A Travellerspoint blog

August 2007

An Almost Perfect Day in Hong Kong

Peninsula Peaked a Long Time Before J&L Arrived!

semi-overcast 26 °C

Since we arrived, the weather has been quite grey, with overcast skies and intermittent showers. When we woke on Friday, we could see that the day was going to be a little more hopeful, so we decided to take advantage of what could be our one good day of weather and take the tram (actually technically a funicular railway) to the top of Victoria Peak. For the second time, we took the wonderful MTR over to Hong Kong Island, and then strolled through the Hong Kong Park to the Peak Tram station. Of course, given the weather, the rest of Hong Kong had the same idea, but it took only thirty minutes in line to find ourselves trundling up the 1.4km route up the side of Victoria Peak. The tram - in a less sophisticated format – has been operating since 1888, before which you had to be carried up in a sedan chair!

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This being Hong Kong, the first thing you come to when you exit the tram is – of course! - a shopping mall! As anti-shopping as we are, however, it wasn’t hard to resist the temptations oozing from about 100 shops before we finally reached the viewing platform. Even with less than perfect weather, the view was quite spectacular.
To escape the masses, we left the viewing platform and took a two mile wander around the Peak Circle Trail. It was hot and very muggy as we walked through dense forest, but every so often the trees would clear revealing some even more impressive views of the city.

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It’s not until you go back down Victoria Peak that you can appreciate the tram’s capability. At it’s most steep point, the tram operates at an angle of 27 degrees! Descending amidst Hong Kong’s sky-scrapers certainly amplified the experience, but the view is so awe-inspiring (and the ride so short) that you really don’t have time to be nervous at all.

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After our Victoria Peak experience, we headed to the harbour to complete another essential Hong Kong experience, and cross from Hong Kong to Kowloon on the world-famous green and white Star Ferry! The Ferry runs every five minutes or so, and is tremendously efficient at unloading and loading passengers. You can choose from the cheaper lower deck (at HK$1.70 or about US$0.22) or the upper deck (at HK$2.20 or about US$0.28). For our first trip, we opted for the less expensive option and waited on the lower platform until the arriving passengers were offloaded. A light bulb flickered and we descended into the Ferry’s belly with about one hundred others. The crossing was noisy (we were right by the engine room) and – even though it was very short – we both felt a little bit of nausea so we agreed we’d treat ourselves to the upper deck next time.

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So, how to finish our perfect day of Hong Kong sight-seeing? There was only one option, so we strolled from the Star Ferry pier up to the Peninsula Hotel for afternoon tea. For many, this is an essential Hong Kong experience and it’s never hard to persuade me to enjoy a pot of tea out of a decent china cup, so despite the cost, we enthusiastically waited in line. After a short wait, we were seated and ordered our afternoon tea. Now, I have had the good fortune of tea at the London’s Ritz (snooty service but gorgeous surrounding and food) and – more recently – at the Old Nelson in Cape Town (incredible service, food and value), so I feel like something of an afternoon tea connoisseur, and I have to say that the Peninsula just failed to deliver. In fact, it offered some of the poorest value for money we’ve experienced on the trip so far.

For our US$52, we received: two pots of tea (and the Afternoon Peninsula was a pleasant blend, I grant you!), five tea-sized sandwiches (two ham, two cucumber, one salmon which Lloyd generously let me have), one bite-size quiche, two slices banana bread, three scones, and three bite-site cheesecake-y type objects. We gobbled up the sandwiches, the quiche and one scone each, but frankly weren’t too impressed with the remaining offerings. In Lloyd’s words: “You won’t go hungry, but your taste buds might die of boredom.”

So, if the tea itself was disappointing, at least we enjoyed a first-class ambience, right? Well, no. The service was average if we are generous. Very generous. We received our food tray before the tea arrived, and after all was served, no-one bothered to check on us the entire time we were there. It took almost ten minutes of focused effort to secure the bill (if we had walked out without paying it probably would have taken them half an hour to realize it), and we generally felt that the overall experience had been an overpriced waste of time. Our advice? Skip the Peninsula at all costs.

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Even if afternoon tea was disappointing, it couldn't possibly upset the fantastic day we had enjoyed. We spent the evening admiring the view from the hotel's 36th floor lounge, enjoying a glass of wine and nibbles, and planning the days ahead.

Posted by jacquiedro 20:48 Archived in Hong Kong Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Birthday in Hong Kong

Not a Bad Way to Spend Your 35th Birthday!

overcast 25 °C

Happiness is waking in a clean bed, with a real bathroom on your 35th birthday ;o) Pleased to be in Hong Kong, we had an easy day. Lloyd had arranged a massage as a special birthday treat which was a great way to start the day, and the Chuan Spa at the Langham is easily the most luxurious spa I’ve ever been in (not that I’ve been in THAT many….). When I got back to the room, birthday cards and a box of British goodies (marshmallows, french fancies, biccies!) were waiting for me from my brother and parents!!! Very thoughtful, of course, but also quite impressive given that we changed our plans last minute and should have been in Shanghai today!

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We stayed relatively local today, and took a stroll around some of the markets in the Mongkok area. We both needed haircuts badly, and Lloyd got a good trim while I had about six inches taken off to make it easier to deal with during our adventures. Clean and with neat hair for the first time in weeks, we enjoyed a late afternoon webcam with my parents - the first time we've had a decent connection anywhere. We later had dinner in the hotel restaurant, but not until the hotel had surprised me with champagne and birthday cake! Of course, Lloyd had ALSO arranged a birthday cake, so we ended up with more cake than we knew what to do with.

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Posted by jacquiedro 20:15 Archived in Hong Kong Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

Midnight Traffic Mayhem on the Road to Beijing

Finding a Hong Kong Haven, or is this Heaven?

overcast 31 °C
View The World 2007 on lloydthyen's travel map.

What could have been a relatively enjoyable transit in air-conditioned luxury aboard a ‘sleeper bus’ through the night, became a nightmare of alternating hot and humid and blasting cold air-conditioning as we hit traffic shortly after midnight and crawled our way toward the outskirts of Beijing. Seems the Chinese decided to put a toll just outside the city, and we literally could have walked for the last five hours and made the trip more quickly. As it was, we sat in the bus which would roll 20-50 meters every 30 minutes (with the AC blasting) and then come to a complete and utter halt for the remaining 29 minutes of each half hour, with the bus doors open and the heat, humidity and diesel of the highway wafting into the bus. But at least we had a place to lay down as we drifted in and out of sleep, alternatively dripping with sweat and then freezing hour after hour after hour.

Pulling into the outskirts of Beijing, we passed through beautiful landscape after paying our toll and hitting new land speed records coasting through numerous tunnels in the hilly landscape. I was up at about 0530AM watching Jacqui slumber, and even tried to wake her (in vain) for a glimpse or two as the Great Wall of China came in and out of view numerous times. It wasn’t until that sight that it hit me: We really are in China! Of course, minutes later I was brimming with American pride as a true symbol of western occupation came into view glimmering in the morning sun, as though plucked from a Florida postcard: could it be . . . Disneyland?? What appeared to be the framing of the storybook castle, and an entrance to a soon-to-open park appeared to be a Disney-esque creation, we can’t be certain. But it definitely looked the part, right down to the glass slippers . . . .

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Our bus transit ended with a taxi scramble at a central bus station with groups of us pairing up to see who was going where. Hostels, hotels, train stations and the airport were all intended destinations, and Jacquie and I paired up with a German and French kid, each of whom was traveling at least half as long as us, with twice the luggage! In any event, we made it to the Airport in Beijing, and found ourselves able to relax in quite comfy surroundings of this modern and well equipped facility. But we knew we were in a haven of capitalism when, amongst the numerous duty-free shops selling liquor by the gallon, perfume by the liter and diamonds by the dozen, we came across Starbucks! Hallelujah! A cappuccino, an espresso, and a couple of sandwiches later, and we settled in to await our Dragon Air flight in the plush confines of caffeine central.

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Of course, after enduring plugged systems, due to abhorrent facilities on the road, a trip to a loo with (hopefully) indoor plumbing was in order. Walking into the men’s, I was overwhelmed by a distinct and powerful aroma: Part # 91067 Kimberly-Clark® KIMCARE® Citrus Scented Continuous Air-Freshening System. Along with a happy stomach full of delectable coffee, my olfactory senses finally felt the balance return to an otherwise brutal world. Never thought a bathroom could smell so good!

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(gratuitous plug for my awesome employer!)

Our flight to Hong Kong was quite typical. Our first stop was security, which we figured would be a simple affair after the numerous airports we have cruised through like professionals. After facing gauntlets of x-rays and metal detectors since leaving Africa, we thought we had the system down. And then it happened. Jacquie was pulled aside by a suspicious, and yet very cordial security screener. Her bag was passed through the x-ray a second time, and she was requested to pull to the side for the dreaded “additional screening”. Being in Red China, a slight twinge of fear crept up as we innocently and fully cooperated. To our surprise, the screener asked Jacquie whether she was carrying a knife. A knife?! Multiple flights, numerous screenings, a host of x-rays (like about a half dozen!) and this guy thought Jacquie has a knife?? Of course the response was . . . was . . . no? But wait! Jacquie suddenly recalled a secret little pocket, smartly designed on our day packs to conceal things like wallets, passports, money, spare change . . . . and a pocket-knife and flashlight that some bonehead (read: LLOYD) had slipped into the pocket whilst camping in Botswana. “Just in case” he had said at the time. Of course they were never used, quickly forgotten, and proved to be a simple litmus for security across the globe. And proof that China, beyond being fast and efficient, are actually very, very good at security (beating out Heathrow and Moscow at least in terms of finding concealed contraband). Instead of the short prison sentence we expected, the security screener actually let me open the knife and use it to cut the flashlight off the knife and take that with, while he retained the little contraband, and let us move on to our flight without further delay.

So, “DragonAir” kind of sounds a little gimmicky, and I must admit I initially had a few trepidations about getting to the gate and finding our pilots doing Kung Fu back flips down the jet way to a black and gold painted plane that looked like a Chinese New Year decoration. However, the flight turned out to be quite good. Nice plane (A330), friendly (non-Kung Fu practicing) multi-lingual staff, and even little menus for dinner(when was the last time you saw THAT in economy?). And then Haagen-Dazs for dessert. What a way to fly! Seems American airlines could learn a thing or two from these operations.

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Arriving in Hong-Kong was to set a precedent for speed, efficiency and amazing service as we cleared passport control, collected our bags, and then met our hotel transfer (we rightly figured that after two days of travel we’d have little patience for finding our way around) where we were offered a drink, a smile and a Sony Playstation loaded with the features of our hotel to watch as we drove in the back of the Mercedes-Benz limo 30 minutes to the Langham Place hotel. Feel free to insert the word “HEAVEN” anywhere you see “Langham Place Hotel” written. That’s right; it’s that nice . . . !

Check it out here, and if you're ever in Hong Kong, this is the BEST place to stay:

http://hongkong.langhamplacehotels.com/

http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g294217-d305813-Reviews-Langham_Place_Hotel_Hong_Kong-Hong_Kong.html

Posted by lloydthyen 12:21 Archived in China Tagged round_the_world Comments (0)

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