Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Rural experience in HK - Lamma Island

One of the goals of this trip to Hong Kong was to explore the further reaches of the territory. So today we got onto a ferry and went to Lamma Island, a small island about a 30min boat ride SW of HK. Cruising west out of Victoria Harbour it is interesting how the dense concrete jungle suddenly ends at a steep hill at the sea's edge and is replaced by thick green vegetation. You're reminded that you are in fact close to the tropics.
Leaving the rows upon rows of 40-storey apartment buildings behind, we pull into Yung Shue Wan that has just a smattering of 3-storey buildings.  Disembarking and walking along the quiet main street (you can actually hear birds chirping!) it feels as though we went from downtown Toronto to small-town Manitou. Except here there are large tanks of fish, abalone, scampi, clams and prawns at the side of the small street and there are no vehicles, aside from these neat little lawnmower engine-powered trucks.
Our purpose here is to do a walk from one end of the island to the other. Julie got the info from and it said it would take about 4hrs. We got a little bit lost at first trying to get out of the village (having a GPS-enabled tablet is pretty handy!) but we found it, and armed with a waffle slathered in peanut butter and condensed milk, we wandered off down the sidewalk in the shade of the large trees.
Shortly a beach comes into view and with the sun trying to burn through the clouds, it's almost tempting to take a dip, but the sign that says "stay within shark net" makes one think twice. After the beach the path goes upwards out of the trees and into the drier grasslands. We stop for a snack at one of the half-dozen pavilions (rest shelters) that dot the route.
Coming down out of the hills a final pavilion offers a grand view of the bay and the village of Sok Kwu Wan. Walking through the village, seafood restaurants hawk their catch with the catch phrase that the ferry doesn't leave for over an hour - enough time for lunch! We take the bait (pardon the pun?) and sit down at a seaside place after the lady convinced us of her set menu lunch and julie bargained for some sweet'n'sour. HK$198 got us a plate of clams (slathered in a tasty spicy black bean sauce), shrimp, calamary [sic] and our first taste of abalone, served in the shell.  We actually had to get the server to get the meat out of the shell for us since we'd never done it before.  The sun came out and it was quite nice sitting there next to the boats bobbing in the water. Couldn't enjoy it for too long as we had to chug the final bites and dash to the ferry.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Lan Kwai Fong - we love this place!

5:20pm on Sunday, touchdown in HK!
We're getting to be pros at this now - I even remembered the bank machine at the airport that lets you withdraw a higher limit. And with our experience from last time with the airport-hotel shuttles, we easily sailed into the city (which was surprisingly dark already) gazing at the lights of the skyscrapers. Stepping out of the shuttle bus I immediately smell the familiar scent of the place - something like humid fried noodles, followed shortly by that sweet lemongrass scent that Holiday Inns in Asia manage to all smell like.
We're located in Sheung Wan and only a 10 minute walk to our favourite party place Lan Kwai, a concentrated block of restaurants and bars.  This weekend they were hosting their own version of Carnival.  The narrow streets were even more crowded with tourists and locals crammed in between small booths on the side of the street selling beers, sangria and rum punch, plus an assortment of food.  Suddenly we spotted a dense crowd blocking the street. Getting there all we could see was what we could view on people's camera/phone screens in front of us.  But then the drums started and feathers bobbed above the crowd and there we were - in the midst of a Carnival parade!
Guessing that they'd be coming round the block in a while, we ventured off the other way and got a nice big glass of sangria in time to see the parade come by.  Drums banging, whistles blowing! It was pretty fun!  For some reason, after the parade passed by, we became photo subjects - must be Julie's Latino looks?

We capped off the night with some tapas at a Spanish restaurant Boqueria high above the street. Amusingly they described their wines as "earthy, crisp, rich and elegant".  Since Julie couldn't decipher the wine descriptions and didn't want a sweet cocktail, she tried making her own from Campari.  Fail.  But my beer was good.  Oh, and they had bacon-wrapped dates. :-)

I love HK

If in doubt, add more wine

We just finished watching the movie "Hemingway and Gellhorn" and you could say I've been inspired to start writing! That and we're 12.5 hours into a 14-hour flight from Vancouver to Hong Kong.  It's such a long flight that you can't really comprehend it; nothing else takes 14 hours to compare with it.  For example, we're about to eat for the third time - do I really need another meal? Especially after I've essentially been eating Julie's as well? (It baffles us that they don't know the ingredients of the meals they're serving us.)   Did Julie really need four mini-bottles of shiraz-grenache? The answer to all questions is likely no, but hey, we're on vacation!
Overall it's been an enjoyable flight; one that may reinstill my faith in Air Canada. Our stewardesses have been very nice ladies, even snagging Julie a meal from first class that was dairy-free. The one french woman was quick to dole out disciplinary advice to a young mom ahead of us - apparently there were no fights in her house and her boys did their chores.
For the record, sitting in the very last row of a Boeing 777 is actually quite good: there's nobody behind you kicking your seat, you're in a row of just two seats, you're close to the galley (more wine please!) and the toilets (maybe too much wine?) and since it's a big plane there are multiple lavatories so there's no queue of people standing beside you. 
Also for the record, it's almost worth the flight to Vancouver for the sushi. The fresh, thick-cut slabs of wild salmon were sumptuous, and cheap too!  Need to thank our hosts last night, the Jamans (old university friend and former roommate from the hey days of 369) who made us feel welcome and suggested the sushi from a strip-mall restaurant. His cute three-year-old daughter gave us a glimpse of the princess fixation that Julie's two-year-old niece will possibly soon develop. (Oh, I've just been informed that that fixation has already developed.)

Well, the drink cart's coming round again. I'm almost surprised that this flight's almost over.  Time to sign off.

Why do we do this?

<p>Trip planning can go two ways; on one hand you're super excited to read about the places you want to go and see and experience. On the other, it's a test of negotiation and time management when you realize you cannot possibly do it all within your given time frame.<br>
There are over 7000 islands in the Philippines - you try picking the idyllic palm-fringed one that you want to go to! How to choose? Well, we both want to do some scuba-diving, and windsurfing and I've got the plethora of suggestions from the Filipinos at work. So we're trying to evaluate the islands on their merits of satisfying those two activities. Not easy. <br>
We're definitely going to a place called Palawan that I've had my eye on for years. It's purported to be one of those "frontier" places, where everything's a bit more natural and rustic. The big tourist draw here is the underground river; an 8km long cave with a river in it that flows out to the sea. Beyond that, there are numerous tiny little islands with their own quaint, white sand beaches that you can lay claim to all on your own. <br>
Aside from Palawan, we don't know where we'll go. Boracay ("bor-ACK-ay", not "bora-kay") is PHP's version of Cancun, with loads of nightlife and some of the best windsurfing around. A small place closer to Manila is Puerto Galera. Not much of a town, or beach, but better diving.  Finally there's Bohol, which I'm thinking is the best combo of beach, diving and hopefully windsurfing. It's also much touted by my Phils friends.</p>
<p>The drawbacks of travelling, especially the self-tour style that we do, is the scheduling and research.  A couple weeks ago Air Asia decided to move our connecting flight ahead by 3 hours, which essentially mucked up the entire flight from HKG to Palawan. At times like these we we sort of wish we just booked a tour and someone else could deal with this.  It took a while but they eventually refunded our fare. It's too bad since we scored one of their great $25 seat sales. <br>
A few last-minute cram sessions in the evenings before our departure will certainly be a test of negotiations.
In the meantime, we almost totally forgot about planning Hong Kong! But fortunately that is quite easy by simply visiting and checking out the events.  It's food and wine month! :-)