Last day in Guilin, and although I tried to lie in, I didn’t do a great job of it. Instead made sure the last of my stuff was packed and went out for a morning wander. Walked along the river again, though not far enough as to hit the Pagoda’s, and then walked along the main streets. Ended up stumbling upon a little bakery, and spending some of my now depleted cash on an awesome vanilla flavoured sponge cake decorated a little like a sheep. Was wonderfully good – love the little western bakeries that Asia seem to go for.
When I booked out of the hostel, the plan was to have lunch then go to the bus stop to get a bus to a hotel, then get the airport bus. The first part of that plan worked perfectly, but five minutes out the door, I’m struck with how much I’m carrying, and how much hassle 2 transfers are probably going to be. I end up walking back and arranged a taxi to take me instead.
Probably a wise decision all things considered, because Guilin airport proved to be something of a conundrum for me. So at least I had plenty of time to figure out why.
The problem was Guilin’s airport was small, and I was ‘technically’ flying internationally due to the whole Hong Kong issue. However, the only door welcoming people to International Departures was shut. When I went to information, it turned out that the door wouldn’t open until an hour before my flight. Apparently they get so few ‘international’ flights that the whole ‘be there 2 hours early’ bit doesn’t bother them. As an added bonus? The pre-check in area of the Guilin airport is expensive. Went to get a hot drink and couldn’t find anything for less that 6 quid. Needless to say I spent my time just hanging out in the rapidly forming queue by the barrier. Least check in and security were fantastically quick, and found a still-expensive-but-far-more-reasonable cafe on the inside while waiting for my flight.
Sadly, up until now I’ve had nothing but plain sailing with my flights. They’ve all left on time, no turbulence, no lost bags. And in my world, that doesn’t happen. So as our departure time passes, we get a call over the speaker explaining that some passengers are having trouble with their papers and we have to wait for them to clear immigration.
15 minutes later, the stewardesses are offering up black tea cookies (actually not that bad). Half an hour in, they’re doing drinks service. Clearly these guys aren’t showing up any time soon – and by the time an hour passes, I’m not sure I’d want to be getting on the flight anyway considering the ire of the passengers behind me.
Either said persons agreed with my opinion or immigration just couldn’t clear them, because an hour and 15 minutes behind schedule, we finally get permission to leave without any extra passengers making their way on. The time is going to be an issue for me, as I was really hoping to make it to Hong Kong before it got dark. As it was, all I could do was cross my fingers and hope for the best.
Course, while planning this trip I had made the stupid assumption that, being part of China, Hong Kong would be on the same currency. Not so much. I got a rather stupid reminder when I arrived and realised they used Hong Kong Dollars here – a currency I hadn’t brought with me. So when I go to the cash machine to rectify this problem?
Out of cash.
Thankfully, this is the very reason I brought a significant amount of US Dollars with me. Hadn’t expected to need them until Cambodia again (you just can’t get Mongolian or Cambodian currency outside of the country), but manage to exchange enough dollars to get me there and pay the room fee.
The cheapest option was the bus, but I had no idea where I was going, and it would be frightfully easy to miss my road since I hadn’t been able to access street view to see what it looked like (and images on Wikipedia weren’t giving me too much to go on), so decided to get the Airport Express train, and then the free shuttle bus to a hotel on the same street. This was three times more expensive than the bus, but would be far less hassle.
Hong Kong is an expensive place to stay, and it was by far the hardest to find accommodation for. However, my friend Esther who actually lives here had recommended that I look in a specific place for cheap hostels. Specifically, a certain building. ChungKing Mansion.
You can always tell whose been to Hong Kong and stayed/visited here. They get a sort of smug half grin half laugh look on their face. And there’s a good reason for that. ChungKing is a 15 story block of a building that is teeming with cubicle shops and apartment sized hostels. Its also where a large chunk of the Indian and African population of Hong Kong live – walking into it, you get the feeling this is what you’d get if you crammed an InShops market with an African and Indian town into a blender, then poured it into a rectangular container. The first few floors are mostly mobile phone shops, takeaway joints and money exchangers. Have a few unique shops too that sell dubious merchandise too – the rest of the building is very small flats, or hostels that pack anywhere for 3-8 in a room that is barely big enough for the bunk beds required.
As you can guess, this place has a reputation – there’s been some serious crimes here in recent years which hasn’t helped, and every time I told people where I was staying I got a new warning: There are bugs everywhere, keep an eye on your stuff, NEVER use the stairs, that’s where the druggies shoot up (drug trade apparently very big in this building), and never look at the wiring in your room.
Have to admit after every new warning I got a bit more apprehensive – but this place is considered a tourist attraction too, and the next cheapest option was on another island and twice the price, so I stuck to my guns. As it happens, I had nothing to fear. Had a little trouble finding the place at first – the lifts aren’t very well posted and at night the bottom floor is teeming with people, so had a few misses trying to get to it. As it happens it was a lift almost right next to a door and opposite a Western Union shop so was pretty quiet and accessible throughout my stay. Lift takes a while (nobody uses the stairs and its a pretty packed building with a person limit of 8, so you can wait up to 15 minutes before you get to the front of the line) but when I got to floor 15 and headed to Ashoka Guest House, they were the only one of the floor with a sign stating ‘no rooms’. And got to say I was happy with what I got.
Only 3 people to a room, so no hideous overcrowding, a safe for my valuables, very clean (no bugs in sight) and the communal shower is actually pretty strong. Plus, the view from my window is incredible.
The downsides? My room doesn’t appear to lock, and remember the warning about wiring? Yeah, the light in my room requires you to tap on the switch a few times to jostle the wires into actually working….
Had planned on going to see the light show at the harbour tonight, but by the time my delayed flight got in and I’d made it to the Guest House it was nearly 9pm so missed it by an hour. Instead I just headed downstairs and went exploring round my area.
Within five minutes I’m besotted with Hong Kong. Its wild and busy and crazy and is exactly what I expected. Traffic is still China insane, but here they’ve actually managed to learn that red means stop so the life-threatening zebra crossings are no more. They don’t build anything less than 10 stories so your head is constantly craning up, and unlike a lot of big cities I’ve been to, they have very tight roads – more like a street back home than the motorways I’ve been seeing. It all gives this impression of immenseness and I’m completely smitten.
A feeling that increases when I pop into a 711 and find that you can buy Ribena and Dairy Milk chocolate in Hong Kong. Best. Day. Ever. Now if I could just find some salt and vinegar crisps I’d be in heaven.
Most of the shops in my area appear to be restaurants, mobile phone/electronic shops and quite a few touristy places. A little wary about going too far since I still don’t have a map, but when I head back up, I meet one of my 2 roommates whose leaving the next day, and eye up his big collection of maps and leaflets. Sorted.