14.6.14

Hong Kong: useful info

After 5 days in Shanghai, we continued our trip to Hong Kong. Here's some useful information that I wish I had known before leaving and that I learned in HK:


Language:
I felt lost in Shanghai with my limited Mandarin (thanks again Google Translate app!) and I though it wouldn't be a problem in Hong Kong since it was a British colony, they would speak English... that's partly true, but in some places they didn't and it was harder to understand them because they speak Cantonese, luckily, there was always someone around to help us. (see the coming post on Tim Ho Wan)
However, English is spoken in many places like hotels, touristic sights and shops and signs everywhere are mostly bilingual.

Transport:
Hong Kong metro system (MTR) is great, we went around all the time with it (never took a cab). It is clean, it has clear signs and comfortable to go almost everywhere in HK.
We got an Octopus card that we topped up with 200 HKD (50 HKD deposit and the unused balance will be refunded when you return your card at the ticketing offices - we did it at Central station), it works like the London Oyster card and it is really convenient - you can always see your balance everytime you pass the turnstiles and you can use it also in buses and tramways.
Like in Shanghai, metro stations are big and they have many exits so check the maps to see which exit you should take.

Airport:
Probably one of the best airports in the world, Hong Kong International Airport is modern, functional, full of shops (designers, watches, duty-free, etc.) and restaurants, children's play areas, comfortable reclined seats, but most importantly it has free wi-fi!
It is connected to the city by metro (Airport Express), buses and taxis. For us the most convenient option was the Airport Express. It brings you to the Hong Kong MTR station in about 25 minutes (stopping only twice before Hong Kong station).
There are several pricing options depending on where are you going, how many are you (Group Tickets), if you buy in advance (online or on the plane - Cathay Pacific), if you're getting a round trip ticket and whether you would also like to include public transportation for 3 days (Airport Express Travel Pass).
Since it was 2 of us, we got a 2-pax Group Ticket for 80 HKD per person at the ticket desk right after the arrivals exit - they are efficient, fast and they take credit cards.
When we got to Hong Kong MTR we had to exit the turntiles to buy an Octopus card to continue our trip with the MTR to the hotel (which was near the Sheung Wan MTR). You can buy Octopus cards at the ticket desks and machines but they take only cash. We went back there at the end of our trip to return the cards and get our deposit and unused credit back.

In-town Check-in:
One of the most convenient services I've ever tried was this in-town check-in. If you're flying with Cathay Pacific and many other airlines and you choose to travel back to the airport with the Airport Express, you can check in for your departing flight up to 24 hours earlier at the check in desks in Hong Kong MTR station (and also Kowloon station)! That means that if you have your flight later in the afternoon/evening, you can check in your luggage at HK station in the morning and then be free to wander around Hong Kong without your bags, without carrying them back in the Airport Express and then when you get to the airport you can go directly to security check and to your gate - you'll see your luggage at your arriving airport!
The process is fast and simple, you get to the HK MTR station and follow the signs to go to In-town Check-in desks. Before entering that area, you can purchase your Airport Express ticket (or use your Octopus card credit) at the ticketing desk. Then you have to tap your ticket or card to get in the check-in area (don't worry, it won't deduct your fare and you will be able to use the same ticket later in the day when you travel back to the airport, it is just to enter the check-in area). Check-in as you would do at the airport, showing your ticket, passport and giving them your luggage. Then when you're ready to go to the airport you just go. 
If you have cabin luggage that you don't want to check-in you can store it at the storage desk at the IFC mall (follow the signs from the in-town check-in area).

Money:
Currency in Hong Kong is the Hong Kong Dollar (HKD). You can either exchange it or get it from the ATMs. Credit cards are accepted almost everywhere (hotels, big restaurants and shops and the airport ticket office - not for the Octopus card, though) there are ATMs all over the city but when arriving at the airport it could be convenient to withdraw some cash. You should only be charged a commission by your bank when you get money from the ATMs but check before going.

Food:
The paradise of dim sum! I loved each and every meal we had in Hong Kong, from the Michelin Starred Tim Ho Wan, to the lively market atmosphere of Tung Po , after Shanghai we were used to boiling food so we were a bit more careful here. My husband became my hero after eating the yucky-looking chicken feet at Tim Ho Wan, I didn't feel that adventurous.
Most menus were in English and waiters were nice enough to tell us what were they serving in other tables to help us decide.
Dim sum in typical places is served in the mornings until 4 pm, mostly, something we didn't know - see coming review of Lin Heung.
 

Prices and Shopping:
If I was amazed by the quantity of the shops of big designers in Shanghai, in Hong Kong we were amazed by the number of luxury watches shops, especially in Central HK! Prices are average, perhaps a bit cheaper since there's no sales tax in Hong Kong. Food and drinks can be cheap or super expensive, depending on the place you choose - luxury hotel restaurants being the most expensive (but also very nice). 
We visited a street market near the Prince Edward MTR stop selling mostly smartphone accessories, cables and all kinds of electronics accessories (well, even shower accessories), better than the one we visited in Shanghai actually. 
Tipping is not customary in Hong Kong either, perhaps only big hotels and restaurants add a 10% service charge to bills.

Smartphone SIM card:
From all the SIM card options in Hong Kong, we chose the 5-days "Discover Hong Kong Tourist SIM Card" (micro SIMs available) that we bought at the 7-Eleven in the airport for 69 HKD. It included local 3G mobile data 1.5GB, unlimited local calls, Wi-fi at the PCCW-HKT hotspots, 25 HKD in usable stored value (for international  calls and local and intl SMS). It was the best option for us because we are not (unfortunately) recurring visitors to HK so we just needed the number for those 5 days and the mobile data was more than enough.

Useful apps:

As I mentioned before, also in the Shanghai post, the Google Translate app is super useful, even if you don't have an internet connection, just make sure you download the offline package before leaving. I used Google Keep a lot to write down the things we were eating on the go, simple and quick. The Google Maps offline app was also useful (if you can't download the offline version of the area, just take screenshots when you have internet connection). 
Springpad was my lifesaver as I used it as a personalized guidebook, with all the info and descriptions of the places we wanted to see and also to keep our itinerary. Since they are closing down the app this month, probably Evernote is the other convenient option!
Some language apps I've downloaded are Mandarin Tap and Hanping Pro, good for figuring out how to ask for information. Facebook, Youtube and Twitter are not blocked in Hong Kong.
The DK Eyewitness Top 10 Hong Kong ebook I got on Kindle was not the best guide, probably the format is not as tablet-friendly as the Lonely Planet ones, the maps on the DK guide were tiny and it wasn't easy to locate the info I needed right away.

Culture shock:
After the initial shock in Shanghai, Hong Kong seemed more "normal", there's still some pushing and strong smells in the street but the international atmosphere there was what I enjoyed the most. As I wrote before, I was expecting more English speakers in some places (like the waiters at Tim Ho Wan - it is after all a Michelin-starred restaurant) but the locals were nice enough to help and we never felt lost or treated rudely.
The most particular thing I saw in HK was the famous escalator that brings you up (or down, depending on the times) the steep hills of Central to/from the Mid-levels and also all the passages and elevated walkways that connect the different buildings, must be really useful when it rains.
Stay tuned for the coming posts of Hong Kong!