues will get longer, and it just won’t feel quite the same.

We feel a little bit like that about our first recommendation today. It’s been passed along to us through that grapevine, that circle-of-keeping-awesome-places-to-ourselves, with the implicit bond to “Keep it secret! Keep it safe!”.

But we have to break that bond today. This place is just too good.

And let’s be honest – once CNN Travel covers a place, it isn’t so secret anymore.

The cheapest Michelin Starred restaurant in the world

Tim Ho Wan is the cheapest Michelin Star restaurant in the world - right in Hong Kong. Sign up for our travel email!

Photo by Chika Watanabe, Licensed under CC.

So here it is.

Tim Ho Wan is not only the world’s cheapest Michelin starred restaurant, but also has possibly the best dumplings in the world – and it’s our first stop today.

We’re here at 9:15 AM (yes, that’s in the morning) because the secret is clearly out. The queue starts building before the restaurant opens at 10AM, and we don’t want to get stuck in the rush – there’s too much to do today.

How good are the dumplings at Tim Ho Wan’s?

Tim Ho Wan’s is so good that Lady Iron Chef had this to say;

Can you imagine paying just SGD$12 for top quality dim sum? It’s dirt cheap! Is Tim Ho Wan really worth the hype? Yes, I’ll willingly queue up for their dim sum every time I’m in Hong Kong.

For the full blow-by-blow account of just how amazing Tim Ho Wan restaurant is, read Lady Iron Chef’s amazing Hong Kong article.

And for a visual reference (don’t get lost – there’s dumplings to be eaten!) have a look at this Hong Kong article from artofbackpacking.com.

Oh, we’re in Mong Kok? I suppose we may as well get some shopping in while we’re here


As our intrepid Hong Kong travel advisor Gabriele mentioned yesterday, Mong Kok is not only the location of those incredible dumplings we just ate in frightening quantities (we don’t feel so good. But they were so tasty!) – Mong Kok is also the home of markets, open day and night.

Shangai local Nick, who makes frequent trips to Hong Kong, had this to say about why Mong Kok markets are so good;

they block the streets off and sell just about anything – clothes, bags, watches, shoes, hats, electronics – and at a fraction of the price of the air conditioned shopping malls in TST.

Personally, we’re suckers for discounted photography equipment, so that’s what we’re looking for – what would you hope to find?

Hong Kong Shopping

Some other options for Hong Kong shopping are;

  • the Landmark shopping mall – take at look at their website and be gobsmacked by the assortment of brands
  • the Ladies Market on Tung Choi Street, for basically everything
  • the Temple Street Night Market, for a display of a typical Chinese market
  • the Page One bookstore chain, recommended by the BBC, as “one of Hong Kong’s best selections of art and design magazines and books”

Really – you won’t have to look too hard to find an incredible assortment of shopping options in Hong Kong.

But remember to bargain!

Now find the most beautiful view of Hong Kong

Yesterday we said there were lots of reasons why we chose to stay in the Intercontinental Hong Kong. One of them was obviously the incredible variety and quality of their restaurant offerings. But there was another reason, and today we intend to enjoy it – weather be damned!

That secret is this – a pool with an most incredible view of Hong Kong. Although it’s typically not swimming weather in Hong Kong in January, some days hover around 18 degrees Celsius, and even relaxing by the pool deck is a pleasant experience.

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Is that boat sailing into the pool? An amazing optical illusion. Photo by Intercontinental Hotel Hong Kong, Licensed under CC.

We can’t linger here too long though – there’s somewhere we have to be for sundown.

The cocktails will have to wait.

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What a dream destination! Photo by Intercontinental Hotel Hong Kong, Licensed under CC.

Or the cocktails can come early. It’s really no problem either way.

Waiter?

That was a pretty good view. But we can do better

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Photo by Ryan Li, Licensed under CC.

Better?

Surely not.

That’s what we thought – and then we made it to the top of the The Peak (that’s right – THE Peak).

Just have a look at this spectacular view of Hong Kong. We’re looking down onto this city of seven million people and from up here, it feels like you could walk out onto those skyscrapers.

Can you just imagine how beautiful this would be at sunset…

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Photo by Mike Behnken, Licensed under CC.

Wow. That is actually really beautiful. Thankyou, photographer Mike Behnken.

One last tip for Hong Kong

Finally, one last tip from Shanghai local, Nick, who says;

ok….a MUST DO IN HK – take the 2.2HKD Star Ferry from TST to Central. (or vice versa, but I much prefer the TST to Central route). The view is spectacular on the ferry, especially at night. The ferry closes at 11pm.

What. A. Trip.

There aren’t many cities that so effortlessly combine such effortless culture, cuisine, and commerce, as does Hong Kong. There are so many places that we didn’t have time to fit it, we’re going to have to come back. This really is a city you could explore for weeks on end.

Luckily – we’re on an endless vacation. So we’ve got time.

Hong Kong Travel Tweeps to Follow

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Evocative Hong Kong at night. Photo by Mitch Altman, Licensed under CC.

HEY!

NEXT TIME we’re in Hong Kong – where should we go? What should we do?

Tell us in the comments, or on Twitter!

Eat. Shop. Cruise? A surprising day in Hong Kong.



By Chris K

Today’s Itinerary

The contrast between our week in New Zealand and Hong Kong couldn’t be more stark. In New Zealand, we experienced some heart-stopping adventure thrills in breathtaking scenery and took part in an epic rail-journey that we won’t soon forget.

Here in Hong Kong, we’re going to experience what life is like in one of the most densely populated places on Earth.

And it’s quite a change. Hong Kong has a population of almost 1.6 times that of New Zealand, packed into an area of roughly 1,100 km2. This density has lead to Hong Kong becoming the world’s most vertical city, ranking number one on the list of cities with the most skyscrapers.

From all of our research, it is clear that there is so much to do in Hong Kong; two days is just not going to cut it. Knowing this, we’re going to fit in as much as possible in our two days here in Hong Kong – and we’ll surely make it back soon.

So what’s on the agenda?

Eating.

Shopping.

A bit of sightseeing.

But mainly eating. And shopping. That’s the plan.

And yet…

Is there more to Hong Kong than just stuffing our faces and our luggage full?

7AM : Arriving in Hong Kong

It’s really hard to like long flights (unless you’re in first class). It is much easier to endure them, though, when you know that just on the other end of the flight is something special.

And our hotel in Hong Kong is really something special.

We’ve chosen to stay at the Hotel Intercontinental on 18 Salisbury Road, Kowloon (email / website) for a great number of reasons – it’s really central, most rooms have stunning views of the city and the harbour, it’s very well regarded by other travellers…

There are a couple of other reasons, but we’ll get to those.

For now, all you need to know is this.

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Stunning. Photo by Intercontinental Hotel Hong Kong, Licensed under CC.

All agreed?

 Flying into Hong Kong

To catch a view of Hong Kong from above, you can watch this video showing the approach of an international flight.

It’s a bit long so we recommend you skip ahead to 3:26, to see the wonderful view of Hong Kong as it appears from behind the cloud cover.

11AM: Cruise the Hong Kong harbour and visit Hong Kong’s Islands

Our day has been planned by Will, a Hong Kong local for the last three years, and in the spirit of all great local guides he’s defying our expectations of what Hong Kong is like and taking us on a completely different experience.

Will has gathered an impressively eclectic group of HK locals, expats, and fly-ins for our four-hour cruise. Most of his friends work in one of the many global institutions powering Hong Kong’s financial centre, which has lead it to become one of the major financial trading centres of the world.

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Old and New, when the Duk Ling cruises the Hong Kong harbour. Photo by Nick Stenning, Licensed under CC.

Packing the eskies (iceboxes) with some choice wine, beer, and local specialities (particularly seafood), we clamber aboard. Will promises a tour of secluded coves and beaches, far away from the mad pace of cosmopolitan Hong Kong – and for the brave ones, perhaps some impromptu diving off the boat before a refreshing drink over lunch.

As we sail out of the harbour, we cross paths with the mighty Duk Ling – apparently the last authentic Chinese-style junk still in service. The Duk Ling usually roams the harbour for short sight-seeing trips – you can pick up tickets at the HK tourist office.

We pull up alongside her, and it’s clear that the vessel is magnificent. Immediately we’re transported back to an era of smoke-filled gambling dens, lotus flowers and silk, illegal trading and piracy.

There’s almost a small mutiny aboard our humbler vessel, everyone keen for a chance to stand at the helm of the Duk Ling and fantasise – until someone mentioned the price for chartering the Duk Ling. Lacking the sort of treasure that would need to be exchanged, legal or otherwise, we choose to stay aboard and sail on to our island destination.

According to Wikipedia, the name “Hong Kong” is a phonetic rendering of the pronunciation of the spoken Cantonese or Hakka name meaning “fragrant harbour”. Around the dock this isn’t necessarily the case, but with as we sail further out of the harbour the meaning becomes more clear.

With the sea breeze in our hair we sail out of the Hong Kong harbour, the skyscrapers towering above us and gradually receding in the distance. Out on the water it’s a completely different experience of Hong Kong.

The January sun in our faces (the average is about 18 degress Celsius), we make our way to many unnamed coves on a wonderful tour of the islands of Hong Kong harbour. There’s no man overboard until a hidden signal from Will puts a less fortunate member of our crew into the water. No one is game to join them in January, although by March the water would be pleasantly swimmable. For everyone else, lunch is calling.

It’s a completely different experience of Hong Kong than what we were expecting, and it’s so pleasant to see a different side to the famous city that most people just miss out on.

Want to cruise the Hong Kong harbour?

If you want to organise your own charter on the Hong Kong harbour, you can try the following providers;

Finally, if you don’t want to charter a cruise, you can actually ride the Duk Ling on a short trip around the Hong Kong harbour.

5PM: enjoy an early, but epic, dinner at the Hotel Intercontinental

We are eating fairly early on in the evening, but we have somewhere to be at 8PM.

Hong Kong is famous for it’s cuisine, with around two hundred restaurants achieving a Michelin star (or two, or three!).

Will had a list as long as his arm of places for us to try, but unfortunately, we’d already made our minds up. Dinner was going to be at the Intercontinental.

And it isn’t like we are restricting ourselves with our choice – in fact, we can eat at four choices of restaurants and eight choices of locations. The restaurants include Spoon by Alain Ducasse, the world’s most acclaimed Japanese restaurant in Nobu, and Yan Toh Heen, an acclaimed Chinese restaurant.

You can’t really blame us for wanting to eat in our hotel with the calibre of these restaurants, especially with some of the crazy dishes they have served up in the past.

Experience cuisine heaven in Hong Kong, with so many Michelin star restaurants to choose from - it's a must-visit travel destination. Learn more on our daily travel email newsletter.

We’ve no idea what this is and we don’t care – we want it. Photo by Intercontinental Hotel Hong Kong, licensed under CC.

So. Hungry. For. Cuisine.

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Photo by Intercontinental Hotel Hong Kong, Licensed under CC.

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Photo by Intercontinental Hotel Hong Kong, Licensed under CC.

Find some more inspiring dishes here.

8PM: marvelling at the Symphony of Lights in Hong Kong

If anything is going to emphasise the contract between Hong Kong and New Zealand, it is this. A spectacular light show that involves basically the entire city. Lasers, neon, more lasers, even more lights.

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Photo by Barbara Willi, Licensed under CC.

We’re down on the street for this, wandering along the Avenue of the Stars and trying to find a good spot to see the light display. We don’t really have to struggle too hard, given that the show involves around forty-four buildings in Hong Kong and Kowloon.

We’re lucky to have a pleasant evening with no rain.

The show won’t run during a category three typhoon, which makes sense. Because, you know – typhoon. No time to watch pretty lights in a typhoon.

Here’s a brief video submitted by one of our readers that gives just a little taste to the incredible light show.

One day in Hong Kong

So that’s all for our first day in Hong Kong. Yes, we’ve barely even scratched the surface, but it has been an easy introduction to a city that can easily become overwhelming. We’ll throw ourselves into the fray tomorrow and fit in some of the famed Hong Kong shopping – and we’ll also continue to work our way through the cuisine heaven that is Honkers.

Tweet us Travel Tips!

We’re working hard on building a travel community on Twitter, and you can get in on the action yourself – we’d love to hear from you.

And in case you missed it, here are some great travel tips from Gabriele Baljak. Let us know your travel tips on Twitter, too!

Thanks to Gabriele for those travel tips!

What are your Hong Kong tips?

We know we’ve missed something – what else could we see?