Sunday, May 26, 2013

Koh Samui

We arrived on Koh Samui with a hotel booking for 5 nights (at the strong urging of some great fellow world travelers we met on Koh Tao (thanks Michelle and Martin!) and very quickly fell in love and extended our stay to two weeks. And really, the only reason we're leaving after two weeks is that our visa will run out and we aren't particularly keen on sightseeing on the inside of a Thai prison.

We hopped on the ferry to Koh Samui and had an adventure right off the bat! The last passenger to board was a local guy on a stretcher, with a nurse holding his IV bag. They brought him onto the ferry (presumably to go to the better hospital on Koh Samui) and put his stretcher on the floor at the front of the main cabin, just up against all the luggage. And when the ferry docked, do you think the passengers thought, gosh, I think I'll let the dying man go first? No! Everybody rushed the front to get their luggage and be the first to disembark in paradise!! Cory and I held back, and by the time we got to the luggage, discovered the blood all over the floor from stretcher guy. Yummy!

Koh Samui is a much larger island than Koh Tao (it's the second largest island in Thailand, after Phuket) and has lots to see and do all over. At Michelle's suggestion, we booked ourselves at Sunday's Sanctuary, a resort set in the jungle at the north end of the island, in the area of Bophut. We arrived and fell in love! 

The sanctuary is at the top of a local road above a beautiful temple, with raised wooden walkways carrying you over the foliage to different outcroppings of thatched roof rooms and a mountain building in back where we stayed. The staff are friendly, the pool is a delight after a long day of sightseeing, and the muesli breakfast is a delicious start to the day! Sure, there are some (read: lots of!!) bugs, there's no internet in the rooms, the TV is older than I am (and has no remote!), and it gets unbearably hot when the power goes out on the island (every few days or so). But at $20 US per night, with a scooter rental of $6.75 US per day, a sanctuary it is!!

Typical breakfast view
Our days here typically involve sleeping in until around 8am, going to breakfast to check email, blog, and eat, maybe followed by a swim in the pool and some reading time. Then around lunch we head out on the scooter to adventure, find a beachside bar to play dominoes and share a beer while the sun sets, then dinner and home to snooze after a big day "at the office!" Rather than blog about each day, we'll just list our island highlights and adventures:

Visiting with kitties at the Dog and Cat Rescue
Samui Dog and Cat Rescue: After so many days of self-indulgence we thought it might be nice to volunteer to help the island, and came across a great opportunity, at the Samui Dog and Cat Rescue. The shelter takes in cats and dogs from all over the island (and there are A LOT of them!), spays, neuters and takes care of any other medical needs, keeps them for observation as long as needed and then returns them to their island home. Or keeps them at the shelter forever after if their prior home is not a good option. They welcome volunteers and visitors wholeheartedly, even to just pet the animals. So pet them we did!! We got to the shelter, let ourselves in and found the cat house, an open sheltered room with about 40 cats, all looking for some love. We plunked down on the floor of the house and got swarmed with love!! We had a nice hour of petting and playing before it was time to head out, and I think it's safe to say that we enjoyed it just as much (more maybe more) as the kitties did!! As the shelter does all of their work at no cost, they are always looking for donations to help them help the animals of the island. If you'd like to contribute to this great shelter, you can do so at

Our best friend on Samui
Inland Adventures: We took our scooter to the interior of the island, all lush jungle and water buffalo grazing under the palm trees. There are some impressively nice, smooth concrete roads winding through the jungle, though we passed some less fortunate tourists on our trip up an incredibly steep hill. One guy was going down the hill too slow and his bike toppled over (he was ok) and another couple had a bike that couldn't make it up the hill, so she rode to the top while he walked straight up in the hill in 92+ degree heat. Ouch! As we continued on through the forest (following a terribly unspecific tourist map), we came to a junction and we trying to figure out which way to go. And then three other scooters pulled up and we asked the way. One of them, Max, was an exuberant Brit who knew the area and said, "if you see a road and you want to know where it goes, take it!!" so we followed them down the road to what was supposed to be a beautiful vista.

Thank goodness we were following them, because that road soon turned into a dirt track, partly washed out from this season's rains. Then it clearly became a 4x4 track. Then it stopped altogether at the edge of a local man's outbuilding. We parked the bikes to walk to the end but the local man waved us through…his building. So we drove through, and down a grass meadow to find the road picked up again. We kept following Max and ended up at a stunning vista overlooking the entire north side of the island. And despite all the challenge to get there, and the fact that we certainly would have given up if we weren't following someone else, there was another local guy with a cooler of drinks to sell anyone who might make it all the way there!

The vista view; our exuberant gude, Max;  Cory's drive through the building; the Thai Spirit House (presumably for the guy selling drinks)

The empty pool at O2 Beach Club
O2 Beach Club: We went out for a drive on our trusty scooter around the east side of the island to explore, and happened to turn off the main ring road onto a street that looked promising. We drove for a bit through jungly trees, following a sign that said "free beach access." That access turned out to be the O2 Beach Club. I had seen an ad for this place in a magazine here, and it looked like spring-break-woo-hoo, thumping music, drunk coeds and overpriced drinks (so not our scene per se). It turned out to be a lovely sparkling pool surrounded by loungers next to a secluded bay with a sandy beach and more loungers. And there was not a soul in sight (the odd beauty of arriving during the hot season I suppose). I asked a bartender who was napping in the shade about the cost of the club, and he said it was all free. Seriously?!!? So we hunkered down (Cory was a little suspicious of "free" but loosened up when our favorite new bartender opened up a beach umbrella and laid out fluffy towels for us, all with that typical Thai smile), ordered up a couple of fresh coconuts and went for a dip in the ocean (followed by reading in the loungers, a dip in the pool, more lounging, you get the idea!). And sure, the coconuts were more expensive than other places, and we tipped him well as we would likely be his only customers that day, but it was a steal of an experience for the $9 we ended up paying in total.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Koh Tao

After three hectic nights in Bangkok, we decided it was time to head to the islands for some R and R, and set our sights on Koh Tao. We had heard that it was a tropical paradise, known for diving and snorkeling, and that it had fewer people (and we assumed less touristy stuff) than many of Thailand's other beachy islands. And what we found was that all of that was somewhat true.

We bought an overnight train-bus-ferry combo ticket at the Bangkok train station for about $50 US each, which is quite a lot of transit for the money! And if you read my last blog entry, you know how the train went! When we arrived in Chumphon at 4:30am after a fitful night of sleep (between the nagging fear that you're going to miss your 4:30am stop, and the drunk men singing, it can be tough to sleep!), we waited for our bus on the train platform with about 30 or so backpackers in their early 20's waiting to go to Koh Tao. That should have been a sign that maybe it wasn't the right island for us. 

There are two companies that provide train/bus/ferry combo tickets, and we apparently chose the discount company. We did save a few bucks, but when we saw the other company's shiny AC filled bus and pretty catamaran, and compared it with our chicken bus (yeah, there was actually a chicken sleeping on the roof when the bus arrived) and our in-danger-of-sinnking ferry (just kidding, Elaine, it wasn't THAT bad!), we were pretty sure we should have spent the extra money. A couple of hours later and we were on Koh Tao. 

In the pick-up truck taxi
On first glance, it was a beautiful, lush, green island with sandy beaches and palm tree-filled jungles all the way from the top of the peak to the water. In our attempt to avoid the touristy backpacker hostel main pier area, we booked at the secluded Montalay Beach Resort, on the southeast side of the island. Someone from the hotel was waiting to take us from the pier, which was a nice surprise. Also a surprise was that our chariot was a bench in the back bed of a pickup truck. Well this is an adventure!!

We hopped in for the 10 minute drive to the other side of the island, straight over the peak on a crazy steep dirt road. The resort was beautiful, though certainly secluded. Other than the hotel restaurant, there were two other restaurants that we could walk to, and we soon learned that if we wanted to take a taxi to the main town area, it would cost about $12 US per person, round trip (more than the meal we would buy once we got to town!). I quickly found that Thailand is not as cheap as I had come to believe (ok, it's not exactly pricey, but Koh Tao has such a tourist presence - and not much of a local presence that we could find - that prices were quite high on the island). Granted, our beautiful resort on the beach was only $30 per night, but if wanted to have AC, that would cost another $30 per night (we elected to melt under the fan instead partly because of the budget, and partly because of the principle of the thing!). 

Diving in to island life!
Once we (ok, I) decided to enjoy our resort and stop bitching about the budget (to be fair, Cory told me I had to stop bitching and enjoy the best way possible of course!) we had a great time! The pool was stunning, overlooking the peaceful Tanote Bay, we went for three amazing snorkeling trips right off the beach, and from the comfort of our room, we enjoyed one of the best thunder and lightening storms I have ever witnessed!

View of the pool and beach at Montalay
We elected not to rent an underwater camera (you know, the budget and all) and I figured I could just google pictures of the fish we saw to show on the blog. But either my googling skills are out of practice, or people just don't post the fish we saw, so words will have to work. 

When I was a little girl, we used to go to the Steinhardt Aquarium on Sunday afternoons. All of you young San Franciscans in the mid-late 80's will remember the magic of the Fish Roundabout, an aquarium where you the kid were in the middle while the fish swam around you in magical circles. Snorkeling in Tanote Bay brought me back to that magical place. I should share here that I'm terrified of fish swimming with me (especially when I can't see them) so snorkeling is something I love doing, but freaks me out pretty sufficiently. And in Tanote Bay, there were massive numbers of fish! We swam with schools of tiny, sparkly fish (just like in Finding Nemo, but I thought they might decide to spell out "Thailand is for Lovers"), beautiful oval fish in colors that looked like they were headed out to the 80's dance at their sorority, schools of long, pointy nosed fish that swam along the top of the water. Swimming hand in hand through the tropical water, it felt like we were on a honeymoon (not our honeymoon, because we had a perfect cold two weeks in Canada, but it certainly felt like someone's honeymoon).

Five nights of seclusion was lovely but enough, and it was time to start looking for our next home away from home. We met a lovely couple who are also traveling the world, who recommended Koh Samui, another island with some more to do, and we thought, "what the heck! Let's go!" But that story is for another time...

Pretty pictures of us enjoying paradise

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Letting Go

I write this entry from the cozy top bunk of my curtained sleeper train car on the way from Bangkok to Chumphon (all to get us to the paradise of Koh Tao or "turtle island").  On the other side of my curtained cubicle is a bunch of loud, drunk Dutch men who just won't shut up and let me sleep. And I am learning to let go. 

I haven't yet decided if this is like trying to sleep in an urban hospital emergency room, or if it's more like sleeping on the couch of a fraternity common room on a Saturday night (sorry, Max!). Maybe a little bit of both. And that's what this trip is about for me. It's about seeing the world - the temples, vistas, heritage sites. But it's more about seeing myself. And one month in, I'm seeing a WASPy, stressed-out person who's pretty set in her ways.

Oh my god, they're in a chorus of "one night in bangkok". Goody!!

Our train car :)
So far, the people of the world have driven me crazy. In Hong Kong, the mainland Chinese would rather shove me to the ground (and tried desperately) in order to be the first one on the tram (on which all of us in line will easily fit). And the Hong Kongers meander slowly down the center of the sidewalk, reading their cell phones, swinging their umbrellas right at my eyeballs. And the noise! Whether its whistling on the metro to one's own music, yelling into the phone for an entire bus journey, or singing 80's tunes at the top of one's lungs at 1am on an 8-hour train ride, there is so much noise!!! And my nice WASPy upbringing really doesn't stand for much public noise-making. So I learn (slowly) to adjust.

And what helps me adjust is all the charming ways that people are different than me. The Japanese we met were so embarrassed and apologetic that their english was not better, despite the fact that our Japanese was clearly lacking. When we had Dim Sum in Hong Kong at a remote hole-in-the-wall spot, two locals worked tirelessly with Cory to figure out what we wanted to eat. And the Thai are so charming that they skip over english altogether and just grab your hand to show you that their food is hot (or cold), that you should go here or there, and to help you, without any verbal language at all. 

But charming as it can be, sometimes it's too much! I've finally asked our musical friends to quiet down (nicely, I promise) and it's finally time for some z's. I'll get back to my journey of personal growth tomorrow, when I'm sitting on the beach, cocktail in hand.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

3 Nights in Bangkok...

We arrived in Bangkok after an absolutely charming flight aboard Sri Lankan Airlines. In fact, after that experience, and after meeting a lovely couple who had just been in Sri Lanka, it has just jumped towards the top of our list as a must-see place on this trip!

We had an easy trip through customs (despite the fact that we have a 30-day visa here and we don't have proof of when we're leaving), and then it was time to figure out how we were going to get from the airport to our hotel, the Chatrium Hotel Riverside. We had read in many tour guides about a trend in Bangkok for taxi drivers to over-charge or try to negotiate a super high fare instead of using the meter, so we were on high alert to not get taken for a ride. Turned out to be pretty easy from the airport, as the government has clearly figured out that it is not in their best interest for tourists (Thailand's biggest industry) to be fleeced. So they have quite the set-up at the airport to ensure only above-board taxi drivers even have access to tourists (it would not turn out to be the same in the rest of Bangkok, unfortunately!).

Chao Phraya Express Boat
Typical temple as seen from the river
On the drive to the hotel, we got quite a visual overview of Bangkok, and our first impression was that it was far cleaner and more modern than we were expecting (and cleaner and more modern than Hong Kong, which I was certainly not expecting!).There are 8 million people who live in Bangkok (same size as London or New York, and 10 times the popultion of San Francisco!), and the only real geographical feature to the city is the Chao Phraya river, which winds through the city. The traffic in the city is so bad (and the taxi drivers generally behaving deplorably with tourists) that the best way to get around is via the river boat express. It's basically a bus whose route is the river, only it's a boat! Awesome.

We got to our hotel and it was fabulous! After over a month of staying with people for the most part, we were ready for some time alone, and splurged on our 3 night's hotel in Bangkok. And by splurged, I do mean spent about $95 per night for a huge suite with a balcony overlooking the river, and a sweet infinity pool. It completely rocked, except that they were doing construction on the floor above ours, which resulted in a lot of hammering in the middle of the day. On the plus side, when we complained about it, they sent us for free cocktails and canapes on the 36th floor at sunset. Below are the photos, but if you want the full picture, imagine this. There's a lovely club lounge filled with classy guests on the top floor, gingerly sipping their free wine and munching on one or two little bites. Then imagine Cory and me, on our first super-classy, super-free adventure on a trip where the length of trip is directly related to the amount of money spent. I'm pretty sure I had 1+ bottle of wine, and Cory made his way through the entire cocktail menu (Singapore Sling! Mai Tai! Mojito - which after a full bottle of wine, I decided was called a Wilson...not sure where that came from, but waiter! Bring me another Wilson!). We basically looked like a couple of fat Americans who had never seen a plate of food. So we settled in with some dominoes, a sunset, a bevvie of drinks and several plates of free food. Ah, paradise :)

Sunset view from free cocktails atop the Chatrium
As for the daytime activities, we went to the Grand Palace, which is known as the one place you should go if you're going to see anything in Bangkok. And it was overall a good experience, though I'm still not sure it was worth the money. It is the beautiful temple and attached palace where the king used to live. And it is free for all residents of Thailand, which I believe to be an excellent thing. In order to pay for maintenance, they charge foreigners...500 baht each (about $15 USD). On the scale of Thai prices, $30 is a lot for some sightseeing in oppressive 100 degree heat! Plus, we bough audio guides for another $15 before we realized it was so hot we wouldn't want to learn anything. So, the temple and palace were beautiful and we learned a few things, but I might think twice about it on a return trip, as there are about a million gorgeous temples all across Thailand.
Detail photos from the Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha
After that costly experience, we elected to go light the rest of the weekend in Bangkok. After a death march to Dusit Park (which turned out to be another oppressive heat/steal all our money kind of thing), an attempt at some cab drivers to fleece us, a metered cab driver who drove us around until we made him let us out - not at our desired destination, Molly losing her iphone, we decided it was time to go to the hotel and stay there in resort mode until it was time to take the train to Koh Tao for some seriously relaxing time at the beach.

As always, for more trip photos, check out our flickr page:

But before we all leave hectic Bangkok for the paradise of the islands, let's enjoy this video Cory took of the river boats:

Friday, May 17, 2013

Leaving Hong Kong

Hong Kong turned out to be a lovely spot in the trip, not just for an interesting city with lots to see and do (the hiking especially was magnificent!!), but it was a great time for family. Our daily itinerary varied only slightly on this theme:

9am: Wake up in our bunk beds and sleepily say good bye to Megan as she left for work (Christian usually had paddling early in the morning or an early meeting).
10am: Breakfast and coffee, and computering in bed about what's going on in the world
11am: Get ready and head out for a dim sum lunch adventure
2pm: Explore a new neighborhood or go for a long hike on top of the mountain
5pm: Head home for snuggling and afternoon drinks
8pm: Christian and Megan return home for dinner and family time, and always a cut-throat round of dominoes at the dining table
11pm: Head to bed to adventure again the next day!

Sandwich those weekdays with family hikes, brunches, and exploring on the weekends and you have yourself a happy paradise!
Sharing a fresh coconut (yum!); goofing around at Chi Lin Nunnery; goofing around in Central District; goofing around at the Maritime Museum (which is kind of a lame museum, BTW); not goofing around on a family hike

We quickly learned about the different transit methods that would get us around the city, and boy are there a lot of options! Taxis are everywhere, and though they're a lot cheaper than other western cities, it's easy to rack up the bill on $10 taxi rides. So we generally elected for the MTR (subway), buses (though without a map on the stop it was hard to figure these out without prior research), minibuses, and of course the tram (unofficially named "ding ding" or if you're me, the "clickity clack"). The tram was our favorite by far, with only one major line traveling east-west through most major areas of HK, and for a mere $.30 per ride. And with a refillable Octopus Card accepted on all forms of transit (and many stores), it's so easy to get around HK!

If you want to see what it's like to ride the tram, have no fear! Cory can show you:

Posing with the duck!

Add to our daily regular itinerary some extras: the giant yellow ducky that floated into the harbor on our last week, and practically all of China was there to see it, so on our last Sunday we elected not to elbow our way through the crowd to see a 6-story high duck. But the morning of our last day in HK, Molly really wanted to see it, so we joined the monday morning crowd and it was fabulous fun!

Nan Liang Garden
Also, our first weekend together, Christian and Megan took us to the Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Liang Garden, a lovely (and free!) garden and temple on the Kowloon side of the harbor. It was serene and beautiful, and absolutely lovely way to find quiet respite in the middle of a busy city!

We had a lovely 2.5 weeks in Hong Kong and felt so blessed to get to spend so much time with Christian and Megan!

Total overall costs for Hong Kong: $94.65 US per day, for 17 days. The majority of this was transit and food, as we didn't have to pay for a hotel (thanks C and M!). We also did go to Ocean Park amusement park, which was $40 each (well worth it!).

Our beautiful family, sutffed after a lovely sunday brunch at Maxim's Palace

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Dim Sum Deliciousness!

Steamed BBQ Pork Bun at Kung Fu; Cory helping the nice man at Saam Hi Yaat figure out what on earth we wanted to order; an ordering card typical of many dim sum spots; a bowl of boiling water traditionally provided so you know your bowls and spoons are sanitized; rolling out dumpling dough at DTF

For those of you who know us well, you won't be surprised to hear that we are eating our way through Hong Kong, one Dim Sum palace at a time!  We found a wide range of price and tastiness, as well as ways to determine if it's truly well-made (our sis-in-law Megan tells us it's all in the delicacy and flavor of the ha gow (shrimp dumplings). All in all, for a budget traveler's meal, we found there is no reason to spend a fortune, as we had plenty of delectable dim sum lunches on a small budget.

A review of our findings (though this doesn't begin to cover all the Dim Sum we ate!):

Tim Ho Wan: known as the least expensive Michelin starred restaurant in the world, Tim Ho Wan was delicious (and cheap!). The baked BBQ pork buns come flying out of the kitchen (but it's still not fast enough for the demand) and the rice rolls were ridiculously yummy. They are known for having a huge line out the door, but when we went on a weekday at 11am, we walked right in. Only went once, but wish we'd gone again! Total cost for a feast for two: $190 HKD ($24 USD)

Saam Hui Yaat (11 Pakfulam Road, Western District): We found this place on CNN Traveler, as the best hole-in-the-wall if you're not too picky about extremely sanitary conditions, and we found that to be an accurate description. Food was yummy, but most of all CHEAP! Total cost for two: $90 HKD ($11 USD)

Din Tai Fung:  One of the fancier lunches we had, and another place to go early so you don't hit a line. They advertise that they are one of the ten best restaurants in the world, but when you look closer, you can see that title was given in 1993. Even so, it was delicious! The Ha Gow (shrimp dumplings) were incredibly gingery and light..easily the best we had in HK. And the wonton soup was delicious: an incredibly flavorful broth. The cost prevented us from truly feasting (we had enough but were not exactly "full"), but it was delicious. Definitely a special treat lunch.  Total cost for two: $335 HKD ($43 USD)

Lei Garden Bistro: Five words: Chinese vegetables in superior soup. I don't actuallt rmember anything else, but it was a lovely atmosphere in a mall basement, and my brother tells me the non-bistro fancy Lei Garden is to die for. Total cost for two: $269 HKD ($35 USD)

Kung Fu Dim Sum (Tin Hau): A little neighborhood spot with a couple of locations, and we came twice. The tables are a bit close together if you end up sharing a 4-top with some new best friends (especially if those new friends appear to be dying of consumption), but the food was tasty and inexpensive.  Best steamed BBQ pork buns we had in HK!  Total cost for two (or three): $175 HKD ($23 USD)

Fu Sing (Wan Chai): Feels like a traditional large family Dim Sum spot (we had a big table with a lazy susan to pass around the dishes), with some incredibly delicious food at great prices. When Megan ordered Turnip Cakes with a glint in her eye, I was confused (though she is a vegetarian...) and boy was she right! With a crispy outside and layer of shrimp across the bottom, they were hands down the best turnip cakes we had during our entire visit. In fact, I wish I was eating them right now. Cost for our two-person portion at a five-person lunch (and I don't think we were hungry for dinner that night!): $30 USD.

What I would look like if I got to eat all the pork buns I want  :)

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Adventures in Macau

Molly at the Taipa Houses
As is the thing to do on a multi-week trip to Hong Kong, we decided to head to Macau for an overmight. Only a short ferry ride (just about an hour) from central HK, Macau is very accessible, and does not require a visa. Not knowing quite what to expect (other than the "Vegas of Asia"), we hopped the ferry, found our hotel overlooking the racetrack (the Grandview Hotel) and did some exploring.

Turbojet ferry to Macau
Macau is made up of three cities on two islands: Macau City, Taipa and Coloane. Day one we arrived at our hotel, got settled and then walked to Taipa Village, known as the most well-preserved section of Macau from the Portugese colonization. We had a wonderful lunch at a Portugese restaurant, A Petisqeira, and meandered through the Taipa Houses Museum, a series of old homes that depict what life was like in Macau in the early 1900's. We also got a taste of local treats in the village, as there are shop after shop selling Egg Tarts (different from those in HK because they have a far superior puff pastry base instead of a cookie crust base) and various meat jerkeys.

Meat Jerky in Taipa Village
And then in the evening, we had a fabulous dinner experience (emphasis on the word "experience"). We hopped a cab to the north end of Macau (such a distance apparently that the first cab we got in kicked us back out because, despite the fact that we were showing him a street map of exactly where we wanted to go, he didn't know it and wasn't willing to try) to the IFT Educational Restaurant, a restaurant attached to a school of tourism. Once we found a cab driver that would drive us, we go the restaurant just on time and the magic begun!

Mailing postcards!
Let me start by saying that I have enjoyed my fair share of fine dining, but I never realized how many decision points there are for the restaurant staff. I only realized it at this experience because the servers are learning how to make those decisions so quickly that you don't notice they are even making them. Such as: which hand do I use to lay the napkin in the customer's lap? Although I should deliver from the left and take from the right, should I break that rule if there is a circumstance that would make my presence less intrusive? 

In addition to the food being absolutely fantastic, it was a fantastic value (we would have expected to pay double our entire bill in a regular restaurant), and the service was charming. The servers were clearly wanting to do their best, and having the instructors buzzing around giving them feedback and answering questions was a really fun part of the dinner. We would go back to Macau just to have dinner here again!!

Selfie at the Venetian
We capped off the evening with a walk through the Venetian Macau (yep, just like the Venetian Las Vegas!).

The next day we woke up for a day of sightseeing before heading back to HK. Most of the day included being lost in a smoggy neighborhood, unable to find a taxi to get out, so we'll skip that part. There were, however, two highlights. One was going to the Ruins of the Church of St Paul, which is the remaining facade on a church that was built in Macau when it was a Portugese colony, and is an interesting mix of European and Chinese architecture.

More interestingly though, I remembered that George and Mary took a photo of some ruins in Macau, but I had forgotten to bring them so I could take the same photo. So we took some photos of this and that, and when we got back to HK, realized that we had taken the exact same photo from the exact same viewpoint!! Our guidebook said that the stairs leading up to the church were offset because at one point there were buildings on one side of the stairs, and I was surprised to see that those buildings were there in G & M's picture!

The other highlight of our day was when we were lost in the yucky neighborhood with no way out, we turned a corner, and there was a gondola, rising up to the top of a pretty green hill! Cory said, "wife! I'm getting you out of here!" (swoon!). We bought two one-way tickets and then Cory asked the salesperson, "so, where does this go?" She wasn't really into English, so we hopped on and ended up in the middle of a beautiful park. We meandered through the park and back to the ferry for an early ferry back to HK.

Thanks for an interesting overnighter, Macau!!

Overall costs for Macau: because we took the ferry over and then only stayed one night, we stayed in a nicer hotel and spent more for dinner then we have in a while. The per day cost for 2 days in Macau was $188 USD. 

Hiking in Hong Kong

Who knew hiking would be so great in Hong Kong...well lots of people, it's not really a secret.  But it did take my by surprise.  Hong Kong island is a thriving diverse metropolis of about 1.3 million people squeezed into a staggeringly small area of land about a little over 20 percent of the island, from what I can see.  The rest of the island is gorgeous expansive green space filled with reservoirs, high peaks and beautiful valleys, throughout the green space are wonderfully manicured trails.   The main 50km path is called the Hong Kong Trail which goes from Victoria Peak and passes through the five parks on the island - the trail finally ends on the East side just past the Tai Tam reservoir at Tai Tam road.   Molly and I did the first section of the trail, which gave us stunning views of the rest of the island, and our legs a heathy work out as we made our way up to Victoria Peak.  

A view from the Peak at night

Our second and most rigorous hike took us to along the first section of the Wilson Trail from Parkview to Stanley over Violet Hill (also apparently called Violent Hill... possibly because of the all out assault your body takes from the miles of stairs leading straight up the hill) and up the thousand steps to the Twins, then down to the small beachside community of Stanley.

The day we hiked was cool about 70 degrees (thank God!) and very foggy, so a hike that usually gives sweeping vistas of Hong Kong Island looked more like a bowl of pea soup.

View of the Deep Water bay from Violet Hill

The hike took about 3 hours and was very difficult especially for those who haven't been on a stair-master in a few years.   I loved it and I can't wait to come back to Honk Kong to tackle some of the other  trails.

(More info on the Hong Kong Hiking can be found here

Reference for your own hike from Stanley to Parkview