Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Hong Kong Hostel

hong kong hostel, ah shan hostel entranceAh Shan Hostel, Mongkok
Well, this is the start - first, who would be able to find the entrance of the hostel? It was one of the many buildings in the busy Mongkok, with only a very small signboard. And with HK having addresses that reflect the building rather than the building no., it was a tough find.

hong kong hostel ah shan liftThe next thing I found quite interesting - the lift, for one side goes on even floors and the other on odd numbered floors. Well this may seem common for bigger buildings, but not so when it's only 2 lifts. This makes time faster if you are only going to one level, but not if you are visiting 2 different levels. Anyway, this system appear quite a fair bit in the buildings in HK... many of which only have 2 lifts.

hong kong hostel ah shanWell those weren't much a shock, till I arrived to the floor.... well this hostel is actually located in a mix block of residence and business! More like a flat that allows business... and with clothes hanging outside, and all over.

Then of course the biggest shock - the rather cram hostel room. But because being most often out, it was rather ok - after all, the room is quite neat... yes, they change the towels daily and sweep the floor too.

Island Pacific Hotel, Hong Kong Island
island pacific hotelNow this is not a hostel... but actually a 4 star hotel. Anyway, after a good 3 nights at the first hostel... and with this hotel having some promotions, thought I'll give myself some good treat.

Arriving at the hotel was a shock again - a pleasant one this time. This is a building on its own (ie easy to find, even the taxi driver know it), have a good reception area (not large but good enough). The room is comfortable (again not large, but compared to the hostel, this is superior!).... plus I got one with a seaview! That's quite something! Oh and yes, it comes with a gym and swimming pool....! Now, that's a holiday (minus the wifi)!

Maple Leaf Guesthouse, Chungking Mansions, Tsim Sha Tsui

hong kong hostel maple leafBut of course, spending too many nights in the hotel would be rather costly, so I then decided to head back to another hostel 3 nights later.

Actually I dreaded going to this hostel reading the reviews of where this hostel is located - inside Chungking Mansion, which is apparently a somewhat rundown building. I've not seen any images of it, but having already stayed in the clothes hanging hostel, I was prepared.

And true to its form, the building looks like a flat that needs some painting. And the main floor downstairs is simply crowded with many shops like foreign exchange and souvenirs... this is really not a hostel like entrance.

But all that aside, the room was clean & bigger than the previous hostel, though the toilet remain small (to shower by the toilet bowl). It was pretty comfortable as well.

And besides it is located in the heart of Kowloon at TST. Superior location is a big plus!

Mapleleaf Guesthouse, Mirador Mansion, Tsim Sha Tsui

hong kong hostel usa hostelBut that only lasted for 1 night, as the other nights were fully booked. So I had no choice but to go to their sister hostel - USA hostel. Again, I cringed upon hearing I had to shift - "What will I see next?"

The hostel I was introduced next was just in the next building - also another building known for many backpackers' hostels - Mirador Mansion.

The ground level also have shops, but are more organised and less chaotic. But similarly, it is flat like with again, clothes hanging all over the shop.... and a building that would need some touch up too.

Only difference with this hostel - it has a reception at the corridor, which is just a table with stools.

But as far as the room goes, this is Super! It's the most spacious hostel of all 3 - the bed I stayed is a superior single. It has a desk large enough and just like the rest a TV hanged at the corner. What impress me most of all - the toilet was huge! There was no bathing by the toilet bowl! Lol!

I enjoyed this hostel the most for its price and space, and if I come back, I might just consider this... though the thought of a 4 star hotel seems like a welcoming idea as well.

Well, staying in hostels in HK was quite an experience. Other destinations do offer better value for money & way bigger space, but well, this is one experience to remember HK - though not the most memorable... for next up, the most memorable thing in HK!

*The hostels range about HKD250 and above - some charge extra for double beds (though I think this price fluctuate based on peak/ non peak season). The hostels I stayed all came with free Wifi.


Saturday, April 25, 2009

Tsim Sha Tsui (TST)

tsim sha tsui, ferryI spent a large part of my time in the tip of Kowloon area - Tsim Tsa Tsui (also known as TST for short). This is like the area to visit, apart from HK island. So, while even I stayed in HK island, I took a ferry ride across.

tsim sha tsui, hk island viewUpon arriving to mainland HK, the one thing that greets is the breathtaking and rather familiar HK skyline (if only the big junk boat has its sail up, this would be the postcard of HK - East meets West!).

tsim sha tsui, clock towerAnd just by the sea, is this long stretch by the shore, with lots of people having time off for leisure. And there's the landmark of HK Clock Tower (also known as Tsim Sha Tsui Clock Tower)

tsim sha tsui, hong kong arts centerAnd just behing it, the Hong Kong Cultural Center - where they actually show performances and exhibitions.

tsim sha tsui, avenue of starsAnd not far off - the one reason I came to visit this part is the Avenue Of Stars. These tourists were getting all excited as well!

tsim sha tsui, avenue of stars concertThis is actually a very long stretch, all by the sea, and with HK island as the backdrop. Interestingly, there are the open air performances as well, which were quite entertaining - the singers sung in English, Canto, and Mandarin (even the kwai lo singer - in another outdoor performance).

tsim sha tsui, avenue of starsThen of course... the main attraction (apart from the Bruce Lee statue) is the signatures & hand prints of the HK stars themselves! So from Tony Leung to Andy Lau, Jet Li, even our very own Michelle Yeoh... they were all here.

But there was one star that I was looking for (it's a bit hard to find - especially to keep looking down, plus the many shoes in the way)... yes, the star of them all - Jackie Chan. And yes, I found it after a good search. The only ones I missed - Aaron Kwok & Ekin Cheng.

tsim sha tsui, symphony of lightsEven after 'catching all the stars', I hanged around for a while... waiting for one more thing - the Symphony Of Lights. This world's largest permanent light and sound show is quite a unique performance. The key buildings on the island are all lit up, and music played at the back in sync with the movements... (somehow, it reminded me of the Shanghai skyline, minus the show!).

tsim sha tsui, hong kong space museum, the peninsulaThe other things around this tip point are - the semi sphere shaped Hong Kong Space Museum, plus the grand The Peninsula hotel.

tsim sha tsui, the peninsulaI actually didn't thought much of The Peninsula hotel, but with so many recommendations, I thought I'll check it out. So I did another day.

The interior was grand with its high ceilings, and English like setting... and the best thing to do - enjoy an afternoon tea (of coruse, if one can afford the hotel room, that will be cool as well... otherwise tea will be fine). But I just didn't feel up to it on that day and gave that a skip - maybe another time.

tsim sha tsui, nathan roadAnyway, by then, I was already staying back on this part of HK - yes, right in the heart of the busy, popular & long Nathan Road - which is known for shopping.

tsim sha tsui shoppingOne can go street shopping, or also visit the Harbour City mall - HK's largest mall with over 700 shops! Though that wasn't what I was into - not this trip.

Looking back, this part of HK is quite unique. Like HK, what I enjoy is that this place has its own 'character' and 'soul'.

But on more unique things, wait for the next post - HK hotels! :)

*The Symphony Of Lights start at 8pm, and has 5 themes (Awakening, Energy, Heritage, Partnership & Celebration).

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Hong Kong Disneyland

hong kong disneyland mtrTime was 8am, and thought would be late for the Hong Kong Disneyland - after all, it's one place that I got the impression one is to spend a full day at. Rushed to the MTR, change trains a couple of times... including sitting on this Disneyland train (check the handrails & windows).

hong kong disneyland welcomeBut surprisingly, the gates to Disneyland opens only at 10am... and not 9am, as stated in their brochures. So, I was an hour early!

hong kong disneyland art of animationThe first area attraction going into the gates was the Main Street USA. Apart from taking pictures with the most celebrated animated couple - Mickey & Minnie Mouse at the grand stand, I found the Art Of Animation interesting. This is a showcase of all previous Disney & Disney-Pixar's works.

Another attraction I found not too bad is the Animation Academy - where there were instructors to teach/ guide us on how to draw the cartoon characters. However, this is also where I started to feel a lil out of place... as even the chairs & tables were short - not so meant for adults.

hong kong disneyland mickey ice creamAnyway, moving on to the next area - the Adventure Land. However the main highlight Festival Of Lion King was not to be shown on the weekday! The other rides didn't quite drew my attention, and to me was a letdown - including the one I tried the Jungle River Cruise, going through 'the jungle with machine elephants'.

To me, the most exciting part of this was to see the Mickey Mouse ice-cream. For when purchase, the seller mentioned with big smiles, "Have a Magical Day".

hong kong disneyland its a small worldNext up, proceeded to the grand Fantasyland area. Already feeling a lil out of place, plus a lil letdown, and not going for those tea cups rides or Dumbo Flying Elephant Rides, I resigned to watching performances... and the Mickey's PhilarMagic was to me the best attraction of all. This 3D adventure was new, exciting and hosted by the more energetic Donald Duck.

Then, there was the not-to-be-missed Its A Small World - a boat ride bringing us through the world's continents, plus the music ringing "It's a small small world...". Not too bad, even for a grown up.

hong kong disneyland the golden mickeysAnother main highlight at this area - The Golden Mickeys. This stage show with all the characters come to live is a sold out! Had to wait for the next show to get entry (an hour odd later), but though the wait, this was quite worth it - seeing the characters sing in English, but with host Minnie speaking in Cantonese. Like I said, I've resigned to the shows & performances - so it fit me well.

hong kong disneyland disney on paradeAnother quite lively performance was the street show - Disney On Parade, with all the characters in their floats with blasting music. The highlight was of course the last float with the original Disney casts of Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, Donald Duck & Daisy Duck, and of course the crowd went awww.

The final area to visit - Tomorrowland. This is actually the most exciting I guess for young adults. For this is where the rides like roller coaster Space Mountain or Autopia (drive the electric cars) were. But I didn't try all partly for the already long day plus the long queues.

I found the roller coaster ride a lil small (again!). Anyway, the Stitch Encounter is quite interesting... where a virtual Stitch actually speaks & interacts with the audience. I wonder what technology is used here...?

hong kong disneyland main street usaSoon, evening came.. and lights were up, giving the air of 'magc', finally. Was back at the Main Street USA... and the final thing to do, to go through their many souvenir shops.

hong kong disneyland cartoon charactersIt seems like a short time only looking back, but I actually spent a good full day here. Oh ya, one more thing, the Disney characters were all over the place as well - for photos, including the princesses.

Overall, this Disney experience is a must if you, like me, has not been to any Disneyland. Or if you are interested in seeing how the world of animation started.

But be warned, this is really a place for the kids & children. Adults have bigger playgrounds to go to like across the straits to Macau... Anyway, that's just how I feel afor you may still very much be awed & fall in love with the characters & all the rides :)

*I purchased the tickets from one of the hostels for HKD290/ ticket. Apparently, it is HKD350 if bought at the door. I chanced on this hostel, which was at the same place of the place I stayed.

HK Disneyland is reachable via MTR, which stops directly at the door step.

And the 'official time' is 9am-8pm.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Hong Kong - Eye Opener

I have finally arrived back on the mainland in Hong Kong. And in a few hours time - a good few hours that is, I'll be heading back to homeland.

Just recalling back this trip... it has been quite an eye opener. Starting off, I would have preferred a more relaxed destination (eg a beach... Krabi, maybe - yes, some of you will know I love the place & country lots)...

But then, there is work to be done - and this is a part business come holiday... with my mission to visit as many Asian cities/ capitals first... and of course, HK just have to be in the list.

Coming into this bustling city has been an eye opener in many sorts. My first impression here - what an expensive city! Well, that is maybe because I come from Malaysia where the exchange rate is lower... but even Singapore's food is cheaper than HK's! In Singapore, the food courts I usually have a S$3 - $5 meal... and some kopitiams even have S$1.80 chicken rice! But HK - the average price is about HK25 onwards. Drinks at small shops - a minimum of HKD6, usually HKD8, or more (btw, I never tried the sugarcane here).

It took me a good 2 days or so to adjust to the HK food price (& hotel). And of course along the way, more eye-opening things to see - like the street life all over HK (and espcially so in Mongkok), or how there are flats that look so run down... and yet allow hostel/ budget hotels to operate within.

The other eye opener - witnessing the so many markets all over HK. What makes this more interesting is there's the real fresh market, right in the heart of the CBD area... and just a stone throw away from the city buildings! But then, this is HK - where old co-exist with new... a heritage by itself, that continues to live till today.

I also admire the way HK has become the movie hub of Asia - that despite the majority of Chinese speak Mandarin, or if even in their export market dialects - more Hokkien than anything else (think Taiwan, Singapore & even Malaysia). Yet, HK stars are celebrated both regionally and now even internationally. Of course, their movie industry has seen better days, but their stars are getting all limelight today (Jackie Chan, Chow Yuen Fatt, Stephen Chow, Tony Leung... and even our HK-LA based Michelle Yeoh, who is a much celebrated figure in HK).

Other eye opening things: avoid speaking Mandarin if possible - unless one has no other choice (this mainly apply if you look Chinese - be it if you are Japanese, Korean, China Chinese, Malaysian, Singaporean, Thai, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Taiwanese). Best is to speak proper Queen's English - for HK-ers still feels somewhat different from mainland Chinese - this from what I read and heard many times.... and it feels so true! (I switched from Mandarin to English, and what a different experience!).

Also, although this city prides itself as East meets West (think HK and one gets the big Chinese boat in front, with the city image at the back).... well, in a way yes, it is... but that's just like the picture - mainly the structures. Of course, there are splattering kwai los (caucassians) around, but which international Asia city doesn't? In any case to go by, it's more East as compared to say, Singapore... or even KL or Bangkok.

And after a good one week in this Cantonese city, I went over to Macau... only to witness more eye opening things in the other now-China city. But that is for another time :)

*I'll be following up on more things I see in HK & Macau in the next few posts, even after when back in sunny-land :)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Wow, Macau!

Firstly, sorry for the no updates on the trip the past few days... I've actually arrived Macau 4 days ago.

And as much as I would love to share the sights & buzz of what I see in this scenic place, the problem is it's hard to find internet connection here. Well, I found some internet cafes, but was unable to upload any photos... but finally decided that the abscence is a lil long... hence, decided to write this post minus the Macau pics.

Anyway, minus the internet issues aside, Macau is simply amazing! I've never expected this place to have so much buzz, glitz.... and yet, retaining it's very own culture and heritage. The city has changed so much from a decade back! Wow!

Already coming from HK, I've never imagined more buzz here... but how wrong I am! Now, I'm glad I made the decision to visit Macau - a decision made only in HK!

In many ways, this place is just like another China city that has just awaken... and waiting to burst into the limelight (or already am). But there's more to it here - the nights are colourful with neon lights, performances amidst their big & bold buildings (think Beijing in some ways)... making this city like one huge playground by itself.

And yet despite the huge structures all over... there lies its main old town in the city central - the World Heritage area with short & somewhat pretty old buildings and cute coloured floor tiles.

And on the other island of Taipa, there is the Mecanese heritage - a mix of Portugese & Chinese culture.... something that reminds me closely to old... Malacca (ehem!).

Well, there's more similarities between the 2 cities, and yet, there are much more differences as well. That is something I'd love to share about in my future posts.

As for now... I'm logging off (I've only allowed 30 minutes here in the library's wifi). Till then, it's more sightseeing & trying more Macau egg tarts! :)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Hong Kong Island (Hits & Misses)

hong kong islandAh... the city image of an island... that is the Hong Kong island (or Hong Kong for that matter) we know. Of tall buildings with hills at the back and a waterfront in front.

Yes, this is the more chic part of Hong Kong - famed for its international city image of 'East meets West'. I of course had to explore it (which tourist wouldn't?)... and here are some hits & misses of it, from my observation.

hong kong tramThe first sight that comes to mind in this island are the trams!

Why it's a hit:
These colourful trams, with its bright eye catching adverts is distinctively Hong Kong - mainly so as the other Asian cities don't have it (well some don't have it anymore - too bad!).

This tram breezes through the CBD area and is quite an enjoyable ride, passing by its busy streets and the landmark buildings of the island.

peak tramNext, not to be mistaken with the Hong Kong tram, this peak tram carries passengers to the Peak, for one to see the view of Hong Kong - both the island & Kowloon (the return ticket is HKD33).

Why it's a hit:
One get to see HK just like in the movies. Besides, the view is quite breathtaking!

peak tram pearl on the peakAnd once at the peak, what better way than to enjoy the view with a glass of drink at non other than the Pearl Of The Peak restaurant!

Why it's a hit:
While the food is a lil pricey, but their drinks start from HKD50 (fruit mocktails). Alcohols go for about HKD100. And if lucky, get the corner spot - this is when the crowd has thinned out. Lucky me! Haha! :)

stanley marketWhat is HK without its bazaars & markets? Only difference with Stanley Market - well, it takes a good 30-45 minutes up the hill by bus (bus 6, 6A, 6X from Central MTR, fair ride HKD7-8).

Why it's a miss:
With items just like in any other market, this market is a big bore! Also, prices seem rather fixed as compared to say, the Ladies Market in Mongkok. And it's much smaller too!

But wait, there's a savour to this long journey...

stanley market seaviewJust beyond the market (about 5 minutes walk), lies this breathtaking view.

Why it's a hit:
Who would have guessed that this is Hong Kong?! Not a single high rise in sight (well at least from this view). Btw, if one is 'lucky', this misty view is because of the rain - now, I'm thankful it rained! :)

Also, Stanley Market aside, the journey up the hill to the market is quite enjoyable. One can see the nicer & most likely richer residences of HK - something where the buildings are well painted, and mostly with breathtaking seaviews.

hong kong island times squareAnd with every big city, there are the malls like this Hong Kong Times Square.

Why it's a miss:
Apart from the big buzz outside the mall & its surroundings, the mall is just so-so... Maybe this is because this mall not the biggest mall in HK nor on the island itself (the biggest on the island is City Plaza)... and besides, why go for malls when the markets are so much more colourful?

lan kwai fongLan Kwai Fong - apparently the place to see & be seen. This is like the entertainment spot of all of HK!

Why it's a miss:
Somehow, it doesn't live up to its name - I had expected much more glitz and a much bigger place than just 2 parallel roads.

Mid Levels Escalators - the string of escalators build 'to avoid traffic congestion'.

Why it's a hit:
Well, cos it's the longest outdoor elevator in the world - 800m! And one expecting to just see escalators will be pleasantly surprise to go through another night spot - the SoHo... with its strings of restaurants & bars. One can actually drink/ dine on the slope!

western marketWestern Market - apparently one of the oldest buildings in Sheung Wan area.

Why it's a miss:
Unless one is on the way or am a history buff, I don't suggest one to purposely go here. For one would probably has seen older buildings than this old-but-not-too-old-building which was built in 1906. Besides, this isn't the HK one comes to see, right? (saying that, I do hope they continue to preserve old buildings - be it for tourist attractions or not, ehem) :)

hong kong island bank of china towerEvening stroll in CBD area - and look up!

Why it's a hit:
It makes a picture perfect moment when the building lights are turned on - especially on this landmark building - the Bank Of China Tower. Also, some parts of the CBD is quite a refreshing view compared to the crowded buildings of HK.

Well, that's roughly my journey on the HK island... which which I've explored the past few days (back & forth to Kowloon).

And though the HK island has its 'misses', I still think the island is the gem of HK. A trip to HK would never be complete without visiting it... or for that matter, it would never be a trip to HK at all!

But then again, there's simply so many other things to see in HK... Stay tune for more! :)

*There are actually more things to see in HK island like the HK Convention & Exhibition Centre, Victoria Park, Man Mo Temple, Happy Valley Racecourse... the list goes on.

*The HK island is reachable via MTR & also the ferry.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Exploring Mongkok (& Its Surroundings)

mongkokAs I mentioned, Mongkok took me by quite a surprise... from the cram hotel to the hustle & bustle full of people & signboards! Minus the hotel, this is really the Hong Kong I see in the movies & expect it to be so!

Anyway, as I was located in Mongkok, I took full opportunity to visit its surroundings & see some of the highlighted places of interests.

gold fish marketIt first started off with this stretch of road, the Goldfish Market with quite a fair bit of shops selling just fishes. What makes this unique is that the fishes are all nicely hanged in plastic bags... now, that's a lot of work to keep refilling the air inside!

goldfish marketAnother eye opener in this Goldfish Market is this fish with its good luck character stamped on it.

flower marketMoving on, there's the Flower Market - which is basically 2 stretch of shophs selling fresh flowers... so fresh, one would think they are made from plastic! Some flowers here are quite unique & different from the ones back home especially as they come from the cool weather here.

fa yuen streetAnd just within walking distance, the Fa Yuen Street market. This market has many fashion clothes for both men & women, and even for children wear. Interestingly, the clothes here are not the touristy ones ie. catering very much to the locals.

ladies marketFor more touristy things & souvenirs, there's none other than the Ladies Market. I wonder how it gets its name... but the thing is, there's also souvenirs for all - from t-shirts, blouses, bags, paintings, and including the magnets from 'who knows where'!

This place really have the widest variety... and are quite reasonable too, especially comparing that to the other bazaars/ markets in Hong Kong. Of course, the prices are cheap only with some bargaining & comparing the prices first.

For me, the thing I got here - the I Love HK t-shirt, adding it to my collection of 'I Love tees' :) (i bought this for HKD30, though I think it can go for HKD25?).

temple street night marketFurther down the next MTR station (Yau Ma Tei station) is the Temple Street Night Market. It's similar to the Ladies Market, but with more Chinese stuffs - like paintings, ornaments, etc... and also having some items catering to locals like fruits.

However, it's not as big to the Ladies Market, I found it a bit of a let-down, especially after having visited the Ladies Market. (Btw, can you see the thorny fruits behind? hehe).

temple street night market fortune tellerBut saying that, there's one unique thing at this market... the row of fortune tellers - offering palm reading, face reading & more (rates starts about HKD100). These are on the left, while the booths on the right seem to focus more on taro card. Now, that's quite unique to HK!

Visiting these markets seem to be the Mongkok (Kowloon) experience - or so I thought...! But even over to the more grand Hong Kong island, there's markets too, which got me to think HK = markets!

But then, that's a generalisation, cos the HK island has got more than just markets.... stay tune for more! :)

*The MTR station for Flower Market & Goldfish Market is Prince Edward. From the Flower Market, one can actually walk to the Fa Yuen Market. Alternatively, stop at Mong Kok station. This station also has the Ladies Market within walking distance.

The Temple Street Night Market is closest to the Yau Ma Tei MTR station. Though just a stop away from Mong Kok station, I suggest one take the train for this, as the area can get a bit dark.