Beginnings, Mansions and Chinese Medicines

Trip Start Sep 20, 2009
Trip End Ongoing

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Where I stayed
Garden City Hostel, Chungking Mansion

Flag of Hong Kong  ,
Friday, September 25, 2009

Hi All,

Well what a start to our journey! Where to begin? It started before we even left Melb airport, with lil Lewey being very anxious, having never been on an international flight, was lucky enough to experience the full customs experience, with a random body search/pat down at Melb customs.

The flight was interesting, Dani laughing at Lewey's reactions to everything (and giggling at his complaints - thinking how much flights etc have improved since her last major flight in '00.
We were surprised at the flight menu (no shit!) and full complimentary inflight entertainment, complete with music, heaps of movies (Tony - we didn't end up watching any movies on this flight) and tv shows.

We made it safely into Honkers (Hong Kong for the non locals), clearing customs with no issue, at approx 6am. Lewey had just endured his first flight and declared "I don't know if I can do this for 6 months", after a mere 7 hour journey, Dee laughed as you can imagine. Neither of us slept much and so we arrived very sweaty and tired into 33 degree heat and 90+% humidity.

We managed to negotiate the airport transfer and even took a train to get to our hostel. We were told we were staying at the Las Vegas hostel in the Chungking Mansion on Nathan St for those in the know. Dani stupidly expected very nice digs, (it is a mansion after all, right?!) and we quickly learned our first lesson for travelling:
1 - You get what you pay for....
Let's just say, we don't think our first accom experience could have been more challenging.\

The building had 3 main 'wings', in order to access our hostel, we had to go to the third wing up an elevator to the 15th floor. The elevator was tiny, only big enough for 7 ppl, and very slow and cramped. To get to this elevator, we had to walk through the ground floor of le mansion, which housed multiple dodgy Indian takeway outlets, 'genuine' electronic and clothing goods and money exchange. This was quiet when we arrived at 7.30am for check in, so we did not fully appreciate the type of building we were staying in.

After squeezing our turtle-like-selves to the 15th floor (incense everywhere btw) we found no check in, and a sign saying to call a number for the reception manager "Mr Chan". Thank god for the mob phone we weren't going to take, we woke up some lady, and about 1/2 hr later (us sitting on floor sweating in ridiculous heat, by this stage, Dee was already asking Lewey to tape her feet (thanks again T).
"Mr Chan"finally arrived - a giant black dude with dreds and his entourage. We were going to leave our main packs and go exploring, but at the last second they offered us a room in another hostel that was the equivalent of our room in the Las Vegas digs.
Our 'room' was next to the laundry, say no more... Our room was made of tiles and we kept waiting for them to drop off and kill us. Our énsuite' bathroom was a one handed shower over the toilet and basin. Dani had a very interesting hairwash later that day, becoming very adept at multitasking. Our bed was very Japanese - hard as a rock, the equivalent of a trestle table with a foam mattress on top. On the bright side, there was aircon and our backs were top tastic.

When we now ventured downstairs, the main floor was lit up with people, Dani was keen to try a samosa from one of the local outlets (she was later glad that Lewey suggested not to, when we rode in the elevator with a bucket of ?rice? that was to be supplied to one of these vendors), that had been previously cooked in an apartment upstairs.

We decided to try and make the most of the day, Dee swaying dizzily from all the heat and aircon everywhere and Lewey still surviving on pretty much no sleep.

We explored Kowloon Gardens and saw people doing 'tai chi' possibly? Lots of salutation gestures... Even saw a teeny tiny turtle (literaly the size of the lil one from Nemo) in the gardens. In Kowloon streets, we were overcome by the smells of the medicine outlets, with giant trays of dried seafood and other mysterious (?mushrooms? pig knuckles) things... We experienced the 'drip' - ie drops of water falling from all the aircon machines and tried our best to avoid it. We were constantly approached by "touts" - people on street offering suits, watches, knock off handbags, massage and pretty much everything inbetween. Dani began by saying no thankyou, by end of 3 days, was putting up hand in digust 'no' gesture.

Lunch was an interesting experience, Dee struggling with the conversion rate, and thinking everthing ridiculously expensive, feeling very guilty after purchasing a freshly squeezed pink grapefruit juice for a whopping $20HK, equivalent to $3AUD. We discovered a local food court that seemed to have mainly local people in, decided to experience a non-Western meal and went round looking at the offerings for a good hour, Dee getting nauseated by the smells and sights of the traditional delicies of pig knuckle, tripe, intenstines etc...

After a brief nooze back at mansion, went on Star Ferry, to see the city and the gorgeous light show on the large buildings. Was amazing, views were gorgeous and the quiet time and relatively fresh air were appreciated - even came with a snack drink (coffee in a can???) and a muffin each (and Lewey, gorgeous man that he is, quickly stashed a muffin for later). He then had it 2 days later and when Dee asked his reaction, was told second Lewey hilarious quote: "its food, its edible, therefore its good"....keeping in mind the $60AUD budget.

We relented for dinner and made life easier with a good old visit to Maccas (McDonalds). Cheap as chips (literally) and relatively identical to Maccas in Aus. At least we knew what we were eating....

After the cruise, approx 9pm, (still day 1 mind you) we ventured out to the Temple Street markets and finally found some watches - Dee again struggling majorly with the conversion rate, taking a long time to purchase a watch (Hello Kitty mind you) that she deemed expensive (2 for $35HK, Lewey constantly reminding Dee that this was only $6AUD for 2 watches!!!!).

Day 2:
With some sleep under our belts, we felt a bit better, and went on a search for some breakfast at Starbucks to try and take advantage of the free wifi for 20mins. 1 hour and a shitty Dee later, we eventually located one (after walking past at least 3 the previous day). Dee had already purchased some 'bread' (more like cake) at a 7/11 equivalent, as she was turning into the hulk. Decided to hed out to the famous Stanley Markets. We were now familiar with the train system, and boarded a connecting bus which turned out to be the ride from hell - we held on for dear life, road to Stanley resembled jungle like Great Ocean Road, with very narrow streets and vegetation growing off side of mountain that was hit multiple times by bus (we were on top level of double decker - very scary). Dee prayed to every god she knew while bus then had to take a detour as we passed another road with an accident we think, as it was surrounded by police. The ensuing 3pt turn was a terrifying ordeal.
The market was ok, Dee resisted the multiple temptations, already in head of backpacker, no room for purchases. Had a lovely Western meal of hamburgers and chips for lunch and attempted to work out the tipping scheme. During our meal, a giant Brit and 2 locals sat down. After some brief conversation between the 3, it became clear that he was a missonary of some Christian nature and the sermon began. Lewey was oblivious, checking the ipod internet with the random free wifi connection we hacked into. Dee is much better aquainted now with confession.

We found an entire row of mini toy vending machines, Dee's favourite (think the ones outside supermarkets - small crappy toys in plastic eggshell containers) and Dee was given $5HK to go crazy with and told by Lewey she was not allowed any more than 2. (she got a two-fer from one machine, so no argument was necessary).

There was a beach area and a dock, made for some quiet time and yet more Maccas... We had been very careful up to this point not to drink any tapwater etc, avoiding fruit on street and salads, drinking bottled water only, and decided to splash out on an icetea at Maccas. Whilst chewing the refreshing ice from the drink, we both looked at eat other and freaked, where did the water for the ice come from???!!!

Returned back to Kowloon and Temple St markets for another bash that night, Dee unsatisfied with her lack of momentos. It started pissing down with rain and Dee now has a slighlty bent passport - note to self rain plus passport = bad combination. Lewey bought a cheap umbrella which we ditched at the airport (best umbrella ever, sad to leave it!!!).

Lewey had decided to investigate a video camera, since electronics very cheap. There were multiple stores on way home from Market, although soggy and sore footed Dee was nhj (not happy Jan). We eventually found a potential bargain, Sony camera for $1700HK (around $250 AUD), currently selling in Aus for around $700. After withdrawing some cash (credit card situation was dodgy), we were told to wait for 5 mins while they go and buy the camera from a Sony supplier (DODGY!!!)  Lewey held onto display model for dear life in the event that new one was different and made them get the box to double check product. Whilst this happened, the guy tried to upsell to a shittier camera brand but with more smanchy features at bigger price. Cut to Dee and Dan getting edgy, 10 mins later, guy removed the cash from a drawer (remember was supposedly going out with our cash and using it to purchase product from supplier) and declared model was too old, no longer available, and thankfully returned our cash. We saw this as a sign and made our way to get out of shop, while guy kept dropping price on other camera (Kelvinator brand - they make fridges for gods sake!!!). Note for any other travellers, it appears name brand models are to draw people in, not actually there for sale - clever scheme!!! We decided camera was silly anyways, who wants to watch themselves later...yeuch!

We purchased a famous 'mooncake' -  advertising everywhere, partic in train stations. It cost a crazy $60HK (approx $10) and our splurge was the very yummy and comforting end to a stressful evening. Lewey decided he's a mooncake fan! We later saw them selling for a minimum $120HK, we had got the cheaper version at Mrs Fields cookies. Hilarious!

Day 3:

Breakfast was at Maccas yet again, sad we know, but convenient and cheap. Dan finally worked out how to access the free 20 mins of wifi and we then made our way to Causeway Bay shopping centre by ferry and train, feeling very proud of our public transport skills. Lewey was patience personified whilst Dee finally found some momentos. Dee also discovered that HK women are teeny tiny and felt gigantic by comparison after trying on one top. We discovered there were restuarants inside the very narrow building of the shopping centre on high levels. ie level 5 was a pirate restuarant.

After a debacle trying to locate a post office, (walked from one side of Kowloon to the other), Dee managed to make a total arse of herself, by using lots of post office water/glue to stick down the airmail label, which just wouldn't stick, it turned out to be a sticker (post office chick was very amused at her stupidity, as was Lewey). we eventually made our way to the Peak Tram experience. Huge shopping centre built on very steep mountain, with an incredible view of HK and Kowloon. Buildings seemed to be built at crazy angles and gave us 2 mins of foot rest time. Dinner was a very schmancy splash out affair, (very Southbank) a Thai tappas meal (300HK, $47AUD), the equivalent of a basic meal out in Melb, on top of Peak Mountain.

We left the Peak Tram and made our way slowly back to our lovely hostel. This is where we witnessed a guy looting the mail boxes and decided to get to airport ASAP (we'd had enough of Honkers!) rather than sleeping and making our way in the early early morning. While travelling to the airport, Dee was increasingly resentful towards 3 women who had clearly gone on a shopping spree - Louis Vitton (real or fake???) gym bags packed with stuff.

Internet time running out, will post blog about our HK airport adventures next time.

General observations:

Smelly, hot, lots of roadworks and renovations everywhere, bracing for renovations was bamboo - very scary to walk under), mixed with super beautiful hotels, restaurants and high price stores ie Hermes, Louis vitton, Prada etc...

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