Enjoy our pictures from Hong Kong and Macau!
|Hong Kong Album|
Enjoy our pictures from Hong Kong and Macau!
|Hong Kong Album|
This is one of our Budget series of posts to give you an idea of how much we spent traveling around the world. Here we will look at Hong Kong and Macau. Check our posts to see what kind of activities we did and where we stayed!
In Hong Kong we used the Hong Kong Dollars. We converted to US dollars using the current conversion rates at the time of our visit. It was approximately 8 Hong Kong Dollars to $1.00.
This felt very expensive compared to the prior countries we had been visiting in southeast Asia. It was a tiny room for a lot of money!
This included taking the peak tram, cable car to the Big Buddha, and a few museums.
We only count alcohol costs when it is not purchased with other food. This was only 1 beer! Very different from Vietnam!
Again, we had a big of sticker shock comparing the food prices to those of our prior countries of Thailand and Vietnam. We ate out only once a day at the most. We bought snacks from the grocery store for breakfast and dinner. Dinner was a bit hard as we didn’t have a kitchen in our small hotel room. We only bought things we could heat in a microwave!
This included some postcards, a few souvenirs and a load of laundry. We also had a little cost of currency exchange.
It was quite convenient to use the public transportation system in Hong Kong. We purchased an Octopus Card at the airport which covered all forms of transit! The only extra we paid was for our boat to and from Macau and the buses there.
This divides out to $108.21/day which is over our $100/day budget. Hong Kong was much more expensive than the countries we had visited previously in SE Asia. We had a short time in Hong Kong so we tried to do a lot quickly. We also spent quite a bit so that we could do a day trip to Macau. We tried to keep our costs down by eating out rarely and doing a lot of self-guided walking tours. But, we did choose to pay a bit more to stay in a nicer place. We had heard reports of cheaper places but those all seemed quite sketchy. Overall, it was a bit challenging to stay to our budget, but we are still happy with our time in Hong Kong.
We were really enjoying Hong Kong, but we also wanted a chance to visit another Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China: Macau. We really knew very little about this tiny place. Much like Hong Kong, Macau is a city that was once administered by a colonizing country, despite being attached to the China. Hong Kong belonged to Great Britain, but Macau belonged to Portugal until 1999.
Despite now being officially part of China, it still has two languages: Chinese and Portuguese. Also, similarly to Hong Kong, Macau falls under a policy of “one country, two systems.” This means that while it is a part of China, Macau maintains its own legal system, the public security force, monetary system, customs policy, and immigration policy. It also has established itself as something of a “Vegas in the East.” A lot of its economy focuses on gambling, and huge casinos dominate the city. We also had heard that it had a lovely, Portuguese-influenced, old town. We were quite excited to visit Macau and experience the diversity the city had to offer.
Getting there proved to be a bit more difficult than we had hoped. We had read that it was an easy process: take a ferry. The ferries supposedly left from Hong Kong every 30 min. That sounded pretty simple, so we didn’t really rush in the morning and left our hotel around 10.
We rode the metro to the Sheung Wan station, then worked our way through a mall to the TurboJet offices. We arrived at the ferry terminal only to find that, while it was true that the ferries left every 30 min, you couldn’t necessarily buy a ticket for the next upcoming ferry! They were full! The next available ticket wasn’t until 11:45.
We went ahead and went through Hong Kong exit immigration and went downstairs to the waiting area. At this point, it really felt like we were in an airport, waiting in the lobby and boarding at certain times. We boarded on time and found our assigned seats in the lower part. The ferry was quite fancy – felt like an airline interior. The ride over took about an hour. A little choppy but not so bad that we couldn’t read.
Once in Macau, we had to go through immigration to get in, pretty much like we were arriving in another new country! They didn’t actually stamp our passport though. We couldn’t decide if we were happy or sad about this. We did want the stamps, because its definitely fun to look back at the stamps in the passport, but we were a little worried because we were both running out of pages in our passports!
Outside we found the tourist information desk. They weren’t super helpful but we did pick up some maps (and even a walking tour brochure made by UNESCO) and get the bus number that we needed to take. Luckily Hong Kong dollars are 1-to-1 with the Macau patacas and are accepted there so we didn’t need to get money.
We rode the #3 bus which took us into the historic part of town.
We focused our efforts mostly on completing the UNESCO walking tour. We ended up starting in the middle though, so we had to do it out of order.
We had taken the bus to Senado Square. It was quite pretty, with wavy white and black cobblestones and colonial buildings. But it was also full of tourists, which detracted from the effect.
We headed north, finding more of the sights marked on a UNESCO walking tour book. This took us by a the small Sam Kai Vui Kun Temple, the Lou Kau Mansion – a traditional Chinese merchant’s house that we could go into for free, St. Dominic’s Church, and “The Cathedral,” set in a calmer square. It felt in a way like we were back in one of the Croatian coastal towns, with the shiny cobblestones and pretty architecture, but also with the crowds squeezing you at every turn.
After this we were getting a little hungry so we saw a bakery on a side street. We shared a snack of fried wontons, a fried dumpling, and the Macau classic egg tart.
To get to the next stop required us to go up a narrow lane past places selling beef jerky and cookies. These were quite popular with the Asian tourists, so we had to squeeze through very crowded spaces around those who had stopped to get free samples. Brought back some memories of the Spice Market in Istanbul!
We finally made it to the iconic image of Macau, the façade of St Paul’s church. The rest of the church burned down in a fire, but the intricately-carved façade remains. We maneuvered around crowds to take pictures on the stairs and the platform below. We had an interesting time trying to find the Asian and Western influences in the artwork.
We then went up onto Mount Fortress, one of the many fortresses built by the Portuguese in defense of the city from the sea. We got great view over the city from the top. It was interesting to note that many of the residential buildings looked run down, but the fancy casinos gleamed in the distance.
From here we could enter the Macau Museum. It started out promising with an interesting comparison between the history and culture of the West and East before they met up in Macau. They then sped through the history of how Macau was actually founded, but had large displays on life, trade and religion during the early days of the colony.
On the second floor they had set up facades of different types of houses in Macau. It was pretty fancy like in the Hong Kong Museum – guess they like their faux-towns here! We waited a bit for a show about the fisherman in the inner harbor but left before it was over since it was slow. We then went through exhibits on life and traditions in the later part of the colony, with displays about the different types of shops, mannequins representing the street hawkers, setups showing typical dining and living areas, and wedding traditions. The final floor was a bit random, with sketches of life in early colonial times, a movie about modern Macau, a few displays on Macau clubs abroad, and then very brief information about it rejoining China in 1999. Overall, we quite enjoyed the museum. It was just about the right size; you felt like you could read everything without spending days. However, the lower floors were the best.
We headed back out and continued the walking tour. Back near St Paul’s we saw a section of the old city walls and a tiny Chinese temple. We walked down to a much quieter street and walked further north to the Camoes Square, which was filled with people playing and relaxing. We peeked in the nearby Protestant Cemetery where there were a good number of Americans buried.
We were getting hungry, so we went a little further. We didn’t see any restaurants that looked like a good fit for us, although we did see an ice rink! We backtracked through the crowds to near St Dominics. We then went down a random side street and saw a place advertising Macanese food, and decided to go for it. We each got a Macau beer, which wasn’t too bad. For meal, Eric got chicken in Portuguese sauce with rice, and Della got broad noodles.
We walked past Senado Square to see a few more of the sights on the tour. The bulk of them were found on St Augustine’s Square, including St Augustine’s Church, and the very green Dom Pedro V Theatre. We were getting tired, so we decided to find one more sight: St. Lawrence’s Church.
From here we cut down to the water and walked to the casino area. Eric wanted to make sure to experience to glitzier, modern side of Macau in addition to the old town. So, even though we were pretty tired, we went into the fancy Grand Lisboa. We walked around the interior and gawked at their gaudy pieces of art on display. We also went into the casino floor, where we just strolled through. The minimums were very high so we didn’t play anything. We did pause to watch a burlesque show that randomly happened on the main floor.
Outside the casino, we had hoped to take a free shuttle back to the ferry pier, but the line was incredibly long. Instead, we saw a bus station across the street. It was a little confusing but we eventually found a bus that took us back to the ferry pier.
It was about 7:30. We hoped to not to have to wait too long for a ferry, but the only ticket they were selling was not until 9:45! We bought it before completely thinking it through and were pretty bummed. The scalpers near the window had earlier tickets but wouldn’t trade. Della was furious, knowing that the scalpers had purposely bought up all the upcoming tickets. Feeling disappointed, we found a quiet place to sit and read books for a while.
Then we decided we might as well go into the departures area and see if we could get on an earlier boat. We went through Macau exit immigration and made our way inside. As it turns out, getting on an earlier boat is a standard thing. Each gate has a separate line for standby passengers. You have to gamble a bit as to which line you choose, since the lines don’t roll over to the next ship. At first we thought about getting on the 8:45 line, but we would have been a little further back. Instead we just went to the 9:00 line since we would be some of the first in line. We were pretty nervous when 9:00 rolled around, but we made it on just fine.
We were assigned seats up top. The ride back was smoother than the ride there and also took about an hour. We had to go back through immigration to get into Hong Kong.
In the end it seemed like quite an ordeal to get there and back in one day! We should have maybe spent the night there, or left earlier, or gone on a day when it would have been less crowded. The old town was simply lovely, and we really enjoyed feeling like we were in Europe again for a time. However, the crowds did ruin it for us a bit. We suspect it might be really lovely in the evening, when some of the day trippers have left!
We’ve switched the blog back to talking about some of our other travels on our round-the-world trip, but are hearts are still with Nepal. If you’d like to contribute to help the people of Nepal recover from the devastating earthquake, please visit our page collecting some worthy causes.
After our enjoyable time in Vietnam, we said goodbye to Della’s parents and to Southeast Asia, where we had been since January. We had originally intended for our next stop to be in Nepal, but it was easier to fly to Hong Kong next instead. Also for airfare reasons, we ended up staying in Hong Kong for six nights, which was one more than we had planned for. We hoped that we would find ways to occupy our time… and we certainly did!
We were able to use credit card rewards to get a cheap flight on Vietnam Airlines from Hanoi direct to Hong Kong. We were surprised when we discovered that our seats were on the exit row! We hadn’t put in a special request or anything. The flight went fairly quickly, and we enjoyed the free wine that came with the lunch that was served.
Upon arrival in Hong Kong, we bought our Octopus cards, which can be loaded with cash and used for all sorts of public transportation in the city. The helpful staff at the tourist information center told us how to use public transportation to get to our accommodations. The airport is quite far from the city center, so we knew it would be a long journey.
As it turned out though, it was quite pleasant. The bus was a fancy, new-feeling double decker bus. There was even a closed-circuit tv system so we could monitor our bags stored on the lower level as we took in our first views of Hong Kong from the upper level.
We had a pretty hard time finding a place that was both affordable and looked comfortable. We had been spoiled in Southeast Asia with big rooms for cheap prices, but Hong Kong felt like Singapore, with even tiny rooms being very highly priced. The cheapest rooms were in the Chungking Mansion (big apartment blocks are called mansions in Hong Kong) in the Kowloon area, but those were tiny, with most being around 5 square meters (about 54 square feet). We expanded our search area and found a place advertising 10 square meter rooms (about 108 square feet). The reviews were OK, so we went ahead and booked at the Yesinn Fortress Hill.
It was located in the North Point area on the main Hong Kong island. None of the major tourist attractions are within walking distance, but there is a subway station very close, and the trains run so frequently that we didn’t feel like it was that hard to see the sights.
The check-in process was a little convoluted. We found the Continental Mansions and rode the elevator up to the 15th floor where we located the reception. Here we were told that our room was actually in a different part of the building, so we had to ride the elevator back down to the ground floor, walk to a different elevator bank, and ride up to the 3rd floor. Luckily when coming or going we didn’t have to go back through reception, but the downside of this was that we couldn’t take advantage of some of the shared facilities that we near the reception.
The room was as cozy as advertised, but we actually found it a manageable size. The bed was a little smaller than normal but still big enough for two. They managed to squeeze a desk, dresser, and mini-fridge in, which were all helpful. The bathroom was very small, with the shower above the sink, but you could actually angle it in such a way that it felt like a normal shower.
Hong Kong is a huge city, and we found plenty of ways to spend our time. It was very easy to get around between sites using the fast Hong Kong public transportation system.
Avenue of Stars and “A Symphony of Lights” – Our first night in town, we headed over to the southern tip of the Kowloon neighborhood to watch the free nightly multimedia performance called “A Symphony of Lights,” during which the buildings across the bay on Hong Kong island light up in time to music. We arrived a bit early so we spent some time exploring the Avenue of Stars, the Hong Kong film industry’s version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Bruce Lee and Jet Li were the main names we recognized. As for the light show, it was interesting, but we think we actually preferred the show in Singapore’s harbor for pure spectacle.
Hong Kong Museum of History – We didn’t know much about Hong Kong going in, so we made sure to stop at this museum to hopefully get more background. They were running a special that day, so admission was free, but we splurged on an audio guide to help guide us through. We diligently went through the natural history and prehistoric sections, stopping to listen to every entry, but then we realized that the museum was way bigger than we had anticipated and decided we had to move faster, so we basically stopped using it. The museum had very nicely put together displays, especially in the section describing life as a British colony, where they had recreated entire storefronts. We did feel the information was a little lacking, especially at the end where they only briefly described how control was returned to China (and what it meant that it was a special administrative region that retains some autonomy).
A Night at the Happy Valley Horse Races – see separate post
Victoria Peak – The weather was bright and sunny the next day, so we decided to head to the vantage point at the top of the peak that overlooks the harbor. We rode the historic funicular up the steep ride to the top. We didn’t pay to go to the fancy observation deck, but instead walked along a nice path to either side of platform and were able to get great views.
Walk Through Hong Kong Park and Wan Chai – After coming down from Victoria Peak via the funicular, we walked through the large Hong Kong park found in the middle of downtown. We were impressed with the large amount of green space and the variety of activities within the park. Our favorite was the aviary where we spotted a number of interesting birds. After the park, we followed the Lonely Planet walking tour of the Wan Chai neighborhood, where we saw a mix of historic and modern structures.
The Tian Tan Buddha and Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island – We enjoyed a day trip out to one of the more far-flung islands of Hong Kong, Lantau. The big attraction here is a big Buddha statue and monastery in the village of Ngong Ping on top of the mountains on the island. The cheap way to get to Ngong Ping is to take a bus, but we splurged and took the cable car – and were definitely glad we did so. The views were amazing, if not a little scary! The village at the top is very touristy and felt fake, but the Buddha statue was impressive, and the monastery buildings were pretty as well. We also spent an hour or so hiking into the mountains beyond the tourist facilities, where we found a path decorated with a poem written on wooden poles.
Walk Through Sheung Wan – We also followed a Lonely Planet walking tour through this neighborhood, which was originally the hub of the Chinese community and still shows many of those influences. We walked past interesting dried seafood weird herb shops – not sure even what we were seeing half of the time!
We stopped for a snack break in a small park where we found a path made of upraised stones that you were meant to walk on barefoot, like the one we saw in Battambang. This time, we took off our shoes and tried it ourselves. It hurt! We still aren’t sure what the exact purpose is.
The final stop on the tour was the most impressive: the Man Mo Temple, one of the oldest Taoist temples in Hong Kong. The air inside was thick with the smoke of dozens of mazzive incense coils burning at the same time. Outside there was a furnace for burning (fake) money offerings, just as we had seen in Vietnam.
After the walk, we continued into another neighborhood and took a ride on a non-traditional tourist attraction: the longest outdoor covered escalator system in the world, the Central-Mid-Levels escalator. This series of escalators goes straight up a hill from the Hong Kong harbor to a road on the top of the hill, with many restaurants and shops along the way. The elevation gain is 443 feet, and it took us about 20 minutes to get up. Unfortunately, the easiest was down is to walk, but it made for good exercise.
Star Ferry – The classic way to get across the Victoria Harbour from Hong Kong island to Kowloon is to take this old double decker ferry. It opened in 1888, and is still popular and cheap today. The ride was brief but gave us great views.
Temple Street Night Market – We didn’t do very much shopping in Hong Kong, but decided to check out the most famous night market in town. We abstained from getting a selfie stick, but Eric did decide to purchase one of the “beckoning cat” figurines, thinking it was a nice traditional Chinese item. He was later disappointed to learn that it is actually Japanese in origin!
We had a bit of a mixed experience with food in Hong Kong. After Vietnam, the food seemed very expensive, and much harder to find. There were hardly any street food options, and many places that looked cheap only had Chinese menus. Over the course of our time in the city, we gradually began to find some places that interested us though.
Our favorite place was the renowned Tim Ho Wan, the dim sum eatery known for being the cheapest restaurant in the world to have received a Michelin Star. We had read about the lines being out the door, but the location located conveniently close to our hostel had available tables. The surly waitress just dropped a paper checklist down on our table and didn’t provide any further guidance, but we were able to discern that we needed to check off the items we wanted to try on the paper. Dim sum is characterized by small servings of Chinese food items, usually dumplings or other steamed delicacies. We tried to get a mixture of dumpling, steamed buns, and steamed cakes. It was all quite good, and we were stuffed! We enjoyed it so much that we went back on our last morning in town to get another round of our favorites and try a few items that we had missed the first time. It definitely merited the hype.
Another meal that stood out to us was lunch at the restaurant in the Hong Kong History Museum. Our expectations were low for a cafe in a museum, but it turned out to be a cheap and friendly place. It was decorated to resemble a diner in Hong Kong in the 50s and 60s. Another nice feature was that it employed some people with developmental disabilities. We both got a set lunch which included a soup and a large entree.
The other meals we had while eating out were good, just maybe not as affordable or tasty as we had hoped.
Because everything was pretty expensive in Hong Kong, there were a few nights that we decided to just “cook” our own dinner. You may be wondering how we could possibly cook in our tiny room, but luckily there was a shared microwave in the hallway. We went to a supermarket by the subway station and bought different frozen dumplings to heat up. Not as good as Tim Ho Wan, but cheaper and pretty convenient!
Our initial worry that we would be spending too much time in Hong Kong turned out to be wrong – if anything, we wish we could have had more time! There were a lot of interesting sights to see in the big city. We regret that we didn’t connect more with the food scene and find cheap local options, but think with more time we would have been able to figure it out. Hong Kong was a good way to get a quick dip into Chinese culture and the unique culture of Hong Kong on our world trip.
We’re going to switch the blog back to talking about some of our other travels on our round-the-world trip, but are hearts are still with Nepal. If you’d like to contribute to help the people of Nepal recover from the devastating earthquake, please visit our page collecting some worthy causes.
Eric had thought that he might have the chance to sample sporting events all around the world on our trip, but as it turned out the only one we ended up going to was a soccer game in Olomouc, Czech Republic. However, when doing research on Hong Kong, he saw that probably the biggest sporting event there was the weekly races at historic Happy Valley Racecourse (established in 1846), and our time in the city would overlap with one of the race nights. Our hostel in Hong Kong had a sign up for a group outing, so that sealed the deal: we were headed to the races.
We met at the front desk of our hostel at 4:30 as we had seen on the sign, but were a little perturbed when we noticed we were the only ones there. No one else showed up, so the two of us headed out with out one of the workers. As it turned out, we were going to another branch of the same hostel closer to the track where we would meet up with a group from there. We were relieved to hear that, because it seemed like it would have been awkward with just us and the not-too-talkative hostel worker.
We rode the above-ground trolley over to Causeway Bay and then walked to the other hostel. Then we found out that the group from that hostel wasn’t leaving for another hour! So we just sat in the common area and used their WiFi while we waited.
Finally, a different guy who worked at that hostel gathered the small group (about 10 people) that had been waiting there, and we all walked over to the Racecourse together. We entered into the grandstand area, which was at track level. The entrance fee was a very reasonable 10 Hong Kong dollars (HKD), which is about $1.30.
We had arrived about an hour before the races started, so we had time to explore the area. The weather was great, so it was fun to just stroll around. There was a buzz in the air, with a lot of people already starting to fill the stands. We got a beer from one of the many vendors and then tried to figure out how the races would work.
The guy from the hostel who had walked us over didn’t actually know much about how the betting worked, so we all worked together to figure out how to do it. We found a paper guide that listed the different horses running in the different races, and then figured out how to read the odds board. Della didn’t want to pick a horse until we had seen them, so we waited by the area where they were paraded around before making our selection. One horse made good eye contact with her, so we chose him.
We went up to one of the places where we could place a bet, and were able to find an employee who graciously walked us through the process. We picked our selected horse to “place,” meaning it just had to finish in the top 3. We placed the minimum bet of HKD 10, so we weren’t risking much.
We made our way down to the track and got a good spot right by the rail and near the finish line. The race was starting on the other side of the track so we had to watch the first part on the monitors. It was over very quickly, but after watching the video replay we discovered that we won! We made a HKD 9.50 profit.
Emboldened by our success, we again bet on the second race for a horse to place (after seeing them parade by). This race was longer so the horses passed by twice. We won again! This horse was a bit more of a favorite so we only made HKD 6.
The group debated and decided to stay for the third race. We had a hard time choosing a horse to bet on, so we ended up betting on both a good horse and one with long odds. The good horse did place, but the long shot didn’t, so we didn’t get all our money back. In the end though, we made just about enough to cover the cost of our admission.
We then decided to head out, so we missed out on the many other races that went on into the night. Still, it was quite a fun experience, both learning how horse races work and being around the large crowds of tourists and locals alike. With how cheap it is too, we would definitely recommend it as an activity when visiting Hong Kong!
In the past we’ve tried to use our frequent flyer points for as many flights as possible, but within Asia we have actually struggled to find ways to fly for free. The points we have just didn’t help for flying to the places that we would have liked to go. But recently we’ve been able to figure a few out!
This one was a last-minute decision. To get from the caves of Phong Nha to Hanoi in northern Vietnam was not as easy as we had originally anticipated. We thought that there would be multiple transport options, but as it turned out, the only bus from the village was a night bus, and the train (from the closest city of Dong Hoi) would take 11 hours and either involve an overnight stretch or take an entire day. All sounded like grueling options.
We were really struggling to choose the best of these limited options, and then we thought outside of the box. Using the wikipedia page for Hanoi’s airport (a top tip for figuring out what you can do), we saw that there was a direct flight on Vietnam Airlines from Dong Hoi to Hanoi. We ran an award flight search on Air France, and saw that we could use their Flying Blue miles to fly on this flight (since Air France and Vietnam Airlines are partners) – for $3.29 in fees plus 10,000 Flying Blue miles per person.
Even with a private transfer to Dong Hoi airport, this worked out as cheaper than the train (which we had been leaning towards) and got us there significantly earlier. To get the Air France Flying Blue miles, we were able to transfer our existing points from American Express Membership Rewards that we had gotten as a signup bonus for a couple of different American Express cards.
With Vietnam Airlines being a Sky Team alliance partner with Air France, our flights within and from Vietnam were prime targets to use the Flying Blue miles on. We were also able to snag a ticket to Hong Kong on a Vietnam Airlines flight using the Flying Blue miles as well. We got the necessary 10,000 Flying Blue miles each by transferring some more of our American Express Membership Rewards points. The fees were $31.90 per person.
Hong Kong’s airport is the hub for two major airlines that are a part of the oneworld alliance, so we figured that using points for one of those alliance partners would work well for our flights to or from there. We were able to use this to our advantage to get a flight from Hong Kong to Kathmandu in Nepal.
We found a reward flight on the Hong Kong-based airline Dragonair that we were able to book using our British Airways Avios points. We were able to get the required number of Avios by combining some Avios we had left over from signing up for the British Airways credit card with even more of our American Express Membership Rewards points that we could transfer in. The final cost was 10,000 Avios and $39.47 in fees per person.
These three examples just go to show how flexible you have to be when booking an award flight. Knowing which airlines partner with other airlines through alliances is huge – we greatly benefited from Vietnam Airlines being in an alliance with Air France and Dragonair with British Airways. Here’s a good infographic explaining the different alliances.
Having points in a program that can be transferred to multiple partners is also a great benefit. We didn’t have to earn Air France miles or British Airways Avios directly; instead, we could just use our American Express points for both. For more information on transferable points, check out this resource.
We have a few more award flights lined up that we are excited to share with you soon!
Fast Forward Friday is our series where we share our anticipation for our upcoming travel destinations! Check our itinerary for more details!
After the wilds of Nepal, Hong Kong will likely be quite a shock! We look forward to experiencing the unique culture of the city and sampling the delicious foods. We also hope that there will no longer be political protests going on!
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