The 747-400 plane with Oasis Hong Kong Airlines was nice and modern with TVs in the back of each seat, displays showing the position of the aircraft on a map and some cameras pointing out from the nose giving different views. They also provided dinner and breakfast. It is a brand new budget airline and it cost me $325 to make the trip from London to Hong Kong. This is the cheapest and fastest way to get to this area of the world. The flight went smoothly and I think I slept pretty well. I left London at 8:40PM local and arrived in Hong Kong at 3PM local. My new time is 5 hours ahead of Finland, 7 ahead of London, and 12 hours ahead of Eastern US. I also noticed it is June 28 and my birthday today.
Right now I’m in Hong Kong International Airport, which was literally built from the ground up (they made a new island) and opened in 1998. So nice and modern so far, plus this is the first airport in the world that I’ve seen that has free wireless access.
I haven’t been outside yet, but I think the weather is a little different here. I compared the weather online and in London yesterday it feels like 58 °F and in Hong Kong it feels like 104 °F. I think it will be quite a change. I was just in Finland where the entire country has a population of 5 million. Here in the city of Hong Kong, there is a population of 7 million.
Hong Kong customs went smoothly with no questions asked. After withdrawing $1000 HKD (about $128 USD), buying an “Octopus Card” (RFID card which allows you to pay at buses/metro/convenience stores), I took one of the double-decker public buses to find a place to stay. The bus ride was quite a sight, driving past the mountains on Lantau Island, over the Tsing Ma Bridge (longer span than the Golden Gate Bridge), viewing a harbor filled with ships, past some of the largest ports in the world with containers as far as the eye can see, and finally making it into the Kowloon area. The city is like Times Square in NYC, only on a larger scale. Looking down almost any street results in an overwhelming attack of colored signs, lights, and people. If you’ve ever seen the movie Blade Runner, the environment is just like that, especially since it has rained a bit.
The hardest part of staying in this Hong Kong is accommodation. The part of the city I’m in now has one of the highest population densities on the planet. A nice hotel room costs $100 and up. However, I made a reservation for one of the cheaper rooms in the city, a 4 bed dorm room for average $12/night. When I got there, reception told me the A/C was broken in that room so I’ll have to go in a single room instead. Even though I reserved five nights, I made sure only to pay for one night after reading some things online.
All the cheap rooms are in two rundown buildings: Mirador Mansions and Chungking Mansions, 17 floors each. To make things confusing, almost every floor has a different hostel/hotel/guesthouse, some have multiple names, and some have similar counterfeit names. After paying for one night in reception (in Mirador Mansion), I was surprised to be escorted to my room. I would see why after we took the elevator down to the ground floor, went outside, crossed a street, down an alley, into another building (Chungking Mansion), up an elevator to the 16th floor, then stairs to the 17th, through an unlabeled door, and finally to my room.
This is possibly the worst room I’ve ever seen. It is the size of a bathroom or closet, with only a hard mattress and room to swing a door open. No wireless or Ethernet network jacks as advertised (had to pay for an internet café for the first time). I don’t even want to talk about the toilets/showers in the hall. However, it does have working A/C, which is most important. I’ve noticed most buildings here don’t have central air, but individual A/C units for each room.
I decided to leave and find some maps (I got some at the airport but lost them somewhere in there) at the tourist information center. One thing I noticed is it sure gets dark early here, by 9PM, compared to northern Europe! After being the farthest north ever in Finland, I’m now the farthest south I’ve ever been, Hong Kong is about as far south as Cuba.
I thought I was good at finding my way around, but it was a challenge to get back to my room since I didn’t have an escort this time. Upon returning to the building, I learn there are 8 staircases going up, but only one will take me to the room. The entire infamous Chungking Mansion splits up into five towers plus partitions. I walked up 17 floors to learn this. The bottom two floors are all shops selling mobile phones and things in must be 100 different shops. This reason why I wanted to take the stairs was the long lines to use the small, slow elevators. First you have to find the elevators that go up to the correct portion of the building, and then there is one elevator for even floors, one for old floors. If too many people walk onto the elevator it won’t work because there is an overweight sensor. Overall, I think it took over an hour to figure out how to get back to my room. This building is also filled with tons of Middle Easterners and Africans, and I read they are probably all illegal immigrants.