Visas, Hot Pots & Dim Sum in Honky!

Well, we’re now up to our last night in Hong Kong before our 2-day trip to Hanoi, Vietnam, so time to recap on what we’ve been up to the last couple of days!!

On Saturday (after lunch at Cafe de Coral, which we have frequented on a number of occasions!) we made our way to Hung Hom railway station (Kowloon) to get some more info about our train journey to Hanoi! We hadn’t had much luck on the internet clarifying all the details so thought we’d get it from the horses mouth and ask at the China Railways desk! We knew that we had to go back into Mainland China (hence the need for another Chinese Visa) to a place called Guangzhou where we could get an overnight train to Nanning. Nanning is just over 350Kms from the Vietnamese border and from there it’s possible to catch a daily bus or train to Hanoi. What we didn’t know was whether we could buy a ‘through ticket’ to Nanning or if we had to buy tickets as we went and hope that seats were available. We’d have to sort out the Nanning to Hanoi tickets when we got there as we’ve decided to do this stretch of the trip by bus.

Luckily the woman at China Railways knew exactly what we wanted to do and gave us all the times etc we needed – she also told us that we’d be better off booking the train tickets in advance as the Nanning train may well sell out. There were only 51 seats free for Monday 20th and 10 left for the Tuesday! As we hadn’t yet picked up our visas we were quite apprehensive about booking tickets in case we lost the money but decided that to guarantee sleeper tickets to Nanning we’d better book to go on Tuesday 21st – the day after we were planning to get our passports back.

Once again, we found that things are relatively simple if you just go to the right place to ask! We’d heard of other people using agencies etc and being charged way over the odds for info and tickets that are easily available from the station itself.

Pleased with our progress so far, we headed back over to Kowloon and got on with some ‘research’ on the internet, as well as catching up on boring errands like going to the supermarket etc! That night we decided to catch the ferry back over to HK Island and walk round to Causeway Bay and Times Square, to check out some more of the absurdly expensive designer shopping malls and have a general wander around. When it got to around 10ish we headed over to Wan Chai, where we had been (briefly) a couple of nights ago – we wanted to go to a couple of other bars, since we only really had time for one last time.

We went to a Mexican place called Coyote, which was surprisingly ‘inexpensive’ (compared to some of the places we’ve been!) – it wasn’t particularly heaving for  a Saturday night, but we got to witness a drunk old Chinese man in the ‘Tequilla Chair’ – where the waitress poured Jose Cuervo and Bols liquor down his neck (and chin!).

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After that we walked around the corner to a cool looking wine bar called Mes Amis which was playing some great old skool tunes. I was personally pleased to discover that they were offering free Cosmopolitans for ladies and they were much nicer than the ones in Club 97 (Lan Kwai Fong)! The corner that Mes Amis was on had a cluster of bars on it, including a couple of wine bars, an irish bar, sports bar and one or two clubs in a nearby building. Again, all quite pricy, but there seemed to be a good atmosphere there.

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One little tip for you here (a bit of a cheeky one!) is to go across to the local 7-Eleven, buy yourself a bottle of beer (which they open for you btw) and saunter back over to your favourite bar, stand outside with everyone else and listen to the music! Yes, we indulged in this ‘tip’ and No, we definitely weren’t the only ones!

Just to give you an idea about the sorts of people you may bump into on a night out in Hong Kong, we were stood outside a bar when we heard a loud engine roaring down the street – it was a guy in a bright red Ferrari 360 racing by and his number plate was… …wait for it… …U WISH. We couldn’t help but groan when we saw it but I couldn’t get a photo as it was moving too quick!

Night over, we headed back home on the Metro (not a late night this time!) and went to bed!

The next day we acted on another recommendation from our friend Joel – to sample a famous Hong Kong hotpot! Having seen these in mainland China and been scared off by the raw meat and entrails we saw people dipping into a steaming pot of soup, we were a bit apprehensive. However, as we didn’t have much time left in Hong Kong and wanted to try something authentic whenever we could we decided to just go for it!

We went to a restaurant called Little Sheep, which we had heard good reviews about and were given a table for two. When we got the menu we were still very confused about what to do but luckily the waiter spoke great English and explained it all to us! We just had to choose a hot pot (either soup-stock or spicy sauce or combination of both) and a bunch of ingredients ranging from meats, vegetables, fish and rice/noodle dishes. We opted for safe bets of sliced chicken, cheese-stuffed sausage and hand made noodles as well as a mixed soup/spicy hot pot. The hot pot was brought out first and placed on a hot plate in the middle of the table – this was then heated from underneath and when it was bubbling furiously we knew it was ready. The ingredients just had to be dipped in to the pot and left for around 30-50 seconds for the chicken and sausage and a bit longer for the noodles – shows how hot the sauce was!

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All of it was eaten and served with chopsticks of course, and we only made a bit of a mess on the table, but our overall conclusion was that the hot pot rocked! It was all delicious – the spicy side was REALLY spicy though but the soup-stock was nice to drink on it’s own. Were so pleased we tried it – didn’t know what we were missing!

Later that evening we indulged in a little cost-cutting by visiting the gym at the nearby Holiday Inn. We just went straight up to the 18th floor and checked out their health club and pool – this Holiday Inn was much more plush than the ones we get at home! Nobody else came into the gym whilst we were there and we were able to have a good hour and a half workout. Felt great to feel ‘fit’ again and Rich was especially pleased as he has had to cut his 5 day a week gym habit down to twice a month (if he’s lucky!) on this trip! Will definitely try this tactic again in Vietnam!

Once we had finished we walked up to Temple Street night market – it’s only about 15/20 minutes walk from Tsim Sha Tsui and it was nice to skip the two metro stops and walk through more of the back streets. The market itself was pretty big and quite busy – it sold the usual stuff like watches, handbags, souvenirs and some cool gadgets but we don’t really want to fill up our backpacks any more – we’ve already acquired a camping stove this week! There were a lot of food stalls at this market too – they all smelt really good and sold cheap beer. The ones right at the entrance to the market were the most packed – with locals as well as tourists. We’d had enough local food for the day however so got a great ‘packed lunch’ from the 7-Eleven on the corner!

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This brings me right up to today – our last day in Hong Kong… also known as VISA DAY! We got up nice and early and went across to HK Island on the good ol’ Star Ferry. Our first stop was the Chinese Embassy where we went to collect our passports. Nearly had a bit of a shock however as when we turned the corner at the front of the China Resources Building there was a massive queue going all the way to the next main road!

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The sign outside the door said that the lobby was too full of applicants that day, so people would have to queue and start filling out their forms in the street. We thought we’d better tell the security guard that we were only there to collect our passports not to apply and see if he’d let us in. Thankfully he did so we just went straight up to the 7th floor, paid our money at the cashier desk and picked up our passports – visas in tow!

So, if you are ever planning to go to the Chinese embassy to apply for a visa DON’T GO ON A MONDAY! Their website is quite misleading as it gives an example of processing times as ‘Application on Monday, collection on Friday’, implying that you need to apply on a Monday – but in reality, you can apply for your visa any day during opening hours and collect four working days later (including the day you submitted the form). You can also pay extra for Express (3 working days) or Rush (2 working days). For this you need to pay an extra $150(HK) or $250(HK).

Once we had smugly walked past the queue with our passports, we went straight to the Vietnamese Embassy. We had already filled out the forms that we picked up the other day so just waited for the window to be free and handed them over with our passports and one photo. We paid to have the express service here too, which was half an hour so just took a seat and waited until they waved our visas at us!

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Finally, we are past the tricky part of this section of our trip and are free to look forward to our two day train/bus journey to Vietnam!

Before we went back to Kowloon to do our shopping for the train we went over to Tsing Yi – a tiny island between Hong Kong and Lantau Island – to have lunch. We walked to Central metro station where we needed to get the tube over to the island and ended up walking past Hutchison House – the headquarters of the company Richard used to work for when he was at the Port of Felixstowe – owned by the richest man in Hong Kong (and 11th richest in the world!)

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When we got to Tsing Yi we opted for a dim sum restaurant and after sitting there for a few minutes wondering what we had to do, we choose some dishes and ordered! Dim Sum is basically like Chinese tapas – little dishes that you eat accompanied by tea. It can be scary or straight forward depending what you order – we ordered BBQ Pork Buns, Spring Rolls, Spinach & Pork Dumplings, Rice Roll with beef & veg and Spare ribs. By far our favourite was the Pork Bun – the worst were spare ribs as they were nothing like spare ribs you get in England!!

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So that’s pretty much bringing you bang up to date – we are now armed with visas, train tickets and two days worth of noodles and fruit to see us into Vietnam. Let’s hope the next country lives up to expectations just like Hong Kong has!

We’ve really enjoyed our stay here and it’s very easy to feel familiar, even ‘settled’ due to the English influences that are all over Hong Kong. It’s been a completely different experience to mainland China – you really could forget what cultures and languages live just next door when you’re surrounded by Gucci, Prada, H&M, McDonalds and Pizza Huts on every corner.

It’s not really a place that you can spend too much time in however, unless you are well and truly loaded. Now, we are obviously on a bit of a tight budget since we have such a lot of ground to cover, and Hong Kong certainly didn’t help stretch that budget! The MTR (Metro) system is the most expensive we have come across so far (although still cheaper than London for Single Trip Journeys!!) and the ‘fast food’ on the streets is priced more at cafe level. But it’s difficult to stay away from the restaurants and the bars here as the atmosphere and service is so good!

The majority of people here seem to be those who are living and working in Hong Kong, but being employed by overseas companies, so they have a lot of disposable income. This cash then seems to go straight to the bars and clubs, as drinking and eating out are probably the two main past times (apart from shopping) of Hong Kong residents. There doesn’t seem to be that much to do here, aside from these things, and after 5 full days here we, as tourists, were beginning to run out of things to see and do.

Hong Kong is a cool place and everybody is so positive and friendly – it also has some spectacular scenery – with hundreds of islands and national parks which offer a relaxing retreat from the hype of HK Island and it’s night spots.

We wouldn’t say no to coming back here again, but we would definitely have to fill up our wallets before we did!


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1 Comment

  1. September 21, 22:51 #1 Charles

    Hi you two! Just managing to keep up with all your blogs which are a great read. Hearing your news of HK reminds me of our time there 15 hrs ago! We’re all keeping busy here and Chris is going great guns. Enjoy(?) Vietnam! Charles. Nb written from my iPad!

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