Shenzhen Visa on Arrival

Shenzhen Visa on Arrival

If you’re living in Hong Kong or simply a tourist and want to visit Shenzhen the closest Chinese city directly across the border from Hong Kong, then you can get a 5 day Shenzhen only visa at the border. I did this to be able to take a flight out of Shenzhen to Europe which was particularly good value and fitted in with my travel plans.

Note: This is for Shenzhen only and you aren’t allowed to travel anywhere else. It also can’t be extended or converted. The 5 days starts from midnight after the arrival day.

Eligible Countries: Most European and developed countries are eligible for the visa on arrival including US, UK, Canada, French, Australia, Germany, Korea, New Zealand, Poland, Romania, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.

The following countries are currently ineligible: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Cameroon, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Turkey, Uganda, and Yemen

This list is subject to frequent updates so check with the Chinese embassy before travel.

Available at: Luohu (Lo Wu) Port, Shenzhen Airport, Huanggang Port, Shekou Port and Fuyong Port.

Exiting Hong Kong at Lo Wu

First take an MTR or other public transport to the Lo Wu station and border crossing. Exiting Hong Kong is much like when you exit through the airport; use your ID card or visit a manned immigration point to exit HK and then you will be in no man’s land before Chinese immigration. Interestingly there are a few shops in the no man’s land between HK and China so not sure what country they are actually trading in!

Exiting Hong Kong at Shenzhen

Note: When I was waiting (for a long time) I saw two people being sent back to HK immigration which is quite a walk for an exit piece of paper. I have a HK ID Card and didn’t get asked for this so I am presuming it’s required if you are a visitor and possibly used the automatic machines which don’t give you a receipt. Best plan is to use a regular immigration officer if you don’t have an ID Card

After walking through no man’s land you’ll arrive at some big signs:

Straight Ahead – Chinese national immigration

Basement – Foreigners immigration

1st Floor – Apply for VOA

Getting the VOA

If it’s busy which it probably will be, then I advise you to ignore the instructions to fill in the form and take your photo first as these only take a few minutes and take a numbered ticket from the machine to the left of the door first.

After you’ve done that, grab one of the application forms which is pretty simple and then have your photo taken at one of the free digital machines next to the application forms. Keep the receipt the machine will give you.

Next: WAIT then wait some more then probably some more

Don’t plan on this taking any less than two to three hours, if it does take less you are lucky. When I was there there were maybe 40 people waiting and only one officer actually processing visa applications. There were several immigration staff walking around or occasionally taking money, so make of that efficiency what you will.

Once the number is called hand over your application form, passport and the photo receipt. I was only asked where I was going, no proof was required of exit plans or hotel stay.

Once the application has been accepted you wait for your number to be called for payment and then it’s only about 10-15 minutes wait for your passport to have the visa stuck in.

Money – They used to only take cash but now take credit cards for the visa, so you don’t need to get RMB just to cross the border.

Entering China

Once you have the visa go back down two floors to the basement and proceed through Chinese immigration. There’s arrival/departure forms on the left as you come down.

Tip: They may encourage you to register your fingerprints on machines to the left before queuing up for immigration. Don’t bother. They are full fingerprint scanners of every finger and they are horrible at recognizing your prints. I had to press so hard I thought the glass would break. Once you get to a person they will still scan some of your fingers anyway despite registering them (well done bureaucracy) and the machines are newer i.e more reliable.

Once you are passed immigration you’re almost in China! Walk through customs then after a few meters more you’ll see the signs for the metro. Be prepared to have your bags X-rayed before entering the metro and for an enormous amount of security cameras and personnel.

Cost of Visa: The cost is the same as a regular visa in most cases i.e RMB 168 but for some countries that charge Chinese more i.e the UK the cost is RMB 304. In any case credit cards are accepted now.

Hong Kong Airlines Economy Seating on 33T (Ex-Emirates Aircraft)

Hong Kong Airlines Economy Seating on 33T (Ex-Emirates Aircraft)

Hong Kong Airlines has a variety of aircraft including what they refer to as the 33T in the booking engine which is an ex-Emirates aircraft. The airframe itself is pretty old but the interior seating and entertainment systems is new. 

Firstly the good. The seats are clean and relatively new and the entertainment system is one of the best we’ve seen on an aircraft. It’s responsive, even maybe too responsive and the screen is clear, sharp and bright. Hong Kong Airlines doesn’t update their entertainment as often as they used to (budget cuts?) but there’s a good selection of movies and TV and the screen is a pleasure to watch. Legroom is also pretty good, I’m 6’2″ and as you can see from the photos I still had knee space to spare. 

Unfortunately this is where the good stuff ends. The seats are probably some of the most uncomfortable we’ve ever sat on, they’re as hard as a rock. Even on a short flight to Bangkok of two hours they had us squirming in our seats. They are just about bearable for a short flight but I wouldn’t want to be in one of these to Tokyo for example at 4-5 hours. The padding is either minimal or old through use and time. Also of note is that the overhead bins are a smaller and older variety on this aircraft so if it’s busy it could be an issue with space but it is generally unlikely on an A330. 

Finally if you want an exit row plus window be aware that 31H and K have only a partial window view with the seat aligned somewhat in the middle of the window. 

Cathay Pacific Lounge Bangkok

Cathay Pacific Lounge Bangkok

The Cathay Pacific lounge in Bangkok was re-opened in June 2015 and follows the newer format of CX lounges like those in Manilla. It’s taken the space previously occupied by the BA lounge and created one new combined First and Business lounge and seats 140 people. If you’re flying on a One World airline this lounge is now one of the few choices for you in Bangkok. There’s still a Jal lounge which isn’t as good as CX but the Qantas lounge has closed now with passengers redirected to the inferior Louis CIP Tavern lounges.

Design is a combination of soft lighting, leather armchairs and wood panelling. Overall it’s has a nice homely feel to it, especially if it’s not too busy. I particularly liked the leather armchairs and footstools with a view over the runway, great to sip a gin and tonic and watch the apron traffic and take offs and landings. Power sockets are cunningly hidden in the side table in a drawer.

As in Manila, there’s a noodle bar with freshly cooked to order noodles and mostly Asian food. One thing we don’t like is that the fresh food seems to be very heavily balanced towards Asian dishes. Personally I love a lot of Asian foods but sometimes if you travel a lot you want something simple and closer to home. The noodle bar is a firm favourite in Hong Kong and they’re now using this format in the new lounges, however in Hong Kong there are plenty of other hot Western choices but not in the lounge outposts. That being said the food is very good and I took it as a last chance to sample some Thai food with a quite excellent Pad Thai and a steamed Chinese pork bun served in its own bamboo steamer. Delicious!

There are some cold Western options available normally a choice of two sandwiches and a small salad bar, it does feel an afterthought when compared to the noodle bar menu. It would be good to see a Western choice or two on the menu if you’ve had your fill of noodles!

All in all though it’s a good redesign with plenty of space, good bar and great good if you want Asian choices and OK food if it’s Western you want.

Trip Review MH A380 from LHR to KUL

Trip Review MH A380 from LHR to KUL

Check In

Malaysia Airlines operates from terminal four at Heathrow with check in when I left from Aisle D, close to fast track security. Check in had no line for business class with only one person at the desk next to me at first class. Check in was fast and friendly with just a request to check my onward ticket from Bangkok to Hong Kong on another airline.

Tip: After seeing my bag arrive in the carousel at Hong Kong by pure luck when it should have been tagged to London (long story) I now insist on also having a transfer tag on bag to have a better chance someone spots it and it doesnt end up on the carousel by mistake. The check in staff were a bit confused why I would insist on a transfer tag when it was electronically tagged but I explained why and it was no problem.

Security

Malaysia subscribes to fast track at Terminal four with your boarding pass giving you access, no invitation is necessary. This trip I was in business class so I wasn’t sure whether one world status would also give access to fast track if travelling in economy. Security was reasonably quick with maybe 7-8 people in line. Only one belt was operational so you may want to chance regular security with potentially more lanes open if you see many people going through the fast track entrance.

Lounge

Malaysia airlines has it’s own “Golden Lounge” at T4 with unlike the Qatar Airways lounge across the hall, access granted to other one world card holders. The lounge is on the third floor with the entrance just before Pret A Manger. After experiencing the lounge in Malaysia on the way out I have to say I feel like something is lacking in MH lounges. For example, the lounge in London is one big space with views of the runway but there was no area to get away from everyone else and find a corner to relax. Additionally there was no power at any of the seats I saw, cue several people wandering around looking for somewhere to plug in. Also rather weirdly the first class lounge was separated by a glass wall which reminded me of a fish bowl where we could watch the inhabitants! The bar was also actually cut in half to provide access to both business class and first class. It’s not so much that the decor is dated but that the concept needs a refresh maybe in the direction other airlines like Cathay and Qantas are going with unified lounges and modern designs.

Lounge Food

My first instinct was to be critical of the lounge food but I don’t think that is particularly fair. First impressions are that the selection is meagre, this is particularly true if you fancy a cooked breakfast before your flight. There were some Malay hot dishes of Nasi Lemak and Squid Sambal as well as fried Penang and beef sausage so I don’t know how this selection compares to what a Malaysian guest is expecting but the Western breakfast next to it was pretty poor. One of the metal warming dishes in the photo contained baked beans, tomato, croquette potatoes and scrambled egg, the only problem being they were in small bowls in the warmer and had developed a crust on top. I decided to decamp to the Plaza Premium Lounge for a hot breakfast.

To the right of the hot food were some wraps and sandwiches and fruit and cheese. It was that the selection was bad for a lounge it almost looked like it was being rationed. It wasn’t that the choices for the buffet were bad but the presentation was lacking.

Boarding

Boarding was through a separate gate at LHR, 6B for business passengers giving quick access to the upper deck of the 380. Boarding was already underway for quite a while when I got to the gate so unsurprisingly there was no queue.

Onboard

The upper deck of the A380 is spacious and the window seats are the ones to bag with the extra storage units under the window which also make a great space to use as an additional table. The downside to the spacious cabin is that the seating is 2x2 which is irritating when you or your seat mate is trying to clamber over in the middle of the night. There’s 66 seats on the upper deck split into two cabins. Design wise it reminded me of the old British Airways Club recliner (that’s going back a few years) with ample space around the seat but a 2x2 config. It’s a strange set up and one you think the airline would be keen to change to get a better yield on the cabin.

The seat itself was quite comfortable. MH supply a thin pad to place on the seat, I wouldn’t call it a mattress as it’s more like the thickness of a fleece but it wraps over the seat headrest with holes for the seatbelt so it provides a little more comfort. There’s ample space and it does go fully flat so it’s possible to get a good night’s rest

Food

On paper the menu looks good, however a few things went wrong on this flight. Let’s start with the good. MH does a really tasty satay service to start off the meal in J class on their intercontinental flights and damn is it good! Your choice of chicken or beef skewers served with dipping sauce. They’re very tasty and I almost felt like skipping the rest of the meal and just eating there.

Next up was the soup, this was tasty except for the fact it was pretty cold. It seemed to not have been heated thoroughly rather than having cooled down during the service as it was served from a coffee type warming pot.

The main course was a total disappointment. I wasn’t particularly far back in the cabin, I would say in the middle, but by then some main course items had run out. I really wasn’t feeling like the other choices so the crew member mentioned they would see if they could find another chicken for me. I was delighted when they managed to do so, however as people were served around me with their other J class entrees, it was apparent this was an economy meal that she had plated and neglected to tell me that’s what she had done. I have no problem being given that option but when you are leading me to think you have found a J entrée for me then it’s not on to substitute it for an economy meal hoping I won’t notice.

Breakfast wasn’t much better and again there was little choice with my first choice having run out. This time the crew managed to get the same meal from first class, it was identical which says something about the first class meals. Honestly though it wasn’t worth the wait. It was tasteless with overboiled potatoes, really not the quality I expect for J. As you can see from the photo not very appealing. Breakfast was also served with stone cold toast and pastries, crew didn’t offer a choice and simply plonked toast or a pastry onto the tray, so some people got a delicious looking Danish and some had cold toast!

Overall

To sum it up MH feels like an airline that needs to decide what it is. We all know the issues they’ve had but if they want to grow their customer base they need to invest more into their product. Crew mentioned cuts had been made which is why meals were in short supply and it did feel throughout the journey from lounge to seat to food that it wasn’t an airline that is passionate about it’s product and customers.

BHC Chicken Myeongdong

BHC Chicken Myeongdong

Koreans are in love with fried chicken! You think KFC is where it’s at then you haven’t been out in Korea and tried the numerous fried chicken joints. There’s many different brands but BHC Chicken is something of a Korean institution. In Myeongdong you can find chicken shops crammed up against each other which makes picking one somewhat difficult, if in doubt go for the one with the most people sitting outside, in this case BHC!

BHC stands for “Better and Happier Choice” and has been serving up delicious lumps of fried chicken since 2004. The branch we visited in Myeongdong has lots of outdoor seating like the restaurants next to it and makes a good place to grab an almost compulsory cold beer with your chicken while you people watch.

There’s every variety of chicken you can imagine, and if you’re not a fan of gnawing your way around the bone they have boneless as well!

So how did the food measure up?

We ordered a mango salad to get started which turned out to be a bit of a mistake as well as half and half spicy and regular. We also got a side order of doughy cheese balls.

First up the mango salad was a bit of a fail. The salad itself would have been fine except for the fact the mango was still partially frozen, i.e chewy frozen! We should have known better than to order salad in a fried chicken joint right?

The chicken though was the star of the show; there was the right amount of batter versus chicken and it was perfectly cooked. The sauce on the spicy version was a balance of sweet and spicy and not overpowering and reminded me of a Thai sweet and spicy sauce. I have to warn you though those doughballs are dangerous. Filled with cheese and deep fried it’s a really struggle not to keep popping those in with your beer while you wait for the chicken dangerously filling you up before the star of the show arrives!

There’s a lot of fried chicken shops in South Korea but if you’re stuck on deciding which to choose, looking at the busiest is a good sign but visiting a shop with over 1000 locations you can’t go wrong either.