My mother and I recently came back from a 4-day trip to Hong Kong. She celebrated her birthday on November 17th there. We arrived at the Hong Kong International Airport about 30 minutes ahead of schedule – which was around 2:00 AM. The airport was rather big and noticeably, most of the advertising posters were in Chinese – that’s when it hit me that this was really Hong Kong. I also noticed the moving walkways/platforms that would become a normal part of the routine during our stay in Hong Kong.
After going through the immigrations and customs check without a hitch, we had to decide what to do since the Marco Polo Hostel at East Shim Sha Tsui didn’t allow check-ins before 12:00 PM. We had a long wait ahead of us. We met by chance with a couple on vacation from Iloilo who were booked on the same flight as us. My mother had made small talk with them earlier during the pre-flight check-in. We learned that they were booked at Jordan just a few days ahead of schedule.
An elderly taxi driver approached us speaking in awkward but understandable English. He offered to take us to our respective destinations for 50 HKD per person or a total of 200. The couple with us suggested that we take this chance since it usually takes around 240-250 HKD by taxi to the airport, so off we went… this was around 2:30 AM on my watch. Good thing I brought along an analogue watch which was pretty accurate and there’s no time difference between Hong Kong and the Philippines.
During the Taxi ride, I noticed first-hand just how different Hong Kong traffic is from what we get here in the Philippines. (video of me driving through Iloilo traffic. You can expect the same behavior, but with even more speed from Manila and other areas of the Philippines). The cars drive very fast, but I’ve noticed that although our driver was breaking the speed limit of 85 kph by driving at 160 kph, he wasn’t swerving carelessly to the inconvenience of the other cars on the road. In fact, drivers here often try their best not to cut-in on someone else’s line in a way wherein the car behind them has to slow down or stop just to avoid hitting them. In the Philippines, cars will swerve without a second thought as soon as there’s an obstruction in their lane. It’s your job to avoid hitting them if you’re the one behind.
Anyway, my mother and I got dropped off in front of Chung King Mansion in Shim Sha Tsui wherein the Marco Polo Hostel was located. It was actually a mid-range skyscraper spanning several floors. The streets of Hong Kong are very colorful, but also quite dirty in the early morning. The buildings are also very tall and it was rather cold at around 17 degrees Celsius – something that we would eventually get used to during our short stay here. The normal weather in the Philippines rarely goes below 28 degrees. I personally like the cold as it helps me to think better, but my mother is always shivering from the weather in Hong Kong – especially at night.
Our initial impression was that it looked like a red light district with people from all kinds of races all mixed in together in what looked to be some kind of commercial complex with small stalls.
We got some directions from an Indian individual who spoke English and he told us to go to the 15th floor of block C. Upon doing so, the doors to the Marco Polo Hostel and the Carlton Guest House were both locked and no one was answering even with several door bells and knocks. With our heavy luggage in tow and not having slept a wink since the plane ride, we decided to go back downstairs to look for a place to wait the night out until check-in time.
A police officer gave us some directions to get to the nearest McDonald’s, which was just about one block away parallel to the Chung King Mansion. We bought two egg mcmuffin sandwiches for 9 HKD each there and then sat down in an empty table to settle down. I noticed that there were several people inside – again from all kinds of races and many of them just sat down there without ordering anything. A few were actually sleeping – which was our initial plan.
Unfortunately, anxiety and worry were painted all over my mother’s face and she clearly wasn’t comfortable inside the place – although I personally would have preferred to just wait things out there. It was about 3:00 AM. After about 15 minutes, my mother overheard a group of young adults speaking in Tagalog. They honestly looked like bad company, but since she was desperate to cling on to any kind of help, she asked them where they were staying and pleaded with them to at least let us stay in the lobby of their place when she learned that they were staying in the Chung King Mansion as well in a different block.
So we went with these people (there were around 8 of them over-all. Mostly women and about three men) – and took the elevator to their hotel, which was in D block (if memory serves me correctly) of the Chung King Mansion. There was a couch there and they offered to let us stay there. I thought that it was cramped and a bit of a dangerous decision to go with these people, but since my mother could rest better on the couch, I didn’t protest. Also, there was no air-conditioning in the lobby, so it was pretty hot.
At around 6:00 AM, my mother woke up and I suggested that we try again at the Marco Polo Hostel. At this point, I had gotten all of 45 minutes of sleep. We went up to the C block again, but still, there was no one there. We took our luggage all the way down to the main floor again and since we had relatively gotten some rest, we decided to walk around a bit more.
Still with luggage in tow, we walked by foot to the museum of art. Something I noticed was that pedestrians rarely followed the traffic lights there. If there were no cars incoming and it was safe to cross, they crossed.
The museum of art also connects to the Avenue of Stars. We walked around the harbor area a bit and saw a group of people practicing Tai Chi. My mother took off her jacket and said that she wanted to join in. I was against the idea, but she said that it was free from what she’d read. “Ideal vs reality” immediately crossed my mind. Just as she’d followed a few moves, the person next to her told her flat-out that this was a private class. The main instructor approached her and told her that it was only 40 HKD every morning, but that she was too late to join in right now.
My mother saw a small ship taking people somewhere in the harbor area. She seemed eager to find out where it went and where to buy tickets to ride there, but I was against the idea since we had no effin clue where it went. She assumed that this was the ferry to Macau, but I was pretty doubtful.
Moving on, we went back to the Chun King Mansion and all the way up to the 15th floor of C block again. There was a black person there who went inside the opposite door to the Carlton Guest House. He told us that the reception area for the Marco Polo Hostel was actually in the Carlton Guest House. We showed him our booking and he told us that we’d have to wait until at least 11:00 AM before he would give us a room. Fortunatley, he let us leave our luggage inside the lobby area. It was only 7:30 AM. Again, the analogue watch was my best friend here since I didn’t feel like taking out my phone just to check the time every now and then.
Going back all the way down again, we decided to pass time by taking a walk around the Shim Sha Tsui area. We came upon a bakery selling all kinds of pastries, breads and buns and bought a few items from there for around 7-19 HKD each. We also bought some canned coke from a 7-11 store for 7 HKD. We walked all the way back to the park in front of the Museum of Art to eat our food there for an early lunch. Hong Kong really looked different in the daytime. The climate was very cool, like being inside an air-conditioned room and the trees and birds were really of a different variety than you would find here in the Philippines.
After passing some time there just eating and chatting, we took a little walk to explore the area and stumbled upon the Shim Sha Tsui subway station underground and found that it was actually quite pleasant there with all kinds of shops lining it. We went back to the Chung King mansion and to the Marco Polo Hostel. Finally, the same black person from the reception desk gave us our room. I was astonished to find that it was basically one big queen-sized bed raised up to around 1.5 meters in height and that the walking space was only one square meter. There was an analog TV with no cable and a hot/cold shower room with a toilet and a sink. It also had a mini-fridge. There was no place to unpack our luggage and so we had to stow all our stuff under the bed. My mother was filled with all kinds of complaints, but I just wanted to get some rest before thinking about anything else.
Waking up at around 5:00 PM, we decided to get a room with at least two beds, so they charged us an additional 400 HKD. The room was 1510 inside the Carlton Guest House and it was still just as cramped, but at least it had two beds which were positioned perpendicular to each other just so they could fit inside the room. Again, there was no room to unpack, so the luggage had to be placed under the beds again. There was a small desk where the phone was located and this time, there was so little walking space that the mini-fridge was located under one of the beds.
After a shower and a change of clothes, it was time to explore the HK area once again. It was already about 8:00 PM by the time we went outside. After a 15-minute walk, we just missed the Festival of Lights or whatever it was called near the Avenue of Stars. We took a walk around the Avenue area, but it was very crowded. So far, reality had been very far from the ideal. We saw a Disney kiosk and bought our tickets to HK Disneyland there for 455 HKD each.
My mother wanted a special dinner since it was her birthday. We checked the prices for the restaurants around the area and found that Pizza Hut was overpriced and all the other restaurants were selling weird food that neither of us would probably like. We had our dinner at the same Mcdonald’s from several hours ago. We had a large burger and some fries each for about 35 HKD – far from a special birthday dinner, but we had to make do with what we had and we were too tired to find some better alternatives at this time.
After dinner, we walked around the Tsim Sha Tsui subway station a bit, bought our Octopus cards for the trip to HK Disneyland and then tried to make sense of how the Subway system works -- which was pretty easy. We went out of the H (I think) exit to the iSquare shopping mall and then went straight back to the Hotel for a well-deserved rest. That concludes day one of our excursion to Hong Kong; far from the ideal vacation trip, but things might start looking up in day two.