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Have you felt the London Vibe?

A few years ago I was on my way to a member’s club to meet friends when I stopped in a small corner store for a couple things.  I guess I had an odd look on my face as the store clerk asked “Are you ok mate”?  “Yeah,” I replied, “I’m just tired”.  He looked at me with a smile and said “Everyone in London is tired”.  I think the store clerk may be right.

London is a city full of energy.  Everything moves fast and furious.  You wake up, get ready for the day, step outside onto the pavement and before you know it, it is time for bed again.  Seriously, this is how it feels for me most days.  The days race by in what seems to be an instant.  March through September fly by and the next thing you know is the Christmas lights are switched on in Oxford Street.  It’s incredible.

Being in London is living.  I always say – I go to London to live life and I go to Texas to sit down and take a breath.  There is a rush of energy in London that can only be matched by New York City.  You can feel this lightning speed energy simply by walking down any London street.  You can’t look anywhere and not see something moving.  Everything is in motion it seems.

People are always in a hurry, waiters in restaurants move fast, cars zip by, and tall double decker buses zoom past one after another after another.  Lights constantly flash in your eyes. Motion doesn’t stop underground as “The Tube” stops at a platform every few minutes.  Nothing stops.  Commuters rush through underground tunnels like ants bringing home food to their queen.   It’s crazy.

Have you ever had a quiet moment on the streets in Central London?  I haven’t found one and I’ve been walking London’s streets for more years than I can count.  I remember being on Oxford Street on a Saturday once and literally having a panic attack.  I never have panic attacks.  That’s not me.  On that particular day, however, all I wanted to do was get away from the crowd and the noise.  Now I avoid Oxford Street at all costs and I’ve even found an alternative route when I head that direction.  Since that day I learned quiet is inside me and that’s a bit of comfort when I find myself in a tense London situation.

The fast paced energy of London is actually a good thing.  The vitality of the city makes you feel alive.  You might even find there to be an extra step in your skip so to speak.  It’s a good feeling, if not a bit exhausting.  I always think better and my creativity is sparked simply by being aware of my surroundings as I walk.

London is a city where you can be anonymous and even alone amongst a million people.  As long as you like yourself and can keep yourself company, being anonymous and alone is great.  I love it myself.  If you need constant attention and validation, you might find London a wee bit hard, cold and callous.  Can you imagine walking through a city so crowded as London and never speak to someone and no one speaks to you?  It’s interesting.

I like the anonymous bit to be honest.  It’s especially nice when I’m out with my camera.   I can get lost in London without being literally lost.  I zone everything and everyone out.  It’s me, my camera and London.  Sometimes I feel as if I have the entire fabulous city all to myself.   If anyone speaks to me, it’s tourists and not Londoners.  Tourists want to know what I’m doing or how to capture a great photo.  Londoners might glance over to see what I’m doing but mostly they could care less.  It’s great.  It’s brilliant and part of the London vibe.

London is not for the faint of heart.  If it’s rainbows and butterflies you’re looking for, go to the Rainforest Café.  When you want the vim and vigor of a city full of liveliness, step out onto to the streets of London.  

London will challenge you.  Challenge her back.  Walk with your head held high, look people in the eye, offer the odd smile and don’t let anyone tell you London is not for you.  London is for everyone of all walks of life.  She is especially great when you contribute to her energy.

At the end of the day when you go home and prop your tired feet up, or you return to your hotel exhausted on your bed, remember the day you had.  Rewind everything that happened during the day.  Remember all the sights, sounds and motion that engulfed your senses.  And when you’ve done all that, remember what a brilliant city London is.

No matter how, when, why or where you travel around the world you are sure to receive one of the best educations of your life.  The lessons you learn may be small and unnoticeable or they may be huge and life changing.

A foreign culture may make you realise something you didn’t know about yourself and sometimes even move you to tears.  My visit to Bhutan took me to a state of peacefulness I’ve not found anywhere in the Western world.  I can’t begin to describe the effect the tiny kingdom had on me except to say when I viewed photos and video from the journey, tears rolled down my cheeks.  It’s a mystery to me why the tears came even today.  All I know is Bhutan touched me beyond measure.

The taste of new food, aromas, colors and even travel sounds can leave an impression on you well after you leave a destination.  The sensory elements of travel may inspire you to add them to your own creative adventures in cooking or music or handicrafts.

You may be in awe of Big Ben or Mont Saint Michel glowing against the night sky.  Istanbul’s Blue Mosque or the Old Medina in Marrakech send your senses into sensory overload.  A sunset on a beach in the Caribbean or Bali may change the way you look at the world.

But most of all, it is the people you meet along the way who will touch you in ways you never though imaginable.  Maybe you’ll understand that we are all just trying to make it in this world.  We just happen to speak differently or pray a little different.  Inherently, we’re all good people.

And so when I wanted to show the many places I’ve travelled throughout the world, I decided to do it in one go in one epic video presentation which I’ve titled “Travel Around The World With The Gentleman Wayfarer.”  There are approximately 3000 photos in the fast-paced presentation that span all the way around the world.  The places and people I’ve included have impacted my life in one way or another.  This is my tribute to every one and every place that has made a difference in my life.

Travel with an iPhone or any mobile phone is very common today.  If you are keen to improve your travel photography skills, a mobile device is a great way to do it.  Phones are easily accessible, they fit in your pocket and you really don’t have to think too much.

Consider these iPhone Travel Photography Tips during your next journey.

1) Strengthen your travel photos with different focal lengths.

The iPhone is equipped with two lenses, a wide-angle 28mm and a portrait lens, 56mm. Different focal lengths tell different stories. A wider angle generally gives a better sense of place, while a telephoto brings the viewer into the details of the subject.  Consider this while you’re shooting and experiment with both.  And remember – one key element to great photo composition is filling your frame.

2) Keep Using Your iPhone in Low Light

Some of my favorite images have been shot well after the sun has gone down.  I love the challenge of low light photography.  In the past, I would have put my iPhone away thinking the images wouldn’t be usable, but now with a new sensor and faster aperture (f/1.8), the iPhone autofocuses and captures substantially better in low light.

3) Be In The Moment But Also Think Ahead

Travel photography is about capturing the unknowns and unexpected.  Always be looking forward, and consider using the iPhone’s burst mode so you don’t miss a moment as it happens.   To use burst mode, press and hold the shutter button until rapid fire begins.

4) Buy An Unlocked iPhone So You Can Switch to Local SIM Cards.

Communication is super important while traveling.  If you’re roaming internationally, the cost can be astronomical.  Buy a local SIM card as it allows you to make new plans, call someone, google something, and more, while you’re on the go. In photography, this means your GPS data will be recorded with your photo.  The iPhone’s memories feature can organize your images together by location and create simple and fun video vignettes.

Later, you can also look on a map in Photos and see exactly where you captured different photographs.  I use this feature as I don’t always remember the names of the places where I’ve taken photos.

5) Bring a Small Tripod

A small, compact tripod can be helpful and is a great way to capture time-lapses, low-light images, and more. While the iPhones now all have a stabilizer built in, the extra support from a tripod can be especially helpful with the iPhone optical zoom.

Keep in mind that shooting with a longer focal length, like the iPhone optical zoom, amplifies camera shake.  You’ll find it will naturally be more difficult to get a sharp clear shot while shooting with 2x, especially in low-light environments or unstable foundations, like a moving vehicle.  To compensate, use a mini-tripod or experiment with burst mode. Sometimes I’ll shoot a 20-shot burst just to ensure that I have the sharpest shot possible.

6) Upload Your Photos to the Cloud Daily

Thanks to a the iPhone’s water-resistant feature, you won’t be losing our pictures during accidental swims, but it could be left at a hotel, or worse, picked from your pocket, which happened to me in Ecuador. At the end of the day, the iPhone can be replaced, but your pictures can’t. Don’t get two weeks into a trip only to lose them all in a moment.

If you don’t have your laptop because you’re traveling light, consider a SanDisk iXpand.  It’s essentially a USB flash drive with a Lightning connector, so you can quickly and easily off-load your images each day.  I love mind and take it everywhere I travel.

Be sure to keep your backup and your iPhone in separate bags for extra safety.

7) Play it safe.

Don’t put your iPhone—or any valuable—in the tray when going through security. Instead, put it in a pocket of your bag before sending it through the x-ray.  This way it’s protected from being accidentally—or intentionally—carried off before you get through the metal detector.

8) Play To The Strengths of the iPhone

One of the greatest strengths of the iPhone as a camera is its agility.  You can focus on getting to the best shoot spots instead of worrying about lugging gear. Don’t weigh it down with a bunch of unnecessary DSLR lens adapters.

Try leaving your DSLR at home and travel super light.  The iPhone  doesn’t replace your DSLR, but it’s plenty powerful and a really fun way to experience and capture the environment around you.  You’ll love leaving the extra chargers, batteries, lenses, and big tripod at home for a change.

  • Venice is spectacular in every shade of light
  • The night is Venice’s time of tranquillity
  • Water and Acqua Alta are beautiful even if they are menacing
  • You’ll marvel at every canal you encounter
  • Getting ‘lost’ in the maze of narrow streets and alleys are what makes Venice fascinating
  • Watching night fall over Venice is ever so romantic
  • Walking through St Mark’s Square after midnight
  • Venice is pure magic
  • Venice is arguably the most romantic city in the world
  • The city is charming at every turn
  • It’s possible Venice has more bridges than streets
  • Palaces, churches and museums
  • Rich, remarkable history of Venice
  • Cruising the canals on a private boat
  • You’ll be inspired by the art, which is everywhere and part of everyday life
  • Just because it’s Venice and there’s no other place in the world like it
  • Be stunned by the detail in everything
  • Pause and drink in every square in Venice.  Or, stop and have a drink in every square in Venice
  • The enduring and formidable architecture
  • Private water taxi, especially from the airport.  What a way to arrive in Venice
  • Picture perfect views 
  • You’ll think you’re in a movie
  • Mysterious streets especially in the darkness of the night
  • Your love affair begins here whether you’re with someone or not

Gallery of Venice Photos

 
Watch and listen to the Campanile Bells in Venice

Venice Italy GPS Coordinates ::  45.4408° N, 12.3155° E

Map of Venice Italy

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The moment I saw a photo of Mont Saint Michel in a magazine I was mesmerized.  The notion of an island off the coast of France topped by an awe-inspiring medieval monastery still in use today immediately captured my imagination.  The realization that I could not only visit Mont Saint Michel but also stay at the very base of the Romanesque chunk of history sent me over the moon.

Mont Saint Michel is one of the world’s most magnificent sights, there is no doubt.  Aside from picturesque, why should you visit Mont Saint Michel?

Mont Saint Michel is connected to the mainland via a causeway which until recently was a thin natural land bridge.  During high tides, the bridge was engulfed by water during high tide and revealed at low tide.  Victor Hugo described the tides as á la Vitesse d’un coeval au galop, “as swiftly as a galloping horse”.   What a superb description because the tides can roll in at one meter per second.  You wouldn’t want to be caught in that.  In fact, over the years more than a few lives have been claimed by the tides and even quicksand.  In 2014 a new causeway opened which allows visitors to safely cross to the island but also opens the flow of seawater so once again the mystical quality of Mont Saint Michel reveals itself during high tide.  You can download the current tides schedule at Mont Saint Michel before your visit.

The abbey built high on the island catches your eye from great distances.  If you’re driving, it will seem as Mont Saint Michel gradually appears out the earth like magic.  The slow emergence into your view only adds to the anticipation of what lies ahead, though the sheer magnitude of this wonder is only appreciated when you stand mere feet away from the entrance.  For me, it is inconceivable how such a grand structure could be built on an island over a thousand years ago.

When you enter, you’ll walk directly into a medieval town though the buildings are filled with modern restaurants, souvenir shops and museums.  Many of the tourists walk no further as the climb to the abbey, which is at the very top, is difficult.  If you choose to climb to the abbey, you’ll have peace of mind knowing few others will join you.  Walk the steps.  By the time you’ve reached the famous Escalier de Dentelle (Lace Staircase) to the gallery around the roof of the abbey church, you’ll have climbed no less than 900 steps.  The climb is worth every inclined step you take.  I guarantee it.

Halfway up Grande Rue is the medieval parish church of St Pierre, which is still used today.  The church features a beautifully carved side chapel with a dramatic statue of St. Michael slaying the dragon.  The day I visited I was treated to the sight of a monk pulling on a long rope to ring the church bell.  When the rope ascended toward the bell, the monk was lifted off the ground.  The memory stays etched in my memory and I can only hope to witness this again.

The Grand Degré, a steep, narrow staircase, leads to the abbey entrance, from which a wider flight of stone steps leads to Salt Gautier Terrace outside the dignified church.  Alongside, you’ll find stunning arcaded cloisters which offer sweeping views of the bay. Be sure to wander at your leisure amongst the maze of rooms, staircases (yes more) and vaulted halls that make up the abbey.

If you’re able, let your creative imagination take you back hundreds of years to enhance your experience.

Information about The Abbey at Mont Saint Michel ::

The Abbey is open every day except January 1st, May 1st, and December 25th.
From May 2nd – Aug 31st, the hours are 9 am to 7 pm with the last admission at 6 pm.
From Sept 1st – April 30th, the hours are 9:30 am to 6 pm with the last admission at 5 pm.
The entry fee is 9 euros for individuals age 25 and older.
The rate is 7 euros for individuals age 18 to 25.
Under age 18 is free.
Under age 26 and citizen of a European, Union Country is free also.
Mass is celebrated at 12:15 pm from Tuesday to Saturday and on Sunday’s at 11:30 am. Other masses are conducted at 7 am during the week and at 8 am on weekends.

Interesting Facts About Mont Saint Michel ::
During the 100 Years War, England captured all of Normandy except for Mont Saint-Michel.
The Statue of Archangel Saint Michael atop the Abbey spire also acts as a lightning rod to protect the island from electrical storms.
Mont Saint-Michel was the first site in France to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Stage 11 of the 2013 Tour de France ended at Mont Saint-Michel.

Where is Mont Saint Michel?
GPS Coordinates of Mont Saint Michel ::  48.6361° N, 1.5115° W

Map Showing The Location of Mont Saint Michel

Old Map Showing the Layout of Mont Saint Michel

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Qatar is known by many as a layover at Doha’s fabulous airport or a mere day stopover.  For a couple of years, all I knew of Doha was the drive between the airport and the hotel.  During the airport-hotel transfers, I’d notice Doha’s interesting elements that were enough to decide to give Qatar enough time to explore.  

I especially love the architecture in Doha, by the way.  The buildings aren’t your run of the mill square or rectangular boxes we so often see in London or New York.  Doha’s buildings are inspiring and spark a creative mind’s imagination.  Can you imagine a building touching you enough to make you decide to make a place a destination?  

During my first extended stay in Qatar, I quickly received a warm welcome.  Yes, the weather is beyond your normal hot and humid. In fact, when you outside expect to perspire and expect it to be part of the experience.  What I really mean by warm welcome is the feeling I got from everyone in the city wherever I happened to be.  I’m always met with smiles and a genuine sense of belonging. I especially appreciate being greeted with a handshake then placing the hand over the heart.  There’s a warmth to the gesture that I find most endearing.

In Qatar you’ll discover a country rich in tradition yet you will discover it to be dynamic and exciting at the same time.  The country is indeed a land of contrasts where contemporary sophistication melds beautifully with old world hospitality.  Qatar is unexpected in so many wonderful ways.  Think of the Middle Eastern land as a rich cultural tapestry waiting for you to discover.

If this isn’t enough to convince you to make Qatar your next destination, consider the following top reasons to visit.

Museum of Islamic Art 
Mathaf Al-Fann Al-Islami (Museum of Islamic Art) houses one of the world’s most impressive collections of artworks crafted according to traditional styles from across the Middle East and central Asia.  It’s in this museum you’ll find glorious decorated ceramics, glass and textile items, stunning carpets, metalworks and richly detailed antique manuscripts.  The museum building is iconic, designed by architect, I.M. Pei.  The Museum of Islamic Art building itself is a work of art both inside and out.

The Corniche
Curved around Doha Bay is a long waterfront officially called the Corniche.  Enjoy splendid vistas of Doha, from the inspiring high rise buildings in the business district to the distinctive shapes of the Museum of Islamic Art.  Traditional wooden dhows (boats) line the bay reminding us of Qatar’s seafaring past.  The area is pedestrianized for a safe stroll from end to end.

Katara Cultural Village
I visited Katara Cultural Village out of curiosity.  I reluctantly left the cultural centre wanting the same in my city.  In fact, I want to conduct a photography workshop with the Qatar Photographic Society.  Katara is a creative interpretation of the region’s architectural heritage.  The village consists of a stunning amphitheatre, small theatres, various art and photographic galleries and performance venues where you can see concerts shows and exhibitions.  All arts housed in one innovative place.

Souq Waqif (Shopping)
Doha offers shopping for any and all discerning shopaholic.  You’ll find luxury brands galore and glorious scents not readily available in the western world.  But, for an authentic taste of traditional commerce, make your way to Souq Waqif after the sun sets. Meander through the maze of small shops and vendors who offer anything from spices to perfumes, jewellery, clothing, Middle Eastern handicrafts or a treasure trove of trinkets.  As you stroll through the souq, you’ll be treated to cultural shows, traditional music, and art.  The atmosphere in the night air is eclectic and one not to miss.

Desert Safari
For a true sense of Qatar’s terrain, be sure to set aside time for a desert safari.  The largest area of sand dunes in Qatar lies to the southwest of Doha.  The high dunes are brilliant for viewing, climbing – and if you’re adventurous, dune bashing.  Like most dunes around the world, the desert scenery changes constantly with shifting winds.  The colours of the sunset are especially breathtaking from the dunes and you’ll be treated to a change in the colour of the sand as well.  And while you’re at the desert sand dunes, travel further south for the impressive Inland Sea, Khor Al Adaid.  The sights are simply beautiful and ones you’ll remember long after you leave.

I offer only a handful of reasons to explore Qatar, though there is so much more to discover in this magnificent country.  Not only will your senses be touched, but your mind is encouraged to think.  As I visit Doha over and over again, I’ll update this page.

 

 
Where is Qatar?
GPS Coordinates of Doha Qatar ::  25.2854° N, 51.5310° E

Map Showing the Location of Qatar

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The tradition of night markets in Hong Kong reaches back to the days when the region first became a major trading centre.  The days were hot, and with no air conditioning back then, the best time to go shopping was in the evening.  Night markets were located throughout Hong Kong though over time and re-development schemes the markets disappeared one by one.

Temple Street Night Market is the last remaining example of a traditional Hong Kong night market.  It has been a fixture of the Jordan/Yau Ma Tei District since the 1920’s and perhaps even before.  The market takes its name from the nearby Tin Hau Temple and you may have seen it as a backdrop in a number of movies.

People visit to buy inexpensive goods from bags, fashions and accessories, or jewellery, trinkets, electronics and gadgets.  Plentiful delicious street foods tease any passerby whether its a feast of snacks, noodles or congee that is all served well into the wee hours.

The market is a popular place for visitors and locals alike to congregate in the evenings.  Various forms of entertainment are common while you meander up and down the buzzing street.  Expect to find mystic fortunetellers or tarot card readers from whom you can receive glimpses into your future.  There is a long tradition of fortune telling in and around temples tho’ the fortunetellers are not located inside the market.

The fortunetellers and tarot card readers are closer to the Temple itself as they have always been.  Simply walk along Temple Street Night Market northwards, go past Yau Ma Tei Library until you reach the Temple gardens. 

A variety of methods are used including the examination of hands or ears and the use of Chinese astrology.  Be sure your fortuneteller knows sufficient English or you may leave a bit confused.  Personally, I find Eastern philosophies fascinating so I’d go just to satisfy my curiosity.

After you know your good fortune continue up the road and turn right into an area where the opera singer tents are located.  In the tents, you’ll find opera singers who perform Cantonese Opera.  If you’re unfamiliar, Cantonese Opera is a unique singing style with its own music genre which is different than what you and I know.

Amateur singers come together to practice and perform in order to encourage one another and develop their craft.  You’ll find amateurs from all skill levels, from professional quality to beginners.  It’s said that a few singers from Temple Street have gone on to professional careers in Opera Houses.  You can listen to the opera singers from 8:30 pm until 11 pm most nights except Wednesdays.

Hong Kong is the epitome of a modern metropolis.  Hidden away in Temple Street you’ll find a thriving cross-section of traditional and modern Hong Kong culture, cuisine, commerce and society that you’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else.  Temple Street Night Market is an enduring example of theatre and festivity of a traditional Chinese market.  And, it’s on show nightly.

Gallery of Photos of Temple Street Night Market

 
Where Is Temple Street Night Market?
Temple Street Night Market GPS Coordinates ::  22°18’21.20″ N 114°10’11.53″ E 
MTR Yau Ma Tei Station, Exit C, turn onto Temple Street at Man Ming Lane; or, 
MTR Jordan Station, Exit A. Turn right onto Jordan Road and then take another right onto Temple Street.

Map Showing the Location of Temple Street Night Market

 
You might also be interested in 12 Awesome Reasons To Visit Hong Kong

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A relatively new way to explore Hong Kong arrived at the Hong Kong TramOramic tour.  With the purchase of a ‘Golden Ticket’, you’ll have two days to get the most out of your purchase.   And, though the tour is included in its name, don’t expect a tour guide.  Be prepared to conveniently travel through the bustling city and hop off at various points to explore on your own.

The stylish trams are reminiscent of those used in the 1920’s and a brilliant way to discover Hong Kong without the frustration of getting lost.  The historical trams are open-top so you can clearly see major landmarks along the tram network and learn about daily life in the city.  The TramOramic tour is an hour long though with the purchase of the Golden Ticket you have two days to also use the regular Hong Kong Tramway network to explore Hong Kong on your own.

Listen to the sounds heard while riding  Hong Kong’s Tram ::

Tramoramic Golden Ticket (Images)

 The hour-long tour itself begins at one of two starting points.  I used the Western Market Terminus as it is convenient to Conrad Hong Kong.  The other terminal is Causeway Bay Terminus.  (See the route maps below).

Tramoramic Tour Route Map (Eastbound)
Tramoramic Tour Route Map (Westbound)

Simply hop on board the 1920’s vintage double-decker tram for an enlightening journey where you’ll see sights such as Statue Square, Macau Ferry Pier, Tak Wing Pawnshop or Man Wa Lane.  You’ll also see important Hong Kong landmarks like the Bank of China Building, the Supreme Court, Times Square, Lippo Centre and Tai Yau Plaza.  You’ll even pass by Happy Valley Race Course and Jockey Club as well as Happy Valley Cemeteries.

You’ll hear pre-recorded commentary along the way which points out the various sights along the journey from one terminus to the other.  Do know there is an onboard ‘host’ to answer any questions you may have.

The beauty of the Hong Kong Tramoramic Tour is you can use it as hop-on-hop-off transportation to see sights on your list of Hong Kong things to do or even have lunch.  Hong Kong Tramways provides suggested sights to see, which I’ve included below.  Feel free to download the guides to create your own enjoyable experience.

Download the Hong Kong Tramways Colonial Tour Guide

Download the Hong Kong Tramways Heritage Tour Guide

Download the Hong Kong Tramways Art Tour Guide

Download the Hong Kong Tramways Foodie Tour Guide

Download the Hong Kong Tramways Shopping Tour Guide

Quite honestly, I was reluctant to buy a Golden Ticket for the ‘tour’ simply because I avoid structured tours.  I’m pleased I did because this service provides an easy way to explore Hong Kong at your own pace and allows for you to explore on your own.  No one is herding you on and off a tram, nor is anyone rushing you.  I like to take a travel experience as it comes and the Hong Kong TramOramic is fully flexible to allow that.

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For roughly 12 USD or 95 Hong Kong Dollars, Star Ferry’s Harbour Tour is a real sightseeing bargain.  More importantly, Star Ferry offers splendid views of Hong Kong you can’t see otherwise.   There are few sight-seeing activities I’ll partake in these days, but this ferry is worth breaking my rule.  A ride on the water is especially nice when there is a golden sunset ready to glisten on the harbour’s waters.

Star Ferry itself is a beloved Hong Kong icon.  Until 1978 Star Ferry was the only way to cross between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon.  It shuttled Hong Kong residents for over 120 years until the Cross-Harbour Tunnel opened.  How remarkable the ferry runs as a means of transportation even today.

The harbour tour is an excellent choice for touring Victoria Harbour in roughly an hour.  National Geographic Traveller names crossing Victoria Harbour as one of the “fifty places of a lifetime.”  NG Traveller is enthusiastic it seems, though I’d agree if you should add a ride on the water to your list of things to do in Hong Kong at least once.

You’ll board the tour at Tsim She Tsui Star Ferry Pier at the tip of the Kowloon Peninsula.  A stately double-decker “Shining Star” replica from the 1920’s version awaits you.  Do beware of over-exuberant Australians who are willing to fist fight over the front seats. Thank goodness this gentleman wasn’t involved, though I did witness such sordid behaviour in disbelief.

That said, choose your space, sit back and relax.  Enjoy the glorious Hong Kong views and wonder how the high rises piece together in such neatly packed developments.  I chose to stay on deck for most of the journey with my GoPro attached to the bow of the boat.  You can view sights from the Star Ferry Harbour Tour in the video above.

Star Ferry also offers a night tour and a Symphony of Lights Tour for a higher price, though still affordable for any traveller.

Gallery of Photos from Star Ferry Harbour Tour

Star Ferry’s Harbour Tour Route Map

Star Ferry Timetable

Where Is Tsim Sh Tsui Star Ferry Pier?
GPS Coordinates of Star Ferry Pier ::  22.2938° N, 114.1687° E

Map Showing Location of Tsim Sh Tsui Star Ferry Pier

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Macau is often referred to as the “Las Vegas of the East”, though the truth is Macau is the gambling capital of the world. Macau is a modern city with a unique old-world charm and a rich heritage of Chinese and Portuguese culture for visitors looking for attractions beyond the gambling tables and slot machines.

I visited Macau purely because of curiosity.  What I found was unbelievable.  I had known Macau was a growing gambling mecca though I didn’t expect the magnitude of the casinos and construction of more all around me.  Like other popular destinations around the world, Macau stays true to its roots and culture which is evident mere steps away from the glittering casino lights.

I explored both the casino areas and the authentic neighbourhoods to get a true sense of the area.  It’s easy to be ‘wowed’ by the glitz but it’s Macau’s genuine side that won me over.

When you plan to visit Macau, consider the following interesting facts:

Macau was considered a de facto colony of Portugal and was returned to China on 20 December 1999 Macau was initially leased by the Portuguese merchants in 1557.

The area functioned as a trading centre, shipping gold, silk and spices back to Europe until the 18th century.

The Portuguese first arrived in the 16th century and the last Portuguese governor left in 1999; thus Macau is the first and last Asian country to remain a European colony.

Macau was once a human trafficking point for Chinese slaves to Portugal.

 Before the Portuguese arrived, Macao was originally known as Haojing, meaning Oyster Mirror, or Jinhai, which literally means Mirror Sea.

Locals believe the name Macau derived from Matsu, a deity who is the goddess of seafarers and fishermen. It’s believed Matsu worshipped at A-Ma Temple built in 1448.

Portuguese and Cantonese are the official languages of Macau.

The area has its own dialect of Portuguese called ‘Macanese Portuguese’. There is also a distinctive creole generally known as ‘Patuá.

95% of Macau’s population is Chinese. The population density of Macao is the world’s highest at 20643 people per square kilometre.

50% of Macau’s residents are Buddhist.

The official name of Macau is Macau Special Administrative Region.

Macau is governed under the ‘one country, two systems’ arrangement for fifty years from 1999 by an elected local authority. In the year 2049, Macau will revert to Beijing’s full control.

One of the most convenient and affordable ways to travel between Macau and Hong Kong is by ferry. The Hong Kong International Airport even allows visitors to bypass Hong Kong Immigration and transfer directly into a ferry to Macau. 

Macau is the only place in China where gambling is allowed.

 50% of Macau’s revenue comes from gambling. It’s no surprise that 20 % of its population is employed by the casinos.

The impressive Venetian Macao is owned by the Las Vegas Sands and is the largest casino in the world. The Venetian is also the largest single structure hotel building in Asia and the sixth largest building in the world by floor area.

 
New hotel rooms were constructed at a rate of 16 per day to keep up with Macao’s exploding tourism industry.

In 2012, Macao had the world’s fastest-growing economy.

The original Casino Lisboa and 15 stories round Lisboa Hotel tower were built in 1970 making it Macau’s oldest casino.

 
One of its most famous residents is ‘The King of Gambling’, Stanley Ho Hung Sun, who had a 40-year government granted a monopoly of gambling in Macau.

With the non-stop development of casinos in Macau, it has become the world’s largest gambling market, far outgrowing iconic Las Vegas.

Gambling revenue in Macau is five times the amount in Las Vegas.

There are more than four times as many gambling tables per 1000 residents that hospital beds. The Cotai Strip is often referred to as the largest tourism project in the world.

Cotai Strip is named after the Las Vegas Strip and is a major land reclamation joining the islands of Coloane and Taipa.

 The entire area of Macau is no larger than the size of 700 football arenas.

The Historic Centre of Macau (also known as “澳門歷史城區” in Mandarin and “O Centro Histórico de Macau” in Portuguese) inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2005 is actually a collection of 25 historic monuments and public squares which bore witness to the assimilation and co-existence of Chinese and Portuguese cultures in Macau.

The Cathedral of St. Paul, built by Jesuits around 1580-1625 AD formed Macau’s ‘Acropolis’ and was the largest Catholic church of its time in East Asia. The baroque five-tiered façade and the 66 flight of stone steps leading to it are all that remains of the Cathedral of St. Paul.

Monte Fort (also known “Fortaleza de Nossa Senhora do Monte de São Paulo” in Portuguese and the “Fortress of Our Lady of the Mount of St. Paul” in English) constructed from 1617 to 1626 was principal military defence structure and held off the attempted invasion of Macau by the Netherlands in 1622.

The Guia Lighthouse dating from 1865 was the 1st modern lighthouse on the Chinese coast.

The A-Ma Temple existed in 1488 long before the city of Macau came into being and is an exemplary representation of the true diversity of Chinese culture, inspired by Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism and multiple folk beliefs.

Plan Your Visit With This Collection of Macau Tourist Maps

 
Where Is Macao (Macau)?  
GPS Coordinates of Macao ::  22.1987° N, 113.5439° E

Map Showing Location of Macao

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A visit to Big Buddha, or Tian Tan Buddha, is regarded as a must when you visit Hong Kong.  

The impressive Buddha statue, erected in 1993, sits 34 meters high (that’s 111.55 feet) as a landmark atop a hill amongst superabundant green vegetation. Clouds swirl around Buddha then swoop into the valley below.  It’s like Mother Nature dancing before your eyes.  One of my best memories during my visit was the fast-moving clouds that engulfed me as I wandered the site.  

The majestic statue draws pilgrims from all over Asia as well as numerous tourists such as myself on this day.  And, despite the constant chatter and selfie-takers, the setting is rather peaceful.  There is a calm brought about merely by nature itself.

 The cable car itself is called Ngong Ping 360.  You’re promised an inspiring 25-minute cable car ride to Big Buddha. Without a doubt or hesitation, I can say the ride exceeds anyone’s wildest expectations.  In fact, I’d go as far to say the cable car ride to Big Buddha is the best part of the experience.

The cable car smoothly soars through the air high above rolling lush green mountainside that seems to never end.  The panoramic vistas of Lantau Island, and well beyond, are a feast for the eyes.  If you love natural landscapes as much as I do, you’re sure to be delighted.  As an added bonus, the cable car drifts through low lying clouds for an ethereal experience.  It’s entirely possible the smile on my face stretched from ear to ear during the ride.  I felt at peace as if nothing was wrong in the world.  You can see bits of the cable car ride in the videos in this post.

Ngong Ping Cable Car is 5.7 kilometres (3.5 miles) long.  The cable car system consists of eight towers which the gondolas pass through on their way from Tung Chung and Ngong Ping, where the Po Lin Monastery and Tian Tan Buddha are located.

Big Buddha faces north towards Mainland China.  It sits atop a lotus throne and its official name is Tian Tan Giant Buddha.  The statue sits on a three-story alter modelled after the base structure found in the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing.  the body of Buddha is made up of 160 bronze pieces.  The head of Big Buddha is modelled after statues in the Longmen Grottoes.  The Tian Tan Buddha was forged using bronze and gold, which glitters and glows under sunlight.  And finally, the legs of Buddha sits in the same position assumed by Sakyamuni Buddha when he attained enlightenment under the famous bodhi tree. 

The eyes, lips, the incline of the head and right hand, which is raised to deliver a blessing to all, combine to bring a humbling depth of character and dignity to the massive Buddha.  It took twelve (12) years to complete Tian Tan Giant Buddha.  As a visitor, expect to climb a healthy 268 steps for a closer look at this stunning statue.  Savour the feeling when the clouds flurry around you and enjoy the sweeping mountain views that can be seen from the base of Big Buddha.

Opposite the statue, you’ll find the Po Lin Monastery.  Po Lin is one of Hong Kong’s most important sanctums and is often referred to as “the Buddhist World in the South.”  The monastery is home to many a monk and is rich with colourful representations of Buddha throughout.  Stroll through the beautiful garden to simply take in the scenery.

If you enjoy photography or videography, this is a journey you’ll want to experience.  There are numerous photo opportunities and the brilliant part is you’ll capture Tian Tan Buddha from various perspectives.  

I visited the area via a structured tour, which I don’t recommend.  What I dislike about most organized tours are time restraints and the rush to get from point A to point B.  Make your way on your own or organize a private guide so you can enjoy the day and the experience at your leisure.

Where Is Ngong Ping 360 and Big Buddha (Tian Tan Buddha)?   22.2540° N, 113.9050° E

Map Showing The Location of Ngong Ping 360 and Big Buddha in Hong Kong