Category Archives: Hong Kong

Part 17: Day Trip to Macau

Part 1: When You Wake Up at 3 AM for a 6 AM Flight…
Part 2: Only 18 Hours to Go
Part 3: How to See Angkor Wat
Part 4: The Many Faces of Bayon
Part 5: Trees Galore!
Part 6: Cambodia’s Floating Villages
Part 7: View from the Top
Part 8: The Children of Cambodia
Part 9: When Politics Ruins Your Plans
Part 10: Biking with Monkeys in Thailand
Part 11: Welcome to Hong Kong!
Part 12: Exploring Hong Kong by Day
Part 13: Exploring Hong Kong by Night
Part 14: Climbing the Mid-Levels
Part 15: View from the Top of Lantau Island
Part 16: Oh Tai O!

Note: This is the final Asia post, just in time for my trip to Peru tonight. It’s only taken me six months to finish this trip report. Go me.

We debated whether to go to Macua. Macau is a former Portuguese colony about an hour from Hong Kong by ferry. Known for it’s gambling, it’s often called the Las Vegas of the East, but not as fun. Since we had already been to Vegas, we wondered if there was really what to see. But we had explored much of Hong Kong Island and we were open to something new.

Macau is an independent territory. So you must show your passport and go through customs both ways.

Macau

 

 

Macau is a mix of modern new hotels and vestiges of its colonial past. Both are pretty in their own right.

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Like the water show at the Bellagio in Vegas, the Wynn Macau has its own version. It’s not worth a trip to Macau just for this but it certainly is pretty.

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And then of course, you have the requisite sunset picture.

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Verdict: Macau was a pleasant day trip, but while I would go back to Hong Kong in a heartbeat, I have no desire to go back to Macau. I’m not a huge gambling fan, and Las Vegas has everything Macau has and more — plus it’s in English!

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Part 16: Oh Tai O!

Part 1: When You Wake Up at 3 AM for a 6 AM Flight…
Part 2: Only 18 Hours to Go
Part 3: How to See Angkor Wat
Part 4: The Many Faces of Bayon
Part 5: Trees Galore!
Part 6: Cambodia’s Floating Villages
Part 7: View from the Top
Part 8: The Children of Cambodia
Part 9: When Politics Ruins Your Plans
Part 10: Biking with Monkeys in Thailand
Part 11: Welcome to Hong Kong!
Part 12: Exploring Hong Kong by Day
Part 13: Exploring Hong Kong by Night
Part 14: Climbing the Mid-Levels
Part 15: View from the Top of Lantau Island

After our morning visit to Ngong Ping and the Big Buddha, we took a bus down the mountain to the western edge of Lantau Island to a small sea-side fishing village, Tai O.

Tai O map

Tai O is poor. There’s no nice way of saying it, and the change from the bustling wealth of central Hong Kong is stark. But Tai O is also beautiful in its decline, especially at sunset. The native Tanka people built their homes on stilts, much like the floating villages we toured in Cambodia. We jumped on an overpriced tour boat to get a view from the water. It was worth it.

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After our boat tour – on which we saw whales! – we strolled around the town. I love this shot.

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Why not use a hanger to hang your dead fish? Seems like a perfectly good use of a hanger to me.

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And finally, my favorite type of photos: sunset pictures. But can you blame me? Look at these!

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Part 15: View from the Top of Lantau Island

Part 1: When You Wake Up at 3 AM for a 6 AM Flight…
Part 2: Only 18 Hours to Go
Part 3: How to See Angkor Wat
Part 4: The Many Faces of Bayon
Part 5: Trees Galore!
Part 6: Cambodia’s Floating Villages
Part 7: View from the Top
Part 8: The Children of Cambodia
Part 9: When Politics Ruins Your Plans
Part 10: Biking with Monkeys in Thailand
Part 11: Welcome to Hong Kong!
Part 12: Exploring Hong Kong by Day
Part 13: Exploring Hong Kong by Night
Part 14: Climbing the Mid-Levels

Seeing the Tian Tin Buddha (AKA the Big Buddha) on Lantau Island is another popular Hong Kong tourist attraction, kind of like seeing the Statue of Liberty when you visit New York City. It’s not necessarily the most riveting activity, but it’s the sort of thing you have to check off your tourist must-do list.

So how could we not go?

Plus, the trip to Lantau is an easy half-and-hour subway ride. Just take the orange line until the last stop. Once you leave the subway station, you won’t be able to miss the massive cable cars that carry passengers high above the water to the top of Ngong Ping. For far less money, you can hop on a bus as it winds it way up the mountain, but riding the cable car at least once is another tourist box begging to be checked off.

The views were beautiful, all be it, slightly nausea-inducing.

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You can see the Big Buddha right away. It is 112 feet tall, perched on a stand that is exactly 268 steps above the ground.

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Ngong Ping is also home to the Po Lin Monastery, built in 1920.

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We fulfilled our tourist duty and climbed up the 268 steps to to the top of the Buddha. The views were beautiful.

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If you’re not into Buddha or monasteries, you can also check out the Wisdom Path. A pleasant 15 minute walk takes you to a sculpture of giant wood columns arranged in the shape of an infinity symbol featuring the words of a famous Buddhist classic called the Heart Sutra.

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Part 14: Climbing The Mid-Levels

Part 1: When You Wake Up at 3 AM for a 6 AM Flight…
Part 2: Only 18 Hours to Go
Part 3: How to See Angkor Wat
Part 4: The Many Faces of Bayon
Part 5: Trees Galore!
Part 6: Cambodia’s Floating Villages
Part 7: View from the Top
Part 8: The Children of Cambodia
Part 9: When Politics Ruins Your Plans
Part 10: Biking with Monkeys in Thailand
Part 11: Welcome to Hong Kong!
Part 12: Exploring Hong Kong by Day
Part 13: Exploring Hong Kong by Night

 

I didn’t understand what the Mid-Levels were until I experienced it for myself. But I will try to explain it to you. The Mid-Levels are essentially a very, very long outdoor escalator running north to south through Hong Kong’s Soho’s neighborhood into Central. Behold, a map:

Midlevels

Since Hong Kong is built into the side of a mountain, walking up and down can grow tiresome. So Hong Kong built a series of escalators and moving sidewalks to transport residents into Central’s busy business district. The plan was to build two escalators – one going north and one going south, but after many delays and cost overruns, the second escalator was never built. As a result, the escalators run downhill from 6 am to 10 am to accommodate commuters heading to work, and uphill from 10:30 am to midnight.

Behold the Mid-Levels:

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Part 13: Exploring Hong Kong By Night

Part 1: When You Wake Up at 3 AM for a 6 AM Flight…
Part 2: Only 18 Hours to Go
Part 3: How to See Angkor Wat
Part 4: The Many Faces of Bayon
Part 5: Trees Galore!
Part 6: Cambodia’s Floating Villages
Part 7: View from the Top
Part 8: The Children of Cambodia
Part 9: When Politics Ruins Your Plans
Part 10: Biking with Monkeys in Thailand
Part 11: Welcome to Hong Kong!
Part 12: Exploring Hong Kong by Day

We loved Hong Kong by day, and we loved it just as much at night. There are plenty of lights, plenty of night markets if you’re looking for cheap trinkets and souvenirs (not really), and tons of fun for those obsessed with nighttime photography (totally and unapologetically guilty).

Here are some of my favorite shots from our night adventures. This is the entrance to the Temple Street Night Market on Kowloon. I was literally sitting on the floor with my mini tripod… the things I will do to take a picture…insane!

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These pictures were a lot of fun to take. As we strolled through Wan Chai, I stumbled upon a pedestrian island in the middle of a busy street, which turned out to be the perfect place to take pictures of Hong Kong’s night traffic.

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As we walked east from Wan Chai, we hit Causeway Bay, the place to go for hectic local nightlife.

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See if you can find The Boyfriend in the picture below. He is the guy in the middle in the grey sweater, graciously carrying my hot pink backpack.

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And finally, we finished our trip to Hong Kong the way we started it: With a trip to the Peak at night. Turns out, taking night pictures from the Peak without a full standing tripod is extraordinarily difficult. These pictures involved some seriously impressive balancing maneuvers.

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Part 12: Exploring Hong Kong by Day

Six months after the big Asia trip, I’m scrambling to finish my trip reports for two reasons: 1) I leave for Peru in two weeks. 2) A friend got married this weekend and is off to Hong Kong for his honeymoon. He is looking for travel advice, and my advice will come in the form of a blog post. So here goes.

Part 1: When You Wake Up at 3 AM for a 6 AM Flight…
Part 2: Only 18 Hours to Go
Part 3: How to See Angkor Wat
Part 4: The Many Faces of Bayon
Part 5: Trees Galore!
Part 6: Cambodia’s Floating Villages
Part 7: View from the Top
Part 8: The Children of Cambodia
Part 9: When Politics Ruins Your Plans
Part 10: Biking with Monkeys in Thailand
Part 11: Welcome to Hong Kong!

We loved walking around Hong Kong and seeing the different neighborhoods change across the island. Hong Kong is extremely safe (and crowded), so we had no qualms about exploring by foot by day and by night.

Our very first day took us through Hong Kong Park, located right next to our hotel. It’s not Central Park, but I fell in love with it just the same. It’s beautifully decorated, peaceful, and of course, extremely photogenic.

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Our trip coincided with a flower festival in Hong Kong Park. I thought it was the most amazing thing ever and HAD to take a thousand pictures. The Boyfriend thought it was just a bunch of dumb flowers.

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Hong Kong is a city of layers. Roads are built over roads; walkways tower over highways. You can walk for blocks underground through the city’s subway system. And of course, there are the sky scrapers towering over you everywhere you look.

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This is my favorite Hong Kong building – the Jardin House.

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We wandered through a street market in Causeway Bay. The fish were still alive and hopping around, which, if you look closely, you can see in the photograph.

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Just a funky looking temple in Causeway Bay:

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One of Hong Kong’s many street markets:

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One of the fun things about Hong Kong is the constant variety – kind of like New York City. One block is different from the next. Each neighborhood has its own personality. You have modern skyscrapers overlooking dilapidated neighborhoods, natural getaways in the middle of an urban jungle, old-school temples next door to high-powered banks…etc. This was a temple we stumbled upon in Sheung Wan, a north western district on Hong Kong Island.

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HAVE I MENTIONED YET HOW MUCH I LOVED HONG KONG????

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Part 11: Welcome to Hong Kong!

Part 1: When You Wake Up at 3 AM for a 6 AM Flight…
Part 2: Only 18 Hours to Go
Part 3: How to See Angkor Wat
Part 4: The Many Faces of Bayon
Part 5: Trees Galore!
Part 6: Cambodia’s Floating Villages
Part 7: View from the Top
Part 8: The Children of Cambodia
Part 9: When Politics Ruins Your Plans
Part 10: Biking with Monkeys in Thailand

It’s been a while since I wrote about the Great Asia Trip of 2013, stopping before I got to my favorite part. So without further ado, my new favorite city in the word: Hong Kong.

I loved Hong Kong. Why? In sum, it is a cleaner, more efficient, more beautiful, slightly cheaper (but not much) version of New York City. But it is also so much more than that.

I loved everything, from the towering skyline mixing with the mountains, to the lights glimmering on the harbor, to the insane number of shopping malls, to the weather (70 degrees in December!)…I could go on and on.

Our first day in Hong Kong, we did the classic tourist attractions. But unlike most tacky tourist activities, going to the Peak and taking the Star Ferry across Victoria Harbor allows you to really appreciate the beauty that is Hong Kong.

First up: The Peak. We rode the somewhat overpriced tram up to the Peak, which you should do once in your life. We actually walked down on the way back, but that was more of an accident than a planned activity.

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And this is the beautiful scene that met us at the top of Sky Terrace 428. Note: The Peak is free, but entrance to the viewing tower known as Sky Terrace 428 costs HK $60 for a combined one-way Peak + Terrace ticket. You can get great views without paying for the Sky Terrace, but I recommend paying at least once in your life.)

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If you are even a little bit obsessed with tall buildings (guilty), then the Peak is a great place to learn about Hong Kong’s skyline. And I highly recommend annoying people with your newfound knowledge after the fact.

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Here I am looking eastward and north across Victoria Harbor.

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Me at the top of the Peak – and look – it’s short-sleeve weather!

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And finally, here is the bizarre but famous Peak Tower, where you’ll find restaurants, gift shops and a variety of other tourist activities. The Sky Terrace 428 is located at the very top.

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After I took a bagillion (not a typo) pictures, we went for a stroll that ended up being a hike down from the Peak to the south end of Honk Kong Island. We were technically lost. But here’s the wonderful thing about Honk Kong: We simply hailed a cab and 20 minutes later, we got to experience Hong Kong traffic and were dropped off at the Star Ferry terminal.

There are a number of ways to get across Victoria Harbor to Kowloon. But taking the Star Ferry across the harbor is a quintessential experience.

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Below is the view of the International Commerce Center (ICC) from the ferry, the tallest building in Hong Kong, the seventh tallest in the world, and our next stop. ICC hosts an observation deck on the 100th floor. We timed our visit shortly before sunset to experience the view of Hong Kong in the daylight, at sunset, and at night.

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The view from the top of ICC is amazing. My only caveat, as a photographer, is the observation deck is fully enclosed, so if you are looking for great photos, you will have to contentdwith the glass reflections.

Still, I managed to get a couple of decent photos, especially of the sun setting into the water with a spectacular display of colors that took my breath away.

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We could see our hotel (the Conrad) from the ICC!

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So…WOW!

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Our last activity for the night was Hong Kong’s famous light show, which happens at 8:00 pm every night and is best seen from Kowloon side of the harbor. I admit, I was a little underwhelmed. Perhaps it was because the rest of the day was so amazing. Or maybe I was just tired and hungry (definitely a possibility since it was already 8 pm and my jet-lagged bed time fell in the 5:00 – 6:00 pm slot).

Don’t get me wrong: I loved Hong Kong at night. The city’s lights put New York City to shame with its palette of colors and imagery. But in my book, the 20 minute light show is more of a one-time activity.

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Our first day in Hong Kong was AMAZING. I was exhausted, but I was also in love.

 

How Much Does It Cost to Travel the World In Style?

Excellent question.

According to Kayak, a comparable trip from New York City to Siem Reap would cost $2951 and a comparable trip from Hong Kong back to New York City would cost somewhere between $3,000 and $4,000 a person. On the conservative side, our flights to Asia and back would cost $12,000 for two people in business class not even counting our intra-Asia flights. This is what we paid:

New York – Siem Reap, Cambodia (via San Francisco and Seoul)

120,000 miles and $57.60 in fees
The miles were earned by signing up for the Chase Ink Bold credit card (60,000 miles) and a combination of stray United miles and Chase points in both my account and The Boyfriend’s. We had to pay a $200 change fee to alter our plans to include Cambodia but I’m pretty sure The Boyfriend’s Amex Platinum will pick up the tab on that so it is not listed.

Cambodia – Bangkok

$368
We paid out of pocket for economy seats on this hour-long flight. There are, to my knolwedge, only three airlines that fly from Siem Reap to Bangkok nonstop: Bangkok Airways (the most expensive), AirAsia, and Cambodia Angkor Air (a turboprop plane). The turboprop scared us so we are flying AirAsia.

Bangkok – Hong Kong

15,000 avios + $103.56
Using the 20 percent bonus transfer from American Express, I saved a few Amex points on the transfer to British Airways. These are economy seats since it didn’t seem worthwhile to spend an extra 15,000 miles for a two and a half hour flight.

Hong Kong – New York (via Vancouver)

140,000 avios and $320.52 in fees
I had earned 50,000 from the British Airways credit card (plus the $95 annual fee) and The Boyfriend had earned a heaping pile of Amex points though his work credit cards. I used a 35 percent Amex bonus to transfer the necessary points to my British Airways account to meet the 70,000 per person price.

Total for two business class tickets from New York to Cambodia, two business class tickets from Hong Kong to New York and two tickets for two intra-Asia flights in economy:

120,000 miles + $57.60
$368
15,000 miles + $103.56
140,000 miles + $320.52
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275,000 miles + 849.68

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Change of Plans…

After weeks of trying to squeeze in a side trip to Angkor Wat from Bangkok, we reached a decision point. Either give up on visiting one of the most impressive religious sites in the world or bite the bullet and change the trip. It simply didn’t make sense to go from Bangkok to Siem Reap to Hong Kong because of the limited number of flights out of Siem Reap. So we bit the bullet.

We added two days to our trip and will now be flying from New York City to San Francisco (United), to Seoul (Asiana) to Siem Reap (Asiana). It is a long trip but it will all be in business class and we were able to squeeze the entire trip to Cambodia into a single award for a mere 60,000 United miles per person and a total of $57.60 in fees. Since I do not have status with United we had to pay a $200 change fee ($100 per person) but I put the charge on The Boyfriend’s Platinum Amex (after designating United as his airline of choice) and am hoping Amex will pick up the tab.

Our new trip to Asia:

Trip to Asia2

Our entire trip from start to finish:

Trip to Asia and back2

We plan to spend two days in Angkor Wat, which people say is not enough but it will have to do. We will hop a short hour-long flight to Bangkok, spend four days in Thailand and then off to Hong Kong.

We are two weeks away and I am psyched!

 

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Around the World in 14 Days

Our next big trip is in the works.

[Pause for jubilant cartwheel.]

After our trip to Paris and Brussels last New Year’s, The Boyfriend and I both agreed that it was time to move on from Europe. Not that we have seen everything we want to see – not by a long shot. But we are ready for something new. Different. So… we are going to Asia.

[Pause for jubilant cartwheel.]

Yes. Asia. In business class. We leave New York in late November for Bangkok, via Frankfurt. We’ll spend some time in Bangkok and the surrounding areas, and then head to Hong Kong so The Boyfriend can marvel at the tall buildings. And then, we head home via Vancouver.

I was mapping out the trip the other day, and I realized: HOLY CLICHE BATMAN, WE ARE LITERALLY GOING AROUND THE WORLD! How cool is that?

Around the world in 14 days!

Around the world in 14 days!

Here’s how the award tickets break down:

I used 120,000 United miles (a combination of United miles and Chase points) to book two business class tickets to Bangkok via Frankfort from New York City. We fly United to Frankfort and Thai Airways to Bangkok. The cost in dollars: $70.

I used 140,000 British Airways avios (thanks to the American Express 35% bonus transfer) to book two business class seats on Cathay Pacific. I’ve read many a blog post about Cathay’s wonderful business class seats and I’m excited to try them out. Cost: $320

Asia, here we come. Off to turn some more cartwheels…

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