Thursday, May 31, 2012

Shanghai China

From Hangzhou we travelled back to Shanghai by train and spent a couple of days there before flying back home. Once again the hotel we booked was located on a pedestrian street (East Nanjing Road). Food, shopping, even street entertainment was conveniently close by. If you grew tired of walking, there were special sightseeing “buses” (actually electric-powered train-like compartments) that travelled up and down the pedestrian street. The section where our hotel was located reminded me of New York Times Square.

East Nanjing Road (Pedestrian Street)
Pedestrian Street

Street entertainment
Since we were staying for only had a couple of days, it seemed that the best way to see the city of Shanghai was to take the City Sightseeing Bus. For CNY30 one can hop-on hop-off at different points along the bus route (the ticket is good for 24 hours). There are two routes: one running in the Puxi area (the older city center) and the other in the Pudong area (the new financial/commercial district); one ticket allows you to get on both routes. Passengers are given a map/guide and earphones when they first board. You can connect your earphones to the jacks and hear commentaries about the different places of interest in the language of your choice (eight different languages to choose from: English, German, French, Spanish, Japanese, Korean, Russian and Chinese. I decided to complete both routes first to see what was there (it took half a day). 

City Sightseeing Bus

Sights along the Puxi route

Yuyuan Market

Sights along the Pudong route

I actually completed four rounds of the Puxi route and two rounds of the Pudong route during our stay. Unfortunately, my husband was experiencing vertigo and had to rest at the hotel most of the time; he was still able to complete a single round of both routes tho. Why four times for me? Well, I just had to go back (twice) to Yuyuan Garden in Old Shanghai for some shopping.

When we were packing our bags, I realized that I had much more stuff than when we arrived.  No worries, I just went around the many department stores on East Nanjing Road and bought a travelling bag (it was on sale too!).

For more information on Shanghai, you may want to check this out

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Hangzhou China

I was excited to see China again; my first trip had been to Hangzhou in 1998 and Chengdu in 2007. After 14 years, I was eager to revisit Hangzhou. My husband and I were meeting up with our son who was had been staying in the city a few months and would be our guide. We landed at the Pudong International Airport in Shanghai close to midnight. Since we were going on to Hangzhou we decided to wait out the few hours at the airport until the subway (Metro) trains started running at 6am. We had received detailed instructions from our son on how to get to Hangzhou, including: how to buy Metro tickets from the machine, taking the subway train from Pudong to Hongqiao railway station (complete with exit /entrance locations), where to purchase train tickets for Hangzhou, getting on the fast train, exiting the train station, boarding the bus and getting off at the stop closest to our hotel. We were able to catch some sleep on the airport seats, then after eating breakfast, we were on the train to Hongqiao.

Our instructions

Pudong International Airport to Hongqiao Train Station by Metro
Everything was going as planned until we had to purchase the train tickets. We knew that there was a holiday (Tomb Sweeping Day) but we did not anticipate that it was such a big holiday and that there were lots and lots of people going back to their hometowns. There were long queues; we were still lucky to get tickets for the noon trip. The train station was packed with travellers ; we were in for a long wait and finding a seat was a challenge. Once on the fast train tho, it was quite comfortable and speedy (about 300 km/hr).

Hongqiao Train Station
Our hotel was located on a pedestrian street (Zhong Shan Zhong Road) – no vehicles allowed. We had to cross the street from the bus stop (there was an escalator to get to the overpass); then it was a short walk to the hotel. The cobblestone road made for one rather noisy and bumpy walk due to the luggage we were rolling along. The hotel location was ideal tho – lots of interesting places and things to do within walking distance.

Zhong Shan Zhong Road - Pedestrian Street
Nearby - The Drum Tower 

Hefang Old Street was really interesting; day or night it was always full of activities and people – street food, vendors, craftsmen, teahouses, souvenirs, even old-fashioned movie players. It seemed that everyday we were in Hangzhou, we would always spend some part of the day at Hefang St.

Hefang Street attractions
Hefang Street food
Traditional Chinese Medicine Shop
West Lake district is the principal tourist destination in Hangzhou; from our hotel, it was about a 20-30 minute walk. Exploring the lake area can also be done on foot but there’s really so much to see and it can get tiring. One way to get an overview of the whole lake is to take the tour bus that goes around the lake. The ride starts at the bus terminal at the Hangzhou Tourist Center near the Hangzhou Sports Complex. Another great alternative is to rent a bike. Locals use the card system that allows them to take and return a bike from the many bike racks around; if they return the bike within an hour, the card is not charged so they can essentially get around the area for free.

Tour bus and bike rentals

Around West Lake
Around West Lake

On the other side of the Qiantang River is Binjiang district; this is the modern part of Hangzhou and a rapidly developing business center.

Binjiang district
For more information on Hangzhou, you may want to check this out

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Hong Kong Part 3 – Hong Kong Island

Once again we took the MTR to get to Hong Kong Island. From the Tsim Sha Tsui station, we boarded the train bound for  Central station (red line). We were headed to Victoria Peak (also known simply as The Peak), the highest point on Hong Kong Island. We decided to take the Peak tram. From Central we walked to the Peak tram lower terminal on Garden Road; the streets were noticeably steep and we got a good aerobic workout.

Peak Tram lower terminal

The Peak Tram track is almost 1.4 km long and it takes the tram about 7 minutes to complete a one-way trip. The climb is rather steep (about 373 meters) and the buildings we passed appeared to be leaning. We got off at the upper tram terminal located at The Peak Tower. From there we went to the Lion's Pavilion viewpoint from where we had a great view of the Victoria harbor, Kowloon, the green hillsides and the city below. We also took a short walk in Pok Fu Lam Country Park.

Peak Tram and view from tram

Lion's Viewpoint Pavillion

Walk in the park

There are other locations which provide magnificent views; there is the viewing terrace at the Peak Galleria and the Sky Terrace 428 at the Peak Tower. The Peak Tower is a wok-shaped building housing shops, restaurants, entertainment venues,  and the upper terminal of the Peak Tram. The Sky terrace 428 is the highest viewing platform; it stands 428 meters above sea level. Madame Tussaud’s Hong Kong is located at Level 1 of the Peak Tower.

Peak Tower and the Sky Terrace 428

View from the Peak Tower escalator

Peak Market at the Peak Tower

Madame Tussaud's Hong Kong

From The Peak, we descended via the Peak Tram and walked to the other attractions around the city. It was challenging to walk up and down the inclined roads. Fortunately Hong Kong has the longest outdoor covered escalator system in the world, the Central Mid-levels escalator; it is actually a series of small escalators that move in only one direction. There are stairs alongside the escalator so people can also go in the opposite direction. When we got on the escalator, it was moving up; they change the direction at specific times (06:00 to 10:00, downwards; 10:00 to 22:00, upwards).

We took the escalator up the hill, planning to get got off on the streets that we wanted to explore. We passed by SoHo (South of Hollywood Road). SoHo has an international mix of cafes, restaurants and bars. We got off at Hollywood Road and Upper Lascar Row (also known as "Cat Street"); here there are antique shops and curio street markets. The Man Mo Temple nearby has giant incense coils hanging overhead and the smoke and scent can be overpowering; there are several electric fans running in order to aid air circulation.

Hollywood Road and Cat Street

Man Mo Temple

We were curious to see another item on our list, the Western Market. It was quite a distance from Hollywood Road, and we got  a bit confused (I think we were walking around in circles). We finally found the red brick Edwardian-style building that had been converted into a shopping complex. The architecture was nice but there was not really much to see in terms of merchandise since they were about to close.

Model of the Western Market; inside the market

There were two activities going on in line with the Hong Kong mid-autumn festival: the Lee Kum Kee Lantern Wonderland and the Fire Dragon Dance. We went to see the lanterns first; the main attraction was the giant fish-shaped lantern made up of many small lanterns. The fish was color red but during the show, it changed to different hues.

Lantern Wonderland

We then walked to the place where the fire dragon dance was to be held. There were lots of people in the streets and there were also people gathered around a building. The crowd was thick and we could not really see what was going on. People had their cameras raised overhead and were clicking away; I did the same; I got a photo of the dragon’s tail (I think).  When the crowd started moving, we followed along; we stopped when they did. At the plaza we waited with the crowd. The dragon was apparently dancing through various streets before coming to the plaza. We waited a long time but never got to see the fire dragon since we had to catch the train back to Kowloon. Well at least I have a picture of its tail.

Hong Kong Part 2 – Lantau Island

We spent two days going to sights on Lantau Island; one day was devoted to Hong Kong Disneyland and another to Ngong Ping.

Hong Kong Disneyland

We took the MTR to get to Disneyland. From our hotel we walked to the East Tsim Sha Tsui station (purple line) to board the train going in the direction of Tuen Mun. We got off at Nam Chong station and transferred to the yellow line (going in the direction of Tung Chung) and got off at the Sunny Bay Station which then connects to the Disneyland line (pink). The air was already festive on board the Disney train; the train’s windows and ring handles were designed with Mickey ears.

Disney train

Disney train station

We arrived at Disney a few minutes after its 10am opening time and stayed for the fireworks at closing time. We made the most of our day and went on almost all the rides and watched the shows too. We were very disappointed though that Space Mountain was closed that day.

Space Mountain - closed for the day!

Ngong Ping

When we went to Ngong Ping, we basically followed the same MTR route; however, we went all the way to Tung Chung which was the end of the yellow line. We then boarded the Ngong Ping 360 cable car that took us to Ngong Ping Village. The 5.7 km cable car ride took about 25 minutes. From the cable car we had a magnificent 360-degree view (hence the name) which included the South China Sea, the rolling green terrain of Lantau Island, and the Hong Kong International Airport. As we approached the Ngong Ping Plateau, we could see the majestic statue of the Giant Buddha.

Ngong Ping Village is a culturally themed village; there are souvenir shops and places to eat. The Bodhi Wishing Shrine in the courtyard plays a central role in two of the village attractions (Walking With Buddha and the Monkey’s Tale Theater). From the village, it is a short walk to the base of the Tian Tan Buddha Statue (the Giant Buddha). Visitors have to climb more than 200 steps to get to the top; one is rewarded with a magnificent view. 

Visitors can also walk to the Po Lin Monastery. There are two temples there, one of which is reached by going up some steps; from the higher temple you can see the Giant Buddha. We had a vegetarian meal at their cafeteria.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Hong Kong Part 1 – Kowloon Area

Hong Kong primarily consists of three main territories: Hong Kong Island, Kowloon Peninsula and the New Territories which include the Islands; the largest of these islands is Lantau Island on which the Hong Kong International Airport is located.

From the airport my daughter and I boarded the Airport Bus A21 that took us into Kowloon where we had booked a room in a hostel.  Inspite of the specific instructions given by the hostel managers regarding the bus stop we should get off at, we somehow missed the stop and had to walk back a few blocks. We made sure that my son, who was arriving the next day from mainland China, did not make the same mistake.

We stayed at the Maple Leaf Guesthouse in Chung King Mansions. From our internet research, we were aware of Chung King Mansions’ (mostly negative) reputation. Nevertheless, the Maple Leaf Guesthouse seemed the ideal place to stay because of its convenient location (along Nathan Road) and its price. In addition, the reviews about the hostel itself were mostly good so we decided to go for it. We would be out during the day anyway, returning late at night. When we got to the building, we were indeed quite shocked; there were individuals who approached us with offers to stay at this or that hostel and the ground floor was generally chaotic and intimidating. We spent some time going through the maze of busy hallways before finally locating the elevator; it took a while for the very slow elevator to reach the 12th floor. Once at the hostel itself, things were better; the managers were very friendly and helpful and the room was indeed very clean although quite small. The ground floor just took some getting used to but it was generally alright.

Getting around Hong Kong is easy and very convenient because of the MTR (Mass Transit Railway). Since we were going to be moving around a lot, we decided to buy the Octopus Card instead of purchasing tickets for each journey.

There are so many things to do and places to see in Hong Kong but we only had five full days so we had to prioritize and plan our itinerary well.

Kowloon Area

Hong Kong is indeed a haven for shoppers. One can choose to go to the shopping malls, department stores and outlets or hit the street markets. I prefer the latter; it’s so much more exciting and haggling is fun. Mong Kok is a major shopping district especially for those looking for bargains. There are even specialty streets such as Cheung Sha Wan Road (Fashion Street-wholesale), Fa Yuen Street (Sneakers and sportswear Street), Tung Choi Street (Ladies’ market, although other merchandise are also sold here), Temple Street night market (also known as Men’s Street but not limited to men’s merchandise). The flea market at Apliu Street and adjacent streets sells almost everything.   

Malls and Luxury brands stores

Temple Street night market

Fashion Street

Ladies market and Sneakers street

Food stores
Apliu Street flea market

Kowloon Park is a great place to relax and unwind, offering an escape from the city’s hustle and bustle. There are lots of beautiful gardens, ponds, fountains and paved walks; there is also an aviary. There is a children’s playground as well as several swimming pools and a sports center. Many people come here to stroll, jog, exercise or just sit and read under the shade.

Kowloon Park

The area along Victoria Harbor has many interesting sights; the Hong Kong  Cultural Center and the nearby Clock Tower,  the Hong Kong Space Museum, and the Hong Kong Museum of Arts. There is a fantastic display of lights (“Symphony of Lights”) every night that can be viewed from the promenade along the harbor. The Avenue of Stars is also on the promenade. 

The Clock Tower

Hong Kong Cultural Center

Cultural Center, Museum of Arts, Space Museum

Symphony of Lights

Avenue of Stars
Victoria Harbor by day

Victoria Harbor at night