Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Hong Kong, Macau, and Shenzhen Trip

Hong Kong is a cosmopolitan of steel and concrete. Hustle-bustle streets, highways, underground tunnels and railways, and ferries lines webbing across the city, forming a system that connects millions of people within the city.

Scenery of Hong Kong Island and the peninsular of Kowloon from the Peak.

The dense high-rises line closely along the road.

In May 2012, we took a 7 days 6 nights trip to Hong Kong, Macau, and Shenzhen (or Shen Zhen). Our itinerary is as follows:

First day, we arrived at Hong Kong International Airport around 6:15 pm, settled down at our hotel around 8:00 pm, and then we took our dinner at an eatery a street away from our hotel. Second day, we spent quite some time in the morning to get ourselves familiar with the public transportation system in Hong Kong. Then, we took a long trip to the southern part of Hong Kong Island to visit Repulse Bay (浅水弯) and Ocean Park (海洋公园). We spent a whole day there. We stopped at Mong Kok (旺角) for dinner on our way back to our hotel.

Third day, Hong Kong Disneyland filled the whole day. As we were getting more familiar with the public transportation system, our trip went smoothly throughout the day. Fourth day, we took a day trip to Macau (澳门). We visited Temple Street Night Market (庙街) at night, after we had returned to Hong Kong from Macau.

Fifth day, we had our Hong Kong Island trip by visiting The Peak (太平山顶), where we enjoyed the 360 degree view over the island, followed by the Golden Bauhinia Square (金紫荆广场) and Causeway Bay (铜锣湾). We went to Tung Choi Street (通菜街) and Ladies Street (女人街) to take our dinner afterward. We strolled around the street for a while before we continued our trip to Avenue of Stars to witness the world's largest light and sound show there.

Sixth day, we travelled northward to Shenzhen using MTR. We visited the Eye of the World (世界之窗) and did some shopping around the terminal of Luo Hu (罗湖). We came back to Malaysia in the morning of our seventh day.

We used to think that Hong Kong is a very big city with excellent public transportation system, uncountable high rises, good looking celebrities, and of course, a place with the wrestling between the police and the mafia, as what we could see in Hong Kong movies. After we visited Hong Kong, we gained the real experience of staying at Hong Kong.

Firstly, about the public transportation system in Hong Kong. It is very systematic, but complex. We found the most confusing part within the system is the link between different commuter lines. For example, Central MTR Station is located quite near to the bus station to Repulse Bay, but we need to go upstairs and downstairs, with a few turns in between. The information stated in the station was too much to be digested in a short period of time. The ferry terminal to Macau at Kowloon can only be accessed through the shopping mall of Hong Kong Gateway Towers. Well, we don't think that it is as simply as follows "33 Canton Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong" to get to the place, as we couldn't find any clue about the terminal outside of the shopping mall. The Central Terminal at Hong Kong Island is even worse. We were led to a big shopping mall (Shun Tat Center) just after we went out from the ferry terminal. There was no sign or direction given to lead us to Sheung Wan Station, not until we reached the ground floor of the shopping mall. Well, we were forced to "shop" in the mall for about 10 minutes to find our way to the MTR station (we will mention more about this later).

Then, about the automatic ticketing system using Octopus Card (八通卡). There was no instruction or manual given on how to utilize the card. Well, we thought that it should be quite similar to "Touch and Go" card in Malaysia. We were right, partly. For the part which we were wrong, we had to learn it in the hard way (extra fee was paid). Later in the evening, we came out with a conclusion- we could get all the precise information only if we cross-refer several tourist's maps and guides together. Plus, "fine-tune" our direction by asking the people along the way. A few try and error and together with the help from the locals, we learned constructively and could get along with the transportation system starting on our day 3.

Pedestrian walkways are almost everywhere and convenient in connecting places in Hong Kong. Many of these walkways are built elevated from the ground.

The electric commuter train or been called MTR in Hong Kong is the major transportation system in Hong Kong. The station can be identified by the red and white oval sign (upper left). Most of the stations in the city are air-conditioned. The seats on the train are very limited. However, finding a place to stand is not a problem.

Beside MTR, other transportation lines such as the buses and the electric trams (upper left) are available with many intersecting points to connect them. The public transports are always overloaded with passengers (upper right). We have to go to the main road in order to get a taxi (lower left). There is no special stand for the taxi in most of the part in Hong Kong. The taxi's fare is counted by meter. The ferries transporting people between Hong Kong and Macau has the facilities that similar to aircraft cabin.

We want to mention a little bit more about the Octopus Card, which we bought from MTR station. The card is like a debit card for ticketing purpose only (more convenience, plus, we can enjoy the discounted fare for MTR). We need to top up the card before we can use it. For MTR (the trains), we have to scan the card at the entrance and the exit of the stations. We will be charged upon the exit (scan the card at the sensor, just like what we have in Malaysia, and the fare will be deducted from the card). For the bus, it's different. Once we get onto the bus, the maximum fee for the trip will be charged on our card. If our destination is the last stop of the route, then we don't have to scan the card again on the sensor. However, if we disembark somewhere at the middle, we need to scan the card to claim back the extra fee. The electric tram line in Hong Kong Island uses different ticketing system from the others. For electric tram, we need to pay only when we are leaving the tram (so we just need to scan the card once, before we leave the tram). The fare for the tram is fixed, without considering the distance. The tram to the Peak is using the same system with the electric tram.

Octopus card.

From our observation, the taxi drivers in Hong Kong were good in Cantonese only. They tended to answer in simple and short when we talked to them in Mandarin or English. However, they can understand Mandarin and English well. The fare of taxi is charged according to the meter. It is must for the passenger to fasten their safety belt in taxi.

We would like to comment a bit about the people in Hong Kong. By first impression, they were impolite and inpatient (we are willing to share our personal experiences through email only). They really made us feel bad about Hong Kong. However, some good people that we met afterwards remedied our a bit. The shopkeepers around our hotel turned to be more friendly to us after seeing us for several times (as we stayed 7 days 6 nights at the same location). We will share our more of our experiences in our next few posts.

We visited Repulse Bay and Ocean Park on our second day in Hong Kong. Follow us now.

We will share our experience at Macau and Shenzhen soon.

Hong Kong Ocean Park and Repulse Bay

Our second day in Hong Kong, we decided to visit Ocean Park and Repulse Bay (浅水弯) only after we had reached Central (中环) MTR Station. Both of the places are located at the southern part of Hong Kong Island. Travelling from Tai Kok Tsui (大角咀) to Central MTR Station was easy. We took a 10 minutes walk from our hotel (Tai Kok Tsui Bridal Tea House) to Olympic (奥运) MTR Station, took the train to Hong Kong Station, followed by a few minutes walk through the underground pedestrian walkway to Central MTR Station.

The more tricky part was to find the bus terminal at Central Station. Following the signage was not everything. We had a hard time to believe that the terminal which was badly illuminated, greasy, filled with exhaust smoke, and only with a few people was in fact, the Central Bus Terminal (the feeling was so far away from clean, fully air-conditioned, and packed with people at Central MTR Station). Then, we were misled to the wrong bus, and was been told to get down from the bus by the driver in a very rude way, after both our parents had paid HKD10.60 each for the fare (scanned their Octopus Card with HKD10.60 charged). We dealt with the customer service officer later to get to the right bus. But, we couldn't claim the money back anymore. We shared more of our experience about Hong Kong Transportation System in our Hong Kong, Macau, and Shenzhen post.

Despite a few try-and-error over the ticketing system and the impolite bus driver, our journey from Central Station to Repulse Bay was a pleasant one. We enjoy the scenery across Hong Kong Island, starting from the highly densed northern area, to the full-of-nature southern area.

Repulse Bay is basically a beach with coarse sand, packed with many locals and some tourists. The beach is one of the popular location for the locals to spend their weekends, picnic and enjoy the sea breeze. The bay is well protected by a few islands nearby. In our opinion, although it is a popular site which has been listed in many local tours, the beach is far from being an excellent one. In our country, we have many beautiful beaches, such as those located in Langkawi, Pangkor, Sabah, Sarawak, and Terengganu, which are much nicer than Repulse Bay. Regretted? Definitely no! At least we had seen the place. By the way, Repulse Bay is the area where many rich and famous in Hong Kong reside.

The bus fare from Central Bus Terminal to Repulse Bay was around HKD6.60 per person per trip. Please check this site for the latest fare. The journey took us around 30 minutes. Please be noted that Repulse Bay is a big area with a few bus stops. The beach that we visited is located at Repulse Bay Beach Stop (浅水弯沙滩).

We could see people were gathering at the beach. It was 10 am in the morning.

We turned right on the same spot as the previous photo, and this was what we saw.

We went to Ocean Park after we made a short stay at Repulse Bay. By taxi, we took less than 10 minutes to reach the park, with a fare around HKD30. The entrance fee for the park was HKD280 per person (around RM112).  We were requested to went through security cheek-point where we were requested to open our bags for checking, before we could proceed to the ticketing counter. Ocean Park is a conservation-themed amusement park. We like the conservation part- the pandas, red pandas, sea lions, dolphins, birds, fish, and many more, while we ignored the thrilling games such as the roller coasters in the park.

This is what we saw at the entrance of Ocean Park.

A big lake (upper left and lower right), fountains, the Grand Aquarium (upper right), and a few huge ballons (lower left) were the things that caught our attention, right after we entered the park.

Photo taken in The Grand Aquarium.

Panda (upper left) and red panda (upper right) are really cute! We took our opportunity to take photo with the panda (lower left), while our parents were attracted by the beautiful landscape of the exhibits.

The kids' area (upper left), the Old Hong Kong Street (upper right), Emerald Trail (lower right) and the cable car that connects the Waterfront and the Summit of the park.

There were several animal shows in the park. 

We strolled around the Waterfront for a few hours. Then, we used the cable car to go to the Summit of the park.

This is how Deep Water Bay looks like from the cable car.

Our first ride on the Summit was the Ocean Park Observatory Tower.

The Summit Plaza and the surrounding area of the park from the observatory tower.

The Pacific Pier from the observatory tower.

California Sea Lions at the Pacific Pier.

Nice view of the Ocean Theatre by South China Sea. For us, the dolphin's show was the best animal show in the park. 

Ocean Park is a must visit place in Hong Kong. It worth the money paid, especially for taking a look on the cute pandas and the red pandas. The park is big, we can easily spend a whole day inside the park. The food and drinks are expensive inside the park (which is about thrice the normal price). We spent more than more than HKD300 inside, just for the drinks, some snacks, and a simple lunch. So, bringing our own food and drinks from outside might be a good idea. Comfortable shoes is essential of a whole day's walk, and bringing an umbrella or a hat is necessary to counter the unforgiving blazing sun.  The weather was hot and humid during our visit. So, we went into the air-conditioned areas (animal exhibits, souvenir shops and restaurants) once in a while to cold ourselves down. You can visit the official site of Ocean Park here for more information.

We came out from the park around 5:30 pm. We went to Admiralty MTR Station from Ocean Park using the bus service. From there, we went to Mong Kok Station for our dinner before we took a taxi back to our hotel. Third day, we went to Hong Kong Disneyland. Click here to follow us now! Our complete itinarary for 7 days 6 nights in Hong Kong is here.

Hong Kong Disneyland

Hong Kong Disneyland is the smallest Disneyland in the world. That's the fact. But for us, it was the first in our life, so, we didn't mind to start from the smallest. Going to Disneyland from our hotel was easy- we took MTR from Olympic Station to Disneyland Station, with an interchange at Sunny Bay Station. The whole journey took us around 35 minutes.

We were travelling from Olympic Station (upper left) to Disneyland Station (upper right). We were surprised by the Disney-themed coach, which took us from Sunny Bay Station to Disneyland.

 This is how the coach looks like.

Disneyland is a place with many Disney cartoon characters, designed specially for children, which might drag the visitors away from the real world into the world of fantasy. Those were the good things that we heard about Disneyland. We did hear about the bad things happened in Hong Kong Disneyland as well. However, this is our personal feeling after visiting Hong Kong Disneyland- it is not more than a cartoon-themed park, where we paid to enjoy the facilities inside. Whether it's good or bad, it is pretty much depends on the personal impression. For us, the experience was good. So, we would say that it is a must visit place in Hong Kong, at least for those who haven't visit Disneyland before. The original ticket price for the park was HKD399 per person. However, we managed to buy our one day ticket with 10% discount, as we bought four tickets together and paid with Visa Card.

Hong Kong Disneyland is divided into a few zones, which the junction is just in front of the castle of Sleeping Beauty- Tomorrowland on the right, Adventureland on the left, Fantasyland at the center (just behind the castle), and Toy Story Land is far behind Adventureland. We would like to share our walkthrough the Disneyland with you with our photos taken around the park.

Once getting out from the station, we could see the arch of Hong Kong Disneyland Resort on our left. From the arch, we walked around 100 meters to the fountain of Disney, in front of the ticketing counters. The queue was not too long. Maybe it was early Monday morning. After we got our tickets checked, we saw Disney vintage train station from the outside (lower left). However, we could only get into the train from the inside. Main Street of USA was the first area that we came across.
We need to walk through Main Street of USA in order to visit the other parts of the Disneyland. Main Street USA is basically built with the theme following the "vintage" western town.

The entrance of the Fantasyland is right behind the Main Street.

Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Cinderella, Dumbo, Winnie the Pooh, Mickey Mouse, and some other well-known Disney characters are just right behind this Sleeping Beauty's castle. From where we were standing, we could turn left to Adventureland and Toy Story Land, or turn right to Tomorrowland. However, we decided to go straight into Fantasyland.

Cinderella Carousel (uppermost left and middle) is located at the center of the Fantasyland, surrounded by Winnie the Pooh (uppermost right), the Disneyland train (middle left and center), Dumbo the flying elephant (middle right), and many more. It's a Small World presents eyes dazzling tour around different countries and themes of puppets and decoration (lower left and middle). The Fantasyland is well landscaped.

We grabbed our opportunity to take photo with Mickey Mouse, icon of Disneyland at Fantasy Garden. Other characters such as Winnie the Pooh and Pinocchio were there too. We queued for almost 20 minutes to take this photo. 

Then, we went to Tomorrowland, where Stitch (not with Lilo), Buzz Lightyear, and Autopia were highlighted.

This is the design of the entrance to the Tomorrowland (right). The Orbitron (left) is the center of the Tomorrowland, which encircled by other themed buildings.

The Orbitron and the spaceship (the left column),  Buzzlight Year (middle column), and on the right, the Autopia.

The Flight of Fantasy caught our attention on our way from the Tomorrowland to the Adventureland. The huge amount of crowd gathering at the Main Town area showed us how attractive the parade was.

The Adventureland features the story of Tarzan and Jane and Lion King. We went into the Adventureland at around 5 pm. Unlike "barren" Tomorrowland, Adventureland is filled with dense vegetation. We saw this huge Tarzan Treehouse at the middle of the Adventureland.

We crossed the river using the raft to visit Tarzan's Treehouse (upper left). The treehouse is big. After strolling around for a few minutes, we met Tarzan and Jane in one of the chamber on the treehouse (lower right).

Then we joined jungle river cruise. Along the river, we experienced "Hollywood-feel" scenes, such as the safari (upper right), the rhino that defeated the evil troops (lower right), and the presentation of fire and water. One thing that spoiled the adventurous mood- the tour guide that apparently drifted our mood away with funny talks. 

 Our last stop was the Toy Story Land. We met several characeters in the story there.

We didn't wait until the fireworks presentation as we were really exhausted, after staying for more than 7 hours in the park. We went back to our hotel around 6:30 pm.

Visited the park in middle of May, the weather was really hot and humid. We could endure the high temperature, but high humidity made us sweated a lot. So, if you visit the park somewhere around summer time, please ensure that you drink enough water to maintain hydrated.  Once we paid the entrance fee, everything inside the Disneyland can be accessed free of charge, except the for the drink and food at the restaurants. However, we can always refill our bottle at the water dispensers around the park, free of charge. We found that the food inside the park is really expensive, so you might wish to bring some food into the park.  

The queuing time was the killing factor inside the park. We spent more than 1/3 of the time in the queue. Well, that was on normal working Monday. So, we anticipate that the queue during the public holiday or local school holiday will be horrible. Umbrealla, confortable footwear, sunblock, hat, snacks, drinking water, hat, and maybe, extra clothes are essential to survive a whole day long of queuing.

More information can be found at Hong Kong Disneyland Official Site. The intereactive map of Hong Kong Disneyland can be found here.

We went to Macau on the fourth day of our trip. However, we wish to share our experience on our Hong Kong Island Trip first. Or know more about our complete 7 days 6 nights itinarary here.

Hong Kong Island Trip

Fifth day in Hong Kong. We spent our time to visit a few places in Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. We would like to focus our sharing on three places- the Peak, Golden Bauhinia Square, and the Symphony of Light presentation. For our complete itinerary, please click here.

Our first destination of the day is The Peak (山顶 / 太平山顶) at Hong Kong Island. We found some refer The Peak as Victoria Peak. We walked from Hong Kong MTR station to Chater Garden through J2 exit. From J2, we went straight to Bank of China Tower, then towards Citibank Tower. The Peak Tram Station is located at the ground floor of the building next to Citibank Tower. It was a gloomy morning with heavy downpour. We used covered-pedestrian walkway most of the time to avoid getting wet. Lucky, we brought our umbrella, as there were some gaps between the walkway which were not well covered. We spent about 20 minutes to travel from Hong Kong MTR station to the Peak tram station. The normal fare for the tram was HKD28 per single trip or HKD40 per return trip. We used Octopus Card to pay for the tram. The journey to the Peak took about 10 minutes.

The Bank of China Tower is a prominent landmark in Hong Kong Island (upper left). Most of the walkways from Chater Garden to the tram station are built with covers (upper right). Private Banking was the sign of the tram station during our visit (lower left). We could get to the tram from the ground floor of the building.

This is how the building of the tram station looks like from a distance away.

Our photo inside the tram to the Peak. The whole journey took around 10 minutes.

More than 400 meters above sea level, the Peak is really a good location for everyone to enjoy 360 degree view over Hong Kong Island. We later discovered that instead of Peak Tower, which we always see in the advertisement and tourism booklets, there is in fact another shopping mall beside it- Peak Galleria. Peak Tower opened the top floor to the visitors with an additional of HKD29 (we could opt to buy the ticket together with the tram's ticket), while Peak Galleria offered its top floor to us free of charge. So, we chose to take the generous offer from Peak Galleria. It was extremely foggy when we reached the Peak in the morning. So, we roamed around the shopping malls, enjoyed the cooling air outside the building, and after 2 hours of waiting, the view was getting clearer and eventually, we saw view that we had expected to see.

We could see many of the skyscrapers below us from the Peak Tower.

This is how Peak Tower looks like, from Peak Galleria.

Peak Galleria has a less fancy look than its counterpart. However, it offered a free observatory platform to us. Photo taken from the exit of Peak Tower.

Hong Kong Island and Kowloon from the observatory platform of Peak Galleria.

Another side of the platform offers different view of Hong Kong.

We would like to drop few advices. To get to the Peak Tram Station, first, follow the Bank of China Tower and Citibank Tower as these two buildings are prominent and easy to recognize. The tram station is located beside Citibank Tower. Second, try not to buy the ticket to the observation platform of Peak Tower at the foot of the hill. Take a look on what Peak Galleria can offer free of charge, before you make your decision to proceed with the payment for Peak Tower. We couldn't find much choices of food at the Peak. However, Starbuck, Burger King, and a few coffee houses were there for us. By the way, not all the food and souvenirs available at the malls up there were expensive. We found that a few souvenirs sold were in fact cheaper that what we could get in Temple Street. Must visit? Definitely!

We met Bruce Lee at the Peak Tower, and he didn't mind to pose with our parents :p

After we came down from the Peak, we took the electric tram from Chater Garden to Wan Chai (弯仔). Then, we took a 15-minute walk from Wan Chai tram stop to Golden Bauhinia Square (金紫荆广场). To reach the square from Wan Chai, what we did was keep walking towards the sea (north).

This is one of the electric tram (with Picasso painted on it). We can see Chater Garden behind this tram.

Golden Bauhinia Square. We can see Kowloon commercial area far behind on the other side of Victoria Harbour.

Closer look on the sculpture of bauhinia with Hong Kong Convention Centre at the back.

Well, about Golden Bauhinia Square, there was really not much thing to see, except the 6-meter tall sculpture of golden bauhinia which was given by Central Government of China to Hong Kong on 1st July 1997, as a symbol of forever growing and prosperity. Historical value was what we could find at the square.

To be frank, the square was not an attractive site. We walked a little bit north to the esplanade by the strait to take a rest. We found that the scenery of Kowloon on the other side of the strait was much better than the square.
Kowloon from the esplanade.

We went to Causeway Bay (铜锣湾) in late afternoon, followed by Tung Choi Street (通菜街) and Ladies' Street (女人街). We took our dinner at Ladies' Street before we went to Avenue of Stars to witness the world's largest light and sound show- The Symphony of Light. For us, the avenue itself was lack of attraction, while the light and sound show was a little bit disappointing as well.

However, we would like to put things in this way- the admission for Avenue of Stars is free, so as for the show. So, if you have a night to spare, then it will do you no harm to take a leisure evening walk down the avenue and enjoy the night scenery of Hong Kong Island, then find a nice place to sit and watch the show. Well, just don't get dissapointed if you can't catch these two attractions in your itinerary.

The iconic sculpture at the entrance of Avenue of Star.

Sitting at the avenue, the night scenery of Hong Kong Island can clearly be seen.

The night scenery itself is the best part of the show.

We used MTR to go to Avenue of Stars. The avenue is just next to Tsim Sha Tsui East Station (尖东站). It can be assessed through the underground walkway from Tsim Sha Tsui Station (尖沙咀站) as well. The walk from Tsim Sha Tsui station to Avenue of Stars took us around 10 minutes. Rain started a few minutes before the show started. As we brought our umbrella with us, we won the advantage of getting a good open place to sit and watch the show, while many others were busy running and hiding to avoid getting wet. We went back to Mong Kok to continue our shopping after the show.

Sixth day, we travelled north to Shenzhen in the mainland of China. However, we would like to share about Accommodation, Food, and Shopping in Hong Kong first. Follow us now.