Trip duration: 4/27/2017 to 5/3/2017
Route: Dallas => Hong Kong; Hong Kong => Dallas
Flying Method: American Airlines AAdvantage reward redemption @ 58,500 round trip (eco) [65,000 – 6,500]
Planning and Itinerary
This trip actually came about as a result of the 2 free weekend-night sign-on bonus from the Citi Hilton Honors Reserve card. After earning the sign-on bonus in 5/2016, I started researching on higher tier Hilton properties in order to maximize the reward value. A majority of the category 9 properties are beach resorts or at a location that’s a bit hard to get to. I ended up choosing Hong Kong Conrad to redeem the 2 free nights stay due to the ease of getting to Hong Kong. After scanning AA’s reward chart and playing around with different dates, I was able to find milesavers redemption in economy from DFW to HKG. Taxes and fees ended up being around $80ish. As using AA’s co-branded credit card (either Citi Aadvantage platinum card or Barclay Aviator mastercard) gets you 10% of the rewards redemption back, I made sure to pay the taxes and fees using the strategically kept Barclay Aviator mastercard. The reservation was made in 7/2016 for a total of 58,500 miles. Before confirming the flight arrangement, I actually called Hilton to reserve the 2 free weekend nights first. The sister came along on the trip using her AA miles as well. 🙂 We decided that 6 days would be enough for Hong Kong. As one may have heard, due to space limitation, lodging in Hong Dong does not come cheap. For the remaining days, we booked 1 night at the Skycity Marriott by the airport (30,000 Marriott points) and 2 nights at the Hyatt Regency in Kowloon (15,000/night, transferred from Chase Ultimate Rewards). (Note: separate post on these hotels to come later). Most of the hotel research was done using awardmapper.com which helped me see what properties were available in certain areas. Forgot to mention, for US passport holders, there’s no visa requirement for Hong Kong travel unless you plan to stay past 30 days. If you’re going China through Hong Kong (e.g. Shenzen), then a China visa is required.
As far as planning went, tripadvisor was my go-to resource. The forums on there were especially helpful. The days were planned loosely based on where we were staying. I also leveraged tips from friends, other travel blogs, and pictures from instagram for ideas.
Here are the highlights from our visit:
- The Big Buddha status and Po Lin monastery in Lantau Island
- Victoria Peak and the wax museum
- Day trip to Macau
- Ladies Market in Kowloon, Avenue of the Stars, Star Ferry ride, Symphony of Lights
- Instagram picture hunts (riding the HK tramways (ding ding), finding art mural in Soho, and mansion searching in Quarry Bay)
Lantau Island / Tian Tan Big Buddha
We came here the day after arriving in Hong Kong. As the cable cars were down for maintenance, we took the bus (#23) from Tung Chung terminal to the monastery. The bus fare was HK17 M-Sat (under $3) each way. The ride took about an hour with interesting scenery of the island and mountain view. I’d suggest getting to the Tung Chung terminal as early as possible if you go on the weekend. It gets crowded quickly especially since the cable cars are out until May/June-ish. We got to the terminal a little after 9am on a saturday and waited for maybe 20 mins (see pic on bottom right).
How we got to the Big Buddha:
Skycity Marriott -> free hotel shuttle to Tung Chung terminal -> bus #23 to the Big Buddha (last stop) -> reverse to get back to hotel.
Hong Kong tramways adventure and hunt for art mural in Soho
Hong Kong tramways is one of the oldest public transportations in town. It’s slow and has frequent stops, but so fun to do in checking out different pockets of town. The cost is only HK$2.70 each way (less than $0.50). You’d get on the tram from the back and exit in the front (pay when you exit). The tram is a double decker and the top has better views. We got on the tram near our hotel and went east toward Shau Kei Wan as we were (or just me) on a mission to find the instagram-worthy Montane mansion near Quarry Bay. 🙂 (p.s. Instead of the actual Montane mansion, I found the sister version as seen on the top-right corner of the collage. It wasn’t intentional though. I just mistook it as the actual mansion). We also ventured out to find street arts in Soho by Hollywood and Graham St. (unless you get there at odd times, this place gets pretty packed quickly).
Victoria Peak and Madame Tussauds wax museum
One of the famous sceneries of Hong Kong is the Peak and the Victoria Harbour. We prebooked the Victoria Peak tour through klook.com. If you’d like to take the tram up to the peak, it is HIGHLY recommended to book the fast track tram ticket. I really like using klook and the price is slightly discounted. We bought the combo package which included the fast track tram ticket, access to the observatory deck, and entrance to the Madame Taussads wax museum. The wax museum was so much fun. It has a lot of the famous asian actors/singers as well as political figures.
See the picture on the top-left corner? You must be wondering what the heck is it. Well I was wondering the same. We were meeting our guide from klook at the Central Station for the Peak tour on sunday. Since we got there a little early, we decided to walk around the area. It was so weird seeing so many non-chinese looking asian people (mostly female) hanging outside the Central station. There were tents on the street, people sitting on mats made out of cardboard boxes, and people were just eating, talking, and hanging out in this humid and hot weather. Oh and they also took their shoes off and left ’em outside the tent/mat. The entire 1st floor of the HSBC building was overtaken by the hang-out crowd. I thought there was some kind of protest at first. Came to find out, this happens every weekend near the Central station. These are the foreign nannies, housekeepers, helps from Indonesia, the Philippines, and other SE asian countries. On weekends, the city blocks off certain street just for them. This is something we wouldn’t have come across living in the U.S., and it’s a really raw view on the world’s social economy.
Avenue of the stars, ladies market, star ferry between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, Symphony of Lights
Here are some pictures from the touristy spots. The Avenue of the stars is a showcase of the Hong Kong entertainment history. It has palm prints (some autographed) from many famous asian pop stars, actors and singers (Jet Li, Jacky Chan to name a few). We also took the MTR to the ladies market in Mongkok. The market spans across several streets with street vendors selling gadgets, souvenirs, accessories, etc. This was also the 1st time that I came across fidget spinners. I was so confused why this unassuming spinning thingy is being sold EVERYWHERE. One vendor talked me into getting one for cheap for HK$10 (under $2) so I could play with it. Now i get why it’s so popular as I can’t seem to put it down!
In addition to the tramways, I’d also recommend taking the star ferry between Hong Kong and Kowloon just for fun. It’s HK$1.70 each way and takes about 10~15 mins to across the harbour. Every night at 8pm local time, a light show is displayed from the Hong Kong island, called the “symphony of lights”. It’s an orchestration of music, decoration lights, laser light displays from the high rises and office buildings. We timed our ferry ride to Hong Kong island close to the light show and saw it from the ferry terminal.
Day trip to Macau
If you’re still reading the post, I commend you for your patience. 😉 The sister and I decided to do a day trip to Macau. We left early in the morning and got the turbojet tickets from the Hong Kong Macau Terminal (it’s connected to the Sheung Wan MTR station). There is a ferry from Hong Kong to Macau every 15 minutes. A roundtrip economy ticket costs around US$42, and the ride takes an hour. Bring your passport as going to Macau is considered border crossing. There’s no need to get visa if you hold a U.S. passport. Also there’s no need to exchange local currency for nominal spending as most places take hong kong dollars. Armed with tips and recommendations from a friend who grew up in Macau (also visitor maps from the ferry terminal), we decided to tour Macau ourselves in lieu of a guided tour. We utilized free hotel shuttles that pick up visitors from the ferry terminal to different hotels and back. As we wanted to start our visit in the city center where the Ruins of St. Paul is located, we took the shuttle to the Grand Emperor Hotel which is few blocks away from where we wanted to be. Afterwards, as the majority of the casinos are located on the other side of town, after lunch we got on the shuttle which took us back to the ferry terminal, then onto a different shuttle to the Venetian hotel (we’d need to pass the ferry terminal to get to Venetian anyway). Since we really don’t care for shopping or gambling, we decided to walk over to the Taipai Village which has Portuguese style buildings (hmmm I just now realized we missed a whole section of the village. Smh. In our defense, it was labor day in China/Macau that day and alot of places were closed). All in all, if you’ve been to Vegas, the Macau casinos won’t be anything surprising or intriguing. For me the reason for going to Macau is mostly seeing the remnants of the Portuguese influence.
Tips and good-to-knows:
- Buy a preloaded Octopus card (we got ours from klook.com for $13 each, picked up at the info counter upon arrival at the HK airport. It included HK$50 on the card). When taking public transportation (bus, MTR, ferry, tramways, etc), the octopus card makes it so convenient to just tap and go. You can reload at most convenient stores like 7-11 and it can also be used as a debit card for purchases at those places. We put in an additional HK$200 (around $26) each and it lasted us the entire stay.
- If you plan to take the airport express train to/from the airport, it’s cheaper to pre-purchase from klook.com. Using the Octopus card to ride the airport express train actually costs more (HK$83 as opposed to HK$56ish prebook from klook to Kowloon).
- This is old news, but Project Fi and the Charles Schwab debit card both worked well in Hong Kong. I was able to use my project fi phone in HKG which had LTE. The Charles Schwab debit card does not charge any foreign transaction fee nor ATM fee.
- As much as I researched ahead of time, I still find myself asking for directions or recommendations from the locals. It is PERFECTLY okay. Getting lost is part of the fun. Often times things turned out better than planned after random chitchats with the cab driver, info desk clerk, hotel receptionist, etc.
- Skip Tim Ho Wan (the supposedly cheapest Michelin 1 star dim sum place. They now have many locations and the original store isn’t around anymore). Although the price is reasonable, the food could really be better (except for the pork buns, they were amazeballs).
- As you may have noticed, we tried to use public transportation or shuttles as much as possible. This really stemmed from me not wanting to pay extra $$ for taxi (but we did use it twice when we were tired and hangry), and also a way to challenge ourselves to travel locally.
Phew okay I know it’s a boatload of information! We crammed a lot in the short 6 (or really 5) day visit. We could’ve done more but I kinda like my rest also. 🙂 If Hong Kong is on your list to visit, I’d ask “what are you waiting for”? The MTR is super easy to maneuver, people are nice in general, and it’s just fun being outside of the bubble. And, who doesn’t want to watch 10 movies on the airplane?! ;P If cost is what’s holding you back, an effective miles/points planning can really make it happen (as in the case for this trip). Go for it and happy travel~