Twice during my trip to Hong Kong, I enjoyed dim sum at Tim Ho Wan, the (world’s least expensive) Michelin-starred restaurant founded by former Four Seasons Chef Mak Kwai Pui. The first time was at the original Mongkok hole-in-the-wall location, which closes the end of January to move across Kowloon at Olympian City. The second time was on my final morning at the newer location one floor below the Airport Express check-in lobby at the International Finance Centre.
The crowd that gathers (and waits for hours) outside the original Tim Ho Wan location. I am sure that the neighboring shopkeepers are thrilled that this crowd will soon go away, as I suspect few of the dim sum customers, many of whom are non-locals, shop at the neighboring businesses.
The inside of the shop seats perhaps two dozen people. That was part of its charm, but what was a hidden treasure has spawned three branches, each much larger. It seems that the magic of the hard to find gem of a restaurant is gone, replaced by the desire to cash in on the popularity.
Above, a full house within five minutes of starting service for the day, with another full round of customers waiting outside.
One of the nice things about Hong Kong is the Airport Express train. What makes it so nice is that for most airlines, you can check in up to 24 hours before your flight. The agents tag and collect your luggage, leaving you free to roam the city until it is time to head to the airport, unencumbered by heavy bags.
I checked in for my flight at 8:00 am, more than five hours early. Ten minutes later I was downstairs in front of the restaurant, the first person to arrive. I opened my iPad and settled in for a wait. Slowly, other customers arrived and formed a queue behind me. At 8:50, Gary, Rudy, and the other Xangans arrived so we were the first seated and snagged a nice table with great lighting.
While there are some folks who complain that the food at the branches isn’t as good as the original, I think they are carping mostly to make themselves sound superior. The food at the branches continues to be very high quality and the additional seats means that the wait is shorter.
As I observed, having arrived early, the kitchen staff is still making everything by hand and that quality and attention to detail is clear when you eat the food.
As we finished our meal and I headed to catch the train to the airport, the crowd had grown even larger. As you can see, it is a first or last stop for some people who are going to or coming from the airport. A very convenient location and perfect if you have a long layover and crave some world-class dim sum!
After posting the write-up of dinner at The Pawn in Wan Chai, which is located in a nearly 100-year old building, Angel happened to find a picture of the building from the 1960s. Makes for a fascinating comparison.
Relatively recent picture.
And a picture from the 1960s.
What most strikes me is that you can see the hills behind Wan Chai – no skyscrapers! Standing in front of the building today, you have no sense of the nearby geography, only the sheer vertical nature of the cityscape.
Located in a 100-year old former pawn shop alongside the tram tracks in the bustling Wan Chai district, The Pawn is one of a number of newer restaurants in Hong Kong that promise (and mostly deliver) standard British pub food done well.
On Friday evening, the entire group of Xangans plus two partners and another visiting friend (who, coincidentally, is a long-missing-in-action Xangan) gathered around a second floor table located on a balcony with a street view. Because of the desire for privacy by a number of the diners, certain faces have been obscured.
The atmosphere is nice and service, like most in Hong Kong, is spotty. When one of our diners asked the waiter for a suggestion of a drink with vodka (or something like that), the waiter replied, “The drinks are in the menu.” Very unhelpful. The menu itself is interesting and decidedly meat-centric. We ordered several starters and opted for larger mains designed for sharing.
Glazed pig cheeks with apple cider, mustard seeds, and warm potato salad garnished with a crispy sliver of fried pig skin. This was a well-prepared appetizer with classic flavors. Nothing cutting edge but certainly enjoyable.
We also had a roast chicken risotto with thyme and sage crumble, quail egg, and sweet onions. Risotto is always a treat, although this one (as with so many others) was too firm. A real risotto should be soft and spread out on the dish. Flavors were fine, though, and the rice was properly cooked.
The organic beets, ricotta cheese, pear, pistachio, dandelion leaves, and sunflower seeds arrived on a weathered serving board in a presentation right out of Jamie Oliver’s “30 Minute Meals”. It was difficult to tell whether the chef was trying to be rustic or artistic. Again, the combination of flavors was nicely autumnal although a bit more seasoning would be nice.
A main dish of macaroni bake with Shark Bay crab in champagne cocktail sauce, topped with toasted Gubbeen cheese served as a reminder that one should under-promise and over-deliver, not the other way round. The pasta was gloppy, the crab nearly absent, and the “champagne cocktail sauce” was indistinguishable from a typical cream sauce.
We ordered a trio of roasts which are suitable for sharing. All are served in proper British fashion with crisp Yorkshire puddings, a side of cauliflower and cheddar cheese bake, duck fat-roasted potatoes, and an oversize boat of gravy. This was the whole young chicken with smoked garlic and marjoram. It was a nicely done chicken, juicy and tender.
This was the lamb shoulder with sticky redcurrant sauce. It was nicely cooked, pink but not underdone, and had loads of flavor.
The Berkshire pork belly with caramelized Granny Smith apples was also tender with crispy skin. The fat was nicely rendered and meaty – not too squishy in the way that excess fat can be. The apples were a little scarce, another few slices would have been nice. On all the dishes, the quantity of potatoes seemed stingy for dishes designed for sharing.
Finally, the naturally reared (whatever that means) Cedar River sirloin with sage slow-roasted onions. Didn’t see the onions, though, just some cabbage and mashed potatoes. Still, the meat was well-cooked and surprisingly tender for a sirloin.
For all of the mains, the preparation was competent even if there was little that was groundbreaking about the menu. For a restaurant setting out to be a traditional British gastropub, they fulfill their promise. Even if you leave uninspired, you leave satisfied.
The dessert menu turned out to be the spot where the inspiration was hiding. While the dishes remained simple, there was greater playfulness and creativity.
A clever take on Eton Mess, one of the most classic of English desserts, arrived a martini glass filled with small toasted meringues, rich raspberry sorbet, clotted cream, and delicate Thai basil leaves. Using individual meringues instead of a larger meringue broken up, made for an eye-catching presentation and the basil leaves added a delicate perfume that elevated the dish.
A chocolate fudge pudding was properly rich without being monolithic. The malt chocolate sorbet provided an interesting contrast in chocolate tones and the toasted homemade marshmallow and dusting of pistachio crumbs were perfect accompaniments.
One of the “more than meets the eye” desserts was this treacle tart. Treacle, a golden sugar syrup not unlike Karo corn syrup, makes for a sweet and crisp tart that is essentially a pecan pie minus the pecans. In and of itself, it is crisp but otherwise uninteresting. Add to it a scoop of the blood orange jelly and your taste buds are sent to another dimension. The jelly is sweet, tangy, and brings out the slight saltiness to the tart. Excellent combination.
A final dessert, leaning towards the modernist edge of plate design, was the watermelon, white chocolate, strawberry sorbet, and granola. The watermelon was, I think, compressed. Each piece was firm, seedless, and bursting with concentrated watermelon flavor to a degree one could never find in a simple slice of melon. The effect was intense and the combination of flavors and textures made for a satisfying finish even if the plate itself was a bit of a mess.
Overall, the Pawn turned out to be a good choice for dinner and will be on my to-return list next time I am in Hong Kong.
On Saturday morning after a hearty local breakfast, we headed to Lantau Island to visit the Po Lin Monastery and try the famed vegetarian food served there. Lantau is the largest of Hong Kong’s many islands and is among the least populated. More than half of it is covered in park land, making it a pleasant contrast to the densely populated areas of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon.
When I lived in Hong Kong in 1998-99, a visit to Lantau required a 45-minute ferry ride from Central and, if you wanted to go to the monastery, an additional bus ride to the far end of the island. Since 2006, you have had the option of taking the Nong Ping 360, a nearly 6 km gondola that leads from the Tung Chung MTR station across the water and over the peaks, dropping passengers off just a short walk from the monastery. The gondola ride, which takes about 25 minutes, is not for the faint of heart!
Along the way, you are treated to a spectacular view of Hong Kong International Airport. Built on neighboring Chek Lap Kok Island with tremendous amounts of landfill, HKIA serves more than 53 million passengers a year and will soon be building a third runway and additional gates.
The Nong Ping 360 gondola sets you down in a shopping and entertainment area called the Nong Ping Village. Built in a Chinese architectural style, it contains a number of very touristy attractions and, of course, a Starbucks. We would have hurried past the village and on to the monastery but a stealth storm caught us. We sought refuge in a tea shop for an hour, where we learned the intricacies of the Chinese tea ceremony.
After the rain, we headed to the Tian Tan Buddha, a 34 meter (112 foot) tall bronze seated Buddha statue that was, until 2007, the largest seated Buddha statue in the world. You have to climb 240 steps to reach the statue and on this overcast and misting day, the view was limited. Afterwards, we visited the Po Lin Monastery across from the entrance to the statue.
The monastery, which dates from the early 1900s, is famous for its vegetarian food. When I visited in 1998, the food was very tasty. With the opening of the Nong Pin 360, the number of visitors has increased tremendously and, it seems, the quality of the food has declined.
The spartan dining room was filled with visitors, mostly Chinese. We purchased a ticket in advance for a set meal and the dishes were brought by a waiter.
The meal began with an odd soup. We struggled to identify the ingredient but eventually decided it was some sort of a yam or sweet potato. The texture was very soft and the broth itself was nondescript.
A dish of stir-fried lettuce and shitake mushrooms. I expected that the mushrooms would have more flavor but these were pretty bland. Of course, I should point out the Buddhist vegetarian food is generally supposed to be bland – no onion or garlic, for example – as the purpose of food is to sustain life, not to bring pleasure.
Stir fried vegetables and firm tofu. While this was a simple dish, the vegetables had a pleasing crunch that added some much-needed texture to the meal.
A stew of corn, peas, and tofu in a tomato sauce. This was pretty tasty because the corn provided a more pronounced flavor than most of the other dishes.
This stir fry dish had a trio of mushrooms, baby corn, carrots, and textured vegetable protein. TVP is basically made from soy flour, the after product of soybean oil extraction, and can be fashioned into meat-like pieces. This dish was actually pretty tasty and did provide more of a meaty feel.
An interesting deep fried dish like a spring roll. The outer skin was very flaky, perhaps made from tofu skin? The inside was very bland but of course the crunchiness offered a nice change of pace.
Interior view of the fried spring rolls. I think the filling was primarily daikon radish strips and carrots, although I may be wrong about that.
Overall, the meal was a disappointment. The experience of getting to and from the monastery by gondola was interesting, though. While on the way there, we noticed a hiking path that more or less follows the gondola’s path from Tung Chung to Po Lin. It looks like it would take about 2-3 hours to hike. Maybe on a future trip the focus should be on hiking the route instead of eating the vegetarian food.
As we left the monastery, the rain started to fall again. Along the path back to the gondola, Rudy spotted a shop (a tent, really) selling douhua, a dessert made with very soft tofu. You might best call it “tofu pudding” and it is served with a mild sugar syrup and has a pleasing texture. Served warm, this was the highlight of the trip, a perfect conclusion to an otherwise bland meal.
The evening I arrived in Hong Kong, I joined fellow Xangans Gary and Rudy for dinner at Sunning Restaurant in Causeway Bay. Sunning is a long-time favorite of locals, dating to 1948, and specializes in Western food. It is the type of place where local families go for special events or weekly Sunday dinners, a chance for “fancy” food that today feels reminiscent of the era of Julia Child.
Despite its lengthy history, the restaurant moved not long ago to Lee Theatre Plaza, a modern building in Causeway Bay. The new interior is tasteful, clean, and modern. The white linens are starched. The waiters dress in tuxedos. It is easy to imagine that you have entered a time warp and landed in the 1960s Hong Kong celebrated in director Wong Kar Wai’s film In the Mood for Love.
Gary ordered (and shared, thankfully) a dish of escargot. Unlike all the other escargot I have eaten, this dish wasn’t drowned in butter and garlic. Instead, the snails were served with a rich brown sauce and rested on a layer of broiled, molten mashed potatoes. They were tender and scrumptious.
I ordered foie gras on toast, a very basic pate that was tasty but not fancy. The taste of the foie gras reminded me of the Oscar Mayer liverwurst my grandfather used to serve me for lunch on Triscuit crackers.
As the main courses arrived (Rudy had the lamb chops and Gary had the sirloin steak), the waiter brought a plate with baked potato toppings: sour cream, bacon, and chives. Classic!
I ordered the Spanish Kurobuta pork served with the special house sauce – same the was on Gary’s steak. All of our dishes were garnished identically: baked potato, half a roasted tomato, and a floret of cauliflower. The simple presentation reminds me of the food at Uncle John’s in Bangkok, a hole-in-the-wall restaurant where a former hotel chef turns out Western classics in distinctly hotel banquet style. The Sunning version was tasty, well-cooked, and completely unimaginative. That isn’t a complaint, though, because the restaurant serves exactly what is promised at a reasonable price. No molecular gastronomy is needed here.
The three of us shared two desserts. The first to arrive was a lemon soufflé, perfectly spongy and light with a dry middle.
The second dessert was a Baked Alaska. This Betty Crocker classic is something I haven’t seen in a long time and was eager to try. It was the expected show-stopper, a meringue covered Mount Vesuvius with two maraschino cherry nipples served en flambé.
Here’s a brief video showing the flaming dessert in all its glory:
The inside of the dessert was different than I had previously had. In addition to the yellow cake base and ice cream, there was fruit cocktail. While unexpected, it lent additional retro credibility to the dessert and I’ve decided that I will have to prepare Baked Alaska one of these days soon.
Returned Sunday afternoon from four days and three nights in Hong Kong. The purpose of the trip was to meet a group of Xangans who were visiting from Los Angeles, Vancouver, Jakarta, and Singapore. Our own mini Xanga meetup, I guess.
The city was lit up with holiday displays, as spectacular as ever, if not more so. The weather was moderate for the first few days, but took on a damp chill near the end of my stay. It made for a pleasant break from the warm weather we have had in Bangkok.
Different people were available on different days, as many had other friends and family members to visit while in Hong Kong. Nonetheless, there were plenty of fun activities.
We rode many different modes of transportation, including the gondolas on Lantau Island.
After soaring to new heights, we visited the Po Lin monastery and had a vegetarian lunch.
We had the opportunity to learn about the intricacies of Chinese tea while dodging some rain.
We found ourselves in crowds, waiting to eat at popular places.
We tried intriguing and tasty foods.
And, of course, we took lots of pictures of the food – even things as mundane as dinner rolls! More details in the coming days.
In April 2010, Tawn and I had the opportunity to visit Tim Ho Wan, the Michelin star winning dim sum restaurant in the Yau Ma Tei area of Hong Kong. When you hear “Michelin star” the normal image is of a big, swanky restaurant. Tim Ho Wan is quite the opposite, a modest twenty-seater emphasizing their food and little else. Because of the chef’s success, a second location was opened in Sham Shui Po, the fabric district in Kowloon. While in Hong Kong earlier this month, we stopped in for a visit.
Tim Ho Wan
(Second Location) 9-11 Fuk Wing Street Sham Shui Po Kowloon
Food: Amazing Service: So-so Ambience: None Price: Bargain Located roughly equidistant between the Sham Shui Po and Prince Edward MTR stations, the second location of Tim Ho Wan is fairly easy to get to. Recognizing it will be a bit more challenging if you don’t read Chinese – there is no English signage. However, the street it is on seems to have no other restaurants, and most of the time you will see a queue out front, so that’s your clue that you are in the right place.
There is also a third location now open in a decidedly more upscale and easier to reach spot: the MTR Airport Express Hong Kong station. Look for store 12A on level one. This way, you can zip into the city from the airport on a four-hour layover, have time to eat the Michelin star earning dim sum, and then head back to the airport!
We headed to the restaurant about 11:00 am on a weekday, sneaking in between the morning crowd (the restaurant opens at 8:00) and the lunch crowd. That meant no wait for us, although just thirty minutes later the other tables quickly filled up. This second location is probably three times larger than the first, so waits are reportedly much shorter than at the first location, where waits longer than an hour are common.
As for the food, it was still very good but I would dare say the quality and care of preparation is lower than we experienced at the original location. And, in one case, the hygienic standards were lower, too.
The cheong fun, wide rice noodles filled with pork, steamed, and served with soy sauce, remain a favorite of mine. Tim Ho Wan prepares them beautifully, with the most delicate and silky noodles I’ve ever had.
Close-up view of the cheong fun, called “vermicelli” on the menu. The dish is just HK$15, about US$2, and even at three times the price, I would classify it as a must-order dish.
Another dish the restaurant is acclaimed for is its char siu bao, or barbecue pork buns. These are baked with a crumb crust on top and have a delightfully flaky texture.
Inside view of the barbecue pork bun. As I understand it, the origin of these bao is that restaurants would use the leftover pork from the previous evening’s banquets as the filling. Of course, that is probably not the case at most restaurants these days. Tim Ho Wan’s are made of very high quality pork and I could eat a few servings of these buns and call it a day.
Another winning dish is what the menu calls the “glue rice dumpling”, or glutinous rice dumpling. Filled with sausage and other goodies then wrapped in a lotus leaf and steamed, this is the most generously-sized item on the menu – about the size of my hand with fingers open wide. The quality of the ingredients is very high and the rice is very aromatic.
The pan fried turnip cakes, another dish that is usually a favorite of mine, disappointed. On our visit to the original Tim Ho Wan location, these cakes were fantastic, with a nicely browned crust and a flavor that comes from only the most seasoned of griddles. In fact, at the original location, this was my favorite dish. Unfortunately, the version at location number two was undercooked and uninspiring.
We made a wrong turn with the steamed beef balls in bean curd (tofu) skin. Commonly nicknamed “Chinese hamburgers”, these meatballs were cooked very rare. While I enjoy rare beef (steak tartare is wonderful), the texture didn’t work well in this dish. Additionally, one of our dining companions found a hair stuck in one of the balls. We brought this to the attention of a server, who replaced the dish but did not offer any compensation. While I know that Hong Kong doesn’t have a reputation for good customer service, the least I would expect at a Michelin starred restaurant (at any decent restaurant, for that matter) is that we not be charged for the dish that had to be replaced.
We headed back on track with the siu mai, steamed pork dumplings with shrimps. These mainstays of dim sum were tasty, although there was nothing particularly impressive about them compared to siu mai I’ve had at a dozen other dim sum restaurants.
Dining companions Tehlin with her daughter. When I ordered, I ordered for four hungry adults, forgetting that a child isn’t going to eat nearly as much. Oh, well, more for the rest of us!
Chris, Tawn, and Chinese aunty.
For dessert, we ordered two types of warm, sweet soup. One was the corn and purple glutinous rice and the other was green peas with sea lavender (a type of fragrant seaweed). Both were tasty but didn’t photograph very well. The third dessert, described as “tonic medlar & petal cake”, was tasty and beautiful. It is a gelatine of dried flowers, probably Chrysanthemum, that was beautifully golden and wonderfully aromatic. This is the type of dessert that is at once very simple – Jell-O! – but also very dramatic.
All told, we had twelve dishes and tea for four, and the bill came out to UK$177, about US$24 for three and a half people. While we did have the hair in the meatball incident and three dishes that were only average, the remaining dishes (especially the cheong fun and char siu bao) were fantastic and well worth the effort to find the restaurant.
The final leg of our Hawai’i trip was a two-day stop in Hong Kong. A former residence of mine, it is one of my favorite cities in the world and a place I always enjoy returning to. Thankfully, we still have many friends there are were hosted by a former university classmate and her husband.
This couple has three adorable children and two days wasn’t enough time to properly visit with them. The older two were keen on showing off for the camera, seeing what funny faces and poses they could make! Next time we’ll be sure to leave extra time so we can do some exploring of the city with them.
One of our stops was breakfast at Lan Fong Yuen along the Central Escalator. I wrote about this place almost exactly a year ago. The full entry (with loads of food porn) is here.
It was mighty crowded and we were placed at a table shared with two other couples in the back corner of the restaurant. Ordering is always a bit of a challenge because the level of English spoken isn’t as much as it used to be, and our Cantonese is basically nonexistent. Nonetheless we were able to work it out and were rewarded with some comfort food.
Drawing on the memories of so many school children throughout East Asia: instant noodles and broth with chicken on top.
And toasted buns with sweetened condensed milk on top, to accompany the milk tea that is just at the edge of the frame. Nothing fancy here but certainly a tasty way to start your day.
Most of the two days was spent wandering around, with Tawn doing some shopping and me chilling out in cafes, reading magazines. Above is a small street in Lan Kwai Fong with some pretty flowers. We passed by on our way to dim sum with a friend I had not seen since the day Tawn and I met in January 2000. By coincidence, I ran into this friend and her mother in Hong Kong Airport that same day, as they were on their way to India and I was on my way to a fateful meeting with destiny.
Lots of galleries in the Hollywood Road area. This work is called Imperial Pig and it is by Chinese artist Huang Cheng. It shows a pig receiving a traditional Chinese medicinal treatment known as fire cupping. When I lived here, I actually had my own not so good experience being on the receiving end of one of these treatments, which left me bruised for months after!
One of the coffee shops where I spent some time: Holly Brown Coffee, located on Stanley Street. Fantastic coffee and ambience. Their gelato is supposed to be pretty good, too. I like the graphics on their cup.
Walking around Central, I noticed this store. I think the metal screens on the facade of Harvey Nichols are beautiful. There is so much interesting architecture and design in Hong Kong.
We also had the opportunity to meet up with some Xangans. By sheer coincidence, Jason and his husband Daniel, exiled from Tokyo for the moment, were in town for the weekend. While they had visited Bangkok just a few months ago, we were excited for the chance to spend some time with them again.
Photos borrowed from Jason’s facebook page (without permission – yikes!). On the left, Tawn, Jason, and Daniel. On the right, me, Jason, and Tawn. You should check out Jason’s blog. He isn’t posting as often these days but has some of the spectacular music he has written and performed.
Following a tip from Gary’s blog, the four of us sought out this retro Starbucks. Located on Duddell Street, which dead-ends off Queen’s Road in Central, it is designed as an old bing sutt, literally an “ice house”. The exterior doesn’t give anything away…
But once you’re inside, you feel you have been magically transported back to the 1950s and 60s. A bing sutt was the coffeehouse of the old days, where people could take a bread, enjoy a beverage or trendy Western treats such as soda pop and ice cream. The design was a fusion of East and West even back in those days. It feels even more fusion seeing a recreation in the context of the modern day.
This particular project was a collaboration between Starbucks and the Hong Kong brand G.O.D. (Goods of Desire) and the location was chosen because it is very close to the city’s arts community.
While we were there, some photographers started a fashion shoot. My lighting isn’t that good but the model’s cheongsam fits the interior of the bing sutt perfectly. Feels very much like the Wong Kar Wai film, In the Mood for Love.
New shopping area at the tip of Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon called 1881 Heritage. The developers took the former Marine Police Headquarters (which closed in 1996) and restored it, creating an interesting mixture of history and commerce. Worth a visit, more for the sights rather than the shops.
A ride on the Star Ferry remains one of my favorite ways to see the city, and one of the least expensive, too.
The other Xangan we met with was Angel. He splits his time between Hong Kong and Vancouver, so we’ve been able to meet before. Didn’t get a picture as we met in a crowded coffee shop. You should stop by his blog, too, as he recently wrote about a stay at the new W Hotel in Taipei, which is beautiful.
We did a lot more with our two days, but those were the highlights. On Sunday evening we headed to the airport and flew back to Bangkok, arriving just before midnight. Of course, all this happened two and a half weeks ago. I’m so far behind in my blogging! So now I’ll get back on course and catch you up with what’s happening here in Bangkok.
After six days in Hawai’i, I had attended my cousin’s beautiful beach wedding, I had tasted the holy grail of desserts – macadamia nut cream pie, I had eaten poke and ordered loco moco, and I had bumped along an unpaved road to reach the place where Hawaiians believe the spirits of their dead depart for the next world. After accomplishing all that, it was time to begin the journey back home.
While the trip was quite similar to the one into Hawai’i, I though I would share some more pictures of the trip for those of you who enjoy them. Check out the video of our takeoff from Honolulu – the reef just off the runway is gorgeous.
The check-in area of Honolulu International Airport reminds me a bit of LAX. In fact, it looks more “LA” than LA does.
The interior, though, is still in that 1970s time warp that seems to be pervasive in Honolulu. It seems that an expansion and remodel is planned so we’ll see if that brings the airport into the 21st century.
Oddly, this video monitor shows the date as November 30. Only off by a few months.
Another beautiful outdoor garden you can access from the gate area. While the airport is in need of a remodel, I give it high marks for having lots of open air spaces and also for offering a lot of visibility of the airplanes. A lot of airports make it hard for you to appreciate the view of the planes, which I think is a part of the romance of air travel. Here is a selection of the planes I saw while waiting for our flight:
A Delta Boeing 767-300 heading to Los Angeles.
Two Continental jets. The nearer one is a Boeing 737-700 headed to John Wayne International in Santa Ana, CA. The further one is a Boeing 737-800 in the new United livery, headed to Los Angeles.
This Boeing 757-200ER belongs to Omni Air International, a charter operation based in Tulsa, OK.
An American Airlines Boeing 757-200 with winglets, bound to Los Angeles. (Lots of flights to LAX, no?)
Alaska Airlines also flies to Honolulu. This flight is going to Portland, OR. This Boeing 737-800 is part of their Hawaiian subfleet – notice the lei of flowers around the Eskimo’s neck.
Hawaiian B767-300 without winglets
Hawaiian Boeing 767-300 with winglets. These winglets help reduce drag, resulting in an improved fuel economy of about 3-4%. One of Hawaiian’s new Airbus A330s is in the background.
Japan Airlines Boeing 767-300 in “Oneworld” alliance colors. This plane is bound for Osaka.
Another Japan Airlines plane, this one a Boeing 777-200, destined for Tokyo.
The other major Japanese carrier, ANA (All Nippon Airways), Boeing 767-300. This is operated by ANA subsidiary Air Japan, which operates charter flights to popular vacation destinations.
A United Airlines B777-200 scheduled for Chicago O’Hare. A Hawaiian Airlines Boeing 717 departs for another island in the background.
Our ride to Guam: A Continental (but in the new United livery) Boeing 767-400.
The gate area was particularly crowded. In fact, the flight was oversold and they were asking for volunteers but $300 in travel vouchers was incentive enough, since I’d have to use the vouchers on another Continental flight!
The interior of our plane during the boarding process.
A video of our takeoff from the Reef Runway in Honolulu and landing in Guam.
The lunch service was a choice between cheese tortellini and some chicken dish. I overheard the flight attendant tell another passenger that the pasta was the better of the two options, so that’s what I went with. It was actually pretty tasty, better than the food we had been served on the inbound flight.
Mid-flight the flight attendants served ice cream – cups instead of sandwiches – and then about an hour before landing in Guam, they served these turkey ham sandwiches. All in all, I think the flight from Honolulu to Guam and onto Hawaii was better than when we had traveled to Hawaii, probably because it was a daytime flight and we weren’t utterly exhausted.
We didn’t have that much connection time in Guam. Here’s a picture of a Chinese tour group taking a picture moments before boarding. While they were seated further back in the plane and thus were to board earlier, we sneaked ahead and the gate agent, seeing the unruly crowd coming towards the boarding gate, let us board ahead of them.
Our flight to Hong Kong, a Boeing 737-800.
Once again, we had the option of buying extra leg room by sitting in the exit row. It was worth it and just like on the flight from Hong Kong to Guam, we had an empty middle seat between us. Interestingly, this flight was operated exactly a week after we had left Hong Kong and one of the flight attendants from the flight out of Hong Kong was working our flight back to Hong Kong. I don’t think he recognized us.
Some thirteen hours after leaving Honolulu we arrived in Hong Kong, at about 8:00 pm. We headed into Ho Man Tin, a portion of Kowloon where friends of ours live. More about our two days in Hong Kong – and two Xangans we ran into – tomorrow.
I’ve reached the age where I’m willing to spend a little more money so I can be comfortable when I travel, and being able to get a few hours of good sleep in the midst of a 30+ hour journey seemed like a good investment. This was the logic behind paying $60 apiece to rent three hours in day rooms at the Plaza Premium Lounge, a public “arrival lounge” in Hong Kong Airport’s Terminal 2.
Unfortunately, a few things kept the investment from paying dividends. This particular lounge is located below the train station. While it has soundproofing, you can still hear the “whoosh” of the train arriving every twelve minutes. If I had used earplugs, that might not have been a problem, but the coffee I had with my egg tarts earlier in the afternoon, or maybe just the rush of adrenaline brought on by travel, kept me from really relaxing and sleeping.
Nonetheless, I got more rest than I would have just wandering around the city or dozing in an airport chair, so I was thankful for that. The lounge itself was nice and the facilities were in good shape. The staff gave us a bit more than three hours before calling to wake us so the time to shower and change wasn’t held against the three hours we had paid for. Maybe that’s because they weren’t busy that time of day or maybe that’s just how they do it in Hong Kong.
Whatever the case, a little before 8:30 pm we were showered, changed, and checked out. We collected our bags from the locker facility nearby and did some rearranging with the packing. On the Air Asia flight, we had to prepay for our luggage, so managing the weight distribution was critical. At least for their international flights, Continental offers free luggage check-in, so we could move things out of our carry-on and into the luggage for the rest of the trip.
The check-in counters were deserted two hours before departure. United does the check-in and ground handling for Continental, which operates only two flights a day (to Guam and Newark). UA providing this services is a recent development, brought about by the merger of the two airlines. It took a few minutes for the agent to finish our check-in as there was some confusion about the assignment of my frequent flyer number. (Continental and Taiwan’s EVA Air have a reciprocal mileage program agreement and I was using my EVA mileage program number for these flights.) The agents were friendly, though, and resolved the problem in short order.
After the confusion was cleared, our bags tagged, and boarding passes issued, we headed through security and immigration. Unlike many international airports I’ve been to, Hong Kong places security before immigration, which makes more sense to me than at airports like Singapore where you don’t go through security until you are entering the gate. Who’s protecting the immigration officers there?
Uncertain what food would be served aboard our four-hour redeye Continental flight to Guam, we stopped for a bite at the popular local eatery Tsui Wah, a branch of which is located in the airport. I’ve noticed that many airports are moving from having just random restaurants or only fast food chains to having branches of popular local restaurants. San Francisco Airport is a good example of this. There you can eat the food from some of your favorite local restaurants inside the terminal. Good idea, in my estimation. At least you get something more interesting than Burger King and Starbucks, again and again, airport after bloody airport.
I think this photo says it all. We ate at a full branch of Tsui Wah on our two days in Hong Kong while returning, too.
Tawn ordered this dish, which if I recall correctly is a Singapore style curried noodles. I tried a bite and it was tasty and a bit spicy.
I ordered the baked pork chop smothered in tomato sauce and cheese, served over rice. It took about ten minutes for them to prepare but was worth the wait!
Hong Kong International Airport remains one of my favorite airports. While Singapore may offer free internet, some outdoor gardens, etc. I find HKIA a much more modern, user friendly, and well thought-out airport. The interior also is bright and open, making the travel feel just that much more exciting. It reminds me of a classic European train station, done up in a modern version.
Another benefit to HKIA: it is children friendly. There’s this good sized play area near the main food court. It features many segments of play airplanes, allowing children to burn off energy and learn more about aviation before getting on their flights.
The segment about the cabin, left, has all sorts of little details like the stickers on the “overhead bins” showing row numbers. Parents could actually use these as a learning opportunity for their children, pointing out the stickers and practicing how they’ll look for the row numbers once they get on their real airplane. It has all sorts of educational possibilities, not to mention just being fun!
The table in the cabin interior play area is covered with photos taken at the old Hong Kong airport, Kai Tak. The Wikipedia entry for the airport describes it very aptly:
“With numerous skyscrapers and mountains located to the north and its only runway jutting out into Victoria Harbour, landings at the airport were dramatic to experience and technically demanding for pilots. The History Channel program Most Extreme Airports ranked it as the 6th most dangerous airport in the world.”
This minute-long video beautifully illustrates just how crazy landings into Kai Tak were. Take a look.
Departure time was 10:30 pm from gate 20, one of the closet gates to immigration. HKIA is a very spread-out airport but unlike the design of Bangkok, there is a convenient train system that will shuttle you to the more distant gates in just a few minutes. In Bangkok, nearly every gate requires a hike, most of which is through a shopping mall of duty free stores.
Boarding started about 20 minutes before departure for our nearly full flight. Unlike many trans-Pacific flights, this one was served by a narrow body aircraft, a Boeing 737-800. During the boarding process all passengers were put through additional security screening, which is normal for flights heading to the US thanks to our overzealous policies. However, unlike most airports where this screening is done before you actually enter the gate, here in Hong Kong they have the screening in the ramp leading to the jetway.
The result? Passengers had to surrender water bottles they had purchased or filled inside the secured area of the airport, without an opportunity to get more water before the flight. This is extremely cruddy, resulting in passengers not being able to bring their own water onto the flight. To top it off, the United customer service agents failed to mention this procedure either at check-in or in the boarding announcements, making it all the more inconvenient and, because it was unexpected, irritating.
On this segment of the flight we had been able to purchase exit row seats (an extra $89 per person) in order to have a little more legroom and get some rest on the overnight flight. Again, our “book the window and aisle” strategy left us with an empty middle seat and some extra room. Note those little “SUV back seat” screens hanging throughout the cabin. More about those in a moment.
View of a Pakistan International Airlines Airbus A310 next to us. Beautiful design on the tail. HKIA is a great place to see planes from all over the world, with the exception of Latin America which isn’t well-represented.
The four-hour flight to Guam was uneventful. Cabin lights were on and off – mostly on – for the first two hours as we went through lengthy announcements and then a meal service that, for a red eye, seems should have been delivered immediately after takeoff. The “meal” was half a turkey wrap, some fruit, and some almond cookies. About as much as you would expect for an American airline, I think.
There was no individual inflight entertainment. This plane is equipped with those “SUV back seat” style monitors throughout the cabin so we all watched the recent Harrison Ford movie “Morning Glory”. Well, as much as we could see it on the tiny monitor four rows away. Headsets were distributed for free and we were encouraged to keep them for use on other flights.
I managed to doze a bit on the flight but then it was time for descent into Guam. We touched down some twenty minutes early and taxied to gate 10. As we arrived, I was unsure what to expect, immigration-wise. This was our first point of entry into the US, although Guam is a territory rather than a state. As it turned out, we ended up having to go through immigration, but didn’t have to reclaim our baggage and go through customs.
The process was like this: when you arrive in Guam the terminal has these flexible partitions down the middle of the hallway. You are shunted into the “secure” side if your flight has arrived from an international destination. Then you go into the immigration queue just like at any other international airport. After clearing immigration you end up outside security in the ticketing and check-in lobby, so you re-clear security and head to your gate.
Back at our gate about fifteen minutes after clearing immigration, we spotted our plane for the 7.5-hour flight to Honolulu. As you can see, from a visual branding perspective, the CO-UA merger is also a merger of identities: Continental color scheme with the United name. That being the case, it has been much faster to update the legacy Continental planes than the legacy United ones.
Boarding was already underway when we reached the gate, but the procedure was very strange. Between the gate area and the jetway there was another set of immigration booths, so we had to go through immigration a second time within forty-five minutes, essentially reentering the US. I guess the implication of this second immigration check is that there must be passengers boarding locally in Guam who entered Guam without going through formal immigration procedures. Very odd.
The view from my window seat. The plane we arrived on from Hong Kong is the second plane back. Interestingly, the Guam airport seems to be located on a graded hillside and I noticed that the arrangement of the aircraft parking areas is a bit like terraced rice paddies, albeit not at a very steep grade. Look at the building just above the left side of the jetway. Notice how it “steps up” about a meter? It is hard to see in the picture but the ramp is level at the plane’s parking area but then slopes up to the next parking area. You can see the slope where the yellow cargo pallet carts are parked just beyond the wing of our plane.
Anyhow, our flight pulled back just as the sun was rising, the same time (6:30 am locally) we had departed from Bangkok the day before, although 24 hours had not quite passed thanks to time zone changes.
On our way to runway 6-Right we passed this Continental Boeing 737 in the Star Alliance livery. I wonder if some day all the Star Alliance airlines will merge (once foreign ownership laws change) and simply brand the airline as “Star Alliance”?
Our climb out of Guam on a cloudy Saturday morning.
Our plane, a Boeing 767-400, is a twin-aisle jet with a 2-3-2 arrangement of seats in economy class. Unlike the plane from Hong Kong, this one was equipped with individual seatback monitors with a choice of something like nine channels of movies and TV shows playing on a 2.5-hour loop. If you happen to tune in at a random time, you will find yourself in the middle of a movie and have to wait until the loop restarts.
It is certainly better than squinting to watch the show on a screen half a cabin away, but given the recent advances in inflight entertainment technology (not to mention things like iPods and iPads!) the quality is still pretty low. Interestingly, though, since this flight was technically a domestic flight (although nearly twice as long as our Hong Kong to Guam flight), you had to pay for a headset or else use your own.
The seats did have pillows and blankets provided, something rare for a domestic flight. Seat pitch (the point on your seat to the same point on the seat in front of you) is about 32 inches, typical for economy on many airlines and if you empty out the seatback pocket of magazines and the person in front of you doesn’t recline all the way, it is reasonably comfortable.
Despite being a domestic flight, free meals were served and they weren’t that bad, either. This was a breakfast flight and I had sausage and eggs served over fried rice. You have to appreciate that Continental tries to appeal to the local customers with the fried rice, and it strikes me as a better choice than hash browns.
Tawn opted for the French Toast, which was just about basic as French Toast can get!
About three hours into the flight, flight attendants passed out ice cream bars as a snack. Thanks to the dry ice on which they had been stored, these ice cream sandwiches were as hard as a rock and I had to wait about ten minutes before I could manage to break off a bite without chipping a tooth! One wonders what would happen if they offered a snack of, say, fruit or carrot sticks. Nonetheless, I can only greet an ice cream sandwich with a smile.
About four hours into the flight, we crossed the International Date Line, suddenly gaining back 24 hours of our lives. In fact, this flight was so funky because of the IDL that when I tried to book it on Continental’s website, it wouldn’t let me. I had to go to their ticketing agent in Bangkok to get it done. The reason? We left Hong Kong on Friday evening, arrived Guam Saturday morning, departed Guam Saturday morning, arrived Honolulu Friday afternoon, then connected to a codeshare flight to Lihue on Friday evening. That “back and forth” with the dates confused Continental’s computers, I guess.
About 70 minutes before landing the flight attendants passed out snack trays with turkey sandwiches every bit as dry as the ones I made for our Bangkok to Hong Kong flight! Also included were a Twix bar and cheddar cheese flavored crackers. Not the culinary highlight of the flight.
The skies were beautiful as we approached Honolulu. Sadly, I should have been sitting on the left-hand side of the plane for the best views of the island. However, I did film our takeoff and landing and will share it here if you’d like to view it:
Watching palm trees swaying in the breeze, we pulled into our gate next to an Air Canada jet (bet the crew is glad to be working that route!) and after about 29 hours had finally arrived in Hawai’i. But we still had one more flight to reach our destination… stay tuned!