Last January, my colleague and I had the pleasure of flying with Cathay Pacific Airways to Hong Kong and Chengdu. The flight from Kuala Lumpur to Hong Kong took four hours. From there, it took another three hours to fly to Chengdu. I must say that I agree with Cathay Pacific Airways’ philosophy, ‘A Life Well Travelled’; when you travel well, the trip becomes more memorable, more meaningful and more rewarding. You see, travelling well is an essential part of living well.
The experience of flying from Kuala Lumpur to Hong Kong was great. The breakfast meal was delicious and uplifted my senses, which have not yet awoken for the early morning flight. I was glad that Cathay Pacific Airways offers halal in-flight meals that are fully certified for Muslim passengers, giving them peace of mind, thus allowing them to travel well.
This trip was my first time to Hong Kong, a grand metropolis with extensive skyscrapers shaping its skyline, deep natural harbour and high population density. The city runs on efficiently integrated public transportation system, world class infrastructure, and booming economy. Hong Kong is one of the cities in the world that has become the centre of state-of-the-art architecture, earning the title as one of the world’s most vertical cities.
We stayed in a hotel in Wan Chai, a district on Hong Kong island, which is compact and crowded, similar to the other parts of Hong Kong. By day, the area is a shopping haven and by night it transforms into an entertainment and leisure hotspot. If you love gadgets, you would be happy to know that Wan Chai Computer Centre on Hennessy Road is jam-packed with hardware, software, accessories and other electronic stuff.
As a Muslim traveller, it was not challenging for me to obtain halal food because there are many halal restaurants. However, I must tell you that halal food in Hong Kong is rather expensive. And they do not serve local cuisine, and instead they serve up mostly Northern Indian and Middle Eastern fare. These halal restaurants are able to deliver food right up to your hotel. We find this service wonderfully convenient because we do not need to find our way to get to those restaurants simply to eat. Besides, we are not entirely familiar with the roads anyway.
Our hotel in Wan Chai is about 10 minutes’ walk from the nearest mosque, Masjid Ammar and Osman Ramju Sadick, situated behind Wan Chai Road close to the Wan Chai Market. There is a canteen inside the mosque that offers wide range of local halal food, including my favourite dim sum! And yes, they are halal and the prices here are more reasonable.
The first night we were in Hong Kong, we took the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) to Victoria Harbour where major attractions in Hong Kong are actually located such as the Avenue of Stars, Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade and a viewing deck to witness the dazzlingly colourful multimedia light show called A Symphony of Lights presented every night, involving over 40 buildings on both sides of the harbour. This show has been recognised as the “Word’s Largest Permanent Light and Sound Show” by the Guinness World Records. Truly spectacular!
We only had only about two full days to discover Hong Kong before our next flight to Chengdu. We decided to ride on the Big Bus Hong Kong on the first day and do shopping on the next. This decision was made after we went through the route plied by Big Bus Hong Kong. The Big Bus Hong Kong tour packages start from USD49.50 per person. Travellers can choose either 24 or 48 hours day tour, night tour or the combination of both day and night tour. The packages also include free Peak Tram Sky Pass or Sky100 Hong Kong Observation Deck entry, Star Ferry ticket, Sampan Ride at Ocean Park, admission to Hong Kong Maritime Museum, rewards booklet and phone app.
Big Bus Hong Kong is the solution for travellers who want to discover the most popular places in the city at one go while being guided by recorded commentary available in ten languages. There are three routes on offer that cover various attractions in Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, and Stanley respectively. One ticket is valid for all routes. These routes begin at Central Star Ferry Pier 7 but you can hop on or off the bus at any of the bus stops.
We had amazing experience witnessing the rich blend of Chinese and Colonial history that are still evident along the streets of Hong Kong. We walked around Repulse Bay, Man Mo Temple, SoHo, Stanley Market and Victoria Peak during the day; then to Kowloon, Nathan Road and Ladies’ Market during the night.
We concluded our tour of the day at Victoria Peak, the highest point on Hong Kong Island. According to Hong Kong Tourism, The Peak has been the most exclusive neighbourhood since colonial times, back when it was cooler during the post air-conditioning era. If you can only spend a day or two in Hong Kong, you must really check out the spectacular view of the cityscape from this vantage point.
Going to the peak, we took the historical Peak Tram. Remember to also visit the Peak Tram Historical Gallery located at the Peak Tram Lower Terminus prior to hopping on the tram.
On the third day in Hong Kong, we spent the whole time hopping from one shopping spot to another. We strolled along the financial district from Admiralty, passing by Central, then arrived at SoHo using the elaborate network of covered walkways. From high fashion boutiques to Asian treasures in the street bazaar, we found that Hong Kong really has something to meet any kind of taste in shopping.
From Central, we hopped on the classic tram heading towards Causeway Bay, another dense shopping spot that is bursting with endless shopping malls, department stores, boutiques and stalls. A haven for shopaholics indeed! I should have brought more money!
From Causeway Bay, we took the MTR to Kowloon, heading to none other than the top shopping destination, Ladies’ Market near Mong Kok area. Besides the market, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon East and Kowloon West also offer great experiences for shopping lovers!
The three days we spent in Hong Kong were awesome! However, I really looked forward to our flight to Chengdu the next morning. It would also be our first time flying on Dragonair, a Hong Kong-based international airline, subsidiary of the Cathay Pacific and an affiliate member of the oneworld alliance. It covers 52 destinations across the Asia-Pacific region, including 23 in Mainland China.
Upon checking in for our flight, we discovered that our seats were upgraded to First Class! Awesome! Even on Dragonair, the Cathay Pacific Group signature service and philosophy, which to travel well, still resonates.
Dragonair has been recognised as The Best Airline in China category for six consecutive years by the reputable Skytrax Passenger survey. It has also been voted as the “Best Regional Airline in Asia” in the 2011 and 2013 surveys, including the “World’s Best Regional Airline” in 2010, 2011 and 2013. The three-hour journey flying from Hong Kong to Chengdu was truly pleasant and its hospitality is truly world class, a true definition of travelling well!
When we arrived Chengdu Shuangliu International Airport, the temperature was about 12 degrees Centigrade. This airport is one of the 40 busiest airports in the world. It was cold but I was warm with anticipation. This was my first time in China, such a vast country that is full of history, culture, and geographical diversity.
The journey from the airport to our hotel made me realise that Chengdu’s colour scheme, which mostly involves layers of grey and brown, is different to Hong Kong’s. We also found the city well maintained. Flowers and trees along the highways and city roads injected vibrant colours like pink, yellow and blue into the cityscape, which made our perception towards the city more upbeat.
Chengdu is the fifth most populous city in China with over 14 million people. Based on archaeological discoveries, Chengdu has been inhabited since four thousand years ago and now an important centre of a unique ancient culture. The city is apparently the birthplace of the first widely used paper money in the world, which we know today as the banknote.
Our first day was spent checking out places to eat. It is feasible to find halal food in Chengdu. There are more than ten halal restaurants in the city area and they offer local cuisine. The difference between Chengdu and other parts of China is the distinct characteristic of its cuisine, which mostly use spices, chillies and peppercorns. There is an old saying that has become the principle in preparing Chengdu dishes that goes “one dish, one style, one hundred dishes, one hundred flavours; flexible use of hot chillies and delicate flavours”. Now we know why Chengdu is considered as a destination for gourmet aficionados. Chengdu is also officially recognised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) as the City of Gastronomy.
Chengdu is also known for its tea culture that has been preserved over a thousand years. Travellers can find hundreds of tea houses throughout Chengdu. They serve mainly jasmine tea as local staple. Travellers can also find typical bamboo chairs and wooden tables. The atmosphere of the tea houses is laidback, making you feel like you are being brought back into time. My favourite tea house has to be the Heming Tea House in People’s Park due to its authentic provincial vibe.
The next morning, we made our way to Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, also known as the Pandaland, located in the northern suburb. This world-renowned ecological centre is dedicated for the conservation of China’s endangered indigenous species: the giant panda and the red panda. The World Tourism Organisation (WTO) also honoured this centre by conferring it with high ratings due to its international tourism appeal.
At the centre, we get to observe and experience first-hand how these pandas are care for in a more controlled environment that covers over 100 hectares area complete with rolling green hills, various types of birds and a sparkling lake. We were so amused by the adorable pandas’ antics, especially the red pandas, which are playful, agile and intelligent.
After lunch, we headed to the Xiling Snow Mountains located in Dayi County, around two hours’ drive from the city centre. Xiling Snow Mountains is the most popular spot for winter sports in southern China. Xiling Snow Mountains has the image depicted in most Chinese paintings – snowy peaks, sunrise over the clouds, valleys, primitive thick forests, cascading waterfalls and natural caves.
I spent my last day in Chengdu exploring the city area. I walked from Chengdu North Railway Station to Tianfu Square, then to Dufu Thatched Cottage and back to Tianfu Square. I recommend that travellers check out the Dufu Thatched Cottage, Qingyang Palace, Wangjianglou Park, Wenshu Monastery and Wuhou Temple.
Wenshu Monastery was built under the supervision of Zen Master Cidu Hai Yue in 1697, during the Qing Dynasty. When I walked into the monastery, I felt transported back in time. Most of the parts of the temple are still conserved and helped me to take a peek into the ancient time. Here you can find a fine cup of green tea and the best vegetarian food in the city. There are also many vendors that offer ear-cleaning services.
Returning to Malaysia, enjoying Cathay Pacific’s top notch service
We flew back to Kuala Lumpur by transiting in Hong Kong for several hours. Since we were travelling on Business Class, we were granted access to all of Cathay Pacific lounges at Hong Kong International Airport. There are five lounges in all and passengers are spoilt for choice: The Wing, The Pier, The Bridge, The Cabin and The Arrival. Naturally, passengers are bound to pick the lounge that is closest to their boarding gate.
We experienced The Wing when we were flying from Hong Kong to Chengdu and The Bridge while waiting for our flight from Hong Kong to Kuala Lumpur. However, we still managed to check out the other three lounges. I must say that my favourite would be The Bridge because its design is homely and imitate a residential space, with soothing earthen tones, plush sofas and timber flooring, similar to a welcoming living room, plus a well-stocked self-service buffet selection.
The Bridge consists of North and South Wings, each extending from the central Reception area. While the North Wing houses The Bakery and iconic Long Bar with television lounge and general seating area, the South Wing contains IT Zone and shower suites.
Cathay Pacific’s extraordinary level of service gives more than personal touch to its passengers; my total experience travelling to Hong Kong and Chengdu have been more inspiring, memorable and rewarding all because of it. Now this is what I call, ‘A Life Well Travelled’.