Hong Kong Day 1

The weather in Hong Kong is perfect – 24 C and sunny!  We have been to Hong Kong several times and so we just wanted to chill out, go to the Ladies Market and the Temple Street Night Market, eat some food and enjoy the vibrant street scene.  We took the complimentary shuttle to one of the metro stations (Holland America does a great job of arranging shuttles wherever possible) which was under quite a large mall.  Unfortunately, the mall wasn’t open yet but one the passengers we had met before recommended visiting the Nan Lian Garden, just across the street.  Never heard of them but what the heck.  What an amazing find for us!

Established in 1934, the Chi Lin Nunnery is part of the garden complex and is literally in the middle of the concrete jungle of Hong Kong.  As you can see from the pictures below, it is absolutely stunning!

From the gardens, we caught the metro to Tsim Sha Tsui, quick and easy with only one transfer.  Our goal was to walk up Nathan road to the market, stopping at shops and sights along the way.


Nathan Road is named after Hong Kong’s only Jewish governor, Matthew Nathan, Kowloon’s main drag is a bit of a traffic- and pedestrian-choked crowd of malls, jewellery stores, and fashion boutiques. It’s nonetheless an iconic Hong Kong scene where guesthouses rub shoulders with luxury hotels.


So, we walked and walked until hunger got the best of us and we stopped for Dim Sum at a great little restaurant.  We were pretty sure that the food was good even though it was directly on Nathan Road, as it was crowded with Chinese and we were the only obvious tourists there.  As it turned out, the food was delicious. Dumpling soup filled with pork and vegetables, fried scallion pancakes and crab filled dumplings.


We finally made it to the Ladies Market!  Chock a block full of clothing, trinkets, electronics, bags, scarves and the like, it attracts huge crowds looking for and getting bargains.  You have to be very careful about the quality, but it is a great place to soak up the local atmosphere.  It is quite large and runs for several blocks.  Did I mention it attracts huge crowds down a narrow walkway where you squeeze through and get jostled all the way?


After our fill of bargain hunting, we walked back to the Temple Street Night Market.  When night falls and neon buzzes, Hong Kong’s liveliest market rattles into life. It covers multiple city blocks.  In the 1920s, vendors gathered there to serve temple-goers; a century on, the crowds descend nightly for cheap clothes and watches, street food, trinkets and tea ware. Marked prices are mere suggestions – this is a place to bargain.

Tourist trap? Absolutely, but that didn’t stop us. It remains Hong Kong’s most thrillingly underdeveloped district, where, if you veer away from the bare-bulb stalls you might encounter Canton singing houses, fortune tellers, herbalists, street eats, sex shops and prostitutes lurking in the shadows.

They say the market is at its bustling best from 7pm to 10pm.


Back to the ship in time for the nightly show which was a series of Chinese performed by a local cultural dance group.  Hard to get good pictures.



Hong Kong Day 2

The shuttle today was able to drop us off very close to the Star Ferry Terminal.  You can’t say you’ve ‘done’ Hong Kong until you’ve taken a ride on a Star Ferry, with its’ fleet of electric-diesel vessels with names like Morning Star, Celestial Star and Twinkling Star.

At any time of the day, the journey, with its riveting views of skyscrapers and jungle-clad hills, must be one of the world’s best-value cruises. At the end of the 10-minute journey, a hemp rope is cast from the back of the boat and caught with a billhook, the way it was in 1888 when the first boat docked.

The cheapest fares are only available on the lower deck, but the views are a little better and there are less fumes on the top deck. You get tickets at the pier through an easy to use self-serve terminal.


The only hopeful destination today was the Man Mo Temple but we just wanted to wander around the SOHO (South of Hollywood Road) area of Central district on Hong Kong Island.  It is an entertainment/shopping/restaurant area that has a very vibrant feel to it.  We had no agenda in walking around, except to find a decent place for lunch which we accomplished at a fusion Chinese restaurant called Chifa Dumpling House.  Nothing too exotic today…a pork stir fry, crab filled wontons and New York style Cheesecake for dessert!  It was delicious!

Perhaps you are noticing a trend in our travels…food and wine.  They go together like a kiss and a hug!

One of Hong Kong’s oldest temples and a declared monument, atmospheric Man Mo Temple is dedicated to the gods of literature (‘Man’), holding a writing brush, and of war (‘Mo’), wielding a sword. Built in 1847 during the Qing dynasty by wealthy Chinese merchants, it was, besides a place of worship, a court of arbitration for local disputes when trust was thin between the Chinese and the colonialists.

Oaths taken at this Taoist temple (often accompanied by the ritual beheading of a rooster) were accepted by the colonial government.  Outside the main entrance are four gilt plaques on poles that used to be carried around at processions. Two describe the gods being worshipped inside, one requests silence and a show of respect within the temple’s grounds, and the last warns menstruating women to keep out of the main hall.

Lending the temple its beguiling and smoky air are rows of large earth-coloured spirals suspended from the roof, like overgrown fungi in an upside-down garden. These are incense coils burned as offerings by worshippers.


Off to the side is Lit Shing Kung, the ‘saints’ palace’, a place of worship for other Buddhist and Taoist deities. Another hall, Kung Sor (‘public meeting place’), used to serve as a court of justice to settle disputes among the Chinese community before the modern judicial system was introduced. A couplet at the entrance urges those entering to leave their selfish interests and prejudices outside. Fortune tellers beckon from inside.


Back on the Star Ferry crossing over to Kowloon, we rush to catch our shuttle bus to be back on the ship in time for a mandatory life boat drill since we have new passengers getting aboard here in Hong Kong.  We made the bus by 1 minute!


Next stop…Vietnam!

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October 28/29, 2018 – Shanghai, China

Few cities in the world evoke so much history, glamour, mystique and exotic promise in the name alone.  Shanghai did not disappoint.  Our ship was docked right in the middle of town and the views from the ship were stunning.

We were on a tour this day and we started out to visit the Yuyuan Gardens, but on the way, we were treated to a fabulous lion dance.

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A short walk and we are engulfed into the crowd of the Old Bazaar, just before the Yuyuan Gardens.  There are many, many shops selling all kinds of wares and a variety of restaurants but it is a Sunday and the streets are jam packed with people.

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Crossing the zig zag bridge, we finally enter the serenity of the gardens.

With its shaded alcoves, glittering pools churning with fish, pavilions and pines sprouting wistfully from rockeries, the Yùyuán Gardens is one of Shànghǎi’s premier sights.  Trees include the luohan pine, bristling with thick needles, willows, gingkos, cherry trees and magnificent dawn redwoods.

The Pan family, rich Ming dynasty officials, founded these gardens, which took 18 years (1559–77) to be nurtured into existence before bombardment during the Opium War in 1842. The gardens took another trashing during French reprisals for attacks on their nearby concession during the Taiping Rebellion. Restored, they are a fine example of Ming garden design.  With its ancient maze of grottoes, bridges, lotus ponds and pavilions, it’s now a peaceful oasis in the heart of bustling Shanghai and a national monument.

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After a great lunch at a local restaurant, we drove to the former French Concession founded in 1849 as a result of the Treaty of Nanking.  It’s a lovely mix of gorgeous tree-lined streets, old villas and European architecture where much of Shanghai’s past beauty and charm remains.

The foreign diplomatic quarter, top hotels, high end shopping and international bars and restaurants in the art deco buildings make this a stylish area and one of Shanghai’s most vibrant districts.

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Back to the ship for a very quick supper as tonight we are going to a live show – Chinese Acrobats!  This was an incredible display of strength, agility and flexibility.  Couldn’t take a lot of pictures but here are a few…

There were so many different acts in the show, it was truly amazing!  So glad we went.  Back on the ship in time to see the light show in Shanghai (they turn off the lights at 22:00).  Again, pictures don’t do it justice as they are changing all the time.  It was spectacular!

I don’t have a lot to report on our second day in Shanghai.  It was basically a shopping day.  First we took the shuttle bus to an area called The Bund, which is a famous waterfront and regarded as the symbol of Shanghai. The most famous and attractive sights which are at the west side of the Bund are the 26 various buildings of different architectural styles including Gothic, Baroque, Romanesque, Classicism and the Renaissance.

We walked along the boardwalk for a bit and it is a lovely area but we were focused on heading to the Asia Pacific Shopping area which we were told was a mecca for good deals on just about everything.  We hopped into a cab and after some negotiating and misinterpretation (no English, but a translator app), we finally arrived at this underground shopping mall.  It was massive with shop after shop after shop…a bit overwhelming.

The trick is not to make eye contact with the vendors because if you do, they virtually want to drag you into their shops.  If you are interested in something, be prepared to buy it if you can negotiate the price you want.  We ended up paying about 20% of their starting prices (inflated of course) but you cannot be bullied into buying something.  On several occasions, we walked away from a purchase only to be followed along with the price steadily going down.  This is not for the light hearted and you need to be prepared for them to be upset if you don’t get your price.

This is all in good faith though.  Although in one shop, I stopped to look at a belt.  The shop owner literally grabbed my arm and wouldn’t let go.  I had to pry her hand off in order for me to leave the shop!

I quite enjoy an adventure like that although it can be stressful to have to make buying decisions rather quickly.  We ended buying several things.

Back to the ship for a lovely sail away down the Huangpu River.  Next stop, back to Japan to visit Naha, Okinawa!  Thanks for reading along!


October 24/25, 2018 – Beijing, China


The Great Wall!  “He who has not climbed the Great Wall is not a true man” – Mao Zedong.  I am now a true man!

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China’s greatest engineering triumph is not one continuous entity but in reality, it exists in chunks interspersed with natural defenses (such as precipitous mountains) that need no additional fortifications.

We were very lucky that there were not as many people on the Great Wall as can be however, it was very smoggy that day and so pictures are not as clear as I had hoped they would be.

We had 1½ hours at the Great Wall and so I was determined to climb as far as I can.  As you can see from the picture above, there are no people in the photo but compare it to the photos below and you can see that I got above the “people” line.  Climbing all the stairs on the ship was good training for the hike up the wall.

There were some incredible views from the wall and being fall time, the colours were stunning, albeit muted by the smog.

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Our final stop in the Beijing area was the Ming Tombs.  This is the final resting place of 13 of the 16 Ming emperors.  The Ming Tombs follow a standard imperial layout.  In each tomb the plan consists of a main gate, leading to the first of a series of courtyards and the main hall.  Beyond this lie gates or archways leading to the Soul Tower, behind which rises the burial mound.  Three tombs have been opened to the public and we only saw one…Chang Ling.

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Our final stop before heading back to the ship was lunch at a jade factory.  While I was not initially impressed with the obligatory factory setting, it was much better than expected.  Firstly, the meal was excellent, again in a traditional Chinese family style setting where they just continue to bring out food, one dish at a time.

After the lunch, we had time to stroll around and look at the jade and yes, a salesperson followed you around happy to show you anything you were interested in.  It was all very expensive but what made it more interesting were all the larger piece costing thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars.  In fact, it was as much a museum to me as a sales opportunity for them and I enjoyed the artistry and precision that went into these pieces.

That’s it for Beijing!  It was an incredible 2 days in port with so much to see and do.  Next stop…Shanghai!  Stay tuned for more wonderful pictures!

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October 24/25, 2018 – Beijing, China

Our ship docked at Tianjin Port, the largest man-made sea port in mainland China.  The distance is 160 km to Beijing.  A short 1.5 hour drive right?  Wrong!  We have to plan for a 3 hour drive each way.  As a result, we opted for an overnight tour provided by the ship.  This includes return transfers from the port, the entrance fees for the sights, meals and overnight accommodation.  The cost is $900USD each.  Yikes!  We only decided to bite the bullet on this after our guide spoke on Beijing and the difficulties of going to Beijing on your own.  The bottom line was with the frightful traffic in Beijing, we did not want to risk the possibility of missing the ship on our second day.

The mistake we made was leaving this for the last minute and I would urge people to discuss an independent escorted shore excursion with your travel agent, which I know you can get for a lot less money and still have a great experience.  I should know better!

When someone says Beijing, what do you imagine?  A dirty, rundown city full of bicycles that is 50 years behind the times?  Not at all.  Beijing is a fully modernized city with beautiful new buildings and all the amenities.  Large shopping malls with all the high end stores.  The streets are clogged, not with bicycles, but with high end cars like Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Jaguars, etc.  The more common cars were VW, Buicks and Hyundai.  Not a lot of Japanese cars perhaps an indication of the relationship between the 2 countries.  This is Communist China? It is a dichotomy of the old and the new.

Beijing 2Our first stop is the Temple of Heaven.  It originally served as a vast stage for solemn rites performed by the Emperor of the time (known as the Son of Heaven) who prayed here for good harvests and sought divine clearance and atonement.  It’s really an altar rather than a temple.

Seen from above, the temple hall is round and the base square, in accordance with the notion “Heaven is Round, Earth is Square”.  The northern rim of the park is semicircular, while the southern end is square.

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The highlight of the park is the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, an astonishing structure with a triple-eaved purplish-blue umbrella roof mounted on a three tiered marble terrace.  The wooden pillars (made with fir) support the ceiling without nails or cement.  For a building 38m high and 30m in diameter, that’s quite an accomplishment.

Embedded in the ceiling is a carved dragon, a symbol of the Emperor.  Built in 1420, the hall was struck by lightening and burned to the ground in 1889.  A faithful reproduction based on Ming architectural methods was erected the following year.

Stretching out runs a long corridor, where locals sit and deal cards or just hang out.

After a lovely lunch, Chinese of course, we headed off to the Forbidden City…a place I have always wanted to see.  I would highly recommend watching The Last Emperor to get a good idea of the enormity of the Forbidden City.

This is China’s largest and best preserved collection of ancient buildings and the largest palace complex in the world.  This was the reclusive home to two dynasties of imperial rule, sharing 900+ buildings with retinue of eunuchs, servants and concubines, until the Republic overthrew the last Qing emperor in 1911.Beijing 17

In former ages, the penalty for uninvited admission was severe, although commoners wouldn’t have gotten even close.  Today, tourists enter through the Meridian Gate, which in former times was reserved for the use of the emperor.  Gongs and bells would sound imperial comings and goings, while lesser mortals used lesser gates.  The Emperor reviewed armies from here, passed judgement on prisoners, announced the new year’s calendar and oversaw the flogging of troublesome ministers.

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Through the Meridian Gate, you pass into a vast courtyard to the Gate of Supreme Harmony.  This space could hold an imperial audience of 100,000.  I’m glad there weren’t that many tourists there at the time.  As it was, there were enough!

Raised on a three-tier marble terrace are the Three Great Halls, the glorious heart of the Forbidden City.  The recently restored Hall of Supreme Harmony is the most important and largest structure in the Forbidden City.  Built in the 15th century and restored first in the 17th century, it was used for ceremonial occasions, such as the Emperor’s birthday.  Inside is a richly decorated Dragon Throne from which the Emperor would preside over trembling officials.  The entire court had to touch the floor nine times with their foreheads in the Emperor’s presence (kowtowing).

Behind the Hall of Supreme Harmony is the smaller Hall of Central Harmony which was used as the Emperor’s transit lounge.  Here he would make last-minute preparations, rehearse speeches and receive close ministers.

The third of the Great Halls is the Hall of Preserving Harmony, used for banquets and later imperial examinations.  A string of halls flanks the Three Great Halls not open to the public when we were there but can be used for exhibitions.

The area of where the concubines lived was interesting.  Apparently, the Emperor could have as many concubines as he wanted or needed.

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Finally, we exit the Forbidden City through a beautiful garden area.

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Our last stop before supper was supposed to be Tian’anmen Square.  Unfortunately, the Japanese Prime Minister was visiting Beijing and the Square was blocked off.  The closest we got was about ½ block away.  By that time too, it was already quite dark.  The traffic was horrendous and what was usually a 15 minute drive would take as much as an hour, so we were running late.  So, here are some rather poor pictures of Tian’anmen Square and I’m sad to say that we were not able to walk around the square at all.

Off to supper for a Peking Duck special meal.  Way too much food (very exceptional Chinese food) with the specialty being Peking Duck which the chef’s carved at the table.

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Finally, checked into the Crowne Plaza Beijing Lido Hotel which was exceptional.  After a very long and tiring day, it was an early night.  Tomorrow, the Great Wall of China and Ming Tombs!