Monday, February 21, 2011

Hong Kong and Macau

Sorry its a bit belated but... My trip to Hong Kong and Macau for the lunar new year was AMAZING! We all had the best time and everything just worked out really great without us doing too much planning in advance. Hong Kong is such a cool city! It is definitely one of my favorite cities that i have ever been to. It really is a perfect mix of east and west. There are two main parts of the city that we were in: Kawloon and Hong Kong island. Kawloon has a really 'chinese' feel to it opposed to Hong Kong Island which feels like a big international city. It was really cool to have both east/west feels to the city opposed to Korea which is overwhelmingly eastern feeling. Its cool that Korea is so eastern though, because its a crazy different experience than any other even remotely western city, but Hong Kong has a nice blend that made it seem cool and different, but also familiar enough to make it livable. Hong Kong is definitely a city i would like to go back to.

So anyway.. out trip. We arrived to our hostel (in Kawloon) around midnight and dropped our bags off and went out exploring a bit. The lady running our hostel directed us towards an area that has some bars so we went to check it out. On the way, we passed a place that looked like it was serving dim sum.. and we were starving.. so we decided to check it out. It turned out the be a great decision! and about the first dim sum meal out of many many many many in our time in Hong Kong. The dim sum was delicious, fast, and cheap! They had a lot of the familiar favorites that ive had back home and some new stuff. But overall the meal was amazing and we got a ton of dishes and it only cost like $4 a person. ... So far so good in Hong Kong!

After we ate, we walked around the bar area more trying to find a place to sit and have a few drinks. At first we were deterred by the signs reading ~$20 USD for beer.. until we realized that they were advertising for 6 beers! (I guess at a lot of places they sell beer in sets of 6) This made the price waaayyy more appealing and we eventually settled on a place and drank our beers and relaxed and enjoyed our first evening in HK.

When we woke up the next day we went to another dim sum place for breakfast and then walked around exploring some markets near our hostel. I got a pair of 'Beats by Dre' headphones for like $12!!!! (They retail for over $100) So i was pretty pumped about that. After exploring the markets for a while we headed over to the harbor front to the 'Avenue of the Stars.'

The Avenue of the Stars is like Hong Kong's version of Hollywood's Walk of Fame. Its a stretch of promenade adjacent to the harbor that has handprints of famous chinese celebrities. We only recognized a few of the names (Jackie Chan, Jet Lee) but the coolest thing about the Avenue of the Stars is the view. The view of Hong Kong Island from the other side of the harbor is really really amazing. It reminded me of like a smaller, cleaner and newer Manhattan.

So we hung out along the promenade and enjoyed the view of Hong Kong for a bit and then headed back to the hostel to relax before heading back out for dinner.  When we ventured back out to try and find something to eat, almost everything was closed due to it being Lunar New Years Eve. After walking around, we eventually found a dim sum place that was open to have dinner. The rest of the night we bar hopped around the area we were the night before.. people watched at this packed flower market.. played some darts and ended the night by eating some delicious chinese beef brisket soup that we all put WAY too much chili sauce in which resulted us in all getting the spicy hick-ups. Despite the spicy hick-ups, the soup was delicious.

The next day we explored Hong Kong Island and ended up going on a bus tour of the city.  The bus tour was a cool and relaxing way to see the whole island. After the bus tour we explored a pretty sweet park that was in the city.. Hong Kong had a few pretty cool parks. I cant say enough how cool this city is!!

Later in the day we went to the big New Years parade. It was pretty cool but was kinda overhyped. It was SO packed and we could barely see and honestly, as far as parade quality goes,  id take the hollidazle or the macys parade over the new years parade in HK. But, it was still real cool to experience it. During the parade we discovered that they sold dim sum at 7/11!!! Amazing! And it wasnt bad either! Again, Hong Kong is the coolest.

After the parade we checked out the Intercontinental Hotel which we were told has amazing views of Hong Kong.. and we were not disappointed. We all felt pretty cool enjoying drinks and the skyline in one of the fanciest hotels in the city. Then we went over to Lan Kwai Fong which is like the bar/club scene area on Hong Kong island which was also really cool. We had a few drinks and enjoyed the night before heading back to our hostel.

The next day was a BIG day! So we had hostels booked for the first 3 nights we were in HK.. and the last night that we were in HK.. but we were going to Macau (Chinese Vegas) for that night and everything was either booked cause of the new year or too expensive so we were homeless until 2PM the NEXT day when we could check into our final hostel.

We woke up, got suited up in our sweet fitted suits (we thought that Macau was a good opportunity to rock our new suits), grabbed some dim sum lunch in HK and hopped on the ferry over to Macau.

Macau was another really really cool place. Hong Kong was the perfect cool mix of east/west and Macau, being a formerly Portuguese colony, had the super cool feel of european/chinese... plus vegas. There were parts of Macau that we were walking around in that had all of these beautiful European style buildings and cobblestone streets and european-esque squares... all littered with chinese ballons and lights and writing. The city felt really awesome. Parts literally felt like you were in Europe. And then of course there are the HUGE casinos and lights!! One minute we were walking in this quaint european feeling square and the next we were in front of a huge casino and felt like you are in Vegas! Macau was a really cool place to experience.

When we arrived in Macau, we did some exploring, ate some traditional food (which was delicious) and did some more walking around before hitting the casino. We had a LONG night ahead of us so we were in no rush to get anywhere.. When we were done exploring the city, we checked out a few casinos to see what we liked. We began at The Wynn where we found a cigar bar with a really cool garden area that we relaxed in and had a few drinks.. then we relocated to another casino and sat down at the blackjack table.

We played blackjack and a little bit of craps for most of the night and somehow, we all ended up winning $$!! With our winnings, we ordered a dim sum FEAST at like 6am and were trying to ride the high of winning as long as we could. After our meal, we went back to the ferry terminal and took an 8AM ferry back to HK. Once we were back in HK, we wandered around for a while (literally hours) looking for a place where we could just sit and watch sports.. finally we were directed to a part of town, Soho, where we found an awesome restaurant that had western breakfast and was playing ESPN. We waited out the last few hours till we could check into that nights hostel there.

FINALLY, at 2 we went to our hostel and took an extremely needed nap. After the nap, we went down to the Avenue of the Stars to check out the famous light show. Every night, at 8 PM, the skyline of HK island puts on a really sweet light show which im happy we got to see. Then, we headed back to Soho for dinner. Soho ended up being a really sweet part of HK that I am glad we discovered. It was really western and nice and had some amazing looking western restaurants. We settled on this mexican place and the food and drinks were excellent.

Once we finished dinner, we headed back to Lan Kwai Fong and chilled in a hookah bar for a bit, went to this ice bar (pretty cool experience), and then went to this bar/club on the top of a hotel that had really sweet views of the city. It was a fun end to a crazy day and a nice last night in HK.

Hong Kong was everything that i was hoping it to be and more! I can not say enough how much i enjoyed that city. It was just so cool and eastern AND western and i would love to go back there some day.

Heres a link to my pictures from the trip 

Back in Korea things are well. This month ive only had to teach in the afternoons which has been really nice and easy and the new semester starts the beginning of March. The time here continues to FLY and i cant believe that i have almost been here for 6 months!! CRAZY! I continue to really enjoy my experiences and am so happy that i decided to come to Korea.

Hope all is well a home!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Cambodia and Thailand!

Alright so I have quite a bit of catching up to do starting with Dori and my trip to Cambodia and Thailand. In one word the trip was AMAZING! It was everything I was hoping it to be and more and everything worked out so well.

Our trip began the day after the badgers lost in the Rosebowl (bummer, but was a good time regardless). We flew into Phnom Phen Cambodia and arrived around 10 at night. We were greeted by the warm smiles that seemed to be permanently fixed on all of local Cambodian’s faces.. as well as warm weather J (PS. Asian airlines are awesome! Every flight that we took, even if it was less than an hour, served foo!) It was a great start to a great trip.

I loved Phnom Phen. Its this little city on a nice riverside which has a cool promenade with lots of bars and restaurants. In Cambodia, stuff is SO cheap, and things are listed in and they accept USD everywhere so it feels really cheap too.  Meals were maybe 2-4 dollars and these were for nice meals! In korea you can get tons of cheap meals, but they feel kinda like cheap meals. In Cambodia, you can eat really really well for next to nothing. Although the food was so cheap, it was not the same for alcohol (maybe $4ish a drink).  Also, massages were SO CHEAP! Like $6 for an hour massage (we probably got one almost every day of the trip) and there were massage places on every corner.

But anyway, we were staying at this nice little place along the river which was perfect for walking along the main strip. To get around to the other parts of the city we took tuk-tuk which were just mopeds with carriges on the back of them. These guys were everywhere and would take you most places for just a dollar or two.  In our one full day in Phnom Phen we hired a tuk tuk to chauffer us around to the major attractions, which was great.

We went to the killing fields first which were pretty horrifying. So much senseless death.. walking around the fields had a similar feeling to a concentration camp.

After the fields, we went to the Egyptian Market which was just this big market. It was cool.. I got some shirts and that is where we discovered sugarcare and mangosteen!! Both of these are now at the top of my favorite things to eat list and I will most definitely eat as much of them as I possibly can whenever available.

Later that day we checked out the royal palace which was pretty cool.. but honestly you get kinda jaded by all of the crazy but similar architecture. That being said, it was still a pretty sweet place to walk around. After that, we got Dr Fish foot massage!!! I had heard about this a while ago and have been wanting to try it and was glad to finally have the opportunity. Dr Fish foot massage is where you stick your feet in a pool of these little fishes that eat the dead skin off of your feet (or something like that). At first it was honestly a little bit nerve racking and when you first put your feet in the water it takes a lot of restraint not to squirm because it feels so weird/ticklish.. but after you get used to it, it is honestly kinda nice.

Overall Phnom Phen was AWESOME and I would love to go back sometime. The next morning we headed to Siem Riep.

We got to Siem Riep in the afternoon and were pretty burnt out from the long ride so we decided to have a pretty chill first day and just explore the city. Siem Riep was also so cool! They have this Pub Street area which is pretty much a street filled with bars/restaurants and at night they make it pedestrian only so you can walk from bar to bar with your drinks and its no problem. It felt like a SE Asian Beale Street. So our first day in Siem Riep we walked around, got a cheap massage, and got dinner and drinks and hung out around Pub Street. That place gets pretty wild at night and we had a really great time.

The next day we hired a tuk tuk to take us around the major temples in the area highlighted by Ankor Wat. All of the temples were really really cool and crazy and amazing to see but Ankor Wat was definitely the coolest. We climbed around and explored different temples for the morning/afternoon and by the time we were finished were ready to relax by the pool and have another enjoyable night around Pub Street. Also, at one of the temples we rode an elephant!!! That was one of the things on our to-do list and it was definitely an experience. After our ride, we got to feed and pet the elephant which was really really cool.

Overall Cambodia was amazing! I am so glad that I got to go there and experience it! Everyone is so nice and everything is so cheap and its just a great place to see. The next day we took a flight to Bangkok.

That afternoon in Bangkok we went to the Royal Palace which is home to the Emerald Buddah. It was cool to see and to walk around the gardens and stuff but again, you kinda get jaded by all of these temples and palaces.. but it was still cool.
That night Dori wasn’t feeling well so we just hung out at our hotel and went to bed early.

The next day we woke up and took a flight down to Krabi en route to Ton Sai Bay on the SW coast of Thailand.  To get there, we took a cab from the airport to Ao Nang bay where the only means of getting to Ton Sai is by longboat.  We decided to go to Ton Sai on the very very very high recommendation of a good friend of Dori’s.. so needless to say our expectations for this beach were very high.

We arrived and checked into our hut which was just a few minutes walk from the beach and very soon learned what a gem Ton Sai bay really was. Its pretty much this stip of hippie beach filled with rock climbers (Ton Sai is knows for its rock climbing) and people rocking dreads. It was not touristy at all and the food was cheap and the music good and this place was about as close to paradise as anywhere that I have ever been. Its really just this amazing strip of beach scattered with restaurants and bars in the Thai jungle.  I can not do this place justice at all by describing it, it was just that cool.

While we were there we spend our days eating pad thai, mango and sticky rice, tom tum, playing in the water, playing chess, watching the rock climbers and monkeys and just chilled out. One morning I played with some boatmans pet monkey which was SO COOL! I know this seems obvious, but monkeys are crazy good climbers and it was so fun to have them climbing all over me.

One afternoon we hiked through a bit of jungle that separated Ton Sai with the more touristy Reilley beach. The travel books raved more about Reilley beach and when we asked anyone on Ton Sai about it, all they would say is that it was ‘touristy’. I didn’t even know what they meant by that but wanted to see it for myself. So we hiked through the jungle separating the two beaches (which itself was amazing.. one of the many highlights of the trip) and arrived at Reilley Beach to find it… touristy. It was more crowded with more obnoxious chachke shops and more expensive and compared to Ton Sai was just annoying. We grabbed a snack and smoothie there and then quickly heaed back to Ton Sai. On our way back, instead of climb through the jumgle we decided to swim which ended up being really cool as well.

Our time in Ton Sai was really really amazing and we were really sad to leave it.. I could not be happier that we chose Ton Sai out of the many many different beaches in Thailand and would love to return and just bum around there for a while some day. But alas, after our few days we headed over to Ko Samui which is an island off the east coast.

Getting to Ko Samui was so obnoxious.. a longtail ride.. a cramped thai taxi.. 2 annoying bus rides and a ferry later we arrived at our place on Ko Samui. The only nice thing about this journey was on the ferry to the island we got hour foot massages for just a few dollars J The whole transit though was annoying and long.

Once we arrived at our beautiful place, all of our tensions were gone and we were back in paradise. Our place on Ko Samui was really really relaxing. A lot of nice meals and walks on the beach and just enjoying the beach and each other. The reason that we chose ko Samui as our other place to go was because of the famous full moon parties which take place on the nearby island of Ko Phagnan every full moon and we had heard were the wildest parties ever. The full moon didn’t happen to coincide with our trip, so we opted for the half moon party (not as cool as the full moon party but still quite an experience.)

There were supposed to be ferrys  running from Ko Samui to Ko Phagnan hourly throughout the evening and night, so we were planning on taking an evening ferry and coming back whenever we felt like it in the middle of the night. But, our hotel informed us at around 6 PM that because the half moon party was smaller than the full moon party, only normal ferrys were scheduled which meant the last ferry to depart was at 630 PM and the first ferry in the morning was at 7AM. We quickly decided that despite this, we still had to go to this party. So we quickly got our stuff together and raced to the port and made the final ferry over to Ko Samui.

In Ko Samui, we grabbed dinner and walked around and got another massage to kill time before the party started. While we were walking around, we also found out that there WERE ferrys running throughout the night which was a huge relief to us because we didn’t really want to have to wait until 7AM to go back to our place on Ko Samui.

So eventually we head to this party in the jungle with tons of cheap buckets of alcohol and neon lights everywhere and drank and danced and enjoyed until we decided we were tired and wanted to begin our journey home. Overall the party was cool, but from what we gathered not quite as cool as the full moon party. It was still quite an experience though.

We hardly slept that night and spend our last day in Ko Samui just lounging around and recovering from the night before. The next day we departed for one more day in Bangkok.

We arrived in Bangkok in the aftternoon and walked around the city and just explored. I really liked Bangkok, it was pretty cool. That night, for dinner we went to this nice restaurant on like the 30th floor of a building that had amazing views of the cit. After we went to the red light district and bar hopped and had a really fun last night in Thailand.

Then we had a really nice few days back in Korea before Dori left to go back home L.  The trip was so so so amazing just as was the time with Dori. Everything was as good or better than I ever imagined.

Back in Korea things are really really good. Ive only had to work in the afternoons which has been great. It seems the longer I am  here, the more I am enjoying Korea. It is such a cool and hilarious country and I am so happy with my decision to spend the year here. Korea has been, and continues to be just a great experience that I am sure I will look back on positively for the rest of my life.

Now I am en route to Hong Kong for the lunar new year for another adventure. Hope all is well back home! I wrote this on the plane ride to HGK so sorry for not putting pictures on here.. there are a bunch up on facebook if you want to check them out!