Ever since the "High Priced Yogi" (read on, dear reader, and you shall be enlightened) fleeced him for all of his cash back in 2001, Hong Kong has been an implacable foe of our scatterbrained correspondent, who upon his last visit found himself "stranded, broke, visa-less and furious" in the Special Administrative Region. This time, however, things are different. He's all grown up now. He has a respectable credit limit. For the next seven days, Sascha will convince Hong Kong that beating him down is boring, and that peace, beauty and a relaxed visit are actually the new fun. This is the first post. We'll see how it goes... >>>
[Editor's note: This post actually includes incredibly helpful practical information following the rather dramatic introduction... read on for good info on where to go, stay and eat in Hong Kong, whether you're on your own China Visa Mission from Hell or just there for fun... and good luck, Sascha!]
If the world ended tomorrow, the remnant that survived would read about legendary cities where countless humans argued, laughed, bustled, created and destroyed. When the last bits of paper crumbled to dust words like Nuyork and Pahree would live on as whispers around campfires, we were once great, we were once many, we built places ...
Hong Kong would be one of those legendary cities.
It's all here. Gangsters. Monks. Hustlers. Tycoons. Hipsters turned the Man. Hot little girls with sass and glam. Englishmen (both the Upstanding and the Deeply Lecherous). Gaysians. Temples and bars and alleys and shadows and hissing in the night. A skyline that makes all men wonder what's next. Chunking Mansions, lit up like a street walker if your watching from Nathan Road, but for those penny pinchers sleeping here while CITS puts the visa paperwork together, its all ooze, grime and rot from the 6th floor on up ...
It's too bad I'm always struggling when I come here, or I might learn to love it. As it is, whenever I think of Hong Kong I think of two (ok. three) things:
...and the High Priced Yogi. He who cast a spell on me. He who made me cough up my last HKD 500 just a day before I found out the hard way that there was no such thing as a multi-entry Z visa (things have changed) and found myself stranded, broke, visa-less and furious.
That was almost ten years ago to the day, and the face-palming irony of my current situation (stranded, bleeding cash, seeking visa for an adorable 10-month-old stinky little guy currently charming his grandparents to pieces in far-off Germany) makes me wonder if humanity has any chance whatsoever at making it through 2012 un-judged.
At times like these I do my best to convince myself that my stupidity (not heeding my man Q's warnings as the visa yogi sidled up with a smile, for example, or spacing the fact that my American-citizen son needs a visa to come home to Shanghai despite being with his Chinese mama) is in fact something cosmic and endemic and more of a portent of things to come than a side effect of playing D&D and reading fantasy when I should be paying closer attention....
I am nudged out of the city like the lone guy on ecstasy. Frazzled and hurt. I keep saying, Next time HK'll love me, so when my children tell stories to their grandchildren they'll be like, your father's father's father knew that legendary city. I want those kids to ooh and ahh before they fall asleep.
I am here again and I have another chance. Maybe this time, I won't hobble out of here dragging my wounded with me and praying the enemy just lets me leave. Maybe this time, instead of telling about how I spent cold December nights in a Yau Tong jail or oppressive evenings walking up and down Nathan Road hungry and broke or leaving out the hours spent watching people on the move, living, while I wait for CITS to deliver me from purgatory in this cramped Sodom ... maybe I can mix those stories in with a night at the races, a day at the beach, a ride down to Stanley, how the city looks from up on Victoria Peak, a series of fine meals. Maybe I can make this city love me.
Hong Kong can be daunting to the first timer. Lights are flashing everywhere, touts speak English so you can't help but turn around. Signage lean out across the narrow streets, stacked up and blurring together. What does that say? Win Hung Double Dentist Electric Hourly Company Ltd? The claustrophobia drives you on with the herd, crossing streets quickly because people follow the rules of the road here. Get caught on a red and you will get touched. The MTR provides solace. So does a steaming noodle shop with ducks dangling from the window.
Let go. You can never make it stop. Go with it. Duck into that noodle shop. Point at anything. Eat it. Drink it.
Some logistical stuff you need to know:
You're going to want to book a hotel before hand. There has to be a place for you in this madness. Do you want a room with a view of the harbor or a cheap spot to crash? Around Kowloon and Mongkok are cheapies like Chungking and Mirador mansions ... the closer you get to the water the more expensive they get. Check out our Hong Kong hotel guide for reviews and booking information.
It is now okay to fly here from Mainland China. In fact, unless you are on your last dime, calculating days spent here vs. visa fees while anxiously clutching coins and wondering ... can I afford those noodles? then I highly recommend flying.
I looked up the prices on for flights to Hong Kong on Ctrip and they are not as bad as they used to be. There is a great flight that leaves every afternoon from Shanghai for a little over 1000 yuan with Juneyao Airlines. Back when the yogi's ran the strip by the Star Ferry, flights to HK from Mainland China were twice the price of a any flight within Mainland China so everyone took a flight to Shenzhen and then road the train through the New Territories into Kowloon. You saved about one or two thousand yuan this way. That's a heap. But the prices have become reasonable. Go see for yourself.
From the airport, you can take a taxi (100+ HK dollars) or you can take the Airport Express (90 HK dollars/24 minutes to the city) or you can take one of the dozen or so buses. If you take the buses (14-37 HK dollars, depending) be sure to have exact change. I didn't find any change machines at the airport and the drivers will yell at you in Hong Kong-ese if you demand your change back from, say, a 50 on a 20 dollar bus ride. I'm not joking. I bought a Kinder Bueno and I suggest you do something similar.
Flying to Shenzhen or Guangzhou and crossing the border from there are all still viable methods. You can walk straight from the Shenzhen airport to the bus and from the bus through that little mall to the border with Hong Kong. Now, however, you have your choice of a dozen different buslines leaving from different spots along the border and ending up in different warehouses around Kowloon and Mong Kok. Many, many buses from Guangzhou to Hong Kong. And of course the ferries and hydroboats are awesome too, I suggest everyone take a trip on those at least once.
But I'm not even going to get into it all. I'm a China vet and I got a job so I am flying into Hong Kong now. I mean, let's face it, the city leaves me broke, haggard and feeling used anyway so I might as well just get on with it.
Once you have chosen your route to HK and back and have your hotel booked, then you can consider where to have your fun. I have my route and my hotel. I am in the middle of Lan Kwai Fong, on D'Aguilar street, just a few blocks from Soho, down the street from the Queen's Road and a short walk to the MTR.
I'm set. This is as good as its ever been for me here in HK. Wish me luck. I'll keep you posted.