Hong Kong – Victoria After Dark (supplementary post)

Hong Kong, April 2019: Well, seems I was a little hasty in publishing the previous post, minus a bunch of photo’s I had carefully prepared! So, here’s a supplementary post with those photo’s of views from the famous Victoria Peak. If you missed the original post click here.

After having made it to the Victoria Peak unscathed, one must now battle through crowds and head towards the viewing paths. 3 options after disembarking the bus. First, straight ahead and into the shopping mall where another £10 will get one a spot on the viewing roof. Second, turn right following the crowds to a viewing platform and pagoda shelter. Third, make a left past the mall and find relative tranquility while watching life across the water.

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Bus 15 is a Double Decker – Top front is the best seat to get! $10.5 full fare from Central Pier or Exchange Square.

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The shopping mall viewing roof – about £10 and several flights of stairs! Yes, even on a mountain peak the Chinese have an insatiable appetite for shopping.

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Turn right, follow the crowds and join the jostling for the best selfie spot.

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A slight case of overcrowding!

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Queuing for the tram ride down – 3 lines deep and growing!

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Alternately, make a left turn for uncrowded quiet spots and wait for night fall while watching life across the harbour such as the Star Ferry pictured here.

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A close-up of the cruise terminal on Kowloon.

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Densely packed Sai Wan.

 

 

 

 

Hong Kong – Victoria After Dark

Hong Kong, April 2019: Hong Kong by day is one experience, Hong Kong after dark is another. Since today’s good weather looks like holding, then a quick trip up to the Victoria Peak at around sunset should yield some spectacular views across Hong Kong with a different light perspective.

Bus 15 from Central Pier go’s right to the top, takes 20 minutes and costs just over £1. At 5 PM the sun starts to sink bathing those skyscrapers in the light of the golden hours until eventually the whole place becomes a big mass of neon and LED lights. Thankfully the clouds are staying at a high level and so the views are pretty nice it has to be said!

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Hong Kong – A Rather Good Bird Park, Cotton Tree Drive.

Hong Kong, April 2019: I’ve been here before and I have no hesitation in returning to this rather fine Hong Kong attraction, the aviary situated within Hong Kong Park. I do like a good bird park – it saves from trying to track down exotic birds in the jungles across Asia, birds that are fast becoming rarer by the month as their habitats are destroyed. This bird park is a free attraction and just a 15-20 minute stomp from Central to the parks entrance on Cotton Tree Drive (Google Map). All manner of exotic birds reside here, a place of safety and a guaranteed food supply, which on the face of it, isn’t a bad deal theses days! Well worth an hour or two, especially if its a hot day where one can fine shade and coolness under the trees, but watch out for poop!

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The High Court of Appeal, between Central and Hong Kong Park

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Hong Kong – Mong Kok, A Throbbing Heart of Perpetual Life

Hong Kong, April 2019: Situated North of the tourist ghetto of Tsim Sha Tsui is the Kowloon district of Mong Kok. 45-50 minutes from the airport by bus or 10 minutes from Tsim Sha by subway. I’ve ended up staying here in Mong Kok because, well, I just couldn’t find anywhere cheaper than £20 per night. An Air Bnb private room buried deep inside one of the early generation mass housing blocks populating pretty much 70% of Kowloon, but despite the shabby buildings exterior the apartment is pretty nice, spacious and with windows – sufficient for a 7 night stay, and infinitely better than a stay in the infamous Chung King Mansions, the next cheapest option and only for the brave!

Mong Kok (Google Maps) is what I’d call a living neighbourhood – local people busy with their daily routines. Non of the superficial tourism pretence here, just ordinary folk eating, living and doing the best they can in an overcrowded metropolis. My digs happen to be above the busy Mong Kok market, so lets take a look…

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From the bedroom window – lets not drop the camera!

Day and night, I think of the neighbourhood here as the throbbing heart of Kowloon, a perpetual rhythm and motion of people and traffic. Yes, most definitely a better place to stay than Tsim Sha, cheaper to!

 

 

 

Hong Kong – Harbour City and the Symphony of Lights

Hong Kong, April 2019: Mooching around again, feeling a tad guilty at not having a constructive plan – its like wasting time! My meanderings have taken me once again to the tourist hot spot of Tsim Sha Tsui on the Kowloon Peninsular. If nothing else, the place is a good hangout for people watching, especially on the waterfront promenade. Its late afternoon and folks are gathering to watch the sunset and oh, yes, the Symphony of lights I would assume – Something I din’t see last time. As I weave between the million or so tourists thoughts of an escape route begin to occupy my mind as one begins to loose patience with all the pushing and shoving.

Harbour City is a great refuge from the throng of tourists. To be exact, the car park on the roof! Harbour City is the name given to the cruise ship terminal, located next to the Star Ferry piers. Its also a giant high-end luxury goods shopping mall, even Britain’s best known cook, Gordon Ramsey has a high-end burger joint installed here! A good old cheese burger will cost a whopping £18.80 proving the Chinese will buy anything if the marketing is right!

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So, having found refuge on the roof of Harbour City Mall and Cruise Ship terminal, time to relax and watch the sunset and wait for Hong Kong to light up. The place is a good vantage point to observe the comings and goings at the iconic Star Ferry, a scene unchanged for several decades.

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Suffocating crowds

 

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A misty sunset as people gather at the Harbour City Mall terrace. Its free from crowds, free to enter and can be found at the very end of the roof top car park. A great spot from which to view the upcoming Symphony of Lights, said to be “A Spectacular Free Show”, that’s according to the official tourism sponsors! The show starts at 8 PM and lasts for about 10 minutes, so lets see if it stacks up to the blurb.

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The Skyline on Hong Kong Island

Well, having watched this for the last 10 minutes, I have to admit to being a little disappointed. Billed as a spectacular light show choreographed to music, its anything but that. First, a definite absence of the music – perhaps the stereo broke down! and if a few white and green laser lights flashing across the harbour counts as spectacular then perhaps I’ve lived a sheltered life – but at least it was a free anticlimax!

Hong Kong – Lok Fu Park and Kai Tak, the Checkerboard Views

Hong Kong, April 2019: Lok Fu Park, situated on the Northern edge of Kowloon City and its where the old checkerboard is sited. So, what is the old Checkerboard? Well, in the old days, about 22 years ago infact, pilots flying into Hong Kong’s Kai Tak Airport needed a visual aid – the checkerboard pattern painted on a hillside. If the Checkerboard wasn’t in the pilots vision by the time they had reached a determined position over Kowloon then the landing had to be aborted since the runway would also not be in safe visual range. Back then, hundreds of plane enthusiasts from across the globe made a beeline for Hong Kong’s Checkerboard Hill to marvel at the last minute sharp turn pilots had to make to line up with the runway, or risk slamming into the hill! There’s  plenty of youtube content on the subject, just search Kai Tak checkerboard hill.

Today, nature has almost reclaimed the west facing checkerboard while the west south-west facing checkerboard is still largely intact if somewhat faded. So, the checkerboard Hill is a place for some to reminisce the glorious days of aviation and for others, well, its just a fabulous view point, well away from any crowds!

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West Facing Checkerboard, reclaimed by nature.

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Remnants of the West south-west Checkerboard

Whats left of the old Kai Tak Airport? well, as you can no doubt see, nothing! Redevelopment is underway with the addition of a highway and Metro station just about where the terminal buildings used to be. The Kai Tak name will live on however with the new MTR station named in honour of Mr. Kai and Mr. Tak.

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Old Kai Tak Airport, – left were Cargo ramps, Middle was the terminal buildings and right, the old runway.

Eventually the Kai Tak skyline will be obscured with skyscrapers, and with the impending redevelopment of Kowloon city centre, a scene that will be gone forever. The rooftop car park seen below was another famous spot where people gathered to see the low flying planes turn to land – the Kowloon Mall. Just to the left of the Kowloon Mall was the infamous Kowloon Walled City where if one was adventurous enough, could get a rooftop view there! That was all torn down in 1993.

Views from the Checkerboard ledge will take in a wide panorama across Kowloon and towards Hong Kong Island. Behind and one can not miss the Lion Rock mountain!

How to reach the Checkerboard at Lok Fu Park: From the Lok Fu MTR turn right towards the Lion Rock. After walking for about 7 minutes, Lok Fu Park entrance is on the left. Walk 10 minutes uphill, all the way to the top! Once at the top of the park having walked up the official road, one will now have to take the unofficial track. Opposite the public toilet block is the entrance to a track, right beside a high security fence. Just follow this fence pretty much all the way to the checkerboard. Negotiate boulders and fallen trees, but its worth the effort when one finally gets to where the old equipment housing once stood.

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And here’s how nature has reclaimed the Checkerboard Hill, Lok Fu Park, Hong Kong.

 

 

Hong Kong – No Plan, Just Mooching.

Hong Kong, April 2019: With my visa application in the hands of the Chinese authorities, there’s little I can do for the next few days but hang around, soak up some culture and enjoy life the Hong Kong way! Since I have been here before and covered the place extensively, right now there is no plan, no direction whatsoever, but surly one will emerge later, but for now lets just mooch around.

Mooching around, wandering aimlessly along the waterfront and looking across the Victoria harbour towards Hong Kong Island in a dreamy daze! The replica tourist junks are busy crossing the waters between Kowloon Promenade and the Central piers on the Island , weaving their way between the Star Ferries and commercial barges.

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After an hour of battling through the mass of Chinese tour groups, time to escape, time to seek refuge and I know just the place – Kowloon Park. Peaceful, and its where the old timers go to have an afternoon nap!. Situated along Nathan Road one has to pass a couple of Kowloon landmarks – Peninsular Hotel and Chung King Mansions.

Full of exotic springtime flowers, a few exotic birds and the odd butterfly, this park really is a haven slap bang in the middle of Kowloon’s concreted jungle.

Hong Kong – A Visa for China

Hong Kong, April 2019: Hong Kong is an easy place to get into, especially if your British it seems. China, on the other hand is not. Tomorrow I have to get across Kowloon to a visa agency, fill out an application form, hand over £150 and wait 4 days for a 30 day tourist visa so that I can spend the next month on a scenic tour of the South West China mainland. In the meantime I’ll settle into this room I found via Air bnb for £20 per night, which is pretty good given Hong Kong is tops for being one of the worlds most expensive places to stay! A reasonable size, room enough for cupboard and even space for a TV. Since the visa will take 4 working days and I shall be here across the weekend, it all means I need to hang around for the next week – definitely worse places to hang around in than Hong Kong.

The China Visa has to be obtained via an agency since the respective Chinese consulate does not deal with the application process directly. After some careful research, Forever Bright Trading consistently topped the good review rankings. Although there are plenty of others, these guys are said to be more helpful in guiding us first timers to filling out the 4 pages of questions and information required by the Chinese authorities.

So, here’s the quick guide to obtaining a visa for China in Hong Kong based on my recent experience:

  1. Read the application rules: Not everyone is eligible for a China Visa and those citizens of countries out-of-favour with China may find the process less straight forward. Next read through the actual application form and prepare some notes such as addresses and phone numbers. Visa application (2013) is easily found on-line.
  2. Pay attention to the round trip ticket rule which suggests visitors must arrive and depart by air. In the case of a land crossing from Hong Kong, the landing slip obtained at Hong Kong immigration counts as an inbound to China portion of a round trip ticket – this is not mentioned in the visa rules, but advised as sufficient by the Visa agency.
  3. Prepare documents prior to arriving at the visa agency. Although the application asks for the complete itinerary while in China, its only necessary to prove the first night of confirmed accommodation and a confirmed departure flight or train ticket to leave China (Trains go to Moscow or Hong Kong).
  4. Arrive at the visa agency as early as possible. The application process takes about an hour, more if one comes unprepared, and there will likely be a queue. Deadline for applications is 12.30pm. The forms can be ambiguous in parts so its best to start afresh in the office with staff guiding through the myriad of questions.
  5. Have the visa agency take the required photograph. They know the specification and it has to be exact – applicants can not have long hair across the fringe!
  6. Handover passport, cash and get a collection receipt. come back in 4, 3 0r 2 days depending on how much is paid. £150 is for the 4 day wait with the price rising significantly the shorter the wait time.
  7. Go and find a Starbucks and spend the next hour recovering!

 Next time, Hanging around in Hong Kong…

 

Thailand – Bangkok Don Meuang to Hong Kong with Air Asia

Bangkok, Thailand, April 2019: Today I’m off to Hong Kong, flying with Air Asia from Bangkok’s low cost carrier airport, Don Meuang (DMK). The good news is that there is a free shuttle bus from Bangkok Suvarnabhumi (BKK) for passengers with a confirmed flight, the bad news is it may rake some time to negotiate Bangkok’s notoriously bad traffic congestion, especially during rush hour, as there’s no direct expressway. Its recommended that passengers transferring between the two airports allow for at least 2 hours!

My flight isn’t until this afternoon so I’m not under any time constraints just yet! The free bus from Phoenix Hotel to Suvarnabhumi is available at 9, and if all go’s to plan I should be on my to Don Meuang by 10.

The Free Shuttle to Don Meuang is to be found on Level 2 at gate 3. Presentation of a  confirmed e-ticket screenshot’d on my phone and a passport are enough to get me stamped onto the bus, a regular city bus but at least it has air-con. 1 hour and 15 minutes is the journey time today, probably better than average I’d say.

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Don Meuang Airport was Bangkok’s original international gateway until it all got to much during the late 90’s. Now the place is exclusively used by low cost carriers, such as Air Asia, the Easy Jet equivalent of South East Asia and with whom I will be jetting off to Hong Kong in a few hours. Departure formalities are less onerous here and soon one is at the departure gate with time to spare – sounds like a cue for Starbucks!

For £60 one-way on Air Asia one shouldn’t expect too many comforts for this 3 1/2 hour flight over to Hong Kong. I didn’t pick a window seat since it’l be dark soon thus saving me about a fiver. furthermore, I’ve managed to squeeze all my belongings into cabin baggage saving me another £20. Not having to pay to have luggage thrown into the aircraft belts and I save a lot of time at destination is pretty worth while I’d say. Hong Kong is a popular destination and this flight is crowded, every seat taken. Leg room isn’t generous by any means and passengers will need to supply their own in-flight entertainment. So, for the next 3 1/3 hours then one is spirited into a world of intrigue and mystery – yes, I downloaded some Sherlock Holmes mysteries audio.

 

Next, Hong Kong and a Visa for China…

 

Thailand – Bangkok Lat Krabang, A Transit Stop

Bangkok, Thailand, April 2019: Lat Krabang, a neighbourhood situated in Bangkok’s eastern suburbs with the advantage of being right beside Bangkok’s suvarnabhumi International Airport. With several reasonably priced hotels dotted around the place then Lat Krabang is the ideal place for a transit stop. I’m staying at the Phoenix Hotel, about £20 per night double room and  a shuttle bus from the airport is provided free, essential for those arriving late at night or very early morning. Tomorrow, I’ve got some time to take a look around here before heading downtown in search of a new camera – yes, yesterday in Kathmandu, my trusty Canon decided to malfunction! In the mean time I can just about get along with the phone camera.

In Thailand, one is never far from a Temple and here in Lat Krabang they have a pretty nice one. The architectural style is a familiar sight to regular visitors to Thailand and as the sun shines under the clear blue morning Bangkok sky, one can only marvel at the ornate structures.

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I’m not usually one for traipsing around Asian shopping malls,but today I actually need to! I’m on the hunt for a new camera and a quick Google search reveals the best place for cameras i Bangkok is the MBK Mall located by Siam Square. Easily reached by hopping on the airport train for a 40 minute ride into Phaya Thai. From there is just a 20 minute stomp to the shopping centre – all this according to Google Maps! Shopping in Bangkok then is a whole new experience, especially in a giant mall where one could potentially get lost for several hours! According to Google cameras can be found on the 5th floor, so my grand plan is to locate, purchase and exit as quickly as possible.

 

Well, the whole thing went pretty well with my bank balance £300 lighter than it was 90 minutes ago. With a tax refund due and a tourist discount applied, the deal was a good one, about £100 less than the British price according to a quick squizz on-line. So, keen to get to grips with my brand new Canon 740SX, its back to base and a read of the instruction book!

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Photo from a Canon 740

So, tomorrow then its off to Hong Kong, bur first I need to get to Bangkok’s second airport, Don Meuang International.