Thursday, July 21, 2011

[HONG KONG] Bright Lights, Busy Harbor


It took me an hour to cross the Hong Kong immigration counter. The queue was long, too many tourist arrivals at the airport. The three in front of me were also Filipinos. They were all escorted by an immigration official somewhere after taking too much time answering questions and presenting a plethora of documents to the officer. I thought it was also going to happen to me. Luckily, I was only asked how long I was going to stay. I showed my Macau - Manila e-ticket and I was good to go. Stamped, all done after five minutes. Now what?


First, let's give you a briefing regarding Hong Kong and its administrative divisions. More than the tourist attractions, what I have to know beforehand are the geographical units of the place where I'm headed to. Which city is in which province? In which district is this tourist spot located? According to my research, Hong Kong has three administrative divisions: Kowloon, Hong Kong Island, and New Territories. These three are further divided into districts.


The airport and Lantau Island, where Disneyland and Ngong Ping are located, are part of New Territories along with the whole northern part of Hong Kong which connects to mainland China. Kowloon occupies the southern part of the peninsula facing the harbor separating it from Hong Kong Island. Kowloon has a lot of shopping malls mainly concentrated at Tsim Sha Tsui. It also serves as the cultural hotspot due to the many museums that can be found along the harbor near the Avenue of Stars. The lovely evening skyline illuminated by neon lights, a popular representation of Hong Kong, actually belongs to Hong Kong Island, which many consider to be where British influence remains strong.


There is a Cityflyer bus that brings you all the way to Tsim Sha Tsui. I think it was the A21 bus that I boarded. The fare is HK$ 33 as opposed to the HK$ 100+ you pay if you choose the Airport Express train. Go for the bus. It is a bit slower but also offers spectacular views along the way. Once you reach Nathan Road, you could get off when you see the iSquare Mall. This is already near the intersection in front of the harbor. If you are looking for cheap accommodations, you'll find them in this area. Chungking Mansions and Mirador Mansions are just next to each other, separated by only one street, I think. This area is popular for its cheap accommodations for backpackers.


If you need to convert your USD to HKD, I suggest you go around Tsim Sha Tsui to get a good deal. Most foreign exchange counters offer rates similar to that of the airport, which is less than HK$ 710 for US$ 100. Go around and you'll find more money changers offering as high as HK$ 780 for the same amount of USD. I mostly settled for a HK$ 770 exchange rate during my five-day stay at Tsim Sha Tsui. I haven’t encountered any fake bills so I think they are legit. If you don’t want to venture far, just go to Chungking Mansions. The entrance has around five or six money changers all next to each other, along with some Western Union banks. Average rate I saw there was HK$ 770 = US$ 100.


I had the whole afternoon to tour Tsim Sha Tsui but I didn’t. I wanted to eat delicious fried rice but it seems difficult to find a cheap eatery in the area. I just watched Harry Potter at the IMAX cinema of iSquare before calling it a day. Oops, I forgot that I walked around the vicinity of the Avenue of Stars. There are two or three museums within the same area. I saw the Symphony of Lights after having dinner at a Vietnamese fast food. The skyscrapers of Hong Kong Island sure know how to dance. Their playful display of lights is accompanied by a musical soundtrack audible throughout the harbor.


My tour around Kowloon continued the other day but was mostly concentrated on Kowloon Park. I woke up late and got stranded because of the rain. Damn rain even followed me all the way to Hong Kong! I hate the weather. Anyway, I loved Kowloon Park. It's big and has a lot of resting places for you as long as it's not raining. I took shelter in the sports stadium by the pool side inside and then outside to see the children play when the rain was over. Snacks were care of McDonalds which was also inside the stadium. There are MTR stations on both ends. And the flamingos! There are flamingos and they have their own pond to themselves.


There is a footbridge connecting the park to the harbor. Once there you get an unrestricted view of Elements and the tower above it which I think is cute. Walk farther down the path and you get to see Victoria Harbor on a different angle but still with the same buildings that perform in the Symphony of Lights. Harbor City Mall is also just across the street if you want to go shopping. However, my vote goes to Elements because of the ice skating rink. I haven’t seen all of Kowloon but I think my stay has already been blessed with the few tourist attractions I was able to visit while I was there.

[HONG KONG] Bright Lights, Busy Harbor

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