Saturday, September 27

Hong Kong

(see map) mike: Hong Kong, like Singapore, was shaped largely by British colonialism. It was returned China in 1997 though to a large extent still functions as an independent entity. Known to be safe, clean and easy to navigate it was an ideal stopover before heading to Nepal.

Our hostel room was clean, functional and TINY. The beds where half of a twin. 

It is one of the most densely populated countries in the world and after our first glimpse of its renowned skyline we believe it.

Bruce Lee, Hong Kong's legendary martial artists and film star has his own bronze statue on the Avenue of Stars, Hong Kong's version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Next up, Hong Kong's nightly laser show, Symphony of Lights, which displays synchronized lasers shooting from the tops of skyscrapers along with classical music played over loud speakers. Slightly cheesy but worth seeing.

We took the popular tram ride up to Victoria Peak to check out the panoramic views of Hong Kong Island (foreground), Victoria Harbour and Kowloon (background).  Amazing!

Prius police cars helping to offset the carbon footprint of the laser show.

Cruising the packed streets and soaking up the neon lights of the Kowloon District.

One night we checked out the night life in Lan Kwai Fong area. The bars are packed with British expats who spill out into the street. Even with the balmy subtropical temperatures, the neighborhood still has a London feel.

Discouraged by the London-like beer prices we were elated to come across this 7-11 with its own storefront crowd. People were filing in and out buying their next rounds. If they only had a bathroom, it would be truly perfect.

The following day we took to the streets for our customary walking tour.

A live over the top infomercial reminiscent of to ones you'd see on sleepless nights channel surfing at home.

Those are fish in the bags, ready to be brought home as a new pet.

Hi-tech kids hanging out at a free wifi zone.

One surprise was coming across hundreds of women relaxing on cardboard mats laid out on pedestrian overpasses. We found out later that these women are Filipino workers employed primarily as domestic helpers. Sunday is their day off so everyone meets up with friends here to spend the day.

Getting goofy in front of the Two International Finance Center. HK's tallest and the sixth in the world.

Tian Tan Buddha, aka Big Buddha is out near the airport. The best way to reach it is by this insanely high cable car. The name sums it up, it's one of the largest outdoor Buddha's around.

Our four days flew by.  Hong Kong falls somewhere between Singapore and Tokyo on our enjoyment gauge. Not bad for a long layover.

Wednesday, September 24

Koh Tao, Thailand

(see map) trin: Based on Lonely Planet's description we were expecting a chill little island for scuba divers. We were surprised by the size and number of the resorts on Sairee Beach many of which were built in the last two years.

We stayed at Ban's Dive Resort ,the mega dive operator on the island. Their boat has a sixty person capacity and it was always full. Diving at a sight with that many people took some getting use to.

Back to school. In order to justify our seven day stay on Koh Toa, we decided to get our Advance Open Water Certification. Unlike Open Water, we were not required to watch cheesy instructional videos or perform scuba skills in the pool. The advanced course consists of five dives, two required (deep and navigation) and three electives. We chose: night, peak performance buoyancy control and fish identification.

Some of the lessons were a little obvious. Above is the section on not riding animals. What? You mean I shouldn't grab onto a sea turtle and go for a ride. Duh...

Our night dive was the biggest challenge more because of the conditions than the dark. There was big swell and the visibility was only five meters. I probably looked like a rag doll as I tried to descend along the mooring line. After one failed attempt and several mouthfulls of seawater, I eventually made it to the sea floor where I planted my knee into a head of coral. The best part of the dive was when we turned out our lights and sat on the bottom in complete darkness. It sounds scary but our eyes adjusted and it was really quite peaceful. The most difficult part was getting back on the boat. The swell had picked up while we were below and the boat was now coming up out of the water with each wave. As I treaded water in the dark and watched the huge boat crashing down in front of me I thought, What the hell are we doing this for? That quickly turned to elation once we were safely back onboard where our classmate were enthusiastically congratulating one another. "We didn't die!"

During the course we saw two different whale sharks The first (about five meters long) was during our deep dive. Two days later we had just taken off our gear when someone yelled "whale shark, whale shark!" Everyone started cheering and jumping back into the water. There was a horde of sixty people swimming at the surface and the whale shark kept cruising through the crowd. He'd reach the edge and turn right back into the group. He's like a moving reef with an entourage of fish that swim with him at all times. It was awesome!!

Photo borrowed from National Geographic

School's out. Time for some Fun Dives.

Heading in for a cold Singha.

For our last three days, we moved to the quiet eastern side of the island where we stayed at Black Tip Dive Resort. We welcomed the change from the crowds at Sairee.

The secluded beach cove was a little paradise.

Departing from Koh Toa.

It is hard to believe that we are leaving So. East Asia. I can remember planning the trip and thinking it was so far away. And, now we are already moving on to Hong Kong and then Nepal. We are saddened by the reality that we have just four months left.

Sunday, September 14

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

(see map) trin: Temples, Temples, Temples. We spent three days exploring the temples of Angkor Wat which was a good amount of time. Although, Mike might not agree with me. He was a little templed out by day two.

We bought a copy of Ancient Angkor to use as our guide. The book was written by a french scholar and the English translation is pretty awkward. Still, like everyone else at the temples we dutifully carried our copy to read about the history and architectural elements of each temple.

We also used the book as a defense mechanism against the numerous children that would try to sell us illegal copies at all of the temple gates. But, it didn't always work. I'd show them my copy and their response was - "Buy another one for your friend. Your mom." They're relentless and truly have a reply for everything.

Day One: The large circuit by car: Preah Khan, Neak Pean, East Mebon, Ta Som, Bantaey Samre and Pre Rup.

Carvings in the Hall of Dancers at Preah Khan

Mike fills in for a missing guard statue at the north gate of Preah Khan.

Neak Pean is an island temple but as you can see the lake was empty when we visited.

A typical village gas station on the road to Banteay Samre.  Johnnie Walker liquor bottles are reused as one litre gas containers.

It the center hall at Banteay Samre we received a blessing from an elderly man. He lit incense and tied hot pink string bracelets around our wrists. Our taxi driver said it is suppose to give us good luck. Like, avoiding traffic jams and things of that nature.

Day Two: The small circuit on bicycles: Prasat Kravan, Banteay Kdei, Ta Prohm, Ta Keo, Angkor Tom.

Prasat Kravan completed in 921.

Banteay Kdei

The mid-day heat is starting to get to us.

Large silk-cotton tree growing over the Ta Prohm temple. The massive trees growing over the ancient buildings is always an impressive sight.

Amok, a traditional Cambodian dish, is served in a banana leave. It was so good on day one. We biked out of our way to enjoy it again on day two.

Quiting Time. About one hundred groundskeepers merged onto the road with us in the late afternoon.

A quick visit to Ta Keo

Mike misses mountain biking. He rode down this grade a couple times. Every time he would circle around the women at the food stalls across the road would come out yelling "cold water. beer. sir. over here." He's a tease.

The east gate of Angkor Tom.

Day Three: Sunrise at Angkor Wat, afternoon in the town of Siem Reap and sunset at Phnom Bakheng. All by tuk-tuk.

Early morning at Angkor Wat, the largest religious building in the world. The scale is so massive it is difficult to capture in a photograph.

On the walls of the central complex is an 800m long series of bas-reliefs. About a half a mile of carvings.

The parking lot at Angkor Wat was full of dozing tuk-tuk drivers who were waiting for their passengers to return.

Heavy cloud cover didn't help our sunset plans but we still climbed the hill to Bakheng, the first capital at Angkor.

Mike says goodbye to his final temple.

That evening we went to a traditional Cambodian dance performance. Having attended shows in Bali, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, this has become a tradition for us.