Travel Tips From a Trip to Hong Kong
It’s my fourth time going to Hong Kong but this time I’m taking notes to help out travellers who are planning to go. Most of what I’m going to share should applicable to any trip.
Hong Kong is a shopping paradise with extremely competitive prices – I found some out of the way places that had items up to a half off the prices I was used to. It’s not unreasonable to have more than half your luggage weight extra going out than coming in. During my first few trips I bought an extra bag to fit all the items I bought but that was before I happened onto the excellent idea of using nested luggage. Go to any luggage shop and you’ll see luggage being sold in stepped sizes – essentially the same bags but different sizes. Like Russian dolls you can actually fit the smaller bag inside the bigger one, and this is what I did coming into my trip, I put my stuff in the smaller bag and put it inside the bigger one, that way I immediately have an extra bag for all my shopping items!
Anticipating the Carousel
So there I was, with my big black upright luggage all packed when I thought about the inevitable situation in the airport carousel. In order to make it easier to spot my luggage I tied a red ribbon on the handle. Satisfied with my excellent idea I settled down for my trip. When it came time to retrieve my luggage in the arrival area I kept my eye out for my red ribbon only to notice that nearly everybody had a black roller type bag around the same size as mine, and, amazingly, most of the bags sported red ribbons! Not greens, not yellows, reds. Everybody had the same idea. I would never have believed this if I hadn’t seen it myself, therefore spotting my bag was not as easy as I thought. On my return trip I put both the red ribbon and some masking tape on the handle to make my bag easier to spot, you might want to do the same or try a ribbon other than red. Standing in the carousel I noticed the bags with unusual colors or unique patterns, those were really easy to spot – this is something to think about when making a luggage purchase.
Hong Kong drivers are friendly, competent and very professional. Cabs are typically Toyota Crowns or Comforts – big cars with five passenger limits, bags are placed at the boot or trunk which can be left partially open if there is too much luggage- with an elastic band to keep things tied down. One thing the drivers might not be is handy with English. In my experience, even saying an address while using slow intonations doesn’t work. One thing that did is bringing a map of Hong Kong and pointing at your destination. I obtained one before leaving my home airport but there should be one in the Hong Kong airport – just mark your destination and show it to the driver.
Location Is Everything
Yet another seemingly smart move on my part was booking a hotel slightly off the tourist paths to take advantage of the lower rates. What a terrible mistake this was. When I got out of the lobby of my hotel I was in the middle of slaughterhouses and rundown warehouses, far from the trains and I had trouble finding any taxi stands; I found I had to travel a bit to get to the spots I wanted to go to. Needless to say, I had to rebook myself to a better location. In Hong Kong I recommend that you stay in the Kowloon side and within walking distance of Nathan Road. The most important advantage to doing this is you can stay out late into the night and still be walking distance to your hotel. Also, Kowloon is a good hotel spot because you can walk near the bay and see the incredible Hong Kong skyline – one of the most famous skylines in the world. It’s something to see, specially at night.
The MTR is Hong Kong’s train system. I kept away from it initially, concerned about how it might be confusing and I might get lost. Happily, something happened the forced me to use the MTR. Being a true tourist, I wanted to go to Hong Kong Disneyland. So I got out of my hotel and got into a taxi and told
the driver “Disneyland” only to see him shake his head. Hong Kong taxis come in two colors: red and green. The red ones are for the inner city and the green ones can take you outside. So I got out of my red taxi looking for what turned out to be a very rare green taxi. No luck, and thank God for it. I went back to my hotel and decided to talk it over with the concierge who suggested the MTR. I finally found my way to the MTR station and got ready for what I expected to be a confusing time. First I had to figure out how to get a ticket and I had to figure out the destination. Man, I was absolutely convinced this was going to be difficult.
The destination question was resolved by a wonderfully clear map they had displayed nearly everywhere, with one of the destination “dots” very clearly labelled “Disneyland”. The distance from the station I was in to Disneyland could very easily be discerned with train changes clearly marked by the use of color. Getting a ticket was a bit more difficult. I used a ticket machine and inconvenienced the passengers behind me by causing a small delay which was rectified once I figured out that the machine had a touch screen. All in all, this was all perfectly simple.
I took the train to Disneyland and it was a fast comfortable ride. After that, I eschewed the taxis unless necessary and favored the MTR as my Hong Kong transportation of choice.
What are the things I wished I knew about Hong Kong Disneyland? It’s a small place so it’s easy to while away the day and miss out on some of the rides. The Toy Story rides close earlier than the others and its way over the other end of the park. Yup, we missed those (to the great disappointment of my son), because we thought half a day was enough for Disneyland. Next, keep in mind two key events you might want to see. First is the 4:00 pm parade that runs through the park, I enjoyed this a lot, and next is the 8:30 fireworks display right before the close. Disneyland is clean, convenient and very enjoyable plus it has its very own customized train that links up with the MTR.
Ocean Park and That Jewelry Shop
Every single time I went to Hong Kong I visited Ocean Park. Every single time I took a tour bus to the Park. Every single time the tour bus stopped off at this jewelry shop as a ploy to make the tourists buy some jewelry. It’s one of those situations were you are compelled to get off and go into the shop and the whole atmosphere forces you to look at jewelry when you’d rather be looking at fish. The tacit pressure is on for you to make a purchase. This is one of the best advice I’m ever going to give: go to a spot in that shop ask about a piece of jewelry, nod wisely, then leave. Take no more than five minutes, ignore the stares and leave. If you stay to long you’ll hold up the tour or cough up some money when you’d rather not. Just walk out of there and go on to Ocean Park. Oh yeah, they also “invite” you to watch a short video about their jewelry before “welcoming” you into the shop..
I heard a rumor that they were going to build an MTR to Ocean Park. I hope its true. No more tour buses and no more stopping at that freaking jewelry shop. One more visit to that shop and its going to appear in my nightmares, I swear.
My father was talking with some money changers in Hong Kong who happened to come from the same country we did. Because he was a fellow national they gave my father a really good rate. Too good. My father asked them how they’ll make money at that rate. They told him it was alright, a while back some girls from Russia wanted their money changed and these hapless girls were given an exorbitant exchange rate that, maybe because of naivete or, heck, maybe they’re rich, they took without blinking. So watch out, exchange rates can really be significantly different depending where you have your money changed. I visited four or five places before I got a rate I was happy with. Your best bet is not the hotels or the banks. There are some small currency exchange shops along the side streets near Nathan road. I initially got a good rate from a one shop but the attendant was on a break, so I decided to walk around a while. A few meters away I found a small shop with an even better rate. Be patient. Competition for your money is high in Hong Kong.
A few minutes after my Dad left the hotel to help my brother move some luggage I heard a knock on the hotel door. It was my Dad; the rolling luggage wheels had broken off while he was walking along the sidewalk. That one equipment fail brought home how important luggage quality is. Since we couldn’t roll it we had to wrestle with that piece of luggage all the way home – buying a new one was out of the question. Remember the much quoted adage: “You cant’ afford not to own quality”.
You know what, I was too busy harping about that jewelry shop I actually forgot to talk about Ocean Park. Ocean Park is big as Disneyland is small. If you want to do all the rides and see everything I think Ocean Park requires two days If you have to pick and choose do not miss the Grand Aquarium, it is incredible.
Have a great trip wherever your going!