I made the mistake of going out to have “a few pints” after my Thai class last Monday evening and ended up closing out the evening at an after-hours bar my friend owns. By “after-hours” it means he doesn’t even bother opening his doors until after 11pm and people usually don’t start stumbling in en mass until after 2pm when the regular joints close. So, going home before 5am or 6am is usually an early night.
When I woke up around noon on Tuesday I had about 2 hours to get myself together and get down to the airport for the flight to Hong Kong. Groggily I made it to the shower, packed some clothes, my camera, and my laptop.
Made it to the airport with a little over an hour until my flight. Air Asia directed me to a special line for checking in since I was in danger of missing the flight if I waited in the much longer queues everyone else was in. I’m not really sure I understand this mentality that they have lines that can take 30 – 45 min to check-in so there’s really little advantage showing up the hour and a half to two hours before your flight since you’ll just spend all of that time standing in line waiting to check-in. Come later and get whisked right to a special window and you probably beat someone through immigration who got there a half hour or more before you.
Air Asia’s terminal is in another country so it’s a good 15 or 20 min walk from immigration to the F terminal. Decided to take my chances and grabbed something to go at Burger King and got to the gate just in time to cram a Long Chicken down my gullet and walk onto the plane handing the stewardess my empty bag.
I had paid extra for the exit row and nobody was sitting in my row. Sweet.
I spent most of the flight sleeping.
Arrive in Hong Kong around 8pm local time.
I didn’t check any bags so I cruised through immigration with a 90 day stamp and was about to head out of the terminal when I was approached by customs agents and asked to step aside.
Customs Agents: Where are you coming from?
CA: How long were you in Bangkok?
Me: I live there.
CA: You work there?
Me: No, I study Thai language at a school in Bangkok.
CA: How long are you planning to stay in Hong Kong
Me: Technically, until Sunday. I have to go to the Thai consulate to get a visa stamp and then I’m going to Macau for a poker tournament and then coming back via Hong Kong to fly back to Bangkok.
CA: Well, have a wonderful time then.
I’m pretty sure that traveling through one of the countries at the center of the Golden Triangle of the heroin trade probably doesn’t look good but he seemed cool with all of my answers. Besides, I had a nice pair of jeans on, a collared shirt, and short hair. I don’t really look like one of those stupid dreadlocked backpackers wearing a “I’m carrying drugs!” t-shirt who run out of money in Bangkok and agree to shove a few kilos of smack in their luggage in exchange for a plane ticket home.
The big test for me was after clearing immigration, customs, and all of that other stuff. Here I was in Hong Kong. Where are the trains? How far is the train station from my hotel? Yadda, yadda, yadda. Unlike my normal trip planning I hadn’t really researched Hong Kong much more than knowing that you’re better catching a train from the airport into the city and then taking a taxi to your destination.
I bought a ticket, jumped on the train, and waited until we got to Kowloon.
After arriving in Kowloon and having no idea where the train station was in relation to the hotel (I knew they were in the same part of town and that was about it) I threw myself at the mercy of a taxi driver who didn’t even bother acknowledging if he understood where I wanted to go before speeding off into the night. He dropped me off right at the entrance to the hotel, charged me the metered fare, and was gone with not another word spoken.
I had booked the Royal Pacific on Canton Road. Again, I was flying blind since I picked it based off of reviews on Expedia.
It turns out to be a pretty nice hotel for the money. For about $100 a night the room is decent, the facilities excellent, and the staff are cheery and very helpful. It’s also centrally located a few minutes walk from the Subway and near several shopping districts.
First order of business was to purchase toiletries. I simply can’t be hassled when I don’t check any luggage to put all of my crap in nice little baggies and show it to some robot at the airport who thinks inspecting liquids and gels is an career path. I travel with just the essential non-liquid or gel toiletries and buy them when I get to my destination. I mean, we’re talking $5 for toothpaste, shaving cream, disposable razor, deodorant, and whatnots (assuming the hotel provides shampoo and soap). For me, it’s a bargain to avoid the airport hassle, the messy bags, and the potential of getting to your destination with goo in your bag.
So here I am strolling around with no clue where I’m going. I find a 7-11 which is normally your go-to place for that kind of stuff but all they had were drinks and food. I ended up going to some beauty shop packed with women eyeing all the latest skin-whitening products and picking up my wares.
I also discovered that if there’s one thing you can count on traveling around the world it’s that there’s always some over-aggressive Pakistani or Indian guy trying to sell you things you don’t want. As I walked down the street every few feet I would be greeted by someone asking me if I wanted to buy a “replica watch” or if I was in need of a suit. You could watch 100 Chinese pass and they don’t say a thing. As soon as a white guy walks down the street they’re hopping up and following you down the street with their creepy sales pitches.
The pitch makes you want to turn around and punch the guy. I wouldn’t even mind if they just shouted at you but you see them about 10 yards ahead start to angle in on you to cut off your path. Then they try the handshake while attempting to size you up, where you’re from, and then trying to mimic what accent they think you might have as they offer “How are you today my good friend?” I mean is there anything more stupid or cheesy sounding than some guy trying to fake an Australian accent?
The same happens in Thailand. There’s simply nothing more absurd than watching these guys chase down a guy in shorts, flip-flops, and a t-shirt in 90 degree heat with 87% humidity and offer to sell him a nice wool suit.
Now it’s time to grab a bite. I had glanced at the hotel services booklet thing in the hotel room and noticed that the Satay Cafe in the hotel was open until 1:30am. I walked in, asked for a seat and was told they close at 10:30 in off-peak season. The waiter was then kind enough to walk me across the hotel to another restaurant that was open later. He arrange my seating and handed me a menu before scurrying back to his place to close for the night.
The food was decent but overpriced. Or maybe I’m getting spoiled in Thailand being able to order an entire meal and a few beers for under $5. I think my fettuccine was about what I would pay for an entire meal in Thailand including drinks. Oh well . . . it’s a hotel restaurant.
I made it an early night and went to bed after dinner. Both because I was still slightly hungover from Monday night and because I had to go to the Thai consulate first thing in the morning.
I got up early and decided I was going to try and find the consulate on my own. The consulate is on Hong Kong Island so I figured I would take the subway from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island and then either walk it or take a taxi.
So first thing I did was completely bone up which station to exit. I took the train to Admiralty and then hopped on another line to Causeway Bay mistakenly thinking that I had seen Causeway Bay on the Google map I had printed out with the location of the consulate. When I got off at Causeway Bay I then decided to check the map again and noted that I should have just gotten off at Admiralty since that was the closest train station.
So back on the subway to Admiralty. I get off at Admiralty and attempt to figure out North, South, East, and West based on my superior land navigation skills and almost zero knowledge of the local topography. So here I am walking down Queensway in the opposite direction I should be heading in the morning humidity. It didn’t take long before the dark patches of sweat started to show up on my shirt and beads of sweat to turn into a gushing river on my forehead.
By the time I realized I was going in the wrong direction I was about 20 min in. I tried to find a taxi but none were on my side of the street. I crossed over and then I couldn’t find a taxi that was in service. So I kept walking.
I finally arrive back at the Admiralty subway station and decide I’m already hot and sweaty and no taxi ride is going to cool me off enough to make it worthwhile so I decide to just go it on foot.
Surprisingly, it’s only about a 5 min walk if you’re going in the right direction.
Once I arrived at the consulate I took a number and waited my turn.
While I was waiting to be called there was a guy and his wife there with their two year old child. The baby stumbled over to where I was sitting and waved a big hello to me. I said “Sawadee khrap” (hello in Thai) and the baby seemed to find it amusing. She ran away laughing to her parents and then ran back and waved again. We repeated this a few times and she sort of left her hand out there for longer than a wave so I high-fived her. I looked over at her parents and they were laughing and saying “high-five.”
When my number was called I handed my paperwork over to a helpful gentleman who told me I had to have copies of several documents made as they did not want or need the originals. So I pop over to an office park next door and have all the copies made and then go back and take a number, wait my turn, and see another gentleman.
He was very efficient. He spent a few moments examining each document (there were about 20 pages) and finally he stapled them all together and handed me a receipt for my passport. I was told to go to the next window to pay.
At the next window the lady behind the glass told me that the cost was $500. I asked “Hong Kong dollars (approx. $66 USD)?” Another lady who seemed to be in some position of authority based on her dress, age, and demeanor came up behind me and said “Yes, not American dollars. Don’t worry.” I smiled and said “Well, actually I was hoping that was in baht (about $14 USD).” She laughed and I handed over a $500 HKD note and was given a stamp that I had paid.
Surprisingly, the trip back to Kowloon was a lot smoother.
On the way back I stopped off at a couple of big shopping malls to cool off and just stroll around. Prices are as much or the same as they are back home so no real bargains. I might head out to some of the night markets where you can barter a bit. We’ll see how that goes.
Again, I got harassed by the Pakistani/Indian street vendors of watches and suits. One guy even started following me for about a half a block even though I had my earphones in so I couldn’t hear him. I could see him though but he couldn’t know if I could see him because I had dark shades on. Finally I stopped, pulled my earphones out, and turned around and said, “What! What do you want?” I put the earphones back in and kept walking. He didn’t follow me after that. Strange.
But the Pakistani/India mafia wasn’t done with me yet. I stopped at a restaurant right on the bay to have lunch and decided to snap a few photos before being seated. Here comes someone behind me “Sir, sir, how are you today?” I glance over then keep snapping pictures hoping by ignoring him he’ll get the hint and go away. No such luck. “Sir, you are such a lucky man. Do you want to know why you are so lucky?” I turned around shooting him a look that said “I’ve heard this line of bs before, keep walking,” and kept snapping pictures of the bay. I glanced over my shoulder about 30 seconds later and he was gone.
I made it another early night and got up early the next morning for another quick trip over to Hong Kong Island to go pick up my passport. Bing, bang, boom, I was in and out of the consulate in under five minutes.
I spent the rest of the day just roaming Kowloon. No agenda, nothing I was particularly going out of my way to see. Just wandering.
One thing you learn quickly in hot, humid environments like those in Hong Kong and Bangkok is that you sort of have to take things in steps. Like you might walk a bit until you feel the heat/humidity start to get you a little steamy. Then you pop into a shopping mall, 7-11, or somewhere else where you can cool off before continuing on.
I wrapped up my pedestrian travels with a foot massage. I really can’t understand why the foot massage hasn’t caught on like it has in Asia. Maybe the cost of labor makes it more affordable but, man, there is nothing like a good foot massage to kill stress.
I did quickly learn that there is a huge difference between a Thai foot massage and a Hong Kong foot massage. Thai foot massage is supposedly reflexology based and they have the little signs up in their shops to prove it but I very seriously doubt many of them have any clue about reflexology. On the other hand the sadistic bastard who worked my feet over seemed to have a clue about what pain he was trying to inflict. Despite the pain during the massage as soon as it was over it was like I had a new pair of feet.
After completing my day out exploring and shooting pics (and getting a massage) it was yet another early night (quite boring, aren’t I?) and then off to Macau.
Overall I dig Hong Kong. The people are nowhere near as warm as Thailand but the English is excellent so what they might lack in warm smiles they more than make up for in the fact that you can have an actual conversation with them. Even the hotel maids would engage you in perfect English each morning asking how you were doing and whether or not you wanted them to clean the room now or later. Even if four star hotels in Bangkok attempting to speak with the house cleaning staff would be futile in English. Maybe a giggle or a look of horror as these strange words came out of your mouth but that’s about it.
Hong Kong ultimately is a refreshing break from the day to day pattern. I enjoyed it very much and would definitely put Hong Kong down as a place to come back to when I have the opportunity. I would love to get out and about more and do some of the touristy things. I would also love to hit some of the expat watering holes that are supposed to be good fun and relatively friendly places to go out and have a cold one.
BTW, if you want to see more pics from the trip you can check out my Flickr site.