Nomadic in HK-Macau

All the people I interviewed and all the forums I read about HK said one thing: you’ll need to do a lot of walking in the city. And boy they were all right. I am not the biggest “walking” fan even if I wanted to. What, with the scorching heat and the air pollution and the danger of being robbed any time, will you dare walk around the busy streets of Manila? But we were in Hong Kong and things were a bit different. We did a lot of walking. Sometimes just us, sometimes with our beloved luggage. We walked from MTR stations to our hostels, from bus stops, up over passes, across bridges, into malls and intersections literally squeezing ourselves in a city populated by a gazillion people. But it was bearable. Because there was little humid and the weather was cool. Besides, everyone else walked, from those wearing suits and the latest collection of designer brands to regularly-dressed people, like us. SONY DSCWhat’s worse than walking with 8-days worth of luggage is having to wait with them on a busy street with your feet aching from all the walking and climbing. So we took pictures to ease some of the impatience away because almost everyone smiles at the sight of a camera. SONY DSCAt first, we were not used to all the walking gigs but after a couple of days, the complains about the pain became less and less, our lower extremities compensated! We even got to the point of enjoying seeing the scenery at a natural pace, not while riding tour buses. I had really bad foot pains during those days because I have a history of persistent paresthesia and someone told me my feet were too small to handle my obesity but what the hell. SONY DSCOf course it wasn’t all waking. We took advantage of Hong Kong’s amazing train system, the MTR. It saved our guts a lot. We first purchased the Octopus card at the airport. It’s a card that can be used in almost all public transportation systems and you can reload it at any MTR station or 7-eleven store. It was really useful especially because it saves time for lining up and getting a ticket and for fishing coins in your pocket when riding the bus (they don’t give out change). Reloading is as easy as one, two, three. SONY DSCPlus, I found it really cool that the octopus card is just “tapped” and not inserted. In fact, even if it’s in your wallet or bag, just tap in on a sensor and you’re good to go. Very convenient. SONY DSCAlways have a map with you. I know most Filipinos are not big on map reading but a little skill would be of great help since English is not widely spoken in Hong Kong. We had to ask at least five nationals every single time because most cannot understand us (even those that wore suits) and vice versa. Tip: approach students, they almost always know a little English. This MTR map will be very helpful though all stations obviously has one. Almost all the tourist spots are listed here plus directions to the actual place like where to exit (because some stations have exits from A to K plus B1 to B6 and different exits bring you to different places!), availability of bus and cable cars, etc. SONY DSCI really like the MTR because it’s underground and it passes through the different islands of Hong Kong. Plus, you will not get lost as long as you know how to read because signs are appropriately displayed. There are nine different lines that are interconnected all throughout the country plus a separate line for HK Disneyland. Yeah, HK is a small country and you can practically go anywhere without much hassle. SONY DSCAnd it was used by AWOL and by that I mean people from all walks of life. Students, corporate slaves, mothers, tourists (at least those that are not on a tour package), people wearing gowns and etcetera. Which is good because 11 Filipinos with their luggage will not come as a surprise. SONY DSCAnd the trains are huge and always cold even during rush hour when the passengers are bumper to bumper. Before entering a train, there’s a glass door that opens in addition to the tube door. I think the purpose is to decrease the risk of accidents and to eliminate the possibility of people who want to commit suicide by jumping into the railway because the sliding doors only open when the train has already arrived. One time, we rode the tube during rush our. You cannot really contain 11 people in one area so we got separated in the midst of all the hustle and bustle. The train arrived, we entered via different doors and just before the train door closed, Dianne saw Edcel (her brother) still outside and unable to squeeze himself in. What did she do? Well, she just put her elbow in between the already closing doors and alarms rang, the doors opened again and Edcel entered the tube whilst other passengers glared at us. It all happened really fast we found ourselves something to laugh about the whole night. Ah, the joys of commuting. SONY DSCAll the tubes looked the same except the Disneyland and Airport Express lines. During our first day in Hong Kong, Kirk and I fetched Rochelle from the airport because her flight was delayed and she arrived at night. From Tsim Sha Tsui (where the gang were), we took the MTR and changed lines for the Airport Express which involved a lot of walking and cool elevator rides (MTR was underground but the elevator served 3-4 levels!). Though it was a bit expensive at 90-100 HKD for one way, the price was justified because we got to the airport in 30 minutes (compared to more than an hour when riding the bus) and the seats were really comfy. When you step off the train, HKIA looms in front of you. SONY DSCRemember when someone told you not to hold onto the handrails of escalators because they’re full of germs? Well, you would not mind doing so in HK because apparently, the handrails in MTR stations are applied with anti-bacterial coating. Also, when on an escalator, it’s common courtesy to keep right if you are not in a rush lest you want to be pushed aside by people who are not necessarily rude, just late. The place is beaming with yuppies and they walk really fast. SONY DSCAnother form of public transportation is the double decker bus albeit the top bunk is not open air. In the Philippines, PUVs usually do not have a definite stop. I mean, when you ride a jeepney, just say “para” and it will stop anywhere (even “no unloading areas”). We learned the hard way that it’s different in HK (and most developed countries, for that matter). It involved missing a stop, the bus driver giving a hint of irritation because we wanted to get off while the traffic light was red (apparently, not possible) and being dropped off at the next stop only to find ourselves somewhere farther to the MTR than expected. Each bus has a letter and a number that corresponds to its route. For example, to go to Kennedy Town, we rode the 5x bus. To go to the Airport from Kennedy town, we rode the A21 bus and to go to Ocean Park, we rode bus 649 from the Admiralty station of MTR. What is organized! ff (22)The cheapest way to get out of the airport (which is in another island) is to ride a bus though travel time will be longer (we’re talking 60 to 90 minutes here compared with 30 using the airport express) because they tend to navigate around the city. Buses from the airport have a special place for luggage and despite looking a bit small on the outside, they actually are spacious. There’s a button on the handrails that you push to signal the driver that you are leaving on the next stop. The bus drivers in HK are speed maniacs, worse than the kaskasero drivers we have in Manila. SONY DSCTrams are also popular in HK. Trams are rail vehicles which run on trails (separate rights of way) and there is a wire at the top of the vehicle connected to wires which I think works like in bump cars. Trams have been used in HK since 1904. Unlike buses, trams do not have air conditioners so sitting on the upper deck is much more enjoyable with the fresh air. You can pay using the Octopus card and there’s a turnstile at the entrance. SONY DSCI think the height and width of the tram is not proportional so I always imagine one of these tilting sideways. And you know what’s cool? There’s such a thing as party in a tram with its own catering service! Tram fare is 3 HKD, if I am not mistaken. Maybe it’s really made that way but the trams are sooooooooo slooooowww it is not recommended if you are chasing after time. It’s nice tho, if you just want to chill around and in not much of a hurry. I actually observed that most of the people who rode trams are the elderly and occasional yuppies with books or newspapers in hand. SONY DSCPeak Tram, meanwhile, does not differ much with the regular Tram except it carries you to the highest part of Hong Kong Island which is The Peak. SONY DSCThe route was so steep we saw the buildings tilted in a 45 degree angle at one point. And the view of HK with all its buildings and lights was really nice. We rode the tram at night so it was chilly. The fare for Peak Tram is almost 20 times that of the regular at 65 HKD for one way and 130 HKD for round trip. ff (3)On our way to Victoria Harbor from Kennedy Town, we rode a ferry and it’s one of my favorite forms of public transportation. Again, Octopus cards are accepted here (how convenient!). SONY DSCOn April one, we boarded a ferry en route to Macau. The station was inside a shopping mall and there’s some sort of a mini port. SONY DSCThe ferry was, of course, unlike the one we had at Victoria Harbor. It was bigger and the seats were comfier. Travel time was one hour and I just slept through that because the ride was bumpy and I was getting nauseated. ff (2)Macau can be very expensive or it can be almost free. Of course we chose the latter. First off, transportation was free. After you arrive at the Outer Harbor Ferry Terminal, dozens of shuttle buses of hotels are waiting for you. Because Casinos are the number one spot in Macau, hotels try to lure tourists into their lairs with free transpo and you know me, always a sucker for freebies. SONY DSCJust ride a bus and you will be brought to the place that is printed as its design. For example, if you want to go to Venetian, you ride their shuttle. After taking pictures (which is the only thing we can afford to do), ride their bus again to the ferry terminal and choose another shuttle for another hotel. Yeah, you always have to go back to the terminal but I remember riding the Galaxy shuttle from Wynn. I don’t know. I guess some hotels let shuttles of competitors park in their vicinity. SONY DSCLastly is our sole private transportation, a taxi. We rode it once, in Macau. Reyma’s cousin dropped us off in our hotel at around 11 pm after Casino-hopping. We were so mesmerized by the trade we decided to go back to Venetian to burn our money. We enjoyed playing slot machines and drinking the free coffee and taking advantage of other freebies we lost track of time. When the moolah was gone, the thought of actually sleeping kicked in. We decided to go home. Unfortunately, it was 3 in the freaking morning and shuttle buses are good up to midnight only. They resume operations at 9 AM. We had no choice but to get a taxi. Of course their taxis were metered and the flagdown rate was 13 MOP. I will never forget that taxi ride. First there was the communication barrier, good thing we had the keycard of our room so we just showed it to the driver. Next, the meter was insane! It kept on adding 1.50 MOP every time we blink our eyes. At that time I wanted nothing more than the taxis back home. We were really anxious because when riding shuttle buses, the casinos looked like they were really far from each other. We we were not even 1/4 of the way but the meter already said 25 MOP. At this rate, we estimated that we’d have to pay 70-100 MOP which we couldn’t afford because the Casinos robbed us of our money with our consent (so it’s not actually robbing). We even thought of pulling the taxi aside, getting out, and just walking the remainder of the way though we did not have an idea where we were. ff (1)Good thing we were being stupid and wrong (I’ve never felt that good being wrong). Even before the meter stroke 30 MOP, we were back in our hotel, safe and laughing our asses off. We realized the places were not really far from each other. It’s just that we’ve been riding free hotel shuttles all day and shuttles have, you know, longer routes. HAHA That’s one good thing about our DIY 8-day HK-Macau trip, we got to experience most of the countries’ forms of transportation.

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