Sunday, August 29, 2010

SEA Rankings

So after around our second stop in South East Asia, Aaron and I decided that we were no longer going to extensively discuss how much we liked (or didn't like) the places we visited.  We decided it'd be kind of fun to rank them, without a bias, and then guess how the other ranked them.  The qualifications took everything into account: the city itself, our accommodations, the food, what we did, transportation, culture, people we met, how safe we felt, and just the overall experience.  You'll see a few similarities, but it's interesting that they weren't necessarily the same. Below you will find our rankings:


1. Bangkok, Thailand
2. Saigon, Vietnam
3. Hong Kong
4. Singapore   
5. Southern Thailand
6. Manilla, Philippines
7. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
8. Macau
9. Jakarta, Indonesia


1. Southern Thailand
2. Bangkok, Thailand
3. Saigon, Vietnam
4. Singapore
5. Hong Kong
6. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
7. Manila, Philippines
8. Macau
9. Jakarta, Indonesia

So there you have it! If you're planning a trip to SEA anytime soon you can see that both clearly enjoyed Thailand and Vietnam the most so those two would definitely be our suggestions.  We were also both pretty bad at guessing the other person's rankings.  After discussing them with each other, we also talked about the possibility that we may like places differently if we had visited them in a different order, or perhaps stayed in a different hotel or different part of the city.

Overall, it was an incredible experience we are very grateful for the amazing opportunity we had!  We only have a few days left in India and we'll do another blog and let you know what we've been up to since being back here.  Tomorrow we are going on an all day trip (6am-11pm!) outside of Bangalore and exploring some other parts of India.

I'll leave you with this picture I took the other day...gotta love India!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Hi....(Back in Bangalore by the way)

This is a somewhat intentionally delayed blog about the last stop of our SE Asia trip, Kuala Lumpur, a.k.a. KL. KL is a fairly modern city. The most obvious landmark are the huge Petronas Towers, which stand head and shoulders above the next closest buildings. The towers are also spectacularly lit up during the night.

We arrived in KL during the afternoon of August the 18th after a whirlwind day of travel from Phi Phi Island to Krabi (by boat), quickly to the airport (by car), and finally to KL (by plane of course). When all was said and done it took us about 8.5 hours to make the entire voyage. A large portion of that time was spent sitting motionless in one of KL's notorious traffic jams. Our taxi driver actually backtracked about 15 minutes on one highway after running into a jam only to run into another one on the next highway. It took awhile but we eventually made it. When we finally arrived we checked into our hotel, had a quick workout, and then headed out to find some grub.

We took a taxi to a street called Changkat Bukit Bintang which is virtually incomprehensible when you hear it come out of a local's mouth. There were a plethora of dining options and we settled on a little Italian restaurant with an open air setting. The meal was a much needed relaxing end to a long day of travel. We were planning on heading out to a night market afterwards, however, it started into a complete downpour towards the end of our meal so we decided to just catch a cab back to the hotel as it was already getting late.

Cabs in KL are interesting. On every single cab there is a sign on the outside that reads "This is a metered Taxi. Haggling is strictly prohibited." That really sounds great, it's just not the way things work. Unless you are catching a cab from a place where the location hails it for you, such as a hotel for instance, the baseline price will be 10 RM or Malaysian Ringgit. There is about 3 RM to the USD. There is sometimes room for bargaining but most of them don't put up with much and would rather shut the door and move on to someone else.  However, virtually all of our KL taxi drivers were extremely friendly, striking up conversations with us and pointing out landmarks as we drove by. One man even showed us his secret hiding place for his money so if someone tries to rob him they would only get the small amount of change he has out, in which case he said "It wouldn't be worth it they should just try to rob a bank". We also took the opportunity to ask this driver about why no one uses the meter and why it isn't enforced. He simply said the Police do not bother with these small things, two of his sons were police officers by the way. So at $3.3 USD per pop KL taxis aren't always the cheapest option.

We started Thursday morning by going to the KLCC (Kuala Lumpur City Center) to get some coffee and a little breakfast. The KLCC is basically a shopping mall complex located at the base of the Petronas towers. Here we were able to see the towers up close and personal. I felt that the towers had a different feel then most sky scrapers. As compared to others I have seen they were much wider up their entire height. That combined with their side by side design and connecting bridge about halfway up actually does not make them seem extremely tall. The Sears Tower, for instance, seems very tall and slender. However the KL towers actually overtook the Sears Tower as the worlds tallest structure for a short while. After this it was off to the Indian Embassy.

For those of you unaware of the situation, India put out a new set of guidelines a short while before our trip which forbid re-entry into India within two months of leaving the country on a tourist visa unless permission for re-entry was granted. So we were off to seek our permission. When we finally got to the embassy on the other side of town we waited in line for awhile and then spoke with one of the consular employees. She informed us that this was a two day approval process and we simply had to fill out an application and come back in two days. The problem of course was we were hoping to leave the city in about 28 hours. She said we should come back tomorrow at 11 and she would see what she could do. This wasn't comforting but it was the best we could do!

After this we set out to see some of the sights. At this point I think it is worth mentioning that it was Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, during our stay in KL and the country has a heavy Muslim population as well as a large number of tourists from the middle east. Apparently August is an extremely hot month specifically in Saudi Arabia and many Saudis come to KL to cool off. This didn't mean much to us except that there was a much larger number of Muslim people and restaurants were either extremely slow or even closed during the day. Anyways, after the embassy we first went to the central market. This was a little higher class market than we were use to as it was indoors and air-conditioned so we enjoyed a good hour of strolling around looking in all the small little shops.

Afterwards, we headed for the most photographed location before the construction of the Petronas towers, the Sultan Abdul Samad Building. This was actually originally a British building designed by a British architect who had recently been influenced by travels in Africa and India. After this we took a quick stroll to the national train station and on the way we saw this...

That is fresh roasted lamb by the way...

The train station was really a detour on the way to the national mosque and the Islamic Arts Museum. The national mosque is quite simply what it says it is. It is a very large structure capable of holding up to 15,000 people. Its main roof is actually an 18 pointed star and has a single very tall minaret alongside of it. After a quick stroll by the mosque we entered the Islamic Arts Museum. The Islamic Arts Museum houses a large collection of art as well as historical artifacts from Islamic artists and cultures. The main highlight for us however was the amazingly ornate domes. The domes
are so incredibly detailed that afterwards I zoomed in on the center of a photo on my computer and it looked computer generated. It was late in the afternoon at this point so Lauren and I headed back to the hotel.

Later that night we went to KL's version of Sky Bar to celebrate the end of our trip! KL's version was much more vertigo friendly and was basically on the doorstep of the Petronas Towers. It is a pretty Chic place to be when the city is lit up. After this we were tired. We headed back to rest in anticipation of a busy day of travel, hopefully at least, on Friday.

Friday morning we checked out of our hotel and put our luggage in storage. Once again it was off to the KLCC to grab some coffee and breakfast. This was a little more of a casual morning and we ended up at the Indian Embassy full of prayers and hope! Upon arriving I made eye contact with the staff person who had helped us the day before. Her eyes didn't spell surprise or panic the moment she saw me so that seemed good. She motioned for me to wait as she helped some others. After about 30 minutes of patience and more prayer she signalled us over to the window that said "CASH". This was indeed a good sign as the permission required a small fee. After the fee was paid and another 20 minutes of waiting we were called to the window, our passports were stamped and we were on our way! Thank you God!

We did eventually make it back to Bangalore that day, though it was after a long drive to the wrong airport and a rushed trip to the right one. We are safely and happily back in Bangalore!
When all was said and done we spent 84 total hours in travel related activities such as lines, airplanes, taxis, and more lines throughout our trip of SE Asia. The trip was truly the trip of a lifetime filled with fantastic experiences, sights and smells! Thanks to everyone for your prayers and support. More from India soon!


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Add this one to your bucket list: Phi Phi Island, Thailand

I decided that this post was going to be mostly photos, rather than words, as I think they will pretty much speak for themselves.  Southern Thailand is simply breathtaking.  The majority of the time we were there, I kept thinking that it was surreal and everything around me was fake.  It's so picturesque that I told my mom I felt like I was living and breathing in a computer screensaver or desktop background.  The water is so blue and clear that you can see the bottom in 15 feet deep water and it's also refreshingly warm.  Southern Thailand, or Phi Phi Island to be more specific, is definitely a place to add to your list of places to see before you die!

We arrived in Phuket in the early afternoon and immediately took a taxi to our brand new hotel, the Westin Siray Bay.  It had it's grand opening in the beginning of August so we ended up getting a really good deal on our room.  The hotel was immaculate and the view exquisite.  At this point in our trip, we were more than ready for a little R and R and spent the afternoon and early evening basking in the sun and soaking up the view.  This was one of the many times in our trip when we looked at each other and said, "think about where we are right now - this is awesome!"  As we were traveling, it was easy to get caught up with where we were and not really take the time to actually put ourselves on a map in the world and think about where we were.  However, it was pretty cool when we did.  We had our first lazy day of the whole trip and topped the evening off by ordering room service for dinner.

At 7:30 the next morning we were checked out of our hotel and on a mini bus taking us to the pier a few kilometers away.  Since the ferry company picked us up, we were quite early and had our choice of where we wanted to sit on the boat.  There were several levels, both inside and out, and I'm pretty sure the biggest decision we made that day was whether to sit on the left or the right side of the boat.  We, obviously, chose to sit on the top level of the boat and even ended up choosing the correct side to sit on (for taking pictures of the islands later).  We were served coffee and croissants and I don't think either of us could wipe the smirks off our faces as we glided through the Andaman Sea with the most perfect weather imaginable.  We arrived at Phi Phi Don (the main part of the larger island - there are two: one inhabited, but without cars, and one that isn't inhabited).  We dropped off the folks who were just on the boat for the ferry service to the island and continued on a tour of Phi Phi Le, which is the smaller of the two islands and is where the movie The Beach was filmed (with Leo).  It was glorious.  After cruising around for a while, we took a long boat (with all of our luggage!) to the beach where we would be having lunch.  Before lunch, however, we climbed back into the long tail boat to head out to the reef for snorkeling.  Now those of you who know me, know that I'm not the biggest snorkeling fan and I usually prefer to stay on the catamarans that take me there.  (I don't know what it is, I just don't like putting those things in my mouth when I don't know where they've been and I feel like when you snorkel in one place, it's all pretty much the same).  HOWEVER, I sucked it up and realized that I would probably never have another opportunity to snorkel off the coast of Phi Phi Island and I'd go for it.  There was even lipstick on the outside of my snorkel and I still went for it :).  After snorkeling, we went back to the beach for lunch and spent some time relaxing on the beautiful beach.  In the mid afternoon, a long tail boat (basically the island's version of a taxi) took us back to the main island of Phi Phi Don and we found our hotel.  We had another relaxing afternoon exploring our hotel and the island a bit and I even had a traditional Thai massage (one hour for about $12 USD!)  We had a fabulous stay in Phi Phi.

The next morning we were a little worried about everything that had to fall into place, but it couldn't have worked out more perfectly if we tried!  We took the 10:30 am ferry to Krabi, which was supposed to arrive at noon, but didn't until 12:30.  Thankfully, as we were checking in with our tickets before leaving Phi Phi, we asked the ferry workers about the likelihood of there being taxis waiting at the Krabi Pier.  They told us that they happen to also offer taxi services so we booked one through them, they made a call, and there was one waiting for us as we got off the ferry.  It was perfect.  As we drove away (the first ones to leave the pier from our ferry) we didn't see any other taxis, but there was a phone number to call if you wanted one.  Since our flight was scheduled for 2:00pm, and it was now about 12:45, we were extremely grateful for our previously made arrangements!  We arrived at the airport around 1:15, checked-in with no trouble, didn't have to wait in line at immigration (this is a BIG plus), and even had time to enjoy a coffee before boarding our flight to Kuala Lumpur!

I guess there were still a lot of words in this post, but it was so fabulous that I had to tell you all about it.  EVERYONE SHOULD VISIT THAILAND!  I will now leave you with some photos:

soaking it all in while Aar checks us in

the Westin Siray Bay, Phuket

Aar enjoying some pool action

gorgeous sunset in Phuket

getting ready to sail to Phi Phi with my coffee

Maya Bay, Phi Phi Le

long tail boat - the main means of transportation 
since thereare no roads or cars on the island

Aar - loving life

long tail boats on Phi Phi Don

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Smile You're in Thailand

Thailand is known to be an extremely friendly and hospitable place. Lauren and I both received and returned many smiles while shopping or dining at a restaurant. The people were so friendly in fact that you actually noticed it which is certainly a nice thing to notice while travelling abroad.

We arrived to our hotel, Lebua at State Tower, at around 2 PM on the 13th. We were pleased to find our room was a suite which we had booked at an extremely good rate due to the riots which were happening in Bangkok at the time of our booking. Our room had a pleasant sitting area, spacious bathroom, comfortable bedroom and even a deck with a view!

We started out our Bangkok experience by going to a tailor to get tailor made suits, which is one thing Bangkok is known for. It was to be my...Birthday Suit...I am so funny....We got a tailor suggestion from a bell boy who ended up being one of the most helpful hotel attendants Laur and I had ever met for the duration of our stay at Lebua. The Tailor arranged to pick us up from our hotel and we were off. After deciding on our Suit styles and fabrics we were both measured and then brought to our next stop (transportation provided by the tailor again) which was the Siam Paragon shopping center. Here we met up with a future classmate of Lauren's at LSE, Tarn. She lives in Bangkok and we had arranged to meet with her. We grabbed some lunch at a thai restaurant which included a traditional thai dish (I cannot recall the name), sweet and sour chicken (Thai style) and some fried rice. The traditional dish reminded me of a seafood soup. It consisted of a pink colored broth, shrimp, mushrooms, and various vegetables. After our late lunch we headed back to the hotel to settle in a bit.

Later that night we headed out for dinner. I was feeling a hankering for some birthday ribs so we found a little barbecue joint. The food was decent enough but Laur and I were tired, it was after 10 PM after dinner, so we decided to head home for the night.

We started Saturday with a fantastic complimentary breakfast buffet at our hotel. We decided to head for the golden mount first. The golden mount is basically a large steel hill with a building built on top of it and a Buddhist temple on top. We walked the winding stairwell up to the golden peak and checked out the view as well as the Buddha statues inside. It was a fairly peaceful place with a few monks, some Buddhists and many tourists. The view of the "Old Village" was worth the hike and the 60 cent entrance fee in itself. After this Lauren and I did a little bargaining with some tuk tuk drivers (a tuk tuk is basically a little larger version of an autorickshaw) for a ride to the Grand Palace. We started at 20 Baht (about 30 Baht to the dollar) for the ride and a "free stop at a great jewelry store along the way!" No thanks...the next price quoted was 100 Baht then around 80 and finally we settled for a price of 40 Baht which sounds cheap but was still probably twice what we should have paid. We were hot and ready to go. The tuk tuks it turns out are faster, and a bit more comfortable then the autorickshaws of India. The seat in the back is almost a recliner and is very comfortable but when the driver has a predetermined fare he simply wants to get where he is going as quickly as possible to get his next fare. That much was clear. That being said we arrived promptly and safely at the Grand Palace around 5 minutes later.

The Grand Palace was originally built as a home for the much revered Thai Royal Family. Included on the grounds is the palace itself, a few museums as well as a large Buddhist temple complex which houses the famed Emerald Buddha. The Buddhist temple complex was an extremely ornate and unique set of small temples and monuments. It was certainly a unique experience walking around and viewing all of the different sights. The grounds were mostly full of tourists like us so it didn't really have the feel of a serene temple environment. When we entered the central temple where the Emerald Buddha was I had a similar feeling to the one I experienced when I first saw the Mona Lisa. That's it? I thought. Some things have a larger then life reputation and are described so majestically in tour books and on the interWebZ that when you see something that isn't actually the size of a blimp but is more like 2 ft. tall you tend to be surprised at its lack of a shock factor. Do I sound like an ignorant American yet? That being said the importance of the Buddha to certain people was certainly evident in the number of devout Buddhist followers in quiet meditation in front of it.

After the Grand Palace we went on a long walk through several markets eventually making our
way to the Royal Barges Museum. Most tourists make their way to this museum via a water taxi and on our walk there we found out why. The Path was a twisted maze with small signs pointing the direction to the museum. The path wound its way through a local neighborhood of small shacks, bars, and restaurants. At every corner a new sign seemed to suggest the museum was right around the corner. Instead, we would find another local staring at us wondering why in the world we didn't take a boat like everyone else. It was about a 10 minute zig zag walk but after we made it through I was glad we took the less normal path and saw what life in Bangkok is really like for the majority of it's residents. Home means so many different things to so many people around the world. The Royal Barges Museum was a quick visit but certainly worth while and unique. It housed the boats which used to be used in transporting the Thai Royal Family. The boats were long and detailed pieces of art rather then your average row boats. We had arranged for a ride from the museum to our Tailor for our preliminary fitting of our suit. Our driver was waiting for us when we arrived so when we were done strolling through the large warehouse we made our way back to the Tailor and then to Crepe & Company for a late lunch.

Crepe & Company is a tiny little french style restaurant serving a multitude of Crepes. Whether you fancy something for desert likeNutella and banana or something for lunch or dinner like chicken and mushrooms (my pick) or ham and pineapple (lolo's pick) they have it all. After our very late lunch we decided to head back to home base. Laur and I did a little bit of pool siding and later went up and explored the rooftop "Skybar". This place is not for those who see large heights and immediately ponder the awfulness of falling the full distance as I often do. The place was so packed we didn't even order anything but we did meet a Danish man who was a photojournalist with a very nice camera and he emailed us the pic. Thanks again to Magnus! Afterwards laur and I headed back down and got a relaxing drink at the poolside, and much less chaotic, Muzo. Afterwards it was time to call it a day, and a good one at that!

Sunday started once again with that undeniable breakfast buffet. After this we headed out for what would turn out to be a rather frustrating and yet adventuresome trip to Chatuchuck market. This is supposedly the biggest or one of the biggest markets in the world. It spans the area of 5 football fields and is a seemingly endless maze of tightly packed stalls. But lets not make it to the market too fast! On our way we realize we are low on dough...of the actual paper we stop half way at an ATM annnnnnd no dice. Assuming of course the problem was not with us, we decide to get back on the train and try some other ATM's by the market. This stop only had one. So we get to the next stop and things go similarly well with every other ATM. So on to the backup right? No no no the backup is locked in the safe back at the hotel where it should be silly. This is all we got. So the problem is with the
card so lets us one of those old fashioned looking boxes with the cord that looks like its connected to a phone. Somehow you must be able to use it to make calls. Well unfortunately Calvin, Hope and Holland Christian all let us down when it comes to making a collect call on a Thai phone to your bank. We could never get through. So after a few more last ditch efforts (7 Eleven for calling card/cash back/any sort of hope) we had to head back to the hotel to get the back-up. This was rather depressing. It was probably about a 40 minute trip to the market so we had to trace that back and then do it again to get to the market. However we did finally make it to the market with money and good spirits none the less! Laur was looking forward to shopping in a giant market and I was looking forward to the ride home which meant shopping was over! HA. Actually, shopping in a market like this allows anti-shoppers such as myself to do a lot of sight seeing as opposed to product seeing so I was quite entertained the entire time. I was also paranoid. This market is notorious for pickpocketing and robbery. Our bell boy at the hotel even bothered to mention this which means it must happen quite a bit. But no robberies occurred as far as we know.

After the market was finally over Laur and I were both exhausted. We probably spent around 2 hours wandering throughout the maze. So we headed home got some pizza from a little Italian joint called Scoozis and called it a night. One big day at the market was enough for us.

Monday all we had was about an hour before we had to leave for the airport. So after breakfast we took a quick stroll down to the Mandarin Oriental to check out the famed Author's Lounge. This is a little cafe where a few famous authors (so famous I don't have to mention their names, though if I knew them I might) have penned a few works. It was closed, but we did sneak a peak and we didn't have much time for Coffee anyways! After that it was off to the airport and off to Phuket. Paradise here we come!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Good Morning Vietnam

Well, after a very long day of travel and frustration, we made it to Vietnam!  If you've read our previous blogs, you'll already know that we found out last Monday morning at about 4 am that our intended flight from Macau to Ho Chi Minh City with Viva Macau did not exist.  Upon doing a bit of research, we found out that the airline no longer was in service.  In fact, they ended up shutting down a day when they couldn't afford to put enough fuel in one of their planes.  Unfortunately, they didn't send us an email or let us know in any way that our flight had been canceled.  We tried to book other flights online but, because we wanted to fly out in less than 24 hours, using the internet was not an option. After doing a bit of flight research online, we ended up just going to the airport to try and talk to any of the limited airlines that fly out of Macau.  We ended up finding an Air Asia flight that left in the late morning, but we had to stop and have a layover in Bangkok before continuing to Saigon.  Had we not already booked all of our hotel rooms and other flights, we probably would have just swapped things around and spent time in Thailand and gone to Vietnam later.  Unfortunately again, this set us back about $700 (which is more than half of the amount we spent on ALL of our flights around SE Asia put together.)  We didn't really have much of a choice in the matter so we just tried to look on the bright side that we were actually able to leave Macau and get to our destination and only about 9 hours later than we had initially planned.

Now - back to Vietnam!  Aar and I both loved Vietnam.  I was trying to describe why I liked it so much, but couldn't really put my finger on it.  I decided that I think it's because the Vietnamese are so friendly and always have smiles on their faces.  They aren't as rude/pushy as we've discovered in other parts of the region.

We arrived at our hotel in the early evening and spent some time exploring the surrounding area.  The Ben Thanh Market was right outside our hotel and it turns into a night market in the evenings.  We spent a bit of time just meandering through the different stalls and then I decided to indulge into the Vietnamese culture by visiting one of the most common businesses in the country - the nail salon :).  I got a mani and pedi (with a 30 minute leg massage) and all for about $6 US.  Needless to say, it was an amazing way to spend my evening after a long and troubling day of travel.  While I was getting the royal treatment, Aar went and found us some dinner at a local family owned Vietnamese restaurant that was recommended by some of the girls at the nail salon. He pretty much just "winged it" and ended up getting some sort of a spicy beef dish with rice.  Initially, we weren't so sure if beef was a good idea but it ended up tasting delicious and neither of us got sick at all.

On Tuesday we had a full itinerary of touristy things to do around Saigon.  After having breakfast in our hotel, we set out on a walking journey.  Central Saigon is pretty small, so we could walk pretty much everywhere.  We stopped at various historical locations such as the reunification palace, the notre dame cathedral, the post office, the opera house, and a few other places.  We had lunch at a delicious open-aired Vietnamese restaurant that was recommended by both locals and foreigners.  We also visited the War Remnants Museum, which was extremely gruesome.  They had several photographs depicting war crimes and we both left feeling very depressed.  I know a lot of bad things happen {on both sides} during war, but I don't think it's necessary to share images with the public.  Who knows, maybe it's good to make people aware of what occurs.  We spent the afternoon walking around a bit more and exploring the market near our hotel.  For dinner, we went to the number one listed restaurant on, but were less than impressed.  It was super tiny and they only had about 10 things on their menu to choose from.

On Wednesday, we hired a driver and a tour guide to take us to the city of Dong Xoai, which is about three hours away from Ho Chi Minh City.  Dong Xoai is the city where my grandfather's helicopter was shot down in during the Vietnam war in 1965.  If you're interested in reading a bit about his story, you can find a synopsis of information here.  I didn't really know what to expect and wasn't sure if we'd even be able to find the area we were looking for.  Thankfully, our guide was able to ask a few people and we eventually found the rubber plantation where his helicopter was shot down, as well as the memorial depicting the battle of Dong Xoai.  It was definitely a surreal feeling of being so close to where he was last heard from.  It was a very long and bumpy ride, but well worth the trip.  

Originally, we were planning on taking a day trip to Southern Vietnam to visit the floating markets, but we were both pretty wiped out from the long day on Wednesday.  Our initial itinerary had scheduled us a free day without any plans, but that had been taken away during our mishap in Macau.  We decided we'd have to go back to Vietnam another time and visit our places and that we would go ahead with our day of no plans.  We sat at a cafe for a while, wrote a few post cards, ate lunch at a cute little french boulangerie, and basically just enjoyed taking some time to breathe since we had constantly been on the go for the past two and a half weeks.  In the afternoon, we visited the National Art Museum, which was in a beautiful old building built by the french when they had colonized Vietnam. We had an early night and headed back to our hotel to pack, as we had to catch a morning flight to Bangkok on Friday.

As I already mentioned, we both loved Vietnam.  Even though evidence of the war is embedded in many parts of the culture that we experienced, the Vietnamese were very endearing.  I definitely hope to some day go back to Vietnam and explore the rest of the country.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Hong Kong. Personal space? No thanks...

Greetings and salutations...

We are actually currently in Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam and are having a fine time, but please let me tell you about our time in Hong Kong. Ahhthankyou...

So we arrived in Hong Kong during the evening on the 6th of Friday. Our total travel time from Manila to Hong Kong was about 8 hours, this puts our running total of travel time at approximately 51.75 hours, yes we are keeping track. Transportation was a piece of cake using HK's MTR system. Once we got to the hotel we decided to grab a bite to eat.

We were dying for a bit of HK culture so we went to a Mexican restaurant :) It was three things...Delicious, Expensive, and in the middle of many adult themed establishments. eeeek. We had found the restaurant in a travel book and we had no idea of the neighborhood it was in until we poked up from the subway and we were surrounded. It was no problem however as none of the establishments were at all interested in a married couple walking together :)

The next day we got a decently early start grabbed some breakfast and headed for Victoria Peak. We took a tram to the top of the peak. The tram rides up very steeply and it reminded me of the upward ascent for the first peak on a roller coaster (I hate roller coasters). Needless to say I was waiting for the accelerating clicking sound and the sudden unstoppable pull of gravity. We survived. Actually the tram ride was very pleasant and I felt completely safe the whole time, however, it was steep. The view from the top was well worth it. The city of HK is certainly not a prototypical location for a city. Sky scrapers are either built on the side of steep hills, on reclaimed land right next to the water or in the small space between these two.

After this we trekked over to the mid levels. The mid levels is a neighborhood/district of HK learn more here, at wikipedia of course. The unique feature of the area is the worlds longest escalator or at least string of escalators going up the central area. In total they cover a distance of 800 m (Thats a little more than 2,600 feet America) which is a long way to travel on an escalator. It is actually used for transportation and switches its direction of operation depending on the movement of the masses (morning/afternoon rush hours). We stopped for lunch at a little place called Classified. It was a wine and cheese bar, which we enjoyed minus the wine. We took advantage of the create your own cheese plate and tried a dry/soft/bleu cheese which we got to pick from the walk in cheese cooler. It was all delicious. After that we headed for Cat Street which is a local market full of souvenirs. We were told that the markets in this area were prime for bartering, as in don't settle for anything more then 50% of the first price offered. We didn't have too much success as the locals seemed pretty stingy and we ended up leaving without to many purchases.

After the market we headed for the Ferry station and hopped on a boat across the harbor to Tsin Sha Tsui. This was an extremely packed place. Full of shopping malls and of course people. Many areas of Hong Kong are packed with people whether its the sidewalks, the subway system, or stores. People, people, people. If you really like that 2.5 ft that is usually empty on all sides of you then HK is not the place for you. If you do like that just hope that the person behind you on the train brushed his teeth because when you can feel him breathing down your neck, literally not figuratively, you can certainly smell if he had fruit loops or cocoa crisp that morning.

Later that night we headed for the Harborside intercontinential to grab some appetizers and a view of the Hong Kong light show. Starting at about 8 PM many buildings on the HK skyline take part in a coordinated light show. It was!!!...Underwhelming. Having seen some pictures of the show at it's wildest I think Lauren and I were ready for a combination of 4th of July and New Years on the side of buildings. Instead we got a more tame version, which wasn't nearly as quick or bright as we were expecting. All that being said, if we knew nothing about the light show and the buildings suddenly started doing what we saw we probably would have been utterly amazed.

After the light show we met up with Lauren's old young life leader Kat and her husband Dan. They brought us to a delightful Spanish Tapas restaurant and we enjoyed some food and some mutual feelings on life in HK compared to life in the states.

Sunday was a bit more of a casual day. We started the day in an area called causeway bay which we found to be far too crowded and we quickly headed for our turbo ferry ride to the "Las Vegas of the East", Macau. We arrived in Macau in the early afternoon and had some down time before heading out for dinner. We ate at a fantastic little Italian restaurant with the sights of all the casinos right outside our window. Afterwards Lauren and I decided to try our luck at the MGM Grand. We were lucky indeed as we walked through the casino without betting or spending a dime. Ha Haaa as a friend of mine would say, and you know who you are. We headed back to the hotel in anticipation of an early morning and long day of travel the next day...we had no idea what was coming...more on that in the next post.

So long from Vietnam!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

long overdue post: MANILA!

It's about time we update our blog I suppose.  We were doing so well for a while there, but got a bit caught up in the moment.  Though, I don't think that is necessarily a bad thing. We spent just under four days in Manila (in the Philippines) and had a great time.  Our hotel was awesome - we had an aquarium as one of our walls and the hotel was right on Manila Bay. We arrived in Manila at about 5:30 am and were actually able to check into our hotel immediately upon arrival.  Most hotels don't allow you to check in until after 2pm so this was a very pleasant surprise, as we were able to fall asleep for another couple of hours.

We arrived on Tuesday and, after taking a morning nap, we had an itinerary we were hoping to accomplish, but it didn't end up happening the way we had planned.  We first went out in the morning and were blinded by the light of the sun so went back inside to get sunglasses.  After exploring the lovely Rizal Park for about 20 minutes the sun suddenly disappeared and it started raining BUCKETS! We found it slightly ironic that it had only been a mere 20 minutes since we had gone back in for our sunglasses. By the time we ran back to our hotel we were basically drenched.  Still feeling a bit tired from our red eye flight from Jakarta, we took another shower and put some comfy clothes on and decided to take advantage of the free wifi and cozy hotel room. We ended up just relaxing for most of the day and had dinner at the White Moon Lounge that overlooks Manila Bay.

We left prepared on Wednesday morning with both sunglasses and umbrellas, as we realized that the weather in South East Asia can change on a dime during the rainy season.  Our first stop on Wednesday was Intramuros, which is the historical Spanish part of Manila.  It's kind of a dainty little village within the city and is surrounded by walls that have been there for years.  Interestingly enough, one of the top things to do in Manila is visit one of their many malls.  So after Intramuros, we headed to a local mall and it was definitely something an interesting place and crowded with plenty of locals.  We had lunch there and enjoyed walking around a bit and doing a little people watching.  It started to rain again so we took a taxi back to our hotel before we got caught again.  We had been craving some American food so we ended up eating dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe.

Thursday was, by far, my favorite day in the Philippines.  We took an early morning boat over to Corregidor Island, which is an amazing little island situated in the middle of the entrance to Manila Bay.  If you like history, like I do, then you would love visiting this place.  It has an amazing story and has been used by the Spanish, the Filipinos, the Americans, and the Japanese.  It has a strategic location, as it blocks the entrance to Manila Bay and can control what goes in (or doesn't go in) to Manila.  During WWII, the Americans controlled it most of the time and there were countless barracks, as well as several large guns/cannons that could shoot as far as 17 miles.  However, most of the buildings, etc. have been bombed out.  We took a tour around the island and had an extremely informative guide.  Overall, it was a very interesting day and we both learned a lot of things that we didn't know before.  One little fun fact was that Babe Ruth was actually stationed on the island before he became a famous baseball player.  We didn't get back to Manila until about 4:30 pm and were quite spent after being in the sun since 7am.  We had a laid back evening and got Chinese food for dinner and just ate it in our hotel room.

Our flight was in the early afternoon on Friday so we just did a little more exploring and walking around before heading to the airport.  We had a great time in Hong Kong and will do another post about that ASAP!  

We're currently in Macau and in a little bit of a bind, as we're not sure how we're going to get to our next destination (Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam). We were supposed to fly out at 7:05 this morning but, upon looking up our flight information online at 4am, we couldn't find our flight and ended up finding out that our airline is no longer in existence!  This was the only airline to fly to Ho Chi Minh from here so we're not exactly sure what we're going to do.  We tried booking other tickets online, but because the window is less than 24 hours, they won't allow us to book them via the internet.  We found some flight possibilities online that have us stopping in Bangkok, so we're just going to head to the Macau airport and hope for the best.  Please say a little prayer for us...we're trying to stay in good spirits :)

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