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Once upon a clear sky in Hong Kong

Sunny days with blue sky were hard to come by during my little sojourn in Hong Kong. We had snatches of it on our first day – ah, what a bright welcome – and then the city was just shrouded in foggy whiteness/greyness on the following days. I was beginning to wonder if I was actually in Hong Kong or in Beijing… Lo and behold, on the final day of my trip, I woke up to clear blue sky and everything was basking in shimmering light!

Sunny Hong Kong

Sunny Hong Kong

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So many markets

I’ve lost count of the number of markets I stumbled upon in Hong Kong. In the vicinity of Mong Kong/Yau Ma Tei, visitors’ guides are recommending the Bird Market, the Flower Markets, the Ladies’ Market, the Temple Street Night Market and the Jade Market. The variety of things that anyone could buy is just mind-boggling. Not only that, all of these markets could be pretty much visited in one go – they form a complete walking tour route! Somewhere along the way, there are shops and stalls to pick up walkabout snacks. ;)

Hong Kong markets

Hong Kong markets

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Hong Kong by night

Central Hong Kong puts up a colourful display of neon lightings no matter where you go and look, and over at the harbour waterfront, the Symphony of Lights set to wow visitors nightly at 8pm with its almost-15 minutes lightshow. I caught the show one evening from the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade, and for anyone interested in listening to the accompanying narration, the places to be are the Avenue of Stars and Golden Bauhinia Square (Wan Chai).

Hong Kong by night

Hong Kong by night

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Occupy Central with Love and Peace

It is difficult to walk around central Hong Kong and not run into the occupy protestors, with their tents and living areas pitched on a number of streets around Causeway Bay, Mong Kok and Admiralty. The Umbrella Movement valiantly stood their grounds, but alas, their courageous protests and occupations were brought to an end last week. It is a complex socio-political issue and one which I don’t have enough knowledge to discuss, so all I can offer are a few photos, guiltily taken, during the week I was in Hong Kong.

Occupy Central

Occupy Central

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Postcards: Stanley (HK)

For yet another change of scenery from central Hong Kong and its skyscrapers, A and I took the bus out to Stanley, one of the oldest villages in Hong Kong, and the site of a former English fort that is now famous for its market bearing the same name. En route, I spied the cable cars that transport visitors to the Ocean Park and some of the park’s rollercoasters, and I also looked admiringly at the scenic Repulse Bay – nothing repulsive there, right? We found Stanley Market highly commercialised and generic to many other local markets; walking along the main street waterfront and Stanley Ma Hang Park was decidedly more interesting.

Stanley

Stanley

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Tai O fishing village

A short 20-minutes bus ride away, to the west of Po Lin Monastery, lies Tai O, a traditional fishing village that sits partly on Lantau Island and partly on a small island mere metres away – not immediately obvious until I had a closer look at the map. The small island is today connected to Lantau by way of 2 bridges: Tai Chung footbridge (completed 1996) and Sun Ki bridge (completed 1979); until then, river crossing relied on punting and even rope-tow ferry pulled by elderly Hakka women! If you want to experience the latter, it may be possible on some weekends and holidays, but not on the day I was visiting.

Tai O

Tai O

On arrival, we were lured by the touts selling boat tour of the village and to see the pink dolphins. The 30-minutes ride is very affordable, and while no sighting of the dolphins for us that particular day, what I actually found more fascinating is the way of life in this small village that relies heavily on the river and the sea for their livelihood. It is as different from central Hong Kong as day and night. No skyscrapers, no shopping malls, but houses so close that the neighbours could stick their heads into each other’s living rooms.

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Po Lin Monastery and the Big Buddha

SL and I arrived at Tung Chung, and we started to hem haw – should we trek for 3-3.5 hours or queue up for for the cable car in order to get to the Ngong Ping plateau, where the Po Lin Monastery and the Big Buddha are located? It was already past noon, the sun high in the sky, and the queue for the cable car didn’t look too bad (it ended up being a 40-minutes wait). And I admit it, I was feeling lazy too. Cable car, it is!

Po Lin Monastery and Big Buddha

Po Lin Monastery and Big Buddha

The 6km-ride from Tung Chung to Ngong Ping plateau took about 20-25 minutes, over uninhabited peaks and rather magnificent view. We could also see the trekking trail just below us, and spotted the occasional walkers heading downhill towards Tung Chung. Clearly, they’d been up at the Lantau Peak much earlier in the day and were ready to wind things down.

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Wong Tai Sin Temple

The temple of Wong Tai Sin lies a couple of kilometres to the west of the Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden. It is also just one MTR station away from Diamond Hill (“Wong Tai Sin” station, exit B3) for anyone looking for a quick access option, although frankly, it’s easy enough to walk between them. A and I walked it in about 20 minutes.

Wong Tai Sin Temple

Wong Tai Sin Temple

Home to three different religions: Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism – there are distinct differences between them even if they’re often lumped together as “Buddhism” – the Wong Tai Sin Temple complex is large and bustling with worshippers and visitors alike. Apparently, there is an one-way system which visitors are encouraged to follow, and during festival periods, this system is compulsory to keep things in order. Well, since we arrived through “Supreme Paradise Gateway” that was definitely not the main entrance, we explored the complex randomly.

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Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden

I found myself heading towards Diamond Hill on my second morning in Hong Kong, in search of the Chi Lin Nunnery and the Nan Lian Garden, for something more traditional and away from the gleaming towers in the Central district. For anyone travelling by public transportation, the access of the Chi Lin Nunnery is easiest through the Nan Lian Garden, mere minutes walk away from the MTR (exit C2).

Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden

Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden

Founded in 1934, the temple complex of the Chi Lin Nunnery was renovated in the 1990s. The elegant wooden architecture was constructed using specific interlocking systems to hold the wood together, very much like how they used to do it during the Tang Dynasty, and thus not a single iron nail was required in the present-day buildings. A series of temple halls can be found, with exquisite statues of the divinities, including Buddha, Kuan Yin (Goddess of Mercy) and other bodhisattvas. (Sorry, no photos of the halls and statues allowed!)

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Postcards: The (Victoria) Peak (HK)

Victoria Peak is the highest peak on Hong Kong island. Locally known as The Peak, it gave a superb view of the Victoria Harbour as well as other neighbouring islands. I trekked up there twice during my six-day stay, blocked sinus notwithstanding. I was glad to have repeated the experience since the second go was on a clearer day and right before sunset; it was beautiful.

The Peak

The Peak

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More dim sum, please

Even prior to landing in Hong Kong, I knew what I wanted to eat – dim sum! There are a few dim sum places in Paris, some better than others, but I miss those that I get in Asia which somehow always tastes better and comes in more variety. I know, this could just be the biased Asian in me speaking. ;)

Dim sum

Dim sum

Four of my six lunches in Hong Kong constituted of just dim sum. The first among them was at a small place called Ding Dim in the Central district, and we were so glad to dig in our food that not even a single photo was taken. Two of the next three dim sum restaurants I went to were noticeably packed with Asians and barely a couple of token Caucasians. If they were, I’d hazard there have been a lot of cart peeking and dish pointing instead of ordering, unless they are long term residents in Hong Kong. Fun times!

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First impression: Hong Kong

Growing up, I’ve seen enough TVB dramas to have an idea of what Hong Kong is like. In fact, it was thanks to these series that I learned Cantonese; daily lesson, every weekday evening, seated next to my greatgrandparents and glued to the latest riveting tales of love and rivalry. The actors and actresses were pretty much the same from one drama to another, so even a child could pointed out right from the first episode that who was likely to be the nice guy and who the bad one. ;)

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

Still, it is very different to experience Hong Kong in person. Somehow, in my head, it is geographically a single main island surrounded by a handful small ones. Imagine my surprise to find Hong Kong island actually constitutes of a small part of the Special Administrative Region (SAR) and a large part of it attached to the mainland China. It is also a lot bigger than I had envisaged. I was in Hong Kong for six days and I barely covered the grounds around Central, Kowloon and Lantau Island. I’d love some time to go out to Yuen Long, or to Sai Kung, or even trek the Dragon’s Back trail.

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What can I do in Hong Kong?

Hong Kong is located just across the border from Shenzhen. It was also the perfect location for me to recharge after a very intense work period: I could visit SL who lives in Hong Kong (ahem, mooch a free bed for the trip), satisfy my craving for great Asian food (dim sum!), and sightsee a little in a region that I know very little about.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong

The trouble was, I did not have much time to research what I could do in Hong Kong either. Before leaving, WL helped identify a few key things to, and once in Hong Kong, I am grateful for SL who came to my rescue. She made a list of places we must eat in, suggested places to visit, and even took time off work to play guide a couple of the days. If you know how preciously few paid holidays there are in Asia, you know how significant such an effort is. She is the hostess with the mostest!

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Postcards: Kuala Lumpur (MY)

Unlike many of my friends, I have never lived in Kuala Lumpur, neither to study nor to work. Instead, it becomes a pitstop each time I travel back to Malaysia, mostly because my flights arrive and depart from KLIA, and usually I’d organise to see my friends in the couple of days leading to my departure.

Trying to show F around was therefore not a particularly easy task, since my knowledge of the city is rather limited. Armed with a good map, we managed to get around the historical centre of KL, taking in a few classic sites and walked the streets whenever it wasn’t raining. Oh yeah, they seemed to be heavy downpour for 2-3 hours each of the few days we were there, which curtailed some of our planned sightseeing.

Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur

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The temples of Batu Caves

F and I visited quite a number of Hindu temples while in Bali, so it was rather interesting to contrast those with the Hindu temples that we typically see in Malaysia. Not only are they architecturally dissimilar, the customs and practices of the devotees also bear differences. Since we saw the Mother Temple of Besakih in Bali, it was apt that we picked Batu Caves as its counter comparison.

Batu Caves is famed for the annual celebration of Thaipusam, taking place early in the year (January/February) to mark the gifting of a vel (spear) by Parvati, the wife of Shiva, to her son Murugan, created by Shiva from the flame of his eye of wisdom. It was this vel that was ultimately used by Murugan to emerge as victor against Soorapadam, an asura who was terrorising the devas. On Thaipusam, devotees from all over Malaysia, following a strict period of cleansing, fasting and preparation, begin a pilgrimage of kavadi bearing. A kavadi is a burden bore by the devotees to be offered to the deity in exchange for good tiding and/or aversion of serious trial and tribulation. It is an absolutely fascinating festival to observe.

Batu Caves

Batu Caves

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A daytrip to Pangkor

If you talk to F about my hometown, he’ll tell you right away that there is not much there. And he’s right. Here, you either work, eat, shop or sembang (chit chat); there is a distinct lack of interesting attractions and activities when you’re used to the kind of variety found in many European towns of similar size. Still, for me, it’s home, and I’ll happily stay for a spell without having much to do except searching for the next best eat. For a small town, it kinda rocks that way – outsiders come here for delicious snacks and meals.

Perhaps the most “exciting” thing one can do is to visit the nearby Pangkor Island, an island inhabited primarily by a thriving fishing community but in parts have been developed for tourism. It is a short ferry ride over from Marina Island or Lumut (this takes a wee bit longer) and once arrived, there is no shortage of shocking pink taxi-vans in waiting to take you on a 2-hour island tour.

Pangkor Island

Pangkor Island

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Postcards: Kek Lok Si (MY)

The Temple of Supreme Bliss, or Kek Lok Si as it is known based on Fujian dialect (the most prominent dialect in Penang) pronounciation, is the most celebrated and largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia. Sitting atop the hill and overlooking Ayer Itam, it is said to be auspiciously located and feng shui-approved to protect the well-being of the temple and its devotees.

Constructed in 1893 under the direction of a well-supported head monk of the Kuan Yin Temple i.e. Temple of the Goddess of Mercy, from local consuls to the Chinese Emperor Guangxu, Kek Lok Si incorporates motifs of Buddhism from Burma, Thailand and China – a nod to both major branches of Buddhism: Mahayana and Theravada. (Note: ask most Chinese Buddhist and they’ll have a hard time telling you which branch of Buddhism they are followers of, in part due to the integration of Taoism to muddle up the mix further.)

Kek Lok Si

Kek Lok Si

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Pura Lempuyang

Balinese culture is steeped in spirituality, and therefore it is not a surprise that there are tens of thousand Hindu temples all over the island. Bali is, afterall, “the Island of a Thousand Puras”. Some of the temples are small and territorial, located within private compounds (usually among the wealthier clans) or local community-based (each village has at least 3, known as kahyangan tiga), while the larger public temple complexes are revelled by Balinese near and afar, and they are also among the most visited by non-Balinese.

Pura Lempuyang

Pura Lempuyang

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Postcards: Masceti and Candidasa (ID)

Our ultimate destination in East Bali was Amed, the name of a village but synonymously used to refer to a number of other villages within the same coastal stretch. Normally a solid three hours drive away from Kuta, we broke the journey down a little by making a few short stops along the way. We made it to Masceti Beach and Candidasa in the morning, before tracking down Bali Asli for lunch and the subsequent visit to Tirta Gangga.

Bali

Bali

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Postcards: Tirta Gangga (ID)

We kickstarted our (East) Balinese cultural education not with a visit to one of the many temples; instead we went for a walk at the Water Palace of Tirta Gangga. The “Blessed water from the Ganges” is a beautiful complex which incorporates fountains (the centrepiece is an eleven tiered fountain), pools (for swimming, with water from its natural spring), ponds (for lily and koi), stone carvings, statues and a small temple among its lush and meticulously-kept gardens.

The water palace is not very old, built only in the late 1940s by the last King of Karangasem. Following damages caused by the 1963 eruption of Mount Agung, it was rebuilt and restored to its present form, and has been well-maintained since. For visitors who would like to dine with a view, restaurants with balconies adjacent to the water palace offer a premium view and presumably with a premium price tag too.

Tirta Gangga

Tirta Gangga

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First impression: Bali

Honestly, I did not know what to expect of Bali.

So many inviting pictures of rustic charm, clear blue sea and mythic temples from friends, family and around the web. So many articles written of this top destination in Southeast Asia, although it appears the focus in the media of late has been largely unflattering (overcrowding, excessive drinking parties, uncontrolled development, pollution, the lost of Balinese soul, etc). So many advices and tips enough to make one’s head spins.

Bali

Bali

I had to clear the board in order to start creating my own version of Bali. I tacked on solid advices – usually financial (use the ATM and avoid money changers, have sufficient cash in local currency to pay the exit/departure tax, keep small denomination notes to pay for all kind of little things, etc), identified what we wanted to get out of Bali (a relaxing break), listed out our favourite activities (snorkelling for F, cultural visits for me, eating local food for both of us), and most importantly, we knew what we didn’t want: stay in South Bali and run around 14 hours a day.

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Project 365 – Week 38

This is week one of our main holiday for the year and we’re in south east Asia! It had been a rather relaxing week, all in all, with considerable time spent in the sea – what can I say? F loves snorkelling – and some other time sightseeing and eating. There would be a lot of eating throughout the trip. Such a shame though I was given wrong info about a certain family function so our time in Bali was cut short. Oh well…

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Funereal offering

16 Sep: There are nine directional temples in Bali and among them, this is the least known to foreigners. Pura Masceti is off the beaten path, the site truly sacred (no watersports or sunbathing on the stretch of the beach adjacent to the temple) with countless purification and funeral ceremonies taking place here. Legend also has it that this was where Lord Vishnu and Goddess Lakhsmi came to end their relationship following a fierce argument. Balinese therefore believe that couples in relationship should not visit the temple or risk coming to their own irreconcilable differences.

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Ceylonese Tales

When Eve announced that she was getting married and the wedding would be held in Sri Lanka, I was all one big ball of excitement. A chance to see a new country, a chance to indulge in Sri Lankan cuisine, a chance to experience traditional Sri Lankan wedding not to mention other cultural gems – what else can a girl ask for? Travel partner? Check – Claire has agreed to go on a roadtrip with me. Oh yes, we were all set.

Errr, let’s paddle back a little.

Honestly, we were not terrible well-prepared. Sure, we coordinated our dates, we roughly planned our route and we booked our flights. That was about it. Even on the day prior to departure, we had not a clue how we were going to get around (there was vague idea to hire a car) nor have we any accommodation booked, save for the few nights in Colombo when the wedding was due to take place. You know at this rate, we were in for an adventure.

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Luckily, Pras came to our rescue. As we had only about a week on the road before settling in Colombo, our best bet for travelling would not be on the mercy of public transports that might take us forever to get from one place to another. At the same time, driving some place where the rules of the road were unfamiliar to us (well, mostly Claire, since I don’t drive although I could read map!) was not a good idea either. Pras contacted a driver with a van for us, so for our trip, we now have a chauffeured vehicle. Super handy. No slugging bags everywhere, no jumping onto oncoming buses, just freedom to go anywhere we wanted.

We managed to cover quite a good part of the island despite the chronically sluggish driving speed. What distance that could normally be reached within an hour in developped country would take 2-3 times longer here. Not that we were in great hurry, since that gave us a chance to enjoy the view along the route, but it did make time estimation rather tricky. Especially when we were aiming to be in certain city at certain time. We were pretty much always arriving later than we thought we would be.

We toured the southern half of the island, although I wish we had had more time so we could have explored more. Two most notable sites that we couldn’t fit in our schedule are the ancient cities of Polonnaruwa and Anuradhapura. They lie just too far up north for our schedule and time constraint. We also missed Adam’s Peak further south…

In the next few posts, I’ll try my best to relive my Ceylonese Odyssey, the good and the bad. Well, not exactly bad, but definitely a small few misadventures here and there. For now, I leave you with a set of “portraits” I’ve shot during my trip. Have a good weekend y’all!

 

All posts in this series:
Sri Lanka: Ceylonese Tales
Sri Lanka: Trekking Sigiriya | Flickr Photoset
Sri Lanka: Cave temples of Dambulla | Flickr Photoset
Sri Lanka: Cultural evening in Kandy | Flickr Photoset
Sri Lanka: Pinnawala Elephant Sanctuary | Flickr Photoset
Sri Lanka: We sort of saw Nuwara Eliya… | Flickr Photoset
Sri Lanka: Morning hike at Horton Plains | Flickr Photoset
Sri Lanka: A room with a view in Ella | Flickr Photoset
Sri Lanka: Tissa, Yala and safari | Flickr Photoset
Sri Lanka: The southern coast | Flickr Photoset
Sri Lanka: The old fort of Galle | Flickr Photoset
Sri Lanka: Roadtrip ended in Colombo | Flickr Photoset


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