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Life’s a beach in Koh Tao

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Over the past few years, I’ve been finding it increasingly difficult to take a vacation. You might be thinking ‘Aren’t you always on vacation?’, but the truth is, that no matter where in the world I am, I always find myself working. Writing articles, answering emails, working on freelance projects, pitching ideas, being active on social media, dealing with the technical side of running an online business, and so on. I am always connected, always checking my emails, and a true vacation is rare.koh tao sunsetSo when I welcomed my first visitor to Thailand and her visit was 100% vacation time for her, I saw this as the perfect opportunity for me to get some R&R, too, instead of working on my laptop until I fall asleep with my head on the keyboard (happens more often than I’d like to admit). The plan was to take some time off together, to splurge on tasty food, take time to relax and to explore together, lay on the beach and enjoy sunset beers.koh tao sairee beachAnd Koh Tao turned out to be the perfect place to do exactly that. I’d long wanted to visit Koh Tao, the smallest of the three most popular islands in the Gulf of Thailand. It is less touristy than the other two (Koh Samui and Koh Phangan), known for great snorkeling and diving spots, pristine beaches and a clientele of independent and younger travelers. While Samui largely attracts a resort clientele and Phangan is the backpackers haven with now not only a full moon party but also a half moon party, black moon party and I’m sure several other moons to celebrate, Koh Tao attracts mainly divers as it is known to be home to some of the best diving sites in South East Asia.koh tao boatWhile I still don’t feel the slightest urge to try diving, good diving usually means good snorkeling, which is what I wanted to do. Other than that, I had no plans whatsoever. I was going to experience the island just like everyone else who gets off one of the four ferries that arrive in Koh Tao every day.
koh tao sunset palm treeAnd I couldn’t have chosen a better place for an island getaway. My days in Koh Tao are a blur of beaches, snorkeling, sunsets, good meals and, yes, occasionally typing away on my laptop in offices like this one:koh tao beach viewMy friend Alex had recommended we’d stay in Sairee Beach, the longest stretch of sand beach on Koh Tao (1.2 miles /1.7km) long, because there, you don’t need transportation to get around, unless you want to see other beaches on the island. For that, there are taxi boats conveniently waiting in the bay for you, and you have plenty of restaurants and bars lining the beach to pick a different one each day. It’s the perfect spot if you want to be right on a beach and have something going on all the time. The only other beach that is similarly busy, but smaller, is Freedom Beach in the south of the island.
koh tao beachIf you prefer a quieter place and don’t mind renting a scooter to get around, there are smaller beaches like Hin Wong Bay and June Juea Bay and plenty of hotels and bungalow resorts scattered across the island, most of them perched on the side of the steep hills that form Koh Tao.
serendipity bar koh taoAs I’ve already mentioned, most people come here to dive and to take dive master courses, and there are around 40 diving schools on the island now. I saw several packages for dive courses including accommodation for around 8,000 baht (around US$224) which is a great deal – and another reason why Koh Tao attracts so many divers, in addition to its many dive sites.
koh tao fishFor people like me who prefer to stay above water, there are plenty of snorkeling tours on offer – they usually last all day, circumnavigate the island and include 4 or 5 stops, one of which is the famous Koh Nangyuan, the sight that adorns most of Koh Tao’s postcards and is probably the most photographed spot on the island.
koh tao islandOn my snorkeling tour, we stopped at Shark Bay where I didn’t see any sharks but a sea turtle (which would’ve compensated for not seeing a shark had I not just snorkeled with turtles in Apo Island, hence I was a bit disappointed), followed by a stop in another bay in the southwest, Mango Bay in the north and finally Koh Nangyuan.
koh tao fishI knew that this tiny islet which is home to only one resort would be touristy, but seeing hundred of tourists lining the pier and the small stretch of beach in between the two rocks was still a shock, especially because Koh Tao just didn’t seem all that busy.
koh tao islandNonetheless, Koh Nangyan is a spectacular sight, and I am glad that I braved the heat and scrambled up the million steps and the rocks to the viewpoint overlooking it all before snorkeling in the crystal clear waters.
dani underwaterMy favorite beach for snorkeling turned out to be something completely different though, Tanote Beach, a little bay in the southwest of the island, which we stumbled upon when we explored the island with an ATV. Within the first five minutes of being in the water I had already seen more fish than on most of the stops during the snorkeling tour (okay, I might exaggerate slightly here). But it was glorious to snorkel on a fairly empty beach without any boats in the bay and Asian tour groups following their guides in the water on long leashes. There are a couple of beach bars like Poseidon or Mountain Reef where you get drinks and food and also rent snorkeling equipment, swing in a hammock or get a Thai message.
koh tao sunset chang thailandBe warned though, the drive down the steep hills to get here was not easy on the ATV, so I can only assume that tackling this road on a scooter is even more nerve-wracking, especially on the way up (I am talking about 90 degree inclines).
koh tao viewRenting a scooter or an ATV is something I’d definitely recommend to see Koh Tao – if you start early, you can even see the entire island in one day, beach stops and various viewpoints included.
dani atv koh taoOur favorite stops of the day were the ‘I love Koh Tao’ viewpoint (I am not sure if it is known by another name) and the Dusat Buncha beach resort viewpoint right across from Koh Nangyan. If you have snorkeling gear, make sure to bring it, as there is a small but fantastic snorkeling area to which non-resort guests have access. (If you don’t have your own gear, you can rent it there for 100THB).
koh tao daniIf you don’t want to rent a scooter, you can take a cab to most beaches, and taxi boats to the ones with limited road access. One day, we took a boat to Sai Nuan Beach where we snorkeled until the sun went down, followed by our daily ritual of sunset drinks, that night at Banana Rock Bar, one of the most scenic bars on the island, set on stilts above the water with perfect sunset vistas.sunset loversThe thing that surprised me the most was just how many restaurant there were on the island, especially in Sairee – and almost of them serving finger licking good food. From beach side restaurants that serve fresh fish straight from the BBQ every night to impressive Italian cuisine and fancy tapas dishes and authentic Indian food, there’s almost nothing you can’t get in Koh Tao.
Koh Tao FoodAs soon as the sun goes down, the fire dancers come out, entertaining the crowds in the beach bars with their jaw-dropping skills – I mean, just look at this:koh tao fire dancerSeveral bars like the Sunset Bar, Next2, Fizz or The Rock have DJs playing and it never takes long until people start dancing on the beach.koh tao fire dancersKoh Tao is the perfect place for an island getaway, no matter if you dive or not. Bring a book, swing in a hammock, laze at the beach and just enjoy this little bubble far off the craziness of Phuket or Phi Phi, and trust me – you’ll have a hard time leaving.
koh tao sairee beach

Practical information:

The fastest way to get to Koh Tao from Bangkok is Nok Air’s plane and ferry ticket (starting at BHT1,800 / US$50 for a return ticket). There is no airport on Koh Tao, the closest one is on Koh Samui or in Chumphon. From both places you’ll have to take a ferry, and from the airport on the mainland it takes about 90 minutes to reach the pier. Note: Nok Air leaves from Bangkok’s Don Mueang airport, not from Suvarnabhumi.

The other option would be taking the bus from Bangkok to the ferry, or the train. If you’re taking the bus, there are also ferry and bus combo tickets, especially around Kao San Road.
Koh Tao ThailandDiving

You can sign up for a dive course before you get there or just check out the various schools and their packages when you arrive on the island. To get an idea of just how many dive schools there are on Koh Tao, check out this comprehensive list on Wikitravel.

Snorkeling

The cheapest snorkeling day trip I found was at AC resort in Sairee – 600 Baht per person. Most other places charge 750. All trips include water, coffee, tea, fruit and lunch.
Koh Tao snorkeling fish turtle

Where to eat

If you love Thai food, you will have a hard time finding a place that serves bad food! Even the small cheapie road side stands make good Thai dishes, but most restaurants don’t charge more than 100 baht for a Thai meal. Fresh fish from the BBQ ranges from 150 to 450 baht.

Fancier restaurants with western dishes usually charge 150 – 300 baht per dish. Barracuda was a nice splurge with good non-Thai vegetarian options, and Zest was my favorite spot for breakfasts but they also make excellent salads and sandwiches.

And then there are of course all the banana roti vendors – which might have become a daily ritual during my stay on the island. To see what I mean, take a look at my Koh Tao video:

Serendipity is a great spot to watch the sunset with drinks and food (set high on a hilltop, with views over Sairee Beach), as is the Dusit Buncha restaurant (facing Koh Nangyuan). There are several other viewpoint restaurants on the road to Mae Haad.

I also liked the vibe at the InTouch restaurant at the southern end of Sairee Beach, but most of the bars along the beach are good.. Pick one and enjoy the views 🙂koh tao sunset

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Hong Kong On A Shoestring

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You might remember that when I went to Hong Kong last year I was surprised to learn that the city is actually pretty expensive. I was on a budget, as usual, but I still wanted to splurge on a few of my favorite things: tasty coffee (and yes, the $6 coffee at The Coffee Academics was worth every penny!), fancy cocktails in rooftop bars with a view (even though I skipped Ozone, the highest rooftop bar in the world, on top of the Ritz Carlton, and opted for a cheaper one), tasty pizza (much needed after months of only Asian food, and Motorino, a famous Brooklyn pizza place, hit the spot), speakeasy bars and a nice place to stay.kowloon at night hong kongWith all these things in mind, I tried to do everything else in Hong Kong as cheap as possible, and I think I succeeded. Transportation is very cheap, you can do a lot of sightseeing for free, and you can eat cheaply if you forgo Hong Kong’s fancy eateries (but then there’s still Tim Ho Wan, where you can sample Michelin star cuisine for around $10?).hong kong island skyscrapersSo here are my tips on how you can experience Hong Kong on a budget:

Get into Hong Kong on the cheap

You have a variety of options of getting from the airport into Hong Kong. The most expensive one? Taking a cab, obviously. To get from the airport to Central Hong Kong will set you back at HKD250 – 350 (US$32-45!). The airport express train (which is much faster and more comfortable than a taxi, by the way) is slightly cheaper at HK$90/US$11.61 to Kowloon (HK$160/US$20.64 return) and HK$100/ US$12.90 (HK$180/US$23.22 return) to Hong Kong Central.hong kong tramIf you’re on a budget, you have two cheaper options:

Take a bus into Hong Kong. The buses to the airport leave from Kowloon and cost HKD39 (US$5.02). In Kowloon you can change to the subway, which is HKD5 to 15 (US$0.65 – $1.95), depending on how many stops.

Alternatively, you can take the S1 bus to Tung Chung MTR station (about 15 minutes from the airport, price: HKD3.50 / US$0.45) and change into the subway here – the Tung Chung line will bring you to Kowloon in about thirty minutes (HKD18 / US$2.30)Hong kong tram and bus

Public transportation

Luckily, Hong Kong’s transportation network is excellent and there is absolutely no need to waste money on taxis. I navigated my way around the city with the help of GoogleMaps ‘Public transport’ option which always showed me the correct buses or subways to use. The cheapest mode of transportation? The tram, which covers parts of Hong Kong Island, and is only HKD2.30 (US$0.30). Like I mentioned above, subway tickets range from about HKD5 to 15 (US$0.65 – $1.95) and buses are even a little bit cheaper.

The Star Ferry, the most scenic way to get from Kowloon to Central or vice versa, is ridiculously cheap: HK$2.50 – US$0.32!

Hong Kong has a card system, the Octopus Card, comparable to London’s Oyster Card, which you credit with money for public transportation, but you can also pay with it in shops like 7-11. You also top up your Octopus Card at a 7-11 stores, or at an MTR (subway) service center. Note that you pay a HK$50/US$6.45 deposit on the card – don’t forget to get it back before leaving Hong Kong.hong kong junk boat

Accommodation

Accommodation is without the doubt the most expensive aspect of a trip to Hong Kong. Hotels start at around $110 for a comfortable 3* hotel, and you can find good hotel deals for less than $200. My tip: do your research beforehand and take advantage of cheaper rates – you can find some incredible hotel deals by booking online.LKF hotel Hong Kong bedMy first trip to Hong Kong was made pretty miserable by the poor accommodation choices I had made (and by not booking anything in advance for the entire duration of my trip, leaving me with very few and very bad hotels to choose from when I had to move hotels). Make your stay comfortable with one of the best hotels in Hong Kong which you can find on online discount websites. I stayed in Kowloon on my first visit, but enjoyed staying in Central more, which I did during my second visit. I also found the hotels to be nicer in Central.

If you’re on a very tight budget and plan on using hostels, expect to pay US$25 – 28 for a dorm bed or $60 for a private room in a hostel.ozo wesley hong kong check-in

Sightseeing

I don’t think I paid anything for sightseeing in Hong Kong – just what it costs to get to a certain place, like the Giant Buddha or the Peak. But even the Peak is free if you, like me, want to combine sightseeing with a little workout and decide to walk up the mountain. It also saves you the HKD40 /US$5.05 for a return ticket for the Peak Tram. To get to the Big Buddha, take the subway to Tung Chung station. From here you can either take the scenic yet pricey cable car (HKD125 round trip /US$16.10) or opt for the bus instead (HKD17.20 /US$2.22). Or hike up the mountain – it’s quite a strenuous hike, but it’s free 🙂hong kong view from the peakOther main attractions that are completely free? The Avenue of the Stars, Hong Kong’s answer to LA’s Walk Of Fame, is free, as is the Symphony of Lights, the world’s ‘Largest Permanent Light and Sound Show’ (according to the Guinness Book Of World Records), which takes place every night at 8pm and is best seen from the Avenue of Stars. Strolling over the markets, such as the Ladies Market or Temple Street Market, is also free (and great for cheap souvenir shopping!), the beaches are free and only cost the ferry tickets to get to them. Also: wandering the streets of Kowloon and Central is an excellent way to get to know Hong Kong, and it doesn’t cost a penny. In Central you can also ride the world’s longest escalator for free and pop into the Chinese temples, which are all worth a visit.hong kong midlevels escalatorTwo pricey Hong Kong activities you can easily replace with free versions: Instead of visiting the Sky100 observation deck (cheapest ticket is HKD168 /US$21.65), visit the sky lobby on the 46th floor of the Central Plaza skyscraper which can be visited for FREE! Instead of taking the hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus (tickets start at US$57), take a much cheaper sightseeing tour on a local bus – it’s much better for people watching, too, and it’ll only cost you a couple of bucks. CNN Travel listed the best bus routes to take in Hong Kong.hong kong kowloon temple street

Food & drinks

Street food is the least expensive option in Hong Kong – for a proper meal in a restaurant I paid as much in Hong Kong as I’d pay in the U.S. A cup of coffee is around US$3, a latte around US$6 (that’s in a nice coffee shop, not at McDonald’s!) A large americano at Starbucks is HK$27/US$3.48), and if you’re lucky enough to find a cheap meal, it’s going to set you back at around US$10. Whenever I treated myself to a nice meal, I easily spent US$20+ on a main dish and a drink.hong kong barCheap local fast food chains are Café de Coral and Maxim’s MK – you can get a meal here for less than US$5 and they have English menus. A meal at McDonald’s starts at around HKD30 (around US$4). A beer in a bar / restaurants starts at US$7, a glass of wine at around US$10. Beer and wine in a 7-11 convenience store or supermarket are much more affordable. Tap water is drinkable, so don’t spend money on bottled water.hong kong street foodHave you been to Hong Kong? If you have any budget tips, feel free to share them in the comments below!

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How much does it cost to travel in Sri Lanka?

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I spent five weeks traveling around Sri Lanka just before the main tourist season started, still enjoying the bargain deals of the low season and seeing prices go up in the high season – this applies mainly to accommodation, however. I am breaking down all of my expenses in the country to give you an idea of what costs to expect when you budget for a trip to Sri Lanka.

Overall, it has been one of the cheapest countries I’ve been to and it is possible to travel the country on $20 – $30 per person a day (on a shoestring), or around $50 per person per day in nicer accommodations. Read on for the full breakdown of food, transportation, sightseeing, accommodation and other costs.Sri Lanka

Visa

A visa is required to enter Sri Lanka. Luckily it is easy to apply for a Sri Lankan visa online. The cost of a visa for Europeans, North Americans and Australians is US$35. The visa is valid for 30 days, if you’re planning to stay longer, you’ll have to get an extension in Colombo, which is LKR3,600 /US$25 (make sure to have a passport photo on you for that).sri lanka talpe beach

Accommodation

This will be your biggest expense, but the value for money is usually very good.

The cheapest rates for a private double room I found was LKR1,500 (US$10.40), and in some of the beach towns I paid around LKR3,000-3,500 (US$21-25) for a double room (split between two people). Remember that this was in the off-season though.

In other places (not along the coast) LKR1,500 seemed to be the going rate for a basic double room, breakfast often included, and usually with free wifi.

As for higher end accommodation, I found some nice hotels with swimming pool and breakfast for LKR5,000-6,000(US$35-41), and really nice hotels, like the Cinnamon Hotels around the island, often offer special rates starting at LKR7,000 (US$49) during the low season (expect this to double in the high season).hikkaduwa beach cinnamon infinity poolI didn’t sleep in dorms but a dorm bed was usually around LKR800 (US$5.50). It definitely pays off to check hotel booking websites like Booking.com for special deals in the places you’re planning to visit. Through Booking.com, I found a nice boutique hotel in Colombo for $50 a night (for two people), and a great deal for a gorgeous hotel in Polonnaruwa for $29 a night including breakfast. luxury hotel

Food & Drinks

Food can be dirt cheap, but it also can be pricey- depending on if you’re willing to delve into the local cuisine or stick to western choices. A Sri Lankan dinner of kotthu, which is a favorite of the locals, costs around LKR165 – 200 (US$1.15 – 1.40), while a chicken curry in a beach town can cost you up to LKR900 (US$6.25). On average, expect to pay between LKR200 and 300 (US$1.40 – 2.10) for local food and LKR600 to 900 (US$4.15-6.25) for a dish in a tourist restaurant. Breakfast usually cost me LKR500 to 700 (US$3.45-4.85), including tea or coffee.

Speaking of coffee, if you are looking for good coffee, you’ll have to pay for it. The most expensive coffee I had was in Kandy at Natural Coffee, where I was charged LKR560 (US$3.90) for a cappuccino – more than I usually paid for an entire meal! There are some coffee shops in Colombo, and some cafes around the country that have a proper espresso machine, but they’re few and far between.

Generally, you can expect to pay around LKR270 (US$1.88) for an espresso and LKR350 – 400 (US$2.40-2.80) for a cafe latte or cappuccino. Of course there are also the cheap roadside coffee vendors or the guys that walk through the trains with a big thermos, selling a brown liquid for 10 rupees (US$0.07), but I wouldn’t call that coffee 😉Sri Lanka foodIf you prefer to stick to western food (why would you though, because Sri Lankan food is seriously addictive!), there are some western chains like Pizza Hut and KFC, and you can find sandwiches, burgers and pizza in the beach towns. Western meals are between LKR600 and 1000 (US$4.16 -7.00). You can splurge on fine dining in places – often, the nicer hotels have on-site restaurants, and there you pay upwards of LKR1,000 (US$7.00) for a dish. Snacks are super cheap – local chocolate is LKR50 – 100 ($US0.35-0.70), a bag of cashew nuts is LKR120 (US$0.85), peanuts are LKR50 (US$0.35), and little fried lentil balls or donuts are 10 rupees (US$0.07). A vegetarian roti (a dough triangle filled with vegetables – basically like a samosa, but not deep-fried) is 40 rupees (less than US$0.30) and big enough to serve as a full meal – cheapest lunch ever! A bottle of water (1.5 liters) is LKR60 – 70 (US$0.40-0.50), and since the tab water in Sri Lanka is not drinkable, you’ll have to budget for at least one bottle per day.jaffna fruit stallAlcohol

A 625ml bottle of local Lion beer can be as cheap as LKR250 (US$1.75), but can cost you up to LKR600 (US$4.15) in nicer establishments. I usually paid LKR300 (US$2.10). Cocktails are more expensive – about LKR400 to 500 (US$2.80 – 3.50) along the beaches and LKR800 to 1000 (US$5.50 – 7.00) in the nicer bars of Colombo.reefs edge hotel beach beers 

Transportation

Transportation is some of the cheapest I’ve ever taken anywhere in the world – I still can’t believe that a 7-hour train ride cost me a mere LKR230 ($1.60) in 2nd class! While I wouldn’t opt for 3rd class (those are the cheapest tickets but the carts are often overcrowded), I think 2nd class is perfectly fine and there’s no need to pay for 1st class, which is about 1000 rupees per ride and essentially the ‘tourist cars’. I will share more about that when I write about my Sri Lankan train adventures which deserve a post o their own. I usually paid LKR190 (US$1.30) for a train ticket, the cheapest one was the 1 hour ride from Ella to Badulla which cost me 40 rupees (just under 30 cents).train ride to badulla with nine arches bridge tunnelLong distance buses are a bit more expensive but still cheap by western standards – expect to pay around LKR80 (US$0.55) for a 1-hour ride. The most expensive ride was a 4-hour trip from Kandy to Polonnaruwa at 150 rupees ($1.05) Tuktuks range anywhere from 50 rupees to 600 rupees (or more, if you go really far in them), always negotiate before you get in.

The price they quote you is usually higher than what they’re supposed to charge you, so try to haggle. As a rule of thumb: anything up to 3 kilometers shouldn’t be more than 100 rupees, but the more touristy the area, the higher the prices the drivers charge.kandy tuktuks 

Sightseeing

Tourist attractions are the most expensive category: Sri Lanka offers its heritage sites and national parks at a steep price, unproportionally higher than anything else that’s sold at deflated tourist pieces. Tourists don’t pay double or tenfold what locals pay, they pay around 40 times the local price. An example: Sri Lankans pay LKR50 (US$0.35) to enter Yala National Park, foreigners pay more than 2000 rupees (US$14).Sri Lanka tours The ancient cities in the north are LKR3,250 (US$22.50) each, and a half day safari in a National Park comes to US$40 with the vehicle, park entrance and a guide, but you’ll most likely get quoted a higher price. For our jeep in Yala we paid LKR4,000 (US$27.70) between four people and admission was around LKR2,500 (US$17.30) (it gets cheaper the more people are in a group). You can rent bikes for the day to get around the ancient cities which cost LKR200 to 300 US$1.40-2.10). Prices for other fun activities: A whale watching tour will cost you around LKR6,000 (US$41.75), a dive is around US$30, surf lessons are around US$40, cooking classes start at LKR3,000 (US$21). mirissa surfer

Other expenses

Other expenses include things like laundry, toiletries and a local SIM card. Here are some examples so that you know what to expect:

  • Laundry: LKR250-350 (US$1.75-2.45) per kilo
  • Shampoo/ conditioner 100ml: LKR150 – 180 (US$1.05-1.25)
  • Face wash 100ml: LKR150 (US$1.05)
  • SIM card: LKR399 (US$2.75) for a 4GB data package

Sri Lanka 2014

Local SIM card

Make sure to grab your free local SIM card right when you make your way through immigration at the airport. Dialog, one of the fastest 3G networks in the country, offers free SIM card at immigration – just ask for one and they’ll give it to you. I personally used mobitel and payed 399 rupees for a 4GB data package. If you add another 100 rupees for call time credit, that should last you a while (if you only use your phone to call guest houses etc).Sri Lanka

Some notes on money and ATMs

There are ATMs everywhere, at least one in each town, no matter how small it is. And cash is king – it was rare that I was able to pay anything with a credit card, so prepare and make sure you’ll always have enough cash on you, especially when you visit national parks and UNESCO sites – the only place I was able to use my card at was Yala National Park. Seylan Bank has a maximum withdrawal of only 10,000 rupees, so if you pay fees for cash withdrawals abroad, make sure to avoid this one. Commercial Bank lets you take out at least up to 20,000 rupees, if not more. Sampath Bank lets you take out at least 30,000 rupees at once.Sri Lanka

Tipping

Most places automatically add a service charge to the bill, so double check before you tip if they’re already including it.

Per day breakdown

As you can see, Sri Lanka is very affordable – not as cheap as India, but you can get by on an average $30 a day, if you stay in budget accommodation and don’t take expensive tours every day. A beach day with accommodation, two full meals, coffee, snacks and drinks at night in a beach town would cost me around $25, but on days when I visited one of the UNESCO sites, my daily expenses could easily add up to $50. Trail Wallet Sri Lanka Budget

As usual, I used the TrailWallet app to track my expenses.

 

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Where to stay in Hong Kong: The LKF by Rhombus

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When I started my research for outstanding hotels in Hong Kong, one of the first hotels that caught my attention was the Pennington by Rhombus, a sleek boutique hotel right in the center of the Causeway Bay shopping area on Hong Kong Island. The best part was that it was not only sleek, but also affordable, but that meant it was in high demand and didn’t have availability for my dates.LKF hotel Hong Kong lobbyHowever, while further researching the hotel, I discovered that the Pennington was part of the Rhombus group which had three more hotels in Hong Kong – the Bonaparte, Hotel Panorama and Hotel LKF. LKF stands for Lan Kwai Fong, which is a popular nightlife area in Hong Kong, and so I didn’t need to think long: I wanted to stay there, right in the middle of Lan Kwai Fong, a neighborhood made up of a maze of little streets and alleyways that are home to more than 90 restaurants and nightclubs.LKF hotel Hong Kong signThe first thing I noticed upon arrival was the elegant and classic theme of the hotel which runs like a thread through the entire hotel, from the lobby to the rooms and the stunning rooftop bar (more on this later).LKF hotel Hong Kong lobbyAll rooms at the LKF are equipped with illy espresso coffee machines and tea making facilities, a 42-inch LCD TV (which admittedly I didn’t have time to switch on once!), mini bar and comfy bathrobes and slippers. For a city like Hong Kong, where space is sparse, the rooms are unusually large – the superior rooms are an enormous 500 square feet and the suites are almost twice as big with a size of 950 square feet.LKF hotel Hong Kong bedThe spacious bathroom doesn’t only come with high-quality toiletries, a hairdryer and a scale, but also with a bathtub, and indulging in a bubble bath after a long day of sightseeing felt glorious.LKF hotel Hong Kong toiletriesMy favorite feature of the room? This would be a tie between the incredible views over Hong Kong and the super comfy king size bed that made me wish I had an extra day, or a rainy day. I swear I wouldn’t have left the bed – the crisp cotton linens and Flexi pillows lulled me into a sound sleep as soon as I hit the sheets after a late night cocktail at the Azure Bar on the 30th floor of the hotel.LKF hotel Hong Kong pillowsWhile I didn’t have time to try the restaurant up there, I had to at least take in the night views over the city at Azure, which was ranked as one of ‘The World’s 20 Best Sky Bars’. Azure sure lived up to my expectation, even though it was rather quiet on the weekday evening I visited, but I can imagine how busy it gets on a weekend night. And have I mentioned these views?LKF hotel Hong Kong night viewsIf Azure isn’t enough to quench your thirst for a good night out, fear not: staying at LKF means that you literally have dozens of restaurants and bars right at your doorstep. Lan Kwai Fong is by far the best neighborhood to be in if you are looking to sample Hong Kong’s nightlife, or just to eat your way through the seemingly infinite number of restaurants. Staying here also means that you are in walking distance to Central’s endless shopping facilities and the yummy eateries of the trendy Sheung Wan neighborhood. I also walked up to the Peak from the LKF, which was an excellent workout thanks to the steep hills, and the road up the hill is easy to follow from the hotel.LKF hotel Hong Kong lobbyIf you prefer a more conventional workout, the LKF has a small, but functional gym, to make sure you won’t feel too guilty when indulging in the fabulous breakfast buffet, which is served in the Azure restaurant every morning – no better way to start the day than with these sweeping views and a buffet style breakfast that includes fresh fruit, yogurt, a selection of bread, and hot dishes.Hotel LKF by Rhombus BreakfastSpeaking of views – almost all of the rooms have stunning views, and the large panoramic windows allow you to fully enjoy them. Overall, I couldn’t have asked for a better experience and even though I was looking hard for things I thought could use some improvement, the only flaw that I could find was that the gym could have a bit bigger.LKF hotel Hong Kong viewsThe LKF was named one of ‘Asia’s Top 5 Business Hotels’, has received several ‘Certificate Of Excellence Awards’ by TripAdvisor, won ‘Best Boutique Hotel’, ‘Best Business Hotel’, ‘Trendiest Hotel in China’, to name just a few, and these awards are well deserved – the topnotch facilities and excellent service make staying here a stress-free, pleasant experience that I’d like to award with the Globetrottergirls Stamp Of Approval!LKF hotel Hong Kong azure sofa

Details

  • Location: 33 Wyndham St, Central, Hong Kong
  • Price: Superior Rooms start at $215 per night
  • LGBT Friendly: Yes
  • Digital Nomad Friendly: Yes
  • Amenities: Complimentary high-speed wifi, complementary use of iPad, illy espresso maker in every room, 42-inch LCD TV, breakfast included in room rate, complimentary newspaper, gym, rooftop bar and restaurant, laundry service, bathrobes and slippers
  • Website: www.hotel-lkf.com.hk


Hotel LKF By Rhombus RoomTip:
Check the LKF website for special room packages that include complimentary cocktails and hors d’oeuvres or exclusive discount prices!

You can also check Booking.com for special rates for the LKF hotel.

Want to get a more in-depth tour of the hotel? Check out my video:

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A Culinary Journey Through Taiwan

Chou’s Shrimp Rolls

You all know how much I love food and how food for me is a vital aspect of visiting a new country. I know people who don’t really care about food when they travel (something that is completely incomprehensible to me) but I am the contrary: before I visit a new country, I research the local specialties, find out what the locals eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and which dishes I have to try before leaving the country. After visiting a country, I am always excited to share my foodie finds with you, telling you which dishes I loved.

Taiwan: A Foodie Paradise

Set A (with Dan Dan Noodles)One country that has enough culinary delights to keep a foodie busy for weeks is Taiwan. The small island nation of the coast of China is not only known for its stunning scenery that spans from lush green mountain ranges to sandy beaches has the reputation to have one of the most delicious cuisines in Asia, and people do not only flock here to eat from China but also from Japan and the nearby Philippines. Talk to someone who’s visited Taiwan and the glorious Taiwanese food will come up for sure!

Taiwanese food derived from the various cuisines in mainland China (like Cantonese or Szechuan food), but you also find Japanese influences in Taiwanese cooking. And like in most island nations, seafood plays a big role in Taiwan’s cuisine.

Local Specialties of Taiwan

Despite being such a small country, you can find a lot of dishes that are special to a single region. Yonghe, a suburb of Taipei, is famous for its freshly prepared soy milk, Taichung is well known for a sweet pastry named Sun Cake, Ilan is famous for a sticky rice snack called mochi while in Chiayi, you have to try the beloved cubic pastry (square cookies sprinkled with sesame seeds). Taiwanese people are so passionate about food that they will travel to another region within the country just to try their local dishes, by the way.

A Love For ‘Small Eats’: Xiaochi

One thing Taiwan is famous for is its tradition of xiaochi, which translates to ‘small eats’. It can best be compared to the Chinese tradition of Dim sum or Spanish tapas: enjoying several small dishes throughout the day instead of the western concept of having three big meals a day.Chou's Shrimp RollsThis concept is actually perfect for Taiwan visitors – it gives you more chances to sample all of Taiwan’s tasty dishes.

Here are the Taiwanese foods that you should definitely try:

Oyster omelet Oyster omelets are a staple in this nation of egg and seafood lovers – the omelet is spiced with a local chrysanthemum and tapioca starch is added to give it a gooey consistence, making it a distinctly Taiwanese food experience. It is usually draped in a thick, sweet red sauce.

Beef noodles Beef noodles are actually a soup which is oozing with chunks of stewed beef, and served with a dash of pickles. Beef noodles are so popular that they have their own festival!

beef_noodlesGua Bao Gua Bao is basically the Taiwanese version of a hamburger. Packed in between two halves of a steamed bun you’ll find braised pork belly, pickled cabbage and powered peanuts, all chopped up and mixed together.

Fried milkfish This is one of the most popular dishes in Taiwan, and is served fried, boiled, in soup, in a congee porridge. Milkfish is so popular that it has its own museum in Taiwan, and of course a festival.

Cho Dofu (Stinky Tofu) This popular snack is what is the durian for Singapore and Malaysia: you either love it or hate it, and its strong odor can be smelled from miles away (well maybe not miles, but you get the idea). Some people say the odor resembles sewage water, but Taiwanese love these deep-fried tofu cubes (that are fermented in milk) which don’t taste as bad as they smell – so best to hold your nose when you try one. And yes, you should definitely try stinky tofu – remember that it’s popular for a reason. Stinky tofu, Shanghai

Coffin bread The name might not sound appealing, but trust me, once you’ve tried it, you’ll probably want to have one every single day! Coffin bread is a slice of super thick toast, prospered like a French Toast but then hollowed out in the middle and stuffed with delicious fillings that range from vegetable chowder and sea food to pepper beef. Guan Cai Ban at Night Market, Taiwan

Oyster vermicelli (oya misua) Oyster vermicelli is a popular thick noodle soup (with thin vermicelli rice noodles) and as the name indicates: oysters! It’s often slurped right out of the bowl and finger-licking good.

Fried pork on rice This dish might sound simple, but you’ll be amazed at the explosion of flavors in your mouth when you try the divine smelling pork belly, which is finely chopped, cooked in soy sauce with a special spice mix, and served over white rice.

Green onion pancake This is something you find in every night market in Taiwan – the thin pancakes are made with scallions and usually filled with cheese and egg.

Soy milk and you-tiao The most popular way to start the day in Taiwan is having the simple breakfast of a glass of savory soy milk accompanied by a you-tiao, a deep-fried dough cruller. Almost everyone in Taiwan enjoys a glass of soy milk for breakfast, but for visitors the taste takes getting used to, as vinegar is added, resulting in an interesting taste, to say the least. Taiwan: Pineapple Cakes

Pineapple cake Pineapple cake is one of the most popular desserts in Taiwan, a square short crust pie filled with pineapple. If you want to buy some to take home as a souvenir, take the SunnyHills brand, which uses local pineapples only.

Bubble tea The bubble tea craze that took over the world a few years ago might be over (even though the beverage is still a popular drink in most parts of the world) but Taiwan is where it all started. This drink, which is also known as pearl milk tea, was invented in Taiwan in the 1980s, is a milky tea to which chewy balls of tapioca are added. You can’t leave Taiwan without trying a freshly made bubble tea from a tea shop. I could go on and on – the list of yummy Taiwanese dishes is seemingly endless. To make your mouth water even more, check out CNN’s 45 Taiwanese foods we can’t live without.

Where to Sample Taiwanese Food

Bubble teaIf you’re lucky enough to visit Taiwan, the Shilin Night Market in Taipei is a good starting point. In addition to this popular night market which is filled with food stalls, there are about 20 streets dedicated to small eats in Taipei alone. Every city has a night market where you can sample the local specialties, but the city of Tainan in southern Taiwan is a paradise for foodie, so if you take your culinary experiences seriously, make sure to visit Tainan. Can’t make a trip to Taiwan happen anytime soon but would still love to try some of the dishes I’ve introduced you to?

The ‘Savoring Taiwanese Cuisine’ Festival in New York

If you live in or around New York, you’re in luck! The ‘Savoring Taiwanese Cuisine’ Festival takes place this month in New York City! From 16 to 20 October 2015 the Taiwan Tourism Bureau and The Sheraton LaGuardia East Hotel are partnering with several award-winning chefs from Tainan who will bring you five days of savoring some of Taiwan’s most scrumptious dishes. The festival focuses on small eats and the main dish of the tasting menus you can try there will be Chou’s Shrimp Rolls, a dish so famous that it attracts foodies from all around the world! Instead of making your way to Tainan, where foodies line up to eat at Chou’s bistro (a national institution!) you can sample this world-famous dish right in New York. If you don’t happen to live in New York and aren’t able to attend the festival, look up the best Taiwanese restaurants in your city. Now you have an idea of what to try while you’re there!

Have you been to Taiwan? What are your favorite Taiwanese dishes?

This post is brought to you in partnership with the Taiwanese Tourism Bureau.
Photo credit: (1) Beef noodles by Matthew Hine, (2) Stinky Tofu by Gary Stevens, (3) Guan Cai Ban by Michael McDonough, (4) Pineapple Cake by sstrleu, (5) Bubble Tea – All photos used under Flickr’s Creative Commons License.

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Please don’t go to… Koh Poda, Thailand

koh Poda boat

Do you remember when I asked you not to go to Todos Santos, Guatemala? Or Samara in Costa Rica? Valladolid in Mexico? It has been a while since I found a place that I wanted to keep all to myself, but when I stumbled across Koh Poda, it took me only a few steps along the white soft sand to realize I had found another little gem that I didn’t want to share with anyone. But you guys belong to my inner circle, so how could I not share this with you:koh poda beachAnd you’ll keep this little secret to yourselves, right?   So how did I find this tiny paradise? Krabi is the one coastal region in Thailand that everybody is raving about. I’d been to Krabi before, but it was shortly after getting scammed in Bangkok, and my mindset was just not right at the time, I was prepared to dislike everything about Thailand, and being ripped off right upon arriving in Krabi didn’t help. Beyond Koh Lanta, Koh Phi Phi and Phuket, I didn’t see much of the area back then – and admittedly, I didn’t love any of the islands I visited. On the contrary: I found Koh Phi Phi smelly and crowded, Phuket seedy and dirty, and our trip to the famous Maya Bay extremely disappointing. I had always seen stunning photos of the imposing limestone cliffs around the beaches of Railay and Tonsai and heard good things about Ao Nang. I owed Krabi a second chance and this year, I made it part of my Thailand itinerary to return to the Andaman Sea. koh poda longtail boatsBut when me and my travel buddy arrived in Ao Nang, neither one of us was very impressed. The beach looked nice but smelled of sewage, and walking by a canal that I am sure holds all of Ao Nang’s wastewater caused me nausea every time we passed it. Right next to it, there was even some kind of landfill where garbage was left to rot in the sun. On the other side of the canal, there were several restaurants – we couldn’t even bare the thought of eating in any of them, so close to the horrendous smell.

ao nang garbage
The not-so-pretty side of Ao Nang

So the next day, we hopped straight onto a long tail boat to Railay, excited to finally hit a dream beach. And again, while it looked pretty nice, it didn’t wow us. We didn’t even feel like going into the water because the bay was filled with long tail boats that were blowing their fumes into the air and water, and it was so stony that walking into the water required zigzagging around rocks and pebbles.railay beach thailandWe decided to go for lunch and a drink instead, but the prices at the beachfront restaurants (which I believe all belong to resorts) were so outrageously steep, that this wasn’t much fun either. I was aware that Railay would be more expensive because it is only accessible by boat, but if a simple Pad Thai is more expensive than in New York City, something is off. In general, prices for accommodation, food and drinks were considerably higher than in Koh Tao for example – often twice as much. I don’t mind paying more if the quality is better but not a single dish I had in eight days around Ao Nang and Railay was memorable.   andaman sea islands near railayBefore giving up on Krabi, we decided to email a tour company that advertised private island tours, and whose contact form was titled ‘Tell us what your dream is‘. The dream was, we wrote, to spend a day on an island with no tourist crowds, no tour groups, simply a small secluded beach. The email that came back was disheartening: such a thing didn’t exist in this part of Thailand, they wrote. Were there really no secluded dream beaches anymore?

ao nang sunset thailand
The pretty side of Ao Nang

Our last try would be a boat trip out to the islands we could see scattered across the Andaman Sea on the horizon and for which day trips were offered in the small travel agencies and along the beaches of Ao Nang. After a quick Google search about the various islands, we opted for a combined snorkeling trip of Chicken Island and Poda Island, just for the two of us.

chicken island
Any guesses why this is called Chicken Island? :)

And finally, when I least expected it, there it was. The Thai island paradise I had dreamed of. Crystal clear water and wide, white deserted sand beaches.koh poda beach coconutTo be honest, I didn’t think this would happen when we first approached Koh Poda and around 20 long tail boats and speed boats lined the shores of the tiny island. Hordes of tourists were swimming in the shallow water around the boats, taking selfies, the beach filled with beach towels in bright colors.koh poda touristsWe walked down the beach, away from the boats and the crowds, and the unthinkable happened: suddenly, we weren’t surrounded by people anymore. No more boats. Just crystal clear turquoise water, an empty beach, and the occasional sun seeker hidden between trees or tree trunks. It felt glorious.koh poda beach thailandI couldn’t believe that the island didn’t have hotels or resorts on it, because the grassy space behind the beach would be perfect for it, and you could get here easily in twenty minutes from Ao Nang.

koh poda palm trees
The perfect place for some beach side bungalows. However, I hope the island will remain uninhabited.

Other than a tiny hut selling cold drinks and snacks near the boat landing, there was no restaurant. And the further you walked away from the boats, the more the island felt like a completely deserted Robinson Crusoe island. koh poda shellI wished we could have spent the night but we were not prepared and didn’t bring any food or even a change of clothes. I am not sure if camping is officially allowed there, but when we followed the path through the woods, we saw several extinguished campfires and other signs of overnight camping.koh poda longtail boatsI was so thrilled to have finally found the paradise island I’d been looking for all over Thailand, that I didn’t want the day to end.D & J in Koh PodaI think the photos show why I don’t want to share the island with anyone, but there are some other reasons why I’d like to keep Koh Poda to myself: While I thought Koh Poda was stunningly beautiful, I found the amount of garbage on the tiny island disturbing, especially considering that it is such a popular day trip destination (most boats seem to anchor for 30 minutes to an hour and then move on to the next place, as part of an island hopping trip). And I don’t want this little paradise to turn into another Ao Nang.koh poda boat thailandWhen people spend the night in such a paradise, why can’t they take their garbage home with them? Why would they not want the island to stay in a gorgeous state so that other people can enjoy it too? I simply cannot understand how tourists can just pile up garbage in such a pristine place and leave, but the overnight campers seemed to think differently.

koh poda trash
Even paradise comes with a downside..

Also: Koh Poda is a designated National Park, so why does nobody clear the garbage on the island? Wouldn’t the people who are in charge here want it to stay as jaw-dropping as it is, for the hundreds of people that come and visit it every day? We were charged an admission fee of THB200 (about US$5.88) each when we came on a private boat and THB50 (US$1.47) when we came back on a shared long tail boat the next day, so one would think enough money is collected every day to be able to employ someone who cleans the entire beach, and not just the tiny part where the boats arrive and the majority of people stay during their visit (I assume that this part is cleaned every day, but I don’t know for sure).koh poda thailandIn addition to the garbage, the damages of the 2004 Tsunami are still visible everywhere. There’s not a single palm tree left on the beach, dozens of massive tree trunks line the beach, making it even impossible to walk the entire length of the beach during high tide (there is a forest path though, and you can climb over most of the tree trunks). It gave me shivers to see how much damage the tsunami caused, still so prevalent on this tiny rock, more than a decade after it happened. I found myself wondering about the lack of clean-up here too, not sure why the tour operators wouldn’t get rid of these nuisances along the otherwise picture-perfect beach.koh poda tree trunks and beachDespite the garbage and the tsunami damage, Koh Poda was such a dream destination for us that we decided to return the next day. One day was just not enough.
koh poda daniAnd so the next day, we hopped onto another long-tail boat and set off again to spend another day in paradise. koh poda water thailandI don’t know what will happen to Koh Poda – seeing how developed the Krabi area is, I would be surprised if it stayed resort or hotel-free forever. And that’s why I ask you: Please don’t go to Koh Poda. (But if you do, don’t forget to take your garbage back with you.)Koh Poda Island FunHave you found a dream beach in Thailand? If so, feel free to share it with me in the comments below…

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Paws, whiskers and cappuccinos: Scenes from Bangkok’s Cat Cafe

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Confession: I am a crazy cat lady. Even though I’ve grown to love dogs over the past few years and am now at the point where can’t see myself not having a dog once I put my backpack down and settle somewhere, I still adore cats. No matter how bitchy and grumpy and diva-ish they are, I love their distinctive cat personalities and they make me happy.bangkok cat cafe dani crazy cat ladyAnyone who has ever traveled with me will confirm that I can’t walk by a cat without petting it (I go through a lot of hand sanitizer 😉 ) and I don’t even want to know how many out of the over 100,000 photos I’ve taken in the past five years of travel feature cats. Places like Malaysia, Turkey, Italy or Buenos Aires, where there are a lot of cats around, make me happy. All I wanted for my birthday in Argentina a few years back was spending time in the Botanical Gardens in Buenos Aires, which is home to dozens of stray cats.bangkok cat cafeAnd for years I have been wanting to visit a cat café. These cafes, in which you basically hang out with a bunch of cats while having coffee, originated in Taiwan where the first cat café opened in 1998, and has since grown across Asia – especially in Japan, where there are more than 150 cat cafes, and South Korea, since in both countries most landlords don’t allow pets in their buildings. So if you want to cuddle with a cat, a cat café is the easiest way to get your cat fix.bangkok cat cafeJust before I arrived in Bangkok, I stumbled upon a blog post that mentioned a cat café in Bangkok – and the timing couldn’t have been better. I was in dire need of some cat love at the time, and so I headed straight to the neighborhood where the cat café was located. After a disappointing experience at a ‘cat café’ in Berlin last year (there were only two cats that were hiding the whole time, and the coffee maker didn’t work. So much for cats & coffee!) I tried to keep my expectations low, but I didn’t have anything to worry about.bangkok cat cafepurr cat cafeThe Purr Cat Café is exactly what you picture when you think ‘Cat Café’: a cozy place filled with gorgeous cats, some more interested in guests than others, but all fun to watch.

bangkok purr cat cafepurr cat cafeUpon arriving I had to remove my shoes and put on slippers that are provided and wash my hands in the reception area before I was allowed to enter the café. I didn’t know what caught my attention more – the delicious-looking cat-themed cakes or all the fluffy Main Coon cats. I was in cat heaven.bangkok cat cafebangkok purr cat cafeI chose one of the low tables and sat down on the carpet, and took in the cat action around me. The café comes with rules – guests are not allowed to pick cats up for example, or wake them up when they’re sleeping – but there are enough cats that are willing to share your coffee with you (just kidding, feeding them is not allowed) and to entertain you.bangkok cat cafeAnd that’s exactly what I did: I sat, watched, played, cuddled, photographed.. and by the time I left the cafe, my bad mood was completely gone. But how could these beautiful creatures not cheer one up, right?bangkok cat cafeWhat surprised me was that the clientele of the café was not at all female-dominated – there were several men who were just as much into the cats as the girls were.bangkok cat cafeFor true cat lovers there is a small shop next to the cafe where you can buy cat-themed gifts and souvenirs – but luckily my cat craziness hasn’t reached that stage yet. I know, however, that I’ll be back at Purr Cat Cafe Club the next time I am in Bangkok – and that I will also visit the cats at Caturday Cafe, Bangkok’s other cat cafe.bangkok cat cafebangkok cat cafe beautiesbangkok cat cafe

Practical Information

Address: 63 Soi Sukhumvit 53, Sukhumvit Road, Bangkok (a 10 minute walk from Thong Lo BTS Station)

Cost: Admission is free, drinks and food are a little pricier than in other cafes (starting at around THB100) but it is money well spent.

If you are not planning a trip to Bangkok any time soon but would still like to get your cat fix, fear not: you can find Purr Cat Café Club on Facebook and Instagram.purr cat cafeCats at Purr Cat Cafe Bangkokbangkok cat cafeHave you visited a cat or dog cafe? Would you include one in your travel itinerary, or does cat hair with a slice of cake not sound very appealing to you?

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Where to stay in Hong Kong: The OZO Wesley in Wan Chai

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When I arrived at the OZO Wesley, I immediately liked the beautiful stylish entrance – but it was when I walked through these doors that I was truly stunned.ozo wesley hong kong entranceThe swanky, bright and spacious lobby has hands down one of the funkiest designs I’ve ever seen in a hotel. The waved wooden lines that cover parts of the ceiling and walls paired with bright red furniture reassured me immediately that I had made a good choice with this hotel, and I hadn’t even seen my room yet.Hong Kong Ozo WesleyI’d wanted to stay in Wan Chai, a neighborhood of Hong Kong that I wanted to explore more of, and the location of the Ozo seemed perfect. A tram station and several bus stations right outside the house, two subway stations (Admirality and Wan Chai) are each a a five-minute walk away. The other thing that had spoken to me was that their website promised ‘stylishly designed urban accommodation for on-the-go global nomads’. Well if that’s not the perfect hotel for this globetrottergirl, then I don’t know!Hong Kong Wesley Ozo HotelThe check-in was efficient and quick, and within five minutes of arriving I found myself opening the door to my room on the 18th floor, and yet again, was pleasantly surprised about the comfort and the design. Hong Kong is, similar to New York, known for its tiny hotel rooms, but the Ozo manages to make the most of every single inch – there is even a small desk next to the bed. The blue and grey painting of the city skyline that covers the entire wall behind the bed adds to the nifty and modernistic feel of the hotel.Hong Kong Ozo Wesley RoomLast but not least, my favorite part: the sofa reading nook in the bay window! I started looking forward to the occasional downpours because it meant I could make myself a cup of tea (every room has an electric kettle and tea) and relax with a magazine in my little nook, or draft some articles. It was my favorite little detail of the hotel.ozo wesley hong kong room with window1However, the reading nook isn’t even what the Ozo is all about – the Ozo is all about getting decent sleep. Everything in the rooms is designed for guests to have the best possible night’s sleep, the best ‘dream experience’. This means super comfy beds, thick curtains that block out the sunlight in the morning, double glass windows to keep out the city noise, and even includes a sleep timer on the TV that comes with sheep jumping across the screen. I couldn’t help but smile every night when I turned the TV on, eagerly awaiting the friendly sheep to put me to sleep with their monotone jumps.Ozo Wesley Hong Kong dream tvAnd my sleeps at the OZO were indeed always uninterrupted, and the bed was so cozy that I was tempted to spend all day in it, instead exploring Hong Kong. But after a good night’s sleep I was way too energized to stay in bed. Another thing I loved about my room was the fact that I opened the larger-than-your-usual-minibar fridge and found it EMPTY!Hong Kong Ozo Wesley room amenitiesFinally a hotel that understands that most guests are tired of paying for overpriced minibar drinks and snacks and rather go to 7-11 to stock up on exactly the items they want. The OZO gets it, and instead of forcing you to empty the minibar just so that you have room to store your snacks and drinks, and then putting all the minibar items back in before check-out, they leave you an empty fridge to begin with. Marvelous! And for those who don’t want to go out to get snacks or drinks, there’s still the 24-hour cafeteria in the lobby that has things like cookies, chips, fresh fruit and drinks.Hong Kong Ozo WesleyOn my first day at the OZO, I went for a run on the Bowen Road fitness trail, which I had discovered thanks to googleMaps, was only a short run up the hill from the hotel. Once you’re up there, you can run for miles straight along the rocks of the hill, surrounded by lush jungles, and with splendid views over Hong Kong. This became one of my favorite running routes in Hong Kong, but the hotel is also just a short run away from the Central and Western Distric Promenade which goes along the water all the way to the harbor, another scenic running route.Hong Kong Ozo Wesley ViewsWhen I woke up to rain on my second day, I decided to check out the hotel gym instead and was stoked to see a rather big gym, fully equipped with cardio machines and weights. I’ve noticed that when a hotel states it has a gym, it can be hit or miss – sometimes it’s okay, but often it’s tiny and neglected. This one was definitely one that was well taken care of and equipped with modern machines.Hong Kong Ozo Wesley GymThe one thing you need to refuel your batteries after a morning workout? A strong cup of coffee. And the OZO has exactly that: instead of simply providing a coffee pot in the breakfast room, like many hotels do, it offers two coffee machines that make exactly the coffee you want, either a simple espresso or americano, or cappuccinos and lattes. The other parts of breakfast were absolutely sufficient for me: fresh breads, cheese and cold cuts, jams and peanut butter, yogurt, a selection of juices and salad. The only thing I wished I would have had a larger selection to choose from was fresh fruit, especially since the hotel is making a point of serving healthy breakfast.Breakfast Ozo Wesley Hong KongOverall, I think the hotel is perfectly located to explore Central, Wan Chai and Sheung Wan, and Kowloon is just a quick subway ride away. As I said before – I was never too upset when it rained because I was looking for an excuse to spend more time in my room – and that barely ever happens!Hong Kong Ozo Wesley Hotel Room

Details

Location: 22 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong
Price: Starting at US$142 per double room
LGBT Friendly: Yes
Digital Nomad Friendly:
Absolutely – super fast wi-fi and desk, multimedia connectivity panels, comfy bay window seating
Amenities: Free wi-fi, complementary breakfast, gym, interactive orientation screens with city information, lobby lounge with snack bar, in-room coffee & tea making facilities
Website: www.ozohotels.com/wesley-hongkong
Hong Kong Ozo Wesley Hotel

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Hong Kong, the second time around

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As some of you might remember, my first visit to Hong Kong didn’t go as planned. Even though I was wowed by the city and loved my time there, I felt like I had failed as a traveler. I had made poor choices about where to stay, I gave into my jet lag instead of fighting it, and I was too exhausted after a busy month of travel to feel the urge to truly explore the city.

But back then, I also knew that I’d be back in Hong Kong a few months later, and this time around, I’d rectify all the mistakes I had made on my first visit.Hong KongI arrived energized after a short flight from Bangkok, and when I checked into my cozy room at the OZO Wesley Hotel a little bit later, looking out of the window over Hong Kong Island, I couldn’t wait to head out and take on the city – I didn’t waste any time and went right out to wander the streets of Wan Chai, the neighborhood I was staying in. When I left the city six days later, (even though I was nowhere near ready to leave Hong Kong!), I did so with a smile on my face, knowing I’d made the most out of my visit. Read on for my tips on how to have a splendid time in Hong Kong, plus my favorite eateries, coffee shops and bars.Hong Kong

Take time to just wander

In the past, I’ve often made the mistake of running through a city and trying to tick off as many sights as possible. I vividly remember my first visit to New York, when I proudly ticked all the famous sights, from the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge to Times Square and the MoMA, the Guggenheim and the Library, Washington Square Park and Central Park, the Empire State Building and Broadway, off my list, but left feeling like I had no idea how the city worked (something I also did on first-time visits to London and Paris, but corrected on later visits).

Looking back, my best days in Hong Kong were those when I’d just wander the streets, simply following my gut instead of a map, letting myself drift, sneak into alleyways that looked interesting, popped into coffee shops that give off an irresistible smell. That’s how I found some of my favorite coffee shops in PoHo and Wan Chai – my two favorite neighborhoods in Hong Kong.Hong Kong neighborhoods

Research all the good food before you go

One thing I’d found frustrating during my first visit was that I didn’t seem to be able to find any good vegetarian food. Sure there are literally thousands of places to eat in Hong Kong, but to seek out the good vegetarian options, you’ll have to research beforehand. Usually my belly was already rumbling when I headed out to eat, which led me to eat in mediocre places a lot, because all the ones that were recommended online were too far away.

The second time, I knew exactly where I wanted to eat, and I had researched my options well in advance, so that I wouldn’t have a single meal that was just meh. After months in Asia I was craving a decent slice of pizza for example, and I was thankful that Hong Kong’s food options are so international that I could get just about anything. The same goes for coffee, French pastries (my weakness!), American-style brunch and good dim sum. (See below for some recommendations for my favorite places).Food in Hong Kong

Be strategic about where you’d like to stay

The first time I visited Hong Kong I stayed in Kowloon (the part of HK that is on mainland China), and when I crossed the harbor, I knew immediately that I wanted to stay on Hong Kong Island during my next visit. I know that other people prefer the distinctly more Chinese Kowloon side, but I personally preferred Wan Chai and LKF. When you research your hotel options, I recommend making sure it’s near a bus, tram or subway stop and that there are some places to eat around there. 

Be a tourist

While I aspire to go beyond the typical tourist sights these days and prefer to just wander and get lost, as I said before, let’s not forget that these sights are touristy for a reason and can be fun, and why would you want to miss out on views like these?hong kong view from the peakSome of my favorite things in Hong Kong: taking the Star Ferry across Victoria Harbor, strolling along the Avenue of the Stars, watching the cheesy light show that’s displayed on the skyscrapers of Central every night at 8pm, enjoying the views from the Peak and going souvenir hunting in the Ladies Market. Sure, there’ll be crowds, but these are places you shouldn’t miss. And if you really dislike crowds, find the hiking path up to the Peak instead of going up via the tram (and save the HKD40 / US$5.16 for a return ticket). I found some very quiet spots along the way and up on top. There is also a well-signed 1-hour hike on top of the mountain to escape the crowds (even though it wasn’t horribly busy when I was up there).Hong Kong

Take your time

The best thing I could do in Hong Kong was allowing myself an extra day, which is what I did during both my visits. The first time the extra day was much needed to get over my jet lag (or at least to attempt to get over it), the second time it was raining on and off, so I was glad that I had some wiggle room to do certain things (like the Peak, which is best done on a sunny day, when the views are good).Hong Kong

My Hong Kong favorites

Coffeeshops

The Coffee Academics (several branches around Hong Kong)
Rabbithole (Wan Chai)
VEYGO Coffee (Sheung Wan)
Coco Espresso (various locations)
The Cupping Room (Central & Wan Chai)
Hazel & Hershey (Central)
Cafeine (Sheung Wan)
Cafe Habitù (several branches)
Passion by Gerard Dubois (several branches)Hong KongRestaurants

Brunch Club (all day brunch)
Oldish (hip brunch/ daytime restaurant)
Tim Ho Wan (World’s cheapest Michelin Star restaurant, serving Dim Sum)
Light (excellent vegan and vegetarian Chinese food)
O Green (Western vegetarian food, but also fish; lots of ‘trendy’ health foods like dishes with quinoa and chia seeds, kale, etc.)
Grassroots Pantry (organic vegetarian food, a mix of Western & Chinese dishes)
Studio Caffeine (bagels, sandwiches, coffee)
Pizza Express (I know, I know… a chain! But the pizza I had there was excellent!)Hong KongBars

Mrs Pound (speakeasy bar and restaurant)
Azure (Skybar on top of the LKF Hotel)
MedusaHong Kong

Other practical information

Public transportation: Buses, trams and the subway are the cheapest way to get around, and I always felt safe on public transportation, no matter what time of day or night. I found the subway system extremely easy to navigate. Subway tickets range from about HKD5 to 15 (US$0.65 – $1.95), depending on the length of your trip. The tram (dingding) is slow but a scenic way to see the northern part of Hong Kong island. It’s also super cheap at HK$2.30 (US$0.30).Hong kong tram and busIf you’re planning to use public transportation a lot, consider buying a 1-day tourist pass for HK$55 (US$7.10). There is also the option to buy an Octopus Card, similar to the Oyster Card in London, to which you add any amount you’d like. You can also use this card to pay in many cafes and shops around town and you can load money on it in 7-11 stores or at an MTR (subway) service center. You’ll pay a HK$50/US$6.45 deposit – don’t forget to get it back before leaving Hong Kong.

Getting from the airport into the city: The fastest way is the Airport Express Train, which is HK$90/US$11.61 to Kowloon (HK$160/US$20.64 return) and HK$100/ US$12.90 (HK$180/US$23.22 return) to Hong Kong Central. There are direct bus connections from the airport to Kowloon – slower, but considerably cheaper at HK$39 /US$5.03).Hong Kong8How much money do you need: I’ve already told you that I found Hong Kong surprisingly expensive, but Hong Kong has been listed as one of the world’s ten most expensive cities for the past few years now, so I shouldn’t have been all that surprised. Don’t expect it to be as cheap as most other Asian countries, but considering that it is one of the priciest cities to live in, I have to say though that I find Hong Kong still affordable. As I’ve mentioned above, public transportation is very cheap – crossing from Central to Kowloon or vice versa on the Star Ferry is even only HK$2.50 – US$0.32!Hotels start at around $110 for a decent 3* hotel, and you can find really great hotels for less than $200. A dorm bed in a hostel is between $25 – $28, a private room in a hostel starts at $60. If you don’t need much comfort, you can find a (usually tiny) room for US$40 – $50. Expect to pay around US$3 for a cup of coffee / US$6 for a latte (in a proper coffee shop, not at McDonald’s. A grande americano at Starbucks is HK$27/US$3.48), and around US$10 for a cheap meal. When I spoiled myself, I easily spent US$20+ on a meal and a drink though. A glass of beer starts at US$7, a glass of wine is around US$10. Beer and wine in a 7-11 or supermarket is considerably cheaper, however.

If you’re on a super tight budget, you can get by with US$20 a day for food (if you don’t mind eating at McDonald’s and 7-11). I also found that you can do most sightseeing for free – you don’t have to pay for the Peak, if you hike up the hill mountain, and instead of paying HK$168 /US$21.67 at the Sky100 Observatory Deck, you can get free views from the Central Plaza Observatory Deck. hong kong centralHave you been to Hong Kong? Feel free to share your tips on how to have a great time in Hong Kong in the comments below!

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12 things that surprised me about Hong Kong

hong kong central2

Even though I didn’t have many expectations when I visited Hong Kong for the first time this year, I have to admit that not only did the city blow me away completely, but it also surprised me in many ways.

I noticed these things during my first visit earlier this year, and when I returned to Hong Kong last month, I wanted to see if I still felt about them the same way, especially #8, which I found mind-boggling! And yes, I was still just as surprised about the following things as I had been back in January – so here they are, twelve things that surprised me about Hong Kong:hong kong tram

1 Hong Kong is busy

Arriving in Hong Kong from Stockholm, which had felt eerily empty during my visit, was absolutely overwhelming. There were crowds everywhere, and I hadn’t experienced large numbers of people in this way since leaving New York last November. Especially in the Kowloon neighborhood, where I was staying in the beginning, the streets were always packed with people. The subway was just as busy as the tube in London at rush hour, and most streets felt as busy as the streets around Times Square in Manhattan. It took me a few days to get used to how crowded Hong Kong felt.hong kong kowloon

2 Hong Kong is hilly

I have to admit that I had no idea that Hong Kong was that hilly! There aren’t a lot of hills in Kowloon, the part of the city that is connected to mainland China, but on Hong Kong Island, I found myself huffing and puffing up and down steep hills constantly. That’s why on Hong Kong Island, you find the world’s longest covered outdoor escalator, the Central–Mid-Levels escalator, which transports more than 55,000 people every day from the lower Central neighborhood to the mid-levels. The escalator has a vertical climb of 443ft (135 meters) and is 2,600 feet (800 meters) long. Since the financial district of Hong Kong is located in Central (at the bottom of the mountain), the escalators and walkways move downwards in the morning to transport workers from the higher located condominium buildings to their offices. After the morning rush hour, the escalators move upwards.Steep Hong Kong

3 Bamboo Scaffolding

Considering how modern and developed Hong Kong is, it struck me as surprising that all the scaffolding I saw around town was made from bamboo. I hope the skyscrapers were built with more sturdy scaffolding.. but bamboo seems to be much more robust than I thought – who knew!

Bamboo Scaffolding Hong Kong
Bamboo Scaffolding

4 Hong Kong is hip.

Who knew Hong Kong was so hip? Especially the Poho neighborhood (short for Po Hing Fong, in the Sheung Wan District), filled with trendy boutiques, independent coffee shops, hip restaurants and chic bars seemed to be the favored hangout for Hong Kong’s 20something trendy professionals. Street art was ubiquitous here, and young entrepreneurs keep moving into the neighborhood, opening artisan bread shops and organic bistros and other businesses.Hip Hong Kong

5 Hong Kong is international

I was surprised to see so many different nationalities in Hong Kong – not only Westerners, but also a lot of other Asian nationalities and Indians. When I was walking through the Financial District on a business day, I usually encountered more Westerners in suits than Asians!

hong kong coffee academics
Hong Kong being so international means most things are written in English

6 Hong Kong is smoggy

I know that Beijing and other Chinese mega cities are notorious for their air pollution, but I didn’t know that Hong Kong was just as polluted. The skyline pictures I had seen prior to my trip, taken from the famous ‘Peak’ viewpoint high over Hong Kong, usually made the city look like it had clear skies. During both my visits, however, the air was polluted and the city was constantly covered in a cloud of smog. I later read that air pollution has become a serious problem in the past 20 years and the number of asthma and bronchial illnesses has soared considerably.hong kong views from the peak1

7 Hong Kong is green

While the air might be polluted, Hong Kong is still home to an amazing amount of green spaces. Trees are everywhere, the city is infused with little parks and within minutes you can get to a green space to go on a wilderness hike. I was amazed to see how green the city was when I hiked up to the top of Victoria Peak through a number of parks, and when I ran along the Bowen Road Fitness Trail high above Wan Chai, the woods gave me an idea of the jungle this island used to be covered with, before it was changed for a massive concrete jungle.Hong Kong green spaces

8 There are no bicycles in Hong Kong

Considering that Beijing supposedly has 9 million bicycles, it was an astonishing surprise to not see any bikes in Hong Kong. I had even seen cyclists in the crazy traffic of Bangkok – only a few, but still – there surely must be cyclists in Hong Kong?! I paid more attention to it on my second visit, convinced that I must have overlooked the bikes the first time around, but still: no bicycles! I was ecstatic when I finally spotted a bike in Wan Chai, but I didn’t see any cyclists anywhere, neither in Kowloon nor in Hong Kong Island.

hong kong bicycle
One of two bicycles I spotted during my ten days in Hong Kong

(Note: I am sure there are bicycles somewhere in Hong Kong, but I just haven’t come across them, which is why I included it here. Please don’t take it too literally 😉 ).

9 Hong Kong loves coffee

A pleasant surprise! Having heard from travelers that it is hard to find good coffee in China, known as a tea nation, I wasn’t expecting much on the coffee front in Hong Kong.. only to find more specialty coffee shops, coffee roasters and coffeehouses than I could possibly try during my stay. I was ecstatic about the amount of excellent coffee shops in Hong Kong and will share all my favorite places for a caffeine fix in my next post.hong kong coffee

10 Hong Kong is expensive

The first time I visited I came from Sweden, a pretty expensive country by European standards – and Hong Kong still felt more expensive. The second time I came from Thailand, where everything is cheap, and Hong Kong felt shockingly expensive in comparison then. Hong Kong didn’t just feel expensive to me though – it was pricey even compared to New York. I have yet to visit another place in the world where I pay more than $6 for a Flat White (coffee), and the price of a pizza at Pizza Express was £13.53 – the exact same pizza in a London Pizza Express is £12.50. Motorino’s charges $17.80 for a Margherita Pizza in Hong Kong, while it charges $15 for the very same pizza in Manhattan. Alcohol was pricey too, with a glass of wine or a beer usually starting at around $9. Hotels and hostels are also very expensive, as are clothes – the only thing that is surprisingly (and disproportionally) cheap is public transportation, with tram rides costing $0.30 and subway rides averaging between $0.64 and $1.55, depending how far you go.

hong kong coffee
52 Hong Kong Dollars for a coffee – this equals 6.70 US Dollars

11 The varied culinary scene

This probably goes along with #5, how international Hong Kong felt: the food scene was much more varied than I thought. In some parts of the city I came across more international restaurants than traditional Chinese eateries. French bakeries, American-style brunch places, British chain restaurants like Pizza Express but also an outlet of New York specialty pizza joint Motorino’s, Italian pasta places and bagel cafes – in Hong Kong, you can find it all. For someone like me who isn’t the greatest fan of Chinese food, Hong Kong’s varied food scene was heavenly.passion cakes hong kong

12 Hong Kong has super fast wi-fi

I understand now why Hong Kong sees such an influx of visitors from mainland China: the internet is super fast, and there aren’t any websites blocked, unlike in China, where you can’t access sites like Google, Facebook or Twitter. Hong Kong also offers free wi-fi in many public spaces and parks, and almost all restaurants and coffee shops offer free wi-fi. After having been dogged by bad luck with well-working wi-fi in Thailand, it felt amazing to be connected at all times again, and to be able to even stream movies!

massage with wifi in hong kong
Even massage places have free wi-fi!

Have you been to Hong Kong? What are the things that surprised you?

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