From Thailand to Japan: Stopover in Hong Kong & Macao
In September we had a big travel planned again: Japan! Japan was the main destination. Markus (my boyfriend) has been working there for the past months and I wanted to visit him at the end of his stay. So the plan was to travel several weeks together through Japan. However, with his type of visa he was only allowed to stay a certain amount of time and had to leave soon. We planned to start our journey in Thailand with a stopover in Hong Kong and fly from there to Japan.
Meeting in Thailand
We decided to start our travels with a few relaxing days in Thailand. We have been to Thailand before so we decided to just stay at one resort for a week, enjoy the sun & relax. We traveled to Koh Samui – a typical touristic island to be honest – as this island was located very conveniently for us with its own airport. If you travel only to Thailand I would suggest to chose a smaller island (Koh Lanta or Koh Phi Phi), but as a stop over and meeting point this was great. We could both fly to Koh Samui Airport – from Germany and from Japan – and did not have to reach the island via a speed boat. Most islands can only be reached by boat. As we only planned to stay for a few days it was important that we can quickly reach the island. Also, we have never been to Koh Samui, which is probably Thailand’s most famous island.
Prana Beach Resort in Thailand
The resort we stayed at was very nice and not too big. Prana Beach Resort is located at the ocean with its own beach access. We picked this hotel by looking at various places on tripadvisor. The price range in Koh Samui varies widely from very cheap up to inestimable. The resort has two big pool areas: one at the beach front and one at the main complex with a bar built into the pool. There are many places to lay out around both pool areas and direct access to the beach where you can relax. During the day we mostly stayed at the pool area and went to the beach. We had both been working for the past months so it was nice to do nothing for a few days. The service at Prana was very good and the staff always friendly.
For the evenings, we took a taxi to various other places on the island. One night we took the public taxi which is a bit cheaper than a private one, but you have to wait until it is full before it leaves. For the private taxis make sure to negotiate the rate to your destination before getting in. Two nights we spent at Fisherman’s village, which is a very nice street along the beach with restaurants, massage places and small shops. Fisherman’s village is a rather quiet area on the island at night. Many other places we visited were filled with people going out to party and loud music. Other than going out for dinner at night, there is not much more we did in Thailand. I think we were charging our batteries for the more adventurous times ahead of us.
Stop Over in Hong Kong – Sightseeing in 3 days
After Thailand we stayed in Hong Kong for 2 nights, before finally going to Japan. We initially did not plan Hong Kong, but most of the flights to Japan had a stop over in Hong Kong. So we decided to extend the stop and spend 2 nights in Hong Kong. Hong Kong was quite an experience and we both have a different opinion of it. While Markus loved the city I did not like it too much to be honest. Hong Kong is a very crowded and loud city. Also the city seemed to me very commercial. There are many malls, department stores and stores of luxury brands. It is just not my type of city and I felt very exhausted exploring it. I sometimes have the feeling that big cities rob my energy and they make me feel overwhelmed and lost, but Hong Kong was a complete new level of exhaustion! I was stressed by the busy streets, crowded places and people bumping into you.
Hostel in Hong Kong
We decided to stay in a small, cheaper hostel in the middle of Hong Kong (Lap Shun Hostel Hong Kong). The hotel is in Kowloon close to the Kowloon park. I exactly fit in the bed, but Markus could not stretch out fully. The bathroom was also tiny, but everything was clean and the location is perfect to explore Hong Kong. We couldn’t open both our suitcases at the same time though, so we had to take turns opening them to get stuff out. As we explored the city during the day we actually only slept and showered in the hostel, so it was a good fit for us.
Boardwalk in Tsim Sha Tsui – Avenue of Stars
The first evening in Hong Kong we were walking around to explore the city by foot. We grabbed some pizza at a small restaurant, which we found on trip advisor. The place had really good ratings and the pizza was indeed great. The place was very crowded, but worth the visit! It is a great place if you just want to grab something to eat.
After that we walked to the Avenue of Stars, which is only a short walk away from the hotel. We bought some drinks at a close by supermarket and sat on the stairs at the walk. We watched other people pass by and the buildings on the opposite site of the harbor. The view here is amazing and you can see all the lights on the tower buildings on the other side. I would recommend to come here at night as it is very impressive. The seating area closes at around 11 pm, but until then it is free and open to anyone.
Star Ferry from Central Hong Kong to Hong Kong Island
The next day we went with the ferry to Hong Kong Island. The public ferry is very cheap and leaves regularly from the Star Ferry Pier in Tsim Sah Tsui. The ferry takes you across the harbor and you get to see a lot from the water. The ride only takes a few minutes. There are also longer boat tours available through the harbor. Tickets for these tours can be bought at the central pier in Hong Kong Island.
From the ferry pier in Hong Kong island, we took bus number 1 all the way up to Victoria Peak Garden. This was a very nice ride and showed us a different, rather residential side of Hong Kong. The view from the peak is really amazing and you have a great sight at Central Hong Kong. Instead of taking the bus you could also take a taxi or take the traditional tram. The queue time for the tram is often very long, so you should plan accordingly. Depending on the time of the day it may take up to 1.5 hours. If you get motion sickness easily then I would not suggest taking the bus. It takes quite some curves to get up there.
The second evening we went to one of the many rooftop bars that Hong Kong has to offer. We went to Ozone, which is in the Ritz-Carlton hotel. From here you have a great view over Hong Kong Island and parts of Hong Kong Central. The Ritz-Carlton hotel is connected to the mall ‘Elements’. The bar has to be entered via the mall. You can reach there by going to the station ‘Kowloon’ or by foot as we did. At night you get a view on all the lights in the city and boats in the harbor. Drinks were not cheap here, but you pay for the view and name. I think it’s worth a visit while in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong Central is sometimes not very pedestrian friendly. When we tried to leave the bar, we could not find the right exit for pedestrians. It took us several attempts and many extra steps until we finally found an exit. The exit led through a big construction side on the road. We were the only ones walking here and after several wrong turns we took, we finally found our way back to the city.
There are several other rooftop bars in Hong Kong such as Wooloomoolop or Sugar Bar. I would chose one on the Hong Kong Central side. The view from here to Hong Kong island is very impressive at night.
One typical cantonese food is ‘Dim Sum’, which can be bought at several places in the City. Dim Sum are steamed dumplings which come in a bamboo basket. The fillings vary and can be meat, sea food or anything sweet. The dumplings are then soy sauce or other sauces which are sometimes quite spicy.
Below we were eating at a fast food restaurant which offered cantonese food. The chain ‘MX’ has several shops in Hong Kong. We went to the one in Hong Kong Island when we were waiting for our ferry to Macao to leave.
Luggage Check-In at the International Finance Center
What is also handy is that you can already check in your luggage at the International Finance Center. This is great if you have a late flight in the day and want to do some sight seeing before that. The luggage will be checked in to the airport and you do not have to take it with you. There is also a train leaving from the International Finance Center to the airport.
Why we travelled to Macao instead of Japan
The day I have been looking forward to had finally arrived: Leaving Hong Kong & flying to Japan – I thought! When we got to the airport, we saw on the departure screen that all flights to Japan had been canceled and a few were delayed. So we rushed to the counter to ask what was going on. Apparently a storm was headed over Japan and all flights for the day were canceled. The airline staff was also not able to tell us more or even re-book our flight. According to them, they do not re-book tickets at the airport, but only via their Hotline. So they insisted we call a number to change our reservation. We were not able to do international calls with our phones and there was also no pay phone at the airport. Even if, it is ridiculous to ask us to call the airline from the airport. I told the woman I would not leave her counter until she had presented me with a solution. So I was standing at her counter for about an hour. She had to serve other customers on the sides of it as I refused to move. We didn’t really look at each other anymore as she insisted that she cannot do anything for me.
Macao as time killer
Finally there was a change in shifts and two other younger people were responsible for the counter. I told them the same story again and they were much nicer. They used their private phones to call the airline for us and re-booked us on a flight 2 days later… Apparently the only one that had free seats left. But anyways, we were glad that they helped us after all and we got a new flight. Now the question was: Back to Hong Kong and find a hotel there or how else could we best spend the extra days? On our way to the airport I saw ferry signs to Macao Island, so I had the idea of checking out Macao since I really did not want to go back to crowdy Hong Kong.
Ferry to Macao from Hong Kong
We had to go back into the city to take the ferry to Macao. You can only take the ferry from the airport if you are still in the transit area. Since we never were inside the airport that day, we actually had to take this detour via the city. So we took the bus to the city from where we booked a speed ferry to Macao. The ferry was quite pricey, but after all this trouble at the airport we were too exhausted to keep searching for alternatives. The ferry was packed with Chinese from the mainland who wanted to go to Macao.
To be honest, until this day I have never heard of Macao. Also we were not able to ready anything about Macao until we were on the speed boat and had wifi. Macao was formerly a colony of the Portuguese empire and remained under Portuguese control until 1999. The portuguese style and culture can still be found today and especially the old city reminded me rather of cities in South Europe than China. What I also did not know before was that Macao is apparently the gambling capital of the world.
Stop over in Macao
For Macao we booked a nicer hotel to relax a bit from the rushed city of Hong Kong. We took the free airport shuttle to get to the hotel. At the hotel, we entered into a big foyer which did not look like a hotel. It was not difficult to spot the check-in counters as there were huge lines of people waiting to be checked in. The entire foyer did not look like a hotel, but rather like a departure hall at an airport combined with a theme park. There was a massive fountain in the middle and the hotel was attached to a huge shopping mall complex which was attached to other big hotels. Our hotel also had a gym, pools, spa and everything else you can imagine. There are several restaurants in the mall which are very pricy. But there is also a food court with several less expensive options.
From our window we could see a fake Eiffel Tower and the nearby hotel (The Venetian). The Venetia hotel was built to replicate Venice with canals and gondeliers, bridges and everything else you can imagine. The Venetian hotel has a big casino, probably the most known one in Macao where every day many tourists gamble. In the evening we went here to check it out and do a bit of gambling ourselves. Since we were in Macao we thought we have to give it a try 😀 We set a small budget beforehand and promised ourselves not to spend more than that. If it’s gone, we would leave. Of course it was gone quicker than we planned on. But even if you are not gambling you can watch others play on the table and walk through the huge casino building. It is quite impressive and definitely a place where money and bling bling is all that counts.
Day 2 in Macao
The next morning we went to the breakfast buffet of our hotel which was huge. Here again, you had to wait in line to be seated to a table. They offered everything you could imagine from waffles to oatmeal, fresh fruit, French pastries, Chinese hot dishes and dumplings. The restaurant was packed with Chinese people who were in Macao to spend their money on gambling. The room was very noisy and the other guests packed their plates full with food only to eat maybe one fourth of it and let the rest go to waste. Also at the buffet they were screaming at each other, skipping lines and bumping into me. It just seemed like a completely different world. There were only a hand full of western tourists.
Our hotel did not offer a free transport to the old city, but many of the other hotels did. So we simply walked over to the Venetian hotel and took the free shuttle bus to Macao city from there. After a short bus ride we arrived in the old city of Macao.
We strolled through the old city for a few hours and walked along the main sight seeing spots. We had some ice cream on the main plaza and just watched the people pass by. It was nice walking through the streets and being able to spend some time outdoors after being indoors in big casinos, fake venetian buildings and big hotel complexes.
Our stop over in Hong Kong & Macao turned out to be different than expected. I am glad I got to see Hong Kong and experience the city and its vibes. Macao was also a place which was not on my radar and another country I got to visit. Although, I will probably not visit Macao again. 🙂