Hong Kong 2012

Apologies, had to break my own rule by posting this in my US blog. Figured it was easier than setting up a completely new blog, and it’s a larger blog than I would normally post, but I just had lots to write about.

A trip to Hong Kong was a welcome break, even if it was only for 9 days. After the stressful hours and weekends I was put through at work recently, I finally had something to look forward to, time out with my relatives.

Victoria harbour

Hong Kong is definitely my most visited destination, and almost 3 years since my last visit, so a trip was due. I’m not really keen on hot weather, especially where humidity levels are high, so I prefer to travel to Hong Kong between November and April where the climate is cooler. Temperatures was around 23 degrees Celsius on average so that was bearable. Most days were overcast, warm, and humid. It even drizzled a few times but not enough to stop you from going out.

My flight was over 15 hours long, but it was smooth. By far, the longest flight I’ve ever been on and first from LA to Hong Kong. Fortunately, I slept on the flight, which is extremely rare, so I felt rested when I strolled in at Chek Lap Kok airport.

Tip:
If you are travelling to Hong Kong from LA and can easily get to sleep, I recommend selecting a midnight flight. When you land, it’ll be around 8am HK time, meaning you still have a full day to enjoy.

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I stayed at my uncle’s place in Kowloon Tong, but my journey there didn’t go to plan to begin with. I had intended to use the MTR (subway) for a change, but some misfortune with a broken retractable handle on my baggage meant I had to catch a taxi. My phone failed to find any local carriers, so I couldn’t use it. Had to get a new prepaid SIM later in the day.

Tip:
Before you leave, check with your phone carrier to see if your phone is compatible for use in Hong Kong. I would recommend you purchase a local SIM from a phone store when you land. I got mine from a 3 Store, for $98HK. Includes data and call time which you can top up regularly.

My aim was to hang out with my relatives, relax and get stuck in with Hong Kong lifestyle and indulge in the food I miss so much. That’s exactly what I did. I visited the tea lounges / restaurants for breakfast, lunch and dinner almost every day. I visited local attractions with my relatives. I checked out the busy shopping districts in Mong Kok to buy things that I didn’t really need and visited parks and tourist spots like Tsim Sha Tsui like any tourist would.

From what I can tell, not a lot has changed, Hong Kong still remains largely independent from China, in terms of political system, ecosystem, and currency. My relatives mentioned that Hong Kong would one day be fully integrated with China’s system, possibly within the next two decades.

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Places to visit

Each time I visit, I try to do something I didn’t do on my last visit, but there’s only so much you can do each time. Here’s a number of places I recommend visiting.

Victoria Peak
The views are stunning from here, unfortunately I didn’t go this year because the weather wasn’t clear enough to get a good view.

Tsim Sha Tsui / Victoria Harbour
I’d definitely recommend coming here at night. It’s ok during the day, but the skyline is stunning at night.

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Star Ferry
Catch the Star Ferry to go from Tsim Sha Tsui to Central across the harbour and enjoy the view. They launch at regular intervals and accept Octopus cards. In the old days, the water was the only way to get across the harbour, back before the MTR connected both sides.

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Check out a beaches
If you have time, and you have your swimming gear, check out of the the beaches, such as Repulse Bay. My uncle used to swim from here to one of the distant islands and back as a kid. 🙂

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Lantau Island
Check out the big buddha on Lantau Island. I didn’t go this year, but have been on previous visits.

Disneyland
Don’t forget this place, if you have kids, they’ll love it.

Smaller Island tours
I’ve only been to Peng Chau, one of the outlying islands, since one of my relatives used to live there. There are some walking trails here.

Temples
Check out Wong Tai Sin Temple. This places can get crowded.

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Gardens
There are numerous gardens opening up all over the place. Some are just plain green areas, and others are a bit more traditional. I recommend going to Nan Lian Garden at Diamond Hill. It’s close to Diamond Hill MTR station.

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There are many places I could recommend, but I would definitely do some research and plan out some of your days before you leave.

Eating out
Hong Kong’s full of tea lounges / restaurants, and when you visit them, you’ll frequently see large tables occupied with families, with up to 3 or 4 generations at the table. This is typical and traditional for whole families to eat out and socialise together. The elders at the table can be seen slowly eating and sipping tea, mid generation chatting away with one another, and the kids happily playing with their Nintendo DS or their mobile phones. Eating out is also cheaper than cooking too, which is why tea lounges / restaurants are ever so busy. Finding a spare seat in a food court anywhere is easy when you’re on your own, but much harder in a group of two or more, because of the high population here.

If chinese food doesn’t tickle your fancy, there are plenty of options, steak houses, British, American, French, Indian and many more. There’s a bit of everything. I had a Korean BBQ in Wan Chai with my uncle and aunt.

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It seems Hong Kong has plenty of 7/11 stores, small traditional and modern noodle bars, and McDonalds. I’ve never been a huge fan of McDonalds, but my relatives love eating there so I thought I’d join them for breakfast during my stay. How many McDonalds have you been to that serve rice, or soup based pasta with chopped ham for breakfast? 🙂

MTR
The MTR (subway) is widely used to get around, and it’s low cost, if you compare it to London transport. The MTR trains are clean, fully air conditioned too and all are fitted with receivers, so you can use mobile phones even underground. I personally wouldn’t try to rent a car here. Driving here reminds me of driving in LA just on the other side, and drivers are impatient. It would stress you out. 🙂

octopus card

Tip:
The Octopus card is a must if you intend to travel on the MTR, and you can purchase them at MTR stations. What I love about the Octopus card is that you can also use it to pay for goods at 7/11, parking meters, cafe’s and many more places as well as travel. It’s basically a cash card that you can top up, so you don’t have to carry any loose change. You can top them up at electronic machines located in MTR stations, $50HK minimum.

Shopping
Modern day Hong Kong is full of shopping malls, and one of my favourite is Festival Walk located in Kowloon Tong. It’s modern, huge, over 5 floors, and has a variety of stores, including local, and international brands, such as Marks and Spencers, Timberland, and North Face. There are food courts, a cinema, and even an ice rink.

If you’re like me and into electronics and computer hardware, I’d pay a visit to the computer shopping arcades in Sham Shui Po. Be warned, these places are extremely crowded. If you’re just looking for latest fashion, then Tsim Sha Tsui is your place.

Mong Kok has a lot of variety too, but that place is packed at weekends, so I’d go during the week instead. Apparently, articles on the internet suggests that Mong Kok has the highest population density on earth. I’ve not found anything to support this claim, but I’ve been there on a weekend.

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Tip:
Avoid shopping at weekends in heavily congested areas.

People in Hong Kong can appear to be impatient, it just comes with the territory, so you’ll encounter rudeness from time to time, but in general, when they are providing a service they usually are friendly. For example, when you’re shopping for groceries or even clothes, those places love customers and they’ll greet you with a smile and ask you if you need help finding anything, which is what I’ve been accustomed to in LA.

Visitors always say that Hong Kong comes to life at night. Well, I’d have to agree. Here’s a few night shots in the Tsim Sha Tsui area.

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Overall, the trip was relaxing, and quality time spent with my relatives. If there’s something I did regret a little, was that I didn’t have a wide angle lens, and didn’t catch any night shots of the busy streets around Mong Kok, and 9 days was too short for me, considering the 16 hour difference between LA and Hong Kong.

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