03 June 2014

HK Day 8: Headed home

On our last partial day (which is kind of today), we woke up at 4:30am.  This wasn't intentional, but it suited us well because we had a lot of packing to do!  By 10:00am, all our bags were expertly packed full and we headed down to the lobby to check out.  We went to the Front Desk to confirm that we would be able to use the pool changing room/shower facilities before leaving for the airport.  The nice gentleman at the desk suggested that we come to the Front Desk and ask for a "hospitality room" instead.  This sounded like an even better idea, so we happily left our luggage with the bell services team and headed off for our last trip into Central. 

The day's plan was to finally locate a wonton place recommended to us by my Uncle Jong and then meet up with Liz, one of my friends from high school.  Both activities had been on our to do list all week, but just never actually got done, and this was our last chance. 

Turns out that the wonton restaurant is quite close to (just a few blocks from) the Peak Tram stop in Central.  It is also right across the street from another famous (at least on the blogosphere) restaurant called "Mak Noodle."  As we approached the entry (places here often leave their doors open, spilling loads of ac out into the world or else have "doors" made of large strips of clear vinyl to keep from wasting too much ac), a woman standing in the doorway saw our questioning faces and told us that though she didn't work there, she knew the wontons were good.  Not being able to read the Chinese characters on the sign outside, we took this comment to mean we were in the right spot - Tsim Chai Kee.  We had been warned that the restaurant would be very busy, with shared tables, but arriving at 11am appears to be really the right time to visit because they were open and mostly empty!

--The rest of this post was written several days later, after returning home...--

After our delicious lunch of king prawn wonton noodle soup and chilled sweetened soy milk, we walked around Central, taking in the sights and sounds of Hong Kong.  We visited the IFC Mall, home to some high end fashion stores and a fun looking tea house with lots of macaroons on display!  Too bad we didn't have time to stay for an afternoon tea set there.

We met Liz at the Starbucks in her building, which was great because it had nice comfy chairs and cold drinks.  It was lovely to finish off our trip catching up with an old friend!

After our little meetup, T and I went back to the Hollywood Hotel to pick up our luggage and have a shower.  Like at the Langham Place, the Hollywood is accustomed to guests wishing to shower and change after checking out.  We simply asked for a "courtesy room" at the front desk and were given keys to a hotel room.  I don't know how long we could have had the room, because I told her we'd be out in 45 minutes or less.

Our flights home were the reverse of our flights to HK, with each leg somewhat longer this time.  Knowing what to expect, I think we were both slightly more comfortable on the first flight from HKG to Dubai.  Again, we flew the Airbus A380, which does offer slightly more comfort than the Boeing 777.  If nothing else, the aircraft are newer which means they are cleaner and have more functional features.  This time, we managed to take off precisely on time and even made up time in flight which allowed us to land at Dubai almost half an hour earlier than expected. 

Giant fresh flower arrangement
Because we were flying business class for our super long haul flight from Dubai back to Dulles, we were given passes for the Emirates Business Class Lounge.  This was definitely the largest airport lounge we've ever seen.  Taking up almost the whole floor of the terminal, this lounge had 4 separate hot food areas and several other full bars and cold food/snack areas.  In addition to nice, clean bathrooms (heated toilet seats and proper towels for drying your hands/washing your face), there were also separate bathrooms for showering.  Each shower room was equipped with towels, shower slippers, terry slippers and a fluffy bathrobe.  The shower room attendant cleaned the shower rooms after each use.  If we hadn't been so sleepy, we might have indulged in a shower. 

Even our travel mascots were too tired to finish blogging
After scoping out the whole place twice, we settled on a cluster of comfy chairs that could be pulled together to make sort of bed pods (think University library chairs).  We settled in to write these last two posts, but having been awake for more than 24 hours, I fell asleep after the first 3 paragraphs.  Fifteen minutes later, T was waking me up telling me we'd have to get going soon.

Not pictured: the comfy mattress laid on top of the chair for better snoozing
Our 4th and final flight was in business class on the Boeing 777.  The seats were almost lie flat, and not quite as private pod-ish as on Air Canada or British.  Our seats were in the center cluster of 3, and by magic, the third seat was not taken.  Apart from the hot towels before take off and landing, the only major difference we noted was that on Emirates, we were given 3" mattresses to put over our seats.  T declined his, but I very much enjoyed that extra layer of fluff.  It helped make the seat much more like a bed and I think I managed about 5 hours' sleep.  The food was good, though I would say not far and away better than on other airlines' business class.  In fact, by the time the steward reached us to take our dinner order, they were already out of my first choice (again).  I ended up having seafood biryani rice or something, which was good, but a little spicy.  All in all, we were glad to be in b-class for that last 14 hour flight and maybe it helped with our jet lag.

Next time: HK in the rearview

HK Day 7: Last full day

On Thursday, we woke up at 6:30 AM as usual - still not fully adjusted to HK time!  However, we made good use of the time by catching up on a couple days' worth of the travel blog and uploading photos to Flickr.  In addition, Gwen got super creative in securing an upgrade to business class for our return flight (woo hoo!).  To make a long story short, we received an offer to upgrade to business class for what struck us as a reasonable increase in fare.  However, for various reasons, we were unable either to pay the fare increase online with our credit card or make an international call from either our cell phones or hotel room to secure the upgrade via phone.  Ultimately, Gwen was able to call our credit card customer service via Google Talk, and they were able to push the transaction through.  It'll be nice having business class for the 14 hour leg from Dubai to DC!

Around 10:30, we headed out to dim sum at Maxim's Palace at the Hong Kong city hall, which was highly recommended to Todd by a partner at his firm.  After walking around the block a bit, we finally located city hall and Maxim's Palace (which is one of a handful of restaurants in city hall, another of which confusingly is called Maxim's Cafe). 

Maxim's Palace is a large, beautifully appointed ballroom / banquet hall.  Though it appeared totally packed, we were seated in just a few minutes and quickly were brought piping hot tea.  Shortly after that, we had chosen almost too many items to eat from the numerous carts that came by frequently.  

Items we tried included char siu bao (three different kinds), bai tan gao, dan tat, sweet bean soup, shu mai, and zhong zi, all of which were super.  Also great were the carts themselves, which were state of the art.  Each cart listed each item for sale in English and Chinese and provided the price of each item, and some carts even included screens showing videos of the items!  Overall, this restaurant was a huge hit with us -- we were stuffed until 9pm.
Afterwards, we visited a series of stores in Mong Kok that qualified as ... interesting, but unfortunately some of them were not as cool as we had hoped.  We did get some good souvenirs out of the excursion, however.  We checked out a $12 dollar store (where we picked up a couple cut strawberry-shaped dishes), a place called Sim City contained floor after floor of electronics items (where we picked up a couple lighting cables that appear not to work due to Apple's greediness), a shopping mall, and an outdoor market that we think was the Ladies Market (which seemed quite a bit larger than Temple Street).  We declined to buy anything at the Ladies Market, though many vendors were quick to drop their asking prices after the slightest bit of haggling, because we just weren't sure whether was could place any faith in the items there.  If you buy a watch, for example, how can you know if it will work two weeks later?

After wandering around for hours and racking up 14,000 steps on Gwen's FitBit, we decided to give our sore feet a rest at a noodle place in the Langham Place mall, where we grabbed a quick late dinner.

As our last act for the day, we decided to buy Gwen a dress to wear for the next day's adventures.  Sadly, this task proved much harder than expected!  We had read a blog post claiming that Mong Kok has a giant and excellent Esprit outlet.  However, the outlet was quite challenging to locate, as it is underground and only marked with fairly modest on the street (modest signage really doesn't cut it in Mong Kok, where there are so many lights at night that it feels like day on most streets). After many trips around the block, we did eventually find the outlet, but found it very underwhelming and would not recommend that others make the trip.  We decided to go back to the real Esprit just a few blocks away, buy Gwen's dress at a fairly reasonable non-outlet price, and call it a day.