Thanks to those on TA who answered my questions pre trip and to all other posters from whom I gleaned a lot of incidental but really useful info.
Felt really comfortable in HK from the moment we arrived due to the amount of background info we had picked up from TA. (Unlike Macau which we found “bl….dy” hard work – despite all the great info we got from TA – but that’s another story)
1) HOTEL: Metropark Causeway Bay – executive parlour suite (the one with separate lounge room). Extremely happy with choice of hotel/suite and good value too – unexpectedly had computer supplied in room with internet access. Good views albeit through continual HK haze. Included breakfast was most satisfactory. We didn’t use the lounge facilities or visit the bar for free drink etc as out and about till late every day so no comment there. By the way the executive parlour suite has conventional bathroom walls in both bathrooms!!!
About 3-4 mins walk to Tin Hau MTR and bus/tram stops also very close. Taxi to HK airport express station took 9 minutes (from taxi meter printout)and cost HK$44 incl 2 cases in boot. -Just be aware that when going TO the hotel from HK airport express stn that Tung Lo Wan Rd is one way for about half its length and our taxi driver didn’t know that so we had to get out on the corner of Lai Yin Lane which is about 20 metres from Hotel – so no drama.
Location of hotel is of no issue relative to getting anywhere due to frequency of trains. and compact size of HK Island and ease of getting to Kowloon side.
There is a laundry that is a lot cheaper than the ones just round the corner from the hotel – Kit Mei at 78 Electric Rd (on street level) about a 6-8 min walk from the hotel. I think it was HK$24 for a full load. There is also a huge Wellcome supermarket about 15 mins up Kings Road from the hotel as well as the small one virtually next door – turn right from the hotel. I can waste serious time in foreign supermarkets!!! - just looking.
2) PUBLIC TRANSPORT/AIRPORT: It’s all been said in these forums before – fantastic. I live in Sydney and I fail to see why the Octopus card concept cannot be done here. The overall standard of ease of use, efficiency, cleanliness, comfort and cost of public transport in HK is superb!!!! Even taxis are so relatively cheap that they were a viable option to use when we couldn’t be bothered waiting for a bus.
The whole airport process was a breeze, from getting off the plane, customs and immigration processing, buying the Octopus card, Airport express train, returning the card etc – just too easy. When arriving back in Sydney I almost felt embarrassed at the appearnce of the toilets and the 45 minute wait for suitcases – admittedly longer than usual. Compared to HK and even Saigon International Terminal where we also went on this trip, Sydney airport is feeling a bit tired. That’s my impression!! I’m sure others will dis-agree.
The HK airport express check-in early in the morning on our last day was great as we had an evening flight to Vietnam – but I think we ended up paying for trip to the airport on the Airport Express even though we didn’t actually use the Airport express train – had to use the Octopus card to access the check in area – we eventually got to the airport from Tun Chung via the S1 shuttle bus.
The only suggestion I would make to visitors is load up your card with at least HK$250-300 to avoid frequent top ups (We were there for 6 days and admittedly we did use the card for small purchases at convenience stores etc.)
One other comment – took the Star ferry across from HK Island to Kowloon a couple of times and got lost both times getting to the ferry from Central Station – maybe we didn’t pay enough attention to the signs.
3) FOOD: Before we left I stressed slightly about where we would eat and spent quite a bit of time researching TA for food and restaurants. In the end it was all for nothing.
Have to admit we didn’t try Dim Sum as we just ate whenever and wherever we felt hungry so all my reading of TA posts and stickies etc came to no avail. Ate at various restaurants in Knutsford terrace, Causeway Bay, along Nathan Rd and Sai Kung all completely at random and was always happy with choice. Particularly liked a Vietnamese restaurant at 498 – 500 Nathan Road directly opposite Exit C, Yau Ma Tei MTR station, it’s called Lee Kam Kee and he also has a shop in Tuen Mun and in LA in the US. Yes I know when in HK eat Chinese but we both like Vietnamese as well!!
We always had a big breakfast at the hotel so just snacked until the evening and ate wherever we happened to be.
Really liked the freshly made/blended fruit juices all around the place.
4) TRIP PLANNING: Discovered that my plans all fell over due to distractions and diversions along the way. Was full of good intentions but found it’s so easy to discover something along the way and get seriously waylaid – that’s all part of the fun of visiting a new place though.
Actually missed seeing quite a bit including the Symphony of lights – can you believe it!! And only just crammed the Peak in on one evening about 7.00pm – Is the Peak tram always that busy? – the trip up was OK just the queuing and milling around not a particularly enjoyable experience – the ventilation system in the platform area seemed inadequate. That was the only time in HK we experienced crowds that were slightly unpleasant while waiting for the tram up and the mad rush to sit on the RHS as per all the TA advice.
Sky Terrace was also jam packed. Got some good photos of the night lights though. Daytime is probably a better bet to get a better perspective of the city layout etc although the haze would detract from the view I guess.
Just as an aside I grew up in Wellington NZ and would recommend anyone to ride the cable car (that’s we call the tram) there – as equally impressive as HK.
5) SHOPPING – went to the Ladies night market and the others in the area and had a lot of fun – particularly the bargaining. Visited Causeway Bay shopping areas - Sogo, Times Square etc for a look, and on on our last day we spent some time at Harbour City mall - that’s a big place, and the Tung Chung outlet mall – but from our observations and past experiences I would have to say that for clothing, the United States cannot be beaten for price. Still we did get one or two bargains compared to Australia.
OTHER OBSERVATIONS – one thing that really stood out or didn’t stand out was the fact that a heck of a lot of the power and telephone cables seemed to be underground rather than strung up on poles like in Australia and many other countries. Is this because of typhoon issues or just good planning?
Hong Kong certainly seems to be a vertical city – we were pretty impressed by the number of tall residential buildings there as well as all the commercial buildings – managed to see some very nice stand alone houses on the hills on the bus trip from Causeway Bay to Stanley. What’s it like in the rest of the New Territories? Interesting to see that a lot of buildings are high and reasonably wide but not very deep front to back.
I remember seeing some TA posts re pushing, shoving and not giving way etc and I would say we experienced a bit, not much, but I had to laugh at the impracticality of people trying to somehow get on the trains and even lifts before anyone had actually exited. Anyway it was a non-issue from our perspective.
Around the Causeway bay area (and other areas too) there were always throngs of people out and about til late in the evening – is that normal? Or more a function of the 60th anniversary/mid autumn festival time frame?
One day we went to Nan Liang gardens/Ch Lin Nunnery and then 10,000 buddhas at Sha Tin – worth the effort to walk up all the steps (took the back way down through the local houses which was interesting) and then took the 299 bus to Sai Kung – an opportunity to see the outer suburban areas – so many apartment blocks!!!, was a pleasant trip and had very late lunch at one of the seafood restaurants there – I was expecting a huge bill based on some of the TA posts I had read etc but I don’t think we paid a lot really – anyway when you are on holiday the price isn’t as important as when back home – or so it seems. The biggest drama that day was trying to find the bus terminal at Sha Tin got totally confused and lost for a while.
I now know why TA experts recommend getting to Ngong Ping 360/Big Buddha cable car before 10am – got there late morning (weekday) and had to seriously queue for about 30 - 40 mins to buy a ticket. Maybe the 60th anniversary holidays and visitors boosted numbers?? Caught the bus back from Big Buddha to Mui Wo to see the scenery – had to laugh as we were the last ones on the bus and I had to stand and being rather tall couldn’t see a thing – the best laid plans etc etc.
We were there over the mid-autumn festival and visited the various lantern festival activities on Saturday night at Victoria Park which was 5 mins from the hotel – was great to see and experience the displays etc especially the puppet shows and a highlight the next night was the Tin Hau fire dragon – now that was crowded but so good natured and great fun to see, smell and hear the burning dragon being raced around the streets.
It was reasonably hot - 30 to 31 deg C with quite high humidity compared to Sydney, when we were there – (3 – 8 October) and in hindsight while we were out of the hotel and on our way by about - 10am at the latest every day we probably should have made the effort to be a bit earlier as by the time we got to our destinations maximum heat was building from about early afternoon onwards. Anyway we were on holiday and it wasn’t a race so we just accepted the queues when they happened and drank lots of cheap water – why is bottled water so expensive in Australia by comparison!!!! I’d hate to be tourist here in Aust!!.
Is the haze normal? – we had great weather every day but the haze made long distance photos and panoramic shots a fairly futile exercise.
There are quite a few comments on TA about the air-con in HK establishments being very cold and to take a light jacket or long sleeve shirt – have to say either of us didn’t find it too cold or bothersome - it all just seemed spot on. Different strokes for different folks I guess…….
Overall we had a fantastic time in HK and will be back one day to experience all the things we missed out on this time. Next time there will be a lot less “sightseeing” and more exploring/wandering around certain areas to try and get a feel for an area.
HK is a city that seems to “work” really well. The mix of East and West complement each other and the city has a great feel – I know places always look/feel better when you visit compared to when you live there but it really is so easy to visit and to experience. Would have to be up near the top of our favourite destinations and places to go to back to.
Anyway, thanks for reading my thoughts and to all who provided info on the TA forums.