Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Hong Kong Layover

When we boarded our flight from Vancouver to Hong Kong, we were expecting the 13-hour stint stuck in a metal tube in the sky to be a special kind of torture, but it actually wasn't that bad. The hours passed quickly, and Hillary didn't throw up, so, that was a win.  We also sat next to a lovely Australian woman named Che (yes, her parents named her after Che Guevara, and yes, she was the coolest person alive) who had just been to Chiang Mai. She shared tons of travel stories with us, many from the destinations we'll be visiting ourselves, and she put us at ease about being solo female travelers. She said that in her experience, people are much nicer and friendlier to female travelers versus males. We've certainly experienced a lot of generosity and hospitality on the road so far, so maybe she's onto something!

We landed in Hong Kong around 9pm, and it took us no more than 5 minutes to get through customs/immigration. Shortly before landing we discovered our royal time change f*ck up, so before leaving the airport, we had to book a new hotel room for the night, and went with the Ramada on Chatham Road on the Kowloon side of the harbor.

The Hong Kong airport heavily advertises the Airport Express trains as the quickest, cleanest, safest way to get from the airport into the city. Probably true, but we decided to go the more adventurous route and take one of the public buses. We followed the signs in the airport for bus transportation, and along the way we stopped at the hotel information desk, where the English speaking attendant told us exactly which bus to take. The A21 bus ($33 HKD or about $4.26 USD) would stop right in front of our hotel. The Airport Express train would have cost more than twice that amount, and we figured the bus would be a good way to see a bit of the city.

As we walked to the bus terminal, we were almost swindled by a charter company trying to tell us that we needed to board their bus and pay them three times what we knew the fare should be. We ventured on and finally found the public bus terminal despite the lack of English signs. In case you ever find yourself in this situation, don't be fooled: the charter buses are in an indoor terminal, and if you keep following the bus signs you'll eventually walk outdoors where the public (cheaper) buses are.

After paying our fare at the ticket counter, we boarded the double-decker bus, and obviously sat on the top level, in the very front row like the excited 5-year olds we are. What struck me about the bus was not only how clean it was, but how safe we felt. The driver stayed below the speed limit, and did not change lanes quickly or swerve all over the road (RIP Fung Wah). It took maybe 35-40 minutes from the airport to our hotel, and it was nice to take a drive through the city at night. If your looking for idiot-proof transportation and willing to pay more for the convenience, definitely take the Airport Express train, but we would highly recommend the public bus system to anyone on the more self-sufficient, budget conscious side of the coin.

The Ramada Kowloon was great for what we paid... the lobby smelled like paint thinner and the décor wasn't very modern, but it was clean and the staff were quite friendly and helpful. In the morning we ran into and Australian couple on holiday who were less than impressed... they showed us their room for comparison purposes and it was basically the same as ours, so we just thought they were being uppity, but it turns out that they somehow grossly overpaid. We booked on, and paid $500 HKD (about $65 USD). For the same room, they paid $400 Australian dollars, or about $380 USD. Astronomical difference. We understood why they were dissatisfied with the value they received for their money, but the accommodations perfectly suited our needs and our budget.

In the morning we ventured out for breakfast, and after striking out in the gluten-free department at a couple of places, we ended up at The Café at the Sheraton Elegance Hotel. They clearly understood Sarah's gluten allergy and were super accommodating. They even brought us free GF date cakes to enjoy with our Spanish omelets. The meal was a bit on the expensive side for us, but worth it for the health and safety of Sarah's insides, and our last taste of American-style food for a while.

We then spent the rest of the morning walking around Kowloon, browsing the shops, and enjoying the harbor view before hopping on the A21 back to the airport.

Overall we enjoyed our time in Hong Kong, but found it a little over stimulating, and we were almost too tired from the journey to thoroughly pack 20 hours worth of sightseeing into this layover. We left feeling good about seeing a bit of the Kowloon area, but have many destinations on our priority list to hit before we'd consider returning.

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