Thursday, May 24, 2012

Family Vacation at Hong Kong and Shenzhen

Last February I booked a Hong Kong/Shenzhen tour package for the whole family from Groupon Philippines.  My brother, Ricky, also joined us for this tour.  For P7,400 each, we spent 4 days and 3 nights in Hong Kong and Shenzhen plus free entrance and unlimited rides at Disneyland and a Hong Kong city tour (Ocean Park was not included in our tour package).  Once I had arranged the availability of the dates of the tour, I booked all six of us to a Cebu Pacific flight.

The day of our departure started on a sour note.  I made a mistake in setting the alarm clock and to think that everybody depended on me to wake them up.  It was good that I woke up by myself thirty minutes before check-in time.  To make the long story short, we arrived at the airport with just enough time for check-in and a quick bite at a San Miguel outlet.  Whew, we almost missed our plane.

At the arrival area, we met our tour guide, Billy who brought us to Silka Far East Hotel at Tsuen Wan, Kowloon.  While waiting for Billy to bring us to Ocean Park, we tried to look for a place to have an early lunch.  Lunch starts at 11 o'clock in Hong Kong unlike here in Manila where breakfast is up to ten o'clock only.  The waiter at the first restaurant we went to, Chan Kee, couldn't be persuaded to serve us lunch even if it was already 10:30.  We ended up ordering noodles with toppings and soup capped with either hot or iced coffee or tea from Ngan Lung, the eatery right after Chan Kee.  Aside from the noodle soups, french toasts are standard breakfast fare.

My breakfast:  beef brisket noodle soup

Lemon Iced Tea

We all ordered noodle soups and iced tea, either lemon or milk flavored.  Not adventurous in trying out new things, I ordered beef brisket noodle soup and lemon iced tea.  The iced lemon tea was a perfect drink for my beef brisket.  I didn't make a mistake in choosing beef brisket, it was superb.  My companions got the other offerings and I liked the iced milk tea.  I don't usually drink milk tea as it is too milky for my taste.  For those who don't know me, I am not fond of milk.  But the milk tea from Ngan Lung didn't taste milky and it was so good.

After a sumptuous breakfast, we freshened up at the hotel and got ready for Ocean Park.  Because ours was a packaged tour, waiting for other vacationers was unavoidable.  Our bus cruised along Hong Kong's  busy streets for almost an hour before arriving at our destination for the day, Ocean Park Hong Kong at Aberdeen.  Though Hong Kong is a bustling city, its roads are not congested.  I asked myself again why vehicles in wider roads in Metro Manila like EDSA are crawling or worse at a standstill any time of the day. (I will be coming out with a separate article on the places we visited for this tour so I am withholding details of our tour experiences at the moment.)

Tired and hungry, all six of us proceeded to Chan Kee for a late dinner after our tour guide dropped us at our hotel.  Dinner was roasted goose, a house specialty and a variety of rice toppings (each one of us ordered).  Not adventurous with food, I ordered something familiar, yang chow rice.  The roasted goose was so rich in calories but we threw caution to the wind.  We just have to try it. We were not disappointed when we dug our fork to it.  So crunchy and delicious.

We were all taken aback when our rice orders came.  Each order was good for two to three people.  My yang chow rice had a generous serving of shrimps, vegetables, sliced scrambled egg and chicken.  It was so good so with the dried fish rice.  The lemon iced tea was a welcome treat from five hours of continuous walking at Ocean Park.

The following day, our tour guide, this time Mary showed us downtown Hong Kong.  She brought us first to Avenue of Stars, local version of Hollywood's Walk of Fame.  This was opened in April 2004 to pay tribute to outstanding professionals of the Hong Kong film industry like Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Jet Li among others.

With Mary, one of our tour guides.

Next in our itinerary was the Jewellery City, a place where one can buy what else but jewelry.  We were met by the Filipino-Chinese manager of the store.  Zodiac pendants, bracelets good for arthritic people, watches and jade jewelry can be found.  Bought some pieces which we found to be reasonable.  Since Hong Kong is known for shopping, Mary brought us next to a retail store.  It was a one-stop shop where one can buy pasalubongs.  We were grateful for this diversion as we don't have time to shop anymore with the hectic schedule that we had.  It was also very convenient as the shop took care of bringing our stuff to our hotel.

A must-see in Hong Kong is the Fishing Village at Aberdeen.  Riding a sampan, one gets a front seat view of  the life of the boat people, mostly fishermen.  The fishermen had turned their sampans into their homes that when we passed their boats, you can see the appliances and the living quarters.  Very difficult to miss is the casino owner Stanley Ho's Jumbo Floating Restaurant.  Diners of the restaurant are ferried from the dock to the restaurant.  An elderly lady navigated our sampan.  Mary said that the boat woman is a fisherman's wife.

Inside the sampan.

From the south, we headed north to Hong Kong Disneyland.  After our tourist bus driver dropped us at the parking lot, we were left on our own.  Lunch was at Plaza Inn, a restaurant serving Cantonese food managed by Maxim's.  Food was okay but expensive.  At exactly 3:30 in the afternoon, the grand parade named Flights of Fantasies started.   We saw a lot of Filipinos in the performers.  Filipinos oozing with talents.  So proud of you guys.

To see all the attractions, one has to walk and walk we did for the second day.  A train ride around the complex was a welcome respite for our tired legs.  Several restaurants are scattered all over the place for a quick bite and refreshing drink.  They said the highlight of the day is the fireworks just before closing time.  Unfortunately for us we weren't able to see it as thirty minutes before closing, a heavy rain poured.  Well there's always a next time.

On the third day of our vacation, we woke up early for our trip to Shenzhen, China.  After checking out from our hotel, our tour guide brought us to the Hung Hom station for our train ride to Shenzhen.  We alighted at the last station of the East Rail Line, Lo Wu.  After presenting our travel documents to both Hong Kong and mainland China immigration officers, we followed our new tour guide, Joanna, to the bus.

Joanna spoke passable English and it was enough.  On our way to the restaurant for lunch, Joanna shared some stories about Shenzhen, the gateway to mainland China from Hong Kong and a place where Hong Kong people migrated to for a lower cost of living.  She also said that some Hong Kong men keep mistresses at Shenzhen.

The restaurant served several viands, hot tea and fruit.  If you prefer soda or bottled water, there was a store beside the restaurant selling drinks.  We were all excited when we saw our table laden with so much food only to be disappointed with the bland taste.  From the gustatory sensation of the food from the Hong Kong restaurants, our lunch was a big letdown.  This was repeated during dinner.  The restaurant served practically the same viands as the other restaurant.  Maybe that was the standard menu for tourists.  Same bland taste.

The local market in Shenzhen is a shoppers' paradise but here's the catch:  you have to speak basic Mandarin.  The goods are cheap after haggling for the desired price but you can only do this in Mandarin.  I was with my two daughters, Nina and Kara, and I got my bag for less than P500.  Thanks to Nina for haggling for me.

Joanna brought us also to stores selling jade jewelry, jade figurines and jewelry made of semi-precious stones.  I could not keep my eyes off the jade set with a price tag that was a steal.  I ended up buying it.  In these stores, the sales personnel spoke perfect English.  For the cheap prices of goods and jewelry, Shenzhen deserves another visit.

The following day, a Sunday, Joanna, fetched us for our trip back to Hong Kong.  If we came by train to Shenzhen, we are leaving it by bus.  We were brought to the airport for our flight back to Manila.

Truly, travelling is a great teacher.  One learns a lot from the places he has visited.  Great time too for bonding moments.  Where will we go next?

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