Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Travelogue- Hong Kong, 7-10 Oct '08

Budget details

Total return flight cost was RM 727/ person (including tax, insurance, checked baggage & meals)
Took a free & easy package from for RM 600/person which includes hotel accommodation for 4D3N, with return airport transfer and half day city tour.

Day 1 - Kowloon

Took AA flight at 0700 hrs. Arrived HK 20 mins early, at around 1040 hrs. (HK time is the same as Malaysian time)
We were supposed to go to the counter as indicated in our faxed copy of our itinerary, apparently no one was waiting for us. My mom did see a “Mr T Noriani” signage, but we figured, it couldn’t be her – although the resemblance is so near

Finally we got it sorted out, we were given the airport bus ticket to transfer us to our hotel – Metropark Kowloon. The HK airport is located on an artificial island reclaimed from Chek Lap Kok and Lam Chau.

The bridges linking the airport to the Kowloon peninsular (at mainland)

Our hotel room is just nice – affordable, has 2 extra pillows, 2 mineral water bottles replenished daily and a jug kettle . My only grouse about the hotel is that they ask for HKD 500 deposit, although I have paid for accomodation in full. I asked whether it was a normal procedure to do so, but they didn't understand me.
Anyway,the hotel is about 10 minutes walk to the Mongkok East MTR & 15 minutes walk to Ladies Market.There is also a free shuttle bus service (hourly) from the hotel to the Tsim Sha Tsui – Nathan Road area. The bus drops us at the New World Centre Shopping Complex, which is just a stone throw’s away from the Avenue of Stars. So this was our first stop.
We strolled along the Avenue of Stars / Promenade by the Victoria Harbour, with the skyscrapers & the South China Sea as backdrop. Avenue of Stars is like the Holywood Boulevard where they have HK artistes cemented hand print & signature. It was breezy, the weather was just nice. The promenade is on the Kowloon peninsula (mainland side) while the business center opposite is on Hong Kong island.

Posing at promenade

My mom hearts Andy Lau ;-)
We then took a Star Ferry 1 hour cruise around the Victoria Harbour which cost HKD 50/person (about RM 25/person). I thought of taking a junk cruise, but just couldn’t find a counter, so Star Ferry it was.

View at Victoria harbour

Olympic Ring

By the time we finished our cruise, it was already 5pm, and we were hungry. We headed to Nathan Road, where there are an abundant of halal eateries at Chungking Mansion. This is also a handphone enthusiast’s paradise, with the latest models being sold at a fraction of the price of those sold at shopping malls. Most of the sellers here are Pakistanis, including our restaurateur. Well actually, the ‘restaurant tout’ found us wandering around looking for halal food, so he shoved us right straight to his premise, the Pakistani Mess.

We ordered 2 chicken briyani (it was huuuge!) so we shared it, and packed the other one for breakfast. We also had aloo gobi (potato & cauliflower)-my mom’s fave and palak panneer (spinach with Indian cheese – my fave !) and masala chai (tea). Food in HK costs a bomb! Our dish cost us HKD 170 (about RM 85), although the restaurant was just a mamak restaurant standard. Luckily the taste was good, so it was enough to make us full & happy. We then head back to the hotel.

HK at nite. My best shot of the trip. I heart my Lumix :-)
Victoria harbour view at nite

Our hotel - Metropark Kowloon. Recommended!
Day 2 – Shenzhen, China (well, almost!)

We planned to go to Shenzhen today. Took the MTR East Rail Line from Mong Kok East to Lo Wu. Cost us HKD 33 / person one way. Lo Wu is the border between HK & Shenzhen where the immigration terminal is. Took us about 45minutes from Mong Kok East to Lo Wu.

MTR - spacious & efficient!

When we reached Lo Wu, we went straight to the visa office to make our visa to enter China. (Malaysians need visa to enter China. However, HK & Macau are exempted). Only to be told that we had to go back to the visa office in Wan Chai, which is at HK island, more than an hour away. I was so frustrated, I vowed never to come back to China! (yeah right, I don’t think I meant it at that time LOL). I read from the internet that we can just make the visa upon arrival at Lo Wu but this was not to be. We did ask around at the other counters but they still gave the same no-no answer duh.

We felt so disappointed because we have changed some money to Renminbi for spending in Shenzhen because it’s soooo much cheaper there than in HK. E.g. mineral water bottle in HK cost HKD 4, but cost only 50 jiao- or sen in China. (Note: 1 Renminbi = 1.15 HKD) Renminbi is slightly stronger than HKD.

While I continued to sulk & drown in sorrow (haha I’m exaggerating), my mom saw a Malaysian couple & approached them. K Nik & husband (I never got to ask her husband’s name) was on their way to Tsim Sha Tsui to make a visa for her as hers was expiring on that very day. They told us that China stopped issuing visa-on-arrival since the buildup to the Olympics to control the incoming rush of people to China. But the Olympics was already over! (I continued to sulk ;-p)

Anyway, K Nik told us she has a business in Shenzhen, then suggested to us that we should stay in Shenzhen instead of HK because things were so much cheaper there ! (My ears were burning hearing this LOL). She also offered to show us around if we do decide to go back there. She also said that halal eateries were abundant there! The only downside was that no one spoke English & you had to survive getting around by sign language or have the place you are headed to written in Chinese. Suddenly it felt tempting again & I didn’t sulk anymore ;-)

Lo Wu: HK-Shenzhen,China border

So we went to Tsim Sha Tsui together with the couple to check out the visa agent (apparently there’s another agent office which is nearer than Wan Chai). But I got back to sulking mode when the lady behind the counter told us that:
1. We can only make single entry visa (no multiple entry)
2. It’ll cost us HKD 960 (RM 480) to make the visa !!!!!!!!!!!
3. Visa will only be ready the next day at 6pm

Memang takde rezeki nak pergi Shenzhen. Even K Nik didn’t want to make her visa there (although her case was more urgent, because she couldn’t stay in China anymore the next day). We then exchanged hp numbers, said our goodbyes & made our separate ways. It’s back to the hotel for us as we were already hungry by now.
After lunch & solat, we walked to Tung Choi Street (or Ladies Market). It’s like Petaling Street, this market. But it was in no way as cheap as the other markets that we’ve went to in Shanghai & Beijing in our previous trips.

The street market: Ladies, Sports & Electronics

I also had a bad experience here at one of the stalls selling jade accessories. I was holding this jade bangle & were asking for the price (HKD 160 mind you, it’s not cheap for Petaling Street standard!!). I said no thanks politely & put it back. She reduced her asking price, then she grabbed tight my wrist. I still said no & laughed, but she held me tighter! Then she held tight my mom’s wrist! I tried to release her hands off me, but just couldn’t, she was grabbing it so tightly. So drastic measures had to be taken. I was thinking either to kick her or just scream out loud. I decided to scream NO!!!!!!!!!!! as loud as I can, then only she released us both. People were looking at us. We both bolted, never to return again. That was scary! Luckily it was a lady who held me, not a guy!

We then took the hotel shuttle bus from there back to Nathan Road where we found a nice & reasonably priced souvenir shop & bought our souvenirs peacefully (plus with air-cond) there without any harassment.

The nice souvenir shop at Nathan Road. That's my mom

That night we had our dinner at a halal Chinese Restaurant – Beijing Beef at Kowloon City. We had to take a taxi as there’s no nearby MTR to the premise. We had the hotel concierge write down the address in Chinese so it’d be easier for the taxi driver to understand. We ordered 2 bowls of noodle, again the portion was huuuge, so we shared one & we tapau-ed the other one. Of course we just had to have tofu, our favourite !! (I have lots of fave food – I love to eat! ) Dinner cost us about HKD 140 (RM 70), although the restaurant is just a small eatery standard (like those at Wisma Central beside KLCC). So it’s true that the cost of living is very high in HK. We saw across us, a family of FOUR sharing ONE bowl of noodle, with a separate beef & squid dish. Suddenly I felt ashamed as we might have just insulted them by lavish eating. Sorry, we had no idea! Interesting note: tapau is also tapau in HK. They understood us, cool eh?

Beijing Beef restaurant

Noodle & tofu !!
Day 3 : So-called half day city tour

Our free & easy package included the half day city tour. Our HK tour agent – Asia Pacific Tour guide – Mr Terry came to pick us at the hotel at 8.30 am. Another Malaysian family & three Filipino youths also joined us.

We were then brought to the Arena of Stars where me & mom had already been there the first day. The tour agent cameraman (Note : If you take a tour package, there will always be a cameraman who will take photos / videos of you & will then try to persuade you to buy them- and usually you will buy them – because you do not want to be harassed. The trick to avoid this: Decline politely if they want to take pictures of you. Know that the click of the camera does not come free)
Then they took us to the Jewelry City – it’s a jewelry shop!
Note: Tour packages will always include trips to jewelry/silk/tea/medicine shops.
We just looked around, it was way beyond our budget.

Last stop was Aberdeen Fishing Village at HK island. To go there, we had to cross the sea via the underwater tunnel (no, you cannot see fishes, the tunnel is not transparent, sorry). One thing you admire about HK is the excellent transport network. The MTR connects you to every nook & corner of HK (OK, except my Beijing Beef restaurant I suppose, but I could still walk actually, just didn’t prefer to do it at night). They have the tram system – a double decker at that! They also have double decker buses & subway tunnels where you can walk in comfort without needing to cross a busy road, and they are inter-connected from one shopping mall to another. Their public transport is efficient and about 90% of the population use public transport. It’s really cool, you don’t have to buy a car! I only saw luxury cars and I didn’t see any motorcycles. But I didn’t see any houses on land, only apartments, but that’s another story ;-p
Back to Aberdeen. Here is where the fishermen of HK lives, on houseboats. They are among the poorest in HK. They now make a living by providing sampan rides around the bay. We had to pay HKD 50/person for the sampan ride here btw, it’s not included in the cost of the city tour.

Old folks rowing their boat

Fishing village. Notice the high rise building surrounding the village

Jumbo floating seafood restaurant - possibly the biggest (& most expensive) restaurant in HK

Houseboat: here's where the fishermen live
We were already back to the hotel by 11.30 am. A 3-hour city tour. What a rip off! The itinerary stated stops to Victoria Peak mid-level, Repulse Bay & Stanley Market, but ours did not include these!
We still had plenty of time to kill. We decided to go to Victoria Peak. First we had to take the shuttle bus to New World Centre, then walk to the MTR at Nathan Road. Then we took the MTR from Tsim Sha Tsui to Central (Cost HKD 8.50) This MTR goes thru the underwater tunnel, cool eh? From Central, we walked to the Peak Tram (signboards everywhere, easy to find the way). Peak tram ticket cost us HKD 33/person return. Senior Citizen would cost HKD 23/person only, but my mom did not qualify for this because here in HK age requirement is 65 years old & above – that’s their retirement age. People there had to work longer because of high cost of living. Terry told us that the bus driver for our city tour was 75 years old & still working! He told us retirement benefit was only HKD 300 (RM 150)/ month!

Posing at peak tram
Back to Victoria Peak. From here we could see the view of Victoria Harbour & the skyscrapers at the business center. It’d have been better if we had gone up in the evening with the blinking lights. Anyway, Madame Tussaud’s wax museum is up here at the Peak Tower shaped like a semi-circle (like a mangkuk to me). There are also shops up here, but they are all expensive! A cup of hot chocolate at McD’s costs HKD 16 (RM8)!

Posing at Victoria Peak

View from Victoria Peak

Victoria Peak Tower

Bank of China tower

Mid-levels escalator

We then went back to the hotel & had dinner at Kowloon City again. We wanted to eat at the other restaurant – Islam food, but it was full to the brim – must be very tasty I suppose. So we re-visited Beijing Beef, but this time had steamed rice with beef & tofu dish! Yummy!

The other restaurant - Islam Food

Day 4 – Last Day!
Since our flight back was only at 2050 hrs, we still had almost a full day in HK. We checked out at 11am, left our luggage at the hotel & took our last shuttle bus trip to Nathan Road. We had some last minute shopping there, & we also had our prayers at Kowloon Mosque at Nathan Road.

Kowloon mosque
We had lunch at Chungking Mansion (Vege Briyani, again with aloo gobi & palak paneer – yummy!!) We went back to hotel at 4pm & waited for the airport bus to come at 5pm. We reached the airport around 6.15pm

Vege briyani, palak paneer & aloo gobi. Yummy!

The HK airport was huge – so it was confusing as well! For AA flights, we had to check in Terminal 2, then for immigration check, we had to go back to Terminal 1. For boarding, again we had to go back to Terminal 2, this time we needed to take the airport train. Our gate was # 81, so it was quite a walk!
Note: We saw a prayer room, but it’s for all faiths, so there were chairs & a table inside there. We saw a man putting aside the chairs & putting his prayer mat & prayed (he must have brought his own compass).

Not sure which terminal this is

We took off 30 minutes late. They were only re-fuelling and arranging in our luggage when we were already seated ! We reached LCCT the next day at 0045 hrs. There was also a flight from Shenzhen arriving around the same time with us. We arrived home at 2am. Luckily it was a Saturday!