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emtravel Oct 11th, 2004 06:32 PM

Hong Kong /Thailand Trip report Day 1
 
We are back from our first Asia trip which was very exciting. Thank you everybody on this forum especially rmkhmk, gpanda, kathie, rkkwan and everybody else who helped us with advice and preparation.

This jet lag is the worst although we did had comfortable flight on China Airline.



Day 1. We flew JFK-TPE-HKG on China Airlines. I had concerns about this airline safety beacuse they had crashes few years ago but we the package with them was a good deal and we were able to upgrade to business class. This really made the trip very comfortable but still long. Before the longest trips we took were to Europe and Israel. Anyway we survived. I am happy to report that China Airlines (code CI) had terrific service and more superior that US owned airlines. CI code shares with Delta but the crew was Chinese.
Food was nicely served, many courses, however in airplane it is hard to prepare good meat. We could not eat everything anyway. They had good selection of wine and liquor but we did not take any alcohol and caffeine in order to get better fight with jet lag. Plenty of space to recline, it was boeing 747 I think, we were on second floor or whatever that area called in airplane. On the way back back we had better and newer aircraft A340 and the seats had more space in front so I could almost stretch out.
We had stop in ANchorage and had to leave the plane. The plane is tidied and the crew changed in ANC. The passengers are waiting in waiting lounge. Outside was 5 degrees c and snow. We walked and explored duty free shopping. Next leg was about 9 hours to Taipei. We crossed date line and got confused at that point what time and day is it. :-)
We arrived to Taipei, the transfer was very efficient. The airline employees directed people to transfer area. In an hour and a half we arrived to HKG airport. The airport is incredible, I have not seen anything like that, very efficient, clean, good signs and trains very futuristic looking.

We had attended 3 day convention of travel industry and Hong Kong tourist board sponsored it. It was nice to meet local representatives and learn more besides we learn as we usually travel. We had transfer included in a package and in few minutes, pick up our luggage we were ready to depart. I had some time while the transfer rep was waiting for other people to exchange currency, buy Octopus card (without airport transfer, 3 day), and also pickup some Hong Kong brochures for myself and for future clients. The part of the convention was to promote Hong Kong, they had a hard time after Sept 11 and then Sars, so tourism is really low. It is really exciting destination and a perfect first time stop for visitor from US. We did not see many Americans except our convention members (about 2000, 70% of them Americans). Regular tourists seems to be British, Australian, South Africa. Also some French, German tourist.

We were booked at Langham hotel near star ferry (former Great Eagle). Very good comfortable hotel, althout no waterview rooms there. Few mins walk to ferry and the water where museums, malls and avenue of the stars are. We got into hotel in the morning, refreshed and and went to explore city. It was very exciting. We had an appointment made before with tailor so we walked to the shop. On the way we were encountered with "touts" which were very agressive, and tried to hijack us to another shop even we insisted on the tailors name. "Peter? Yes, sure..". Finally we saw our tailor waving us from next door and we were rescued. We were told about this before, and were prepared but it was somewhat difficult to fight them with jet lag. On each intersection, we were met with: "do you need suit? copy watches!".

After fitting, we went back to hotel and were ready for 1/2 day Hong Kong Island tour.
The island is very beautiful and it was very informative tour for the first day. Gets you oriented. At the end of the tour jet lag started to get to us. One of the aspects of the tour we and other people did not like that the guide took us to isolated "jewelry factory". On pretext of factory tour (only had 3 people working there), they got us to the showroom where we were showed jewelry and offered t obuy. It took quite a long time, so this approach we did not like. Usually we sightsee on our own or take private guides, but thius tour was part of the package and all you needed to do just to show up. But other than that, the intro was very helpful. There is so much to see in HKG! The lookout from the peak was spectacular !
Back at hotel, we had a dinner in the casual Chinese restaurant next to hotel, Galleria Mall, YouYou Chinese. The waiters were very friendly, wanted to chat with us and were really happy to see Americans, I think they wanted to practice their English. We used their help to understand menu. Early to bed.

The weather was hot and humid all 6 days but no rain. Last day though, the humidity dropped and temperature also was about 80 degrees.

Sophia

rhkkmk Oct 11th, 2004 07:15 PM

sophia---great report...looking forward to more

bob

rkkwan Oct 11th, 2004 07:27 PM

Back in the 70's and 80's, most visitors to Hong Kong are from Japan and US/Europe. However, those visitors have really dried up in the last two decades as 1) things aren't cheap in HK anymore, and 2) people who wants to experience China can now go to the mainland and get the real thing.

I'm glad to hear the HK Tourist Board is still trying to get visitors from the developed countries, as in recent years it seem to me that 90% of visitors to Hong Kong are from mainland China.

emtravel Oct 12th, 2004 05:07 PM

Day 2. Hong Kong.

Had complimentary continental breakfast at hotel and walked to star ferry to cross the harbor.

The weather was hot and humid, about 80F. We used first time Octopus card and were impressed with transportation, very easy to use, good signs. We crossed the ferry and walked to convention center. Convention center is new, was completed for 1997 cermony for British handover of HK to China. It is huge and very modern, huge windows and utilizing great views. I personally think it is too bad that HK builds a lot on reclaimed land from the water and harbor is getting smaller. We had a 1/2 day tour this day organized by HK tourist board and since we've seen HK island first day, we opted for Stanley market shopping tour.
This was basically a tour providing transportation with some guidance where to go and what are the best souvenirs. However the guide on the bus was very informative and told us a lot about history of HK and its people and culture. We passed cemetery and she said Hong Kong people (not sure about chinese) bury people at cemeteries for 6 years, then they have to dig them out, get skeleton cleaned and cremate the remains. Then rebury again who can afford it - very expensive. Or just cremate. Interesting. She suggested to buy Chinese stamp - chop I think it is called beacuse it is unique souvenir. You have a stamp and ink and they engrave your name and also put on top of the stamp the animal which symbolize in Chinese the year you were born. We bought some chops right away. I also bought 2 good washable silk suites - sleeveles top, pants and shirt with sleeves and it had Chinese style embroidering. The clothes was very comfortable to wear in this hot weather for the rest of the trip. I was concerned it does not wash well but I already washed it and it turned out good, does not even need much ironing. We also bought little things like underwear for about total $1 each :-)
After that the tour continued to Hollywood rd where antiques are. We looked at them but were not sure which are really antique.. However, the guide took us t ointeresting temple on the Hollywood Rd near Cat street and explained Chinese customs. Other that that temple, we did not have a chance to see others (but we saw them later on a lot in Thailand). There were Incense coils and smell of insence. (sp?). The people bring food and flowers to god and light the incense stick. It had bamboo walls and ceiling so I would think fire rules are not strictly regulated, but the guide said they do not have too many fires.
After 1/2 day tour we came back to convention center since we had some actions to attend. One of the seminars arranged was about shopping in Hong Kong, by Suze Gershman, author by born to shop books. She has a book on shopping in Hong Kong and we were excited finally to see her in person. There were about 30 people in the room and it was pretty much informal session. This lady is something!!! She also had some samples for us to try like lotions, and other little things, sampled food (only one person spit out chips!). We talked about shopping possibilities and she said she will try to take us for one day to the market. She said she like Fon Yeng st (at Prince Edward MTR stop). She does not shop in groups, but takes people to the markets and then gives instructions together with "homework" to buy some staff which can be discussed later. Most sizes, she warned are small sizes, not for western bodies, but she did mentioned some kind of factory outlet where large sizes are sold. She signed my book for my husband George and this was a lecture as informative as entertaining.
Anyway, we very busy for the rest of the day, then we refreshed at hotel briefly, and changed for an afternoon tea by HKTB and after that gala dinner. It was a moon festival and the dinner also included Chinese entertainment with children in costumes, dancers (dragon dance), lantersn everywhere, and it was 7 course chinese banquet. The food was interesting however I hate food prepared for banquet, so this one was not exception, although different from what we used to eat in the West. Overall, great evening and a productive day.

Day 3.
We discovered that our hotel Langham has a humongous Buffet breakfadt (for extra cost). I asked on this forum in advance where I can get chinese breakfast and got some advice but I found in Langham all choices! In addition to English and American usual breakfast staff, there was Japanese and Chinese dim sum selection. This allowed me to pig out on Chinese food for breakfast - I tried Congee with different toppings, it was good, a bit bland but I probably did not use right ingredients. At the same time my not-experimenting husband George had regular western buffet. Very convenient and without compromize.
We spent morning for some activities in convention center, had a fitting with tailor later on.
We looked at some shops near Nathan rod but they were too crowded. We liked Chinese arts and Crafts and needed to come back later on. This evening, we had a cruise of harbor at 5pm to see sunset, which left from Convention center and dropped us off at Kowloon. It was nice. After that, we've had dinner in Peninsula Felix (booked in advance). The food was very good, although food portions might be small for people, was enough for us. George had sample menu and I had just appetizer and prawns entry. I loved prawns, they are much bigger than our shrimps, and smaller than our lobster. Very chic. We had table by window and watched luminated lights in the buildings in harbor. However, the design is so chic that to me it borders on level of absurdity. It is designed by Phllip Starck. (sp?). When you take elevator, it gets you in kind of capsule. You see the hostess right away so you cannot get lost. Very modern decorations, including bar table with a staircase next to it. We asked what is the stairs for - to walk on the table - were explained - no, it is design. Oh well. I wish they opened shades so the view would be clear but they says this is part of decor and only pull them up for fireworks which will be on Friday.
OK. Now, re: bathrooms. The point direction to the bathrooms. At the end of corridor near elevators there are two doors. In the dim light, I did not see small plaques "f" and "m". I pushed the door (no handles), went into male bathroom. Thank god they have atendants there poniting you to right direction. Back out and press another door. Another bathroom, no attendant. Contempoary to absurd level :-) . Another lady comes in gigling that she went to wrong bathroom, so we start looking together for a bathroom stall! The door to individual stalls do not look like doors but like a wall. We found a closet :-) and finally the door. By the time I got out, the attendant walked in and directed , that was easier. Very modern washing area which also does not look like washing area.
Went back and reported to George which door he should go and sent him to check out male bathrooms. He came also shocked and said the view from the bath when men releive themselves is much better - open - space then from the restaurant beacuse there are no shades. :-)
I ask your forgivenes here for describing bathrooms but this was the weiredest bathroom I've ever been . Enough about bathrooms!
Strange thing I do not remember what was for dessert but all food was delicous. Chef is Hawaiian and cuisine is Pacific Rim. No jacket required, smart casual although I saw some people in jeans.

to be continued... Jet lag is killing me. This is 2nd day at home...

CFW Oct 12th, 2004 05:48 PM

Sophia, Am enjoying your report so much! Lots of fun. Can't wait for next installment.

rkkwan Oct 12th, 2004 05:50 PM

A few comments:

1. The HK Conventional Center was built in two phases. The older part including the Grand Hyatt was built in the early 90's. The extension that sticks into the harbor was indeed completed just in time for the handover. It also includes that golden bauhinia sculpture, where 100% of visitors are mainland Chinese.

2. Much of the commercial land around the Victoria Harbor is reclaimed land. In fact, land reclamation has been going on virtually since there is a place called "Hong Kong". In the early days, Queen's Road Central is the only main street in Central. So basically all the newer buildings including the Jardine House, Exchange Square, Central Plaza, and of course the new IFC complex, are built on reclaimed land. So are all the new highrise apartments in western Kowloon, the area near Hung Hom, etc... And of course much of the new HKG airport, plus the runway of the old Kai Tak. The future Disney themepark, and so on...

But this trend has finally been slowed down. Just recently, the court sided with environmentalists to stop futher land reclamation between Central and Wan Chai.

3. Chinese people have always preferred burying over cremation, whenever possible. And most of the earlier cemeteries are "permanent" type, including the one over Aberdeen where my grandpa was buried, or the one in Happy Valley where my grandma's body still remained (she was killed during WWII). However, they've simply ran out of room in HK for cemetaries. Therefore in the past few decades, remains were either cremated, or is buried for only a few years. [I think another recent possibility is to buy burial grounds in China.]

4. There really hasn't been any major fires at any of the temples and monasteries in Hong Kong, in its history. The incense really isn't a fire hazard - afterall, many Americans use them at home. Fire is more a problem during the Chung Yeung festival in late fall. This is one of the two holidays where people go to cemeteraries, and many people still burned paper money, etc, at the sites. Wild fires can spread there. The worst fires in Hong Kong are usually in the older commercial buildings, built before the fire code was updated and where building tenants sometimes illegally locked or blocked stairways to prevent theft.

rhkkmk Oct 12th, 2004 07:12 PM

sophia....as i was reading about your meal at felix...i was saying to myself....i hope they went into the bathrooms.....and indeed you did....bravo....the men's is not to be believed....p...ing over the city.....

anxiously awaiting more....forget that jet lague!!!!

emtravel Oct 13th, 2004 02:51 AM

thank you rkkwan for clarifications! Are you local? In my next post I will run about local's personal impressions about handover to China so I would be interested in your comments.
rhkkmk and cfw - will do, I am trying to remember all things we did and where we ate ! Sorry about all spelling errors - later on I will compile all notes in word, proofread and add pictures and post on our website. But fresh impressions are the most important now.
sophia

rkkwan Oct 13th, 2004 03:50 AM

emtravel - My family has been in Hong Kong since around 1900, when my grandpa settled there as a teenager. I grew up in Hong Kong (1971-1988), but live in Houston now. I still go back every 12-18 months to visit relatives and friends. Next trip will this Christmas.

Gpanda Oct 13th, 2004 04:12 AM

Sophia-fun report to read, keep it coming. I find the jet lag lasts about a week. I just accept it, get up early and read or go to work. It does give you extra time to post your trip report. Things will normalize.

cwn Oct 13th, 2004 05:30 AM

Love your report! I will be in Hong Kong in a couple of weeks, so am reading installments with great interest! I too would like some chops. Did it take long to make them (I assume they are made to order since you get your initials on them)? What are they made of? Can you give me a price range? Was Hollywood Road interesting? I have injoyed the Born to Shop Books for other places. That is great to meet her!

emtravel Oct 13th, 2004 09:09 AM

cwn - the chops vary in price. We bought regular one (we needed 4 for two of us and our children). Our cost $12 usd approx after conversion. We negotiated, and bought it in Stanley market. It took about 20 mins to make it. You write your name and year you were born. There are also more expensive chops available in rosewood box and from better material. Our was in in regular box and something like jade-like material. The box covered with chinese pattern cloth. I saw them also in Arts and Crafts stores and some Chinese emporiums.

Kathie Oct 13th, 2004 09:48 AM

I'm enjoying your posts. It sounds like you had a great time.

emtravel Oct 13th, 2004 02:51 PM

I should probably rename the header but I d onot know how to do it.
Here is the rest of report re: HK

Day 4.

Thursday. We had free morning so we went to pickup our suits which turned out beautifully. The tailor really did a good job. My husband is very particular about how shoulders and sleeves fit together. This was good. It cost us $270 usd per suit. George had two 2-piece suites from fine Italian cashmere. I had also 2 suites, one 2-piece from Italian cashmere and another one 3 piece !V skirt, slacks from light silk. My husband also had one shirt (I think about $40) and a free tie. The tailor name is Peter and his website is www.hkbroadwaycustomtailor.com
I got his info from HK tourist board and I trust them since if there complains from tourists, the businesses are removed from sponsorship by HKTB. He also was proud to show me many business cards and faxes from old clients which measurements already on file and they just fax him new requests. So looks like he has repeat business. He is from Shanghai family of tailors. He also provided extra pockets inside for cell phone, passport and extra layers in armpits to prevent from sweat stains. I did not see it in ready-made suits in US. I also saw some advertisements for less priced suites but I was afraid of quality. I do not know if this is the best deal or not but 10 years ago in CT we paid to Hong Kong traveling tailor $600 for a suit. So we were happy. I was told that in Bangkok suits are even less, but we had more time for fittings (we had 3 fittings) in Hong Kong. Peter the tailor also told us that Shanghai descendants Hong Kong tailors better than Bangkok but I understand of course that he promoted his business. In any case, we were happy. Brooks Brothers suit like this cost $600-800.

After tailor we deposited our suites at hotel (on the way I triumphantly showed our suits to touts which tried to hijack us every time we passed by) and they left us alone.

We also shopped in Chinese arts and crafts and I bought wonderful blouse from Chinese silk grey color pattern, 1 set of white linen with hand embroidering skirt and top, and matching linen black jacket also with embroidering and white and black slacks. They were on sale for China Holiday sale (like our 4th of July) and all 6 pieces cost about $180 usd. Good buy. Salespeople were very patient, helpful and speak good English.

We had to attend another event at convention center in the afternoon and then we had early dinner again at Peninsula, Chinese restaurant Spring Moon. It was already late for dim sum, so we had regular dinner. Again I do not remember what we ate but it was delicious, and much better than our Chinese food in USA. They had great munchies on the table, honey roasted pecans, like the type they sell in NYC on the streets, only these are pecans with sesame seeds. Normal bathrooms for a change! ??

We did not have desert but had tea !V selection of their 30 varieties of teas.
They also gave us a souvenir !V a jar of Xo Chili Sauce.

After dinner, we took MTR to temple street night market and did some !?cheap shopping !? there.

This day we talked to one lady who is working a tour guide in HK. Her name is Yvonne. She told us the story of her family. The family was separated when her father and grandfather left China for HK for business and their mother and other relatives stayed in China. China was closed. When Yvonne grew up and she had opportunity to take a group to China, she wrote a letter to her relatives to visit them and asked what do they need. The relatives said they do not need clothes since all have to wear uniform. They all had the same length. Money were no good since nothing was available in the stores. When Yvonne stayed at hotel in China, they relatives had to sign in to get approval, they were not allowed to come in. The only thing they asked to send next time was a watch. Hong Kong people were not rich but they tried to help relatives in China as they could. Whatever was sent to China was subjected to almost the same amount of tax. Now can you imagine how people felt when it was approaching British handover to China. HK people have status !?British National Overseas!? however they cannot work in UK. Many people emigrated who could. They could not go to UK therefore they had no exit but to become Chinese citizens. By agreement with China, it was promised that for next 50 years HK will be run as SAR (special administrative region), like 2 countries. So far, Yvonne said the future does not look that bleak as it was in Mao!|s times. This is all thanks to western countries who put economic pressure and human rights watch on China. Since China!|s government want to be part of global economy, they cooperate. There will be world expo in Shanghai and 2008 Olympic games in Bejing, the economy is growing and people are more optimistic as ever before. However it is still communist country with somewhat !?new capitalism!? twist. So it was very interesting to hear perception of local person. Having myself growing up in Soviet Union I though we had it bad, but not like in Communist China!


Day 5. We went to Art museum this morning. I wish I went earlier since we already saw some art items and museum gives you a feel of appreciation of Asian art. Interesting items.
We also walked on Avenue of the stars and took good pictures. There were Chinese tourists from mainland, they did not speak English and they wanted to take picture with us. We were an attraction! We took picture with them as well but unfortunately could not communicate.
We also met some HK high school students who interviewed us who we are, what we are doing in HK, how do we like visit and if we plan to come back.

We walked in Kowloon park, also spent some time in Central area and tried those longest in the world escalators. It was great. We walked around Hollywood rd again. Then we took MTR back to Tsim Tsa Tsui and went for afternoon tea in Peninsula !V at that time we got addicted to this hotel and I will want to stay there next time I am in HK. It was a very good experience, so far the best afternoon tea we had on London on Fortnum and Mason, but this is definitely was civilized affair.
After dinner we went to watch fireworks, we were able to get close to the area where you can see them near star ferry. The policemen already closed street, and only let few people to come through, including people with little children, but when we came in, they let us through !V we did not even asked! Again !V privilege being American tourists? The fireworks were exciting. It was Friday, China National day.

Day 6. Last day, We had a group tour booked for all day Lamma island but it looked too long and we still had some exploring to do so we skipped it. We usually like to explore ourselves or take private guides. So we had all day to ourselves. Shopped in the morning in Ocean terminal, I bought some very good lightweight sneakers, Puma brand, I was told, Japanese design . My feet by this time were killing me so these sneakers were a godsend. It was in LCX store. Also we bought some pants in Marks and Spencer for my husband. It is usually expensive store but they had sale again.

I was looking for some tea and Xi-Xing teapots as Kathie recommended on this forum, but I only found them a day before in museum, they were less expensive than in Chinese Arts and Crafts, but not cheap either. But I liked that they explained to me teapots (not like we use here, metal, but clay). They also showed me books with various teapots and helped to choose. I asked them where to buy Jasmine Pearl tea so they recommended Lock Road near Hyatt hotel. We went on that street and I first bought tea in store Ying Kee Tea House, it was kind of expensive. Then, we went across the street and found another store Shing Fung Ceramic arts and crafts where they had less priced teapots and tea. We also negotiated prices there. I wish we went there direct first, so we would pay less.

We also took MTR to Admiralty and walked through the park to Peak tram and took tram to the peak, that day humidity was lower and it was cooler. It was windy and crowded on the peak. Took some pictures. There were mostly touristy restaurants and they were all crowded however, we found a nice restaurant Peak Lookout. It looked like European building. The food was international with large menu. The food was not exciting but was not bad either. We had large appetizer for 2, it was good. George!|s sandwich was just regular sandwich with French fries. My chicken Tandoori was a bit dry however their Indian bread with garlic was outstanding.

After that, we took taxi to MTR central and then MTR to Yeng Fuen st. few block away from Prince Edward MTR stop. We bought some cheap staff there. The vendors did not negotiate. That was a market highly recommended by Suzy Gershman and we did not like that vendors do not negotiate. On another site, the prices were cheap!K

So that concluded our stay at HK and next morning we were taking a plane to Chiang Mai via Bangkok to next week of our adventures !V Thailand!

I also want to add that for lunches we either grabbed snacks or sandwiches. We ate few times in Delifrance, it was OK. One time we ate in Pacific Coffee company.
As I said, we loved the city and HK people, they were very friendly, and the city has some kind of futuristic feel !V the harbor, highrises, escalators, airport (this the first city we got excited about airport!!) . We loved food, shopping, parks. We did not have time to go to history museum and to surrounding islands and Macau, hopefully next time.

Thailand report to follow.


rhkkmk Oct 13th, 2004 07:38 PM

looking forward to your thailand adventrures...


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