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  • Hong Kong by Peter C. Meltzer 2012

    Hong Kong is the most crowded, intense place I’ve ever been in. Everywhere you go, no matter what time, it is crowded. Not normal crowded. Overcrowded. You go out on the street at 11 pm and it’s crowded. You can’t get away from it. It’s not easy to adjust to if you’re not accustomed to it. Take the subway trains, for example. They run every 2-3 minutes like clockwork and every train is at least 10 cars long. And every single train is packed with people. Just thousands and thousands of people on every train. You can’t really wander aimlessly or slowly in Hong Kong because there will be a build-up of several hundred people behind you within a few minutes. You have to know where you’re going and how to get there, otherwise you’ll be trampled by the other thousands of people going every possible direction. You can’t slow down. If you do, someone will try to speed you up. I had an old Chinese lady push me because I wasn’t going fast enough for her while lifting a stroller over a subway turnstile. I nearly decked her. Then I remembered my Thai-ness and settled down. But the immediate reaction was still there, and the reality is it’s hard to avoid because you’re so rushed and pressured going from
    place to place. There is no “Jai Yen-Yen” (calm heart) in Hong Kong. So getting back to Thailand was a relief.

    The skyline is crowded with buildings. Every building is a skyscraper. Giant apartment buildings stand in large clusters like trees in a forest. They’re built everywhere; next to the water, on hillsides, on top of mountains, on islands. Most of them are very modern and impressive, as is all of Hong Kong. It is definitely a modern city with all the modern amenities. People aren’t exactly friendly, but they aren’t that unfriendly either. The easiest way to describe them is that they don’t really care. They don’t try
    to be nice in a shop (or most other places) because if you don’t buy anything someone else will be along shortly. It’s a bit of jolt coming from Thailand where such an emphasis is placed on charming smiles and friendly attitudes. Again, it was nice to return to Thailand after 9 days with the Chinese.

    We took in quite a few of the sites and attractions, like Disneyland and Oceanpark. Unless you havea 5 year old in tow, skip Disneyland. It’s expensive, small and (you guessed it) crowded. Every ride has a 1 hour wait, even a merry-go-round. Kind of ridiculous. Solo definitely wasn’t feeling that place. He said no to everything until 5 p.m. at which time he decided he wanted to try a few rides.

    Instead of Disneyland, hit up Oceanpark. First, it’s less expensive than Disneyland. Second, the journey there is shorter and more exciting. Quick, get on the train! Quick, get off the train! Quick, get up the stairs! Quick, buy your bus tickets! Quick, get on the bus! Quick, find a seat! And so on. If you slow down someone will cut in front of you and another couple hundred will follow. Once you arrive at Oceanpark it gets a bit easier. It’s still incredibly crowded, but the park is split in two. One half is at the bottom of a mountain and the other half sits on top of the mountain, literally. Awesome. The more intense rides are on top of the mountain and add another level to doing something like riding a coaster. Riding a coaster is pretty fun, but riding a coaster that shoots out over the water at several hundred feet is even better. Oceanpark also has animals and an aquarium, so there is something for everyone. It’s a pretty cool place and was everyone’s pick for best thing we did in Hong Kong. I recommend it.

    Another thing I would recommend is the food. Lots of good, accessible food in Hong Kong. Any kind of food anytime of the day. It wasn’t very spicy and didn’t come with much in terms of sauces so Jeab was pretty bored (she ate som-tam for about two weeks straight after we got back) but there was a good amount of variety, if you looked. If you didn’t look and explore you would probably end up eating noodle soup a fair amount, because that is everywhere. Noodle soup with no extra spice or sauce, which is a bit bland after living in Thailand. But if you did explore you could find yourself in some pretty interesting places. I found a dim sum place where I was the only white guy and nobody spoke English. I went back twice.

    Hong Kong is expensive, as one would expect from a metropolitan city, so if you go better be prepared to spend a lot of money. Hong Kong is famous for its shopping, which was a major point of attraction for my wife, but she was sorely disappointed. Almost everything is designer labels and designer prices. Huge shopping malls with one fancy name after another. We found a couple of markets but they paled in comparison to Bangkok in terms of quality, quantity, choice, prices and environment.

    Bottom line: in almost every big city category I would recommend Bangkok over Hong Kong. It’s bigger, more relaxed, cheaper, and friendlier. Hong Kong does offer more interesting scenery than Bangkok, as well as much better museums. Besides that, I would give the price, food, shopping, attractions, transportation, and people edge to The Big Chili.