HONG KONG REDUX
It was our second time in Hong Kong, but it was just as exciting as the first. It’s hard to get tired of Hong Kong. It may be a relatively small, compact place but there’s more diversity per square kilometer there any other place in the planet. You get some of the world’s most modern office buildings, and some of the world’s oldest shops. Some of the world’s swankiest restaurants, and a lot of surprisingly good holes-in-the-wall. You have two of the world’s best and busiest theme parks, and some of the most tranquil spots atop mountains or along the coast. It is one of the most westernized big cities in the east, and still one of the most traditionally oriental ones…all in a place no larger than other megacities. And the best thing about touring Hong Kong is that you can make it one of the most expensive trips in the world, or your cheapest vacation ever. You can book a room at the most expensive 5-star and dine with all the michelin stars you can get, or you can sleep at a spartan hostel and just walk around as far as your feet will take you – and you will have an exciting experience either way.
We took Air Asia from Manila’s closest (and only) alternate airport, Clark. It was our first time on both the airline and the airport. Low Cost Carriers (LCC) have become the norm in leisure travel across most of Asia, but I can tell you that among the lot that I have flown with (Cebu, Zest, Jetstar, Tiger), Air Asia is probably the closest you can get to a public bus with wings. You can’t even make a seat preference request at all during check in, unless you pay. You prefer an aisle, or a window, or a seat close to the back, or to be seated close to your travel companions who are on a different ticket (even if you checked in together)? Forget it. Seating arrangement is “pre-determined” by an all powerful being called “the system”, and it doesn’t take requests, only cash. And so if you are travelling with family, don’t be surprised to end up on a different row from the rest of your kin (although to be fair, they seated my child beside my wife both ways, but “the system” threw me to the other side of the aisle). Still it’s cheap, and it flew us to Hong Kong in one piece, and in the end it’s all that matters to me. And so bottomline, no complaints…you pay less, you get less, that’s the deal.
Clark airport also has a lot of work left to be done. Is it functional? Yes. Is it convenient? No. The queuing area for passport control was especially agonizing, and so were the ground level boarding gates. We took the shuttle from the Clark Aiport Lounge in Trinoma, which was a pretty comfortable ride, though they will need to increase frequency once the the likes of Qatar Airways and Emirates start flying to Clark towards the end of 2013. Right now, a bus only leaves every 3 hours or so, but the trip to Clark only takes 1.5 to 2 hours. Clark has a lot of potential no doubt, but it still needs a huge amount of work.
KOWLOON FROM THE TOP DECK
Once we were firmly in Hong Kong we decided to take the slow way in – by double decker bus. It took more than an hour to get to Tsim Sha Tsui, where we were staying, but it was just one-third the price of the airport express, and you get to tour Kowloon for free. If you’re not in a hurry, then the bus is a very good way to get into the city. As you exit the island of Lantau, you get treated to the sight of two of Hong Kong’s most visually stunning bridges, something you won’t get to see when you’re barreling underground on the fast airport trains. If you’re headed for Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon’s busiest area, the bus will run through almost the entire length of Nathan Road, starting at the shopping mecca of Mong Kok. This drive through the territory’s busiest thoroughfare gives the best possible introduction to Hong Kong…it is one large, lively and incredibly dense commercial area, with barely a boring corner.
* Clark Airport in Pampanga, Philippines can be reached through the Clark Airport Lounge at the Trinoma Mall in Quezon City. Buses leave roughly every 3 hours, and the trip takes an hour and a half.
* Tsim Sha Tsui can be reached through bus A21 from the Airport (or N21 in the evenings). The trip takes a little over an hour. If you’re in a hurry, the best bet is still the airport express. Get of at Hong Kong/Central, and ride the Tsuen Wan line to Tsim Sha Tsui.
* All photos taken last April 2013 using Olympus EPM-2 with M.Zuiko 14-42mm IIR.