We left the hotel in Xian at the crack of dawn, 6.00am if I recall correctly and headed to the airport , destination Hong Kong. By now early starts were the norm, we had already prepared ourselves for the amount of travelling involved, well all but the overnight one ! The next fortnight would at least be spent in one bedroom or should I say "stateroom", the posh name for our inside cabin on the Sapphire princess cruise liner. Living out of a suitcase can be a bit tedious so it was nice to be able to unpack and hang up your clothes for a change.
The journey to get on board took longer than anticipated, our original plan was to get checked in and head off in to town as soon as we arrived. The ship wasn't due to sail until the next day but unfortunately the weather in Hong Kong was awful, absolutely throwing it down with clouds hanging low over the whole of Hong Kong.
It made for some dramatic scenes of the centre of town lit up in the distance though.
It certainly wasn't what we'd planned to do up circumstances dictated. Fortunately we had been here before but I had hoped to see the views from Victoria Peak in the dark which would have been a bit different.
Instead we settled for a night on board.
First port of call was the bar at the back of the boat, from our previous trip on the Sapphire Princess we knew it was usually quiet and was the best spot to watch the sun go down most evenings!
OK it was dark that first evening!
but as this photo shows it never got busy during the whole of the cruise.
Back to the first night though and the first request was two draft beers.
They didn't have any and when queried the answer was that they'd run out on the previous cruise. Strangely exactly the reason given 3 years previously on our first night. The truth is they don't serve draft beer on these Far Eastern cruises, they only have cans and even they were in short supply. We were regularly told that we would have to go to another bar or choose something else. Not good! And to make matters worse an overpriced can of beer at $6.75 then had a 15% service charge added. Service? They simply placed the unopened can and a glass on the bar. That was "service"!
This went on for a few days until two of us lodged a complaint. Not only about shortages and having to pay for higher priced items as a result but also in appalling service. Things did improve marginally but only because the bar we were using must have been told to a) Make sure they had our usual brand in stock and b) started opening the can for us. Still had to pour it though!
Anyway, that was the bar situation, there were other issues too but more of that later. We dined alone on our first evening , had lovely service from our waiter even if the food wasn't particularly memorable.
Next day though we were delighted to see the weather had returned to full sunshine and so we, along with most of the rest of Bus 2 who were going on an included trip to Ocean Park we congregated in the cruise terminal as requested by the land tour company's instructions at 8.30 am. Our coach turned up in time to take us at 10.00am. According to our new guide that was what they had been told.
Anyway, not everyone had decided to go to the park, Theme Parks aren't everyone's cup of tea including ours and we had debated ducking out. One the other hand we could leave when we wanted and make our own way back to ship if necessary.
As it happened we really enjoyed our day!
The park is laid out over a hillside and to get you to the top there is a cabin lift which is fairly elevated from the ground giving anyone with a fear of heights food for thought!
I for some reason had decided to only take a small lens as the chances of seeing wildlife were small. I soon realised my mistake.
The 105mm lens needed some big crops in the final picture!
This wasn't the only wildlife I saw though, there were many Black Kites and Tree Sparrows but the shot I really liked was this one.
It's a Red-whiskered Bulbul and in the background is the reason I wanted to give Ocean Park a try. They have some Giant Pandas there. I don't really favour zoos but the likelihood of ever seeing a Panda in the wild is fairly remote so this was a compromise.
First though we looked around the top of the hill after getting off the cabin lift. Ignoring the theme park rides we headed for the South Pole or whatever the attraction was called. To my amazement inside was a really nice set up, huge tanks of water attractively designed and everything you could ask for if you are a Penguin!
They could even stand on ice if they wanted to.
You ask yourself is this natural to spend life as a captive but if you look at it from a Penguin's point of view perhaps it's actually preferable to the hardships and constant threats when living in the wild. They seemed happy enough anyway .
Next we saw Walrus.
Just two of them and although they too had a large pool I wasn't quite so sure about their lot in life. Jury out.
They also had an aquarium which again was one of the largest I have ever seen and I'm sure the different species from sharks and rays to smaller fish were probably quite content.
Anyway, with time moving on we headed back down to the lower section of the park where the Pandas are kept.
That turned out to be a good move, the queue for the cabin lift was now huge as more people had arrived in the park. Earlier we'd walked straight on having ignored the advice to visit the Pandas first before they too got busy.
The Panda enclosure wasn't gigantic, in fact the Red Panda enclosure seemed fairly small and the Pandas were just lying around sleeping for all of the time we spent there.... and I did revisit after a spot of lunch.
On the other hand so did the Giant Pandas once they had finished eating.
These animals are just so cute!
They spend nearly all their waking hours searching for and eating food as there isn't a lot of nutrition in their staple diet of bamboo leaves.
With their food provided maybe it's an advantage to have more time to sleep!
Judging by the number of keepers and the immaculate state of their enclosure you can only guess these two Pandas are very well looked after, with everything monitored and recorded to make sure they are in good condition.
So yes, it's a zoo but it is done rather well in my opinion.
Anyway, I certainly enjoyed seeing them but it had left no time to see anything else in Hong Kong . We were taken back to the ship well before sailing time but my intention to walk around the nearby inland marinas were dashed. Three years ago there had been a wealth of birdlife but now there was much development going on, access was limited as were views over the water. I decided not to bother trying and instead stayed on the ship.
Our tour was now over a week old and my bird count was pretty dismal.
Ah well, I went with low expectations so it wasn't too disappointing.