Hong Kong: Sun, mitten crab and beer

Last week I flew down to Hong Kong to meet up with my friend and SRDC colleague, Taylor, who was home for the week visiting family. Taylor graciously took two days out of his limited home time to show me around his city and introduce me to his friends, and I in turn gave him an excuse to do some of the touristy stuff he had never done before, like ride the Ngong Ping gondola. To get there, I was able to snag a pretty cheap flight to Shenzhen, and then took a bus across the border into Hong Kong, which saved me about two-thirds the price of a direct flight (more details after the jump). I also booked a hostel room on the cheap as well, and ended up in what is probably the world’s smallest hotel room:

The world's smallest hotel room?

I don’t know how it could get any smaller. It was essentially a 6′ bed (note: I’m 6’2″), a doorway, and a bath/shower (i.e. the bathroom doubles as the shower). We had a good laugh about it when the hostel owner opened the door, but when she offered me a larger room, I decided to keep it since I was only going to be sleeping there.

Taylor then took me up to Victoria Peak, where we got a good view of the city before the sun set, and then met up with some of his friends for some restuarant hopping (where I finally got my first taste of chicken feet–not so yum).

Victoria Peak at sunset

The next day we took the MTR over to Lantau Island, where I convinced Taylor to take the 6km gondola ride instead of the bus up to Ngong Ping to see the Tian Tan Buddha (didn’t hurt that I paid!), despite its short, accident-plagued history (although Taylor assured me that all has been well since its operations were assumed by the MTR).

Tian Tan Buddha

After a lovely walk and vegetarian lunch served at the Po Lin monastery, we returned to town and did a bit of shopping (Marks & Spencer!), grabbed a couple of beers on the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront, and met up with Taylor’s friend for dinner of mitten (“hairy”) crab–a wonderful treat. We capped the evening with drinks in Lan Kwai Fong and much sought-after Hong Kong milk tea. I’m not a big fan of milk tea, but I did enjoy this.

Taylor headed back to Canada the next day, and I spent the morning walking the various markets near my hotel in Mong Kok and grabbed some lunch and one last beer on the warm, sunny waterfront before catching the bus back to Shenzhen for my flight home. A packed but fun-filled trip.

Here’s the full slideshow:

Aside: One interesting observation at the Shenzhen-Hong Kong border was the number of families, and even single men, carrying cases of baby formula across the border into Shenzhen. Apparently, this is a holdover from last year’s formula scandal, when 22 Chinese companies were found to be lacing their formula products with melamine to make them appear to have higher protein content. From this article, “Confessions of a ‘milkman’” it appears that many Chinese people are not convinced that the problem has been rectified, especially when they hear stories that even now, “baby formula is manufactured on the same production lines as the now-defunct Sanlu group, the firm at the center of the tainted milk scandal.” What a costly, time-consuming proposition for these families!

More details on the Shenzhen-Hong Kong direct bus: After discovering that domestic tickets to Shenzhen are MUCH cheaper than direct, “international” flights to Hong Kong, I found out that there’s a new, direct bus service from the Shenzhen airport to the Kowloon MTR station. The basic information is contained in that link, but I thought I would mention my own personal experience should anyone want to do the same. Buying a ticket in Shenzhen is pretty straightforward. You’ll find the ticket counter for the Chinalink Bus Company near the main arrivals exit; once you buy your ticket (90RMB), you get a sticker identifying your destination and proceed to the waiting area to wait for your departure to be called. Entertain yourself by playing coy with the surreptitious iPhone-knockoff salemen working the arrivals area. The bus takes you to the Shenzhen port terminal where you get off, exit China (fill out your forms!), enter Hong Kong (more forms!) and get on a new bus (if you’re confused, just look for a pink uniform and point to your sticker–they’ll set you in the right direction). If you’re headed to the Kowloon MTR station, get off at the first stop. It’s the Elements mall across from the station–which confused me and when I asked my driver if we were at the Kowloon station, he shook his head, and I had to ask him to stop and get off outside the mall when I found out too late I missed my stop. Unbeknownst to me, the bus can take you further into Kowloon, but I don’t know where or how far.

On the return journey, you purchase your ticket (HK$100) at the Chinalink location on the first floor of the Elements mall (across from the information booth) above exit C of the MTR station. You can check in for many domestic airlines here, which is handy. While Chinalink says the journey takes 75 minutes, that’s overly optimistic, as I found the bus travel itself took a total of nearly 90 minutes (with very little traffic and minimal time waiting for bus departures), and the border crossing took about one hour entering HK and 30 minutes departing. So I would recommend catching a bus at least 3 hours prior to your departure to accommodate any surprises along the way.

If you have the time and are looking to save some money on your China-HK flights, I would highly recommend this option; at least until they complete the rail link to the airport.

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