A Travellerspoint blog

China - Hong Kong Foodie - number one super guide

by Kt

I came up with that one. Retrotastic or what?!?!? If you didn't get it you are too young, too old or just not damn well educated at cool school!

I have a complete section for food here as quite frankly it was a big part of our trip in one way or another.

Our first meal in Hong Kong and we were a bit uncertain of what to go for, but I can never eat enough steamed dumplings so we headed for a simple dumpling shop which was the right choice. We were surprised how cheap it was being slap bang in the middle of Hong Kong island too. Dumplings are even more difficult to eat with plastic chop sticks we found. Some spear-age did occur!
Wang Fu, 98 Wellington Street, Central

Cha Chan Teng (tea cafes)
I'd read about Cha Chan Teng cafes and wanted to try one for the experience and also because they sounded great for us on a budget. They are basically cafes (translates to something along lines of tea cafe) which sell Hong Kong comfort food.
This food is a fascinating mix of east meats west. Not in a fancy fusion stylee but in a student/bachelor quick meal at home style.
Things like macaroni in soup, egg and ham - lots of chunky white bread.

HK_mob_teacafe1.jpg HK_mob_food_cafemenu.jpg

Mark went for one of the set menus which looks grim but tasted really good - great value too.


I had something called Principal Toast - I only picked this as I'd read about it in a review. I'd have had no idea what it was otherwise and probably wouldn't have been brave enough to ask. It was kind of like a cheese on toast with (fake) black truffle paste. Doesn't look like much, but it was so good.


Capital Cafe, 6 Heard Street, Wan Chai

The Flying Pan
Our first 'morning after' in almost 4 months took us to this place, up in the steep slopes but it was so worth it - utterly amazing feeling of homely food.


I had eggs florentine. My personal favourite hangover food. Great mix of things to build you back up - especially the spinach. It was first rate, to get all english about it, and gratefully received with a nice pot of tea. Guess what Mark went for?


The Frying Pan, Old Bailey Street, Soho, Central

Michelin Starred Dim Sum disappointment
So, this was supposed to be a right treat. I'd read about this place a couple of years ago and always had it in mind if I went to Hong Kong. Tim Ho Wan is the worlds cheapest Michelin Star restaurant. It is a dim sum (the best invention ever!) restaurant setup by a chef formerly of incredibly fancy establishments and has managed to get itself a michelin star and therefore an incredible reputation. I knew that you had to queue. I knew that you quite likely would have to come back at an allotted time. But we had time and when it turned out, like so much else, to be just a short walk from where we were staying, I thought we were definitely onto a winner. So on the friday (I thought a weekend would be busier) we arrived at the place at about 11am. I'd meant for us to get up earlier, but we'd slept in. You can spot the place quickly by the large crowd hanging around outside. We joined this crowd, hanging around, trying to work out what was going on/what to do. Eventually someone told us a lady comes out sporadically and you have to get a ticket from her. We waited for a good half an hour until we got a ticket from her. We had no idea when our number would come up, but we new this could be a couple of hours. A lady in the queue said she had gone away for an hour, so we decided to do that. We sat and had a cup of something warm and filled in our order. You pre-choose I guess to speed the whole thing up when you went in. We didn't know what half of it was but couldn't believe the prices so decided to be quite experimental. Then we pottered around the area a bit, bought socks (oh yeah - we're crazy us) and after about an hour and a quarter we came back. It didn't bode well that the woman who said she'd gone away for an hour, was still there. We tried to work out what was going on. There was a number on the door, presumably to indicate what number they were at, but that didn't seem to match up with what they were saying - plus it was a scribble on a door surrounded by tons of people - not easy to read. Eventually we worked out that we were about 20 tickets away (baring in mind each ticket could be a party of 4 or 6), so we went away for another 45 minutes or so. We were at a bit of a loss of exactly what to do and were starving by this point. Plus it was really cold out and our faces were getting number and number. We got back and were really starting to feel so tired and cold, if we hadn't given it so long and weren't expecting it to be so worth it, we'd have given up. It seemed like we were still so far away, but I guess a fair few people had given up as suddenly the numbers got closer to us. It was such a mind f*&k getting closer but still just waiting, and freezing, and aching. Then at last. We were in - it had taken 3 hours (plus the half hour we'd spent to get the ticket in the first place). We were ushered in and squashed into a tiny little table shoved up against everyone else's tiny little table. That's ok. That's the Hong Kong way. But it was a bit uncomfortable.... and cold. I kept my coat on. Then the food started to come. The first thing we got was the pork buns. I later noticed that they gave everyone these first if they'd ordered them. These are a kind of dumpling with bbq pork in the centre. Not really my bag but I wanted to try them and although the centre was just not my taste, the bun was amazing and I recognised that this was seriously good cookings.
Then everything else started to turn up. Thing was, there wasn't enough room on the table to fit it all. We hadn't ordered masses - we hadn't known how big everything would be and we hadn't known how small the tables would be - that must be fairly common. We had some dumplings, some stickyrice wrapped in banana leaves, which was rather big and almost impossible to open on the small and by now, crowded table. We had one of the deserts turn up with the main dim sum and as we didn't really know what we were ordering, I ate this with mixed with some of the savoury stuff which was a bit gross. We discounted the chicken feet straight away - Mark's choice as he figured if we were ever going to enjoy chicken feet it would be at a michelin star restaurant. I knew better. He learned better.
They were pleasant but brisk as is the Hong Kong way, but the lady who runs the show did get rather peturbed by the girls on the table next to us, who clearly live in Hong Kong, who were asking for soy and chilly sauce on the side. It caused a right kerfuffle when she heard them ask for more of aforementioned sauces - I think that this may have ended up with the cost of sauces being added to their bill. Poor girls looked rather sheepishly confused. I mean - isn't a certain kind of service part of having a michelin star too? I'd rather pay a bit more and get some free sauce if I ask, quite frankly.
So was it worth. Well the simple answer is no. The food was nice, some of it excellent, but the experience was so exhausting and trying that you didn't really care by the time you go in there. I'd lost my appetite, I was tired and cold and then I had to deal with an awkward eating experience where there wasn't the room for anything. I don't care about such things normally, but I do after a 3 hour wait. A few simple things would have helped ease the situation - an electronic number hooked up outside so everyone could be sure what was going on - I mean this is Hong Kong - so super efficient most of the time - it didn't make sense. And just not trying to cram everyone in to such a small space. I know they're moving soon - hope that will help.
I would have been devastated if I'd been there for just a long weekend and wasted all those hours on it. I know it's first world problems again and it serves me right for going against my usual suspicion of things being too good to be true, but I thought a long wait was how you suffered to make the wait for tasty food worth it and to be fair I'd not seen one bad review that said it wasn't worth it. I don't want to diss the restaurant but it just didn't feel worth it for us.

I think it might be a few months before Mark really forgives me for this. But imagine if it had been mind blowing and we'd have not tried.
AND at least he got to tell his Michelin tyres joke over and over again - my local kebab van does great food - it's got 4 Michelin tyres!!

Tim Ho Wan, Dundas Street, Mongkok

Sunday Roast
I had it in my head that we should try to get some English grub, as with Hong Kong having the British heritage and lots of ex-pats, it was surely the best place in Asia to get some. I did a quite bit of research and the Yorkshire Pudding came up as a decent bet and yes I fell for the name most of all I think. I probably wouldn't have bothered to make a great effort to get there had it been awkward but when it turned out to be in an area I wanted to go back and explore further, we decided that it would be perfect for sunday. The place looked the part but was bit miffed the restaurant was closed, it being sunday lunchtime so we had to sit in the bar full of high stools (the nemisis of the short, fat arsed English girl). Luckily we clinched a booth at the back and drooled over the special roast of the day which was both roast beef and rack of lamb. ARE YOU KIDDING? I truly thought I'd died and gone to heaven (doesn't take much these days). When it turned up it looked magnificent - a meat fest, if you will. And the meat was indeed lovely. I've not had lamb thicker than .3cm since New Zealand and I'd only had it all about 3 times in last 9 months and it's my fave. Buuuuuut... the yorkshires tasted a bit like brioche, the gravy tasted kind of tomatoey and the lamb, though lush, had some kind of moroccan spices going on. Add to that, roasted veg including peppers (a pet hate of mine) and a lack greenery and it wasn't quite right. It was nice but wasn't the taste of home we were hoping for. I know, I know. First world problems or what?


Pineapple Buns
My new favourite thing (have you noticed I have a lot of favourite things). I had wanted to try these, knowing it was a Hong Kong speciality, but didn't really know what they were. It was only after eating one (and loving it) that I looked it up and learned there is no pineapple involved. Probably why I liked it - I don't like pineapple. The pineapple bit refers to the criss cross pattern scored in the top of the bun. The bun itself is a bit sweet, bit like a tea cake and has a special crusty, buttery crust. Another joy to our Mongkok residence was that the next street up was the Kam Wah cafe - famous for it's buns. There were news clippings up on the walls and the guy assumed that's why we were there. We weren't - we'd stumbled in in search of a hot drink and a sit down. But we had to try them. I don't think Mark was that bothered, but I loved it and made sure I came back. You get a chunk of a lemony butter with it too.


This is also another great little place generally - I think it could probably be classed as a Cha Chan Teng cafe.
It's all very cosy but I wouldn't go for a Cha Chan Teng style place if you value your 'space' too much anyhow.

Kam Wah cafe, 47 Bute Street, Mongkok/Prince Edward

Nga Trang
I mentioned this earlier in the blog but I didn't really go into the food. First of all Vietnamese food is probably my favourite. I was never sick of it in Vietnam and just love it. I'd noticed this place when we'd eaten in the dumpling place opposite and when Maki said that's where lunch was planned I was jump up and down excited. It was very funny with their rather blunt, oh ok, rude manner in dealing with us but who cares as the food was utterly divine. I had a couple of favourites - shrimp paste on sugar cane and . We also got to try a little (or a lot in Mark's case) of everyone's leftovers and everything - the pho, the beef salad, the chicken satay - all incredible. It really does have to go down as one of my fave restaurants of all time - simply because I love Vietnamese food and their food was really, really, REALLY good.

Nga Trang, Wellington Street, Central

Pig and goose
Mark loves his pork(!) so we made sure he got suckling pig at Wah Fung. I think this is a fantastic tourist restaurant as it's a little bit more people friendly than others - though of course brisk and efficient. The goose had finished that day which was a shame as I wanted to try it as something so synonymous with Hong Kong but never got around to it.
Wah Fung, 112-114 Wellington Street, Central

Cream puffs
We'd seen cream puff shops in Vietnam but didn't really know what they were. Well what are they? It's basically a choux pastry ball full of some kind of cream or custard. Turns out they are yummy. We visited the cream puff shop that was somewhere around Stanley/Wellington Streets a couple of times.


Weird and wonderful:

Marks & Spencer

Too much of a treat from home to resist, we twice bought picnics for our room at M&S Stores. Roast beef sarnie, crisps, cheese straws, cocktail sausages, sweets - all those familiar and much missed goodies.


Spam Tram
I don't really need to explain this - how. fantastic. is. that?


Vending drinks
These were in the vending machine at Macau airport:


Sliced Dork
That's how I take my nerds!


Hello Kitty food store
I don't even know what the product is but I am that sad that I got excited anyway.


Tea & hot water
I picked up some jasmine tea from the 7 11, simply because it was all they had and it was cheap. I'm now gutted that I forgot to stock up on this tea. I'm used to jasmine tea being very mild but this stuff is quite full on which is lush.

The other tea that I had a lot, is the lemon tea you always get in the cheaper cafes. It's basically the most stewed normal tea you get with lemon slices left in - packs a punch and Mark thought was vile but I loved it. It wasn't sweet - that was the key for me. It definitely put hairs on your chest.

Quite a lot, we got a glass of hot water free when we first went into restaurants or cafes. This is something I've never had before. It makes sense to be honest, as it was cold out, so it was just the ticket I think. But the concept freaked Mark out!!



Stomachs & the like
Having been travelling for a while I have developed a way stronger stomach than before. I have learned to eat and not question when needs be and I'm very familiar with inner tubing appearing at the supermarket but I did find I couldn't quite get past the amount of stomach you find in Kowloon. Never failed to make me a little queasy.


Carrot juice with milk
This just seems very wrong


Birds nest soup
I was tempted to try this as it's such a delicacy but as it, I believe, involves swallow spit (2 usually opposing words), couldn't quite bring myself to.


Posted by KtandMark 07:32 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (0)

China - I took Macau to Hong Kong

by Kt



Now, I didn't really know what or where Macau was. I knew that you could fly on my favourite, bargin airline AirAsia there from Chiang Mai. I knew they had casinos.
I didn't know it was a hop skip and a jump from Hong Kong. I didn't know it is a former Portugese colony and is a SAR in the same way Hong Kong is to the UK.
I know both of these things now and I am also rather taken with it.

Hong Kong was a must on my travel list. My mum lived there when she was v little and it's just somewhere I've always wanted to go. Once I realised we could get to Hong Kong so easily and cheaply it was a no brainer. We could also do our latest Thai visa extension there.

So Macau tickets were booked for New Years eve for just over a week. Yes, I realised after I booked them that it possibly wasn't my brightest plan to book a trip on one of the most popular night of the year. We ended up booking just the one night in Macau in the end, which I kind of regret now but I found it difficult to find accommodation and just couldn't get my head around what exactly the place was!!

Flying in, it instantly felt strange to see things written in Portugese. We arrived quite late at night, got whisked off by a banshee of a taxi driver who scared me rather a lot (and I am used to south east asian driving bare in mind). We went past some big vegas-esque resorts and headed for the old city which is where we were staying it was whe

n we kept going i got concerned and when he indicated he would need to drop us off and we'd have to walk to the hotel, i got further concerned. It was dark and the area looked deserted. Luckily, he turned the corner and we were presented with a prettily lit street which lead for miles down. This is why I hate and mostly try to avoid arriving anywhere in the dark. I don't care if it's dark at 5pm or 2am - the dark makes everything always look worse than it is.

So we found the hotel. Luckily I had been warned about the abrupt staff and the big key deposit you need to pay due to reading reviews (knowledge is always power). It was a funny little place but we were only there the night and it did the job. It was a normal, respectable hotel but was designed rather interestingly. The mirror tiles on the walls and ceiling were clearly there to make the room look bigger but eeewwww - nobody wants that!! We quickly ditched our stuff and shuffled out to see what we could catch of New Years eve.

I was instantly charmed as we walked down to the central area of the old city, past chinese medicine, meat, jewellry and allsorts shops.


There was a big square area and the whole place was lit up beautifully it really gave me that christmas magic feeling I'd been missing. We had a bit of a potter about and you could, even in the dim light, see the huge european influence here. Obviously in Vietnam etc there are grand french style old buildings etc but this place was something else - it was so like being in an old european town but yet different and both sides to it were appealing. There was even a man selling chestnuts and a nativity.




We headed up the road further and were nearing the Lisboa, a grand hotel casino and the shops got a little plusher and there was a bit more billboards and flashing lights. It was weird. So we have old europe, chinese and now vegas. Why not eh?


The hotel was, as they so often are, all plushness but not wildly interesting. They did have some amazing carvings in there if that kind of thing floats your boat - jade, some kind of gold and a mammoths tusk (I kid you not).


I liked the funny little mirrors and lamps they had in the lobby though:


We tunneled our way under the road to the attached casino and it really reminded me of vegas where you spend half your time walking in or between casinos not quite sure if you're going in the right direction. The casino flummoxed us a bit. We think it was mainly majong. There wasn't anything we recognised - don't know if they had any other kinds anywhere else. We ditched the idea of grabbing a bite to eat in this over-priced oddity and headed back towards our hotel.

We ended up in this bizarre little cafe off the side of a kind of betting shop. But my god the food was good. I had wanton soup and Mark had a beef aniseed brisket thing (sounds awful, looked awful but was actually lovely) - cheap as chips too. We also had super long chopsticks. We found these odd but later had them everywhere so realised they were the norm but they looked kinda freaky to us.


We were still not planning on drinking so after we'd finished our meal, we were a bit lost as what to do. There wasn't really anything in way of cafes for drinking, even when we walked about more then next day, apart from a couple of starbucks, there weren't places to sit drink anywhere in the old city which slightly knocked off the european edge of course.
So we didn't know what to do with ourselves really. It didn't help that we were rather cold. We knew it was going to be much cooler in this part of the world and had bought shoes and jackets accordingly but had thought it to be a bit warmer than it was. A cold snap had hit it and we were not used to being cold. Mark was not at all happy about this. I quite enjoyed the novelty but wished I had something warmer to wear.


We eventually headed back towards our hotel and then followed the booming noise coming from round the corner. Once we got up there we discovered an outside concert going on at the front of the sofitel hotel at such enormous volumes I could barely stand it. They were quite a good band actually but we were a little puzzled that the band they'd used for this new years eve, outside, loud gig had tracks such as 'dirty $%@& prostitute'. We probably would have hung about longer if it wasn't for the brass monkeys and so nipped into the 7 11 down the road and picked up some new years eve treats. I had some ferrero roche and grapefruit juice. Wild i know. We just gave up at this point and though it was gone 11 we decided we couldn't be bothered to stay up so we went back to the hotel. The room was utterly, painfully freezing and I knew we were going to have major fights over the 'slightly too small for the bed' duvet. There was nothing new years eve'y on the tv, it had lots of financial reports,some strange jazz harp thing and an even stranger show where they interviewed a load of beauty queens one by one who answered in a variety of languages, some english but nothing was subtitled either way. We shivered, barely acknowledged the new year or the many reflections of us coiling round the room and went to sleep not long after it turned 2013.

Next morning, we checked out and headed to explore Macau a bit before we caught our afternoon ferry to Hong Kong.
It was fresh but a bit warmer and had clear blue skies for a bit. The city streets were equally as delightful in the daylight.


We passed the Pawn Shop museum on our way. This is a big building, still practising as a pawn shop, which holds onto people's goods for 3 years if needs be. Bit of an odd one, but maybe pawning and gambling are how Macau came to be the vegas-esque casino destination it now is.


I am pleased to report though that it is a nice destination in itself. As I said, there's european and asian styles mixed up.


It was really weird to see the church in the middle of town - it's been so long since I've seen all the christian paraphernalia. I'm not a big church fan, but the novelty and the fact that it was unusually bright lured me in and it was a rather stunning place.


I know that my brain has become warped by recent times, as when I looked at this guy, his body position made me think he was looking at an ipad.


Macau is a pleasant little place to hang out - lacking in those damned cafes though - we struggled to find breakfast and out of desperation ended up in starbuck. I know, starbucks - awful, but it was cold and we needed something to eat and wifi to work out where on earth we were and where we were going.


The place was heaving with people - new years day is clearly shopping crazy. We accidentally found the ruins of the St Paul's Cathedral which were actually quite stunning when the sky went beautifully blue for us.




We headed off in the hope of finding a portuguese tart (I've never been to portugal believe it or not) but as we got a bit lost and then were worried about being late to the ferry, it never happened. What I did get, however, was a very interesting walk up to the ferry. We passed the some big hotels, like the Wynn which looks like a mini version of the vegas one - ie brown and uninteresting. Then, as we were nearing the end of our walk, we passed a volcano and some ruins. The Sands hotel was beautifully, old school vegas kitsch. As the one in vegas had been wiped out ages ago it was cool to see a big sign with the so well known logo. Well we thought so anyhow.

The ferry went smoothly until we'd been sat ready to 'take off' and they announced there was a problem and we had to go and get on another boat. It only knocked about 45 mins off our journey so no biggie. I'd accidentally bought a more expensive ticket than we'd realised so we were upstairs in super class and got a free meal. This was a strange kind of spaghetti bolognese which tasted like a ready meal from the 1980s. Mark ate mine!
When we landed we couldn't be bothered with all the long queue shuffling so we hung about upstairs before going down, only to realise when we go down there, that all the people in normal class were being held back from getting off until everyone was out of superclass. We felt very guilty. We aren't used to this kind of fancy travelling ;)

Hong Kong

Quite frankly, after the surprisingly delightful Macau, Hong Kong, on first site, looked impressive but a bit grim. I think the fact the weather had got very merky didn't help and it just looked like it was going to be jam packed and industrial, almost. Then we ended up on the never ending walkway. We were literally on a walkway for a mile and you're trying to work out how and when to get down. Most bizarrely the walkway was full of ladies sitting in cardboard boxes. Homeless we first thought, surprised, then we noticed they left there shoes outside the cardboard box 'rooms' they created and had bottles of wine and laptops and were happy as larry. After a while I remembered I'd heard about the maids on a sunday, their day off, all congregate in the parks to hang out together. It was new years day, so a day off, so that's who they were. It's a freaky sight when you first come across it and there was just so many of them. We saw the fuller extent of it the following sunday as we were all over town and saw them all around the parks (Victoria Park is the particular hangout for the Indonesian/muslim maids). They setup on the walkways and down the middle of some of the shopping streets. It's proper mental but is just part of Hong Kong culture and in a funny way is a tourist attraction in itself.


The first hour or so in Hong Kong we were confronted with what I would say I like least about the place. All roads lead to a shopping centre. Seriously, it's crazy - there are so many of them and wherever you walk, you end up in one. You'd think this would help when you're trying to find your way around but it doesn't. It doesn't because the evil empire want to keep you in the shopping centre so you can never find your way out of the bloody places.
We walked along a lot of walkways and I later learned added a good 15/20 mins to the journey just by getting a bit lost. We then locate our road and realised we had a steep hill to climb. So glad we brought light luggage. We later learned that said hill could easily be avoided by taking a shortcut - oh good.

Our hotel, Mini Central, did what it said on the tin and was mini, but was also a great price for Hong Kong and was really nice with it. The rooms were incy - everything designed brilliantly for maximum space. Perfect for us as we had only hand luggage - can imagine more interesting with bigger luggage but you wouldn't book it then if you had any common sense. The downstairs lounge area was really big and cool and cozy so if you wanted somewhere to hang out with a bit of space was perfect. It was also still nice and christmassy while we were there. The one challenge was that there was clear glass separating the room and the bathroom. I'd seen pictures of the room so I should have expected it, but I'd kind of thought they were shown clear on the sites to show what the rooms looked like. Well, it's not ideal for a romantic get away but not the end of the world for a couple of nights. Why they didn't use frosted glass, at least on the bottom half is beyond me. Mark found it hilarious.... at first ;)


We found we were next to some good food streets, Wellington Street in particular, but had that 'just arrived' dopeyness and indecision going on so didn't quite know what to go for. It was also dark, and we didn't know how far we could walk before the area got dodgy (it turns out it pretty much doesn't). We ended up settling on dumplings, a cream puff and an early night. These are not euphemisms ;)

Next day (Wednesday), we had a nice early start to head to the Thai consulate for day 1 of sorting out our next visa. We expected this to be painful and timely, but in true Hong Kong style, it was simple and quick. Although, it did falter at one point as they said we had nearly over stayed our allowed number of visas and were sent off to get proof that we had tickets booked out of Thailand after the 2 months. Luckily we had our tickets to Japan booked and they just sent us off somewhere nearby to print. This was a bit of a shock as, as far as we knew there is no limit on number of times you can go in and out of Thailand as long as you pay for you visa. We've always done at least a week everywhere we've renewed and never done a border run in a day like so many people do. We are 99% sure that this would not have been brought up if we'd got this latest visa in Laos, Cambodia or Malaysia. Anyhow it was sorted thank goodness. Always worrying when you've left nearly all your worldly goods in a country that you'll actually be allowed back in.

During this trip to the Thai consulate we realised that a - their city rail (MTR) system is amazing and that using notable buildings is the best way to work out your routes. In fact most train stations exits directed you out to the various buildings too.

Hong Kong Park
We were pretty much opposite the park so we headed over there as a park in Asia is always an interesting perspective on life and somewhere for a nice sit down after all the walking. Yes, I am old enough to these days appreciate a nice sit down. Especially good if it's accompanied by a good cup of tea.
Anyhow, I hadn't realised the park was going to be so freaking steep. Killed us just getting up there and it's steepness meant it wasn't the expanse I was expecting, but cut up into various segments.

They had a big old pond with great fish ad terrapins as well as a big, walk-through aviary.



We had had no breakfast and were starving by this point so I looked at my list of potential eateries and decided stodge was the way forward.
I'd read about these 'Cha chaan teng' places which essentially are tea cafes that serve cheap and cheerful food and thought had to try one. So I dragged Mark along - more about that on the Hong Kong food post. It refuelled us enough to have a good wander around the streets of Wan Chai. This was definitely a contrast to where we were staying which was slicker with big, expensive brand shops and was way more interesting. This was probably the point where I really started to fall for Hong Kong.

I was still rather peckish as what I'd ordered had been pretty small and it was all too complicated to try for something else, so when we got back to our hotel area, I decided, in a fit of excitement, to get some bits from Marks & Spencer food hall. It's been well, well over a year since I ate anything from M&S and, well, oh my gosh... you've no idea.. i can't explain. It's amazing how it's the simple things. Just walking around the familiar, yet long unseen aisles filled me with nostalgia (and just frankly almost crippled me with homesickness). We took our goodies back to our mini room and laze about for a bit as we were so knackered.

Star ferry & harbour Light show
We then headed out to catch the famous Star Ferry over the harbour and to watch the light show.


The ferry is amazing - cheap, quick and the views and lights at night are stunning. We were a little early for the light show so we wandered down the harbour front - past the avenue of the stars, which has famous chinese hands. It was pretty chilly and there wasn't as much down there as I had expected. Puzzles me that they dont' really make the most of the waterfront - seems to be the best place for restaurants and bars - but apart from a few big hotels there wasn't much. We found a funny little bar next to a starbucks and gave in, despite our best intentions to go not drink in Hong Kong, and had a nice drink as we overlooked the harbour. Well you have to don't you. And it was nice wine too (these days, for me, this means that it's just not on the turn).

The light and sound show itself is a little lame but you've got to see it. My favourite thing, to be honest, was that it was barely after christmas and had just been new year, so all those lights were fabulous. I really felt like I'd gotten to experience christmas after all.


After the light show, we tried to find the ICC tower to go up to the bar in the Ritz Carlton for the views, but got stuck in a shopping mall for half an hour, trying to escape, so in the end we just gave up. These huge shopping centres are like black holes - hard to find your way out. The one plus side to this one though was it had the most amazing christmas display at the entrance.
There was a bunch of really, really, old folk having their photo taken so we had to get them too, they were too sweet.


We caught the ferry back over to Hong Kong island (lower deck this time - it's cheaper). Then, spurred on by our first drink in nearly 4 months, we thought we'd find another. There didn't really seem to be anywhere about to have a drink (I later learn that I have to think up - everythings up in tall buildings rather than on ground level). So we settled in a cheesy, touristy bar street that I had previously discounted - simply because you could get a drink and a seat. We stayed there a while but not too long for it to get messy luckily.

Thursday -up with a slightly fuzzy head, checking out and back off to the Thai visa office. Luckily, this was over in seconds. Amazed and grateful we headed off to find some sustenance.

We took the MTR down to Sheung Wan and headed up to Hollywood Road to find The Frying Pan - a supposedly great place to fill our dehydrated body's needs.
This area gets really, really steep and the Frying Pan has to be on steepest hill there. Mark, of course, didn't moan for a second about this. The place was utter fabulousness - again, see food post for further waffling.

Once filled, we headed off to Kowloon to find our airbnb residence, where we'd be for the next 5 nights.

Wow, Kowloon is way busier than Hong Kong island and crazier and brighter!! There's lots of walkways around Mongkok station so you can have a great nose about and get an interesting perspective of the place. I was very excited to find our place right in the middle of all the action.


Our airbnb host wasn't about but we had instructions how to get in etc so sorted ourselves out in our interesting little abode. It was a v basic flat and there was a kind of hall with a mini kitchen - all the rest were bedrooms. Great idea to rent them out and make some money considering how expensive Hong Kong is. We were paying way, way over double what we would pay in Thailand for a quite fancy room per night. But I quite like that about airbnb, that you have experiences be they good or be they interesting - it's a little bit of an insider view to life somewhere.
The biggest problem we had was that the place was freezing. It always seemed to be colder inside than it was out and no heating - i guess they don't need it most of the year. So mostly when we were in the room we were under the duvet trying to keep warm. The shared bathroom was also interesting. The drainage was a bit odd. the floor was usually wet so there was matting to keep your feet off the floor and there were flip flops you could borrow.

So this pic sums up our time in this apartment - I had to buy thick socks to keep warm and so looked stunning in them and the flip flop combo:


It wasn't an especially welcoming place to go back to which got a bit tiring, but it was the most amazing location. I didn't particularly plan it that way, I was trying to find something affordable - but it turned out to be on the doorstep of some of the most interesting parts of Kowloon - the various markets and incredible eating.



Goldfish street
This was literally 2 streets away from us. I was a street that sold fish and the general area also had a fair few reptile and pet shops.



Choosing where to eat around Kowloon is tricky because there is so much to choose from on and it's all a bit overwhelming. It really is one of those places where you can use the expression 'the sights, sounds and smells'. You can definitely get great priced food round there. Lot's of the cafes are simple - a bit confusing but worth just going for it - it's such an english speaking place that it's usually easy to sort things out.
We had some really simple food, Mark had some pork and I had a kind of prawn omelette type thing - simple, basic but beautiful.

Friday was the day that turned into a bit of a fiasco. There is a very famous place in Hong Kong, which turned out to be a short walk from where we were staying, that has a Michelin star but at super cheap prices. I knew you had to turn up and get a number and then come back again and that a lot of queueing was involved but I had been led to believe that it was worth it. It wasn't and it took up a good 4 hours of our day - more on this at the food blog post.

I really wanted to go to the Shamrock hotel, on Nathan Road, near Kowloon Park, as when my mum had first come to Hong Kong as a child - that is where they stayed and I knew it was still there. So we went down there - it was kind of difficult to see the place properly as the whole area is a built up, busy, shopping area. So we headed down for some peace and quiet at the park.

Kowloon Park
Another reason to head for a park in Hong Kong, that I must mention, is that you can always get the government wifi so if you need to look things up, get your bearings - head for the greenery!

There was some animation sculptures in there which were rather impressive.

There was a rather cute looking, and I hate to say this without spitting, but maccy d's in the park:


I was most delighted, however, at the flamingos. I love flamingos!!


Mark went into the aviary while I had, yep you guessed it.. a sit down. On his way out he found a bunch of old geezer's playing chess:


Now I think an example of the efficiency of hong kong is that they even number their slopes:


The temple of a ten thousand buddhas
Saturday and we ventured out into the New Territories - somewhere that didn't used to be part of Hong Kong but the British bough some extra land off the Chinese to extend it at some point. The train ride became overland so was great to see the scenery change and become less urban.
We were heading out there to go to the temple of a thousand buddhas. There really isn't much around this are apart from a shopping centre (of course) with a sprinkling of not very inspring restaurants, some lovely home shops and ikea of all things.
First problem was we couldn't find the blinkin temple. We first walked into a private temple where we got politely sent on our way. Then we headed off up some slopes (this temple is up in the hills) following a sign to a temple we presumed was it. It was a zig zaggy path passing quite rickety buildings and we were a bit unsure as there were no signs or other people. I had literally just said to Mark how it was good coz if we were in Thailand we would have seen a bunch of ropey looking dogs by now. Upon that I spied in front of me a huge, dog, the like I have never seen before, standing, un-tethered about 3 feet away from me on the left. I quietly moved to the right as far as I could without falling down the slope and walked past ignoring it while dying inside. As usual Mark was taking no notice of what might be going on with me so hadn't noticed I'd shut up. I turned behind me to notice him dawdling up the hill on the left side of the path and his face was less than a foot from this dog that was staring right at him. I kept walking and took the fact that I hadn't heard ripping jugulars as a good sign and when Mark caught up with me he said he's seen it at the last minute and it had not growled but 'puffed' at him and stamped it's feet. I'm sure it was more freaked out than he was by Marks dopey challenge on his territory and he is unlikely to be on the loose if he was a murderous, blood thirsty beast but still, we we both had heart in throats. He has henceforth been known as 'horse dog' due to his unprecedented size. I have no idea what breed it was, I really have never seen anything quite like it. It was quite asian looking but I would think some mongrelling going on there too but a bit fighting dog looking too. Jesus that dog was big!

After all that it turned out we were in completely the wrong place - it was a chinese cemetery we were heading up towards. A lovely girl with her family got us to follow her out and directed us to the right place. When we found it, the entrance was so unmistakeable we couldn't believe we'd been so stupid as to risk life and limb with horse-dog.


Quite frankly, the path up to this temple is undeniable kitsch and cheerful. Each statue is different with it's own style and personality.


The ten-thousand buddhas actually refers to the temple building at the top which has it's walls covered by shelves of tiny buddha statues - each one with a light beneath it. You can't take photos but take me word of it - it's worth the steep hike up there. It was beautiful.

Outside there were more interesting figures. Checkout these fantastic fellas....



If you're going up there, save eating for the little cafe they have. Best spring roll of my life I am sure. The view is spectacular also.


Sham Shui Po
After the temple we went to another area of Hong Kong known for it's crazy markets. Lot's of odd electronics - old video records, remote controls, lights and things like that.


We were pretty knackered after lots of walking so didn't really have the energy for it but was cool to see.

We ended the day, I would say quite pitifully but it was jolly good thank you very much. We went to an irish pub we'd spotted down by Tsim Sha Tsui. It was in a basement and we thought it would be small, vibeless and heaving. It turned out to be cosy, friendly and practically empty - result!!! So we had a few drinks there before popping over the road to another M&S to pick up some bits and pieces for our tea. The first decent cheese straws I've had in 10 months - happy days. We got odds and sods and it cost a fortune but so worth it. A nice mix of a day I thought.

Soho/Sheung Wan
So, sunday, I was after having a roast. Now I know it sounds like I'm obsessed about getting british things but we were mostly trying all kinds of chinese things but when you've been away from home so long, these things are exciting. So we headed into Sheung Wan, Soho area again as I wanted to explore this more anyhow.

We had a roast - I talk about the highs and lows of this in the food post. Then we went about having an explore.
This area was amazing for shops and restaurants. The eclectic, arty and 2nd hand shopping was great - I was only gutted I couldn't snap up some of the fantastic oddities I encountered. I loved this area - I would happily live there for a few months but I imagine the monthly rent is what we live of for 6 months.. at least. Ideally it would be in one of the little restored Wing Lee Street houses.


Wing Lee Street


I'd read about this street and dragged Mark up the steep old steps to take a look. It was some 60s buildings which were run down, dodgy to hang around at night and were going to be torn down, but there role in a famous film has ended with them being saved and restored.


This place, next to Wing Lee street was a kind of indoor kids park. It was simultaneously curious and sinister. I guess mainly it was designed for practicality though.


I love communist imagery, especially vintage but with no budget and no home I just couldn't justify getting anything.
All I got in the end was a few vintage Hong Kong postcards and a modern, kitschy Mao waving hand watch.




Man Mo temple
This, I think I'm right in saying is the oldest temple in the city which we stumbled upon by accident. There were huge coils of burning incense hanging from the ceiling.




We were knackered (again) so, as I'd heard the tram was a great way to see the top stretch of Hong Kong Island, we hopped on one to have a rest. It really is a great view point. Best of all you only swipe your Octopus card once per trip, so if you want to go the whole way to the end and back, you pay once - and it's only about 20p.


We went pretty far down the line - passed Victoria park where all the Indonesian maids hang out on a sunday. It moved past the busy shopping districts into slightly more residential areas and past some buildings built right into the steep slopes. It's def the best cheap (and lazy) tourist tip there is!

On our way back there was a kerfuffle and looking out of the tram we saw this incredible flooding along one of the main shopping streets. It must have been a burst water main but the amount of water was insane - it was centimetres from reaching the shop doorways (which are high up from the paths which have high curbs anyhow). Was a strange thing to see in an urban environment with all the other streets around bone dry.

Buns, Birds & Flowers
Monday morning started with a pineapple bun for me (my new true love) at the Kam Wah cafe. We'd discovered this place round the corner from us a couple of days before and it turned out to be famous for it's pineapple buns. See food post for more outpourings of love.

The flower and bird markets, also turned out to be a few streets away from us. The flower market sounded interesting, but frankly I don't really like cut flowers, so other than a quick stroll through we didn't hang about.


The Bird park/market is a place where old fellas take their pet birds out for a walk. They take them out in the cage and hang them on the trees that line the pathway, while they have a chat. There is also a bird market at the end which as you can imagine is a tad on the noisy side. Obviously caged bird of any kind are not the most ideal concept but judging on your travels doesn't do and it is quite common in asia. Also, these are all very well looked after, treasured birds.


Stanley beach
It was a gorgeous, blue sky day, much warmer than it had been so we decided to head to the beach.

Stanley was a hop skip and jump on the metro then bus (well in all it prob took well over an hour, but when it's efficient and easy, you don't notice).
Had been ages since we'd been by the proper 'seaside'. It had a lovely little seafront. It really looked very british and by the looks, a lot of ex pats live or at least hang out around there.
There was a cute little pub looking out to sea - we couldn't resist going in for a quick one before we set about exploring.
Umteen hours, umpteen drinks and umpteen tunes on the jukebox (the can can?!? who could resists) later and things were very messy. We ate a pizza and got a taxi - neither or which I shamefully can remember much of. I obviously fell asleep in the taxi but woke up in kowloon and deftly, if I do say so myself, directed the taxi driver all the way back to where we staying - my homing pigeon instincts do always kick in when I need them!!!
Luckily, we'd started early so this was only mid evening so we got back and were asleep pretty early so we were not in a bad state for our last day of travel.

Last day - I sooooo didn't want to go. I didn't feel ready yet. If someone had offered me a home and a job there and then I think I would have taken them up on it.

For lunch, we met up with the lovely Maki, a good friend of a good friend, a family from the UK who are over staying with her on holiday and their friend who now lives in Hong Kong. Well that just succeeded in making me crazy homesick. Spending a few hours with lovely people really drives home to you what you're missing from hanging out with friends.
It ended up being a nice lazy lunch, followed by coffee.


The main features of Hong Kong, I believe, are Food, Architecture & Art. These were both such a major love for me that I have created separate blog entries for anyone who wants to be hear about the very varied food experiences we had - Food blog post - or get bored (unless you've got exactly the same taste in buildings as me, by the architecture blog post - it is mainly pictures!.

Such a boring thing to get excited about but it was the best I'd ever experienced. It really was so efficient and organised, didn't take you long to work it out, on time, inexpensive. Exactly how it should be done.
I mean at peak times it was crazy busy but somehow that's ok when everything is working well and it's not costing you a fortune.
I loved for instance how the stations would be tiled in one block colour so you could easily recognise them without seeing the name.


Oh London, if only!

I don't know what it was about Hong Kong - it's not the prettiest place, the most stylish, the most arty, the most edgy. It's got too many shopping centres. It's got too many people. But I just loved it. It was a feeling. I just felt happy and content there. Despite there being loads of people at times (though no where near as much as I'd expected), I never felt crowded and just kind of floated about feeling relaxed. I could imagine myself living there. Not forever, but for a little while. But then the reality of course is that it's an expensive place to live. Not because of a lot of the costs which get me at home - the food and transport was great value. But it's that square footage that is killer. For now, I will bare it in mind as an excellent city stop off if I ever need one. Now I wouldn't be afraid to stay way further out of the centre. It's a pretty safe feeling place (to be honest I'm yet to find anywhere as 'crimey' for want of a better word than home).
Mark, however, wasn't quite so taken with it and said at times he may as well be in London (it's nothing like London - which I don't like - he's talking rubbish)
He was un-expectedly unhappy when it was time to leave however. Fact is, I like some cities and the buzziness you get (definitely only certain ones though) and Mark doesn't - he likes tropical islands with nothing to do but dive. I don't. Any suggestions of somewhere between the two?
Anyhow, Hong Kong is going down as one of my favourite cities, alongside New York, Melbourne, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and of course Brighton (the bestest of all).

Weird and wonderful:

Hotels by the hour
All around Mongkok there were signs for these hotels available by the hour. These were places on the upper floors of buildings. They just seemed a bit odd and out of place in the middle of such busy streets - not the kind of place you can quietly sneak up to.


Because you often walk on walkways above the traffic, you often spy interesting things and around Mongkok we noticed a couple of places that were kind of darts centres. They were generally quite dark inside with the boards lit up in neon.


Cardboard shifters
Think this might be due to parking issues (and lack of cars anyhow) but everywhere you go are people dragging around cardboard boxes.


Crazy crossing
On the whole I never felt Hong Kong to be busy and overcrowded. I don't know why because seemingly it is, but it just never felt stressful to me. The one place that made me notice the number of people was from up high on a tram, as we waited at a crossing. This was pretty impressive for numbers of people.


Balloon Man
He was just a children's entertainer at some even that was going on in town one day but he was actually entertaining. And I normally hate clowns (due to obvious evilness).


You know me well
This was just on some sign that was built into a wall outside Hong Kong park.


Mark was convinced someone had killed Kenny all over the city


Didn't come across it that much but I don't think will ever get used to the chinese spitting thing. It's the hacking noise that goes with that kills you!
It blows your mind that they have to have signs all over the MTR train stations asking people not to spit because it spreads germs. Eww. You get the odd bit of spitting all over asia (and more than I'd like in the UK for that matter) but who would think it's ok to spit in the MTR station?

Apples sponsorship en masse
These simple yet effective Apple ads were everywhere. One of the main train hubs, central I think it was, had no other adverts in it's massive main hall - kind of impressive yet scary - which is how I often feel about Apple actually.


Hidden Hollywood sell outs
These massive pictures advertising a casino or Macau in general were hanging in the airport. It's definitely true what they say about people not wanting to ruin their reputations at home but will do the tacky adverts in the east, eh Mr DeNiro?


Happy Valley
I just love that there is somewhere here called that.


Hanging clothes
See this a lot but it was the most intensive I've seen it, because there are so few balconies in Hong Kong


Macau street ads
Lot's going on, on the shopping streets of Macau


Posted by KtandMark 07:29 Archived in China Comments (2)

Thailand - S'no christmas in Chiang Mai

by Kt

So in early December, on Mark's birthday to be exact, we had a bit of a shock when after having forgotten to rebook our rooms (the place had been empty for months so we hadn't really thought it necessary), reception phoned us to remind us to check out. We asked to extend and they told us the room was booked. This was a bit of a concern, not least because we had been living in the room for a few months and so had unpacked almost completely for the first time on the trip and so there was stuff everywhere. Mark went down to speak to reception as I hurriedly threw things into bags and cases. Luckily they managed to find us another room but this could only be booked until early january and we'd planned to stay until february. this in itself was not such a tricky thing, more the fact that we were due to go away for a week the beginning of january and had intended to leave all our stuff in our room as our flights were only for carry on. Coupled with the fact it had taken us so long to find the best place we could find for a reasonable price and length of time and the stress we'd gone through to do such - this was not the best birthday for Mark. After all that, a week or so later they managed to sort it out much to our eternal greatfulness. In some ways it was a real bonus to have moved. The air con worked properly in this room - oh joy. We had a washing machine - oh double joy. Best of all, we don't pay to have the room cleaned so we got a bran spanking new clean (well, as much as they do here) place to move into. It's lacking some comforts of the last place, like a sofa (we take it in turns on the arm chair), but it's pretty good all round.
We found the lack of utensils interesting when we came to do some cooking but learned that the flat cheese grater just does the job of a spatula for cooking eggs.

Christmas in Chiang Mai was obviously weird. Our second christmas away from home but without the euphoria from last year when we'd only left home a few weeks before.
The Thai's love a bit of decoration and New Year is pretty big here so there were some decs about to keep things festive and I received some xmas decs courtesy of friends and family, including a home made card xmas tree, courtesy of a my niece, so our room had a festive feel. But despite the collection of christmas songs i put together and watching as much christmas tv as possible it couldn't help feeling equally flat and equally tortuous as we were so god damn homesick.


We'd decided to take both Christmas Day and Boxing Day off from doing any work and to get some food in that would be considered a special treat for us here and we had some skype sessions planned with home.
Christmas Eve turned out to be a delight - I sailed into the almost empty shopping centre and around the supermarket having a very quiet stress free time. I didn't miss the christmas supermarket hideousness of home that is for sure. In fact as communication from people at home became more and more fraught with stress about everything from shopping, to travel and logistics and of course weather, I began to feel a bit better.
We ended up with a bizarre mix of 'treats' - some bread, cheese and cold meats, bit of chocolate, some crisps. It was all a bit random really but as we only wanted stuff for a couple of days and were trying not to blow the budget, we had an interesting mix I think. We spent double our usual £20 supermarket shop which Mark was quite horrified by. My desperate need for some cheese straws didn't work as usual - they were a bit sweet. It is my holy grail of asia :(
This may look like an unimpressive collection of things but it is really expensive stuff over here so things we just don't buy/eat normally.


So the day itself was a bit of a heart twister but pleasant enough. We got some fireworks - not sure if that was for christmas enough but never get sick of that and these were the most impressive I've seen in a long time.

Life was pretty much back to normal on the 27th but we were going away for a week on the 31st and some stuff in the hotel and around was closing for new year. Mark went to the gym on the last day before it shut down and had the real delight of them doing not only a spring clean, spraying all the cleaning sprays around to polish all the machines, but they were spray painting over one of the machines which had gotten worn to. WITH THE WINDOWS ALL TIGHTLY SHUT!?! this was because of the air conditioning of course. He just had to get out of there. They were shutting in a couple of hours for a few days, so why they couldn't wait. Just crazy! It's an ok gym but at home health and safety people would have full on fits. My favourite is the ping pong table. It's not the most fun to have a ping pong ball drop onto your running machine when you're running full pelt I can tell you. Anyhow, I'm not going to be all 'ex-patish' and slag of anything Thai but sometimes things like this, especially when you're feeling a bit homesick anyway, make you shake your head in wonderment. Still, Mark survived the day without keeling over, so all was ok.

Oh, what I hadn't mentioned is that were off the booze. We hadn't had a drop since back in September and we were trying to go for a few months, partly for health (being on one long holiday can certainly take it's toll) and partly for money reasons (being on one long holiday can certainly take it's toll there too).
So we may well have had a more 'merry' christmas if we'd been able to actually partake in the christmas 'spirit' (oh so many puns). Not that drink of course makes life rosy in anyway, but we would have probably been down into the old city, making friends for the night and it would have just felt a bit more celebratory. Not that much of the christmasy booze would really work here. The baileys would curdle, the red wine served cold. Just doesn't work.

We watched endless downloaded bbc programs which just frankly tortured us. Every cooking program going which left us drooling and pining messes.
Mark had never watched Nigella before properly and he banned her pretty early on. I have to watch her at xmas as her stuff is always so good so I just take a deep breath and ignore all her nonsense.

Apart from my family and friends who I missed desperately and painfully, these are some of the things I missed:
- proper christmas dinner obviously
- my mum's sausage rolls
- rachel's cheese straws
- cindy's brie & cranberry parcels
- cold turkey
- the christmassy booze - mulled wine, baileys, southern comfort etc
- quality street/roses - i don't even like choc much the rest of the year but these are just perfect for xmas
- brandy butter (not fussed about the christmas pudding so much) and again - my mum's homemade.
- buying presents
- christmas tv - we could download only bbc and there was the odd, sporadic christmas movie on
- what everything looks like (apart from the rubbish council lights) at christmas in brighton
- the hatter family quiz/price game and ensuing chaos
- escaping from the cold into a warm, fairy light sprinkled pub playing christmas music with loved ones
- the kids excitement in the run up and constantly being able to use being good for father christmas as a threat

I'm getting dreamy and bleary eyed thinking about it so to make me feel better...things I didn't miss so much:

- crazy consumerism chaos - shops and advertising to the point you want to blew your brains out
- buying presents
- spending huge chunks of december and january in the car stuck in traffic whilst visiting various parts of the country
- the kids once they have been overwhelmed by presents, sweets, people and are flying about like they are in a pinball wizard machine
- the weather
- the eternal darkness

Some randoms:

The Topps supermarket xmas catalog was an interesting read sometimes things like this are curiously interesting.
They offered loads of hampers which have lots of lovely names like 'the highest respect', 'genuine respect', 'spirit of trust'. There were about 50 choices which had either 'respect' or 'trust' in the title, along with a little bit of 'love' and 'health'. Who wouldn't want to receive a hamper called something like that?



Then we had the charity thing which raised funds for bullet-proof jackets for troops down in the troubled areas of the south. Slightly alarming they need to raise charity funds for this to say the least. Different from putting your green waitrose button in the box for a group of donkeys to get an easter fete. Not that I don't adore donkeys or anything and always made sure I used my button, but you get my drift.


Japanese xmas elvis:


Keen enjoy and drink wine - this massive banner was outside a new restaurant and bar that has recently opened down the road.


A cute tree made up of empty water bottles:


Posted by KtandMark 03:14 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Chiang Mai Loi Krathong/Yi Peng - a lantern up for the books

by Kt

We've just hit our years anniversary of leaving the England and we're definitely not ready to be heading home yet. We will be in South East Asia until February when we will finally, regretfully, move on.
Well we've been static in Chiang Mai from early Sept, bar our brief visit to Laos and we are living a pretty quiet life. We've been trying to get online work to help with our very dwindling funds and take the chance to get a bit healthier.
It's amazing how much it feels like home when you've been somewhere a while - you get your favourite shops, restaurants, even routes to get from A to B. Our neighbourhood, the most modern in Chiang Mai, really is lovely. It's modern, arty and trendy, It's also quiet and spacious and chilled.


The weather has been lovely. We spent so much of our time here in the wet season which is fine, but could get annoying being drenched all the time and in Chiang Mai it meant for lots of grey skies which just reminded me of home. October and November have been dry, blue skied and also, happily, a little cooler. Still hot, just not humid and with a breeze coming in from time to time.

Loi Krathong, Yi Peng

I'd seen pictures of the lantern festivals in Chiang Mai and was chuffed that we had ended up staying long enough for it. It was, however, really confusing to try to work out when and even what it was. There is the nation wide festival, then there is the local festival but in the end it just seemed that they intermingled and this year mixed in a bit with some celebrations for the kings birthday so we had a week full of lanterns and fireworks. Our room being on the 11th floor came in really handy and the sky would have lots of lanterns floating up over the mountains and pockets of fireworks going off (including fireworks being set off from balconies - don't ask!!). In the cow field next to where we stay they had these home made candles with flammable liquid set up along the low fence.


We worked out that there were a couple of 'main days' and we certainly picked the right one to go into the Old City and down by the Ping river. It was truly one of the best experiences of my life. It was just beautiful and magical and a bit crazy.

There were big fireworks going off, there were also some small ones being bought on the street and set off, near the bridges. They were a little alarming as some of the kids with them were pretty young. You just had to not think too hard about it and get ready to duck!! It wasn't a big deal, just one of those differences you notice between here and our health and safety obsessed society. The only time anything was particularly alarming was outside a restaurant/bar on the backstreets, was a western guy, quite clearly drunk, firing fireworks out of a gun. Stupid arse! Luckily it was pretty quiet around there.


The traffic had been shut off from a lot of the Thapae gate area which made for a nice experience - it's usually a bit crazy around there and you could appreciate the place in a different way. There were some amazing paper light sculptures set up by the - iconic buildings from around the world. There were lit up sculptures on the canal ways - always beautifully kitsch.


There was a carnival style parade that went from from the Thapae gate and all the way along to the river. It did remind me of a smaller, Thai version of the west country carnivals. We followed the procession, stopping off in a Wat along the way to light our own lantern. It was lovely in the Wats as the monks were helping people out and really enjoying it. A monk with his mobile out snapping the lanterns is a funny site.




Even the banks had paper lantern displays outside.


There were so many people setting their candle lit floats into the river. There was a variety of floats, but I loved the bread ones best - shaped into things like turtles.



The lanterns were the main thing though. You may have seen them at home - they tend to be a bit smaller and I remember Mark and I trying to light some on Brighton Beach and it failing miserably because of the wind. Anyway, the one's here are much bigger, in fact some are simply enormous.
You light the base, hold onto it for a while, while it fills with hot air and then it whips up into the air, with surprising force.



They were going off everywhere for the whole week, but when we were in the Old City on the Wednesday, it was on a whole other level. The sky was full. I can't even imagine how many. And it was never ending.
My favourites were the ones that had fireworks attached to them. You lit the base and some strands off the side, then when it went up, when it got fairly high, fireworks lit up off the side. Utter gorgeousness!!!!






The sky was full for hours. Looking up was just amazing. Photos of the sky didn't really work to show what it looked like but I was just in awe the whole time.

There were obviously lanterns going off course all over the place, stuck in trees, on building - heading back down. But they're pretty robust - they'd just burn out, amazingly never setting fire to anything. But quite frankly, I found the occasional element of danger added to the experience!


Over the week there must have been 100s of thousands of lanterns going up, if not more. I'd love to know the actual figures. The clean up must be a nightmare and for a while the lantern remnants and failed lanterns were all over in odd places but within a week there were no signs anywhere!

Other weird and wonderful:

Political procession

I'd seen it before a few months back but it was a first for Mark - a procession of cars, coachs, vans and bikes of the Red Shirts who were going to making their way down to Bangkok for an anti government rally (weekend of 24th Nov). This is a long journey but politics is quite rightly taken very seriously and passionately here.

Nimmanheimen Design Festival


They had a little arty festival down Soi 1 (Lane 1) of Nimmanheimen Road which was really nice - art and crafty but in a more modern, cool style. They had little shows on at the top end on a small stage and we saw a band of pretty talented kids including a tiny little drummer. There was also a 'Turnip' puppet show - unfortunately we only caught the tail end but it did involve a big white turnip puppet!!


Kings Birthday

I got quite obsessed with watching the Kings birthday celebrations in Bangkok that were live on the TV. I guess it's like how people abroad like to watch our Queen doing stuff - royal weddings and the like - I got really into it. They had their version of bearskin guards but they didn't just have black hats - blue, green and even pink!! And all the crowds were dressed in yellow, the colour of the royal family and I've never seen so many people - it was quite incredible. The commentary was amazing too - it talked about the kings promise to the nation to look after the wild animals and help out the poor and keep them out of mischief. The general message was that everyone should be lovely, kind and considerate to each other. It was quite lovely and it never fails to amaze me the adoration most of Thailand has for their royal family. I guess it's like the UK was donkey's years ago when people had pics of the queen up in the house. But, yep, most of all I liked the pink hatted guards!!!


Mark and the Giant Moth

Our balcony overlooks a bit of unused land so there is a bit of nature stuff going on down there and we were on one day visited by the hugest moth we had ever seen. I've never even seen anything this big in wildlife parks/butterfly houses etc - it was truly mammoth. Mark was very fascinated and yet scared. He tried to get very close to take photos and then screamed when it flew about a bit. Not sure what he thought it was going to do to him.


Micky Mouse Bathroom

Rather loving the (not so sure official) mickey mouse bathroom stuff available at the shop down the road. I have since seen a rather impressive set of Hello Kitty stuff from there too!



Loved this rather specific sales percentage sign


Need good time?

Loved this that we came across in one of the lanes.


Dog Head

I don't know - but why not?


Xmas Elephants

Outside one of the shopping malls they'd dressed up their elephant statues in rather natty xmas attire.


Outdoor chandelier

At the opening of a new restaurant/wine bar they'd setup an outdoor venue with the most amazing outdoor chandelier.
It reminds me of Brighton round here - a business shuts and within a few weeks something else new and cool has opened in it's place.


Posted by KtandMark 04:55 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

We didn't have a Laosy time in Vientaine & Luang Prabang

by Kt

We ended up planning our trip to Laos partly because of course we wanted to go there but also because we needed to fly back into Thailand from somewhere to get the month's tourist visa. That was proving trickier than I'd predicted, I really should have looked in more detail about how few international flights went from Chiang Mai before we made our way up there. At a 10 or 12 hour bus or train ride or a pricey flight back down to Bangkok it's not easy to get down there to fly in and out somewhere. And the visa runs to the border which, because you're coming in overland means you only get 14 days visa anyhow, didn't seem worth it as they were gonna take up a good chunk of a day with unpleasant travelling. So in the end we decided to fly to Luang Prabang which is the destination we most wanted to go to in Laos. However, as time went on, we realised it would make more sense to get a 'proper' 2 month Thai visa which you can only get in a few destinations, outside of Thailand of course. So, for Laos, you could only get these in the capital, Vientiane. This is a 10 hour bus ride from Luang Prabang so in the short time we were booked to be in Laos didn't seem very feasible so I went against my usual rule of not booking connecting flights on the same day and booked flight down to Vientiane from Luang Prabang a couple of hours after our first plane was due to arrive. We then had to get to the Thai embassy between 8.30 and midday the next morning to then pickup our passports/visas the next day between 1 and 3pm before then getting a 5pm flight back up to Luang Prabang. What could go wrong? Well, lot's but happy days, not one thing did but the potential disaster and loss of money gave for some worrying moments! We only took hand luggage, so that baggage reclaim couldn't cause any potential delays, leaving nearly all our worldly possessions in a room in a country we only hoped would let us back in! So, that explains our slightly strange Laos itinerary but I'm actually really pleased we took the detour, staying in a capital city I think is good for an understanding of a place.

So, we flew with Laos airlines - this is a fairly new airline and it being from the developing country of Laos I think it's tended to have a bad rep of beaten up old planes and disorganisation. I felt it was best not to mention this to Mark as he's not the happiest flyer at the best of times. But it's all nonsense anyhow, Laos airlines were excellent - I can heartily recommend them. I did all the booking online which was fine. I even emailed them to ask about moving a flight to a day later and they just did if for me - NO CHARGE - can you imagine?

Luang Prabang airport is the quaintest little airport - it's like coming into a small, remote island. The added bonus of this is that everything is really simple. We got our visas really quickly and had plenty of time to spare between our connecting flight. My favourite thing about Laos airlines - our plane left early. We were on, all sorted, and off we went. That's definitely a first!!


It was dark by the time we got to Vientiane and the trip from the airport to our hotel was made delightful by the reams of fairylights that were up everywhere. There was a festival period going on and I'm still not sure now if they were because of that or if it's just a thing they like in Laos.

Our hotel was not in a great place as I'd picked it for the practical reason that it was smack bang opposite the Thai embassy.
There were some places to eat around there but not much and it was late so to my horror we went to a pizza place - not ideal but it did the job.
Something that was a little bit odd about an otherwise nice and simple hotel, was the 3d pictures they had in our room and the dining room. Check this bad boy out:


Next morning we were up early to get in line for our visas. It was super hot queuing outside the embassy, even though it was only 8.30am. We'd heard it was a bit of a pushy/shovey situation but although there was a fair amount of people there and some did indeed queue jump, the whole thing was all pretty easy and much quicker than we had expected. So with that all done we headed off into the centre of the city.

We got dropped at the museum which was in a nice colonial style old building and just headed off from there to find something to eat.
We couldn't find the place I was looking for so we carried on and went to another suggestion - Makphet which was a charity restaurant employing street kids. This was the best decision that we could have made. This place was utterly fantastic. I have to admit, Mark was not as happy with his meal as I was with mine but he conceded he hadn't ordered that well and he devoured any titbits of mine I sent his way.

I got to try buffalo for the first time with the buffalo fillet rolls, stuffed with pumpkin and herbs with a fruity dip. It was soooo good. I kind of expected buffalo to be tough and certainly not great for chomping into but it really did melt in your mouth and worked gorgeously with the other flavours.
My pudding was Coconut & Lime cake with hibiscus syrup and coconut ice cream. This was sublime. Not sure I've ever used that word before but this was the kind of dish which has you staring off into the distance dreamily just reliving eating it. Sent down from Angels - that's the only answer. And remember I'm not a dessert person!!!



We headed on down to our old friend the Mekong river, who we'd met in Vietnam and Cambodia - blimey that's a long river isn't it? The first part of it was a bit bland. Nice to see our old friend the cauldron, as we'd found in Cambodia, though. As we headed up to the park area we found an interesting statue set in a nice parkland area. It's pretty quiet in the day but comes into it's own late evening - more of that later. We did notice, though it was still light that there were fairy lights everywhere in this park, even on the smaller bushes.



In the centre of town we found a young soldier or policeman with a machine gun sat at a quiet crossroads. As we crossed the road, our heads were in direct line with the barrel (is it still called that on a machine gun). Do they not teach the young lads to point the guns down when not in use. I'd much prefer it if they did. We were a little surprised as Vientiane is very quite and pretty small and it seemed overkill for a road with so few cars on but we soon learned that there were big things going on in town. The 7th Asia-Europe Parliamentary Partnership Meeting was taking place and there were lots of important diplomats in town to protect. In fact they were just up the road and we enjoyed, while sitting in a cafe, watching all the diplomatic cars driving off with their police escorts. FYI Vietnam left early - not sure if they had a falling out :) This was also why, when we took a taxi back to the airport, they checked the boot of the taxi and looked under the car with mirrors on sticks. Not the most sophisticated security but I'm not going to be condescending about this proud, developing country. It was a big thing that they are able to hold this kind of thing.


We went back to the park as the sun started to set and it became, as parks so often do in South East Asia, a hive of activity. The open air aerobics, which again we have seen elsewhere, were really popular here. There were two sections of the park where tons of people could join in/stop as they liked. I think with the one session we were watching there must have been a couple of hundred people doing it at one point.


The fairylights had now kicked in and with the music from the aerobics and the groups of families and friends enjoying themselves, this turned into a really great place to chill-out and people watch.


Highlights and oddities

Tuk Tuks
Different again from where we've been before. Similar but different.


I thought this building was an interesting mix. A Laos building of a Chinese institution with the sign written in French.


The next day we picked up our passports and Thai visas (yey!) and caught our flight back up to Luang Prabang. We hadn't spent a lot of time in Vientiane but despite being a charming place and a nice introduction to Laos, there isn't a lot going on there so I think the couple of days were just fine.


We were super early for the flight but luckily the international airport terminal is pretty good. The domestic terminal next door (if you are there it is not sign posted anywhere you just have to get out and find it) is not quite as sophisticated. I likened it to a tube station for an outer London suburb (the one's that haven't been done up). A one-eyed kitten playing under the waiting area seats in the hot waiting area with the flight numbers and times are up on a hand labelled board. It's air conditioned when you go through thank god. Laos is pretty god damned hot!


Luang Prabang
Flying into Luang Prabang, we had this time, a clear view beneath us. The jungle was just amazing and the areas around Luang Prabang are a patchwork of greens - like the green character in the annoying Comfort Fabric Softener ads.
At the little airport they don't mind anyone snapping away so Mark took some picks of or plane and the guy bringing over a new wheel.


They needed a new tyre so the man wheeled it out all the way across the tarmac!!


Our taxi ride to our hotel, by now getting dark, was lovely due to ..... oh happy, happy me... more fairy lights. All the restaurants and cafe's seemed to have pretty lighting and just drew you in. We dumped our stuff in the hotel and headed out to explore as much in the dark as we could.
The first thing that strikes you is the peace. There is the predominant one sound - a bird or a frog, and not an annoying one at that. It's a Unesco world heritage site so traffic is restricted - there are lots of people on bikes. There are beautiful shop houses and colonial buildings. The old town has two rivers flowing on either side with places to eat and drink down the sides that are open air, not buildings, keeping the ascetic - and of course with pretty lighting. It really is ridiculously idyllic. Add to that the beautiful, orange clad monks which are pottering about everywhere.




The next day was hot, hot, hot. We did some exploring, stopping often for shade and a drink. We went to the former royal palace from which the royals were kicked out by the communists in 1975. Luang Prabang was one of the few places not bombed in the Vietnam war because the royals kept on good terms with the US - as you can tell by the couple of huge, Lincoln cars they were gifted and are on display. I can't imagine these ginormous vehicles rolling down the quiet streets of Luang Prabang but then saying that, I've seen an even bigger Hummer in the streets of Ubud, Bali, which I presumed could only be one of their still existing, known to be flash and lavish, young Royals. Had a bit of a nose around the palace, I was mainly interested as they'd been kicked out in the mid 70s, thought there might be some interesting decor. I rather liked the description of this artefact, that it was created to be puzzling!


We weren't allowed to photograph the royal cars but next to the garage was this old banger, which looked like it had been there from about the time the royals were kicked out.


We watched a boat that would take customers (in this case monks) over to a restaurant on the other side of the river and were amazed at how strong the current looked.


We then watched some kids playing noisily over on a sandback on that side of the river. Seemed to like some kind of youth club. They were having a blast. Then we notice a lone kid in the water, seemingly swimming across the river. This is the river with the really strong current remember. This kid can't have been older than 9. My heart was in my throat - he seemed to be heading for some boats and but had gone a little past them. He slowed down a little. Was he getting tired?
What the hell would I do if he was? Then he reached the boat, popped up and started playing with a cage next to it and was quickly joined by another boy who also swam across the river. So I'm having kitten's but it's clearly all in a days work for these tough little ones to swim across this strong current.



The beautiful weather broke that night and was replaced by a feisty lightening storm which went on for ages. In the end we had to venture out in it (I'd forgotten to bring the ponchos!). We were going to a river restaurant close by and we were pretty lucky to get a table as it proved to be crazy popular. This is because they do a great Laos food taster menu that's good value and recommended in a few guide books. We got a table at the front that due to the intense rain was being dripped on somewhat but we were happy enough.

The menu was really quite amazing with some unique ingredients including some more buffalo, river weed and sweet sticky purple rice with tamarind. We also had some biscuity sweets known as 'cat's droppings'.


Next day with the rain finally stopped we took a boat up the river Mekong (yep, that one again!) to some caves.
It was a good 2 hours there in a rickety long boat (it's ok, there were 4 life jackets for a boat of 8). I'm not a water lover but pretty quickly I realised that it was a fairly busy stretch of river so we had plenty of people who could pick us up if it all went awry. The seats in our longboat were old car seats which were actually lovely and comfy. I particularly liked the floating petrol station!



There were quite a lot of plots on the muddy banks of the river where they were growing something. I can't imagine how much hard work goes into that and how often it simply just slips away.
We stopped off at a village on the way which sold silks and special Laos whiskey. Didn't quite fancy trying that so early in the morning before getting on a boat. It broke the journey up nicely and meant a fun obstacle course of wooden planks up a muddy slope.


We saw goats on the riverside - one was balanced on a branch to get some tasty higher leaves. I realised I shouldn't worry about the wobbly planks we had to cross. We also saw a dog walking along practically vertical rocks. Amazing how all animals adapt to their environment.
As we neared the caves the scenery got more stunning with some craggy mountains in the distance and some elephants bathing on the river shore.
Not to shabby for Katie!


The caves themselves were set just off the river and are famous for not only being impressive caves but because have been used for centuries for religious purposes. They are full of Buddha figurines. Some incomprehensibly ancient and others, to my delight, brand new, sparkly and kitsch!! It was a real sight and quite fascinating.



The upper cave was up a heck of a lot of steep stairs. I felt better about the fact it nearly killed me by the fact that a group of teenage visitors also ended up dead on their feet. The steps crept up through the jungle and there were so many butterflies about which was happily distracting.
The journey back only took an hour and a bit. The sun had come out fighting, the sky was a beautiful blue and it was the most relaxing trip back ever. I may have had an old lady snooze - sshhh.



The next morning I woke up crazy early, 5.30ish, as I wanted to see something of the morning alms. Locals giving food as alms to the monks goes on all over South East Asia, but for some reason it's a big thing in Luang Prabang. I think because the place is small and quiet and there are a lot of monks who walk the streets each morning. I'd heard some real horror stories about the baddie tourists behaviour. You're asked that if you watch you abide by some simple rules such as women sitting and being careful not to touch the monks, staying quiet, no flash photography, if you must take photos then do so at a discreet distance and BE discreet. Apparently though some tourist either don't get the memo or if they do, they choose to ignore it. I've seen photos online of people posing right in front of the monks (my god, the Asian tourist obsession with having your photo taken in front of ANYTHING is really beginning to grate!). I've even heard about the monks being jostled. To be honest I didn't much fancy seeing that going on and even being a part of it. Kind of thinking that being there is being a part of it no matter how innocent. This kind of thing is becoming a real tourism quandry. There are things you want to see but the nature of everyone wanting to see them is ruining it. There is talk about stopping the alms giving on the street in Luang Prabang, an age old tradition, as there are these disrespectful incidents.
So I cheated. There was a Wat opposite us and more up the road so as our room was at the front of the hotel I figured I'd just watch the monks, in their glowing orange lines, making their way up the street. After almost an hour of quietly watching them appear in bunches, I realised a couple of ladies were sat opposite the hotel with their rice. So I was then able to witness the giving itself too. Mark was asleep for much of it but woke up at about 6.15 with enough time to watch a little bit of it going and then persuaded me to get the camera out. So we did take some photos but unseen from behind a half opened window. It was all very simple but special and I can understand the appeal of watching it and why it is recommended but it is one of those things that's just grown bigger than it can handle I guess.


We had to leave at lunchtime but we managed to squeeze in a lovely breakfast at the french cafe down the road.


Highlights and oddities

No idea where this came from historically but in Vientiane, Ovaltine is big - hot or iced - they sell it everywhere. Old fella Mark was happy about that obviously!

The quiet
Laos people as an obviously sweeping generalisation tended to be a little quiet and reserved. I say this as a good thing. No-one was ever in your face. It added to the laid back vibe of the place.

Vintage cars
There were some great vintage cars in Luang Prabang, attached I think to some of the swankier, restored hotels. I'm a sucker for a vintage ride!


Monks playing hide and seek
On our way back from dinner one night Mark was on the edge of one of the Wats trying to capture on video the quietness - if that makes sense. He'd just switched off the camera and was walking back towards me when a god almighty (no pun intended) ruckus broke out and some young monks appeared from around the corner and crouched in various hiding positions, only to be caught pretty quickly by an older, probably only teenage himself, monk. Lots of giggling ensued. It was a surprisingly and sweet sight to see.

Ice cream, you scream
There is an ice cream shop in town which does the most amazing coconut sherbet ice-cream.
Their artwork was a little disturbing though:


Posted by KtandMark 00:46 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

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