Night time view of Hong Kong from the Peak.

Night time view of Hong Kong from the Peak.

In June I spent a week in Hong Kong. It fascinated me in many ways – how crowded it was, how well dressed people were, how big it was, how much money there was, how diverse it was, etc.  I had high expectations going in, but it far exceeded them.

I woke up in Bangkok the morning of my flight.  My flight wasn’t until the evening (5pm), so I was taking my time getting ready, and knocking out some work before leaving.  I then noticed that Gmail had updated the email with the flight info to “cancelled”.  I went on the website of the airline (Orient Thai Airlines) and couldn’t find anything about it being cancelled, so apparently Gmail has access to their API which showed that, but wasn’t actually displayed publicly on their website (well done Google!).  At this point it was about 11:45am.

I called the airline and they said the flight was indeed cancelled, and that they will look into switching me to another flight and call me back.  15 minutes later, I get a call back saying they can probably switch me to a new flight, but I’d have to be at the airport by 1pm. I told them there was no way I’d be able to make it in time considering traffic and that I hadn’t packed anything yet or even showered.  They said I have to arrive by 1:30pm at the latest to even have a chance. They said go to level 3, row D, and find the airline.  So I rushed, hopped into a cab, and went to the airport.  I arrived about 1:15pm, and the row they told me didn’t have Orient Thai Airlines anywhere. I asked someone working there and they said that airline would open in 45 minutes.  So I walked to the side, and was about to call the airline back when a random guy, wearing normal clothes, walked up to me and asked if I was Patrick.  He said “Patrick, I have a new flight for you, can I see your passport?”.  I handed it to him, he confirmed my name, and handed me a ticket to a different airline (Hong Kong airlines) that departed the same time (and had the same return ticket time).  He was only holding 1 piece of paper, and it had my name on it. Interesting the say the least. What about all the other people who had the flight cancelled? I’ll never know.

At 5pm our plane departed, and I arrived in the evening into Hong Kong. There are 2 easy ways to get into the central part of town from the airport: 1) the subway/train, 2) a bus.  I decided to take the bus route because I wanted to explore the city a bit at night, I wasn’t in a hurry, and also wanted to see how their busses worked.  The only issue with their busses is they don’t give change, and since I had just arrived in Hong Kong, the ATM only spits out large notes.  So after waiting 20 minutes for the bus, and the driver tells me this, I go back inside to get change, and then wait another 15 minutes for the bus.  It took about 1 hour to get to my accommodation near Wan Chai. I checked in, relaxed for a bit, met a half American, half Hong Kong guy my age, and then called it a night.

Skyline from the other side

Skyline from the other side

The number 1 priority for the next day was to get my Thai visa sorted. I dressed nicely, and hopped on the tram toward the east for about 5km. The Thai consulate is in a massive building that shares the space with a massive fitness center, among other things. Once there, I grabbed the necessary form, then headed to the building across the street, the Lippo Center, to make copies. After doing that, I returned, waiting for about 5 minutes, and handed in my form, and money. The woman asked a few basic questions, and then told me to come back the next day.  After dropping that off, I headed back to the Lippo Center for some lunch. After lunch, I headed back to the hostel, relaxed and changed, and then headed out to explore the infamous “Peak”.

The Peak is one of the main tourist attractions in Hong Kong, where you can overlook the city from the top of the mountain nearby.  To get there, you can either hike up the mountain, or take a very steep tram for a few dollars.  I took the MTR (underground metro) to Central, then walked through the park nearby and to the tram entrance.  It was a 15 minute walk and had a few things to sight-see along the way. When you get the the tram entrance, you can buy a pass just for the tram, or a pass for the tram and skydeck.  Definitely get the skydeck pass too, as it is the best place to overlook the city. At the top of the peak, there are tons of shops, small malls, food, etc. It is a small city up there.

I got there about 4 hours before sunset.  I walked around the mountain quite a lot, through some residential areas, then grabbed a bite to eat.  I went to the skydeck about 2 hours before sunset, and then when I was about to go they said I couldn’t re-enter if I left.  Because I wanted to see the skydeck view at night time, I then just chilled up there until it got dark. Around night time it got much much more crowded. I sat down on the concrete because all the chairs were taken. After a minute, the security guy told me that I couldn’t sit.  So I was forced to stand for a good 4 hours if I wanted to see the dark view of the city. It was pretty annoying, and unfortunate that they don’t allow re-entry so people can eat and then come back freely.  Nonetheless, when night time came I took some great pictures, then headed back.  It took about an hour to get back because the queue for the tram going down was a good 30 minute+ wait.  Once back at the hostel I met 3 English guys and 1 Brazilian guy.  Chatted with them for a bit and called it a night.

Mong Kok in Hong Kong, the most crowded place in the world.

Mong Kok in Hong Kong, the most crowded place in the world.

On Wednesday I went to pickup my visa.  When I arrived, I got a queue slip, waited 30 seconds, walked up and picked it up and then left.  It couldn’t have been more flawless really, and I was impressed. Not so Thai-like, but was very professional. In the afternoon I met up with Georg, a fellow couchsurfer who lives in Hong Kong, to explore the city.  He has quite the traveling background, and has been living in Hong Kong for a couple years now.  He took me to a place that had fantastic dumplings, then we went to a coffee shop that his church owns, and after explored the northern part of Hong Kong.  He had a meeting in the evening so I explored Mong Kok on my own, a region of Hong Kong that holds the world record for the most densely populated place in the world. After exploring the area and eating some excellent dinner there, I headed back to the hostel and metup with the 3 English guys and the Brazilian for a night out.  We headed to Central area, bar hopped a bit, and ended up in a few different clubs.  It was a heavy night, but a fun night nonetheless.

Delicious Dimsum

Delicious Dimsum

On Thursday morning after getting ready, the 5 of us from the hostel went to eat some excellent dimsum. One of the guys knew of a place, so we hopped on the tram and went there.  The place we ate was a high-end place – everyone inside was wearing a suite except us.  Nonetheless, we sat down and had an excellent breakfast/lunch.  After that, I headed back to the church to meetup with Georg, and then we went to Stanley Bay to explore a different area of Hong Kong.  Hong Kong is great in that there is a metropolis, a wide range of preserved forests, and on the other side of the forest is a quiet set of beaches.  Fascinating to say the least.  While in the Stanley Bay area we relaxed, observed countless wedding photos, strolled the local markets, and had some excellent ice cream. We caught a bus back in the late afternoon, and explored the Central area some more.  We saw some awesome skybars and restaurants, a McLaren autoshop, and a great view of the north side of the city. Georg showed me the airport checkin in the middle of the city, where you can check baggage and checkin for your flight in the city, such that when you get to the airport you don’t need to do anything or wait in line.  Brilliant, well-thought through idea, which showed throughout my time in Hong Kong.

Beautiful Stanley Bay

Beautiful Stanley Bay

In the evening we watched the light show (many of the buildings that make up the skyline light up to music), and then ate dinner at The Festival Walk mall, which was absolutely fantastic. The Festival Walk is a very modern mall which just a few years ago got flooded during a massive hail storm that broken the glass on the ceiling allowing rain to pour in.  Hard to imagine in a place so big and modern. By the time we finished dinner, it was quite late and we called it a night.

On Friday morning I woke, worked a bit, and then headed out to meetup with Calvin and his wife, friends of mine who came in from Shenzhen (3 hr+ train ride away).  I’ve been doing business online with Calvin for many years, so it was great to finally meet him and his wife.  They took me out to an Italian restaurant which was delicious. He used to own a puzzle store in Hong Kong a couple years ago, but moved out to Shenzhen to build a factory and scale out his production.

Publicly posted road casualties in Hong Kong, 7,735 so far this year.

Publicly posted road casualties in Hong Kong, 7,735 so far this year.

After a few hours of meeting with them, I headed back to the hostel, checked out, dropped my bag at the front desk, and made my way to Macau.  My flight was the next morning around 7am, so I decided to spend the rest of this day and the following morning exploring Macau, and then come back to Hong Kong in the early morning and head straight to the airport. Macau has fascinated me for many years, as it is the biggest gambling scene in the world, doing 7x more revenue than Las Vegas every year.  It is quite a different place, however, in that Macau is a massive city, with many other buildings around all the casinos, and you pretty much have to shuttle to different parts of town to go to different casinos.  The Vegas strip, though long, can be walked in a few hours and makes up the bulk of the casinos in Las Vegas.  The thing I liked about Macau was that every casino had a free shuttle from the ferry port, so it was easy to get around the city, which isn’t really walkable.

Outside of the casinos and gambling in Macau, there is a lot of nice things to see. You can do a basic walking tour around town and see the famous landmarks, which seemed to be a common tourist thing as people were everywhere. Overlooking the city from above, it looked like there were some really run-down areas of town not far from the massive casinos.  This isn’t so surprising, but it is quite a view to see.

Part of the walking tour in Macau.

Part of the walking tour in Macau.

The last casino I visited was the Venetian, which is the biggest casino in Macau.  There is a Venetian in Las Vegas too, which is also massive.  The one in Macau was very very similar to the one in Las Vegas, but the casino floor however is quite different. Most floor games are Asian games I’ve never seen, and Baccarat, which makes up the majority of the floor. There was 1 craps table in the entire floor, and every blackjack table was $50+ minimum.  I went into the high limit area and was observing when some man stood up and started shouting at the dealer. Security came and surrounded him and started talking to him, but he kept shouting.  Everyone in the area just stopped what they were doing and watched him.  He then reached into his coat and started pulling out stacks of money, probably $20,000 worth of cash, and putting it on the table. He kept shouting for another couple minutes while security just stood their and watched him.

This is very different than in Las Vegas, where security would immediately eliminate that guy from the casino if he kept shouting.  Just think about during that 5 minute period how much money the casino lost by everyone stopping to gamble to watch him.  It was surely many thousands. The thing that struck me about Macau (similar to Singapore gambling too) is that the casinos themselves aren’t bigger than Las Vegas, it is that the table minimums are much higher, and the casinos are more crowded.  Every table on the floor was packed with people, and the cheapest table you could find would be $50 or so. People who gamble in Singapore and Macau tend to bring thousands to the floor, while in Las Vegas it is common for people to bring $100 or $200 and play all night.  Quite a different atmosphere, but it explains why Macau does so much more revenue than Las Vegas. Lots of people with lots of money playing – the middle class can’t afford to even play a few hands.

This picture doesn't do justice, but many run-down buildings in central Macau.

This picture doesn’t do justice, but many run-down buildings in central Macau.

I took a ferry back to Hong Kong from Macau around 2am, went past the hostel and grabbed my bag, then waited about 30 minutes for a bus to the airport, which took about an hour. Once at the airport, I did a bit of work since I couldn’t sleep, and after an hour took a short nap.  By the time I woke it was time to board my flight. While boarding, I was probably the only American, I got pulled aside by the airline asking me questions like “how long do you plan to stay?”, “how much cash do you have on you?”, “do you have a flight out?”, and “can we see you have a credit card?”.  It was a bit of a shock as I had never been asked these before, but the man talking to me said it is normal procedure for non-Asians to be asked these things. It does make sense because if I get rejected from Thailand upon arrival and don’t have money, the airline has to send me somewhere else.  Just something to watch out for.  I’m still hoping someday there will be a day where borders don’t separate us all, and that anyone, no matter their nationality, can freely travel the world.

Casino Lisboa in Macau.

Casino Lisboa in Macau.

Overall, it was a fantastic trip. Many of my friends told me that I would enjoy Hong Kong, but it certainly exceeded my expectations. Hong Kong is a very well designed city, that is crowded with hard working people with a lot of money.  While it does have one of the largest income inequalities in the world (similar to the US), it does a good job of masking it.  The city is designed very logically, and it is a comfortable place to be. I would highly recommend exploring Hong Kong to anyone, and I do plan to go back someday.