Saturday 27 July 2013

How to be the perfect visitor

 Following on from my last post about arranging for visitors to come more often, here are my top tips for anyone travelling to Hong Kong to visit friends for their holiday. 

1. Visitors should not stay for more than 10 days if they will be in your apartment. There are NO exceptions to this rule - trust me.

2. The best visitors strike the perfect balance between easy-going "we'll come along with you to this random party / BBQ" and organised "we're heading to the Big Buddha today". I am more than happy to point you in the direction of the bus stop, write down bus numbers and lend you a mobile phone, but I don't want to plan every hour of every day for you. I already do that every day for 4 members of my family, I call it "cat-herding".

3. Visitors should be open to new experiences and new food, within reason; I won't make you eat chicken feet, but it'd be great if you'd try Crystal Jade's awesome xiao long bao. (Note to my children: this applies to you too)

4. Visitors should not expect to be met at the airport - anyway, they will be all bed-heady and tired and dehydrated after a bit of shut-eye on the flight. You can have the "how was your flight?" conversation later.

5. Visitors and hosts are not obliged to eat every single meal together, it's nice for both parties to have a little alone time.

6. It is highly appreciated when visitors are generous with hotel facilities that their hosts might otherwise not have access to! I'm thinking swimming pools here, with the odd spa thrown in if your visitors have a big hotel budget. My parents usually stay at the Metropark, which has a great rooftop pool.

7. Visitors should do some of the leg-work themselves when it comes to finding a place to stay. There are some great looking B&Bs on AirBnB, but I haven’t tried any of them. Obviously, as we live in the Bay, hotels in Causeway Bay are best, and quite a few have sprung up nearby recently. There’s a new place called the Mini Hotel (“an upscale mini brand”, WTF?!), the Lanson Place is just over the road, and Hotel Pennington Rhombus looks like it’ll be opening soon. Anyway, there are hundreds of hotels in Causeway Bay, so it’s probably easiest just to search them all on HotelClub or similar.

8. Care packages from home are always appreciated (in my case, anyone crossing my threshold with a big slab of British Dairy Milk) can come back any time.

9. Don't wait to be invited! If you are friends and fancy heading to Hong Kong, get onto Trailfinders or Expedia or whatever your preferred engine-jobby is, and check out flights! By all means ask where you can stay, your friend may or may not have space to put you up, and can recommend a hotel or serviced apartment nearby.

It’s as easy as that! We decided a while ago that in future we will only go on holiday to visit people – we are lucky enough to know people in a few places around the world, and to have friends who want to explore the same places as us! Holidays are SO much more enjoyable and rewarding when you get a glimpse of life in the country you’re visiting, even if it’s not 100% indigenous life!

Friday 26 July 2013

What to do, what to do.....

The weather....well, what can I say that I haven't said a hundred times before? It's unpleasant at this time of year, let's leave it at that. Last Thursday we got back to the Big Lychee after 2 1/2 weeks away, mostly in the south of England. It was amazing - the weather was fantastic, the kind of weather you expect to see about 2 or 3 days a year in the UK. Somehow it lasted the whole time we were there, and the boys completely loved it. Everyone else is Getting the Frick Out, and we've just got back.

Last time we returned to HK after a long trip (last October) there were still a fair few of our oldest, bestest friends around, but this time - not so much. There has been a mass exodus to Singapore and Aus, so we are a bit marooned here currently, feeling like little lost orphans. I think that is part of why it felt so important and happy-making to see our families in the UK, and some of our best friends. It got me thinking that I would like to make our plans to visit the UK (and get visitors here) a bit more formal. I hadn't realised that we had somehow given the impression that we would only be coming back to the UK every two years, so Ross's parents were planning to come to HK every other year. To be honest, the reason that we didn't go back for two years had a lot to do with the expense, stress and logistical problems of taking two little people on a 13+ hour flight to London, then back again (and dealing with jet lag). It seemed to make a lot more sense for them to come to us at that time while the boys were little.

We've been here 5 years now (more on the pros and cons of the 7 year Permanent Resident status later!) and in that time, my parents have been over 3 times I think, Ross's parents twice, Ross's sister once and my brother about 5 times. Obviously, Hong Kong has to be THE top tourist destination in the universe, but there are only so many times you can see the Big Buddha. And don't get me started on bloomin' Ngong Ping.... The rellies have hunted down some of the less frequently visited sites, including Chi Lin Nunnery in Diamond Hill (I think this has recently made the shortlist to become a UNESCO world heritage site, even though it was built just 14 years ago). They loved the gardens and the peace a quiet, right in the middle of the soaring residential towers.

We also went to the Kadoorie Farm last time my brother was here, which is near Tai Po. It's an awesome escape from the city, with a few animals to see (mostly raptors and chickens) as well as beautfil semi-wild terraced gardens. Here's a tip for the pros - pushchairs are not ideally suited to the super-steep terrain! Also, if you get the minibus, you might like to get off at the first stop on the way up, because it gets very high very quickly after that. More pics of Kadoorie here.

What else? We visited the Race Course Fire Memorial with my brother a while ago - that's one of my favourite HK things. It's so hidden and unknown, I love it. Next time I want to go to the Produce Green Foundation, as recommended on Mochachocolata-Rita's blog. My mission is to prove that HK isn't all LV, bubble tea, red bean lollies and pollution.

My parents did a tour of the New Territories (or New Toiletries as my dad accidentally re-named it), but I think it was a bit disappointing. I have already written about how underwhelmed we were by the Lam Tsuen Wishing Tree on our first visit to the NT, several years ago, and I think that's pretty much the effect that the NT had on my parents.

Tuesday 23 July 2013

Jet lag

Lei Shun gets a (bit of a) facelift

Look, new plaster!

Look, clean pipes and cables!

Not all perfect though....

Does this fill you with confidence in dai pai dongs' cleanliness and high hygiene standards? Me neither. But you wouldn't believe how busy this place gets at lunchtime.

Monday 22 July 2013

Check out this gem of a public service announcement! thanks to Hong Wrong for unearthing this.

Combatting heatiness

Problems with heatiness in this sweaty weather? try Coolmate (upgrade)!

Discovered this at the Aeon supermarket in Causeway Bay. How is it possible that there's a supermarket here I haven't been to before? It's quite good, though all the labels are in Japanese, so you're going to have a tough time working out which tofu is silken, which is firm, which is dessert.....

Ma Wan - a cautionary tale

Ma Wan aka Park Island is a 30 minute ferry ride from HK island. I've wanted to go there for a while, so when we had nothing to do this Saturday, we headed off for Central Ferry Pier 2 to catch the boat. I think Ma Wan means Horse Bay.

I had checked Little Steps beforehand to make sure there was enough for us to do there, and it looked ok. I wasn't really interested in going to Noah's Ark (an evangelical Christian theme park (?!) which costs $155 per adult and $130 per child!), partly because Vergenia went a while ago and said it wasn't that great. I can confirm that it is a proper theme park, because they have speakers blaring atonal "music" hidden in the bushes.

Having given up on the maps displayed by the road, we resorted to Google Maps and found the Ma Wan Park, only to realise that it's open 1pm-6pm. What kind of park isn't open all day?! Quite a lot of the displays in the park were closed for maintenance when we finally went in, which was disappointing. There was an adventure playground but that was closed because it's only for pre-booked groups, a hilltop viewing platform, a little waterfall and a solar tower. Can't tell you what's in the solar tower because when we finally got there they told us that you need a ticket to get in, and you can only buy that ticket at the Noah's Ark ticket office, which is about 10 minutes' walk away. At that point we gave up and headed back to the ferry!

We cooled down a bit in Pacific Coffee near the pier, and a very kind guy moved to another table so that we could all sit down. It was really kind of him in a city where the norm is for every 4-seater table to be occupied by just 1 sleeping person...

I would love to go back to Ma Wan sometime to explore the abandoned village (photos here) but I'm not sure that's a very child-friendly outing.