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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Hong Kong

As I prepare this last blog on the trip we are seated in the AC lounge in Hong Kong. This morning we left our hotel to make our breakfast purchases. It was about 8:00 am, early by HK standards and the hawkers and fruit peddlers were just opening. The freshness of the morning air, the sounds of Hong Kong reverberating in our ears, we made our way up the alley, then down the next street until we found the bakery. Fresh baking just laid out in the display cases was quickly being purchased, and we made our selections and left. What an amazing experience this has been! We have enjoyed so much in such a short one mth period, from seeing our grand-children after 1 yr. grow up so much, to the new home Shannon and Jim have, to Jet boating, snorkeling, sailing, elephant riding, bike riding in Cambodia, New Years in Singapore, touring virtually the whole west coast of Malaysia by car and finally Hong Kong, experiencing life on the streets as it is every day. All we can say is WOW! We're looking forward to having some time to rest. Please read on for Hong Kong!
Hong Kong from Victoria Peak

This trip could really be called the “Big 3 Tour”, in recognition of the size of the 3 large cities visited, Hong Kong being the largest population wise while KL is largest in area, still huge population wise, and Singapore, the least Asian, but cleanest city likely on the planet. That of course would be a dis-service to Phuket and Siem Reap which were so unique to stay in our hearts forever.
Us at Vic Peak
Hong Kong is working at becoming as efficient a city as Singapore but with 7 million plus residents its tough. Also Singapore is a flatter terrain to work within while Hong Kong is set in some mountainous islands with a connection to mainland China. The enormity of the city was somewhat prefaced by the size of airplane we took to get there from KL. It was a jumbo jetliner with close to a 1000 passengers on it. We have never experienced loading like that before when they announced they would begin loading from rows 62- 85. What!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  And the seating was 10 across, in a classic 3-4-3 arrangement, with a second floor for business and first classes.

2 Girls Selfie

On arrival in HK we decide to make the most of the remainder of the day by catching a quick meal at Tsim Chai Kim Noodle, a Wonton noodle place that ranks #29 of 4074 ranked food places on Trip Advisor. In typical Chinese fashion the place has a series of tables, mostly bench-like where people will seat next to one another to eat regardless of whether they know each other or not.Our second time there it was so busy we were seated with in the back where the staff eat. What the heck…. It is unbelievable wonton soup with super large prawns in them. We also know why the Chinese slurp so much now… a habit we have picked up!
Next onto the mid-level  walkways. These elevated walkways begin at the International Finance Centre (IFC) and using the world’s longest escalator system they allow people to rise above the traffic and narrow streets as the terrain gains altitude. We made our way using these walkways back to the IFC. Along the way we found hundreds of Pilipino women sitting together
Sunday on the elevated walkways
on cardboard, playing cards, talking on their cellphones and generally socializing in small groups. Sandra asked what they were doing there and it happens every Sunday when they have their day off from housekeeping/maid duties and they are away from their families back in the Philippines, they go there to socialize. And every Sunday night after 8 pm. The Hong Kong civil service cleans up the cardboard as they leave.
Finally we get to the Star Ferries, an iconic service in Hong Kong since there were Chinese Junks plying the harbor. We boarded a ferry for Kowloon for $3.40 HK
Riding the Star Ferry to Kowloon
Dollars, that’s less than 50 cents CAN. To see the Light Show that comes on nightly at 8 pm. Similar to Singapore’s, except this is a much more imposing skyline, and the orchestration is done much better. We really enjoyed the amazing laser lights that went on.










Hong Kong at Night - always a mist in the Air
Today we started out at the Chinese bakery a few blocks away “Tai Cheong “  #68, in listings and had Chicken pot pies and shared an egg tart for breakfast along with coffee and juice. A breakfast for Chinese Champions!! Delicious!!!
Onto the Victoria Tram, a funicular type railway that climbs up Victoria peak and allows a stunning view of the Hong Kong skyline. When you see the price of $75 HKD you might think wow that expensive, but it is really only about $10 CAN.
While standing in the line… you do that a lot here…. I noticed and pointed out to Sandra two Chinese girls dressed up in little school girl outfits, wearing colored Boller Hats and glasses. On closer look I noticed the glasses didn’t even have lens in them, they were just costume glasses. Weirdoooooooooooos!!!
Frames have no lens










Later we headed on a walk of old Sheun Wan, an area of HK that dates back to early times. Here we found the park that identifies and grows all the herbs used in Chinese medicine and has a Statue of the Chinese God of Healing  “Wong Tai Sin” .

Reflections HK is a nice City
Chinese New Year Feb 1. Year of the Horse
Next to Man Mo Temple the oldest shrine in Hong Kong.
Wong Tai Sin




WALKING THE SIDE STREETS
Walking the Side Streets, Meat and Fish Hawkers

Funeral Caskets Different Shape
Old Printing press in Use
Sandra with Old Press in Use
Pretty Funny Eh?
Oh! That's not funny at all!

Streets in the morning

Monday, January 13, 2014

Melaka

Mosque on re-claimed sea in Melaka from our hotel window
Quote for World Heritage Org.
Outstanding Universal Value
Melaka and George Town, Malaysia, are remarkable examples of historic  colonial towns on the Straits of Malacca that demonstrate a succession of historical and cultural influences arising from their former function as trading ports linking East and West. These are the most complete surviving historic city centres on the Straits of Malacca with a multi-cultural living heritage originating from the trade routes from Great Britain and Europe through the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent and the Malay Archipelago to China. Both towns bear testimony to a living multi-cultural heritage and tradition of Asia, where the many religions and cultures met and coexisted. They reflect the coming together of cultural elements from the Malay Archipelago, India and China with those of Europe, to create a unique architecture, culture and townscape.

Porto de Santiago Portugeuse 1511-1641
The last of our stops in Malaysia is in Melaka, 153 kms. south of KL. It is an old city designated as a WHS along with Georgetown. While they were both designated at the same time they are two distinctly different cities. The draw here was the old port town built along the river which was a terrific port away from the sea somewhat and the typhoons that used to come over from Sumatra on the other side of the Straits.


You can see the Portuguese influence during their command of the seas, then later the Dutch, and finally the British who finally granted Malaysia it’s independence Aug. 31st 1956.
The Dutch period 1641-1795








Victoria Fountain, The Brits 1795- 1941 then 1945-1956
The River Walk
Entrance to Jonkers Street, the Chinese quarter
Considered the Birthplace of modern Malaysia in 1956

Modern Malaysian Flag

On our return of our 5 day car rental we covered 1400 kms. Most tourists that we spoke to along the way were shocked to hear that we rented a car to tour rather than take an arranged tour. (Shhhh...it's part of why it's an adventure) We chuckled, since we talked while on the shuttle bus from the Hotel to the resort that " Aren't we glad we don't have to put up with this?" . The company we dealt with is Mayflower, and they delivered and picked up the car from our daughter's place, and immediately offered us a refund without prompting when we returned the car 2 hours earlier than arranged. Pretty good service I'd say for a GWV ( Gutless Wonder Vehicle)

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Batu Caves, Cameron Highlands and Penang


Batu Caves and Lord Murugan

Cathedral Cave
One of the major Hindu Shrines outside India is just on the northern outskirts of KL. And Shannon wanted to take us there. There are 272 steps to reach the ‘Cathedral Cave’. In addition there is a statue of  Lord Murugan, the Hindu god of war and victory adjacent to the steps. It is quite an imposing sight to see, but is also a major tourist attraction which does detract from its pilgrimage purpose. Every year in late January there is a pilgrimage here and up to 300,000 Hindu’s will descend on this place. Fortunately for us, it was a quiet day when we attended.

Sandra and Shannon at the Caves









Independence Day
No, not the first or fourth of July, it’s just we have got wheels now to tour Malaysia without calling on Shannon, or a Tuk Tuk or Teksi, to take us somewhere. We head out Sunday to Cameron highlands, an area NE of KL ( approx.. 250 kms) at an elevation of 5000 ft. where Jim Thompson, a Brit, was instrumental in introducing tea production there. The road in (Hwy 59) is likely the twistiest road I have ever driven in a car, perhaps even a bike, and I’m driving it on the left side of the road in a right hand drive vehicle, a Nissan Almera.
Almera can you say gutless



This vehicle is gutless, but new with only 6300 kms on it. At day’s end, it has 450 kms more and it worked for every one of them. Shortly after heading out of town we spot a vehicle which has gone off the road, done a head on with a massive tree, and it caught fire and burnt both the car and tree, in the last while. I think well maybe I might take a pic and send it to the kids to joke about what happened to the ‘first’ car, but then I think it would be Bad Karma. And that’s big here.


The road up crosses through some serious jungle, and I take a um, break for a minute and get eaten alive with mosquitoes. Next we stop at a beautiful waterfall area
Waterfall on the way in
with tons of vehicles stopped and a number of stalls selling deep fried whatever they can get their hands on, bananas, Rambutan, etc. Sandra and I both buy Rambutan for RM 1.5 each and they are delicious. As we continue up I see a very flat area in the valley that looks like freshly planted red earth fields. As we continue on we see that the fields have little wavelets on them and then I realize it is actually the referred to lake with a beautiful old English lodge overlooking it. Hmmm… not exactly Kananaskis Lake.


Higher we climb, and we begin running into the tea fields, whole mountainsides that have been tiered by hand and planted in various teas. One of the growers has a tea stand where you can buy a cup of tea, and/or purchase bulk tea. We try two, a black tea, and an orange tea, and exchange cups. 


Wow, the orange tea is unbelievably flavorful. We reach the tourist centres of the highlands which are the Malaysian equivalents to our
Brown Lake
 Banff and we check the time. Oh Oh… we are starting to run late, due to sightseeing but mainly this unbelievable twisty road, and slow gutless drivers/cars on it.
I do my impression of Stirling Moss, (picked since this area has British influence), and head back down the mountain in the direction of Ipoh where we get access to the Expressway to Butterworth/ Penang island. 

Tea Fields

Unfortunately along the way we are slowed by a fatal accident involving a small scooter driver. If you see how they operate here, they take that risk every minute of every day. No other vehicle was involved. We also note that several of the lorries (trucks) have armed escorts. Sandra notices this and comments to me. It seems odd but then once we are in Georgetown we get the morning paper and read this article.
Lorry Story, Yikes!
Hmmm…. Not as safe as in KL.


As we join the expressway north the area is gorgeous in scenery with mountains very similar in shape to the Phi Phi islands, but we drop seeing them from time to time as huge downpours of rain sweep though as we race north. At each overpass now we see huge collections of scooter drivers waiting out this latest rain, and I mean likely 75-100 under every underpass.
We finally cross over the toll bridge onto Pulau Penang, (Pulau meaning island) and the town of Georgetown. Our final destination here is the Trader’s hotel, an amazing 5 star hotel close to our walking tour, and at very reasonable rates. We booked the Trader’s club floor which includes both breakfast and a hosted evening wine and appetizers event each evening. Let’s be careful now… this doesn’t fit our motorcycle travel lifestyle. 450 kms later we enjoy some excellent red wine and great company with some Swiss people and a journalist who has some very interesting insight into modern day Russia and Putin.

Touring Penang
Rested, we head out in the 33C temperatures armed with our Google Nexus 7, and a walking tour of the religious groups that populate this region.
Yap Temple
Yap Kongsi

Spectacular Art
Coupled with several other highlights Sandra identified, Kek Lok Si temple  and Kuan Yin statue and the Mansion we saw in downtown Georgetown made it a full tour day.
Acheen Muslim Temple
Kapitan Keling Mosque
St George's Anglican


Kuan Yin Statue

Then we leveraged our stay at the Trader’s Hotel, part of the Shangri-La chain, and took a shuttle bus to their Golden Sands Resort and spent a day at the beach, swimming, and having lunch by the pool. Wow are we spoiled.
Parasailing

Shangri-La Hotel Sandra in Foregrd.

Owwwwwwww!!!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Singapore


Singapore at Night
The contrast between Siem Reap and Singapore is incredible. In just 3 hrs we flew from a 3rd world nation to a sophisticated 1st world nation that is so well developed we in Canada could learn a lot from it.
Fireworks Happy New Year 2014
Happy New Year from Lafiandra Singapore

And in typical fashion  (i.e. planning for no delays) we flew in New Years Eve for a dinner reservation I had made at Lafiandra Trattoria while planning the trip. And guess what, it all worked and we arrived just in time, then went to Marina Bay for the 2014 Fireworks to bring in the New Year. 300,000 revellers came down to take part. Amazingly orderly, the Fireworks celebrations were fantastic. To feel the energy of this many people celebrating, sitting on the grass at midnight in 31C temperatures, in shorts is something we will never forget.
Celebrants
And Singapore is known as one of the main New Year’s celebration cities in the world along with Times Square in New York. We have really set the bar pretty high for the future.


Singapore has approximately 5.3 million citizens and highly diverse. Also striking is the amount of people who can speak English fluently, and the friendliness of its people. When we first got on the plane to Asia Sandra said, “prepare to be in the minority”. And yet during this whole trip we have never felt that way.

On New Year’s Day we were walking through a market close to our hotel in Bugis.
Fort Canning Friends
On several occasions as we observed some celebration taking place, one an Indian temple celebration and on another a Buddhist celebration, Asians would smile at us, then approach and begin explaining what we were witnessing. It felt to us they were welcoming our interest in their celebrations and wanted us to understand. Like in Cambodia we were met with many smiles, and here they are very well spoken in English.

Later in the evening we wanted to see the Marina Sands Light Show, so we returned downtown. There we watched the city-scape explode to become this gorgeous night skyline. And the architecture here specifically the Marina Sands area is so unique, where they have 3 towers (actually six that merge to 3) in which they have a large ship atop that straddles them. You can see that this end of the world has incredible wealth associated to buildings.
St Andrews Cathedral



Singapore has had a lot of British influence starting with General Canning who wanted a rest spot between the Far East China and Britain. Of course that port in China was Hong Kong which we will visit later. Singapore became that intermediate port, and Malaysia became the centre for tin mining for Britain. All this took place in the 1800’s. We got a chance to visit a cemetery in Fort Canning Park that revealed merchant sailors from all over the world that died on ships in the harbor or while establishing business relations. These were truly the adventures of our world.









Fullerton Christmas scene

Fullerton Stairway

Merlion with the Fullerton Hotel $$$$$ in the background
Lambo

Maserati

Chocolate Ice Cream sandwiches in white bread
Post Modern Architecture

Sculptures on Sentosa Island