Archive for December, 2009


Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

Bangkok was something of an unexpected delight. We’d headed to Thailand in a bid to escape noise, mayhem and city life in general, so while we weren’t expecting Bangkok to fit the bill, we thought we ought to spend a few days and give it a chance to impress us.


We were suitably impressed. It’s an accessible, foreigner-friendly place with a healthy dose of “exotic”. And it’s not nearly as intense an experience as we were expecting – although perhaps it just seemed that way in contrast to Hanoi. Very few horn-honking maniacs here.


For most of our trip we’d been wondering if Thailand really was the “perfect” tourist destination we’d remembered it to be, mostly assuming that our rear-facing rose colored glasses were misleading us. But within hours of arriving, the weather, the food, the friendliness and service had us more or less convinced.


So it’s official: Thailand wins. And we hadn’t even seen a beach yet.

Bangkok’s primary shortcoming seemed to be transport. Just about any way to get around was a major hassle; buses, walking, taxis. Although taxis proved to be very cheap and comfortable, if time-consuming due to the epic traffic congestion.


We suspect the traffic situation was exacerbated by our visit coinciding with the King’s Birthday which, perhaps unsurprisingly, involves a solid week of street parties, fireworks, major road closures, live bands performing freshly minted dedications to the king and millions of people wearing pink (!) shirts. Pink being the color apparently chosen for it’s auspicious nature in relation to the King’s current state of health.

It was quite the week to land in Bangkok. We even found excellent coffee:


Vietnam: Hanoi & Ha Long Bay

Friday, December 11th, 2009


To be frank, Vietnam was a little disappointing. Our primary error was most likely assuming that the place would be broadly similar to Thailand; and given that the only bit of Thailand we’d seen up until that point was the über-touristy tropical paradise of Phuket, all the more silly an assumption to make.


Vietnam is, in a word, noisy. I can still scarcely believe the aggression with which scooter, car and bus drivers are prepared to use their (undoubtedly souped up) horns. The legendary traffic in Hanoi encouraged this behavior, but we saw it prevail even in sparsely populated areas and, bafflingly, even when there were few other drivers around at all.


A week of witnessing that lead me to question the sanity of this society as a whole – what possible benefit could these people derive from all the racket? Sure, you can write off these things as “cultural differences” but there is a point where you have to ask “are you mad?”. We reached that point.


We enjoyed several days on Cat Ba Island in Ha Long Bay, not least because its raucous atmosphere (surprisingly so for such a small town) was a delightful break from the Hanoi madness. Ha Long Bay is an impressive set of rocks, no doubt. We’ve seen a hell of a lot of impressive rocks on this trip, and these measured up.


We met lots of fun & interesting people in Cat Ba – it’s a major backpacker corridor, so we had an endless stream of new faces to spend time with. Many provided us with some very useful information for our upcoming destinations.


Surprisingly we weren’t particularly wowed by the food on offer in Vietnam. Granted it’s vastly superior to much of what we’ve eaten around the world, and generally offers good nutritional value.


Our expectations were set by the fantastic array on offer in Victoria St in Melbourne, although in hindsight I’m wondering if the cuisine there is generally of more Chinese influence than Vietnamese. On the upside the food was astoundingly cheap.


Rather than pushing on with our original intention to work our way overland to the far south of Vietnam, we booked some flights with AirAsia and jetted off to Bangkok for a few days, to be followed by the quintessential tropical delights of Krabi in southern Thailand. Right now that seems like much more our style.


Hong Kong

Monday, December 7th, 2009


7 months, 25 countries, 25 flights, and 93 beer varieties later we arrived in Hong Kong. Coming from Jordan (and hence omitting India) it was a longer haul flight than we’d had for quite sometime, and we experienced proper jet-lag for the first time, really, since beginning in Hawaii.


We spent a fantastic week marveling at the transport efficiency, cleanliness, indescribably fantastic (cheap!) food, delightful weather and general excellentness that Hong Kong has to offer. As in Berlin we found an apartment to sublet for most of our stay right in the SoHo area after spending a couple of nights in the frenetic Mongkok district on the other side of the harbor.


Hong Kong demonstrates the advantages of a high density city, something Australian cities really lack – and will probably never be able to emulate. In our personal survey of metro transport Hong Kong has dethroned Vienna as the king of metro systems. And to think the brilliant Octopus card system (deployed in 1997, now helping me buy both metro trips and beers from 7-Eleven) was actually designed by an Australian company…


From a tourism perspective, there is stacks to do in Hong Kong, it’s all easy to do, and it’s almost all very cheap. Eating out is also ridiculously well priced. The only expensive thing is the accommodation. Although that’s not as pricey as an average European city, or Melbourne.


We felt a strange sense of home-coming being back in Asia after traipsing around the globe – as Jules C. pointed out the other day we’re almost done in longitudinal terms. The timezone, the cuisine and of course Asian people reminded us continually of home. And, well, the VB on sale at the supermarket also. If they’d had Coopers I probably would have caved and bought some. Actually I must admit I did buy a decent sausage roll from Starbucks on Lantau island.


There are many attributes which help make Hong Kong an excellent city to visit – and perhaps to live also. Not least its excellent location sort of in the middle of the world. I highly recommend you stop over the next time you’re passing through.