tiistai 15. huhtikuuta 2014

Day 107 - 107. päivä: Surprises of all sorts and two very futuristic cities

Hong Kong at night from Victoria Peak

Surprise No. 1: So, yeah, you ever tried something you thought would be very easy and simple, but which turned out to be pretty much the most complicated and annoying process you have ever gone through, and later on you realize that you should have know it wouldn't be easy? We have; applying for a Chinese visa in Hong Kong. Our plan was to get the applications in on Wednesday, pay extra and get a rush service, collecting our passports on Thursday or maybe Friday, and take the T100 train to Shanghai on Friday afternoon. Yeah, right, as if...

Victoria Harbor next to Avenue of Stars

In short (we'll save you from all the painful details; there's plenty): We went to the embassy four times, on three separate dates. We had checked and double checked all we need on the governmental website, printed out and filled in the forms available on the said website, attached everything that was required, and went to the address given online (on the government website) on Wednesday morning. That address is wrong, here is the correct one! Once we got to the visa office, there was a short queue to get to the security check. On the 3rd floor of the building, after queuing in another line, we were told our forms were old, and given the new ones to fill in. Only after that were we given queuing numbers to the admission desks. There we were, of course, told that we were missing a whole bunch of attachments, and we were to go back to our hotel to get them. That's also when we were finally given the full list of things we'd actually need to attach. This all took about a whole morning to go through. Of course, our hotel was not in Hong Kong Island, but in Kowloon. So, on Wednesday afternoon, we were back with all the correct papers and queuing again. At this point we were told no rush service to get the visas was available (unlike told online), and it'd take until next Monday to get the visas. Naturally, our train to Shanghai would be leaving on Friday, in two days. So, since a ticket TO China and OUT of China are both required, and the travel dates would have to be AFTER your visa's issued, we were sent away once more, to cancel our reservations in Shanghai,  and get new tickets and hotel dates for after possibly getting the visas. So, next morning, on Thursday, we went back to the admission office, and once again queued, and presented all our new travel documents, and fresh visa forms (which we had once again filled, with new travel dates), and finally got a blue paper saying that we may collect our visas on next Tuesday. That's the story in short.

What the (apparently secret?) list given to us says you'll need when applying for a tourist visa to China in Hong Kong:

- Round-trip tickets to and from China
- Hotel booking confirmation in China (if not under your name, the person who booked the hotel needs to write and sign a paper saying you'll be staying with them, plus a copy of their passport)
- Copy of your passport and Hong Kong visa and a fresh passport photo
- The NEW visa form (collect it at the admission office) filled in (we only did it three times to get it right)
- 200 HKD upon pick up
- an address of a friend or a hotel in China
- Ability to resist the temptation to kick/hit someone or scream mindlessly when being sent to another line after a couple of hours of waiting
- Ability to understand that there WILL be waiting. The office is open from Monday to Friday 9-12 -AM and again 14-17 PM. The queue starts forming an hour before the doors open. Deal with it!

So, your neighborhood is crowded..? This is Hong Kong.
Surprise No. 2: Today's the Tuesday, and YES, we got the visas :D

Surprise No.3: It turns out there is quite a few Chinese, whose English is better, and Mandarin worse than mine... Not so common in the mainland, but apparently a default setting in Hong Kong.

Surprise No.4: We found a sauna! An actual, true, real, authentic Finnish sauna. It is located at the Mira hotel Hong Kong. The hotel is in any way a real nice one, but the Harvia sauna was what really made our extended stay in Hong Kong have an awesome kick start.

Surprise No.5: In the end, we really enjoyed our time in Hong Kong, even as much as to say that it was a good thing we didn't get our visas any earlier. Victoria Peak, the Symphony of lights show and just going around the city were really worth all the trouble we went through rescheduling such a big part of our trip. We got an 80% refund of our train tickets, and were able to cancel the hotel in Shanghai; in the end, we only lost a couple of hundred euros, and gained a ton of beautiful experiences. Also had time to drink a lot of Tsingtao...

Surprise No.6: Judging from a one-night layover in Singapore, the city is not bad. Well, I guess that's not a surprise to anyone who's ever been there. It's also a great place to meet a friend for a morning coffee :)


P.S: If you're staying in Hong Kong for more than 3 days, get the Octopus Card!

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