Oceans and History in Hong Kong

After leaving the Philippines we spent a few days in Hong Kong before heading back to DC. This is our third time doing so, as United usually flies as far as HKG en route to MNL (I usually book the HKG-MNL trip separately so it’s cheaper), and it makes for a convenient “decompression” stop after the hectic holidays.

Cathay Pacific B744 at HKG Gate 3

On arrival at HKG we left our heavier suitcases at Left Baggage for the duration of our visit.( Total cost for three days was about USD90 but worth it not to lug two weeks of packing on the train.) Quick late lunch at the Food2, buy some Octopus cards, then a quick Airport Express and MTR ride to North Point.

Ibis

As before we stayed at Ibis North Point, but this time around I splurged a bit on a “Superior Harbourview” room. (Previous stays here had been in Harbourview rooms without the “Superior.”) The splurge was worth it; we got the same view of Victoria Harbour and Kowloon, but with a wide panoramic window dominating a slightly larger room. (Still a small room, but overall cheaper than a bigger room with similar amenities elsewhere in HK.) As an added perk, Ibis North Point now has free hotelwide wifi, and the connection was delightfully fast.

Ibis North Point Hotel Room View from Hotel Room

For dinner we tried the neighboring Chinese restaurant, recently renovated since we were last there and now called “Taste Fresh.” Staff still didn’t speak much English but with some menu pointing we got some fillet of grouper with corn sauce and bok Chou with mushrooms — more than enough to box for takeout. At some point a picture of Justin Bieber peeked in through a window from the side of a bus. There is really no escape.

Grouper with Corn Sauce and Bok Choy, Taste Fresh Restaurant, Java Rd, North Point, Hong Kong Bieber on Bus in HK spotted through North Point restaurant door

Ocean Park

Easiest way to get to Ocean Park is to take MTR to Admiralty, then transfer to the Ocean Park Citybus (dodging scalpers at the subway exit). You can get tickets at the ticket booth before boarding the bus, or just swipe an Octopus card and get tickets at the park itself, just a 15-20 minute ride through Aberdeen Tunnel.

Bus to Ocean Park Bus to Ocean Park

Ocean Park has changed greatly since I last visited: the rear Tai Shu Wan entrance has been closed (though the giant escalator still serves the slope), the cable car is now supplemented by a funicular tram called “Ocean Express,” and sea life from the old Atoll Reef has been moved to the new Grand Aquarium.

Ocean Park Entrance Ocean Park

We hit the Grand Aquarium first, marveling at the fisheye domes and grand viewing window. Lots of reef life — fish, rays, and sharks — and also several tanks on the side with interesting specimens like spider crabs and sea dragons.

Ocean Park Spider Crab Ocean Park Leafy Sea Dragon
Ocean Park Grand Aquarium Bubble Window Ocean Park Grand Aquarium Skylight
Ocean Park Grand Aquarium

After leaving the main tourist flow of the aquarium, we lunched at Neptune’s Restaurant,where we could watch more fish through the grand viewing window as we ate assorted antipasto, steak, and squid ink pasta.

After Lunch at Neptune's Restuarant, Grand Aquarium, Ocean Park

Sea life in the Grand Aquarium is just part of the Ocean Park experience; right nearby is the Asian Animals habitat, with panda bears, red pandas, salamanders, and assorted breeds of goldfish. The red pandas at play were especially fun to watch.

Ocean Park Sleeping Panda Ocean Park Salamander
Ocean Park Red Pandas
Ocean Park Goldfish

The Emerald Trail had a nice little suspension bridge, though I found the fake “Temple of Doom”-style snake-and-waterfall decor to be a totally unnecessary touch to what was an otherwise engaging nature walk, with assorted butterflies, birds, and “exotic” North American turtles.

Ocean Park Suspension Bridge Ocean Park Emerald Trail

Ocean Express is a campy “sea experience” tram ride; blue-tinted windows on the train darken the cabin to direct focus to the ceiling LCDs, which play an underwater video montage with a half-hearted action plot in which an octopus attacks the train and gets scared off by some dolphins. How engaging.

On the other side of the park we rode the Ocean Park Tower elevator, saw some sea lions at Pacific Pier, took the famous long escalator down the mountain, and rode the Wild West-themed Mine Train roller coaster.

Ocean Park Tower Feeding Sea Lions at Pacific Pier, Ocean Park
On the Ocean Park Escalator Mine Train Roller Coaster

We also checked out the Sea Jelly Spectacular, which was a lovely experience only slightly marred by obnoxious Vanessa Mae background music in one gallery.

Jellyfish

As dark fell, we finished up Ocean Park with one last visit to the panda habitat to watch the panda bears eat, and I bought a round red panda doll to bring home as a pillow. The bus ride back took a bit longer due to traffic, but was painless, and we got back to the hotel with lots of time to eat leftovers from the previous night’s dinner.

Post-script: the plushie souvenirs were adorable.

Ocean Park Shark Hairbands Snorkeling Seals

History Museum

Our previous visit to the Hong Kong History Museum had been marred by poor timing; too much of the day spent in the downstairs exhibits on ancient history and ethnic identity, only discovering the upstairs galleries with less than an hour of visit time left. Our second day was spent rectifying this oversight with a return to the museum for that upper floor. Still, the first floor did deserve a few picturesque stops:

Hong Kong Museum of History Hong Kong Museum of History

One particularly immersive upstairs exhibit is the “Old City” recreation, an early 20th Century street scene of commercial establishments and other cultural highlights, complete with boat on acrylic-water harbour and a trolley you can walk through.

Hong Kong Museum of History Hong Kong Museum of History
Hong Kong Museum of History

On a grimmer note, there was also a bunker-like gallery about the three years Hong Kong spent under Japanese occupation during World War II, and a replica of living conditions in Shek Kip Mei Resettlement Estates.

Hong Kong Museum of History

I was fascinated by the period toys and advertising for a plastic student briefcase similar to one I used to have as a child:

Hong Kong Museum of History Hong Kong Museum of History

There were also two cases of 1950s-1960s miniature comic book covers which provided an intriguing peek into the popular visual art style of the day — untainted by the current pop culture preoccupation with anime.

Hong Kong Museum of History Hong Kong Museum of History

I found this Yu Yi, “object of auspicious significance” presented to Sir David Trench in 1970, a real head scratcher. Meanwhile, downstairs, a group of mainland tourists in bright neon caps gathered.

Hong Kong Museum of History: Yu Yi, object of auspicious significance Hong Kong Museum of History: Tour Group

Kowloon Waterfront

After the museum, we walked down to the Sogo food court to grab some ramen and dim sum, then walked along the scenic Kowloon public pier to take in the skyline view before getting on the Star Ferry to Wan Chai.

Kowloon Public Pier

(I love riding Star Ferry to Wan Chai simply because there’s a brand of frozen Chinese takeout in the US called “Wan Chai Ferry” and whenever I see it I can say I’ve ridden a Wan Chai Ferry for real.)

Hong Kong Star Ferry

The red panda doll we got at Ocean Park is now named “Xiang Tau,” which roughly means “Like a head.” Here he is in front of our hotel room window before we left for the airport the next day:

Xiang Tau, our Ocean Park Red Panda Souvenir Doll