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Kathie May 2nd, 2004 02:03 PM

Hong Kong Trip Report
I?ve just returned from a week in Hong Kong. I?ll post my report in several installments.

Octopus Card: Several people on this board recommended buying an Octopus card. Let me add my endorsement as well. We weren?t interested in taking the train in from the airport (we used a taxi both ways, about HK$300 each way) so we bought a regular card, HK$150 each. We used our cards to ride the MTR (subway), the bus, the Star ferry and the Peak Tram. At the end of the week, when we turned in our cards at the airport, we still had about HK$25 left on the card as well as our HK$50 deposit.

Money: We used ATM cards to withdraw money at the airport. The only charge was US$1.50 that my bank charges for the use of a foreign machine. The exchange rate was good, 7.72 HK dollars to the US dollar the day I arrived. I did not see any place offering better rates. By the way, do look carefully at the money you get in change. As you may know, Hong Kong money is issued by several different banks, so bills differ slightly from one to another. Thus, you may not notice that the Chinese money (and Macau money) looks very similar. I was slipped a Chinese 100 yuan note in change at Cat Alley, and had to find someone to change it for me. I should have used it in a store where I was offered HK$93 for it, but thought I should be able to do better at a money changer ? wrong! The money changer offered a mere HK$72 for it. Eventually, I changed it at my hotel for HK$90.

Hotel: We stayed in the Regency Club at the Hyatt on the Kowloon side. The Hyatt is just a few blocks from the Star ferry, in a nice location by Nathan Road. I?m a very frequent stay member with Hyatt so had a rate I couldn?t pass up. This was the first Hyatt built in Asia, so it is an older hotel but it has been well kept-up. All of the public spaces were lovely, and the Regency Club rooms were nice appointed, with silk wall coverings and nice Chinese art work on the walls. The Regency Lounge was not as large or as nice as most, and since the small lounge has a smoking area, it can be rather smoky. The amenities of staying in the Regency Club include breakfast in the lounge each morning (fresh fruit, lovely pastries, congee, juice, coffee, tea, etc.) and cocktails and canapes and desserts in the evenings. As it was a small lounge (and just two floors of Regency Club rooms) the selection of canapes in the evening was rather limited. The service was excellent.

Kathie May 2nd, 2004 02:17 PM

Day 1: We walked the waterfront Promenade, one of my favorite things about Hong Kong. Some of the Promenade is still closed due to construction (up by the Shangra-La), but a good portion of it was open. We had a nice Chinese lunch then visited the Art Museum, and wandered through the area doing some shopping and just acclimating to Hong Kong after our long flights the day before.

Day 2: We rode the Star ferry to Hong Kong island, took the bus to the Tram, and rode the Peak Tram to the top. We took the lovely loop trail at the top of the Peak (about an hour walk). We had lunch at Café Deco. The food is good, but not exceptional. Of course, the location means that the food is also rather expensive. Next time, I?d skip a meal at the Peak and come back down for a lovely lunch at one of the many recommended places we didn?t get to. We came back down and walked to Queen?s road to buy tea at Ying Kee. We bought a goodly amount of our favorite tea, Dragon Pearl Jasmine. Unfortunately, Ying Kee didn?t have any of the fancy "presentation" teas I was looking for as gifts. They did have some nice Xixing teapots at good prices. We rode the Star ferry back to Kowloon. That evening, we walked the Promenade and enjoyed the light show on the Hong Kong buildings.

Day 3: We started our day with a trip to the Jade market at Kansu Road in Kowloon. I always enjoy the Jade market, and look for interesting older pieces. Don?t expect to find real antiques here. I just smile when they tell me the piece I?m looking at is Han dynasty. Bargain here, and you can get some good prices. I also picked up one of the bracelets made from Mah-jong pieces. We had a special lunch at Margaux at the Kowloon Shangra-La. This is a superb French restaurant, with superb service. The view across the bay to Hong Kong island is lovely as well. In the afternoon, we went to China Arts and Crafts and bought two lovely little teapots. The Xixing teapots were on sale for 30% off, but after some talking, we got two pots for the price of one.

Kathie May 2nd, 2004 02:45 PM

Day 4: Day Trip to Macau. I hadn?t been to Macau before, so this was a new experience. We took the MTR to the Sheung Wan ferry terminal (from Kowloon, it requires changing lines at Central). Tickets were HK$142 each way. A one-way is the same price as two single tickets. As we were going on a Wednesday, we didn?t buy roundtrip tickets, as we didn?t know when we?d want to come back (and you have to give them a sialing time for your return if you buy a roundtrip ticket). The trip is an hour each way and boats leave every 15 minutes. Seating was comfortable. You can buy first class tickets, but there is no difference in seating (I?m not sure what you get for your extra $$). We noted that the two hydrofoils we took were different, the second one was more comfortable, but you don?t get a choice. Hong Kong money is readily accepted on par with Macau money. But as the same does not apply in Hong Kong, try to use up any of the Macau money you receive in change before going back to Hong Kong. We started by taking a taxi to the A Ma temple. I always enjoy these temple visits, but it?s not for everyone. My traveling companion was turned off by the heavy smoke of the incense and the many people pushing by her. It was the most crowded (many people in a small area) place we visited in Macau. We then took a bus into the central part of the city, and wandered around on the narrow streets, window shopping and enjoying the ambiance. We visited the remains of Sao Paulo and the citadel before deciding it was time for lunch. We caught a taxi out to Coloane Island to have lunch at Fernando?s. (There was an excellent write-up about Fernando?s in the New York Times travel section a month or so ago.) The Fodor?s book is rather disparaging about Fernando?s, but the recommendation of people on this site and the NYT made us decide to go. It was delightful! The menu is in Portuguese, so we asked the server what she recommended. We knew we wanted to try the famous roast suckling pig, and she recommended the prawns as well. All the dishes came on large plates and we shared them. The "wine list" consists of going to the entrance of the kitchen and pointing to the bottle of wine you?d like with your meal. We had an excellent Portuguese red for HK$120 (what a contrast from the very expensive wine in Hong Kong!). We started with a salad of tomatoes (huge slabs of red, juicy tomatoes!) sweet onions and romaine with a simple vinagrette. The prawns arrived next ? a pile of whole prawns cooked in their shells in a spicy sauce. The suckling pig arrived last, succulent, with a thin, crisp skin. The meal was superb, and the least expensive meal we had on our trip. By the way, Fernando?s does NOT take credit cards. After lunch we wandered over to the beach were Chinese tourists were taking off their shoes, rolling up their pant legs and wading into the waves even though it was raining lightly. They were having a great time and we enjoyed watching them. You can see the Westin hotel from the beach ? it looks lovely. We caught a taxi back into town, and wandered around the old town for a while. We really didn?t see any interesting shopping, perhaps we were in the wrong place. I liked all the winding walking streets, and enjoyed the atmosphere. We took a late afternoon ferry back to Hong Kong. Knowing what I know now, I would have taken a look at the duty free in Macau. Duty free in Hong Kong is more expensive than other large Asian cities. The only thing I ever buy in duty free is XO Cognac, and it was about US$20 a liter more in the Hong Kong airport than in Bangkok (still much less than I?d have to pay in Seattle). There is a duty free shop in the ferry terminal, and it looked to have wine and spirits, but I didn?t stop to compare prices.

rkkwan May 2nd, 2004 03:33 PM

Nice report. And it sounds like you enjoy your trip. A couple of comments:

1. The 1USD=7.72HKD rate is exactly 1% lower than the official rate of the 7.79-7.80 "fixed" rate. That's what people always get using a VISA/MC/Cirrus ATM or check card, not including the extra fees one's own bank will charge.

2. The company that runs the Turbojet service between HK and Macau uses two main types of vessels on this route. One is a jetfoil designed by Boeing. The whole vessel is lifted out of water at speed. [Some are the originals built by Boeing, others are built in China under license.] The other is a jet-propelled catamaran, which I believe is Australian. You don't get to choose which one to take, and both takes about the same amount of time (55-60 minutes). I've never travelled first class on the catamarans, but on the jetfoils, first class means upper level seating and I believe a complimentary drink (and perhaps newspaper).

3. Didn't realize they still have the "free-return trip" promotion. They started it last year after SARS devasted the area. I never bought a ticket at the counter though, as usually I'll get a hotel/ferry package at one of those booking agencies at the ferry terminal. And keep in mind that they allow people to standby for earlier return ferries. So, you can just get the ticket for a late return time, and if you want to return earlier, just go to the terminal and line up. With such frequent service, you can almost always get on the one you want (or the next one, in 15 minutes).

4. Fernando is a cool restaurant by the bus stop, and has a very small front. Last time I was there, I couldn't even find its name, but seems like everybody knows about it. You're right about the menu - no English on it. Just Portugese and Chinese.

5. The beach on Coloane island is pretty nice. It's Chinese name means "black sand", as the sand is darker than the white/beige color one usually sees.

Kathie May 2nd, 2004 03:57 PM

Day 5: We took the Star ferry over to Hong Kong and caught a taxi to the Botanical and Zoological gardens. We enjoyed walking in the gardens and looking at orchids in the greenhouse. The park had many groups of school children ? from pre-school through elementary enjoying the gardens as well. From there we went to Hong Kong Park, especially to see the Museum of Tea Ware, but also to enjoy the park and more orchids in another greenhouse. I think Hong Kong has some of the best urban parks in the world. We had lunch reservations at M at the Fringe. The restaurant was recommended on this board and in the Fodor?s guide where it was called perhaps the best restaurant in Hong Kong. First, if you go, make sure you have the address and tell the taxi driver that it is next to the Fringe Club. It is hard to find, and our driver couldn?t find it. Once we knew we were close, we got out and found it on foot. Also note that you will be charged HK$15 per person for club membership. The menu here is eclectic. There are dishes from various parts of the world (other than Asia), but the food is definitely not fusion. We had a meze platter as a starter that was very good. The entrees were well-prepared, but rather large and heavy. I probably wouldn?t choose to go there again. By the way, it was the only place we ate in Hong Kong where there were more people of European heritage than those of Asian heritage. We shopped after lunch in Cat Alley and the surrounding streets. This is an interesting area, and you can find interesting things to buy as long as you don?t take the label "antique" seriously. We walked the promenade in the evening as the sun set. The Avenue of the Stars (an area of the promenade celebrating Hong Kong?s film-making industry) opened on this day, and it was interesting to walk in the area and to observe visitors excited about the handprints of their favorite stars. We thought they were going to have fireworks as well as the light show, but they postponed the fireworks until the next week.

Day 6: For our last day in Hong Kong, we started with a walk in Kowloon Park. This is another of Hong Kong?s well-designed and well-used parks. We enjoyed walking a people watching, as locals did Tai Chi. After our refreshing walk, we shopped for a few last buys before going home. We had lunch at Spring Moon in the Pen. It was really a lovely lunch, starting with a couple of items of Dim Sum and moving on to the famous pigeon with cinnamon and several other lovely dishes. My one disappointment was that they were not serving duck (apparently because of the Avian Flu). We finished up our shopping in the afternoon. We found some nice bargains at Yue Hwa Chinese Products, like beautifully made cashmere-lines leather gloves at half price. I was still looking for some special "presentation teas" so went to a small tea shop I remembered in the Ocean Center shopping complex. They carry three types of presentation teas, and had two in stock. I?m sorry I can?t find the name of the shop, but they have been there for years.

Other notes: I had a silk blouse copied while I was there. It was a heavy silk crepe, and I couldn?t find the fabric anywhere in Bangkok, so thought I?d try Hong Kong. I did find the fabric I wanted, and had it made at Maxwell?s Clothiers, 38-40 Hangkow Street (not far from the Star ferry). It was not inexpensive, but they did a lovely job. Tahnks to the person on this board who gave me the name of this tailor.

Most memorable meals: I?d nominate three places as the best of the trip ? all very different from each other: Fernando?s in Macau, Margaux at the Kowloon Shrangra La, and Spring Moon at the Pen.

The area around the Shangra La Hotel on the Kowloon side is still ripped up with construction. I had a wonderful stay there a number of years ago, and would have considered it for this stay, but was warned by someone on this board about the construction (thank you!). I wouldn?t stay there until the construction is finished. I understand that the underground work is done, and that the promenade area and sidewalks and such will be done in August.

We had a lovely trip. I want to express my appreciation to people on this board who offered their experiences and recommendations.

Kathie May 2nd, 2004 04:07 PM

rkkwan, you were one of the people who offered good info for our planning - thanks.

I'll blame my jetlag, but I must not have been clear about the jetfoil tickets - they weren't two for one, but rather the cost of a roundtrip is the same as the cost for two one way tickets. While that is common in Asia, in the US, you usually pay much more if you buy two one way tickets. It wasn't clear to me that I could use a ticket for any earlier jetfoil departure, so I just bought a one-way. On the first boat we rode on, economy was on the upper deck while on the second boat, I'm guessing it must have been on the upper deck (the upper deck was closed off, no one was up there).

Yes, the front area of Fernando's is very small, we ate in an open pavillion in the back (exposed brick with a nice beamed ceiling). Apparently all the taxi drivers know it. The NYT article made it sound as if the taxi drivers wouldn't want to go over there, but we had no trouble. Also, the drivers stay around to take people back, so you shouldn't have any trouble getting a taxi back.

pat_woolford May 2nd, 2004 06:41 PM

When I lived in HK many years ago one of my favourite meals was roast goose with a plum sauce and it was especially good in one of the many restaurants in Wanchai. I was in HK a few weeks ago and looked for it in vain (roast goose, not the restaurant) - I did find it listed on a restaurant menu in the Jade something - upstairs from China Arts and Crafts near the Star Ferry. When we ordered it the waitress told us it wan't available and substituted a very ordinary dim sum meal. Could this be a result of avian flu? In Vietnam we had no trouble ordering chicken or duck. Anyway, if someone knows the best roast goose place in HK these days, please tell me.

rhkkmk May 2nd, 2004 07:11 PM

kathie---great report...we had a week in HK two years ago and found that a wonderful amount of time for a re-visit...we have been there several times and always find new things to do...

fyi...we are off to bkk on the you know we will sample the sheraton in your honor for 2 nites...i gave your name as a reference for the reservation and they automatically upgraded me to a senior suite....hahaha

any last minute tips?? we hope to take a look-see at your jewerler this time...we have several things to be made during our stay...

i will post a trip report after june 20... i hope to meet jamesA for a drink also...

Kathie May 2nd, 2004 07:49 PM

Hi, Bob, Have a great trip. You'll be staying at several of my favorites, the Royal Orchid (great ploy, by the way!) and the Bali Hyatt. Use my name with my jeweler - they'll tell you they'll give you "wholesale price."

rhkkmk May 2nd, 2004 08:25 PM

now is that the "bangkok" wholesale price or the "seattle" wholesale price??

i have the address written down but i don't hink that you told me what section of the city it is in?? do you remember where??


Kathie May 3rd, 2004 07:53 AM

Bob, I find I can buy jewelry or stones from them for one half (or less) of the Seattle wholesale price (one fourth of the Seattle retail price or less). It's located in the Dusit area, a 20-25 minute drive from the Royal Orchid.

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