File this in the “Don’t Try This at Home” folder.
On a trip to South East Asia in April, I had a layover scheduled for 4 hours and 25 minutes in Hong Kong. I am generally very risk-averse and luckily have never missed a flight (yet.) So before I did this, I did some planning. Quite a bit of planning, actually. Down to the minute. My plan? To head into town.
I decided that I would need a few things to fall into place to make this work. The flight would need to be (reasonably) on time. The line at immigration couldn’t be too long. And the transit connections would need to work smoothly as well.
I figured that with 4 hours and 25 minutes, I’d probably use an hour and 25 minutes for immigration both entering and leaving the country, customs inspection on the way in and security check on the way out. That leaves 3 hours. The Airport Express train takes 24 minutes to do the 21 mile journey, so I just round up to an hour round trip. So that’s 2 hours on the ground. Doable. Slightly stressful, but doable.
Well, the flight wasn’t on time. Not very late, but 17 minutes means I now have less time on the ground. I made up a few minutes by walking really fast towards immigration, and there was no wait to clear customs.
Luckily, right after customs (but still in the restricted area, before you reach the mass of people waiting for their friends and relatives) there’s a MTR Airport Express counter to purchase train tickets. HK$100 (about US$12.90) for a one way or same-day round trip ticket is a steal, actually. I bought my ticket with a credit card and walked the 2 minutes to the train right before the doors closed. (The next one would have been along in 10 minutes, but again, time was of the essence!) I made it on the train at 7:40 pm.
I wanted to do 3 things in Hong Kong: eat some dessert at my favorite place, see the beautiful view across Victoria Harbour, and ride the Star Ferry from Kowloon to Central. Instead of taking the Airport Express all the way into Hong Kong Station, I got off at Kowloon Station (8:01 pm), and took one of the free feeder busses that connect with the Airport Express. Looking at the map, I decided the bus K3, with its first stop at the Holiday Inn Golden Mile would get me close to Nathan Road in Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon, close to the Harbour. From the hotel a 2 minute walk would take me to iSquare mall, where a branch of Honeymoon Dessert (滿記甜品) is located.
These feeder busses are free for Airport Express passengers, but my ticket wasn’t checked and presumably anybody could use these busses.
After arriving in Tsim Sha Tsui (8:12 pm), I found the dessert place, and after I ordered I realized I didn’t have any local currency! I told them I’d be right back and ran to an ATM in a different part of the mall. Seems like a rookie mistake to me…
Honeymoon Dessert did not disappoint. I love the Sago in Vanilla Sauce with Green Tea Ice Cream. HK$33, or US$4.25.
From there (8:45 pm), I took a brief 5 minute walk to Victoria Harbour, and the Hong Kong “Avenue of the Stars.” And the view. Oh, the view…Even on a cloudy night, what an amazing view. I’ve been to Hong Kong a few times already, and I just can’t pass up on seeing this view every time.
From here, to the Star Ferry (9:15 pm), the cheapest boat ride (HK$2.50, or US$0.32) with the best view in the world.
I walked towards Hong Kong station, just a few minutes from the Star Ferry Pier in Central, only to see the train leave in front of my eyes.
At 9:40 pm I made it onto the train, and arrived at Hong Kong Airport at 10:04 pm. With my plane departing at 11:05 pm, I thought I’d have plenty of time. I walked right up to security checkpoint, quickly made it past the immigration counter, and ended up waiting at a bus gate to take me to the satellite terminal where my flight to Saigon was leaving from. And I waited. And waited. 10 minutes. By the time the bus arrived it was almost 10:30 pm. Luckily it was only a couple of minutes to the other terminal.
And, no, I wasn’t the last person on the plane, but it was close. At 10:45 I was comfortably in my seat, and we left 6 minutes early, at 10:59 pm.
I was pretty tired and felt rushed most of the time, but I accomplished what I had set out to do. And had a blast.
And I’d do it again. But again, don’t try this at home.
Things to Know
•The Airport Express, operated by MTR (the subway in Hong Kong) operates between 5:54 am and 12:48 am leaving Hong Kong Airport (and 6 am to 12:45 am leaving Hong Kong) daily. Trains take 24 minutes from the airport to Hong Kong Station and 22 minutes to Kowloon Station. Your ticket, regardless of what type, also allows you to continue travel on the MTR (not just Airport Express) to your destination at no additional charge.
•Complimentary Feeder Bus Service is provided from both Hong Kong Station and Kowloon Station to many hotels. There are 9 routes and they run every 12-20 minutes.
•Airport Express tickets are HK$100 to Hong Kong Station and HK$90 to Kowloon Station one-way, or the same price for a same-day round trip. Round-trip tickets (not same-day) are HK$180 to Hong Kong and HK$160 to Kowloon. Children’s tickets are half price. In addition, a one-way ticket plus 3 days unlimited MTR subway travel costs HK$220 (including a refundable HK$50 charge), and HK$200 for the round-trip plus 3 day pass.
• ALL signage on the MTR services is bilingual, and I’ve never run across staff in the system who couldn’t communicate in English as well.
•Honeymoon Dessert (滿記甜品) is a Hong Kong based dessert chain with locations in a few other Asian countries (China, Singapore and Indonesia.) A good friend recommended it and I always go when I’m in one of those countries. Their desserts are not overly sweet and most of them feature fresh local fruit.
•In order to find out what kind of shot I had at accomplishing this, considering my time restrictions, I checked out quite a few things. First, I took a look at the Hong Kong Airport website to see how many flights would be arriving when I did and departing when I left town. Of course, the fewer flights there are means less wait at immigration.
•Hong Kong immigration no longer stamps your passport. (Boo!) A small chit of paper is issued instead with your passport number and allowed entry period. Keep this paper, it’s the only proof that you’ve legally entered the country.
•Although Hong Kong is now a part of China, the immigration system, currency, postal system, etc. is still completely seperate. A Chinese visa is NOT required for Hong Kong, and many nationalities can enter Hong Kong visa free for anywhere between 14 and 90 days. (For immigration purposes, Hong Kong, Macau, and mainland China are all considered seperate entities. If you traveled to Shanghai, for example, then flew to Hong Kong, and back to Shanghai, you would need a multiple entry visa for China, as you “leave” China when you “enter” Hong Kong.) This highly entertaining video will explain it all and confuse you at the same time..
Hong Kong’s currency, the Hong Kong Dollar, is pegged to the US dollar at HK$7.75 to US$1. Although some tourist shops may take foreign currencies, it’s always in your interest to use local money, as you’re protected from bad exchange rates that the merchants decide on their own. And, oh yeah, they’re not issued by the government, they’re issued by 3 local banks: Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC), Standard Chartered, and Bank of China. The colors are the same across the 3 banks (the $100 bill is red, for example), and the sizes are consistent too. ATMs are truly all over the place.This entry was posted in Asia, Getting Around, Hong Kong