"I Love It When A Plan Comes Together!" -Hannibal
In this next segment of Stamped From A 2 Z, the holiday edition, I begin with a quote quote from Hannibal of The A-Team, "I love it when a plan comes together!". Referencing the joy when plans come together. We had what we considered a lot of British Air Avios points, (roughly 212,000), and hadn't been able to use them. Believe me, we tried, and it was quite frustrating. My wife had heard that there were various awards points services out there that can help with this seemingly impossible task of helping one utilize their travel points.
One such company was Juicy Miles, found online here. Our point of contact person was James, and we communicated our wishes through email. James was quite the professional, very knowledgeable, and very patient with us, as we had a myriad of questions. James informed us that since it was so late in the game, (most people book at least a year out), there were very few options. But, he did cause us to do a pardigm shift in our thinking. He could get us across the ocean to Japan, using Avios points, with one of British Airways partners, JAL. Once we're over there, we could take advantage of the reasonable prices to fly to the countries we wanted to see. So we decided to take James' advice, and we burned all, or mostly all of our points, flying JAL, business class, one-way to Japan. From New York Kennedy, one way, it was a 14 1/2 hour flight, well worth the points.
So you might be thinking, that's it? You just settled for a flight back to Japan, which is quite a lovely country, by the way, and we've already been there several times. Nope, that wasn't it. Initially, our plans were to just visit a couple of countries, Hong Kong and Singapore. But then, the thought occured to us that there may be individuals that would like to set a more ambitious agenda. Taking a page from our travels in 2003, where we were able to do 7 countries in 2 weeks. As we develop our travel programs, we want to pay special attention to the travelers that want a taste of each country, then move on. So, prior to booking, I said to my wife, "Given the time that I can take off, between Christmas and about the 8th of January, 2019, do you think that we could expand our itinerary to include South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, as well as Taipei?" She said that she believed that it could be done, so I said, (smart-aleck that I am), "Well, write me up a proposal, and I'll look at it." To my surprise, she did just that. While it was ambitious, I could see how it could be achieved. Here is the itinerary that we followed.
We booked primarily one-ways, with different airlines, some of which I'd never heard of, but apparently have very good ratings. So our flights were as follows: JAL (Japan Airlines business class) from New York Kennedy airport. Our departure flight was on Christmas day.
Stayed just one night at an AirBNB in Japan. Our host in Japan, a fellow named Osamu, was quite nice. He picked us up from the airport, made us breakfast the following morning, and transported us back to the airport, where we boarded a Jin Air flight to South Korea. From there we flew Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong. Then flew Scoot Air to Singapore, and coming back home flew with EVA Air, which had an almost 24 hour layover in Taipei, Taiwan. Whew! Ok, so let's take a deeper dive into each country that we visited.
After Japan, our first stop was Seoul, South Korea. This was 27 December. Let me tell you, it was cold! Like maybe 9 degrees cold, factoring in the wind chill. We stayed at the L7 Gangnam by LOTTE. It was a beautiful hotel, very stylish, quite chic, and relatively speaking, reasonably priced. We stayed 2 nights in Seoul, then we headed to Hong Kong on the 29th of December.
In Hong Kong we celebrated New Year's Eve at a small but wonderful jazz club with live music called Peel-Fresco. It couldn't have been more perfect. The club holds maybe 40-50 people, an intimate, up close and personal jazz experience. Sitting in the front row, you were probably no more than three feet from the stage.
On January 2nd, we flew to Singapore. We splurged this time around, and stayed at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Prior to our arrival, we made arrangements with the hotel to have a car pick us up from the airport. Our driver mentioned to us that we could see the whole island in about a day. Much like our experience a year prior at the Taj Land's End in India, once we arrived at the Mandarin Oriental we were shown to our room, and given a run-down of the particular amenities. The view from our room was magnificent. From it, we could see the boats in the marina, the Ferris wheel known as the Singapore Flyer, and the Marina Bay Sands Hotel, also known by some as the boat hotel.
Getting around Singapore was quite easy via public transportation. We opted for the Singapore Tourist Pass, which allowed unlimited rides on the bus and train systems.
Since we are fans of the books and movie by Kevin Kwan called "Crazy Rich Asians", we naturally wanted to see some of the sights that were described in the movie/books. One was the Raffles Hotel, where the main characters stayed. This is also the birth place of the famed drink known as the Singapore Sling.
We also went to a place known as the Newton Food Center, where Nick and Rachel from the movie went to eat. Here is a review that I found on Tripzilla, which outlines some of the favorite foods of locals and tourists. The Chilli Crab is not to be missed.
While in Singapore, we opted for an AirBNB Experience. We were hosted by a couple, Rose and Chris, at their home. The food, the camaraderie, the conversations were exceptional. We highly recommend this experience.
The last leg of our journey had an unanticipated bonus. We departed Singapore on the 6th of January. If you fly EVA Air from Singapore to JFK/New York, there is a layover of about 24 hours in Taipei, Taiwan. This will afford one to get a taste of yet one other country. Given the limited time here, we opted for the Hop-On Hop-Off bus. The next day we flew back to the states. While it was a whirlwind experience, we were able to successfully gain insight into these uniquely different cultures.
If you try to duplicate my itinerary, and have questions, please let me know, I will do my best to answer them directly.