Enter: Hong Kong - our very first trip off the island (not including Matt's deployments of course!). I guess you could say that I am sort of the official "travel agent" of the family, and I decided on Hong Kong for a few reasons: It is on my list of places to see (obviously), It is a mere 2-hour plane ride from home, I had heard that you can see pretty much the whole city in a long weekend, and almost everyone in Hong Kong speaks English fluently, making it a very easy first destination to visit for people not used to traveling out of the United States (ME)!
A little background information on Hong Kong: It is a special region of China, but operates under its own government. Hong Kong is comprised of over 200 islands and is situated on China's south coast and enclosed by the Pearl River Delta and the South China Sea. It is one of the world's most populated cities and an enormous business city as well.
Could they be more vague?
When we arrived at the airport, we quickly exchanged our US Dollars for Hong Kong Dollars. The conversion rate was about 1 USD = 7.7 HKD at the time, which proved to be quite difficult for us to figure out prices around town. 7.7 is such an odd number, and in Japan, we are used to 1 USD = 100 YEN (actually, just a little less than 100 now). It is much easier to divide a random number by 100 than by 7.7... it was a little inconvenient, but we just had our calculators on our Iphones out the whole time we were shopping! Speaking of money - I was loving the pretty Hong Kong Dollars and coins - makes our US Dollars look so boring!
Some of the bills were see-through!
Our hotel was a brand new boutique hotel called Butterfly on Prat ("Prat" being the name of the street). Although Matt thought the name sounded a little feminine, I thought it was a really cute place, albeit a little small (as most Hong Kong hotels are I've been told). It was fun, colorful, clean, very modern, comfortable, and in a great location in Kowloon, which is the peninsula right across the bay from Hong Kong Island, but still very much a part of the action!
After getting settled into our hotel the first night we arrived, we walked to an area with a lot of restaurants. We chose to eat at a restaurant called Lung Chinese Fusion. Afterward, we browsed through some of the shopping centers on the streets of Kowloon.
Chinese Beer - Tsing Tao
...which was actually pretty good!
Goofing around as we shopped
Inside one of the indoor shopping centers in Kowloon
Tube Flops - in case you want tube socks attached to your flip flops!
One of the best things about Hong Kong was undoubtedly their public transportation system (MTR)! This amazing system connects all areas of Hong Kong through one system of subway lines. You can tell right away that the stations and trains are all new, clean and VERY user-friendly. It made getting around so simple and quick - I don't think we got lost once while we were there! The best part about the MTR - the price! When you buy an "Octopus Card" (which is amazing on its own!), you simply scan the card when you get on and off the MTR, and it deducts from your balance. Each ride only cost about 30-50 cents (depending on which station you are going to). The amazing thing about the "Octopus Card" is that it isn't just used for the MTR - it is also accepted on buses, trains, sky trams & even at convenience stores as a form of payment! Matt and I each had our own card, and we each used only about $15 (US) the whole 4-5 days we were in Hong Kong - and we took the MTR EVERYWHERE! It was awesome!
The CRAZY CROWDED MTR
I've never seen so many people trying to get up an escalator at once!
Hong Kong had some amazing architecture
One thing I have to mention is the Mid-Levels Escalator, which is an awesome system of escalators that runs over 800 meters in length, and rises over 135 meters in height - right through the center of Hong Kong central! It was constructed in order to help people on their daily commute to and from the business district, and runs daily downhill from 6am - 10am and uphill from 10:30am - midnight. The escalator system isn't just for business people though - it is lined with shops, restaurants and bars that are easily accessible, as there are enterances and exits provided on each road it passes. In fact, the Mid-Levels Escalator that runs through Central, Hong Kong is the longest, outdoor, covered escalator system in the world!
After walking around much of the city, we visited the Man Mo Temple, which I was shocked to find that it was literally right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the city traffic and buildings! As you walk down Hollywood Road, you see office buildings, high-rises, more office buildings, and then - BAM! - a traditionally restored Chinese Temple! We weren't allowed to take photos inside, but I was able to snap a few near the entrance. Afterward, we finished up the day with dinner at Soho Spice in the "Soho" area of Hong Kong - a trendy little area with a lot of shops and restaurants.
Eating dinner at Soho Spice
Check out second part of our trip in my next blog!