Posts Tagged With: ferry

Hong Kong: Walk, Eat, Walk, Eat, Repeat

What do you think of when you hear “Hong Kong”? Perhaps you think of the tiny plastic emblem on the bottom of your childhood toys, Made in Hong Kong. Maybe you think of steaming platters of dim sum. Maybe you think, well, “Somewhere in Asia”. I don’t blame you.

Before I was sent there for a workshop, I suppose I imagined all of the above, and that’s pretty much it. I had no idea Hong Kong is a heaving metropolis of buildings, a salt-shaker of islands, cerulean water lapping against the steamy tropics of national parks, which shadow the perfectly paved roads with sleek BMW’s hugging the yellow line as they curve around jagged peaks heading towards the latest night club for smooth jazz and artisanal cocktails.  You can walk down the Avenue of Stars and marvel at Jackie Chan’s handprint, shop for Armani Exchange, Calvin Klein, or Victoria’s Secret in the sky-scrapping shopping malls, hike to the peak of a national park while keeping an eye out for venomous snakes, or chopstick dumplings in a bustling dimly lit alley way. All in an hour.

See what I did there? Hong Kong.

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Even though I was only there for five days, my mantra become, “Eat, walk, eat, walk, repeat.” If you don’t enjoy walking, you better love taxis, as Hong Kong is a city of staircases, sloping hills, and sidewalks, all begging to be traversed. In my opinion, there was an old-city feel to it, almost like New York City. It didn’t feel ultra-modern; instead there was a dance between the old and the new, the West and the East.
IMG_2013This is Pottinger Street, in the Central district of Hong Kong. Famous for their costume shops, Pottinger is a street full of staircases, vendors, and throngs of people huffing and puffing their way to the next destination.
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I picked up a few key elements of our Halloween costumes on Pottinger. In Hong Kong, you have to bargain hard; what starts off at 300 Hong Kong Dollars quickly drops to 120, but only if you ask.
IMG_2017Every afternoon our workshop finished, we had time to explore the city. And what better way to explore than on foot? Can you tell what this kitschy red shop specializes in? Hair cuts! Try and peek through the door to the barber—you can see him if you squint. With the candy cane barber’s pole, it was like something out of a mid-century magazine.
IMG_2020If you know me, you haven’t truly visited a country unless you explore their culinary landscape. In Hong Kong, it’s dumplings, noodle soup, and dim sum. And my goodness, is it divine. I know those dumplings don’t look appetizing, but, trust me, there’s nothing better than a savory bowl of Hong Kong noodles and tender, seasoned dumplings. And don’t forget the chili oil, which this restaurant, Sam Tor, is famous for.
IMG_2031Our workshop was held on the southern part of Hong Kong island in the Aberdeen district. Can you imagine having this view from the window of your classroom?
IMG_2044After we got off work, we headed up to The Peak, which is the highest mountain on Hong Kong island. It has an elevation of 1,818 feet. The view from the top, as you can see, is absolutely stunning.

 

 

IMG_2052After the peak, we headed to yet another noodle shop. I loved all the chaos and color. Another thing about Hong Kong, which I think happens in all major cities and may just be new to me, is that when you get to a packed restaurant, they sit you at a table with a total stranger. It was a bit of a novelty to me—to be sitting directly across from someone you don’t know—slurping your noodles in peaceful silence. Luckily, that stranger always spoke English and helped me navigate the menu and place my order. 9 times out of 10 I said, “I’ll just have what you’re having.”

 

IMG_2057Another afternoon of walking brought me to a fish store.

 

 

IMG_2058I have never seen anything like this before… it reminds me of carnivals when I was a kid.

 

 

 

 

IMG_2059The fish photo happened when I took the metro from the Central district of Hong Kong across the bay and over to Mong Kok.

 

IMG_2060Did you know that Hong Kong was a British colony until 1997?

 

IMG_2065A city is not complete without its share of buskers. This guy was performing some fantastic acrobatics and balancing acts. Next to him was a man dancing to Michael Jackson.

 

 

 

IMG_2073I had gone out with a friend I met at the workshop on this day, and we decided to check out a restaurant famous for pudding and scrambled eggs. It was called the “Australia Dairy Company”, and is apparently pretty historic. Trust me, it sounds just as weird to me as it does to you. And guess what? The almond vanilla pudding was the best I ever had. Honest. The whole place had a kind of 1950’s diner feel to it. Just look at those plates, and how artificially fluffy that white bread is!

 

IMG_2074Again, you’ve not been to Asia if you haven’t eaten street food. And for me, it’s stinky tofu. Or really, fermented tofu that smells kind of like a sewer. I love it—kind of in the way that Germans love sauerkraut. Must be in my genes.

 

IMG_2078On my way home on my final night, I took the ferry across the bay, back to Hong Kong island.

 

IMG_2088And when I got to my hotel, I had a message on my television that all of a sudden made the Hong Kong protests very real. All transportation had been shut down to Central, Admiralty, and Wan Chai. I was visiting Hong Kong during their largest week of protests. However, the next morning I had to hop in a taxi to get to the airport by 6:30am, so I was not able to witness the history. But I do have this photograph of my hotel tv!

 

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Rip Van Thailand

We’re back with another blockbuster video from the swaying palms of Southeast Asia. Sean has seamlessly spliced and sewn together snippets of our Khmer New Year holiday to Koh Kut, and we present them to you today. It’s a bit old, thus the title Rip Van Thailand, but a tale is just as great centuries later. Ask the Romans.

A quick refresher on where we went:
Screen Shot 2014-09-17 at 7.28.52 PMWe drove from Phnom Penh to the Thai border, then took a boat to Koh Kood(Kut). I marked Ho Chi Minh and Bangkok’s general area to give you a scope of where we were.

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We had a leisurely trip to the border, with lots of rest and play along the way. Here we are kicking back at Nomad’s Land on Koh Totang. It was the peak of the hot season, so we moved very slowly and swam as often as possible.

 

Once we crossed the Thai border, we took a two hour boat ride to Koh Kut. IMG_1404Stepping onto the pier, I realized where the dried shrimp in our spring rolls come from.
IMG_1406I never dreamed there were so many shrimp hanging out where I snorkel!

 

Then, we had five days of bliss. I couldn’t get enough of Koh Kut. I daresay I liked it more than Koh Chang. But it’s tough when you’re comparing paradise with Shangri-La.

Here’s the video. Be sure to watch it in the highest resolution you can. We shot it in 1080p:

 

Categories: Cambodia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Toto, We’re Not In Cambodia Anymore

 

When my Dad and sister said they were coming to visit, Sean and I faced a dilemma. Where do we take them? It was our winter break, and we wanted to go far enough away given all the time we had, but we also wanted to show my family the parts of Southeast Asia we know and love.

So we decided on Koh Chang, Thailand. An island on the Cambodian border; close enough to home, but still exotically different.

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We drove through the beautiful forests of Southwestern Cambodia, and then crossed the border into Thailand.

Unfortunately, we had to leave our car at the border. The border guards would not accept one of our registration papers, which we feared would happen. It is a temporary document, the official one is still in processing. After a few minutes of frustration, we accepted the fact, and hopped in the back of a songthaew.

 

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My Dad and sister were gracefully flexible – they loved the adventure! We took the songthaew from the border to the ferry dock, which only took about an hour.  We had been lazy leaving Koh Kong (remember, it’s paradise!), so it was getting late by the time we took the ferry to Koh Chang.

 

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Which meant we got to enjoy an incredibly sunset as the island loomed in the foreground. As we got closer, I couldn’t believe how mountainous it seemed!

 

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The next morning we sat in awe of the incredible view from our hotel, Oasis. Can you spot the islands?

 

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The view of Oasis as you approach from the main road. It was set on a hill, which gave you incredible views and a sense of being in an incredible rainforest.
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Our bungalow. Their basic rooms are something like $9 a night. This place was heaven.
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Once we got our bearings and filled our bellies with pad thai and coffee, we headed to the beach. Lonely Beach, to be exact. When we got there, we were greeted with white sand, gin-clear waters, and beach front massages. Bliss.
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We spent the better part of our days savoring this view.

As much as Koh Chang is famous for its beaches, it also has a variety of adventure opportunities. The whole interior of the island is a national park. The only development exists around the island’s perimeter. Once you head inland, all you’ll see is monkeys, waterfalls, and vines.
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We visited Klong Plu waterfall, and swam in its emerald pools.

IMG_1993To get to Klong Plu, you hike through the jungle for twenty minutes or so, and pop out at the base of the falls. It was a popular spot. December is the start of the dry season, so when we saw the falls in January, they weren’t as full as they would be in October. I can only imagine how wild it must be in the rainy season! Looks like we’ll have to go back.

IMG_0030On our third day we booked a snorkeling cruise. The owners of our hotel recommended BB Divers, which is Belgian run. We had a few choices: the cheapest snorkel trip was with a different company, and you’d be on a boat with about 50 people. For a bit more money you’d be on a boat with thirty, and for something like $3 more, you’re on a boat with ten. We chose the boat with 10, which was run by BB Divers.
IMG_0040It was, hands down, the best snorkel trip of my life. Absolutely stunning water, excellent equipment, and fantastic staff. The reefs were beautiful, but all of the iridescent fish were what sticks in my memory the strongest. You swam through entire schools of fish!
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We docked near Koh Rang and snorkeled for a few hours, then had lunch on the boat. (Do I even need to add that the food was excellent, too? Or will you stop believing me at some point…)
IMG_0108My sister decided to jump from the roof of the boat. No one rushed to stop her… or jump themselves. Not even me.

 

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The afternoon swam by in a series of laughs, splashes, and smiles. Before we knew it, Koh Chang grew larger on the horizon, and it was time to head back to the hotel.
IMG_0130As we sat there drinking our bottles of Chang  and watching the sun set, we shared a moment that could have lasted forever.

But we knew that tomorrow was another day to have fun.

See you next time for more on Koh Chang!

Categories: Thailand | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bicycling Around Phnom Penh

 

Bon Om Thouk, the water festival. Happening every November, Bon Om Thouk marks the reversal of the flow of the Tonle Sap River. I know, sounds crazy. A three-day festival that draws millions of people to the city from the countryside. Boat races, costumes, parties.

This year, it didn’t happen. We still got off school for the holiday, but the boat races and the celebrations were cancelled. Why? Some say it was due to political instability. Some say it was due to the extensive flooding.

What to do with a five-day weekend? Sean and I wanted to go to an island, but were scared by impending storms. It was the weekend right after Typhoon Haiyan, and Vietnam was getting hit pretty hard. The island we wanted to visit (Koh Rong) is a two-hour boat ride from the mainland. We thought it best to hold off ’till clearer forecasts.

So, we lived like royalty in Phnom Penh, exploring parts of the city we hadn’t made time to visit before. We left the city the second half of the break, but the first half we had a lot of fun being visitors in our own town.

On the first day, we headed down the riverside and rented two bicycles.
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The weather was perfect! Bright blue skies mixed with fluffy clouds.
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We rented two bicycles from The Vicious Cycle/Grasshopper Adventure Tours. For $7 each, we got first-class Giant mountain bikes with great suspension and tires. Those things were beastly! We felt like we could take on the world… or Cambodia for a day, at least.

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We cruised around the riverfront for a while, enjoying how easy it was to zip up and down the promenade.
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A regular street in Cambodia, seen from my bicycle.

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We stopped at every ‘photo opportunity’… I was nervous in this picture because you aren’t supposed to stand on the grass in the parks. I know! They have concrete paths and nice benches, with perfectly manicured lawns. In every park, you only ever see people on the concrete; it is illegal to walk on the grass! I don’t think you’d ever get a ticket, but I do think people would give you some sideways glances. Sean really wanted me to pose with the elephant, though, so I sprinted into the frame, the scofflaw that I am…

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Our plan all along was to get to one of the islands on the Mekong. We got directions from the bike rental place, and headed to the car ferry. It was a busy day; I didn’t know how they could fit everyone on that tiny boat!

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But they managed just fine. A twenty motos squished up against Camry bumping a Lexus next to a Toyota Hilux in front of thirty people. And two foreigners with fancy bikes.

We thought we knew exactly where we were going… to the island… We had grandiose plans to go to Koh Dach, or Silk Island.

We couldn’t have been more wrong:

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We biked down the riverside, and hopped on a ferry. We ended up in a remote area, thinking it was a seldom-visited island. Nope. Just normal Cambodia outside of the bustling center that is Phnom Penh. We biked around, waiting to find the ferry to the ‘next island’, where we thought Silk Island would be waiting for us. This all could have obviously been avoided had I checked Google Maps.

 

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Regardless, we had fun bicycling Cambodia’s countryside! This phenomenon is often seen, but I haven’t blogged about it yet. Weddings and birthday parties are thrown on the street, outside of the house. You set up the tent and tables in the middle of the street, and anyone passing just moves around your party. Isn’t it convenient? You want to have a party? Why not just throw it in the street? It’s another example of how laid back everyone is here. I love it!

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Bicycling the remote wilds of the Cambodian countryside… (Not an island.)

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We stumbled on a cock fight! Sean snuck into the melee to see the dueling roosters. I was the only woman there so I hung back and took photos. How many kids in trees can you spot?
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And then we found Smango, the bicycle oasis. It is a resort/restaurant our friend told us to look for. Unfortunately our sweet friend also thought she was on Silk Island. Looks like this blog is going to crush many dreams…

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But the food at Smango was amazing! Sean had sweet and sour chicken, and I had Banh Chao. I’ve had it before, and I always enjoy it when I order it. It’s a delicious rice milk/coconut pancake filled with bean sprouts, sauteed veggies, and meat if you want it. You then tear pieces off, dip them in a peanut sauce, and wrap it up with cucumber and lettuce leaves. Yum!

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Smango had a pool, too, but we were looking forward to getting back to our apartment and taking a dip in our own pool. We had many kilometers left to pedal!


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We found a more major road that went through small villages. Can you spy the woman in the background balancing the basket on her head?
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Once we decided to head back, we crossed the Japanese Friendship bridge to get back into the city. This bridge crosses the Tonle Sap, which switches directions in November.

We still had a few hours to spend before we returned the bikes, so we headed to Wat Phnom, the major temple in the city.

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Not quite sure what she’s selling. If you know, please post in the comments!

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Me in front of Wat Phnom. It has a large clock on the grass in front of the temple. Wat means temple, and Phnom means hill. It is the major temple in Phnom Penh.
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I really love Wat Phnom because it has a large shaded park all around it. You can stroll thrpugh the park, look at the temple, have a picnic, or watch the sellers. I find it really peaceful!

IMG_8416As the sun got lower in the sky, we made our way back to the riverside to return the bikes. I spotted this building, which screamed French architecture. Cambodia was actually the “French Protectorate of Cambodia” from 1867 to 1953. You can still see a lot of French architecture, and excellent coffee and baguettes are actually more common than you’d think!

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After dropping off the bikes, Sean and I headed to a balcony with a view.

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Anyone who’s ever been to Phnom Penh has probably been to the yellow building, having the opposite view of this one. The yellow building is the FCC, or Foreign Correspondents Club. It is the historic bar of the city, check out a great article on its history here. They’ve also got a great, half-price happy hour. We chose the bar across the street though, for a change of pace. Which did we like better? You’ll have to visit yourself to decide…
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We were lucky we returned our bikes when we did. It looked like a storm was brewing. We savored a cold drink, an order of french fries, and the view over the Mekong river.

It was a great first day to a vacation. However, now we have to go find the real Silk Island….

Categories: Cambodia | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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