Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Highlights of UA895

Date: Friday, 18 Dec 09
Sector: Hong Kong Chek Lap Kok (HKG) -> Singapore Changi (SIN)
Aircraft: N117UA, B747-422
Seat: 48K
Departure Gate: 63

Scheduled Departure Time: 2000 LT
Actual Departure Time: 2000 LT

Scheduled Arrival Time: 2345 LT
Actual Arrival Time: 2345 LT
Arrival Gate: B5

Getting to The Airport

The final highlight of our trip was a ride on a Cityflyer A21 Dennis Trident from the city to the airport. Therefore, in order to guarentee ourselves a front row seat on the upper deck, we decided to board the bus from its first stop at Hung Hom Bus Terminal.

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These double deck buses are specially fitted with aircraft style seats and are equipped with retractable blinds on the windows as well. In order to ensure the safety of the passengers’ luggage, a CCTV is mounted at the luggage racks on the lower floor, and the image is shown on a screen on the upper deck so that passengers are able to keep an eye on their luggage. However, we note that most passengers choose to stay on the lower deck instead despite this feature. Service A21 (HK$33) is an economical alternative to the Airport Express Line (HK$100), but it takes 75mins from end to end as a significant portion of the journey is spent winding through the residential estates in west Kowloon before finally hitting the highway.

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Interior of a Cityflyer bus (upper deck)
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Owing to strong winds, both the upper decks and lower decks of the iconic Tsing Ma Bridge were opened to traffic and much to our disappointment; our bus took the sheltered lower deck tunnel instead of the scenic main deck. This might possibly due to company operating procedures to ensure the safety of the passengers. Nonetheless, it was a new experience for us as the lower deck tunnel is normally used only in summer.

Lower Deck of Tsing Ma Bridge
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HKIA Departure Concourse (Cityflyer Drop off point)
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Check-in

Unlike Singapore, United Airlines uses a common check-in queue at Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA), with 4 counters dedicated to economy class passengers. The queue was manageable and we were attended to by a polite and meticulous middle aged male check-in agent within 15mins. .

After which, I proceeded to the ground transport centre to photograph a Cityflyer Dennis Trident with a full body Thai Airways advertisement. It was a tradition which I had always aimed to continue whenever I visit Hong Kong, and luck has it that I always ended up photographing the bus parked at the exact same location in the ground transportation centre each time. Besides being my favourite airline, Thai Airways had adorned one of the Cityflyer’s buses with several versions of its striking purple advertisement for the past 8 years, making it one of the longest continuously running bus advertisements in Hong Kong.

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Meeting up with my friends again on the departure level, we proceeded to clear the common security screening at the entrance to the restricted area, which was never a problem in Hong Kong with the large number of security lanes in use. However, there were long queues at the immigration counters which do not have a common queue as with the arrivals level. Fortunately, more lanes were quickly opened to cope with the crowd and we managed to enter the restricted area after a further 10 minutes of queuing.

Christmas decorations at HKIA
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As mentioned in my previous flight report on the outbound sector, the catering on United Airlines was a great disappointment. Since we were not too optimistic about getting a better meal this time around and reasoned that passengers would probably had been offered a full dinner prior to arrival at Hong Kong on the trans-Pacific sector, my friends decided to look for a food outlet to settle their dinner first. I was told that the Café de Coral outlet located in the restricted area charges similar prices to their other outlets as well, thus this might be a rather good option to settle a meal in the future when flying a low cost carrier flight (or United regional in economy) out from Hong Kong.

Night Spotting at HKIA

The restricted area is actually quite a good place to obtain night shots of aircraft parked at the gates as almost all the aircraft which are berthed aerobridge equipped gates could be photographed. The slightly tinted glass is warped in a few panels, but most panels are relatively clear and clean to obtain photographs from. In comparison to Changi Airport, HKIA does not use double layered climatic glass which eliminates the risk of ‘double reflections’ which are caused by the internal reflection within the glass panel itself. Therefore, one only has to block out the reflections from inside the terminal building using a dark cloth or jacket.

How I ever wish that VS would start regular flights on their own to SIN...Virgin Atlantic A340-600 G-VWEB
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N174UA resting before an onward flight to Ho Chi Minh City.
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Biman Bangladesh DC-10-30 S2-ACQ
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Air New Zealand B777-200ER to Auckland, ZK-OKF
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Air Canada B777-300ER C-FIVQ
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China Eastern B737-700 (Winglets) being prepared for pushback.
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The Flight

Boarding was called 45mins before the departure time, and economy class passengers were segregated into 4 different zones based on their seat numbers. As each zone was being boarded, the gate agent called forward a number of lucky standby passengers with their seat allocations. An additional manual bag check was performed by security personnel in the aerobridge itself before passengers were allowed to board the aircraft, hence the early boarding time. The aircraft operating the flight today would be N117UA, which was delivered to United Airlines on 29/01/1999.

Apologies for the quality of this photo (some wrong settings were used). N117UA being loaded with containers at the gate.
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Despite being a completely full flight, we pushed back exactly on time at 2000hrs. I was thrilled to discover that channel 9 was functioning this time around, and provided a live audio feed of Hong Kong Tower radio channel as we taxied out for departure. After waiting a short while for a Jet Airways A330 as she took off to Mumbai, we turned onto runway 07R and performed a rather long take-off roll due to heavy load on this flight.

About to push back from the gate - A last look at HKIA.
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The "enthusiast" channel - Channel 9!
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As soon as the seat belt signs were turned off, the Disney animation “Wall-E” was shown on the main screen as the cabin crew went around distributing Singapore arrival cards to passengers.

The “light dinner” comprised of a cold tuna sandwich with cheese, a small bag of Lays potato chips and a lemon cookie. The portion was just sufficient to prevent one from having gastric problems during the 3hr flight, and the items seemed to be mix-and-matched from a supermarket instead of a proper snack box. A full 330ml can of Coca-Cola was offered together with a cup of ice, which was thankfully quite generous of the airline as many others use smaller 150ml cans or pour only a half cup to passengers when one requests for a Coke.

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The duty free shopping catalogue was not of any interest as there were no airline merchandise or aircraft models available for purchase. It was noted that the cabin crew made almost no sales at all despite going down the aisles twice with the duty free trolley while holding up the duty free catalogue with their hands.

After a short nap, the aircraft soon started to begin its descent into Singapore Changi airport, as I began to hear the familiar Singaporean ‘accent’ from the Singapore ATC on the Singapore Approach radio channel. From the radio exchanges, there were also 398 souls on board the flight today, which meant that the flight was totally full today, as the refurbished B747-400s are configured with 374 seats with an accompanying crew of 24.

Hemispheres in-flight magazine, baggage tags and boarding passes
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After a smooth flight lasting 3hrs 17mins, we made a very gentle touchdown onto a rainy runway. Owing to the large wing area, the B747 is known for allowing very soft landings as compared to other aircraft types due to the “cushion” of air below the aircraft when it is just about to hit the ground. In fact, my most vivid memory of an Alitalia flight when I had taken more than a decade ago on a classic B747-200 were the very soft landings! We arrived back at Gate B5 at Terminal 3 at 2345hrs exactly on schedule.

Conclusion

There had been many positive reviews about the Asian crew working on the regional United sectors in Asia, and I agree that my experience with them had been a very positive one as well. They were polite, efficient and sincere when serving passengers. Unfortunately, their excellent service were let down by the quality of the catering served during the flight, which was quite dismal considering the length of the flight and the fact that it is a full service carrier operating in Asia where other full hot meals is the norm on such flights in economy class. Nevertheless, United offers an economical, safe, comfortable and punctual service on the Singapore-Hong Kong sector.

In comparison with Jetstar which offer similar schedules to Hong Kong at the time of booking, the additional $6 in terms of the ticket price is negligible. The additional benefits include being able to fly on a widebody B747-400 instead of a common and unremarkable narrowbody A320-200, some form of an inflight entertainment and catering during the flight, as well as the opportunity to experience channel 9 which is unique to United Airlines.

However, with other airlines such as Cathay Pacific offering similar fares during the low season, it might be a better choice to choose Cathay Pacific instead as passengers can enjoy greater flexibility with more daily flights, individual in-flight entertainment and full catering service.

Previous Post: Final Day - Day 8

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Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Final Day - Day 8

Nathan Rd 彌敦道

Despite sleeping at only 2am the previous night, we decided to wake up early on our final morning for a 'last assault' on photographs. We started the day by camping for photos along Nathan Rd where our guesthouse is situated as we settled our breakfast with some buns from Maxim's at Jordan MTR station.

Nathan Rd celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2009 with a number of boards tied to the street signs. Each of these street signs shed light on familiar historic landmarks along Nathan Rd. For example, old cinemas, buildings such as the infamous Chungking Mansions and even old buses were featured.
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Some trees were planted along the roadside to help alleviate the feeling of being trapped in a concrete jungle.
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Street scene along Nathan Rd in the morning.
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The sole Leyland Olympian 'hotdog' on service 81C heads down Nathan Rd towards Hung Hom Terminal. In the background, a gym advertises its facilities with an equally vintage looking sign.
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Hung Hom 紅磡

Morning jam at the cross harbour tunnel towards the city. It is really a huge contrast to the rather empty carriageway in the opposite direction! All the cross harbour services call at a common bus stop before the tunnel entrance so that passengers can easily transfer between the different services.
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There are 19 cross harbour services with 18 being jointly operated by KMB and either Citybus or New World First Bus. Service 108 is the sole exception as it is operated by only KMB. A Dennis Trident 10.6m was photographed being stuck in the jam on service 108 towards Braemar Hill
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0398, a Citybus Volvo Olympian, had such an old fashioned advertisement for Weisen-U (a gastric pain drug) that it actually fits quite well with the Alexander R type bodywork!
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1055 on service 101 to Kennedy Town carries a full body Yahoo advertisement. Passengers could access the internet for free with wifi devices onboard buses with the full body or panel version of this advertisement. However, I can testify that it was not easy to login after repeated tries on my Nokia E66 when riding such a bus a few days earlier!
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A rather cute Year of the Ox livery on an Enviro 500 of New World First Bus.
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Garuda Indonesia had sought to revamp its image recently by introducing a new livery across its fleet. The new 'Nature's Wings' livery looked just as nice on a double deck as on an aircraft!
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We went back to Hung Hom Railway Station and decided to have our lunch at Maxim's Express, which had a similar concept to Cafe de Coral. There was quite a substantial premium on the price due to its location. I eventually settled for what seems to be an imitation of the familiar economical rice dish back in Singapore. There were about 5 dishes for patrons to choose from, and I chose sweet & sour chicken and stewed pork with winter melon.
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After a quick lunch, we reasoned that it would be faster to actually head to Central by using the train instead of by bus through the cross-harbour tunnel due to the massive jams which we had witnessed earlier.

Hung Hom Station Concourse. Hung Hom is also the terminal station for both the East Rail and West Rail line, and the 2 lines are split between the 2 pairs of platform.
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In order to facilitate transfer passengers, each pair of platform has 1 East Rail and 1 West Rail platform each. Thus, passengers would only need to walk across the platform when transferring between lines. However, this means that passengers who board at Hung Hom have to check the correct pair of platform to head to for boarding either of the 2 lines; failure to do so would certainly mean staring at an empty platform for the next 7 minutes.
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Central 中環

A direction pole points the way to the different transport modes outside Central MTR Station.
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Big Bus Dennis Condor open top. These buses were purchased from NWFB and converted to Open Top, and is similar to NWFB's own example on service 15C.
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Citybus Service 260 picking up passengers from Exchange Square Terminus to Stanley.
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The Dennis Condors are often seen working routes to the Southern district of Hong Kong Island, such as service 91 to Ap Lei Chau.
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NWFB Dennis Trident with full body Nikon advertisment.
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After waiting for to obtain a photo of Rickshaw Bus H1 entering Exchange Square Terminal, we rushed back into the underground maze of Central MTR to make our way to Prince Edward station for some last minute shopping.
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Pioneer Plaza - West Main Toys & 80M Bus Model Shop

Pioneer Plaza is a shopping centre located near Prince Edward MTR station and houses 2 popular model shops on the second story. West Main Toys sells mainly aircraft models, while 80M Bus Model Shop deals with mostly bus models. It is interesting that these 2 shops actually face each other!

I was very lucky to be able to purchase the last unit of a Gemini Jets 1/400 Thai Airways MD-11 (old livery) HS-TME as I wanted the model for quite a long time. It is substantially cheaper to buy aircraft models in Hong Kong as they can be up to 50% cheaper than that in Singapore.
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Another view of the 1/400 Thai Airways MD11 model.
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In addition to the aircraft model, I also got one of the miniature 1/150 scale bus models from 80M Bus Model Shop. It comes complete with a plastic case and a diorama to be displayed on a desk. The Leyland Victory MkII double decker is one of the most iconic buses in Hong Kong in the '80s.
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We rushed back to our guesthouse to meet with the others (who had went to stake out for the return trip of the Citybus K94UD demonstrator #2800 on service 788) before heading to the airport together. It was a pleasant surprise that we had managed to chance upon a final ride on the Scania N113DRB double deck for the short trip from Prince Edward to Jordon.
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Next and Final Post: Highlights of UA895

Previous Post: Shenzhen Day - Day 7

Shenzhen Day - Day 7

Tsuen Wan 荃灣

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Tsuen Wan is the terminal station for the Tsuen Wan line, and it also houses the depot for the Tsuen Wan line trains. The actual location of the depot is actually on the ground floor of the apartment buildings. As a classic example of a mixed-use development, MTR seeks to expand its revenue sources by building residential blocks above the depot as it actually owns the land where the depot sits on as well.
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S3V20 disembarking passengers during morning peak at a bus stop opposite Tsuen Wan MTR station. The Volvo Olympian 'hotdog' also wears a striking orange full body advertisement to promote a new youth magazine named 'Breakazine'.
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Out of a total of 47 MAN 24.310 double decks brought in my KMB, only 17 of them are bodied by Volgren of Australia. These buses are often found working on services in the Tsuen Wan area, such as 259E as pictured below in Tsuen Wan bus terminal.
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The main reason for a detour to Tsuen Wan is to fit in a ride on a MAN 24.310. Though common in Europe, MAN double deck citybuses are very rare in this part of the world. In order to guarentee ourselves a ride on one of these German buses, we decided to take KMB 60M to Tuen Mun as most of the fleet comprises of them.
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Upper deck of a MAN 24.310 with Berkhof bodywork. The most distinctive difference in the interior as compared to the other double decks in KMB's fleet is the position of the staircase in the middle of the bus.
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Lower deck interior. Instead of the traditional bench seating between the entrance and the exit, the unusual position of the staircase meant that it is feasible to install the usual forward and rearward facing seats.
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Service 60M uses a section of the Castle Peak Rd between Tsuen Wan and Tuen Mun which runs parallel to the coast. This allows for a more direct route between the 2 towns instead of having to do a loop to the north if one were to use the MTR West Rail line. Castle Peak Rd also connects to the Ting Kau bridge towards Tsing Yi and the airport (via Tsing Ma bridge as seen behind Ting Kau bridge in the photo).
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AMN21, which is similar to the MAN 24.310 which we took, was spotted laying over at Tuen Mun Town Centre Terminal. The bus terminal is a covered terminal which seats underneath the Tuen Mun Town Centre.
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Tuen Mun 屯門 - Shenzhen Bay Port 深圳湾

Traditionally, most passengers who wish to travel from Hong Kong to Shenzhen in the past would have no choice but to use the grossly overcrowded Lowu checkpoint, or the rather inconvenient Huanggang checkpoint at Lok Ma Chau. Over the past few years, the Chinese government had also stepped up the development in the Futian distict in west Shenzhen as a long term solution to alleviate the congestion in central Shenzhen. Thus, 2 new checkpoints were opened in recent years to provide more options to those who wish to travel between the 2 cities. These are the Shenzhen Bay Port and Lok Ma Chau (Futian) Port. A number of bus services were also introduced to serve these 2 new checkpoints, and are readily identified by the B prefix.

The most convenient checkpoint from Tuen Mun is the Shenzhen Bay Port. Citybus service B3 and B3X links Tuen Mun to the new checkpoint and the boarding point is opposite Tuen Mun Town Centre terminal. It is also worthwhile to note that Tuen Mun Town Centre is actually 1 LRT stop further down from the Tuen Mun MTR station.
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Very weathered and frayed banners that once provided passengers with information about the different services available from the bus stop such as B3 and B3X.
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Although B3X starts from the bus stop and thus offers a greater chance of getting a choice seat, we decided to board B3 (which starts from Tuen Mun Ferry Pier) as it is an Enviro 500 instead of a normal Dennis Trident that was operating the next trip of B3X.
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Rural landscape on an overcast morning in the north western corner of New Territories. Yuen Tau Shan 圓頭山 is shrouded in fog in the background. Despite being one of the shorter hills in Hong Kong at 365m, it is still higher than Bt Timah Hill!
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8104 on service B3 at Shenzhen Bay Port. The actual checkpoint complex is located across Shenzhen Bay, thus buses servicing the route have to cross a bridge, which also serves to convert the left hand drive carriageway to right hand drive at the end of the bridge.
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Shenzhen Bay Port checkpoint & immigration complex. We spent nearly an hour queueing up and completing the immigration and health declaration forms.
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Window of The World 世界之窗

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Window of the World is a major theme park in Shenzhen where scale replicas of famous landmarks around the world are exhibited. This includes the quitessential Effiel Tower, Statue of Liberty and of course the Singapore Merlion. A large glass sculpture was erected recently at the entrance of the theme park as a symbol of a "window". Photo Credits to Desmond Tay
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A row of European houses near the entrance to the park. Due to both a lack of time and interest, we did not pay a visit into the park.
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In addition to being a meeting point of all the characteristic structures of the world, the bus stops outside the theme park is also a meeting point for a large number of bus services and serve as a 'transport hub'. A Shenzhen Metro station also serves the park. We decided to hop on a bus to our next destination at Zhuzilin 竹子林.
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Public Bus in Shenzhen

The public bus service in Shenzhen is currently undergoing a consolidation process in a bid to reduce the amount of confusion as a result of the large number of bus operators. The bus services will be generally divided into Branch 支线, Main-Line 干线 and Express 快线, with each service type sharing a common livery.

Futian Transport Hub at Zhuzilin.
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Branch 支线 B602 laying over outside Shenzhen Bay Port. Branch line buses have a strking orange livery and often uses midibuses, such as this brand new Shanghai Shen Long 上海申龙 bus.
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Main-Line 干线 buses have a pale blue-green livery, such as this Huanghai operated by Eastern Bus. The operator's name and logo are placed at the front of the bus, and is partially obscured by the manufacturer's badge as seen here. The full service number for this bus is actually 310环线315, and it also holds the record as the longest public bus service in Shenzhen with a trip taking nearly 4hrs to complete.
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Some of the Wuzhoulong in Shenzhen are actually hybrid vehicles which run on both diesel and electricity, such as BD8330 which was photographed at Zhuzilin working on service 223 to Nantou.
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The number of older Chinese citybuses which feature the distinctive boxy bodywork and wooden seats are dwindling quickly as they are being replaced by newer buses.
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A Yutong citybus operated by Western Bus still wears the company's own livery and had not been repainted into the common livery for main line buses.
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Express 快线 routes often uses coaches and are painted in a bright green livery, as demonstrated by this Zhongtong coach working on service 329 for Eastern Bus.
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H92 is a tourist service operated by Haibin Transport using full length Higer coaches, and plies between Futian Transport Hub and Jin Sha Wan beach 金沙湾海滩.
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Futian Transport Hub is also the terminating point for many inter and intra provincial coach services, such as this Volvo B10M coach fitted with a Chinese bodywork.
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Shenzhen Metro 深圳地鐵

The Shenzhen Metro was put into service in December 2004, and currently comprises of 2 lines. which mainly connects Luohu to the Futian district. Zhuzilin station lies on Line 1 (will be renamed as Luobao Line 罗宝线 in the future) which runs between Luohu and Shenzhen University. This line will also be extended to the Shenzhen Bao'an Airport to the west in the near future. The metro logo also bears a striking resemblance to Hong Kong's MTR station with only the addition of an extra vertical line.
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Shenzhen Metro is partially managed by the MTR (Shenzhen), thus many features of its parent company are present throughout the system. This includes calligraphy of the station names on the platform (similar to Island Line stations in Hong Kong).
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Failure to give way to alighting passengers before boarding is a universal problem at many metro systems in the world. Shenzhen Metro hopes to bring across courtesy messages by pasting comics on the station platform doors.
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Luohu 罗湖

Stately looking Luohu Checkpoint & Immigration Complex.
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Shenzhen Train station.
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Shenzhen Bus Terminal. The original bus terminal at the ground level had been demolished to make way for a new retail development which is integrated together with the metro system.
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We decided to have lunch at a MacDonald's located inside the railway station. The grilled pork burger was very well done and the patty is also generously sized. In addition, it was only RMB15 (~S$3.10) as it was a lunchtime special.
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Shatoujiao 沙头角

Our next target in Shenzhen was to ride the King Long double deck which plies on tourist route 1. However, it does not call at the railway station, thus we had to take a train to transfer to the bus.
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Detailed information panels along the street as we emerge from the station exit.
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King Long XMQ6110GS1 operated by Peng Yun Bus. This model was identical to the one which I had taken in Xiamen a few months ago, with the exception that it is fully airconditioned.
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On many Shenzhen public buses, two-man operation is still practised. The conductor also helps to advise on the fare to be paid as most of the routes have stage fares, and prompt passengers to alight at their stop (which also helps to evade fare cheats!)
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Keeping up with the times. At a time when such blue billboards were used as a tool to instill patroitism in the past, this series of strategically placed billboards on an overhead bridge now reminds citizens of their civic responsibility to dispose of their trash in proper receptacles. Photo Credits to Desmond Tay
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Wu Tong Shan Tunnel as the bus heads east towards Yan Tian and Da Mei Sha.Photo Credits to Desmond Tay
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Sha Tou Jiao vehicular checkpoint. The bus in the photo operates a direct service between Shenzhen and Fanling in Hong Kong.
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Sculpture in Shatoujiao. We tried to join a tour to visit Zhong Ying Street in Shatoujiao where part of the street is in China and another part is in Hong Kong, but the tour is only open to locals for now.
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Bus Stop at San Jia Dian, where we took another bus back to Laojie to head back to Hong Kong.
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For the return to Hong Kong, we chose to use the other new checkpoint, which is the Futian Checkpoint. After clearing immigration on the Chinese side, one would have to cross the Shenzhen River using a double deck bridge to the Hong Kong side of the complex.

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As the complex was owned and developed by MTR, one is bombarded with signs to encourage one to take the MTR from the Lok Ma Chau station located next to the immigration complex. It was not exactly easy to locate the signs to the bus terminal located on the ground floor outside the complex. KMB Service B1 links Lok Ma Chau MTR Station to Yuen Long and Tin Shui Wai.
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Yuen Long 元朗

The main branch of Hang Heung is located along the main road in Yuen Long. Hang Heung is famous for its Wife's Cake, which are made fresh daily by using their own winter melon paste. Although Hang Heung has outlets located in the city, I somehow find the quality and freshness to be lacking when bought from their branches.
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Dinner at Cafe de Coral at Yuen Long. I ordered the baked rice with pork cutlet set meal, which was so popular that it was quickly sold out when we had dinner at Tsuen Wan West a few nights ago. The serving was generous and the pork cutlet was not overly dry. The only thing which is lacking from the dish is a layer of melted cheese!
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Night Services at Mei Foo 美孚

Being our final night in Hong Kong, we headed out to Mei Foo terminal to photograph some of the night bus services. Unlike Singapore, the night buses in Hong Kong run daily.
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Many of the regular services run after midnight as well, thus we were able to get some photos of them as well. This Volvo B10TL is very similar to those operated by SBS Transit as it also has a Volgren bodywork. Most of the Volvo B10TL in Hong Kong are bodied with Alexander ALX500 bodywork instead.
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A Leyland Olympian 'hotdog' on service 38A at Mei Foo Terminal. The bulk of service 38A's fleet comprises of Duple Metsec bodied Dennis Dragon 'hotdog's, but the Duple Metsec bodywork are not as photogenic as the Walter Alexander 'R' type bodywork found on the Leyland Olympians!
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The night services have a N prefix, and operates full size double decks which include the relatively newer Wright bodied buses.
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A 'baby' Dennis Dragon waiting to operate N237. It has single deck destination signs in the destination sign holder at the front.
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Just as many cross harbour services are joint operation, the night cross harbour services are as well. N122 is operated by both KMB and New World First Bus between Mei Foo and Shau Kei Wan on Hong Kong Island.
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Sastified with our haul of buses and freezing in the wintry 11 degrees Celsius weather, we hopped on the NWFB as photographed above back to our guesthouse along Nathan Rd.
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