A Travellerspoint blog

Sending an Ocean of Thanks from the Kingdom of Fife

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Dear all,

We are sad but pleased to be writing from Fife, Scotland as we have successfully and safely completed our Asian travels. It is often said that travelling is one of the world’s greatest educations and this trip has been invaluable in ways that words can’t describe. What’s more coming back to the family comforts of Scotland and being saturated in normality, we have both realised how valuable writing this travel blog has been as it will always be memorable proof of how our thoughts and feelings evolved during each stage of this trip. We also hope that everyone has enjoyed following our journey and that it may have inspired people to explore and travel whether it is in their homeland or abroad.

We are also pleased to announce at the time of writing, that Karl and Paula’s Travel Blog has now had over 1100 profile views and we really wanted to send out our thanks to each and every reader. If you are one for statistics, Karl’s “Rocking round KK” came out top with 228 views while Paula’s ‘Monkey Business in Sandakan” came second with 183 views. Unfortunately, due to the lack of availability of internet and time we were unable to post each blog as we wrote them, but we hope you enjoyed each post as they have come. We would also like to thank Iain for his contributions, being a travel mate and adding to the diversity of this blog. We would also like to take this opportunity to thank Jules and Winnie for showing us a real taste of the Asian Tiger lifestyle in Hong Kong and to let them know that they provided us with an unforgettable trip. Finally, we would like to send out an ocean of thanks to all our friends and family who looked after us when we were away and we hope that all our overseas friends and family will get a chance to visit us in Scotland sometime soon.

With the warmest regards,

Karl and Paula

Fife, Scotland

Posted by karlnpaula 20.07.2010 07:37 Archived in Scotland Comments (1)

Hong Kong - A Superpower City

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They say the world’s top five ‘Global Cities’ are New York, London, Pairs, Tokyo and Hong Kong. This statement is obviously controversial and I’m sure will get anyone’s back up if their favourite city (or Nations Capital) is not included above or within these top 30 global ratings (see Wikipedia). Edinburgh for example does not even make the top 30 but in my view is one of the world’s most inspirationally mystical cities due to the history, culture and architecture. It is also considered as one of the most picturesque cities in Europe, and has been voted by backpackers’ as their favourite European destination, so why doesn’t it make the list? Well, Edinburgh like many other great cities we have discussed in this blog such as Brisbane, George Town, Glasgow, Hanoi, Kota Kinabalu and Melbourne lack the political, economic and infrastructural edge that is required to qualify to the global-city superpower league. Having spent the past five days immersed in the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong I can confidentially say that I have visited a true superpower city.

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Probably the biggest impression that will stay with me about Hong Kong is its 24 hour city vibe. You can literally do anything at any time of the day. Our final day was a busy one and an example of why Hong Kong operates on this 24/7 policy. During the day we decided to head to Lantau Island by train which is Hong Kong’s largest island. Here there are plentiful tourist activities such as Hong Kong Disneyland, beautiful beaches and a Giant Buddha. Wait a second I hear you say, ‘Beautiful beaches when there is a population of 7 million in a land space half the size of London, I don’t believe it!’...well it’s true. Hong Kong has some great beaches and they are all within a 1 hour train ride from the Central business district. This is something the other ‘Global Cities’ can certainly not compete with. So we decided to check out Cheung Sha beach which is located in Southern Lantau and we literally had the place to ourselves on a sleepy Tuesday afternoon. We then headed back to Tung Chung which is one of the MTR stations and took the cable car up to see the world’s biggest Giant Buddha. At the backdrop of the Giant Buddha you have sweeping views of Lantau Island and you literally feel that you are in a mystical Chinese mountain range with not a skyscraper in sight. I then realised that anything is possible in Hong Kong and it will never be more than an hour away whether it be mountaineering, sailing, surfing, shopping, gambling, eating or partying. Incidentally, if you tried, you could potentially do all of these activities all within the one day.

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In the evening we then met with Jules and Winnie for a final meal. This time they decided to take us for an all you can eat and drink Korean BBQ for under £10. This is where you can select and cook your own food. Again being with Jules, this meant that I felt compelled to try certain meats such as pig cheek and various types of indistinguishable shell-fish and seafood. Even though it was 11pm on a sleepy Tuesday evening, we decided to walk around Causeway Bay to discover a bustling district of shops, bars and restaurants which were just packed. To put it in perspective, it was so busy we were unable to sit down in an ice-cream shop as there were no available tables. This then made me think how on earth anyone in the working world manages to get any sleep here as there is just so much to do. We then said our goodbyes to Jules and Winnie with Paula and I taking a taxi back to our hotel. On our way back to our hotel I gazed out the cab window looking at the central district buildings such as the architecturally immense HSBC Main Building designed by Sir Norman Foster and the International Finance Centre (IFC) building, or otherwise known as the hair clipper, which both grace Hong Kong’s skyline. I then realised as we sadly headed back to the hotel as our Asian trip was drawing to a close, that Hong Kong has been one of the most memorable moments of my travel career and we had experienced in my view, what the world’s ‘Global City’ is really all about.

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Karl

Hong Kong, China

Posted by karlnpaula 20.07.2010 07:02 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (0)

Holy Macau!!!!

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When I first stumbled on the word ‘Macau’ I thought it was an exotic Chinese dish. Well I was wrong, very wrong. In actual fact Macau is a semi-autonomous territory of China (similar to Hong Kong) and is now one of the most popular Chinese tourism hotspots for one thing and one thing only – Macau is the world’s biggest gambling revenue generating supercentre and when I say big, I mean bigger than Las Vegas!! Located an hour ferry ride from Hong Kong, it is an island which was once a Portuguese colony and was interestingly the first and last European colony in Asia. As we had five days in Hong Kong, Jules strongly recommended that we visit another country/territory (well get another passport stamp) for the day, so we did.

As we arrived at the ferry port, it really did feel like we arrived at an airport minus the runway replaced by ocean. There was passport control, allocated seat numbers, boarding passes the whole deal. While we enjoyed smooth ferry ride over to Macau I really didn’t know what to expect. I had been told it was Las Vegas younger sibling, but I just couldn’t believe I was heading to Vegas for the day. Also since I have never been to Vegas but have had the privilege of visiting her poorer Nevadan cousins Rino and Lake Tahoe, all I could do was calmly relax and sit back immersed with intrigue.

When we arrived in Macau it was clear Casinos rule the roost. All the major American casinos are here such as MGM, Wynn and The Venetian who all offer free bus rides to and from the terminal to their casino. As it was very tempting to visit them as soon as we arrived, we decided to take a free bus but leave the casino to the evening and discover Macau’s more cultural side.

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When we arrived in Macau’s old town, it was clear the Portuguese influence is everywhere with cobbled streets, cramped alleyways, ancient Catholic churches and cathedrals and substantial stone-buildings in an assortment of styles and colours. We also tried a Macau delicacy – the Portuguese egg tart which is a pastry filled with both egg and custard. The outcome was basically a pie like specimen that was very eggy, mushy, greasy and very sweet. Unfortunately, Paula and I found it a bit too much to stomach but were glad we tried it anyway. On completing our cultural trail of Macau we stumbled on one of the major highlights – The Ruins of St Paul’s. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was built from 1582-1602 by the Catholic church and was at the time the largest Catholic church in Asia. As we stood on the top floor of the 400 year old ruins looking over to the sprawling strip of Casinos and flashing lights in the distance, it was clear to me that there was no where else on earth where we could literally walk 5 minutes to encounter such an antipodal architectural and cultural contrast.

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To finish our day we decided to hit the lights of Macau. The Casinos are split into the Macau Peninsula and the Cotai strips. We first visited the Casino Lisoba on the Peninsula which is undoubtedly the most architecturally outrageous building I have ever seen. From the outside the building looks like a pregnant belly dancer dressed in gold while the inside decor is swarmed by a sea of diamonds dangling from the ceiling as you enter the ridiculously ostentatious lobby. Since we spent the majority of our day on the peninsula we decided to promptly move on and take the free shuttle bus to Cotai on the South of the Island which is now home to Macau’s megacasinos.

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Here you can find The Venetian and City of Dreams casinos which compete directly opposite from one another. The Venetian Casino is now the world’s largest casino which is three times the size of its Las Vegas counterpart and is literally the fourth-largest building in the world. So we thought we might as well start on a high. As soon as you walk into the casino you are confronted by a building that is no older than 3 years old, but gives off the appearance of a 200 year old Italian listed building that could compete on the grandeur levels of The Peninsula Hong Kong which I discussed in my last blog. This construction cost US$2.4 billon, but being overly critical, I see one fundamental problem, it’s essentially a very expensive oversized replica or apologies in advance to the owners, the worlds most over-budget theme pub! This might sound harsh, as the authentic design and detail is simply second-to-none, but I don’t really understand why they would want to spend so much money on replicating an architecture that is no more. Then again, it is a theme casino and is often said that these 17th and 18th Century buildings can no longer be built. Well the Chinese have certainly proved they can do it if the price is right.

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After getting ridiculously lost in both casinos we then decided to call it a day heading back to Hong Kong to catch the 11pm ferry. Macau has been a great day trip and certainly one of the unexpected and unknown. As I sat back relaxing on the turbojet back to Hong Kong, it made me realise that encountering stuff like this is why I love travelling so much and I will never ever loose the bug.

Karl

Macau, China

Posted by karlnpaula 20.07.2010 06:30 Archived in Macau Comments (0)

An Epic Day in Hong Kong!!!

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It may sound cheesy but I have dreamt for years about the day I would visit Hong Kong. I have only been here for a day but it still feels like a dream. Hong Kong is an epic city on all proportions. Home to 7 million people, Hong Kong is the third most densely populated area in the world with 6200 people per every km² (...so pretty dense, but by no means as dense as the denser Tokyo). It is also regarded as the ‘World’s International City’ where ‘East meets West’ meaning that everyone from all walks of life can be comfortable here in a hybrid culture that is founded on traditional Chinese heritage but explicitly borrows the best bits from British colonialism. But with that all said, is it any good...?

Getting to Hong Kong was by no stretch an easy ride and if it was not intentional we would have never made it here due to cost and time. Our original plan was to take the night train from Hanoi through mainland China to arrive in Hong Kong over the space of three days. This in itself sounds an epic trip (and one we desperately wanted to do), but not realising the technicalities of trying to get a Chinese visa in Vietnam proved too ambitious and problematic given our time constraints. Instead we opted to do a killer budget airline route. We flew from Hoi Ann to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), then to Singapore, then onward to Hong Kong. Unbelievably, this route was still cheaper than flying Hanoi-Hong Kong (which is a 90 minute flight) on Vietnam Airlines, the only flight carrier to offer a direct route. Overall, the whole transit journey totalled 35 hours which was very tiring but it was immediately clear it was certainly worth it once we landed on Chinese territorial soil.

When we arrived in Hong Kong our first taste of the city was the sprawling consumerist monster airport. The airport was massive and if you like shopping you could make an immediate start here. It was also clear the transportation and accommodation systems were incredibly efficient. As Paula and I like to pride ourselves on being the disorganised traveller, we decided to rock up (at 9pm) with no booked accommodation and see what we could muster up. Thankfully, we managed to book a last minute four star hotel on Kowloon for half cost of what it would normally cost if you were to book in advance – great! We then proceeded to catch a double-decker bus into the city centre and we almost felt a slight taste of déjà vu as we hadn’t been on one of these buses in over a year. What was even freakier was the motorway network looks very similar to the UK’s and at some points I could have been in Glasgow. Also having spent two weeks immersed in the chaos of Vietnam, it felt somewhat settling to be back in civilised normality. The fact that we felt the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong was ‘normal’ perhaps suggests how chaotic Vietnam really was. When we arrived at our destination we checked into our plush hotel and slept!

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Our first day was an intensely busy as we met my ex Australian house mate Julian. In 2005 I lived with Jules in Brisbane and we hadn’t seen each other in over 5 years, so there was a lot of catching up to do. Jules is Malaysian born, but has lived in Hong Kong for the majority of his life and is now working as an architect. I was especially excited to meet him as I’ve heard from sources that he offers ‘The Best Guided Tour of HK’ so I was sure it was going to be a busy few days. As soon as we met him at ‘Fife Street’ (yes Fife St, my hometown’s county) at the MTR subway station there was no time spared as we rushed around the Mong Kok district on Argyle Street (also one of Glasgow’s main shopping streets) which is renowned for Chinatown, clothes and technology. Here you can buy any mobile phone, computer or camera imaginable and you could easily spend a whole day here just taking it all in.

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Jules then made a real effort to give us a real insight into the luxurious side of Hong Kong. He decided that we should meet his girlfriend Winnie in the lobby of the oldest surviving hotel, The Peninsula Hong Kong. Opened in 1928, The Peninsula has been voted as the world’s best hotel on several occasions and it was easy to see why. As we squeezed past the fleet of parked Rolls-Royce Extended Wheelbase Phantoms, we were then greeted by a dorky bell-boy who welcomed us to the hotel lobby which was a blinding parade of classical grandeur and elegance which is absolutely world-class. As an elegance barometer I decided to take it on myself to use the guest toilette facilities where there was a concierge on call who would probably take care of any pressing needs. To freshen up from the previous days Vietnamese market stall curry, I opted for a free scoosh of Eau de Toilette and a golden stitched heated towel. The whole experience was very pleasant. It was then clear we had come a very long way since Borneo Global Backpackers on the start of our South East Asian tour!

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Once we met with Winnie we then explored Tsim Sha Tsui or TST. TST is located on the cape of Kowloon Peninsula which is home to Victoria Harbour which is the gateway to Hong Kong Island. Like visiting Sydney harbour for the first time, Victoria Harbour had a similar impact on me as the sprawling view of the Hong Kong Island skyline is simply incredible and unforgettable. We then decided to watch the nightly ‘light show’ which could be best described as very ecologically inefficient and something you would most likely see in a kid’s amusement park. It was amusing nonetheless and we then immediately proceeded to a Japanese restaurant which was a real local secret and real delight. For Paula and I, this was our first ever experience of eating at an authentic Japanese restaurant and Jules and Winnie certainly took us out of our comfort zones. They introduced us to an eclectic range of new foods such as a rice cheese bake to goose liver and the whole experience was just fantastic.

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To finish off the evening, we all headed back to our plush hotel, got kitted out in our new Vietnamese tailor made clothes and then hit Hong Kong’s bustling ‘24 hour night-life’. Unlike other big cities I have visited, Hong Kong really does not sleep – the city is too busy to sleep. There are plentiful restaurants, bars and clubs which are open 24 hours and we took full advantage of the fact. This included hitting up an ice-bar, buying beer from the Seven Eleven and drinking outside the pub because it was too expensive inside (which is frowned upon but perfectly legitimate) and trying various shots which were strong and large enough to kill a horse. By 6AM we decided to omit the English fry-up idea and call it the fantastic end to a superb day in my view, one of the world’s greatest cities.

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Karl,

Hong Kong, China

Posted by karlnpaula 20.07.2010 04:34 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (0)

Sun, Sea, Sand and Shopping in Hoi An!!!!

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When leaving Hanoi we took the enormous bus journey to Hoi An. This was my first experience with a 24 hour bus journey and I have to say I found it to be rather enjoyable. The first crazy thing about the overnight buses is that they all have bunk-beds in them. As we departed Hanoi bound for Hoi Ann, we felt slightly like we were prisoners in straight-jackets being transported to the local high security prison. This was due to the fact that all passengers need to lie horizontally as the bus sped down the highway while everyone was strapped in holding onto the bunk-bed for dear life. The good news was that bed itself was very comfortable and after several diazepams (Valium) it was clear you were going to get a good night sleep. The only other concern was in the middle of the night, the bus as expected broke down. But the driver then reassured us by fixing the problem with some black tape and wire that he found on the street. Thankfully the diazepam pills made us feel we were in safe hands. We then arrived safely in Hoi An albeit 30 hours later and it instantly felt refreshing to escape the chaotic bus ride and the craziness of Hanoi.

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As soon as the bus dropped us off we checked into the nearest hotel for convenience. This turned out to be a great choice so we continued to stay there for our whole visit as it was only $12 USD per night. I do not know what I expected from Hoi An but on our first day I instantly fell in love with the place. Hoi An is located in the South Central Coast of Vietnam and the beaches are just beautiful. It is also another UNESCO world heritage site and it is easy to see why. The architecture is distinctly French and Spanish where there are lovely coffee shops and picturesque balconies and buildings in an array of different styles and colours. But the main reason why tourists flock to Hoi An is for the tailors. Here you can pretty much get anything you want from shoes to bags, to dresses, to suits and you can even have your designs and styles copied from your most favourite garments. I was immersed in sun, sea, sand and shopping and quite simply, I was in heaven.

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On the first day we got to business in kitting ourselves out with new wardrobes. When choosing a tailor it is very important that you do your homework. There are literally hundreds of tailors and they all tell you the same thing that they use good quality fabric and that they are different from the rest. The first thing I would recommend is for anyone who visits Hoi An they should allocate as much time as possible. Believe it or not, tailor shopping can be stressful and it is not so fun in the baking heat. So my best advice is to do all you’re shopping in the evening and spend the day on the beach. We bumped into so many people slugging around in the midday heat looking very stressed and most likely making bad decisions due to the pushy shop assistants.

Our strategy was then to start at the most expensive tailors and then work our way down the price line. Yaley and A Dong Silk are the most prestigious tailors in the town but we personally felt they were overpriced and overrated. Instead we read many reviews on this tailor called Mr Xe and decided to check him out. As soon as we walked into his slightly primitive showroom, Mr Xe turned out to be a short flamboyant Vietnamese man who greeted us with a shining smile and had his daughters’ rap fabrics around us while making us feel at home. Karl then worked his haggling magic and purchased a tailor made cashmere woollen three piece suit for only £100 and I ended up buying 2 skirts based on my favourite skirt along with a cocktail dress for only £40. The next day we went back for a fitting and my cocktail dress looked like a bridal wedding dress. Mr Xe was not happy about this and then demanded that I come with him while in this white dress and insisted that I jump on the back of his motorbike. With trepidation, I jumped on the back of his bike and I think every Vietnamese person thought Mr Xe had stolen the blonde Scottish bride as we jetted down the busy cramped streets. He then took me to his workshop where he began telling off the dressmakers how badly they got it wrong. The next day we then returned and both Karl’s suit and my dress and skirts looked great. Mr Xe then insisted that we join him for a special lunch as it was public religious holiday. He then forced us to eat food that looked unpronounceable and I hid the half of the food underneath the table in a napkin and thankfully he never caught me out. The thought still counted though and we were very happy with all our purchases.

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Our other experience was with a tailor called Nhi Nhi on 64 Le Loi St and she is just superb for casual wear. Here I bought a jacket and a dress while Karl outshopped me buying 5 casual shirts, 2 business shirts and 2 jackets. One of the most difficult things about tailoring in Hoi An especially for females is to design something that is fashionable and will have a good fit. Therefore my recommendations are to go with a tailor that understands contemporary fashion as a lot of the examples are ill-fitting and outdated. Karl’s haggling was even fiercer here where he managed to use all his charm to get us a wonderful deal where we paid £130 for all of this clothing. When we went to collect the clothes everything was perfect first time and no alternations were needed. We were extremely happy with the service she provided. So if you are going to Hoi An for clothes make sure you visit Mr Xe and Nhi Nhi, you wont be disappointed and no we aren’t on commission.

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For the remainder of our time, we cycled to the beach everyday which was an exciting journey every time. As I dodged the motorbikes, cyclists, cars, trucks, buses and animals on my bike I realised how much I loved it here and how Hoi An really is the perfect holiday destination. You have everything here you could need and want such as sun, sea, sand and shopping and it was the perfect way to end our 2 week trip in Vietnam. To be honest, at this point I really didn’t want to leave. Tomorrow we fly to Hong Kong the final destination our trip. Scotland is now beginning to feel very close indeed.

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Much love,

Paula

Hoi An, Vietnam

Posted by karlnpaula 19.07.2010 10:47 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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