Sunday, 12 December 2004

Hong Kong

WHEN : 7 December - 10 December 2004
TRAVELERS : HLS, Mingcai, Terence n Myself
BUDGET : S$715.00

Day #0 - 6 December 2004
It was a Monday morning. We went to Textile Centre (right) which was in bugis with Terence to collect our flight tickets from the travel agency. Imagine, getting our flight tickets only in the morning before our flight..! Still, we were made to wait for Nana, the travel agent, to confirm the details and collect or fax over the flight details. To while our time away, we went to the nearby hawker centre. We came back 2 hrs later only to find out that the flight was already confirmed, but our hotel reservation was cancelled by the hotel because her staff didn't make the payment on time! So, Nana asked us to wait for a few hours more while she settle our accomodation for us. We went to Bugis Junction for lunch. How to enjoy lunch when our trip is potentially gonna be disastrous with no place to sleep..!

Cold hard cash had to be withdrawn from the ATM as Nana accepts only cash payment. With all the waits and delays, Terence cant tolerate it no more. He decided we bash into her office and demand her to get us a room by hook or by crook. So she was made to make overseas calls to a number of hotels in HK to make reservations for us. Its only right for her to do that because we are also paying her for the service, yet, she's nt happy that she had to make all the overseas calls as they were costly. Well, that's her problem. We jus want our accomodation confirmed. Failing which, we'll be sleeping on the streets of kowloon. It was all frantic and chaotic. The best she could get us was a reservation for only 2 nights. We made do with that. Paid her the money, left the office. We're done with Nana. Next thing was to change our Sing dollars to HKD. I've to withdraw money yet again for myself as well as HLS and Mingcai. Problem is, I cant withdraw more than 2k in one day unless I use my MasterCard. Another problem is, I dun know the Pin No. of my MasterCard. So we headed for my home to retrieve the password and at the same time, grab my luggage. We found ourselves a money changer offering a good exchange rate, withdrew the money before rushing over to Terence's. Shared a cab with Mingcai n HLS.
We spent the night at Terence's because we figured it would be easier for us to be driven to the airport the next morning by his mum than to take public transport individually and meet at e airport. With that, the day ended. What a mad rush! arghh..

Day #1 - 7 December 2004
As planned, Terence's mum drove us to the airport early in the morning. We went to the Cathay Pacific counter to get our actual flight tickets and to check in our luggages as well. Still had about 1 hr before the flight, so we had breakfast at Burger King. After going through immigration, we went to the duty free shops to take a look at liqours, wines and the likes of it. Our flight, CX714, was at 1145, but we needed to be at the gate by 1100 I think..I'm not sure..forgotten..nvm..
So up the plane we went and the experience was surreal for me. It was my maiden flight. Being on a plane for the first time and seeing how the operations went was like "Whoa..!" There is a little tv screen at the back of the seat of the person sitting in front. And when I found out that they would be playing the latest movies when flying, I went like, "Whoa..! How cool is that?!" But that's not e best part of it all - the moment i've been waiting for have yet to come. It was when the plane finally started moving and when it got faster and faster, my heart beats ever so rapidly. Finally, the plane took off to the skies and as I see the plane getting higher and higher, I see our little island of Singapore, getting smaller and smaller. As it gains altitude, I could see clouds flying pass and finally reaching a height where the plane is flying above the clouds. This is the moment. I'm flying for the very first time! I may sound very very suaku to those who have flown many times before, but i'm not the least ashamed of it. Haha. Let me be.

After a successful take-off, the movies started. I've got plenty of shows to choose from. There were movies like "Catwoman", "Princess Diaries 2", "Shark Tales", "I-Robot", some chinese movies, sitcoms like "Friends" and "The King of Queens" plus lots more..! Its just like cable. And because the flight is 3 hours long, lunch was served soon after and I must say that the food is good. We could have any drink while on the flight but I only asked for orange juice and ice water. My friend had the audacity to ask for white wine..!
We touched down at Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) at abt 3.30pm. Found our way to the toilet first as the toilets in the plane were always occupied. We took an internal train to the arrival hall. Clearing immigration was quite a bitch, the queue was rather long. And when its my turn, the fellow looked at me and my passport a number of times before letting me pass. We discussed on whether to check out other hotels to see if we cld book for 3 nights or just head for the hotel where we had 2 nights reserved. And because we don't want the hassle of moving our stuff from one hotel to another, we decided to head for the hotel we had reserved. Reason being, it was the safer choice since we're in a foreign land. Took the Airport Xpress train (above) from HKIA before switching to the MTR and finally alighting at Prince Edward Station. We were quite a funny sight to the locals I think, because in the train, we were the only ones wearing short sleeves and wearing only a layer of clothing. All the locals were wearing winterwear..! Really made us wonder how cold it could get outdoors. Our question was answered right when we stepped out of the underground MTR station and onto the street. A breeze greeted us and the chill caused us to shiver and our hands became sort of numb. Its like aircon switched to 18 deg C outdoors!!

We spread open the map we picked up from the airport like typical tourists to look for the location of our hotel. After crossing one or two wrong roads, we finally stumbled our way to the hotel. At the hotel, we tried to get a third night but was told tt it would cost us double of what we are paying for the 2 nights. Bad deal. So we just had to settle for it. First thing we did was to call up other hotels to book a room for the 3rd night. Made 4 calls which cost us 20HKD. By the way, the hotel we're in now is Hotel Concourse. We took sometime to settle down, work out our budget for the trip and planned for the night. One good thing is that we instantly had our own individual tasks at hand. Terence was the one in charge of calling and getting a hotel, HLS looked for places to have dinner, Mingcai was kept occupied with maps to familiarise himself with the roads around our hotel and attractions we could go for the night, while I hold all the HKD and did the budgeting for the trip. So with our 3rd night accomodation finally confirmed, money properly set aside, routes to take decided, we are ready for dinner..!

We walked to Ladies Market at Tung Choi St to look for bargains and food. We had some baked rice at a stall nearby before continuing with the walk through Ladies Market. To me, its just like our pasar malam. That's why I didn't purchase anything there. We moved on to shopping centres to window shop. Went to this particular shopping centre, forgot its name, but anyway, here is where I bought my gumball machine. Thought i'd just buy it as I don't think such a thing could be found at such price back in Singapore. We walked on and found ourselves in a very new shopping centre by the name of 'Langham Place' in Mongkok. Inside, it has 13 levels and 2 basement floors of retail stores and F&B outlets. They had obscenely long escalators to which they're termed Xpresscalators (above) which brings shoppers from the 4th floor direct to the 8th and from the 8th to the 12th floor. Imagine that. From Langham Place, we made our way back to our hotel. It was already midnight by the time we reached our room. Showered, set our alarm clock at 5.30 in the morning and slept.

Day #2 - 8 December 2004
As usual, I had to be dragged out of bed in the early morning. We decided to have dim sum breakfast. Ate our dim sum and headed for the MTR station. Our destination: Ocean Park. Stopped at Admiralty Station and reached the bus stand where a bus is supposed to take us there at abt 9am. The first service is only at 10am. So we decided to walk around the city area while waiting for the first bus. Got to see Lippo Centre, which according to my friend is quite a famous building in HK as well as the Bank Of China Building (below, right). We also walked down to Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre (HKCC) (below, left). Its like our Suntec Convention & Exhibition Centre. On our way there, we get to see and enjoy their waterfront view. With all the tall business and office buildings making up HK's skyline (below, centre).

Chop-chop we find our way back to the bus stop to buy Ocean Park tickets (209 HKD) and took the bus ride there. The journey took about 15-20 minutes. It could be said that we were too early as some of the rides were not running yet and there was not much people around. Its a good thing too, because this way, we wouldn't need to queue long for the rides. Ocean Park is divided into two sides: The Headland and The Lowland. We went to see quite a number of stuff. There was the "Sharks Aquarium" which is like our Underwater World at Sentosa, only that it was strictly sharks. Then, there was the "Atoll Reef" which showcases lots of different kinds of fish and marine life. Among those are the lionfish, great garoupa, jellyfish and lots of other colourful fishes big and small. After walking and viewing enough marine lifes, we decided that its time to hit the roller-coasters and other thrill rides.

I'm not really too excited about these because honestly, I don't have a heart strong enough for them. We first went for the roller coaster ride called "The Dragon". It had two 360-degree turns. I've never sat on roller-coasters with 360-degree turns before. I almost freak out and wanted to back out. But for the fun of it and not wanting to be a spoil spot, I went ahead..TWICE!! Because, after e first one, they thought it wasn't, shiok enough. So to make them feel better, they went for a 2nd round. I'd have to oblige as they didn't let me get out of my seat. The 2nd time was better, but it still didn't fail to make me feel giddy and turn my stomach upside down. On hindsight, it wasn't too bad lah. Next up was the "Crazy Galleon". Its like the viking ship thingy. When looking at it by the side, it does not feel scary at all. But boy oh boy, the word scary is the only thing on my mind when I sat on it. It almost went 180 degrees, giving me the feeling i'm gonna fall but for the safety handles. The height and the angle of swing made us felt like vomitting. We were sitting on one end and another group of youngsters were at the other end. Imagine, if one of us vomitted while at the highest point, the other group will directly be hit by the yucky stuff. Luckily, none of us puked. We proceeded to "The Abyss", which is made up of two towers, 20 storeys (60 metres) high. Thrill-seekers would be brought up to the top and would suddenly be plummeted down to the ground. After the Crazy Galleon, I knew, I wouldn't have a heart strong enough for this one. So only Terence and HLS went for it. Oh yes, we did went up the "Ocean Park Tower" for a view from the top of the whole area. It's like Sentosa's "Sky Tower". Get the idea?

Next in line was something called "Raging River". We actually wanted to try it but looking at how wet and cold we could get from the ride, we decided to give it a pass. So we took our final exciting ride at the "Doom Train". Its sort of a roller coaster without 360 degrees turn but with 3 very very steep down slopes. I didn't want to sit on it too actually seeing the damn steep slopes but they convinced me by saying its only 1 or 2 slopes. "Very fast finish one.." Unknown to me, there was a third slope which was blocked from my view. And when I saw it while the "train" moves, it was all too late..I got shock while Terence got a real kick out of it. Still, it was thrilling and fun. Amazing. But once is enough, thank you. After which, we headed for the cable car station to take us to the lowland. It was a 15 min ride down the hill. Once at the lowland, we again walked and view stuff. Stuff like "Goldfish Pagoda", "Giant Panda Habitat", "Dinosaurs-Now and Then", "Caverns Of Darkness 3D" and so on, nothing fantastic. Finally we left Ocean Park at around 4pm. We made our way to the tram station to scale "The Peak".
"The Peak" is another attraction HK has to offer. Located on top of a hill, with the tram as the oldest transportation up the hill. This is where "Madam Tusauds" & "Ripley's Believe It or Not" studios are. We don't have enough money for that, so we just went around the hill and soak up the panorama there. Breathtaking. You could see a view of the hills and sea with the sunset as the backdrop. Took pictures of Hong Kong's business district by the day as well as by the night. Scaled down the hill the same way via tram after grabbing dinner.

It was already aboutt 8pm in the evening, so we decided to take a walk down the streets of Lan Kwai Fong where all the pubs, clubs and bars are located. Went and patronised a famous bakery selling traditionally made local cakes and buns. It is a humble shop visited by many high-profile customers. We also tried taking the line of escalators which connects the suburban areas to the city. Its called the "Mid-Level Escalators". Bad thing is, escalators only goes up. Going down will be via staircase. We have to make our way down to return to our hotel so going down numerous flights of stairs was really taxing. Reached our hotel at about the same time as the previous day feeling damn tired and beat.

Day #3 - 9 December 2004
We started the day wanting to take a look at the majestic Tsing Ma Bridge. At 2.2km, it is the world's longest rail-and-road suspension bridge. Again we were too early as the first bus to the viewing tower is only at 10am. We were rushing for time 'cuz we needed to check out from the hotel by noon. So we left for Tung Chung instead to view the valleys and hills as well as the Giant Buddha statue. Little did we know that the bus journey to the Giant Buddha Statue would take as long as 45 minutes!! So what happened was, we took the bus there, arrived, took quick shots of the Buddha statue, the Buddha statue and us, plus the view around the area for about 10mins before rushing back to catch the very next bus taking us back to Tung Chung MTR station. Just in time to pack our stuff and check out from Hotel Concourse. Travelled by MTR again to Tsim Sha Tsui.

We checked into Imperial Hotel and rested while planning the rest of the day's activities. Went out in search of lunch at the Central Area. We stopped by a stall and had wanton noodles. The rest of the afternoon was rather uneventful, I must say. We spent our time walking around the streets of Hong Kong with no particular direction. So we ended up at posh hotels, parks where filipino maids converge and even girls schools..! In the evening and till the rest of the night, we went to Temple Street and again to Ladies Market to do some last minute shopping, buying things/souveneirs for friends and family. Then, we roamed around the streets of Tsim Sha Tsui and Tsim Sha Tsui East to look at the night life and catch dinner as well. Went back to the hotel slightly earlier because we have a plane to catch in the morning.

Day #4 - 10 December 2004
With our stuff more or less packed, we left the hotel quite early because our flight is at 9.15am. We needed to be there about 1.5 hr earlier to get our tickets in the airport and settle our baggage. We took a cab to the airport. Got our flight tickets from the counter and went for breakfast at McDonalds. Then we went around the airport shops to look for last minutes souveniers/snacks. For my friends, their purpose is to finish all their HKD. Spent too much time at the shops that we didn't realise we were late for the flight! We didn't think about the immigration queue which could take quite some time. After clearing immigration, we realised that its already 9.10am!! We ran like crazy to our gate. To make things worse, our gate was at one of the extreme end of the airport. So off we went running and running, not wanting to miss our flight, ala "The Amazing Race". Finally, got to our departure gate - just on time. Board the plane and flew back home. Arrived Changi Airport only to see my friends cheong for the duty free store again. Spent about 30 minutes there selecting and deciding which drink to buy. Walked out to the arrival hall and took a cab back home - bringing an end to the trip.