Hong Kong 2012: Getting there

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.

Suvarnabhumi airport travelator Bangkok
Hello Suvarnabhumi! Haven’t seen you since 2010 🙂
Suvarnabhumi airport terminal
It was a bit of a ‘trek’ (as always with Suvarnabhumi) but I eventually found my transfer gate
Thai Airways plane to Hong Kong
My connecting flight to Hong Kong was scheduled to leave at 8:35am

Bangkok fields aerial views Thailand
It wasn’t sunny and bright in Bangkok
Aerial views Bangkok from plane
I love the symmetry of fields from up above
Bangkok fields in the morning
It was time to say goodbye to Thailand
Thai Airways breakfast meal Hong Kong flight
Breakfast was alright, it was rice porridge and pork. They ran out of chicken by the time the cart reached me.
Blue waters South China sea
I wondered which country this was
Aerial view blue waters
Looked beautiful from up here
Land below aerial view from plane
Vietnam – or southern China?
Clouds reflection South China sea
This is the second time I’m flying over the South China Sea
Hong Kong hilly islands
Quite a lot of islands in the South China Sea
Hong Kong island aerial view
Past 11am, I began to see what looked like Hong Kong’s outlying islands
Hong Kong from airplane
The second I saw Hong Kong from up above…
Hong Kong city from airplane
… WOW!
Hong Kong city aerial view
I know these photos don’t show the scale what my eyes saw…
Hong Kong bridge to Lantau island aerial view
…but I was already impressed!
Hong Kong suspension bridges aerial view
The infrastructure looked awesome
Ma Wan Hong Kong island aerial view
But from up here, it was easy to see how scarce for space Hong Kong is
Just before landing at Hong Kong
Heck, even Hong Kong’s Chek Lap Kok airport is built on reclaimed land
Hong Kong airport runway
I landed in Hong Kong at 11:45am
Escalator to Airport Express train
We now had to transfer to Terminal 1
Airport Express train every 2 minutes
I didn’t rush
Hong Kong airport train to Terminal 1
There’s no ticket for this train
Chek Lap Kok airport train Hong Kong
I waited for the next train
Hong Kong airport immigration counter
Although Hong Kong airport is rated one of the world’s best airports, I wasn’t blown away by its interiors

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.

Hong Kong Chek Lap Kok airport
Anyway, once out, I withdrew money from the Citibank ATM here. Another factor that made Hong Kong convenient was Citibank allowing international Citibank cards to withdraw in local currency without any additional fee. The exchange rate is always better than buying the currency from India.
Chek Lap Kok airport arrivals
I didn’t linger around much as there wasn’t anything else about the airport I wanted to see
Trains to city Hong Kong airport
I bought my Airport Express ticket and made my way to the trains
Airport Express station Hong Kong
Although it’s much cheaper to take the bus, I wanted to experience the train ride at least once
Airport Express train Hong Kong
Because a one way ticket to Central costs HK$100 (Rs.713/$12/€10)
Hong Kong road to airport
The ride to Central takes less than 15 minutes
High rise apartments near Chek Lap Kok
It was barely a kilometre away from the airport before I saw the first high rise
High rise apartments near Hong Kong airport
Even if this far out from the CBD you have high rises, then you know just how cramped for space Hong Kong is
Central station Hong Kong mtr
This is Central station – the mother of all MTR stations. Trust me when I say this place is huge. Oh, and it’s underground.

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!

47 Paterson building Causeway Bay Hong Kong
Eventually I gave up looking for a Wang Fat Hostel signboard and just tried to spot ’47 Paterson Bldg’ – which was this place
Wang Fat hostel reception Hong Kong
I finally got to the hostel on the 3rd floor

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.

Wang Fat hostel Hong Kong
This is the ‘lounge’ and the kitchen/dining area

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.

Wang Fat hostel dorm room Hong Kong
My HK$139 (Rs. 1000/$18/€15) night dorm room. Yeah, set your expectations really low — real estate in Hong Kong is very expensive and space is a luxury!

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.

Hong Kong tram line Quarry Bay
Quarry Bay was only four stations away from Causeway Bay, so I got there pretty quick
Quarry Bay Hong Kong
I had some time to roam around
Quarry Bay Hong Kong old buildings
This was Hong Kong island, more of a foreign business-oriented island compared to Kowloon, which is the major shopping area and the side where most of the locals live
Hong Kong villa apartments
First interesting observation in HK – a lot of the older apartment buildings are named “mansion” and “villa”. They’re anything but.
Hong Kong apartment tower
The new ones… well, they go a long way up
Blue glass windows office tower Hong Kong
This is where two ex-AOLites work now
The Newsroom pub Hong Kong
I was asked to meet him here
Hong Kong architecture building angle
Being Hong Kong, I knew the architecture would make up for a lot of my photographs
Bikram Sohal beer Hong Kong
This is Bikram Sohal, VP & GM of CNNGo.com, here in Hong Kong. By the way, the glass appears that big because of the distortion the lens creates. It wasn’t *that* big! 🙂

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 🙂

Phil Nelson and Bikram Sohal in Hong Kong
We were later joined by another ex-AOL senior executive, Phil Nelson – who was pretty much everyone’s boss back in 2008-2010 – as he headed our APAC operations

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!

Next post(s) in this series:

Hong Kong 2012: Views from Victoria Peak, day to night

Hong Kong 2012: Gurudwara, and walking around Wan Chai

Hong Kong 2012: Tsim Sha Tsui, Chungking Mansion, Avenue Of Stars, and Kowloon Park

Hong Kong 2012: Mong Kok’s many markets, and fireworks at Victoria Harbour

One day in Macau: The Venetian, Senado Square and Ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral

Photos from K-Pop Nation 2012 concert in Macau: U-KISS, B.A.P, SHINee, and Girls Generation

Hong Kong 2012: Bird Market, Apliu Street Flea Market, Golden Computer Arcade

Hong Kong 2012: Ngong Ping 360 cable car, Tian Tan Buddha and Po Lin Monastery

Hong Kong 2012: Tai O fishing village

Hong Kong 2012: Last day in Hong Kong, and one day in Bangkok

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One Comments

  • vlad


    mekong delta?

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