5 Places in Hong Kong You May Not Know About

Hong Kong has this fast-paced, modern, thriving image, but did you know that they also have beaches? How about a giant Buddah sitting on top of a mountain? No? Then you better read on! 🙂

The first thing that comes to mind when Hong Kong is mentioned, at least to most people where I’m from, is shopping. Upon exiting baggage claim, you’ll already see an abundance of shops lining the waiting area. You can do a full-on shopping spree inside HKIA alone! It’s one of those airports where I don’t mind waiting for a delayed flight or going early to because there’s so much to see and so many different, GOOD FOOD spots to choose from! As expected of the 4th best airport in the world.

I’ll gush over HKIA more in a future post. But for now, I’ll introduce to you 5 places that I think aren’t very well known to travelers (especially first timers) to HK.

At first glance, in a tourist perspective, HK can seem like one huge shopping mall. You can actually go from mall to mall without stepping outdoors! However, this isn’t even scratching the surface of the treasure that is Hong Kong. I mean, come on, it’s the land of Jackie Chan! There’s so much more to it than just shopping!

It’s also filled AMAZING FOOD!

Our first unknown spot is a qualified representative of good HK food:

1. Tai Woo Restaurant

tai woo 1It was like, 10PM and The Emperor (my dear brother – he used to be Mr. President, but then he promoted himself) and I hadn’t had dinner yet. Most places that serve food that aren’t party places were already closed, so it’s between getting pre-packed food from Wellcome (which are terrific and our go-to food) or walking further to look for a decent place to eat. I mean, it’s Hong Kong. It’s mandatory to have authentic dimsum!

I really can’t remember how to get there exactly, but The Emperor is in HK so often that he’s practically a citizen, so he knew how to navigate the streets even at night. He told me about this place he discovered on a hunger-driven exploration night much like this night.

We arrive at this unassuming building at the corner of somewhere. Most shops around are closed, and if you don’t look closely, you’d also think that this whole building was, too. I wasn’t expecting much. But then we rode this tiny elevator to the 9th floor, and it opened to lively chatter and clinking of china. We were even asked to sit and wait for a while for a table. At 10PM!

When we were finally seated, I looked around and realized that most of the customers were elderly! One would expect youngsters to be up and energetic this time of night, but I watched as a grandpa happily went around his table to pour drinks for his friends and I’m like, wow, I wish I had his energy. To think that I was already ready to hit the sack, if I weren’t so hungry.

The service in Tai Woo is very quick, which is perfect for starving tourists. One thing I have to emphasize though, is that most Hong Kong citizens are fluent in English. There are a few places that have difficulty with the language, but HK being a British territory for some time, you can rest assured that they’d understand English almost everywhere. This means that ordering food wouldn’t be a problem.

Tai Woo (Causeway Bay branch) is actually listed as a Bib Gourmand in Michelin Guide 2015 – this means that they offer scrumptious meals at an affordable price.

Check out directions to Tai Woo here.

2. Stanley Point

stanley 2Want good food AND affordable shopping? Did you know that you can do both by a beach in Hong Kong? Yep, all that can be done at Stanley Point!

The Emperor and I suddenly found ourselves with a lot of free time after stuff was cancelled off of our itinerary. Even though we’ve been to HK several times already, this is probably the first time we had no plans. So The Emperor looked up places he’s never been to, and decided that now’s the perfect time to check it out.

Simply put, we stumbled upon a tiny gem atop the mountains.

Stanley Point can be reached by bus (it’s along the same route as the one to Ocean Park, but further down the road/up the mountain) and, if you’re too tired or too lazy, taxi.

You can find directions to Stanley Point here.

If you take the bus, you will get off at the Stanley terminal. Just follow the people when you get off. Or if you don’t want to, look for the road going into Stanley Market. You can’t miss it. It’s right beside the terminal.

Stanley Market is a haven for cheap souvenir shopping. There are t-shirts, local crafts, and traditional clothing that scream “I’ve Been to Hong Kong!” left and right. What’s great is that they actually have larger sizes! Hurray for size equality!

But don’t buy from the first stalls you see just yet. Go into the maze of stalls inside the roofed area (see Google Map Image). Chances are you’ll find the same things outside in there, and maybe at a cheaper price. There are artworks, factory overrun clothes (good quality, super cheap!), electronic trinkets, etc. Take your time and look around. Beware the crowd though. It can get pretty tight.

If you’ve had it with squeezing through the narrow corridors between stalls, just walk on until the roofed area ends. This is the outside area, and depending on where you exited (left wing or right wing), you’ll probably see the beach already. Don’t be afraid to walk around because it’s not big enough a place to get lost in.

Walking along the open area will bring you to the restaurant strip. Here you’ll find different cuisines that’ll most likely satisfy most cravings. It’s nice to sit by the window and look out at the water while sipping a cool drink. It’s pretty relaxing here compared to the CBD where everyone seems to be in a hurry.

If you happen to decide to stay a night, there’s a hotel nearby. Also, a mall to walk around in.

Below is a 360deg photo of the Stanley Beach (credits to owner).

3. Tung Chung Citygate Outlets

Credit to Discovery Hong Kong for this photo.
Credit to Discovery Hong Kong for this photo.

Like branded items but your wallet doesn’t? Then this is the place to be! If you don’t mind them being a bit out-of-season, then you’ll find high-end brands such as Coach, Armani, Ralph Lauren, and Gucci in the City Gate Outlets. More within reach budget-wise like Esprit, Guess, Calvin Klein, and Giordano are present as well. Footwear brands like Nike, Adidas, New Balance, and Rockport, luggage brands like Samsonite and American Tourister, jewelry and watches – they’re all there, and all selling items that are priced at least 20% lower than original. There’s also a large supermarket at the basement level.

When you get hungry from the shopping, there’s Food Republic on Level 2! It’s a food court type place filled with delicious cuisines from different countries. Of course, since you’re in Hong Kong, try Cantonese!

Other standalone restaurants and cafes are scattered around as well. If you get bored, there’s a cinema upstairs. If you get too tired from all the shopping and just want to crash (and still have loads more money to spend), there’s a Novotel nearby.

Tung Chung City Gate Outlets is near the end of the subway line, so it’s quite a ways away from CBD. But it really is worth a visit. It’s only 10mins. away from the airport, and also close to Hong Kong Disneyland. If you want a more culturally-focused adventure, then it’s the perfect place to go. The Ngong Ping Cable Car going to Lantau Island is right outside. There you’ll see the Giant Buddha!

Check out directions to Tung Chung Citygate Outlets here.

4. The Giant Buddha (Tian Tan Buddha)

buddhaAway from the bustling city streets, less than an hour from Tung Chung Citygate Outlets, there’s a quiet little village called Ngong Ping. It can be reached by either cable car (pick this – faster and better view) or bus (beware those who get carsick easily – there are loads of twists and turns on the road). Upon getting of the unloading area, the Ngong Ping Piazza, an intricately carved, white archway, can be seen. It frames a walkway lined with stone statues of different Buddhist beings. As the clearing opens, one cannot miss The Big Buddha, sitting on a lotus flower, on top of a 268-step staircase. There’s a monastery opposite it, and hiking paths around.

Coming back from the Big Buddha, going through the Ngong Ping Piazza once more, follow the path to the right – this will lead to a small village-type shopping area that sell cool souvenirs. There are also snack shops and a restaurant in case you get hungry.

Check out directions to The Giant Buddha here.

Below is a photo sphere (you can move it around to look around) of the Tian Tan Square. On the right, the small archway you see is the Ngong Ping Piazza. On the left is the Tian Tan Buddha.

5. Sham Shui Po

Credits to Discovery Hong Kong for this photo.
Credits to Discovery Hong Kong for this photo.

This is a haven for anything electronics. From phone cases, to adaptors, to chargers, to old radios – whatever electronic you need, you will probably find it here, and for LESS! That’s right, buy as many iPhone charger wires as you want. Sure, some may break after a few months, but hey, you can put one in your car, one in your purse, and one at home. No more unplugging and replugging!

Sham Shui Po street market is packed with accessories. If you want to buy a phone, there are also myriad stores to choose from. But I suggest going here mainly for accessories, since there’s risk in getting duped when buying from resellers. Since Hong Kong doesn’t have import tax, buying from official stores like Apple or Samsung is still cheaper than in most other countries. And you’re sure about the warranty this way.

If you need external hard drives, flash drives, etc., there is a mall in Sham Shui Po with all that.

Check out directions to Sham Shui Po here.

How to Renew Your Passport

Note: This is for Philippine passport holders renewing in the Philippines.

DID YOU KNOW that you can’t fly abroad with less than 6 months before your passport’s expiration date?

I certainly didn’t. I thought that was a requirement when getting visas. I didn’t know I needed 6 months validity on my trusty passport to be able to go to a visa-free country. With my freedom to fly recently restored, I quickly realized that I might not be able to go because I only had a couple of months left before my passport expires.

Lucky enough, I did a “test booking” back in April, to know how long the queue is for appointments. That time, the next available appointment was already in mid-July, can you believe that? A 3-month queue! Thankfully, I didn’t cancel it like I intended to (because I wanted to set an appointment with my mom, but I have an earlier trip so I went ahead with this).

So how do you book an appointment?

Step 1: Go to the DFA website dedicated to passports and schedule an appointment (click underlined in yellow).

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Step 2: Tick the box and proceed to the next page.

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If you’re applying alone, click the one on the left. If you’re setting an appointment for 2 or more people, click the one on the right.

Step 3: Select the needed info and choose the branch you want.

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Step 4: Choose the date and time of your appointment.

1d

As you can see, as of writing, the next available appointment slots are already in late October. So hurry! You can check the schedules for other branches by selecting them through the dropdown menu (arrow 1). Sometimes, other branches have earlier available slots. Click the day to see the available times. Move forward or backward a month using the arrows beside the month name.

Step 5: Fill in the necessary info. This goes on for the remaining pages.

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Please make sure that everything is accurate. Double check for typos before submitting.

Step 6: Download your appointment and application form.

A link for download will be emailed to you shortly after you submit your application. Download and print it. Best make two copies to be sure. Go through the list of requirements so that you can get the ones you lack right away.

Here is the link to the list of requirements for passport renewal.

You will see an overwhelmingly long list of things you need to bring, depending on your status. However, here are the essential things you need to do and bring if you already have the electronic passport (any passport issued after 2007).

General Requirements*

  • Personal appearance
  • Confirmed appointment
  • Duly accomplished application form – may be downloaded from DFA Website
  • Most recent expiring or expired passport

Valid picture IDs and supporting documents to prove identity.

(Please refer to List of Acceptable IDs and List of Supporting Documents)

Electronic Passport (E-passport)

Bring original e-passport and photocopy of page 2 (data page).

*Copied exactly from the DFA website.

It says that you need at least one (1) valid ID other than your passport. This could be your driver’s license, SSS card, digital postal ID, school or company ID. Then, you need at least three (3) supporting documents, which could be your ITR, SSS pink form, NBI clearance, land titles, TOR, birth certificate, etc.

I was only able to bring 1 ID and 2 supporting documents when I went for my appointment, so I was a bit anxious about getting rejected and having to wait until September for a new appointment. But I didn’t encounter any problems at all!

I chose the Ali Mall branch because it’s the most accessible to me and apparently has the least amount of bookings. Apart from the lining up and waiting for my number to be called, which took about 1-1.5hrs., the process itself was swift and only took 10mins.

On Appointment Day

I suggest you get there at least 30mins. before your appointed time. because sometimes, the guard lets in a batch early. For example, I arrived 1hr. before my appointment, which was at 4pm. The guard let us in about 10-15mins. before time.

Make sure you have all the requirements and a photocopy of each. It’s better to bring more than needed than lack it and have to reschedule.

Step 1: Line Up

I’m not sure about other branches, but in Ali Mall, there are lines outside the DFA office marked with short posts with the appointment time on it. So if you booked a 3:30pm appointment, look for the 3:30pm marker and line up there.

When it’s your batch’s time, the guard will let you in.

The guard will ask for the appointment sheet, which is the page with “Important Notice” and checkboxes. Your appointment time, date, and venue are written here. This comes with you application form, which you should have downloaded when you made your appointment online. This should be printed on long bond paper, as written on the appointment sheet.

Step 2: Go to the Preliminary Document Check

The guard will point you towards a desk where clerks will organize your documents. I handed in everything at once, but my supporting documents (ITR and birth certificate) were handed back to me. Only the photocopies of my passport’s data page, valid ID, and application form were stapled together.

After this, you will have to take a number from a machine. Note that there are options for passport application and passport renewal. Make sure to press the renewal button. Then, you may take a seat and wait for your number to be called. There’ll be a screen to indicate which counter you go to.

Step 3: When Your Number is Called

Go to the corresponding window and hand in your requirements. Again, I handed in everything, but my supporting documents were returned to me. Only the stapled sheets were kept. You will have to sign a log. You will also be asked for fingerprint scanning.

After the clerk has verified your identity and requirements (it took about 5 minutes), you’ll be given a receipt to bring to the cashier.

Step 4: Payment

There are only two options:

  • Regular Processing: Php950
  • Rush Processing: Php1,200

Tell the cashier which one you’d like, show the receipt from the previous window, then pay. I’m not sure if they accept credit cards, so it’s best to bring cash.

Step 5: Get Your Photo Taken

After paying, you will be asked to sit and wait again for the photo. This is relatively quick. I haven’t even sat for 5mins. when it’s already my turn.

Hand the cashier’s receipt to the clerk. You will be asked to sign another log. The clerk will type down your information and ask you to verify it. Do this carefully, because any typos will need you to go through another process to correct it, as well as another payment. When you’ve confirmed that everything’s correct, you will be asked for your electronic signature.

After this, it’s photo time! Personally, I think passport photos are notoriously unflattering, but hey, as long as it looks like you, right? So, make sure you don’t have eyeglasses on, no jewelry either. Both your ears should be visible, so if your hair is a bit unruly, best tie it back. For guys, you’re required to wear a collared shirt. For ladies, as long as it’s decent (no plunging necklines, sleeveless, or tube tops), you’re good to go.

Only minimal smiling is allowed, so do the best you can. You can politely ask for a re-take if you don’t like the first one. 🙂

You will be handed a claim form stamped with the claim date. Keep this safe because you will need it to get your new passport.

Step 6 (Optional): Pay for Shipping

There should be a courier counter somewhere close by. If you want your new passport shipped to you, you just have to show them your claim form and pay Php150. However, only those who have expired passports can avail of the shipping. If your passport isn’t expired yet when you renew, then you have to personally go back and bring the old one to render it null before you can claim the new one.

I really don’t know why they don’t just punch holes in the old one right then, save me time and energy from having to go back.

Claiming Your New Passport

Officially, it will take 3 weeks for your new passport to be ready through normal processing. If you chose express, then that’s 2 weeks. But sometimes, because of backlog, normal processing could take up to a month. It’s okay to claim your passport after the stamped date on the claim paper, as long as it’s within a year of that date.

This is based on my experience at DFA Ali Mall. Other branches may have different directions.

Step 1: Drop your receipt into the receipt box face down.

There’s a separate door for passport releasing, and the guard pointed me to it. Upon entering, the attendant told me to go to Window 4. There was no one there, so I was confused for a bit. Then, I saw the box that said to drop the receipt face-down, then take a seat and wait until my name is called. So I did.

Step 2: Sit and wait until your name is called.

There were very few people in the claiming area, so it only took 5mins. until my name was called.

Step 3: Verify your information and go.

Check the spelling of your name and your date of birth. Once everything is okay, you will be made to sign a log. The clerk will also ask for your old passport. He/She will punch holes in it to nullify it. This will all take less than 5mins. Then you’re done! You’ve got a fresh passport to fill!

Disclaimer: These tips are based on my personal experience when I renewed my passport. I am also in no way an expert on passport renewal nor application, so please consult the official DFA page linked above for more details if you have a more complicated status. I will, however, help as much as I can.

How to Earn Free Flights Doing Everyday Things: Fuel, Telcos, and Cashback Programs

We spoke about earning air miles through credit cards last time. But did you know that you can also earn air miles through the most common things like fuel, mobile phone usage, and, literally, shopping?

I think these are the programs that not many people know of, unless you’re like me and are really doing everything you can to earn those miles! 🙂

Like the previous study, I used PAL Mabuhay Miles, CEB GetGo, and AirAsia Big in this one, for the same reasons.

NOTE: If you look at these three airline rewards programs, you’ll find that there are more hotel/travel partners where you can also earn miles by availing of their services. However, the aim of this study, like what the title says, is to help people earn air miles doing everyday things. I mean, ordinary people with day jobs like me don’t book/check-in at hotels or rent cars every day. And like what I said before, it really isn’t logical to do miles-earning activities for the sake of earning miles. I won’t book a Php5,000-room in return for a few hundred miles, when I can use that money to already get a roundtrip ticket to somewhere and more with that.

This is why I chose these 4 non-credit card rewards/cashback programs for my study. They are earned for things we do regularly like gas up our cars, use our mobile phones, and, well, eat out and shop. If you read on, I’ll tell you how you can earn miles twice by doing just one thing.

Also, another e-book can be downloaded at the end of this post with all the study’s details!
more “How to Earn Free Flights Doing Everyday Things: Fuel, Telcos, and Cashback Programs”

How to Earn Free Flights Doing Everyday Things: Credit Cards

As a traveler, one of the first factors that we consider when planning a trip is airfare (sure, there’s bus fare, train fare, cruise fare (?), and gas cost, but we’ll focus on flying). We’re actually kind of lucky because we  live in a time abundant with cheap airfare. Still, it would be nice to fly for free, right? More budget for souvenirs or the next trip!

Here’s where miles programs by airlines come in. Earn miles to exchange for free flights. The most common way to earn miles is to fly with that airline or their airline partners. You all know this.

Earning air miles through credit cards is also pretty  common. It’s actually one of my motivations in choosing my card. It’s like hitting two birds with one stone: you do your shopping, pay bills – things  you have to do anyway, and get something back – rewards points – that  could take you a step closer to that dream vacation. One of the best ideas of credit card providers, right?

But as with everything, not all cards are created equal. There are cards co-branded with airlines specifically for the purpose of earning miles faster. There are elite cards (diamond, platinum, titanium, or whatever else precious metal they use) that have really low points-to-miles requirements, which would let you earn miles without having to collect points for years, but they require a ginormous yearly income to be approved. There are the gold cards, kind of like the middle class of credit cards. Then, there are the “classic” cards – the ones that have the lowest credit limit, yearly income requirement, and highest spend-to-points ratio. Well, supposedly. I was surprised with the findings of this study I made.

more “How to Earn Free Flights Doing Everyday Things: Credit Cards”

The Story Behind: Japan-Jeju Trip

It’s been a long time since I went on a leisure trip that lasted more than a week. I’m not sure if many would be able to relate, but I’m not comfortable with being away from work for longer than a week. I mean, I just know how much more paperwork will be piled on my desk with each day I’m away. Lol.

Anyway, I gave myself this “free pass” because I’d have to be grounded until around 3rd quarter of 2016, and the traveler in me kind of wanted to be out as much as I can, soak my pores with foreign air molecules, and have a lot of memories and stories to keep me sane until my next trip. This is how this trip came to fruition.

Originally, the plan was only Tokyo and Osaka. Actually, Osaka was priority because Wizarding World of Harry Potter! Hahaha. I’m just a big kid, really. But then I thought, since I’d already be there, why not check out Tokyo Disneyland and see Mt. Fuji as well? So there, an 8-day trip was born.

more “The Story Behind: Japan-Jeju Trip”

Budget “All-In” Trips to

Have you ever read articles about amazing trips abroad made with a mindblowingly small budget, typically titled, “How I Spent 9 Days in ___ With Php18,000/US$375”?

Amazing, right? Makes you wanna pack your bags right now and just go, doesn’t it? It’s a very achievable amount after all. Just imagine, a week or more of taking in new sights, experiencing new culture, tasting new dishes, getting a souvenir or two, and taking months’ worth of selfies that will make all your FB, IG, and Twitter followers drool, all for an amount that won’t make your bank account weep.

Before you grab your passport and run to the airport to begin living your dream, I feel that I should let you know the REAL cost of going on such a trip. I don’t want your trip to be ruined because you ran out of money by Day 3 and had to rely on your credit card the rest of the trip, which gave birth to that giant bill now weighing on your table (and subconscious). I don’t want you to be discouraged from traveling because of such an experience, so let me give you an overview of real numbers, using Seoul, South Korea as example.

more “Budget “All-In” Trips to”

The Essentials of Packing Your Essentials

For my first ever post on this blog, let’s talk about PACKING – a necessary step on our quest to see the world! Or just go on an overnight trip somewhere.

Some people pack days, even weeks, ahead, and include almost the whole house in their luggage (i.e. my mother). Others, like me, probably like the adrenaline that comes with beating the buzzer, and so we pack mere hours before leaving for the airport. Packing the night before is already me being “prepared in advance”.

Either way, there are things we cannot leave out when going on a trip.

But before we go into that, here are 3 things to do BEFORE you even pack. You need to do this to know what to pack, so you don’t end up bringing unnecessary things. more “The Essentials of Packing Your Essentials”