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It was a long-time dream of mine to travel outside of the country. And just last December, I had my dream come true; I got myself a round trip ticket to “Asia’s World City” – Hong Kong.

It all started with a spur of the moment invitation from one of my college friends. She saw a discounted ticket to Hong Kong for December and instantly sent us a group message, asking us if we wanted to go with her. Without any hesitation, I said “yes”. I didn’t even bother checking my calendar for any appointments or scheduled responsibilities for December. I would haved move mountains if I had to, just to get on this trip. Five more friends agreed to go and we got seven confirmed tickets to HK, baby!

So, tickets were all good, next thing we needed was reservations for any backpacker guest house near the city centre. After some deliberation and some help from our friends who had travelled to HK already, we reserved rooms from Golden Crown Guest House.

Hong Kong Research

Tickets: check. Rooms: check. But here comes the hardest part: the two-month long wait. So to make my time productive, I researched all about Hong Kong. I compiled all the helpful information I could get and printed it out as a reference. I also made a rough draft of our itineraries, I even included the places where we would eat, the train we would ride and all the other little FIYs. We were all first-timers so we badly need to be in the know.

Hong Kong Wardrobes

As early as October, I already bought myself two jackets, scarves, bonnet, beanies and a pair of boots to bring with me during my trip. December is winter time in HK so definitely it would be freezing cold.  Since, I’m a little bit of a “fashionista”, I had delicately prepared my set of wardrobes from day one to day three.

Planned attire for DAY 1

Planned attire for DAY 1

Planned attire for DAY 2

Planned attire for DAY 2

Planned attire for DAY 3

Planned attire for DAY 3

Hong Kong Currency

This was quite a hard one because I decided to change my money on the day of our trip, thinking I still had a lot of time to choose the foreign exchange converter that had the best selling rate. Unfortunately, that was a bad choice. Almost all the currency converter shops I know had decided to go on vacation for their company Christmas party. So I was left with just one converter and unfortunately it was the one I wanted to avoid because of their sky-high selling rate. I had no choice but to change my money to Hong Kong dollars there. Too bad, my budget for shopping was scratched – poor me!

Hong Kong Dollars

Hong Kong Dollars

So for all you first timers out there, may it be for Hong Kong or any other foreign country, don’t forget to research any data about that country; from their transportation, tourist attractions, language, weather, maps, to currency and all the other little things that you need to know before your trip. As much as possible, know the weather update during your travel dates so that you’ll know what clothing will be comfortable during your trip. You don’t want to wear a fur coat when it’s a sizzling hot day, right? Last but not the least; prepare your money ahead of time. Try to convert an ample amount of money, not just the big bills, but try to get some smaller ones or even coins, pennies or dimes because you’ll never know it might just save you from a missed bus ride. ;-)

HK eats

What to do in Hong Kong?! Are you crazy?! You can never run out of things to do in Hong Kong! It’s like going to China town with the experience multiplied 10 times! You can tell how exciting this trip was for me with all the exclamations at the end of the first 4 sentences.

I have one word to describe Hong Kong – market! It’s a huge market place where you can buy and experience everything. I will save the juicier experiences for private sessions and shall keep with  those that are for general reading and some with parental guidance.

One of the things I like about Hong kong is its efficient transport system. The train ride from the airport to our hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui was fast and catching one is very easy. There are directional maps on the station that have English translations which means it will be an effort to get lost.

The first thing I noticed as we were making our way to the trains was how fast people walk! Everyone was in a hurry to get somewhere and nobody takes time to breathe or say sorry if they happen to bump into you at 20 kilometers per hour pace. Everything is in double time – the travelators, escalators, elevators and the trains. I literally didn’t have to hop on the train because as soon as the doors open I was pushed inside by foot traffic behind me. For effortless walkabouts I would suggest wearing roller blades, maintain your balance, let go and the crowd will do the rest to propel you to your destination.

Prepare to receive no-nonsense service in Hong-kong and we got an initiation as we were checking in at the hotel. It’s purely business and since everyone is in a hurry, the locals won’t have time for small talks and usual courtesy as this is regarded as an unproductive option. Transactions are kept within professional levels, seemingly cold but efficient.

Where to stay

The Internet is the best place to start planning on where to stay, what to do and where to go. Naturally, we had to search the Internet for best deals in accommodation. The requirement: cheap, clean, safe and accessible by public transport. We had several choices but settled with Imperial Hotel on Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. It’s just a hop, skip and a jump away from major shopping districts, restaurants and markets.

The rooms are adequate but not grand. I call it the one-step room – one step you’re on the bed, one step you’re in the toilet and one step you’re out the door. But since we will only use it to plonk our tired asses after a day’s exploration around town and it’s theme parks, a singe step access to basic amenities and the bed should be more than enough.

Imperial hotel does not have its own restaurant so forget about room service, but Nathan Road and nearby streets are loaded with restaurants and cafes, all you have to do is strap on your roller blades and let the people push you to the nearest eatery. While the hotel does not have its own restaurant they offer free breakfast with the accommodation as additional option. How do they do it? We were told that they give you a breakfast stub to McDonald’s, now how nifty is that?!

HK Walkabouts

Where to eat

Whatever you do, do not ever make the mistake of ordering Chinese food, because back there they just call it food! Oodles of noodles, scrumptious stir fries, a parade of poultry, racks of cured meats, the greenest and crunchiest vegetables, and more. For a more authentic experience go to one of the restaurants on one of the side streets near Nathan Road complete with non-English speaking waitresses and menus in Chinese. Your index finger will come handy as you point to what other customers are eating and they don’t seem to mind you looking at what they’re having.

For the not-so-adventurous stomachs there is the traditional staples of the western cuisine to be had from McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC and Pizza Hut.

We also had sushi in one of the sushi trains along Nathan Road, after haggling our way through interesting finds from the Ladies’ night market on Tung Choi Street, Mong-Kok.

Lunch at Watermark

A friend of my partner’s, who now resides in Hongkong, treated us to lunch in Watermark along the harbour where her husband knew the chef. Really posh restaurant with a salad bar, the best steaks in town, and a beautiful serving of foie gras. I ordered a slab of rib-eye rare but i got medium instead and felt disappointed since i really want my steak bloody. We alerted the waiter who in turn told the chef and it was immediately recalled and replaced with a new serving of a perfectly seared rare rib-eye steak that melts in the mouth. I was beyond satisfied.

But what I loved the most is the fruit market. They are bustling with colours of the freshest and most succulent fruits. We bought a kilo of strawberries that were as big as apples, a kilo of juicy cherries, a kilo of oranges, and a couple of custard apples. We were eating these as we made our way to the Ladies’ Night Market.

What to do

Our main purpose for going to Hong-kong was the theme parks – Disneyland and Ocean Park – and we were not disappointed. None of us were kids anymore but it brought out the inner child in us.

HK Ocean Park

To get to the Ocean Park we took the Citybus 973 from Tsim Sha Tsui. The ride took about 30 minutes and dropped us off just within walking distance to the entrance of the park. Admission to the park is about HKD280 for adults and HKD140 for children under 12. Best attractions are the dolphin show and the grand aquarium with over 5000 species of water creatures. The downside, its so hard for a diver to view underwater creatures on land. I had to press my face so close against the class and breathed from my mouth to simulate the underwater experience. The dolphin show was exhilarating as men and dolphins performed tricks in and out of the water.

Disneyland is magical. From the minute we got to the Disneyland Resort Station we could already feel the experience. The station is decorated with a lot of hidden Mickeys and the trains had Mickey Mouse windows and rail handles inside. Getting there we took the MTR from Kowloon, which took about 30 minutes to get to the

HK Disneyland

Disneyland Resort Station that took us to Lantau Island where Disneyland is located.

My favourite experiences were the Lion King performance in Adventureland, the parade of stars in Fantasyland, the 4D cinema, It’s a Small World and the fireworks overlooking the Disney Castle capped the experience.

Aside from the theme parks, Hong-kong is the best places to go shopping for clothes, gadgets and perfume. Word of warning though especially for electronics and other gadgets to buy it from reputable dealers, Cheap doesn’t always mean a good deal so buyer beware. I am more traditional when it comes to buying my gadgets so I decided not to get anything from Hong-kong this time. But I am now in the market for a Canon S95 to use in my underwater camera setup.

Disney Castle

I went crazy buying clothes, especially in H&M! They were really dirt cheap and the quality of the material and work were great. I still have the shirts, pants, shorts and underwear. There are also some great bargains in the Ladies’ night market. I suggest getting souvenirs from the night market and haggle up to 80% off the price, seriously. For perfumes we bought from trusty perfume warehouses and they were about 30% off normal retail prices.

City explorer’s tip

Learn to use the MTR and ferry! Its the secret to mobility. They are fast, efficient and will practically get you anywhere. Also, hang-on to your hard earned cash and make sure you want the item before asking for the price. As soon as you asked a vendor on how much an item is they start wrapping it for you and if you are not really prepared to buy you get pressured into parting with your cash before you can say Shanghai!

HK Theme Park Fashion

A Day Off the Beaten Path

I would call this section a day off the beaten rack to account for Hong-kong’s theme park fashion. While most tourists would perhaps wear shorts, t-shirts and comfortable footwear to battle the endless walks and queues in the park it was surprising to see how the locals dress up for the occasion…and they really dress-up.

It was like a fashion show for the local women and you will find an all seasons collection. From boots and jackets to lacey tops and fancy cocktail dresses to four inch heels and mini skirts. For the guys, it’s just like a day in the office with slacks, leather shoes, long-sleeved shirts, and the optional wind breaker or dinner jacket. At first I thought there must be an event in the park but then I saw them queue up and some sit next to me to watch the shows.

I guess you don’t really have to try hard to find something off the beaten path in any travel adventure. You just need to open your eyes and this will just pop out even in the most common places for tourists.