As some people know I decided to travel more this year. I have spent a lot of time traveling domestically the past few years, but no real international travel. So this year I made a point of planing a couple trips. The first to Costa Rica, and the second to Hong Kong.
I planned my Hong Kong trip to coincide with my birthday. Last year I spent m birthday in Vegas. But since I’ll be in Vegas 3 times in November and December, I decided it was good time to get out of the country a bit.
My trip started just two days after I returned from Blogworld in Las Vegas, so I really didn’t have much time to re-pack. Shaun decided to come with me, so at least I wouldn’t be alone on the 14 hour flight. I decided to drive to SFO and fly direct from there. It was a long drive, but between the time I have to spend going from Medford to SFO, and the lay over time, I was actually saving 2 hours each leg.
It was a direct flight on Cathay Pacific. We went Economy, but after 14 hours I will never make that mistake again. The flight attendant took pity on us and moved one person from our row so we could spread out a bit. That made the flight a lot more tolerable, and I was able to sleep most of the flight.
By the time we go to the airport I was well awake. We went through customs quickly and I was able to find a limo to take us to the hotel. Next time I think I’ll make sure the hotel sends one ahead of time.
We stayed at the Cosmopolitan Hotel. I’ll do a review on it in a follow-up post. For now I’ll say that it was a decent hotel with a helpful staff.
I wanted to make sure I did at least a couple main tourist things while there, so we headed straight to the Star Ferry. Shaun was still pretty wiped out after the trip, so he stayed at the hotel while I went exploring. By the time we get settled in at the hotel it was getting dark. So I figured that this would be a good time to hit the Night Market on Temple Street. After a quick instruction on the subway from a local student, I was on my way.
The night market is a huge collection of stands selling for the most part crap. Simple electronic items like flashlight and light-up keychains, knock-off brand name t-shirts and luxury watches, brass incense burners, etc… I did find a small shop selling pirated DVDâ€™s and picked up Bee Movie to see if it worked. You can read my post on pirated DVD’s in Hong Kong here.
I had dinner at a local restaurant and it was really good, like most of the food in Hong Kong. I also tried the egg tart, which was great.
The next day I decided to put my subway knowledge to the test and we ventured out to Disneyland. It took 4 trains to get there, but we managed it with ease. Ironically Disneyland was the most peaceful place we found in Hong Kong. There were no crowds, the lines were very short (but we didn’t go on any rides), and the food was actually quite good (we had Dim Sum). I worked at Disneyland while in college so i was curious as to what it would be like in Hong Kong. It’s very much like a miniature version of our Disneyland. It’s missing a few areas like Frontier Land, Toon Town, etc… but what they did have looked very much like our Disneyland in Anaheim.
After the train ride back Shaun wanted to see the night market to get more DVD’s. So we headed back down to the market and picked up a few more things.
The next day next day we headed to Lantau Island to see the Tian Tan Buddha (also known as the The Big Buddha). It looked like it would be easy, and very similar to Disneyland, to take the MTR there, but Frommers recommended taking a boat, so that’s what we did. The boat ride was good, but not quite the experience Frommers made it out to be. I guess it was worth it. After the boat ride we took a bus (which is driven by someone with a bit too much confidence) up the mountain to the Po Lin Monastery. We then began our very long climb of stairs to see the Big Buddha.
It’s a great site and definitely worth seeing while in Hong Kong. One suggestion, do not buy stuff at the Big Buddha like I did. There is a gift shop at the bottom, which saves you from carrying a lot of bags down the largest set of stairs I have ever seen.
On Saturday we took a cab over to the Man Mo temple and shopped the antique markets on Hollywood Rd. The Man Mo temple was a lot less grand than Tian Tan, but very interesting. People light incense to pray for whatever, and the whole temple is so thick with smoke it stings your eyes a bit. I donated some cash and purchased some incense to make an offering and pray for very un-zen-like things.
Hollywood Rd. was pretty much like what I thought it would be. A lot of stores offering incredible antiques at so-so prices. I like antiques, but I felt a little uncomfortable about taking some of these items out of Hong Kong, partially because of some of the things written about how many of these items do leave China and go to places where they are not really appreciated. I like antiques, but I’m not the right person to appreciate them. There is a great little market place that runs behind the stores of Hollywood Rd. that sell plenty of low quality faux antiques. Those were more my speed. Now I have nice souvenirs without worrying about breaking something hundreds of years old.
The next day was my birthday, so we took a jetfoil to Macau to stay at the Wynn. Macau is an interesting place, you can read up on Wikipedia here, but here’s the short of it: Macau, like Hong Kong is now a Special Administration Region (or SAR) of China. Where Hong Kong was occupied by the British, Macau was occupied by the Portuguese. They seem to be turning Macau into a Chinese Las Vegas, complete with big name hotel casinos like Venetian, MGM, and Wynn.
The room at the Wynn was great. The hotel really deserves it’s own review post, so I’ll work on that this week. Macau itself is interesting. It has the casinos, and there have been some attempts to build some supporting areas, but it’s still in it’s infancy. Where in Las Vegas you have more restaurants than you can count, shopping at every turn, and shows that put Broadway to shame, Macau really just has casinos. There is some shopping at the Wynn and Venetian, but not really the type of shopping most would enjoy. Right now Macau lacks the extra entertainment factor that Las Vegas has. But that may change. On the jetfoil back I came across an interesting magazine that is centered around Macau, and read an article that says Macau is getting a Cirque du Soleil show, which should be good. From the other articles I read, it’s clear that Macau is in the middle of a very big change, and the leaders themselves are not 100% certain of the direction.
The next day in Macau we ventured off to the ruins of St. Paul’s cathedral, and then walked to mosaic pathway to the center of town. It was a cool walk. Along the way we came across a Buddhist monk who gave me a nice beaded bracelet, which I think is very cool. We got some great pictures of the area, met some great people, and tried some interesting food. We then hopped back on the boat and headed back to Hong Kong.
I spent my last night in Hong Kong shopping on Nathan St. There are a lot of electronic stores that sell things for a little cheaper than the U.S., but not the great bargains you might hope to find. One great deal I got was on a piece of luggage. I had bought so much crap that I was going to ship it back. But I got quoted $350! So I decided to see how much a really sturdy piece of luggage would cost to stash the fragile items, and then spread everything out among our 4 allowed check-ons. I got this piece of Rimowa luggage at the big high-end department store Lane Crawford for a total of $528. Which seems like a lot to pay for a suitcase, but this thing is awesome. It’s MSRP is over $1,200, and I can’t find it online for much less than $1,100. And if you subtract the $350 I was going to pay for shipping, it comes down to well less than $200 I’m out for a great suitcase that I’ll be using all the time now.
Along with shopping, I had dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe, which is the place with the most Americanâ€™s I had seen the whole trip. The staff if very helpful by the way, and speak excellent English. If youâ€™re new to town and little uneasy about finding some areas, I would highly suggest stopping in here for a nice dinner, and if you’re cool you can probably get them to help route you around the city a bit.
After shopping I stopped by a night club that was recommended, BBoss. This is the largest nightclub I have ever been in. There I met the manager Paul Luk, who was one of the most interesting people I met while in HK. He has lived in Canada and Australia, so his English is very good. We talked for almost an hour, which I felt a little guilty about since he is running this huge club. We had a great talk about the changes in HK since the handover back to China, the politics behind China’s fear of the Dalai Lama, the shady part of the night club business in HK, etc… It was one of the most educational parts of the trip. And I have to say that Paul is class act all the way. You pay one fee for the club for 3 hours, and you have access to anything you want. I have to admit that handing my credit card to a nightclub in Hong Kong wasn’t on the list of things I was going to do, but I had no fear with Paul running things.
It was interesting to watch the Chinese businessmen come in and watch the show, which is made up of singers and dancers from the Ukraine. It’s not a strip club, all the clothes remain on. Although when I mentioned that one of the girls looked like Angelina Jolie (which she totally did), Paul smiled and pulled out what I can only describe as a small menu with all the dancers pictures and a number under each. He then quoted me $7,800 HK for “short time”. I guess these aren’t really just dancers. He then added that 3 of the girls were already “reserved”. I of course passed on the offer, if not for moral reasons, the fact that I wasn’t looking to spend that much tonight on anything, including an Ukrainian prostitute in a Hong Kong nightclub. But I admit I really wanted the menu as a souvenir. I resisted asking in fear that Paul would actually part with it to be nice, and I would slow up his big pimpin for the night.
Paul is such a great guy, when I mentioned I was ready to head home, he arranged for a taxi. And when I say arranged, he actually had someone tell the taxi where I was going, and even paid for the ride! How cool is that? So if you go to HK and you’re looking for a cool time, especially if you’re a group of guys, check out B Boss and Paul. And if you have the cash and lack of health concerns, pick up a Ukrainian dancer for “short time”.
The cab ride home was uneventful except for the fact that I had a very cool cab driver who spoke excellent English, which is rare for cab drivers in HK. His name is Billy Chan, and I would highly recommend him as a driver for your stay in Hong Kong. He was cool good enough to point out a bunch of interesting thing on the way back to my hotel. For example, I was upset because I really wanted to see a race at the Happy Valley race track, but there wasn’t one that week. Billy explained the situation and told me where I could find horse racing action that night, but I was heading home that day. I really wish I would have met him on my first day, the trip would have been a lot better. I arranged to have him take me to the airport the next morning. He gave me his card, which I will find again and post his number. Seriously, if you’re doing a trip to HK, give this guy a call to meet you at the airport. He will get you hooked up with all the info you need.
Morning came and Billy was ahead of schedule for my pick up. We packed all our bags into the cab and got to the airport with more than enough time to spare. The airport, not surprisingly, was the worst food I had while in Hong Kong. After a few bites of really bad Chinese, I opted for a good old fashioned Burger King cheeseburger.
The airplane was a little more crowded going home, but thankfully we got an empty seat between us. One word of caution here, they don’t let yo bring water or any other liquid on the plane, even when you buy it past the security check point. This really sucks because I like having water on a plane and bought 3 over-priced bottles. But the person in front of me had it worse, she had purchased 3 bottles of wine past the security check point, and they were confiscating those as well. It was long flight home, and I regretted the idea of driving to SFO because it now added a 6 hour drive back to my place.
Overall it was a good trip. I missed seeing some key things I wanted to see like Victoria Peak, the Happy Valley Race track, the new territories, and more of the temples. But I guess I can leave those for next time.
I’m going to write some follow up posts about the hotels and also a list of tips I have now that I have gone to HK. Hopefully those, and this posts are helpful for anyone looking to travel to Hong Kong.