Introduction to Hong Kong

Before we disembarked, we were told the number of the luggage carrel where we’d find our luggage, which made life a lot easier. How many times have you wandered around the caverns of an arrivals hall in a foreign (or domestic, for that matter) airport trying to discover where your bags will eventually be coughed out?  The signage in the baggage area was clear and the transfer bus marshals efficient – each of our bags had a sticker for our destination and we were quickly waved onto the coach for the hour-long rip from the airport into Kowloon.

Customs was a breeze – highly organized and although the lines were long, the wait was minor.By the time we cleared immigration control and picked up our luggage, it was around 7:30. We’d booked a hotel package that included transfers from the airport and breakfast – we’d been warned that both could be expensive. Thank goodness for sites like Yahoo!Answers and TripAdvisor. We did our research, compared reviews and made our choice.

A word of caution, though. You have to assess the travellers’ comments – especially critiques – with a large grain of salt. It always surprises me how grumpy some folks are from particular countries and how realistic their expectations. They seem to think that they’ll have all of the comforts and familiarities of home, but in a foreign land. People – it’s called FOREIGN for a reason! You’re going for an adventure and to learn something new, aren’t you? Sheesh. And remember, those photos online are usually either artist’s renderings, artfully angled, retouched or wishful thinking.

You’ll always read lots of complaints about rooms in Europe and Asia being small. Duh! Outside of North America and, perhaps, Australia, land is scarce and expensive and population densities are high. These countries were settled and literate long before the hunters and trappers escaped to the West. Look around – most affordable hotels in Europe are quite old, as well, having been built in the days before fast food outlets on every corner, in-room spas, jacuzzis and big-screen tvs with gaming systems, when all you needed was a place to sleep and hang up a few clothes. I’m amazed at the online whingeing and carping. Listen up – we’ve found that a three star or class C hotel that is not part of a chain will usually be small, friendly and less expensive. Where would you rather spend your money, on eating out at neat restaurants or on an oversized luggage storage room with a bed? Suck it up or stay home, I say.

We stayed at the Park Hotel on Chatham Road. It was on offer through CX Holidays, an arm of Cathay Pacific Airways, and according to TripAdvisor reviews the Park was clean, reasonably priced and convenient to Tsimshatsui, Kowloon’s shopping, entertainment and business district, the MTR (transit line) and Ocean Terminal (Star Ferry). It was a pleasant experience with no surprises.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  The temperature was about 18 degrees, so for us, coming from chilly Toronto, it was balmy. It was odd seeing folks wearing woollen hats and heavy coats, though (for them, it was winter; for us, spring-like).

There were only three people on the coach for the hour-long ride into Kowloon. What a ride! The bridge from the airport to the peninsula was breathtaking and there was  traffic, but not insanely busy traffic until we got into Kowloon proper, passing forests of construction cranes because Hong Kong is always on the move, miles and miles of gantries along the shoreline for loading containers onto ships. It looks more like a video game, the movement is so constant.

Almost  forgot my backpack (avec camera, iPod, Sony e-book Reader!) on the bus, which would have cast a huge damper on our holiday. But the bellboy humped our four large pieces of luggage through four lanes of traffic and we got checked into our room. It was very clean, quiet and functional. Attentive service, too, and no problem with language. everyone we came into contact with understood enough English to either

We had a quick shower, changed clothes and hooked up with some friends (our accountant, Simon and his wife) who  were also visiting their former home town. That made it a lot easier for us to navigate because being on Nathan Road, for example, was almost sensory overload. I have never seen such a concentration of neon signs – on buildings, handing over the street, flashing from windows – everywhere. And the pedestrian and vehicle traffic at nine o’clock at night was breathtaking. Fabulous.

Despite the late hour, the restaurants were full of people – old, young, babies. Lots of Christmas decorations and glitzy jewellery and stores fronted by sales people exhorting us to come in for a great deal. Quite a difference from Yonge Street in Toronto, where everyone is relatively polite when they bump into you and the noise levels tend to be lower. Hong Kong clearly is a city of commerce. Despite being tired from our 15 hour flight, we walked around, taking in all the sights, marvelling at just how much of everything there was – people, vehicles, stores, merchandise, bright lights.

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