Friday, 29 April 2016

Hong Kong Layover

April 12th - CX 632 delayed by 3 hours.
April 13th - CX 632 delayed by 4 hours.
April 14th - No trace of departure of CX 632. There was a notice in Cathay Pacific website stating that all the flights to Hong Kong may experience a major delay due to extremely bad weather.
April 15th - CX 632 delayed by 4.5 hours.

This shattered my hopes. I booked my flight to LA in such a way that I've a good 7 hours layover at Hong Kong allowing me to sneak into the city and spend at least 3 to 4 hours exploring it. Delay means trouble. The more the delay the less the chances of sneaking into the city. I thought I was doomed. I was afraid that all the research and all the plans I've been making for the past two months, especially for Hong Kong, were going to be a waste. Then came the D-Day (the departure day), April 16th. I was at the airport at 10.30 pm on April 15th, that is 3 hours before the departure, and that's when I heard the golden words from the Cathay Pacific staff. The conversation went like this,

Airline staff: Good evening, Sir. Here's your immigration form.
Me: Thank you! Is the flight departing on time today?
Airline staff: Luckily, yes, Sir.
Me: (with an enlightened face) Are you serious? The flight has been experiencing some crazy delays for the past one week.
Airline staff: It was delayed every day for the past one month, Sir. Luckily, we don't see any trouble today as the incoming aircraft from Hong Kong is right on time. We're departing as per the schedule today. 

That's how my adventure begun. 

I had no hopes on visiting Hong Kong until I heard those golden words from the airline staff. After dropping my baggage, I sneaked into the security check, which was a very long and haunting queue, and starting visualizing the plans I made for the layover. 

Departure from Chennai - 1.50 am IST; Arrival at Hong Kong - 9 am HKT; Connecting flight to Los Angeles - 4.30 pm HKT.

Plan A - If the flight reaches Hong Kong as per schedule by 9 am HKT, and if I clear immigration by 9.30 am HKT, I will have 4.5 hours to spend in the city. This way I can sneak into Kowloon and do some shopping, and get back to airport by 2.30 pm HKT (2 hours before the connecting flight departs).
Plan B - If the flight experiences 1 hour delay and reaches Hong Kong by 10 am HKT, and if I clear immigration by 10.30 am HKT, I will have just 3.5 hours to spend in the city. The options are little limited here as I will have to skip sneaking into Kowloon. 
Plan C - If the flight experiences 2-3 hours delay and reaches Hong Kong around 11.45 am HKT (that's the maximum arrival time and it doesn't cross this time limit as the first connecting flight to LA is at 12.30 pm HKT), and if I clear immigration by 12.15 pm HKT, I will have just 1 hour to spend in the city, which gives me very limited options - sneak into the train, get down at Hong Kong Central, take a quick peek of the high rise buildings and get back to airport. 

With the flight departing on time, I cleared off Plan C from my mind and decided to stick to just Plan A and B. After making some extensive research (of course few days prior to my departure), I realized that it is good to have around 500 HKD (Hong Kong Dollars) if you're spending a day at Hong Kong, which includes food and transportation charges as well. To be in safer side, I ordered 1000 HKD online through Thomas Cook (you can get it with current exchange rate without any processing fee if you order it online, at least a week before your travel), as I had the 'shopping' included in my Plan A. 

The flight took off from Chennai as per the schedule and arrived at Hong Kong around 9.30 am HKT. Disembarking the aircraft, I quickly moved towards the immigration (after clearing the screening test for Zika virus - yes they check your body temperature before allowing you into the airport). From what I heard is one can easily clear the immigration at Hong Kong in less than 20 minutes. I sneaked into the queue which had just 10 people. While I was in the queue, a guy standing behind me scared the hell out of me by sharing his experience while he was at Hong Kong for the first time. He said that the immigration officials harass Indians and they interrogate them for more than 3 hours if they're visiting the city for the first time. He even pointed out the immigration officer who interrogated him last time, and to my surprise I was waiting at his counter. For a moment I thought of going back as the guy scared me to death. The only thing that kept running in my mind at the moment is 'what if I miss my connecting flight and stuck here forever?' My thoughts were disrupted by the airport staff, who like an angel in disguise asked me to move to the next counter. There was a Chinese middle aged guy at the new counter, who, without asking any questions, cleared my immigration in less than 10 seconds. 

Hong Kong Visa on Arrival
Indian passport holders have the privilege of getting 'free' visa on arrival for a period of 14 days. 

By the time I completed the immigration, it was 10 am HKT. I rushed to the Airport Express ticket counter to travel to the city. There were around 10 people in the queue and the guy at the counter was taking more time to clear a passenger. I waited there for almost 30 minutes to get my ticket, which is quite unusual at the World's third best airport. Around 10.30 am HKT, I had the one day return pass in my hand for which they charge 100 HKD. This is the fastest way to commute to the city from the airport as it takes just 24 minutes. If you look at the below map, the train passes through 2 islands - Ma Wan, Tsing Yi - and China mainland (Kowloon) before entering the Hong Kong island (Central). 

Route map from Hong Kong International Airport to Hong Kong Central station

Airport Express ticket

I reached Hong Kong Central at 11 am. I knew that I had to stick to Plan B as I wanted to spend the time exploring the city, and not shopping. Disembarking the train, I exited the IFC mall, where the MTR station is located, and walked towards the Central Pier. I was astonished with the view of the high rise building as I exited the mall. The weather was kind of foggy but pleasant (thankfully it didn't rain - lucky me). The foggy weather added to the beauty as I noticed clouds cutting through the high rise buildings making the view magnificent. As I walked towards the pier, I spotted the Big Bus (it's a kind of hop in and hop off tour bus, an easiest way to explore the city in limited time frame). The Big Bus tours includes Hong Kong island tour (1.5 hours duration), Kowloon tour (1.15 hours), Stanley tour (1.5 hours), and Night tour (1 hour). I opted for the Stanley tour as the bus to Stanley was ready to depart. It costed 250 HKD for a return ticket. 

Stanley route map - I covered the highlighted places

The most important place to visit when you're at Hong Kong is 'Victoria Peak'. The reason for me to avoid the attraction will be evident from the pictures below (check out the Peak tram picture). It would easily take 2+ hours to clear the queue and get to the peak, and I would have missed my connecting flight if I would've opted for it.

After touring the city, I took the Airport express at 1.45 pm HKT from Hong Kong Central and I was able to reach airport by 2.10 pm HKT. Security clearance did not take more than 30 minutes and I was inside the terminal by 2.45 pm. The connecting flight was delayed by 30 minutes, which gave me a good 2 hours to explore the Hong Kong airport. At 5.00 pm HKT, I departed from Hong Kong with zero regrets. 

The below pictures were taken on the way to Hong Kong Central from the Airport by taking Hong Kong's high speed rail.



These were taken after disembarking the Airport express, as I walked towards the Central Pier.



Here are some snaps from the Big Bus city tour.

2 comments:

  1. Hari OM
    Wonderful to see another full and 'experiential' post from you Ashwin! I visited HK three decades ago and have fond memories of it - you did great to see so much in so little time!!! YAM xx

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    1. Glad to hear from you after a long time, Yamini. It was a real 'challenge' to cover this much in a limited time and I made it possible! :) Look forward to my upcoming travelogues about Las Vegas and Grand Canyon trip

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