Archive | Travel

eConnect Japan WiFi-to-Go – review

eConnect Japan Wifi-To-Go - Huawei GP02 front

Need internet access for your trip to Japan? I guess a lot of us can’t live without staying connected 24/7 – even though it’s a vacation and you’re supposed to go off the grid. Here’s a short guide and review about the services of a company called eConnect Japan. They offer rental of portable WiFi routers (or Mi-Fi) and data SIM cards.

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A trip to Tokyo Disney Resort

Tokyo Disney Resort - Gateway Fountain

With the finest theming and some of the world’s best attractions, Tokyo Disney Resort has long earned its right of being the place “where dreams come true”. This magnificent resort is home to Tokyo Disneyland – modeled after the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World; and the world’s only Tokyo DisneySea – a unique Disney park based on nautical exploration themes.

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Ocean Park: The Summit

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Ocean Park has two distinct areas separated by a mountain. The earlier entries covered attractions in the Lowlands (Waterfront zone). Located at higher Headlands area are four themed zones, such as Marine World, Adventure Land, Rainforest and Thrill Mountain. Both areas are connected with a Cable Car system and the new Ocean Express.

The Summit area mainly features amusement park attractions and some animal shows. Built at a higher altitude, this is a very relaxing, open area which also faces the sea.

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Ocean Park: Old Hong Kong

DSC06484

Old Hong Kong is the newly opened themed area at Ocean Park Hong Kong. Filled with nostalgic sights and sounds, this area brings back the rich Hong Kong cultural heritage, with recreated streets and scenes, as well as some small attractions. Some people refer Old Hong Kong as Ocean Park’s unique rendition of an area like Disneyland’s Main Street.

Opened in March 2012, Old Hong Kong is located at the Waterfront area, around the Cable Car Station. It’s impossible to miss – You’ll need to walk through this area to get to the Cable Car Station.

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Ocean Park: Grand Aquarium

Grand Aquarium Building

The Grand Aquarium is the flagship attraction in Aqua City – a new themed area in Ocean Park Hong Kong. Nestled between the beautiful hills and newly created Lagoon, the Aquarium is adorned with an interesting “egg” facade – constructed with`glass panes and with gold waves (or fins) raveling around itself.

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Ocean Park Hong Kong

At the southern side of Hong Kong island is home to Ocean Park Hong Kong. Set between beautiful hills away from the bustle of the city, the park offers a myriad of attractions for all ages. Be it impressive animal exhibits or exhilarating rides, Ocean Park offers it all – without a heavy price.

Ocean Park Entrance

Despite being called Ocean Park, the theme park does not only focus on marine exhibits and aquarium displays. The park attempts to “connect people with nature”, through a diverse variety of educational animal exhibits and conservation initiatives.

The park has constantly expanded and reinvented itself to compete with regional theme parks, as well as Hong Kong Disneyland. The current iteration is part of the Master Redevelopment Plan unveiled in 2005, which introduces new attractions and redeveloped zones. The park hardly looks like what I’ve seen several years ago. It’s almost like a completely new park!

Due to the immense number of photos and content, this Ocean Park feature on dejiki.com will be split into multiple sections.


Ocean Park Hong Kong series

Gateway and Aqua City | The Grand Aquarium | Old Hong Kong | The Summit at Ocean Park
Aerial Views from Ocean Park Tower

Gateway and Aqua City

Firstly, how to get to Ocean Park?

The recommended method (especially if you are not staying on Hong Kong Island), is to take MTR to Admiralty Station and head to the exit leading to the nearby Bus Terminal. Don’t worry, there’s ample signage to lead you to the right place.

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Trip to Hong Kong 2011 – Day 3 and 4

I’ll just consolidate the last two days of this trip into one post!


Nathan Road
Skip Skippity Skip
Typhoon 
Alert #3

The weather forecast warned us about Level 3 typhoon winds – and it was accurate. It was very comfortable to walk outdoors, but the wind brought about several bouts of unpredictable sweeping rain. Most of the day we were inside shopping malls on the third day.

In Search of the Summicron-M 35mm in Hong Kong
I tried my luck searching for 2nd-hand Leica and Zeiss lenses in Hong Kong, but the only reliable place was some shops at Mody Road in Tsim Sha Tsui. Tin Cheung Camera has a few stores in the area so I visited their newly-relocated store in a mall called K11 – great selection, they have almost every essential lenses BUT the reason why they still have stock? The prices are not exactly great, in fact um – it’s at the level of “I just want it even if it’s $1500 more” sort of price. The second shop I went to was Tin Cheung Camera Classic, a pre-owned photography store. The prices are close to what you see on eBay, but at least you could inspect the lenses and try your luck bargaining.

Canton Road

The Southern part of Canton Road is better known for its incredible concentration of European flagship boutiques, but also the Louis Vuitton Maison store – that is easily twice the size of outlet at ION Orchard in Singapore. This entire stretch is linked together and is part of a larger mall called Harbour City.


Mak's Noodles
Mak's Noodles

One notable place we had lunch was Mak’s Noodles, located in Causeway Bay. They have a few branches in Hong Kong, so either Google it yourself or contact me for details. The original restaurant is at Central though. Even if you are not a fan of Wanton noodles, you should really try Mak’s! The noodles have a fresh, crunchy texture – coupled with plump, scrumptious wantons that is served with fragrant soup stock in a small soup bowl. You might end up having a few extra servings!


Mong Kok area
Mong Kok area
Street food

As usual, the streets of Hong Kong at night are more characteristic. Locals roam the streets and shop till very late at night. It is not surprising to see crowded shops even at 11pm – unlike back in Singapore where most shops close at 8pm and even if they are open (like most stores at Marina Bay Sands), it’s mostly deserted.


Morning market
Towel vendor

We explored Garden Street again on the last day. In the morning there aren’t as many shops open but there are still interesting things to see. This microfiber towel stall, for example.


road works
Public light buses

Apart from the usual public buses, there are also light buses that seems to stop at almost random places (without bus stops) to pick up passengers. For tourists I think taking a cab to get around is best option.


hope it holds up
scaffolding

The buildings in Hong Kong seem to be always in a state of construction (or re-construction). Bamboo is used for scaffolding and it seems rather precarious to walk under them when there are strong winds, especially when you discover how they’re held in place together!


near jade market
Jade
Stalls
Clarity

The northern section of Canton Road houses Jade Market. According to my Mom, it is very difficult to find any good deals here anymore if you are in search of higher quality jade. Apparently there is now an EVEN higher concentration of mass-produced altered jade, so do be watchful and well obviously, bargain!! until the stall owner brings her broom out to chase you away, that is.


Cooking Mama 360
Cooking Mama 360
Cooking Mama 360

At last, it was time to go to the airport. There is now a very large food court in the departure hall, but it was too crowded and crazy so we just went to this restaurant with an quaint name – Cooking Mama 360. There is no relation to the famous series of video-games, but the food served here is more interesting than their name – there’s a mix of Korean and Japanese dishes that are coupled with Pasta-style mains, but with thick wheat noodles. Worth a try!


All photographs were snapped using my NEX-5 with a rather old LEICA Summicron-C 40mm f/2.

The complete flickr album can be found here.

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Trip to Hong Kong 2011 – Day 2

The second day in Hong Kong was mostly spent at Hong Kong Disneyland.

Just like Universal Studios Singapore, Hong Kong Disneyland is located far away from the busy city center. It rests on reclaimed land at Lantau Island. There are a few options to travel to the park: the most popular being public transport, the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) of course.

Day Tickets at Hong Kong Disneyland goes for HK$350, which is equivalent to about S$56. The price is the same for any day in the year and can be used on most days, anytime 6 months after date of purchase. However, for some special days, such as public holidays, tickets will need to be purchased with a confirmed date of use.

The park also offers Annual Passes, called the Magic Access which is split into 4 tiers of membership and is priced from HK$2400 to HK$650.


Sunny Bay MTR Station
Disneyland Resort Line Train

The Disney experience begins the moment one arrives at Sunny Bay, the interchange station between the Tung Chung line and the Disneyland Resort line. Typically, the iconic Disney train will be there waiting for eager guests to run across the transfer platform.

There is a little fanfare during the ride to Disneyland Resort, with a special message being played in the train cabins. It is all part of a thematic journey, transforming from “modern city of Hong Kong” to the “magical world of Hong Kong Disneyland”. Visually, the stations were designed very differently as well – with the Sunny Bay station having a lot of glass and white roof work, looking like most of the other stations in Hong Kong. Visitors will be surprised with a spacious Modern-Victorian design at the Disneyland station.

The entrance area of the park has been decorated for the park’s 5th Anniversary festivities, Celebration in the Air. It is quite a cohesive theme and includes some tweaks to the park’s merchandising, decorations and is supported by a very impressive daytime parade show and night castle show.


Esplanade Gateway
Tinkerbell

It was a Tuesday when my family went to the park – although marked as an off-peak day, there was a lot of people. FASTPASS is no longer a novelty, it is a necessity if you wish to do the rides multiple times. As for the park crowds, it’s comparable to a school holiday weekend at Universal Studios Singapore.

If you are wondering why the photos below show an empty park, here is the explanation: The main gates of Hong Kong Disneyland opens 30 minutes before the scheduled timing (usually 10:30AM). Only the Main Street area is accessible, for some quick bites or (hopefully not) overly well-planned shopping. A rope is held in place at the end of Main Street, just before the roundabout (where Sorcerer Mickey is) in front of the castle. Moments before 10:30AM, there is a ceremony called “First Family” where a family is chosen to open the park by “cutting” a ribbon. The First Family thing is an opportunity is given out to families with small children who at the gates during park opening. Apart from this little fanfare and some special photo-op moments, I recall reading somewhere that the First Family also rides down Main Street before a parade starts, but I’m not sure if that is done anymore during the 5th Anniversary Celebrations.


The Castle
The backdrop

The location for Hong Kong Disneyland is unlike any other Disney parks. The lush mountain backdrop frames the park beautifully, masking any hints of the outside world. While yes, the park is entirely artificial and built on reclaimed land, the surrounding landscape creates an illusion – a “magical” one that is reinforced with thematic music – to trick the guests that they are in some other world. I really wished Universal Studios Singapore had the large walking spaces between park zones, which offers breathing space between each zone’s thematic design.

Tinkerbell Castle
Tinkerbell Castle
Tinkerbell Castle

As part of Celebration In The Air, Sleeping Beauty Castle has embellished with golden trails and sparkly pixie dust by Tinker Bell! The “sparkly” effect is made out of shiny metallic discs that moves with the wind, creating a graduated shimmering effect. This is similar to the kinetic art by Ned Kahn, which has been replicated at many places, including the Wind Arbor at Marina Bay Sands. Hidden behind the curtains of discs are LED lighting arrays. The evening castle show, known as Tinker Bell Castle Illumination, is a dazzling spectacle.

Another important element of Celebration In The Air is the Flights of Fantasy Parade which unfortunately I have no photos to provide. It is a stunning parade and has been compared to some of Tokyo Disneyland’s parades by some theme park fans. There are 7 parade floats in total: Dumbo + Mickey and Friends, Winnie The Pooh, Disney Princesses, Jungle Book/Lion King, Tinker Bell, Lilo and Stitch – and lastly, Toy Story. The theme song is very catchy, memorable and uplifting (well, it’s about flying, after all).



Flights of Fantasy Parade, © Disney

Flights of Fantasy Parade

Main Theme – English Lyrics

It’s a sky high celebration,
So come on! come on! come on!
Let’s fly away!

Take a flight on imagination,
So come on! come on! come on!
It’s a brand new day!

We’re chasing rainbows,
Wherever the wind blows.
So come on, come on,
The Flights of Fantasy!

Hey, Hey, Hey

I can only grasp this line from the Cantonese version of the song:

我會帶你飛越萬里, 常飛起,飛起,飛起!

Interestingly, the parade theme music is also used in the original Disneyland Park in Anaheim but with a different narrative altogether. It is called Mickey’s Soundsational Parade. In the chorus instead of “The Flights of Fantasy!”, you get “It’s Soundsational!”


Notable Attractions at Hong Kong Disneyland


it's a small world
Excited girl
Marie

it’s a small world

Originally created for the UNICEF Pavilion in the 1964 New York World’s Fair, it’s a small world is one of the few attractions that exists in all Fantasyland zones around the world. It is a gentle indoor boat ride that sails through various colourful scenes with animated characters singing the same tune. Although the music might drive some people crazy, this attraction is well-known for its very high-capacity per hour, which has influenced future Disney attractions in their design, such as Pirates of the Caribbean (from a walkthrough attraction into boat ride). In Hong Kong Disneyland, it is also one of the most comfortable rides to enjoy in a hot summer day.


Space Mountain
Space Mountain queue
Space Mountain queue
Space Mountain queue
Space Mountain queue

Space Mountain

In contrast to Universal Studios Singapore, which has several roller-coasters, Space Mountain is now the only high adrenaline adventure in Hong Kong Disneyland. One commonly heard rationale is that the locals prefer photo opportunities compared to intensive rides. This is set to change with the construction of new attractions in the three new themed zones, to be completed in 2013.

Despite being a smaller, more compact version compared to the other Space Mountain attractions in the world, this ride has a slightly different theme and queue design. There is also a lot of detail in the design of the loading/unloading area. The ride safety video is also carefully done to be both succinct and heavily themed, something which was perfectly executed for Battlestar Galactica in Universal Studios Singapore back in 2010, but was unfortunately altered in the 2011 reopening with “real-world videos” spliced in between themed sequences.


Other activities

Apart from rides, shows and parades, there is also a special summer event going on called Rev Up Your Summer Fun! which is tied closely with the new CARS 2 film.


Cars Secret Mission
Cars Secret Mission

Cars Secret Mission is an activity that involves finding game stations scattered around the park and playing minigames. Players will need to get a little leaflet from a cast member (My sister’s holding it in the photo above) that has a QR code on it. At each station, players will need to scan their leaflet and proceed on with a simple minigame, which varies from memory to “spot the difference”/”find a character” style games. Cast members will invite players to get a stamp on their leaflets. Upon completion of all game stations… you actually get nothing except for a (presumably) random Cars character profiling and a certificate which you have to print online on your own. Well, you didn’t pay to participate in this anyway.

There are also Cars photo opportunity zones (which are actually, just large 2D installations) themed to certain cities around the world. It doesn’t just stop there – the theming continues with snacks offered at each zone, such as sushi rolls for sale at the “Tokyo” zone, for example!

Seen around the park


Theatre in the wild
Queues for Festival of the Lion King, a short musical performance of the popular hits and compressed narrative from The Lion King.

Fantasyland
The area behind the Castle in Fantasyland

Dumbo
Dumbo: The Flying Elephant ride

Moving bin
Talking Bin in Tomorrowland

Lantern
Lantern at the interactive zone in Adventureland

Royal Banquet Hall
Royal Banquet Hall – We had lunch here.

Royal Banquet
Mixed Grill Set

Main Street snaps
Happy couple at Main Street

While not exactly comparable to the other larger Disney Parks in the world, Hong Kong Disneyland still retains Disney magic – with the successful formula in designing and running theme parks that Disney has decades of experience to rely upon. I have visited the park a handful of times for the past five years and the park has always been improving, with exciting seasonal and milestone events. Things will get very exciting at the resort when three new themed zones – Toy Story Land, Grizzly Gulch and Mystic Point – are completed in the years to come.


After spending almost a full day in Hong Kong Disneyland, we got tired of the heat and went back to Kowloon. Yep, we gave the evening shows a miss.


Garden Street
Garden Street

My family went to this night market street called “Fa Yuen Street” which translates to “Garden Street”. There’s always those usual night market stalls selling cheap clothes, souvenirs and trinkets. The more interesting parts are actually the shops hidden out of the florescent glow of the night markets though. My sister goes to a random shop and after some bargaining and trying them out – if I remember correct – paid S$80 for 4 pairs of shoes.


Sabotage??
Investigation

I witnessed this interesting incident of a billboard being sabotaged and the canvas was flapping dangerously in the wind – it was fixed the next day though, which was good as the Typhoon warnings started coming up the next morning.


All photographs were snapped using my NEX-5 with a rather old LEICA Summicron-C 40mm f/2.

The complete flickr album can be found here.

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Trip to Hong Kong 2011 – Day 1

Just mere days after finally completing National Service, I found myself at Hong Kong with my family. We’ve not traveled together since late 2009.


CX710

We took the 8:05AM flight on Cathay Pacific. Upon arriving and dropping our luggage at the hotel, we went straight to Causeway Bay for lunch at Hunan Garden. Located at Level 13 of Times Square Food Forum, the restaurant offers Hunan cuisine in a European setting. It’s interesting to note that the Times Square Food Forum is very popular and during the lunch hour it becomes necessary to actually queue (à la theme park rides) for the lift to the higher levels.


Hunan Garden

Hunan Garden

Hunan Garden

Hunan Garden

Hunan Garden

At the ground level of Times Square was.. Hogwarts Express! It was accompanied with Platform 9¾ (and yes, the trolley was there as well.) Unfortunately it seems like classes has just ended and the whole area was flooded with students!


Hogwarts Express

We then went to SOGO at Causeway Bay. Despite being owned by a Hong Kong company, it still has the strong makings of a Japanese department store – with a structured department store layout and even greeters at every floor and the lift attendant ladies. There was a memorable moment where two of the attendants were in a lift, filled to capacity and when a shopper wanted to squeeze her way in, the lift attendant said “Sorry we’re full already” politely, only to receive a snide “Why are there TWO of you in there??” back.


SOGO Hong Kong

street.hk


Found at SOGO Causeway Bay is one of the only two Kura Chika boutiques in Hong Kong. Kura Chika deals with items from PORTER TOKYO and YOSHIDA & CO. While the store does not have the full PORTER TOKYO collection, they do have the classic items and if you’re lucky, some obscure limited edition items.

Like I’ve told many people (and countless people have told me), if you want to get a PORTER bag, please only buy either a PORTER TOKYO or HEAD PORTER product. Stay away from PORTER INTERNATIONAL (based in Taiwan). While the designs may look similar (to some), the INTERNATIONAL label is not directly related to the Japanese company and most importantly, those items are not Made in Japan. There is an exciting tale about how this Taiwanese company came about, which I will save for another entry – or you can ask me for a short version in person.


Edit: Since I’ve received many emails about this, I’ll just post it here:

I’ve been told by streetwear and bag aficionados that Porter International (Taiwan) started off as a knock-off brand, copying designs of PORTER TOKYO/JAPAN and HEAD PORTER. Instead battling through copyright lawsuits, both Porter International and YOSHIDA & CO. came to a settlement. They now work in a partnership and the Taiwan brand now produces their own designs and collections, though some of them share the same look as the Japan variant.

Under the partnership, Porter International also operates KURA CHIKA, a chain of stores that sells Porter Japan items outside of Japan.


After spending some time here, my Dad finally decided on a nice PORTER canvas shoulder sling. We then traveled back to the hotel and took a short rest. We then decided to head to another mall which we’ve never been to, called ELEMENTS.


road works

ELEMENTS

Louis Vuitton, ELEMENTS

Surrounded by major road works and urban redevelopment, ELEMENTS is perhaps, a diamond in the rough. Like other similar malls in Tsim Sha Tsui, it is clearly aimed for the Upper-Middle class in Hong Kong. The mall is uniquely structured into 5 zones, themed after the Chinese elements of nature: Water, Fire, Wood, Earth and Metal. While each zone has a specific “subject area”, i.e. Wood zone for health, well-being stores, there are some minor inconsistencies. The Metal (or more accurately, GOLD) zone however, is strongly focused for an ensemble of the most coveted luxury brands. It feels like the Middle section of Marina Bay Sands Shoppes.


Hermès, ELEMENTS

miu miu, ELEMENTS

Unlike the highly illustrious lane in Canton Road where stores have to temporarily close at times to accommodate their patrons, ELEMENTS was quite deserted and could offer a safe haven for those who seek a tranquil shopping experience. At least you don’t have to wait for your own SA here. My sister finally found the bracelet she wanted.


night life

night market

It was a very relaxing experience to walk around ELEMENTS and soak in the intoxicating aroma of European leather goods, but we decided to travel back to the drastically different streets of Mong Kok. This is where most of the shopping took place for the next few days – major bargains to be found, even for items bought at retail, they’re usually 10-20% cheaper than Singapore!

There’s probably too many stores to list, but if you are looking for something and would like addresses or names, just let me know via comments or messaging. Of course, the famous Sino Centre, Langham Place and Argyle Centre are some of the must-go places for clothes and other knicks-and-knacks.

Mong Kok is also where Hong Kong’s iconic night markets happen. There are several streets, each (supposedly) catered to certain groups of people (Ladies’ Market, Temple Street’s Men’s Market etc) but over the years it has become “everything” night market.


Gong Cha

The last stop of the day was GONG CHA. For just HK$13 (that’s about S$2), you get the large cup of milk tea. In Singapore, the small cup goes for S$2.80. What is this?

The adventure continues in the next entry!


All photographs were snapped using my NEX-5 with a rather old LEICA Summicron-C 40mm f/2.

The complete flickr album can be found here.

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