Hong Kong from on High

If yesterday was all about the less talked of side of Hong Kong, today was all about seeing it from the heights. Another girl from the hostel and I started the day off by visiting the Sky City Church, 75 floors up at Central Plaza. From there we rushed over to St Joseph’s Cathedral to meet up with a skip the queue tour on the tram up to Victoria Peak. This was definitely a wise decision as people can wait for over two hours in line to get on the tram otherwise, whereas we waited the five it took for the tram to arrive.

Victoria peak offered impressive views over Hong Kong. We took pleasant stroll around the peak, giving us a chance to appreciate a little of the nature that Hong Kong has to offer. After the compulsory photos up on the Sky Terrace we got the tram back down and rushed across the water and Kowloon to hike up to Lions Rock.

Lion Rock was enthusiastically touted by our guide as a better version of Victoria peak looking down on Kowloon. We had hoped to reach it in time for sunset as this is supposed to be particularly spectacular view, however the best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley and so it was for us. We watched the light fade from the sky as we doggedly continued upwards.

Eventually we were force to resort to torches but still we climbed, and it was most definitely worth it. The view out over a field of city lights was breath-taking (though this could also be attributed to the final upwards stretch). While we may not have been able to see the Lion Rock itself in the dark, the illumination of the city made this my favourite part of the day.

To finish off we climbed back down and got the MTR back to Nathan Road from where we enjoyed a gentle stroll from the Ladies Market down to Temple Street and the Jade Market. This provided a nice opportunity for us to fill out stomachs with a few skewers of dumplings and meat, although I confess to not being adventurous enough to try the pig’s liver or intestine.

So all in all a marvellous day, the only real drawbacks being the view-impeding smog that seems to sit over Hong Kong like a blanket and my very tired feet.

Off Again

To say the last month has been stressful is an understatement. When I haven’t been studying for a slew of end of semester tests and exams, I have been arranging my Christmas travels in more detail. While some of this planning was no more complicated than logging on to Hostel World and choosing the perfect balance between cost, location and amenities, other sections have proven to be more challenging. Fortunately, the worst of it is over and I can now enjoy my holiday.

I’ve started the Christmas holidays off with a stop in Hong Kong and have certainly enjoyed my first day here, though my feet are glad to be resting. I started the day off by teaming up with another girl from my hostel and going on a walking tour of the central area. Rather than focusing on traditional sights the tour provided an insight into the history of Hong Kong and its politics. The tour guide was wonderfully cheerful and well informed, including telling us where to get the best wanton noodles for lunch after the tour was over.

My favourite piece of history was about a feng shui war between the Bank of China and HSBC headquarters, as well as seeing the two lions, Stephen and Stitt outside the HSBC headquarters.

With full stomachs we rushed back over to Kowloon on MTR and headed up to Mong Kok and Prince Edwards for another tour, this one focusing on some of the social challenges faced by locals. In particular we learnt about the astoundingly high property prices and rents and how the local economy is so dependant on the maintenance of these high costs. For me, I found the existence on coffin houses where people live in cages or bunk boxes stacked upon one another and little bigger than a dog crate particularly shocking. Especially when the rent is between HK$1800 and HK$2500 a month.

After this rather gloomy though important tour a group of us headed off to sample the delights of a dim sum restaurant. I felt the Michelin Star of Tim Ho Wan was well deserved as the food was absolutely delicious and I won’t need to eat for a few years. A lovely pair of Canadian sisters knew all the best things to try and the conversation proved lively and stimulating so it was a shame to part ways.

We concluded the day with a trip on the Star Ferry and watched a somewhat anticlimactic “A Symphony of Lights” over Victoria Harbour.

Angkor Wat

 We visited Angkor Wat three times in total; once when we attempted to watch the sunset but were forced to leave because it was closing; the second time we took the back entrance but were forced to share the temple with hundreds of other tourists, all clamouring for photos; the final time for a somewhat anticlimactic sunrise.  Despite these not fully successful endeavours I was astounded by the shear effort and patience that must have gone into creating such an amazing and beautifully carved triumph of ancient architecture.

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This was my first glimpse of the temple.  The long walk certainly gives one plenty of time to mull over its grandeur, I wonder what visitors thought of it 800 years ago.

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My version of the classic temple reflection photo after deciding that I didn’t fancy vying with the crowds to use one of the ponds on either side of the walkway.

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Unlike most other Khmer temples, Angkor Wat faces west not east.  This is thought to either be because it is dedicated to Vishnu or because it was intended to be the resting place of the Khmer King Suryavarman II who had it built.  This was the best shot of the sunset I managed to take before the whistles of the guards drove us back to our tuk tuk.

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At least everyone leaving meant some nice (relatively) tourist free photos.

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What’s a trip to the temples of Siem Reap without a few monks?

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Seemingly every surface save the floor is engraved in breath-taking detail.  I was particularly impressed with the engraving of the story of how the gods’ and demons’ quest for the elixir of immortality led to the churning of the sea of milk and the creation of the cosmos.

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Why take the public steps when you could take the Indiana Jones route?  Or as my German friend liked to shout, “TEMPLE RUN!”

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The best photo from our sunrise outing and I have to admit, my camera made it look considerably better than it was.

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Since we were at the temple early we planned to try and make it up to the very top of the temple as the queue had been too long the previous day.  However, it was not be as we would have had to wait a further forty minutes for the central stairs to open.  Fortunately, I at least got this rather nice photo before the sun was too bright, causing all my other photos to have blindingly white skies.

The Trials and Tribulations of Planning

Two or three weeks ago I stuck my head out of my textbooks long enough to realise that recess week was fast approaching and I had yet to form a plan of which country I was going to intrepidly explore.  After a few minutes of trying to wrap my head around the fact that my recess week is before most of my cohorts return to studying and that in their first week back I would be taking two of my midterms, I actually started planning.  Like anyone nowadays, my first (and only) port of call was the internet.  The internet is an amazing resource for anyone who so much as dreams of travelling as it offers a near infinite number of locations each with a wealth of reviews and suitably idyllic photos.  It is also the bane of all holiday planners as it offers a near infinite number of locations each with a wealth of reviews and suitably idyllic photos.

You see, it’s all very well and good saying “I’ll go to such and such a place” but then you bring up BBC news and decide that perhaps that particular location can wait a while or you pick a country but are then bombarded with choices as to where in that country you should go.  In the end, I narrowed my list of seven countries down to two by touring TripAdvisor, Lonely Planet and Pinterest.  My methods of elimination also included a quick check of Gov.uk for any travel warnings; Travel Health Pro for vaccination advice; and a slew of websites to try and interpret what visas were need for where.

All in all, there was a moment where I was tempted to can the entire venture and just relax on a beach in some tourist trap for a week.  However, I persevered and chose a location in each of country to spend the week.  I’m not sure they are any less tourist trappy but I like to pretend they are.  After the hard part of making a decision.  I only had to work out how to get there; what I needed for visas; where I was going to stay; and what I was actually going to do.  Fortunately for the modern traveller this is made easy with the help of websites like Skyscanner, HostelWorld and the multitude of travel bloggers who have gone before.

So without further ado, the winners of this semester’s recess week holiday awards are…

…Siem Reap in Cambodia:

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I am particularly looking forward to the temples of Angkor Wat, though the Night Market and Landmine Museum have also caught my eye.

And…

…Hanoi in Vietnam:

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As well as seeing the thriving Old Quarter here, I am hoping to cram in a day trip to the famous Halong Bay.

With only seven kilos of luggage, my laptop will be staying here in Singapore so posting may be varied but at the very least I hope to put a few photo heavy posts up.  Fingers crossed and happy travelling.