Hong Kong is only a two-hour flight away from Manila—amazingly, yes, the first world is that close to the Philippines! Given the close proximity, there are a number of airlines that fly the MNL-HKG route, with most airlines having a high frequency of flights per day. We booked our flights via Philippine Airlines (PAL) months before our October trip. However, September came along and PAL started having daily strikes because of its labor outsourcing plans. PAL’s outsourcing started October 1st and supposedly, its operations will have normalized already. But we didn’t want to take the risk of a cancelled flight by the time we depart on October 22.
A good hotel in a good location is an absolute must in Hong Kong. Since we were staying there for eight days, finding a good hotel became all the more important. After considering several hotel options across different locations, we finally settled on SoHotel, which we found online via Booking.com. I would say it was really the perfect choice for us given all our “factors”—we wanted a not-so-expensive hotel in a good location and at the same time, the hotel must be clean and well-reviewed overall. And that’s exactly what we got in SoHotel. I will come up with a separate post on my SoHotel experience (see here). In the meantime, I would say that finding a good hotel is ultimately a very subjective process, which involves so many different factors based on one’s personal preferences. That being said, here are just a few things to keep in mind:
- Which side? Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) is made up of two “sides” or main divisions (aside from the New Territories and the outlying islands)—Hong Kong island itself and Kowloon, which is connected to mainland China. At first, I thought it mattered on which side our hotel is located but based on my travel forum research on sites like Tripadvisor, it’s really so easy to go from one side to another given Hong Kong’s super efficient public transportation system. So it doesn’t really matter which side you’re staying since you’ll end up easily going from side to another throughout the trip.
- Location, location, location. I think the more “relevant” consideration is if your hotel is near certain main areas or neighborhoods, depending on your preferences for shopping and sightseeing, and if it’s near key MTR stations. In Kowloon, it’s good to stay near the Tsim Sha Tsui or Mong Kok district especially if you like to do some heavy shopping but you don’t mind the bustle in the streets. In Hong Kong island, the place to be is Central, although the hotels there can get really expensive (so it’s a good idea to get a hotel in the areas near or just off Central). Again, it really depends on your preferences. In Hong Kong island, there are so many other neighborhoods which cater to different tastes such as SoHo (South of Hollywood Road) for art lovers and Lan Kwai Fong for those who want to be near the night life. As for us, SoHotel is in the Sheung Wan area, which is very near Central so we found this to be an excellent location.
- Book online. This was our first time booking a hotel abroad via the Internet and I had initial apprehensions about the security and reliability of the process. But our experience with Booking.com made me trust such online reservation sites, not to mention getting good rates for our hotel. I would also recommend Agoda and Hotels Combined. And of course, Tripadvisor for hotel reviews and recommendations. As a starting point, check out these links from Frommer’s for best Hong Kong hotel bets and The Guardian‘s guide to Hong Kong’s great budget hotels.
Preparing a Hong Kong Itinerary
We decided on spending eight days in Hong Kong while the usual packages offered by Manila travel agencies are for three days and two nights—and sometimes, that even includes a day trip to Macau! Personally, if I have to fit everything in 3D/2N (and most of the time, this boils down to only 2 full days!), I’d really just not travel at all. And this is a travel philosophy that I heartily swear by. Hong Kong is definitely not a place where one should avail of compulsory city tours that come with travel packages—my mom went on one in Hong Kong and they were taken by their tour guide to knockoff factories and jewelry shops! So for Hong Kong, we thought that eight days was just the right length for our trip. Given that it was my first time there, we wanted to see as much of the sights as we can. In the end, eight days was long enough for us to see the sights and at the same time, we were somehow able to engage in slow travel. For those eight days, I didn’t even go to Macau mainly because I’ve already been there for a full trip in 2008 (meaning, no side trip to Hong Kong!). Some of our family and friends actually didn’t understand why our trip took that long but I guess it’s because unlike the usual 3D/2N package trips or the full-on shopping trips of some to Hong Kong, we were there to really see the sights and immerse ourselves in the culture.
- Travel Dossier. Whenever we travel, we are quite OC when it comes to our itinerary. Since we had eight days for the trip, we planned our itinerary meticulously, mainly based on online resources. One of my former bosses, who’s a frequent Hong Kong traveler, also gave me some travel guides and recommendations on where to eat. Since my travel companion this time has also frequented Hong Kong, he did the overview of the itinerary based on his own travels, blogs and online sources, but incorporating the “non-negotiables” I requested (like parks, Lantau island, and neighborhood walks). Then I compiled a “dossier” based on our itinerary, which is basically all the information that we need on the items in our itinerary—-descriptions of the destinations and restaurants, directions, maps, contact numbers, etc. After so many revisions, we ended up with a 30-page printed dossier, which essentially became our own personal Hong Kong guide book. Making a travel dossier is definitely something I would do for future travels, and is something I would recommend to others.
- Guide Books. As to whether you should buy a guide book, even if you’re traveling on your own and not with a tour operator, there’s really no need to buy expensive Hong Kong travel guides since there’s so much free information available online. Also, there are so many free maps and guide books at the Arrival Hall of the Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA).
|Just some guide books and maps available for free at HKIA|
Here are the online resources which I found useful as we were planning for our itinerary (aside from free guide books and maps):
- Google Maps. It was only on this trip that I truly discovered and got to appreciate the wonder of Google maps. I especially like the feature on public transportation directions, which was super detailed.
- Discover Hong Kong. This is the official tourism website and is a good starting point for planning any trip to Hong Kong, especially for first timers. I really like their section on Hong Kong Walks, where I was able to download great guides on themed walks through several Hong Kong districts and neighborhoods. Check out their free mobile apps too!
- Online travel guides from CNNGo, The Guardian and Conde Nast Traveller. I love the well-edited and very informative guides and tips you can find here.
- Travel bloggers. I look to fellow travel bloggers for inspiration and authentic accounts on the best sights to see and restaurants to try out. For this trip, we found really helpful (and even entertaining!) the Hong Kong travels of foreigners such as Kampung Boy City Gal (a Malaysian traveling pair) and Amy of Cheh-Cheh.com. Locally, I also liked the Hong Kong tales of The Unlawyer and Nina Fuentes of Just Wandering.
Packing for Hong Kong
Packing for a trip is also very much a reflection of personal preferences. I like to dress up in my daily life and whenever I’m traveling, dressing up is something I enjoy all the more. So for our Hong Kong trip, I planned my outfits (right down to shoes and accessories) in advance based on our itinerary. I find that this really helps me pack better and helps eliminate overpacking, which is important since I am so not a light packer (packing light is a skill which I am still trying to learn). But I still made sure to bring one to two extra clothes for emergencies, and made sure to have room for shopping loot. Aside from those basic packing tips, here are other ideas you may want to consider:
- Planning with the weather in mind. When planning outfits for trips, it’s important to be dressed appropriately for the weather. I’m very particular about this because I really don’t want to be surprised since I get cold easily. I made sure to check the weather forecast more than a week in advance over at Accuweather.com, which gave a fairly accurate picture throughout the trip. The weather in Hong Kong when we were there was somewhat schizophrenic —it could get so hot at noon then quite cold in the evenings. I had to adjust throughout the day—like making sure I had a pair of tights and a jacket or cardigan in my bag that I could wear when it gets cold in the evening.
- Electrical outlets. With all the gadgets we need to bring with us whenever we travel, it’s really important to research in advance if our gadgets will work with the electrical outlets in our destination country. I found out through this site that Hong Kong has Type G outlets (which is totally different from what we have here in the Philippines) and so we were able to bring with us the correct plug adapters. Our hotel room had just one adapter in the room so good thing we brought our own since at night, we had to charge several gadgets at a time.
- Cabin/ Hand-carried baggage. Just in case I might not be able to do a separate post on HKIA, I just want to point out that when we were departing from HKIA, airport personnel were very strict about the number of carryon luggage for each passenger (unlike my experience in Singapore last year). For my cabin baggage, I had with me a wheeled trolley, a large Longchamp Le Pliage travel bag, and my Louis Vuitton purse. So right before baggage check, airport personnel asked if I was traveling with another passenger. Good thing my companion was just carrying his backpack and an Ocean Park carrier bag and so they considered my other bag to be his cabin luggage.
- Currency Exchange. Philippine pesos can be readily exchanged directly to Hong Dollars in Hong Kong (at the time, the exchange rate was around P5.50 to P6: HK$1). There’s no need to convert pesos to US dollars first since it’s cheaper and quite convenient to just have money exchanged in Hong Kong. When we arrived, we had some of our money converted in HKIA’s pre-immigration area at a Travelex counter since we had to have local money already for the taxi and the Airport Express. I chose to exchange my pesos in a money changer near our hotel in Sheung Wan and I got a slightly better rate (it’s usually the case that non-airport money changers have better rates).
Disclaimer: All links and information in this post were accurate, to the best of writer’s knowledge, when it was published, but may change without notice or revision. Please confirm all rates and details before planning your trip. Thank you!