Monday, January 28, 2013

Hong Kong

Hong Kong is kind of but not really China, so it's westernized enough that we white people are no longer a novelty.  However it's Chinese enough for it to be a novelty to white people.  Case in point, dim sum is breakfast food!

Dumplings, deep fried thingies and chicken feet (not legs, feet) for breakfast?!  It strikes me as odd but it is so, so tasty.

Arguably the number one thing you need to do in Hong Kong is eat dim sum, and we ate myriad dim sum.  We were very fortunate to have a Chinese speaking friend of a friend along with us who knew the best local places and could translate for us.  These places were legit local (and cheap!) but were not the kind of places I'd feel comfortable going to without a translator.

Arguably the second most important thing you need to do as a tourist in Hong Kong is have clothing custom made for you at a fraction of what it would cost in the west.  Come in to the shop, have your measurements taken and pick your fabrics and styles from the sample books they have laying around.

In a few business days, voila, you have custom made business attire.  Martin stocked up on eight shirts and paid far less each than he would pay off the rack in Australia or Norway.

As for tourist sites, we did a couple of things.  One major regret I have is waiting in line for one and a half hours to ride up the Peak Tram.

It's a freaking tram that goes up a hill.  Whoopty-doo.  The line and wait time were ridiculous, and it didn't help matters that it was really cold out.  Thankfully I had the body heat of 2,500 of my closest friends to keep me warm during the wait.

Don't get me wrong, Victoria Peak, the destination of the Peak Tram is totally worth a visit for the island and ocean views of Hong Kong.

But only later did I learn that you could take a taxi up there for 5 Euro and save yourself an hour and a half wait.  I was pissed!

Pro tip: Cab up to the Peak and if you really want to ride the tram just take it down.  That line went very quick, and it was a pretty old tram car worth seeing.  Definitely not wait-in-the-cold-for-an-hour-and-a-half worth seeing, though.

Speaking of cabs, if there's one thing Hong Kong does magically (better than any city I've seen) it's cabs.

They are everywhere and they are cheap.  People don't own personal cars as this is an island and every square inch of land is expensive, and the MTR (metro system) is super cheap and highly efficient.  Therefore the only traffic on the road is buses, trams and taxis so you're never stuck waiting in traffic for long.  The cabbies won't rip you off, either, which is an important pieces of the pie when deciding to spring for a cab or take the MTR.

On a rainy day (shite weather seems to follow us wherever we go) we spent half a day at the Hong Kong Museum of History, getting our learn on about the history of the island and its people.

Even though we walked by it a hundred times, we never actually got on and rode the Central to Mid-levels escalator.

This is the longest outdoor covered escalator system in the world, and it only runs one way - up.  I imagine this comes in very handy in sweltering summer heat.  If the Hong Kongese (as they are called) are half as lazy as I then I imagine these things are a godsend.

The main event of our time in Hong Kong was New Years eve.  I'd heard that it gets off the chain there around midnight (as it does, um, everywhere on NYE) but we stuck to our contained rooftop bar and enjoyed the fireworks from the comfort of the 32nd story.

Usually a crowded bar scene is not my cup of tea but the music the DJ was playing was awesome - think mid-90's top 40 - so I approved.  We got to spend quality time with a handful of friends from Edinburgh, and we cleaned up real purdy for the event.

You can't really tell from this picture, but holler at me for recycling my bridesmaids dress from my sisters wedding in October.

Hong Kong is a great tourist introduction to Chinese Asia (says she who has never been to mainland China and, realistically, probably never will).  English is widely spoken, it's easy to get around and you won't stick out like a sore thumb with your big white face.  But beware, accommodation is pricey.  I think the cheapness of everything else makes up for it, but plan to shell out a few hundo per night just to lay your head down.

Another thing about Hong Kong is that it is 99.7% malls.  Seriously, everything and everywhere is in a mall, and you're never more than 90 seconds away from one at any given time.  Many of them are fancy malls, too, containing the likes of Gucci, Prada and Fendi.  But here's the rub: This designer loot actually costs more in Asia than it does in Europe or the US.  Wha-wha-whaaaa?!  So don't expect to score some cheap stuff while you're there.

At least you have shopping options.  You can buy a $10,000 handbag as a souvenir or something like this, at a more moderate price:

Whatever floats your boat!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


First things first.  This was the view from our hotel in Sydney:

And do you know which hotel provides such an amazing view?  Ho-tel, mo-tel Holiday Inn!

I'm going to come out of the closet and proclaim my love for Holiday Inns right here, right now.  We always stayed in them growing up (in the big city: Fargo, North Dakota) and it had the deepest pool of any hotel I'd ever seen (9 feet deep!) so the seed of my love of Holiday Inn was planted early.  I lost my first tooth at a Holiday Inn.  Fond memories.

We stayed in one in Edinburgh when we returned there for graduation, and I chose it solely because it was near our old apartment, and I couldn't fathom staying anywhere else than where I used to live.  It blew me away, it was a great hotel in Edinburgh.  Holiday Inn 4 LYFE!

This kick ass view is from the rooftop, which also features a rooftop pool.  $200 a night adds up quickly, but if you're looking for a reasonably-priced-for-Sydney place to stay smack dab in the center of town I recommend the Holiday Inn Old Sydney.

The first day we got to Sydney (Christmas Day) the weather sucked.  It was pouring rain and quite cold.  Cold I can deal with, but wet socks plus cold?  No, thank you.  It sucked.  So we spent our first evening holed up indoors staying dry, drinking beer and eating two (count 'em two) dinners.  We didn't get any usable pictures of Darling Harbour because we were scared our camera would drown, but it was a really awesome area.  Had I seen it in the sunlight I suspect I would like it even more than the Sydney Harbour.

Thankfully the day after Christmas (Boxing Day to you crazy Commonwealth countries) the weather cleared up, just in time for our planned day of beaching.  We started off by taking a 40-minute bus ride to Bondi Beach:

Which was legit not worth the cramped standing-room-only bus ride.  I've heard nothing but blah things about Bondi, however I've only heard amazing things about the Bondi to Coogee coastal walk.  My advice to future travelers is only bother to go to Bondi if you have the time and energy to do this (or a similar) coastal walk.  We just gawked at washed up jelly fish, old men working on their fitness and MILFs.

Everything that Bondi lacks, Manly Beach more than makes up for.  I stupidly didn't get a panoramic picture of the beach, but trust me, as far as areas of interest are concerned, Manly is far superior.

Martin and I have this ridiculously annoying knack for getting lost and winding up in the totally wrong/boring part of town, which of course happened in Manly.  Pro tip: Once you land in Manly with the ferry walk straight from it with the terminal at your back.  In that direction you'll hit the promenade and beach, and you can find Ben & Jerry's brownie sundaes, $5 beers and African food like we did.  Manly is awesome, and to get there you have to take a ferry through Sydney Harbour.  It's super scenic, especially at dusk (so you can save yourself the expenditure of taking a harbour cruise).

The next day we went out of the city and in to the Blue Mountains.  In theory we could have rented a car and done this ourselves, but in my old age I've realized that's just not how I roll.  I want to find a good tour company, fork over my money, and kick back to enjoy the scenery, which is exactly what we did.

We learned about Aboriginal history and culture and went to a "wildlife park" (somehow different from a zoo) where we saw native wildlife like koalas, kangaroos, dingoes, crocodiles and a gigantic, murderous bird I had never heard of before moving here, a cassowary.

This thing can and will kill you by ripping open your torso with their gigantic, sharp claws and ramming you with the sharp bone on the top of their head.  This continent is killer, man.  Literally.  So many things are lethal.

The next day we had to catch our flight to Hong Kong, and with business lounge access (I still need to tell you the story of why Cathay Pacific is the best airline ever) we wanted to get there in plenty of time so we could enjoy the fruits of the high life.  And believe you me, the high life looks good on me!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Quick Asia Update

I've had 5 sleeps and 5 days of work since returning from our epic Christmas/New Years travels, and am just now starting to feel human again.  I don't have the mental energy (or physical for that matter, I have morphed into a matinee) to do a proper blog post about it so here is a taster for those keen to hear about it.

First stop: Sydney, Australia

We hadn't originally planned to stop in Sydney but thanks to Cathay Pacific being the best airline ever (more on that eventually) we got a free flight there before heading on to Asia.  My cheap ass isn't about to turn down anything free and we hadn't yet visited not-Australia's-capital-even-though-you-think-it-is.

We enjoyed the sights, such as this, which you may remember messed up Jean Valjean's face:

And this, which nobody ever tells you is made out of shower tiles:

We visited Bondi beach, which was nothing to write home about, though it was partially our fault since we didn't have time to do the coastal walks that make Bondi worth visiting:

I liked Sydney more than I thought I would.  With the exception of one very cold and rainy weekend just over the New South Wales border I hadn't been outside of the state of Queensland since moving here 10 months ago.  Oops.

Also of note: a koala tried to rape my face:

Second stop: Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China.  Ironically it also was the breeding ground for the worldwide SARS epidemic.  I'm still waiting to see if I'm going to be patient zero for some crazy animal-based illness that may or may not wipe out the human race.

It's Asia alright.  Lines everywhere.  Everywhere!

And no floor 4 in buildings because the word for "four" sounds like the word for "death".

Spoiler alert: Just because you call it something different doesn't mean it's not the fourth floor!

It's a wild mix of traditional and modern, modest living and horrifying overindulgence.

Third stop (day trip): Macau

Speaking of horrifying overindulgence, we visited another SAR, this one dedicated to the Chinese national past time of gambling.  Macau pulls in more revenue than Vegas but make no mistake, this is not a partying/vacation/entertainment destination.  This is serious gambling.

Serious, gawdy gambling.  That totally looks like Portugal!

Fourth stop: Taipei, Taiwan

We visited a Buddhist temple.

And the world's tallest building (from 2004 to 2010 before the Burj Khalifa done gone and ruined it), Taipei 101.

Asia is all about contrasts, mainly old vs. new and rich vs. poor.

I am so lucky to have the opportunity to have gained ten pounds there.