Saturday, November 9, 2019

Asian Hopper 2019 ✈ 10 Hours in Tokyo

Our 2019 home trip gave us the opportunity to hop through (and visit) 5 Asian cities within 2 weeks. Our itinerary consists of a mix of countries that I've already visited in the past but it was nice to revisit these places with hubby and MIL, and most importantly spend time with families!

Aug 31: Seoul
Aug 31 - Sept 7: Taipei
Sept 7 - Sept 8: Hong Kong 
Sept 8 - Sept 15: Penang
Sept 16: Tokyo

Our fifth and final stop on this Asian Hopper trip brought us to Tokyo. This long layover was not on our original itinerary, but we changed our flights and added this stop for free, thanks to a flight schedule and route change by United. That's one of the benefits of booking our flights early (9 months ahead for this trip), as there's a high chance for a flight schedule change before our travel date, which gives us the opportunity to relook at new routes and pick one that works best for us at no extra charges. =P 

Sept 15 (Sun): Penang - KL - Bangkok - Tokyo

First time traveling on Thai Airways. Our flight from KL-Bangkok departed at 9pm and I was impressed that they served dinner on this short 2 hour flight. However, I wasn't impressed with the layout of Bangkok airport, a whole lot of walking without travelators.

Sept 16 (Mon): Tokyo - Denver - Huntsville

Arrived Narita airport at 8am after our 6-hour redeye flight and was welcomed by crappy rainy weather. =.=

Crappy weather aside, we also received a very 'Nintendo' welcome by Mario. 

Hopped on the 9.19am Keisei Access Express train from Narita airport to Asakusa station. This train is a good choice to get into Tokyo quickly (1 hour) at a reasonable price of $12. 

It was still drizzling when we got to Asakusa at 10.30am and the place was crowded! If given a choice, I'd definitely visit this place either early in the morning or at night.

We didn't linger long because the crowd and the rain were huge turn offs. It was also difficult to take any nice photos with such crappy weather.

We then walked over to Ichiran at Asakusa for lunch at 11.30am. Surprisingly there was no line and we didn't have to wait at all! This Ichiran has both table seats and booths, which is slightly different from most Ichiran with only 'anti-social' booths. As you can see, we all enjoyed the Tonkotsu ramen. =D

After a satisfying meal, we hopped on the metro to Akihabara. Once again, I'm impressed by the efficiency and quality of public transportation in Japan. The train display provides so much useful information for commuters in multiple languages. 

This stop was mainly for hubby (game boy). Specifically two retro game stores - Super Potato and Surugaya. Hubby is familiar with these two stores because he bought a few things from them 2 years ago. He did his 'homework' prior to the trip so he knew exactly what he wanted to buy.

One last quick stop at the arcade to play Mario Kart before heading back to the airport. 

We had quite a mad rush to catch the 2.17pm Limited Express train back to Narita airport because we'd have to wait another 30min for the next train if we missed it. W'd still have enough time to catch our flight at 6.10pm even if we missed the train, but I had my reason to not 'waste' another 30 minutes. 

Because I'd much rather spend 30 more minutes in the United Club lounge. =P We made it back to Narita airport at 3.30pm, and had approximately 1.5 hours to take a good shower and grab some food at the lounge before boarding our 10-hour flight to Denver.  We used the United Club Pass that came with the United Explorer credit card to access the lounge.

Since we were flying United, I had zero expectations for this flight. The flight was indeed 'United' standard. But at least we were lucky to have a row of 3 seats to ourselves so I creatively made this poor-man's 'suite' with the extra!

That's all for our 2019 Asian Hopper trip! Big thank you to hubby and MIL for their willingness and patience throughout this 'travel bootcamp' and keeping up with the busy itinerary, hopping through 10 airports and 12 flights in 17 days!!

Asian Hopper 2019 ✈ Penang

Our 2019 home trip gave us the opportunity to hop through (and visit) 5 Asian cities within 2 weeks. Our itinerary consists of a mix of countries that I've already visited in the past but it was nice to revisit these places with hubby and MIL, and most importantly spend time with families!

Aug 31: Seoul
Aug 31 - Sept 7: Taipei
Sept 7 - Sept 8: Hong Kong 
Sept 8 - Sept 15: Penang
Sept 16: Tokyo 

One of our main stops during this Asian Hopper trip was none other than HOME! For the last few years, I've made it a point to travel home once a year. However, this year was an exception because I have just traveled back home 2 months ago, and this was my 2nd home trip for the year. This trip was relatively shorter than the 1st trip as we had already been traveling for a week and we have limited vacation days, unfortunately. I'm actually glad I got to travel home twice this year for various family members, birthday, wedding, illness...well spending time with family in general.

Sept 8 (Sun): Hong Kong - Singapore - KL - Penang

Instead of a 4-hour direct flight from Hong Kong to Penang, our journey took almost an entire day (12 hours), hopping through more airports and flights, before we finally made it to Penang at midnight! Don't judge what we ate upon arrival in KLIA...haha!

Sept 9-15 (Sun-Sun): Penang

The last time MIL visited Malaysia was 6 years ago (for our wedding) so it was nice for the family to see her again after so many years.

Same kiddo, different! Expectation vs. Reality. =P

Glad to play with these lil' munchkins...they were definitely cheekier than 2 months ago!

Family + Food = ❤

Friends + Food = ❤

Unfortunately, the haze was pretty bad when we were there (thanks Indonesia) so minimized our time outdoor.

Fixed my cravings and went to town for some famous street food.

Glad to catch up with paternal side of the family...

...and maternal side of the family. =)

Attended cousin's wedding at E&O hotel

Congratulations to the lovely couple...Fu Aun and Lisha!! 

Everyone looking all handsome, pretty and cute...gotta take more photos!

We're all officially old enough to be served tea. =P

Love this photo!!

Can't get enough photos with my loved ones. =D

Time to eat...

Nom, nom, nom!!

Poor little boy was admitted to the hospital for a few days (which explains his not-so-happy face during the wedding). Glad to see happy boy back in action!

Stopped by grandma's and grandaunt's before heading to the airport.

Thanks to big bro and SIL for fixing another of my craving before we left!

Mom and dad sent us off at the airport. Had a quick catch up with cousin and her bf in KL airport before they head back to Perth and we continue our journey to Tokyo!

That's a wrap for our week in Penang! Home trip always fly by so quickly but I'm glad we got to spend a good bit of quality time with family this time around. Take care y'all...till we meet again next year!

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Asian Hopper 2019 ✈ Hong Kong

Our 2019 home trip gave us the opportunity to hop through (and visit) 5 Asian cities within 2 weeks. Our itinerary consists of a mix of countries that I've already visited in the past but it was nice to revisit these places with hubby and MIL, and most importantly spend time with families!

Aug 31: Seoul
Aug 31 - Sept 7: Taipei
Sept 7 - Sept 8: Hong Kong 
Sept 8 - Sept 15: Penang
Sept 16: Tokyo 

After spending a week in Taiwan, it was time to continue our journey to Hong Kong. Hong Kong was built into our plan because I wanted to use United's Excursionist perk to get a 'free' flight from Hong Kong to KL (they are surprisingly in the same award zone), which is a benefit available when traveling round trip on United award ticket. I also had one IHG credit card anniversary free night, which I've been eyeing to use at the Intercontinental Hong Kong. I was certainly glad that the stars aligned nicely for both flights and hotel. 

But I certainly wasn't happy with the protests that were going on in HK, which had been going on for a few weeks leading up to our visit. I don't usually watch the news but I was following the situation in HK closely while we were in Taiwan. However, I wasn't too concerned because I asked two friends who lives in HK beforehand and know that day-to-day life still goes on as usual for them, with some minor public transport interruptions. Thanks to Mark for providing us with latest updates of the situation when he knew that we were visiting.

MIL received this alert from the US Embassy and asked if we had any back up plans in case we couldn't get to HK. My answer was...Nope, as long as the flights are not cancelled, we are going on with our plans. If our flights were really cancelled, I was prepared to work with Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines to figure out another way to get us from Taiwan to KL, and I can easily cancel my hotel reservation with no fee.

Sept 7 (Sat): Taipei - Hong Kong

Took the 8am flight from Taiwan to Hong Kong on Cathay Pacific, which we redeemed for 4,500 BA Avios miles per person. Surprised to receive a meal bag for this short 2hr flight.

Landed HK at 10am to a surprisingly quiet and relatively empty airport. Guess we were lucky that the chaos that caused the airport shut down happened a few weeks before we arrived and the airport had since obtained injunction to prevent protests in the airport.

Withdrew HKD 500 ($64) from the ATM using my Schwab debit card (no fee) and picked up the 5-day sim card and Octopus card that I bought on Klook (with referral bonus and credits). I wasn't planning on getting a SIM card initially but I figured it'd be good to keep ourselves updated on the protests situation while we were out an about.

Get a US$5 discount when you sign up with this link.

Despite everything you see on the news, the airport felt safe and peaceful but we tried to leave the airport area as soon as possible as there were rumors about protests around the airport later in the day. There was media was standing by, added security, and we saw police arriving as we were leaving.

Took bus A21 at 10.50am from the airport to the city for HKD33 ($4.20) per person. Tourist mode on with front-row seats on the top-deck of the bus.

Weather was beautiful and hot.

As you can see, everyone was going about their day-to-day lives as usual. Definitely not what you see on TV. =P

The photos in the bus was taken just a few seconds before we realized that we missed the bus stop closest to our hotel. We were planning to get off at East Tsim Sha Tsui Station but the bus didn't stop (because we were supposed to press the bell)! =.= So instead of walking 5 minutes across the street to the hotel, we ended up with a very frustrating and tiring 15 minutes walk (with our heavy luggage). Ughhh!!

Lobby lounge and exterior of Intercontinental Hong Kong. 

We finally made it to the hotel at 12.30pm, sweating like pigs. I asked during check-in if they had any complimentary room upgrades available and the associate managed to hook us up with this larger superior room (room 0332) with a private terrace and easy access to the pool. I knew that this hotel doesn't offer complimentary upgrades for the infamous harbor view room so I wasn't expecting it either. This is a huge room for Hong Kong standards, you'll know what I mean if you've stayed in a hotel in Hong Kong before. 

I must say the hotel treats IHG Elite members pretty well. As an IHG Rewards Club member, I was given two vouchers that was good for either 500 IHG points per room, HKD100 minibar credit, or a free drink at the at the Lobby Lounge or Harbourside. Additionally, I also received a HKD135 restaurant and bar credit as an IHG Spire Elite member. The hotel also brought us welcome tea and an cake (huge macaron?) as we were celebrating our anniversary. The staff also brought few extra bottles of water (for free). Huge thanks to Intercontinental Hong Kong for the warm hospitality! =D 

After catching our breathes and quenching our thirsts, I went to check out the pool terrace (open from 6am - 10pm), which was located at the same floor as our room. The hot tub has an awesome view overlooking the harbor. 

I was expecting this area to be crowded but I guess nobody was as crazy as us to be out soaking in the hot tub and sunbathing at 2pm (as if it the weather wasn't hot enough)? It was so hot that we couldn't walk/stand on the ground without flip flops. But it was all worth it for a 'private' hot tub with this stunning view.

Once again, I took too many photos that looked same same but different. =P

We went back to the room after 'barbecuing' for 30 minutes. 

After spending a few hours resting in the hotel, we finally decided to get out and do some sightseeing at 4pm. And of course, it started raining just as we stepped out of the hotel. =.= Fortunately, we were able to borrow 3 umbrellas from the hotel.

Walked along Avenue of Stars to Star Ferry Pier with panoramic view of Victoria skyline. 

Bought 4 pcs of egg tarts from Tai Cheong bakery on Klook and redeemed it at the Star Ferry branch before boarding the ferry to Central. Perfect snack for the short ferry ride.

One of the most 'local' and economical way to travel across Victoria Harbour from Tsim Sha Tsui to Central is by the Star Ferry for HKD11/pax ($0.47).

Made it to Central Pier after a short 10 minutes ferry ride.

Walked along an overhead covered walkway from the pier to the IFC Mall.

We quickly realized that IFC mall, where the Airport Express Hong Kong Station is located is where the 'action' was. There were police watching (and stopping) people all around this area. There were easily more than 10 police vans parked outside of the Airport Express Station entrance too. We saw a guy wearing black t-shirt being stopped by the police and was asked to show his ID. I then realized that I was stupidly wearing a black shirt too (after deciding to change my outfit at the last minute)!! Fortunately, I was traveling with two ang mohs so I didn't get into any trouble...haha!

The reason we came to IFC Mall was for Tim Ho Wan, also known as the world's cheapest Michelin-star restaurant. While this branch wasn't the exact one that won the Michelin star, it's still equally good and the most convenient one to get to from our hotel. We got here at 5pm and was surprised to see no line at all, and the restaurant was fairly empty. I guess we lucked out with the protest because less people were coming through this area as several Airport Express stations were closed due to the protest.

Tim Ho Wan serves Dim Sum and their menu is fairly small but the food is good! We ordered the glutinous rice wrapped in lotus leaf, har gao (steamed shrimp dumplings), siu mai (steamed pork dumplings with shrimp), and the baked bun with BBQ pork. Our favorite was definitely the baked bun with BBQ pork!

It doesn't sound like a lot of food but we were stuffed. The total cost for all 3 of us was HKD157 ($20), cash only. Told ya it's the cheapest Michelin-star restaurant! =P

Our original plan was to take the bus up to Victoria Peak for sunset and night views but it was hazy so we decided to change our plan and took the ferry back to Tsim Sha Tsui. What do you think the clouds in the bottom right photo look like? Pretty cool huh! =P

Sunset at Victoria Harbour. We then spent the next hour at the G2000 in Harbor City Mall buying shirts for my 2 brothers. Poor hubby and MIL was waiting for me as I video called bros from the shop trying to get them to decide what they wanted. =.=

Happy to spot the junk boats this time around. =)

I totally forgotten about the daily 8pm light show but we stumbled upon it as we were walking back to the hotel. Perfect timing! =P 

We were pretty tired by the time we got back to the hotel at 8.30pm as we were up since 4am. But hubby and I still decided to go to the Lobby Lounge for a drink and enjoy the amazing Harbour view (who knows when we'll get to stay in such a nice hotel again).

Everything on the menu is not cheap but we were able to use the two drink vouchers and the HKD135 credit to offset the costs. They also provided some snacks (chips and olives) together with the free drinks. Hubby liked the Hong Kong beer.

Hubby and I really enjoyed the night chilling out over beer as we took in the panoramic harbor views, accompanied by live jazz music. Great way to end our quick stop in HK!

Sept 8 (Sun): Hong Kong - Singapore - KL - Penang

Woke up early at 6am to watch sunrise from the pool terrace. Passed by the gym along the way and snapped a few photos of the gym. 

Good morning Hong Kong! What a pretty sunrise!

Bumped into the Taichi instructor as I was walking around the pool area taking photos of the sun(rise). He approached me and asked if I was interested to join the Taichi class (offered for free by the hotel). Then he said something that I thought was funny..."Hong Kong is in trouble, I'm also in trouble. If nobody joins the Taichi class, the hotel may cancel it and I won't be able to teach here anymore so I need your help (to sign in)." Of course I was more than willing to help this cute uncle. 

So I asking hubby to join the Taichi class...hahahahaha!! Personal/private Taichi tutor ok? To be honest, I was impressed when I found out that the hotel actually provides complimentary Taichi class, what a unique experience for people visiting HK!

Checked out of the hotel at 9.30am to take the bus back to the airport. Spotted a number of sports car outside of the hotel, pretty cool. Big thank you to Intercontinental Hong Kong for a great stay!!  Glad we were able to visit before this hotel is closed for refurbishment next year and rebranded as Regency hotel when it reopens. 

Empty bus and streets on a Sunday morning. Goodbye beautiful HK!

Along our way to the airport, we saw a few areas that were vandalized by the protesters, which is sad to see. Vandalizing your own city's infrastructure is a very dumb (and uncivilized) way to protest, in my opinion.

Arrived the airport at 10.30am and had to go through one round of security check before entering the airport, 'thanks' to the protests. Fortunately, the line wasn't long at all. 

Boarded our 12.30pm flight from HK to Singapore on Singapore airlines. We were served lunch and ice-cream during this 4-hour flight! =)

Glad to be back at beautiful Changi airport. We'd have to get out of the terminal to get to Jewel but since our transit was short, we decided to see it from the transit train instead.

That's a wrap for our quick 1-night stop at Hong Kong. We didn't do a lot of sightseeing this trip but I'm glad we were able to experience the warm hospitality of Intercontinental Hong Kong and its amazing harbor views during our stay. Next stop...Home!