A Window of the World in Shenzhen China

Here’s a travel tip – use Google Translate, and download the offline translation. Then, you can press the camera button, and it’ll translate Chinese into English, and overlay lay it on top of the view you’re looking at. It’s amazing, and very helpful.

Anyways, the Shenzhen Metro is pretty straightforward with English signs and announcements. We caught Line 1 from Luohu Station towards Window of the World Station.

Our whole goal for Shenzhen was to go to Window of the World. This is a Chinese theme park dedicated to the world. Once you’ve gone here, you no longer have to actually visit the world. Probably.

But first, it was time for some Chinese KFC. I ordered a couple of bits of Chicken, as well as some Green Pepper Breast, and some Sticky Chicken wings. I didn’t eat it all, but I did taste it, and my reviews were mixed. Everything tasted a little weird. The Green Pepper Chicken Breast was the nicest, and was like a Wicked Wing chicken breast. But still, it didn’t taste as nice as New Zealand. Don’t even get me started on the ethical treatment of these chickens, I don’t imagine they had the happiest lives.

Anyways, back to this weird theme park. It has a one third scale replica of the Eiffel Tower, and there’s hundreds of miniature world attractions within the park.

The real attraction however, is the Chinese quality within the park. All of the exhibits are ‘close-enough’ to being nice, but aren’t actually nice. I mean, the maintenance is just woeful. We went past a miniature Buddhist temple in Asia, and one of the little monk people didn’t have a head! He was headless in a temple! Seriously. Probably worse was seeing the Manhattan skyline and the two World Trade Centers. I’m not sure if news travels slow in Shenzhen, but ever since September 2011, this exhibit has been culturally wrong. Heck, some of the buildings on faux-Manhattan were rusting, didn’t have sides, super dirty. It was like if Manhattan had been abandoned by humans, and this is what was left 300 years later.

For $30, we rented this luxury golf cart to go around the the theme park. It’s pretty large, going at 5kmh, it took 40 minutes to go around the park, without looking at any exhibits. This was the most fun we’d had in ages, in our golf cart, looking at fake attractions around the world, I don’t think I’ve ever had a more modern Chinese experience.

 

Getting stuck at the border in Shenzhen China

Shenzhen China is about an hour away on the subway from Hong Kong, so we arranged for a tour guide to meet us there and show us around the city.

I didn’t realise that Hong Kong (and I’m guessing Shenzhen) doesn’t really start until 11am, so when I planned this at home, I decided 9am at the Lo Wo Border crossing would be a good time. Turns out it’s super early. We walked to Prince Edward MTR station, and then connected through to the MTR East Rail Line, which goes directly to Lo Wo. It’s a 40 minute train ride, pretty uneventful, though with beautiful views of the tree-covered hills and mountains of the New Territories of Hong Kong.

I’d done a bunch of reading about how to do the border crossing to China, and the process is a bit tricky. If you’re from New Zealand, you need a visa to enter China. Normally, you apply for one while you’re in New Zealand, send your passport in the mail, pay the $140 NZD, and then get your passport back with a visa in it. However, Shenzhen is a special economic area, which offers a five day visa at the land border, for a cost of 168 RMB, or $34 NZD.

First, exit the MTR station. Next, do currency exchange. The Chinese Renminbi or RMB is the currency of China, so exchange your Hong Kong Dollars here. The ratio is close enough to one-to-one (technically 1 RMB = 1.13 HKD). Now, go through Hong Kong Border Security. This next bit is so important, it gets its own paragraph.

Grab your Hong Kong entry slip. You can’t get a Chinese visa without it.

So, as you can imagine, we didn’t grab these. Now, we had our NZ Passports with no record of ever being in Hong Kong. If all of that seems weird, Hong Kong (and Macau) don’t stamp your passport with entry or exit stamps. Instead, you get a little slip of paper with your name printed on it which counts as your permission to be in the country. When we left Macao Kathryn didn’t have her slip after Border Control. We thought that Hong Kong might be bothered, but turns out they don’t care.

Turns out the Chinese Border cares heaps! So anyways, we walk from Hong Kong across the Lo Wu Bridge. There’s a handful of duty free stores. Next, there’s a sign for Foreigners. Follow that, then swing a hard left, and go up these random escalators. Then fill in a little form, press a button, and wait to get your five day port visa.

This is where it went wrong for us. We didn’t have our Hong Kong entry slip, so the lady shooed us away. We were then told to go to immigration person. We explained what happened, and the lady took our passports. It was about now that Kathryn had a pretty uneasy look on her face. She doesn’t feel happy when she’s at a border without her passport. I had a fatalistic attitude. I mean, what could we do? We’re stuck between Hong Kong and China, with no passport. Can’t really do much!

What had happened was the Chinese immigration person had sent the passports back to the Hong Kong side to get the Hong Kong entry slip. Unfortunately, they only grabbed Kathryn’s one, and so, we had to walk back to the Hong Kong side. There’s a border guard to stop people doing this, so we had to show our passports to him. On the Hong Kong side we explained what happened, and a border guard printed a new copy of my entry slip, without having to enter the border. Now, with both slips, we walked back to the visa office, with our forms, slips, and 168 RMB.

10 minutes later, we had our visa! We crossed through the border, and that was it, we were in Shenzhen China. Unfortunately, this took about an hour, and we were 20 minutes late to the meeting point with our private tour guide. She was nowhere to be found. We did email her, but alas. So we were exploring Shenzhen on our own.

 

Walking Kowloon, catching the bus to Stanley, and feeling ill – Hong Kong

Kathryn and I decided to go on a walking tour, so we headed towards Mong Kok station and then walked south along Nathan Road towards Tsim Sha Tsui.

While there’s MTR stations nearly everywhere, Hong Kong isn’t that big in size, especially towards Kowloon Peninsula. The walk from Mong Kok to Tsim Sha Tsui is only 2.5km, and took about 45 minutes. On the journey we saw a few different neighbourhoods, from the grittiness of Mong Kok, to the scamminess of Tsim Sha Tsui.

But before all that, it was time for a coffee. Following the theory that cool shops cluster together, I figured that counts for coffee shops as well. So we headed to Knockbox Coffee Company for a flat white, and I got an affogato. Here’s a tip – Hong Kong opens late. This place only opened at 11am, so don’t arrive too early! The coffees were nice, though not as good as Wellington Kathryn tells me.

We kept on walking, past Jordan, to Tsim Sha Tsui. I’m always a bit weary around there, since it’s a bit of a ghetto part of Hong Kong. This was the only part of Hong Kong where I’ve seen touts approach you trying to sell you lunches or suits. Still, I think it’s safe, I just don’t like it as much as other places.

Instead we caught the subway to Hong Kong island, and then caught the 6X bus from Central towards Stanley. Stanley is a beachside resort on the other side of Hong Kong island. Stanley was pretty relaxing and quiet, mainly because it was winter, oh, and raining and windy. Not the best day for the beach, but nice to get away from the crowds.

We then had lunch at a place on the water. In the pub was only white people. I’m not even joking, there were two or three other groups, all white people. Kathryn ordered the fish and chips. We were all white people in a pub eating fish and chips. The Chinese culture wasn’t strong in that pub. I had a roast chicken sandwich.

Afterwards I felt really ill. Kathryn thinks it’s the tap water – I thought it was the food. Either way, I was feeling about a six out of ten. We then caught the 973 bus from Stanley towards Tsim Sha Tsui, going via Aberdeen and around Hong Kong island. This is a very scenic route, and I recommend it.

We got off the bus, and caught a tram towards another hipster park of town, a place called Poho, or Po Hing Fong road. Bordering Blake Garden, all these little side streets have cute art stores. One place was selling only computer-generated art. Another place sold the côte&ciel Isar Rucksack in Coated Canvas. Sure it’s $340USD or $474NZD, but it’s really really nice.

We then kept walking along Hong Kong’s first street, Hollywood street, which is full of tourists and Chinese antique stores. We walked so far that we ended up back at the Mid Level Escalators at the middle, a place called Soho. From there, we headed back home in the rain.

Silvermine Bay Beach, Ngong Ping 360 fail, and an expensive mall dinner – Hong Kong

Today was our explorer day, where we started the day heading from our local MTR stop of Olympic towards Central on Hong Kong Island. From there we walked towards Pier 6, which is where the fast ferry to Mui Wo on Lantau Island departs.

Lantau Island is where Hong Kong airport is based, but it’s also a super scenic island that’s relatively under-developed. You can catch a high speed ferry there for $30 HKD, which is around $6 NZD. 30 minutes later, you’re there.

There’s a really quiet white sand beach called Silvermine Bay Beach there. It’s Winter in Hong Kong, so no one was around, but it was 25 degrees. I’d swim there if I could be bothered walking around in wet board shorts!

Instead we walked back to Mui Wo. As we were walking I saw a guy reading a magazine, and another secret magazine on top. His hand was rubbing his crotch through the outside of his pants. He was having a cheeky wank in public! He should have went to the local McDonald’s toilets instead.

We instead visited the McDonald’s, and I went to the toilet. Now I could see why the guy was wanking in public. They were the most disgusting toilets I’d ever seen. I’d describe them in more detail, but just imagine the worst thing in your mind. Pretty similar.

We then caught the number 2 bus towards Ngong Ping. Catching the bus in Hong Kong is super simple, just have an Octopus card, which is the same card as the subway. Then you don’t have to worry about fare amounts and exact change. I think the cost was around $17 HKD, or $3.40 NZD. It took about an hour, and went deep inside of Lantau Island, past old villages and water reservoirs.

At the top is Ngong Ping village, a tourist village linked to Tung Chung MTR via a beautiful rope gondola. Sadly for me, and happily for Kathryn, this was closed from January until June 2017. What a fail! I was sad. Kathryn was glad. Instead we ate some overpriced food.

We then walked around the Po Lin Monastery and Tian Tan Buddha statue. While there was quite a few tourists, it’s really a very scenic stop. My favourite was viewing the trees surrounding the monastery, you don’t really see a lot of trees on Hong Kong island.

From here, we caught the 23 bus back to Tung Chung, which is an MTR stop, connected directly with our MTR stop of Olympic. We then had dinner in a mall restaurant that was serving Pizza and Pasta. Kathryn had the Ham and Cheese Margherita pizza, while I went for a Cabonara pasta. Add a couple of mocktails, and that was $50. Pretty expensive for mall food!

Filipinos and escalators everywhere, and the hip part of Hong Kong

There are a lot of Filipino maids and housekeepers in Hong Kong. And Sunday is their day off. Because they can’t invite people back to their place, they hang out in the city.

If you’re not a fan of crowds, then I’d avoid Central on Hong Kong Island on a Sunday. There are people everywhere. We had to fight our way through crowds of people packing boxes to send back to the Philippines. I mean, everyone was nice and polite, and it was a jovial carnival mood, but still, if you’re big on personal space, then this might freak you out a little.

The other interesting thing about Central is that this is where the really wealthy businessmen live. There’s still a big English influence, as judged by the Marks & Spencers supermarket selling fresh sandwiches imported directly from the UK by airfreight. Which is probably why one Salmon sandwich cost $12 NZD. I was kinda tempted, but realised, that’s too expensive for a sandwich!

Instead we headed to the Japanese brand Yoshinoya. There you can buy a bowl of beef and onions on rice, and a Coke, for $16. A bit expensive really compared to New Zealand. I think that’s the thing – Hong Kong is an expensive place to buy food that’s not on the street. Though, McDonalds is still good value though.

Then we caught the Mid Level Escalators up a hill. This is a series of about 10 escalators that go half way up Mt. Victoria towards Victoria Peak. The shops are on the lower part, cafes on the mid part, and apartments at the top part. ANd then you get dumped in the middle of nowhere. If you walk under like two motorways next to a flood stream, you then end up at the free Hong Kong Zoo. It’s a small zoo, but it’s free! With lots of cages. Cages at the zoo are a pretty typical Asian thing. I guess it’s to do with space, there’s not enough space for people in Hong Kong, let alone animals!

We then walked back down the hill, and went caught the Hong Kong tram. Not everything in Hong Kong is expensive, and the tram at $0.50 NZD, is the best value travel method. It’s slow, it’s tall, it’s double decker, it’s made of wood, and it’s really neat.

We stopped at the hip part of Hong Kong, Wan Chai. It’s where the Monocle store is, from the people who write the Monocle magazine. We also had coffee from the local hipster place, Elephant Grounds. Turns out they used too much milk, which is Kathryn’s common complaint.

We then headed back to Mong Kok for a beer at the local bar, Chillworks. SO EXPENSIVE. A beer, a cider, $180 HKD. That’s $32 NZD. Beer – $13. Cider – $13. A handful of peanuts – the rest of the money. Weirdly, you can buy two 500ml cans of Heineken for $4NZD from the 7-11. So that’s what we decided to do. I also ate some street meat, BBQ Pork. I didn’t get sick so that’s good!

Kowloon, Causeway Bay, and the worst night show ever – Hong Kong

Today we played Pokemon Go. It sounds like a funny thing to do on holiday, but it’s actually a travel guide! All the Pokestops are in interesting bits of the neighbourhood, and there’s normally a little description of what you’re seeing which is cool.

We wandered through the area by Mong Kok towards Kowloon. This is the more Chinese part of the city, compared to Central on Hong Kong island which is the more commercial British part of the city. The buildings here are functional, not really beautiful, and gritty. We walked past a food market where guys with no shirts on were cutting meat, while ladies with full makeup were selling them. From here we caught the MTR to Central.

Central and Hong Kong station is where the massive IFC malls are. This is a typical high end mall, with all the regular wealthy brands. When I see Chloe or Tom Ford, I don’t really seem them as exclusive. You just need to be rich to wear them. They’re like Hallensteins or Glassons for rich people. We went into a high end store called Lane Crawford. I was wearing shorts, t-shirt, and Birkenstock sandals. The guy at the perfume counter didn’t even say hello to me. I guess shop staff get pretty good at judging people in advance. No surprise, Hong Kong people are very image conscious, so I’d imagine a couple of New Zealanders looking like a summer holiday would feel out of place.

We then went to Causeway Bay and wandered around, including going to a craft beer bar that didn’t have a liquor license! Sure, they served Karma Cola from New Zealand which was nice, though it did cost $10 NZD for the privilege. We continued wandering and saw a lot of pretty average looking apartment complexes, but with some super wealthy cars on the outside, so many Tesla Model S cars! I guess when there’s no land, you invest in cars.

It was getting hot, around 25 degrees Celsius, so we decided to retreat back to Causeway Bay shopping centre, and hit up my only two clothing stores, Muji, and Uniqlo for a Fashion Renewal. I really only shop there now since they’re plain and cheap. I like them, and the quality is good.

After a wee break, we headed back outside to watch the Hong Kong Night Light show called ‘A Symphony of Lights’. Imagine watching 10 buildings for 90 minutes, with some lasers thrown in occasionally. Not recommended. We had been standing around so long and walking so much, that my lower back was killing me. First time that’s really ever happened. So we retreated back to the hotel, and after doing many a yoga stretch, we fell asleep immediately.

Wandering the streets of Macau – Two Minute Travel

We woke up and had breakfast in the Club Sofitel lounge. Really what a beautiful sight. Sitting on the 17th floor of the Sofitel Macau, we had breakfast just as the sun was rising. With it so low in the sky, the sun was a brilliant shade of red, peaking through the haze.

But enough of waxing lyrically, it was time for eating. The breakfast was beautiful, really delicious. Kathryn said that the croissant she had with jam was the best croissant of her life.

My reflection was, this should have been the hotel we went to for our honeymoon. It really was a very romantic breakfast. Anyways, we didn’t just eat all day, we then started our walk around Macau.

Around the Sofitel is the old part of Macau. We wandered following the signposts towards the Ruins of St. Paul. Unfortunately, we missed the last signpost, and then started wandering through a gritty sales area. Thankfully, there are these massive hordes of Chinese tour grounds wandering around, and by following them, we stumbled upon the Ruins of St. Paul.

These ruins are the front of a church that used to be here. They’re pretty impressive. Though I do wonder if they’d be as popular if they weren’t a ruin. I’m just saying there were a lot of impressive buildings in Macau that don’t have a million tourists standing outside, but because they’re not ruins, there’s no one there!

We wandered back down the hill, and then decided to walk towards the Port. Turns out, looks close on the map, but ended up being about an hour and a half walk through the searing heat. Our feet were killing us.

Once back at the port, we caught the free shuttle towards the Venetian. It was kind of funny seeing the boring dusty hot streets we walked through, as we zoomed by in minutes in an air conditioned bus. I guess that’s why no one was walking around right?

The Venetian is a massive thing. A massive mall. A massive casino. Really just everything massive. We didn’t even go to the casino! We did wander the mall, which is about the size of four massive malls glued together by a gondola ride. Kathryn ended up going clothes shopping at Marks & Spencer, while I bought some Scottish sparkling water. However, not everything we did was imported culture – I did try a Macanese Pork Bun. This is literally just a pork chop in bread. $7 later, it was very nice. The spices on the pork chop made it taste nearly like KFC which was quite nice.

Afterwards we got our bags, and thanks to Kathryn’s careful eye, we got out of the line for the bus to the Chinese border, and instead took the bus back to the port, for a hydrofoil bound for Hong Kong. We got off at the Kowloon Ferry Terminal, and then started the long 45 minute trek towards our hotel, the Dorsett Mong Kok. My feet were dying. I could feel them dying. More poor feet. After quite a wander, we made it, made a drink, and went to bed.

Sofitel Macau Review – Spoiler, the best hotel in Macau!

We landed at Hong Kong International Airport at about 3.30pm local time. At HKIA a neat thing is that if you’re catching the high speed ferry to Macau, they depart from the airport, without needing to go through immigration, it’s basically an international transfer!

So that’s what we did. We walked on down to the E2 Transfer Point, and bought a couple of tickets, $254 HKD each. For people in NZ, that works out to be about $50 NZD per person. We had about half an hour before boarding, but there’s not too much to do in the airport except look at the same old duty free shops we’ve all seen before – does anyone want to buy a Toblerone?

The Turbojet ride itself is about an hour long, and pretty uneventful. We did see a bridge being built from Hong Kong to Macau, 50km long. Thankfully Kathryn took her Sea Legs pill before the boat ride, so no complaints there.

At the Macau Ferry terminal, immigration was painless. We waited all of a minute, a guy looked at us, didn’t say anything, and that was that. All the shuttles to the various casinos depart from the ferry terminal. On the right hand side are all the flash casinos, like the Venetian. On the left hand side past some scaffolding are the slightly smaller shuttles, like the one to the Sofitel Macau at 16 Ponte.

After about a 10 minute shuttle ride, we arrived at the hotel. We walked to the check-in counter where we were informed that we were to be checked in at the executive lounge on the 17th floor. Turns out we’d be upgraded to the Luxury room on the 17th floor next to the roof, with views of China just across the river, located in the old part of town. The check in experience was beautiful, with a person doing the paperwork, while we sat down, and had canapes, and drank cocktails. We were so confused – why were they treating us so nicely? But seriously, we felt a bit out of place, we’d just come off the plane, tired, sweaty, and the hotel staff were amazing.

We went to the room, and it was the Luxury Room Club Sofitel. Basically, the room was massive – 37m2, or twice the size of our hotel room in Hong Kong! A massive bath with a spa pillow, Hermes amenities, a TV in the bathroom, super high ceilings, beautiful views over the Pearl River towards China, amazing. The bed was a massive king bed with soft soft pillows, Bose sound system, and automated curtains.

It’s been an amazing trip so far, and we’re so thankful to the Sofitel Macau. Thank you, I will literally recommend this hotel to everyone I met.

Cost wise – we paid $160 NZD for the hotel room, and the Luxury Room costs around $320 NZD a night.

Cathay Pacific Business Class for $1800 NZD – Two Minute Travel

I enjoy puzzles. Recently the puzzle I’ve been playing around with is Airline frequent flyer programmes. If you’re from New Zealand, you’re probably well familiar with Air New Zealand Airpoints. There’s not really much ‘point hacking’ you can do with the programme. One Airpoints Dollar equals one NZ Dollar.

But not all airlines have such simple programmes. My current favourite is Alaska Airline’s Mileage Plus programme. You can buy Alaska Airline miles, and occasionally, they have bonus purchases. The best offer I’ve seen is get 40% more miles. So I ended up purchasing 60,000 Alaska Airline miles for around $1800 NZD.

Next, have a look at redeeming those miles with Alaska Airline partners using their redemption chart. The best value redemption for 60,000 miles is a return flight from Auckland to Hong Kong flying business class. And that’s what we booked!

Now, this is a saving of about $4000 NZD compared to buying a business class flight. But there are some caveats of course. First, availability isn’t very strong. Use the British Airways website to find out when there are seats available on a particular flight. Once available, call Alaska Airlines to do your reservation. Another concern is buying points in advance. Points aren’t cash – airlines can devalue them, cancel partners, change their programme at will. So we waited until there was a good sale, then looked for seats we could buy, then while on the phone to Alaska Airlines reservations, we purchased the points online.

And as for our Cathay Pacific experience? A really nice hard product, i.e. the seat. And an OK soft product, i.e. the people. We flew up Air NZ the day before and they weren’t worried about our carry on bags. But Cathay Pacific wanted to weigh ours! Turns out one bag was 9kg, and we had to remove some stuff from it. Also turns out that Business class passengers are allowed 10kg for carry on. So a mark down there for a lady giving us grief over something she wasn’t correct about.

The lounge access was for the Air New Zealand Koru Lounge. You really can’t complain about it – it’s very nice, the food is fine, and oh my goodness, the showers. SO GOOD. Shower pressure was intense, and there was a rain shower! You can’t beat that.

On board the flight, things were OK. The seat and surround is really good, but the food was a bit average. Ho hum bircher muesli tasted like cornflakes sitting in milk getting soggy for two days. Maybe that’s just what bircher muesli actually tastes like? The sausage and egg omelette tasted generously like that of an airport hotel. The omelette was next to mushrooms, and so the omelette turned grey in colour. The entertainment system is really nice, with live streaming CNN. And there’s WiFi onboard – a reasonable $20 USD for the 10 hour flight, which is a good deal.

NYC Day 7 – A Circle Island Boat Cruise and reflections on a week in New York

Well, it had to happen sometime, but our stay in New York is coming to an end.

But first, we had a bit more shopping to do. I must admit, after going on a Round-The-World trip late last year, the novelty of the stores has been greatly reduced for me. Last time I brought back about 20 kg of novelty food and snacks interesting to me. This time a bunch of chewing gum, and that’s it. Kathryn’s been the same, pretty much no makeup purchases. I think with the internet, it’s not so much of a hassle ordering stuff over the internet, and there’s nearly nothing that can’t be ordered off the internet these days. Except makeup so it seems.

I ended up going to the Uniqlo 34st Street Flagship building, and was served by perhaps the worst service I’ve seen in America. With service that poor I figured I could have been in Oslo. Seriously, I’ve never seen a guy less interested in serving a customer. It was truly a chore to him that I was there. He tossed down the receipt on the table, didn’t say anything, and flicked it at me with his finger. Truly amazing.

We then went to 42nd Street and 12th Avenue and caught the Circle Island Ferry Tour. This was $35 USD per person, and lasted about a couple of hours. Manhattan is truly an island, and we proved it by catching a ferry all the way around it. Kathryn has a fairly sceptical view towards tours like this – they’re both long, boring, and you’re stuck in not the most comfortable seat ever. It was cool to see the parts of Manhattan that we hadn’t ventured towards, like the Bronx. There’s a lot more to Manhattan than Midtown, and I’m happy we got to explore Downtown, but next time I think we should spend a bit less time on Manhattan, and more time exploring Brooklyn, and heck, even New Jersey.

Overall, New York has been amazing to us. The weather when we arrived was beautiful and sunny, and though it rained torrentially last night, because it had been sunnier earlier in the stay, we knew what New York was like on a sunny day, and a clear night. We spent enough time in New York to not feel rushed – a feeling we didn’t have anywhere on our round the world trip, except for maybe Tokyo. When you’re in one place for a week, you start to get a feel for the directions of the place, where the coffee place is, the bus station, where to avoid (White Castle). And since it’s all in English, we could understand helpful directions like, only the first five cars of this Subway train stop at the South Ferry station. That was something that caught us out in Osaka.