A Love-Hate Relationship with Hong Kong

I love this city because it used to be home. All that my childhood consisted of: that earthy smell at each MTR station, the sounds of thunder and wind during a heavy “yellow warning” rainstorm, the dim sum baskets piling one on top of another each encasing a different delicious treasure…each sensation is like an old friend – familiar, welcomed, comforting.

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On the tram in Tin Hau

Taking the old-fashioned tram down the main Hong Kong Island strip, I pass by small entrances and alleyways in the old residential areas, to the towering skyscrapers overlooking Victoria Harbour – observing the population and their idiosyncrasies. Children in uniforms running around on the playgrounds as their young mothers and maid-helpers chat on the benches (but never with each other, only with other mothers or other maid-helpers), the vendors at the marketplace yelling at high volumes their wares and fresh meat and produce (but they aren’t angry…they’re just loud like that), the elderly ladies with their umbrellas over their heads to ward off the sun (despite that the sun doesn’t shine through the smog and all the buildings anyway)…I found it all very amusing. Some things don’t change from the days when I was the school kid getting slivers at the playground, grocery shopping through the noisy marketplace with my own grandmother on a sunny day with, of course, an umbrella. Read the rest of this entry

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“How are you able to afford this around-the-world trip of yours?”

Recently a friend asked me this, and I suspect she’s not the only one to wonder along those lines. I hadn’t been in the work force for long, and jobs I’ve held in the past weren’t especially high-paying – heck, I’ve even been unemployed/underemployed for extended periods of time! I most certainly have not won any lotteries, so just HOW is it that I can go off for several months and travel to so many different countries and have so many wonderful adventures?

Hampi, India

Hampi, India

Well, it’s a question with a long answer! However, in general here are some ways to keep travel costs down and make your money stretch to gain a few extra weeks on the road:

Do your own research and planning: I plan my own itinerary rather than have an agency set one up for me. On top of giving me the flexibility and freedom to do something impulsive, I can utilize local transport, which is a much cheaper option, and often a good way to observe local daily life. Plus, chances are always good that some fellow traveller would give useful feedback that changes your route: “___ destination isn’t as nice as everyone says, don’t bother staying there too long,” “You can find delicious yet reasonable food at ___,” “I have a good friend of a friend who can put you up at their guesthouse for a discounted price,” “You can get to this island by boat instead of plane via this method,” and so on and so forth. As long as you are willing to do some research on your own you can save so much money, and not have to pay that extra commission to the travel agent. Personally, I love trip planning – the anticipation is half the fun of the trip!

Hong Kong

Hong Kong*

Compare prices: This applies to flights, hotels, tours, admission fees… even visas! Read the rest of this entry

Tung Ping Chau, Hong Kong

Tung Ping Chau, or ‘East Flat Island” in Chinese, is a small governmental geopark located at the Northernmost/Easternmost tip of Hong Kong, and a delight for rock enthusiasts and nature lovers.2013-05-HK 111

The island is small and isolated; any inhabitants are now long gone, remaining only dilapidated buildings on the brink of collapse. As such, only one local ferry sails Read the rest of this entry

Brought to You by the Letter “H” – Hanoi, Vietnam (Part 2)

(continued from part 1: adventures in the city of Hanoi, including Hoan Kiem lake, Ho Chi Minh museum/mausoleum, and Temple of Literature)

Halong Bay

Halong Bay

Halong Bay:  What a divine place! Halong Bay had a mysterious, magical feel to it, and it is certainly a unique site worth a visit should you find yourself in Vietnam. In the fog, it’s as if we sailed into some forgotten realm that the world left behind, with the ghostly islands playing hide-and-seek in the mist, a giant zen garden home to the deities of folklore and eternal serenity.
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Brought to You by the Letter “H” – Hanoi, Vietnam (Part 1)

Did anyone else notice that most of the major attractions in and around Hanoi start with the letter ‘H’? Halong Bay, Hoa Lu, Hoan Kiem Lake, Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum/Museum, Hoa Lo Prison…what a comprehensive city though! There was so much to see and explore around Hanoi, from stunning landscapes of limestone mountains to its heartbreaking war history, from shopping at its night markets to ancient temples of grandeur, and all the delightful little food stalls and the death-defying traffic in-between that filled our days with charm and wonder. A trip to Vietnam is not complete without a visit to Hanoi!

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Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum

Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum: Sadly (or rather fortunately for me as I have little interest in seeing an embalmed corpse) “Uncle Ho”’s body was not available for viewing the day we visited. The Mausoleum is only open on certain days of the week and only up till 11:30am.
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Minding Your Q’s In Asia

Journeying across different countries, one inevitably encounters many languages, and with a little effort, it is not hard to pick up a word or phrase here and there, which always surprises and delights the locals.

Guidebooks tend to carry a list of useful phrases, but I have found I only ever really need and use one. The first phrase, and often the only phrase, I learn in any country is not ‘Hello’, ‘Please’, or ‘Sorry’ – it is ‘Thank you’. Armed with this polite idiom, you can guarantee you will be sent on your merry way with a smile, and leave a good impression behind you.2012-Nov-Bali&VN 252

Here is a compiled list of ‘Thank you’’s in various languages spoken in Asia, which hopefully would be useful to you, fellow traveller. Read the rest of this entry

Ching Ming Festival

In April, when the Ching Ming festival occurs, Chinese people visit cemeteries and crematoriums to pay their respects to ancestors. Last Sunday I witnessed firsthand just how boisterous and elaborate this celebration could be, one that is far from somber, and so characteristic of Chinese culture. Read the rest of this entry

A Somber Lesson in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Part of travelling is learning the history of a city, and we knew Phnom Penh’s story was going to be a very sad one. Clearly it wasn’t going to be fun and games, but we still hired a tuk tuk for a day to visit the Cheoung Ek killing fields and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.2013-ThaiCamViet 973

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In An Octopus’s Garden – Koh Rong, Cambodia

We have found the perfect beach.2013-ThaiCamViet 857

I’m almost tempted not to tell you about it in order to keep it a best-kept secret, and for fear that it would fall into disarray as Sihanoukville did, but, not sharing it would go against the whole code of writing and defeat the purpose of a travel blog. Plus, I have faith that today’s well-read travelers have the sense and decency to preserve our environment, being conscientious tourists who leave a place as little changed or damaged as possible. Pollution, global warming, overlogging/fishing, and other human-induced factors that harm the earth are major issues that we should all be aware of and concerned about, and it impacts everyone of us. If we neglect to take care of all the places we live in and go to, we would soon run out of beautiful spots in this world to enjoy and be inspired by.

And with that little note from your resident tree-hugger, just why is Koh Rong island so incredible?2013-ThaiCamViet 889

As I mentioned, it is not a well-known place. Mostly divers go there, and as such the local businesses cater to this crowd – relaxed, thrifty, simple. Read the rest of this entry

The Shame of Sihanoukville

Have you met my travelling companion? Eight years ago, Jeff rode his bicycle from Beijing through Tibet and Nepal to reach the base of Mt. Everest, then back east again through India, Thailand, and Cambodia (which explains why renting bikes to go explore on our own always leaves me utterly beat). On that trip, he rode to Sihanoukville at the southern tip of Cambodia, which he told me was one of the most beautiful and pristine beaches he had ever encountered, and has amazing snorkeling, so we made it part of our itinerary to go there this time around.

The golden lions in the big roundabout - probably the only non-beach sight at Sihanoukville

The golden lions in the big roundabout – probably the only non-beach sight at Sihanoukville

Sadly, when we arrived we were in for a huge disappointment. In the short span of eight years, guesthouses and restaurants had popped up where there was only beach before. Now that in itself isn’t a bad thing…but the litter is. With the expansion of the tourism business, the beach became filthy – trash lined the fine white sand, and the worst part is you could see it was more of the locals’ doings than the tourists. The garbage consisted of mostly large, plastic bags used to carry bulky items like rice or construction, as well as vegetables and compost, food containers, bottles and boxes – basically, things that the local stores used and threw out. Most tourists we met were likewise lamenting the dirtiness of what could be such a beautiful beach, and how there is a lack of awareness and long-term consideration in the people running the businesses and shops.
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