Wednesday, December 5, 2012

HONG KONG 101: HK FOR BEGINNERS

When Shafiq and I decided to go to Hong Kong on our own, we had to do a lot of research on the internet for facts and tips that might assist us during our travel. While everything is still fresh in my mind, I am now writing a comprehensive guide for people planning to go there in the future.


GET YOUR FACTS RIGHT: Before going, you better get at least some of your facts right. With internet, that would be something very easy to do. Other than websites that could feed us with endless information, there were also blogs written by people who frequently travel and travel guides like TripAdvisor which helped us a lot. As we had decided to visit Hong Kong, Shenzen and Macao, we had to focus on these three locations. There were just too many interesting places to visit so we had to plan our itinerary well. Nevertheless, there were always last minute changes done (because of unforeseen circumstances like the time and weather). We always discussed and made the decision before going to bed every night for the plan the next day.


GETTING AIR TICKETS: This was one thing that we did the earliest. If you think of going with AirAsia, do not hesitate to check the price offered by other airlines like MAS because you might get lucky to get a better deal. There is a popular belief that the earlier you get the ticket, the cheaper it will be.

the happy travelers
ACCOMMODATION: Bear in mind, the cost of living in Hong Kong is quite high so be ready to pay more for your accommodation. We did our booking through AGODA and we chose the hotel after reading the reviews posted by other visitors in the AGODA website or you can find a lot of that from TripAdvisor. From what we had read, you could stay in a hotel near the city centre at a reasonable price but then the room would be quite small and space will be limited for praying, storing our luggage or preparing our own food. Some even mentioned that the bathroom was smelly. Considering these facts, we decided to stay at a place a bit away from the busy city but with a better living condition, and we didn't mind a bit the long travel all over the place. And I really think we had made the right decision. (There will be a special entry for the hotel where we stayed later).


food stock for five days

FOOD: For Muslim travelers, you might have some problems finding halal food in this part of the world. However, if you google for restaurants selling halal food in Hong Kong, you could get a long list of them. However, we were not willing to spend so much on food so we brought almost everything from home such as instant noodles and rice, canned tuna, margarine and jam for sandwiches, variety of prepacked dishes that you could eat by putting the packets in hot water, bread and even bottled mineral water. We could almost open a supermarket selling halal food there. And not to worry, unlike Australia or New Zealand, Hong Kong does not impose strict regulations for food brought into the country, and THANK GOD FOR THAT.


CURRENCY: Based on experience, it would be best to get your Hong Kong dollar from Malaysia. You could find moneychangers over there no doubt but then, you would get less amount of HK dollar to spend. As of today, after checking from XE Universal Converter, for every RM100 you change, you will get about HK$254.80. 
ARRIVING AT THE AIRPORT: People here speak English so life was easy for us. With English, will travel. We went straight to the tourist information counter (and met with this very sweet young girl *wink wink*) and she provided us with everything we wanted to know. She even suggested that we take the bus instead of the train to the hotel as it would  be cheaper than the train and  was hassle free. We had to get the OCTOPUS CARD for tourists, a debit card, that costs HK$150 that could be used for all public transportation such as the bus, train, tram and light train (something like your Touch-n-Go card here) and it would be cheaper than paying with cash. There are other places where you could use your Octopus card but I only used it once at a 7-Eleven store. You could add in the value of the card at any MTR station, kiosk or even at any 7-Eleven outlets. Before you leave Hong Kong, make sure you return the card as you would get your $50 deposit and the unused amount of money (but $9 will be deducted for service charge).

MTR map provided by the hotel
GETTING AROUND HK: If you are familiar with the LRT system in Malaysia or you have the experience of using the subway in other parts of the world, the same concept is applied here. Just study the map, and the trains will take you to all over Hong Kong. At the interchange stations, there are other mode of transportation like the buses and light trains. At the stations, there are a lot of sign boards that will guide you to your destination but make sure you get the right exit. The last resort is to ask for directions from people you meet. They are very friendly and will not hesitate to help. And make sure, you have a pair of strong feet to walk and to stand in the train for long hours. I was shocked at first to see so many people in the MTR stations at almost any time of the day. Where did all these people come from?

I also bought a guide book for tourists as it made me feel more secured. (READ: old school) People now have more sophisticated gadgets definitely but the book did help a lot.

That's about it, some important things that you need to know about Hong Kong if you plan to go there, especially if you are not going with any tourist agency. In fact, Hong Kong is a place that you can survive easily on your own. Welcome to Hong Kong!

*I hope people from the HK Tourism Board will read this and invite me to go there again. Ha ha ha...