Hong Kong is probably one of the easiest nearby places a Pinoy can go to outside of the Philippines, along with Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia and another Special Administrative Region, Macau.
For someone who’s “merely” a part of the working class, it takes savings, extensive research on DIY trips, and, (thanks Cebu Pacific) waiting for the right piso fare to come.
Tip #1 (Airfare): Booking months ahead could save a lot of money in airfare. I booked this flight 4Q of 2013 and took the flight July 2014. It only cost me below PhP 2500 for my RT tickets, all in.
From Macau, we ferried in to Hong Kong a little before midnight and and hailed a cab to get us to our hostel in Tsim Sha Tsui (Kowloon).
Tip #2 (Public Transport): When going to Hong Kong from Kowloon and vice versa, it is best to take the ferry or the MTR (train) as both are way cheaper than the cabs (note: plug down at HKD 22, more like PHP 100). Always have lower denomination bills and loose coins. Never ask a stranger to break your HKD 500 or HKD 1000 down, if entirely necessary, count your money before turning around. Better yet, buy the Octopus card as it can be used in almost all transportation systems and in most establishments. Don’t lose the card because there is a HKD 50 deposit that you can refund upon return of the card. Cabs can take 4 or 5 passengers depending on what is says at the back side.
We then rested once settled, and got up early the following day for an authentic Chinese breakfast (which for the Pinoy hunger was a little light compared to our SILOG varieties).
In the day, we sprawled and took pictures of pretty much every corner of the city, from Kowloon, to Hong Kong and back to Kowloon. The harbour is a tourist favorite, and it would never be empty even if it’s raining. This is where the passengers get on a ferry to HK island, go to the museum and go to check out the Avenue of the Stars. Due to lack of time, we were not able to attend the english presentation of the Hong Kong Space Museum which happens every 7:20pm.
Anyhow, we were able to visit The Hong Kong Museum of Art on our last day of the tour. Admission: HKD 10 or PHP 56 (the Octopus card can be used here). No pictures can be taken while inside the museum, so we just really enjoyed the china wares, paintings and jade collections. Before we went in, the Waterdrop by Danny Lee amazed us, it is made of stainless steel and resembles a water drop, placed outside the museum in one of its exhibition.
So many museums, so little time, so to speak.
Moving on, one thing we all agreed on was that the transportation system of HK is nowhere near that of Manila’s. In fairness to Manila though, our land area is really larger than that or HK’s, but the common problems like smoke belching, loading and unloading anywhere in main roads, delays and unexpected stoppage of trains are minimal if non-existent. Why with all the open-air double deckers they have, the inter-connected trains, enjoyable trams, and even the side-walks and underpasses are vendor-free. At first I was scared to try their MTR because a part of the Vilma-JLC-Luis movie kept playing in my mind where she got off the wrong station and got dreadlocks thereafter. But we all realized that reading the map (luckily they have English subtitles hehe), and following the signs carefully, are actually fun and cheaper!
Something else I liked about walking around the area, or commuting (remember – open-air double decker buses), is that I get to see the architecture. Since Hong Kong lacks land space, it has become the world’s most vertical city and ranks 3rd (after London and New York) most leading financial center.
Avenue of Stars (Admission: Free) – is modeled on the Hollywood Walk of Fame where artists’ hand prints, and signatures are found. It is located along the Victoria Harbour Waterfront in the East Tsim Sha Tsui (Kowloon) side. At night, this is the same venue where one can witness A Symphony of Lights. It is a Guinness World Book of Records holder as the world’s largest permanent light and sound show where 45 buildings on both sides participate at 8pm, nightly.
When going to the Victoria Peak, to avoid long queues for The Peak Trams, we took the bus from Central to the Peak. The Peak Tower also houses the Madame Tussauds Hong Kong wax museum, the viewing deck and some refreshment areas. The wax museum has around 100 figures, mostly Hong Kong personalities like Jackie Chan, Andy Lau and Michelle Yeoh. Admission to the wax museum: HKD 135 or less than PHP 800. Going back down to HK Central, we took The Peak Tram at HKD 28 or around PHP 160, only it’s backwards.
It is also just a joy to just be there on top and marvel at the beauty below. Like we did.
Another thing that’s very unique to Hong Kong is the Mid-Level Escalators. It is the word’s longest outdoor covered escalator system at 800 meters with a vertical climb of 135 meters. It shortens the time of travel in the Central and Western Districts of Hong Kong to 20 minutes, or less. Admission: Free.
Street food is also available anywhere in HK. Though if you don’t know any Chinese word other than Ni Hao and Xiexie, I highly recommend you don’t try it anymore. The foot traffic is high and there’s no time to translate english-cantonese and back. You will end up getting the wrong order, paying more for less, or worse, both.
Tip #3 (Language and Communication): Something I failed to foresee and research. Hong Kong is 95% Cantonese-speaking. Guess what, when I tell the cab driver to take us to the ferry, there is no talking part. No probing, chit-chatting, asking directions and what-not. It’s pretty much sign language for us. Prepare at least the common phrases you need to get by and google them ahead of time, otherwise look for a kabayan and ask for directions. Most websites will give you the Chinese characters as translation. But you can try this: http://www.mdbg.net/chindict/chindict.php
Speaking of food, authentic Chinese food is a must-try when in Hong Kong. Menus could be a little bit challenging to read and have an idea on what food you’re getting, but the experience is worth it. In one of the Chinese restaurants we ate at, I was given numbers for our orders and I had to wait till they’re called. Of course, they call out the numbers in Cantonese. I only know 1-10, man. And my numbers were 47, 95, 83, etc. I was doomed.
What I did was I stood in front of the counter, with the number (like PHP 5 coins) all laid on my palms as the guy looked at me. He would get one number and show me one plate, I’ll bring it to our table, go back and stand in front of the guy as I show my kawawa face, until I got all 6 plates. No words. Just actions. Whew.
Tip #4 (Essentials): Water is a little expensive in Hong Kong. So when you can refill your bottles in your hostels, do so. Also, when buying something from 711, they charge extra for every plastic bag. We didn’t tip in any of the places we ate at.
We also passed by some of the largely-Pinoy areas in Central. They were selling sim cards, kropek, Pinoy dishes like fried fish, ampalaya with egg, etc. We also discovered that on a Sunday, most Pinoys stay at the ground floor of the HSBC tower, lay down their banig, bring out their cards and food, and chit-chat away with fellow Pinoys.
When wanting to buy the usual pasalubong, though haggling is challenging given the language barrier, it is still fun to do.
Tip #5 (Pasalubong): Souvenir items from Disneyland are expensive, shirts are at HKD 250 or PHP 1250 or so. Buy shirts from the market at HKD 25, the more you buy, the more chances of haggling. Key chains are usually at 6 pcs for HKD 50. Don’t tell yourself you’ll come back to buy, because you just might not, anymore. Again, count your change before leaving.
The key in travelling will always be planning. Plan your budget. What are the priority places you want to go to? Plan your time. Don’t sleep too much. You can do that back home. When you are travelling as a group and have different places to see, decide whether you want to tag along with everyone, or you want to break out as a group. Plan your hunger – you know if you’re a light eater or not. If midnight snacking is your thing, make sure you bring extra food that you can eat easily. A cup of noodles (when hot water is available where you’re staying at), cookies, bread or anything that keeps your tummy quiet until the morning. In our case, Jons’ mom cooked empanada for us – Yummy!
Whatever it is, keep calm, read the signs (literally), don’t fight, have a plan B, enjoy your misadventures, don’t blame and maximize your time and dollars.
Up next: Hong Kong Disneyland Episode