Hong Kong 1996

[HK Skyline at Night]
See a bigger picture of the night skyline (56K JPG)
This is part of the skyline of HK island at night. I was near Pier 7 facing East. It was late May 1996 around 10:30pm. I just happen to be walking by and thought this view would make a good picture. I used AS100 film with an approximate 3 second exposure and the shutter wide open. I think the picture came out rather well.

Written by Al Wong

It seems everyone who knows I went to Hong Kong (HK) for vacation wants to hear about it. So I've decided to make a web page about my experience over there and then I can share it forever! I have even included some pictures on this web page too! These few pictures do not begin to describe the exotic sights of HK. They merely hint at them.

Some Background

The last time I was in HK was 1990 and I had planned to go back each successive year but these plans fell through for one reason or another. This year (1996) I was determined to go. The added incentive is that HK will repatriate with China in 1997 and I wanted to see HK before it turned communist.

My vacation in HK lasted two weeks. Barely enough time really. I like to stay at least two weeks in a foreign country to get a feel of the rhythm of life. A shorter time and your trip is just a flurry of places. I also try to stay longer to justify the long flight here which was nearly 16 hours! If you count getting to the airport, luggage checkin and retrieval, HK immigration, airport to hotel, etcetera, you are actually on the road for about 20 hours!

[My Photogenic HK Bud] This trip was much more relaxed than my previous trips. I was not scurrying around trying to see everything. I had already done this in my previous HK trips. I also was not a souvenir banshee either. I had bought enough souvenirs before. No, this trip was to renew old acquaintances and meet new friends. And I pretty much did all the things I set out to do. Regarding the picture on the left, I caught an old friend snoozing on a ferry ride (143K GIF). She is very photogenic. And people wonder why I go to HK. Life is rough when you're traveling. :)

For those of you who have not been here, Hong Kong is really made up of 3 main parts:

  1. Hong Kong Island. Yes, HK is an island!
  2. Kowloon, the peninsula nearest to and pointing to HK island.
  3. New Territories, the land extending beyond Kowloon to the China border.
Below is a small map of Hong Kong which links to a much bigger map (181K GIF) which shows more detail.

[Map of Hong Kong]
See bigger map (181K GIF)
(Derived from public domain map of Hong Kong
from the Perry-Castaneda Library Map Collection,
at the University of Texas at Austin)

From Los Angeles (LA), the direct flight to HK is about 15.5 hours. However, the flight back from HK to LA is about 12.5 hours due to tail winds. I flew with Cathay Pacific. They were the first to offer direct flights from LA to HK. I was not impressed with their service however. I asked 4 different stewardesses for water and waited over 10 minutes before I finally received it. Also, the flight to HK was the most turbulent I have ever been on. I usually get about 5-6 hours of semi-sleep on trans-ocean flights. This time, I couldn't sleep at all because of the turbulence.

There are two modes of weather in Hong Kong:

  1. Rainy and humid
  2. Hot and humid
The humidity is near 100%. Half the time it rains and the other half it gets very hot. In fact, if HK did not attract so much international business, I don't think people would be living there. The humidity is good for the skin though.

Where I Stayed

I stayed for most of the trip on Cheung Chau Island. It is one of the outer islands. I really had little choice of where to stay because the hotels in HK and Kowloon were booked up. Seems HK is attracting a lot of foreign business. Anyway, staying on Cheung Chau changed my perspective about HK giving me a more relaxed view.

There's only one hotel on Cheung Chau and I stayed there. The Warwick Hotel is on the beach and is a smaller hotel although very nice. The staff is very efficient and engaging. The hotel caters mostly to the local HK people on holiday so there were very few foreigners (like me!) here. I really enjoyed my stay at this hotel.

The advantage of staying on Cheung Chau is you are away from the bustle of HK. The crowds, the traffic, the noise, the construction, etc. are irrelevant. The island life is more relaxed and is very safe. One doesn't have to worry about getting robbed or inadvertently walk into a bad section of town. Also, there are several seaside restaurants on the island which serve a variety of local dishes. Of course, fresh seafood is the main staple here and I ate a lot of it! Yummy.

The only disadvantage about staying at Cheung Chau is the hour long ferry ride to HK. There's a ferry that leaves about every hour to HK Island and the trip takes about an hour, one way.

An interesting local hangout is the Coffee or Tea Restaurant which has tables outside in an open public square. I call this place the Deadman's Restaurant much to the amusement of my HK friends. The reason for this name is because the outside tables face a mortuary(!) And funeral services occur quite frequently outside in the public square. I thought this was very unusual. It was my understanding Chinese people do not wish to be associated with death and it is considered to be a bad omen. (Where I live in LA, you could not sell property to Chinese if the property faces a cemetery or is even close to a cemetery.) I, myself, was witness to at least 4 public funeral services while eating at this restaurant.

The local Chinese who patronize Deadman's Restaurant think nothing wrong about eating here with funeral services going on less than 50 yards away! The funeral services are not discreet either. We're talking the banging of bells/cymbals, flute playing, incense burning, minor parades and perhaps a bonfire! By the way, in a HK funeral, the mourners dress in white, not black. The coffin shape is very distinct too. And no, I didn't take any pictures. I consider that bad etiquette.

By the way, I do recommend this Coffee or Tea Restaurant (which I call Deadman's Restaurant) if you find yourself on Cheung Chau Island. The food is very good and they give good value. I have also found the people who work at this restaurant to be very honest. Such virtues should be mentioned here and can only lead to a successful business.

[Boat scene off pier] [View from hotel] I have included a few pictures around the island. In the left picture, I like the boat scene just off the pier (102K JPG). The funny thing is, at the time, my HK friends were puzzled why I would take such a mundane picture of their pier. They didn't think it would be a good picture. I guess they don't see what I see! The picture on the right is the view from my hotel (78K JPG).

The Highlights

  • One thing that stood out in my mind that was significant for HK was the construction of museums especially the HK Museum of History. Why significant? Because life in HK (as I remember it before), did not leave room for historical memory. The people are constantly seeking profits in business and life moves pretty fast around here. Lots of construction going on continuously with buildings going up or coming down on limited land area. I also seem to remember language dialects of the outer islands dying out. Forever lost because nobody cared. It seems someone in HK wants to preserve its history otherwise communist China may rewrite it.

    There is an organization called the Urban Council which is behind the creation of these museums. There are at least four new museums in HK since I last visited. They have done a very good job too. I visited the HK Space Museum and the HK Museum of History and was impressed with both places. I wanted to visit the HK Museum of Science but I just didn't have the time!

  • HK is a shopping mecca, especially for women's clothes. If you're shopping for clothes, $1K US will buy at least $3K-$5K US worth of clothes in HK. The US dollar has tremendous buying power in HK. Price and quality vary greatly so one needs to shop around.

    I also noticed more street vendors selling generic souvenirs. What I mean by generic are pens, watches, t-shirts, etc. All the crap one can find in any tourist spot. On my last trips to HK, they used to sell more stuff that was local to the city or to the Chinese culture. I also noticed the prices have increased by about 50% since 1990.

    What I would get as souvenirs. Anything in silk, cotton, jade, teakwood, sandalwood and amber. Wool items are good too but you need to shop around. I tend to lean toward handmade items.

  • HK also is one of the first to receive the latest computer gadgets from Taiwan and Japan. A major center for computer stuff is the Golden Shopping Centre very near the Sham Shui Po MTR/subway exit. I saw Iomega JAZ drives selling for $100 US less than in the USA. (I tried to get one but they were out of stock.) More stores are concentrating on selling CD-ROMS and video game paraphenalia though. I guess these are more profitable.

  • HK is also known for its good food. Meals can be had for a few dollars (US) to several hundred dollars. Dim Sum is better here than in LA. Of course, the seafood here is second to none. Contact me directly if you want a list of recommended restaurants.

  • HK has one of the most efficient public transportation systems in the world. In one day, you could travel by hover-ferry, MTR (HK's subway), tram and bus just to get to one place. The MTR is the travel mode of first choice. Fast, efficient, clean and inexpensive. HK's subways do not have a graffiti problem which plagues most cities. I think it's because the population is more homogeneous (95% Chinese, 5% British). The work ethic is firmly ingrained in the culture too.

    Taxis are available and fairly cheap but they cannot stop just anywhere. Traveling by ferry is very cool. The HK ferry system is over 100 years old and has an interesting history. Even with all this public transportation, be prepared to do a lot of walking.

  • I discovered a large insect while staying on Cheung Chau. It's like a cricket but on steroids. You can also compare it to a cicada. It looks like a large black beetle about the size of a small sparrow (I was told insects cannot get much bigger than that due to their respiratory system) and it has large transparent wings. The mating call of this insect sounds like some major construction going on. Very loud and sounds very artificial but it's all organic and natural. Very curious. These insects swarm by the hundreds in the local trees. Fortunately, this insect doesn't bite.

  • [Big Buddha at Po Lin]
    The Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island is a popular local attraction. A giant Buddha (93K JPG), which was just completed, sits near the monastery. (It was still under construction back in 1989!) They did a pretty good job too.

    If you don't like climbing stairs to see the giant Buddha, you can wander around the monastery and see the many different shrines and turtle ponds.

  • For those of you from the USA, there is a Hard Rock Cafe (Actually two of them) in HK. Also, a Planet Hollywood just opened there.

  • You haven't lived until you've seen Pinky and the Brain in Cantonese.

Random Travel Tips

  • It's a good idea to dress warmly and bring munchies for the air flights. They really crank up the air conditioning during the flights. Why they do this, I have no clue. To make us sleep? To keep us awake? To make us frozen?

    The other problem with long flights is they don't feed you enough. At least half the food served is inedible. It's better to bring your own munchies. On my next trans-ocean flight, I'm even going to bring something to drink! They really don't give you enough to drink too!

  • Bring good walking shoes. Unless you hire a car or take taxis during your entire trip in HK, you will be walking, walking, walking. If you don't do a lot of walking during your everyday life, you should train your legs before you leave for HK. I'm serious. Otherwise your feet/knees will hurt and you will end up spending time trying to recuperate when you should be walking around seeing/doing things.

  • If you like to shop for clothes, bring an empty travel bag. Most airlines to HK allows one carry-on bag and two checkin bags. I decided to travel light in 1990. I have soft luggage. I brought only two changes of clothes which was in my carry-on bag and I brought two empty bags. I had no trouble filling those empty bags with clothes and other souvenirs! The clothes were of high quality cotton and wool and were very inexpensive. Of course, on my return flight I checked in those two filled bags!

  • Tourist information can be readily found at the Hong Kong Tourist Association (HKTA) offices. They are located in the main tourist paths. The most convenient one is located near the Star Ferry terminal in Kowloon. They have tourist books, magazines and pamphlets on just about everything in HK. And the information is mostly free.

    Don't depend on the local HK people to tell you what to do. I have found most local people really don't know much about what HK has to offer.

  • Get a good street map of Hong Kong. Some of the tourist books show sections of HK but you really want a big map which shows everything. You want all the street names, landmarks, MTR routes, ferry routes, etc. The more detailed, the better. Any decent bookstore should have these maps. It will take a little time to find a good map but it's worth it. Believe me.

  • Get familiar with the MTR. The MTR is HK's subway and is the most efficient way to get around. Get a map of the MTR line routes too. Get an MTR pass of at least $100 HK value. They sell a tourist pass for $30 HK which does not get you very far at all. You are much better off buying a $100 HK MTR pass.

  • Try to arrive in HK on a day other than Sunday. All the banks are closed on Sunday which means you cannot exchange your money for HK cash. Most businesses are also closed on Sunday and those that are open will not accept foreign currency. In fact, some businesses will not take credit cards so ask first! (They might take gold but I've never tried it.) Also, all travel agents are closed on Sunday which makes it hard to book a hotel room.

  • Better yet, exchange money for HK cash before you leave. This can be a hassle though.

  • Always book a hotel room through a Hong Kong travel agent. They know the best discounted rates for each hotel. Never book a room with the hotel directly. They will certainly give you the rack rate with no discount.

    Note you need to deal with a Hong Kong travel agent. I have found US travel agents are not familiar with the discounted rates and will quote near rack rates for hotel rooms.

  • To get telephone information in English, dial 1081.

  • If you have a free day, go over to Macau. Macau is a Portugese colony (like HK is a British colony) and the only way to get there is by JetFoil from HK. The ride is about 45 minutes long and is an experience in itself. It's interesting to compare the two colonies/cities. Also in Macau, gambling is legal and there are 4-5 casinos. I didn't care for the casinos myself. Las Vegas casinos easily beats them. I believe Macau will repatriate with China in 1999.

I caught a little sore throat while in HK and was fine while I was there. This sore throat flared up to flu-like symptoms during the return flight home to LA. I was deathly ill for two weeks and am still not 100% myself now. I blame the Cathay Pacific flight home for this. They don't give you enough to eat or drink. They crank up the air conditioner so you are constantly cold. You really cannot sleep during the flight. I was also told they do not filter the cabin air properly.

That's my HK trip in a nutshell! I could go on about HK but I want to get this on the web now. I also need to update my other web pages too.

My Writings My Other Interests IBM, Act 2, Scene 5 Al's Wild Web Page

Last updated : February 25, 2006
Copyright 1996-1998 Al Wong, Los Angeles, California, USA
All Rights Reserved