Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Visiting Hong Kong on a budget, from Kota Kinabalu

Our trip was not the cheapest because my wife insists on staying at 4
star hotels. We stayed at Eaton Smart Hotel at Nathan road. The room
was small but it has all the facilities of a 4 star hotel, like
complete bathroom, coffee set and even a heated swimming pool.

Jordan MRT station appear to be the best location for budge
travellers. I didn't know when I chose Eaton Hotel a few months ago
but there are other hotels in this area. Nathan Hotel, Novotel Hotel
and San Diego Hotel. Eaton hotel offered the best rate for us a few
months ago, booked through Agoda.

Starting from January 2013, Malaysia Airlines reopened the 3-hour
direct flights from Kota Kinabalu to Hong Kong. It costs RM1000
return. On the return leg, we used Boeing 777, with a video screen in
front of each passenger, similar to the last Kota Kinabalu to Tokyo
flights. Just like the Tokyo flights, the seats are almost full,
meaning MAS is unlikely to lose money on these routes. That is why we
wondered why the closed the flights when they combined with AirAsia.
In contrast, Air Asia fares are equivalent but with much less

We only travel to places where there are direct flights from Kota
Kinabalu. It is too tiring to travel to places where we need to change
flights. Shanghai could be the next trip.

When you arrive in Hong Kong, you should buy the Octopus smart card
using cash at the arrival hall itself. No need to get out of the
arrival hall. The cheapest was HK$150, with HK$100 fares. I added HK
$50 but later on need to add another HK$50 for our 4 day time in Hong
Kong. When you return the smart cards, you will be refunded for any
remaining fare plus the HK$50 deposit, but you will be charged HK$9
for processing fee if you use the card for less than 3 months. Maybe
you should buy it online 3 months prior to your journey and save on
the HK$9 but I don't think it is worth the risk.

Google maps is useful in determing the bus numbers, location of bus
stops and number of stops to your destination, but it does not tell
you the fares. For fares, you need to download apps for the bus
companies. I only managed to install the apps for the Citybus company,
called citybusnwfb. Unfortunately bus number 1, 1A and 271 that I used
at Nathan road is not under Citybus. In Hong Kong, the fare appears to
be not based on distance. Rather at the place that you embark. You may
be charged the maximum fare although you only travel for a few stops.
Fortunately, MRT fare is based on the number of stops, but it is more
expensive. The cheapest, i.e. for 2 stops, is about HK$8. On the other
hand, the cheapest bus fare, was HK$4.2 using number 1 to Star Ferry

The major attractions are Temple Street for cheap electronic goods,
which are mostly mobile phone accessories nowadays. Nowadays, there
are less variety and more expensive than online prices, although their
prices appear similar to street prices in Kota Kinabalu or Kuala
Lumpur. It is located at Jordan MRT.

The more interesting street market is the Ladies Market. It is located
nearest to Mongkok MRT, but we walked for about 30 minutes from Temple
Street. The journey was not boring because along the way, there are
lots of shops. You can even do your shopping along the way. The items
are everyday items, but we found it difficult to find disposable
cutlery such as plastic plates and bowls. Only one shop appear to be
selling them, Vanguard, at Nathan Street, 50m from Eaton Hotel.

At Tsim Sha Tsui stations, there are Mosque, Kowloon Park, Star Ferry
Terminal, large Department stores such as Sogo, waterfront views,
museums and Avenue of the Stars, all within 100m from each other. If
you have money, you should stay around this area. There are a few 5
star hotels including Sheraton and Hilton. For hostel class
accommodation, you can stay within the Chung King mansion. A lot of
Indians selling halal Indian muslim food at Chung King mansion
shopping centre. Just opposite Star Ferry terminal, you can go to the
second floor for the Sky Arcade where the state of the art audio
equipment is displayed. Kef speakers were there but there is not even
a centre speaker. 3D is also lacking. For electronic equipment,
another place is at Wan Chai Computer Centre.

Wan Chai Computer Centre is similar to Imbi Plaza. Lowyat is more
upper class, similar to the Sky Arcade. It is located just next to the
exit of the Wan Chai MRT. Wan Chai appears to be a muslim centre.
There is mosque, converted from a flat, about 100m from Wan Chai MRT.
At the 5th floor, there is a canteen serving Cantonese muslim food.
The environment is similar to our budget restaurant at Kota Kinabalu
such as Restoran Melaka. Sweet sour garouper costs HK$28. The fish was
fresh but Malaysian chinese cooking tastes much better. Probably
becasue the Hong Kong chinese do not use ginger in their cooking
unlike in Malaysia. Similarly at the flight home. Fish appears to be
fresh and cheap, similar to Kota Kinabalu.

Queensbay is an upmarket area. We went shopping at Sogo there. There
is a huge Victoria park there but we don't have time to visit the
area. Sabahans are not so keen on greenery. We are surrounded by

Hong Kong park is located at the Admiralty MRT. There is an escalator
all the way to the park. From the park, there is a sign to the peak
tram terminal. The peak tram terminal should be within walking
distance from Hong Kong park but we never tried it.

The longest escalator in the world is at the mid-levels escalator. Mid-
levels appear to be the name of a location in Hong Kong. The
escalator starts from The Central Shopping Centre near the Central
MRT. Note the capital letters. They are different places but located
near to each other. Mid-level escalator go up for about 800 meters
with interrruptions. Going down, there are no escalators. The
escalators appear to be for visitors to SOHO area where there are many
pubs and restaurants.

The Central MRT is also near the Star Ferry terminal where there is
also a bus terminal just at the entrance of Star Ferry Terminal to the
peak tram terminal (15C), and Bigbus tours and another terminal about
50m further for buses to Ocean Park(629), bus to the Victoria peak
without using the tram(15) and Rickshaw bus tour. The buses all start
at 10 a.m. We arrived there at 9 am so wasted our time walking around
the area with nothing much to see but the Apple headquarters from a
far distance. Although there is an overhead bridge, the walking time
will be long so we only linger around the area.

We tried to Rickshaw H2 metropolitan tour only for a brief tour of the
city. It was disappointing to me. I just see lots of buldings despite
some explanations about the history of these building. The one that I
remember the most was St. Joseph Cathedral, among the oldest cathedral
in Hong Kong but it was a small church. It is located next to the Peak
Tram terminal. Although it was clearly announced that this is the
place for the Peak Tram Terminal, I missed the terminal because it is
hidden from the view of the bus. We can stop at the St. Joseph
Cathedral bus stop but continued to the Star Ferry terminal to
complete the bus tour and then retake the peak tram terminal bus
number 15C back to the terminal.

We planned to be at the Victoria peak at noon because we expected it
to be cold. My wife and 2 other children also visited the Madam
Tussaud wax statues. I and another son didn't because we had been to
Madam Tusaud in London. We paid an additional HK$30 to go to the Sky
Terrace, the highest point at Victoria peak tourist spot. There are
other private buildings at Victoria peaks that are even higher. There
is a free viewing terrace called the Green Terrace, slightly lower but
with greenery and free huge binoculars. You can see a good view of the
landmark triangular building, the Bank of China building. At the Green
Terrace, there is a picture labelling all the landmarks in Hong Kong
that you can view from the Green Terrace. Practically all major
buildings in Hong Kong island and Kowloon.

You can see the Bank of China building nearer from Hong Kong park. On
arriving from the 45 degree peak tram, we walked to the Central
Shopping Centre to try the mid-levels escalators. It should be less
than 1 km, but it took us about 30 minutes getting lost once a while
despite Google Maps, gps and broadband. Google Maps locations are only
accurate to about 50 meters so we can overshoot a street or two. We
still need to ask for directions. Luckily, the Hong Kong officers know
English sufficient enough to understand our main questions and
friendly enough to respond.

The starting point of the mid-levels escalators look just like any
other overhead bridges in Hong Kong so difficult for us to identify,
despite all the signages but these tend to be in small characters.
Road signs to mid-levels are bigger but they point to the wrong
directions because they are meant for cars and pointing to a zone, not
to a particular location.

Going to the hotel and back, we used the A21 bus service. It costs HK
$33 per trip. It took about 1 hour 20 minutes so the total travelling
time, including waiting time, of about 1 hour 30 minutes. 30 minutes
to look for Airport Express terminal to get the Octopus card refund
and looking around the airport. The customs is thorough but fast.
Immigration is also fast. Inside the main terminal, there are many
shops but we didn't go to Hong Kong to shop. Unfortunately, the
terminal for Malaysia Airlines is at 502, which is another terminal
block, accessible by shuttle bus only. Luckily we departed 3 hours
early. Still had about an hour at the smaller terminal.

At the smaller terminal, there is a non-halal chinese restaurant, and
a Starbuck cafe. We took coffee at Starbucks because it is the safest
for muslims since it does not serve any pork. Probably because it is
managed by religious jews and this is good for muslim travellers. The
price for a Caramel Machiatto, small is HK$32, largest HK$39.
Initially we bought 5 small ones but finding that it is more expensive
this way, the next time, we bought 3 largest ones. In one instance, I
tried all combinations of ingredients. Vanilla, Chocolate, Honey and
Nutmegs on a Caramel Coffee. At Kota Kinabalu, it is about the same
price, RM14, but in Hong Kong, it appears cheap because other
alternatives are priced similarly as well, such as nasi briani, that
costs only RM6 at Kota Kinabalu. The good thing is that I can use
credit cards at Starbucks, not at the Muslim canteen or for Octopus
smart cards.

We can also use credit cards at Ocean park, the top 10 theme parks in
the world. Our children was allowed all equipment unlike our stay 10
years ago in March because of strong winds. Unfortunately, there is no
Killer Whale anymore. Only dolphins.

The exchange rate when using credit cards is HK$1 to RM0.41, compared
to 0.39 for the best price for cash at Centre Point Kota Kinabalu. I
also notice that for US$, the cash rate is 2.99 compared to 3.2 for
credit cards. The exchange rate for cash at Hong Kong is much worse. HK
$2.2 for RM1, i.e. 0.45. Because we bring our own food, 3 large loaves
of bread, a few loaves of butter scotch bread, canned food, instant
porridge, rice, rice cooker and biscuits, we should spend less cash
there. We still need to exchange RM2000 to HK$. We also brought about
RM1000 cash, just in case. At the end of the journey, left about HK

This is for 5 adults. My youngest son is now 14 years old. Compared to
travelling using tour groups, private travelling is cheaper but need
better preparations. Even my best preparations are still not enough.
Despite the internet and Google Maps, a lot of information is still
missing. Luckily also, I and my wife had travelled to Hong Kong 20
years ago. Although we forget a lot of things and many things have
changed, our combined memory helps us somehow. By making mistakes, our
memories are sharper but some things are still mysterious such as the
exact bus fare calculations.

If you are single, I recommend travelling in a group tour. The company
alone is worth the price. Travelling alone is boring. Tour groups also
allow some freedom to explore. Because tour groups get discounts,
prices for certain items such as transportation can be cheaper and
more comfortable as well. What is missing is the experience of living
as a local, but you can always travel to the same place again next

This is just my opinion and experience. I am not responsible for its
absolute accuracy. Use the information at your own risk.

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