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gardkarlsen Hong Kong - A travel report by Gard
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Hong Kong,  Hong Kong - flag Hong Kong
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gardkarlsen's travel reports

In Hong Kong with SARS outbreak

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Hong Kong travelogue picture
This is a travelogue about the trip that my wife, Nikki, and I took to China (Beijing, Xi’an and Hong Kong) in the period from March 15th to March 29th 2003. We first spent 7 days in Beijing and we got to see the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, the Summer Palace and so on. From Beijing we took an overnight train to Xi’an and our main goal there was to see the Terra-Cotta Warriors but we also got to see a few other things. And from Xi’an we flew to the city of Shenzhen and from there we took the boat to Hong Kong (HK), where we stayed for about 5 days. In HK we visited Ocean Park, Victoria Peak, the Space Museum and so on.

Favourite spots:
Hong Kong travelogue picture
It was very nice to go to Victoria Peak to look at the view from there. They only problem was that it was quite hazy in Hong Kong the days when we were there.

What's really great:
Hong Kong travelogue picture
Ocean Park was a great place if you are just looking for some fun. It has a nice combination of rides and animals and I think that most kids would love this place.

Sights:
Hong Kong travelogue picture
Hong Kong space museum, Temple street market, Victoria Peak, Ocean Park

Accommodations:
Hong Kong travelogue picture
We stayed at the Kowloon hotel and we booked it by using www.planetholiday.com. In short the hotel is nice, the location is great (Tsim Sha Tsui) but the rooms are kinda small. I have written a longer review of the hotel here: http://www.gardkarlsen.com/china_hotels.htm

Other recommendations:
Hong Kong travelogue picture
Arriving in Shenzhen - and going to Hong Kong
We landed in Shenzhen at about 4 pm and we were met by 23 degrees Celsius. Once we had picked up our suitcases we started looking for a way to get to HK. We soon found a sign saying ”To HK” and a boat displayed on it. It turned out to be a company called TurboJet. We bought tickets to Kowloon for about 190 RMB each – make sure you don’t pay extra for insurance. The boat-pier is only a short bus ride away and it is included in the ticket.

After filling out a departure card we got on board the TurboJet boat. For Norwegians this will be a pretty common sight because the boat is like most fast boats that traffic Norwegian fjords. The only thing that disappointed me was that I could not go outside to take a look at HK as we were approaching it. The boat trip only takes about 1 hour and the boat docked at the Ocean terminal/Harbour City. Arriving here is almost like arriving at an airport: you have to go through immigration and then you pick up your suitcase to go through customs.

The Ocean terminal is more or less in the heart of Kowloon so the taxi trip to Kowloon hotel only took like 5 minutes. The Kowloon hotel was booked once again by using www.planetholiday.com. It was nice to come to the hotel by the way. All of a sudden we had access to news again so that we could see what had happened in the Iraq war. If you want more information about the hotel please press here. In short the hotel is nice, the location is great (Tsim Sha Tsui) but the rooms are kinda small.

The first thing we did was to take a walk along Nathan road. It is quite amazing to see how many neon boards it is possible to put up in one street *grin* The street looked very different in daylight by the way. One thing that is quite annoying is the people that are constantly offering you fake watches and tailor services. I kept trying new methods to avoid them but I ended up saying ”no thanks” quite a lot.

Walking around in Hong Kong
On our first day in HK we took the short walk down to the harbour. Victoria harbour is quite impressive because there is so much traffic on it. And the skyline of HK is pretty impressive too. The skyline is first of all dominated by the new ”2 International Finance Centre” (412 meters tall) but lets not forget other buildings like Central Plaza, Bank of China Tower and The Centre.

We tried to go to Hong Kong space museum on the first day but it is closed on Tuesdays so we decided to just walk around that day. We took the subway from Kowloon over to HK Island and we picked up some brochures from the Hong Kong Tourist Board at The Centre. Walking around in the streets on the HK Island is pretty fascinating. It is a strange combination between new and old. Here you’ll find modern concrete buildings next to a meat or live fish market. Another thing that amazed me was the use of bamboo as scaffolding material. I have seen it in movies but I didn’t really think much about it. But bamboo is still being used to put up scaffolding on pretty tall buildings.

It seems like the city wakes up pretty late but I can understand it because everything seems to be open late at night.

How to get around in HK
The subway station Tsim Sha Tsui was located right outside our hotel so that became a pretty natural choice for us. It is pretty easy to use the ticket dispenser: press the screen to indicate where you want to go and the price appears. Put in coins or bills to pay the fare. When we were there the SARS virus was on a rampage and I guess the subway is not the best option if you want to avoid the crowds. But we took the subway anyway. The only time we took a taxi was when we arrived from China so I can’t really comment on how expensive (or efficient) it is to take a taxi.

HK space museum and science museum
We enjoy going to space and science related museums and after reading about this in the Lonely Planet guide we decided to check it out. We went there on a Wednesday and there was no entrance fee. We were hoping to find a planetarium at the space museum but it seems like there were only shows (that we had already seen) in the big globe. The museum itself was not great but it was interesting. And they do have some hands-on stuff so that kids don’t get too bored walking around. The space museum is located on the tip of Kowloon (at the harbour). After we had been to the space museum we walked over to the nearby science museum (Tsim Sha Tsui east). Once again we found a museum that was OK with quite a lot of hands-on exhibits. The only problem was that there were quite a lot of stuff that was out of order or being refurbished.

Temple street market
Markets can be fun to check out and we had read about the Temple Steet market. The market is open in the evening so we took the subway up to Yau Ma Tei station at about 7 pm. After walking in the wrong direction for a while we finally found it *grin*. The market could offer quite a lot of different stuff. We found everything from t-shirts, lighters, cheap watches, VCDs and DVDs, jewellery and even dildos. In the same area you’ll also find lots of restaurants. We came across a few guys that were waving some big yellow flags and it turned out that they were doing advertising for an Indian restaurant near by. Our empty stomachs made the decision to fall for this ”marketing” effort and we went to the restaurant…and it was such a tiny place *grin*. In the end it was so crowded in there and they had to stop people from coming in. But the food was pretty good and pretty cheap.

Ocean Park
One day we got beautiful weather and the timing couldn’t have been better because we had decided to check out the ”theme park” Ocean Park. It is pretty easy to reach this place: subway to Admiralty subway station and once you get out you’ll find buses going to the park (for 12 HK dollars). The park is located on the south end of Hong Kong Island itself and it didn’t take us long to get there. After paying the entrance fee of 180 HK dollar we started out by taking the Mine train. This roller coaster was ok but the view from it was really great. We took it twice of course :-) One thing that really surprised us was the fact that there were hardly any people in the park so we never had to wait in line for any of the attractions. There are two entrances to the park by the way and we came in on the ”Tai Shue Wan” side and we got on the 225 meter long escalator(s) to get to the top. The view here was very nice and it got even better when we got into the 72 meter tall Ocean Park Tower. The park has a nice mixture of fun rides, shows, aquariums and animals.

It was great to walk through the Atoll Reef and the shark aquarium in marine land. In the Atoll reef you start at the top and you work your way down. According to the website there are more than 2000 fish in this aquarium. And they range from tiny small fish to a 7 feet long grouper. And in the shark aquarium you go through a tunnel were you can take a pretty close look at the 70 sharks that swim around. It is pretty interesting to get this close to the shark :-)

And the roller coaster The Dragon was not great but it had some pretty nice loops. The park layout is a bit strange by the way because you have to take a cable car to get from one section of the park to another (from Lowland Gardens to Headland Rides). But hey, it didn’t really matter much because this was more or less just like a ride :-) The view was great from the little cable car gondola.

In the Lowland gardens we finally got to see a giant Panda by the way. While we were in Beijing we were thinking about going to the zoo. But we had read some negative things about it so we decided to skip it. But at the Ocean Park we got to see it in the giant Panda habitat. Another cool attraction in the Lowland gardens is the dinosaur walk and the butterfly house. I’m not used to big butterflies from back home so it was nice to walk through the butterfly house and look at ”giant” butterflies. If you stand really still you’ll even experience that they come and land on you…I think that the trick is wearing bright colours :-)

Victoria Peak
Another thing one ”must” do in Hong Kong is to visit Victoria Peak. There are several ways of reaching the 396 meter high peak: you can walk of course and it is said that you get a great view of the city as you reach the top. If you have a car you can drive there. We chose to take the Peak Tram to the top. This is HK’s answer to Fløibanen in Bergen in Norway by the way :-) The Peak Tram station can be found not to far from Central subway station. There is a shuttle bus from the subway station to the Peak Tram station if you don’t feel like walking (it only costs like 3 HK dollar). The return ticket with the Peak Tram costs about 30 HK dollar and the ride takes less than 10 minutes. The view as you get higher and higher gets better and better of course and the track is pretty steep some places (maximum of 27 degrees). On the top we got to the Peak Tower and this is the home to the viewing point, restaurants, Madame Tussaud’s, Ripley’s Believe It or Not and others. The view from the top was great but unfortunately it was a bit hazy the day we went up there. Another thing that can block some of the view is actually the tall buildings that has been built quite close to the peak.

Shopping
Before we came to HK we were under the impression that HK would be a shopping paradise. We walked around at Tsim Sha Tsui, we went to Causeway Bay, we walked around at Central and we went to Ocean Central. The selection of stuff in the shops were pretty good but we were not impressed by the prices. We kept comparing the HK shopping to the shopping in Bangkok last year and Bangkok came out as a winner :-) So we didn’t really buy much during our stay in HK.

Time to go home
All of a sudden it was Saturday morning and we packed our stuff, checked out and took the airport express to get to the airport. We took a shuttle bus from our hotel to the Kowloon Station and here we checked in our baggage at the train station before taking the 20 minute ride out to the airport itself. I think we paid about 90 HK dollar for the trip out to the airport. The flight home is always boring and after 3 movies and a 12 hour flight we were finally going via Amsterdam and back home.

Conclusion
This trip has been a bit strange. Although we travelled within the same country it still feels like to different places if you compare HK and Beijing. I didn’t really have any expectations for Beijing and I have to admit that I was surprised in a positive way. Beijing has quite a lot to offer when it comes to sights, history and attractions. So if you are able to ignore the traffic, the pollution and the people that are trying to sell you all sorts of stuff everywhere Beijing deserves to by visited for quite a few days. Do not miss going to the Great Wall! Be sure to go there on a nice clear day so that you can enjoy the amazing view. And if possible: try to go to a part of the wall that is not visited by everyone else (read Badaling). Another attraction that should not be missed is of course the Palace museum / Forbidden City. Be sure to get a guide or rent the audio guide so you can get some information on the different buildings.

Xi'an was just a stop on the way for us and we got what we came for: the Terracotta Warriors. Even though we went through quite a lot to see the warriors I still think that it was worth it. It is quite amazing to see what humans can achieve if they have the power and money to do something.

Hong Kong was a bit disappointing in my opinion. Or maybe disappointing is not the right word…but I didn’t enjoy HK as much as I thought I would. First of all I was not feeling well during our stay in HK after I caught some sort of cold in China. And hence I was not really feeling up to anything. And while we were there, there were more and more talk about the SARS virus and people started wearing face masks. Of course we started to worry a little bit if it was safe to move around in the city. And last but not least I think that I had too high expectations for the city itself. I have read and seen so much from this city but when we came there we didn’t really think that the city had that much to offer.

So when did I say ”Yes, this is truly China”? I guess it could have been said when seeing Chinese people doing their exercise in the parks in the morning … or when seeing people walking around with the big cups of green tea on different attractions in Beijing. But I think that I would have to go for the Great Wall. Since I was a child I have read about it and seen pictures of it. So when I finally got to climb it, it was just an amazing experience.

China is a big country and we only got to see a little bit of it. But I think that we experienced quite a lot and I hope that you have gotten some useful information by reading it. Get in touch on gardkarlsen@hotmail.com if you have any questions.

Published on Saturday April 19th, 2003


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Fri, Oct 28 2005 - 03:27 AM rating by vbx000

Your reports are so detailed and well written. You remember all the names of all the places that I forget and just dub "that night market" and "the ferry thing." lol Great report!

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