Sunday, June 21, 2009

Hong Kong 2009

On a rather last minute whim, I decided to book myself a flight via Zuji to Hong Kong for a short getaway. Accomodation was taken care of by my dear friend who graciously offered me her guest room at her place, which was a hotel suite not very unlike a service apartment. The apartment building also had an accompanying tower which served as a normal hotel, for those just wanting to book a room for a couple of days.

All in all, Hong Kong is very similar to Singapore, and sometimes it was easy to forget that I had actually left Singapore and was in another country. Getting around is easy with established subway lines, electric buses as well as mini buses ply most areas, and if you're feeling lazy, it's not too costly to hop onto a cab either. Read on for further details on the places to go, food to eat, and more!

Useful Tips
- If you're going on a free & easy vacation, it's good to do some research beforehand to decide where you'd like to visit, then plan your itinerary accordingly. A simple place to start would be to visit the Hong Kong Tourism Board website. Here you'll find information about recommended places of interest, where to shop, where to find good food, and how to get around. I like this little tool they have as well - the Interactive Itinerary Planner. With this, you can select a place of interest to visit in the morning, for example, and the tool will recommend another item to fill the afternoon slot with. The planner also allows you to select the number of days of which to plan for, so you can more or less plan out your entire trip.

- If you've researched and targeted some place off the beaten track to go visit, it's most helpful to print out the name and address of the place in Chinese and bring it along with you. While most locals should be able to understand some English, it's always most helpful to have the name+address of your destination in the native tongue - you'll most definitely increase your chances of getting to where you want to go. It'd be good to note down any telephone numbers as well.

Getting in/out & around Hong Kong
Arrival/Departure: The Hong Kong International Airport is organized, clean, and offers various modes of transport to the heart of the city, as well as to Kowloon. For the budget or green traveller, hop onto the Airport Express, a really swift rail train which brings you to 5 different stops across Hong Kong: AsiaWorld-Expo Station, Airport Station, Tsing Yi Station, Kowloon Station and Hong Kong Station. Should you choose to alight at either Hong Kong Station or Kowloon Station, you'll be pleased to know that there are complimentary shuttle bus services plying a total of 6 different routes which stop at major hotels / MTR stations. Both the express and bus services are very clean and comfortable to travel in, and have ample space to stash away your luggage.

Get the Airport Express Travel Pass if you'll be staying for a couple of days and are intending to get into the city by the Airport Express and commute within the city via the MTR. There are 2 price options for the pass, and allow up to 3 days' unlimited travel on the MTR (train only). Refer to the MTR website for further details.

! TIP ! Purchase the Airport Express Travel Pass on board the plane if you fly Cathay Pacific for a HK$10 discount.

Around the city: If you're staying in a hotel, there almost always is a shuttle bus service provided to MTR stations in the vicinity. Do check out the timings/frequencies of the buses so you can plan your day accordingly.

Hong Kong has an extensive subway line (click here for rail system map) which will bring you to just about anywhere around the city. With the narrow roads and numerous cars, it's almost always faster to hop onto the MTR instead. Plus, you'll be saving the Earth by commuting public anyway! :)

But if you really must hop onto a cab, it's good to note that there are 3 different types of taxis, and not all go everywhere. So make sure you hop onto the right coloured cab to reach your destination without getting frazzled, or quite literally, taken for a spin. Make sure the cabby also charges by the meter - it's against the law to do otherwise. The red taxis start the meter at HK$18.00, and the fare jump is relatively distance + wallet friendly. A trip from Kowloon island to Hong Kong island costs about HK$70.00++ (including the toll fee) if you go by the expressway. NOT advisable to cab it on a Friday evening though. It's the same anywhere else in the world - Friday night, the whole city is out to let their hair down and par-tae.

For a slower pace in travel, hop onto the 'Ding Ding', an electric tram which plies from east to west for just HK$2 per trip (regardless of where you get on/off)!! I definitely enjoyed my ride on the tram, it was lovely to see the 'real' side of the city and feel the breeze blowing across my face as I peered out the open window like a curious little kid on his first bus ride. The 'ding ding!' sound made by the tram at each stop was also somewhat hypnotic.. well I think I'd much prefer to hear that than the shrill 'BZZZT!' we typically get on our buses and trains back home.

Another iconic means of travel in HK would be the Star Ferry. The distinctive green and white ferry sets out every 15 minutes or so, and for just HK$6.00 (adult ticket), you get to go across the harbour on a very lovely boat ride. Soak in the panoramic view of the buildings and skyscrapers which line the harbour (they're all lighted up in the evening, so an evening boat ride makes for great nightscape photos).

Apart from the above modes of transportation mentioned, there is also the minibus. But due to the complexity of getting around in one, as this site has discussed, it's a much lesser chosen option for visitors, especially if you are not fluent in Cantonese. Besides, the other options are usually comprehensive enough to get around by. If they are not, then you must be headed somewhere really off the beaten track, do share with us your travel experience then!

Shop 'Till You Drop
When planning a trip to Hong Kong, there are probably 2 main items on the agenda - 吃东西,买东西,吃东西, 买东西... (Eat, Shop, Eat, Shop...) For the shopping bit, the numerous malls and shopping streets will definitely keep you on your feet, and your wallet light.

One thing I noticed while walking around in HK, is that almost every lady is carrying a label tote. Brand labels aren't a luxury in HK, they are a way of life. With that many malls carrying that vast an array of handbags, it becomes very hard not to get tempted. :P There's also the holiday expenditure mentality which doesn't help - "I'm on holiday, it's okay to spend a bit more!"

Well I'm proud to say I did not succumb to the labels on my trip............... but I'm also ashamed to say I succumbed to it a few weeks later back in SG. :P I've been initiated into the world of the big labels, and I think there's no turning back.. :P

For more affordable shopping, we visited Island Beverly Mall (1 Great George Street , Causeway Bay) which is located near Sogo at Times Square. Touted as a 'Youth Mall', you'll find the latest fashion trends and accessories by little shops with their own unique identities spread out over a few floors. The mall is not very unlike our own Far East Plaza, Bugis Village or Haji Lane - and you'll be sure to find one-of-a-kind pieces to bring home with you for a very reasonable price. Most of the shops work on a cash-only basis though, so you may want to load up on some cash first. There's also a money changer conveniently located within the building in case you run out of local currency.

Coach Chocoolate (a shop using Joe Cool (Snoopy) as a theme)
Agnes b. Sport Louis Vuitton
Labels galore... H&M
Times Square in Causeway Bay

Other notable malls:

Also, it might be a good idea to plan your trip within the various sales periods in HK to maximize your dollar value. :)

Happy shopping!

Gimme Somethin' Good To Eat!
Other than being notable as a shopper's paradise, HK is also reputable for its lip-smacking local delicacies such as roasted meats, mango desserts, herbal jellies, and dim sum, to name a few.

糖朝 (Tang Chao) The Sweet Dynasty is a chain of restaurants specializing in Chinese desserts. Apart from the wide array of desserts available, they also offer dim sum. As dim sum items usually come in 3s, it's a good idea to go for dim sum in multiple of 3s so you'll get to try more dishes without getting the sick bloated feeling after the meal.

From left-right, I highly reccommend the following dishes (I'm drooling just thinking about them now!):

1. Ma Lai Gou - A light, sweet & fluffy cake
2. Baked egg tarts - These came in mini size with a sprinkle of bird's nest on top.. HEAVEN~
3. Deep fried mantou with custard filling - These are so delicious it's not enough to describe it in words, you'll have to taste some for yourself!!
4. Soyabean with Black Sesame Paste - Ebony and ivory, a pleasant mix.

Roasted meats:
Roasted meats eateries are not too hard to come across in HK, and they are generally of a decent standard. Unfortunately I did not note down the name of the one I stepped into, it was in the vicinity of Times Square though. It was quite clever the way they served up the iced tea with milk - the ice came in a bowl surrounding the cup of drink, so in this manner you'd get a cold drink without having the ice dilute it.. Smart!

Stuff to buy back for your friends & family
Signature confectionary shops such as Qi Wah, Wing Wah, and Aji Ichiban 優の良品 - a snack food franchise you'll commonly see during your trip.

Posted by dawn.wong on 6/21/2009 08:22:00 PM in , , , ,


fongie said...

I heart Tang Chao! It's sooo good. I will definitely go back again in Dec just to eat Tang Chao.

I miss HK aldy!