All good things must come to an end

Trip Start May 27, 2009
Trip End Nov 14, 2009

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Friday, December 4, 2009

Well folks here it is albeit a few weeks late – the final instalment of my blog. Since we last 'spoke' I had a few days of rest and relaxation back in KL. I know you are thinking my entire trip has been spent on rest and relaxation – but not so it has been exhausting – yes I can imagine a few expressions of disbelief, but it’s true. Did a bit of shopping, chilling by the pool and packing – again – getting rid of stuff I shouldn’t need again like a bottle of Dettol – can’t quite recall why I needed it in the first place.

And so off we headed to Bangkok for a few days – for my friends it was a weekend break but for me it was goodbye to KL and off on the penultimate leg of my adventure. A short flight with fairly inept cabin crew who seemed to think the question ‘So do you want juice too?’ was an appropriate alternative to ‘What would you like to drink?’ Our hotel was the Ecotel which was really good value and although not in a typical tourist location it was within easy reach of transport links and many of the shopping malls.

I loved Bangkok – it was so vibrant, the traffic was crazy, air quality was not good, the streets were crammed with people shopping, eating, strolling, there were temples alongside giant chic shopping malls, open air food stalls almost spilling onto the roads -it was great and I would go back in a flash.

Whilst the others went shopping I was a tourist and went on a trip to the Grand Palace complex and Wat Phra Kaew, known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The palace and temple buildings were fabulous so ornate and the golden temple completely covered on gold leaf was absolutely stunning. I don’t think any of my photos will do them justice and it was difficult to get good vantage spots as they were usually covered by hordes of camera clicking Koreans, who seem so busy taking photos that I wonder if they take time to absorb the wonder of what they are seeing. After leaving the tour which took ages as the traffic was a nightmare – I made my own way to the temple complex of Wat Pho which contains the temple of the Reclining Buddha – it is huge – 46 metres long and 15 metres high. Very adventurously I made my own way back to the hotel by river taxi, sky train and the last stage on foot. I then met up with the others and off we went for a fab seafood meal which was so filling that we all opted to walk back. It wasn’t too far but I thought that after all these months my feet deserved the treat of a Thai foot massage – an hour of pampering – never 4 better spent!  

On the Saturday morning after an early breakfast and catching up on my admin I headed for the sky train to Chatuchak Market – a huge complex stretching over 35 acres where you can buy almost anything from a puppy to a pineapple. It is not really aimed at tourists and there were loads of clothes stalls with really edgy modern designs – I could have bought loads of stuff had this been my only stop but as you all know it hasn’t been and there was still Hong Kong to go. It got very hot and after hours of wandering (forget the maps and just enjoy getting lost) I headed back to the hotel for a rest. And so already it was my last night in Bangkok and my last night with my friends from Kuala Lumpur. We headed to the restaurant just around the corner and ate way too much and that was even with three of us sharing a meal for two – Baked Sea bass with garlic and black pepper, fried baby crabs, Tom yum with prawns and a Thai Green curry. I love Tom Yum but prefer Indian curry to the Thai version – too much chilli.  And on the way back to the hotel – well what’s the harm in having a foot massage 2 nights in a row?

And so farewell to Bangkok and farewell to my friends from Kuala Lumpur, I hope it is not 8 years before I see them again!

Hong Kong was the next and last stop on my 6 month adventure and after quite a lengthy wait to clear passport control and baggage claim, at what must be one of the biggest airports I have encountered so far, it was an easy shuttle bus trip to my next accommodation – the Anne Black YWCA in the Mongkok district of Kowloon where I would stay for 3 nights before splashing out on the grander YWCA, known also as the Salisbury Hotel for my last 4 nights. The Anne Black was quite basic, reminiscent of university hall type accomodation, but it had everything you need. I liked the location as it was a normal residential area with locals going about their normal business, dropping kids of at school, although this particular school run seemed to involve mostly nannies and grannies who walk the kids to school, which given the traffic congestion seems the most sensible approach.

I think I must have explored every market in the Mongkok and Yau Ma Tei areas. The wet markets were brilliant – I don’t think there was a swimming or flying creature that could not be bought there and in a variety of states, from still swimming to squashed and dried. There is a Cantonese saying that if something walks, flies or swims with its back to the sun then it is edible and form what was on display here it is not just a saying it is a doing!  And then there was the Jade , the Goldfish, the Bird, the Flower, and the Ladies markets –all selling what it says in the title – apart from one – you can guess which one ( remember we are now in Hong Kong not Bangkok). There was a bewildering choice of places to eat but I did on occasion take the safe option of a MacDonalds and for breakfast instead of Fish or Beef Mee as had been the case in previous days I went for the bacon egg and sausage – telling myself that I was reacquainting myself with a Western diet but really it was because I had no idea what any of the Cantonese menus were saying.

I ventured over to the Central District on Hong Kong Island, taking what seemed like an eternity to negotiate my way out of the International Financial Centre (IFC) – yeuch I was surrounded by the shiny headquarters of banks and financial institutions with lots of expats in grey suits looking busy and important. I think it may have strengthened my resolve not to return to that environment. I think I got quite a good photo with a war memorial in the foreground, dwarfed by the IFC – a telling juxtaposition. It was an odd day, baking hot so I took a rest in the cool and peaceful surroundings of St John’s Cathedral and I can’t explain it but I felt really emotional  but then onwards and upwards on the ‘tram’ to the Peak – it is really a cable car. The views from the top were amazing and I was very lucky that the weather on the day meant clear blue skies as later in the week it was cloudy, grey and even wet.

For my fin al few days in Hong Kong I was in the YMCA which is not what you think – it is actually a really nice (at least 3*) hotel which has a fantastic location next door to the much more famous and luxurious Peninsula. It is on the waterfront beside the Star Ferry Terminal and the HK Cultural Center and is in the best place to enjoy the nightly free laser light shows over the harbor – they were brilliant but difficult to do justice with my camera. I enjoyed traveling back and forward across the Pearl river on the Star Island Ferries and when on Hong Kong Island just riding along on the various trams. The fares are really cheap probably just under 20p and in the case of the tram rides you could be on it for more than an hour just taking in the sights. I had bought an Octopus card which is the HK equivalent of London’s Oyster and well worth it if you are here for more than a few days – it gets you cheaper rides on all transport and avoids the constant need for buying tickets and having change

The shopping area of Causeway Bay was one of my destinations – it was completely mad - sale time and Christmas shopping. I made the mistake of going into one of the larger stores Sogo for a look – bad idea it was a special handbag day with all sorts of designer labels with the prices slashed – have you ever tried moving against a human tide of small oriental teenagers - not recommended! So I happily reboarded the tram so that I could enjoy the buzz but from a safe distance.

A real bonus was stumbling across the venue for a Symphony Under the Stars to be given by the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra, so after going back to the hotel to get some warmer clothes and pick up a free ticket from the Tourist Office, on the evening of Friday the 13th, I ventured out in the dark (oooooooooooh scary) by ferry and tram to the Happy Valley Racecourse. It was a great experience, a great concert and I was there when a Guinness World record was broken – yes folks it was the record for Mass Harmonica playing but because of my misunderstanding I wasn’t actually one of the harmonica players – shame I would have liked a souvenir plastic harmonica and a flashing pen. The concert finished with a rousing rendition of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 overture accompanied by a spectacular fireworks display – great fun.

More sedate but costlier activities next day – afternoon tea at the Peninsula with a return later in the evening for a couple of drinks at the rooftop bar looking out over the fantastic skyline of Hong Kong harbour at night – at least the view was free! However it was the last night of my trip so I felt justified in being a bit decadent as I would all too soon be back to face reality.

For my last day in Hong Kong the weather turned cold, wet and grey which acclimatized me for the weather waiting back home which is where I am now as I write this final entry, although today it is bright and sunny but freezing!

How can I sum it all up? Impossible really but I will try. I have probably had the best 6 months ever, I have never felt healthier, I have seen some of the most beautiful places on earth, met some great people along the way, including me - yes me – who would have thought that I would have managed it all and by myself and see the future as something to look forward to rather than to worry about. No more what ifs, just what next!!

Would I do it again- absolutely – but with less clothes and shoes but always with a torch, Swiss Army knife, plastic cutlery & containers, sarong and a microfibre towel.

Thanks to everyone who helped make it all possible - to you at home who kept an eye on the house, particularly Carol, John and Anne; to everyone who put up with me or put me up, or just said hello – thanks to Wendy and Tony, Tommy, Di and Betty, John, Helen and Edie, Marie and Isao, Caroline, Lamorna, Kien, Kean Sin and Ya. And to some of my fellow travellers – Aud and Jill hope you make it home safely and to the gang from the bush camping trip – that was the best week!

As I write this the last of my luggage has just arrived by sea freight from Sydney, posted on 25 September so all is now complete.
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