Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Travel Tips: Hong Kong

As I mentioned in my previous post about air travel, many adoptive American families end up traveling back from China through Hong Kong. Everyone ends their stay in China in Guangzhou, because that is where the U.S. Consulate that processes adoption visas is located. But even though Guangzhou is a massive Chinese city with air service to Europe, India, Africa and elsewhere, there isn't much by way of U.S. service. Hong Kong is simply more of a gateway to more of the United States.

So, the end of the paper chase results in an American visa (issued in Guangzhou) in your son or daughter's Chinese passport (issued in the province where your child was born). Most families leave Guangzhou almost immediately after receiving the visa, as they are available for pickup at designated times and aren't subject to much irregularity in the process. Guangzhou and Hong Kong aren't far apart geographically. It's possible to get to Hong Kong by road, air or rail.

Road is expensive, especially if you're a small family and not part of a larger travel group. It's also time-consuming because it's sometimes necessary to get off the vehicle at the China-Hong Kong border, clear customs, and get on a different vehicle. It's also subject to the same kind of traffic issues that traveling anywhere in China can bring.

Air is somewhat expensive too, and won't necessarily save you a lot of time. You'll be in the air less than an hour, but travel to the Guangzhou airport from the city in traffic will take awhile and add to the cost. In our minds, it was sort of like flying from Washington to Philadelphia. So we decided to go the train route instead.

The Guangzhou train station is massive, and just a few minutes away from the Consulate by car. Our guide had us wait in the car while he picked up the passport with visa and all the paperwork, and then we drove to the station together. Some families go directly to the station and their guides meet them there with the documents. There is a special waiting room dedicated to the Canton (former name of Guangzhou)-Kowloon (region of Hong Kong) rail service. Passengers go up a very long escalator to this waiting room after going through security. They can then check their bags. We checked our two large suitcases for a little less than $20 total, and were very glad to have given them up during the train ride. John helped us get them upstairs.

We really enjoyed the train ride. It took less than two hours, required no stopping for customs or immigration in the middle, and we didn't have to deal with our two giant suitcases because we checked them. It was nice to see a little of the countryside and parts of Shenzhen as we passed through.

Most families take a late afternoon or early evening train to Hong Kong, and then head straight from Hung Hom Station to Hong Kong International Airport. They then stay at the Regal, Novotel or Marriott hotels that are either at or adjacent to the airport, departing on a morning flight the next day. The three airport hotels are upscale and fairly expensive, and one is likely limited to hotel cuisine for the night of one's stay. A taxi to the airport could take 45 minutes to an hour, depending on traffic, and cost about $50-60 -- requiring a stop in the train station to change money to Hong Kong dollars, and finding the right type of taxi licensed to make the trip. Getting to the airport the next day would either take a few steps, or a 5-10 minute ride. We decided not to do it this way.

After arriving in Hong Kong and clearing customs and immigration (which was very quick), we did not do as is typical and head straight for the airport. Instead, we went across the street from the train station and spent the night at the Harbour Plaza Metropolis. For about $35 less than a night at one of the airport hotels, we got an executive-level room with a separate check-in desk, drinks and appetizers at night, breakfast for all three of us in the morning, and free wireless in the lounge with a harbor view. The room was definitely smallish, but they gave us a crib for Xiao Ya at no charge. I was able to change my remaining RMB to HKD at the front desk for tips and meals. We had checked in, and had cocktails in our hand, bags in our room, and snacks in front of us before 7:30 p.m. We then ate dinner at a Thai/Indian place in the attached mall that was pretty good and pretty reasonable, and took credit cards though we paid in HKD.

The next morning, for a 10:30 a.m. flight to the States, we ate a pretty leisurely and well-appointed breakfast in the executive lounge and left the hotel at about 8. There is a free K1 shuttle right outside the hotel every 12 minutes, and the bell men will help you with your luggage. It makes a couple of other stops while taking you on a fascinating little run through the Kowloon part of Hong Kong, before dropping you off at the Airport Express station. At the station, we checked our bags and checked in for our flight at the United counter. All the airlines have them. We then boarded a high-speed train for the airport, which took about 20 minutes and cost about $20 US for two adults -- the kid rode for free. We got to the terminal and through security in plenty of time for our flight.

We had thought and thought about these arrangements and decided to stay in town because we figured it meant an earlier bedtime and a faster trip to the airport, even if that trip was the next day. We also got rid of our bags a lot sooner. This worked out really well, and we did note at least one other adoptive family in the lobby who said they had stayed at the Metropolis on a prior trip.

This was our fifth hotel on our adoption odyssey, and we were definitely worn out by the time we got to Hong Kong. But staying in town instead of at the airport was a nice interlude.

Note for the future: be sure to follow the signs at Hung Hom Station up the pedestrian bridge to the Metropolis Mall, to which the hotel is attached. You can see the hotel from the front door of the train station, but you don't want to imperil yourselves by actually trying to cross the street as we did.



Molly said...

Awesome tips! These are so helpful!

Mary said...

Hey Alan! I've been playing catch-up for the past few days, reading about your journey, and I'm so, so happy that things went so well. Xiao Ya is absolutely gorgeous!!! Everything, everything, EVERYTHING will just continue to get better -- her love of you, her love of the animals, her sleeping. You'll look back a couple of months from now and be truly amazed at how far you all have come. Welcome home!!!

GarynSandra said...

Thank you so much for this great tip!! I think that this is going to be the same route that we will go....your blog is so helpful to all of us....thanks again!


Anonymous said...

I'm Molly's Dad and hope she will be making this trip soon. Your information is so good and helpful to us all. I spent about 20 years traveling in Asia, so I know how good and bad it can be. Sounds like things have changed much for the better.

DameCatoe said...

This is a great idea. I'm bookmarking this post for the next trip!

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