Hong Kong tips for the Pinoy Tourist

Hong-Kong-Skyline

First time to Hong Kong? Here are my suggestions on what you need to consider:

1. Accommodations

Hong Kong is one of the world’s most expensive cities to live in. In fact, it ranked No. 2 in Mercer’s Cost of Living survey. So, expect hotels to be expensive. Good thing, though, if you’re on a budget, there are many options in Hong Kong. You’ll probably come across Chungking Mansions in your research. It’s along Nathan Road, a very busy road in the Kowloon side where most of the cheapest accommodations can be found (and where you probably will end up). Chungking Mansions have perhaps the cheapest accommodations in HK (Kowloon), but as with many backpacker areas, rooms are basic. Sometimes, you have to bring your own towel and toiletries. Rooms are also very small. This is nothing unique to Chungking Mansions. Rent in HK is very expensive so rooms are small, like 8sqm at least. Some tourists complain of feeling unsafe in the environment, and that’s why we chose a different area when we went to Hong Kong.

I highly recommend looking for rooms in the Jordan area, which is near Nathan Road. There are plenty of good and cheap options there. Your accommodation “necessities” should include good accessibility to public transport (our was right beside the MTR station), good reviews, and with hosts or owners preferably conversant in English, which will really make your lives easier.

 

2. Commuting

Hong Kong Ding Ding

Commuting in Hong Kong is very  convenient. I recommend you try all modes of transport, just to experience it.

First things first, I suggest getting an Octopus Card upon arrival at the airport. It costs 150 HKD (Php 600.00) where, 50 HKD is the deposit returnable when you depart (less HKD9, so you get HKD 41 upon return of the card). With your remaining HKD 100, you can use it already to take a bus from the airport to your hostel. Your Octopus card can also be used for the ferry, the buses, the ding-ding (tram), McDonalds, and most establishments, actually. It’s very convenient to pay for transportation with the Octopus card. Otherwise, you’d have to be prepared with loose change for bus payments (They don’t give you back any change so it has to either be exact amount or a little more).

Star Ferry

You can take the Star Ferry at Tsim Sha Tsui going to Hong Kong Island (Central Pier) for 2.50 HKD (Php 15.00). It’s surprisingly relaxing and a good way to spend around 15 minutes of your time. The view at night is also amazing.

The Tram

Hong Kong Ding Ding

The tram, or fondly called the ding ding by the locals, is an excellent way of exploring the HK Island side. A ride costs HKD 2.50, flat rate, and it traverses the city. However, because it has so many stops, it’s very slow. If you have the time, ride the ding-ding from one end to the other, and make sure you’re on the upper balcony so that you get to see the sights in Hong Kong Island.

MTR

Obviously, this is the most convenient means of transport. I loved commuting in Hong Kong because it’s very tourist-friendly. You might need to get a map of the train stops at first but at the same time, as long as you know where you need to get off, you’ll be fine.

3. Places to Go / Things to Do

Victoria Peak

My uncle, who lives in Hong Kong, said any first time tourist should go to Victoria Peak, arguably the best viewing spot of Hong Kong’s famous skyline. I agree. I would suggest to try and catch the sunset on the peak so you can see it in all its magical glory. Here’s a timelapse from youtube to give you an idea, and a screen grab:

maxresdefault

(You have to still see it for yourselves, ok?)

Going up, there are two budget options:
1. By Bus (Bus 15 from Pier 5 or Exchange Square, Central)
2. By tram (at the peak tram terminus)

Most tourists prefer the tram because it’s faster (around 15 minutes). It costs HKD 40 one-way. If you plan to go down by tram, you need to decide before buying the ticket because there is no option to buy from the peak. This is another HKD 40. If not, then you can take a bus back to Central, which takes around an hour I think (I slept all the way back).

There are sellers of combo tickets on-site which include Madame Tussauds Hong Kong + Peak Tram Sky Pass return for around HKD 320 (Php 1,920) but we did not avail of this. Don’t be swayed by the Skypass ticket because actually, you can still see the skyline for free! The viewing deck is inside the Peak Galleria, a mall on the peak. Of course the Sky Terrace offers a wider perspective from a higher altitude so if you’re very particular about this, then by all means get the Skypass combo.

Shopping

Hong Kong is almost synonymous to shopping, and believe me, you’ll be literally overwhelmed with shopping areas, malls and stores at every corner. It’s fascinating in a way because as a tourist, you have access to buy just about everything imaginable: brands that are probably not available in the Philippines, or electronics that are cheaper (but generally, everything is more expensive in Hong Kong), etc. After 8 days, though, it was tiring for me. I didn’t go to Hong Kong to shop anyway; the shopping culture wasn’t so appealing to me. In any case, it’s still worth visiting these areas if you really plan to shop, or just want to experience their culture.

Mong Kok

The Mong Kok area is like our Divisoria, only, cleaner and maybe safer. This is another can’t miss destination because of the variety of things you can find there.

Causeway Bay

Causeway is in Hong Kong Island and more conveniently accessible by MTR. This area is like New York’s Times Square, where shopping areas, stores, and just a sea of humans converge.

Causeway, Hong Kong

Harbour City

The official description says: Hong Kong’s largest mall is actually three malls in one: Ocean Terminal, Ocean Centre and Gateway Arcade. The upshot for the shopper is a choice of over 450 shops, around 50 restaurants, three hotels and two cinemas. Fortunately, this mind-boggling selection has been intelligently organised into four distinct zones for kids, sport, fashion, and cosmetics and beauty.”

So this mall is really massive, and they provide you maps so you can navigate through the entire area. Lots of walking required. If you’re on a budget, I doubt you’d want to buy anything here because everything here is so expensive. Like, really. This mall is in Kowloon side and is walkable from the Tsim Sha Tsui ferry if you’re coming from the HK Island side. On the upside, it’s a great area for window shopping and people watching. Two free, enjoyable things to do.

Stanley Bay

Stanley Bay, Hong Kong

If you get tired of all the shopping and the skyscrapers, you may want to visit Stanley Bay, a popular destination for both locals and foreigners.

This is a refreshing change of scenery. Going here, you either have to take a cab (very expensive) or a bus (cheap and accessible). It’s quite far from the city but really worth a visit. What to see here? Well, the bay, for one. Then temples, shopping areas (but not like the ones in the city), a park, and nature!

Quarry Bay Park

QuarryBay

This park is in the Hong Kong Island. It’s not actually a famous tourist spot but I think it is worth a visit if you’re in the area anyway. It is one of my favorite places in Hong Kong because of its peacefulness and it being beside a long stretch of harbour, giving you a good view of the skyline and other famous landmarks.

Quarry Bay Park

I imagine this is a good place to jog, to do a morning stroll, to meditate… The harbor even has fishing spots, if it fancies you.

4. Where to Eat

Of course, the all important question. Hong Kong is a foodie’s mecca. I knew that even before I went to Hong Kong. From Anthony Bourdain’s adventures to other foodie features on TV, I knew Hong Kong would offer me a variety of food choices. Fortunately for me, I don’t eat pork, which is a staple in Hong Kong (or Chinese cuisine, for that matter), and I’m allergic to some seafoods, so my choices were narrowed down. But there’s still a lot to taste.

I love that almost all of the restaurants we went to had vegetarian options, so if you’re vegetarian, you’re covered. Decent food starts at around 40HKD (240) up. So it is quite pricey if you’re on a budget. But there are cheap alternatives. If you’re in the Kowloon area already, you must try out the food stalls and shops at Temple Street.

Temple Street Market, Hong Kong

They have a variety of food choices and it is where we found the cheapest (15HKD) BUT good enough food during our stay.

 

One thing you can’t miss is Ikea. It was my first time to visit an Ikea store (hopefully they open here in the Philippines) and in my curiousity, spent at least 2 hours exploring all of the floors. What surprised me was that they had a bistro and the food being served was really cheap. If you’re on a budget, this is the place. They have complete meals and snacks.

Ikea Bistro, Hong Kong

Here are other must try foods in Hong Kong.

Thanks for taking the time to read this blog, I hope this article was helpful!

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Useful tips for riding a cab in Manila (Part 1)

This post is a culmination of many years’ experience of riding a cab in Manila. I write as a “seasoned” taxi rider, a commuter, not by choice, most of the time.  If I (and perhaps a lot of people) really had a “choice”, I wouldn’t commute mainly because of the stress and pollution while commuting. But this is life in the Philippines, where, sadly, safety is not even a criteria for choice of public transport, just for the reason that whether you ride the MRT/LRT, bus, jeepney or especially cab, there is not one that’s more “safer”, generally. I know this sounds harsh (perhaps this is also the case in some other countries), but really, it’s hard to make a case FOR a particular mode of transport because we know, by experience, otherwise.

Credit: INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

Of course, this is not to deter you from taking a cab (or commuting), because as I mentioned, what choice do we have, really? Have our own car, sure. But not everyone has one, can afford one, or has then patience to brave the horrendous Manila traffic. It’s not as if every time you commute, you will get robbed or something like that. I’m just saying, it’s not uncommon, and I write that with sadness because we have come to “accept” that that is just how it is. It’s sad, right? I really pray that commuting here will be “safer” health-wise and safety-wise. In the meantime, and this is why I am writing, I want to pass along some useful tips and precautions I have picked up over the years of riding a cab, particularly, which hopefully would make your taxi riding experience in Manila more pleasant and safer.

1. Always have loose change (if you want to pay the exact fare amount, or want to at least receive some change)

Taxi drivers in Manila (particularly) are notorious for not giving back your change. For example, if your meter reads 92.50 and you give 100 pesos, chances are you will NOT receive anything back, unless, 1. you demand for your change, and 2. the taxi driver willingly gives you your change. But this is very rare in Manila, unlike in Baguio (as far as I remember), they give you back your change even if its just 0.25 centavos.

Another example is you pay them 100 for a 70 peso fare meter, and they give you back 20 or don’t give back at all, saying they don’t have change (it happens!). Drivers really use this reason a lot – they don’t have change for your bill. Either you make him look for one, stop over somewhere to get change, or just let it go.

Some people, they don’t mind not receiving the exact change. Again, it’s one of those things we just “get used to”. Others insist for their change. So make sure you have lots of loose change whenever you’re riding a cab.

2. Always have safety as a mindset.

Whenever I ride a cab, I follow these SOPs:

  • Upon closing the passenger door, I make sure that my windows and doors can be re-opened. There have been so many reports of MO of taxi drivers / criminals where they spray something on the aircon and it causes the passenger to feel nauseated and even lose consciousness. The passengers end up being robbed and raped!
  • I take note of the plate  number and telephone number of the cab and call or text this to family members/friends. It might also help if you “confirm” the plate number verbally with the taxi driver so that he is aware that you are sending this information to somebody.
  • Make sure that the other doors are locked after you get in. There have been many reports of crimes such as stealing or holdup because passengers were not able to lock the other doors, and so petty criminals or even cohorts of the driver were able to get in and rob/kidnap/holdup/do all kinds of evil things.
  • If you are female, solo, and will ride a cab at an unholy hour, i suggest you go for company taxis that have good reputation, such as RyoAki, or go for GrabTaxi and EasyTaxi cabs.

*GrabTaxi and EasyTaxi are online booking services which have measures to ensure the safety of the passenger. I’ve tried both and though they come with a price (usually Php50 booking fee on top of the metered fee), I think it’s better to spend and feel safer than go with a cab that you are not sure about.

**RyoAki, on the other hand, is a fairly new taxi company that I came across during one of my commutes, and I was VERY impressed with their service. I had a long conversation with the driver and he told me a lot about this company. He has been a driver for a long time and I asked him, among all of the companies he has worked for, which one is the best? He said his current company, RyoAki – because, among others, they have benefits for their drivers (including educational plans for their children), they have regular drug tests, the owner is kind and reasonable, the drivers are well-trained and are properly identified, and they encourage transparency so passengers can complain if the experience was not great.

  • If you are not comfortable with the cab driver, or feel genuinely bothered by gut feel, get off and take a different taxi. Don’t think twice about money–safety is more important.

3. Reward goodness

Kind taxi drivers whose cabs are not rigged in any way are rare, and so when you come across them, reward them because you want to encourage that kind of behavior and lifestyle. I usually get turned off when a taxi driver asks for “extra” because of traffic or some reason. Traffic is really not a reason because it’s a given in Manila. I find myself more inclined to freely give when the taxi driver does not ask in the first place because it’s not really a problem to give a little extra–if and when they deserve it.

4. If you are going to a place you are not very familiar with, make sure the taxi driver knows how to get there, or bring along a google map with you.

There’s a downside to it. I had an experience before where, when my tito and I mentioned we didn’t know how to get there, the taxi driver claimed he also didn’t know very much but can go to the nearest landmark, and we ended up getting duped – he took us around circles and my tito ended up arguing with the driver. So my suggestion is, ASK if the driver knows how to get there–most drivers will tell you clearly, and if they show the slightest hint that they don’t exactly know, take a different cab. You are better of with somebody who’s sure.

5. Pray for yourself, the driver, and the journey

Perhaps we don’t do this often but prayer works. And we must make this a habit (not just in commuting, actually, but in everything we do.)