Hong Kong

Edit: Many Vietnamese ISPs have blocked WordPress. Getting this post up took some serious extra effort.

Hong Kong is officially “Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China”. I guess it’s kind of like Puerto Rico to the United States. The politics are kind of complicated but basically Hong Kong and China have a “Two Systems, One Country” rule. You can google China – Hong Kong relationship for more info.

Within Hong Kong, there’s Hong Kong Island, the Kowloon Peninsula and the New Territories, which seems to be everything else that is not Hong Kong Island or Kowloon.

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This includes many smaller islands, but also larger important ones like Lantau, where the airport and Disneyland are located.

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From Lantau to Kowloon to Hong Kong Island, it is all connected by the MTR and highways. Between the MTR, buses and trolleys you can get many, many places in Hong Kong via public transport for wicked cheap (minus the airport. It’s not cheap to get back and forth on the MTR to the airport). We took public transport the entire time we were there.

Hong Kong is known for its shopping. There’s tons of malls, many of them very upscale. We are not really in to that. Plus we were jet lagged and getting used to a 12 hour time change. We tried to do 1 excursion per day, and then napped or hung out in the executive lounge of The Conrad (said with a British accent to make it extra haughty).

Things we did

Visited Kowloon. You can take the MTR or the ferry from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon. On our first day, we walked to a famous temple on Hong Kong Island, then walked down to the piers to take the Star ferry to Kowloon. The ferry takes about 8 minutes and costs 2.50 Hong Kong Dollars (7.7 HKD to 1 USD, so really freaking cheap). The port area and a bit north in Kowloon are major shopping areas. You can find anything there. We stopped to have lunch (some sort of noodle soup, 10 USD total) then walked to Kowloon park, which had a comic book figure exhibit.

We meandered through a street market, then took the MTR back to the hotel.

The next day we went to the Museum of Coastal Defense. It is located in an old fort that the British built before WWII. The museum gave a nice history of Hong Kong during British occupation as well as Japanese occupation during WWII.

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It strangely had an exhibit dedicated to Puyi, who was the last emperor of China, that had nothing to do with Coastal Defense and was only tangentially related to the history of Hong Kong (in that Hong Kong is now part of China, but that’s all).

From the website (http://hk.coastaldefence.museum/en_US/web/mcd/exhibition/special/puyi.html) “2016 marks the 110th anniversary of Puyi’s birth and the 105th anniversary of the 1911 Revolution. Featuring 73 sets of exhibits, including an imported gramophone and camera from his sojourn in Tianjin, commemorative medals, memorials to the throne and the Manchukuo order of appointment as well as his personal diary and smoking utensils from his time as a commoner in contemporary China, this exhibition showcases the life of Puyi, which reflected not only the vagaries of the 20th century, but also the social changes and upheaval that China underwent in this period.  We hope that visitors to the exhibition will leave with a greater understanding of the life of Puyi and the history of modern China.”

Right… So how is this related to Coastal Defense? Oh It’s not. Okay. Moving On.

The history was interesting and the museum itself was free and had excellent English signage. Can’t really argue with that. Plus I’m a sucker for museums in forts, caves, old mansions, prisons etc.

That night we took a tram up to Victoria Park, which is a park on the top of a hill. Except, this being Hong Kong, of course there’s a mall there. And a line for everything. The views were beautiful though.

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Unfortunately, the wait for the tram down was about 1 hr and it was already 8pm, approaching our bed time, so we walked down. That took less than an hour so we did save time.

Our last full day on Hong Kong we went to Big Buddha, once again via MTR. We took it to the end of the Tung Chung line, on Lantau Island, which is about a 45 minute ride. From there we took a cable car up the mountain.

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At the top, it was like Disney World.

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Luckily, as you walk towards the Buddha the shops disappear. We climbed, I believe 268 steps, to the top.

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From there, we took the 11 bus to Tai O, an old fishing village on the western coast of Lantau Island. Houses are on stilts and the smell of fish is everywhere. There’s tons of stalls selling all sort of seafood products; I saw dried shrimp, dried squid, shrimp paste and tons of stuff that I had no idea what it was.

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So Many Selfies!

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We had lunch there before hopping on a bus back to the MTR (about 45 minutes on the bus). From there it was another 45 minutes on the MTR back to the hotel.

Those three excursions were the extent of our activities in Hong Kong. According to John’s phone, we averaged about 6 miles of walking per day.

The MTR

I’ve seen this numerous times in Asia, a huge mall is on top of a subway stop and is also connected to multiple hotels. The Conrad is one of the hotels connected to the Admiralty MTR stop and the Pacific Place Mall. It made taking the MTR incredibly convenient.

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Per Wikipedia: The MTR has 10 heavy rail lines and 12 light rail lines, for a total of 157 stations and 136 miles of track. On an average weekday 5 million trips are made (NYC averages 5.7 million rides), with 99.9% on time performance. Delays over 8 minutes the MTR must report to the government (there were 143 incidents in 2013) and is fined $130,000 for delays over 31 minutes.

The MTR is the most modern public transportation I’ve ever taken. It is beautiful. It’s quiet, clean and cheap; everything public transportation should be. Buying tickets is a breeze. You simply touch the station you are traveling to and the ticket machine gives you the fair. You pay and then get a single ride card. You swipe the card to enter the MTR and at your destination you insert the card to exit. The machine keeps your card so that it can be reused.

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The shortest trips on the MTR are ~ 3 HKD (< 50 US cents), while the longest are around 52 HKD ($6.50ish). When we took the Tung Chung from the start of the line to the end it was 25 HKD.

The largest subway interchange is between Central Station and Hong Kong Station, 4 separate lines converge and the two stations are linked underground. It’s about an 8 minute walk from one station to the other, entirely underground. We made this connection twice, the first during morning rush hour and it was busy, very busy, but it was eerily quiet. There’s also lines painted on the ground that separate the two ‘flows’ of people, along with workers directing you to the correct side of the tunnels. There’s no bumping or jostling or dodging people.  And did I mention quiet? So, so quiet. It was amazing.

The trains themselves are also quiet. You could easily have a conversation on your cell phone while the train is moving (though no one does because again, everyone is quiet). There’s maps that light up with the stop you are at and tell you which side the doors open. Also, Chinese and English are both used everywhere. All stops are announced I believe in Chinese and English and possibly Mandarin?

The airport line is very expensive. From Hong Kong Station to the Airport is 100 HKD/ person (~$13 each way). It takes you directly to the terminals and takes about 35 minutes. It’s also the cheapest and most convenient option for getting to/ away from the airport.

The Conrad

Thanks to John’s parents we spent 4 nights in a 5 star hotel, The Conrad. I’ve stayed in maybe…3 or 4? 5 star hotels in my life and The Conrad does not disappoint. Since John’s parents have like platinum status in Hilton, we stayed on the top floor (61st) and had access to the executive lounge.

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We also had free breakfast from 6:30am-11am, afternoon tea and snacks from 3-5pm and evening drinks and canapes from 5-7pm. There was an outdoor heated pool, a hot tub and a pillow menu (at first I thought that was a late-night snacks menu. No, it’s an actual menu of pillows).

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Forgive the face- it was ~6:30am.

Breakfast was amazing. There was everything you could imagine, a mix of western food and Asian food. Cereal, pastries, eggs, bacon, fruit, yogurt, noodles, dumplings, soup… anything you could ever want. Obviously, we ate a big breakfast every day.

The afternoon tea usually had a few sandwiches (not that great), some mini desserts (decent) and cheese and crackers and almonds, my personal favorite. Plus you could get coffee at afternoon tea, my go to.

Drinks were anything you want. Not just beer and wine, but any cocktail along with snacks! Warm snacks! Again, not that great, but FREE! We don’t turn down free. Plus, the executive lounge was up on the 59th floor so it was an amazing view. Sometimes we went to afternoon tea followed by drinks and didn’t eat a real dinner. Actually, I think we did that every night. Don’t judge us.

All told, we spent 4 nights, 3 full days and spent 126 USD (of course that excludes The Conrad, which was paid for with hotel points. My parents generously gave us 400 RMB, Chinese currency, that we changed to HKD while there, ~57 USD. That totals $183 USD. The Conrad is 350+ USD per night so I’m just gonna leave that there). We averaged $61 per day for the two of us, ~$31 per person per day. Of course, this means next to nothing since we didn’t pay for accommodation and barely paid for food. Definitely stayed on budget!

After our 4 nights we had a lazy breakfast on the 4th day, then took the MTR to the airport to make our way to Hanoi, Vietnam!

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