A day trip to the beach in Stanley, Hong Kong

Hong Kong is one of my favorite cities in the world. Through circumstance and choice, I usually end up visiting at the end of November. I love Hong Kong in November and part of the reason is that, for me, the weather is perfect around that time – with moderate daytime temperatures (around 65 -70 degrees Fahrenheit this trip) and generally sunny skies. I love walking around in shorts, without the oppressive heat, and seeing the Christmas decorations next to palm trees.

Whenever I visit Hong Kong, I always make grand plans to explore areas outside of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, such as Macau or its beaches. But, like clockwork, every time I visit I end up enjoying the city so much that I never leave its grips.

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Victoria Peak, Hong Kong

That all changed this last trip to Hong Kong, when I made it for a day trip to Stanley Beach after spending Thanksgiving in Palawan.

It started, like most great stories, on Grindr. I met an American also visiting from the U.S. alone, who was in Hong Kong for the first time. He wanted to explore the city and because my hotel was right by Victoria Peak, I mentioned that we should go up it. It had been a few years since I had visited, so I didn’t mind revisiting and taking in the city views. After taking in the view and walking around a bit, he mentioned wanting to go to Stanley’s Main Beach on the south-side of Hong Kong Island, and after Googling it and seeing pictures, I agreed.

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Stanley Main Beach, Hong Kong

We decided to order an Uber. It was hard finding a place for the driver to pick us up, and we walked around trying to find a hotel to call from. We had no luck though, so found a store with an address on the front, and put that location in a map. The Uber driver arrived in a gorgeous, new Mercedes Benz, spoke perfect English, and whisked us away on a roughly 20 minute and $15 drive to Stanley Beach.

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Stanley Bay

I was instantly struck by how calm and laid back the vibe was there. In fact, I couldn’t believe I was still in Hong Kong – it felt like the Gold Coast in Australia! Being that it was the end of November and not quite swimming weather, it was fairly empty, though definitely warm enough to tan (I didn’t bring a bathing suit, though, and was unsure of Hong Kong laws on nudity).

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There were a plethora of restaurants – from Italian to Thai to Pizza – and there was an amazing beach vibe. It’s definitely family-friendly, as there were a lot of kids with their parents and even a fun race going on, where participants were racing in wheelbarrows.

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The beach is fairly small, and I felt as though spending 2-3 hours there was plenty. However, if you like to shop, there is a great market there, with lots of clothes, art, and food that could make it worth a longer stay.

Stanley is worth checking out, particularly if you need to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.

Trip Review: El Nido, Palawan

If you’re lucky enough, one day you’ll visit the beautiful island of Palawan in the Philippines.

A sun-drenched, tropical paradise with amazingly clear, turquoise-colored ocean water, a tropical climate, and some of the most incredible rock formations anywhere, it’s no wonder that Palawan has been named the most beautiful island in the world.

Nestled in the north lies the town of El Nido, which serves as the gateway to island-hopping in the Bacuit Archipelago.

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I ended up on El Nido based on my friend’s suggestion. It began when I landed a $554.66 round-trip, direct flight on United from San Francisco to Hong Kong over Thanksgiving.  I reached out to a friend in Sydney who I hadn’t seen in a few years, asking if he was interested in meeting in the “middle,” and he was. Having already heard great things about Palawan, I suggested the island as an option, and he immediately began to rave about El Nido – a place I had never heard of.  I search for it on Google and could not believe how breathtaking it was, and I gave him the go-ahead to book.

Getting to El Nido is a bit of a challenge, as most airlines only fly to Palawan’s resort-filled Puerto Princessa, about a 4-hour drive south of El Nido. To fly from Hong Kong, I booked a round-trip ticket Manila using Chase Ultimate Rewards (I paid 12,872 in points and $79.60 in cash) and a purchased separate, round-trip ticket on a propeller plane from Manila direct to El Nido on Air Swift, an hour-long flight which cost around $220.  In all, I spent only $854.26 (and 12,872 Chase points) in airfare for the entire trip.

The flight, including my experience at Manila’s airport, one of my least favorite in the world, is covered in a separate blog post.  Suffice it to say, the journey to El Nido was not my favorite part of the trip.

Once I landed in El Nido, I found out quickly that I was in for an adventure. I probably should have known sooner, like when I asked my friend, who arrived a few days earlier, about getting a taxi from the airport and he laughed. But I decided I would rather be surprised, and after claiming my luggage asked where I could get a ride to my hotel.  I was pointed to a tuk-tuk, pictured below.

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Some people were smart enough to have reserved a tuk-tuk in advance, and it took around 15 minutes in the strong, Philippines sun to find driver, even though I was the first in line. I decided to share the ride with a new friend I had met while waiting, an American named Lana who was on the same flight.

The initial ride through El Nido was stunning. Admittedly, at first I was a little scared in the tuk-tuk, holding on for dear life, hoping I didn’t fly out and/or that the driver didn’t crash. But this fear was soon taken over by awe of the majestic cliffs towering over the town’s center.

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We dropped Lana off at her hostel, and I was excited to check out my hotel, The Resort Bayview Hotel, located at Marimegmeg Beach, about a 10-minute, 150 peso (~$3 USD) ride from El Nido town. My fiend had already checked us in, and knowing I had only a few precious hours to spend before sunset, I ran up to our room and was floored with the view from our front balcony.

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Amazing views were a constant theme in El Nido. Pretty much everywhere you go is awe-inspiring, and you absolutely feel like you’re in southeast Asia the entire time you’re there. El Nido reminded me a lot of Koh Phi Phi in Thailand, only the partying was subdued by President Duerte’s war on drugs in the country.

The first night I was there featured the best sunset we had for the 5 days I was there.

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I woke up the next morning the way I would wake up for the rest of my trip – to the sound of a rooster crowing. Although I’m not particularly a morning person, there’s something amazing about going to a place where your days are dictated by nature. El Nido was certainly one of these places.

My favorite spot to hang out during the day was a place called The Beach Bar on Marimegmeg beach, a short walk downhill from the Bayview Resort. WiFi was basically non-existent in my hotel and on most of the island, but, from around 9am until noon, I was able to get a decent signal at The Beach Bar. Also, it had a prime location on the beach, very decently priced cocktails ($2-$4) and fruit drinks ($2-$3), and the food was pretty good.  Oh, and the view was out of this world.

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When you go to El Nido, you are basically pressured into taking a tour of the surrounding island. There are 4 tours which are offered by basically all the companies there, and the tours are simply called A, B, C, and D. I decided to only do one tour while there – C, which I had heard was the best (and my friends there confirmed this at the end of the tour). The tours usually run from around 9am until 4pm, and visit islands, lagoons, and sites nearby.

El Nido is a small island, and Lana ended up being on my tour. She had met a Finnish couple, and we all spent the tour getting to know one another, which, in addition to the incredible views and experiences that day, was one of my favorite parts of the trip.

I can’t stress enough how beautiful the destinations we visited were, including the Matinloc Shrine, located on a beautiful beach which is pictured below.

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We spent the day snorkeling, swimming, sightseeing, and exploring. It was Thanksgiving Day, and while the meal (fish, pork, rice, fruit, and soda) was far from traditional, the view was worth it. (Below is the actual, unedited photo of my view during my Thanksgiving feast.)

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Maybe the only downside of Tour C was that it didn’t include any kayaking. Aside from that, I felt it was the perfect amount of time, and would recommend this tour to anyone visiting the island.

Staying near Marimegmeg Beach was a good choice. El Nido town, though stunningly beautiful in its own right and with more restaurants, better WiFi, and more people, doesn’t have the kind of beaches you long for on a tropical vacation. That said, I made sure to visit El Nido town a few times, including for a $6, hour-long body massage and its panoramic views.

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While an idyllic island, El Nido is not without its faults. As a remote worker, it was virtually impossible to get any work done because of the poor WiFi and cell service. If this trip wasn’t over Thanksgiving, I don’t know what I would have done. Also, the town’s infrastructure can barely handle the tourist population, even in low season, and power was shut down in the town and at our resort every day between 10am and 3pm.

I felt as though 5 days was the perfect amount of time, although my friend stayed for 9 days and did not want to leave.  The timing of the trip, end of November, seemed perfect as well, as there were not a ton of people and I was fortunate enough to get pretty amazing weather (aside from a typhoon that passed only 70 miles to the north).

Although currently off the beaten path, there is construction going on all over El Nido, so this island paradise may not remain unspoiled forever. If El Nido wasn’t on your list before, it’s absolutely worth checking out.