小樽 Otaru Day Trip

We had finished our first week of Japanese language classes at JaLS and we were upon our first full weekend in Hokkaido. We originally tried to get bus tickets to Hakodate for the Saturday, but all the times we wanted to take were sold out. So we decided to visit Otaru this Saturday instead.

Rapid Airport at Otaru Station

Otaru is a about a 40-60 minute train ride on the JR train. If you grab the Local train, then it stops at every single station. However, if timing works for you, then you can grab one of the express trains and bypass all the smaller stations. Regardless of the speed of the train, the ticket still costs ¥640 for a one-way ticket. The ride from Sapporo to Teine is all above ground and offers a view of the city from high above the streets. However, soon after Teine station, we are travelling right along the coastline of Ishikari Bay until we reach Otaru.

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Sapporo Beer Museum

After what was a long afternoon of getting lost in Sapporo, my wife, her two classmates, and I finally arrived at the Sapporo Beer Museum. When we arrived, the first thing I noticed is what a huge parking lot was near the museum. I’m still not used to seeing large swaths of parking in Japan. It blows my mind that there’s actually space in Japan for large surface parking.

The next thing that caught my eye was the beautiful red brick warehouse and it’s tall smoke stack bearing the iconic red star and name of Sapporo Beer. The museum building was built 1890 and was a sugar factory in its first incarnation. Sapporo Beer took over the facility in 1905. Then in 1987, it became the Sapporo Beer Museum. Admission is free to the museum. And we all know that free is affordable!

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Hong Kong’s Stanley

If there ever was a nice tourist trap, I think Stanley in Hong Kong would count. This tiny little area on the hilly south side of Hong Kong Island is a magnet for tourists and locals alike. The famed Stanley Market attracts travellers looking for the quintessential Hong Kong souvenir. The waterfront attracts locals looking to enjoy some southern exposure on a sunny January afternoon. Expats love to travel here for a feel of something back home they might miss. This is Stanley.

stanley market on google maps

 

Over a half dozen trips to Hong Kong and I hadn’t been back to Stanley since 1988 when I was just wee pre-teen lad. My only memory of Stanley was getting this cheap little fuzzy caterpillar toy that would move around almost magically via strings attached to my hands. It was a long windy bus ride on the upper deck. Riding along all the tight turns along the rocky edge of Hong Kong Island is an experience on its own.

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Hong Kong’s Yuen Long

Chinese calligraphy in Ching Shu Hin house in Yuen Long

Yuen Long is a large district in the northwest section of the territory. It was one of the largest town centres in the New Territories outside of the urban core of Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. I had been meaning to visit this part of Hong Kong on many occasions. I actually got there this time with my sister, parents, and mother-in-law in tow.

First off, you should know about the special day pass for the Yuen Long and Tuen Mun areas of Hong Kong. This pass is not very well advertised on the MTR website. There are only two stations from which you can buy such passes – Nam Cheong and Mei Foo. The pass allows for unlimited travel on the West Rail, the Yuen Long/Tuen Mun LRT, and MTR-run buses in the area.

Tuen Mun – Nam Cheong Day Pass

This was also the first time I ever rode the West Rail. This line was the last of all the Hong Kong rail lines for me to travel upon. I could finally check it off my list.

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Hong Kong Museum of History

In continuing with the free museum days on Wednesdays in Hong Kong, my sister and I made our way to the Hong Kong Museum of History in Kowloon on Chatham Road. In terms of rail transport, the museum is within easy walking distance of the Hung Hom Railway Station. However, most tourists may actually find themselves walking due east from the busier Nathan Road.

This is the second time I’ve been to this museum. There aren’t many temporary exhibits here. The one temporary exhibit I wanted to see was an extra cost on top of the usual admission.  So much of what I saw was the same as before. However, it is still worth walking through this very extensive museum.

Diorama models of Qing Dynasty Hong Kong

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Sai Kung – a local Hong Kong getaway

In my trip to Hong Kong in January, I wanted to make sure I hit up a few places that I had never been to. The urban cores of Hong Kong offer up an electric and fast-paced experience, but sometimes I just want something a little slower and less commercial. Sai Kung was one of these places that offered something less common place for Hong Kong.

choi hung to sai kung minibus route

To get to Sai Kung from the rest of Hong Kong, you have to get yourself to Choi Hung MTR station. It’s on the green Kwun Tong Line in Kowloon. From there, you have to find the #1A or #92 minibus. The minibus ride itself is its own adventure. These buses are like minivans outfitted with 16 seats. Once all 16 seats are filled with paying bums, the bus doesn’t take any more passengers. Remember not to take the seat with the wheel-well. You’ll have to sit scrunched up for the whole 40 minute ride if you do. Oh, and hold on tight when the minibus turns.

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Food Street Markets in Hong Kong

Being a North American, the traditional food and produce market is a mostly foreign concept. Most of us in North America drive once a week to the supermarket for our food. In Vancouver, I guess we’re lucky enough to have places like the Granville Island Public Market and various farmers markets that introduce supermarket shoppers to the traditional market.

Hong Kong is full of old street markets. Although most of them are no longer truly on the street. Most of them have been moved into large multi-story buildings. The name street market still adorns most of the entrances, but it’s a “vertical street of sorts”

Central Market

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Climbing Up to Hong Kong’s Mid-Levels

Hong Kong Island is one very hilly place. Most visitors and tourists would only venture up the hillside to visit The Peak. Even then, most people would likely take The Peak Tram (which in itself is a tourist attraction). If you have an extended period of time, then it may be worthwhile to explore off the beaten path into non-touristy Hong Kong.

On this January Sunday, I was meeting up with an old high school classmate. I don’t think I had seen him since my university days in Vancouver. So it was a great chance to meet up with him and his wife. We had set a time to meet at the Starbucks at Park Road and Bonham Road. Okay. I’ve heard these street names, but I had no idea where it was. Thank goodness for Nokia Maps and their downloadable city maps.

On my map, I found the intersection and ran a straight line down from there to the tram line along Des Voeux Road. It happened to follow along a street called Eastern Street. This street would be the subject of my pre-meeting exploration.

Riding the tram along Des Voeux Road

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The View from the Upper Deck

One of the great things of the Hong Kong transportation system is the ubiquitous double decker bus. They are as much a symbol of Hong Kong as they are a symbol of London. The ride is comfortable on the upper deck of these tall vehicles and offer a different view of the dynamic urban landscape that is Hong Kong.

In the tight urban spaces of Kowloon, the double decker literally offers a towering view of the people below. I feel almost like a voyeur peering into people’s lives without them realizing. I could create different stories of the people rushing along the busy streets.

Here I see a man carrying his daughter. He’s navigating the busy Kowloon sidewalk in hopes of getting his child to preschool on time.

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Hong Kong – Central Ferry Piers

What do you do when you’ve just witnessed your cousin bring the bride home for a traditional tea ceremony and you have a few hours to kill before the wedding banquet? I don’t know about you, but my sister and I went for a long walk down to the Hong Kong waterfront, namely the Central Ferry Piers.

(L) Macau Ferry Terminal, (C Back) FCC Tower, (R) Central Ferry Piers

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