So where did I leave off? Hong Kong was utterly disappointing. Everything was not as exciting as it sounded at first. On Sunday, we began the day with a couple delicious pastries (I had a Japanese cheese stick) before setting off for Lantau island. For those of you unfamiliar with Hong Kong, it is made up of three separate islands – Hong Kong, Kowloon, and Lantau. I stayed in the dodgy Chungking Mansion on Kowloon. However, Lantau is home to the giant Buddha. To arrive there, normally one would take a cable car to the top of the island. But, the cable car was closed, so we had to take a bus. It was a spectacular drive with views of the sea up to the top. The Buddha sits at the top of 250 stairs, which you must climb to get up to him. They do reward you with ice cream and water at the top though! I promise to post pictures soon so that you can see the massiveness of the figure.
Following our Lantau adventure, we headed for the Peak which supposedly offers astounding views of Hong Kong. When we got to the tram that takes you to the top, there was a two hour wait. Needless to say, we didn’t wait. Instead we took the ferry back to Kowloon. On the way, we noticed hundreds of women sitting on the streets just chitchatting. I’m not sure what they were doing (maybe some Dragon Boat Festival or Sunday tradition), but it was an interesting spectacle. That night was spent socializing and drinking on the boardwalk near the hostel. I do greatly enjoy being near the water, and Hong Kong offers a vibrant cityscape across the harbor.
On Monday, we got a late start. I enjoyed pastries in the park during the morning. This morning it was red bean paste filled and green tea covered – delicious! I also enjoyed one of my favorite travel pastimes, browsing the supermarket. It’s amazing the mix of foreign foods and foods one would find in a US supermarket that one finds abroad. Anywho, we ended up heading for Ocean Park later that afternoon. This was a most excellent decision as I love reliving childhood. Ocean Park is a kind of mix between zoo and theme park with great views of the sea. The roller coasters sore above the bay and the red pandas are so adorable that you want to take them home. It was a lovely, but dreadfully hot afternoon. The giant pandas definitely made my foray into Hong Kong a little sweeter. At the end of the day, I headed to the airport, leaving Hong Kong behind and heading for the great unknown of Bangkok.
Shortly after arriving at BKK, I learned the bus I was supposed to take to the hostel had been discontinued on June 1. So I hopped in a cab. The driver didn’t know exactly where the hostel was, so he dropped me off at one end of Khao San Road in the pouring rain. Of course, I had no clue where I was going except that it was near a 7-11. Luckily, I found it about ten minutes later. The hostel itself turned out to be a little piece of paradise. Definitely stay in NapPark Hostel if you are ever in Bangkok. Each nap space has its own light/outlets/mirror, etc. The bathrooms are clean and spacious, and the common area makes it easy to meet people. I just wanted to jump for joy after my horrible Hong Kong hostel where the shower was above the toilet and I had to sleep with creepy Egyptian men staring at me.
The next morning, I set off on my own after getting oriented with Khao San Road. The street food here is great. You can get anything at any time of the day or night. The grilled bananas are an especially good way to start the morning. I headed first to the Snake Farm. Getting there was an adventure as I couldn’t really explain to the taxi driver where I wanted to go. Anyways, eventually I made it to see the hundreds of species of snakes kept at the compound. They use the snakes to produce anti-venom and to teach about the dangers of poisonous animals. Next stop was Jim Thompson’s House. He was an American expat living in Thailand after his years in the service. Credited with reviving the native silk industry, Jim Thompson’s name is still attached to many silk products leaving Thailand. He mysteriously disappeared in 1967 after going for a walk in Malaysia. His house is an example of traditional Thai architecture and is surrounded by beautiful gardens. Inside, one finds gorgeous Thai artifacts which are explained by knowledgeable English guides. My day of sightseeing ended with a walk through Chinatown and Little India before heading back to the hostel.
For dinner, some Canadian girls invited me to join them at a restaurant called Cabbages and Condoms. While expensive by Bangkok standards, all the proceeds from the scrumptious food goes to HIV prevention and sex education in Thailand. The restaurant itself was quite the sight. The outside seating was underneath a huge weeping willow-type tree surrounded by lamps and figures made of condoms. To eat, we had some papaya salad, penang curry, shrimp lettuce wraps, sweet sticky rice with mango, and banana fritters with ice cream. After dinner, we headed back to Khao San Road where I hung out with others in the hostel for the night.
Today, I got up early to see Wat Pho, Wat Arun, and the Grand Palace with a friend I met last night in the hostel. We spent most of the walk fending off the scamming tuk-tuk drivers who insisted that the attractions would be closed until 1:00 pm. However, we had been warned about the scam and continued on. The reclining Buddha in Wat Pho is simply amazing. It has to be the biggest statue I have ever seen! And it is completely covered in gold. Wat Arun, on the opposite side of the river, offered amazing views of the city as you can climb to the top of it’s spire. The Grand Palace and the Emerald Buddha in the same compound were also something to see. All of these buildings are super colorful and are build in a style not often seen in the states. This makes them particularly amazing to me.
Finally, this afternoon was spent making plans for my onward travel tomorrow night. A few friends from the hostel in Bangkok and I will be taking the overnight train to Chiang Mai. Everyone has raved about this city so I have some very high expectations. Also this afternoon, I enjoyed my first ever massage, and a Thai massage at that. It was not as violent as others had said, but there was a lot of squeezing and pulling. I don’t think I’ve ever cracked so many joints in my life! The feeling afterward was wonderful! (I might go back tomorrow – I mean it was only $6) In the end,I spent the evening enjoying dinner with new friends down the street where for $3 I ate a three course meal. Everyone here is amazing and most people travel alone making it easy to make friends.
I’ll leave you with one thing I love about Thailand – you get to take off your shoes. Whenever you enter the hostel, shoes stay outside. This rule also applies to most temples. I love the feeling of the cold tile on my hot feet. It really makes the heat seem much more bearable. Anyways, I’m off to bed as I have a tour planned for early in the morning. Hope everything is well in your neck of the woods!