Hope you had a good Christmas and are looking forward to 2020 (and more travels).
Episode 2 of the podcast is now live on iTunes and Google Podcasts, if you want to read the trip report, you can find it below.
I wanted to share my experiences with traveling to Hong Kong approx three weeks ago and then onwards to Dubai.
My flight schedule was as follows:
NGB-HKG (UO227) with a one day stop over
HKG-DXB (EK383) to Dubai with a one day stopover
I arrived into Hong Kong on HK Express from mainland China (HK Express – UO227). The flight had a 70% load, which is unusual but I have seen this situation 2 months ago when I was on the same flight to HK. The protests are really having an impact for sure. For this first flight, I arrived about 1hr 20 minutes early as Ningbo airport is extremely small and easy to navigate.
I approach the check-in desk and can see that there is virtually no queue, this is purely down to the HK protests as my previous experiences on this flight have been very different #queues . I approach the desk, hand my passport over and put my luggage on the belt. All in all, 2 minutes and I am done with a boarding pass. I like how they never tend to weigh the luggage on these flights – not complaining but hey its cool as Ryanair and Easyjet on this side of the world would jump over any opportunity.
I head over to immigration which is right beside the check-in counter and stand in a queue. There is approx 6 desks the eye could see, and only four in operation. There is a further 4 electronic immigration system for local residents to use, foreigners unfortunately have to queue up. One pet peeve, after extensively travelling in China, is that at Ningbo for some reason or another the custom officers love to ask questions or obviously stupid questions. My passport is plastered with entry and exit stamps from China as I am a regular traveller yet common sense does not prevail and I am asked “why were you here”, and this is despite me using a business visa with all the appropriate documentation during the visa process. Rant over, I proceed to security which is once again right behind the immigration counters and am met [oddly] by a female worker who feels up my entire body after I beeped through it (damn coin left in pocket). Not that I mind, but hey only in China.
I get my things from the scanner and then proceed to the boarding gate and by this point it should be no surprise that all the boarding gates are within 50 steps of security. Its a ghost town and the flight looks fairly quiet. Boarding begins, queues form and we begin boarding. As I sit down in a window seat at the front of the plane, two people come and sit beside me and I then try to scan other seats in the front to see if I can swap out. Yep, plenty of seats going – take your pick. Having been on this route plenty of times, I am glad we are in the air promptly as this route is notorious for delays due to airspace being closed due to military activity. For some reason, the Chinese love to close airspace at crucial periods leaving passengers stuck on the tarmac for hours – it’s no surprise the Chinese have the Guinness world record for the worst flight times.
As I arrive into Hong Kong and proceed to immigration, I noticed a lot more security as I got off the trains to head towards immigration. The immigration queue, was, wait for it…. dead. There were a maximum of 4 officers on the shift that I could see. During my visits before the protests began 6 months ago, I wouldn’t have ever imagined I would ever see immigration this quiet – it was normal to stand in a zig-zag queue waiting to be seen by one of the 15 officers at the immigration desks. But hey, I’ll take it!
Got seen immediately, collected my bags and out I was, all within 20 minutes of landing (I was in the first row of the aircraft so got out quickly).
Theres nothing like a good extra-hot cappacino so I headed to Pret in the arrivals hall, just beside the entrance to the airport regal hotel. As I sipped away, I could hear the Christmas jingles playing and as I looked around I noticed the Christmas decoration – business as usual? There was a sense of awkwardness in the air, and as I looked around, I noticed the added security into the airport regal hotel and noticed that some of the entrances to the airport express train area were closed off.
Finished my coffee and headed to the airport express on the other side of the arrivals hall as the one closest to me was closed off. As I entered, there was security but nothing was checked by the staff who were manning the area. The train was, always, a pleasurable experience and quieter than normal. I got off at Kowloon and then used the MTR to get to my stop – Mongkok. I was in the heart of it. Or so I thought.
My observations on the MTR on this journey were that some of the tickets machines weren’t working which meant I had to queue up at the service desk and pay in the good old fashioned way. On this particular trip, I didn’t see or experience any of the entrances to the MTR closed off, I did though when I was in Hong Kong about 6 weeks prior to this journey.
I was in HK on a weekday, so I didn’t physically see anything kick off in terms of violence or protests, however, I could see the destruction left behind from the previous weekend as traffic police tried to control the traffic manually and construction workers working on some damaged MTR stations and shops.
For dinner, I opted to eat at a local kebab shop. Having spent a whole day in Hong Kong, it didn’t come as a surprise that this place was dead too, I was the only person in this 24 seater joint. I asked the manager about what was going on and he said literally the business is the quietest ever and that on a normal day all these seats would be occupied. It was a dire situation indeed, especially looking at the four members of staff behind the counter just either staring at me whilst I ate (awkward) or using their mobile phones. The kebab was nice, and I would come back for sure.
As I went back to my hotel, I decided to go for a foot massage. I was on my feet all day so it was only fair I gave some comfort back to it. It’s my first time in a Hong Kong foot massage place and as I walked up the stairs I did have doubts as to where on earth I was going or whether this was one of those “love you long time” places. As I walked in and looked at all the empty recliner seats, my heart beat went back to normal and I proceeded in sitting down to be given possibly one of the best foot massages. Yes, I was the only one here in this 18 seater massage parlour.
By this time, it was around 11pm and I decided to take the MTR back to my hotel (Hilton Garden Inn at Mongkok if you’re wondering). Perhaps this needs an entire review in itself but one of the reasons I chose this hotel was because of the roof top pool and upon checking in, I found it to be closed for winter! Any Scot reading this would be able to tell you that this fine weather in Hong Kong was like the Costa Del Sol type of warmth.
Next morning, its check out day and I don’t feel like having breakfast so I thought I would nip around the hotel to see what there is to do. Still bummed about the swimming pool as I had intended on using it before my onward flight to Dubai so I could be shattered and get some sleep – more on this shortly. I stop by Starbucks and grab a cappuccino and a sandwich. I am still hungry despite eating it so I decide to go for a wonder and come across Marks & Spencers cafe and that they are serving breakfast so I would never say NO to seconds.
Back to the hotel after eating, I check out and make my way to the airport express. I had purchased my train ticket to the airport via trip.com app and there was a small saving to be made this way. One of the great things about Hong Kong is that you can check-in at the in-town checkin at Hong Kong. What a brilliant service and quiet as always, just means if you are on the Hong Kong side, you don’t need to walk around with baggage. In my experience of using this in-town check-in, its always much quieter than the airport check-in desks so you save time on that front too.
Im approx 3.5 hours early so the gate isn’t written on my Emirates boarding pass and I’ve been told to proceed to the airport and to check the gate number in the lounge or at the terminal screens. I hop onto the airport express and 25 minutes later I arrive at the airport. During my journey, I was starting to kick myself as I received a promotional upgrade email to business class for around 25,000 miles and I didn’t opt for it. Walking around Hong Kong and using MTR’s and taking flights does really take it out of you and I was upset at the thought of having to sit 9 hours in economy.
As I get off the airport express, I could see the security personnel at every exit waiting for the new arrivals to ensure they are indeed travellers and not trouble makers. I stand in a queue and show my boarding pass and passport to enter into the airport terminal.
I walk past the Emirates counter and find that its deserted. I thought it was perhaps that I’ve arrived way too early so don’t make too much of it. I proceed to immigration and clear within a couple of minutes as well as security which was really quiet too. I hear an announcement over the tannoy that the gate for Emirates has been changed to 64 from 65. I have two options of getting to the Emirates lounge, walk for 15 minutes or get a train. Yep, the train it is. Smooth journey and I arrive near gate 40 where the Emirates lounge is. I walk over to the front desk and enquire as to how busy todays flight is, I get a smile back saying theres only a 40 odd percent load and that my row next to me is empty. This is strange given the online seat selector shows the front cabin is full – one more reason why the seat selector can not be used as accurate gauge of load. My body starts to do the happy dance.
Off for a shower firstly before I tuck into food. This is one of the perks I love about Emirates and their loyalty programme. If it weren’t for the lounge, I would most probably not be interested in their programme. There is nothing better getting a fresh hot shower before a flight, absolutely nothing. There were around 3 shower rooms and I was the only one there at that point.
Next stop, food. What a disappointment. What is it with the far eastern options for food both in the lounges and in the air? I have not only been disappointed in Hong Kong but Shanghai on various occasions. Its just as well the double breakfast has helped in this occasion. Orange juice and a cheesecake is what I am having to settle on in this lounge.
The view from the lounge onto the field is great, and the following picture speaks for itself.
As the time ticks on, I can only imagine how busy this place would be on a normal day with there being 3 flights from Hong Kong every single day. I was on the first flight out at 6pm, but theres another flight at 9pm and then midnight. One of these stops over to Bangkok so I can imagine the traffic passing through these lounges and how crowded it must be. I was on a 777 service whereas the other two are bigger A380 aircrafts.
An announcement is made and the flight is ready for boarding. I walk over and note the gate numbers have been changed again, but perhaps there was never a gate change to begin with.
I am one of the last people to board (sorry, nature called as I was leaving the lounge) and as I stepped into the aircraft and passed business class, in my head I was thinking “THIS COULD HAVE BEEN YOU IF YOU’D ACCEPTED THE OFFER”. Then came the first economy cabin where I was situated and soon I started to realise that it was a wise choice because the entire front economy cabin was literally empty. A maximum of 10 pax who were all deciding on their beds for the night. The pax were chatting away to the incredible crew and we were told we can take any row we wanted.
Flight was on time and we were in the air in no time. Wheels up, and I lay down across 4 seats. I was welcomed by the pursuer as I am a gold member and she asked if I needed anything to which I replied a double bed would be nice ;). As I tried to drift to sleep, I could smell food and by the point, I was starting to feel a little hungry given the lounge was a downer. I sat up, food was served and it went back as it came because the chicken didn’t feel right. I looked across the aisle at another passenger as he too shook his head in disappointment and ate salad instead. I lay back down and tried to sleep but I would say I only managed to get a maximum of 2 hours sleep on a 9 hour flight – pretty frustrating to say the least and really hoped that swimming pool was open in Hong Kong. At this point, I was just plain and simple frustrated that despite having four seats, I can not manage to drift off to sleep. So I reached for my iPad and read tweets and planned this blog instead 😉
I overheard the word snacks and sat up, a cucumber sandwich it was – tasty but not filling. Landed in Dubai at a good time, just before midnight, just before the storm that hits Dubai every day around at this time with flights from Europe arriving. Plane docked at a bay (YES!) and not a remote stand, got off and proceeded to immigration. Cleared within a couple of minutes thanks to me registering for their automated service on my last visit, its ideal and free. Approached the carousel and was disappointed to learn that it was a different one despite the screen on the plane saying a different one.
Bag arrived and out we go!
I had booked the Holiday Inn near the airport and a shuttle service operates. I followed the signs like always to the shuttle area, only to stand there like a looney for 45 minutes for someone to come by and say its been changed as of recent to a different level. So I, alongside another passenger, both walk upstairs and then manage to catch the bus as its about to leave. In all, the hotel was OK but having stayed at both the Holiday Inn and Premier Inn (both located airside), the Premier Inn is a newer property and naturally has better rooms with nicer decor and comfort – the brownie point going to an on-site 24 hour Costa Coffee.