A Dreamy Hongkong Layover

We reached Hongkong airport at almost midnight after a harrowing turbulent flight where the plane shook, dove and circled the airport airspace several times. There was a typhoon in the China Sea, and the wind was too strong for us to land. I was already feeling out of sorts when finally we touched down.

We had an 18-hour layover in the city before we board our connecting flight, so we decided to check out the place in the morning. I have been passing through Hongkong several times to change planes but never really had the opportunity to explore it yet.

After checking out at the immigration, hubby withdrew a few Hongkong dollars, and we then proceeded to gate 1, where hotel assistance booths were available to get a pass for our hotel bus shuttle. We only waited for five minutes before boarding the bus. The air outside the airport was crisp and chilly. The bus was spacious and comfortable. We were able to let our turbulent-beaten bodies relax during the bus ride. During the half an hour ride from the airport, I can only see darkness from my window seat but as soon as we reached the bridge and saw the bay I was enchanted. The scene before me looked surreal. The skyscrapers glittered like a magnificent light show in the sky, which were further magnified by their equally glittery reflections in the water. I’ve seen lots of pictures of Hongkong nightscapes but to see it in real life was quite breathtaking. The bus though, was moving too fast for me to take pictures.
After coming down from the bridge, the bus drove inside what looks like an old downtown area similar to the places I often see in anime films. I saw the road signs, and it indicated that we were in Kowloon area. I love the place. If we had a lot of time, I would have wanted to explore it more. It has this nostalgic feel to it as if I was in some kind of period film.  Well, the entire bus ride has a dream-like quality to it anyway. Enveloping the people and their surroundings in a soft, warm glow.

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We reached our hotel after 2 hours, I think, can’t remember exactly. The staff in the Harbour Grand hotel were amiable and warm. The room was great and has a full view of the bay. The kind of pampering we needed since we were extremely exhausted. I am a backpacking kind of traveller, but like everyone else, I don’t mind occasionally camping at luxurious accommodations.

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After taking a warm shower, we slipped into our pyjamas and drifted off to blissful sleep.

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Excitedly, the next morning after taking a bath in the jacuzzi (yeah!) we went down to the 3rd floor for our breakfast. Food was okay; as good as how hotel food can be. Several choices for breakfast were available. American, European, Continental, Asian, Indian, and everything else that you could crave for. We chose a table with a good view of the bay. Gazing towards it, I sipped my cappuccino with pleasure.20130606-142727.jpg

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Since we were short of time, we chose to visit Sogo, a shopping complex located in Causeway bay area. It was nearer to our hotel than Time Square. Taxi cost us about 23 Hongkong dollars. The driver was an old man who was very courteous and did not expect any tips. He even returned the 2 dollar change to hubby’s 25 HK dollars. We told him to keep it.

One remarkable thing we noticed over there was the driving etiquette of the motorists. Unlike in India, the cars wait a few seconds after the light turns green before moving. This amazed hubby and I. In  Delhi, vehicles start running even before the light turns green.

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Sogo was fascinating as well and has that old downtown ambience complete with double-decker buses and trams. What I noticed especially was how the air smells of expensive perfumes emanating from shopping malls where they sell mostly imported luxury brands. But we were really not into that. I want to get a glimpse of the local culture and local food. I would love to come back, though. I have a feeling I will discover more exciting places aside from Disneyland and Chanel stores.

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Revisiting Boracay Island

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Six years away from the sea, it nearly drove me crazy. Swimming in the ocean has always been therapeutic for me. When I was still single and working in the city whenever I felt the urban landscape suffocating me, I would escape to the nearest sandy shore hoping to retrieve my sanity.

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Of all my hideaways, my constant favourite was Boracay. A beautiful island in the province of Aklan in the Philippines where you can find the most pristine of white sandy beaches. Sands so fine like powdered milk.
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Of course, the rugged beauty of Coron, Palawan is more exotic than Boracay, but for more extended visits, I have always chosen this island. On several occasions, I had stayed here for several days by myself and even roamed the whole island alone in a bicycle without fearing for my safety.

20130412-141621.jpgThe locals are so used to various kinds of nationalities visiting the place that they have adopted a very westernised attitude towards different types of tourists. They do not gawk at girls, even the one in bikinis or the topless sunbathing ones. It is a ubiquitous sight for them. A solitary woman can relax and enjoy the beach without being harassed or bothered by anybody. Unlike other tourist destinations in the country, the local vendors are not desperate to sell you things. Except for occasional offers of leisure beach activities, like island hopping or jet skiing, etc. they leave you alone to enjoy your beach holiday.
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The natural confidence of the locals came from the excellent economy vibrant tourism had generated for the island. During peak seasons, foreigners outnumber the local tourists and going there often felt like you stepped out of the country altogether. Holidayers keep to themselves. One can roam around freely and could get lost in the crowd easily if one wishes anonymity.
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During our visit to my parents’ house this summer we could not resist including a side trip to Boracay before returning home. I kind of build up the place for my husband, but at the back of my mind, I was hoping nothing much has changed.
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Boracay did not disappoint. Although more hotels and resorts have been constructed since the last time I was there the fun vibe of island life is still there.
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The shores remained pristine white.
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The water in front of the beach still bright and clean, like a swimming pool.
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The market place is still alive, vibrant and bustling with activity.
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The sunset still as gorgeous.
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The nightlife, livelier than ever.

My husband and I had a lovely time over there. It was the cherry on top of our fun-filled visit to my country. I was happy and proud that Boracay delivered all that I promised to my husband. He is eager to go back.
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The prices of rooms and meals mostly stayed the same. Choices range from the most upscale to a backpacker’s rate.
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I also noticed that a lot of ATM’s from different banks are now placed in several areas of the beach.
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If you have not been to Boracay, I would just like to give you a few helpful tips about going around the island. The whole beachfront is about 4 kilometres long and divided by 3 stations. Station 1 has wider beachfront with less crowd since it is considered the poshest place to stay at and where the most expensive hotels facing the sea can be found. Station 2 is the busiest area, where most of the restaurants, bars, market places like D’Mall and D’ Talipapa can be found. You will discover reasonably priced lodgings in this section of the beach. Station 3 being far from the main activity area is generally quieter and had very few hotels last time I was there. But this time more hotels are available. If you want to stay away from the crowd you can choose to stay in this station and rooms would be cheaper. Although it’s a long walk if you’re going to go to the primary market. Tricycles are available inside the main town at the back of the beach area so that usually solves the issue. Cheaper lodgings and fast foods restaurants are also available there.
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You can reach Boracay via air from Manila. There are plenty of local flights that go there. Some of the airlines include PAL, Cebu Pacific, Zea Air, Air Philippines among others. The fare generally costs around 4000 pesos round trip per person. Going by sea is a little bit more complicated though not less enjoyable since one of the most famous ferries that sail there departs from Batangas City Pier. Formerly known as Superferry, 2go Travel leaves Batangas in the evening at around 9 pm and reaches Caticlan port in the morning at about 7 am. From Caticlan to Batangas, the ferry leaves at 9 am in the morning and arrives at Batangas at 6 pm. A suite would cost around 4000 pesos round trip for two persons.

copyright 2013 JMKhapra