Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for March, 2010

After all the craziness in Bangkok and Phuket, Kim and I were looking forward to taking it down a few notches and relaxing on some of the small islands of the Krabi province. First stop was Phi Phi Island.  With some advice from fellow travelers, for the first time on this trip we arrived with no reservations for accommodation, as we were told that the island was quite small and we could easily find a place to stay just walking around a bit.  This was a big step for Kim, the planner!   But we found a home for the next 5 days without a problem.   It even had a TV with an awesome movie channel. Pretty Woman, Before Sunset, The Last Unicorn….it was so nice to lay around and watch TV before bed, something we hadn’t done since Buenos Aires.

One of the Ko Phi Phi Beaches

 

 We spent our week wandering around the tiny center, chowing down on delicious Thai food, and sunbathing on some of the most beautiful beaches in the world.  The island has two beaches — one side is mainly a pier where the ferries, longtail boats and private watercraft come in and out of the island and the other is the main beach where most people hang out.   Both sides are lined with cute little restaurants, bars, and shops.   We hiked up to the view point via the Tsunami evacuation route that gives a perfect overlook of both sides of the island.   A photo of Phi Phi just four hours after the tsunami hit is posted up on a tree…it’s crazy to see the difference between that photo and what it looks like today.

Boats lined up at the pier

Ko Phi Phi from viewpoint

Another day, we decided to do the “Seven Islands Tour” that was recommended by a friend we met on the ferry.   It was one of the best tours we have done on this trip.   Captain Dang (and his awesome sunglasses) took us on his long boat to an amazing lagoon with translucent water, surrounded by limestone cliffs, where we took turns jumping off the boat and did some swimming.   Then off to Maya Bay where they filmed the movie, The Beach, for lunch where we were able to work on our tan.   After lunch, we headed over to Monkey Beach to feed the monkeys and do some snorkeling.   For our last stop, we took a long ride to Bamboo Beach.   Kim laid around while I collected coral and sea shells for my friends’ kids back at home.   Because of the way Phi Phi Island itself is shaped, you can’t see the sunset from either coast. However, on the way home from our tour, Captain Dang stopped us right in the middle of the ocean to watch the sunset.   It was such an incredible day.

On the boat

Me swimming at Maya Bay

Kim and Captain Dang

Bamboo Beach

 

Sunset

 That night, we hung out with some Colombian girls we had met on the beach and their Spanish friends. Of course I loved the chance to use my Spanish all night. It’s been so long since South America! We had some of our first buckets—yes, they drink out of huge buckets in Thailand, and made our way to a Thai boxing bar. They were offering a FREE bucket to any girl that would get in the ring and “fight”. I was so close to gearing up and getting’ in there and then Kim reminded me how getting hit back may not be as much fun as getting to hit someone-which I’ve always kind of wanted to do:) She was probably right and it was probably for the best that I didn’t get in there in my current state. HA! But that sure would have been a good story… 

Kim and I both really loved Phi Phi.  There are a ton of tourists on this island, which is why some travelers claim to dislike it, but it’s definitely worth seeing in our opinion.   However, we did want check out one of the even smaller islands of Krabi.

I’m sure I have said this a lot over the past few months but Railay (or Rai Leh) was one of my favorite places we have been on this trip so far.   Ah!   It just keeps getting better!   This island is reknowned for it’s rock-climbing trails and has two sides of beaches as well.   On the west end, there is a fantastic beach and all the resorts, a hot spot for honeymooners.  Take a short walk over to the east side for the backpacker friendly accommodation and cheap restaurants and bars (obviously this is where we stayed).   The beach on this side is all mangroves and not suitable for swimming, but just head south about 10 minutes and a trail will lead you to the picturesque Tham Phra Nang Beach, perfect for laying out, taking a dip or getting a dirt-cheap foot massage right on the beach, which I totally took advantage of. Best $4 I’ve ever spent!

 

Tham Phra Nang Beach

Rock Climbers

We spent 3 days here relaxing on the beach, watching the rock climbers do their thing and hanging out at what might be my favorite bar in the world – Skunk Bar 2.   Great staff, great drinks, great music (most of the time) and a SUPER laid back atmosphere.   Every night we got our butts kicked in Jenga and Connect Four.   I don’t know what it is about the Thai’s, but they know their games…it’s like winning strategies are ingrained in their heads as a toddler or something.   Never bet money on Connect Four in Thailand. They will annihilate you!

 

Kim and Pat, our bartender. As you can see, he has a tough job.

The Universal Language of Jenga

One night we were having drinks and playing Jenga with the staff when all of a sudden, two men with plastic badges around their necks came into the bar.   Everyone got quiet, the music was turned off and it was obvious that there was something quite serious going down.   I looked around and everyone was putting out their “left-handed cigarettes” (that they purchased at the bar) and trying to act cool.   Of course all the conversation was in Thai, so none of us knew what was going on.   The two men went behind the bar and started going through…all their CD’s??   Yeah, they were some kind of pirated music police!!   They took all the copied CD’s they could find, had some words with the owner and left.   What?!!   The bartender, Pat, explained what had just happened and then assured everyone they had copies of the copies that were just taken and there would be tunes back on in no time.  It was hilarious!  Smoke all you want, drink all you want, but don’t get caught with pirated music in Railay!

After our chill days in this wonderful place, it was time to get ready for the madness that we knew was coming.   After an entire day of traveling by long boat, mini-bus, public bus, and ferry to the east coast, we would arrive in Koh Phangan for the infamous Full Moon Party….

Incredible Sunset on Railay

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

It’s hard to believe, but as of today, Kelly and I have been on the road for six months!   It seems like just yesterday we were saying goodbye to our friends and family and getting on that first plane…

We’re still having a blast and can’t believe how lucky we are to be doing this.  Right now we are in Laos, trying to mentally (and somewhat physically) prepare ourselves for our upcoming trek in Nepal.   Yes, we realize that we have a lot of catching up to do on the blog…thanks for being patient and we promise more posts soon!

Read Full Post »

Thailand…Whoa.

Most travellers we have met say the same thing about Bangkok….you either love it or you hate it.  After spending four or five days there, I can safely say that we are…undecided.

We were visiting Thailand smack-dab in the middle of  the tourist high season, so we expected there to be a lot of backpackers around, but were shocked at how many travelers we saw.  Our guesthouse was located in the infamous Koh San Road area, a street that is lined with backpacker guest houses, travel agencies, bars, clubs, t-shirt booths, and food carts. Other than the tuk-tuk drivers and food cart vendors, there were no Thai people in sight…just tourists.  I had heard that the ‘real’ Bangkok was more modern and filled with nice malls and shops, but after Hong Kong, Kelly and I had no desire to wander around another shopping complex.  

Koh San Road

Our first full day, we sorted out our bus tickets to get out of Bangkok and spent time exploring the Royal Palace and Wat Pho, home of the world’s biggest reclining Buddha statue.  The palace and temples were absolutely breathtaking, but the heat forced us to head back to our guesthouse soon afterwards for some A/C.

The Grand Palace

 

Reclining Buddha

The next couple of days were spent wandering around ‘The Old City’, looking at temples and strolling through street markets.  From our observations, Bangkok is noisy, polluted, smelly, and fairy difficult to navigate…the street signs are very confusing here, and although close to a lot of tourist sights, our part of town was pretty isolated from the main modes of public transport.  Needless to say, we were ready to get out of the city.

We did love one thing about Bangkok…the food, of course!  There are tons of street food vendors selling delicious pad-thai, barbecue meat sticks, fried rice, fresh fruit and other fried goodies for ridiculously cheap.  One night for dinner we scarfed down all of the above for the insane price of $3 TOTAL.

Meat Sticks!

We just couldn't bring ourselves to eat one

In all fairness, Kelly and I only saw a smidgen of the city, so we can’t really pass judgment.  We will say that it has not been our favorite place and leave it at that.

After the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, we were looking forward to boarding a bus twelve hours south to Phuket, one of Thailand’s popular beach destinations.  Our plan was to check out the craziness of Patong Beach for a couple of days and then do some island hopping on the Andaman coast. 

Not surprisingly, Phuket turned out to not really be our cup of tea either.  Patong Beach was pretty, but super packed with endless rows of lounge chairs, umbrellas, and a few old topless ladies.  At night we checked out the party street, Bangla Road, which is like an even tackier sixth street in Austin.  We saw our fair share of lady-boys and had about 30 different Thai guys approach us and ask if we wanted to see a ping-pong show.  For those of you that don’t know what that is, google ‘ping-pong show Thailand’.  Tempting, but…no.  There is also a lot of prostitution in Phuket and I can’t tell you how many older men in their sixties we saw with very young Thai women…pretty disgusting.  We were glad to only be spending a couple of days here. 

Patong Beach

At Sunset

Other than lying on the beach, we took a day tour out to Ko Tapu, otherwise known as James Bond Island…it’s where parts of ‘The Man With The Golden Gun’ were filmed.  The island itself was lovely, but the amount of souvenir stalls covering the entire beach and  the boatloads of tourists really turned us off of the whole thing.  I realize that Kelly and I are tourists as well…I guess I just didn’t expect for there to be so many of us in one place at one time!  

This one's for you, Sarah H. - James Bond Island

Based on our experiences in Bangkok and Phuket, Thailand was not living up to the beautiful, relaxing paradise we had envisioned.  On top of that, Kelly and I were starting to feel a little travel fatigue.  I know it’s hard to believe, but living out of a backpack every day, constantly figuring out how to get from Point A to Point B, finding a place to sleep, a place to eat…these simple tasks become quite tedious and can start to wear you down after awhile.   Poor us, right?

Hopefully our time on the island of  Ko Phi Phi would get us back on track…

Read Full Post »

Oh… the food.  When Kim and I were planning this trip, one of the main reasons we picked Hong Kong as a destination was because of the food.  And boy were we glad we did. 
Generally speaking, Hong Kong is known for having a huge eating culture.  Meal time is when locals gather to not only enjoy a delicious meal, but to gab about their day, gossip, discuss politics or current events.  Most restaruants are jam packed, loud as can be, and I have to say, wonderful to experience.  All of the table manners your parents taught you as a kid, throw them out the window!!  Eat with your hands, slurp your soup as obnoxiously as possible, lean in and shovel as much food in your mouth as you can, even let out a nice belch after a chug of beer.  It’s all part of it and acceptable and often expected or an insult if you don’t.
 
One has to know that you can spend as little $2 on a good hardy meal in Hong Kong.  However, with all the variety and prestige at some local hot spots, you can easily spend a week to two week’s salary in one sitting.  Because we had such great hosts, Kim and I were lucky enough to get a wide spectrum of all Hong Kong has to offer.  Here are some of the highlights…
 
-Breakfast at the local “hole-in-the wall”
 
Traditionally, most Cantonese breakfasts consist of noodle soup with some sort of shrimp, pork or chicken dumpling or a rice porridge called congee.  Since we both love noodles and any dumpling you offer, this would cause us to start most days with a smile.  These meals would run us around $2-$3 US.  Luckily, if we felt like a good ol’ egg mcmuffin, there were McDonalds on just about every corner.  In Hong Kong, McDonalds a beloved treat and reminds most people of their childhood. You will most likely see more locals than foreigners in line with you.
 
-Street-side eateries at the Temple Street Night Market
 
After wandering around for hours at this must-see market, allow yourself to get shown to a table at one of these tiny, outdoor restaruants.  Kim and I grubbed on some delicious flat noodles and bok choy in oyster sauce.  We washed it down with Tsing Tsao beers all for under $7 US.  The group of guys next to us had the chili crabs and they looked phenomenal as well.  I knew we should have went for the crab!

Scarfing noodles at the night market

 
-Dim Sum at Luk Yu, one of the oldest joints in Hong Kong
 
This was one of the places Doug used to go with his parents as a kid almost every Sunday.  With it’s traditional dishes and atmosphere, this place is always packed so expect to wait or be told a time to come back.  We sat and had beers around the corner for an hour and a half until it was our time to indulge.  Since Doug knew the ropes (and the language) we let him order.  For the next hour, the dishes kept coming.  We must have had 10 piping hot bamboo steamers on the table at one time.  It was so good! From pork and shrimp dumplings, to spring rolls, fried rice in banana leaves, Kim’s favorite-BBQ pork donuts, Shanghai noodles, and the sweet delectible egg tart, we were stuffed and happy.  The perfect first Dim Sum experience for me.
 
-Freshest Seafood at Tung Po
 
This place was the REAL Hong Kong.  A huge, super loud, packed room filled with plastic tables and chairs, water tanks galore with endless amounts of live creatures, and bowls of beer on every table.  That’s right, bowls, not glasses.  It was so great to see tons of locals gathered around gigantic tables playing dice or drinking games and laughing up a storm. Since this was one of June and Alex’s favorite places in the world for seafood, we let them order.  Soon our table was filled with black bean and chili clams, garlic shrimp and crab, eggplant casserole, and the best chicken that Kim and I have ever had, complete with crispy skin.  And we never eat the skin….but oh lord, was it good!  Because we enjoyed ourselves so much, we convinced Doug that we had to take him there for our last meal together in town.  And as Kim said before, Joseph (Doug’s friend) just happened to be old drinking buddies with one of the chef’s.  So of course, our second round at Tung Po was just as fabulous, if not more so.  Red curry crab, pigs knuckle, grilled squid, razor clams in black bean chili sauce and my favorite, some huge crazy ass shrimp that was as big as a lobster!!  The name escapes me now…Joseph, help me out here buddy…and we washed it all down with numerous bowls of beer that the chef gladly came and chugged with us.  As we were walking out, he even stopped us, stole some poor table’s beer and bowls, pounded one back with us and politely thanked the table and promised them more beer in a matter of seconds. It was freakin’ awesome. 

Tung Po

Garlic Crab, Eggplant Casserole, and Black Bean Chili Clams

Crispy chicken with garlic...the skin was the best!

Curry crab

 
-Shanghainese in Central
 
Again, thanks to our lovely host Doug, we were taken to another dining gem,  a great place in the Soho district of Central on Hong Kong Island.  We went to meet up with another one of Doug’s friends from highshcool, Kathy and nesteled into our quaint little booth and started off with glass noodles and sliced pork.  We then had some steamy spring rolls and pork dumplings with liquified pork fat.  You have to bite off the top of the dumpling, let it cool, and then suck out the fat and then toss the dumpling in your mouth.  It sounds gross, but it was heaven.  I promise.  We then cried our eyes out as we inhaled a fantastic tofu dish in red sauce.  So painful, but so worth it. 

Pork fat dumplings

 
-Peking Duck at the “American Restarant”
 
Yes. The American Restaruant.  The owner named his restaruant this during WWII to attract American soldiers.  I guess it worked because business is still booming.  Peking duck is roasted duck dish with a very thin crispy skin.  The showpiece is more the skin than the actual meat.  They bring the duck out on a cart and carve it into small pieces and decoratively place them on a large plate.  Typically, you wrap the duck and skin in small, thin crepes with cucumber and a dark hoisin-like sauce and enjoy.  I preferred just the duck dipped in the sauce.  It was amazing.  This dish is quite popular all over China and definitely should be on everyone’s list of foods to try, especially if you are in China:)

Peking duck spread

 
-The Most Amazing Sushi Dinner of Our Lives
 
Seriously.  No Joke.  After our wine tasting with Doug and his parents, Joseph suggested a sushi place, where once again, the chef was one of his drinking buddies.  We sat down at the small, 8-table restarant and allowed Joseph to do all the talking.  We started out with one of the best cold sakes.  Then Joseph informs us that we are going to do “chef’s choice” and closes the menu.  For the next 2 hours, beautiful displays of sashimi, soup, foie gras wrapped in wagyu beef that literally melted in your mouth, tempura, sushi rolls and sashimi just kept coming. So did the Sapporro and sake.  The tuna was so amazing, we almost cried.  Great company and great conversation topped everything off.  Then the bill came.  The guys wouldn’t let us see and told us it was their treat.  Thanks guys!!   Both of you have to come to Austin so we can show you a great time and do our best to return the favor!!
 

Amazing sashimi

So as you can see, Hong Kong totally lived up to our expectations.  We are so glad we stopped of here and were taken such good care of.  Thanks again June, Doug and Joseph!!
 

Read Full Post »

Kelly and I were fortunate  to meet up with Doug again and have him as our tour guide for the rest of our time in the city.  He grew up in Hong Kong and was in town visiting his parents for a few weeks…we love having a local to show us around!  He and his friend Joseph (randomly, a former Austinite) showed us a great time.  Some of our favorite adventures include:

 -Dim Sum at Luk Yu Teahouse, one of the oldest dim sum restaurants in Hong Kong. 

-A Spanish wine tasting with Doug’s parents at a swanky hotel. His dad accidentally knocked a whole tray of wine glasses onto the floor, which was awesome.

 

-One of the most amazing sushi meals of our lives (Kelly will fill you in later), followed by karaoke, a popular activity here in Hong Kong. We had a private karaoke room and spent the night getting sloshed and butchering Neil Diamond, Madonna, and Michael Jackson tunes. Disappointingly, there were no Rolling Stones songs available, but it was still a kick-ass time. See if this little ditty doesn’t get stuck in your head after about 2 seconds:

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p4sZ5_ocsgs 

-The Horse Races! Horse racing is a huge spectator sport in Hong Kong, and Doug’s folks scored us some free tickets to the Wednesday night races in Happy Valley. Kelly and I gambled and lost, Doug’s horse actually placed and he won a whopping $45.

The Race Track

The Track

Crossing the Finish Line

-A day trip to Lantau Island where we sort of got to see the Big Buddha statue through a bunch of clouds and stupidly attempted a hike to the summit of Lantau Peak in crap weather. This was not the best idea since the ascent is pretty steep and the rock stairs were wet and slippery…coming down was going to be a problem. It was so cloudy that you couldn’t see anything anyway, so we turned around before reaching the summit and tried not to slip and break our skulls open.

 

The Big Buddah

-Strolling around Tai O, a small fishing village on Lantau, to check out the dried fish market and catch whiffs of fermenting shrimp paste. Yum!

 

Tai O

Dried Fish Anyone?

-A day trip to Macau Island, a former Portuguese colony known for it’s Vegas-style casinos. We didn’t do any gambling, but did cheer on Doug as he weighed in for the highest bungy jump in the world (233 meters) off of the Macau tower. It looked terrifying…even Kelly wouldn’t consider doing the jump. Doug took it like a man though and earned some bragging rights and a ‘free’ t-shirt.

 

Doug v.s. The Macau Tower

View of Macau from the tower

-Going back to the insane seafood restaurant for an incredible dinner and pounding beer bowls with the owner. Pretty convenient that he and Joseph happen to be drinking buddies outside of work.

 -A night ferry ride at the harbor and drinks with city views at the Sheraton Sky Lounge.

Hong Kong at Night

Some things that Kelly and I did without Doug, but wished he could have been there:

-Drinking bloody mary’s and watching the last few minutes of the Superbowl at an Irish bar with 100 or so other Americans.

-A shopping trip to the Wan Chai computer center so that I could purchase a new point and shoot camera. My expensive waterproof, sand-proof, shockproof camera quit working after the Whitsunday sail in OZ. I think some sand got stuck in the lens. ‘Sand-proof’ MY ASS, Olympus!

-Watching Avatar at the IMAX theatre. Totally blah story line, but pretty cool to look at (sort of like The Matrix, Andy).

-A trip up to The Peak for coffee and some cloudy, yet incredible views of Hong Kong.

View of Central from The Peak

Us and Doug on our last night in HK

Now about the FOOD…

Read Full Post »

Even though we had visited several big cities along the way, I was a little intimidated to arrive in Hong Kong. It was the first country where neither Kelly nor I spoke the language and I was worried we might have trouble making our way around the city if we couldn’t understand anyone or read any signs.

My fears were put to rest as soon as we stepped off the plane…everything in Hong Kong is in Cantonese AND English. Not only that, but the public transportation here is amazingly efficient. The subway system (called the MTR) is spotlessly clean with trains arriving every couple of minutes, travelling to just about everywhere in the city. There are electronic signs in the subway cars that not only tell you the upcoming stop in two languages, but which side of the train you need to exit. To make things even more convenient, you pay for your MTR or ferry ride with an ‘Octopus Card’, a re-chargeable credit card that can also be used at convenience stores and fast food restaurants all over town. Wanna take a taxi? A ride all the way from the central part of the island across the harbour to Kowloon is around $10.

Kelly and I stayed in the cheap shopping district of Tsim Sha Tsui (TST)  in a huge building called Chungking Mansions. There are a ton of Indian dudes standing around out front trying to sell you a bunch of crap. Kelly and I played a game to see how many times in a day we were were asked if we wanted a ‘copy watch, copy handbag, or tailor-suit’. Twenty-seven was the big winner. The sixteen story building itself was a little ghetto and scary, but our guesthouse was nice and the rooms were clean.

Our first couple of days we spent wandering around TST and Mong Kok, another bargain shopping area. The amount of shopping malls and high fashion brand name stores here is mind-blowing. Gucci, Prada, Dolce and Gabana, Burberry…it’s a shopoholic’s paradise. Fortunately, Kelly and I don’t really care much about brand names OR shopping because we would have blown our whole load in Hong Kong.

We spent some time taking in the city views along the harbor, visiting the flower, bird, and fish markets, walking down the ‘Avenue of Stars’ and I bought at $5 watch at the Temple Street night market. Since Chinese New Year was a few days away, the entire city was adorned with red and gold lanterns, lights, and decorations, which really created a festive atmosphere. Kelly and I were also delighted to discover that there are information signs on every other corner pointing to areas of interest around the city. It is so easy to get around here, even with my horrible sense of direction. I love Hong Kong!

View of Hong Kong Island skyline from Kowloon

Cages at the bird market

Flower Market

Chinese New Year Decorations

Our first weekend in town, we met up with June, an old friend from Texas that moved to Shanghai six years ago. When she heard Kelly and I were going to be in Hong Kong, she took a flight down for a couple of days to see us and celebrate her birthday. She and her fiancee, Alex, took us to an insane seafood restaurant for dinner and then out to the Soho district for chocolate strawberry daiquiris at The Feather Boa Bar.

 

The girls at dinner

Kelly and Alex at Feather Boa

We did notice something strange about this part of the city though….there were no Asians anywhere. Everyone was white! Apparently there is a huge expatriate community here due to the fact that Hong Kong is a major financial and business hub…tons of of Europeans and Americans move here for work.

 We had a fantastic time hanging out with June and Alex over the course of the weekend and celebrated June’s birthday at a delicious Italian restaurant before she headed back to Shanghai. Hopefully we’ll see them back in Texas in the near future.

Happy Birthday June!

Read Full Post »