Sunday, March 12, 2017

4 Days 3 Nights in Hong Kong

Have you heard the story of two mountain tortoises who went to Hong Kong? Well, here goes...

Hubs and I never went on our honeymoon when we got married 22 years ago. Why didn't we? Honestly I cannot remember. Maybe it was a lack of money, hub's resistance to apply for leave or the idea of travelling. Anyway, we never went and since then we only travelled twice, once to Genting Highlands and then later on to South Korea. Both times we went with the kids when they were little so that was super stressful.

Last year after I had my gallbladder removed, my health became a lot better and I started to believe I was capable of travelling. I thought it would be a good idea to go in March as March was the month we got married. Hubs applied for leave and the only period up for grabs was last week. So we couldn't bring our kids along. My son was on school vacation but my girl had school. Yup, you heard it right. We left our kids in Singapore to fend for themselves for 4 days. Don't worry, my son's just one year away from voting age and my girl is capable of waking up by herself. And before we left, hubs boiled a lot of water and bought 2 huge bottles of water for them so we knew at least they would not be dehydrated. And I gave them lots of money.

I decided we should go Hong Kong because I wanted it to be a short trip. I mean it's the first time me and hubs were travelling together and you never know. We could quarrel every day. We could even break up. So I thought going to Hong Kong which is very similar to Singapore culturally would be safe. Plus Singapore has always been compared to Hong Kong and I really wanted to see for myself. You could say Hong Kong was on my bucket list.

We booked our flight and hotel via expedia. The rates were pretty good. I wasn't really that particular about the quality of our hotel. So we got an average hotel - Silka Seaview Hotel. But when it comes to flying, I wanted to fly via Singapore Airlines because it's got good track records. I think my life is worth that extra bits of money!


I have problems with altitude and before the trip, I went to the pharmacist and she recommended that I take Novomin ($7.05). It takes just over 3 hours to reach Hong Kong so I only needed one tablet. You know what? Novomin is the best. I did not get sick at all. Not on the plane. Not off the plane. I felt fantastic. In the past, I would get bad headaches and vomit my head off on the first day of any trips. When I went to Genting Highlands, I spent the entire time in my hotel room because I could not move my head at all.

We booked the trip on February 18 so that gave us 2 weeks to research on what to do in Hong Kong. It also gave me 2 weeks to worry my head off about all the things that could go wrong. As is typical of me, I got myself very sick 4 days before we left. I had a major pain in the head and pain medication didn't work. So I did something which may seem crazy to you but it's something we do. I applied tiger balm ointment all over the base of my head and near the ears because those areas hurt the most. The heat that was produced from the balm offered me some relief and I was able to sleep. In the middle of the night I woke up still in pain and applied another round of tiger balm. The following day, the headache was slightly better but I had a new problem. The areas where I had applied tiger balm were hurting and slightly itchy. It felt like a skin reaction to the tiger balm. I quickly washed off the tiger balm but the damage was done. By Friday night, I had developed hives all over the back of my neck and around the ears. I had also applied a tiny bit of tiger balm on my forehead but the damage there was much less. On Saturday morning I asked my daughter to take a photo of my hives and they looked really bad. I thought I had to cancel my trip which was on Monday.

Then I remembered that I had Desowen cream which works for allergies and I applied them on the hives. By some miracle, on Monday morning when I woke up to go to the airport, the hives had nearly disappeared! I think I have reached a point where my skin is so sensitive I can't apply any old thing on it anymore.

Here we were at Changi Airport. We looked so enthusiastic and daring right? "Actually both of us were stressed to the bones. We were out of our comfort zone and were worried shitless.

The flight to Hong Kong
We got window seats and were seated quite close to the back of the plane. We could see the wing and it was quite weird for me every time I looked out of the window, I could see it.

There was a toddler seated near us and as expected she fussed a lot throughout the flight. I discovered that I am a toddler magnet.

Because our flight was in the morning, we were served brunch. I ordered something exotic sounding - chicken mushroom fun quin. It turned out to be chee cheong fun! It's a common breakfast in Singapore. This version was delicious. I really enjoy eating on the plane. I think it's the best part of flying.

I kept telling hubs there was a hot steward on the plane (very tall and fantastic body) and while I was pooping at the restroom, he took a pic of the hot guy as a gift.

Our flight was pretty smooth. Midway, there was just a tiny bit of rocking and then it was over. Our landing was really nice too.

Airport Express Train
Airport Express train with wifi and luggage storage space

When we reached Hong Kong airport, we took the Airport Express train to Kowloon. We had purchased a round trip Airport Express train ticket online because we didn't know how much of a hassle it was to buy over there. Plus it was discounted. We didn't know that tickets weren't required to board the train and we would redeem our tickets when we reached Kowloon. So that took us on a merry go round for a while. Then we made the mistake of boarding a train that was about to leave. I went in first but hubs got his arm caught in the door! Yikes. Luckily he managed to pry the doors open and he was able to enter the train. Nope, he didn't lose his arm. Thank goodness or it would have been a very sad trip for us. Went with two arms, returned with one. And did you know train doors do not spring open when they hit any obstacles?

Here he is safely seated on the express train, arm a little sore. Hubs said he was less worried about losing his arm then being separated from me. I was thinking that maybe the one bad thing that would happen in Hong Kong was this incident and we would have a smooth vacation. I was so wrong.

Transport
At Kowloon station we received our Airport express train ticket for the return trip. We tried to buy a tourist day pass to take the MTR but somehow we weren't allowed to buy it because it had to be bought together with the Airport express train ticket. So we ended up buying an Octopus card which is a stored value card and it can be used for transport and payment for some purchases. Later on we discovered that we could buy a tourist day pass at the MTR stations but by then we already had the Octopus card so... Anyway, I made a calculation and in the end we didn't spend that much money riding the MTR so the all-day tourist pass would have cost more. All's well that ends well.

In Singapore, our train (subway) system is called MRT and many people have often said Hong Kong MTR is way better. So in Hong Kong, I got a bit obsessed with the MTR and I really enjoyed looking at the differences. Hong Kong MTR is a lot more complex. I'll be honest. I relied on hubs a lot to figure out the routes. When we were there, the trains ran smoothly and there was only one time at night when our train slowed down but only for a tiny bit. It could have been traffic congestion. I thought the MTR could have been improved with better signage. For first timers, it took a while for us to find our way around especially at the interchange.

Hong Kong MTR is very hard on the legs. There are steps everywhere. In Singapore, we usually have the option of escalators or steps. Although lifts are available, I noticed the old use the steps as well. I guess it's more convenient.

During peak hours, the trains are just as packed. I guess it's the same everywhere.

The seats are narrow, just like in Singapore. Hongkongers are very small framed. In Hong Kong, I discovered I am tall and I'm only 1.68m.

These are items you can't bring on the MTR. No metallic balloons kids!

Our Hotel
From Kowloon MTR, we took a taxi to our hotel - Silka Seaview Hotel. Nope, there isn't really a sea view. The taxi ride only cost HK$38. The taxi smelled of cigarette smoke. I was amazed the driver knew where to take us because he didn't speak English.

first day in the hotel - my first thought: so tiny
me on the last day after sleeping till 11am
The hotel is at Shanghai Street, Yau Ma Tei. It's really ugly on the outside and very average. Our room is super tiny. The toilet leaked on and off. We spent most of our time out so we didn't really bother much about it. We did ask for it to be fixed and we also got extra pillows and blankets. The receptionist couldn't believe his ears and repeated: blanket?

The hotel provided a handphone which had internet service. We could do google map and it was a life saver because hubs' phone crazily had no service in Hong Kong. My phone did not have roaming but at least I had service. I received a sms giving me the option to activate roaming and we tried to do it but that didn't work either. So this was the second bad thing that happened to us. And I was really dreading the third. I think if we didn't have the hotel handphone, our vacation would have been ruined. Although wifi is available here and there, it's not enough.

Yau Ma Tei
Since we stayed at Yau Ma Tei, we saw a lot of it. What can I say about Yau Ma Tei without sounding snobbish? I was quite horrified by how dirty and run down most buildings were. And people lived or worked in them. And the streets smelled of sewer. We did ask a local why the landlords didn't try to spruce up the buildings but we didn't quite understand the answer. Close to Yau Ma Tei was Mong Kok and we went there quite a bit. I noticed the scene there was more bustling and more happening especially at night. Where we were staying, most shops are closed at night except a few eating places. Generally, there were many similar dirty looking buildings in Kowloon. These tend to be older buildings. The newer buildings did look a lot better but you could say, they did not have as much character. On Hong Kong island there were many office buildings which look no different from the ones in Singapore. Very modern and tall. Interestingly, the streets were rather clean. 

Sightseeing
To be honest, we weren't so keen on going to the usual tourist places. I definitely didn't want to go to the zoo, aquarium or museums. My idea of travelling is to eat the food and experience the same space as Hongkongers. Does that sound funny? But we did go to a few recommended street markets, just to see and we went to Disneyland because why miss it right? And we did do a very touristy thing - take a cruise to experience the Symphony of Lights. We also did a walking tour on Hong Kong island with a local guide.

Markets
Most guides recommend the street markets in Hong Kong. Maybe it's because we also have such markets in Singapore, I found the street markets uninteresting. I was hoping to find unique stuff. Ha ha ha.
 
I didn't understand why this was called Ladies Market. It was at Mong Kok. Many stalls sold the exact same items.

 We stumbled upon Temple street market late at night and most stalls were closing.

This was some sort of Antique market at Hong Kong island. It really bored me because we also have such stuff in Singapore shops and after being alive for fifty over years I still haven't bought any Oriental knick knacks.

I thought we might yield something at Toy street (Tai Yuen). Nope. Same old mass produced stuff. There were some traditional toys but again, we have them here as well.

After a while we gave up with the street markets.

Symphony of Lights 
We booked a cruise to experience the Symphony of Lights which was marketed as the world's largest light and sound spectacular. Of course we could have viewed it from the waterfront but I thought why not go the whole 9 yards?
Named the 'World's Largest Permanent Light and Sound Show' by Guinness World Records, coloured lights, laser beams and searchlights perform in an unforgettable all-round spectacle synchronised to music and narration that celebrates the energy, spirit and diversity of Hong Kong. (discoverHongKong.com)
As it turned out, Symphony of Lights is the most overrated tourist attraction ever. Yes, there were lights. The thing is, the city landscape was always lighted up anyway. There were a bit more lights during the show. There were sounds. Yup. And sometimes we could see some lights in the sky. And that was it. Hubs said maybe if it wasn't so foggy, the show would have been more spectacular. Hubs is ever the positive guy.

I was like whaaaat? This is it? Utter disappointment. Plus I was freezing my ass off so I had to take refuge below deck.

Weather
I love, love the weather in Hong Kong. It was cold. It was coldest on Thursday, our last day. I love how the streets feel like it's air conditioned. I did not sweat at all. Not even a tiny bit. My skin was fantastic. My hives completed disappeared. I did not sneeze or cough. I can live in Hong Kong during this kind of weather. Singapore is sadly still very hot. The heat drives me crazy.

Food
We sort of made this trip into a bit of a food tour. Based on recommendations, we came up with a shortlist of eating places to go to. I will write another blog post on the food so look out for it. One thing I have to say about our eating experience is this: in Hong Kong eateries, the space is extremely cramped. You have to share table with strangers and you can't hang around when you're done.

People
In Singapore it's not uncommon to hear stories of how service crew are verbally abused by customers. In Hong Kong, it's the opposite. Before we went, we had read and heard stories of how Hongkongers don't exactly have the best attitude in service. So we went fully prepared to be abused. To be fair, we were treated reasonably well at most places. I think we only had one bad experience and it was mostly due to a breakdown in communication. What I do notice is service crew don't smile at you. They also don't have friendly greetings. It's always rush-rush and I have say it's the same on the streets. Because there are so many people everywhere, we are constantly pushed along. The first 2 days we found ourselves walking very fast and we had to constantly remind ourselves to slow down.

Malls
me at Cityplaza eating an orange - gotta get your vit C
despite the exterior, the inside of SOGO is very nice and modern
In Hong Kong we went to a few malls including two at the heartlands (hubs and his pursuit of more sneakers). I was most impressed by Cityplaza. It's huge. Sogo was also rather outstanding as it had 21 floors of shopping. Actually 22 floors because in Hong Kong the ground floor is G and the second floor is 1. We used to have this quirky way of naming floors in Singapore for some older buildings. One day the government announced a change and all numbering conventions were changed to what we have today: the ground floor became the first floor.

Early luggage check in
If you have purchased a Airport Express train ticket, you get the privilege of checking in your luggage early. Of course it also depends if the airline you fly with provides the service. Singapore Airlines accepts early check-in for same day flight. So we checked in our luggage at Kowloon station and spent the rest of the day roaming Causeway Bay. I think this is such a great convenience. One big question we have about early luggage check in was should we enter using our Airport Express pass or our Octopus card. The staff told us to use the Airport Express pass but we were still uncertain. We had watched a youtube video and the vlogger had warned we should NOT use the Airport Express pass. Finally I read the information on a signboard and it was very clear. Yes, use the bloody Airport Express pass. The fare will be deducted immediately but we will still be able to use it again later to go to the airport. I've come to realise you simply can't trust vloggers or food bloggers as we discovered.

The flight back to Singapore
After 4 days, we were exhausted from all the walking and were really happy to go back to Singapore.

We flew back at night so we got dinner. I got the braised beef and hubs got the chicken with rice. We had ice-cream too but no hot steward this time! Honestly, I just love eating on the plane. Our flight back was very smooth although there was a slight delay. Just after the plane landed, hubs discovered his wallet was missing. So we stayed back to look for it. The crew came to help as well, tearing the seats apart! But it was nowhere to be found. A very depressing end to a really exciting and interesting vacation.

Our two kids were waiting for us at the Arrival hall with a "Welcome Back" sign on their iPad. It was very sweet.

We quickly lodged a Lost report with the airlines and Hong Kong airport. By some miracle, the next day, hubs received confirmation his wallet was found at Hong Kong airport. Thank you so much whoever found and turned in hubs' wallet! All's well that ends well, I guess.

Oh, I forgot to mention. We didn't quarrel at all. Not even once.

Read my Hongkong food posts here:
Australia Dairy Co
Breakfast at Capital Cafe
I heart Dimdimsum
 

6 comments:

Ely said...

Sooo Hong Kong has been on my list of places to visit, but now I am not so sure... maybe it was just the area you stayed in? Doesn't sound too appealing. Looking forward to the food post. With hesitation.

Projects By Jane said...

Hi Ely, you should still give Hong Kong a go. It was an interesting visit. Hong Kong is made up of Kowloon and Hong Kong island. We stayed at Kowloon which is considered more colourful and had more local flavour. Hong Kong island I noticed had more modern buildings mingled with older colonial ones. It seems to cater more to tourists based on the shops I saw. If I were to go back, I would stay at Hong Kong island. We did skip many of the attractions as I wasn't keen on doing that kind of tourist thing. Disneyland was fun.

Christel Goh said...

Happy 22nd wedding anniversary to you and your hubs! :) I think HK is quite an interesting city, given the similarities and difference between SG and HK haha. Their MTR is more reliable, though I'd say it can be rather complex (the maps).

It's interesting to hear that your hotel provided you guys with a phone! Don't they worry if people run off with it LOL. I've been to HK once almost 8 years ago, and again just last year. Their night markets (Ladies Market etc) used to be rather interesting, but now it seems like most stalls are selling similar stuff. A little like the development of our pasar malam I guess.

Projects By Jane said...

Hi Christel, thanks. Exactly. When I was at the night markets, my first thought - pasar malam!!! The phone? When you check in you have to give them a credit card to deduct any amount you owe. So the hotel isn't worried you run away. The penalty for not returning the phone is HK$3,000. Believe me, we took good care of it.

Tammy said...

Jane, what a trip! And it seems your kids did well as they met you at the airport.

When I saw you mention that Novomin worked, I was so excited since my oldest always gets sick when traveling... but I think it's the same thing as Dramamine that I can buy here and that's what she uses & it works sometimes for her. Your flight looked fabulous, and the food on it too! The last time I was served food on a plane in the US was in the 1990's but I guess I haven't taken any very long (or first-class) flights since then.

I think you have the right attitude about sightseeing - doing what locals do is best, so disappointing about the Symphony of Lights though. Thank goodness your husband's wallet was recovered, that must have been stressful. Overall, was the trip good that you were together even though it may not have lived up to expectations? I hope so.

Jane said...

I loved this post so much! Your husband taking a picture of the flight attendant was so hilarious! And your sweet kids!! :)

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