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Taste of the orient

Quote-end
17.10.2004

Advantages:
Shopping, Food, Sightseeing, Transport, Octopus Card

Disadvantages:
Very Hot, Crowded and Mosquitos

Recommendable Yes:

Detailed rating:

Value for Money

Shopping

Nightlife

Ease of getting around

Family Friendly

Sightseeing

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For years Hong Kong has been a hugely popular holiday destination for western tourists and I finally had the opportunity to travel there in April 2004. This wasn't going to be my first time in Hong Kong as I had been when I was around 8 years old. Since I was only very young I couldn't really appreciate the atmosphere and cultural value of Hong Kong. The reason for my visit to Hong Kong was partly for pleasure but also because I was attending a wedding. Since my parents are from Hong Kong alot of my family also hails from there. My time of travel was just before my gcse exams and I was pretty sick of school work so I thought it would be nice to have a break prior to my exams.

For many years Hong Kong was under British colonial rule up until 1996/7 when it was returned to Chinese control by John Major's Conservative Government. Hong Kong is located around South east China surrounded by deep waters. The surroundings and scenery are dominated by hillsides and apartment blocks.

Since my family decided it was best to travel to Hong Kong during the Easter holidays it would mean that prices were extremely higher than non peak times in the year. A usual price in non peak times to travel to Hong Kong via economy class would be around £300-500 depending on the airline and time of the year. Whereas during peaktimes prices can reach upto £800 for economy class. Due to increasing oil costs the cost of tickets will be even greater so I suggest you shop round. From word of mouth alot of my family friends have said that airfrance are quite reasonably priced but you will need to fly from Paris.

When we were booking our holiday we were unable to find a reasonable price from the internet because we only booked around March. So word of warning is to book early in order to get the best price. As a result of this my parents booked with a travel agent I don't seem to remember the name of. But the price we got was fair at £800 seeing as we were booking quite late. The only problem was we had to fly from Manchester to London Heathrow to board the Cathay Pacific flight to Hong Kong. The reason for this I'm unaware of but I think Cathay Pacific don't do flights to Hong Kong from Manchester anymore. The good thing about this is when you check your bags in at Manchester, your luggage is loaded onto the plane for Hong Kong once you touch down in Heathrow which saves checking in again.

If you are ever in the situation of having to travel to Heathrow for your flight to Hong Kong from Manchester there is no need to worry about anything because the flight is only 40 mins long. Upon arrival at Heathrow the time difference between arrival and your departure time for Hong Kong is usually 3-4 hours so its best to look around the shops in the terminal or get something to read. You should also possibly pack some food because in terminal 3 which I think is the terminal my flight was at, there is a lack of diversity in the food. The only choices you will have is muffins or sandwiches so be warned if you ever go without nutrition.

One of the most essential i would recommend if you plan on travelling to Hong Kong is that you should travel first class. Reason for this being if you're very tall the legroom available for a person around 6ft is very limited and you will be feeling sore after around 12-13 hours on a plane. I'm only around 5ft 6 in height but i also feel that the legroom is scarce so next time I travel to Hong Kong or anywhere on a long haul flight I will shell out for business or first class.

In 1997 the travel time to Hong Kong from Manchester was approximately 15-18 hours but now it has dramatically decreased to 12-13 hours due to flying restrictions over russian provinces being lifted. The only worthwhile form of entertainmen onboard a 12 hour flight is the in flight tv. These usually range from brand new movies, news to sports programmes from the previous week. But if tv ain't your thing then you can catch up on some sleep, 12 hours worth in fact.

[ARRIVAL]

After a 12 hour flight the first thing you want to do is get off and the first i did was run straight off the plane to stretch and to get a little motion going in my body. When you are walking through to the entrance area you can see the planes to your left. I never realised they were that big up until I looked through the glass on the left on the route to the entrance. When you get to the entrance to Hong Kong you are faced with hidiously long queues but at this time it was pretty quiet so I don't think I could imagine the situation when it was really busy. At the entry desked is an immigration officer who asks for your passport and boarding pass. After confirmation you are asked to fill in some form if you aren't from Hong Kong or China. The details required from them are name, address, length of stay and medical details due to the outbreak of SARS the year before. The biggest problem is not the forms but the fact that they don't give you a pen to fill your form in and when you finish filling it in they literally throw your passport at you. I knew some people were devoid of hospitality but it was as if to say "here, now f*ck off". After you get through the entrance you reach the luggage area. This area is incredibly large and finding your luggage. Be aware that you should grab your luggage fairly quickly because if you miss it you face the problem of waiting for it to go round again because nobody will hand it to you. The toilets located in the baggage collection area are very hard to find and when you do find them you will have the problem of having to queue to use them. Once you're ready to leave for the city you have option of the large elevators for trolleys or the steps if you're light on luggage. The elevators usually house around 20 people maximum with 2-3 trollys maximum. They only go down a floor so there will be a minor wait if you just missed one. The moment you step out of the elevator you are greeted by nice green plants which is a nice change from the dull, dreary branches of english trees. On my last trip the heat wasn't quite severe because I went in April. The main months for hot tropical weather are around June to September where its always hot and stick. The first thing you should do once you get outside is to only wear a tshirt as it can get very hot even in April and if you are travelling in a car you will feel the intensity of the heat. If you plan on travelling in a taxi you will need to walk about 100 metres to the taxi stop where there are 20 taxis usually that

Pictures of General: Hong Kong
queue up for your custom. Seeing as I was picked up by a member of my family I'll give you my account of the journey from the airport in the car. My Uncle drives a BMW 7 series so heat wouldn't be very intense seeing as it has climate control but if you decide on travelling in a car without air conditioning you shouldn't keep your windows open. This is because the roads leading upto the airport are highways thus the high speeds will make an annoying sound in your car if you have your window open.

[FIRST IMPRESSIONS]

During the car journey I was completely glued to the left window looking at the scenery from the journey to my accomodation for the fortnight. The Hong Kong international airport is built in a man made island. This means you cross a bridge in order to get to the mainland. The scenery on the bridge when you are driving across is clear blue skies, deep sea and hillsides. This is something different to what you would see in Britain, which is cloudy, overcast skies with factories on the horizon. Once you leave the artificial surroundings of the island you enter the Hong Kong mainland which is very small. You can tell very easily because of the amount of apartment blocks there are. Every corner and every street you drive through you can see huge blocks of apartmens, some usually around 100 storeys high. One of my cousins lives in a fairly new apartment block and he told us that the apartment prices range from £100-200k even for a fairly lacklustre one. A majority of the people in Hong Kong will live in apartments simply because there is no room to build many houses and the people who do own houses are pretty well off or they live in small areas. After a few days in Hong Kong you begin to adjust to your surroundings. The surroundings being huge apartment blocks and clear blue skies. Another thing you can notice is that the majority of old people will wear those surgical masks, no reason why but it does seem a bit creepy seeing as everybody was wearing them during the SARS epidemic. Once you get out and walk around you can see the overcrowdedness of the place and you need to watch out when you are walking around in the streets. If you're a woman with a handbag I suggest you keep an eye on it as there are many opportunists out on the streets. I don't know the prices of hotels in Hong Kong as I stayed with family but I assume its around £50-100 a night depending on where you stay.

[SIGHTSEEING]

There are plenty of places to see as a tourist when you are in Hong Kong most of them being very famous to westerners. The area in Hong Kong where I stayed was Sha Tin in the new territories. This area is very famous due to the horseracing. I haven't been there because I'm not old enough but the rest of my family have been and it is a great day or night out from what I've heard. Whether you're a gambler or horse lover there's something there for everyone. The female relatives in my family will occasionally go there to socialise while some of the male members of the family will gamble minor sums of money. The racecourse is usually a very popular place for westerners to come to. The racecourse was also featured in one of Michael Palin's travels in the early 1990s and you get a pretty good insight on the atmosphere in the racecourse if you have seen the programme. I'm not quite sure on the race days but the racing season is usually from September to June on saturdays and wednesdays. Be aware that you will only be allowed into the venue with smart casual attire which means no tracksuits, shorts or trainers. The travel to the racecourse is pretty easy with a subway route just for the racecourse and many minibus stops in the vicinity of the racecourse.

Other things to do are the Hong Kong Island boat trips. These boat trips last around 1 hour or 5 hours depending on whether you want to travel or you want to tour the island. I only took the 1 hour which involved travelling. The scenery when you're sailing across the deep seas past the great architecture and skyline is amazing and easily makes Hong Kong one of the best cities in the world. You can choose to take this tour in the day or the night. Be aware that the boats do not have windows so little children unaware may fall into the water if they're not very careful. But once you get around any problems you can admire the truly breathtaking scenery of Hong Kong. It is one of the most recognisable sights in the world along with New York, London, Paris and Las Vegas.

If you're not so keen on Hong Kong island then you can travel to Kowloon and the New Territories where there are plenty of places to see. One of the places I went to when i was 8 was the wishin tree. This place is where you write down a wish on coloured paper usually red because it is the chinese lucky colour. You then attach it to the tree. People have told me that wishes will come true if the branches on the tree touch your piece of paper. Unfortunately my lottery win hasn't come through yet so I must visit the wishing tree again. This place is usually full of elderly people but the atmosphere is pretty optimistic. Travel access to the wishing tree district includes the bus, minibus and the underground.

Alot of people will go to Florida for theme park attractions but in Hong Kong they have their own theme parks. One of them being the Ocean Park Adventure. Be prepared to get wet if you plan on going on the rides because the main selling point of this place is water. Common knowledge is Asia is that this is one of the most famous theme parks in Asia. With things from sealife, aquariums and theme park rides children will be able to spend a fair few hours here. I'm quite sure that there is a fair bit of underground travel to this destination and bus travel but if you're sceptical you should take the taxi.

One of the most recent attractions I visited was Po Lin Monestary located near the Hong Kong International Airport. The attraction is located on a hill and houses the world's biggest outdoor bronze Buddha statue. Inside the Buddha is a museum which is full of pictures and statues. Since history isn't one of my favourite aspects of holidays I found this place rather dull but children will be easily drawn in by the huge Buddha. Also included in the entrance fee to the monestary is a vegetarian lunch. I was brought up on the basis of a diet that featured meat and the thought of having a vegetarian lunch really put me off the food. This is because I love my meat, insult me if you want but there's nothing like a good piece of steak or chicken. After digesting the vegetarian lunch I felt very hungry because I usually enjoy a fair bit of meat in my lunch and not because i'm overweight. The lunch includes vegetarian spring rolls, broccoli, battered tofu in lemon sauce and various other tofu dishes. If you are vegetarian though then you will find the dishes quite appetizing. In order to travel here from Sha Tin you will need to travel on a double decker bus to a district around the airport. Then you will need to changeover to a minibus in order to get the Monestary. The journey lasts over 2 hours but you will pass sights like the Cheung Sha Beach which is one of the most beautiful beaches in Hong Kong. When returning from the Monestary you can either return the way you came or take another minibus to a port. This port has boats every 30 minutes - 1 hour that will lead you to Hong Kong Island if you want to get a bit of shopping in.

A future attraction that is currently being built is Disneyland Hong Kong. As asia is one of the untapped markets for Disney they've decided to build a Disneyland. From what I've heard it will be up and running in 2006 which is the next time I intend to travel to Hong Kong.

[TRANSPORT]

There are many great methods of transport available in Hong Kong, I would say that the quality of transport in Hong Kong greatly exceeds the quality of transport in Britain. One of the first things you should buy when you are at the airport is an Octopus card. What is an octopus card? well it is like a pay as you go card whereby you pay £50-100 and it will pay for your transport. It works as each card as its own id number but it is quite complicated to get into. Each time you use it on a bus it will debit the amount out of your card so once you use up all of your credit you can pay to top it up. The card is not a swipe but you just put it up to the sensor, then the machine will give you a beeping indication that it has debitted the card. You don't have to get the card out everytime you want to use it if you use a wallet as you can just put your wallet upto the sensor or your handbag and it will still debit the money from the card. Transport methods that will accept this style of payment are, minibus, subway, bus, boat and taxis. Another advantage of this card is that you will receieve discounts for using it so it means that travel in Hong Kong is sorted if you have one of these cards. Apart from transport you can also use the card on vending machines or in newsagents. This is very useful if you don't have any spare change or no money at all. Be careful you don't get addicted to using it as my little cousin 10yrs old always buys people lunch with it at school which isn't financially viable for parents. I recommend that you should only buy one of these cards if you plan on commuting frequently if you're in Hong Kong else it can be a waste of money. Other countries like Holland are currently planning to implement this system after seeing how good it worked in Hong Kong.

I will now give you my description and account of the forms of transport I used on my stay in Hong Kong.
Taxis are usually one of the best ways for people to get round if they're not familiar with the chinese language. Even though the drivers will have a lack of english skills they will know in someway what place you want to go to. The Hong Kong taxis are easily recognisable as they are red, 5 door Toyota Corolla saloons. The quality of the taxis is very good and maintenance seems high on them. The problem with the taxis is that in heavy traffic you are still charged. If the driver stops for 5 minutes you are charged a few dollars. On most of the taxi journeys I went on I rarely spent more than around £10 in mile long journeys which is very good value seeing as British Taxi Drivers rip you off.

The subways of Hong Kong are very good whatever you hear from other people. Not every subway system will ever be uncrowded or completely squeaky clean. The subway system has only 2 routes, forward or back. The subway will go through all major regions then turn around. The trains will usually come around every 10 minutes so waiting time will be minimal. If you are at the beginning of the route make sure you take a seat because half way through the train will be packed with a majority of people standing. If you're standing you will have a tough job staying on your feet and people will often accidently hit you with luggage or other things like walking sticks. I can't remember the price of subway travel but it is imbetween 50p-£2.

Other forms of transport are the bus and minibus. Alot of the buses in Britain are vandalised by the chavs with anti social behaviour orders. This isn't the case in Hong Kong as most double decker buses will have air conditioning and comfortable seating, perfect for a hot summers day travel. The minibuses will usually go into city centres and span into tiny villages which is where I was accomodated. The minibuses usually came round every 20 minutes but they will only depart when they are reasonably full. For Hong Kong residents the best form of daily transport will involve minibus in rural areas while people living in urban apartments will prefer the subway.

[FOOD]

Isn't this the reason why people love Hong Kong? chinese food is very popular in the uk but let me just say this. Chinese food ain't chinese food unless you've eaten in Hong Kong or China. All the restaurants in the UK that appear to give you that true taste of the orient cannot compete with the great restaurants in Hong Kong or China. Restaurants or eataries are near enough everywhere in Hong Kong and they often fight hard for your custom. There are so many restaurants in Hong Kong that it would be very hard for me to give you an exact guide. But I would make sure if you're hungry while sightseeing or shopping you should go to a nice looking restaurant a great interior as restaurants that are usually open walled are quite dodgy. One of the dishes that you must try are the fondue style barbecue. This is where you are given a big steaming hot pot of soup. They are usually sectioned into 2, 1 being chilli and 1 being onion. They're usually heated continuously under your table so they're still piping hot. Then you are given thin, uncooked meat and you just stick it in the soup and your meat is cooked in the soup. This is indeed one of the must try dishes if you ever go to a fondue restaurant.

There are many franchises for food in Hong Kong which range from high class restaurants to fast food. The typical restaurant I would recommend is the Maxim franchise. This is one of the biggest restaurant franchises in Hong Kong and it shows because the food is excellent and cannot be compared with the chinese food in Britain. There are also fast food franchises in Hong Kong which have dishes like sweet and sour pork with rice or spaghetti. They're usually quickly served eat in places with a cheap and diverse range of meals. The biggest restaurant franchise that does this is Fairwood. The Fairwood restaurants are usually packed and it can be difficult to find any seating so if you are with another person you should get the other person to find seating while you order.

Alongside the true taste of the orient your kids may have their tastebuds adjusted to the fast food junk that they eat in England. So to accomodate this there is just about a McDonalds on EVERY street and just like in Britain, full to the brim and just as bad for you. The difference between the British branches and the Hong Kong branches is that they offer a varieties of chicken burgers because KFC isn't as big in Hong Kong as it is in Britain. The cost of food in Hong Kong is compareable to British prices so I'd bring the same amount of money as you would if you went out in Britain.

Note : If you want a good pack of walkers crisps you can buy it from the 7/11 but it is known as lays.

[SHOPPING]

I absolutely enjoy dabbling in a little bit of retail therapy and Hong Kong is the perfect treatment. If you take the subway to the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong you will enter one of the biggest retail districts in Hong Kong. Every corner is an electronics or clothes store to entice everybody with each one competing with one another, this means we(the consumer) get the best deals around. As some of my favourite consumer items are electronics and clothes I found the Mong Kok district the perfect place the shop around. One of my items that was on my shopping list was an ipod so I cruised around the shops for a price and unfortunately i thought it was every $10 to the £1. So when I shopped around and found the cheapest price being $2200 i was surprised that the prices were similar to Britain. But later I discovered it was $13 to the £1 which meant that an ipod cost £169 rather than £220. After much deliberation though I did decide on not purchasing it as I had my eye on a DivX dvd player. For clothes I found there was a great choice available ranging from jeans, shirts etc and that the styles over there were similar to styles in Britain. The prices in Hong Kong are considerably cheaper than in Britain probably because shipping costs are reduced because alot of clothes are produced in China. Levis jeans that cost around £50 here cost around £25-£30 in the Levis store in Mong Kok which was more than reasonable. All the recognisable brands like armani, burberry etc can all be found as you get closer to the scenery of Hong Kong Island. Most shops in plazas or shopping malls will stay open throughout the night to cater for those late night shoppers so it means your shopping trips can last all day.

If you're not into expensive designer goods then you can take the subway to Lo Wu which is in China and you can visit a huge fake goods shopping plaza. Be aware that if you're British you need to wait 30 minutes to be a given a visa for entry. If you're Canadian or American you will have difficulty getting in for reasons I was never told. Again on arrival you must fill in the Hong Kong forms and again when you depart. After you leave the train station the shopping plaza is in directly facing the exit so you will have no trouble finding it. The goods on offer in the plaza extend from fake rolex's, fake armani to fake callaway golf clubs. As they're fake they will be sold market style so you should learn your cantonese so you can haggle with them effectively. The good old trick people do is start off with an extremely low price, then move up slightly, then if you don't get the price you want you should leave. This sparks a panic in the eyes of the market seller because they're losing custom to the competition. Also if you are into designer goods make sure you don't carry them around like burberry bags because the plaza is a haven for thieves and they will stop at nothing to get your bag.

[ENTERTAINMENT]

There are many bars in Hong Kong but because I'm not of drinking age I would have had trouble getting in so I didn't bother. But from what I've heard there are many lively jazz clubs if you're into that kind of stuff. If you ever stay in a hotel like holiday inn you can enjoy live premiership football at 3am in the morning on your own in the bar.

If you're a child or a teenager and you stay around the sha tin district then you can visit the game centers there which have a vast array of computer games to keep you occupied for hours. But if you have little children who prefer cartoon characters etc you can go to lego land also located in the sha tin plaza. Or if you're completely bored there is a cinema located in the sha tin plaza showing the latest releases including Hong Kong blockbusters and Hollywood releases.

For people bored stiff in their hotel room or staying in a holiday house then you can rest assured that not all the tv channels are in chinese. The main tv corporation "TVB" also have a tv channel mainly for western visitors or habitants. The tv channel is pretty good with shows like 24 which was showing the 3rd season when I was there and CSI.

[MOSQUITOS]

As Hong Kong has a tropical climate you have to be aware that there are alot of mosquitos and yes they will bite. For some people mosquito bites can stay for about a week or some stay for a few hours but I recommend you spray yourself with anti mosquito stuff when going out and sleep under a mosquito net at night. Be aware in rural areas some mosquitos may carry the deadly dengue fever so it's best to be safe than sorry in your approach to mosquitos.

[GENERAL]

Hong Kong is limited in space which means that when walking through the streets it can be very overcrowded and since there are alot of people it can get very smelly littering and the excessive heat. In the summer months it isn't unusual to have 3-4 showers as it can get incredibly hot. If you ever need to go to the hospital I can tell you that the quality is worse than the NHS. This is also of course due to the amount of people in Hong Kong in relation to the lack of space.

[CONCLUSION]

After spending a great fortnight in Hong Kong I immediately wanted to return after arriving back in the dreary atmosphere of Great Britain. If you do decide to go to Hong Kong there will be 3 reasons why:
-to shop
-to eat
-to see


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Comments about this review »

ElFreakoKid 15.07.2007 18:25

Fantastic... no, wait, exceptional review!

Delicate_Orchid 08.07.2006 15:48

Sounds like a great place to visit, but not to live. x

post-it-note 03.02.2006 15:53

Im thinking of going in April for a stopover, I dont think I will need to look anywhere else for information! very very comprehensive! -

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