How WE Traveled the World for Under $1,500

March 29, 2015-IMG_4631
koh nang yuan, thailand

in march, pork belly and i traveled the world for under $1,500. yes that means we only spent $1,467.56 cash on airfares, trains, and hotel for TWO people traveling to milan, venice, florence, rome, paris, prague, bangkok, koh samui, hong kong, taipei, beijing for three weeks. although we traveled on a budget, we still got to stay in suites and villas at hotels such as hilton and conrad which normally would cost around $600 to $800 a night.

thanks to credit cards miles and hotel points, we were able to do this. here’s a breakdown on how much cash and points we spent on everything:

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airfare paid by cash:
may 2014, i took advantage of an airline pricing glitch and booked my flight from new york to milan, prague to bangkok for only total of $415.30. these airline system error fares happen more often than you might think. i also booked a round trip tickets from new york to mumbai, india last xmas for only $300 for sept 2015. tickets to the philippines were also available for under $200. i recently booked round trip tickets from LA to jakarta, indonesia for $386 for feb 2016; we are also planning to visit bali and vietnam.

finding out about these deals def requires some hard work. i pretty much check websites such as http://www.theflightdeal.com/ http://www.flyertalk.com/ http://thepointsguy.com/ daily and have them on notifications so i can snatch these deal right away. deals like these usually last a few hours if not a few mins. if you are not 100% sure if you can go or not, book them anyways, you can always cancel within 24 hours with no penalties.

other flight tickets we paid by cash on this trip were: rome to paris, paris to prague, and bangkok to koh samui. there are a lot of low cost carriers in europe. although they are not the safest flights, you can fly to most places in europe for as low as $30. when we landed in germany for a transfer to prague, another german wing flight crashed on the way to barcelona. flights to koh samui are pretty expensive for the short flights, but they serve you a full meal even on an one hour flight to koh samui. we found booking through Bangkok Airways to be the cheapest.

airfare paid by points:
pork belly booked all his flights using his united and chase points. from boston to milan he used 30k united miles. from prague to bangkok, he used his 31k chase points by booking from the chase website directly. it was a lot cheaper in points than booking through the airline website. chase points to united has a 1:1 points to miles transfer. it wouldve cost him 55K miles if he booked through united website. altho he saved 20k points by booking through chase, the flight from prague to bangkok was an adventure on its own. he had to fly Ukraine International Airlines over russia with a transfer in ukraine. after Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 got shot down killing all passengers near Ukraine–Russia border, flying that route seems pretty scary.

we both booked our flights from koh samui -> hong kong -> taipei -> beijing -> boston using 52K united miles each person. we set hong kong as a layover and beijing as stopover points. the biggest advantage of booking flights using miles are stopovers. a stopover allows you to stay in a connection city for more than 24 hours for no additional points. in this case, beijing was my stopover from thailand to boston, i stayed in beijng for one week with no additional costs. we stayed in hong kong for a 23 hour layover. hong kong is one of my least favorite places in this world, but pork belly had never been there prior to this trip so i figured 23 hours were more than enough to stop by and eat pork belly’s favorite food, dim sum. there are plenty of websites out there to teach you about how to take advantage of stopovers so i wont go into details here.

how to get points and miles:
the fastest way to get a lot of points is to sign up for credit cards. credit cards like the chase sapphire preferred card which i used gives you 50k points signup bonus. that’s almost a round trip to anywhere in the world. you can also earn double/triple points/miles when you spend on travel and restaurants. pork belly travels a lot for business trips; it’s even easier for him to earn miles when he puts airfare and hotels on the card. my card not only help me earn miles but also covers car rental insurance and has no foreign transaction fees. there are many cards out there, you can read more on http://thepointsguy.com/

trains:
within italy, we took high speed trains from city to city. trains are relatively cheap in italy; it costs as low as $9 from milan to venice if you book in advance. venice to florence was the most expensive trip, but luckily it was a saturday! italian trains have a 2 for 1 saturday promotion, so for parties of 2 traveling on a saturday, you only pay for the price of one ticket instead of two. yay!

i used both http://www.trenitalia.com/ and http://www.italiarail.com/ to book my train tickets.
http://www.trenitalia.com/ is the official italy train tickets website. some people found it hard to use because you need to put your destination names in italian. http://www.italiarail.com/ is an english website to help you purchase italian train tickets. you can just search by english names, but they do charge a fee. however, the fees can be refunded if you send an email to seat61@italiarail.com along with your tickets confirmations and just ask for refunds. honestly, despite of the fees, i found the offical website trenitalia.com is so much easier to use than italiarail.com.

you dont need to print out your tickets or validate express train tickets since they already have a specific date and time. just show the conductors your PNR number when they check your tickets on the trains. these high speed express trains were pretty comfortable and empty. some trains even have wifi for the cost of 1 cent. there is luggage storage at all trains stations in italy. you can just leave your luggage there and go on with your day. i found it to be a lot more convenient and time saving than having to go to your hotel and drop off your luggage.

hotels:
as you can see in my spreadsheet, we stayed at all hilton hotels except for hong kong and taipei. pork belly has a lot of hilton points from his business trips. pork belly also has a hilton credit card which automatically gives you a gold member status. as a gold member, not only do you earn points a lot faster, you also get free upgrades whenever there are rooms available. we got upgraded to suites (sells for $700 per night) or better rooms on the executive floor almost every night in europe. you also receive free breakfast for two people and free access to lounges on the executive floor. the executive lounges offers free drinks and food throughout the day, even wine, beer, and other alcoholic beverages during happy hours. if we really wanted to be cheap, we couldve just survived on the free food and drinks that hilton offers. a lot money saved.

a tip: when you book hotels with points, check the website every now and then after you make the reservation because the amount of points do go up and down sometimes. you can cancel and modify your reservation up to 24 hours before the reservation without any penalties. i was able to re-book some of my rooms for a lot less points.
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lounging at Hilton Molino Stucky Venice

best part about getting the hilton credit card? you get two free weekend nights of stay in ANY HOTELS UNDER THE HILTON BRAND and one free night every year after the first year. we originally got the card because we were planning to go to bora bora this year. a night in bora bora can cost around $700-$1,000. we planned to use our two nights free stay there. things dont often turn out how you plan; we couldnt go to bora bora this year. averaging $600 a night, conrad koh samui and conrad bali are the other two most expensive rooms under the hilton brand, so we decided to go to koh samui and use the two free nights we received when we were in thailand.

conrad koh samui, indeed, was def one of the most beautiful resort ive ever stayed. positioned on a secluded hill on the southwest tip of the island, the conrad koh samui comprises a collection of one-bedroom luxury villas. each villa has its own private infinity pool facing the turquoise ocean. it’s truly a destination on its own. one day if i have a lot more money to blow, i would return here in a heartbeat.
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when i was in college, i used to go back to beijing during summer vacations for four months each year. my chinese visa only allows me stay in china for 3 months at a time, so i had to get out of the country and re-enter after 3 months during my four months stay. hong kong def is NOT my favorite place to visit, but it’s the closest, cheapest way to get out of china thanks to my aunt that used to live in hong kong, i could stay at her place whenever i was in town. hong kong hotels are notoriously expensive and small. my aunt moved away so we had to find a hotel this time. the hilton hong kong wouldve cost us TOO many points. since we were just there for a transfer and with no experience of booking hotels in hong kong; i just booked a cheap hotel on expedia. the hotel was located in central which was super convenient, but the size of the room was the size of my bed at home. i am claustrophobic and the humidity just made it a lot worse. i totally regret it!

there are no hilton hotels in taipei so we couldnt use our points in taipei either. i found a decent local hotel conveniently located to ningxia night market which is the best night market in taipei for food. the hotel was very clean and the staff was super nice. i accidentally left my camera memory card and reader in the room after we checked out without knowing; they even notified me via email and i was able to get it back.

in the end, we only paid $1,467.56 in total for all of our airfare, trains, and hotels. just do some research on how to travel on points and get alerts from flight deal websites, this can easily be done by anyone.

here are some pictures from our trip. please stay tuned for my more detailed posts on each place we visited.

duomo milano
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on a gondola in venice
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Saint Mark’s Basilica in venice
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venice
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ponte vecchio florence
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colosseum rome
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colosseum rome
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rome
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Cacio e Pepe
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subway in rome
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Pierre Hermé
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Sadaharu Aoki Paris
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escargot | benoit paris
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Eiffel Tower Paris
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thonglor bangkok
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our room at Millennium Hilton Bangkok overlooking the river
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curry crab | Somboon Seafood
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villas at conrad koh samui
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our private heated infinity pool in our villa at conrad koh samui with complimentary fruits
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floating in our private infinity pool
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koh tao, thailand
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snorkeling in koh nang yuan
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snorkeling in koh nang yuan
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snorkeling in koh nang yuan
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wat pho bangkok
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the peak hong kong
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Crispy BBQ Pork Bun | tim ho wan hong kong
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view from Taipei 101
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beef noodle soup | lin dong fang taipei
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lin dong fang taipei
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mango shaved ice | Ice Monster taipei
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The Shakespeare | New York City, NY

Welcome to the Shakespeare, a small sorta “gastropub” near Bryant Park in NYC.  They offer great beer and “traditional British Food”.  On this night, I met up with my friend from college.  This bar is his bar, like the kind of bar you see on Cheers, it’s a place that everyone knows his name….. He comes here like 3 times a week, even more when the week isn’t going his way.  I met up with him for some after work beers and food.

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They Offer many interesting beers on tap
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I believe this is the owner. I was able to talk to him for a quick moment, the bar is called the The Shakespeare because he is a distant relative of the man himself….
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Inside it feels like a cozy English home, or at least what I would imagine one to feel like….
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After a few beers, we decided to order food….

Bangers and Mash:
Myers of Keswick bangers, mashed potatoes, onion gravy

A very hearty meal consisting of sausages on top of mashed potatoes dressed with savory Onion Gravy. The kind of meal that fills up your heart and arteries with warmth.

TheShakespeare (8 of 11)

Chicken Tikka Masala:
Basmati rice, toasted almonds, ginger steeped raisins

Chicken Tikka Masala made for English taste, even though this dish is like the General Tso Chicken of Indian food. It’s not as spicy as most Indian restaurants, my friend can’t handle spice at all, so this was perfect for him.

TheShakespeare (6 of 11)

Banoffee Pie:
“Jones Wood Foundry”
Banana, vanilla cream, shaved chocolate, candied almonds

For dessert my friend got a banoffee pie. It’s a creme pie with a very crumbly rust, topped with chocolates and candied almonds as the sweets. When you cut into it with a fork it comes apart perfectly. It’s the perfect compliment if you ate something savory like the Bangers and Mash or drank a lot of beer with a sweet tooth….

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The Shakespeare is a good pub in NYC. If you are staying near Bryant park or even Times square, I would definitely recommend this place. Try their very extensive collection of interesting English beers + English pub food that isn’t fish and chips.

The Shakespeare NYC
24 East 39th Street
New York, NY 10016

The Shakespeare on Urbanspoon

Lilo’s Plates | Hawaiian Food Truck | Boston, MA

Lilo’s Plates is a new food truck in boston that serves hawaiian dishes such as curries, loco moco, and spam musubi.

hawaiian curry chicken – potatoes, carrots, cheese, rice. it tasted a bit sweet; im guessing it’s made with pineapples?
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Loco moco – white rice, topped with a hamburger patty, a fried egg, brown gravy, with shredded cabbages.
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April 16, 2015-DSC02362complimentary dessert – coconut pudding. April 16, 2015-DSC02399

food was not bad and pretty good quality for a food truck. very generous portions and the complimentary dessert was a nice touch.

https://www.facebook.com/lilosplates

Boston Franklin Park Zoo | Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM Lens Test Shots

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pork belly is helping to shoot his friend’s wedding next weekend. after renting the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens a few times, we finally decided to buy it. last weekend, we went to boston franklin park zoo to test out the lens. these pictures are unedited jpegs straight out camera. they look effortlessly beautiful. ive had a Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Lens before, the 70-200mm is significantly sharper and has faster focus.

if you are looking for photographers for weddings, parties, or portraits, please let me know!!!!!

btw, if you have a charlie card, you can get $2 off on one adult franklin park zoo ticket by showing them your charlie card. also, from 10:00 a.m. – noon on the first Saturday of every month, all guests will be charged the children’s admission price.

Puerto Rico | Culebra | Flamenco Beach | Tamarindo Beach | Snorkeling Sea Turtles | Bio Bay

Description is at the end of the post.

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(Porkbelly) Welcome to part 3 of our Puerto Rico adventure. On this particular day we went to the Island of Culebra. It is a small island off of the Puerto Rican mainland. The island is only 11.6 Square Miles around and can only be reached by Ferry from Fajardo. The ferry situation is a bit of a mess since priority goes to the locals and everything is done in Island time. the tickets are notoriously hard to get. There is a limited amount of tickets for the ferry and if they are sold out and there is no more ferries for the day… We were prepared and bought tickets online in advance (http://culebraferry.com/). The Ferry ride was smooth and took around a hour and a half. Upon arrival we met up with our tour guide from Kayaking Puerto Rico.

Kayaking Puerto Rico was extremely professional, friendly, and organized. They packed us into a tour bus and took us to Tamarindo Beach. Our objective at Tamarindo Beach was to snorkel, this beach happens to be one of the few beaches in the world you can snorkel with sea turtles, they don’t use bait to lure them into bay like some other places in the world, it is completely natural. After arriving at the beach we received our snorkeling equipment and flippers, they even had us wash our goggles out with baby shampoo to prevent fogging. We first snorkeled around the shore and then we got on our kayaks and kayaked to another area. This area had more coral and most importantly, turtles! Bunny was super excited to see turtles. There was other interesting wildlife in this area, such as fish, stingrays, and starfish. they also take a lot pictures for you which you can download later online. (some of the pictures we used are taken by them). After we were done with this area we kayaked back to the shore and hopped on the tour bus to Flamenco Beach.

At Flamenco beach they were a few stalls selling food. We were famished from snorkeling and kayaking, so we bought a few Empanandas, Garlic Shrimp and Tostones, and their local fried fish. The empanadas were packed with flavor, we went for the Crab and Beef. The Garlic Shrimp and Tostones was hearty, filling, and did not disappoint. The local fish(sorry can’t remember the name) was perfect and tender, much better than what we had in the Peurto Rican Mainland. We washed everything down with a Piña Colada and a ice cold beer, perfect for this particularly hot day. There were stray cats all over the place, and wild chickens running around. It was like being at the cat cafe in Beijing.

after lunch, we spent the most of the day hanging out at Flamenco beach until it was time to go back. Flamenco beach is rated one of the top 25 beaches in the world rated by TripAdvisor. The beach had more waves than the other spot we were at earlier, and can catch you off guard if you aren’t careful.

We took the ferry back to the mainland. We kept changing seats because the air-conditioning was blasting cold air at certain seats in the Ferry. We had to change seats a few times, there weren’t many free seats available. After we arrived at the dock we got into our rental car and headed straight to the Bio Bay. We weren’t sure if we could even get a ride with a tour company in the bio bay since this was last minute and every tour company we called was sold out. Some girl in our snorkeling tour group earlier told us this was a ONCE IN A LIFE OPPORTUNITY, and YOU HAVE TO SEE IT. If you want to learn more about the Bio Bay watch this video…

We went to every tour group in the area to see if they had space in their kayaking group into the Bio Bay. Unfortunately everyone was sold out, this is something you have to book way in advance. Luckily we found a group that ventures into the bay via a motorized small boat. No need to kayak ourselves into the extremely dark and dense mangroves, especially after Kayaking earlier. They told us to wait for a bit, so we went around to try food. We bought some skewers from a man nearby. He was extremely nice, like most people we met in Puerto Rico and even let me try my hand at cooking skewers. The skewers were very good, bunny wanted more skewers but we had to catch our boat into the Bio Bay.  The Bio Bay was pretty cool, basically anytime the water is agitated it glows blue.  The area is pitch black so you can see every star in the sky.  They told us when it rains the effect is absolutely mesmerizing. After the Bio Bay experience I was hungry so we decided to hit up the restaurant nearby.

At the restaurant we ate paella and fish with red beans and rice.  We thought the restaurant was okay, nothing too memorable…..  With that being said, this marks the end of our Puerto Rico series.  All we did on the next day was visit the Bacardi Factory, which in my opinion wasn’t anything special and got on a plane and flew home.

Puerto Rico | El Yunque National Forest | La Mina Falls | Gran Meliá

The description is at the end of the post..

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(Porkbelly)Hey it’s part 2 of our Puerto Rico trip! In the morning we lounged around the beach at the resort. We laid on the hammock and watched the clouds go by. It was very relaxing and convenient since it was a part of our resort.

As we were driving out of the resort I noticed that the tire pressure light was on and the steering felt odd. This could only mean one thing…. Flat tire. Unfortunately we did not purchase insurance through our rental company and was sure that this would cost an arm and a leg. We booked the rental car with our Chase credit card which does offer rental car insurance. We called chase and they told us they would pay us after we fill out a bunch of forms, get receipts of all the repairs from the rental car company, and overall it sounded like a headache and who knows when we would get our money back….. I swapped out the flat tire for a spare. It was a Sunday morning and all car shops were closed. I drove around looking for a shop, after a few attempts I drove past a lot selling second hand cars and thought they would be of no help, but Bunny urged me to stop. I ran inside and asked the attended if they patched tires, the attendant told me he doesn’t speak any English in Spanish. I rolled in the tire with the puncture, pointed to it and made sounds. The attendant told me he understood in Spanish. He fixed it immediately. I offered to pay him, but he said something in Spanish like “in Peurto Rico we got you” and would not take the money. We were absolutely touched, I wanted to cry.

At this point we were starving from our tire adventure. I saw some people eating something at the side of the road.  There was a guy selling roast pork from the side of the road.  I tried a piece of it, it was like eating Chinese roast pork, I was immediately hooked and bought a pound of it to go.  The pork was soft in the center with a very crisp outer skin.  Every bite had the perfect amount of savory flavor.  The Skin tasted like Chicharones with much more substance since the big was quite big infused with pork juice.  We also stopped by the food truck next to the Pork vendor, the food truck is called Kono.  They sell crispy cones with rice and a type of protein.  We opted to get Shrimp and Fish.  It was very good and quick to eat since we wanted to get on the road to the Yunque rainforest.

The number one thing to see at Yunque rainforest is the waterfall.  We parked out car and hiked all the way to the waterfall.  I was dead when I got to the waterfall and hiking back uphill was worst.  The waterfall was cool.  We checked out some other spots, like the lighthouse where you can get a spectacular view of the Yunque rainforest.

On the way back to the hotel, I stopped to get tacos out of a bus.  It wasn’t very good.  Once we got back we walked along the beach and watched the sunset.

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