There was a time when people had to travel to Chennai from Bangalore to take a flight to the US. This is not too long ago, maybe 10 years back. Last year with the introduction of Dragon Air /Cathay Pacific connection from Bangalore, we can travel to the US especially the West Coast, with a single stop over at HongKong. On the way back the connection is even better. The travel time is around 22 hours ... in case you get the afternoon flight out of San Francisco. If you don't , you get to spend 18 hours in Hong Kong .
But you get to see Hong Kong if you are not lazy , jet lagged or tired !
Most flights from the West Coast arrive at Hong Kong around 6:00 AM and the flight to Bangalore or Chennai leaves at 10:00 PM .
Immigration is easy. Indian nationals get a 14 day visa on arrival ( as long as you are not planning to work ). You would need to fill in a form and show your boarding pass for the onward connection ( to India) and that's all !
Hong Kong International Airport is designed in a way that arrivals and departures are separated into two different levels. The lower level is the arrival and the upper one is the departure level. All transiting passengers are asked to got through a security check and proceed to the upper departure level and await their connection. However, if one wants to go out to the city then , they should clear immigration at the arrivals level itself. One is not allowed to come back to the immigration once they have cleared security and gone to the departure level.
The big question is what do you do in Hong Kong for the next 12 hours or so ? Well, you could go sightseeing, go around the city just to get a feel for it or shop ! What is mentioned here is what I did and is a suggested trip for people who have about 12 hours to spend at Hong Kong. This involves sightseeing , getting a feeel of the town and some shopping at where else but the appropriately named Ladies Market !!
A good idea is to start early say around 8:30 AM from HKIA after getting through immigration , having a wash /coffee etc and getting currency exchanged. In case your carry -on is something that you would rather not lug around in Hong Kong , there is a cloak room kind of arrangement in the Arrivals Hall in the Airport where you could leave the bags for a fee.
The main areas that I covered are
The Ngong Ping Monastery where there is the largest bronze statue of Buddha . Take a bus S1 from HKIA to Tung Chung and from Tung there are two choices . One is to take a bus from the Ting Chung Bus station to the top over winding roads and some scenic drive. The other is to take a the cable car. Unfortunately when I went the cable car was out of operation. It opens at 9:00 AM on weekends and at 10:00 AM on weekdays. You could take the bus back to Tung Chung or try and take the cable car.
Back at Tung Chung I ( we) took the MTR ( metro rail ) to Hong Kong island. The train drops you at Hong Station of MTR which is below the IFC1 ( International Finance Centre 1 ) building. Once you come up from the MTR station, you reach the IFC mall where you could shop or window shop ( depending upon what you want to or can buy ) . You could certainly catch up with some food here. There are some decent restaurants here. More of that later.
At this time you are in the downtown of Hong Kong and the next destination is The Peak.One could take a bus or take the Peak Tram. The Peak Tram is more exciting since it goes up at 45deg incline. I walked from IFC1 to the base of the Peak Tram station. The walk takes upto 15 mins in the hot and humid Hong Kong weather and then you realize the value of an AC in climes like that of Hong Kong. Hong Kong feels a lot like South Bombay ( well that's my opionion ). The walk to the Peak Tram station would take you through the iconic HSBC tower and the Bank of China building. A good thing about this walk is that there are signs to guide you to the Peak Tram station. All you need to do is to get the Connaught Road from IFC. There are skywalks with good signage , so that should not be too hard.
Once at the Peak , you have a choice ( yes again ! ). You could get a good panoromic view of the city from either Sky Terrace which is a building on top of the peak , on whose terrace is a vista point. Or , you could simply walk a little bit along the trails and get a view. Needless to say , the natrure trail is free and the Sky Terrace is not. The two photos are attempted panoramic shots from the Sky Terrace and the nature trail and I will leave you to figure which one is what ...
The next stop was the Star Ferry Pier at Central ( which is quite close to the IFC ). I took a bus down from The Peak ( I think it was 15 ) , and this gave me a good trip through parts of the Hong Kong Island. The bus was a double decker and I got the front seat which gave me a better view than what I would have got being seated elsewhere in the bus. The bus comes via the downtown and it was quite an experience seeing the traffic being managed so effeciently in the crowded business district. The bus drops off passengers at the Central Ferry Pier and the Star Ferry Peir is a shot walk from there. Once the at Star Ferry peir board the ferry to Kowloon Island. The Ferry ride gives a good view of the Hong skyline. Once at the other end, one could take a walk to the Clock Tower and get a better view of the skyline from the Kowloon Public Pier.
The next stop is the Ladies Market ( for the shopping afficiandos ) , and to get there , one needs to take the MTR from the Tsim Tsa Tshui station to Mong Kok . The Tsim Tsa Tsui station is walkable from the clock tower and one can walk through parts of Nathan Road. There is a lot of scope of window shopping here too. It also adds to the 'city-experience' . At Mong Kok station , there are signs which guide you to the correct exit to take you to the Ladies Market. The name of the street is Tung Choi street, but I think its better known as Ladies Market. The Ladies Market is a place where one can strike a good bargain and as is wont with such places, one can get cheated as well. Hence my advice is be careful. My personal favourites are fake handbags, scarves, and silk novelty items like cell phone covers. Its advisable to carry Hong Kong dollars in change.
By this time , it should be nearing 5:00 PM , if one has gone to all the places mentioned above. Depending upon when you want to be at the airport, you could head back or go around Hong Kong a bit more. To head back to the airport , take the MTR from Mong kong towards Tsen Wan and change to the Tung Chung line at Lai King. Once at Tung Chung you could explore the shopping complex at the Tung Chung MTR station or head back to the airport on bus no S1.
Once at the airport, you would need to go through immigration security and then you back at the departure level.
Here is a Google Map representation of the trip that I have described above. This should give a better picture of where you are headed and how long it could take.
View Hong Kong Trip in a larger map
Food ? I found that there were not many choices for vegetarians in Hong Kong. The IFC Mall has a few good places and I found Pret-A-Manager to be good. Its a soup and sandwich place and I liked it. There are Burger Kings and McDonalds as well. A good idea would be to grab some cakes/coffee or sandwich at StarBucks.
In case you want to do more or something on your own , there is the Hong Kong tourism board website which is quite useful. What you want to do and can do is a function of what your enthusiasm level is, how well you feel after a 14 hour flight and the weather in Hong Kong of course. My recommendation is do not over do it !!
There is also a Symphony of Lights show which is supposed to be a big deal in Hong Kong as far as tourists are concerned, but that happens at 8:00 PM and that cuts too fine with the time needed to come back to the airport and catch your flight back to desh !