Sunday, November 23, 2014

My 4-Day Trip To Hong Kong: Day 2

Day 2 of our Hong Kong excursion was reserved exclusively for Hong Kong Disneyland. I’d spent some time the night before looking at a physical map of the subway system to figure out how to get there. Of course, we were running a bit short on HKD due to the unforeseen expenses from the day before. Thankfully however, it was my sister who shouldered the ticket expenses for Disneyland. We’d also brought a few hundred USD with us in anticipation of the higher forex rates in Hong Kong when compared to the Philippines. We exchanged one 100 USD bill for 735 HKD and we were good to go. At this point, I’d already gotten used to the cool air in Hong Kong.

First off, we had breakfast at around 9:00 AM at the Café De Coral inside the CKE mall, which was just beside the Chung King Mansion. It was a nice place with reasonably cheap prices. The menu mostly consisted of brunch-type meals including eggs, pancakes, ham, toast, spam, macaroni soup and a few other breakfast staples for about 20-26 HKD for each meal with your choice of free coffee, iced tea, or juice.

After a nice, relaxing breakfast, we bought a 1.8 liter bottle of water for 8 HKD inside one of the stalls at the ground floor of the Chung King Mansion and then went back to our hotel room to shower and get ready for our trip to Hong Kong Disneyland.

Descending from the hostel, we went back inside the iSquare mall from the previous day and used the subway entrance from inside the mall to get to the Shim Sha Tsui MTR Station. It took us a moment to figure out how the Octopus card works because you just had to wave it in front of the scanner at the stall entrance and it automatically opens up the stall. We were used to having to insert the card/ticket into the feeder at the stall entrance from the MRT stations back in Manila.

Inside the train, my mother overheard a group of people speaking in Tagalog and she struck up a conversation with them. It was a good thing because she needed some company from familiar people after the events of day one. Just like us, they were also on vacation – a family of about 8 including several kids. They were getting off at Lai King Station to take the orange line just like us, but we had to get off earlier at Sunny Bay while they were moving on to the last station to get to Ngong Ping.

We switched trains together with them and continued to chat a bit until we had to get off at Sunny Bay station. From the Sunny Bay station, we could take the special express train directly to Hong Kong Disneyland. The train arrived after about a 5-minute wait. One thing I’ve noticed is that the trains never seem to get particularly crowded here in Hong Kong when compared to the almost all-day rush hour of the MRT stations in Manila.

The Disneyland train was really something else. It had Mickey-Mouse shaped windows with glass cases containing monochrome statues of various Disney characters in-between the seats. The ride lasted for about 15 minutes before we finally arrived at the entrance to Hong Kong Disneyland. Upon disembarking, we were surprised to come face to face with a neighbor (from my hometown Iloilo) who had actually taken the same train as us. He was an elderly gentleman who was also here on vacation with his entire family – about 10 of them in total including about two kids. We took a picture together and then went our separate ways. Checking my watch, it was around 11:15 AM.

We took our time snapping pictures on the way to the actual entrance to HK Disneyland. Just outside the entrance, there was a fountain featuring that giant whale from Pinocchio and the mouse from Dumbo. We’d heard about how strict the security procedures before you’re allowed to enter could be at HK Disneyland, so we’d made sure to bring only a small bag each with some bottled water. Fortunately, the frisking process went by pretty fast and they really didn’t seem to meticulously go through your bags as we thought they would. In fact, the staff from HK Disneyland are very warm and friendly – including the security personnel.

Once inside, there was a large Christmas tree at the center that led to a long, wide walking path with rows of European style Christmas-themed shops as well as a bakery and at least two restaurants lining the way to the actual attractions and different themes of HK Disneyland. We explored some of the souvenir shops although we had no real intention of buying anything. Surprisingly, the souvenirs weren’t as overpriced as hearsay would have you believe. The souvenirs ranged from anywhere between 20-400 HKD depending on the item. Upon reaching the square at the center, we spotted several snack stands selling reasonably priced food and decided to grab lunch from one of these stands later.

Once we got to the different entrances to the actual themed areas and rides, we started with the World Of Tomorrow area which was just to the right-hand side once you reach the end of the walkway entrance. We had actually expected our tickets to be just good for the entrance and that there were separate fees for each ride, but were pleasantly surprised to discover that this wasn’t the case when we had chosen our first ride – which was an on-rails car ride called "Autopia" wherein you had some degree of control over the lateral movement as well as acceleration of the car, but you couldn’t actually go off the rails – although it was possible to bump into the car ahead of you if you were going too fast.

I let my mother drive for this one since it’s been a long time since she drove a car because she’s afraid to drive an automatic car. She was very reluctant and we had a very slow ride all the way except when we were getting ready to disembark and she punched the accelerator while fumbling to go for the brakes – which didn’t exist since the car simply stopped by itself as soon as you let go of the accelerator. We ended up bumping and apologizing to the kid in the car ahead of us.

After getting off, we took a look at some of the other attractions in this area and decided that perhaps it was time for lunch as it was nearly 12:00 PM. We went back to the center square and bought some large sandwiches and a fruit cup from the snack stands and then proceeded to the walkway to the left of the World Of Tomorrow area that led to a forking path to several other areas. There were benches along the way, so we sat down and had lunch there.

After that, it was time to explore the other areas of HK Disneyland. We went to the entrance of the Disney castle at the very center of the theme park and found that it led to the “It’s a Small World” area. At this time, Alice from Alice in Wonderland was making the rounds in this particular area together with two guards. I was quite surprised at how in-character she was with the way she moved, walked and smiled.

Once inside the It’s A Small World Area, we decided to leave this attraction for later and went back outside. Making our way to the right-hand side of the area, we saw a merry-go-round and a Winnie The Pooh themed giant Ferris Wheel, which we weren’t really interested in riding.

I saw what looked to be a 3D theater attraction called Mickey’s Magic Show and suggested that we go there. There was around a 15-minute wait for our turn along with several other people who wanted to watch the show. We were given 3D glasses before the entrance and it turned out to be quite a nice experience which featured mostly Donald Duck going through the worlds of the different Disney princesses from Jasmine to Ariel and all singing their respective theme songs together with Donald in what appeared to be a 360-degree theater. The theater used fans, sprinklers, temperature control and even perfume to simulate actually being in the different environments that Donald visits.

Upon exiting the theater with high spirits, we kept on exploring. Still going right, we found ourselves in the Jungle Area of the theme park now. There was a Jungle Boat Ride with a tour guide and different entrances to the ride depending on your language. There was a guide who spoke that language who managed the boat ride. The wait was about 15 minutes. It was a pretty fun ride with robotic elephants who sometimes splashed water right at the boat, alligators, bears, rapids and even a cave that got lit up with actual fire – you can actually feel the heat even though the boat is actually a safe distance from the fire. The guide spoke with an accent but in totally understandable English and she really knew how to engage the riders and make them feel as if they’re really in a dangerous boat ride.

After the boat ride, we kept going and reached the Toy Story themed area where a giant Woody greeted us with a pre-recorded greeting. The rides there seemed too extreme for my mother, so we just moved on past this area into the next one – which was actually the hotel. There wasn’t much to see there, so we moved on into Grizzly Grunch wherein I saw what looked to be a tame looking mine cart ride. We decided to take that ride however, I didn’t notice until it was too late that this was actually a high-speed roller coaster ride with sudden drops and high acceleration. My mother kept screaming all throughout this mine cart ride that sped up and barreled around the course and then actually went high-speed in reverse before finally coming to a stop. Personally, I was a bit worried since my mother has a mild heart condition that requires maintenance medicine daily – but fortunately, she made it through without a mishap.

After that, it was time to do some exploring again and by this time, we had actually moved on through almost all of Hong Kong Disneyland. It was only about 3:30 PM. We walked a bit to get to the It’s A Small World Attraction, but found an attraction that we’d missed earlier that featured The Lion King. It was a 30-minute wait, but we had time to kill. Once we were inside, there were two people drumming some bongos and trying to engage the crowd. The place appeared to be some kind of circus tent. At first, we were both bored to tears and were quite glad when they finally exited the stage area after about 15 minutes of mindless bongo drumming. We were just about to leave when the music started playing and we realized that those two were just curtain raisers for the main show. The actual Lion King presentation was quite an epic experience. There were fire dances, giant robotic animals, platforms that rotated, raised and got lit up from underneath according to what was currently happening – and all of the singing was performed live by the on-stage performers. It was probably the most epic attraction inside of HK Disneyland and the presentation actually had my mother in tears. The show took about 45 minutes to complete, but I’m pretty sure that everyone who came to watch came out of that tent quite satisfied.
After the show, it was time to move on to the last attraction that we hadn’t visited, the “It’s A Small World” ride. The ride was located just beyond Disney castle at the center of HK Disneyland. It was a relaxing, slow-moving indoor boat ride with cute puppets that sang “It’s A Small World” all throughout the ride – and in different languages depending on which part of the world that the particular area we were currently going through represented. The ride covered all parts of the world form Asia to the Americas. I’m sure that kids would definitely love this attraction as all the puppets are very cute as they sing and dance to “It’s A Small World.”

It was 6:00 PM at this point and we’d finally finished seeing all there was to see in HK Disneyland. We still had some time to kill before the big fireworks display at 8:30 though, so went back to the futuristic World Of Tomorrow area to see what other rides they had there. There was actually a Space Mountain ride that we hadn’t been through yet, but it was described as a high-speed roller coaster ride, so we gave it a miss. At around this time, my mother mused that "Hong Kong is all about Disneyland" and that her birthday should have been today rather than yesterday, and I wasn't about to contradict her given what we went through just a day ago.

Still, there was some time to kill, so we walked to the center square of HK Disneyland just before the Disney Castle and tried to think of what else we could do. I took out my tablet from my backpack and discovered that the screen had been crackedfrom the Grizzly Grunch roller coaster ride earlier. I took out my back-up tablet and discovered that it had met the same fate. My mother tried her best to console me, but I just told her that I didn’t want to talk about it. It seems she misinterpreted this as a personal slight against her – which it really wasn’t. I just already knew that it was a loss for me and didn’t want to talk about it, literally. Still, it was a small loss since at least my Vita and 2DS inside my belt bag were intact.

After sorting out the misunderstanding, we decided to enter the Jungle Area again and see what the Jungle Ride looked like at night. This time around, the boat ride actually seemed much more real and terrifying and even the robotic animals that we’d seen before seemed much more menacing when they were lit up from underneath at night. Of course, it did have that been-there, done-that feel, which leads me to conclude that an experience like HK Disneyland is only magical as a once-in-a-lifetime thing and wouldn’t really feel all that special the second time around.

After the jungle ride, we took a short walk around the different attractions again before returning to the central square. We made it just in time to catch the parade of Disney stars and the Christmas Tree lighting ceremony. After about 45 more minutes of waiting, it was finally time for the fireworks display at Disney Castle. The fireworks were very impressive and looked very reminiscent of the 3D CG Disney Castle Intro at the start of most modern Disney films. It lasted for around 15 minutes and came complete with voice-overs from various Disney characters as the castle itself was lit up with different lights throughout the display.

Finally, with the fireworks display over, it was time to go home – although people could still opt to stay until closing time at 10:00 PM. We made our way back to the Disney Express train along with droves of people. I really admire how orderly the people are here. They always walk in a linear fashion in one direction without constantly stopping or swerving to the inconvenience of the person behind them.

Anyway, we met the same elderly neighbor and his family from before inside the train and they suggested that we go home together. After boarding the train at Sunny Bay, I was prepared to get off at Lai King just like before, but the elderly neighbor and his family opted to stay inside the train, so my mother stayed inside with them – forcing me to do the same. It seems they’d taken a different route to get to HK Disneyland although they were also staying in a different block in the Chung King Mansion at Shim Sha Tsui. We studied the subway system map and they saw that the route I’d chosen was actually much faster – but in any case, we were already all in this together and the route they were taking would still lead back to the same station eventually.

It took about 45 more minutes until we reached the Shim Sha Tsui station and came out via the iSquare exit once again. We’d decided to buy dinner at a nearby KFC that the neighbors had located earlier. It was actually just two blocks away from Chung King Mansions. On the way there, my mother couldn’t help but be impressed by the gold bangles and armlets on display inside the stores that lined Shim Sha Tsui’s streets. Hong Kong is filled with all kinds of garish lights at night.

It was already 10:00 PM by the time we got to KFC for dinner. We parted ways with the neighbors there since they opted for take-out while my mother and I chose to dine in. There were actually lots of empty seats inside. We each bought a set meal for about 37 HKD.

After dinner, we took a little walk around the area where the KFC branch was located. After some time, my mother got worried that we were getting lost. Actually, it was true that none of the places there looked familiar to me anymore, but we had still been walking down the same street and hadn’t left the building block, so I wasn’t really worried. We took two left turns after about 30 minutes of walking and I noticed that it was already 11:15 PM. I just reassured my mother that we wouldn’t get lost no matter what because we were still on the same block. No matter where we went, it would lead back to the Chung King Mansion eventually.

No sooner had I said this when we saw the Museum of Art right across the street. Naturally, we knew that we were only a short walk away from Chung King at this point because the Museum of Art always faced the street that led to the Chung King area.

Upon arrival at Chung King, we’d had enough adventure for one day, so it was time to rest up and prepare for our next destinations at Ngong Ping tomorrow and the Mongkok Night Market afterwards. That concludes day two of our trip to Hong Kong.

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