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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Hong Kong 2016 – a brighter outlook.

As I mentioned before the first few days of our time in Hong Kong were rather gloomy but then things started to brighten up for the GF’s temples checklist. First up was the famous Tian Tan Buddha, aka Big Buddha, at the Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island.hong_kong_2-13 Allegedly the biggest bronze sitting Buddha in the world, atop 268 steps, it looks out from the top of the hill all the way to Macau on a clear day, but more usually just out to the aircraft flying in and out of the airport below.

We took the slow route to get there, with a ferry from Central pier and then a bus up the winding road …slow but scenic and cheap.

Just like last year the day started gloomy but cleared up midday. Is there a message there for future trips ? Go see Buddha first ?

It is a tourist hotspot, so don’t go there expecting tranquillity and enlightenment !

(Click any photo for a larger version)

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Heading down, and looking down at the airport.

We went back by the quick ( and expensive) route, first down by cable-car and then the MTR subway. The cable car is rather spectacular, especially when it goes over the last hilltop and descends down towards the airport below. It’s what is called a detachable cable car, so instead of one long cable it is made up of several shorter sections. At the end of each section the gondola is loosened from the first cable, trundles over some runners, then the weight of the gondola clamps it on to the next section (in a previous existence I worked at a ski resort, catching the chairlift to work on the mountaintop everyday). This causes it to clatter and sway a bit when going through the stations, my GF was a little bit worried and refused to look down at the view below !

A short walk to the subway station, one train change on the way home, and get out of the MTR right next to our accommodation.

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Taking advantage of the clearer skies next day we went up to the Peak, along with half the other tourists in Hong Kong. If you take the tram up, my tip is don’t bother with the “Peak Tower” package as that lookout was packed, and you will probably be “asked” to move along by the photographers selling souvenir photos who want to use the prime viewing spots. You can get just as good a view from the free lookouts just below.

Next day it was more temples to see, first up the Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple, conveniently right next to a subway station ….I love Hong Kong’s public transport !

Apart from the usual hubbub of worshippers, fortune tellers and incense this temple also has a “good wish gardens” hidden behind it, a tranquil oasis surrounded by the skyscraping apartments around it. Next stop along the subway line was the Nan Lian Garden and the adjoining Chi Lin Nunnery. These gardens are even more tranquil, even though they are surrounded by main roads on 3 sides you would not know it.

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The Nan Lian Gardens, with the Chi Lin Nunnery just behind it to centre-left.

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Golden Pagoda, Nan Lian Gardens

 

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Chi Lin Nunnery

 

 

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The stairway to Heaven ?

Next to the gardens is the nunnery, made completely from wood and without a single nail ….although I did notice some screws ! To get to the nunnery you actually walk over the main highway, although you would not know it.

 

 

 

Last on the temples to be ticked off was the “10,000 Buddha Temple” out in suburban Sha Tin. Getting there was easy, once again thanks to the ever efficient MTR. Getting up to the temple itself involved a bit more of an effort. According to the Lonely Planet guidebook there are about 400 steps to climb………

I’m glad that I did not bother taking my DSLR camera up as you were not allowed to photograph inside any of the buildings. Instead I just took my little compact Canon, much, much lighter !

And then it was back to Bangkok the next day, to be greeted with a queue at immigration that stretched way, way back and took me about an hour to negotiate, followed by an equally horrendous queue at the taxi rank. Welcome to Bangkok ! Immigration here really could learn from places like Hong Kong……I’m glad that I had not just flown in from Europe or America to put up with that after a long flight.

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Making the most of a poor photo ?

planet-hong-kong-2 The weather for the first few days of our trip to Hong Kong was rather grey and gloomy, and very hazy …..not the best for taking photos. Just like last year’s visit in fact 😦

The weather did improve for the last couple of days, again just like last year !

Most of the photos that I did take over the first few days needed work, such as the last two monochrome conversions I posted here and here. Just for a change I tried something new, turning the above photo of Hong Kong island into the “planet” below using Photoshop’s “polar co-ordinates” filter and then the ‘path blur’ filter.

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Hong Kong 2016 – the urban landscape.

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If given the right weather conditions with some broken cloud and some wind, and armed with tripod and Big Stopper ND filter then Hong Kong would be a great place for architectural photography ….unfortunately we just had grey overcast conditions with no wind.

Especially on Hong Kong Island there are many unique buildings such as the Lippo Building left and above, or as it is sometimes called the “koala bear building” because the design resembles koala bears climbing it ….well, maybe to homesick Aussie expats perhaps.

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Luckily the weather improved for the last few days of our stay as my girlfriend, a devout Buddhist, wanted to see some of the temples scattered around Hong Kong and if you have ever seen a Chinese temple you will know that they can be very colourful and certainly look better when the sun is shining so the next post will be a lot brighter !

The grey skies did not matter after dark though, when the buildings put on their glad-rags and neon robes for the nightly light show :lightshow-1.jpg

 

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Hong Kong monochrome

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Hong Kong Exhibition and Convention Centre, Wanchai, Hong Kong.

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