Have you heard of travel hacking and mileage runs? I hadn’t before I started dating William, but I’ve been learning all about it since it’s one of his hobbies (that I benefit from). Travel hacking is the art of booking specific flights for additional travel benefits. This can have hundreds or even thousands of dollars in benefits. In this case, traveling xx,000 miles round trip to Hong Kong was enough for him to get several benefits, including the much desired business class upgrades for us to use on future trips. Some people value these benefits so much that they’ll fly to the other side of the world and then get on a return flight just two hours later (aka William).
William often tells me about random flight deals, but I’ve never joined him on one of his mileage runs. So, when he mentioned there was a deal to Hong Kong during the 4th of July, I jokingly said we should go. Fireworks inevitably go off all night long in our neighborhood and we never get any sleep.
All jokes aside, he booked the tickets and somehow I agreed to go on my first mileage run. The layover was a few days instead of a few hours so I figured it was more like a normal trip. I was also curious to see how I did flying long distance in economy seats.
Our flights were simple – SFO > SEA > HKG. As we were walking to our gate in Seattle, we each got a notification on our phones:
“Your seat has changed to 1C”
I wasn’t paying attention to the seat number and offhandedly mentioned that our seats changed. William on the other hand was standing there grinning at his phone. “We’ve been upgraded!” he said. “That’s business class, look at the seat number.” No complaints here, you want to give me business class for free for a 13 hour flight? Yes, please.
We landed Sunday evening in Hong Kong. It was around 8:30pm when we left the airport and were immediately enveloped with thick, hot air outside. I’m used to high temperatures (as in over 100 degrees), but I’m used to dry heat and I’m also used to it cooling off at least a little in the evenings. This was hot, really hot, with full humidity.
On our way to dinner, we quickly realized you can’t walk the streets like you’re used to, and that Google Maps doesn’t work so well because of that. We got quite lost, did a few circles, some backtracks, probably gave some people a good laugh, and finally discovered the raised walkways that are used on half the streets. It makes perfect sense – there’s more room for people to walk and no one gets in the way of cars. We finally arrived at Mama San, very very late, but thankfully we were still seated. We ordered oysters, a spicy watermelon and salmon salad, and a stuffed salt crusted barramundi that was incredibly delicious.
We finally got to our Airbnb. It looked small, but nice in the photos when we booked it and I figured it was in a similar style building. Nope. The building was super old and sketchy and the last place I would have picked to stay. But, once you find the unmarked door on the 5th floor behind a gate, it opens up to three more units that are quite nice. Definitely a very hidden gem. Expect for the bed. Holy cow. Uncomfortable. I’m undecided if the floor or the bed are harder.
Monday was a new day, a very hot day, but one with no luggage to carry. We went to Grassroots Pantry for breakfast. One of the most adorable places I’ve ever been in. The large round windows were just perfect. The food was also wonderful. We felt right at home with the menu filled with gluten free and dairy free food. All healthy and natural.
The subway in Hong Kong is super clean and efficient, plus everyone moves quickly (one of my biggest pet peeves in SF). The most fascinating thing is that the subway doesn’t have divided cars, it’s just one very long open train with those accordion dividers at the end of each section. It was so weird to look left and right and just see it continuing on and on.
My one request for the trip was to find good tea. If you haven’t already gathered from my previous posts, I’m a little obsessed with tea. After some online research, William found a place that he thought would be perfect for me. He was right. It took an hour, with 4 different subways to get there, but it was worth it. It started pouring rain just as we were arriving, but we got to sit and drink tea while waiting for the storm to pass. Perfect timing.
Yú Teahouse was tiny, but homey inside. We were the only ones there so it was a very intimate setting. Our host gave us a few samples to try and we selected two different teas to drink. She explained the teas to us, how they got their names, and then set up two trays complete with our own teapot, hot water, strainer and even a little bonsai.
They specialize in Pu-erh (pu-air) – a type of fermented tea, one that I’ve never really liked. It always had too much of a barnyard taste for me. But, she introduced me to one called Red Mandarin Pu-erh that I totally fell in love with. It’s stored in a dried out mandarin orange to help infuse it with flavor. She also recommended breaking off a piece of its “container” and putting that in with the tea for additional flavor. So good. We bought some.
We had planned to go to lunch next, but had so much tea we didn’t feel the need before dinner. Instead we went in search of Happy Cow, a coconut based ice cream shop. Ice cream instead of lunch is the smart thing to do right? We found it nestled in a small attraction center complete with a giant ferris wheel, which we definitely went on since it was only $2/person. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t thrilled with most of the flavors. We ended up with Chai, Ginger, and Black Sesame, which were all pretty good. We had to eat fast since it was melting before our eyes in the heat.
After gorging on ice cream and riding the ferris wheel, we slowly made our way over to our dinner location in another part of the city. Ho Lee Fuk. Clever. Apparently it also means “good fortune for your mouth”. We got there right when they opened since they’re known for long lines and don’t take reservations. We timed it just right and got a seat right away. Perfect. We both felt like we were in a trendy NYC restaurant.
We found ourselves back at Grassroots Pantry for breakfast again. We honestly didn’t know where else to safely eat and had enjoyed our last breakfast so much we wanted to try more of their menu. William had Mexican baked eggs and I ordered a more traditional kelp and mung bean noodle soup. I thought it was light and delicious and the perfect breakfast to start the day.
We wandered around the city more to take in the sites and culture. Our first stop was to get boba. It’s not as popular there as I would have expected, but we found two places to try. The first was Flamingo Bloom, which looked adorable and very instagramable, but wasn’t that great.
Street art fascinates me and I love seeing it in the different cities we travel to. It always takes on a different style of it’s own in each location. I think it gives a city so much more character and shows a unique expression that is more raw and interesting.
We grabbed a quick meal of sashimi for lunch from an upscale market we came across. It was simple, easy and delicious. We went up to a roof deck on one of the malls and ate there.
While my thing is tea, William’s is chocolate. He managed to find one of the few and definitely the smallest bean to bar chocolate factory in Hong Kong, Hakawa Chocolate. It was a small corner shop on the end of a building. I was blown away that they could actually make chocolate in such a small place, and really good chocolate at that. We bought a few bars and got iced chocolate drinks. I think that might be my new favorite chocolate drink. An iced granizado I had in Colombia is definitely giving it strong competition, but it was perfect.
As we were walking back, we went through one of many outdoor street markets. They had produce that you would see in a normal farmer’s market, but then there were stalls of meat that were just hanging there out in the open. No packaging, no cooler, nothing. Just hanging meat. How is that an ok thing? It was HOT outside, that can’t be ok.
Continuing our food tour we found ourselves at the second boba place – TenRen. Ironically there’s also a TenRen in SF’s Chinatown, but they focus more on traditional tea. This one was focused on boba, and it was much better than the last place we went to.
Sometimes it’s nice to not have any specific plans. We spent a lot of our time just wandering through the streets. It was fun to see the culture and discover random alleys and shops that way.
We had some time before dinner so we went to Fishsteria for their oyster happy hour, because why not when you’re on vacation?
We splurged on a dinner at Mott 32. It was fancy and unique and absolutely delicious. We started with a shredded Peking duck salad, which was honestly my favorite part of the meal. Not something I would expect to say. That was followed by chicken and peppers and fried rice. We finished it off with a lobster dumpling that we discovered was also gluten free. This is going to sound crazy, but you want to know the best part? The bathroom. Yep, it was the coolest bathroom I’ve ever been in. The stalls circled around a central wash station and the actual toilets were designed to look old fashioned with a giant lever in the top to flush it. I’m not doing this justice. I promise you it was really cool.
We ended our night by going to the Temple Street Market. It was smaller than I had expected, but it was still fun to see. Lots of chotskies and knock-off goods. On our way back though, we walked past a ceramics store. Nothing fancy, but lots of good everyday items. We were able to use up our HK currency to get a small teapot, 4 sets of chopsticks, 6 soup spoons, and 3 tea mugs – all for about $13. Score.
Our flight was delayed, which ended up being a blessing since we were able to go back to Grassroots Pantry one last time rather than skipping breakfast. I tried their lemon chia seed pancakes that I’d been eyeing the past two days and they did not disappoint.
We didn’t get upgraded on our flight back, so I finally got to see how I did with a long distance flight in economy. You know what? I did great. I realized that I do good on either really short flights or long flights. The in-between ones that are 4-6 hours long, especially red eyes are terrible for me. I stress out so much about trying to sleep that I don’t actually sleep at all. The long ones I can relax and read or watch a movie and sleep whenever I feel like it. And I did, I slept, for quite a while too.