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Hong Kong is in the midst of celebrating the 20th anniversary of Chinese rule, so 2017 is the perfect time for a commemorative trip. But you don’t really need a reason to visit this sparking city that’s full of contrasts: old and new, east meets west. With a mix of British and Chinese cultures and a chic, international vibe, Hong Kong offers much to discover.
The 427-square-mile city is home to more than seven million residents, making it one of the most densely populated places in the world. Don’t panic if you’re already feeling claustrophobic, though: About 40% of the city is made up of green spaces and a short ride via public transportation will take you to mountains, parks or beaches. It’s an ideal destination for US tourists to visit, because although it’s a special administrative region of China, you don’t need a visa to enter. Here’s how to make the most of your next trip to Hong Kong, with tips for getting there with miles, staying there with points and other fun things to do when you’re in town.
Fly into Hong Kong International Airport (HKG), located on the island of Chek Lap Kok. Although more than 100 airlines operate out of the airport, it’s a hub for Cathay Pacific — the flagship airline of Hong Kong — as well as Cathay Dragon, Hong Kong Airlines, Hong Kong Express Airways and cargo carrier Air Hong Kong. With so many Deal Alerts for flights to Hong Kong and the rest of Asia, it’s easy and cheap to get there with cash. But if you want to use your miles and points, there are plenty of nonstop options if you’re coming from the US.
Flying Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong is easy thanks to AAdvantage miles from American Airlines. You can pay as little as 32,500 miles one-way if you can find a saver off-peak award, but prices range from 65,000 to 85,000 miles for anytime awards in economy. For business class, you might stumble upon a saver award for 70,000 miles one-way in business class, but it’s likely you’ll spend between 140,000 and 175,000 for an anytime award. One-way in first class will cost you 110,000 miles for a saver award or 180,000 to 210,000 for an anytime award. Considering you could fly Cathay Pacific from New York (JFK), Newark (EWR), Boston (BOS), Chicago (ORD), Los Angeles (LAX) or San Francisco (SFO), that might be the best option. American Airlines also flies from Dallas (DFW) and Los Angeles (LAX), and codeshares with Cathay Pacific.
United Airlines flies nonstop from San Francisco, Newark and Chicago and you can expect to spend 35,000 MileagePlus miles for an economy one-way saver award or 85,000 MileagePlus miles for an economy one-way standard award. For business class, you’ll have to fork over 70,000 MileagePlus miles for a one-way saver award or 175,000 MileagePlus miles for a one-way standard award.
Delta flies nonstop to Hong Kong from one US airport, Seattle (SEA). While its mileage awards can vary quite a bit, a simple search showed that one-way award tickets this fall will cost about 35,000 SkyMiles in economy or as little as 80,000 SkyMiles one-way in Delta One, or international first class.
Finally, Singapore Airlines flies to Hong Kong nonstop from San Francisco, so you could transfer Chase Ultimate Rewards points to its KrisFlyer program to book award travel that way. Current one-way awards will cost you 33,000 KrisFlyer miles in economy, 82,000 in business class or 92,000 in first. You may get hit with hefty fuel charges, though, as the airline recently increased its fees.
Taking the Airport Express train from the airport to Hong Kong is probably the easiest — though not the cheapest — option available. The trip takes under 30 minutes and makes various stops, and while the price differs depending on your stop, you should plan to spend between $12 to $15 each way. The trains stop at Kowloon and Hong Kong stations, and from there, you can take advantage of free shuttle buses that make stops at nearby hotels or order an Uber to reach your desired destination. These modern trains also have free Wi-Fi and, in general, the ride is pretty comfortable. If you’re feeling adventurous, are traveling light or have lots of time to kill, try using the public bus — there are many routes to choose from and usually cost about $3 to $5 depending on your destination. Those traveling in larger groups may prefer to take a taxi — prices vary, but you can expect to pay at least $50 one-way.
Once you’re in the city, an Octopus card is the best way to get around — just pay a deposit of 50 Hong Kong dollars (~$6), which you’ll be able to get back when you return it. You can use the card not only for buses, trams, ferries and subways, but also at 7-Eleven, grocery stores, vending machines, fast-food restaurants and even ice-cream trucks. When you’re ready to pay, tap the card on the appropriate payment pad to have it deduct the correct amount. An Octopus card allows you to move about the city with ease. If you’re feeling really adventurous, there’s a relatively new bike-sharing system called Gobee — but take extra care when navigating Hong Kong’s busy traffic.
Where to Stay
You’ve got a million options when it comes to using hotel points in Hong Kong, but here are some of our favorites. First, with 583 rooms and 87 suites, the InterContinental Hong Kong is large and luxurious. The lobby bar views over the waterfront are fantastic, and the rooms are comfortable and spacious. The 24-hour fitness center and sprawling pool make relaxing easy here. Room rates at this Category 8 property start at $271 or 40,000 IHG Rewards points per night. If you plan to pay with cash, using your Chase Sapphire Reserve Card for this stay would be ideal, as you’d earn 3x points for the travel purchase. Or, if your stay is at least four nights, the Citi Prestige Card’s 4th Night-Free benefit is another solid option to help you save money.
If you’ve got SPG points to burn, stay at the W Hong Kong — its Cool Corner rooms, which feature stunning views of the harbor and skyline, rainfall showers and bathtubs with TVs come TPG-recommended. The hotel’s Wet Deck features one of the highest outdoor pools in Hong Kong on the 76th floor. Room rates at this Category 6 property start at $315 or 25,000 SPG points per night. If you plan to pay cash, use your Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express to get 2x points for the Starwood purchase.
For the ultimate luxury stay, the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong is the perfect choice, especially if you’ve got Marriott points or the Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card, which gives you 5x per dollar spent at any Ritz-Carlton, Marriott or Starwood property. The hotel is one of the tallest in the world, located on floors 102 through 118 of the International Commerce Centre in Kowloon. The indoor infinity swimming pool on the 116th floor has incredible views, while some suites, which come with a personal butler service, have 270-degree views of the harbor. The spa is also known for unique treatments like heated lava shells to relax tired feet and muscles. Room rates start at about $400 or 70,000 Marriott Rewards points per night.
Get the Lay of the Land With a Free Walking Tour
As Hong Kong is made up of different islands, it may be difficult to know where to start. A free walking tour is the ideal way to learn what you like. A Kowloon tour is especially unique, as it takes you away from the glamour of Victoria Harbour and the giant skyscrapers to show you local markets selling flowers, goldfish and birds for a more authentic understanding of the city. Or you may be more interested in the tours of the temples or of urban Hong Kong. The tours are free, but tipping is a good idea, especially if you enjoyed your tour and liked your guide.
Chow Down and Shop at Night Markets
The hectic mess of a night market may overwhelm at first, but the chaos is fun. Don’t fight it. Instead, enjoy the smells and sights and take it all in. The Ladies Market is the best spot for shopping; you’ll find fake watches and purses, clothing, cell-phone cases and all sorts of electronics, all as you enjoy street performers dancing and singing. Don’t forget to bargain!
For street food, visit the Temple Street Night Market, where you can also get your fortune read or find supposedly magical herbs to cure any ailment. The food options are endless, and include noodle bowls, soups, shrimp or pork dumplings, fish cakes, fish balls, wontons, steamed fish, roast pigeon and hot pots, among others.
The Cat Street Market is where you’ll find one-of-a-kind antiques. Sift through the stands to discover vases, paintings, coins, stamps and other housewares. You may end up finding that perfect souvenir here.
Do Victoria Peak the Local Way
Victoria Peak is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Hong Kong and shouldn’t be missed. The highest natural feature on the island, the mountain has hiking trails, a giant shopping mall with a food court with a viewing area and, of course, incredible views of Hong Kong.
You can take the tram up, but it’s absolutely heaving with tourists and the wait time to board can be up to three hours during peak season. Instead, use your Octopus Card to take local bus 15, which weaves through the city and zigzags up the mountain. You’ll get a glance at locals going about their business and, later, amazing views of the city from far above it. Plus, you’ll save some money, as taking the local bus is much cheaper than taking the tram.
Once you get to the top, instead of forking over more cash to look out from the viewing center, take the one-hour circle walk on the flat path around the mountain. Covered with trees and jungle-like foliage, the walk is relaxing and you’ll get to see locals practicing tai chi as the busy city teems in the background.
What are some of your favorite things to see and do in Hong Kong? Tell us about them in the comments, below.
All photos by the author unless otherwise indicated.