Hong Kong Trip Report, September - October 2004
We are back from our Asia trip which was very exciting. We had attended 3 day convention of travel industry and Hong Kong tourist board sponsored it. It was nice to meet local representatives and learn more besides what we learn as we usually travel. The part of the convention was to promote Hong Kong, they had a hard time after Sept 11 and then SARS, so tourism is really low. It is really exciting destination and a perfect first time stop for visitor from US. We did not see many Americans except our convention members (about 2000, 70% of them Americans). Regular tourists seems to be British, Australian, South Africa, German, Japanese. And of course, Chinese from the mainland. The trip coincided with a holiday week in Hong Kong - Full Moon Festival and National China Day so we were excited to be a part of celebrations.
Day by Day journal
Day 1. We flew JFK - Taipei - Hong Kong on China Airlines. Prior to trip I had concerns about this airline safety because they had some crashes few years ago but we did got a good deal and we were able to upgrade to business class. This really made the trip very comfortable but still long. I am happy to report that China Airlines had terrific service, more superior that US owned airlines. CI code shares with Delta but the crew was Chinese. Food was nicely served, many courses, however in airplane it is hard to prepare good meat. Was edible. We could not eat everything anyway. They had good selection of wine and liquor but we did not take any alcohol and caffeine in order to get better fight with jet lag. Plenty of space to recline, it was Boeing 747, we were on second floor or whatever that area called in airplane. On the way back back we had better and newer aircraft A340 and the seats had more space in front so I could almost stretch out. We had stop in Anchorage Alaska to refuel and change the crew. Everybody has to leave the plane. The passengers are waiting in waiting lounge. Outside was 5C (end of September), and snow. We walked and explored duty free shopping. Next leg was about 9 hours to Taipei. We crossed date line. We arrived to Taipei at 9am next day (or whatever the day it was! ), the transfer was very efficient. The airline employees directed people to transfer area. In an hour and a half we arrived to Hong Kong airport. The airport is incredible, I have not seen anything like that, very efficient, clean, good signs, trains, very futuristic looking. Take a look :http://www.hongkongairport.com/
We had transfer included in a package and in few minutes, picked up our luggage and we were ready to depart. I had some time to exchange currency, buy Octopus card (without airport transfer, 3 day), and also pickup some Hong Kong brochures. Soon we were riding on the way to Kowloon. We passed The Tsing Ma Bridge forms part of the link between the Hong Kong International Airport and the downtown areas. At 2.2 kilometres long, it is the world's longest road-and-rail suspension bridge.
We were booked in Kowloon at Langham hotel near star ferry (former Great Eagle). Very good comfortable deluxe hotel, even though no water view rooms there. Few minutes walk to ferry and the water, where museums, malls and Avenue of the Stars (pedestrian waterfront promenade) are. We got into hotel in the morning, refreshed and went to explore city.
We had an appointment with tailor so we walked to the shop. On the way we were encountered with "touts" which were very aggressive, and tried to hijack us to another shop even we insisted on the tailors name. "Peter? Yes, sure..". Finally we saw our tailor waving us from next door and we were rescued. We were told about this before, and were prepared but it was somewhat difficult to fight them with jet lag. On each intersection, we were met with: "do you need suit? copy watches!" . If you did agree with a tailor, make sure you call them in advance, some even will come to hotel to get you or send a car for you.
After fitting, we went back to hotel and were ready for 1/2 day Hong Kong Island tour.
The island is very beautiful and the tour was very informative for the first day. Gets you oriented. For example, we did not expect to see quiet areas in this bustling city. Known as Hong Kong's "back garden", the district of Sai Kung is located on the eastern side of Hong Kong. Warm inviting beaches, clear waters and tantalising sea breezes beckon. On weekends, locals and visitors like to rent boats and cruise around the many nearby islands.
At the end of the tour jet lag started to get to us. One of the aspects of the tour we and other people did not like that the guide took us to isolated "jewelry factory". On pretext of factory tour (only had 3 people working there), they got us to the showroom where we were showed jewelry and offered to buy. It took quite a long time, so this approach we did not like. Usually we sightsee on our own or take private guides, but this tour was part of the package and all you needed to do just to show up. But other than that, the intro was very helpful. There is so much to see in Hong Kong! The lookout from the peak was spectacular !
Back at hotel, we had a quick dinner in the casual Chinese restaurant next to hotel, Galleria Mall, YouYou Chinese. The waiters were very friendly, wanted to chat with us and were really happy to see Americans, I think they wanted to practice their English. We used their help to understand menu. Early to bed.
Had complimentary continental breakfast at hotel and walked to star ferry to cross the harbor. The weather was hot and humid, about 80F. We used first time Octopus card and were impressed with transportation, very easy to use, good signs. We crossed the ferry and walked to the convention center.
Convention center (see picture on the left) is new, was completed for 1997 ceremony for British handover of Hong Kong to China. It is huge and very modern, huge windows and utilizing great views. I personally think it is too bad that Hong Kong builds a lot on reclaimed land from the water and harbor is getting smaller. We had a 1/2 day tour this day organized by HK tourist board and since we've seen Hong Kong island first day, we opted for Stanley market shopping tour.
This was basically a tour providing transportation with some guidance where to go and what are the best souvenirs. However the guide on the bus was very informative and told us a lot about history of HK and its people and culture. We passed cemetery and she said Hong Kong people bury people at cemeteries for 6 years, then they have to dig them out, get skeleton cleaned and cremate the remains. Then rebury again who can afford it - very expensive. Or just cremate. Interesting. She suggested to buy Chinese stamp - chop I think it is called. It is unique souvenir. You have a stamp and ink and they engrave your name in Chinese and also put on top of the stamp the animal which symbolizes in Chinese the year you were born. We bought some chops right away. I also bought 2 good washable silk suits - sleeveless top, pants and shirt with sleeves and it had Chinese style embroidering. The clothes was very comfortable to wear in this hot weather for the rest of the trip. I was concerned it does not wash well but I already washed it and it turned out good, does not even need much ironing. We also bought little things like underwear and socks for about $1 each. We were advised to bring almost no clothes since everything is so affordable there so it was a good reason to shop for clothes. Many people were buying extra suitcases in shopping frenzy. Hong Kong is like a Disneyworld for shoppers.
After that the tour continued to Hollywood road where antiques are. We looked at them but were not sure which are really antique.. However, the guide took us to the interesting temple on the Hollywood Road d near Cat street and explained Chinese customs. Other that that temple, we did not have a chance to see others (but we saw them later on a lot in Thailand). There were Incense coils and smell of incence. ). The people bring food and flowers to god and light the incense stick.
After 1/2 day tour we came back to convention center since we had some actions to attend. One of the seminars arranged was about shopping in Hong Kong, by shopping guru and book author, Suzy Gershman, author by "Born to Shop" books.
She has a book on shopping in Hong Kong and we were excited finally to see her in person. It was pretty much informal session. This lady is something!!! She also had some samples for us to try like lotions, and other little things, sampled food (only one person spit out chips!). We talked about shopping possibilities and she said she will try to take us for one day to the market. She said she like Fon Yeng st (at Prince Edward MTR stop). She does not shop in groups, but takes people to the markets and then gives instructions together with "homework" to buy some staff which can be discussed later. Most sizes, she warned are small sizes, not for western bodies, but she did mentioned some kind of factory outlet where large sizes are sold. She signed my book for my husband George and this was a lecture as informative as entertaining.
We very busy for the rest of the day, we refreshed at hotel briefly, and changed for an afternoon tea by sponsored by HKTB and after that cocktails and gala dinner. It was a moon festival and the dinner also included Chinese entertainment with children in costumes, dancers (dragon dance), lanterns everywhere. We had 7 course Chinese banquet. The food was interesting however I am no fan of food prepared for banquet, so this one was not exception, although different from what we used to eat in the West. Overall, great evening and a productive day.
We discovered that our hotel Langham has a humongous Buffet breakfast (for extra cost).
In addition to English and American usual breakfast staff, there was Japanese and Chinese dim sum selection. Dim sum("touch the heart") is the quintessential Hong Kong eating experience featuring an incredible variety of dumplings, buns, pastries and soups served at breakfast or lunch. Dim sum is usually served with pots of tea and the meal is referred to as yum cha ("drink tea").
This allowed me to try out Chinese food for breakfast. I tried Congee with different toppings, it was good, a bit bland but I probably did not use right ingredients. At the same time my not-experimenting husband had regular western buffet. Very convenient and without compromise.
I also loved Chinese tea, it does not have that much caffeine as English tea (they one we drink), Chinese use less fermented, green or white tea leaves. My favorite of Jasmine tea. I was on the lookout of teas to take home.
We spent morning for some activities in convention center and had a fitting with tailor later on. After fitting, we browsed some shops near Nathan Road but they were too crowded. We liked Chinese Arts and Crafts departments store near our hotel and Star Ferry and decided to come back later on. This evening, we had a cruise of harbor at 5pmto see sunset, which left from Convention center and dropped us off at Kowloon. It was nice. After that, we've had dinner in Peninsula hotel, Felix restaurant (reservations required in advance). The food was very good, although food portions might be small for some people, but was enough for us. George had sample menu and I had just appetizer and prawns for main entree. I loved prawns, they are much bigger than our shrimps, and smaller than our lobster. The restaurant is very chic. We had table by window and watched illuminated lights in the buildings in harbor. However, the design is so chic that it borders on level of absurdity. It is designed by Phllip Starck. When you take elevator, it gets you in kind of spaceship capsule. You see the hostess right away so you cannot get lost. Very modern decorations, including bar table with a staircase next to it. We asked what are the stairs for - to walk on the table - were explained - no, it is design. I wish they opened shades so the view would be clear but they says this is part of decor and only pull them up for fireworks which will be on Friday. However, the main attraction turned out to be ..... the bathrooms! I've read about them before, and first thing I decided to check out the ladies bathroom. The staff pointed direction to the bathrooms. At the end of corridor near elevators there are two doors. In the dim light, I did not see small plaques "f" and "m". I pushed the door (no handles), went into male bathroom. Thank god they have attendants there pointing you to right direction who informed me to go back and use another door. Back out and press another door. Another bathroom, no attendant. Contemporary to absurd level! Another lady comes in giggling that she went to wrong bathroom, so we start looking together for a bathroom stall! The door to individual stalls do not look like doors but like a wall. We found a closet :-) and finally the stalls. By the time I got out, the attendant walked in and directed. Very modern washing area which also does not look like washing area!!! Went back and reported to George which door he should go and sent him to check out male bathrooms. He came also shocked and said the view from the bath when men relieve themselves is much better - open - space then from the restaurant because there are no shades, you get the feeling ...... Use your imagination or go to Hong Kong to visit Felix restaurant.
You probably want to hear about food - food was excellent, very well prepared, and service was also excellent. Pacific Rim cuisine, Hawaiian Chef. I think it is a must dining spot for anybody in Hong Kong.
We had free morning so we went to pickup our suits which turned out beautifully. The tailor really did a good job. George had two 2-piece suits from fine Italian cashmere. I had also 2 suits, one 2-piece from Italian cashmere and another one 3 piece – jacket, skirt, slacks from light silk. My husband also had one shirt and a free tie. The tailor name is Peter and his website is www.hkbroadwaycustomtailor.com
I got his info from HK tourist board and I trust them since if there complains from tourists, the businesses are removed from sponsorship. He also was proud to show me many business cards and faxes from old clients which measurements already on file and they just fax him new requests. So looks like he has repeat business. He is from Shanghai family of tailors. He also provided extra pockets inside for cell phone, passport and extra layers in armpits to prevent from sweat stains. I did not see it in ready-made suits in US. I also saw some advertisements for less priced suites but I was afraid of quality. I do not know if this is the best deal or not but 10 years ago in US we paid to Hong Kong traveling tailor $600 for a suit. So we were happy. I was told that in Bangkok suits are even less, but we had more time for fittings (we had 3 fittings) in Hong Kong. Peter the tailor also told us that Shanghai descendants Hong Kong tailors better than Bangkok but I understand of course that he promoted his business. In any case, we were happy. Brooks Brothers suit like this cost $600-800. Our average cost was $300. After tailor we deposited our suits at hotel (on the way I triumphantly showed our suits to touts which tried to hijack us every time we passed by) and they left us alone.
We also shopped in Chinese Arts and Crafts and I bought wonderful blouse from Chinese silk grey color pattern, 1 set of white linen with hand embroidering skirt and top, and matching linen black jacket also with embroidering and white and black slacks. They were on sale for China Holiday sale (like our 4th of July) and all 6 pieces cost about $180 usd. Good buy. Salespeople were very patient, helpful and speak good English.
We attended another event at convention center in the afternoon. Afterwards we had early dinner again at Peninsula, Chinese restaurant Spring Moon. It was already late for dim sum, so we had regular dinner. Again I do not remember what we ate but it was delicious, and much better than our Chinese food in USA. They had great munchies on the table, honey roasted pecans with sesame seeds. Normal bathrooms for a change! :-) We did not have desert but had tea – selection of their 30 varieties of teas. They also gave us a souvenir – a jar of Xo Chili Sauce.
After dinner, we took MTR to Temple street and Ladies street night market and did some “cheap shopping “ there. Very colorful area at night.
We went to Art museum this morning. I wish I went earlier since we already saw some art items and museum gives you a feel of appreciation of Asian art. Interesting items. Asian paintings are in ink and on the paper which is mounted on a scroll. We also walked on Avenue of the Stars and took good pictures. There were Chinese tourists from mainland, they did not speak English and they wanted to take picture with us like we were an attraction. We took picture with them as well but unfortunately could not communicate. We also met some Hong Kong high school students who interviewed us who we are, what we are doing in HK, how do we like visit and if we plan to come back.
We walked in Kowloon park, also spent some time in Central area and tried the longest in the world escalators. Central district is very hilly like in San Francisco, so Hong Kong government to alleviate traffic, built the longest in the world escalators. The ride is free. We walked around Hollywood road. Then we took MTR back to Tsim Tsa Tsui and went for afternoon tea in Peninsula – at that time we got addicted to this hotel and I will want to stay there next time I am in Hong Kong. It was a very good experience, so far the best afternoon tea we had on London on Fortnum and Mason, but this is definitely was civilized affair.
After dinner we went to watch fireworks, we were able to get close to the area where you can see them near star ferry. The policemen already closed street, and only let few people to come through, including people with little children, but when we came in, they let us through – we did not even asked! Again – privilege being American tourists? The fireworks were exciting. It was Friday, China National day.
Last day, We had a group tour booked for all day Lamma island but it looked too long and we still had some exploring to do so we skipped it. We usually like to explore ourselves or take private guides. So we had all day to ourselves. Shopped in the morning in Ocean terminal, I bought some very good lightweight sneakers, Puma brand, I was told, Japanese design . My feet by this time were killing me so these sneakers were a godsend. It was in LCX store. Also we bought some pants in Marks and Spencer department store for George.
I was looking for some tea and Xi-Xing teapots, but I only found them a day before in museum, they were less expensive than in Chinese Arts and Crafts, but not cheap either. But I liked that the museum store staff explained to me teapots. Teapots are made from clay. They also showed me books with various teapots and helped to choose. I asked them where to buy Jasmine Pearl tea so they recommended Lock Road near Hyatt hotel. We went on that street and I first bought tea in store Ying Kee Tea House, it was kind of expensive. Then, we went across the street and found another store Shing Fung Ceramic arts and crafts where they had less priced teapots and tea. We also negotiated prices there. I wish we went there direct first, so we would pay less.
That day we also took MTR to Admiralty and walked through the park to Peak tram and took tram to the peak, that day humidity was lower and it was cooler. It was windy and crowded on the peak. The views from the peak are outstanding (see on the right). There were mostly touristy restaurants and they were all crowded however, we found a nice restaurant Peak Lookout located in historical building. The food was international with large menu. The food was not exciting but was not bad either. We had large appetizer for 2, it was good. George’s sandwich was just regular sandwich with French fries. My chicken Tandoori was a bit dry however their Indian bread with garlic was outstanding. Huge portions.
After that, we took taxi to MTR central. The taxi are not expensive if you use them in the area. If the taxi has to cross the harbor in the tunnel from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon or visa versa, they are more. So we took taxi to MTR and then MTR to Kowloon Yeng Fuen st. few block away from Prince Edward MTR stop. We bought some cheap staff there. That was a market highly recommended by Suzy Gershman and we did not like that vendors do not negotiate. On another site, the prices were cheap.
So that concluded our stay at Hong Kong. We came home late in the evening and next morning we were leaving Hong Kong to to Thailand. See our Thailand Trip report.
Hong Kong is a great destination and perfect introduction to Asia and China. English is spoken almost everywhere, the city is clean, very efficient transportation. Star Ferry is a transportation, but it is also an attraction since it has the great view, for about 30 cents, 7 min ride. Very easy to get around. No group tours needed, independent touring is better in my opinion. Maybe few tours to get around and visit other islands or New Territories.
Hong Kong has world class dining. Most of the time we had nice dinners. For lunches, we either grabbed snacks or sandwiches. We ate few times in Delifrance, it was OK. One time we ate in Pacific Coffee company. Hong Kong has wonderful green parks. You see in the morning people practicing Tai-Chi. As I said, we loved the city and HK people, they were very friendly, and the city has some kind of futuristic feel – the harbor, high rises, escalators, airport (this the first city we got excited about airport!!) . We loved food, shopping, parks. We did not have time to go to history museum and to surrounding islands and Macau, hopefully next time.
People are very friendly, before you ask for help, somebody is already rushing to you to ask. In these times, comparing with Europe, Americans are very welcome in Asia and Hong Kong. People are really interested to talk, not only service people who expect tips. 4 and 5* hotels are much more superior quality and service then in in Europe and North America. USD is going strong against HK dollar which makes it very economical trip.
People. We talked to one lady who is working as a tour guide in Hong Kong. Her name is Yvonne. She told us the story of her family. The family was separated when her father and grandfather left China for HK for business and their mother and other relatives stayed in China. China was closed. When Yvonne grew up and she had opportunity to take a tour to China, she wrote a letter to her relatives to visit them and asked what do they need. The relatives said they do not need clothes since all have to wear uniform. They all had the same length. Money were no good since nothing was available in the stores. When Yvonne stayed at hotel in China, they relatives had to sign in to get approval, they were not allowed to come in. The only thing they asked to send next time was a watch. Hong Kong people were not rich but they tried to help relatives in China as they could. Whatever was sent to China was subjected to almost the same amount of tax. Now can you imagine how people felt when it was approaching British handover to China. HK people have status “British National Overseas” however they cannot work in UK. Many people emigrated who could. They could not go to UK therefore they had no exit but to become Chinese citizens. By agreement with China, it was promised that for next 50 years HK will be run as SAR (special administrative region), like 2 countries. So far, Yvonne said the future does not look that bleak as it was in Mao’s times. This is all thanks to western countries who put economic pressure and human rights watch on China. Since China’s government want to be part of global economy, they cooperate. There will be world expo in Shanghai and 2008 Olympic games in Bejing, the economy is growing and people are more optimistic as ever before. However it is still communist country with somewhat “new capitalism” twist. So it was very interesting to hear perception of local person. Having myself growing up in Soviet Union I though we had it bad, but not like in Communist China!
World class shopping includes all designer brands available plus other interesting designers which we've never seen before. Even brand name designers have different items. Technology wise they are much more advanced than America. For someone interested in electronics, phones, etc., it is like a kid being in a toy store. George enjoyed all computer and electronics stores. Everybody in Asia has high tech cell phones, the ones which can also take pictures and movies. While sightseeing, tourists snap pictures from the phone and email each other. Other interesting shopping is available in department store. Chinese and Japanese department stores are worth to look. Bargain shopping is available in outlets and markets. Markets are fun to shop and bargain (Stanley Market, Temple Market, Jade market, Temple street market). Hong Kong is a jumping point to all of Asia and of course China. Shopping in China is even better, we were told. There is a special economical region Snenzen (sp?) which takes about 45 min by train to get from Hong Kong. You need visa to get there which can be easily obtained from local travel agencies or on the border.
The weather was hot and humid all 6 days but no rain. Last day though, the humidity dropped and temperature also was about 80 degrees. The best weather is from November to March. The climate is tropical.
Unfortunately, 6 days was not enough to do everything we wanted in Hong Kong. Next time I will try other things:
Visit other outlying Hong Kong islands Take overnight trip to Portuguese Territory Macau (passport required) Visit New Territories Take some of tourist board sponsored culture tours (free or minimal charge): Cantonese Opera, Feng Shui, Tai Chi, Heritage tours (tea, architecture, religion).
We highly recommend Hong Kong and Asia for travelers who did not go to Asia yet.. You really cannot call yourself a world traveler if you have not been in Asia.