10 May 2012

Journey to Hong Kong

This time last year I had the opportunity to go somewhere for Golden Week too. However due to lack of time and me being new to Kumamoto I decided to stay at home.

At first I wasn't sure where I should go. But I remembered I was briefly in Hong Kong when I was on my way back to Japan from Thailand. So I thought Hong Kong would be a cool place to visit. I also thought I may have the opportunity to see some of my friends again who live on the mainland.

The flight to Hong Kong wasn't particularly expensive at around ¥60,000 (£476) flying from Fukuoka. But at the time I was having trouble finding a hotel in a fairly decent area. The cheapest hotel I could find was Casa Hotel at ¥62,214 (£493) which was more than the cost of my flight but the hotel was on Nathan Road which was close to all the good stuff.

Once I had my dates finalised I contacted Yu-rong (my friend from China) to let her know I would be in Hong Kong. I was happy to hear that it was likely that she would be able to come and see me! Fortunately for me my dates in Hong Kong coincided with a national holiday on the mainland.

My flight path from Fukuoka was a lot like when I went to Thailand except my final destination was Hong Kong of course. However this time I had to change planes in Taiwan and so I actually managed to see a bit of Taiwan although it was just the area around the airport.

When I eventually got to Hong Kong I had to wait a little while to get through immigration but luckily the airport had free wifi. As I ventured out into into the rest of the airport I was a little confused as to the best way to get to my hotel. I asked someone at the information desk and they told me that I could take the bus there. While at the information desk I picked up an Octopus Card which like the Oyster Card in London gives you a partial discount when used as opposed to standard tickets.

As I made my way to the bus station everything about the route was still very fresh in my memory from my last trip here. The information map for the bus stops were explained very easily. Every destination was listed alphabetically with the corresponding bus number next to it all in English.

The first thing I noticed when my bus pulled up was how similar it was to the buses back in London. The bus to Yau Ma Tei Station on Nathan Road took around 50/60 minutes. Luckily for me I saw my hotel as my bus drove down Nathan Road. I then quickly got off at the next stop and walked back up the road.

The hotel lobby was located on the second floor of the building. I was greeted at the front desk by two men who checked me in. Near the front desk was useful information for tourists that informed them about local tourist attractions in Hong Kong. After I was done I made my way up to my room. The pictures I had seen on booking.com where spot on. The room was very small and I could practically touch both sides of the room at the same time. But saying that there was a TV, internet, fridge and a shower/toilet so it wasn't that bad.

Once I was settled in my room I called Yomi (Yu-rong) to tell her I had arrived. She let me know that she was actually staying with our friend Nan who lives closer to Hong Kong than her. I then sent her the details of my hotel and we agreed to meet the next day in the morning.

When I awoke the next day and looked out the window I was surprised at the amount of rain that was falling. The rain was so heavy like it was monsoon season. It made me wonder if my friends were able to get the bus on time. After I had finished getting ready I tried to call them both but I was unable to get through. As I finished getting ready I heard a knock on my door but when I opened it no one was there. My friends then popped out from 'round the corner to surprise me. We then greeted each other as if we had just seen each other the previous week. It was like I had never left China yet it had been nearly four years since I had seen them both.

Once we were finished getting up to speed on each others lives and exchanging gifts we made our way out of the hotel. However we didn't really have any idea what we should do for the day so made our way to a local restaurant to decide. After we had finished eating I told them that I had made a plan for the week already and maybe we could do something from my list. We then made our way quickly to Wang Tsai Sin Temple!

We spent an hour or so at the temple taking photos and admiring the area. Once we had finished there we made our way to the local Mall to look around. But it was a mistake going to one of the cosmetic shops because Nan decided she wanted to buy something but the couldn't decide what. So she spent a long time listening to one of the shops employees explain every item in detail! As Nan continued to talk Yomi and I talked some more about what our lives are like now compared to when we all lived in Zhen'An. Yomi was surprised that I could still remember everything so clearly even my Chinese.

Once Nan had finished we made our way to The Avenue of Stars which was near the waterfront. When we got there we could see a lot of people all up and down the avenue. We fooled around by taking pictures and talking more about the time we spent together in China.

Later we couldn't decide whether or not we wanted to eat or check out the Temple Street Night Market since we didn't have time to do both. In the end we decided to go and eat but not before heading back to my hotel so Yomi could save the pictures I had taken on my camera.

We couldn't decide on what we wanted to eat so I suggested pizza. I suggested pizza because I don't have the opportunity to eat it in Japan because its too expensive. I used my phone to look for the nearest Pizza Hut and then we made our way there. Fortunately for us it wasn't particularly far from the hotel but when we got there we had to wait about 20 mins because it was very busy.

We couldn't stay at Pizza Hut for too long as Yomi and Nan needed to catch their bus back home. So after we had finished we made a mad dash for the nearest station! I was sad to see them go but I hoped...actually I was sure I would see them again someday.

The next day I had arranged to visit The Peak, Madame Tussauds, Symphony of Lights at Victoria Harbour and then later see The Hunger Games at the The Grand Cinema.

I left my hotel around 11:30 and made my way to The Peak. Luckily for me Madame Tussauds was in the same place as The Peak. The instructions on how to get to The Peak found on their website were great as I didn't need to ask anyone for directions.

As I neared closer to the tram station at the foot of The Peak I could see many people waiting to get on the tram. There could've been a couple hundred waiting to get on. I bought a discounted ticket that gave me access to the top of The Peak, Madame Tussauds and a return journey on the tram for $HK200 (¥2,095/£16.20)

I had to wait a little while before I was actually able to get on the tram. When I was finally at the top I made my way to the top of The Peak. At the top I had a nice 360 degree view of Hong Kong. However on that day the weather was not the greatest and so I was unable to take any great pictures! Once I was finished up there I made my way to Madame Tussauds.

Right near the entrance was a wax figure of Bruce Lee that many people were taking a picture of and with. I got someone to take a couple pictures of myself with the figure but I had to wait a little bit due to the amount of people. As I actually entered Madame Tussauds I was greeted by Jackie Chan but to take a picture with this figure I would've had to pay extra. It was because of this I passed on the photo opportunity.

Within the museum were many wax figures of celebrities and people from history. Of course this was the HK Madame Tussauds so many of figures were Chinese but I actually knew quite a few of them like Andy Lau, Jet Li and Jay Chou for example. At one stage within the museum you were presented with the chance to enter an interactive horror zone with live actors. I found this element to be quite entertaining but unfortunately for them I wasn't scared at all.

Once I left Madame Tussauds I tried to go to the top of The Peak again to try and take some better photos. But I was told you are only allowed to go up there once. I was a bit disappointed but there was nothing I could do about it so I just walked around the mall seeing what was on offer. I had lunch at a restaurant called spaghetti 360 and I have to say I found the food to be quite nice and reasonably priced.

After I had finished eating I made my way to the tram station but was shocked at how long the queue was and so decided to walk back down the mountain. What I didn't know at the time was that the walk down was quite long and tiring.

As I made my way back to the station I could really see the British influence in the area. It was like I was in central London around Oxford Street due to the layout and the type of shops that were there. However it wasn't until after walking around for a bit that I realised I didn't have enough time to make it to the harbour to see The Symphony of Lights. So I just made my way to the cinema.

The cinema was inside Elements Mall in Kowloon and it also had its very own subway exit/entrance that led directly in to the mall. The mall still looked quite new as I walked around even though it had been there a few years already.

I made my way to the cinema and there was quite a long queue so I had to wait a little before I was able to buy my ticket. My ticket cost HK$85 (¥871/£6.90) which was quite cheap compared to Japan. Also like Japan I was able to select where I wanted to sit. When I entered the screen I saw a lot of empty seats and so sat down where I wanted. It wasn't until later in to the film that I was asked to move by the people who had actually selected the seat I was in. I just sat in the next available seat as someone was in my seat and didn't wanna disturb them.

After the movie I noticed some promotion going on to promote the movie The Avengers. There appeared to be some famous Chinese celebrities and/or TV Personalities as there were a lot of photographers taking their pictures. Due to the amount of people I was a little confused on how to get out so I slipped past one of the barriers in to the main promotion area. I saw some people dressed up as some famous characters from Marvel and so decided to get a picture with them. It wasn't until I made my way out of the cinema that I realised you needed a special ticket to enter that area. So my ignorance allowed me to slip in and experience everything for free! As I was leaving I quickly bought my ticket to see The Avengers in advance after remembering how long I had to wait in line earlier.

I wasn't sure what time the last train was and so made a mad dash to the station. But this station was a bit far compared to the original one I came out of. Once I was out of the mall I saw on the area map that I wasn't too far from my hotel and so decided to walk back. As I walked back I was fortunate enough to stumble upon Temple Street Night Market!

I walked through the market but didn't really see much that stood out for me. I thought that the market in Thailand had a lot more to offer and it was also easier to haggle. I remember asking one guy at a stall if he would lower the price of his fake Ray Ban glasses but he just flat out refused. I tried to walk off to see if he would call me back but he never did. After I had finished at the market I made my way back to Nathan Road which my hotel was on. First time I unfortunately ended up walking the wrong way but it wasn't too long before I worked it out. I stopped off at a restaurant near the hotel for dinner which I though was quite nice considering how little it cost.

The next day I had planned to visit the Giant Buddha and Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island. I had gotten all the directions from the Internet so getting to MTR Tung Chung station was quite straightforward. Once I was at the station I needed to take a bus or the cable car up to the top of the mountain. I opted for the bus as it was the cheapest option. The queue however for the bus was ridiculously long but it wasn't until I got to one point in the queue that I had realised I was standing in the queue for the cable car!!

When I finally made it on to the bus I was able to use my Octopus Card which gave me a slight discount if I remember correctly. The drive to the top of the mountain took about 20 - 30mins. Unfortunately the higher I got the foggier it became and once I was at the peak I could barely see 50 yards ahead of me. I followed the crowd and made my way up to see the Giant Buddha which happens to be the largest bronze seated Buddha in the world. But because the day was so foggy I could barely see the Buddha and was unable to take any decent photos.

After I had finished trying to take some photos of Buddha I made my way towards the temple. There were quite a few people taking photos and burning incense. I decided to not eat at the temple and opted to explore the area some more. I made my way through a small area filled with shops and restaurants that resembled a small village/town. I stopped off at Subway to get something to eat before heading back to the station on the bus. But before I took the train back I decided to check out the mall that was right next to the station. There were quite a few luxury brands in there but I didn't have enough to buy anything there unfortunately.

On my way back I got off at Mong Kok to check out the market there. But like the night market I didn't really see anything too interesting and they didn't want to negotiate on their prices. After I was done there I made my way back to the hotel and called it a night.

The next day I had planned to visit Macau since it was really easy to get to from Hong Kong. I also didn't need a visa to enter the country either with my British Passport. From the hotel I walked to the China Ferry Terminal which took around 25mins. As soon as I stepped in the terminal I was approached by shop worker asking me if I was going to Macau to which I replied "Yes!". He then ushered me to his shops counter and told me I could buy my ticket there. The return ticket to Macau cost less than HK$ 300 (¥3,143/£24) with TurboJet which I thought was pretty good since it costs more to take a return bus from Kumamoto to Fukuoka.

If you didn't already know you need to bring your passport with you because you will be leaving Hong Kong. The journey took about 1 hour and whilst on the ferry we were given immigration forms to complete. When I got to Macau I had to go through immigration once more where they stamped my passport but not before asking me some routine questions.

At the time I only had Hong Kong dollars on me but I was told that HK$ can be used in Macau which was good. I enquired about some day tours whilst in the airport but they were all a bit too expensive for me as I didn't bring a lot of money.

As I walked around Macau I could see a lot of the Portuguese influence like how I noticed the British influence in Hong Kong. The first place I ended up was The Fisherman's Wharf which seemed like an amusement park but unfortunately for me that day nothing was going on and there were hardly any people. As I walked around the wharf I was approached by group of Chinese who asked to take a photo of/with me. I found this quite funny because it brought back memories of my time in China.

Once I had finished at the wharf I continued to walk around the area. I noticed that there were many casinos around but again I was unable to go since I didn't bring casino kinda of money with me. In the distance I saw the Macau Tower which I decided to check out. As I got closer I could see people bungee jumping from it, I thought about trying it myself but then remembered I wasn't crazy! I continued to walk around exploring for the remainder of the day.

The last place I went to before heading back was the Museum of Macau. The view from the top of the hill where the museum was situated was quite nice. I was able to see a lot of the city and also take some nice pictures. When I finally made it inside the museum they were closing which was slightly annoying. I did however pick up some souvenirs before leaving.

I made my way back to the ferry terminal and then back to Kowloon. Originally I had not planned to go to Macau but after finding out how easy/cheap it was to get there I thought why not. Overall I enjoyed my day trip there even if I didn't do much.

The following day I had decided to check out Disneyland Hong Kong, not because I necessarily needed to go there buy it was something to do. Also I've been to Disney Land in every country that's had one except for Disney Land in L.A. as I went to Disney World in Florida and Disney Land in Tokyo as I went to Disney Sea instead.

It was very straightforward to get to the park from my hotel in Kowloon. Also just like many other Disney resorts once you get to a specific station you then take the special Disney line to get to the park. My entrance ticket cost HK$399 (¥4,180/£32) which was cheaper than the ticket to Disney Sea in Tokyo which is between ¥5,000 and ¥6,000!

The park was a lot like other Disney parks except it wasn't as big. Compared to Disney Sea it was about 40% smaller. I was able to walk around the whole park in less than 20mins. But the park was quite familiar for me and I'm sure anyone else who has been to one of Disney's parks. I checked out the Lion King show since I had never seen it before. It was pretty cool and I was surprised they had a few black actors taking part.

Before I left I decided to get a quick picture with Mickey and Minnie. At first I wasn't going to but then I thought, might as well since I'm here and what says Disney like their mascots!

As I needed to waste some time before I went to the cinema I stopped of at Victoria Harbour to see The Symphony of Lights. But just as the show was about to start it started to rain and I didn't have an umbrella nor a jacket! Luckily it didn't remain heavy for long and I was able to see the show.

Once I was done there I made my way to The Grand cinema to watch The Avengers. In the station I had noticed a poster for a theme park named Ocean Park which looked interesting. I saved the website details on my phone and went to the cinema! I was lucky once I got to the cinema because I could pass by the queue since I had previously bought my ticket. I noticed that evening was quite calm compared to the previous night when the promotional event was going on. After the movie finished I could honestly say I thoroughly enjoyed it. The movie had something for everyone and you did not need to be a Marvel or comic book fan to appreciate it.

The next day was my last full day in Hong Kong. Because of this I had set this day aside to do some souvenir shopping. I had been told to check out Stanley Market by a friend and I also read online that it was good for souvenirs. However when I actually got there I realised Stanley Market was not as good as I had been led to believe. I quickly bought some key-rings as this could be my last opportunity. On my way to Stanley Market I had noticed the bus stop for the theme park Ocean Park I had seen a poster for the day before. On my way back from the market I got off near the Ocean Park bus stop instead of my original stop.

I made my way to the park but was in a bit of a rush since it was around 16:30 and the park closed at 19:00. As I was purchasing my ticket to the park I was told by the cashier that the park would be closing at 19:00. I informed her that this would not be a problem as I was aware of this already.

As soon as I made it through the gates I made a mad rush to the cable car station to get to the top of the mountain. According to the park map I picked up all the good rides where up there. I was fortunate that the day I went there wasn't that many people and so I was able to ride some of the better rides multiple times. Whilst on the mountain I had the opportunity to ride the second longest escalator in the world which was very...long.

When I had finished up on the mountain I made my way back to the bottom. But because it was near closing time a lot of the wildlife exhibits were closing or it was too dark to see anything interesting inside. As I was ready to leave the park the lights all began to dim apart from the ones in the centre. It was at the centre that the light show was about to begin according to the announcement. Jet streams of water all shot up from around the centre and a CGI story was projected on to the water which acted like a screen. The show lasted about 15 mins and after it had finished I was quite impressed since I had never seen anything like it before. As I made my way to the exit the park had all the buses lined up to take the guests back home which I thought was very well organised of them.

The next day I made my way to Kowloon Station by taxi to catch the express train to the airport. At the station there was a very useful feature where I was able to check my luggage before even getting to the airport. This made my journey so much quicker. It made me wonder why we haven't got a service like this in London. However this service was only available to customers who bought the Airport Express ticket and my single journey ticket cost HK$90 (¥943/£7.20).

My journey back to Japan was fairly hassle free except for when I finally made it back to Fukuoka. When I was at baggage claim I was told that in Taiwan they had forgotten to put my bags on my connecting flight! They said they could have my luggage shipped to me but in the end I decided to just wait until it came on the next flight. I hung out in in Fukuoka to waste some time before heading back to the airport.

So apart from the baggage mishap I really enjoyed my time in Hong Kong and honestly didn't want to go back to Japan so soon. It was really nice to see my friends from the mainland again as I didn't know if I would get to see them again. So overall I enjoyed my time in Hong Kong and hope to go again in the near future.