After a span of 9 months, and after writing about all my past travels, I had the itch to see the world again. I had to. I had nothing else to write about for this website besides the usual K-pop reviews! The past few months I contemplated where to go next. I really wanted to be in Europe for the Euro Cup and the Olympics, but with the Indian Rupee getting clobbered in value against the British Pound and the Euro, I soon let go of that dream.
I then thought about Vietnam. I would fly to Singapore as my visa is yet to expire, then take Tiger Airways to Ho Chi Minh, ride all the way up to Hanoi and fly back to Singapore. But upon researching, I realized whatever I would see in Vietnam would not have been that much more ‘new’ having already been to Thailand and Philippines. Also, the truth about Halong Bay is that it looks amazing when you get an aerial view — which is not how most tourists see it when they get there.
So then I thought about China, a country I have wanted to explore for years. Just like India, China has an ancient and much revered history. It’s also a large country, with lots to see and amazing geography. But China also has a government hell bent on restricting your freedom within its boundaries. So when I read foreigners wouldn’t be allowed to visit Tibet unless they went with a guide, I changed my mind. Taking the Lhasa express ranked highly in my list of “to-do” things in China. And the way I travel, I don’t want someone telling me I can’t go there or don’t take photographs the government doesn’t want you taking.
I initially thought of using Hong Kong as an entry point to China, but in the end I decided to just visit Hong Kong and Macau for now. After all, I got a pretty sweet deal on the flight ticket from Cleartrip. For around Rs. 27k ($505/€407), I would be flying Thai Airways via Bangkok to Hong Kong. My return journey had a 22-hour layover in Bangkok too, meaning I had a day to spend in Bangkok as well.
I left Bangalore on June 27th and arrived at Suvarnabhumi around 6am.
Now I knew visas were free for Indians upon arrival, but I never expected it to be this easy in Hong Kong. I walked up to the immigration counter, the officer asked me how long I was going to be in Hong Kong, I told him much more than he needed to know, and then he stamped my passport. That’s it. No form to fill, no taking photos, nothing. It was as though they just trust you.
Or they know how to punish you if you dare to think about staying illegally.
I chose to spend the first four nights of my eight-night stay in Hong Kong at Causeway Bay. I booked myself into Wang Fat hostel, which is very close to the MTR station. But once out, I found it quite hard to find the place!
Thing is, up here is also where you need to come if you booked at HK Hostel, which led me to believe they were both run by the same person. Sam is the man behind the reception desk. He speaks fine English and was quite helpful.
No breakfast though, which was something I didn’t find included in the price for most hostels in Hong Kong. No biggie, “breakfast” at the hostels I’ve stayed at in Singapore and Malaysia can barely be considered breakfast anyway.
But otherwise it was fine. The air-conditioner worked and you get a locker with key included in the price. My room only had three beds, so I prayed none of my fellow guests were heavy snorers.
The bathroom though… there was only one – for like everybody. And the flush was broken. You get a hot shower, but the toilet could use some fixing up.
Anyway, I was happy with the location overall. Plenty of shops, malls and supermarkets around. So the first thing I did was get a local SIM, which cost HK$98 for a 3 connection, which came with HK$100 worth of credit/top-up/’load’ (I have a lot of Filipino readers).
Although my flight was nearly 7 hours long and I barely slept, the first thing I had to do was to meet up with a friend and an ex-colleague who now works in Hong Kong. So I gave him a call and he tells me to drop by his workplace at Quarry Bay.
It was good to see a familiar face whenever you’re in a new surrounding, it calms the nerves a bit. Bikram gave me a lot of tips on where all to go, what to see and how to get around. Other than that, it was all reminiscing about our days at AOL — an unavoidable topic whenever ex-AOL employees meet
Now that all of us were out of the company, it was nice to hear what the senior executives really thought about their bosses! Oh how fun it was to hear all that.
After another round of beer, we parted ways and promised to keep in touch. I was feeling a bit tipsy, but maybe it was the lack of sleep which was really catching up to me. I headed back to Causeway Bay, and had McDonalds for dinner. It’s pretty much a tradition at this point. Indian McDs don’t sell beef burgers due to Hindu religious sentiments, so I have my Quarter Pounder fix everytime I’m abroad. Good thing the McDonalds out here don’t charge extra for mayonnaise (unlike Singapore).
Back in the room, I hit the sack pretty early. I was dead tired by this point, and I wanted to wake up early to visit Victoria Peak – the first thing I wanted to do in Hong Kong!