Saturday, April 25, 2009

Hong Kong & Shenzhen- the Girl's Weekend Away

Each year I take from the Tuesday before Easter to Easter Monday off work & I travel to Hong Kong. I take along with me anyone who wants to come, as long as they are female, not a child & are physically capable of shopping & walking pretty much all day!

I love Hong Kong-its a great destination,especially if you travel further afield than Nathan Road. There is so much more to it than Kowloon.

When I take the groups over we stay in The Kimberly Hotel, in Kimberly Road, this hotel has reasonable rates, is about a 3 minute walk to the closest MTR station, the rooms are a reasonable size, they do a good buffet breakfast (we are never there for any other meals, so can't comment) & they are close to the night markets & the action of Nathan Road.
There are much cheaper hotels & much more expensive, depending on what you require, but this one ticks all the boxes for our needs.
There are hotels with much cheaper rates over on Hong Kong island & I have stayed in these at other times, but if you are going to shop you need to be on the Kowloon side- it is a PITA to have to travel back all the time. Not much night life for shopping there either.

I make sure everyone in the group has an Octopus card- oh how I wish we had these here in Oz. We put credit on it on the first day & hop on & off trains, buses & ferries with the swipe of a card- you don't even have to take it out of your bag.
Hong Kong has an excellent public transport system & if you need to take a taxi, they are cheap as well. The octopus card can be used to buy MacDonald's, if you feel the need & in plenty of other retail outlets as well-very versatile! I have been using mine for nearly 10 years-I keep it safe & make sure I pack it when going there. You can get the credit back off it by returning it to an MTR station.

First stop on the day we arrived was a trip down Granville Road to my favourite bra shop- Bod Bra (they used to be called My Heaven)- they have bras from A cups through to K & they are pretty as well- I had packed light so needed to get here as a first stop! They fit you, most discreetly & the staff are always helpful- well worth a visit if you need new holders for the 'girls'! & you require larger cup sizes.
We wandered up & down Granville Road-in & out all the shops & had noodles with the locals-you can eat really cheaply, if you eat in the local restaurants- we just pick one that is well attended & point to what we want on the menu! Some of them even have forks, so, if you struggle with chopsticks, try asking. Sometimes they give you a fork instead of chopsticks just presuming you can't use them!
Sasa was next on my list- I had not brought any skin care or make-up with me & wanted at least some face cream. I use Decleor & find it's very expensive here in Australia so stock up when I'm over there-I came away with more than face cream!LOL I love looking at all the products & gadgets they have & all at very good prices compared to here. They are like 7-11's- just about on every corner & you'll find each one has slightly different stock.

Sue & Ashleigh decided they wanted more shopping so headed off to the night market-my sister & I headed back to our room- it was after all after 10pm & we had been up since 430am to get to the airport-we were exhausted!
Next morning it was up for a leisurely buffet style breakfast-& then the train to Lo Wu to do some serious retail therapy in Shenzhen. We boarded the train at Tsim Sha Tsui East- we walked in the labyrinth of walkways under the roads- it's all well sign posted to where you need to go- the other place to get on is Kowloon Tong. I always pay the extra for first class- you get a seat & its far more comfortable- its about $66HK each way- standard fare is about that for the return fare- but after a hard day shopping & with all those parcels in tow its nice to sit down!

We head up to Shenzhen on the Wednesday as we all had tailoring to be done-we then pick it up on the Saturday-this is where real savings can be made.
I have been using Cindy Nancy as my tailor- she's great-its 2 sisters & the husband of one of them- they remember us when we return & we tell new customers to tell her "Pauline & Sue came here & you made clothes for them!" I had packed a lot of fabric into my suitcase (hardly any clothes) & a couple of items I wanted copied- this is where they excel-I ended up with 21 items of clothing being made & Nancy was good enough to rush through 2 pairs of cropped pants & a top so I had something to wear in between our visits! A shirt or trousers costs about $12 to have made- I wouldn't be bothered sewing for that! You can find her on the 5th floor booth no 46.
The 4 of us all had a stack of clothes made- Ashleigh had a beautiful soft leather jacket made to measure & her formal dress for year 12- along with about 20 other items!LOL
If you are into sewing this is the floor to visit- there are thousands of fabrics to choose from- all individual little stores- bargain hard-trims & notions. They tell me if you need curtains it pays for the trip over-even if you post them back (because of the weight).Just take a picture of what you want & the measurements.
Things have changed at Shenzhen since last year. The crowds were much less- the border checks were more efficient than in previous years-especially on the Chinese side.
For Australians travelling you need your passport (Australian) & you can cross without any hassle. You do not need to get a visa prior to going to Shenzhen. I do not know about other passports so please check if you are reading this & you do not travel on an Australian passport.
After you get off the train- just follow the crowds to clear the turn styles -use your Octopus card-head toward the immigration lines- you need your departing Hong Kong slip- if travelling with a group- one go get the forms & then the rest get get in line, pen in hand & fill in as you wait-waste no time-serious shopping is at hand!
You need to go upstairs to Chinese immigration-the forms are outside the office-get 2 for each person so you can have it filled in ready for your return trip if you are coming back. You only need one ticket if you are travelling in a group. The Visa is good for only 1 entry.
You need RMB to get the visa & there is a money exchanger right there outside the office- his rates aren't all that great & it costs about $160 RMB for the visa-only exchange what you need with this guy.
Once you have everything in order its time to go downstairs & go through Chinese immigration-both times we went up on this last trip they were very quick- but I have waited nearly an hour to get through immigration here in the past.
As you follow the crowds to the big shopping centre there is a HSBC auto teller in the corner-right hand side, before you exit- this is where we got our money & if you are returning keep enough for the visa-you only have to pay the money exchanger once! You used to be able to shop in HK $'s- not any more- you need RMB. You can pay large amounts with credit card- but your bargaining power is lessened & they'll charge you 5% of the total in commission to do it!
Beware of pick pockets from the moment you get on the train & all the time you are there-they are a problem & I know first hand what it is like.
I was here with my GF some time back & she had her purse stolen- lost her passport, HK ID , her credit cards & money- the police were of no help & you can't get back without a passport- we stayed the night in a hotel & luckily her purse was returned the next day, minus all the money, but thankfully with her passport & cards untouched. It was a very nasty experience. So beware!

You will be bombarded by touters as you exit- they pick the tourists- this is illegal & if you give them the time of day they will harass you ALL day- I kid you not. They work on a commission to bring customers to other people's shops. We have one girl, Julie, who remembers us & she is very hard to shake & gets irate when we tell her we are not going with her! This is not shopping like at home- its very much in your face. "Missy, Missy you want........"- they will tap you as well, which by the end of the day has you just about screaming! They will also tell you this is my brother,sister,mother- they aren't related at all, mostly, they tell you this so you think they are bringing you to someone trustworthy!

There are a couple of ways to escape this constant bombardment- this is what we do on our return trip to pick up our tailoring- while any final adjustments are being done- we go for a manicure/pedicure- no one does these like the Chinese- they are heaven. We visited Fang Fang Mei Jia Shop 3332B shop on the 3rd floor.
Not only did I have the manicure & pedicure & an hours foot massage, I had false eyelashes done again (these cost next to nothing up here) & I had my eyebrows tattooed on as well! What a great job they did-my sister ended up having hers done as well- they look so natural no one has been able to pick them- other than you have beautiful eyebrows! Now I don't have to draw them on every day! Don't go to Shenzhen & miss the experience of the a manicure & pedicure with a foot massage. I highly recommend them.
Time to take our beautiful selves off to lunch- we ate with the locals again- as long as there are lots of people inside we feel the food cant be too bad- I have even learnt what dishes to pick with my Coeliac disease & never have had a problem with the food- not one reaction!
Time then to look around the shops- pick up some wonderful bargains-the copy industry is still very much alive here- although they have some great designers of their own that aren't copy at all-you just need to look- which can be difficult with "the come into my shop" & "Missy, Missy" all the time!
By the time you pick up your tailoring you are ready to make your escape & sit in first class, exhausted from a day like no other of shopping.
On this trip we did the train ride up to the Peak- well worth it if the weather is clear-we missed it the last 2 trips, as it was just too cloudy.
Catch the bus to Stanley Markets- sit at the top on the front seats for a really incredible experience- you may wish to sit downstairs for the ride home!LOL You need to do the upstairs, front at least once! Not much bargaining at Stanley anymore- but its worth the trip out there to say you've been.

The jade Market was another place on the to do list this time- this place is fascinating & there are 2 buildings so make sure you go to both- everything from precious stones, jade & junky jewellery- if you know your stones then go go with your loupe & check out the quality before buying. Bargaining here- which is half the fun. I took pics here the others came away with all sorts of things!
The Ladies market & the night market we found had much the same as what you can get in Shenzhen, only dearer & what you find in Paddy's markets here! These places are very crowded- watch your bags- bargaining here is getting less & less.
We all needed new glasses so a trip to our favourite Optometrist was in order as well. You can take prescription with you or you can have your eyes tested there- but glasses in HK are much cheaper than at home. I can get designer frames, plastic lenses, photo sensitive & my reading glasses or bi-focal cheaper than I can get one pair here with glass lenses with the photo- grey! I can't claim them on health insurance- but they are so much cheaper I don't care. They also do a super fine lens- they don't look much thicker than paper- he was telling me the cost of these varies depending on the correction needed- but boy they looked fantastic! No thick lenses. He'll even mail new glasses to Australia for you-just email him what you require. Sunrise Optical Co Ltd, 6D Carnarvon Road Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon.
I have never been able to buy shoes in Hong Kong but have found an outlet over on HK island that has big sizes (up to a 42). Vickie Shoes Co 6 Li Yuen street east, Central, Hong Kong. I went in looking for a pair of shoes & came out with 2 pairs of sandals- I didn't need sandals- but they fitted so well I couldn't resist!!LOL Li Yuen is 2 streets with markets- make sure you look behind the shops & go downstairs to the bag shop as well-hidden away down in the basement- they usually have some nice bags down there.
Don't forget to catch the ferry across the harbour- you can't go to HK without at least one trip across & back- very pretty at dusk & there is a laser light display down there about 730pm each evening.
If you want to buy a new camera or computer gear- know your prices of the newest models before you go & stick to what you want. I found prices comaparable to Australia in a lot of cases. I did buy a new camera but had all the prices prior to my leaving home.
Our bags weighed between 23 & 20 kilograms coming back- just made the baggage allowance! The grouped them for check in -what a great trip! We came back all shopped out!
Next year the girls have asked for a change... looks like Saigon will be our girls weekend away-now I need to reseach that destination- luckily our daughter & MOTH have been there recently.

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