Hong Kong trip report

Old Apr 1st, 2004, 11:44 AM
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Hong Kong trip report

First, thanks to all the posters here who helped us plan this trip. Your information was far more useful than that in the guidebooks.

We left March 1, 2004, and flew to Newark, then took the Continental flight over the north pole direct to Hong Kong. The flight was sixteen hours going and 15 coming back, which was definitely a challenge. We picked March as the weather was said to be good, and certainly warmer than Cleveland. The weather cooperated, with only a few hours of rain which we missed as we were in a museum. It was hazy, however, and we didn't ever get the clear distant views that one sees on the postcards. We left dressed for Hong Kong, since we didn't want to have to be carrying winter clothes. Lately, we have been taking public transportation or a cab to the airport, as the parking fees for a longer trip are exorbitant. Continental provided good service, but the tourist class seats are cramped. We didn't get to see the north pole as it was night when we passed it, but on the way back there was a display of the northern lights. We arrived in Hong Kong at 830 the evening of the following day, and things went smoothly at the airport, although there is a lot of extra processing because of the SARS scare. I got local currency at the ATM, then went to get our octopus cards and the airport train tickets to Kowloon. They take only cash for the cards and tickets, so I was lucky to have already hit the ATM. There was a special promotion on the airport train tickets for groups, and two is a group, so we took advantage of that, although I seem to recall that it was only for the month of March. The octopus cards proved invaluable, as public transportation is on a cash basis if you don't have the card, and the drivers don't make change. It didn't really matter since we arrived in the evening, but we had been looking forward to seeing the new suspension bridge, and the train crosses the bridge on a lower level, so you can't really see the view. The train is certainly quick and efficient, with plenty of room for luggage, and free shuttles from the station to places near your hotel, but we did miss the view, particularly as we were leaving, and I think next time we will take the bus.

We stayed at the Salisbury Road YMCA in a partial harbor view room (I thought the view was excellent) and took advantage of their weekly rate, so our double was just over $5000HK (about $82US per day). Considering the quality of the lodgings (plain but clean with full amenities) and location (superb), this is an excellent place to stay. We did have some little difficulty finding it at first, as the signs are very modest, but after we walked by it there was no other place to go, so we realized our mistake. After checking in we wanted to get some walking, so we crossed to the harborfront for some scenery, then went to bed.
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Old Apr 1st, 2004, 11:45 AM
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In our walking around, we had passed the art museum and noted that there was no admission fee on Wednesday, so the next morning we ate at the Salisbury YMCA cafe (choices of Chinese, Continental, or American (more British, I thought) specials) for about $100HK for two, then headed for the sights. The food was good, but not fancy, but the convenience kept us coming back; this was also where the internet center was set up, so we could check our email and let our kids know we were ok. There was a network port in our room, but I don't have a laptop, so we needed the full center.

We first took the Star Ferry to the island to find Meyer shoes in the Mandarin Hotel. I had worn out a purse I liked, so we took it in to have it replicated. The service was excellent, with many leathers and fabrics to choose from. I explained what I had disliked about the original, and the salesman suggested some changed dimensions, which solved the problem. Since we went there on our first day, they had plenty of time to complete it and the finished product is excellent, although pricey ($2000HK, while the original (actually a copy itself) had been made for about $70US a decade ago by a local shoemaker, since out of business).

We then took the Star Ferry back to Kowloon and the art museum. We rode this ferry many times, and I liked both the upper and lower levels. The upper level has a more panoramic view, and an enclosed area if it is cold and wet, while the lower area saves a climb up the stairs at the terminal, and lets you see the crew working, including the engine room, and gives good views also. The price difference is negligible.

We spent well over a half-day in the Art Museum. Neither of us was versed in Chinese art, so it was a learning experience. The museum has many displays, from antiquities to the most modern, and when you tire you can sit in the lobby and enjoy a wonderful view of the harbor. This was the only museum we visited on this trip, but it was well worth the visit. I should add that the Chinese Arts & Crafts store (we visited the one near the Kowloon Star Ferry terminus), which had been recommended here for shopping, reminded me very much of a museum. While they have many reasonably priced things, they also have some that are, to me, works of art. My wife likes small carved things, and we had picked up a small carving, said to be made of mastodon ivory, on Upper Lascar (a.k.a. Cat street). I doubted it was really mastodon ivory, but we were more interested in the carving than the material, and when we got to the Chinese Arts & Crafts store they also had carved mastodon ivory, so perhaps that's what it really is. I had been under the impression that one could not bring ivory into the US, but customs never looked at our things, so I still don't know. I had wanted to get an abacus for our new granddaughter, and those I saw at the bazaars were dusty and, I suspect, artificially aged, so I was glad to find a new one in the Chinese Arts & Crafts store ($50HK). This should last her a while; she can use it as a rattle now, and work on her math once she learns her numbers.

That evening we ate at the Panorama, which was a bit difficult to find, buried in a shopping/hotel complex, but had superb harbor views and quite good food. Dinner was about $1100HK for two, including wine and desert. At eight in the evening, there is a laser light show, and we first saw it from this restaurant, now knowing what it was. Eventually we discovered that the show includes music and narration, and is best viewed from outside on a walkway behind the cultural center near the Star Ferry terminal.
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Old Apr 1st, 2004, 11:46 AM
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The next day we planned to see Macao. Let me say now that I don't drive while traveling, so we either walk or take public transportation or cabs. I had picked up a Periplus travel map before we left, and it looked well detailed in the bookstore back home, but fell quite short in actual use. If you like finding your own way, be sure to get a very detailed map. I thought we could just walk from the Star Ferry terminal on the island to the Macao ferry terminal, but we became hopelessly lost. Fortunately, a gentleman rescued us (we were rescued frequently by friendly people) and said he didn't think we could get there on foot, so he hailed a cab and gave the driver instructions, and we got there. Next trip I will use more cabs, as they are inexpensive ($15HK minimum, which was enough to get us everywhere we went), and it is fairly easy to get lost while walking. We bought our tickets (they insisted we pick a time for our return as I had gotten round trip tickets; subsequently, we were able to leave on an earlier return ferry with no problems) and looked forward to the high speed ride, and being able to see the suspension bridge. The anchoring fields for the freighters are impressive; I hadn't realized there were so many ships there. Part way through the trip they had us fill out the customs and immigration forms for Macao, including health histories because of SARS, and while we were doing this we passed the @#$ bridge without getting to see it; our return was after dinner and sunset, so we didn't get to see it then either. In fact, during our whole trip we never got to see that bridge.

Macao is much more built up than our guidebook and maps had led us to believe, and once we got into the older part of the city it was difficult finding our way around, so we just wandered (its an island, how lost can you get?). We saw a lot of waterfront scenery, and a lot of local industry, but never got to the steps of the cathedral, so I guess we'll have to go back. The maritime museum was closed for some reason, but we spent some time at their outdoor exhibits and watching the temple across the road. We didn't go into the temple, as it appeared to be a religious site, rather than a tourist site, and I didn't want to intrude. More than once on this trip we just stayed outside of some sites, or didn't take pictures even. We saw some people doing the Tai Chi regimen in almost all the parks; we watched but somehow it didn't seem right to take pictures. On the other hand, we saw a Tai Chi tourist class, and took pictures of that, even though the grace and feeling was not there.

On arrival, the tour guides are very industrious, and it is difficult to get through them. We ended up taking a pedicab to the old town, but I would not recommend that ride to anyone unless you enjoy the fumes from heavy traffic.

We did find our way to Os Gatos for lunch, where the food was quite good and the ambience superb. Lunch for two, with green wine and desert, was about $600HK. After more wandering, we found ourselves near the ferry terminal, so we had an early dinner at Pizaria Toscana (right in the middle of the parking lot), which was also quite good. Light dinner with a glass of wine for about $230HK. Tired after all our wandering, we went into the terminal and asked if we could go back on an earlier boat, which was easily arranged.

The Hong Kong flower show opened the next day, so we took the Star ferry to the island and, enticed by my misleading map, decided to walk to Victoria Park. One of the difficulties in walking is that we often ran into limited access roads, and had to retrace our steps. We ended up walking the length of Wan Chai, which was quite interesting. We had recently remodeled our bathroom, and a glass shelf I had gotten was too big for the space so I had been looking all over for just the right shelf. Wan Chai was filled with small stores with bathroom and home fixtures, and I'm sure my shelf was there, but I hadn't brought the measurements, so we didn't get one.

We finally found our way to the flower show and it was very well done. I think all of the schoolkids in Hong Kong were there, many having exhibits, and it was interesting to see the artistic arrangements. We ended up spending far more time there than we had anticipated as we wanted to see everything. That afternoon, we found our way to Cat street, but the Chinese connection tea shop appeared to have closed (perhaps on vacation). We enjoyed the other vendors, and got a small carving there. We then wound our way back to the Star ferry terminal, to catch the bus to the Victoria Peak tramway (the signs said we could walk there but it was a confusing walk, and I believe them). We took the tram to the top, then went to Cafe Deco and made reservations for dinner. We then took the Luggard road walk, which is very scenic, but we had walked too far already that day so we were dragging. When we got back to Cafe Deco they had an excellent window table for us and we enjoyed a very good meal with superb views. I thought their pizza was among the best I have ever had. Dinner for two with wine and desert was about $700HK, and well worth it. Even though we were tired, the trip to the peak and dinner, looking down onto the light show, followed by an evening ferry ride back to Kowloon, was a most pleasant part of our trip and I recommend it to all.
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Old Apr 1st, 2004, 11:47 AM
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The next day we took the bus over the mountain to Stanley (a memorable ride) and spent almost a full day in the shopping bazaar. We got souvenirs for our family and friends, and enjoyed the bargaining. I would be surprised if the silk robes we got are actually silk, but they are attractive and the vendors gave us washing directions, so we are happy. We ate lunch in what was meant to look like a french cafe, and the food was good and inexpensive. I have forgotten the name, but it turns out this was a chain outlet, as we saw the same signs elsewhere.

That evening we ate at the restaurant (not the cafe) at the YMCA, which is an expansive buffet of well-prepared food. We noted that there appeared to be a lot of natives there. We tried no to stuff ourselves, and my only criticism would be that the beverages offered were only soft drinks and beer, but I can live with that. The convenience and good food brought us back here a few more times. I paid cash, so my recollection may be off, but I think because we were staying at the YMCA there was a substantial discount, and the net was about $380HK for dinner for two, with a decent view of the light show. There was a surprising variety of foods available, which seemed to change from night to night, as one item I had really liked the first night wasn't there when we went back.

The next day Lantau island was our objective. We took the ferry to Silvermine bay (we made a mistake and got the high speed ferry, which is quicker, but is like riding inside a giant airplane, rather than a boat). From the ferry terminal we got a bus to the famed monastery and climbed up to see the Buddha. Let me add here that throughout this trip we found a lot of the "seatless" toilets and very little toilet paper, so we started to carry our own paper. I know there are pictures of how to use the seatless toilets, but I could never figure out what to do with my pants, so I decided I didn't really have to go; my wife claims she mastered them, but won't tell me how; I don't believe her, since I know she would never even try chopsticks in the restaurants.

From the monastery, we caught a bus to Tai O, a fishing village at the far end of the island. This seemed a very authentic place, almost untouched by tourism for being that close to Hong Kong. We wandered around for awhile, but most of the vendors there were selling fish, or dried fish, or food, so all we did was look. We then caught a bus back to Silvermine bay. Riding the busses was very scenic, and I recommend it to all as a way to get around. On our return, we were careful to get the ordinary ferry rather than the high speed ferry, and enjoyed riding on the afterdeck through the anchoring fields. This was a very full day, but also quite memorable.

The next day we wandered around Nathan road, but it didn't seem as interesting as places like SoHo or Wan Chai. We did take the MTR to the Prince Edward station, then found our way to the Flower Market Road and, at the end of that, the Bird market. I would recommend this trip to everyone. Walking past the flower vendors is a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon, and my wife found a small bowl that is unique. I only regret that we were near the end of our trip, and I didn't want to go through the customs hassle of having plants or flowers, so we ended up with just the bowl; when we go back, we will make this tour early, and decorate our hotel room with flowers. The bird market was also quite interesting, and we sat there for a couple of hours just admiring all the birds, and how they were cared for.

In the afternoon, we crossed to the island to ride the double decker trams, which I thought were very overrated. It is a jarring and undistinguished ride and I would rather walk or take a bus.

This evening we dined at the Harborside restaurant on the Kowloon waterfront. This too, was not easy to find, being hidden in a shopping mall/hotel complex, and when we finally found it there was no sign. Perhaps we blundered in through a side door. The food here was excellent, and the waterfront view excellent, although the tables for two here were oriented with one diner facing the window and one with her back to the window, as contrasted with the Panorama, where both have the view to their side. We didn't partake of the buffet, although it looked very good. I had a pasta dish, and my wife had fish and chips. With a decent bottle of wine and deserts, the tab came to about $1100HK. Again, we enjoyed the light show from our table. Throughout our trip, I noted that wine seemed to be fairly pricey, but as we often ate continental dishes, the wine seemed fitting.

For our last full day, we rode the Star Ferry to the island, and caught a series of busses to Shek O, a remote village on the far side of the island. The original plan had been to take the MTR part way, but I switched to the bus so we could view the scenery, since we weren't rushed for time. The ride, even in the city, was very scenic, and Shek O was quite pleasant. It appears to be a swimming resort, with an expansive beach, but was not at all crowded on Tuesday. We wandered about and elected to eat in a workers restaurant, rather than some of the restaurants that had been recommended here. It was quite interesting, and I resolved to master chopsticks, since I could observe how all the natives were doing it. I managed to eat my lunch without harm to myself or others, nor even major spillage. While this was a workers place to eat, they, like most others we walked past, had books of pictures of their dishes, often with English titles, so I felt we knew what we were eating, I hope. That afternoon we returned to our hotel for a short nap, then had an early dinner and repaired to the walkway on the waterfront for the laser show. It was fairly crowded there, and the show was good with the music and narration (in Chinese). I had picked up a tripod and hoped to get some pictures of the laser show, but early review shows either my equipment or technique was lacking. After the light show we walked around a little, then closed our day with an over and back ride on the Star ferry
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Old Apr 1st, 2004, 11:47 AM
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Our flight left the next day just after noon, so we had breakfast, double checked that we had left nothing behind, and walked a couple of blocks to the Kowloon Hotel to catch the free shuttle bus to the Airport Express Train terminal. From what I had read, we were to have to show the driver our plane tickets to get on the free shuttle bus, and I didn't have any, since Continental uses etickets, but the driver never asked for a ticket, so I think that advice was outdated. At the station, I turned in our octopus cards and used the unused portion, the returned deposit, and some cash I was carrying to get our train tickets.

The ride to the airport was fast and smooth, and we had plenty of time left to pick up a few more souvenirs there with what cash I had left.

It seems in reading this that we didn't do a lot for eight days, but substantial amounts of time were spent just walking around looking at things, and trying to find our way back. During our wandering, I was stopped about 5 times by small groups of students, who apparently had projects to interview tourists. Again at the airport, I was stopped three times for interviews by employees, apparently trying to get information on how the public views their very new, large, and clean airport.

We had taken this trip to escape the Ohio winter weather; when we got home, it was as warm as it had been in Hong Kong, but we were vindicated when it snowed later in the week.

Would I recommend a trip to Hong Kong? It is a unique place and well worth seeing. I'm glad we went.
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Old Apr 1st, 2004, 01:01 PM
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Well, great report. Sounds like you have a mostly enjoyable trip!

Just a few comments that I have after reading your very detailed report:

- CO's EWR-HKG flight. Y class on those 777 has pretty limited legroom. If you're a CO Elite, you can try to request row 17-19 DEF in the middle which has a little more legroom.

- Yup, you can't see the bridge if you take the Airport Express. One of the reason why I recommend people to take the Cityflyer bus instead.

- Ivory. I don't think you can even real elephant ivory for over 20 years now. And I'm not sure what the "mastodon ivory" is that you saw and bought.

- The Macau trip. You should be able to walk to the Macau Ferry terminal from the Star Ferry. After you pass all the other ferry terminals (including the one for Silvermine Bay), there should be a flight of stairs onto a long elevated walkway. It goes into Shun Tak Center, the large office/pier complex where the Macau terminal is.

- You cannot see the Tsing Ma Bridge from the Macau Ferry. The Turbojets take a southwestern route towards Macau, unless the seas are super choppy, or if it's a night trip (at least in the old days). Ferries to most parts of China do go under the bridge, and pass the airport on their northwestern route.

- Yes, you have to go back to Macau again to see the St. Paul ruins and the fortress/museum. And the Ma Kok Temple (or A-Ma Temple) across from the Maritime Museum does welcome tourists. People worship a goddess who was actually a real person who guided fishing boats to safety in stormy nights with a lantern, or something like that. The name Macau (or Macao) derives from that temple. You found a great place for lunch, at the Pousada de Sao Tiago hotel though.

- Stanley. I think the French cafe/bakery you saw is called "Delifrance". It is a chain store with shops all over Hong Kong. I think the silk you bought there is real silk. In recent years, they have been able to produce silk in huge quantities in China, so that should be real.

- I am really glad that you like the trip to the Buddha and Tai O on Lantau Island. Those are my favorite parts of Hong Kong.

- Shek O is one of the "cleaner" beaches in Hong Kong as it faces east (not the Pearl River Delta on the west), and it surrounding areas are not as built-up as like Repulse Bay. But trust me, the place you ate is catered towards visitors (both foreign or locals), and not "workers", even though they are virtually big tents with folding tables/chairs I ate at one of those places myself last year.

- The bird market you went is only a few years old. It used to be a few blocks away, in a very narrow alley between apartment blocks. The new place is much cleaner. And because of the bird-flu that's affecting all of SE Asia, I'm sure they're keeping it especially clean these days.

- They never check for Airport Express tickets or boarding passes for the shuttle bus to/from the AE station. I've read that many local people ride those all the time, who never connect to the trains.

- Finally, about the seatless toilet. I grew up in Hong Kong, went there often, and even had friends who live in one of those low-cost housing that only has those toilets... But I've never used them in my life. I'd rather hold it! And yes, one of the most "uncivilized" thing about Hong Kong is the lack of toilet papers anywhere, except in hotels and hotel restaurants. And most cheaper eateries don't give you napkins either. That's why every Hongkonger always carry paper tissue with them, wherever they go, whenever. They even give you a free pack when you buy a newspaper. It's THAT important. [When I first moved to the US, I was still carrying a pack with me all the time, and my American friends always asked if I was having a cold.]
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Old Apr 1st, 2004, 02:06 PM
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Yep, gotta be Delifrance. When in HK, we generally have breakfast at the one in the Hyatt. Our favorite place for morning coffee.

As for the ivory, it might very well be "mastadon ivory" but what you need to understand is, that doesn't really mean anything. LOL

Normally, it just means that the item you're buying is some type of a fossilized bone. Could be walrus, could be mastadon, could be anything.

Some of those items are actually not bone at all and are resin. It's hard to tell often times. Depends how they finish it.

But, like you said, as long as you like your carving and it reminds you of a terrific adventure, who cares?

Excellent report! Thanks for posting. I love Hong Kong and am going through withdrawls as I haven't been since last September.
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Old Apr 1st, 2004, 04:39 PM
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Thank you for such a great & detailed report! I'm glad you had a great time in Hong Kong.

As far as temples go in HK & Macau, even though they are religious sites, anyone is welcome to go in as long as he/she is respectful. I do appreciate you not entering them for fear of intruding. This gives you another reason to go back!
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Old Apr 2nd, 2004, 05:45 AM
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What a terrific report! Thanks, clevelandbrown, for taking the time and effort to share with us. I'm sure it will be helpful to those planning their first trip to HK, and it was great for someone who has been many times to re-live a 1st experience.

Of all the maps of Hong Kong that I've seen, the most useful is the free map that the HKTA puts out. They give them away at the airport, and they're also in most hotel rooms.

As for the weather, my favorite time is in December. The temperatures are comfortable (60s and low 70s), and the air is often very clear. Plus, enormous numbers of buildings have special Christmas lights, as you could not imagine.

Thanks again.
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Old Apr 2nd, 2004, 08:06 AM
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We'll be there for a couple of days later this month - I'm really getting excited! Thanks.
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Old Apr 2nd, 2004, 09:34 AM
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great trip report...we also did hk two years ago in march via continental...we thought their service to be excellent...we would do it got around quite a bit...
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Old Apr 2nd, 2004, 01:03 PM
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Super report. I actually envied your wanderings. Geting mildly lost is often our most interesting times. Unless I'm mistaken, there's a Deli France outdoors in an indentation of the Royal Orchid Sheraton in Bangkok.
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