February 2017
  • Day1

    Day 1 - Happy Valley

    February 8, 2017 in Hong Kong ⋅ ⛅ 64 °F

    We're here! Day one sees us in Hong Kong. My 2nd city (though that still doesn't mean I have a sense of direction around here). After a smooth flight we taxi'd to our AirBNB. We're staying in Tsim Sha Tsui and for central HK it's a pretty standard size studio apartment and it did bring me my first comedy sign of the trip (see photos, no casual pissing please).

    When you're the partner of a horse racing nut you get used to being 'dragged' to any track in a 20 mile radius of a romantic trip even when you've been travelling for the best part of 24 hours and as Wednesday night is 'Happy Wednesday' race night it was a quick change and off to Happy Valley.

    The atmosphere at HV is amazing and I can't imagine there's many other tracks with sky scrapers as the backdrop so even as a non-better it's a fun place to check out. They also wear far jazzier silks - or as I prefer to call them, aprons. After some charades and pointing Matt managed to find the race card vending machine and after almost buying the version in Chinese was set to study form to decide (*cough* guess *cough*) who he should bet on. My preferred method is to watch the horses parade and look for the feisty ones. Sadly we had no winners and for the sake of our holiday fund called it betting quits after a couple of races and spent money on beer and dirty hot dogs instead. The hot dog at least had some greenery hidden under the suspicious cheese sauce. I'm hoping the food gets better/slightly more authentic from here...
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  • Day2

    Day 2 - He Ain't Heavy

    February 9, 2017 in Hong Kong ⋅ ☀️ 52 °F

    So things I've learnt about the apartment we're staying in. It's somewhere in the vicinity of a late night karaoke establishment. And that this plus the time zone change does not lend itself to the best night's sleep. That being said we still made it out by 9am to get the MTR to Lantau Island and catch the bus to the Big Buddha (via Starbucks. Standard.) It was an interesting up and down through the mountains bus ride on seats ill designed for a 6 foot brick house but we made it in one piece and early enough to beat the big crowds which came later.

    When they say Big Buddha they're not exaggerating - - though I very much enjoy the large list of qualification adjectives to give it the title of 'largest outdoor sitting bronze Buddha'. It's 34 metres tall and sitting on a stone building/altar which is sitting on top of a hill. There were a lot of stairs. 268 stairs a lot. Despite the necessary exercise it's one of my favourite HK tourist spots though and interesting to learn about how it was cast and transported.

    After the much easier downstairs walk we encountered some of the local wildlife include free roaming cows stealing apples and dogs that I thought were dead but were just sun bathing. We walked about the small temples of the Po Lin monastery which housed some beautiful gold buddhas. There was incense being lit everywhere and drums being banged. Very serene and peaceful, even with Matt having a go on the drum.

    Lunch was..... ambiguous. The cafe at the monastery is vegetarian only and as everything else had fungus in the name we went for a 'mixed vegetarian.' I still could not tell you what any of the components were but it was very tasty. One thing was curry flavoured, one sweet and the other again ambiguous.

    We continued exploring the site including the Wisdom Path and an abandoned wreck of a tea garden. I even found a geocache to my great geeky delight. After the excitement of that we caught the bus to Tai O, a fishing village not far away. Man was there a lot of dried fish. And more sleeping dogs (not dried or dead). Plus some cool houses on stilts. I took us on a bit of an adventure wandering through the village with the fake confidence of someone who has no idea where they're going or if they're trespassing but luckily we made it back to the bus stop without being arrested.

    In the evening we grabbed some lunch at a cafe and took the Star Ferry across the harbour and back. Hopefully at some point Matt will learn that it's winter in Hong Kong and chilly in the evenings before Starbucks bankrupts us.
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  • Day3

    Day 3 - WAG-ing

    February 10, 2017 in Hong Kong ⋅ 🌙 48 °F

    New lesson of the day. When you're two 'English Roses' you shouldn't wait to ask 'am I getting pink?' Before putting sun cream and a cap on even if it's shady. Especially if one of you is bald.

    We dragged out pink neck and nose out of bed after a better night's sleep for some early-ish morning Dim Sum at Tim Ho Wan. Other branches of this small chain have Michelin stars making them apparently the cheapest Michelin starred restaurants in the world (we're such tourists). We were near a non-starred one so went with it. It was really delicious. Their specialist BBQ porks buns are a bargain food highlight and recommended if you're ever in HK.

    After breakfast we continued ticking off our tourist info card and went up Victoria Peak on the tram. The tram line first opened in 1888 but I think they've updated the system since then (though probably not that recently). It basically is two carriages being pulled 45degrees up Victoria Peak with a feeling something could snap any minute and send you plummeting roller coaster style to the bottom (don't worry Mum, spoiler alert, that didn't happen). At the top we checked out the slightly cloudy 428m above sea level view. I'm not sure what it is about the need to see major cities from a high point but I still buy into it every time.

    We had to cut out trip to the Peak fairly short for our afternoon plans so caught the tram back down and headed to Happy Valley to meet Matt's friend Tom who'd invited him to play football with some friends and work colleagues. I played WAG and half watched the football and half watched the kites (the bird type) circling overhead.

    We headed back to Tom's place and hung out with him and his wife Angela for a while before hitting happy hour at Saint Germain. Several wines later we went to Keung Kee restaurant for more BBQ pork, noodles and duck fried rice. Yum.

    We caught the star ferry home after some MTR disruption (can't get over the 25p bargain price). It's apparently the coolest day of winter so far in HK. At least we won't get more burnt.... wear sunscreen kids. That's almost as good as the advice I got from the Drainage Services Department today. 'Do it from the heart' they say. Whilst sorting the drains.
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  • Day4

    Day 4 - Stella

    February 11, 2017 in Hong Kong ⋅ ☀️ 57 °F

    Our final full day in HK. I allowed us to have a lie in until 9.30 seeing as we weren't at the first planned activity until 11. I must learn to be a hippy traveller at some point in these 77 days and 'stop living by the clock, man'. Said activity was a walking tour with HK Free Walk around the area we're staying in, TST. Our 'ambassador' was Stella. She was every so slightly nuts which made for an entertaining few hours learning about the history of HK, the feng shui of the sky line and that the number 4 is bad luck cause it brings death (something like that anyway.) Plus I ate street food fish balls so maybe I am beginning to take some risks. I'll be getting a tattoo from a man in the back of a van next (jokes mum). It was one of those tours when in theory it's free but the tour guides work for tips and some cheapskate always buggers off 10 minutes before the tour finishes to avoid handing any of their cash over. If that's you shame on you.

    After the information overload, most of which I've already forgotten, we caught the Star Ferry for the 600th time this trip and went to Soho to ride the mid levels escalators and eat huge burgers. Then we walked around the harbour front and went to my home away from home hotel bar Sugar at the East hotel (where I go with work) for a spectacular harbour view and a glass of time or two.

    We attempted to watch the nightly Symphony of Lights show but couldn't even get close to a view so went to Caliente for Mexican food and beers. Highlights included free tequila and a drunk woman spilling a drink just after the previous one she had got wiped up from her clumsy hands. That makes it sound like a lame night but it very much wasn't.

    It was a less blog exciting, more consumption heavy day if I'm honest and to top it off Matt's found a channel showing the Man U game... Fun stat, we've walked 56.6km since we got to HK which has maybe burnt off one dinner. Maybe.
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  • Day5

    Day 5 - Bangkok

    February 12, 2017 in Thailand ⋅ ☀️ 82 °F

    Today we left HK for pastures new - Bangkok. Not an awful lot of time for exciting activities once we got here and settled into the hostel so today's post is a brief top line list of things and thoughts so far:

    - Our hostel has a live-in tiny dog which the manager calls her daughter.
    - There was a dance music concert on sinisterly called 'Don't Let Daddy Know' which was full of teens.
    - Not very spicy is hugely relative.
    - Bars enjoy an eclectic sense of decoration. Danee bar which we visited last nice had classical paintings of wine and cheese paired with retro Christmas decorations and a picture which looked either like a horse or ship depending on the viewer angle hung next to pictures of the King.
    - Beer is cheap.
    - Actually most things so far are cheap.
    - I think I'll be sweaty the entire time we're here.

    Now to go crank up the air con.
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  • Day6

    Day 6-Beef Brains,Black Pants&Bum Driers

    February 13, 2017 in Thailand ⋅ 🌙 75 °F

    Happy Monday wherever you may be. Wherever we may be is a 32 degrees Bangkok and set for a food tour around Bangrak (which apparently translates as Village of Love which sounds romantic when you're told it's named because there's lots of different cultures but the sub story is that it's where the sailors came to port). After putting on our precautionary bottle of suncream and insect repellent we met our super lovely guide Paeng and a motley international group of greedy people.

    First stop was a Chinese-Thai spot for roast duck. I'm so glad we did this tour as even after my fish ball bravery I'm not sure we would have stumbled in to somewhere with whole ducks hanging up and a random kitchen on a cart for fear of immediate and painful dysentery. (FYI status update 22.51 so far no dysentery so it was at least not immediate)

    Next up was an Indian-Thai place imaginatively called Muslim Restaurant. Here we're had Massaman curry and beef brains. Yes. Beef brains. In fairness it looked like mince and tasted not far off so my bobby big ballsing saying we'd go for it paid off.

    Third stop after a quick boat across the river was a restaurant where we learnt that to get something not spicy you should ask for 'one chilli'. Apparently the papaya salad we got was to that request but the after- burn supports Helen's Theory of Spicy Relativity from yesterday's post.

    Stop 3.5 was for deep fried bananas/sweet potatoes/taro from a street vendor. Tasty. Stop 4 was the Panlee bakery where we had delicious pandans buns (shout out to my girls who'll get why that excited me) and iced Thai tea.

    The final stop was for Thai green curry and coconut milk ice cream. By this point I was full to bursting, pleased with my choice of elasticated waist trousers and glad it was the last stop. We said bye to Paeng and rolled back to the hostel.

    Quick power nap and out for a massage at Orchid Massage and Spa. Neither Matt nor I have really had a massage before let alone a scary Thai one. They had a couples deal where you're both done in the same room at the same time so at least we could be confused together about the teeny black pants. Are they definitely pants?! Should we put the robe on?! Do we lie down?! Is this all a scam?! (Yes, no, yes, no). I don't recall having anyone standing on me before so that was weird, I also have really ticklish feet and knees which was awkward but all in all my review is painful but worked.

    Last stop of the day was to Terminal 21, a nearby shopping centre where every floor is themed like a different country, including the toilets. The London tube one was particular excellent but definite highlight was the electronic toilets throughout which had a heated seat, 'shower mode' and a bum drier function. Want. One. We grabbed a quick beer on the way home in a decidedly dodgy joint where we quietly commentated on the evening of a Western man with two giggling Thai girls. Maybe it was just a lovely friendship.
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  • Day7

    Day 7 - Temples

    February 14, 2017 in Thailand ⋅ ☀️ 82 °F

    An early-ish start today to attempt to beat some of the heat and hit some of Bangkok's cultural landmarks. There are a lot of temples in Bangkok, thousands and thousand, but we decided to aim realistically and just go to some of the biggies, Wat Arun, Wat Pho and the Grand Palace.

    We started off getting the boat along the Chao Phraya river to Wat Arun. Some parts of Bangkok have an amazing transit system whilst other parts rely on canals - unless you want to try and persuade a taxi driver to turn the meter on like they're supposed to rather than scam you. Wat Arun is the Temple of Dawn. It was quite small compared to put afternoon stops but very pretty.

    As a note, apparently it's very offensive for a woman to sit next to/bump into/go too near a monk so I spent a lot of today on high alert - and we now have a little song called 'Don't Bump The Monk' in the style of an old Big Breakfast game tune (which is probably offensive in itself)

    Next stop was Wat Pho, Temple of Reclining Buddha. Again beautiful, especially in the sunshine as it was covered in coloured glass. The focal point as the name suggests is a huge gold plated reclining Buddha housed in a long temple.

    Final stop was the Grand Palace. A big site with lots of temples and buildings built for housing various important items; including the Emerald Buddha. (No photos allowed of this one). The site was very busy with people coming to pay their respects to the King who passed away last year and by this point in the day we were so hot and temple-fatigued that we called it a day and got a tuk tuk ride back to the pier. Not too hairy a tuk tuk ride really as the traffic was pretty bad but it's something you have to experience at least once in BK.

    Next stop was China town and a hubbub of markets and people riding mopeds between stalls. We were both getting hangry so stopped as a place serving fish ball noodles. Every time I eat I await the food poisoning but still hasn't arrived yet...

    We came back home for a couple of hours to shower and get ready to go out. We picked one of the more casual roof top bars, Cloud 47, but as a couple of non-romantics we forgot it was Valentine's Day so it was pretty busy. Everyone else was there all roses and looking into each other eyes whilst I double parked on special offer wine and Matt had a solo pitcher of Chang. Classy.

    Final stop of the day was the infamous Khao San Road. We got there with a crazy taxi driver who kept going on about Tony Blair getting his wife pregnant in the Caribbean, how expensive Europe is and going 'bomb, bomb' whilst turning around to slap Matt on the knee and shout Yorkshire. Khao San Road is party haven for backpackers and took me back to my summer holidays as an 18 year old in Gran Canaria except with more people selling scorpions on sticks and wrist bands with various lewd slogans on which I won't repeat here. The words 'youngsters' and 'too loud to have a conversation' were uttered as we chose a quieter bar where I enjoyed bottles of wine cooler. I have no idea what a wine cooler is but felt like a 'classy' alcopop. Rock and roll. A less eventful taxi home and bed by 1am - by the end of the trip we might have managed something more party respectable.

    Last partial day in Bangkok tomorrow and then we head north to Chiang Mai on the sleeper train for a quieter pace of life.
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  • Day8

    Day 8 - The Sleeper Train

    February 15, 2017 in Thailand ⋅ ⛅ 77 °F

    I can't believe it's only a week since we landed on to the mega trip!

    After last night's 'crazy' late night we had a lie in and took our time packing up to leave Yin, the dog daughter and the Cube hostel. It was a slightly crazy establishment, yesterday I pulled the curtain pole down and the shower head flew off most of the time but would go back in a second if I were in Bangkok again.

    From there we ditched our bags at the station left luggage where there was a sign about leaving no food in bags because of the rats. Nice. We decided to walk the 1 mile to Jim Thompson's house to avoid the inevitable scam attempts in any mode of transport. I'm glad we did as we saw a nice temple, visited Tesco Thailand and found a geocache (for any fellow caching geeks I also dropped my first retrieved trackable). Plus a dead crocodile in the river which was less nice.

    The destination of our walk was Jim Thompson's House. JT was an American ex-spy who fell in love with Thailand and rejuvenated its silk export industry then disappeared without a trace. Whilst he was alive he had 6 traditional Thai houses brought to Bangkok and put them together to make a new house. We had a guided tour around with a hilarious guide. The house is beautiful and it was actually really interesting for the random house of a man we'd never heard of.

    Our last stop in Bangkok was the Caturday Cat Cafe for a late lunch and drink. As the name suggests it's a cafe where there's lots of cats. I had mixed feelings about it. The cats seemed well cared for and were very pretty but people were agitating them by picking them up and no one was stopping them even though there were rules. Rules!

    We're now on a sleeper train heading to Chiang Mai. As it only cost about £30 each we have a private room to house our bunk bed as opposed to 80 bunks in a carriage further down the train. Oh the luxury! (See photo). We've already checked out the 'restaurant' for strange ready meals and are now tucked up on beds which are definitely not memory foam. There's a shower which I'm tempted to use but also imagine it's a terrible idea when your balance is not on point. There's a TV mostly showing film clips of the king but also tells you if the toilet is occupied. I think the blankets might actually be big towels. I'm on top bunk. I'm not sure I'll ever get down again so the next 10 weeks of blog might be about my sleeper train adventures - well you can order the ready meals through TV.

    Tune in tomorrow for my update on trains. Edge of your seat stuff.
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  • Day9

    Day 9 - Monk Chat

    February 16, 2017 in Thailand ⋅ ☀️ 81 °F

    Sleeper train update part 2 - I had a pretty good night's sleep although the train was very cold and quite noisy. There was a very shouty man chivvying us along no matter how quickly we moved. I managed to get down from the bunk using the steps of the bunk, door handle and sink so the trip continues.

    We got one of the Red Cars to the guest house that we're staying at. The red car is an odd thing. They shove as many people in as possible before they leave so you're crammed in the back going in a similar direction but not to the same destination. The guest house we're staying at is run by Paul, his wife Ay, nephew Ta and daughter Freya who's 3 and runs around getting you to play. We had a quick omelette to try and wake up then headed out to check out Chiang Mai. CM is very different from Bangkok. Much more laid back, easier to cross the roads and simpler to navigate. I eagerly checked out more temples, Matt hit the tired wall and was temple fatigued after one place so he went back to sleep and I ploughed on.

    One of the nicest temples I've been to is Wat Chedi Luang. Every temple has strict dress code instructions, especially for women. One of the little temples here wouldn't let woman in at all as we evilly menstruate. There were also wax (I hope) monks which were uncannily reallstic - see photos. On the way out of this temple I spotted a sign for Monk Chat (a scheme set up to both allow people to learn about a monk's life and for the monks to practise their English) and after hiding round the corner to decide if I was ready to face my monk phobia I went and chatting to monk Nochanh from Laos. He's been a monk for 6 years but thinks he'll quit next year to get a 'real' job. He told me about his typical day which as well as doing the expected meditating/chanting includes studying other subjects and free time spent 'looking at facebook'. We had our chat whilst he drank an ice coffee, he told me he doesn't sleep enough so powers through on caffeine - like the regular folk. I'm so happy I went to chat with him cause whilst I'm still terrified of 'bumping a monk' it made me feel I could sit a metre away without fear of being struck down.

    After the Monk Chat I went back to find Matt and we went to the nearby Kat's cafe where they proudly display only non-professional photos of their food. I had Kao Soi. Like a Thai curry with crispy noodles on the top. It's a northern Thailand speciality and who am I to not embrace the culture by eating all the food? (As a side note I think my clothes were shrunk at the laundry as I swear they're getting tighter) We hit up one more temple, Wat Phra Singh but it was so hot that even I got temple fatigued by this point so we went for cold beers and booked our next few days.

    Following a much needed warm shower to de-grub we sat in the bar of the guest house and chatted with some of the other guests and the family whilst eating. We ended up going to the Night Bazaar with Teresa and Rob, a couple from Australia/Papua New Guinea who are post-kids and travelling indefinitely - life goals! It was great fun checking out the stalls and having a few more beers. The street we walked down changed in the time we spent at the market from a normal, chilled place to banging party tunes and many girls wearing very little trying to get us in so we figured it was time to call it a night. Elephant sanctuary tomorrow 😀
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  • Day10

    Day 10 - Elephant Nature Park

    February 17, 2017 in Thailand ⋅ 🌙 68 °F

    One of the best days ever today. Ever. As you'll see from Facebook we have a ton of videos and photos greater than the 6 I can post on here which will do the day much more justice than I can put into words.

    We were picked up by Pai our tour guide along with the 8 other people going to the Care for Elephants day. Elephant Nature Park are trying to save as many elephants as they can who are either in the circus, logging trees or being forced to beg on the streets. There were some who had stood on land mines now being rehabilitated. They're also trying to convince other elephant businesses to stop treating elephants cruelly and our day was spent with a business who used to offer elephant rides but have stopped to change and look after elephant's welfare instead. As an added bonus the intro video was done by Lou from Neighbour's which flew over everyone else's head on the bus (mostly Americans) but made me giggle.

    We had 4 elephants with us today - Pooki, Ma Gael, Kamoona and Lucky (the baby of the group at 4 years old). We started by feeding them watermelon, pumpkin and cucumbers. You held out the food in front of them and tucked it into their trunks. Elephants are very greedy so when you'd run out of food they'd still be trying to get into your bag for more though some are fussy and reject the cucumber for the sweet fruits instead. We were given a bag of bananas and more cucumbers and went for a walk for about an hour through the park with the elephants alongside, feeding them as we went. It's really strange walking along with a creature a hell of a lot bigger than you at your shoulder but the ones we were with were so gentle even though they'd been treated so cruelly in the past. Apart from Lucky who was donated by a guy given an elephant as a gift the older elephants were all rescued from logging.

    We left the elephants for a while and had a lovely veggie lunch in a rest stop dangling our legs above the river (plus Ovaltine. The Thais seem to love Ovaltine!) then went into the river with them and bathed them. i.e. threw buckets of water on them and dodged the poo they dropped in the river. The elephants know 1pm is bathing time and even if there's no humans with them will head to the river to wash the old mud off. Ma Gael was my buddy for the walk back - probably cause I looked like a giant watermelon. There were times I was scared of being accidentally crushed by a wrong footing but we made it.

    We left out group of elephants behind (sob) and went to meet the other families of rescued creatures at the main park. There were girls with broken ankles which had healed broken and blind ones being led around by a sighted elephant BFF, so sad, plus babies born in the park and lots of dogs and cats they'd also saved (about 600!). There are about 70 elephants in total which they've bought from other industries. It was one of the best experiences of my entire life and if you're ever in Chiang Mai I'd recommend that you go.

    This evening we went over to Flight 52 as I was craving pizza. I love Thai food but I've had it 3 meals a day since Sunday so time for a change. It's a new restaurant and run by a great Danish guy who spent a lot of time chatting with us. Amazing pizza and out fair share of two for one Mai Tais.

    All in all a perfect day. Thai cooking school tomorrow which will have a tough job topping this.
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