Cosplay @ Japan Expo 2017

japanexpo2017-13As I mentioned yesterday, the Japan Expo 2017 was held at one of the large shopping malls in central Bangkok over the weekend. Japan is a popular tourist destination for middle class Thais, and anything Japanese related is popular with the young hip generation …J-pop, J-food, J-fashion etc.

Inside the mall itself were many tourism related stalls, drumming up business for hotels, tour agencies, Japan Railways, etc while outside were lots of Japanese food stalls doing a roaring trade and a couple of stages for the entertainment….most of it seemed to be cover bands lip-synching from what I saw, but doing a pretty good job of it.

And wandering all around were hundreds of cosplayers dressed up as who knows what !

(as usual, click to see a larger version )


japanexpo2017-10 I have no idea who or what they are supposed to be in their costumes, but most of them were more than willing to pose for all the photographers and casual passers-by.

I guess you have to be quite an extrovert to go out dressed like they do !

This girl in particular really knew how to work the camera, perhaps she has done some modelling sometime or perhaps she is just a natural, but I’m sure there were more photos taken of her than anybody else. At times there were twenty or more photographers jostling to get a clear shot of her. Her being good looking and wearing a fairly skimpy outfit probably had something to do with that too ! 🙂

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With those shoes I would want to sit down too !

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If anybody wants to see more photos, or larger versions of these, then my pBase gallery is right here !

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Cosplay Queen

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The “Japan Expo 2017” was held at the CentralWorld mall here in Bangkok this past weekend, with lots of Japanese food stalls, travel agents, hotels and other businesses trying to drum up some customers, J-pop music to entertain the crowd, and hundreds of cosplayers dressing up in their costumes. I don’t know what this girl’s costume is supposed to be, but it looks more like something out of Arabian Nights than anything Japanese.

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Underwater Myanmar – the Mergui islands.

I am recently back from a trip to Myanmar, snorkelling around the Mergui islands.

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Our route, downloaded from my phone’s GPS app on to Google Earth.

It was not quite as good as I was hoping, the visibility was rather poor in many places and the marine life not as good as I have encountered at places in Thailand, such as the Similans not far south from Mergui. The Mergui Archipelago, like much of the old Burma was off limits to foreigners for many years and it has only recently opened to dive boats. This trip with Andaman Snorkel Discovery on the MV Reggae Queen was apparently the first commercial snorkel tour to operate in this area, and although we did have the compulsory Burmese guide who had done some diving and snorkelling in the area we were more or less venturing into the unknown on an exploratory trip as the dive boats go further south-west looking for the big fish.

Perhaps we were unlucky and just went to the wrong areas despite out guide’s “advice” or perhaps what we saw is typical of the snorkelling in this area ? They do have more exploratory trips planned so perhaps Andaman Snorkel Discovery will find some better areas. It may have been a bit disappointing overall, and perhaps not fully worth the money, but it was not a complete write-off….after all, even a bad day’s snorkelling on a coral reef has to be better than most, right ?mergui_snorkel_trip-29

The meeting point was in Khao Lak, where 5 guests piled into a minivan for a 3 hour drive north to Ranong, where we met the boat and another couple of guests. Leaving Thailand without too much red tape we cruised across the estuary to Kawthaung (aka Victoria Point) in Myanmar to do the entry formalities into Myanmar and pick up the guide and two more passengers.

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Kawthaung…30 minutes and 20 years behind Thailand.

The red tape here took a bit longer as the harbourmaster and the 3 immigration officials meticulously checked the ships papers, the crews’ seamans books, our passports and anything else they could think of.

Eventually everything was declared OK, and we were on our way, with Bob Marley on the stereo to help the boat live up to it’s name….Ralf, the owner, fancies himself as a bit of a Rastafarian pirate !

mergui_snorkel_trip-34I’ve done a few liveaboard boat trips in Thailand, and I have never gone hungry on any of them, this trip was no exception ….great food and lots of it ! Once underway the cooks brought up lunch, it really is amazing what they can conjure up in a tiny kitchen. We had 3 or 4 choices every meal, plus rice or noodles, fresh fruit, free soft drinks and snacks, plus alcohol at a reasonable price.

C:DCIM101GOPROGOPR3245.GPRAfter about 3 hours we reached our first snorkel spot, on the map above it look as if the boat went overland but actually there is a small passage between 2 islands, which is where we got wet for the first time. The current between the 2 islands was churning up the sand, so visibility was not good here. After this stop it was a long haul to our overnight anchorage. The Mergui Archipelago has around 800 islands, many just numbered not named.

The second day was a shorter distance, and much more time in the water.
(click for a larger version )

Day 3 was shorter again, only 18 kms according to my GPS, and more time in the water. We also had our first encounters with the Moken sea gypsies today.
mergui_snorkel_trip-13 We pulled into one bay and 2 dugout canoes appeared, an old lady and baby in one, 3 young kids in the other. Our guide traded some fruit and a few snacks for fish and they paddled off again.

Later we cruised around to the other side of the island to top up our water tanks from a raft, with water pumped from a spring ashore, followed by a quick trip ashore.

mergui_snorkel_trip-15 Apart from a rather ramshackle temple there was not much to see, although we did find the local bar ! Myanmar Beer is a nice drop, although we did have to send the dinghy back to the boat for ice so that we could have cold beer!

The next day was some of the best snorkelling on the trip, along with a stop for a walk on one of the islands, and visiting another Moken village. Although the island beaches looked pristine from the boat, once ashore you could see the storm debris and rubbish washed up along the high water mark. Most of the rubbish clearly came from the local trawlers, polystyrene food containers etc that were simply thrown overboard.

This village had a large new temple, financed by the lottery winnings of a fishing company owner, even though the Moken are animist not Buddhist. This village was fairly large, with several stores selling all sorts of stuff, such as the Sea-cucumbers, clam meat and air bladders from Pufferfish in the photo above. All delicacies for the Chinese market apparently ?


That evening we anchored at the end of a long calm inlet on Jar Lann Kyunn Island, where some of the guys broke out the boat’s wakeboard and became probably the first people to wakeboard the Mergui islands, towed by the boats dinghy !

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Cuttlefish, close-up shot with GoPro Hero 5

Next morning we snorkelled along the shore close to the boat, then headed to 3 more spots before starting the long trip back to Ranong, anchoring overnight at Zar Det Ngee island.An early morning start gave us time for 2 more stops, and included seeing yet more Lionfish and a couple of Cuttlefish which completely ignored us for several minutes, not a bad way to finish !

 

We were back at Kawthaung by early afternoon and the Myanmar immigration formalities were done quickly while we went for what was supposed to be a short stroll, but this is where the customer relations turned a bit sour, in my opinion. Most of us had to get back to Khao Lak, still several hours away, but owner and some of the crew wanted to stay drinking beer in Kawthaung “one last time”. I think they should have forseen possible trouble and delays with Thai immigration and got under way earlier. As things would have it, it took a long time to get our passports stamped, involving trips into town and back, waiting for immigration etc, nearly 90 minutes altogether. Even then we had to detour twice before heading back to Khao Lak,to drop people off at various places. Khao Lak closes up early, so people were worried about their accommodation being closed by the time we got there well after 9pm. In addition, after arriving at the office and picking up our bags left there, they would not give anybody a ride to their hotels even though the company van was heading that way ….just a poor way to finish the trip in my opinion.

All in all, while I do not regret going, it is not something I would do again unless the company finds some much better spots. And even without the US$250 Myanmar government entry permit fee it was not exactly cheap. For the total cost I could have spent 2 weeks on Koh Lipe and probably had better snorkelling ! Oh well, nothing ventured nothing gained, you live and learn, etc etc.

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The year that was…..

I probably should have uploaded this before the “New year’ post of the other day, but better late than never. My YouTube email notifications were full of “My Year’ videos suggested for me for some reason so I thought, why not do one too ? It turns out a minor YouTube “celebrity” called Sam Kolder had a bit of a competition running where people had to upload a video about their year and include in the title Sam Kolder inspired ….clever bit of self promotion for him.

Anyway, it’s just a short fun video of my last year, it’s not meant to be an award winning documentary, LOL. Now that I’ve acquired a serious, live-in girlfriend I probably will not be travelling as much this year, I’m not so footloose and fancy free nowadays …. not that I would change anything, I hasten to add !

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a New Year begins……

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So, what did you do for New Year ? I had a quiet one, headed up to Ubon Ratchathani province with the GF for a few days with her family. Most of which was spent eating sticky rice and other assorted Issaan food, washed down by a copious quantity of Sangsom rum (although it is usually called whiskey in Thailand!).

New Year is often the only time when Thais get enough time off work for a family get-together, so the roads, trains and planes are packed before and after the holiday period ….a warning, don’t even THINK about driving in Thailand over New Year (or Songkran) as the roads are full of idiots in a hurry to get somewhere no matter what the conditions. Once again this year’s road toll was horrendous.

We flew up a couple of days early, returning yesterday and thus avoided most of the holiday crush.

On New Years Day everybody was up early to go give alms to the monks at one of the local temples, except the monks had a prior appointment at the local town offices where all the bigwigs also gave them offerings, before returning to the temple for a second course. The monks get fed VERY well at New Year ! Another day many of the family got up very early again and headed to a nearby village to consult with a fortune-teller about the coming year. I went along for the ride but while they were listening to the mumbojumbo I went for a stroll and took these 2 photos of the village wat (temple). And tried to wish an ancient old lady “Happy New Year” to no avail, I’m sure my Thai is not THAT bad that she could not understand suk-san-wan-pii-mai so perhaps she just spoke the Issaan dialect ?

The quiet, slow village life is OK for a few days but after a week of being woken at dawn by the roosters, squat toilets and luke warm “showers’ from a bucket I was ready to return to the Big Smoke….I’m not yet ready to move there permanently, unlike a friend of mine who is.

Next week I am off for a week of snorkelling in the Mergui Islands of Myanmar which should be good fun. Get ready for yet more underwater photos !

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Budget beds in Hong Kong

There is no getting away from the fact that Hong Kong can put a serious dent in a person’s finances, even a small room in a chain hotel such as Holiday Inn will cost well over $200 US or $1600HK. As I have said many times on this blog, a hotel in itself is not the destination for me, it is just a place where I can safely store my stuff and get a good night’s sleep. I don’t need minibars, infinity pools or 100 cable TV channels. So where can a money conscious retiree like me, or a young but thrifty backpacker, rest their weary head ?

For years the answer has been the (in)famous Chungking Mansions and it’s less well known neighbour the Mirador Mansion. Both are rabbit warrens of tailor shops, currency exchanges and camera shops on the ground floor, below apartments illegally converted into guest houses by subdividing rooms and putting in some often dodgy plumbing. While waiting for the lift one day during our recent stay I noticed a warning from the building management on the adjacent notice board saying something like “It has recently come to our notice that some apartment owners have modified their property into guesthouses …blah blah blah …..faulty plumbing is causing damage to units below”. Recently come to our notice ? I remember reading about these places in Lonely Planets “Yellow Bible” in the early ’90s, they were well known then !

mirador2Prices are around US$50/night, or HK$375 for most places in the Mirador building, a bit cheaper in the Chungking Mansions. So what do you get for your money at one of these places ? On my first visit last year I looked in at a few places before deciding on the Jas Guest House. They are all much the same, the only real variable is the management and the condition of the place. All have small rooms of around 7 or 8 square metres, big enough for a double or twin beds, and a bathroom that is about the size of a normal shower cubicle. Yes, that is small but ok for a few days.

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International electrical fittings is a nice touch.

Most have free wifi of reasonable speed, air-con that was not needed in December and some sort of cable tv. The only English language channel at Jas was FOX movies. The bathroom had plenty of hot-water (which often is not the case here in Thailand!) and toiletries, with fresh towels available …. when you could find the manager. All things considered, once you get over the small size of the rooms this particular place was more than adequate for me last year. But this recent trip I had my lady friend in tow, what would she think of it ? As it turned out she thought it was ok !

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Chungking Mansions or the Mirador ?

Both are located on Nathan Road, an easy walk from the Kowloon harbourside promenade and the Star Ferry so it is a convenient location. The Mirador is right next to an MTR subway exit, and is closer to the Airport bus stop. The Chungking Mansions tends to have many more touts standing around outside either hustling up business for the tailor shops or selling “copy watches/bags, sir?” At least they are open about the stuff being fake ! Sometimes there was also a woman or two selling themselves …..

The Mirador Mansion also had a few touts, but nowhere near as many as the Chungking down the road. You just have to ignore them and walk straight past, eyes front. While you could never describe the Mirador as upmarket or even mid-market, it was certainly a step above the Chungking.


Other options ?

Yes, there are some small hotels located in side streets nearby which you probably would not find on Agoda.com, but while walking around in the evening looking for something to eat I did notice that many advertised hourly rates, and sometimes had women standing around near the entrance. Do I need to explain the significance of that ?

Hong Kong does have some official International Youth Hostels, but they all seem to be located inconveniently and are not really an option for most budget travellers.


So, if you are a thrifty traveller that eschews infinity pools and would rather stay in budget accommodation for a week rather than even moderate luxury for just one night think about one of the numerous guesthouses inside the Mirador Mansion. Unless you are arriving late at night there would usually be no need to book ahead, just arrive and check out a few places. There always seemed to be ‘room vacant” signs. If you do stay at the Mirador, a tip regarding the lifts …there are 2 slow, small (7 person) lifts near the front entrance, one for all the even floors, one for the odd numbered floors. Nearly everybody queues up to use these, but in the opposite corner of the building near the management office are 4 more lifts which only serve about 4 floors each and are much quicker !

 

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