30 Jan – Hong Kong to Bangkok

Al keeps telling me that this blog is not only telling our friends what we are doing but is a diary of what we have done that we can look back on in the future, so here’s today’s diary.

Alarm at 4.30am. N21 night bus to airport. Check in swift but flight delayed an hour so restaurant vouchers. Immigration quick. Breakfast of fried Cajun chicken from Popeye’s. Girl asks if i want to eat in or take away. Genuinely confused by question. No tables to eat. Bloody new shiny airport and no tables to eat. Design over function. Rubbish. Nice architecture though.

Try to find something to spend remaining Hong Kong dollars on. Buy water.

Board plane. Tired. Flight has movies though. Look through awful selection of films. Same movies as flight out two months ago. Ponder wasting the little time I have left on this beautiful planet on shit culture and settle for “Pacific Rim” a film about monsters fighting robots.

2 hours later. Film shit but about to land. (I hope Idris Alba was paid well to shout “Let’s cancel the apocalypse”)

Land. First through passport control and to carousel. I win luggage roulette. 3-2. Airport rail link and tube to Hua Lamphong train station. Need brain to work now. So far today not a great track record. We want the sleeper to Butterworth in Malaysia. If we can’t get it then maybe a night in Bangkok. Bad option for sleep. We don’t know where or what we will be doing in 24/48 hours. All depends on ticket office trainee woman. She says yes and Al wells up in a man from delmonte moment.

Ticket purchased. £22 for berth on sleeper. Tired but must celebrate. Scan station for seven eleven. None. Outside, spotted. Ace. MAGNUMS INBOUND! Al = almond. Me = strawberry. Essentials for train. Dried fruit and nuts. Water. Whisky.

Board train. Dump bags. Another celebration. Can of cold beer. Delicious in 30° heat. Realise wrong carriage. Move rucsacs. Very sweaty. Another beer required. Buy 10. Sit on platform and wait. Relax. NICE NICE.

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Train leaves. Start blog.

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Train hawker arrives. Places two beers in front of me. Captive market. Totally ripped off. Cans dripping in ice water. Risk of viles disease. Add that to malaria (42 bites in one night in Rangoon) and Avian flu (chicken in HK). Lucky to be alive.

Need boys room. Watch gravel fly past through a hole in the floor at 70mph. Happy as Larry. Who is Larry?

29 Jan – last day in HK

Woke up feeling rested. Day planned out, so up and off to a bit of history for breakfast. Ferry over to HK and a brisk walk to Luk Yu teahouse. A wonderful old teahouse covered in dark wood panelling with old Chinese prints for decoration. Staff wander about calling out the dim sum they are carrying and you beckon them over to taste their wares. It was a great experience. Then we walked off the dim sum in HK Park.

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Park was interesting with fountains, waterfalls, Olympic amphitheatre, bird house and teaware museum. Best of all though were the views. One side were the towering skyscrapers of victoria harbour and the other side were mountains.

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Next up was a trip back to Kowloon and the Chi Lin Buddhist nunnery. A beautiful wooden building with impressive gold buddha statues and orchid covered shrines. There was an “impressive rock” display (their words) and many twisted bonsai trees. No nuns though. Next door was an equally  beautiful Asian garden and lake with the biggest carp I’ve seen.

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We then headed across town to a suckling pig restaurant but found it closed. Bloody guardian recommendations. As it was our last night and we had a 4.30 start in the morning we decided that we would go for wine and cake instead. Back over the water to Soho for one last drop of red and the wine bar was handing out free buffet snacks for the expat workers including CHEESE! There are certain foods you expect not to eat while travelling round Asia and you dream about tasting them and look forward to savouring their flavours when back in blightly. Since we’ve been in Hong Kong / Macau though, we have had good red wine, bacon, olives, chorizo and CHEESE.

We reminisced about our time here and marvelled at the wonder of Hong Kong. It is completely out of context with the other Asian countries on our trip, a weird fusion of east meets west. Prices for clothes, hotels, food and drink can surpass London but the ferry, tube and buses are cheap as chips. There are shopping centres everywhere, in subways, at train stations in the basement of skyscrapers. You walk through subways, on elevated walkways and covered escalators and occasionally actual pavement. Nearly everyone speaks English so you have to be carful what you are saying. There are loads of suited brits and yanks talking finance in the bars. And you don’t have to sit on a small plastic chair in the gutter to have a beer.

Some of the food and especially the dim sum is the best we have eaten on this trip but at home we aren’t great fans of Chinese. We have had a great time here and the view of the skyscrapers on Victoria harbour lit up at night or shining in the bright sunshine is simply breathtaking.

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28 January – day trip to Macau

After getting breakfast pakoras from the stall downstairs and dropping off the rest of our washing with the lass who hasn’t had a day off in 2 years, we made our way using the metro system to the Macau ferry terminal. Due to bad timings and us not getting up early we ended up getting the 11am ferry and arrived at 12.15, still at least it wasn’t too cold. We were a little flummoxed as to how to get money as our credit cards didn’t work in the machines, also we had no idea how to get downtown as there was no information anywhere. Thankfully there was a taxi driver, in camoflage gear, who explained that you can use HK dollars and he would take us to our first destination for the princely sum of £16. We were still experiencing European prices! He did also tell us the direction to walk in to see the main site in Macau, the facade of a ruined church, yep, that is why the tourists steam here in there thousands, oh, and the lure of a mini Las Vegas which keep the Chinese gambling.

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As it is nearly Chinese new year the shops are over crowded, especially the ones selling Portugese egg tarts and various types of dried beef, boar and any other animal you can imagine.

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It was a feeding frenzy which we managed to navigate through without serious injury. It is quite hard to remember not to smile or be nice to anyone here as you will get sod all in return, and after Burma and everyone there being so friendly and polite this is the polar opposite. The number of times we have both been battered and bashed and banged with no semblance of an apology is a shock after Burma!
The ruins of St Paul’s were exactly that, ruins. Guy tried a bit of Macau street food, pork chop in a bun – it was exactly as advertised.

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A steamed then fried bun filled with pork and greens, it was ok…

We then found a restaurant that served African chicken, which is the thing the try here, and as they had just run out of suckling pig (gutted) we chose the duck and rice dish, both were delicious, especially the duck in rice. It was strange eating somewhere on full sized wooden chairs, with a table cloth and waitresses dressed in black and white, and the price showed that, it was about £35 instead of our usual £5!

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So then we had to say thanks to the bar owner next door for pointing us in the right direction for the fabulous food, obviously that meant a glass of Portuguese white wine for me, which was a lovely way to set us up for an afternoon stroll through Macau. We visited a Chinese merchants house which was covered in flowers and the obligatory tangerine trees, and had the architectural styles of the European and Chinese in one house……if you need to know more wikipedia it, The Mandarin House!

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We then had to get to our ferry port, which was on a neighbouring island of Taipu, so we thought a bus would get us there, how naive we were! The trip took us around Taipu, past all of the seriously huge casinos and hotels, having having never been to Vegas we can’t compare it, but these were impressive buildings. And when the bus had started to go past the aeroport we were a little concerned that we were not getting to our destination, the driver kindly said we needed to go to one of these massive hotels to get a free shuttle bus to the airport. So we went past the massive queues for the taxis, the massive queue for the shuttle bus to the other ferry port and hopped on our empty bus and were taken, for free, to the ferry port! It was truly amazing to see the number of people checking in and waiting around this casino/hotel, the amount of money that must change hands here begger’s belief.
A night time ferry ride home through which Guy slept as he is so knackered with all the stress of travelling.
We got the MTR (tube) up to a huge night market at Temple street, hoping for knock off converse and new balance trainers, however the market was full of tourist tat, expensive non branded sunglasses and the odd stall full of the kind of toys you share as a couple. They had items that made my mind boggle and eyes water!!
As we have no spare capacity to take ANY of these items in our back packs we went home empty handed, with just a juice for tea as we were still stuffed from lunch.

27 January – Hong Kong explored and the curious incident of dried blood on a door handle

The lift to our floor wasn’t working so we thought we would explore the stairways of Chungking mansions, which were surprisingly clean and didn’t smell like a usual stairway. We had been told there was a barbers on floor 2 who might be able to sort out Guy’s hair issue, it was getting ‘long’ and in need of a serious trim. So we thought we would get out of the stairs at floor 2, as I approached door I noticed the handle seemed to be covered in something resembling dried blood, and muttered something like ‘I am not touching that!’ Guy clearly didn’t hear me and went straight on, grabbed the door handle realised what was on the door, and also that the door was locked, and spent the rest of the morning cleaning his hands with anti bacterial gel.
So, we managed to leave the building via a door with no dried blood that wasn’t locked and didn’t worry about sorting Guy’s hair out, and made our way to a shopping centre to have breakfast at a restaurant chain which has a Michelin star, the norm here is to eat in shopping centre food courts, our favourite dumpling restaurant was in a mall as well. So we queued up at 9.30am, and had some delicious BBQ pork buns and steamed pork and rice with preserved vegetables, and some not so delicious steamed spare ribs in black bean sauce, flabby steamed rice rolls and some adventurous steamed buns in a char sui style, it wasn’t a great success and left me feeling quite queasy for the rest of the morning, mainly due to the textures in the meal. No Robert’s stars from us for Tim Ho Win!

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We had a day of sightseeing ahead of us, first off we got the star ferry across to Hong Kong and Guy took his obligatory 20 photos of the skyline, again, and we went to see the Norman Foster HSBC building, which is fueng shui tastic, and stunning.

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Then we queued  a long time to get the Peak Tram up to the top of Mount Victoria, I reckon we could have walked it in the time that we queued, but that would take the fun out of the nearly vertical cable car journey. The views were stunning, so another photo session followed, as well as and iced coffee…… There was of course a massive shopping centre at the top of the hill, which seemed to occupy everyone as we didn’t queue at all to get the cable car down.

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We then wandered around the Chinese wholesale district and peered into all the shops that were selling the most bizarre dried food products, and more besides. It was fascinating to see, and busy because of the upcoming Chinese New Year, it is the year of the horse, as if you didn’t know!

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Then it was off to the incense filled Man Mo temple, which was atmospheric in a choking incense kind of way.

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After all this excitement, we decided to take the weight off our feet and rest at an Italian bar, with a glass of (expensive) red and a (cheaper) egg tart. Then it was happy hour time, so we thought it would be rude to ignore it and dived straight in for more (slightly less expensive) red wine.

Stomachs rumbling, we decided that we needed pork dumplings again, and so did something very rare for us, revisited the first nights restaurant, the wait was only about 10 mins this time and bareable as we knew we would be throwing pork dumplings down our mouths in just a few moments……and they were just as good as we remembered.

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The walk home was interrupted by numerous Indian hawkers wanting to sell Guy fake watches, handbags for madam, suits made to measure, and less occasionally hash!

26 January – Hong Kong

Ok, I have to admit that wasn’t the best nights sleep mainly due to bring completely terrified of being in such a small room in a massive building and being old enough to worry about such things, Guy slept through fine!
We headed towards the HK history museum, and stopped off for a HK breakfast of congee (watery, boiled rice, ugh!) and 1000 year egg noodles (much nicer, didn’t see any old eggs in it thankfully).

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We spent about 3 hours in the museum learning about HK and how we reset the trade balance in the 19 century by getting all the Chinese hooked on opium and eventually won HK from them for 156 years and made it the thriving metropolis is today – ok, the last bit was added by me, not the Chinese!
And there were dinosaurs on our way to and from the museum!

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We were then peckish, again, and went in search of a hawker food stall that was recommended by the Guardian, so were were looking out for a stream of middle class, Leftie liberal types, however we didn’t see them so we followed our noses, through the empty market stalls, with a slight whiff of stale meat and fish, in dingy corridors wondering if we were going to have an appetite left when we got there! Anyway, we eventually found the stall by its orange bowls and yellow spoons! We were the only tourists in there. We ordered the beef balls with noodles, with a touch of ginger and tangerine peel, it was delicious and an example of fast food at its best, we couldn’t have waited more then a minute for it to arrive! The cost was £2 per head, bargain!

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The then got the star ferry over to Hong Kong, a fabulous journey of about 8 mins seeing all the neon signs lighting up. As it was a little late on a Sunday for seeing the tourist sights we, reluctantly, decided to follow a pub crawl in the lonely planet, the first bar was closed, the second we couldn’t find, by this stage we had found a wine bar that had taster glasses for £2 a shot…..it was a very small shot, so we only had one each.
We then gave up on the planned pub crawl and decided to just go anywhere that sold wine or had happy hour, and we found a fabulous wine bar that sold large glasses of delicious wine, it was only when we realised it was £8 a glass we realised that we were back paying UK prices for booze!

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Happy hours are also different, in that buy one get on free is per head, not per round! So we ended up in an English boozer where everyone was watching the tennis (!) we had a bottled ale each and carried on the pub crawl until we were hungry.

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Tea was in a chain restaurant Tsui Wah, and it was delicious,Guy had spag bol sauce, rice and a raw egg on top, crispy prawn wontons, steamed chicken with soy and honey, and another rice dish which was fabulous.

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We got the ferry home, had a quick nightcap in one of the numerous Irish bars near our room and had a great nights sleep!

25 January – Hong Kong

Well, such is the life of international travellers, today we had breakfast in Bangkok, yesterday we had breakfast in Rangoon and I now sit here in Hong Kong having had a delicious dim sum and dumplings for our tea.

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We left our tiny room in Bangkok and did public transport to the airport, no problems at all, well, apart from Guy having a slight tummy upset, but nothing a clean airport toilet wouldn’t provide him some comfort from. We checked in smoothly, no one else queuing, now that is a first. Then through the various checks etc, then onto the important question of the morning, what to eat for breakfast? I was craving burgers so queued behind some awkward Russians wanting to pay in a variety of currencies for their burger king meal, Guy went Japanese – rice and pork. All good nutritious food at 10 in the morning! The new airport in Bangkok is fabulous, it has all the shops a lass should need, especially Tiffany’s, in fact Guy did me a deal, I wouldn’t buy anything from Tiffany’s and then I could have a fancy cream from L’Occitane! We agreed on that and I am now one happy lady with posh cream that should guarantee I look at least 10 years younger in a few weeks or so.

The flight was practically empty, although everyone had thick jackets, jeans, boots and warm weather gear. We felt decidedly under prepared.  We were lucky to be on the right side of the plane to get views of Hong Kong and the surrounding islands, it was cloudy but still stunning. It was also stunningly simple to get a bus downtown, each stop is numbered and the electronic message board on the bus tells you when your stop appears……. simples?

We were staying in a tourist attraction mentioned in the guide book, no, it wasn’t the Intercontinental with its views of Hong Kong island at night, nor was it the Sheraton with its wide windows and sweeping bay views. It is Chungking mansions, built in 1961, a ramshackled old building, with a rabbit warren of shops providing for your every need. We had been warned that it would be mayhem when we got off the bus, with touts demanding our business, and although it was hectic, they were all friendly and didn’t press us once we had said we had a booking. Although we had agreed that as long as we had somewhere clean, size didn’t matter, but I wasn’t quite prepared for quite how small our room is…….for the next FIVE days! It is smaller than the nitenite hotel rooms in Birmingham! Guy can just about fit on the bed lengthways, storage is underneath the bed, handy, and at this rate I maybe also stored there as well! The building must hold about 20 hotels, similar to ours, on each of the 5 blocks of the mansions, we are in block E, and have a lift to get us to the 12 floor, I have no idea what the plan is in case of fire. It is best not to think about it. We are also fortunate to be down the corridor of shops that sells sex aids and ‘specialist’ magazines, and can we have no smutty comments on this please!

As it was nearing sunset, we were perfectly timed for taking in the view of Hong Kong from the avenue of stars parade, and it is an amazing site, it is much, much bigger than I imagined, and so it took Guy quite sometime to sort out his panoramic camera photo shots, whilst I watched everyone else taking photos of each other in front of the iconic skyline.

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We had a walk around Kowloon, which is where we are staying, and there are a lot – and I mean a lot – of shops here. I don’t think I have ever seen so many shops and so many people in them, even Prada, Armani type shops are full of people either buying or actually queuing to get in the shops. Although it is the equivalent of Christmas eve here, so a lot of shopping would be taking place because of that.
We had a recommendation for a dim sum/shainghainese restaurant that we had to queue up for, about 45 mins, it was called Din Tai Fung and it was worth every minute. The pork dumplings were steamed, and also had a small amount of gravy/juice in them that dribbled down your chin – if you weren’t careful! We also had a beef brisket soup which was really tasty and delicately flavoured, shrimp and prawn wonton in a spicy sauce, some chicken dumplings and some Chinese kale – for greenery and veg which is lacking in our current diet! It was absolutely delicious, really delicate flavours and smooth textures. I will not forget those pork dumplings for a long time.

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After that we had a walk home via the shops and neon lights, and a rare night off the beer (as it is blooming expensive here!)

24 Jan – Burma to Bangkok

We flew out at the reasonable time of 11.20, so after a lie-in we caught a cab to the airport, the best way to get nostalgic. As we crawled passed Rangoon’s old colonial buildings which have faded and become dilapidated we watched the chaotic street scenes which pass for everyday life. It reminded us both of Hanoi and Bangkok 15 years ago. Smelly, dirty mayhem but bursting with life. So much is going on its hard to take in and it makes your senses tingle. We were both excited about moving on but sad to be leaving Burma. The food wasn’t the finest we have tasted and food is an important part of our travels, but the country was special to us because of the people. We have never been anywhere where the locals are so friendly, hospitable and quick to smile. Shopkeepers welcomed us like the prodigal son, guesthouse owners cared for us when we were ill and hawkers said we didn’t have to buy from them they just wanted to chat. A truly amazing population especially considering how they are unfairly governed by the military as their democratic vote was ignored.

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Burma isn’t that easy to get around. Its a big country (about the size of UK and France combined) the roads are appalling – on a par with India. Areas are completely off limits because of tribal / drug / warlord issues. Journeys are long and suffer from bonus time breaks due to creaking infrastructure. Buses and ferries are charged in US dollars and some goes back to the generals. The capital of the country is not on the tourist trail and not even mentioned in the guide book. Whilst we were there the BBC news reported on an 11 day course the British army were giving to Burmese generals to teach them how to live in a democracy and take orders from politicians which shows you how far they have to go. 

As we checked into Yangon International Airport, a power cut killed all the computer systems, but the check in desk had a piece of A4 with our names on so we were able to board, guess they are used to it. We arrived at Bangkok and after a taxi, the tube, the airport rail link and another taxi we got to our hotel. The room was trendy and compact so we wandered out and explored a new area. It went dark and after the obligatory Magnum from seven eleven we decided to go to a Thai BBQ for tea. Nervous as to what to do (us and 150ish Thais) and with a bit of a language barrier we dived in head first and before you can say “unidentifiable burnt flesh” we were barbecuing strange meats at our table fire. As these things always turnout we had a great time.

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