My friends and I will be in Japan in mid May and are thinking of extending the trip for an extra 5-7 days and going to either Hong Kong, Thailand, or both. Is 3 or 4 days enough time for each place or would you suggest spending the entire week in only one location and if so which one? For those that have been to either location, any suggestions on places to go and things to see in Hong Kong and Thailand?
Can you cram Hong Kong and Thailand into 3-4 days each? Yes, but I wouldn't recommend it. It would be like cramming Seattle and all of California into 3-4 days each. I think you would get a good taste for Hong Kong in 3-4 days, but Thailand is so varied, that there is no way 3-4 days there could do it justice.
That being said, I would spend the full week in Thailand - Southern Thailand specifically. Take 1-2 days in Bangkok - Get acclimated to Thailand (It's a long flight and you're going from first to second world country). Be wary of tuk-tuk drivers and people on the street telling you attractions are closed (they're not). See the palace grounds and a few temples. There is a water ferry you can buy a day pass for that will take you to quite a few. After Bangkok, head South to Krabi and get a transfer to Railay (You'll take a shuttle, then a long tail boat). Railay is a small beach that is accessible only by boat and is also known for its amazing rock climbing. You can rent a longtail boat that will take you freestyle solo climbing, where you climb sans harness and when you fall or run out of energy, you jump into the water. If climbing isn't your thing, the beach is amazing, or you can head straightaway to Koh Phi Phi from Krabi. Koh Phi Phi is the island that the movie "The Beach" was filmed with Leonardo Di Caprio. It also has a great night scene, cheap food, great Thai massages and some of the best SCUBA Diving. Check out Blue View Divers. It is run by a Brit, Tom Bobs, who is absolutely hilarious. He and Matt Haliburton (an Aussie) have worked together for the past few seasons and will certainly show you some amazing sea life - think Lionfish, Turtles and Sharks, Oh My! They are a smaller dive shop and dive off a long tail boat, which allows them to get a little closer to the islands than some of the dive shops with bigger boats, it also means a smaller group to dive with, which means more attention from the dive masters. Although if you prefer a bigger boat, I recommend Hippo Divers - Both shops will make sure you have a great time, but also make sure your dives are safe. Koh Phi Phi has a price agreement amongst the dive shops, so you'll get the same price no matter what company you choose. If you haven't SCUBA dived before, no worries, they can all get you squared away with an initial experience, which would count toward your certification... or you can do your classwork in LA and get a referral for your certification dives and do those in Thailand. Once back on the island, visit Aroyd@PP Island for some great Thai food! The owner just split from another restaurant, who raised their prices and started cutting corners and he didn't agree with it, so he took the chef and opened his own place. Also, Pum Thai Restaurant & Cooking School is awesome! The staff is quite friendly and if you want to learn how to cook a little Thai food, I recommend their classes. At night, Banana Bar, Koh Phi Phi is a great place. It's tucked away and on a roof, so the view is awesome at sunset. Koh Phi Phi is a small enough island that if you got really ambitious you could walk across it in a day, but it is big enough that you can find peace and quiet. That being said, a couple of the bars have been voted top ten bars by Lonely Planet, so the nightlife definitely gets going. The best fire show on the island is at Carlito's Bar and Slinky Bar is the place to be when all the other bars shut down. Very few Americans visit Koh Phi Phi (although the past couple years I have seen more), so if you're looking to make some international friends, it's a good place to do it. I now have people who will show me around Israel, Russia, Singapore, Japan, Australia, Ireland, England, Spain and South Africa that I met on Koh Phi Phi.
Hopefully this helps! Let me know if you have any other questions.
Mentioned in this answer:
Hong Kong and Thailand are two of my favorite places ever! I used to spend a lot of time in Hong Kong because of family and work, and with that said, I think you can get away with spending a week there, or even just a couple days. It's a very small city and even just a weekend is enough to soak everything in.
When I used to go to Hong Kong, friends who were studying or working in Japan, Taiwan, and other nearby countries would take advantage of the fact that they had a tour guide there (me!) and fly in for a weekend to visit and we'd have the most amazing time. Even though I've been there so many times, I don't have any specific favorite restaurants or businesses to recommend. It's really easy to start businesses there, and at the same time, it's also really easy to close a business, so things change so rapidly that I discover new things every time I'm there.
My favorite thing to do in Hong Kong is just to wander. Nathan Road is one of the main streets that go through Hong Kong. It's full of stores and restaurants for miles and always bustling full of people. It's the heart of the city and great for people watching and window shopping. For a great park, I love Kowloon Park. It's huge and very urban complete with a pretty awesome pool -- Kowloon Park Swimming Pool.
For street markets, in the early morning, you can stop by the Goldfish Market and all you'll see are goldfish. Then go to Fa Yuen Street Market 花園街街市 to check out the produce market and pick up some fruit. If durian and jackfruit are in season, they'll cut it up for you and put it in a to-go container. If they have mangosteen, definitely pick up a bag of that. During the day, you can pick up some trinkets, souvenirs, and jewelry at the Jade Market. At night you can wander the Ladies' Market. It's just called the Ladies' Market, but it's just a general flea market on steroids. Then there's Temple Street Night Market close by to it that us Hong Kong folks jokingly call "Men's Market". It's like the Ladies' Market, interjected with a lot of sex toys. It's just kind of there; it's not seedy or anything. I used to walk by it all the time when I was a little kid. It's worth a couple laughs with your friends.
At some point, you can wander over to Tsim Sha Tsui and just walk around the Avenue of Stars 星光大道. Lots of cool things to see there. And from there, take a ferry ride across Victoria Harbour, just because :) The other side is full of fancier hotels and is quieter. There are some nice buffets in the hotels over there, but I mainly just take the ferry for the sake of taking the ferry to see the water. For another gorgeous view of Hong Kong, take a trip up to Victoria Peak.
If you're staying for more than just a couple of days, and you like gambling, or just want to see something new outside of Hong Kong, make your way to Macau. It's full of casinos. Be warned, they're VERY smoky and kind of seedy, so it's not really my thing. You can get good Portuguese food there and Portuguese egg tarts, but you can also get that in Hong Kong.
Thailand, on the other hand, I've gone to for two weeks at a time and it still doesn't feel like enough! Definitely not a 3-4 day thing, not even a one week thing; you're going to need at least two weeks, and if you can make the time for it, it's totally worth it.
I would fly into either Chiang Mai if you want to experience greenery, or Bangkok, if you want to experience cities, beaches, and islands. If you've never been to Thailand, I would go to Bangkok first. You only need a day to see Bangkok. It's a city. But use Bangkok as your central place for seeing other things. Head north to see Ayutthaya, southwest to see Cha-Am, southeast to see Pattaya, and it's super cheap to fly around Thailand, too. So if you want to head to the islands of Koh Samui and Koh Phangan, just fly down to Surat Thani from the Bangkok Airport and ferry over to them.
I'm super jealous of your trip! Let me know once you decide where you're going! Then I can give you more specific recommendations if you decide to head to Thailand :)
Mentioned in this answer:
I agree with Cameron S. Hong Kong in 3-4 days just barely enough, Thailand, far too ambitious in that time frame. Depending on what you like to do ( outdoor v food v culture etc etc ) I would highly recommend HKG and KowloonKowloon. It's compact, it's not overly expensive. the food is amazing. And if you get bored there a quick day trip across to Macau is always fun, even of you are not a gambler, it's worth the trip anyway. Easy ferry ride. Full of history in the old part of town. Whilst Bangkok is one of my favourite cities in the world, with all the political riots going on I expect it will be mayhem, not to mention chaos and the way things are shaping up, it's going to to get uglier than it already is. Go to the Hong Kong Tourism site, it's one of the best in the world and will fill you up with things to do for 3-4 days. Good luck.
Mentioned in this answer:
I'll give you some "do's and don'ts" if you visit Hong Kong in a limited time.
Don't go see the Big Buddha. Very commercial and not interesting
Don't go see Hong Kong disneyland. Any other disneyland in the world is bigger and better.
Do check out a horse race at Happy Valley Racecourse if horse racing sounds interesting, you like to bet, you want to see large crowds of Hong Kongers yelling, and want to eat Hong Kong food simultaneously.
Do take a ferry ride across Victoria Harbour when the sun goes down. You get a great view of the Hong Kong skyline all lit up.
Do hit up Lan Kwai Fong if you like to party it up. There are many cool clubs and pubs in that area. If you're feeling cheap you can even go to the 7-11 nearby to get cheap alc.
Mentioned in this answer:
Hi Brett! If you have time to get off of Hong Kong, I'd visit Macau, but as someone hinted at above, the casinos are not the most fun part of the island. Instead, check out the area around the Macau Fisherman's Wharf neighborhood, and centrl "old Macau", which is the old port area of Macau, and can be very charming.
Pick up a Portuguese egg tart at Lord Stow's Bakery and some super fresh seafood from the markets -- absolutely delicious. And the Ruins of St. Paul's Church are very interesting because it's become a design-friendly area for young people, so you can find a lot of boutique shops with handmade goods, as well as dozens of interesting food stalls to tide you over 'til you get back to Hong Kong.
You can grab the ferry at the airport, too.
Mentioned in this answer:
I am actually in BKK now and it's more a pain than anything else. I am at Conrad in Wireless Rd so a bit away from the protestors. But listen to the government warnings, I think my earlier predictions about this getting uglier is coming to fruition due the election this week