Hong Kong – Pretty in pink dolphins

The markets were great. The parks were great. But if you asked me what my favourite activity was during our week in Hong Kong, I can easily say it was our tour with Hong Kong Dolphin Watch to see the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins. The ones that live off the coast of Hong Kong are the Chinese white dolphin subspecies. Even more unique is that they are the pink variety not the white. These dolphins are born black and then slowly as they age they go grey and then eventually pink in their adulthood.

HK Dolphin Watch is the only eco-tourism operator for dolphin tours in HK. They offer tours on Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays so plan accordingly. The tour met in front of the Kowloon Hotel by the Tsim Sha Tsui MRT and we were taken by coach bus to the pier at Lantau Island where we boarded a beautiful boat captained by an exceptionally experienced captain. He seemed to possess a secret dolphin radar as he could locate dolphins with great accuracy.

It was quite the sight to see the bright pink of the dolphins in the grey sea, especially on an overcast day. Unfortunately, my little point and shoot camera can just give you blurry shots of tiny pink dolphins. Our memories are thankfully much sharper.

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After many shots of water or blurred spots of pink, I finally got this shot. This one is a young adult that has almost lost all of its grey colour.

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Can you see the tiny pink head and beak?

What I wished my photos looked like but alas it’s a photo taken from the Dolphin Watch website:

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Credit: Ken Fung, Hong Kong Dolphin Watch

The population of the pink dolphins are plummeting. There are only 61 of these special dolphins left in Hong Kong’s waters. They are currently being threatened by dwindling food supply (due to overfishing), heavy boat traffic, pollution, and habitat loss.

The Hong Kong pink dolphins live in a very select habitat at the mouth of the Pearl River. Unfortunately, their habitat is extremely polluted due to the combination of waste from Hong Kong and the waste coming down the Pearl River from China. All this gets absorbed into the dolphins’ bodies and in the case of females, the accumulated toxins gets passed onto their babies through their milk in high concentrations. The consequence is higher rates of disease and mortality for dolphin calves.

The dolphins are also facing significant habitat loss due to development and land reclamation. There are current plans for a third runway and passenger terminal for the Hong Kong International airport on Lantau where an expected 650 hectares of land is to be reclaimed. And for the past six years there has been construction of one of the longest bridges in the world right through the heart of the dolphins’ habitat.

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Currently under construction is the Hong Kong-Macau-Zhuhai Bridge, one of the longest bridges in the world will go right across the Pearl River Delta.

Watching the last pink dolphins in the wild is something even more magical than Disneyland. It was also a melancholy experience because we know the threats they face and their future is unpromising. If you get a chance go see them before it’s too late.

 

 

 

 

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Hong Kong – Battle of the Parks (Disneyland vs. Ocean Park)

As much as the kids enjoyed seeing all the flowers, fish and birds in all the markets, they enjoyed our two days at Hong Kong Disneyland and Ocean Park Hong Kong even more. And we were once again able to save money by buying our tickets through Klook (I promise I’m not making any money by promoting them. I just like a good deal!).

We already love the magic of Disneyland having visited California Disneyland on several occasions but we heard that Ocean Park HK was an even better amusement park than HK Disneyland so we decided to visit it first.

OCEAN PARK HONG KONG

Ocean Park HK was easy to get to. A quick MRT ride to Admiralty station and then a direct bus (#629 – just follow the crowd and get in line) got us there. The bus costs $10.60 HKD for adults and $5.3 HKD for children age 4-11.

Ocean Park is set on a pretty impressive piece of real estate on the Southern coast of Hong Kong Island. The park itself is divided into two sections – the Waterfront and the Summit. The entrance of the park is at the Waterfront and in order to get to the Summit, you can either take the Ocean Express train or the Cable Car. The queue for the cable car tends to be really long so unfortunately we did not get a chance to ride it. From what I could see the cable car offers a fantastic view of the coastline and the park.

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Ocean Park and the Hong Kong Island coastline

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The cable cars that go between the Waterfront and the Summit

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Entrance to Ocean Park HK

The Waterfront is home to the lovely Grand Aquarium, a handful of arctic animal exhibits and an area dedicated to rides for younger children and their agreeable older siblings.

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The Grand Aquarium which we all thoroughly enjoyed

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Incredible octopus at the Grand Aquarium

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Many of its rides were aquatic themed of course

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Someone is obviously too big for these rides but she was a good sport to go on them with her little brother

The Summit is home to the Ocean Theatre where the wonderful sea lion and dolphin show takes place, a few other marine animal exhibits and the most important part for my daughter and her dad, the thrill rides.

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The dolphin show was educational and promoted good stewardship. We were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the facilities and the resources dedicated towards conservation and education.

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The view from this ride almost makes me want to try it. Not. It was voted by our family experts as one of the best roller coasters they have ridden.

Just like at Disneyland, Ocean Park also had shows throughout the day including a night time water, light and fire show. We caught the main daytime show that combined acrobatics and figure skating. We now know where the figure skaters who don’t make it to the big leagues go. I didn’t feel like the show was very good but the children enjoyed it. We were all in agreement though that the end-of-the-night water, light and fire show was good. We had a great day at Ocean Park HK but was eager to see how it would stack up against HK Disneyland.

HONG KONG DISNEYLAND

Not surprising, HK Disneyland was also super easy to get to. Directly on the MRT and the magic starts when you transfer trains at Sunny Bay station. From Sunny Bay station to Disneyland Resort station you board the special Disney trains where character statues are placed throughout and windows and grab handles are in the shape of Mickey Mouse.

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At the entrance of Hong Kong Disneyland

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Mickey surfing from the spout of a whale. Seems like it should be at California Disneyland instead of Hong Kong.

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Excitedly waiting for the gates to open

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View while waiting for the rope to drop

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The requisite family photo

HK Disneyland had many of the same areas and a lot of the same rides as California Disney but the lines were definitely shorter even though we were there during the Christmas holiday season.

There was Main Street, Fantasyland, Adventureland and Tomorrowland.

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Main Street

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The Kid at Adventureland

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Tomorrowland

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There was no Star Tours at Tomorrowland but there were storm troopers a lucky boy was able to get a photo with

In addition to these, HK Disneyland also had Toy Story Land and Mystic Point which were new for us.

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Toy Story Land

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The jewel of Mystic Point, Mystic Manor

HK Disneyland also had big shows, parades and fireworks like California Disneyland. And all just as wonderfully executed.

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HK Disneyland’s show is The Lion King

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Flights of Fantasy Parade

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Paint the Night Parade

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The magic of Disney wins

We loved our day at HK Disneyland and our biased opinion is that HK Disneyland wins over Ocean Park HK. I think the magic of Disney is hard to compete against though.

 

 

 

 

Hong Kong – Markets, Markets, Markets

Along with its abundant transportation options, Hong Kong also has a plethora of markets to explore. We were able to easily visit the Ladies Market, Goldfish Market, Flower Market and Bird Market/Garden in one day by taking the MTR to Mongkok Station. From there you can follow the many signs or just ask for directions. Almost everyone can speak enough English to direct you.

Ladies Market

Clothing, handbags, accessories, toys and various electronic gadgets can be found at the Ladies Market. Bargaining is acceptable but you won’t find much of a discount from the initial quoted price, perhaps only a few HK dollars.

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Ladies Market

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In need of a HK t-shirt, you’ve come to the right place

Goldfish Market

Goldfish Market is more of a street where every shop for a few blocks is filled with aquariums and bags of goldfish. There are even shops that just sell live coral but photos were not allowed in those shops. The kids loved checking out the different kinds of fish.

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Bags of goldfish in all shapes, colours and sizes

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Bags of sea plants

Flower Market

If you love flowers like I do, you will love walking along this street. The sight and smell of fresh cut flowers is amazing.

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Beautiful ready-to-go arrangements

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Shops with all kinds of potted flowers and plants all along the street

Bird Market/Garden

Walking through this market street made me think of my grandfather who I haven’t thought of in a long time. He always had a couple of caged songbirds in his apartment in Vancouver’s Chinatown. Much of his pastime was spent happily taking care of them.

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Men gather to socialize and show off their songbirds. Interesting there’s not one woman engaging in this activity.

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Beautiful birds in beautiful cages

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Full house

Hong Kong

As you all know we took off to Hong Kong for the Christmas holidays. Hong Kong has something to offer everyone – amazing international eats for the foodie, beautiful ocean and mountain vistas for the nature lover, endless shopping and skyscrapers for the city lover, and limitless entertainment possibilities for families looking for something to burn off their children’s (seemingly also limitless) energy.

Traveling from Guangzhou to Hong Kong is super easy. And for foreigners like us we can go as often as we like. However, if you are a Chinese citizen you have to apply for a visa, which allows only two visits annually. The train from Guangzhou East Railway Station to Hung Hom Station in Kowloon is a quick and easy 2 hours and costs about 200 CNY for an adult and half the price for children age 5 and up. Tip: Book well ahead if you want to go from Guangzhou to Hong Kong on a weekend as trains on Saturdays and Sundays tend to sell out well in advance.

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The comfortable train between Guangzhou and Hong Kong. Offering snacks and drinks for sale.

Hung Hom Station in Kowloon is also a stop on the efficient and convenient Hong Kong MTR system. From here you can access the rest of Kowloon, the New Territories, Lantau Island and of course Hong Kong Island. It makes sense to purchase an Octopus Card for your visit as it offers a reduced rate per ride and you are even able to use your Octopus Card at some grocery stores, restaurants and on ferries such as the Star Ferry.

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Octopus cards for the MTR system and a plethora of other uses

Taxis are also plentiful but crossing from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island incurs an additional tunnel toll charge and this varies depending on which tunnel you take (from 20 HKD to 55 HKD). There’s also an additional 5 HKD per luggage. A taxi from Hung Hom to Hong Kong Island will run you about 100 HKD so the MTR is definitely a more economical alternative. We were able to access almost everything we did using the MTR system with the exception of one bus to Ocean Park.

Other than taxis, buses and the MTR, Hong Kong also has trams and ferries. We managed to ride both the Hong Kong Tram (otherwise better known as the Ding Ding) and the Victoria Peak Tram as well as the Star Ferry.

The 111 year-old Hong Kong Tramway offers double decker electric trams that runs the whole length of Hong Kong Island’s North side and costs a measly 2.30 HKD per adult and 1.20 HKD per child. It’s slow and bumpy but it is living history and a cheap way of seeing Hong Kong Island.

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Ding Ding!

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Double Dings at a stop

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Our tram was comic themed

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My boy and I on the Ding Ding

The Victoria Peak Tram is one of the ways to get up to Victoria Peak, the highest mountain on Hong Kong Island. The top of The Peak offers views over Central, Victoria Harbour and Lamma Island. There are other ways you can get to the top – walk, bus, taxi but the most popular is the Peak Tram. For our first visit we decided to take the tram for the experience but we bought our tickets at a discount through Klook . The best part of the deal was that it included a guide that allowed us to skip the enormous queue. For this reason, alone, booking this deal through Klook was worth it. Tip – the queue to come down the mountain on the tram starts getting long in the late afternoon so be sure to leave early or choose to walk or taxi down.

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The massive queue we were able to skip thanks to our purchase through Klook:)

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On the Peak Tram

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Peak Tram climbing up to Victoria Peak

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Hong Kong y’all

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Love this city!

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I had to capture this scene we passed on the way to the Peak. It was Christmas Day and all these domestic workers (mostly Filipinos) were socializing in this space sitting on pieces of cardboard. No where to go when you have a day off if you live with your employer.

The Star Ferry takes passengers across Victoria Harbour from Central (in Hong Kong) to Tsim Sha Tsui (in Kowloon) and costs between 2 – 3.40 HKD depending on which deck you ride (upper/lower) and what day of the week (weekday/weekend). We were there over the Christmas holidays so it was a bit crowded but there were still plenty of seats on the upper deck. Tip: If you can get seats along the window on the left side it will give you a great view of the Hong Kong skyline (and lights if you’re taking the ferry at night). The backs of the benches swivel so you can sit in the direction the ferry is sailing.

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Victoria Harbour with the Star Ferry in the foreground

I think we took full advantage of Hong Kong’s extensive transportation system in our week there. In the next few posts I will share with you all the places we went using this system.

Hong Kong we love you

I’m interrupting my posts on Cambodia with a hearty thank you to Hong Kong for allowing us to watch Star Wars and giving us the Internet free from the Great Firewall. Yep, we escaped to Hong Kong for the Christmas holidays just for both of these. Nothing says holiday spirit like stormtroopers and fast Internet speed. Hong Kong we love you!

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Back to my posts on Cambodia next!