The Backpacking Freelancer - Part X

30 June 2011 Comments
sleeping cats
Are the entrance fees and commute costs making you want to stay in the hostel or guesthouse all day? Don't let them! As the famous Hallmark tagline goes, sometimes the best things in life are free.

A visit to Hong Kong Disneyland, Ocean Park and the Peak may cost some money indeed. Luckily, there are quite a number of fun things to do in HK that don't require monetary payment at all. The only investment required on your part would be good walking shoes.

Fun Things to Do in HK for FREE
  • Go malling. The airport is the best place to start (or end) your HK vacation. Some stalls are open during the wee hours of the night, but you'll probably enjoy your window shopping spree during normal work hours. This privilege is absolutely free for all passengers (if you don’t mind lugging your bags with you). You might need to present your boarding pass or passport for purchases at the Duty Free shop.

  • Witness the Symphony of Lights. Travel agencies will charge you big bucks for this event, but the display is actually free for all. Just make sure you hover around Victoria Harbor or the Avenue of the Stars from 8:00 p.m. The Avenue of the Stars is a leisurely stroll from Tsim Sha Tsui MTR Stations, and there are signs to guide you.

  • Stroll the Avenue of the Stars. The path where names of the big stars of Asia are immortalized may resemble Hollywood, yet the atmosphere at the boulevard is truly HK. There are many fixtures along the avenue that give wonderful photo opportunities for tourists: the line of red stars, a statue of Bruce Lee and a view of passing fishing boats and ships amidst Hong Kong's skyscrapers.

  • Pass time away in Kowloon Park. The huge grounds have plenty of seats for the weary traveler as well as a myriad of sights for the enthusiastic photographer. The time that you spend in Kowloon Park is in itself an educational tour. You can do yoga here, visit the macaw aviary, or mingle with calligraphers and artists. The park opens at 5:00 a.m. It's a fantastic place to start your mornings at Tsim Sha Tsui.

  • Check out the night market. The sight of merchandise laid out on the street, and the streets blocked to make way for tents is quite fascinating for many Westerners. To Cebuanos, the night market is reminiscent of the "tabo sa banay" where you get to haggle with the sellers. It's not mandatory that you buy something there. You will probably find better priced merchandise of similar quality at Gaisano.

Your Pocket Money

So, how much pocket money should you bring to Hong Kong? The amount really depends on you. Variables such as your eating preferences, type of accommodations and planned activities will affect the figures. Granting that you remain a fun-loving but frugal freelancer in a 3D/2N vacation, the following budget should work for you:
  • Round-Trip Airfare: 5,000 - 9,000 PHP  (or less, depending on seat sale promos)
  • Philippine Travel Tax: 1,620 PHP
  • International Terminal Fee: 550 PHP  (if departing from Manila, add P200 more)
  • Octopus Card: 150 HKD
  • Guesthouse: 900 HKD at 450 HKD/night
  • Disneyland: 350 HKD (including all rides)
  • Ocean Park: 250 HKD (including most rides)
  • Peak Tram + Madame Tussauds: 190 HKD
  • Ngong Ping: 115 HKD
  • Food: 900 HKD at 300 HKD/day

Conversion: 1 HKD = 6 PHP*

The Backpacking Freelancer - Part IX

29 June 2011 Comments
This post is all about itinerary planning. What sites in HK are worth your while? How do you get there and how much do entrance fees cost?

kitties playing
After arranging your flight and your accommodations in Hong Kong, you're all set to plan your "trip" -- and by "trip" I mean the things that you actually want to do when you arrive at Hong Kong International Airport. 

I'm going to assume that you'll be staying at Golden Crown Guesthouse or any of top-rated HK hostels and guesthouses by Trip Advisor. All of them are in Tsim Sha Tsui, which is the best location to be for sightseeing. So here goes:

12 Fun Things to Do in Hong Kong
  • Buy an Octopus card. The card is equivalent to Singapore's EZ Link card. You can debit your bus and MTR fare (except the Airport Express) from the Octopus card at discount rates. You can also use the card to pay for your purchases at Watson's, Circle K, 7-11, McDonald's and many other establishments. Cost: 150 HKD.

  • Stay at a place that is cheap, clean and accessible. What makes lodging houses in Tsim Sha Tsui appealing is that you can reach them at any hour of the day or night. To reach Golden Crown Guesthouse for instance, just take Bus A21 (day time) or N21 (midnight to 5:00 a.m.). Ask the driver to drop you off at the Tsim Sha Tsui MTR (across Kowloon Park) on Nathan Road, and you will find yourself just a few steps away from the guesthouse. Cost: 23 HKD.

  • Shop at Citygate Outlet Mall. The mall is a commanding structure that is home to at least 80 famous international brands. Why am I recommending this seemingly high-class stopover for backpackers? It’s a prime location and it makes a nice sidetrip to your visit to Ngong Ping or Disneyland. To reach Citygate from Tsim Sha Tsui, take the Tsuen Wan line to Lai King and then head for Tung Chung aboard the Tung Chung line. Cost: 18 HKD.

The Backpacking Freelancer - Part VIII

28 June 2011 Comments
cat with crown of flowersGolden Crown is housed on the same building as Yiufai. Did you find it weird that I opted for number 3 instead of number 2? It's not such a mystery really when you consider the websites of these top-rated but cheap accommodations in Hong Kong.

I was more impressed with the Golden Crown Guesthouse website. Content is indeed king there. The site is packed with comprehensive and useful information on not only the guesthouse itself but on nearby attractions as well.

The only inquiry you will ever want to make is whether the rooms are available and if you can get them at standard rates. You see, the guesthouse adjusts its rates during peak season too. Rooms are at least 100 HKD higher whenever there are expos and exhibits held in Hong Kong.  

My favorite part of the website is the user-friendly and interactive reservations form. Unlike other hostels and guesthouses which leave you hanging about the status of your request, Golden Crown Guesthouse gives very prompt feedback and updates. Only the first page of bookings is displayed. You will have to log into the site to view the request details, check if the payment has been reflected and print the confirmation page.

The Backpacking Freelancer - Part VII

27 June 2011 Comments
kitten looking outYesterday's blog post directed the limelight on Trip Advisor recommended accommodations in Hong Kong. Should you trust the positive feedback ratings and shining reviews?

The final decision is entirely up to you, but it is wise to sift through the pile of testimonials and weigh all positive and negative aspects carefully. 

How do you make sense of them? You might want to put yourself in the shoes of the persons writing the review. In addition, you must also consider the posting guidelines set by Trip Advisor. The ideal review sums up the guest's overall experience in the hotel, hostel or guesthouse. The rating is based on factors such as level of service, cleanliness, location, sleep quality, room and pricing.

I tend to read the average and negative points first to see how tolerable they are. I have jotted down a few notes below. See if yours match mine:

  • Hello Inn - 44 reviews, 100 percent positive feedback

    Clean and artsy rooms (all with a private bathroom), and a nice owner seem to be the place's main selling proposition. All reviewers said they would recommend Hello Inn in a heart beat and "definitely return." The only detail that will probably merit some second thoughts is that Hello Inn is located in Mirador Mansion, which is just slightly better than the seedy Chungking Mansion. Additionally, some backpackers may not like the deposit and refund policy.

    Rate/night: 350-380 HKD (single), 400-450 HKD (double)
    Deposit: full amount for stays of less than 3 days
    Refunds: 10 percent withheld as service charge, 7 days' notice required


    - E-mail for room availability.
    - Send the deposit via PayPal.
    - Receive a confirmed booking number from the staff.

The Backpacking Freelancer - Part VI

26 June 2011 Comments
bed and breakfast
Tons of resources have been created for first-time travelers to Hong Kong. While lonely planet is a favorite among backpackers, nothing beats the information you can cull from Trip Advisor. There you can read first-hand reviews, opinions and recommendations.

The screening process has its loopholes, but for the most part, the team is doing its best to ensure that bogus reviews and paid posts are eliminated from the network and erring parties penalized. The purpose of today's blog post is to find inexpensive hotel alternatives for the frugal backpacker.

In Trip Advisor's "Bed and Breakfast/Inn" category, the following specialty lodgings (your cheap hotel alternatives) emerged as the top five choices. Please note that those with fewer than 20 reviews have been omitted from the list for you to get a better pulse of the general impression of guests:

  • Hello Inn - 44 reviews, 100 percent positive feedback
  • Yiufai Guesthouse - 45 reviews, 91 percent positive feedback
  • Golden Crown Guesthouse - 45 reviews, 88 percent positive feedback
  • Star Guest House - 20 reviews, 84 percent positive feedback
  • Booth Lodge - 23 reviews, 81 percent positive feedback

Based on the reviews, have you found a favorite?*

The Backpacking Freelancer - Part V

25 June 2011 Comments
bed for a night or two
After making flight reservations and paying for the online flight booking, the next logical step is to go search for a place to stay.

A lot of travel agencies hawk a range of budget hotels and luxury accommodations bundled with free city tours for a "fair" price.  The risk though is hard to ignore: Whether you push through with the trip or not, the money you spend will not be refunded.

The frugal freelancer has two alternatives to finding an economical bed in Hong Kong:  

* If enjoying the creature comforts of a hotel is your preference, book your stay via Asia Travel.

* If true-blue backpacking is your thing, then go find a guesthouse or a hostel. 

The Backpacking Freelancer - Part IV

24 June 2011 Comments
Milo is ready to go backpacking. Are you? Then you need a plane ticket -- fast!

The previous blog post busted the common misconception that you need a credit card to pay for your online flight booking.

cat with backpack
photo credit: pluckytree
A favorite option of many freelancers is the over-the-counter payment method.

Receiving payment centers and banks do not charge any extra fees that travel agencies impose.

You only need to fill out the deposit slip and remit the final funds (airline taxes and fees + advertised fare) before the due date. Over-the-counter payments are due within the banking hours of the same day that you made the flight reservation.

BDO Payment Form for Cebu Pacific Flights

For those of you who detest filling out forms, keep in mind that you will have to fill out at least one at the bank: the deposit slip

The Backpacking Freelancer - Part III

23 June 2011 Comments
Do you really need a credit card to pay for flights you can book online? The credit card is a luxury for the documented, regular employees. For freelancers who have been working from home most of their lives, know that there is a quick workaround to the requirement.

Paying for Your Airphil Express Online Flight Booking

credit cards
photo credit: Petr Kratochvil
Credit card payment is the only option. A third party can pay by credit card on your behalf. You must be able to present the card itself used during the transaction at the airport. 

In lieu of the actual credit card,  you may show to the airline staff a photocopy of the card, a copy of the credit card holder's valid ID, and a signed letter confirming and authorizing the transaction.

The authorization letter can read:

The Backpacking Freelancer - Part II

22 June 2011 Comments
A common dilemma for frugal backpackers is choosing the better budget carrier to fly to Hong Kong. Which airline is cheaper: Cebu Pacific or Airphil Express? There aren't any fixed answers - especially when both are holding seat sales. Given the same promo fare from both carriers, your best bet would be to consider other factors when booking your flight.

Taxes and Fees on Top of the Advertised Fare

photo credit: Vera Kratochvil
There is bound to be a difference in the final fare after taxes and miscellaneous charges have been factored in.

For obvious marketing reasons, airlines do not want to broadcast the net amount because 4-digit figures can turn away a lot of potential customers.

An P888 deal looks more promising than P1,499, right? You do not even seem to mind the sneaky "excluding taxes" addendum.

These miscellaneous fees can inflate your final fare dramatically. Furthermore, they tend to fluctuate, so you might want to do a mock booking on both websites to avoid nasty surprises.

The Backpacking Freelancer - Part I

21 June 2011 Comments
The World Wide Web is making things easier for everyone to undertake do-it-yourself (DIY) projects and transactions.  It is not cost-effective to drive to the travel agency, shell out at least P200 to pay for the agent's services, and then burn more fuel on your drive back home. The old method is so passe. It needs a shave. 

do it yourself photoIf you have managed to land a freelancing gig by yourself, there is no doubt that you can wing something even much simpler: booking your own flight. Try Hong Kong for starters. The buzzling island is a favorite destination for many Southeast Asians. Airfares can get cheap if you know when to sniff a bargain and act on it pronto.You won't need a visa so long as your vacation does not exceed 30 days.

From Cebu to Hong Kong: Sites and Tips for the Bargain Hunter

Rather than buying your ticket at the airport counter or asking your travel agent to check the flight schedules for you, you need not leave your seat. Do your research, visit these sites and make a purchase if you see what you like:

Freelancing on the Go

20 June 2011 Comments
Regular writing differs from freelance writing in a variety of ways: your level of commitment to an employer, your ownership of copyrights  and your pay scale.

One aspect that is today's highlight is the degree of freedom that you enjoy. A regular stint could nail you to your desk from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. With freelancing, time is yours for managing. You can even wing the activity while you go on vacation.

The key is to make your timeout as productive as possible. It's true that you might not be making any money during the time that you are away. However, you are not allowing your hiatus to dull your skills either.

Here are some writing activities that backpacking freelancers and writing aficionados can take on:

  • Write a travelogue. Use vivid descriptions to convey and preserve your impression of the place.
  • Take down notes. You can use these to craft a travel guide.
  • Review your guesthouse or hostel. Trip Advisor welcomes this type of content.
  • Stock up on blog posts. Pre-written entries will afford you the luxury to blog in absentia.
  • Come up with lists. The information makes an excellent backbone for online articles.*
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