When we were in the stage of planning to visit Hong Kong without going with a tour package, most friends would voice their concern and skeptic about that. We were about to travel, with two kids, being the youngest near to 2 years old. Of course, the concerns are safety and if we even know how to move around. I don’t know. We just go with it. Some would say taking a tour package is expensive, thus I was assumed being a stingy. I am not. I remember I read a National Geographic magazine, in a special edition about travel, and one of the writer (whom I forgot his name) wrote something like this..
“If I travel in a tour, I will only get to see what the operator want me to see
So I travel alone, and I get to see more than what people in tour can see”
Sort of. I couldn’t remember the exact phrase and such, but that is the whole idea. The idea of travelling when you are in control of where you want to go, what do you want to do.
Now I will share some information on preparing to visit Hong Kong.
1. NO VISA NEEDED – If you are Malaysian passport holder, you don’t need a VISA to visit Hong Kong for travel/leisure. Basically Visa is for business purpose, studying or looking for a job in a foreign country.
2. CHECK THE WEATHER – You don’t need to bring thick clothes, or the one you use when going to snowing country. The most Hong Kong can get cold is from the breeze and rain from monsoon season.
3. FINDING HALAL FOOD – Halal food is scarce. Using the right mobile apps will show you multiple restaurant that serving halal food for Muslim traveller. But my wife packed few instant noodle, just in case. You can keep it in a luggage that go into cargo, not hand carry luggage.
4. CURRENCY EXCHANGE – There are many opinions over where it would bring more value to your money after conversion. But most people will tell you the same thing, do not deal at airport.
5. KEEP UP WITH THE CURRENT NEWS. For example, when we were planning, the Umbrella Movement / Umbrella Revolution took place in Hong Kong and Kowloon. So some roads were closed, as the demonstration involves protester doing sit ins for hours, to the extent of setting up tent and occupying the road. So you know to avoid such place or activity. And also taxi and bus were going hard on this one, as they will have to change the usual route to get you from point A to point B. Taking longer route than usual will cost you more money. But don’t worry, the MTR service was not interrupted, and you will love travelling with the MTR.
Generally all points listed above can be used a checklist before travelling. Or if you are the kind of people with “Do-or-die” attitude, you don’t really need a preparation. You just need to get there, and when all else fail, take flight back home. Now, move along to what you will need when you reached Hong Kong.
We were travelling with Malaysia Airlines flight MH384 from Kota Kinabalu International Airport. It would take about 2 hours plus (30 minutes i think) to reach Hong Kong Airport. MH384 is a 737-800 Boeing, so there is in-flight entertainment. Good to keep your kids busy with cartoons. When people asked to compare price between MAS and AirAsia, it was almost the same. But with MAS, everything is taken care of, from meal, to extra weight on luggage, etc. That is a plus point. You need everything else to be easy when your focus is to travel.
Hong Kong Airport is big. It was busy, several planes had to queue up before dropping passengers. Wife reads in someone blog, that on arrival, passengers will be transferred to another terminal with a bus. I don’t know what that means, but that sounds like trouble when travelling with kids. But the truth is, the bus is part of the procedure on transferring all passengers to the main terminal for custom and immigration clearance. The signboards are all in English, the staffs also speaks in English, but it was not hard to figure where to take the bus. You only need to not slowing down, or stalling as the bus moving according to schedule. But if you are late, you just wait for another bus.
Some people shared their experience about dealing with Hong Kong Airport Immigration Officer. Most are negative comments. I rather not share it, because what I witnessed was a normal thing. The officer was not smiling, and they take more time to check your travel documents. But they do their jobs, so that is normal. We don’t need to be treated like a royal, we just need to get out of the airport and start our holiday in Hong Kong.
After going through Immigration, pick up your luggage at the conveyor belt, and walk past the Customs (if you have nothing to declare, use the Green Lane. If you are bringing liquor, cigarette, etc, you have to declare the items at Red Lane). There are peoples from Tourism Hong Kong that you can annoy with your questions. Or you can pick up all the brochures and leave them at peace. The brochures mostly are about places to visit, so you need it.
Now, what do you need to be more efficient in Hong Kong.
First, when you exit the arrival hall, look for 1010 Telco. They are telecommunication company. Go get a traveller sim card, cost at HKD 118 and you will get a call plan and 5gb data plan during your stay. They even do the setup for you. Really helpful, and time saving. Of course you need the simcard, or else how are you going to annoy your Facebook friends about you constantly updating your feed with your experience in Hong Kong /s/
Next, is the Octopus Card.
MTR (Mass Railway Transit) is our choice of method to travel around Hong Kong, to Kowloon, to Disneyland and to the airport. Octopus Card contains a value (HKD 150 for adult, HKD70 for children aged 3 – 12 years old) and can be topped up at any counter or by machine. You can also used this card to buy drinks, or any other vending machine. I recommended this card to all who will go to Hong Kong. At the airport, near to the arrival hall, you will find a customer service for MTR, and you can purchase your card there. Upon departure, or when you are leaving Hong Kong, you can return this card to the same counter, and you will get a refund. Because the HKD 150 you paid for the first time contains HKD50 for deposit and HKD 100 for you to use. So when you return the card, you will receive the (deposit + balance in the card – refund fee HKD 9.00). Just get this card.
Basically that is all you need to ease your travel in Hong Kong. Communication is not a problem because almost everyone speaks English. It will be a problem if you can only speak a language and it is not understandable by the local people here. But hey, everyone here speaks to me in Cantonese, or Mandarin. Only when I said Hello they will change to English. Not a problem really, because there is always people who can speak English will come and assist. But if you can learn the local language before coming to foreign countries, you will enjoy more of your travel.
To plan visit to tourist attraction, i use DiscoverHK app (www.discoverhongkong.com)
When using MTR, you need to to know the route and station, so you can download the app at (http://www.mtr.com.hk/en/customer/services/mtr_tourist.html)
To find Halal food and reviews, i use Zabihah app (www.zabihah.com)
To find reviews of hotel and places, i use TripAdvisor app (www.tripadvisor.com)
To book hotel, i use Agoda app (www.agoda.com).
To find places particularly for Hong Kong and Kowloon, I use UIMon Hong Kong downloaded from Apple App Store.
When shopping, I make sure I used the Currency calculator.
The Nokia Lumia 520 that I planned to bring to Hong Kong was still at the repair shop. The screen was broken, and the guy who fixing the phone ordered the wrong screen. So I just settled with the iPad and my wife phone, Asus Zen that she uses mainly to play Clash of Clan. Why Nokia? I want to use the HERE Map that can be downloaded and used when offline. But when you reached Hong Kong, and you look at the map in your iPad, almost all places accessible by just walking. Like in Lan Kwai Fong is a hill area but filled with flats, shops, art galleries and famous for its night club scene. The road is small, but I never see any traffic jam. But if you just want to test the Google map, just do it anyway. Just do it for the sake of feeling like something you see on TV advert.
During our stay in Lan Kwai Fong Hotel, Kau U Fong, there is a mobile phone provided to each room. It was an Alcatel OneTouch. Guest can use the phone as it was equipped with data plan. I used it for updating my Instagram. It was installed with apps that help you discover Hong Kong island. It also displays promotions and discounts you will get when shopping at certain places just by showing the phone. I checked my credit card statement, and nothing has been deducted related to using this phone. Perhaps the data plan is free to use. There might be a deal between handy.travel with the hotels, I don’t know, but the sure thing was I benefited a lot from this.
After few days in Hong Kong island, few days in Kowloon, one tiring day in Disneyland, it is time to go home. From Kowloon, Yau Ma Tei MTR station, we decided we will go to Central Station to use the Airport Express. You can go the other way but will involve a lot of train change. With 30kgs of luggage, two kids, and two backpacks, I will just go to Central. Much easier. Travel easier. If you are using Malaysian Airlines, or AirAsia, there is no In-Town Check In available. In-Town Check In is for certain airline customers, where they can check in their luggage from the Central MRT Station without carrying them all the way to Hong Kong Airport. The Airport Express train will get you to Hong Kong Airport less than 30 minutes, but I suggest to leave early before your flight departure. Not to worry about traffic, but the last thing you want to do is to miss the flight.
Our flight was scheduled at 3.30 pm. We left Central at 11.00 am, had our lunch at Popeye Chicken (the only Halal restaurant in Hong Kong Airport) and proceed to Custom and Immigration. Do remember we need to take the shuttle bus to Gate 509 to board Malaysia Airlines MH385. What about AirAsia? When the train arrived at the airport, I noticed there are two terminals. AirAsia is in Terminal 2. Malaysia Airlines is in Terminal 1. There will be staff attending to your question anyway. So it will be easy.
Everyone enjoyed the trip. Travelling with kids might be stressful, but in the end of the trip, you will love them more. I will write more in the next post about our visit to Hong Kong. I just need to sort all these images about 10gb plus.