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