What To Do When in Asia

Although we can divide our trip thus far into roughly four parts (Europe, South Asia, South East Asia, and East Asia), we’ve spent the vast majority of our time in Asia. We’ve had the time of our lives and I think everyone should visit Asia (if not travel it extensively). It truly has something to offer everyone, so I’ve made the following guide and tribute to the great continent.


India: just show up and something exciting WILL happen


Maldives: go sailing and snorkeling on remote atolls


Nepal: go trekking


Thailand: explore the entire country


Laos: travel and live on the Mekong


Cambodia: yes its cliche, but you HAVE to explore Angkor


Malaysia: take in the diverse cultures and food


Brunei: meet characters at the Pusat Belia (not pictured)


Singapore: visit the Botanical Gardens


Indonesia: DIVE!!!


Vietnam: eat!


China: meet the friendliest people on earth


Korea: go to a baseball game


Japan: once again, EAT! (especially the seafood :) )



joylani 130pxYesterday we boarded a train that took us from Hong Kong all the way to Shanghai. We’d learned from our first train ride in china to bring plenty of food. (It can be a long walk to the dining car, and the train food that periodically gets rolled by is not very tasty.) So we brought a small stock of instant noodles, bread, and newspapers (brain food). After boarding, we found our section of the car, shoved our big bags under the lower bunk and hung our bags of food on a wall hook. All right, I thought, we are ready to go. Another man came and sat in our compartment only to be chased out a few minutes later, by the guy who actually held the ticket for that bunk. Argued out, actually. He seemed to be pretty serious about this train ride. My suspicions were confirmed as he unzipped his suitcase and methodically began to take provisions out and place them on the table. Bowl of noodles. A paper cup for tea. A small roll of toilet paper. And a couple cans of beer (extras remained in the suitcase for later). It looked like he was setting out a nightstand at home, only this was a train.

On another note, entering China via a train from Hong Kong was a breeze compared with the Vietnam/China border. No questions, no book inspections. Just a quick scan of our passports and a stamp back into China. It’s nice to be back.

Splashing through Hong Kong


Matt and the “Friendlies,” everyone’s favorite mascots…

joylani 130pxWe spent all day yesterday walking too much in circles around Hong Kong.  (I say too much because I was wearing a pair of lousy rubber slippers as my sneakers had yet to dry from yesterday’s puddles and this morning they were emitting a funky smell.)  Matt said Hong Kong is like a big mall.  In a way it’s true, particularly of HK Island where there are many shopping centers and everything is connected by elevated walkways and escalators (convenient in the rain), making one building feel like an extension of another.


Splashing our way through downpours and puddles we took a rambling route through Hong Kong Island stopping at almost a dozen different places in no particular order.  And now we have seen a lot, but I am tired of those rubber sandals.

Long Hong Kong Day


matt 120pxYesterday was a really long day. Like I mentioned in my previous post, we have a pretty basic room and even that’s a euphemism. On the one hand, it keep us out exploring the city. On the other hand, it can get tiring to just be out all day. We began our morning checking out the Hong Kong Museum of Art, which I’m counting on Joylani to write about. Afterwards, we took a ferry across Victoria Harbor to Hong Kong Island. From the ferry terminal, there were elevated walkways to Exchange Square, kind of the center of the aptly named “Central” district. We explored inside the nearby International Finance Center, which had malls and shops on the lower levels. Besides realizing more and more how expensive everything was (even at the grocery store), I got a feel for HK work life. There’s a lot of foreigners all around, ostensibly working for the major financial firms. But its busy, busy, busy. People are all walking somewhere. They eat and talk while they walk, rather than sit or stand around. It’s a very fast-paced place. Joylani said she doesn’t feel relaxed at all here. One interesting thing is that many of the buildings are connected by elevated walkways. I mean, I think you could walk for miles without going on the ground. You could just from building to building, mall to mall via walkways. And in fact, there’s even a 800 meter escalator that takes people up a hill in HK (see first photo). It runs through a busy commercial district and you can just get on and off every 50 meters or so. While kind of weird, it was useful in going up the hill from Central. We stopped off for some lunch and then continued up to the end, from where we walked to Hong Kong Park.


Joylani with HK island skyline behind her


one of the many Star Wars-esque walkways that criss-cross HK


checking out rainy HK from the Observation Deck of the Bank of China building

It had been raining all, so the park wasn’t much fun. But we stopped in at a Tea Museum. Before this trip, Joylani and I were both tea lovers and I think this trip has almost turned it into a hobby. The tea museum is the latest in our education. It was a small museum, but well presented. It had everything from ancient tea-related antiques to displays on how tea and tea-drinking has evolved. It’s a bit of a boring thing to write about, but ask us if you want to know a few tidbits about tea history. After the tea museum, it was back down the hill to the HK (name here), which overlooks the harbor and Kowloon on the other side. It was kind of a disappointment, as it was still raining and overcast and viewing access was restricted by a convention that was going on. We were pretty tired by this point and snacked a bit. If this is starting to sound like a list of things we did, it kind of felt like that too. We headed up the hill again and took a tram up to “The Peak,” from where amazing views of HK could be had. But again, it was still overcast and raining and so our view was nil. Just a big expanse of grey clouds. I was pretty disappointed, because seeing the view from the peak was the number one thing I wanted to do in HK. Discouraged, we headed back down the mountain and ate before returning to our little cube of a room for the night.



two photos, very different, but both quintessential Hong Kong

Today we left Hong Kong. The train to Shanghai runs every other day, so it was either today or day after tomorrow. We both could’ve stayed another day in HK, but two more days was stretching it. We had originally planned to stay two or three full days, but our one full day was enough for us. Hong Kong was interesting in a few ways, but I feel like about it like I did about Singapore: it’d be a nice place to work or live, but isn’t that great a place to visit (although I doubt I’d ever want to live in HK). Everything from accommodation to food was insanely expensive (close to US prices). Perhaps things could have been different though. It rained continuously the whole time we were there, which not only made exploring less comfortable but limited (HK Park) and denied (The Peak) our attempts to see some attractions. On the other hand, it’s still a city with shopping and sightseeing the main activities. I didn’t really dislike HK (in the sense that I disliked Vietnam), but I it fell well short of my expectations, given that it was one of the cities I was most looking forward too. For the foreseeable future, I think I’ll be content to just read about the goings on in HK in the WSJ.


goodbye, HK…

Finally made it to Hong Kong!


matt 120pxHong Kong. Its one of the cities that I’ve most wanted to see on this trip. Its history and modern political/economic dynamics interest me, the food’s supposed to be good, and the skyline unreal. Plus, its the center of the Asian financial world (up there with Tokyo), so that makes it more interesting as well. We took a bus from Guangzhou, which stopped at immigration midway for us. The ride from Guangzhou to Shenzhen and then across to HK didn’t take too long, but once in HK we were greeted by a pillar of the developed world: traffic. We sat in gridlock on the highway for over an hour. Eventually, we got dropped off at a metro station in Kowloon. The first thing I noticed was English; oh how I’ve missed it. People asked us if they could help us, signs were in English, newspapers and magazines were in English, and I was already thinking about how we could easily read menus and order food later.

Travelling in developed, English-speaking places is not perfect though. Bombay, KL, and Singapore have been some of the most expensive, worst-value rooms we’ve stayed at on this trip. But Hong Kong takes the cake. We headed to the Tsim Sha Tsui, an commercial center at the southern tip of Kowloon, with a lot of budget options. Bypassing the usual “hourly rate” hotels, we ended up at Mirador Mansions, one of several ultra low-budget places. Like its more infamous cousin up the street, Chungking Mansions, Mirador is a towering (probably over 15 stories) block of decrepit concrete. Its an eyesore in the midst of modern HK and its tenants seem to be mostly African and Indians. Some online reviews I read described the ground floor as looking similar to a UN refugee camp. The building houses dozens of small guesthouses and hotels, so we headed up to the 14th floor and began working our way down. We looked at a few places and eventually settled on what we agreed was the nicest place: a bed in a small a room with about 2 feet of space on the sides of the bed, with a tiny attached bathroom. Luckily, it was the cheapest too, at 200 HKD (25 USD). The only worse value I can think of are the hotels in NYC.

The upside of having a crappy room is that you spend all your time out in the city. So after arriving, we quickly got back out and wandered the busy streets of Tsim Sha Tsui. With some of HK’s nicest hotels, the area had a lot of swanky luxury-brand stores, but it also had neon-sign filled little alleys with hole-in-the-wall restaurants and shops. It was raining all day, but that made it all the more interesting. I think you get a better feel for places when the weather is bad. You just see how normal people live and how life is, without all the tourists and sightseers that are so prevalent in nice weather. Despite the rain, HK was packed with people shopping and working. Bus stops had lines and often people had to wait for a second bus before they could board (despite the fact that the buses were double-deckers). Walking without getting our eyes poked out was another challenge as we tried to navigate the umbrella-filled streets. For the most part, Hong Kong felt a lot like any major American city. It is busy, wealth is prevalent, English was spoken. Another thing that made it seem more like home, was the liberal culture. It wasn’t as liberal as European norms, but HK is perhaps the least conservative place we’ve been since then. Billboards and advertising were noticeably more provocative. It made me realize just how conservative everywhere we’ve been has been. On a somewhat related tangent, HK is such a contrast to mainland China. The media is objective, web access is uncensored, and from the time immigration stamped us in there’s been a less uptight feel about certain things.

We also checked out the waterfront, which I was pretty impressed with. For one, unlike most ports, the water was relatively clean. Looking across Victoria Harbor, the skyline of Hong Kong Island was amazing. The sheer number of skyscrapers was hard to comprehend, but even more so was the fact that they were built up into the hills too. Super tall and skinny apartment and office buildings filled in all the space between the dominating bank buildings. We couldn’t even see most of the buildings though, as they poked through the rainy cloud ceiling. After dinner, we returned here to see the spectacular city lit up at night.