Okay, before I forget, I’d better write a review of the Excelsior Hotel in Hong Kong where we stayed the last week and a bit.
Great location, central to all the shopping and restaurants in Causeway Bay, and just around the corner from the MTR station. It’s next to the water too, so most rooms have at least a bit of a view over the harbour towards Kowloon.
The service was excellent – I have never been to a hotel which asks so many questions or goes so far out of its way to make sure you are getting what you want. From the profile document (3 pages !) they faxed me after we booked (and rang to remind me to fill it in and send it back too), to the conastant notes under the door or left in the room to let us know about stuff happening in the hotel or to ask for our opinions on things. It almost came across as nagging – but they were discreet enough about it (despite the frequency) – so I interpreted it as a desire to serve and please.
The complementary fruit platter, fresh squeezed juice, bottle of wine and pot of chinese tea on arrival was a nice touch – although not unexpected since they had already asked my preference on the booking profile form.
However, the room was a bit of a letdown. The bed was hard. Very hard. The pillows were those feather type which fill with air and then collapse into nothing when you rest on them. It took us a couple of nights to find a combination of pillows which was actually comfortable – and that included getting some solid foam pillows as well (which was easy to do since they have a survey form which asked if we wanted some).
There was not a desk as such, only a narrow (60cm) bit of bench that you couldn’t really get your legs under properly because it was too shallow. The only lounge chair was a built-in window seat with loose arms (not fixed to anything, so they kept slipping out of place, with really hard cushions that were really not comfortable at all.
The room overall was small and pokey – functional, but cramped.
The one saving grace was the broadband internet access in the rooms (which is one of the reasons I chose this hotel in the first place). HKD$35 per hour (approx AUD$7), or HKD$135 for 24 hours is not exactly cheap, but it’s on par (or slightly cheaper) with the prices I’ve paid in Australia – and given the increase in productivity over a dialin line, I consider it worth the cost. Paying for an hour at a time when I knew I was not going to use more than 2 hours in any 24 hour period proved the best course of action rather than paying for 24 hours I didn’t use.
How do I rate it ?
Room: 5/10 – functional, clean, minimalist, but crowded and with totally inadequate desk space and horrible lounge chair.
Bed: 3/10 – waking up with a sore back or sore neck does not serve you well for the coming day. Rock hard matress and impossible to use pillows just do not work (although I suspect it would suit many asians). Considering how well some other hotels do with good beds (Grand Hyatt in Melbourne for example), I would hope the Excelsior could serve an international clientele more appropriately. I was going to give it 4/10, but Leanne said 2/10, so I’ll compromise on 3/10.
TV: 4/10 – around 60 channels, 75% of which were in Chinese, 10% dedicated to news services, 5% in French, German or other European language, and 5% dedicated to sports, meant that there wasn’t much else to watch. Star Movies, Star World, National Geographic channel, BBC World, ABC Asia Pacific (totally lame aunty !!) – and of course these channels have the annoying habit of showing the same adverts for their next big television event over and over and over again. Aarrgghh ! Fortunately we were generally too tired to sit up watching TV.
Connectivity: 8/10 – One phone by the bed with separate data connection, dialup speeds over 50kbps. Ethernet port for broadband access on desk. Only real fault is the poor desk (and free broadband would be nice too). Naturally, choosing a hotel in Hong Kong in the middle of summer based on it’s connectivity and forgetting to check whether it also had a swimming pool (which the Excelsior doesn’t) was a bit of a mistake. Still, what would you rather do after a long hot day of sightseeing – jump in the pool and become a prune, or sit in your airconditioned room with an ultra-high speed internet link ? ;-)
Breakfast: 5/10 – Nobody in Hong Kong seems to understand how to cook bacon. The hotel burned it to a crisp; Oliver’s Supers Sandwiches undercooked theirs. I seem to remember staying in the Conrad International around this time last year and they had a similar problem in undercooking their bacon. The buffet breakfast was pretty reasonable – if a little expensive. Good selection of fruits and pastries, and traditional chinese breakfast food, but the cereal selection was a bit poor. I know it’s rough to expect them to have Weetbix outside Australia – but there were no wheat based cereals that I could see anyway. Overall was good – but the fact that we only ate there once and went for the ultra-cheap Olivers the rest of the week was not purely about budget.
Room Service: 7/10 – US Double Beef Burger was nice, despite the badly burned bits of bacon. They serve Haagen Daaz Icecream (doesn’t everyone in Hong Kong serve that though ?), which is always a good thing. The steak was nothing to write home about, but the fish and chips were quite good (what’s with the horrible tartare sauce everyone insists on serving these days – has the recipe changed recently or something ?). Leanne tells me the Excelsior Fried Rice and the Tandoori Salmon are both very good, and the American Hotdog was nice too apparently, but only once she scraped off the ultra-hot mustard they put on it. Pretty good, well, good enough for those nights we really had no energy to go out for dinner. Pity they can’t seem to get the drinks right – they insist on serving lemon in everything, which ends up making things quite bitter and not at all refreshing.
Location: 9/10 – can’t really fault the location, as described above. Leanne’s comments were that she would give it a 10/10 if it were right on top of an MTR station rather than around the corner. In any other city, it might be a bit more of a hassle being a little removed from the centre of town, but it is so incredibly easy to get around in Hong Kong that this doesn’t matter at all. If I were to go back to Hong Kong and work was paying the hotel bill, I would probably stay somewhere like the Conrad in Admiralty, but given it was more than twice the price of the Excelsior, it loses out on the value for money side.
Total: 41/70 = 59%
Our last day in Hong Kong today – we’ve had a wonderful time all week.
It actually rained here last night – a big thunderstorm came through after dark. We have been very fortunate with the weather all week – bright and clear sunny days, which has made the views look great, at the price of a searing heat though. Today was overcast, a little cooler, but still just as sticky – up to 90% humidity this last week.
We slept in a little before getting up to finish our packing and heading over to our regular haunt for breakfast – Oliver’s Super Sandwiches… the girls know us well now and know what how we like our cornflakes and toast !
After finishing packing back in our room, we found the underground walkway across the road from the hotel to the famous Noonday Gun, a daily ceremony dating back to 1901. They fire a gun (originally a 6″ cannon, but more recently a 3″ cannon after complaints about the noise were received) – every day on the dot of noon. This tradition was even recorded in Noel Coward’s 1924 song “Mad Dogs and Englishmen”:
“In Hong Kong they strike a gong, and fire off a noonday gun, to reprimand each inmate, who’s in late.”
It’s a small affair, but carried out with strict discipline, and actually startingly loud when you’re standing only 5m away and expecting a bit of a pop. So after that we headed back to the hotel to check out, with ringing still in our ears.
We decided to catch one of Hong Kong’s famous double decker trams all the way from Causeway Bay down to Sheung Wan – which was a great ride, although scary when you consider how high the centre of gravity on these things would be, and how tight those corners are they take at considerable speed.
We walked across to the Western Markets – which was a bit of a disappointment, just an old building with some shops inside, however they did have a shop which was completely dedicated to model buses ! If you are a model bus collector (particularly of Hong Kong buses), you really need to check this place out. There was an exhibition on showing some of the history of Hong Kong’s buses as well which was kind of cute too.
We got back on the MTR to Admiralty and walked over to Pacific Place shopping centre, where we window shopped amongst all the exclusive label shops before sharing a plate of Singapore Noodles for lunch. Back on the MTR to Causeway Bay, and wandering around some of the shopping areas.
Finally, we killed some time with a lovely walk through Victoria Park – a quiet oasis in the middle of all the hustle and bustle. The foot massage tracks – smooth round stones set in concrete in a 100m or so long circuit for you to carefully walk on – were popular with the locals – although I think it would take a bit of getting used to for the rest of us.
Got back to the hotel in time to catch the Airport Express Hotel bus to Hong Kong station and then onto the Airport Express to the airport. So here we are now waiting for our plane back home.
Actually it’s just been called, so I have to go now – bye for now !
You can see some photos from day 9 in my photo gallery
This morning, we caught the MTR to Tsuen Wan and walked to the Sam Tung Uk museum, a restored village over 200 years old comprising 12 houses set within defensive walls – once a prosperous Hakka farmer’s family compound – and now a folk museum. Quite an interesting view on early life in the New Territories, and how changes in the region affected the lives of these simple farmers.
We then headed back to Kowloon Tong on the MTR before jumping on the KCR (Kowloon-Canton Railway) up to Newtown Plaza at Sha Tin where we visited Snoopy World. Basically this was just a kids playground with large snoopy characters everywhere – very well done for what it was, but we were hoping for something a little more like the Snoopy shop in Singapore with a shop and restaurant – but alas it was just the play area. So we had lunch and then headed off again.
This time, back on the KCR and then MRT back to Central, where we walked a few blocks until we got to the Central to Mid-Levels escalator – a rather impressive people moving device – labelled the “world’s longest covered outdoor people mover” – basically a series of escalators and travelators which in the morning moves from the Mid-Levels region down about 800m in height to the Central region where the main business district is. Then in the afternoon it reverses direction and takes people back up the hills from Central to the Mid-Levels. The terrain is quite steep here, and if you had to walk it you would probably collapse from exhaustion all that way – so it is quite ingenious to have a long series of escalators specifically for moving people up or down the hills.
Before we got there I had been already thinking to myself about how much time we had spent on escalators already in Hong Kong with all of our travel on the MTR, and inside buildings – I think we almost spent more time on escalators than we did on open ground ! Then we got to the Central-Mid-Levels escalator and it just kind of summed up Hong Kong. It might seem like a cushy easy-ride, but given the hilly nature of Hong Kong and the fact that you are constantly moving up or down a hill, or an MTR station, or a building, then escalators are really the only efficient means of moving such large volumes of people efficiently. Having 3 or 4 escalators all moving the same direction next to each other out of an MTR station is not uncommon. That being said, my stair-climbing muscles have developed quite nicely during this trip as well !
We worked our way to Hollywood road which is where all the antique and handicraft dealers seem to congregrate and then down to Man Mo Temple, an incense choked tribute to two local gods. Finally, we headed back down to Sheung Wan and onto the MTR back to the hotel for a sleep and a relaxing evening. We were going to head up to Victoria Peak again to take in the night time views, but it looked a little cloudy, and indeed as we were debating about how we were going to get there it started raining, and a thunderstorm started pretty much putting an end to that idea. That’s something we’ll have to do next time we’re in Hong Kong.
You can see some photos from day 8 in my photo gallery
We headed out to Lantau island yesterday (Sunday) – caught the MTR to Central, then walked down to the outlying islands ferry terminal to catch a ferry to Mui Wo. We missed one ferry by about 10 mins, and had to wait another 50 mins for the next one, but we eventually got underway on what we ended up calling the “slow boat to China” – since every other ferry heading out of Hong Kong passed us like we were standing still. Yet, it was a very pleasant trip – despite the raucous behaviour from a group of young locals sitting behind us playing cards all the way there.
Once on Lantau Island, we caught a bus to the Po Lin Monastary and Tiantan Buddha Statue, a 22m tall cast-bronze statue and shrine. It sits on a hill top above the monastary, and is so large that it is clearly seen from kilometres away as the bus winds its way past the Shek Pik reservoir. Quite an impressive site really.
We caught a bus back to Tung Chung near Hong Kong’s Chek Lap Kok Airport and jumped on the MTR back to Hong Kong station. The bus trip was an interesting one with a mostly single laned road through very steep and winding roads across the top of Lantau island – and quite a busy road with buses in both directions ferrying people between the various villages – but we got to our destination in one piece.
After a rest back at the hotel, we decided to go over to Aberdeen and visit the floating restaurants for dinner. The Jumbo restaurant is a brightly lit and ornately decorated cross between Beijing’s Imperial Palace and a Las Vegas casino (as the Lonely Planet guide quite aptly puts it). Catching the ferry boat from the Aberdeen Promenade past a marina full of multi-million dollar boats, it really is an impressive site.
The interior of the restaurant was very elaborately decorated, with the main dining area on the top floor and obviously a very popular family dining place. We were warned that the food seems to be less important than the spectacle, but we were pleasantly surprised and really enjoyed the food. It was quite an enjoyable evening.
You can see some photos from day 7 in my photo gallery
Saturday – Leanne had decided that we were going to this place called Ocean Park which sounded like some kind of lame aquarium type thing – it didn’t even rate a mention in the Lonely Planet guide (condensed).
How wrong I was.
We caught the MTR down to Central, walked over to the Star Ferry pier and caught the special 629 bus to Aberdeen and Ocean Park.
Even from the outside it looked impressive – and clean, and well set up.
I hadn’t really paid attention to how Leanne described it until we got there – kind of a marine park, with a bit of an amusement park as well. The first part was quite impressive, nice exhibits: Japanese goldfish, pandas, dinosaurs (models of them actually), butterfly house, a bird show, a seal show – plus lots of other activities for kids.
But it was the second part – or more importantly the cable car trip across the mountains to get there that surprised me – A long ride suspended high above the rugged terrain to the water front and the amusement park part. Here they had a Japanese garden, shark aquarium, reef aquarium, seal lion natural habitat, walk in bird aviary, ocean theatre dolphin and sea lion show, plus all the amusement rides.
The good bits were the bird show (although the bird shows Jurong Bird Park in Singapore are better), the dolphin and sea lion show (although we couldn’t get a seat – and it was a huge auditorium – and I think the dolphin show at Sea World on the Gold Coast in Australia is better), and the coral reef aquarium – which I think we both agreed was the best aquarium display we’ve seen.
At the coral reef aquarium you enter above the water line looking down at a circular pool some 20-30 metres across and you can see some of the fish and other sea creatures swimming around the surface. Next, you descend to just below the waterline where you can see the fish through glass windows. There are two further levels below this, and each time you walk around the pool seeing the various fish who like to be at the different levels. It’s quite huge and very well set up.
The amusement park includes a rollercoaster (two actually), ferris wheel, pirate ship and other such rides – they all seemed very popular with the younger people (we’re not really into that kind of stuff – so we didn’t try them out). All very well set up on the side of a hill overlooking the water in very nice garden like surrounds. They have some impressively long escalators on one part of the park where the hills are particularly steep and they need to move people from essentially sea level up to the hilltop several hundred metres up.
Good points: very well set up and very well maintained gardens and walkways, very clean and easy to get around. Attol Reef aquarium was very impressive as well, but I’d almost pay the HKD$180 just to go on the cable car ride alone !
Bad points: don’t go in Summer (July – August), it’s simply too hot, and being on the side of a hill you should expect a lot of steep pathways. Not as many animal exhibits as I thought there could be – and I do wish that they would give you some buttons in the panda exhibit which you could press to wake them up when you want to see them ;-)
Overall, we had a really good (although extremely tiring) day and really enjoyed wandering around both parts of Ocean Park. Well worth the trip if you are in Hong Kong with a spare day.
We didn’t actually do anything Saturday night after being so exhausted from the activity of the day.
You can see some photos from day 6 in my photo gallery