Kowloon, Causeway Bay, and the worst night show ever – Hong Kong

Today we played Pokemon Go. It sounds like a funny thing to do on holiday, but it’s actually a travel guide! All the Pokestops are in interesting bits of the neighbourhood, and there’s normally a little description of what you’re seeing which is cool.

We wandered through the area by Mong Kok towards Kowloon. This is the more Chinese part of the city, compared to Central on Hong Kong island which is the more commercial British part of the city. The buildings here are functional, not really beautiful, and gritty. We walked past a food market where guys with no shirts on were cutting meat, while ladies with full makeup were selling them. From here we caught the MTR to Central.

Central and Hong Kong station is where the massive IFC malls are. This is a typical high end mall, with all the regular wealthy brands. When I see Chloe or Tom Ford, I don’t really seem them as exclusive. You just need to be rich to wear them. They’re like Hallensteins or Glassons for rich people. We went into a high end store called Lane Crawford. I was wearing shorts, t-shirt, and Birkenstock sandals. The guy at the perfume counter didn’t even say hello to me. I guess shop staff get pretty good at judging people in advance. No surprise, Hong Kong people are very image conscious, so I’d imagine a couple of New Zealanders looking like a summer holiday would feel out of place.

We then went to Causeway Bay and wandered around, including going to a craft beer bar that didn’t have a liquor license! Sure, they served Karma Cola from New Zealand which was nice, though it did cost $10 NZD for the privilege. We continued wandering and saw a lot of pretty average looking apartment complexes, but with some super wealthy cars on the outside, so many Tesla Model S cars! I guess when there’s no land, you invest in cars.

It was getting hot, around 25 degrees Celsius, so we decided to retreat back to Causeway Bay shopping centre, and hit up my only two clothing stores, Muji, and Uniqlo for a Fashion Renewal. I really only shop there now since they’re plain and cheap. I like them, and the quality is good.

After a wee break, we headed back outside to watch the Hong Kong Night Light show called ‘A Symphony of Lights’. Imagine watching 10 buildings for 90 minutes, with some lasers thrown in occasionally. Not recommended. We had been standing around so long and walking so much, that my lower back was killing me. First time that’s really ever happened. So we retreated back to the hotel, and after doing many a yoga stretch, we fell asleep immediately.

Wandering the streets of Macau – Two Minute Travel

We woke up and had breakfast in the Club Sofitel lounge. Really what a beautiful sight. Sitting on the 17th floor of the Sofitel Macau, we had breakfast just as the sun was rising. With it so low in the sky, the sun was a brilliant shade of red, peaking through the haze.

But enough of waxing lyrically, it was time for eating. The breakfast was beautiful, really delicious. Kathryn said that the croissant she had with jam was the best croissant of her life.

My reflection was, this should have been the hotel we went to for our honeymoon. It really was a very romantic breakfast. Anyways, we didn’t just eat all day, we then started our walk around Macau.

Around the Sofitel is the old part of Macau. We wandered following the signposts towards the Ruins of St. Paul. Unfortunately, we missed the last signpost, and then started wandering through a gritty sales area. Thankfully, there are these massive hordes of Chinese tour grounds wandering around, and by following them, we stumbled upon the Ruins of St. Paul.

These ruins are the front of a church that used to be here. They’re pretty impressive. Though I do wonder if they’d be as popular if they weren’t a ruin. I’m just saying there were a lot of impressive buildings in Macau that don’t have a million tourists standing outside, but because they’re not ruins, there’s no one there!

We wandered back down the hill, and then decided to walk towards the Port. Turns out, looks close on the map, but ended up being about an hour and a half walk through the searing heat. Our feet were killing us.

Once back at the port, we caught the free shuttle towards the Venetian. It was kind of funny seeing the boring dusty hot streets we walked through, as we zoomed by in minutes in an air conditioned bus. I guess that’s why no one was walking around right?

The Venetian is a massive thing. A massive mall. A massive casino. Really just everything massive. We didn’t even go to the casino! We did wander the mall, which is about the size of four massive malls glued together by a gondola ride. Kathryn ended up going clothes shopping at Marks & Spencer, while I bought some Scottish sparkling water. However, not everything we did was imported culture – I did try a Macanese Pork Bun. This is literally just a pork chop in bread. $7 later, it was very nice. The spices on the pork chop made it taste nearly like KFC which was quite nice.

Afterwards we got our bags, and thanks to Kathryn’s careful eye, we got out of the line for the bus to the Chinese border, and instead took the bus back to the port, for a hydrofoil bound for Hong Kong. We got off at the Kowloon Ferry Terminal, and then started the long 45 minute trek towards our hotel, the Dorsett Mong Kok. My feet were dying. I could feel them dying. More poor feet. After quite a wander, we made it, made a drink, and went to bed.

Sofitel Macau Review – Spoiler, the best hotel in Macau!

We landed at Hong Kong International Airport at about 3.30pm local time. At HKIA a neat thing is that if you’re catching the high speed ferry to Macau, they depart from the airport, without needing to go through immigration, it’s basically an international transfer!

So that’s what we did. We walked on down to the E2 Transfer Point, and bought a couple of tickets, $254 HKD each. For people in NZ, that works out to be about $50 NZD per person. We had about half an hour before boarding, but there’s not too much to do in the airport except look at the same old duty free shops we’ve all seen before – does anyone want to buy a Toblerone?

The Turbojet ride itself is about an hour long, and pretty uneventful. We did see a bridge being built from Hong Kong to Macau, 50km long. Thankfully Kathryn took her Sea Legs pill before the boat ride, so no complaints there.

At the Macau Ferry terminal, immigration was painless. We waited all of a minute, a guy looked at us, didn’t say anything, and that was that. All the shuttles to the various casinos depart from the ferry terminal. On the right hand side are all the flash casinos, like the Venetian. On the left hand side past some scaffolding are the slightly smaller shuttles, like the one to the Sofitel Macau at 16 Ponte.

After about a 10 minute shuttle ride, we arrived at the hotel. We walked to the check-in counter where we were informed that we were to be checked in at the executive lounge on the 17th floor. Turns out we’d be upgraded to the Luxury room on the 17th floor next to the roof, with views of China just across the river, located in the old part of town. The check in experience was beautiful, with a person doing the paperwork, while we sat down, and had canapes, and drank cocktails. We were so confused – why were they treating us so nicely? But seriously, we felt a bit out of place, we’d just come off the plane, tired, sweaty, and the hotel staff were amazing.

We went to the room, and it was the Luxury Room Club Sofitel. Basically, the room was massive – 37m2, or twice the size of our hotel room in Hong Kong! A massive bath with a spa pillow, Hermes amenities, a TV in the bathroom, super high ceilings, beautiful views over the Pearl River towards China, amazing. The bed was a massive king bed with soft soft pillows, Bose sound system, and automated curtains.

It’s been an amazing trip so far, and we’re so thankful to the Sofitel Macau. Thank you, I will literally recommend this hotel to everyone I met.

Cost wise – we paid $160 NZD for the hotel room, and the Luxury Room costs around $320 NZD a night.

Cathay Pacific Business Class for $1800 NZD – Two Minute Travel

I enjoy puzzles. Recently the puzzle I’ve been playing around with is Airline frequent flyer programmes. If you’re from New Zealand, you’re probably well familiar with Air New Zealand Airpoints. There’s not really much ‘point hacking’ you can do with the programme. One Airpoints Dollar equals one NZ Dollar.

But not all airlines have such simple programmes. My current favourite is Alaska Airline’s Mileage Plus programme. You can buy Alaska Airline miles, and occasionally, they have bonus purchases. The best offer I’ve seen is get 40% more miles. So I ended up purchasing 60,000 Alaska Airline miles for around $1800 NZD.

Next, have a look at redeeming those miles with Alaska Airline partners using their redemption chart. The best value redemption for 60,000 miles is a return flight from Auckland to Hong Kong flying business class. And that’s what we booked!

Now, this is a saving of about $4000 NZD compared to buying a business class flight. But there are some caveats of course. First, availability isn’t very strong. Use the British Airways website to find out when there are seats available on a particular flight. Once available, call Alaska Airlines to do your reservation. Another concern is buying points in advance. Points aren’t cash – airlines can devalue them, cancel partners, change their programme at will. So we waited until there was a good sale, then looked for seats we could buy, then while on the phone to Alaska Airlines reservations, we purchased the points online.

And as for our Cathay Pacific experience? A really nice hard product, i.e. the seat. And an OK soft product, i.e. the people. We flew up Air NZ the day before and they weren’t worried about our carry on bags. But Cathay Pacific wanted to weigh ours! Turns out one bag was 9kg, and we had to remove some stuff from it. Also turns out that Business class passengers are allowed 10kg for carry on. So a mark down there for a lady giving us grief over something she wasn’t correct about.

The lounge access was for the Air New Zealand Koru Lounge. You really can’t complain about it – it’s very nice, the food is fine, and oh my goodness, the showers. SO GOOD. Shower pressure was intense, and there was a rain shower! You can’t beat that.

On board the flight, things were OK. The seat and surround is really good, but the food was a bit average. Ho hum bircher muesli tasted like cornflakes sitting in milk getting soggy for two days. Maybe that’s just what bircher muesli actually tastes like? The sausage and egg omelette tasted generously like that of an airport hotel. The omelette was next to mushrooms, and so the omelette turned grey in colour. The entertainment system is really nice, with live streaming CNN. And there’s WiFi onboard – a reasonable $20 USD for the 10 hour flight, which is a good deal.

NYC Day 7 – A Circle Island Boat Cruise and reflections on a week in New York

Well, it had to happen sometime, but our stay in New York is coming to an end.

But first, we had a bit more shopping to do. I must admit, after going on a Round-The-World trip late last year, the novelty of the stores has been greatly reduced for me. Last time I brought back about 20 kg of novelty food and snacks interesting to me. This time a bunch of chewing gum, and that’s it. Kathryn’s been the same, pretty much no makeup purchases. I think with the internet, it’s not so much of a hassle ordering stuff over the internet, and there’s nearly nothing that can’t be ordered off the internet these days. Except makeup so it seems.

I ended up going to the Uniqlo 34st Street Flagship building, and was served by perhaps the worst service I’ve seen in America. With service that poor I figured I could have been in Oslo. Seriously, I’ve never seen a guy less interested in serving a customer. It was truly a chore to him that I was there. He tossed down the receipt on the table, didn’t say anything, and flicked it at me with his finger. Truly amazing.

We then went to 42nd Street and 12th Avenue and caught the Circle Island Ferry Tour. This was $35 USD per person, and lasted about a couple of hours. Manhattan is truly an island, and we proved it by catching a ferry all the way around it. Kathryn has a fairly sceptical view towards tours like this – they’re both long, boring, and you’re stuck in not the most comfortable seat ever. It was cool to see the parts of Manhattan that we hadn’t ventured towards, like the Bronx. There’s a lot more to Manhattan than Midtown, and I’m happy we got to explore Downtown, but next time I think we should spend a bit less time on Manhattan, and more time exploring Brooklyn, and heck, even New Jersey.

Overall, New York has been amazing to us. The weather when we arrived was beautiful and sunny, and though it rained torrentially last night, because it had been sunnier earlier in the stay, we knew what New York was like on a sunny day, and a clear night. We spent enough time in New York to not feel rushed – a feeling we didn’t have anywhere on our round the world trip, except for maybe Tokyo. When you’re in one place for a week, you start to get a feel for the directions of the place, where the coffee place is, the bus station, where to avoid (White Castle). And since it’s all in English, we could understand helpful directions like, only the first five cars of this Subway train stop at the South Ferry station. That was something that caught us out in Osaka.

NYC Day 6 – Fashion shopping in Chelsea, Magnolia Bakery, and Broadway

Today we went Fashion shopping, walking back along the High Line Park to Chelsea, on our way to around Soho for some shopping. We stopped by the Chelsea Food Market, and I succumbed to temptation and bought a whole freshly-steamed Lobster. Sure, it cost $33 USD, but how many times in your life do you get a chance to eat a lobster? I did eat it like a white person, which means just the claw and tail meat, and didn’t eat all the weird stuff inside the body. Growing up, we would have Crayfish occasionally, and Dad and I would eat all the normal meat, and Mum would eat all the weird extras, such as the eyes, or the weird brown liquid coming out of it. That’s not for me. I think I accidentally ate some of the lung. It was weird. Not recommend.

From here we continued on walking towards Soho, and went past the original Magnolia Bakery. The name rings a bell, but I couldn’t figure out why the name was famous – turns out they started the whole cupcake craze back in the day. I bought a red velvet cupcake with cream cheese icing which was nice. Not like change-the-game delicious, but fine. Kathryn went for a salted caramel cookie which was delicious, and a vanilla cake with vanilla frosting which was average.

Walking past all the fancy stores around Soho is nice. They’re all the stores you’d expect to see in a luxury mall, except they’re in quaint storefronts in normal one storey shops. We walked into Kathryn’s favourite Danish designer, Henrik Vibskov. The design is all a bit eclectic for me, but Kathryn loves it. They have an exhibit on the wall, which this season is hundreds of massive pencil tips. Kathryn’s  been to both the Henrik Vibskov stores, Soho, and Copenhagen, making her a fancier shopper than I. I was just excited to see a 7-Eleven.

From here we caught the R Subway line back to Midtown to get some tickets to a Broadway show. In Times Square at 2.30pm, the Ticket Development Fund runs the TKTS stand which sells half price Broadway tickets. We ended up going to the Carole King musical – $90 USD each (the half price cost). It was great, the set design was amazing, the singing was fantastic, and it really was a very polished musical. I don’t even love the music of Carole King, but it was interesting to hear her story, and I did recognise some of the songs. Definitely recommended!

NYC Day 5 – Staten Island, One World Trade Center, and Manhattan Shopping

Today we decided to head to the financial district. So we caught the R Subway Line from Times Square down to the South Ferry station, and it turns out that the free Staten Island Ferry was just about the leave, so we sprinted onboard, we were just about the last passenger.

We then cruised towards Staten Island, going past the Statue of Liberty. It’s nice to cruise along the harbour and see a bit more of Manhattan, especially the skyline from a different angle. We went past Ellis Island which was where they used to do immigration processing back in the old days. The Statue of Liberty was crowded with people – you can pay $20 for a cruise that allows you to climb the crown of the statue, but I wasn’t too obsessed about that.

We spent about say, 2 minutes on Staten Island, before sprinting for the next ferry that was just about to leave. Good timing, we ended up doing a round trip in about an hour, rather than spending half a day doing it. We were then back on Manhattan in an area called Battery Park.

We then walked up towards Wall Street. Obviously, Wall Street is a bit of a financial capital of the world. But from a tourist’s perspective, there’s not too much to see there, mostly very big old financial buildings. Imagine looking at buildings full of lawyers and accountants. That’s pretty much Wall Street. There is a Charging Bull statue down the road that is pretty synonymous will Wall Street.

A couple of blocks over is One World Trade Center, or Freedom Tower as Kathryn tells me. You have to walk past a bunch of street hawkers selling you liber-tee-shirts. Liberty-tshirts? Get it? They made that up, not me. Then, you see the 9/11 Memorial Pools. There’s a lot of construction going on so it’s quite a noisy environment, but even still, the sound of the rushing water tries its best to drown out the other noises. As you peer over the edge you can see the water falling into the edge of the pool, but you can’t quite see the bottom of the pool. It’s a very nice design. Towering above the two memorial pools is One World Trade Center. Simply massive in height, it dwarfs all other buildings nearby, and dominates the skyline.

We then tried to catch the subway back uptown. Weirdly my subway card didn’t work, leaving me stranded on one side of the barrier, and Kathryn on the other side. Thankfully, I wasn’t the only one affected, this Norwegian couple also suffered the same fate. This was my chance to use my only line of Norwegian that I knew. She understood my greeting, and responded appropriately. I was stoked.

Anyways, we made it back to the shopping district, and headed to the largest store in the world, Macy’s. Kathryn found some Nike clothing she’d been searching all of Manhattan for.

We headed back to the hotel for free beers and nibbles and then retired early for the night. Sometimes it’s nice to relax while on holiday!

NYC Day 4 – Central Park + Zoo, and the NHL at Madison Square Gardens

Today was a day of exploring the area north of Times Square. First off was the walk east towards East River along 40th Street. The walk was fairly uneventful, but nice just to get out of the hotel and enjoy some sun and fresh(ish) air.

The United Nations building is on 1st Avenue, and is right next to a fenced off empty lot full of rubbish. It’s just weird that there’s this dump right by the river, oh, and right next door, here’s the UN. They could have turned it into a temporary park. Or a car park. Or just put up hoardings with paintings on it. But no, just rubbish.

We then walked up 42nd Street and checked out Grand Central Station, one of two Apple Stores we saw today. There’s military guards stationed at the entrances fully armed. I guess it makes sense, always a bit weird to see though. The station itself is well, grand, and central, so meets the promise of the name. There’s also a neat little bar tucked around the side called Campbell’s Apartment that was recommended to us by a friend, however, we arrived too early, and it was closed.

So we moved on up 42nd Street past the Chrysler Building, or Kathryn’s obsession. It really is a classic art deco building, and both the top and the entrance look grand. I wonder why modern buildings don’t have more style. Most of them are just big boxes. It’s boring. The Empire State Building isn’t famous because its just a big box.

Anyways, we then had some street food, where Kathryn bought a Philly Cheese Steak, and I went for a Hot Dog. Really, street food is quite delicious, and reasonably priced. I doubt it’s particularly good for you, and in fact, it’s quite hard to find healthy food, but maybe people prefer delicious cheesy salty food, rather than say fresh juices.

We checked out the Sony Wonder Experience Lab, or as I like to think of it, the Sony Propaganda Center. Sony make lots of fancy technology, oh, and a Playstation 4. That’s about the gist of the place.

Finally, we made it to Central Park. It’s a nice park, both trying to appear full of nature, yet, quite fenced off so you can’t actually touch that nature. It’s like a zoo, where the exhibits are soil, trees, and plants. I did enjoy it though, it was interesting to see the ice on the lakes, the squirrels running around, and the street food vendors selling various crappy food. I bought a cheese pretzel, it was disgusting. Also at Central Park is a zoo, which is relatively expensive for its size ($18 USD per person), but has two start attractions, three Snow Leopards, and two Grizzly Bears. They were awesome as you can imagine!

We then headed back to the hotel for a pit stop, and then it was time to walk down the road to Madison Square Gardens to watch the ice hockey. Tonight’s NHL game was the New York Rangers vs. the Los Angeles Kings. The tickets were $200 NZD each, and we were just about in the last row. However, the atmosphere was good in the cheap seats, and Kathryn made two friends. First was a woman who sounded straight out of Jersey Shore. Someone called her sweetie, and she was pissed about it. The second was a guy who taunted the New York Rangers as they slowly lost the game 4-2. Even though the local team lost, it was still fun to experience once in life.

NYC Day 3 – Soho, Chinatown, Brooklyn Bridge, and a marriage proposal

Today was our long haul journey to Brooklyn,  via the Brooklyn Bridge. But first, we needed to walk down Manhattan. We walked down Broadway and saw quite a few fancy stores, weirdly, none of which appear to be in New Zealand. Also walked past the New York University Stern School of Business, one of the oldest business schools in the world (only 115 years old). Little did they know that I was considering doing an Online Masters degree from the University of Waikato, in Hamilton, New Zealand! Take that New Yorkers.

On the way, we stopped at Washington Square, where we saw a marriage proposal. It was pretty cute. He had put together a hand made sign, a bit like those used to present a science experiment. She said yes, so it must have worked!

We then continued towards Soho. Kathryn tried on some clothes at one of her favourite designers, Henrik Vibskov. Unfortunately, nothing really suited her, so then we headed further into Soho, to Pi Bakerie, a Greek bakery. Kathryn went for the Frittata and Coffee, while I went for the Lasagne and Soup. The lasagne was great, though the corn and and chicken soup was weirdly sour, which I don’t understand. Neither of those ingredients themselves are sour, so where does the sour flavour come from? Kathryn’s frittata was good, but she said the coffee was undrinkable. I guess she was too used to Starbucks!

We then walked through Chinatown towards the Brooklyn Bridge. Chinatown reminded me a lot of Shanghai, lots of hawkers, and it really is like a little China. There wasn’t that much English being spoken, mostly just to tourists asking them if they wanted to buy Gucci or Chanel. Which was weird, because they didn’t look like the same stores by Times Square selling that stuff as well.

Finally, we made it to the start of the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s nice to walk across bridges, there’s one outside of Taumarunui I’ve walked, the Sydney Harbour Bridge (sans-Kathryn), and now, the Brooklyn Bridge. The walking area is on wooden boards elevated above the roads. It’s quite a majestic bridge, and with the day beautiful and clear, it was just amazing.

We then walked around the Dumbo area of Brooklyn, and headed to Dumbo Kitchen. This was a nice place to get a fresh squeezed juice, a delicious Banana Cake cupcake (with a peanut butter-butter icing). Kathryn bought a Pesto Pasta takeaway which was delicious (I’ve been told, she didn’t share any. Just like the Frittata).

We then decided we were in no mood to walk the 12km back to the hotel, so we caught the Subway, F Line. Pretty straight forward, about as clean and reliable as the London Underground. The guy next to Kathryn looked fine, but smelt like stale body odour (amongst other things). Classic subway. There was also a mentally ill guy asking people for money. It was pretty weird, but I remember that there’s a guy like that in Wellington, so these things aren’t solely exclusive to massive cities. However, I did notice a sign saying if you’ve been sexually or physically assaulted, then you should tell the conductor. I’m glad there aren’t those signs on the Wellington Train network.

NYC Day 2 – Waylon gettin’ some

Today was a massive exhausting day. I got up at 8am and was full of energy, however, Sleeping Beauty, was still, well, sleeping, so I decided to check out the hotel’s gym. An hour and 280 cals later, I reminded myself that I’m probably not as fit as I used to be.

The hotel we’re staying at does a breakfast included in the price, and it was like watching piranha feed. A new batch of omelettes or McMuffins would be put out, and about say, 2 seconds later, gone. I enjoyed some people grabbing five or six, heck, not all of us have shame I suppose.

We then walked towards High Line Park. Manhattan’s streets are on a grid system, which makes it pretty easy to work out where you are, and where you’re going. We’re on West 39th and 8th Ave, and we wanted to go to 23rd and 10th Ave. So basically, walk 16 blocks one way, and 2 blocks across. Sorted.

High Line Park was an old elevated railway, that people called an eyesore, and wanted to be demolished. Instead, a group of people turned it into a park floating above the roads of New York. It really is amazing. And on a beautiful sunny chilly Spring day like today, it was fantastic. There was still a little bit of snow in the grass, and a slight chill in the air, but other than that, going for a stroll high above the city was delightful.

At the end of the High Line Park we headed to the Chelsea Food Market. This was a nice packed food market full of really quality food. I thought about getting a full Lobster, but at $30 USD each, that’s a lot to spend on a lunch! Kathryn and I decided to go to an Italian place, she enjoying Bruschetta and Rosemary Roasted Potatoes, and I going for the Truffle Pasta and a Cannoli. They were delicious!

We then walked the whole length of the High Line again back towards the hotel. Along the way we saw the Empire State Building in the distance, and decided to walk towards it. And well, when you’re in the neighborhood, it makes sense to go up it! $32 USD each later, we caught a lift up 80 floors, and then took the stairs for the last 6 floors to check out the view. The inside of the Empire State Building is grand, in that 1930’s Art Deco style, opulent with clean lines. The view from the top was just as good as the interior, with great views of the Statute of Liberty, the new One World Trade Center, and seeing how the Hudson River and the East River turn Manhattan into an island.

From here, we had a wee pit stop at the hotel, and then headed back out to Times Square. We swung by an Irish Pub, and a few beers and Buffalo Wings later, we then headed into the M&M store. About $50 later, I realised I spent $50 too much at the M&M store. And with that, it was bed time, so we retreated back to the hotel.