Traveling Hong Kong - back to civilization
And we arrived in Hong Kong. After a painful 22h train seating on a what they call “hard seat”, we survived the trip from Shanghai to Shenzhen. The trip was, as always, painful, uncomfortable, long and would-never-repeat-again (although we know that that is unfortunately not possible here in China with their “very-advanced nonsense” train reservation system), but we got to our destination with still some strength to find our way out of Shenzhen. This is supposed to be a big city with its main and only attraction being the fact that it serves as the mainland hub to Hong Kong. From the train station itself you can easily follow the “Hong Kong” indications (together with taxi, buses and toilets indications) that lead you to the border between China and Hong Kong SAR (Special Administrative Region). You just walk for 5 min and you arrive at the exit of China mainland (where they check and stamp your passport) and immediately you have to fill in the forms to get into HK. Since Olga had already her 14-day visa issued in Mumbai, we went through without problems, and hopped into the metro that takes you all the way to Hong Kong Island!
The first impression of HK was that this is a 110% consumer place! There are plenty of shops all over the place selling you anything you might need or imagine, and what it is even more surprising is that they have a lot in stock!
And... here are the new trekking shoes!
We arrived by metro to the entrance of the building where our hostel was... in a really big building that they call mansion. Lots of shops, hostels, flats and businesses can be found in all the floors of those mansions. After walking around several times, we managed to find our hostel (which by the way was run by the most unfriendly and disrespectful woman on Earth).
Since it was rainy, the first day we were just walking around to see the skyline of HK (not comparable to the one in Shanghai). We also started to get ready for our HK consulate adventure tour ;) We decided to come to HK mainly for three reasons: (1) our 30-day double entry Chinese visa was about to expire, so coming to HK was an easy solution to exit and re-enter China (2) we had to apply for visas for our next destinations (3) we wanted to see HK :P
The next four days were basically dedicated to visit consulates (and at the same time we were walking the whole city!). We went to the Thai consulate, which had to be the easiest visa to get, but surprisingly enough it was the most troublesome, since they required many documents including flight tickets that we didn’t have and we were not planning to have, and visas to the next destination after Thailand! They also informed us that Olga could stay only for 30 days, which was quite disappointing since we were planning to stay in Thailand for 60.days. So we took the whole afternoon to research for cheap flights on the Internet to be able to show them a “proof” and trying to figure out how to plan our next moves.
We bought a first flight for Olga from a lost airport in Thailand to Kuala Lumpur for 35 $ (the cheapest we could find), so that we could show them a proof. Next day we went to apply for a Nepalese visa (since we are planning to go to Tibet by the end of the month and cross overland to Nepal after that). It was so incredibly easy that we couldn’t believe it! The next morning it was ready! (so far the fastest consulate in history).
We took that afternoon to check electronics and laptops, because we were told that everything would be very cheap... in the end it turns up to be cheap but not so cheap! Next day we went to pick up our 30-day Nepalese visa and headed directly to the Burmese consulate, which turned out to be also very easy and even faster! In two hours after applying (lunch break) we had our 30-day visa for Myanmar (that is the fastest consulate in history)! We also paid a visit to the far located Laos consulate to ask some questions regarding border crossings and visas for the future. So in one day we visited 3 consulates and got 2 visas - our personal record so far!
In between all these consulate visits, we found time to visit the “recommended by Lonely Planet” Victoria Peak, which is a 500 m hill in Hong Kong Island where you have an acceptable view of Victoria Harbour, Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. (it was not really to leave you out of breath as we thought, but OK) We decided to take the Peak-tram to the top, to find out that there were only shops and restaurants. Luckily enough, I managed to convince Olga to take a bus down instead of walking the whole way back! :)
That same afternoon we found out about the nice beaches that HK has... and the best is that you take a bus from the city centre and in 15 min it drops you at the very beach, 50 m from the water! The water is so extremely warm that you can swim for hours without getting out and you are still not cold, and if you get out is because you also want to tan a bit... and the sun is so strong that it really burns (we got really burnt the second day :P)! Every day we have been to the beach at least for an hour since we discovered how close they were; it is like stopping at the supermarket before going home :) That is really one of the best things in Hong Kong and we are gonna miss it!
After the weekend, we tried again to go to the Thai consulate (for the third time), but then we were really prepared for the encounter... all the visas in our passports, a flight ticket, all the forms, photos, etc. We asked again just to confirm what duration the tourist visa has, and to our surprise, the girl gave us the good news that by default all the tourist visas are valid for 60 days! (it is unbelievable how in sync are all the workers in all these consulates, giving you different answers depending on who you talk to or what day it is). So we decided to go back to book two extra flight tickets for both of us to show them proof of leaving the country not in 30 but in 60 days. We bought two flights more from the same lost Thai airport to Kuala Lumpur but departing in 60 days from our arrival in Thailand. The next day we finally got our Thai visa, but it is still unclear for how many days Olga can stay in the country... it turns out that it is up to the immigration officer at the airport to decide... and funnily enough we have flights for any day he decides :P
Besides all the consulate adventures, HK is a very advanced city and very comfortable and easy to live in. Full of skyscrapers, European, Chinese and Asian people and everybody speaks English, which makes everything way too easy compared with the rest of China. Everything is quite cheap for Europe standards (food, accommodation, etc.), but for our backpacker pocket it is very expensive, so we were quite happy to leave for China again. However, the first day we found a supermarket very close to our hostel that sells very nice fresh sushi. And the best thing is that closer to the evening they discount it, which is really great for our backpacking budget! This way we have been eating cheap and very good sushi almost every day! :)
At the end of our stay in HK we decided to buy a new camera, since ours got very dirty and faulty in India during the camel safari. After doing some research we decided to get the new Canon SX210 for a very good price!
In total we spent about a week and a half, and in this time we managed to see quite a lot of Hong Kong and surroundings. It is a very nice place and it would be a candidate if we ever decide to stay somewhere for a while ;)
Our next stop - Guilin!