WARNING: If you are looking for a HONG KONG FOOD AND TRAVEL GUIDE AND ITINERARY, THIS IS NOT IT. That’s in another post, but, this narrative will definitely take you to the side streets of Hong Kong and offer some laughter along the way. I promise. 🙂
The immigration officer at NAIA took our passports, did a quick background check, and suddenly stared at me and my 20-something-year-old niece, Melissa. I only had a few hours sleep the night before. As this flight via Philippine Airlines, was an early morning flight, I finished packing at around 12 midnight and woke up at 3:00 AM to catch this flight. I blinked at the Immigration Officer. “Are you traveling alone?”, he asked. It was Melissa’s first time traveling around Asia without her parents, and for some reason I felt responsible for her. But this particular immigration officer probably thought we were domestic workers, trying to enter Hong Kong without proper working permits. I mean, it was really a thing during that time. Young women, about our age, twenty-something or older, disguised as tourists travelers, entering Hong Kong and then overstaying. These women were very prone to human trafficking, so immigration officers tend to be extra stricter when it comes to Filipino women travelers. We felt judged, but luckily we weren’t alone that time. “No. We are traveling with my Mom.”, I quickly replied and pointed to my Mom standing next to us beyond the Yellow Line. She then stepped forward, handed her passport, got our passports stamped, and the IO finally let us through. Whew!
Melissa and I planned this Hong Kong Trip together. This wasn’t my first trip to Hong Kong, but out of the many travels I took there, this was one of the most memorable. M and I are both fond travelers. We travel around the Philippines either together, with our families, or with our own sets of friends. We spend our weekends by the beach, getting tan lines and grilling sea foods with the ocean as our back drop. But this time, we wanted to upgrade our travels and spend some time overseas. She asked her Dad if she could go and he said yes to one condition, ONLY IF MY MOM WAS COMING WITH US. Her Dad (my cousin-in-law), automatically called my Mom and asked her if she could “chaperon” us because he was in Singapore that time. “Auntie, the two are planning to travel to Hong Kong. I told M I would allow her only if you are with them.”, that was her Dad’s request, to which my Mom pleasantly obliged.
Both our families and our friends know that we somehow create “mischief” when we are together, let alone traveling overseas by ourselves together. It’s not the serious type of trouble that we “accidentally” create, but mostly something our friends just usually laugh off. SO, NO. There was no way our families would allow us to go by ourselves. But, that was back then. Solo traveling is a different story for us now.
Anyhow, my Mom loves Hong Kong, so every time you would ask her if she wants to go, she would say yes. Not only because she loves the food there, but because Hong Kong is a familiar place to her. She lived there for a couple of months for work, and she would always tell me stories of how it was to reside there.
Fine. We were going with Mom. It’s settled. So through Mom’s trusted travel agent, we booked our tickets, planned our budget and itineraries, packed our bags, and took that flight. It was me, Mom, and M this time. It was probably my third or fourth time to Hong Kong, but each travel is way different from the other.
Traveling around Hong Kong can be complicated if you don’t know exactly where you are going. There is always the Tourist Octopus Card which costs about $39 HKD ($8 AUD, P250 Php). It is similar to Sydney’s Opal Card, which you can use to pay for your bus rides, trains, and ferries. But HK Octopus Card can also be swiped for dining, shopping, and other activities. Another means of transport is the ever dependable taxis hovering around the usually busy streets just waiting to be flagged down. But note that taxis just like in any cosmopolitan city can be very expensive in Hong Kong. But if you are going somewhere really far from your hotel, riding a taxi can possibly be the most convenient way. The drivers usually speak and understand English well, and they are honest, compared to taxi drivers from other Asian countries.
Anyway, since our hotel is in the middle of Mongkok, we usually just walk around town to get where we want to go. Except if we are joining some group tours, then we have to ride the tourist bus with around 10 to 15 other people in the tour group. On this particular trip, we head out early even if we have no scheduled tours for the day. We grab breakfast which is complementary from our hotel, and walk to check out nearby streets and markets. I did experience strolling around Hong Kong without a tour group, but that would be in another post.
HONG KONG NIGHT MARKET STORIES
One night, we spent our time to shop at Mongkok. This has always been our favorite shopping destination. We booked at Prudential Hotel, just across Chatham Road. Mom is very familiar in this area and our hotel is not too far from the night market, so we walked our way through. We passed by a wide array of street food. It smelled like typical Chinese food. You know, something like grilled fish balls dipped with chilies and star anise. There were stalls selling colorful T-Shirts with “I Heart Hong Kong” printed on them, also stalls selling key chains and other kinds of souvenirs. It was vibrant. Lights were everywhere. LED lights flashing on every store we passed by. Everything was there, apparel, cheap tech-stuff, shoes, hair accessories, bags. I can remember the loud exchange of Cantonese and English. We were not looking for anything in particular, we just walked and looked around. “Aaaahh Filipines. Ganda (Pretty), come here! Come here! Mura mura! (Cheap cheap!)” One of the lady vendors called us. She was selling pocket mirrors. With some Tagalog words, she lured us over. We excitedly walked to her stall and the lady smiled at us. “I know Filipines,” she said proudly. But we knew she definitely meant “Philippines”, just mispronounced it a bit. “Wow! What else do you know?” I asked her. M and Mom were busy checking out her stall. “Boracay!” She answered eagerly. She was mentioning a very famous tourist island back in the Philippines. I was amused and pretty much got engaged to this conversation. “Pili lang.” She told M, which means “Just choose” in English. “Wow! Your Tagalog is good!”, I replied to her. M was laughing, and then she went to ask, “Do you know libre?” (“Free?”) The lady vendor looked at her, puzzled, “What’s libre?”, she asked. I explained, “It means FREE!”. The lady vendor boisterously laughed. “Hahahaha. No. No. Mura mura only. I give you 2 free.” I quickly tried to recall what “Thank You” was in Chinese. I said, “Xie xie!” This was the time when Mom’s basic Cantonese comes in handy. She instantly corrected me, “It’s Do-jeh in Cantonese”, she said.
Speaking a little bit of another language can get you elsewhere. At this moment, we ‘hoarded’ pocket mirrors, not just because they were really nice-looking, but because the seller was also very sociable. She said, “Salamat!” (“Thank You!), and handed us our bags of dainty mirrors. We were amused up to the end because it’s either three of the following: 1. She learned it from A LOT of Filipino travelers shopping in this particular market in Hong Kong. 2. She loves languages and did her research. 3. She simply loves the Filipino language. The next people that came after us were of Caucasian decent, and the lady seller tried to guess. She was suddenly speaking in multiple languages saying her Hellos to the Caucasian group. Again, she drew them in, and it was fun watching how she sold her stuff. So for that, we’ll go with Number 2. Lady vendor knows her languages and is very good at sales too!
We went on with our night market escapade. At this point, we already had several bags in our hands, but we still continued to look around. In one of the well-lit streets of Mongkok stood an eye-catching shoe shop. If there’s something the three of us had in common, it was the love for shoes and our love for big red tags saying “SALE”. So, we went inside. We all picked out our own styles, sandals, closed walking shoes, formal shoes and whatever kind of shoes we could possibly stash away. We asked for our sizes. The prices for each pair were remarkably cheap, so each of us bought two to three pairs for ourselves. One pair can cost you as cheap as HKD $50 ($10 AUD / P350 pesos), and if you’re good at bargaining, you can definitely score items for less. It took us a lot of time to choose, probably more than an hour in that specific store. We realized that after we shopped from them, it was already closing time. So we had to wrap it up and head back to the hotel.
At that time, internet was already a thing, but using it for GPS was not yet in. Internet data was mainly used to access chat apps like BBM or WhatsApp or Line. Moreover, we never thought of buying a local SIM and we never dared using our mobile data overseas, afraid of paying unreasonable telecom charges when we get back home. Those were the days when people used to have a life outside of Social Media so internet data was not that on demand. So, GPS was out of the picture and we had to find our way back in the dark. M and I being totally useless when it comes to directions weren’t much of any help. So it was Mom who was doing the navigation since it was her turf. We walked down the streets, and while trying to remember every corner we turned from, I suddenly felt that someone was following us. I took a quick glance from behind, and I saw a guy, wearing denim pants, black baseball cap, and a collared shirt. It sounded like a scene from a thriller movie, except that this happened in real life. My heart started to race, as I saw this guy back in the shoe shop. I wasn’t sure if I was just being paranoid, or he actually managed to follow us for two blocks already. I was feeling a bit anxious, so I decided to warn everyone. We made another turn, and this guy was still on our tracks. We were all a bit panicking. On our next turn, there was a big Starbucks store which was luckily still open. It was already around 12:30 in the midnight by that time. We all agreed to stop by Starbucks and see if this guy would follow us. So we went inside, ordered non-caffeine drinks as it was already too late for coffee and sunk ourselves on the comfortable couches. It was a tiring night after all, just walking around the streets of Mongkok and carrying heavy shopping stuff. I pretended to scan some Starbucks mugs on the shelf, and took a momentary look outside. Boy was I right. The guy “who was allegedly” following us, was smoking outside Starbucks. I have never felt so unsafe like that in my life, and I worriedly told M and Mom. “Should we ride a taxi from here?” I asked them. Our hotel is only a few turns from where we were. The three of us started peering outside to check if that man was still there. I dunno, but he probably realized that we’ve noticed that he was tailing us. Our eyes met, and he slowly fixed his cap and tapped his cigarette on the trash bin. OK. We all felt in danger, so we have decided to spend a few HK$ for a short taxi ride.
Some of the streets were still crowded, however, we didn’t want to take the risk. We hailed a cab, and with just one turn, we were already at the doorstep of our hotel. We quickly grabbed our belongings from the trunk of the car and made sure that no one followed us there. Do not get me wrong. Hong Kong is pretty much a safe country for solo female travelers, but here’s a pro tip. Always follow your instincts especially when your gut tells you that it is not safe. And during that time, we all had the same gut-feel.
Moving on (I don’t want this to sound like a real-life horror story), we settled in our hotel. Thankfully, we were back safe and sound. As a routine, we took out the stuff we shopped for from their plastic bags so we can stow them in our luggage. It was nice to look at everything, but we failed to realize one thing. HOW WILL EVERYTHING FIT WITHOUT AN EXCESS BAGGAGE?
Sure the shopping part was enjoyable, but the packing part was a big challenge. These pairs of shoes does not include Mom’s yet and she was teasing us. We had to wear the bulkiest ones on our flight back, otherwise, we would have to pay for excess baggage which was not on the planned budget. M and I both asked ourselves, HOW IN THE WORLD WOULD EVERYTHING FIT IN OUR MEDIUM-SIZED LUGGAGE? And that’s just shoes. It doesn’t include the shirts, the mirrors, the other stuff we “kind-of” hoarded.
WE DIDN’T GO TO OCEAN PARK FOR OCEAN CREATURES
There were things we had yet to sort out, but it definitely did not ruin our stay in Hong Kong. We set out early for another quest, and this time it was really a part of the itinerary. A tourist bus picked us up from our hotel lobby. It is fairly convenient to book your activities nowadays, and maps and guides are readily available. If you opt not to join a a tourist bus, going to Ocean Park is pretty much straightforward. It depends where your accommodation is located in Hong Kong. But if you are going from Mongkok, the train is the easiest way to get there. From Mongkok Station, take the Tsuen Wan Line going to Central and get off at Admiralty Station. From Admiralty Station, take the South Island Line going towards South Horizon and get off at Ocean Park Station. It’s a 10 minute walk from Ocean Park Station to the entrance of the theme park. The train stations can be confusing, but maps are handily available in every station. Otherwise, Google Maps is your best friend. From Mongkok Station, it will take you around 30 to 40 mins. by train. Or, you can always ask your hotel if they have scheduled tour groups going to Ocean Park. That time, we opted to join the group to avoid the stress of getting lost in between stations.
Ocean Park Hong Kong is massive compared to the other Ocean Parks I’ve seen from different countries. But before you travel, make sure to search everything you need to know about it. An adult ticket can cost you HKD $498 ($101 AUD / P3,500 PHP), and if you have kids below 11 years old, the price would be HKD $249 ($50 AUD / P1600 PHP) but just like any other theme park, prices for some attractions may vary at a different cost.
I love everything about Ocean Park, it never disappoints. But my most favorite is the Giant Panda Habitat.
At that time, together with other pandas in captivity, there were 2 famous resident Giant Pandas at the habitat, Jia Jia and An An. These fluff balls were born in the Sichuan Province of China and rescued in Qingchuan County at the age of 2. They were Giant Pandas from China, and was being kept at Wolong National Nature Reserve before they were transferred to their Hong Kong habitat. Unfortunately, Jia Jia passed away in 2016, and during her time of death she was the oldest panda in captivity.
Since then, it has been my dream to be a Panda Carer. I wanted to do it even just as a volunteer, but it never happened. My closest encounter with these adorable creatures was during our visit at Ocean Park.
That time, we knew we didn’t go to Ocean Park for the rides and for the Oceanarium. We went there to visit the pandas. It is really fascinating when you get to see these charming creatures up close. We didn’t need tourist guides to take us there. In fact, we did not join the guided tours. We went to search for the pandas by ourselves, navigating our way with the park maps.
Mom let us “kids” roam around Ocean Park. We headed to the gift shops while Mom cooled off with a cone of flavored ice under the shades. This was not our first time in Ocean Park, so Mom just allowed us to go wherever.
What’s nice about Hong Kong Ocean Park is that no two gift shop has the same items. Close to the Giant Panda Habitat, the gift shops sold stuffed Pandas and everything about Pandas. We ultimately enjoyed it and the thoughts of coming back (for the nth time) just came to the picture. Of course, we were clueless with our plans for the future at that time. We just wanted to travel. Those days, people traveled for experience and not for social media feeds. I was just fresh from college and M was still in the course of finishing her undergrad. We never knew that we would end up going separate ways several years after, her being in Canada, and me landing in Australia.
This Hong Kong Trip was a bliss. We somehow managed to fit our stuff inside our luggage without paying for extra. Our cameras were full, mine, mostly of streets, of food, and pandas. I was already blogging at that time at a different platform, and I didn’t have my own website then. We landed safely back in Manila without any trouble. I promised myself that if I was coming back, I wouldn’t be questioned again by immigration officers. I would just go smoothly.
It usually takes me around 2 to 3 days to unpack after a trip, but M has a different story. It just didn’t simply end there. The following day, I received a call from her. It was the most hilarious phone call I have ever received. One of the shoes she bought was dysfunctional. Why? THE PAIR WAS BOTH LEFT FOOT. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I burst out in laughter while she vented out her frustration over the phone. She wanted to exchange it, but how? We were thousands of miles away from Hong Kong already. I can’t believe she never noticed it the whole time we were there. She even took photos of the shoes we bought in all angles without even noticing it. She badly wanted to return it and have it swapped or even refunded. How? That was the question. All I could do was laugh at her mishap and let it slide. Besides, we won’t go as far as booking another plane ticket and accommodation just to have the pair replaced, right? Might as well just buy another pair locally with that money.
Hope you liked our little Hong Kong Trip! I would probably write a proper food and travel guide and itinerary in Hong Kong in another post. 🙂
LOTS OF LOVE FROM QUARANTINE,