There were quite a few photos to sort through!
Christmas is never going to be perfect when you’re away from family. I dearly missed spending the day with my family by my side with their fantastic humour and warm spirits, while spoiling myself on delicious yorkshire puddings and smooshing them in gravy.
Can you believe that Australians do not even have yorkshire puddings?! I’ve no idea why the puds remained only in Britain.
However Hong Kong was fantastic and I thoroughly enjoyed my time. I booked a holiday with my partner and a couple of friends and I have no regrets going all out for the holiday from the Friday to Christmas Day, including booking a nice hotel by the gold coast and visiting two famous holiday parks – Hong Kong Disneyland and Ocean Park. Although it had recently became cold, summer came back for the festive weekend in a glorious way. It was hot – but not the kind of heat to make you wilt, just enough to allow you to feel comfortable in a tshirt throughout the day.
Before I went to Hong Kong I stayed a night in Shenzhen to attend a compulsory party from my TEFL agency. The party itself wasn’t too bad, although the audience was very rude and talked through the acts, including an act by a talented musician who patiently asked the audience to quiet down in order for them to hear their own instrument, and a group of young Chinese students performing a play. As soon as the awkward hosts attempted to run a pub quiz we were out of there. We grabbed the free umbrellas and ran.
On that night we stayed in a lovely hotel in Shenzhen that was surprisingly very affordable, despite booking it subtly during the party a few hours before. The hotel had a beautiful lotus theme that was absolutely stunning from the reception, to the dining area to the room itself. I would certainly like to stay in this hotel again if I happen to spend another night in Shenzhen.
The hotel also came with a free help yourself breakfast, with delicious noodles, cake (you really can eat cake for breakfast in Guangdong) and char sui bao, which if you’ve been keeping up with the blog is one of my favourite things to eat in China. What a lovely start to what was going to be a hectic and full on day.
I personally think that the underground metro system in Shenzhen is very good. The stations are located in useful areas, the maps are easy to read and both the stations and the trains themselves are very clean. I am an infrequent user but the journeys I have taken on the trains have been pleasant and I am happy to see that there are many staff members around. These people have been happy to give advice on which trains to get on and I have also seen them board and patrol trains for security as well assist fellow passengers should they need help or have become unwell.
In the UK the London underground can feel quite dirty and security can sometimes be a problem. I dearly love the London underground, but it is interesting to see how things are different elsewhere and sometimes, better.
Security is also heightened in the stations and if you want to board a metro train you will need to put your belongings through airport-style security and have your water bottles tested. You may also be occasionally asked to be scanned, airport-style too. I personally don’t mind this and it doesn’t take much time at all. It’s all very swift and efficient, and hardly any queues even during busy times.
The metro is also very affordable from a visitor perspective, however I cannot comment on the perspective of a local in Shenzhen. It is easy for foreigners to buy a single journey ticket to your destination. Just find a machine, tap on ‘English’, then tap on the desired station you wish to travel to. Like most machines and counters, you cannot use your card so you’ll need to have cash at hand. These machines do not accept high value notes, so you will need your 5 yuan, your 10 yuan and sometimes your 20 yuan notes. They do not accept 1 yuan notes either, but they will accept 1 yuan coins which you can receive more commonly in commercial areas in Shenzhen than you can in Zhongshan.
Finally, the small group and I made it to the border crossing which is helpfully one of the metro stations you can take from Shenzhen.
The train did not take long at all, however it took 3 hours to get through the border control, due to unimaginable large quantities of people. It was incredibly draining and time was ticking. After all, we only had a full weekend and had to leave back to Zhongshan on Christmas day itself!
We originally planned to take a train half way to our hotel but after strong encouragement from the Hong Kong staff members, we ended up agreeing to take two busses, one to the centre of Hong Kong, another that took us directly outside our hotel. We were a little unsure of how to find either of the busses and found ourselves getting rather lost at first. Some of the directions we received were contrasting which made it all the more confusing. Time was ticking and our stomachs were rumbling. At some point we stopped for lunch which was actually just what we needed.
Goodness me I didn’t realise how much I missed jacket potatoes!! We found a lovely cafe that had ‘sandwich’ in its name. I don’t remember, but the food was very affordable yet high quality. After the break and a bit more effort we found our second bus to the hotel.
Our hotel was called ‘The Golden Coast Hotel’ and was suited to upmarket guests. It had pleasant features such as fancy fountains, a swimming pool, a gym and funky glass/mirror lifts. The rooms were huge and the views they offered were staggering. It was so nice to spend each morning just watching outside the window, following the little boats and the big cruise-liners cross the sea. The hotel was only 2 minutes away from the beach and it was magical spending Christmas day with both my feet sunk in the sand.
The hotel was very comfortable and I could only dream of being able to spend another weekend there again…
(Anyone feeling generous??) The hotel also did a great buffet which featured all kinds of food; bakery products, dumplings, noodles, cereal, fresh fruit, cheese sausages, real bacon, baked beans, sweets, jams, potato… Well, that’s all the stuff I can remember trying to fit onto my plate. If you happen to visit the Gold Coast Hotel make sure you get a package with the breakfast included.
After checking in at the hotel we went straight to the Disneyland Resort. We took a 40 minute taxi that only cost about £15 split between five passengers. Hong Kong Disneyland offered a two day ticket that was only 60 or something Hong Kong dollars more than their single day ticket, so we visited the park on two consecutive days, Saturday the 23rd and Christmas Eve.
On the Saturday the park was jaw-droppingly empty. The queues for rides were minimal and I was staggered by how easy it was to get around. I was expecting vast amounts of crowds Asia is famous for but we suffered none of that at all. The only time crowds impacted the day was during a night show parade where thousands of visitors lined up on the roads to watch the show. It got crowded when the parade was over, but how can one really complain about that?
I’m not actually that much of a Disney fan. Sure I enjoy some of their films, but I don’t enjoy the whole Mickey Mouse thing, nor am I a roller-coaster junky. But for Christmas, I enjoyed the whole cheerfulness that the Hong Kong Disneyland resort could give me and the group I travelled with. There was festive music everywhere – not the annoying cheesy stuff, but actual decent music, some of it live and played by professional players such as jazz or brass bands. The staff were pretty friendly –
some of them were looking a bit too happy, their large smiles creepily empty – and could easily answer any questions we had.
The rides that I did attend were also pretty cool. I didn’t expect to enjoy rides such as the Mystic Manor – which took you through a manor that was ‘cursed’ due to the mischief of a fez wearing monkey. There was also a fun river boat tour which was epic during the night, with random flames appearing at certain parts which were strong enough for you to feel the burst of heat.
I also tried out the ‘Iron Man Experience’ which frankly, was pretty stark and lame. You wear these stupid ‘Stark vision’ glasses and watch a typical marvel clip with an empty villain. After visiting a planetarium in San Francisco last year my standards for 3d immersion has ‘gone through the roof’. But the safety video before hand involved a surprise Stan Lee, so that was entertaining.
I think that one of my top experiences in Disney was not a ride but an event called the ‘Festival of the Lion King’. The story line was fun and it was interesting to see how they ensured the story was understandable for both Chinese and English speakers. The music and singing was of high quality and the fight scene with Scar was epic, with talented firedancers and other special effects. There were also Chinese subtitles available but it would have been cool (and not difficult to implement) if there were English subtitles too.
From the feedback of my friends who did attend the roller-coasters – they were of very high quality, as long as you had the stomach for it. The Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Train was the definite favourite, which left friends hyped up for a solid hour afterwards. The scenery around the mine train ride was beautiful.
One of the weird thing I like about these kind of parks is admiring the efforts they make on the surroundings and Hong Kong Disneyland did not disappoint. The scenery for each region of the park is distinct and well themed. Naturally our favourite region was the adventure world which contained random fire torches lit up in various places and jungle aesthetic. I couldn’t quite catch that on my camera but oh well. Another excuse to visit again later, right?
On Christmas Eve the park was busier but it was still not uncomfortable so. According to sources on the Internet, Hong Kong Disneyland isn’t as crowded as the other Disney parks, however on Christmas Day they had to prevent guests from entering because it was overwhelmed with visitors. We didn’t have any such problems, luckily. Before we left the park on the second day we stayed behind for the fireworks. We already enjoyed watching them the day before, but because we knew they were good we stayed once again. The fireworks were extraordinary, and followed the music well. Mulan made a cinematic appearance on the castle itself and as you heard swords clash large plumes of fire burst from the castle. It was a very entertaining display and one of the last opportunities to watch it, as the routine will be permanently changed to a Frozen theme in the new year.
As we left the park, Disneyland gave us one last surprise.
It was enchanting and heart warming to see cold snow fall from the sky. It fell on our heads, covered the trees and market roofs. It was a nice send off and a magical occasion. I would definitely recommending taking a look at Hong Kong Disneyland for Christmas.
But the adventure didn’t stop there, and on Christmas Day itself we made our way to Oceanpark, known for its mix of roller-coasters and animal exhibits. As someone from the UK it blows my mind that you can get a metro train and arrive exactly to where you intend to go. Can you imagine getting a train straight to the entrance of Longleat Park, Legoland or Colchester Zoo?
It was so easy to find the metro and take it straight to Oceanpark and surprisingly, the queues were minimal to enter the park itself. We first made our way to the aquarium which did take sometime, around 40 – 45 minutes to enter, but it was worth the wait and we knew they’d be some queuing to do on a commercial and busy day.
Once we entered the aquarium we had plenty of room to view the exhibits and I appreciated that it wasn’t crowded inside. I had some concerns about what the animal welfare might be like, but most of the exhibits were very large and staff seemed concerned to remind visitors to keep their voices down when viewing sensitive animals or turning off flash when taking pictures. The rays were easily the star of the show and were a metre long, excluding their tails.
I’m not a fan of jellyfish but I have to admit they were rather dazzling to see and there was also sharks and other fish to look at and admire. The one fault of the aquarium was the disappointing size of the octopi exhibits which I hope they improve on in due time.
The aquarium also had a very pro-conservation attitude sharing video clips of various fishing practises and explaining their impact amongst other things. Each animal exhibit had a ‘how you can help’ section which encouraged recycling, purchasing fish caught in a certain way and avoiding some fish altogether. I thought that was cool.
After the aquarium we went straight to the pandas. After all, that’s why I demanded that we go to Ocean Park.
What, you thought it was for the fish?
Ho ho ho.
I really, really like pandas. I’ve always wanted to see one in real life and I knew that being in China I was so much closer to achieving my goal. I have been considering visiting Shenzhen Zoo, however I heard that they still may have performing animals and that’s definitely not something I’m interested in seeing. Chengdu is meant to be one of the best places to see the pandas as the city has a dedicated panda breeding and research program, however although Chengdu is also in the south west of China it’s about an 18 hour drive on a good day, or a two hour plane. Hong Kong provided a nice, easier alternative and what better day than to complete a life goal that on Christmas day itself?
We queued to see the pandas at around 2ish and we had to wait through a 15 minute queue to get into the exhibit. The staff reminded all visitors to be quiet using the international ‘shh’ sign.
Finally, there in front of me was the giant panda. I was so happy to see it, and clearly it was so happy to see me. In the first two minutes the panda decided to empty its lunch on the rocks you see below its butt.
I was expecting the panda to remain in this position. Pandas are known to be lazy, after all. However, just as my phone nearly ran out of memory, the panda moved around its exhibit, almost like a gorilla, it was fascinating to watch it patrol its ground.
It seemed to enjoy climbing on the rocks and the wooden frames in the exhibit. It also itched its back like you’d expect of a regular bear which was kinda funny to watch. I had the chance to return to the exhibit a couple of hours later and watched it munch on bamboo which was equally awesome. There were two pandas in separate exhibits close to each other, both with beautifully decorated scenery that the pandas seem to make the most of. There was also a red panda exhibit and they were seriously cute too.
When you pass the pandas you don’t go straight back to the main section of the park. Instead, you follow a beautiful ‘traditional’ stoned path with hanging red fish and an otter display. I loved seeing the otters, but unfortunately we had other exhibits we wanted to see and had to get back to the Zhongshan on the same day! I’d love to return and watch the otters for longer next time.
Afterwards, you walk through a goldfish exhibit which was really fascinating. There was a particular display that showed you how goldfish evolved to how they are today, displaying their ancestors and the first strains of goldfish into the common goldfish. You can also read explanations in English about how to identify various goldfish which again, I didn’t quite have time to read but it looked interesting.
After that, I spend way too long in the panda shop.
I came out with a panda tshirt which I have been obsessively wearing since alongside my stitch tshirt I got from disneyland. I also brought a beautiful panda box
that has actually tasty shortbread biscuits which I intend to be my new art box, and it was surprisingly very affordable too. Truly, the panda shop was a dangerous place to be for a panda fan.
After that we looked for the Australian exhibit but we couldn’t easily find it so we skipped it and went to the cable cars. I’ve never been on a cable car before, so while everyone else were like ‘meh’, I was like ‘AHH, WHOOOA, WHY HAVE WE STOPPED, OH THE SCENERY!’. It was probably like taking a 5 year old, but hey I was still buzzing from seeing a giant panda.
The cable cart did take some time… Turns out they’re not the fastest of things and you kinda need to take the cable cart in order to get to 50% of the park. We didn’t have time to see the arctic foxes (seriously, I’m going here again in 2018) nor the other polar themed exhibits but one of us did get to ride on ‘The Dragon’ which seemed pretty funky and had a couple of loop-de-loops.
On the cable cart back I was able to video call my Mum and brother which was very special to me. The free wifi in the park was surprisingly good, despite being so many feet up in the air on a mountain.
After a quick last peek at the pandas it was time to leave Oceanpark and return to Zhongshan, where I live. Turns out our ferry wasn’t too far away from the station. We collected our tickets that we pre-ordered online (through WeChat, of course) and boarded the ferry.
It was so, so easy to board even as a foreigner who can not speak or read much Mandarin. I get travel sick and I did feel a bit nauseous on the last half of the journey, but I should have had the wisdom by now to not drink a cup full of hot chocolate just before travelling. The journey took 1 and a half hours and then we needed only a short taxi ride to our local district. I would definitely travel by ferry again and would take my family to Zhongshan by ferry from Hong Kong if they ever wanted to visit. No stress, no fuss and very affordable.
In 2017 we made the most of our Christmas abroad and had a wonderful time in Hong Kong. The weather was incredible and though I don’t intend to miss out on seeing my family for Christmas ever again, it was for sure a Christmas to remember.