On September 16, Cathay Pacific started a brand new route from my hometown – Washington, DC (IAD) to Hong Kong (HKG). It’s a direct, non-stop flight and even better, it will also be their first time using a brand new aircraft, the A350-1000. I’ve been a fan of Cathay Pacific for many years and we have even worked together on several occasions. In advance of this DC launch, they asked me to travel with them on one of their A350-900 planes to try out the service and to share my experiences. I’ve already written about the aircraft so today I want to share why everyone should be excited about this new, luxurious and easy way to visit Hong Kong and all of Asia really. I’ve traveled to Asia with Cathay Pacific many times, each instance a fantastic opportunity to explore new places totally foreign to me and I’m thrilled that it’s now easier than ever. To help everyone get excited about this new route, today I want to share some destinations now easier than ever to visit thanks to this new way to reach Asia. This post was written in partnership with Cathay Pacific but, as always, all thoughts and opinions are entirely my own.
Since this is the hub city for Cathay Pacific and the final destination for the new IAD-HKG route, it just makes sense to start with this energetic city. Instead of just transferring onward to your final stop though, spend at least 2-3 days in the city to explore and enjoy everything that it has to offer. At first blush, Hong Kong seems little more than a flashy city full of people. But once you delve a little deeper, then you start to discover the real city that lies just beneath that shiny veneer. The best way to better understand Hong Kong is through the city’s favorite pastime, eating. Whether it’s 3-star Michelin restaurants, or some of the best dim sum in the world, you won’t walk away hungry or disappointed. Also be sure though to explore the city, visiting Lantau Island and even the newish PMQ, a cultural hub showcasing some of the best emerging creative minds in the city.
Although I’ve visited Hong Kong a few times in recent years, I had somehow always skipped nearby Macao. I’m glad I finally spent some time in this region though because it not only quickly impressed me, but I just as quickly came to love the city. It’s very easy to reach from Hong Kong thanks to the high speed ferries and once you arrive, it’s just as easy to hit the ground running and enjoy everything that is has to offer. In recent years the city has become famous for its casinos, but there’s so much more to Macao including the UNESCO recognized historic center. The entire old town is designated as a UNESCO site for a variety of reasons. Once a Portuguese territory, the foreign presence has thankfully been preserved throughout the centuries, presenting visitors with a city that feels more like Europe than Asia. Macao was also a strategically important city for a very long time and a center of trade between Europe and Asia. This history and the traditions that accompany it are thankfully all very much alive in Macao, and easy for the casual visitor to experience as I quickly discovered.
Flying with Cathay Pacific is one of the best ways to reach Mainland China and once you get there, years could be spent exploring everything that this dynamic country has to offer. After just two visits to China I know that I have barely scratched the proverbial surface, but every experience in the country has honestly been not only fun, but incredible in every way. There’s also a lot of choice; China is so large and so dynamic there really is something for everyone. Beijing is a must for any first time visitor; the capital city has so much to offer from the Forbidden City to nearby sections of the Great Wall. Further away, cities like Chengdu and Kunming offer a different insight into daily life in China, while exotic and somewhat remote spots like Xishuangbanna beckon the adventurer in all of us. No matter what you decided to see and do though, I know you won’t be disappointed.
Using Hong Kong as a jumping off point means that all of Asia is easy to reach, and that includes Thailand. For my personal vacation last year I used frequent flyer miles to fly with Cathay Pacific to Thailand, and the trip was easy and seamless. One of my favorite countries, there’s certainly a lot to see and do but on my last visit I did something a little unusual and spent time in the northern city of Chiang Mai. One important reason why I decided to visit Chiang Mai was to spend the day at a very special facility about an hour or so outside of town. The Elephant Nature Park was created in order to rescue elephants horribly mistreated in the tourism and logging industries. It’s a place where they can be slowly rehabilitated and given the life that all elephants deserve. Sadly, many tourists don’t understand that riding elephants, watching them in circuses, painting or so on involves significant abuse to the elephant. At the ENP, these elephants are rescued and a team of professionals and volunteers start the long process of helping them enjoy life again. I visited as a day guest, one of many, there to learn more about the sanctuary as well as interact with the rescued elephants through feedings, bathings and more. It was a wonderful day and one that meant a lot to me personally.
Hong Kong is a well-located city with easy flights throughout Asia and even, as I learned, to Australia. Flying through Hong Kong is also a nice way to break up a lot of travel. En route to Australia, I planned for a 2-day stopover, which was key. While I enjoyed my 14-hour flight to Hong Kong with Cathay Pacific, it was also nice NOT to then hop on another long flight right away. By spending a few days exploring Hong Kong, I got used to the time change while enjoying the destination at the same time. Before I go on, let me address the counter-argument. Can you fly directly from the US to Australia or other places in Asia? Yes, of course you can. From my point of view though, it’s a 5 hour or so flight to Los Angeles and then a 15-hour flight to Australia. That’s a lot of travel and by adding only a few hours of extra flight time, I got to see and experience a whole new place. For someone who loves to explore new cities and countries, it’s worth it to me. Plus, as I just mentioned, it is really nice to recover from jet lag BEFORE you arrive to your primary destination. That way no time is wasted and you feel at the top of your game.
Earlier this year I traveled to India for the first time, enjoying the luxury experience with Abercrombie & Kent in every way. The one thing that disappointed me though were the lack of great flight options from the DC area to India. There are many choices but none were the perfect combination and leaving from the West Coast I can only imagine the additional complications when it’s time to fly to India. While certainly not direct, Cathay Pacific is another great option if you’re flying to India, and that’s especially the case for my West Coast friends. The jet lag will also be minimized traveling westward instead of eastward. Once there, like in China, you are absolutely spoiled for choice. The key experience for many though is of course a visit to the Taj Mahal, and especially at sunrise. While there was a short line, the crowd entering the Taj complex that early morning was nothing like the night before. With so few people there, it was an intimate and almost private experience. Don’t misunderstand, there was still a 5-minute wait to sit on the so-called “Diana bench,” and to grab that one famous selfie also required a wait. But overall, the crowds were negligible and as I waited for the perfect morning light, I walked right into the main mausoleum itself, skipping the hour-long wait that was there the night before. The tomb perhaps was the one aspect that was disappointing, a simple nod to a great love affair. But the complex isn’t about that one final resting place, it’s about a love so deep and profound that it inspired one of the most remarkable structures that the world has ever seen. And, for the most part, it looks just as perfect as it must have the day it was finished.
I love Southeast Asia in a way unlike any other part of the world and I’m not entirely sure why. At first blush, it’s not a region that many would assume I would like. It’s hot, it’s crowded and it’s chaotic – three things that usually keep me from visiting somewhere. But Southeast Asia is so much more than that, and over the years I have come to love it dearly, including countries like Cambodia. A few years ago I visited, again with Cathay Pacific, with one goal in mind – to finally see the unusual Khmer ruins of Angkor Wat in person. I love history and archeology and had long tried to visited this legendary site, so that when the chance finally arose I couldn’t say no. I was surprised though; I thought that the main building of Angkor Wat would impress me the most, but that wasn’t the case. Instead it was another nearby temple, Angkor Thom that really wowed me. The feeling is undeniably eerie as you walk amongst the many stone towers of Bayon, the massive faces staring straight through you. They’re said to be of the god-king Jayavarman VII, the monarch responsible for the massive temple. It was a special experience for me, a beautiful one that I know I will never forget.
Thanks to the airline’s incredible network throughout the world, there are seemingly countless options for places to visit when you fly on the new Cathay Pacific route from Washington, DC to Hong Kong. From my personal experience though, I think these aren’t only fun destinations to consider, but ones that are convenient and easy to reach from Hong Kong.