Friday, January 29, 2016

Hong Kong: Of Trains, Trams and Perfecting the Art of Getting Lost

Hong Kong MTR

No Disneyland, Ocean Park and Victoria Peak; none of those stuff that people usually go to. We booked a flight, didn’t even plan about the trip and just went with the flow. Getting lost on the gritty alleys of Hong Kong. To get to the core of Hong Kong. Whatever that is.


Twenty years ago there was no Disneyland but only Ocean Park. The fambam went there to, well, experience the cold weather of January and to check out the famed spots of Hong Kong. What I remembered were the double-decker buses, staying at Chungking Mansion for a night (blame fully booked hotels) and the distinct smell of legit Cantonese dishes.

Hong Kong Bamboo Scaffoldings

Hong Kong Bamboo Scaffoldings

Hong Kong Bamboo Scaffoldings
Bamboo scaffoldings everywhere
So after two decades, I went back with I hold on to as my old recollections of Hong Kong. Me and my favorite travel buddies went there to get a grip of its culture and whatnots.

Hong Kong Mass Transportation

We arrived at Hong Kong International Airport at around ten in the evening. We dashed to the public bus terminal right outside the arrival area and checked out which bus route should we take. We shelled out HKD 39 (US$ 5.01) each for the ride and took note of our bus stop. It was easy, convenient and cheap.

Hong Kong Airport Bus

Hong Kong Airport Bus

Hong Kong Airport Bus
Hong Kong Airport Bus
We also used the subway train a lot. The MTR or Mass Transit Railway is the rapid railway system in Hong Kong that is the most common mode of mass transportation. The network consists of nine railway lines across the city with one line that directly connects to the airport. Prepaid and single trip tickets are both available. Hong Kong’s train system is fast, efficient and very convenient.

Hong Kong MTR
Hong Kong MTR
Hong Kong MTR
That perfect moment
Buses are also plenty. Different bus routes cover almost all of Hong Kong. One of the popular ones is the double-decker bus. Fare is fairly cheap but expect a little delay during rush hour as traffic may be heavy at those times. You can use a prepaid card or octopus card when riding the bus or prepare an exact amount of cash for the fare.

Hong Kong Public Bus
Hong Kong public bus
Hung Hom

We stayed at Hotel SAV, Hong Kong on our first night which is located on the not-so-popular area of Hung Hom at the Kowloon District. After settling in, we combed the almost deserted neighborhood for a place to eat, at midnight.

We found a roadside noodle shop and downed some bowls of noodles and bottles of Tsing Tao beers. It ended on a drinking spree with locals having their own midnight snack/beer sesh along the alleyway.

Hong Kong Hung Hom
Roadside noodle shop cum beer stand
The next morning, we strolled around and felt as if we’re on a new neighborhood. The deserted midnight scene completely revenged itself in the morning with loads of locals filling the narrow streets of Hung Hom. It was different but we still loved the unadulterated parts of the area.

Hong Kong Hung Hom

Hong Kong Hung Hom
Hung Hom
Wan Chai

I love Wan Chai. I felt like this is old Hong Kong. Well, that’s just me. The narrow main roads were lined with shops and restaurants. When you traverse to the alleys, that’s when you get to explore some hole-in-the-walls and old Chinese shops (furnitures, toys and more). The place is so vibrant that getting lost at day or night will be pleasant altogether.

Hong Kong Wan Chai

Hong Kong Wan Chai

Hong Kong Wan Chai
Wan Chai
Tsim Sha Tsui

Popularly known as TST (to avoid tongue-twisting moments), the lively area of Tsim Sha Tsui can be considered as the most popular destination in Hong Kong for shopping. I am no shopaholic but this place amazed me with the amount of tourists bustling the streets and shops. They mean business when they shop.

Hong Kong Tsim Sha Tsui
Tsim Sha Tsui
Nathan Road is filled with huge shopping malls with almost anything that you’re looking for. Chungking Mansions (yes, that movie by Wong Kar Wai) is also at this road and you’d find the cheapest accommodations here. Halal restaurants and other shops occupy the first level of the building while different accommodations occupy the other floors (just make sure you’re dealing with legit agents when looking for a place to stay at).

Hong Kong Chungking Mansions

Hong Kong Chungking Mansions
Inside Chungking Mansions
We had a few quick stops here for some window shopping and people watching. It was busy and chaotic, but fun. We walked further and reached the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade and the Clock Tower.

Hong Kong Old Clock Tower
Tsim Sha Tsui Clock Tower
Hong Kong Cultural Centre
Hong Kong Cultural Centre
And then there’s the Victoria Harbour. It was almost sundown and we went to the bleachers overlooking the towering skyscrapers across. We were at the Kowloon Peninsula while watching the amazing and colorful architectures of Hong Kong Island; that famous Hong Kong skyline.

Hong Kong Victoria Harbour

Hong Kong Victoria Harbour

Hong Kong Victoria Harbour
Victoria Harbour
Mongkok

We should go to the Ladies’ Market at Mongkok, someone suggested. And so we did, just to see it and check out the huge evening bazaar that filled almost all the streets of Mongkok. 

Hong Kong Mongkok

Hong Kong Mongkok
Ladies' Market at Mongkok
And everything, like everything, you need (or thought you just might) is here, like the famous Lost In Hong Kong shirts in all sizes and colors.

Hong Kong Mongkok

Hong Kong Mongkok
Mongkok
Central Station

We’re at the Central Station of MTR when we saw this huge ferris wheel, and so we headed toward its way to check it out. It was the Hong Kong Observation Wheel that features lush gondolas that provide a stunning view of Hong Kong. We’re too fixated on it from afar that we didn’t have the drive to check it out close by. We just took quick snaps of it and went back to the train station for our next unknown destination.

Hong Kong Observation Wheel
Hong Kong Observation Wheel
Hong Kong Park

Sometimes we would ride the MTR not knowing where to go and during one of those trips we landed at Admiralty Station where we discovered Hong Kong Park. And it was an escape from the maddening urban landscape. It was green, peaceful and refreshing.

Hong Kong Park
Hong Kong Park
Yau Ma Tei

We wanted a legit old school theater experience so we set out to find one this particular morning. And then we got lost in the area of Yau Ma Tei. Public markets, hawker stalls and old bikes. We went here for the theater and ended up chugging cans of beer along the sidewalk still figuring out where the heck Yau Ma Tei Theater was (oldest surviving pre-war cinema building in downtown Hong Kong).

Hong Kong Yau Ma Tei

Hong Kong Yau Ma Tei
Excuse me... Can I ride on the bike Miss?
No... No... No...
Uhm... Ok :)
Hong Kong Yau Ma Tei
Yau Ma Tei
Man Wa Lane

Again, it was one of those days when we didn’t know which area to invade that we ended up on a not-so-famous area in Hong Kong. We alighted at Sheung Wan Station of MTR and went out for a quick walking trip. This time, we ran across Man Wa Lane or popularly known as the Chop Alley.

The road is famous for stalls of chop-makers (rubber stamps and traditional Chinese seals); old school style.

Hong Kong Man Wa Lane
Man Wa Lane
Hong Kong Tram

We walked further and reached the Western Market where a tram station is situated. Trams are one of the earliest forms of public transportation in Hong Kong (which, by the way, is the only one in the world that is exclusively operated with double-deckers) that became a major tourist attraction (they even made a Party Tram just to accommodate the demand for tourists).

Hong Kong Tram
The Party Tram
Hong Kong Tram
The regular trams
We didn’t know how this thing works or where it would go but we wanted to try it. We studied the map carefully and the fare matrix and hopped on the next available one. We prepared some spare change for the fare but realized that we would pay at the end of the line. It was so cheap at HKD 2.30 (US$ 0.30) for the whole ride (regardless of the station).

Hong Kong Tram
Let's do this!
Hong Kong Tram

We occupied the upper deck which gave us a good vantage point for the trip. The tram was slow but it lets you understand and see the bigger picture on the different areas in Hong Kong. We didn’t have a specific destination but we had a wonderful experience.

Hong Kong Tram
On your first day in Hong Kong, please do try the trams
Lan Kwai Fong

I’ve never seen so many people crossing the streets but on the streets leading to Lan Kwai Fong. 

Hong Kong Lan Kwai Fong

Hong Kong Lan Kwai Fong
People everywhere!
Considered as the most popular party place in Hong Kong, this place is loaded with restaurants, bars and clubs that is the common go-to place of the workforce and tourists.

Hong Kong Lan Kwai Fong

Hong Kong Lan Kwai Fong
Free balloon art from this cool guy!
Hong Kong Lan Kwai Fong
Lan Kwai Fong
In hindsight I wouldn’t want to change a thing on our recent Hong Kong trip. We spent countless hours figuring out where we were and what to do that we always end up loitering on the unknown alleys and streets of Hong Kong, with no particular destination, we were just there to experience Hong Kong. And we’re yearning for more! Next time, we’d dedicate a day on each MTR line and get off on every station. Now that’s a plan eh?

Hong Kong Street
Let's get lost... In Hong Kong!





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