A Travellerspoint blog

our hong kong top 10

Arriving in Hong Kong, we applied for our China visas and spent a couple of weeks enjoying Chinese New Year, the year of the Ox.

Stand by for our list of 10 favourite HK experiences.

10: dodgy accomodation in the Chungking Manions
For our first few nights we stayed at this infamous high rise full of cheap hostels, touts, and criminals. There are only a few slow old lifts, sure to have a queue of inhabitants waiting to get to or from their level.

After a few days in our window-less room (30aud/night), we adjusted and were quite happy here, but we moved to stay with friend James (a HK local).
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Not exactly a favourite experience, but this place deserved to be right on the bottom of -some- list.
(the place has a wikipedia entry, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chungking_Mansions)

9: kowloon park
We accidentally stumbled on this park, which was full of happy chinese new year revellers. After watching a dragon show, we got lost in the maze for a while.
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hugh consults the map

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lim tries it blindfolded

8: Clubbing at LKF
Lan Kwai Fong is the main night spot for HK. Its literally a block of awesome clubs and bars.

Cheap Australian wine lines the shelves of every super market and 7-11. We started the night with a couple of Jacob Creeks over dinner, before joining the boys in some of their favourite members only clubs.

7: Hot Pot With Friends
We went with friends to a quality all you can eat hot pot* dinner. With the efficacy of a couple of hungry back packers, we gorged ourselves and could barely eat again for a day.

  • Chinese hot pot consists of a communal boiling pot full of water, stock, and spices. Everyone self cooks the meat, veggies, tofu, and dumplings whilst (hopefully) enjoying each others company.

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6: domestic bliss at James' place
We stayed at James' home for most of the visit. James and his sister live with a live-in maid a stone's throw from their parents. We settled in to enjoy domestication, and Genie, their toy poodle.

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We also got to cook a few meals of our own - its amazing how much you can miss home cooking.

5: HK's public transport system
The metro, ferries, and trams in HK make it one of the world's most convenient cities to get around. Public transport is clearly a key factor for what makes a city great.

This is made possible by a wealthy population living in high density. Consider:
HK has 7 million people living in only 1,000 KM^2, with a GDP per capita of $33,000USD.
Sydney has 4.5 million people living in 12,000 KM^2, with a GDP per capita at $39,000USD.

4: chinese new year festivities
Many people advise against visiting china during CNY celebrations because everything shuts. This didn't bother us because we have time to kill. Several days we saw excellent shows on the street.

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On lunar new years eve itself we stood in a crowd of perhaps a 100,000 people to watch the fireworks
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James and Mikie took us through a fair with another un-imaginably big crowd slowly pushing thier way across a couple of city blocks.
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3: star ferry tour
We took the star ferry for a tour to see the city from water level. In this shot you can see the density of sky scrapers in HK.

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compact city

2: chive dumplings
Most Hong Kong food is great, however (at least for Lim), these street-side chive dumplings topped the list. Yum!
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1: sunset at HK's peak
HK city is built on a mountainous island. we went up to the peak to catch both sunset, accompanied with a couple of refreshing beers, and the lights of HK at night. Definately a list topper.

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Posted by hughmadden 20:39 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (0)

chiang mai

an old city surrounded by hill folk living the old way

thai civilisation started in northern thailand. the capital was chiang mai.

the city contains a one square mile inner city. this older city is still surrounded by a moat, and sections of wall and watch towers.

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there is also upwards of 300 wats - yikes! we've seen enough wats.

chain mai is a source of cheap goods, both retail and wholesale (importers) visit here to shop.
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after quickly seeing the city we hatched a plan for the following day - our second last day in thailand.

lim spent the day as girls oft do
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and me as boys do
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i headed out for some off-roading on a 250cc dirt bike.
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this shows my tour guide Nai. Nai was keen to head out as well. Nai only does this once a month, otherwise he tends his reggai bar and watches motor cross.

as with all south east asian tours no time was wasted on safety discussions. we jumped on the bikes and zoomed off into busy city traffic.

i waved him down to agree on some simple hand gestures - left, right, stop, ok, and sanuk (fun - thumbs up). we were too polite to discuss any other gestures for the traffic.

many people write about thai driving as crazy and to be avoided on pain of almost certain death. they say the vehicles all weave around the road erratically and unpredictably.

i say this is simply the driving habbit of the sydney cabbie. anyone who has ridden a motor cycle in the taxi laden traffic of peak hour sydney will be at home in thai traffic.

after an hour or so we left the city behind and started climbing the hills through smaller roads and villages.

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we stopped for petrol - i know this is mundane but i'd never actually seen one of these still in use.
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a hand pump is used to move petrol into the measuring cylinder at top. this is then gravity fed out the tube to the thirsty recipient.

soon we were in proper country.
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there was still fairly dense levels of population - highlighted by the need to dodge families of chickens and pigs.
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we started taking narrower and narrower tracks into the hills.
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notice these ruts of hard clay - dropping the front wheel would have been disastrous. to make matters worse, Nai had become comfortable with me and was enjoying himself. i had to fang it with him or i would have ended up guiding myself.
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i was scared silly but having a great time. its amazing how adrenalin over powers ones' sense of self preservation.

i just focussed on keeping the front wheel out of the ruts and pointing it where i wanted to go. amazingly i stayed on. it was mostly second and third gear with the occasional tricky session in first.

soon we started popping out into tradional villages. these houses are just mud and thatch on more mud.
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this one is a mansion - note both stilts _and_ a tinned roof.
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Nai stopped to visit a family he knows. After he had handed out some cigarettes and chocolate biscuits we did the asian squat in the mud and chatted.

this little guy was -very- scared of the big white guy. he didn't -quite- run away but i'm sure he was considering it. i made a movie of him, showed him, and told him he was in a movie. he relaxed and showed a big smile.
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son and mum

soon the whole family was laughing and clustering around to see a picture or movie of themselves.
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dad

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grandfather and grandmother; he was the eldest and very obviously the man in charge

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dinner

heres a picture of their house; notice the solar panel?

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i think its this juxtaposition of technology on an undeveloped lifestyle thay identifies the technologies that -really- matter.

we shot off to pass some more beautiful scenery and found a larger village for lunch
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stopping for lunch

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yum!

after lunch we passed one last village and it's school
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then we rode down an even narrower track.
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Nai pointed at this bridge and told me we were crossing it.

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i thought he was joking

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this is me

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This is Nai holding his bike while he gets snaps of me.
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now i was ready to believe the next crossing
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Nai had to jump off as his wheel slipped off the side - i nearly had a wet guide on my hands.

i took it very slowly and was more then pleased to get across.

at the top we took a break. i walked back to the crossing by myself for a closer look. before i could get a man with a gun came out of the bush and headed my way.

i smiled and waved, he smiled back and joined Nai and me for some jokes (and a cigarette from Nai's endless supply).

He was pointing at the size of my bike and saying you'd need ridiculously long legs like mine to ride the thing.
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i gather he was bored from tending his buffalo's in the middle of no-where and was happy for some company.

after we left our new friend, we got onto a sealed road and took a curvey road to the top of thailands highest mountain, 2000 odd meters.

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finally we took a long ride home, passing a waterfall on the way.
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Posted by hughmadden 08:09 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

ao nang to chiang mai

we arrived in the busy beachside town of ao nang (still in south west thailand).

relative to thailand ao nang is very expensive and tourist focussed. we wandered around amongst the other tourists until we found a hotel - around 40aud/night. we settled in only to be kicked out the next day; the hotel was fully booked. it took about 5 hotels until we found a vacancy.

no signs of a tourism slow down/ financial tsunami in this place!

ao nang beach offers calm waters suitable for families and older travellers. its not quite as full of young beautiful bods as koh samui!
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we did our bit to blend in with the age group
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perhaps 'mummy' is taking it a bit too far.
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overall it is still a nice beach, with mountains and islands all around
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we went out for a scuba dive the following day. our boat was a long tail - an open boat with an open chevy motor driving the extended prop.
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(picture from google images)

the 1st dive was quite nice; plenty of fish and coral but no big marine animals, which is either good or bad according to your perspective on life ;). the dive went completely around a small island.

the 2nd dive started with an underwater tunnel through an island, followed by a series of coral reef tunnels and chasms. its kind of eery to look up and see rock instead of air.

the seas were up on the return journey. lim perched happily on the boat's stern - and somehow stayed dry and happy. meanwhile an irish diver and me spent 45 minutes in spray the consistency of a bucket of water falling on your head. (bucket included).

note to self: long tail boats look quaint but stick to modern speed boats in the future.

finished with the crowds of coastal thailand, we caught a flight to bangkok. here we found a hotel in chinatown. bkk's chinatown is a decent place to stay as it is affordable and you don't get the same "walking atm" treatment as other areas.

needless to stay lim was as happy as a hungry chinese girl in a street full of chinese food vendors.
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we also went to bangkok's back packer district khao san. we had no desire to be anywhere touristy - but still felt obliged to see it. the results were predictable.

sharing an alcohic beverage - "just the small bucket please"
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and finishing with a kebab
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next stop was shopping.

we spent about 30aud on new shoes -and- jeans for lim as we prepared to venture further south from the equator. (the southern hemisphere being in winter for those pollywogs amongst you). we also picked up a new camera.. w00t :)

now we looked cool in lim's new threads and my new mustache, and had a camera to prove it.

after lim squeezed (maybe slipped is a safer term?) into her new denims, we boarded a train for the 14 hour overnight trip to chiang mai (far northern thailand).

travelling by thai rail is cheap, comfortable, and just generally very civilised. 2nd class seats face each other with an attachable table - perfect for a whiskey and a bit of 'go fish'. after arguing over whether two jokers should count as a set in go fish, we folded the seats into beds*, and slept soundly until we arrived.

  • more accurately: we stood and watched whilst the conductor made our beds and fluffed our pillows. australian country rail services should really sit up and take note.

hugh and lim in thai train comfort
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on arrival we found ourself a simple but clean room for 10aud a night, and settled in to enjoy chiang mai.

Posted by hughmadden 07:40 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

krabi

food, sleep, climbing, and monkeys

We headed out of khao sok park and found a comfortable guest house in the relaxed town of krabi.

Krabi is a coastal town in south western thailand.

I was struggling with a fever and flu, so we bunked down and watched videos and read books for a week of rest and relaxation.

Eventually I had relaxed my way back to good health and we were feeling guilty about our sedentary lifestyle. We hired a scooter and started the 5km trip to tiger temple, the temple with 1237 steps. After 20km of skilled navigation, we arrived, and started the climb.

The wat is quite a nice temple perched on the top of a mountainous krag. Steep steps wind their way up out of sight. This is a blessing as it saves you from staring your torturer full in the face.

After some time I informed Lim we were nearing the top. She simply pointed out the number 330 painted on one of the steps..

At the top we stopped to appreciate the spectacular view over the landscape.
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On the way down we stopped to play with a large family of monkeys. This one honoured me by allowing me to groom his back. I couldn't actually find any lice, but I pretended I had. He sat there as though having a human groom him was simply one of his royal privileges.
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Lim's monkey friend was a lot less reserved. She scampered straight up onto her back and jumped up and down on Lim's head like a naughty infant playing on mum and dads king size bed.
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Before too long a large male came hissing with bared fangs. It was not clear whether Lim or the naughty monkey was in trouble, but we quickly bailed.

At the bottom we visited another temple/ sleeping quarters set into a quiet set of caves. There were no tourists. This temple was serene and offered far more zen then any wat we have seen yet.
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After another day's rest we took a half day rock climbing lesson at railay (rock climbers heaven).

This picure isn't us, but is shows the hardest climb we did. The top is just slippery rock with only 1/2 finger/toe holds.
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I found this particular climb quite a challenge. Both Lim and another climber scrambled up, so I had to follow suit. This climbing is far harder then the indoor play pens used for climbing in sydney.

Tomorrow we are going to spend our last 3 coastal days swimming and scuba diving at the beach town ao nang, and then to inland northern thailand.

stay cool.. err square.. err hip.. err real err ..
well just stay something ok? :)

Posted by hughmadden 07:07 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

khao sok rainforest

many bus transfers are all part of Thailand's most common (ie every single non public operation) scam. this is where they drive you from family business to family business, giving you time to buy their overpriced food and water whilst you wait (patiently or infuriated - your call), for the next bus to arrive.

at your destination they drop you well out of town at their favourite commission-paying guest house and leave you at the mercy of the local taxis and touts.

by this stage of the trip we are well accustomed to the scam. we just kept yelling "booking treetop"; a hotel right next the the hiking trails. we had no booking but it prevents too much argument with the driver. good start to our relaxation?

we spent a day hiking in the very beautiful forest. if you go don't pay for a guide. we had a better time without one, although many of the signs had been smashed off the trees to make your own navigation harder.. tourists or guides?

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we got some positive advice on krabi after chatting to some fellow aussies, so then we shot off to krabi.

Posted by hughmadden 01:33 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

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