Hong Kong, British Commonwealth
Monday, May 20
The three-hour delay in taking off from Delhi meant we had missed our connection in Singapore for Hong Kong, but Singapore Air had arranged to put those of us flying on to Hong Kong on a Cathay Pacific flight within an hour of our mid-morning arrival in Singapore. So for the second timethe Hungarian airline Malev out of Budapest having been the firstwe were flying an airline on which we weren't originally ticketed. Although it seemed Singapore Air was taking good care of its customers, this was unfortunate in that it meant we had to hurry through Singapore airport, the most beautiful one we'd seen, to get to the Cathay Pacific departure area on time. I did take a few seconds of video of one of a number of atriums hanging with colorful flowers, but we had no time even to find a window to try to get an outside view of Singapore, other than what we'd seen from the air. And to compound the downside, although we were told that all luggage for Hong Kong had been put on the Cathay flight, when we got to Hong Kong our luggage failed to arrive, and we ended up waiting a couple of hours in the airportfor the next Singapore Air flight to get in anyway. Our luggage did arrive on it.
The last stop on our round-the-world tour! I have a friend who loves Hong Kong, and I have generally heard good reports about it, but I had also heard that it is very expensive. Because of this, Hong Kong was the only place where I asked our travel agent to check into accommodations for us. She reported that she'd been able to get an unusual bargain rate on a Ramada Innof $120 US per night. I thanked her but declined that, having in the meantime come up with a list of nine hostels in Hong Kong and some recommendations for bargain accommodations from individuals on several Internet email lists.
Our first day in Hong Kong was highlighted by a bus tour including spectacular views overlooking what must be the world's largest concentration of skyscrapers. Click > to play video. Double-click the image to make fullscreen.
Our long delay at the Hong Kong airport was useful in one regard. While waiting near the luggage carousel I spotted a couple of free courtesy telephones sponsored, I believe, by a car rental company, and though I expected that picking up one of the receivers would start a direct ring-through to the sponsor, I tried it, and found a dial tone instead. I dialed the number for the Caritas Lodge, 134 Boundary Street, which an email friend had told me is "by far the best Hong Kong hostel," and to my pleasant surprise I was connected a few seconds later. I asked for the price on a double, was told it was HK$616 with gratuity and tax, which came to $40 US for each of us, considerably higher than any other hostel, but considerably less than the Ramada. I gave the desk clerk my Visa number and told her we'd be there as soon as possible after our luggage arrived.
And Caritas is considerably more than a typical hostel. We discovered the next day that it is actually a ministry of the Catholic Church, somewhat like the YMCA is in relation to many Protestant churches. But there was no apparent sign of that relationship at check-in, not even so much as a crucifix on the wall as you'd likely see at a Catholic hospital. The same Internet correspondent who told me about Caritas advised me of a Lutheran ministry center in Hong Kong that might have given us a room for as little as $12 US, or perhaps $12 per person, on his recommendation, as he had formerly been affiliated with it. But after thinking that over, I opted for Caritas because I wanted a place that the average tourist would have ready access to, for the sake of this journal. And that's certainly true of Caritas; despite its church affiliation, there are no restrictions on who can use it. There are also several YMCA and YWCA hostels in Hong Kong and, adjacent to another Caritas location more centrally located but also more expensive, even a Salvation Army with hostel accommodations.
Hong Kong is certainly a major big city, with highrises and skyscrapers everywhere. Its skyline is more reminiscent than any other city I've seen of San Francisco's, with its hills, bay views, and tall, modern buildings. But whereas San Francisco's population is under 800,000 with a total of about five million in the nine-county metropolitan area, including San Jose and Oakland, Hong Kong has well over six million people in a much more compact area, all in the one city. It has excellent transportation systems ranging from underground subways and heavy rail lines, to above-ground streetcars and heavy rail, and of course, busses. I learned that a train ride over the international border into mainland China, to Canton, for example, is an easy and inexpensive day trip, but I had no Chinese visa and Bob wasn't interested in visiting China. (Tip: I later learned that it is possible to get Chinese visas in Hong Kong, through any Hong Kong Association of Travel Agents Tour Operator (telephone 2807-7133.) In another year Hong Kong will be China, so I decided I could just wait and claim, soon enough, to have been there and done that!
The Caritas Lodge, unlike any other hostel we visited, did have elevators, which was good as we were on the ninth floor, with a good urban view. The room also had a television which received the NBC English language channel that broadcasts especially to the Far East, as well as some other English channels at least part time. The room came with en suite full bathroom.
We had a late-afternoon lunch in the Caritas Cafe in the same building, though I'd have much rather found a fancy Chinese restaurant. But again, Bob wasn't interested. Our room came with continental breakfast, which we upgraded to a full breakfast. Meals in the cafe ranged from under $4 US each for breakfasts to about $8 US for dinners.
Daily expense tallyroom, food, transit: $48
Tuesday, May 21
We inquired at the reception desk about tours the next morning, and a woman behind the desk recommended a Gray Line tour for HK$500about $32 US each, far more than we'd paid on local touring anywhere else. A man behind the desk urged us to try touring on our own on the public transportation, but Bob preferred the more secure and better organized Gray Line, so we opted for that. We left Kowloon Peninsula, the section of Hong Kong on which the airport and most tourist accommodations, including our hostel, are located, and made four stops on Hong Kong Island, the section of the city which has most of the big business and all of the skyscrapers. It also has the Peak, Hong Kong's best vista point, which can be reached by a steep tram ride, but which we accessed via the Gray Line. The top offers 360-degree views of Hong Kong and mountains over the border in China on clear days, and there's a one-hour hiking trail around the top. There is also a Galleria shopping mall with a fascinating fountain that puts on a water "fireworks" show, and street vendors selling paintings, souvenirs, and other goods.
The second of the four stops on our $32 tour was at a jewelry factory showroom, jewelry being one of Hong Kong's principal products. Craftsmen demonstrate the creation and mounting of various pieces.
The third and best stop, to my thinking, was Aberdeen "fishing village," which, we were told, will be no more a year from now. In 1995 there were 4,000 boats permanently anchored in the harbor in which fishing families live. When we were there, that number had been reduced
to 400, and they will be eliminated over the next year. We paid HK$14 for a sampan ride around the remaining boats, which was my favorite sight in Hong Kong. The sampan also went close to the Jumbo Restaurant, a giant eatery comprised of three huge boats permanently anchored in that harbor, worthy of some colorful photos and video.
A Sampan on its way to Aberdeen Fishing Village in Hong Kong Harbor
Our second Hong Kong day included a visit to the fishermen's village via sampan and a visit to Stanley Market, world-renown street market. Click > to play video. Double-click the image to make fullscreen.
We continued around scenic Hong Kong Island, passing Repulse Bay and the giant Ocean amusement Park to the final stop, Stanley Market, where we were given time to do some shopping. At this stop, which Bob had been looking forward to for the whole trip, having been advised of it by a friend in Indiana, there were many bargains. For example, Bob got a Casio watch with glow light for $18 US, I got two leather belts (similar to "designer" belts I later saw at the airport for $60 US each) for $9 US each, a new large-size luggage bag on wheels for $12 US, Hard Rock Cafe T-shirts for my sons and other souvenirs for well under the going rates elsewhere.
We got back to Caritas Lodge, where Bob had opted to rent our room for an additional half day, by 3 p.m., rested, had a late lunch-early dinner in the cafe, and still had time to kill before making our way back to the airport via the Caritas free shuttle for our 7 p.m. check-in and 9 p.m. Singapore Air flight. The trans-Pacific flight was the best one of the entire trip, on a 747-400 with lots of empty seats, and seat-back TV monitors that were larger than Virgin Atlantic's and offered a wider choice of movies and other entertainment and information channels. Crossing the international dateline on our flight to San Francisco, we got to live May 21 twice, arriving at San Francisco International Airport after an 11-hour flight, two hours before our Hong Kong departure, at 7 p.m.
Daily expense tallyroom, food, transit: $22 (does not include souvenirs and permanent acquisitions, or the half-day room holdover, which proved an unnecessary expense)
TOTAL DAILY EXPENSE TALLYrooms, food, transit: $843
Divided by 20 days
AVERAGE DAILY EXPENSE: less than $43
© Jon Kennedy 1996, 2009