Monday, May 30, 2011

Shutterbugged @ Lantau Island

We were on a 3-day trip to Hong Kong, and with so many things to see and do and buy, we had no time to waste. So after checking in at our hostel, we rested a bit and headed straight to Lantau Island for Ngong Pin 360.

A little history: Ngong Pin 360 was a government tourism project built in 2001. The cultural village along with the cable car facility was constructed to link the northern coast of Lantau with the rest of Hong Kong. The village was designed to reflect the culture and the spritituality of the area, with the Tan Tian Budhha (the world's largest outdoor Budhha) and the Po Lin Monastery located right at the outskirts of the "village".

We rode the MTR ( which was very impressive, by the way ) and got off at Tung Chung Station. To get to the Tung Chung Cable Car Terminal, take exit B and the bright blue staircase leading up to the ticketing booth should be just within sight.

There are actually two kinds of cable cars that you can choose from: the regular cabin and the Crystal cabin, which  was ( you guessed it ), pricier. If you have a little money to spare, you can take both, one on each way. I highly recommend that you take the regular cable car on your way to Ngong Pin - where there are lots of passengers around; and take the crystal cabin on your way back, cause chances are, you'll get the entire cabin to yourself!

The cable car took us on a 30-minute ride across mountains and seas (literally). I have the attention span of an 8-year old but for several minutes, I was perfectly still. It was beautiful to see those mountains still untouched.

Lantau sure knows how to catch my eye...
After touching down at Lantau Island, it was camera whoring all the way. The village was very touristy, but the views were breathtaking. I have never taken so many pictures my entire life. And as expected, the camera's battery ran out and I was stuck to taking shots using Janjan's phone. Well, this was better than nothing. Thanks Jan.

The erm... camera whoring begins (I'm sorry Jan)

We hiked up to the Tan Tian Budhha, which was dead tiring. I had to stop several times along the way. The view at the top though, was wonderful.

We took some more pictures before heading back down. Aside from sightseeing, the village is also lined with boutiques and shops. But beware, a lot of the items sold here can easily be found in the night markets, at half the price. So be wise with your purchases if you do not want to get ripped off.

We wanted to see the monastery next but it started to rain. So we decided to head back to the city instead and get some lunch. But before that, a few more shots wouldn't hurt, right? =)

Sunday, May 29, 2011

First Time Travel Jitters: Hong Kong

This trip happened last November 2010. I apologize for not having too many pictures. I had no idea I was going to use it for something like this. I'll describe everything in detail as much as I can. So here it goes.

The reason why I picked Hong Kong for my first out-of-the country trip is becuase it's very friendly to tourists. Call it a baby-traveller's step, if you like. It was fiarly cheap too.

Most of the time, it pays to be extra prepared. I booked tickets 5 months ahead and started planning even way before that. I scoured travel forums (PinoyExchange and are very helpful sites if you want insights from local Filipino travellers) and blogs for all the information and tips that I could find.

So D-Day finally came. We had early dinner outside the airport, for obvious budget reasons. For those who are travelling outside the country for the first time, you need to pay the PhP1620 travel tax ( ouch, right? ) before you get your boarding passes. After filling out our departure cards, we headed straight to another counter to pay PhP 550 for the teminal fee (yes, yes, airports do drain your pockets dry) before immigrations.

Immigration was fast, and well, the IO never really said much. A simple nod and we were off to the departure gate. Cebu Pac was late for an hour but I didn't mind. Hell, I was too excited to care about anything else.

An hour and thirty miunutes later, we touched down on HKIA. Being on foreign soil, surrounded by everything unfamiliar was one of the best things I've felt for a very long time. I secretly knew this was what I wanted to do for many, many years.

We got off the plane and headed straight to Immigrations. Before reaching the counter, there's a huge (unmanned) kiosk that had free maps and guides. We stayed for a while and got a few (okay, a lot - for souvenirs) before lining up for the IO.

HKIA @ 3am

We were a rowdy crowd. And the Cute Chinese IO (who looked like he could use some extra hours of shut-eye) got irritated and scolded us like we were kindergartens. It was embarassing, really.

Anyways, after passing through Immigrations (the IO looked sleepy too and gave me a very slight nod to signal I was good to go), we moved to the arrival hall. Our plan was to spend the night at the airport, so me and Janjan found ourselves a cozy spot to crash. There were a lot of travellers spending the night too so we didn't feel out of place at all.

First time high
The benches were very comfy, good enough for sleeping. I wanted to get as much sleep as I could becuase we had a long day ahead of us. But I was too excited. So I busied myself looking at the maps, checking and rechecking our itinerary before I finally felt the my eyes getting heavy. I dozed off at Janjans lap while he was still fumbling around with a dining guide (I don't know of he ever slept, or not).

I woke up around 6. We waited for the counters to open so we could buy our Octopus cards ( I so love this card, I wrote a separate entry about it here). It costs about $100, with a $30 inital value and a $50 deposit. After this, we headed straight to the bus stop to take the A21 bus.

Our next desitnation was Tsim Sha Tsui. We booked our accomodations at USA Hostel, in Mirador Mansion several moths ago (which required only a 5% deposit and accepted PayPal payments - yehey!). You can read my separate entry for a more thorough review.

Exit: this way
Commuting to Nathan road via the A21 bus will take you around 30-45 minutes. Since the hostel was expecting us to arrive at 9am, we were still 2 hours early. So we got off at the nearest bus stop (@Cameron Road, 13th stop) and decided to get some breakfast.  We found a McDonald's cafe nearby and ordered some coffee (yes, just coffee - I guess we were too excited to feel hungry) and strolled around TST a bit.

So what was McDonald's like in Hong Kong? Well, the seats were much nicer, and they served desserts and pastries with coffee.

Blame it on adrenaline but we found ourselves walking all the way to Canton Road, where all the braded stores were at and to Harborside - with backpacks in tow. The streets were still almost deserted even at 8ish in the morning. Apparently, people here start business at almost noon and close very late at night.

At 9, we headed back to Nathan Road and requested for an early check-in. The lady (who was a Filipina) smugly told us check-in is @2pm, and only @2pm. With my sweetest smile, I asked her if we could just leave our bags while we go around the city. My new best friend nodded. I guess that was a yes. =)

November is wet season in HK. It rained the entire time and it was cold (i HATE the cold). But nonetheless, I was not gonna let the weather get the best of this vacation.

Let's start....

I have always loved writing. But for the most part of my life, I have written all my thoughts down on a small pink notebook, water-stained and stashed under my bed for no one to see.

Now, I think it's time to change the way I do things. I’m twenty five and I’m not getting any younger. A year ago, I decided to travel the world as far as my time and my budget can take me.

And now, I think it's time I write about it too. I started this blog becuase I want to share to you a piece of my mind ( and perhaps, my heart), of my dreams and how I make them come true, one trip at a time.

These are my stories on the road and my little thoughts about the world.