Tuesday, January 29, 2013

A Mid-Winter Break: Anyone Been to Hong Kong?



Those of you who have either:  a)been reading this blog; or:  b) lived in Seoul in the winter will be aware that it is Very Cold here.  Snow-on-the-ground-for-weeks cold.  Takes-your-breath-away cold.  Frozen-fingers-without-gloves cold.

Last year, I coped with the shock of my first real winter in 11 years by writing a lot about how cold it was, whining a lot, and escaping with my family for two weeks to Thailand.  A couple of weeks in steamy Bangkok and Phuket did wonders for my mood and my outlook.  Unfortunately, this year, due to a number of factors beyond our control, we did not book a Christmas getaway, which resulted in my mood and outlook not having wonders done for them.  I will leave it to your imagination, Gentle Reader, as to what that looks like on a daily basis.  (I should add, that, when I moved to Arizona with its nearly endless sunshine and warm, sunny winters, I was stunned to discover what a pleasant person I could be in January and February, so you can just imagine what I'm like right now.)

It should come as no surprise to you, then, that when I suggested we spend our upcoming Lunar New Year holidays somewhere warm, MrLogical agreed with alacrity.  Although the actual holidays are only three days long, they translate into a 5-day long weekend, which - to my way of thinking - was more than ample time to travel anywhere somewhere warm warmer.  In fact, I had no particular destination in mind, as long is it was:  a) a fairly short flight    b)somewhere warmer than Seoul and c) somewhere we hadn't been yet*.

After juggling our three schedules, checking flight costs and times, hotel availability, and reading far too many  reviews on TripAdvisor, I finally booked a trip to Hong Kong, after which I immediately began second-guessing my decision.  This was because, while TripAdvisor is 99% awesome (real advice, real people, real input,) it is 1% overwhelming for someone like me, who takes something like hotel bookings way too very seriously.  This person complains that the concierge was rude. This person says the staff treated them like family.  This person says the beds were hard. Someone else says the beds were par for the course in Asia.  This person says the hotel is too far from the MTR.  This person says the MTR is within easy walking distance.  This reviewer says, 'By all means, stay on the Island."  That reviewer says, "By all means, stay on the Kowloon side."

Every time I started to click 'Book,' I began to second-guess myself.  I envisioned us trapped in a nightmarish hotel full of monstrous concierges, sneering bellboys and rock-hard beds, pitifully waving our iPads around the lobby trying to log onto the WiFi because it would turn out that I'd not noticed that this particular hotel probably didn't offer WiFi in the rooms**, but only in the lobby, and which would turn out to be 'really slow' instead of 'lightning-fast!'(actual descriptions from actual reviewers.) I saw us wearily traveling for hours on trains just to get to the nearest Dim Sum restaurant or tourist destination due to my poor hotel choices. ( Of course, my choices were relatively limited anyway, since all the really smart people had booked their holidays in Hong Kong back in October-but I digress.)  Finally, after a certain amount of anguish, I did the cyber-equivalent of closing my eyes and sticking a pin in a map and fatalistically booked us flights and a hotel.

Once I'd done that, I immediately felt better, since it was more or less out of my hands.  But then - because I am an inveterate planner - I got busy deciding what we needed to do.  Had I simply confined my research to reading TripAdvisor comments, I probably would have been fine, but -never satisfied - I began soliciting opinions from human beings.  Our friend T, who had been to Hong Kong twice, recommended that we go to Macau while we were there, which we decided to do. Just as I was about to book a tour, another friend  told me that she had not included it in their itinerary because they had heard it was just a big Casino.  My mother reminisced about High Tea at the Peninsula - although I question whether MrL and Son#2 will wax equally enthusiastic.  Points of agreement by all included some sort of a Harbour Tour, a trip to Victoria Peak, and a visit to the Temple Street Night Market, but others suggested Lantau Island, the Fishing Village, and a Pink Dolphin Tour were must-dos.

After rocking back and forth and slowly banging my head on the table a period of reflection, I finally decided to turn to another resource:  my readers.

Have any of you been to/lived in Hong Kong?  What's really worth seeing and doing? What's overrated? We'll be there during the New Year's Celebrations (Dragon Parade, but not the Fireworks) and plan to try and see that, but otherwise, we're open to suggestions.  I'm not a shopper (and besides, Seoul is full of high-end retail) so not interested in malls or shopping centers, although outdoor markets are on the list.  Historic/Cultural/Natural things are more our cup of tea.

I should also be perfectly honest here for a moment:  if I travel to Hong Kong and do nothing but sit on a park bench for 5 days and appreciate the fact that the temperatures are above freezing, I will return home a satisfied woman.

But I'd love to hear what you have to say anyway.


*It is entirely possible that MrL and I  - with our Asian upbringings - have been in or through Hong Kong before, but, if so, neither of us remembers it.  
**We are a very wired sort of family, so this is an important issue.  Even more so because we're traveling with a teenager.

21 comments:

Stacy said...

All righty, now. Let me think. We spent a long weekend in Hong Kong a year ago November and really enjoyed our time there. We stayed at Langham Place in Mongkok because it got good reviews and was close to a metro stop. Aside from the trip to and from the airport, we took the metro or walked everywhere. Definitely include a trip up the tram to Victoria Peak. We spent the morning traipsing around the antique shops in the Hollywood Rd/Soho area, then went up in the tram, had a look around and dined on the terrace at the historic Peak Lookout restaurant for a late lunch. Oh, and don't miss the longest escalator in the world, which is actually a series of escalators, but still pretty neat. http://gohongkong.about.com/od/whattoseeinhk/a/midlevelsescala.htm The next day we decided against the trip out to see the very busy, touristy Buddha and took a local ferry from Central Pier to the little island of Cheung Chau, just to see a little slice of local life. http://gohongkong.about.com/od/whattoseeinhk/a/Cheung-Chau-Island-Guide.htm We got some great photos of Hong Kong from the ferry too. Cheung Chau is a warren of little roads with hardly any vehicles since the roads are so small. We just enjoyed walking around, stopping for a cold beer at a seaside cafe and watching the action. As it turns out, we were there on the day of a local election and the candidates were speechifying and glad-handing all over the place and their supporters were extorting the voters to head to the polling stations. We had a wonderful seafood meal overlooking the water. All in all a good day. I must predicate this report with the information that it was just Simon and I so we had no teenagers to cater to. I am not sure your son would enjoy our relaxed itinerary. I am sure we saw/did other stuff but I can't find my file. I'll keep looking and let you know when/if I locate it.

Have a wonderful trip and enjoy the relative warmth!

BavarianSojourn said...

I hate Trip Advisor for exactly that reason. I recently had to ask a HK friend for some advice on HK Dim Sum restaurants. This is her reply:

"Most dim sum restaurants in Tsim Sha Tsui are good. There's one at the Star Ferry, head for the clockhouse and behind that is some kind of marriage bureau and the only dim sum restaurant on that side.

Or for a spicier dim sum there is the Shanghainese version at Ye Shanghai on the 6th floor of the Hong Kong hotel.

on the Island then the restaurant in City Hall does good dim sum"

It may not be what you are looking for, but at least you will know that the dim sum will be good! Emma :)

MsCaroline said...

Oh, thanks, both of you! I really do use TA a lot, and it's normally a great resource, but in this case, there's almost too much information.
Stacy, we are definitely doing the Peak trip/Buddha sightseeing and maybe Lantau Island as well. I will have to look into Cheung Chau, I hadn't heard of it. Son#2 is a serious foodie and will probably be all in favor of a good meal in a nice restaurant - although I don't think he'd enjoy the antiquing like we would! The Langham was one of the places we looked at but they didn't have vacancies for the days we were there- I think they are a great spot to watch fireworks, so they are booked at New Year. Hong Kong is absolutely swarming with good hotels, so it seems like it's more a matter of location. I ended up picking a hotel on the Kowloon side since I knew we would be going to watch the Night Parade at Tsim Sha Tsui and figured it would be easier if we were closer. As far as the teenager goes, he has already expressed a desire to go bungy-jumping off the Macau Tower, so you can see we have some differing expectations. Emma, thanks for the insider Dim Sum advice, I've already written it down - and we are staying right near TST, so it should be easy! We will have to make sure to go out for mandu (Korean dumplings) before we go, just so we can compare. ; )
I knew I'd get good stuff if I asked ya'll! (I think my inner Texan is emerging...)

Anonymous said...

Cheung Chau Island (take the ferry from the ferry terminal); Macau is worth a day trip -- some interesting buildings in the old town area, Macau tower, and the casinos are very similar to the ones in Vegas, but the food buffets are good (try the Wynn); restaurants and bars near the escalator in Central; there's also the horse races if you're there on a race day; ride the tram

Heather Rose-Chase said...

Macau is certainly worth it, especially for just a day trip. I'm working on a languishing post about our day trip there last month to play tour guide to friends who'd never been. Hopefully with the internet issues I'll get it up soon! In the meantime, for off the beaten path things to do in Hong Kong, let me direct you to this blog: http://orientalsweetlips.wordpress.com/

I'm not a shopper either. Cheung Chau (which I see mentioned) is a nice change of pace. Grabbing a bus (sit on the top level for the crazy/amazing/thrilling views)and heading to Stanley on the south side of HK Island is fun. Stanley Market is and indoor/outdoor covered market full of touristy stuff for the most part, but on the back side of the market is the beach and lots of lovely cafes right on the water.

Not sure how long the Andy Warhol exhibit will be at the Hong Kong Museum of Art in TST, but that was totally worth the visit (I think it was HK$10 on Wednesdays).

Foodwise, we'd always head to HK from Macau to hit the American chains we craved like Outback Steakhouse and some of the spiciest Mexican food we've ever had (lots of little places in Midlevels), not for the Chinese food since that was plentiful (and cheaper) in Macau. When we actually lived in Hong Kong the kids were 1-2 and 3-4, so we didn't do too much that wasn't little-kid friendly. I'll think more about it and get back to you!

MsCaroline said...

Anonymous - thanks for the tips -sounds like Cheung-Chau will be added to the itinerary! Probably will give the casinos and tower a miss(unless Son#2 really wants to bungy jump) but maybe will check out the horse races - we did live in Kentucky for almost 10 years and appreciate a good horse race!

MsCaroline said...

Heather - I was hoping you'd weigh in on this, remembered you'd lived in Macau for a while! Several people had recommended a day trip, and we were planning on it until someone else told us they believed it was all just casinos. Looking online, it seemed like far more than that but I was starting to wonder if I was just misinformed. Thanks for the input - Warhol sounds good if it's still there, we are definitely museum people! Let me know if you think of anything else, and I'll check out the other blog!

nappy valley girl said...

I grew up there, as you know, although I haven't been back for 10 years. Don't worry too much about Trip advisor, most hotels in HK have very high standards of service!

As I say, I haven't been for a while, but definitely do the trip up the Peak Tram (think of me, I used to take it to school) and then walk around Lugard Road. Mount Austin is also worth a visit (taxi ride from the top of the Peak Tram).

Bear in mind that the weather might be really misty at this time of year, though, on the Peak. So you want to stick to lower elevations and do some shopping, or take the ferry over to Lamma Island. But it is a fantastic place and you will love it. Email me if you want to know more about specific areas - where you are staying, perhaps.

Trish Burgess said...

Oh I'm nodding in agreement with all of this. We are trying to think of somewhere to go at Easter and in one day I changed my mind from a chance of sunshine in the Canaries, to a city break in Europe and now...a cottage in Scotland to see some friends. Each option is getting colder and involving constant faffing about on the computer

Can't help you at all re Hong Kong but asking people for help on my blog has always worked wonders for me (Sweden and Suffolk itineraries come to mind).

MsCaroline said...

NVG - No, I did not realize you'd grown up in Hong Kong! For some reason, I thought you'd lived somewhere else warm and tropical - Jakarta, maybe? In any case, thank you for the tip - hadn't even heard of Mt. Austin or Lamma Island yet. I'd heard that the weather might be damp and 'not very warm' but keep in mind where I'm coming from. A misty view from the Peak in 23 degrees (C of course) sounds fabulous to me right about now!

MsCaroline said...

Trish- I am not ashamed to admit that I shamelessly lifted ('stole' sounds so harsh) the idea of asking readers from you! I remember when you were planning your Sweden trip what great feedback you got. After hours of frustration (and increasing confusion) I can't believe I didn't think of copying you sooner. These comments have probably been the most helpful thing I've read!

Naomi Hattaway said...

We have been a couple of times (with a teenager and two small kids) and we LOVE it. We always stay at the Y (don't judge! It's actually all sorts of awesome and reasonably priced AND right on the water!) --- the food, the walking and meandering, the junk boats, the Peak, .... GO!

MsCaroline said...

Naomi - the Y was actually mentioned in several TripAdvisor posts as being a good place to stay - no judging here! We are already booked in a hotel on the Kowloon side, so I suppose we'll just spend this trip doing some fact-finding. I didn't realize it was only a 4-hour flight to HK, otherwise I'd probably have already been there long ago. Son#2 has requested a ride on a junk so that will probably end up on the itinerary as well. Thanks for the input - will report when we get back!

Kel said...

Macau just a big casino?!?! For crying out loud! I never read your blog, found this by chance and you will be glad I did. Macau is A MUST! in 29 square Km has more history than whole of HK. Colonial buildings, the first church in Asia, first lighthouse in Asia, just to mention a few first. Two cultures so different as Portuguese and Chinese in perfect harmony in architecture, culture, people... Even food! Big casinos? Sure, also. The first 6star hole in Asia and the biggest casino in the world. You can spend 3 days visiting Macau and no time to check a casino because of how much there is to see. But it is relatively small to visit by foot. And we are having an odd warm winter this year. So, yeah, do visit Macau.

Michelloui | The American Resident said...

I can't give any advice whatsoever as I have never been, but I would love to go (am slightly envious!) and so reading this post and the comments has been quite interesting!! Now I know what to read when I do book that trip one day (without the help of TripAdvisor, I might add!). Ask Twitter as well, there's usually some good help there.

MsCaroline said...

Kel = thanks so much for stopping by! What you said about Macau is exactly the kind of input I was hoping for. Everything I'd seen online and read made me think that Macau looked like just what I would love - history, blend of cultures, colonial architecture, etc. Yes, I knew there were casinos there, but I didn't get the impression that they were the biggest thing in Macau - so when I heard that comment, I started second-guessing myself, wondering if the person I was talking to had an 'inside source' I didn't know about and maybe I just didn't get it. I am so encouraged to hear that it's just like I'd hoped. Thanks so much for the input!

MsCaroline said...

Michelloui: I have to say, TripAdvisor is usually a wonderful resource, and I have used it often with fabulous results. The problem this time was the overwhelming amount of information - and the wildly differing opinions! Oh - and don't be envious - I'm not sure that 5 days in Hong Kong are a fair exchange for the last few months of miserable cold!

broken biro said...

I haven't been to HK since Feb 1993 and stayed with friend of friend, so can't really help except to say beware! If you see the new year fireworks in HK every other firework display you see for the rest of your life will pale into insignificance - well, it did for me! Also - I remember it being small enough to get around easily, Macau is interesting, good to go up the hill on a clear day. Don't remember it being especially warm, but deffo warmer than mainland China was just after then! Brrrrrrr. Have fun!

Circles in the Sand said...

Great choice! I loved HK! Such an amazing vibe...Just standing (I can't remember exactly where!) looking at the skyline across the water as the lights came on was unforgettable (you could walk along an avenue of stars boardwalk type thing by the water). So special. I found the vastness of the city breathtaking. Can't wait to read the blog!

MsCaroline said...

BB- I'm relieved to realize that we'll be leaving the day before the New Year's fireworks - at least that won't be ruined for the rest of my life. ; ) Of course, we're planning on attending the Dragon Parade the night before, so this may ruin all parades for me henceforth - I'll just have to try and be brave...

MsCaroline said...

Circles: Yes, the 'Avenue of the Stars' (or something like that) is frequently mentioned in all the literature and sounds lovely. I'm really starting to get excited about it - although, as I said before, the temperatures are the real draw. As long as I am somewhere where I don't have to wear gloves, I will consider the trip a success! ; )