A Different Californian's Asian Adventure, Part 1 - Hong Kong & Ocean Park

October 26, 2017, 4:22 PM

So while my esteemed TPA competitors Chad H and AJ Hummel were making their holy theme park pilgrimage to Orlando, my September was spent on a hajj to a very different Theme Park Mecca. While they went to the East Coast, I went to the EAST COAST...

Tokyo DisneySea!

This one park has fascinated me more than nearly all the world's other theme parks combined. There was never any doubt that my first solo park trip beyond Southern California would send me to Tokyo...especially since I grew up under the shadow of Tokyo Disneyland as a wee infant, when my father was out there on business creating the legal contracts with the OLC buyers.

While at DisneySea, it makes total sense to visit their Disneyland too. As long as I'm in Japan, why not add Osaka's Universal Studios Japan to the itinerary? And to round things out, how about a quick half-week stop on outset to explore Hong Kong and her major theme parks, which include the storied and fascinating Ocean Park.

The big question pre-trip was deciding between Hong Kong Disneyland or Shanghai Disneyland. Funds and time meant I could only do one on this trip. Shanghai is very new, with landscaping which has barely taken root, and it's sure to see plenty of additions very soon. Ultimately, Hong Kong won out for me for the beautiful city itself, and also for Mystic Manor. Spoiler: That's one of my Top 5 rides worldwide now, alongside 2 more from this trip. (The others are Disneyland's Pirates and Cedar Point's Maverick.)

Like AJ's, this will be an immensely in-depth trip report. Unlike his, it's already 100% written. I hope to post updates maybe twice a day, full of pics and opinions. New threads will happen as this site's tech limitations demand. Now onwards!


Days 1 & 2: Arrival in Hong Kong

My flight from LAX to Hong Kong was on Thursday, September 7th. At 1 A.M., so really the trip begins the preceding Wednesday!

So a 1 A.M. red-eye flight…with a transfer in Beijing of all places. What am I doing?! Getting incredibly cheap airfare, basically – 5 flights for a total of around $600!

Living in Los Angeles, the gateway to Asia, I doubt flights to Orlando would be cheaper. There’s certainly still a ton of preplanning which made these prices possible. Cheap airfare is good, because I splurged in other areas - *cough!* MiraCosta *cough!*

Midnight at LAX is basically China. Already I’m immersed in unknown foreign languages. Already I stand out from the crowd. (In the mornings, LAX becomes Latin America.)

The flight to Beijing on Air China was eventless. I put myself on Hong Kong time (17 hours ahead), and then I either snoozed or reread “IT.” My seatmate was the Korean version of Milton from Office Space.

Beijing International Airport was by a wiiiiide margin the worst part of the vacation. Both directions! Each time, i barely made my generous 3 hour transfer window. Let’s hear it for Mainland Chinese bureaucratic inefficiency, folks! One person through security per minute. Typically, they’re fast-tracking travelers whose flights are set to depart, meaning you’re basically shoulder-to-shoulder in a wretched bottleneck corral waiting to almost miss your flight too.

And Beijing’s ugly. It’s famously polluted. From the air, it’s an L.A.-sized sprawl of concrete factories and pop-up McCities with barely an acre of green.
Hong Kong arrival
Pictured: smog

Contrast that with Hong Kong:

Hong Kong arrival
Mind you, this is the industrial area as seen from a speeding train. This is ugly Hong Kong!

It gets prettier. Here’s the view from my hotel room, still not especially scenic by Hong Kong standards:

But that’s skipping ahead.

Reaching central Hong Kong from the Lantau Island airport is a breeze. The city’s metro is possibly the world’s absolute best! It’s new, clean, efficient, easy to navigate, and even the touchscreen ticket booths work in any language.

I emerge from the train into bustling chaos. Hong Kong is among the most densely populated places on earth. Skyscrapers are built within meters of the towering jungle mountains. They ran out of vacant lots decades ago. Narrow and tall structures fill every available space, all with signs in multiple languages vying for your attention. Hundreds of locals speed past – businessmen in ties, gaggles of schoolchildren, shirtless workers with wheelbarrows full of cement. Dozens of odors permeate, from the dried herbal medicines to the teas to the nearby fishmonger. This is the greatest moment of culture shock in the entire trip, and it takes me about 20 minutes to navigate my way to the hotel.

And the humidity! Hong Kong is tropical. It’s southeastern China (but don’t ever call Hong Kongers Chinese!!!), more Thailand or Cambodia than anything else. The temperature and humidity are forever the same number – 90, dropping way way down to 86 at night! I’d hoped mid-September would avoid the sweltering summer. Not quite. This probably sounds pleasant to WDW fans. Me, I’m a desert guy. Heat is fine, but humidity…

Thankfully, Hong Kongers are also world-class AC experts. (Most cooling units are visible cluttered on the outside of buildings amidst bamboo scaffolding.) Things cool down whenever you’re indoors. This goes double for my lodging, Ibis Styles Hong Kong, part of a 3-star chain of hotels with “meh” furnishings but excellent locations.

Ibis Styles is in Sheung Wan on Hong Kong Island (the main burb south of Hong Kong Harbor). Until last year it was the literal end of the line, a vibrant, congested haven for locals. Still, that’s just one metro stop from Central, the city’s financial and retail hub, so I can easily walk from gritty urban Asia over to sleek modern glamour. I mostly favor the former.

It’s time to eat! Airplane food doesn’t count, and besides, Hong Kong is one of those food tourism meccas. I get recommendations from the concierge, and wend my way down alleyways of bicycles and pharmacies to Dim Sum Square. There I feast!

Dim sum is a Cantonese specialty – assorted Chinese appetizers served ala-carte. Hong Kong is famous for it. I enjoyed rice, fried treats, dumplings in steamer baskets, pork, and some things I couldn’t name even at the time.

Food on this trip was generally amazing. I’m an adventurous eater, but Hong Kong shouldn’t put off travelers with more Western tastes. It’s a former British colony – probably the best entry point to Asia I can think of for Americans – and much of Hong Kong’s cooking combines European and Cantonese cuisines.

My stomach was jetlagged, and though it was now 3 P.M. this would be my last meal of the day. I ate heartily, then retired to the hotel to recover once again from the humidity (never helped by the hot tea which is served everyplace). But I’d rest for only an hour, because Hong Kong beckons, and the nighttime holds untold adventure!

Next up: My evening turns to junk

Replies (9)

October 27, 2017, 4:26 AM

Blake, reading about your upcoming adventures in Asia, and AJ's adventures in Orlando, is going to be so much fun! And much cheaper than if I actually had to spend my own money going to these places!

BTW, on my last visit to Cedar Point, Maverick said to say "Howdie!" and has a front-car front-row seat waiting for you. I think it's worried that Steel Vengeance might steal it's spot on your top five list.

October 27, 2017, 7:20 AM

Victoria Harbour
Sailing Victoria Harbour

Leaving the hotel again, I head with purpose towards the docks. This takes me towards Hong Kong Central, home of the cleanest and biggest skyscrapers, the ritziest shopping centers, and the most overpriced hotels. If you like polished marble, pricey cocktails and feel compelled to wear a suit at all times, this region’s for you! There’s the IFC Mall, a glittering deluxe complex of luxury brand shops topped by the Four Seasons. That’s the tallest building on Hong Kong Island, and second overall in town. It’s home to the world’s first Apple Store. Batman jumped out of here in The Dark Knight.

For me, the main draw was the waterfront view. Looking north across Victoria Harbour is Kowloon. The pics pretty much speak for themselves.

Victoria Harbour
Victoria Harbour
Victoria Harbour
The weather is constantly changing in Hong Kong. Any cloud pictured will likely be gone in 5 minutes. Rains come at random, lasting only briefly. In fact, the week before my arrival was dominated by thunderstorms, so I really lucked out weather-wise. A typhoon even flooded out nearby Macau, so I made no effort to go there. This is nothing compared to the awful hurricanes hitting the U.S. and Caribbean at the same time, and I felt kind of guilty enjoying Southeast Asia while Irma dominated headlines at home.

Victoria Harbour
The sun set slowly as I progressed towards the docks. This is where the Star Ferry regularly carries passengers to Kowloon. It costs the equivalent of a U.S. nickel, and is supposedly the best way to enjoy views of the Hong Kong skyline. Sadly I never managed to ride that ferry (I meant to the following day).

Still, I managed to get out onto the water, thanks to reserving a nighttime junk cruise. The skyline on Hong Kong Island is among the world’s finest, perched precariously between the harbor and Victoria Peak. The problem with staying near downtown is you rarely see it. Hence the booze cruise.

Floating on a traditional junk boat is relaxing enough. The views of evening Hong Kong, awash in neon, are incomparable. But the main selling point is a front row seat for A Symphony of Lights, the world’s largest nighttime musical spectacular.

Symphony of Lights spans the entire harbor and countless miles of shoreline, with over a dozen major skyscrapers providing synchronized projections, lasers, spotlights, fireworks, and other pyrotechnics. I’d expected something like a city-scale version of World of Color.

Impossible hype to meet.

Victoria Harbour
Spread over such a vast area, the show was honestly a little underwhelming. In fact, it was never really obvious when it either began or ended. The cruise piped in music – a really chintzy midi, actually – which sort of failed to provide the same grandeur and awe of, say, a Disney spectacular. Peering westwards towards Lantau, far off in the distance, I see just that – Hong Kong Disneyland’s fireworks, too distant to photograph but still somehow upstaging the nearby Symphony. Only two days ‘til I see those up close!

It seems like I’m kvetching. The panoramic city views were spectacle enough.

Victoria Harbour
Eventually leaving the junk, my fellow junk-mates – nattily-clad Four Seasons types reeking already of martinis – set out for a night of clubbing and showing off. Obnoxious people! Loud, uncourteous, attention-hogging twerps! That’ll be the last time I hear native English until returning home. Just as well, too. No interest in this “Asian Cancun” thing they were doing. The next day would be a big one, exploring the city’s textured nooks and crannies, and with some minor jetlag it was time to turn in early.

Next up: Day 3, climbing Victoria Peak and exploring Kowloon

October 27, 2017, 5:46 PM

Victoria Peak
Day 3: Climbing Victoria Peak

Being in a new time zone (15 hour difference – I mistakenly said 17 earlier), it’s hard to sleep in. I rise before the sun, and spend the wee hours fine-tuning the day’s plans. The big attractions are a given, so instead I look into Hong Kong’s incredible and vibrant food options.

Victoria Peak
The morning’s goal is to ascend Victoria Peak. The Peak Tram opens at 9. Leaving early, I head there on foot, exploring the awakening neighborhoods. For breakfast it’s Lin Hueng Tea House, another dim sum joint. Several in town seemingly have this name, but I’ve chosen the one tourists avoid, and it is incredible!

Victoria Peak
Entry is actually through the kitchen! With the humidity, steam is everywhere. Inside, I’m the only non-local, possibly the only American who’s eaten here in ages. This is the pre-work morning rush. Patrons all read Chinese newspapers and smoke strange cigarettes. There are live birds in cages overhead. If you’ve seen John Woo’s Hard Boiled, it’s basically the tea house from the opening shootout.

Victoria Peak
There is no menu. Ladies roll around carts of piping-hot appetizers. They only speak Cantonese, so I point and pick my meal completely at random. Wrapped inside bamboo leaves is a rice cake housing an entire pheasant. I also get sticky custard buns and a gelatinous savory shrimp pancake.

Oolong tea is not served in kettles. Instead they pour hot water into a bowl of leaves, then you pour that into your cup. I spill steaming water all over, but it turns out everyone else does too. This seems to be by design, and every table is host to an ever-spreading tea puddle.

Victoria Peak
Full, I again head out. Merely a block away the high-rise financial district begins, which is a stark contrast. My route takes me down Battery Path, through jungle-like parks which date back to the British colony’s founding. Here overgrown foliage (thick vines and creeping roots) mix with old European architecture, all in the shadow of sleek modern skyscrapers. Battery Path’s main feature is St. John’s Cathedral, which was having a quiet morning mass at the time, and I briefly popped inside for some tranquility and a brief break from the omnipresent humidity.

Victoria Peak
There are no crowds at the Peak Tram at 9 A.M. (Compare to the hour-long queue at noontime when I returned from the mountain.) This is a vintage funicular train dating back to 1888, offering rides 90% of the way up Victoria Peak.

Victoria Peak
All along the way are spectacular unfolding city views. This really is an unlikely place for a major metropolis, squeezed onto an archipelago between mountains and harbors.

The Peak Tower at the top is shockingly touristy. There’s a wax museum, a laser tag arena, and a Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. I pause here to grab a bottled drink from the local Starbucks equivalent (where I overhear British expats badmouthing Mainland China), then I continue on. Unwisely, perhaps, my goal is to climb the rest of Victoria Peak on foot. I hike a lot at home, but not in humidity, plus some rather vengeful-looking clouds are charging in from the South China Sea.

Victoria Peak
This hike is along a winding mountain road, past consulates and old-money apartments. The roads are crumbling cobblestone, a jungle stream actively forming within them, but the garages display Teslas and high-end BMWs.

Victoria Peak
The actual summit is inaccessible, home to a radio tower. At its base is a quaint park with incredible views of the island’s south shores. This is a meditative garden flanked by mossy stone lions. I’m pretty isolated up here. There are only a few old men around practicing tai chi.

Those angry clouds arrive. It starts to rain!

Victoria Peak
Tropical rainstorms can be intense and brief, as I keep hearing from Disney World veterans. And I can be obstinate and adventurous, so rather than seek shelter I foolishly continue hiking. My clothes were already soaked-through anyway, with sweat. The rain simply cleans them.

This has actually been a rather substantial morning trek, 25 floors climbed in 3 miles. It’s time to head back. The Peak Tower is swarming with tourists when I return, all of them huddled under a pagoda. The skies clear, and I linger a while longer to enjoy the million dollar views.

Victoria Peak
It’s nearing noon now, and of course there are big afternoon plans too. I need time to recover, stop sweating, and change clothes. So for now it’s back to the hotel – via a new route through bustling urban Hong Kong, past fruit stands and temples and dried-seahorse pharmacies all crammed together in too-small space. The city is vibrant and full of life. It’s overwhelming on every sense! I look forward to seeing more of it.

Up next: North to Kowloon

October 28, 2017, 4:56 AM

This is awesome, Douglas! Thank you so much for sharing your trip reports with us. Please keep them coming!

October 28, 2017, 6:01 AM

This report is different from anything I think I've ever read in TPI. If you never get to the Parks I don't think I'll be disappointed. This is great! With all the rain, heat and humidity you might be ready for Ohio this summer!

October 28, 2017, 7:07 AM

Kowloon – More Dim Sum and More Rain

Kowloon sits north of Victoria Harbour. It’s common to reach Kowloon via the Star Ferry, but my aim is to head a little further north and then backtrack. For that reason, I take the metro.

It’s interesting, the advertisements you see in a foreign country. The metro is the best place for these. Most are visual, so even in Cantonese I can tell that a purple pill will turn me into a beautiful Chinese woman, or that pickpockets prey on manhwa characters. Still, it’s sometimes the American cultural transplants which really make a place seem foreign, like with the hallways upon hallways upon hallways dedicated to The Golden Circle.

Food has drawn me north. Where to now? Tim Ho Wan, the world’s cheapest Michelin Star restaurant. Unlike most Michelin eateries, Tim has zero pretensions, only the best dim sum anywhere!!! Also, they don’t do reservations; you just have to wait.

Within half an hour, I’m sharing a table with a young Chinese family. Despite no shared language, we seem to hit it off, and we even split our meals – the best way to do dim sum. The parents had a super adorable toddler! Seriously cute! He ate with plastic cartoon character chopsticks and matching bib. Out of respect, I made no efforts to photograph my meal-mates. Instead, here’s a small fraction of a massive, filling, inexpensive lunch:

Steamed chicken feet, assorted dumplings, turnip cakes, beef balls, pork buns, spring rolls, you name it! It’s more than my stomach can accept, despite a heroic effort.

All this excessive eating (a recurring theme for this trip) barely matters since I immediately walk it off. (Was averaging 7 miles a day; this day I did 10.) I stroll from Tim Ho Wan due south towards central Kowloon, passing contemporary apartment complexes built on the top of neighborhood shopping centers. This is definitely not old Hong Kong, not touristy Hong Kong, but it’s the residents’ city, with their versions of 7/11 and Vons and Old Navy. None of the decades of texture from Sheung Wan; this stuff is brand-new.

But the further south I go, down into old Kowloon and back towards Victoria Harbour, the denser and wilder the city becomes. This climaxes at the next big destination, the Temple Street Night Market. I’ve screwed up my timing a bit, because you’re supposed to visit this place at night, and instead it’s mid-afternoon. Plus the area is renowned for its cheap street food – succulent barbecue ducks taunt me dangling from steamy windows – and I’m still super sated from Tim Ho Wan.

Temple Street is still wonderful. For nearly a dozen continuous city blocks, an incalculable number street vendors peddle wares under multihued tents. Everything here is for sale, all of it cheap and most of it knockoffs! Ersatz watches, pseudo Pokémon, fake bananas. I don’t buy anything – another recurring theme for this trip, ‘cause I’m not really a souvenir guy, and besides I don’t wanna start carrying knickknacks through Asian subways this early.

And besides…those nasty rainclouds are gathering again! Yeesh, the weather in Hong Kong is bonkers!

It takes about 15 minutes for the cloudless blue skies to completely darken, as long as it takes me to cross Kowloon Park. Lightning flashes. Half of the pedestrians instinctually rush for shelter; the rest whip out umbrellas. Me, I need shelter (brought an umbrella, but left it at the hotel). Kowloon Park has none, and this time I’m not keen on getting soaked again – wearing a nice collared shirt now. So I set into a total sprint alongside dozens of panicky Hong Kongers.

We all huddle together under an awning to wait it out. The skies grow darker still. This storm isn’t going to blow over quickly. My initial plans had been to continue on through Kowloon down to the waterfront, to admire the skyline and take the Star Ferry. Honestly, by now I’m getting a little exhausted (lousy time zones!) and I’m ready to call it quits early.

Whenever I start to wimp out on this trip, I justify it by saying “tomorrow’s a busy day.” And it always is. Five theme parks and four international cities in under two weeks is a lot! So I artfully dodge falling raindrops as I race for the nearest metro, and I simply retreat back to Sheung Wan. Once back, my hunger returns – it couldn’t happen near the ducks?!?! – and I stop yet again for dim sum…Really crummy dim sum this time. The Arby's of dim sum. (Not pictured.) Well, two fantastic meals out of three in a day ain’t bad.

So a somewhat anticlimactic end to an otherwise exciting day. But no matter. Tomorrow’s a busy day.

Up next: Day 4 – Ocean Park, Hong Kong’s Cedar Point

October 28, 2017, 5:28 PM

Ocean park
Day 4: Ocean Park

Ocean Park is Hong Kong’s local theme park. It’s sort of a cross between SeaWorld and Six Flags. It’s also the only regional park which regularly outperforms its local Disneyland. That demands being seen! This would be the day’s big adventure.

Ocean Park wouldn’t open until 10. Actually, all of Hong Kong tends to wake up late and then move slowly, no doubt thanks to the jungle humidity. Once again, my morning is wide open. Too bad it’s Sunday, so the congee palace I wanted to try for breakfast isn’t open. In fact, nearly everyplace is closed, and after walking the empty streets for a while I settle on an automat. A coin-op menu out front takes my order (college student ramen and a fried egg) and minutes later a sarcastic waitress with a depleted cigarette brings the feast, then coughs. It’s certainly a memorable meal.

Eventually the time comes to take the metro out to Ocean Park, perched dramatically on Hong Kong Island’s south shore. From the station, it’s a short pedestrian bridge straight to the park entrance – Hong Kong overall is really user friendly! (It turns out this new MTR line just opened earlier this year.) I arrive at 9, plenty of time to purchase tickets, plot a plan-of-attack, then do rope drop. Pretty substantial crowds start to gather. It is the weekend!

Ocean park
Ocean Park has by far the most spectacular theme park location I’ve ever seen! Its lower half is The Waterfront, which rests near the bay nestled between towering jungle mountains. Better still is The Summit, which lies nearly a mile away, precariously perched atop a mighty mountain crag with 360 degree views of the Hong Kong archipelago thousands of feet below! The Summit is an amazing setting, filled with the world’s most picturesque roller coasters.

Overall, Ocean Park is colorful and fun, with cool theming mixed randomly. Asia’s largest aquarium sits before a coastal fountain show, next to a cartoonish village, a recreation of Old Hong Kong, costumed mascots, and a bloody Saw maze. It’s the start of Halloween Bash (Ocean Park boasts Asia’s largest Halloween event, apparently), and everywhere are orange banners and “propkins” made to resemble Dia de los Muertos catfish or something. The whole park is like a festival. It seems like craziness to me, but it obviously speaks to its Asian fan base.

Based on touring research, I’ve learned to go up to The Summit first. All of Ocean Park’s rides are up there, and their lines get long later in the day. The Waterfront’s aquariums and marine mammal exhibits can be done afterwards.

Ocean park
The Summit is reached in two manners – cable cars, or the Ocean Express underground funicular. For morning efficiency, I opt for the funicular. The cable cars – Ocean Park’s best ride, actually – will be my way down from the mountain. Ocean Express is surprisingly well-themed, with a submarine steampunk vibe, and even a huge Bioshock dive robot. Inside the train, window screens like on Universal’s Hogwarts Express simulate an ocean journey complete with giant squid attack. For a purely functional ride, it’s really well done. (Part of a major redevelopment plan made in response to Disneyland.)

The Summit continues this state-of-the-art theming only intermittently. It has several random lands: Thrill Mountain, Polar Adventure, The Rainforest, Adventure Land, and Marine World. These areas clash vibrantly, with a garish Technicolor circus right beside a faux-Arctic and a Mexican rainforest. There are terrifying pumpkin-skull monsters plopped everywhere.

Attractions throughout are a mixture of flat rides, roller coasters, and SeaWorld-esque aquatic displays. My touring strategy focuses on the coasters, starting up at the peak and moving downslope. The entire Summit area is hugely mountainous, and even with its many generous escalators it’s a major workout to explore …exacerbated by that dang humidity. If you’ve ever visited Magic Mountain near L.A., and tried climbing Samurai Summit on foot…picture that, but an entire theme park!

Ocean park
The fun begins with Hair Raiser, a B&M floorless coaster themed to a clown eating you. Purely as a coaster, this is Ocean Park’s best. B&M always makes exceptional, smooth rides. The views from on-ride as just incredible, but that’s the case with every ride here. And such an improbable place for a coaster, right on a mountain peak (a part of that peak has been mined away to make room)!

Because I’ve been so focused on beating the crowds this day, I’m not just the first to ride Hair Raiser, the ride goes out with just me. Never ridden a coaster 100% solo before! That’s something in itself. Dispatch from the station took about 10 minutes, because the operators were still doing their morning safety checks when I arrived.

Ocean park
Dispatch times were slow all day long. They were too at Hong Kong Disneyland. That’s the pace of life in southeast China, and you get used to it pretty quickly.

Following a hair raising ride, I find nearby Polar Adventure. This land boasts a pair of indoor exhibits featuring Arctic animals, Antarctic animals, and AC. The latter is the main draw. It’s neat enough seeing walruses and penguins. I don’t linger in here long.

Ocean park
Polar Adventure has its own coaster, Arctic Blast. As a family-friendly ride, it’s drawing much larger crowds than the nearby Hair Raiser, and it’s the only full coaster train I’ll ride today. The ride is motor-powered, not gravity-powered. Technically it might not be a real roller coaster. The train does two circuits around a short track circling the land. Thrill-wise, it doesn’t rise above Flight of the Hippogriff. Ah, but those views! Arctic Blast glimpses bays on both sides of the mountain, which is something Gadget’s Go-Coaster can’t claim.

Making ludicrously good time, I trek down winding escalators through The Rainforest. This “land” is mostly just there to justify The Rapids, a drenching white water ride. There is no force on Heaven or on Earth that’ll get me on a raft ride in this humidity! I move on.

The dolphin theaters are closed today. Signs in English actually described the dolphins as “surly.” I don’t know what to say. Still, Ocean Park’s oceanarium elements appear more vibrant than SeaWorld’s, more exciting. It seems animal exhibits are still novel to China’s emerging middleclass. Much of Ocean Park’s popularity stems from this.

Ocean park
My route continues down Asia’s second-longest escalator (!) into Adventure Land, home of Mine Train. For such a generic name, this is kind of an amazing roller coaster. Mine Train might be the best-located coaster on earth! Blue skies, deserted islands, lush jungle foliage, sailboats gliding below, Mine Train has everything…except a good layout. Just some drops, a really forceless helix. Ah, but those views!

So far I’m keeping ridiculously far ahead of the crowds. Too far ahead, in fact. I would’ve ridden Mine Train alone (like Hair Raiser) had the ride ops allowed it. Rather, the train lingered in its station while a slow trickle of guests accumulated. Again, dispatch times were around 10 minutes.

Ocean park
Mine Train is isolated way, way on the Summit’s far ledge. The only nearby “attractions” are the backstage aquarium facilities, which I’m allowed to peer into. Continuing my tour, I trudge along the mountain’s rocky rear slopes, not a single other person in sight. It’s past 11 now, and the sun and humidity are conspiring to do me in. I soldier on, keen on conquering the Summit, but between my flagging energy and the deserted pathways, it’s becoming a challenge.

The Summit’s final big area is its oldest, Marine World. The land’s big shark aquarium is super appealing, because it’s air-conditioned. There’s a really nice exhibit of sharks and sturgeon and jelly fish, which I enjoy at a slow pace while recovering from the heat.

Ocean park
This recovery was essential, because Marine World’s Dragon coaster is by Arrow Dynamics. Yeah, it’s one of those early ‘90s looping coasters which has aged terribly, certainly not helped by the salty sea air. Most coaster parks have one of these things, and they are roooough. The Dragon is only unique for its eye-melting “purple & yellow” paint scheme. It doesn’t even have particularly good ocean views (a real shock). It’s just a checklist one-and-done, a way to complete Ocean Park’s coaster collection. And again with the slow dispatches, only this time I join a train of other patiently waiting guests.

Arrow Dynamics’ roughness doesn’t help with heat exhaustion. Nor does the ascent. Here on the mountain’s backside, one must climb a series of covered stairways (no escalators over here) back up to the peak’s cable cars. Along the way, workmen are assembling scare mazes for Halloween.

There’s a buffeteria restaurant underneath the cable car station, featuring Ocean Park’s standard world-class amazing sea views. I consider getting a meal just to eat (it’s theme park grub, pricey and slimy). Instead I settle for a Coke. Just about the tastiest, quenchingest Coke of my life!

Ocean park
The Summit is complete. (Not the flat rides, same you’d find anyplace, but c’mon!) Escape from the mountain is via cable cars. These, as I’ve said, are the park’s best ride, taking exceptional advantage of the unique alpine archipelago setting!

Ocean park
These cable cars seem impossible. They travel up unforgiving slopes and down into ravines, over jungle rivers cascading down the cliffs. Thousands of feet below is the South China Sea and many shining beach resorts. An ocean breeze refreshes. The ride lasts for over 10 minutes and for nearly a mile. The final descent provides stupendous birds-eye views of The Waterfront and its dancing fountains.

Ocean park
The cable cars exit through Old Hong Kong, which is a cute mid-budget themed area. Vintage carts sell skewered street foods. I pause for a kebab of mystery meat. No idea what it was.

The Waterfront is dominated by animal exhibits. (There’s a kiddie ride area called Whiskers Harbour, which I didn’t bother to visit.) The park’s main attraction – and for Chinese guests, a bigger deal than the cable cars or roller coasters or anything else – is Giant Panda Adventure!

This is the habitat for Ying Ying and Le Le, rare giant pandas. (There’s also a red panda in here.) Ying Ying put on a show, effortlessly devouring some bamboo sprouts. Ying Ying is pretty cool, so I spent about 15 minutes watching him. The locals enjoyed it too, with a shutterbug crowd gathering, and we all got a really special panda show.

Ocean park
There are a few other animal exhibits nearby, which I dropped into briefly. Marsh gators, golden monkeys, assorted birds. Apart from some cute theming it felt like a small zoo, and one slowly filling with obnoxious tourists (particularly a monkey-harassing Indian family). Ocean Park gets rowdier as the day progresses, which confirms my wisdom in starting early.

Ocean park
One final major attraction is the Grand Aquarium, the park’s default icon. It’s a Frank Gehry design of tentacles crushing an egg. Inside is a rather lengthy aquarium exhibit, amongst the world’s largest. A descending route leads you through different ocean habitats, from the tide pools and shorelines down underwater through eel caverns and ultimately to a climactic multi-story window revealing the entire tank you’ve slowly explored.

Ocean park
It’s an overwhelming and thoughtful exploration of aquatic nature, carefully examining mankind’s place on earth…followed by a plush toy gift shop!

Ocean park
Leaving through the Aqua City shopping mall entry area, Ocean Park’s final sights are of branded cartoonishness. Here are panda bear balloons, dancing gator characters, and rice cakes fashioned to resemble more pandas (I ate two). Ocean Park is a pretty crazy place, with individually well-crafted elements. It’s also a catchall park. The good coasters and the animal exhibits all exist on different levels (literally). It’s an exhilarating, tiring, fascinating place to visit. Certainly nothing at all like visiting a Disney park.

Up next: Visiting a Disney Park

October 28, 2017, 9:49 PM

Outstanding trip report, Blake! I love that you've gone for culture with a side of theme parks (at least so far), and I can't wait to see where your adventure takes you next. A friend of mine was actually planning a trip to Hong Kong next year and I was seriously tempted to join, but it looks like that trip won't be happening and I likely couldn't have made it anyway. Oh well...I'll get there one of these days, and I'll be sure to ask you for advice before I go.

Keep up the great content from a lesser reported part of the world, and I look forward to reading the coming installments.

October 29, 2017, 7:23 AM

AJ, advice is always available. Hong Kong is a rather easy trip on its own. The city is incredibly user friendly, and it's Western enough for less experienced foreign travelers to have a frame of reference.

We're about to plunge into the really thick theme park part of the report - 5 straight Disney Days! Altogether, though, this trip involved 7 theme park days and 6 cultural days, so I'd say there was a decent balance. Hong Kong was new to me, but Japan coming up I've toured fairly thoroughly in the past as a cultural/culinary tourist, so the parks were taking unique precedence on this trip.

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