Thursday, 26 November 2009

Thailand Pt.4

Well I never! Back in Thailand again. I just can't keep away.

Back here to enjoy another month of chaos in the backpacker raped jewel of South East Asia that is Thailand. Only this time with my boyzzzz Thomas Kevin Wright and Christopher James Hislop. YES!

Hong Kong

Where to start? I think I may have had the busiest 4 days of my life trying to get the most out of my time here. So much so that by the time I left I had worn myself out so much I gave myself a sore throat. Coincidence? I think not.

Coming back to Asia I experienced culture shock for the first time in ages. After spending so long in Australia I had got very settled in my western ways again and despite my previous 4 month stint in Asia it did take a day to adjust to the sights sounds and smells of Asia again.

Hong Kong is in the top 5 most expensive destinations to visit in the world so was expecting Japanese type prices on arrival. However this really wasn't the case, starting with my accommodation found online for a mere £5. However upon arrival it soon became very apparent why it was so cheap. It was in a huge ugly high rise complex called the "Mirador Mansion" and was on the 13th floor hidden amongst a labyrinth of corridors. I can not actually believe I managed to find it as there was nothing but an A4 piece of paper on the wall with the name of the hostel and a young Chinese women sitting alone on a table right at the end of a long windowless corridor to give any sort of indications there was actually anything there. The building was also located on the one street in Hong Kong where you get hawkers trying to sell watches, suits and handbags to you at every opportunity they get, very annoying.

I can safely say it was by far the worst place I have stayed in all my 10 months of traveling. Terrible bed, tiny and I mean tiny shower room/toilet, strange staff, no atmosphere and a total lack of other travelers apart from a very strange American guy who had just been booted out of mainland China and who I will explain in slightly more detail as a way of introducing my first full day in Hong Kong.

My First night in the hostel was a struggle. This due partly to my lack of a mattress and then the fact the strange American I was sharing a room with slept sitting up. This was an extremely unnerving experience and gave the feeling he was just sitting their waiting for me to slip off to sleep before he strangled me to death. Not only did he sleep sitting up but when I got up early the next morning for a shower I noticed what seemed like a bit of buttock protruding from his sheet. Thinking that was fairly unusual I carried on and made my way to the tiny shower room. When I got back from the shower I was subject to the most awkward 3 minutes of my life. I open the door to not only find, as I first suspected, that he was sleeping naked. Unfortunately though he was now laying on his back, sheets off, with a full on erection pointing towards the heavens. I could not believe it and did not know what to do. I basically spent the next 3 minutes getting dressed in the corner praying I could get out of the room before he woke up. That image was burnt into my retinas for the rest of the day.

Not long after that and thinking of way to try forget the last 3 minutes of my life I headed out to buy an iPod cable as mine had got lost a few days previous. This also turned out to a bit of a nightmare. The main problem here was that I messed up the exchange rates and instead of dividing each $HK by 13 I was dividing by 7, so everything seemed double the price. Therefore the price of $70HK I managed to haggle him down too still seemed majorly expensive, despite it actually being a quite a good price. So when I turned this price down he looked at me stunned and could not believe it. Then all of a sudden he looks and me and just shouts "Why are you so shit in the morning?", I didn't know what was going on, one minute I feel like I am getting ripped off the next I am having abuse hurled at me. "Fuck off" he says "arse hole!!". I did not know what to do and just burst out laughing and was then called an arse hole several more times. I then thought it was about time I left so made a quick exit before anything else happened. It wasn't till 5 minutes later when I realized what had happened and I was actually being shit in the morning and not working out the exchange rate correctly.

Anyway enough of my little stories here is a bit about what I actually got up to while I was in Hong Kong.

For no particular reason I thought it would be nice to see the firing of the noon day gun. So jumped aboard the underground and headed to Hong Kong Island, causeway bay area. At midday a little Chinese man marched over to a big old canon and fired a single shot to mark the midday point. I don't know why I went to see it really but I think one of the reasons was it was one of the few traditions left over from when the British occupied Hong Kong and for that reason thought it may have some sort of cultural significance but it didn't.

After the gun I spent what seemed like 2 hours looking for a shopping Mall. It was a mix of getting lost a few times and then just due to the fact I ha spent the last hour looking for it I spent another hour looking around for it out of frustration. It eventually turned out that the mall no longer existed and had shut down just 18 months after opening. The mall was called the "Delay No Mall" and while I do enjoy my shopping the reason I wanted to go as it was described more as an "experience" than a shopping mall. It was a mall that was supposedly on the pulse of current trends fashions and just general cool shit that goes on in this world. Full of cool shops, mod cons such as sleeping pods, cool restaurants and even a tattoo parlor it just sounded like a pretty sweet place. Unfortunately it is no more and was a complete waste of my time.

After 2 hours of walking around aimlessly looking for a mall, I thought it was about time to chill out for a bit and see some more of this city from the comfort of one of the many Double-Decker trams that cruise the city. So I jumped onto the next one I saw and for 14p I spent the next 2 hours hossing around the city seeing the sights from out of the front window of the top floor of the tram. I don't know what tram I got on but it must have been one of the main lines as I went as far east as I could on Hong Kong Island then all the way back to west. Going through one district to another. I eventually jumped off at this little park which was just full of Chinese men playing what looked like an Asian form of checkers. I will have to find out what it was but there were quite a few of these tables with huge group of elderly men gathered round. I walked up to see what was going on and it didn't seem particularly exciting so I took a few photos jumped back on the tram and headed for Victoria park but got their too late really and it had started to get dark so their really wasn't too much to see. I briefly popped over to a temple as well but it had closed for the day so was also a waste of time.

I was dreading the train journey home as I was expecting to find the American once again naked but thankfully he had checked out and had been replaced by a friendly looking guy from Bolivia called Manuela. I explained to him what had happened earlier in the day and he sympathized with me. I then suggested we headed out to see a bit of the Temple Street night market before I called it a day. I looked round the market and enjoyed a bit of Chinese food while learning a bit about South America from Manuela. The night market was cool but nothing special. Like all Asian markets I seem to come across they can pretty much be boiled down to a hand full of stalls as they always seem to be a load of stalls selling the sames things.

My first full day in Hong Kong wasn't a waste of time but it was far less productive than I wanted it to be and still felt I hadn't got a feel for the city yet. Going to be that night made me feel like I had a huge task ahead of me the next day.

Day two was possibly the best day in Hong Kong. I did so much and saw so much that by the end of the day my feet were ruined. I got up early and head to Victoria park to hopefully catch some locals practicing Tai Chi. When I arrived the park was littered with people practicing and it was a crazy experience as basically everyone who was practicing was above the age of 60. It was strange watching all these people doing something I knew nothing about but was still fascinating. I just couldn't get over how flexible some of these guys were. I must have spent about an hour just walking around the park, enjoying the park itself as well as all the people making the most of it. There were also 60 year olds jogging around the designated jogging track. I don't think I have ever seen anyone over the ages of 50 jogging back home. It was a great sight.

After that I made my way to the Soho area of Hong Kong. It where a lot of the expats and trendy bars are. It was a cool area to walk around but I was there in the middle of the day so wasn't really able to experience it at it's best. After that I popped into the Man Mo Temple. This was the first temple I made it inside since I had got back to age and despite how bored of them I was by the time I left last time it was real good to be back inside one. This one I found particularly awesome due to the amount of incense curls there were hanging from the ceiling. The place smelt and looked awesome and I could not stop taking photos of them all. By the time I left I was covered in incense ash and smelt like a temple for the rest of the day.

It was now approaching lunch time so headed off to meet Manuela for lunch. I had really wanted to experience some Dim Sum while I was here so headed to the City Hall Maxim Palace which was supposed to be one of the best places for it in the city. Manuela didn't really know what he was getting himself into but I assured him it would be good. When we got there I felt a bit bad I had dragged him here as it did look a bit expensive. However it was something I really wanted to do so just went for it. The food was awesome and in the end not that expensive, about 20 quid all together. So about twice as much as I would have liked to have paid but definitely worth it. It was just a massive loud dinning hall full of Hong Kong business men and ladies doing lunch, while maids with trolleys full of various steamed dim sums walked round the place. I loved it and would have liked to do it again but really couldn't afford it again. Definitely a highlight.

After lunch took a quick trip up the Bank of China building to their sky deck on the 40 somethings floor. The views were good but there as a lot of building work going on around the harbour which spoiled the view a bit. It was free though so can't really complain.

I managed to get a trip in to the New Kowloon area which is a far more residential side to Hong Kong quite a bit different from the skyscrapers and office blocks of Hong Kong island. The main reason for my trip here though was to see the Kowloon Walled City Park. It was awesome and I spent a good hour walking around chilling out on the park and just enjoying the little inner city park. It was a beautiful little park and I could have spent a lot longer in there but had to rush back to try get up Victoria peak before sunset to see the view everyone goes to see when they visit Hong Kong. The Kowloon Walled City Park however was a real surprise highlight for me in Hong Kong, up there with the Dim Sum lunch.

It took me absolutely ages to get back to the center of Hong Kong then up to the peak that I may as well have spent a bit more time in Kowloon Walled City Park as the only reason I left early was that hopefully I could catch the view from the top in the daylight and stay up there as sun set to catch it at night as well. This didn't happen unfortunately so by the time I got up there it was well and truly dark. The view however was absolutely spectacular. It's one of, if not the, highest points on the island and the cost of housing up there is so expensive that only billionaires can really afford it. It was a breath taking view and I just spent an absolute age standing up there just trying to take the whole thing in. I could have come to Hong Kong and just done this one thing, it would have been 100% worth it.

By the end of day 2 I was absolutely knackered and my plan to go out and have a drink or 2 in Soho was well out of the question as I think I would have easily fallen asleep at the bar.

My last full day in Hong Kong was taken up mainly by my trip to Macua however I did manage to fit a few things in, in the morning I popped to the sik sik yum temple, bit of a waste of time really as half of it seemed to still be under construction. The only decent thing about it was how busy it was with hundreds of Chinese people paying their respects to their various gods.

I then made my way to the Temple of the 10,000 Buddhas. I was hoping this would be pretty special. However this was also a bit of a waste of time as well. The 300 or so life sized Buddha's lining the stairs on the way to the temple just looked like the sort of shit you would get in a theme park and then the actual temple itself didn't look anywhere near as grand as I had hoped. Just more of a novelty than anything. I took the very long train journey back to the center a very disappointed chap.

That pretty much somes up my time in Hong Kong. I head off to Macua for the rest of the day and when I got back I jsut went out for some drinks with Manuela and a couple from Denmark who had also moved into the room. It was nice but I was so tired I just wanted to get to bed. I loved Hong Kong but a part of me feels I did far to much while I was there. I think I would have chilled out a bit more in retrospect and taken more time enjoying the things I liked rather than rushing around all over the place trying to fit in as much as possible. However I still had a great time and as usual was very very sad to say goodbye to the place although I was absolutely buzzing at the thought of making my way back to Thailand!!


Wednesday, 25 November 2009


Macau is a tiny island an hours ferry journey west of Hong Kong and was under Portuguese reign till 1999 when they had to hand it back, just like we did with Hong Kong. It was ruled by Portugal for over 400 years so was expecting a schizophrenic mix of Portuguese and Chinese culture.

My plan was to get to Macau about 3:00pm potter around the streets till it got dark and then spend a few hours going round a few of the casinos trying to work out what the place was all about. However this did not happen and what with me being terrible at sticking to schedules recently didn't end up in Macau till it was dark so the plan went straight out the wind.

When I eventually got there I was greeted with a horrible concrete jungle of roads and buildings which was not the quaint little Portuguese colony I was hoping to find. Having no real clue where I was as the only map I had with me didn't have the ferry port marked on it (ehh?). So had to some how work out how to get from the ferry port to the center of the town. I first looked into getting the bus there but for some reason there was a real lack of English and everything seemed to be in Portuguese or Chinese, unsurprisingly, so I gave up on working out which public bus to get. I then look into getting a taxi there. The first driver I spoke to just said "No" he wouldn't take me, fair enough. The second taxi said he didn't know where the place I was pointing to was. The place I was pointing to way the center of town. So I am guessing the exam to be a taxi driver in Macau probably doesn't involve much more than just being aware what a taxi actually is. So I gave up on the taxi idea. I eventually worked out that one of the main casino's was within walking distance of the center of town. So ended up getting a free shuttle bus to the Lisboa casino with a bus full china men. So finally I was heading to the center of Macau even if it was quite a few hours later than planned.

By the time I eventually got to the center of Macau I was pretty tired and stairs and even slight upward gradients where really causing me a lot of bother, at one point I even had to stop for a breather on the way up to the museum of Macau. All together I must have spent just an hour walking around the main roads and tiny side streets getting a feel for the place. It's almost impossible to get lost in Macau as the giant casinos tower above everything else giving you a great point off reference. Very convenient but it did spoil the feel of the place quite a bit! The streets were this kind of Portuguese tile work nd the buildings were also very Portuguese. They only difference was that they were covered in Chinese script. Other than that I could have been walking around some Portuguese town somewhere.

I got talking to a women about my age who was working in a clothes shop in Macau and asked what i was like living in Macau. She said it was very boring and she was only here because her family lived here as she had just moved back from LA. I had been thinking how it must have been quite a boring place to live. While as a tourist it was really nice to visit. Life in Macau must be pretty dull, other than the casinos I didn't really see much else to do and you can't really class going to Casinos as a hobby or pastime. But while walking round I had wondered what it must be like living in a place like this and the conversation with the shop working only confirmed my original thoughts about it being quite dull.

After my short trek around the center using what tiny amount of energy I had left I made my way to an area where a few of the casinos where. Apart from a few twinkling lights I couldn't really be bothered in the end to spend to much time around these. I popped into one, "The Lisboa" this horrible looking 1970's mess had a bit of a look around and then headed back to the shuttle bus to make my way back to Hong Kong.

I don't really know what to say about Macau really. It wasn't that the trip there was a waste of time as it was quite an interesting place to have a look around. It was just my plan of action for the place was ruined by my poor timing and lack of planning and I felt I really didn't get a chance to see enough of the place properly to form any sort of opinion of the place.