New Mapping Trend: Follow the Penguins

When Sunshine Aquarium in Tokyo wanted to stand out among other tourist attractions in the busy city, they turned to penguins. Visitors using the Penguin Navi app on their wireless device just follow the little digital birds through the city, which leads them to the aquarium.

The idea taps the world of augmented reality and has been a hit with tourists. Without changing any exhibits, Sunshine has increased its attendance by more than 150%.

Faux Cityscapes: 5 Fake Places To Snap A Tourist Photo

Steve Jurvetson, Flickr

What are the main reasons people travel? To see the world, gain new perspective, learn about other cultures, get a photo of themselves in front of a famous destination. Let’s be honest, in the world of social media, the latter is of the utmost importance, so important that some people will take a fake background rather than the real thing.

Five places you can snap a fake tourist shot:

1. Hong Kong with a bright blue sky
When it’s too smoggy in Hong Kong for a blue sky (and most of the time it is) you can still get your photo taken in front of the city’s skyline, thanks to a fabric backdrop. Because nothing says “I’ve been there” than taking your photo in front of a colored sheet.

2. Paris… in China
Can’t make it to the real Paris? There’s always Vegas. Or in China, where a remade version of Paris outside of Hangzhou isn’t the City of Light, it’s more of a creepy deserted ghost town. There’s even a 108-meter replica of the Eiffel Tower, which is perfect for when newlyweds want a romantic backdrop without traveling to Europe.

3. Afghanistan… in California
Given the US military’s presence in the Middle East, it’s no surprise that they would work hard to train soldiers on the ins and outs of where they will be based. And what better way than with a mock Afghan village? Actors on the Fort Irwin base in California create a fake Afghan village, selling plastic loaves of bread and fake meat to provide some sort of cultural context for military personnel soon to deploy. Even civilians can visit, checking out the village and chatting with soldiers afterwards. Obviously much more less complicated than traveling to Afghanistan.

4. The Taj Mahal… in Bangladesh
Local wealthy Bangladeshi filmmaker Asanullah Moni was apparently tired of traveling to India to see one of the new seven wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal, so he built one himself. The structure cost $58 million to construct, and took only five years to build; lightspeed compared to the original building’s construction, which was built over two decades in the 17th century. So thanks to Moni, Bangladeshis can snap their picture in front of the iconic architecture without ever leaving their home country.

5. The Titanic… in the Southern United States
Just because the real boat sank, doesn’t mean you can’t get your photo taken in front of it. Just plan a trip to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee or Branson, Missouri where you’ll find 30,000-square-foot replicas of the ship that sank in 1912. Welcome aboard.

Recycled Hong Kong Airport Opens As Cruise Terminal

Hong Kong
Hong Kong Tourism Board

Hong Kong‘s $1 billion Kai Tak cruise terminal is open and processing cruise travelers as anticipated. Located at the site of the former Kai Tak International airport runway, the terminal will eventually source passengers from a pool of 50 million potential middle-class passengers in China. This week though, it’s all about the Americans.

Passengers disembarking Royal Caribbean’s Mariner of the Seas this week found a bit of a different experience than that of other cruise ports around the world. Showcasing some of what China has to offer cruise travelers, Mariner of the Seas offered passengers a kung fu demonstration, a lion dance at Mikiki mall in San Po Kong, shopping, dining and more on planned tours.

Adventure cruise travelers with a desire to go it on their own had a bit different experience, finding transportation options limited. “The terminal is fine, the building is fine but there is no good connection to the city,” passenger Fred Lutjens said in a Standard report that notes a queue of 100 people waiting for a taxi.Kai Tak airport, which closed in 1998 after 70 years of service, was replaced by the current Chek Lap Kok International Airport. Using that valuable and available land efficiently, the $1 billion Kai Tak cruise terminal has the ability to handle passenger vessels as large as two of Royal Caribbean’s Oasis-class cruise ships, the largest in the world.

International Budget Guide 2013: Hong Kong

Hong Kong may be the most expensive city in the world to set up an office, buy a luxury home and open a retail location, but it also offers surprising values for the budget traveler. For every five-star hotel, Michelin-starred restaurant and luxury emporium, there is a budget guesthouse, hole-in-the-wall noodle joint and back-alley marketplace waiting in the wings. Don’t believe us? Check out our Budget Hong Kong series, which ran earlier this year and featured ways to enjoy the Chinese special administrative region on a shoestring.

One trick is to venture beyond the heavily congested districts of Central, Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui, which tend to cater to the expense accounts of the business and finance set. Take a pilgrimage to the Olympian City mall in West Kowloon for a taste of Chef Mak Kwai Pui’s famous Michelin-starred dim sum at the newly expanded Tim Ho Wan. Or, head to the less-touristed Southern District to trek the famous Dragon’s Back, named Asia’s best urban hike by Time Magazine.

Though it is traditionally known as finance hub, Hong Kong has also emerged as a world-class center for contemporary art. The city held six art fairs in 2012, including the renowned Art HK, and this year sees the launch of the inaugural Art Basel Hong Kong, which will bring together artists and collectors from around the world in May. While purchasing the artwork may cost a pretty penny, the cost to attend and appreciate is minimal.

Budget activities

Symphony of Lights: This free nightly sound and light show over Victoria Harbour is magnificent, if cheesy. The best place to take in the hour-long spectacle is on the Tsim Sha Tsui promenade, which affords a perfect view of Hong Kong Island’s illuminated skyscrapers. Another option is to queue up for a journey on the famous Star Ferry (HK$2-3.40, US$0.25-0.44) to coincide with the show. http://www.tourism.gov.hk/symphony

Hong Kong Museum of History: Learn about Hong Kong’s colorful past in “The Hong Kong Story,” a superbly curated interactive exhibition at the Hong Kong Museum of History. Admission is just HK$10 (US$1.30) for adults and HK$5 (US$0.65) for students, seniors and the disabled; on Wednesdays, entrance is free. http://hk.history.museum Chatham Road South, Tsim Sha Tsui

Dragon’s Back: Hiking in Hong Kong? Not only is it possible, it is also a popular pastime for those who call the city-state home. Don’t miss Dragon’s Back, a moderately difficult 5.3-mile path connecting Wan Cham Shan and Shek O Peak over the D’Aguilar Peninsula in the Southern District of Hong Kong Island. The trailhead is located on Shek O Road; take the MTR to Shau Kei Wan Station and transfer to bus 9 in the direction of To Tei Wan, then look out for the signposts. Shek O Road near To Tei Wan Village, Southern

Hotels

Hotel ibis Hong Kong Central and Sheung Wan: This sparkling new budget hotel from the Accor group is located on the border of the Sheung Wan neighborhood, an easy walk to the high-rises and shopping centers of Hong Kong’s Central district. Standard rooms are small but feature high ceilings, bay windows and Sony LCD TVs. From US$137. http://www.ibis.com/gb/hotel-7606-ibis-hong-kong-central-and-sheung-wan 28 Des Voeux Road West, Sheung Wan

Holiday Inn Express Kowloon East: Opened in October 2012, the Holiday Inn Express Kowloon East is adjacent to the new Crowne Plaza Kowloon East, making it the InterContinental group’s first “twin brands” hotel project in Hong Kong. The 300-room property also sits atop the Tseung Kwan O MTR station, which makes for quick and easy access to Hong Kong’s central neighborhoods. Rooms are clean and spacious, with Simmons mattresses, massaging showerheads and workstations with ergonomic chairs. Also included in the nightly price is the chain’s signature “Smart Start” breakfast, with eight menu options. From US$129. www.hiexpress.com/kowlooneast Tower 4, 3 Tong Tak Street, Tseung Kwan

The Ashoka Hostel at the Chungking Mansions: If you’re up for an adventure, staying at a Chungking Mansion guesthouse can be a cultural experience all of its own. The chaotic 17-story complex has a storied past as a center for illicit activities, but in the past few years it has (mostly) cleaned up its act thanks to heightened security and an extensive new CCTV system. What you sacrifice in space and ambience you gain in savings – the guesthouses contain some of the cheapest accommodations in town. The Ashoka Hostel is a popular option, with close to 100 rooms spread across three floors and easy online booking. Dorms from US$20, private rooms from US$30; haggling encouraged. www.ashoka.hostel.com, A Blk. Flr. 13, A4, Chung King Mansion, 36 – 44 Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui

Eat and Drink

Tim Ho Wan: For years, three-hour waits were the norm at hole-in-the-wall dim sum eatery Tim Ho Wan, otherwise known as the cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant in the world. But in February, high rents forced Chef Mak Kwai Pui out of his 29-seat Mong Kok establishment into a cheaper but larger 100-seat space in Olympian City, a shopping mall in West Kowloon. The restaurant is also expanding, with new locations in Central, North Point and Sham Sui Po. Now you can taste Pui’s specialties, like barbequed pork buns and steamed prawn dumplings, without the comically absurd lines. Expect to pay about HK$50 (US$6.50) per person for a filling meal. Shop 72, G/F, Olympian City 2, 18 Hoi Ting Road, Tai Kok Tsui

Tsim Chai Kee Noodle: Mak’s Noodle is the traditional favorite for Hong Kong-style wonton noodles. However, rumor has it that relative newcomer Tsim Chai Kee, located across the street in Hong Kong’s Central district, is surpassing Mak’s in both taste and popularity. With only 30 seats, the ambiance is cozy and warm, with dark wooden floors, matching tables and squat stools surrounding each of them. But the centerpiece at this diner is the food. The King Prawn Wonton Noodle (HK$22, US$2.80) stands out brightest with its succulent shrimp-filled dumplings, thick yellow noodles and perfectly seasoned broth. 98 Wellington Street, Central

Yee Shun Milk Company: Think you know what steamed milk is? Yee Shun Milk Company will prove you wrong. The unpretentious Macau-based diner chain specializes in light milk puddings that are almost ethereal in their texture and consistency. The hot steamed milk with ginger juice (HK$26, US$3.35) is a perennial favorite, with a taste that will stay with you long after you leave. There are four Hong Kong outlets, but the one in Causeway Bay is the most popular for visitors. There are also soups and salads for those seeking a full meal. 506 Lockhart Road, Causeway Bay

Logistics

Seasonality: The best time to visit Hong Kong is from September to November when the air is less humid and the temperatures hover in the 60 to 80 degree Fahrenheit range. January and February are comparatively chilly, with temperatures around 50 degrees, while July and August are downright oppressive, with 85 degree heat amplified by humidity and pollution.

Safety: Hong Kong is a safe place to visit, but like in most major cities, there is some petty crime, like robberies and pickpocketing. Be aware of your belongings, particularly in crowded areas like Tsim Sha Tsui, Central and Causeway Bay.

Get Around: Hong Kong’s public transportation system is remarkably efficient and easy to navigate. Your best bet for getting from the airport to the central districts is the high-speed Airport Express train, which runs every 10 minutes and costs HK$100 (US$12.90) each way. If you will be in the city for a while, it’s worth picking up a pre-paid tap-and-go Octopus card at the airport or any mass rapid transit station; they can be used on buses, trams, mass rapid transit, ferries and even in select shops like 7-11. There’s also a HK$55 (US$7) tourist day pass, which can be used for crossing the bay and exploring the more off-the-beaten-path parts of Hong Kong, like the Southern District and the New Territories.

[Photo Credit: Flickr user Mike Behnken]

Photo Of The Day: All Signs Lead To …

If you calculated how much time you look at certain things when you travel, signs would be at the top of the list. Whether it’s indicating a road or a restaurant, without signs we would quite literally be lost.

In some places, there are more signs than others, and in this photo, Flickr user Luke Robinson captures a jumble of signs in Hong Kong. In fact, it’s not even clear what each sign leads to. It almost begs the question whether too many signs actually just might make you feel more lost.

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