January 2, 2012

Hong Kong, Big Kid's Wonderland!

Because of the cold weather (and my growing frustration brought by a cancelled travel plan to South Korea due to "some budget constraints") , I'm peculiarly feeling nostalgic of my first "semi-winter" experience, so I'm re-posting one of my first blogs about my travel in a foreign land... which I aptly called the Big Kid's wonderland! Here goes...

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My first out-of-the-country destination is Hong Kong. So it will always have a soft spot in me. It was the first time I got the feel of what living in a first (or a second) world country might be like. I went there during the winter month of January with my sister. Although it does not really snow in HK, it felt like it when I arrived. Temp scale: read 4°C! That's a lot of chill for a person who has lived in a tropical, highly-humid country all his life! But it was a welcome, chillaxin' change.
At The Peak
Day 1: After checking my stuff in at The City View Hotel in Kowloon (my sister arrived from Japan a little bit later, so my first day was spent pretty much alone), I was off exploring the busy streets of Nathan Road. My first impression? Hmmm... it looks like an upscale Binondo Street by day. But by nighttime, it transforms into rich juxtapositions of colors from billboards, to beaming neon streetlights, to fashionable locals. It almost looks like daytime at night. 


Street Foods Galore
There's a very distinct scent in every street corner. It smells like burnt fish with a hint of vanilla. Yeah, it's weird! But good weird. This peculiar aroma comes from different street foods in every corner. The gastronomic sight was as scrumptious as its scent. They're all stacked in grills and steamboat-style casseroles. All the exotic ones were there too... grilled octopus tentacles on stick, meatballs of all animal origins (smothered in their own greases and broths), sausages of different forms and sizes, exotic mushrooms wrapped in bacon or squid, air-puffed waffles… the lists are endless! And for someone who has a flair for the exotics (edible or not), it is a sight to behold - a heightened gastronomical indulgence indeed! And so I tried all the cheap treats I could fancy, one stick at a time!

MTR Subway
Day 2: Hong Kong is a very compact city. All destinations are at every tourist's disposal through the highly-efficient MTR... unlimited access for 3 days (including Airport Express) if you get HK$300 Octopus Card.  It can't get any better than that! First destination: The Peak at Central HK.  The best way to get there is through the infamous City Tram.  The ride's fun but it took us more than an hour to get on top of the hill. The line was excruciatingly long but delightfully varied… read popping eye-candies - Brazilian, Japanese, European tourists! Did I not mention I have a flair for the exotics (edible or not)? Wicked! A friendly, innocent conversations with fellow travellers won’t hurt (if you’re lucky).  But mostly, they are just minding their own business! So much for the exotic fantasy trick! hehe The long wait is worth it, when you get to the peak.  ‘Coz the view of the city down under is breathtaking.  It’s like a mini-New York City!  And then there's Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum and The Peak Galleria shopping mall when you’re done “peaking.”

Top view of the Peak Galleria Shopping Mall
View of HK from The Peak
Image courtesy of http://the-peak-hong-kong.blogspot.com/
After The PEAK, we headed to the Avenue of the Stars  at  Tsim Sha Tsui back in Kowloon in time for the Symphony of Lights display.  The entire city was reduced into a giant lantern show at the other end of Central Bay.  It was amazing!  And then we strolled down the avenue, checking out the “stars” of the famous Hong Kong movie stars (just like their Hollywood counterparts).

Kowloon Cityscape Backdrop
Before heading back to the hotel, we went for midnight bargain shopping in Mongkok. We headed to the Lady’s Market. Don't fret, dudes, this shopping mecca is not just for the ladies. The experience is similar to midnight sale madness in Greenhills and Divisoria during the holidays… only 7°C colder. Shopping was a breeze despite the high-traffic situation in almost all lanes of the bargain shops. It’s funny how some store owners enticed you to check out their stuff through a very personalized invite - “Mula lang!” (Tagalog transalation: “Anu iyong hanap! Bili na! Mura lang!”). Evidence of many Pinoy travelers who already visited the market.  

Lady's Market @ Mong Kok
Day 3: Time to get whimsical.  Destination: Disneyland!  It is located in Lantau Island. From Kowloon, we took the MTR… two short interchanges later, we were at the Sunny Bay station.  The magic starts upon embarking the Disney-themed train.  It felt like going  to Hogwarts! A merry-go-round melody welcomed us at the entrance.  For HK$320, we got the whole day treat to, read this, “a spirit of fantasy and  youthful sense of adventures as we immersed in the classic Disney attractions and the magic of four themed lands: Main Street USA, Fantasyland, Adventureland, and Tomorrowland.” That’s what the brochure says.  And always true to its claim!  By late afternoon, we headed to Ngong Ping.  The home of the Giant Buddha.  One distinct characteristic of going to HK is that, in many occasions, we are brought to a heightened state. And I mean that literally.  Yesterday’s the Peak, today’s the cable car! Those who have fear of heights have to seriously consider the odds of traveling to HK.  But for me, it’s fierce!  I love the sensation of being on top! No pun intended! (winks!)
 
In a cable car heading on top of Ngong Ping (Giant Buddha)
My 3-day adventure in HK was sensational! But it’s never enough!  My appetite for this miniature country is insatiable… so I keep coming back for more!

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