Friday, March 5, 2010

Festive HK 2010

Our HK getaway was planned November last year. We bought our tickets from today's popular no-frills airline - Cebu Pacific - with our new travel buddies, spouses Jay & Weng. The couple are my good ole buddies and our friendship started in Veritas et Fortitudo institution in the heart of Intramuros more than a decade ago. Our HK trip is our first travel abroad as a couple and it coincides with our 8th monthsary. Do couples still celebrate monthsaries today? LOL!

Travelling abroad isn't cheap nowadays; methinks an indirect extortion happens right inside NAIA-3. Travellers have to pay the travel tax worth Php 1,620 and the customary terminal fee of Php 750. Tsk. Good thing we availed promo tickets for Php 3,700 round trip. We arrived at 4:30 a.m.which is one & a half hours away from our scheduled flight, and after all the mandatory procedures (i.e. check-in, security and immigration), we arrived just in the nick of time for boarding.

We arrived in Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) at almost 8 a.m. We breezed through at the HK immigration. No communication problems at all. My friend Weng's aunt (an OFW based in HK) volunteered as our personal tour guide. With fully loaded Octopus cards (HK$ 150), we rode a double-decker bus going to Tuen Mun in Kowloon Island and rode the light rail going to Ferry Terminal in Tuen Mun. From there, we walked to Miami Beach Towers, our official sleeping quarters courtesy of Aunt Suzie.

One remarkable thing about Hong Kong is its highly developed transportation network - from double-decker bus, MTR, LRT to trams. Simply impressive. Plus, the Octopus card is such a genius. My research tells me that the Octopus card system was the first contactless smart card system in the world and has since grown into a widely used payment system for virtually all public transport in Hong Kong.

Here's the list of tourist spots we visited in the City of Lights in a stress-free manner which, I think, is due to the systematic transportation, cold yet nice weather and good friends:

1) The Hong Kong Disneyland Resort. As the world's smallest Disneyland resort, it consists of the Hong Kong Disneyland theme park, two hotels (Disneyland Hotel and Disney's Hollywood Hotel), and retail, dining and entertainment facilities on Lantau Island. Due to limited time, we decided not to buy park tickets and just took pictures of the gate and the fountain featuring Mickey Mouse in the Park Promenade. From there, we rode the Disneyland Resort Line of the HK MTR which bears faces of Mickey Mouse all over.

2) Ngong Ping 360. I had no idea that the cable car ride is a  5.7 km long bi-cable gondola lift system (referred to by its operators as a "cable car") linking between Tung Chung (where it connects the MTR Tung Chung station) and Ngong Ping (where the Po Lin Monastery and Tian Tan Buddha are located). One will be rewarded with an amazing 360 degree-view of the HKIA, clean aquamarine waters surrounding the islands and the forest trails. I consider the cable car ride as my most extreme adventure so far. The uplifting experience was worth every cent of the $107 as round trip fare. A walk-a-thon ensued in the Ngong Ping Village, which contains an assortment of shopping and dining experiences, including Walking with Buddha, Monkey's Tale Theatre and the Ngong Ping Tea House. We also caught sight of the large bronze statue of a Buddha known as Tian Tan Buddha or the Big Buddha, but the idea of adding pain to our already tired legs prevented us from climbing the steps. It is a major centre of Buddhism in Hong Kong, and is also a popular tourist attraction.

3) Avenue of Stars. We rode the famous Star Ferry from Central to Tsim Sha Tsui. We passed through Nathan Road, the main thoroughfare in Kowloon and the centre of Tsim Sha Tsui's shopping district, and we saw the Clock Tower and the Hongkong Space Museum going to the Avenue of Stars. The 4.5-metre-tall replica of the statuette was a tell-tale sign that we have reached the HK's version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Victoria Harbour. The Victoria Harbour is world-famous for its stunning panoramic night view and skyline, particularly in the direction towards Hong Kong Island where the skyline of skyscrapers is superimposed over the ridges behind. A traditional Chinese junk full of tourists passed by and we were able to catch the stunning multimedia show featuring more than 40 Hong Kong skyscrapers in a dazzling extravaganza called the Symphony of Lights.

4) Mong Kok. We spent two nights strolling in this popular shopping district and I must say that the animated neon and LED signs reminded me of Times Square of NYC. No biggie though. The merchandise are almost the same in our very own republic, thanks to free trade policy.

5) Victoria Peak. We went to this famous mountain, locally known as The Peak, via the Peak Tram on our last day. Among all other tourist spots, this is my favorite for two apparent reasons: riding the Peak Tram and seeing the Madame Toussauds wax museum's entrance. LOL! We didn't get to appreciate the panoramic daytime view of Victoria Harbour due to thick fog. We had fun strolling in Peak Tower, a shopping complex located at The Peak. Cool, fresh air.

Amid the hustle and bustle of a city and some minor language barriers, HK is as festive as the travel brochures and word of mouth marketing. That said, I'm looking forward to my second HK trip in June with law school friends. Woohoo!!!

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