My friend, are you going to Hong Kong? I love that place! HK (short cut for Hong Kong) is sentimental to me because it was the first country that I have visited and I love the combined Chinese & European charm it has. I believe this is the most visited country of Filipinos because of its affordable HK$ to Philippine Peso exchange rate (as of this time, it’s Php 5.24 = HK$), no visa requirement for us & the different tourist attractions it offers that are not yet available in my country like Disneyland.
Most travellers, especially if it will be their first time to go to another country, choose to hire the services of Travel Agencies to arrange their tour & hotel reservations for them. It is not bad especially if you know a trusted agency to arrange it for you but do expect to shell out more money. If budget is a concern for you, arranging the trip on your own is very possible. Here are some tips to guide you on your DIY Hong Kong Trip:
1. Subscribe to different airlines websites offering flights to Hong Kong
Here in the Philippines, the most popular ones are Philippine Airlines (our official flag-carrier), Air Philippines, Cebu Pacific, Air Asia & Tiger Airways (via SeaAir). From time to time, they release special discount to flights not only to HK but also to different parts of the country or Asia. Which leads me to these sub-tips:
a. Choose flights during weekdays – Airlines offer cheaper rates if you choose any flight from Monday to Thursday especially if it does not fall in any HK or Philippine holidays. Even if they do not offer discounts, it will still be cheaper if you choose to fly on weekdays. Just use your Vacation Leave credits for your trip.
b. Compare prices – Choose among available airlines that offer the most affordable rate because sometimes the advertising they have is deceiving. Cebu Pacific is very popular because it always release promotions for discounted rate only to find out that Air Philippines, most of the time, is cheaper because of the different rate for taxes & surcharges they include. With the latest Hong Kong trip I’ve had with B and my friend, we booked at Air Philippines from DMIA to Hong Kong, and Cebu Pacific from Hong Kong to NAIA 3.
Do try out bigger airlines, too. Their name might be associated on being costly but you’ll be surprised that they also have promotions you can afford plus excellent amenities & services. Cathay Pacific is known to be one of the best airlines in the world. You may have this notion that they are expensive knowing that they are the official flag-carrier of China, won multiple awards and offer more flights around the globe. But I did booked a roundtrip flight with them going HK when they had a promo for Php 7,000 only! It may sound expensive but the price includes freebies not offered by other local carriers like they use Boeing Aircraft, 20 kilo baggage allowance, onboard meals, use of their movie, music & TV library, comfortable seats, use of their pillows & blankets in case you want to sleep during flight, spacious leg room for economy class and excellent customer service!
c. DMIA vs. NAIA – In scouting for airline deals, you will notice that if your chosen flight is on Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA) at Clark Field, Pampanga the rate you will get is cheaper versus choosing to fly from Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) at Pasay City, Manila. They are even advertising that DMIA is a better airport! Well, Clark Airport (another term to call DMIA) has wider airstrip and very promising. Shuttle services going directly to Clark Airport is now available with terminals located at the back of SM Megamall (courtesy of Philtranco) and Trinoma (for more info on Trinoma-DMIA Bus Terminal, click here) with additional cost for travellers. As of this time, DMIA’s air-conditioning sucks, have very limited & not tourist-friendly food selection with very few sitting area that they cannot accomodate the influx of travellers going there. NAIA have issues with its facilities & services but still, I will choose to fly here because of its proximity to my house & office which will require shorter time for me to travel going there. Shorter travel means lesser transpo expense. Unlike if I choose DMIA, I need to allot half-a-day to travel going there. But still, it’s up to you to decide where to depart/arrive. At least you know your options.
2. Stay with a friend
Got a friend who resides in Hong Kong? Visit them and stay with them for the entire vacation and you will never have to pay for any rent! HAHA! As courtesy, buy goods here in the Phil that you can give your friend as your “payment”. The first time I went to HK with B, we stayed at B’s friend & former co-worker. They still buy Filipino food products in HK even if they are expensive because they miss the taste of it. So giving them sampaloc mix (tamarind soup mix), instant pancit canton or the humble kornik is a joy to them.
3. No friends in HK? Stay in a hostel/boarding house
Gone were the days that you need to allot a fortune to pay for your room. There are so many websites that you can choose from in booking for hostels which are way cheaper than hotels. Do browse at websites like hostel, hostelbookers, hostelworld, booking & others. Just search using the ever-reliable Google for it.
In choosing a place, consider its proximity to the key areas you will visit and travel convenience. So make sure that your temporary home in HK is near any MTR or bus station.
4. Visit http://www.discoverhongkong.com
That is Hong Kong Tourism Board’s website where you can research on different attractions they offer. It also provide helpful tips and links to events and places you want to go to and how to get there.
5. Choose to visit places that are for free
The best things (or places) in life are for free. Ocean Park & HK Disneyland are the popular ones but you have to shell out more moolah not only for their entrance fee but also for food and souvenirs they sell inside are expensive. These places do not allow their guest to bring food and drinks inside their premises. If you are on limited budget, visit any parks or temples in HK with no entrance fee. Tsim Sha Tsui (or TST) is known for free attractions like Avenue of Stars & Clock Tower. The same area is the venue of “A Symphony of Lights” show in the evening which you can enjoy for free, too. HK have beautiful and well-maintained parks and temples that you can visit. Just research on the places near where you will stay.
6. Look for discounted rates to different attractions
Correct me if I’m wrong but I believe that hotels, hostels or boarding houses registered and recognized by HK Tourism Board have special privileges like offering discounted rates to some of their country’s attraction. So do check out with your chosen place to stay if they sell Ocean Park and Disneyland tickets cause they are cheaper compared to buying online or on their entrance. If you are just staying at your friend’s place, buy tickets at the airport. My friends and I bought tickets at Counter A04 of HK International Airport when we arrived. They sell discounted tickets to different HK attractions. Our group of 3 availed of their Disney tickets for HK$ 370 which is $29 cheaper online (original price is HK$ 399 if you buy online or at their gate).
7. Prepare your money
You are going to Hong Kong so please have your pesos exchange to HK Dollars in your country to maximize the value of your hard-earned money. Though you can still exchange your Philippine Pesos to HK$ in Hong Kong, your pesos will heve lower value.
Whenever I travel abroad, I always have 3 currencies with me:
a. Philippine Pesos – To spend while at the airport for food, pay for travel tax & terminal fee before departure, and for transportation in case no one will drop me off or pick me up at the airport.
b. Currency of the country I will visit – like HK Dollars. To use when I get there.
c. Other currencies like US, Australian or Canadian Dollars, British Pound or Euros – This is optional but I highly recommend this especially if you will stay in a certain country for undetermined period of time. These currencies are widely circulated which is acceptable in all countries. The reason why you need to have them is for cases that you have limited HK$’s with you because your bank or the money changer ran out of it or there is a possibility that you need more money. At least the currencies stated can be exchanged easily in HK, or anywhere in the world, with higher value.
Don’t get me wrong, I do not have millions nor a bottomless wallet. It’s just that I want to be prepared and with back-up in case of any incident that may happen. But do remember that with our Bureau of Customs, you are only allowed to carry money worth US$ 10,000 or its equivalent. Do read this helpful article for more information about travel funds.
Not comfortable bringing huge cash in your pocket? Apply for a Cash Card. Most banks now offer Cash Cards with Visa or Mastercard signs which means you can use them anywhere in the world. You may also bring your Credit Card with you (if you have) but bring only one to control your spending. Just make sure that before you leave, you have enough funds and you called your bank to have it activated and check their exchange rate. Some credit cards need special activation from your bank, others have extra rate if you use them abroad. If you will ask me, I still use cash because I don’t want to be surprised with huge bill I will have with credit cards.
8. Street Food
If you want to blend in the crowd and want to get to know any place that you will visit, go out of the street and avail of the different street foods. The siew mai on the streets of HK are authentic, incomparable to our siomai and way better than in restaurants. Plus, it is cheaper. But if you still want to be on the safe side, malls have Food Republic inside. It is a food concessionaire comparable to Food Court at SM Malls or Food Choices at Ayala Malls in our country. The different food stalls offers value meals complete with rice, soup & viand. Start to learn how to use chopsticks for spoon and fork are not available.
9. The more, the merrier and the cheaper
This applies to travelling and shopping. If you are travelling in a group and will stay in boarding house, the room that you will pay will be a lot more affordable. If you will shop at the night market or any street market, the discount you will get will be bigger if you haggle for items you will buy in bulk. Another warning: shop keepers in Hong Kong are not really kind. My friend asked the price of key chains she intend to buy in a stall at Mongkok Night Market. The female shop keeper mentioned the amount and my friend tried to haggle. When they did not agree with the price, my friend kindly declined but the shopkeeper shouted at my friend! But, they will be kinder if you will really buy from them and even give you blessings.
While reviewing my post, I noticed that the tips are also applicable if you are travelling to any destination in the Philippines or abroad. I am just specific here since I recently went to Hong Kong and planning to go back there once I have enough resources (hehe!). I hope my tips were helpful to finalize your trip to HK.
So my friend, when will you go to Hong Kong? Enjoy your trip! 🙂