Archive for July, 2011

I used to listen to Z103.5, but no longer.

2011/07/10

I used to listen to Z103.5 but now I listen to KISS. 92.5 on the FM dial has better personalities and music.

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Where to get the best currency exchange rates in Hong Kong (cash)

2011/07/03

Currency conversion is an essential “to do” for international travel, and getting the best rates can make a difference in travel costs. In Hong Kong, the most important rule is to avoid exchanging money at the airport as much as possible, as the rates there are among the worst in the entire city. If you have absolutely zero or very few Hong Kong dollars, only exchange enough for your immediate transportation and survival needs, until you can visit a better money changer in town. I also recommend that you get one of the tourist products from the MTR (mass transit) that provides unlimited travel on the system, so there will be no additional transportation costs for visiting an in-town money changer. The “Airport Express Travel Pass” is especially worth looking into, and there may be a discount for purchasing that online or onboard a Cathay Pacific flight.

In-town, the best currency exchange rates in Hong Kong for cash can be found, in my experience, at Ngau Kee Money Changer (牛記找換) located at 1 Cleverly Street in Sheung Wan, between Connaught Road Central and Des Voeux Road Central. From Sheung Wan MTR station take exit B or C, or take the tram to Western Market (if you do not have an MTR unlimited travel pass). Indeed, that section of Cleverly Street is filled of money changers, so feel free to compare rates. However, my experience is that no one offers a better exchange rate than Ngau Kee.

Ngau Kee’s storefront on Google Streetview.

(“Ngau Kee” refers to a bull. With a rich agricultural heritage, “bull” is a common traditional Chinese name for men, as in “he is a strong as a bull”.)

Macau travel agency review: private tour with Gray Line Tours of Macau Limited

2011/07/03

While Macau is known for having the best casino resorts in the world, it is much more than glitzy gambling venues. Recently I had to arrange for a half day tour of the city for a larger group of senior citizens, which meant that a private tour (i.e. our own hired vehicle and tour guide) was the best choice. The challenge I had was to find a reputable travel agency to handle the request: while anyone arriving in any of Macau’s entry ports would be greeted by assorted middle-aged men wearing shorts and sandals offering “cheap tours” and “discounted transportation”, the quality and safety of these offers are highly questionable.

I started my search at the most obvious location, the list of travel agencies licensed under the supervision of the Macau Government Tourist Office. Checking out websites, I found that Gray Line Tours of Macau (澳門錦倫旅行社) is one of the few agencies that conduct inbound tours. I also discovered that Gray Line is the Macau Government Tourism Office’s Appointed Travel Agency for its “Macau Highlight Tours”, attesting to Gray Line’s quality and reliability.

I booked a five-hour city tour on a 20-passenger minibus, with pick up at the Taipa Ferry Terminal and drop off at the Venetian Hotel Resort. Other tour vehicle options are by Mercedes Benz sedan or by minivan. The first challenge came when we were able to go on the ferry that departed half an hour earlier, so I had to move up the time for pick up by half an hour. Since the agency office had provided me with our tour guide’s mobile phone number in advance, it was not a problem to contact him and relay the request. Understanding that this request was to be met in a “best effort” basis, nonetheless the guide and the vehicle were able to meet us immediately upon our clearing immigration formalities.

Both the guide and driver were highly courteous and professional, and the vehicle was clean and well-maintained. The guide was knowledgeable in matters related to the history, geography, and significance of all tour highlights, and clearly answered any questions we had. He also gave good recommendations for our lunch in local cuisine (on our own). Also, the guide and driver remained flexible to our immediate customization requests: as it was a hot day, we decided to focus more on indoor (air conditioned) venues and just drive past some of the outdoor venues. The guide also provided us with discounted tickets to the Macau Tower, which was much appreciated.

The price I paid for the tour was HK$2500 ($322.65 Canadian/U.S., processed by Gray Line’s Hong Kong office), paid by Visa or Mastercard at least 5 days before the tour. Tour prices are dependent on the type of vehicle and the length of the tour. Cash tips for the guide and driver are extra and were cheerfully given. Gray Line provided an excellent tour experience, and I highly recommend their tours when visiting Macau.

Hong Kong private transportation/limousine service review: Trans-Island Limousine Service Limited

2011/07/01

Hong Kong has an excellent public transit system, but when one needs to move a bigger group of people it is often more convenient to look into private transportation/a limousine service. This is especially true if luggage is involved.

Recently, I had to arrange for transporting a larger group of senior citizens from Hung Hom train station to Happy Valley, then on another day from Happy Valley to the airport. As multiple taxis for each trip would be a logistical nightmare and a hassle to keep the group together, I looked for a reliable vehicle hire service. After some research, I chose Trans-Island Limousine Service (環島旅運有限公司), a leading company in providing private transportation services. As they also provide coach services between the airport and various hotels, as well as between Hong Kong and various mainland China cities in Guangdong province, they are a reputable company with an excellent safety record (in contrast to the casually-dressed men touting “cheap van transportation” in Hung Hom train station, whose record is questionable).

Various vehicle types are available through Trans-Island, including Mercedes Benz sedans, Bentley sedans, minivans, 23-passenger minibuses and 45- passenger coaches. Wedding packages are also offered. For our trips I hired 23-passenger minibuses. In both cases the vehicles were well maintained and clean, the drivers were courteous and professional, and the trips were safe and comfortable. The drivers provided much assistance with the many pieces of luggage that we had, which was much appreciated. Dispatch was only a phone call away to ensure that meeting up with the minibus was smooth and without problems.

The price I paid from Hung Hom train station to Happy Valley was HK$600 ($77.51 Canadian/U.S.), and the price I paid from Happy Valley to the airport was HK$1214 ($156.44 Canadian/U.S.). Prices are dependent on the exact pick up/drop off locations, and payment is by major credit card at booking. Cash tips for the drivers are extra and were happily given.

Whenever private transportation/limousine service is needed in Hong Kong, I highly recommend Trans-Island. I will contact them again when I need such service again in the future.