A Travellerspoint blog

Farewell Asia!

rain 9 °C

The Asian chapter of our magical journey has come to an end and both Charlie and I feel more than a little melancholy about this. We have no reason to feel sad as we are heading onto Central and South America and, no doubt, both destinations will provide equally interesting and also varied experiences. However it does feel rather symbolic that the first part of our trip has ended especially as Hong Kong was our last destination and one which left us both feeling so enthused about the city/country. I know that Charlie had always yearned to visit Hong Kong and the fact that it fully lived up to her expectations acted as an amazing footnote to the first four months on the road.

However, to try and summarise the seven countries we have visited in this entry seems rather futile. There have been so many great and wonderful experiences - as well as the not so great at times! We have learnt that our own experience has been tailored by our own decision-making. Our journey is unique in the sense that no other individual or couple would/will ever have the same experience as us! How amazing is that? So whilst, in theory, anyone can visit the likes of the Taj Mahal, Bangkok, Hanoi Opera house, Singapore, Hua Hin beach etc. and as great and wonderful as they all are it is the journey that you take for yourself that really adds the 'colour' to the overall adventure. The tiny, vile, and ridiculously hot room (with no air conditioning or fan) that was our home for four nights in Mumbai, the ten year old dented maroon and ant infested Proton that we drove through Malaysia, or the use of a kitchen for seven nights at Jack and Odette’s flat in Singapore are the daily elements that glue the whole thing together. Sure, all the aforementioned sights that I mentioned are great and I am really pleased to have seen them but I do find myself thinking and talking to Charlie about the small, others would suggest possibly insignificant, details much more. For me this has been as important as seeing as much of the world as I have seen so far.

The trip has been mind blowing there are no two ways about that and Asia has certainly been an amazingly educational place to kick start the adventure. I sincerely hope that the Americas can offer us half as much - which I am sure they will!

Oh, I forgot to mention earlier that on our last night in Hong Kong we went to Happy Valley racecourse. Charlie picked the winner in the first race and I picked the winner in the second...

...The next two races did not go quite as well but we still ended the night £1 richer!

Ross and Charlie

Posted by charlieandross 10:25 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (1)

Hong Kong takes the Crown!

rain 10 °C

Hello Everyone,

After enjoying the luxury of a flight from Singapore to Hong Kong we took a bus from Hong Kong airport to the Causeway Bay area on the Island, our home for just over a week. Arriving early evening, the scenic journey approaching the panoramic views of Hong Kong Island filled us both with excitement. We were dropped off at stop number 14, outside mix of tacky Chinese jewelry shops and the lovely Vivienne Westwood. We realised we would be staying in shopping central and the buzz of our street - known as 'Fashion Walk' reflected our feelings. We were both prepared by the dire accommodation that awaited us, but to our delight we were immediately offered a private double room with en-suite (caravan size shower-over-toilet bathroom) when they realised we were a couple. We instantly got a good feel for this guesthouse, and the friendly communal areas with wifi and a kettle, made up for our pokey room.

After a poor sleep on the hardest mattress either of us had ever known, we were ready to embrace Causeway Bay. Every turn we took gave us a sensory overload - modern high rises; run-down tenement blocks; bra's and knickers 'drying' in the damp, cold fog that is the weather here; bespoke, boutique fashion houses; trams; old buses; new buses; trendy fashionistas; City workers and dim-sum hawkers.....it goes on and on. We spent the day exploring the streets and then on to Times Square where we discovered a reasonably priced, but excellent vegetarian Cantonese restaurant on the 10th floor of the World Trade Centre - the food was excellent, tasty dim sum, Chinese tea, friendly service and a city-worker lunchtime buzz that you can't beat. We rounded off the day with a trip on the Star Ferry to Kowloon, munched on bakery treats and treated ourselves to a glass of wine, under patio heaters enjoying the panoramic view of Hong Kong Island.....it was quite magical.

Yesterday was one of those long, memorable great days out. We took the metro to Central (Soho) - another sensory overload of sounds and smells. The main market is legendary - live fish; dried fish; butchered meat of all kinds (see photo's - but don't if you're squeamish!), floristry stalls, row upon row, street upon street. The landscape of this area is really interesting, incredibly hilly, yet withstanding tall tenement blocks; the views are fantastic from any hilltop you choose, of the streets below. We stopped at a very traditional, old Chinese teahouse for traditional dim sum from trolleys in a take you pick and pay later style. Of course, I had no idea what I was choosing and poor Ross wasn't able to indulge, as everything was meat based. After trying at least one bit of everything, I was informed by a helpful local that I had eaten pork and fish stomach wrapped in pig hoof skin...nice! I also enjoyed a char-sui pork bun, some beef and spring onion meatballs and some sweet sponge cakes - at least Ross got one of those! The food was ok, but the experience was fantastic - old fashioned, noisy, rough and ready - the place was sprawling with locals reading their broadsheets, talking loudly, using toothpicks with dangerous speed and some of them laughing at our perplexed faces and lack of language understanding - it was very good fun. Ross was fascinated with the Chinese tea crockery...more to the point, how it was used...the hot water bowl to keep the cups warm and to wash the spoons, was also the water that made the tea.... defeated the point of washing anything. As Ross rightly commented, our tea pourer looked like he's worked there since he was born - huge bags under his eyes, a tired expression, he shuffled from table to table, in his tea stained whites, wiping and pouring, slamming down the cups and plates. He seemed content though.

We went from one extreme to the other, this time to an uber-cool New York style cafe - dark wooden floors and trendy lighting. This was a vegetarian, vegan, onion-free, garlic-free (I'm assuming this is for the Hare Krishna's who eat nothing grown in the dark), wheat-free, gluten-free place; we were intrigued to know how good anything could taste. A decent wrap, dahl soup, and quinoa cake later washed down with some flaxseed shakes....we had eaten well today!

We finished off the day in a tapas-style bar for a glass of wine and some free nibbles (got to grab it while you can!) before heading to Backstage on Wellington street (a quirky restaurant and gig venue) to see Craft Spells from San Francisco. The band (after a 2 hour wait) were actually pretty good and need all the help they can get after their promoters and sound engineers (Songs for Children) let them down badly. We left at midnight to catch the last tube back - all in all, another perfect day.

So far Hong Kong takes the Crown as the most seductive, stimulating and fun City yet on our world trip. It's the sort of City that just makes you smile, even though you can't really pinpoint what you're smiling at.

Hope you're all well back home - I believe it's warmer in the UK than here right now!!

Much love,

Ross and Charlie

Posted by charlieandross 22:14 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (3)

Home comforts in Modern Singapore

overcast 35 °C

Hello everyone,

As we pack this morning to enjoy the final leg of our Asian Odyssey in Hong Kong - excited by the City ahead but equally dreading going back to reality of staying in a shared dorm after spending 5 nights in the luxury of my cousin Jack and his girlfriend Odette's place the Holland area of Singapore.

We got the shortest train journey yet - 6 mins, to take us across the border from Jahor Bahru in Malaysia to the Woodlands district in Singapore. Woodlands is reminiscent of a modern day outer city suburb, akin to the Walworth Road but without the people. The flats are the same - just younger but the area has a slightly run down feel about it, albeit pristine and quiet! We knew we had arrived a little early before our City workers would be home (that brought me back to start with); followed by arriving in the City district, very similar to the Liverpool St of London that I frequented on an almost daily basis. This felt very strange - in one way I felt so at home - everything seemed so normal, but then I looked myself up and down, looked at Ross and all our bags and reminded myself that I'm not a penguin anymore....that was rather lovely!

We got the tube - very clean, efficient and easy to use - like the DLR in fact, and made our way to Jack & Odette's. It was amazing to see them both here - really great to see them both so happy. They made us feel so welcome and Ross and I thoroughly enjoyed the pizza's and Coronas with limes- what a luxury. They live in a very nice apartment, with mod cons that we forgot we loved so much - a washing machine and tumble dryer that got me way too enthusiastic, a hob, oven and toaster so that we could make our own food, a hot, clean shower....we were delighted. Then they dropped in that they had a swimming pool and a gym - you can only imagine Ross's face!!

Singapore as a city feels purpose-built for expats and high-flying locals with modern high-rise blocks of condominiums and offices alike; interspersed with shopping malls galore, pollution-free dual carriages (a positive oddity). This is the most 'comfortable' place we have visited, very clean and orderly with great food options and a tempting array of shops (we did well to avoid!). Ross and I spent an afternoon walking around Marina Bay which seemed to be influenced by London and Sydney with a Millennium-style bridge, overlooking the water and adjacent to the main cultural and arts centre (think London's Southbank) and the first floating football pitch which mesmerised and perplexed Ross in equal measure.

We had a great night out with Jack, his colleagues and friends which was brilliant - a good bar with decent music but an unnerving familiarity of ex-pats from my neck of the woods, that made us feel like we were at home - all of this we thoroughly enjoyed, but when you're not ready to go back to the UK, yet feel catapulted into UK 'normality' it felt peculiar having spent over four months in unfamiliar territory that has been our temporary home.

A site for sore eyes is the Botanical Gardens - an impressive, well maintained yet interesting park, full of palm trees, huge tropical plants and some strange sights. Jack spotted a monk who walked up to a bin and kissed it. We then saw several contrived wedding photography sessions (Jack explained that Singaporeans tend to get married elsewhere but choose the gardens as the backdrop for their photo's) - at least three couples simultaneously posed for their photo's, clad in their wedding gear, pointing at trees for affect. For me, this sums up Singapore, real but surreal, yet it clearly works and a quarter of this growing city is made up of ex-pats. Everyone has a maid, the kids appear more comfortable with their Nannies than their Mummies.

Our finale was a lovely evening with Jack and Odette with a night safari at the Singapore Zoo. A great evening it was, though we all agreed some of the animals didn't look as happy as they should, which took the edge off it a little. Nonetheless, after lots of animal spotting we were treated to a curry by our lovely hosts....needless to say, this was the first curry since leaving India and the best since leaving London!

Love to all,

Charlie & Ross

Posted by charlieandross 06:34 Archived in Singapore Comments (1)

The muddy estuary, Irish bars and jungle gardens

sunny 38 °C

We arrived in Kuala Lumpur in our rather non-descript maroon Proton saloon at the inconvenient time of 5.30pm on Friday afternoon. We love driving in new cities during rush hour - especially big, modern cities with 6 lane carriage ways and imposing metal sky scrappers! Needless to say, my map reading skills were awful and Charlie did a tremendous job at navigating our way into the Indian quarter of KL where we wanted to stay.

Our guesthouse was situated just outside both the Indian and Chinese quarters and, as ever, was typically basic and slightly grubby. We often find ourselves in the bizarre situation of rating levels of grubbiness between potential guesthouses to stay in - can we stomach the dirty linen more in Fat Harry's than the fact that the bathroom in Summer View has no toilet seat? These dilemmas continued in KL and after one night in our first guesthouse the cardboard walls that separated our room from the communal film room started to wear rather thin on both of us. So, with typical efficiency, Charlie scouted out the nearest contenders and we moved over the road to a guesthouse whose name I cannot recall at all.

After a rather tiresome first day in KL Charlie and I decided to really make the most of our city break - akin to that of a European city break. We explored the majority of the business district, KL Tower and Petronas towers in pretty much one day. The Petronas towers are really very impressive, the twin metal towers are connected at the 42nd floor by the largest two-storey bridge in the world and standing at the foot of them I felt slightly overwhelmed if I am honest! We even got a chance to visit the mall for our dinner and then went to the cinema to see 'Man on a Ledge'. In short - we had our very own evening in a Malaysian Lakeside!

Onto the most important day of the weekend - Liverpool v Cardiff. Now as you all know, Charlie had been badgering me for a few weeks to go with her to the pub to watch the League cup final. So, like all good fiancée’s, I agreed. I know, I really am that giving! We decided to scout out an Irish pub in the city centre as we both felt it would have a pretty good vibe for the game. So, in our completely stupid ignorance, we arrived at 1.30pm (the game was not due on until midnight our time) hoping to check the pub out and then come home for some lunch. Little did we know that we would meet the drinking whirlwind partnership of Charlie and Lesley - a rather charming ex-pat couple from Hartlepool. 6 hours later and about 6/7 beers later (my) Charlie and I rolled out of the pub rather a little worse for wear with sore heads and two new drinking buddies...

...Fast forward a few hours; a couple more beers, some over priced food, one football match with extra time and penalties and we rolled home to bed with sore heads and emerging hangovers. Oh, and Charlie was also over the moon that Liverpool won!

The final leg of our Malaysian journey took us to Melaka, a heritage town on the South West coast of the country. By this time we were really craving some time to relax as the previous few days traveling had really taken it out of both of us. Charlie had read about a guesthouse in the centre of town named Emily's with outdoor showers and outdoor hut-like accommodation. We both liked the sound of this, particularly in the heart of the town. We were not disappointed either! Emily's turned out to be a real gem of a find, built completely out of recycled and salvaged materials by the owner Malik, it was a real peaceful hideaway for us both to recharge the batteries, which was well needed!

Oh, by the way Kuala Lumpur actually means muddy estuary!

Ross and Charlie

Posted by charlieandross 20:33 Archived in Malaysia Comments (2)

On the slow train to Butterworth

sunny 38 °C

Hello Readers!

Last week we abandoned our beloved Yute at Hat Yai in Southern Thailand. After an uneventful evening at our dingy hotel in the City (the centre was no place to go out at night – populated by more brazen rats than there were people), we were up the next day at 05:30, to catch our border-crossing train to Butterworth, Malaysia.

We were both excited about entering a new country as we always are and though I had visited Malaysia before, I was looking forward to Ross and I seeing the country with fresh eyes and seeing more of the country as backpackers. The day started well – Ross did his usual greatness at packing a bag of munchies and drinks, the train arrived on time and our cabin companions (French Canadian, Malaysian, Thai and Brits) all seemed very nice and in good spirits. We were scheduled for a 5-hour journey, arriving in Butterworth at 1pm, plenty of time to seek a great place to stay for our budget after a ferry to Palau Penang.

To echo Ross’s last blog describing the freedom and loveliness of having our own car, his sentiments came true. After 10 hours on the train, two long stops (one of which was parked up next to the Eastern and Oriental Express – just to add insult to injury), broken air con on our train and a broken train ahead of us, not to mention the domestic disharmony among the French Canadian couple sat next to us (they were tired); we were hungry, shattered and dehydrated. Butterworth was the pits – a port town to ferry people to Penang. Too weary to go on to Penang, we spent about an hour looking at overpriced horrid guesthouses with our luggage, only to spend money on a taxi to get us to the port and on the ferry. We should learn our lessons – bad decisions are often made when one is tired.

We headed for Georgetown, a fairly picturesque Colonial City with a seedy, grimey backpacker district where travellers get very little for their money; and a new town rich with British influenced buildings and architecture. After a stiff drink and a good sleep in the backpacker district, we went for a lovely walk to explore the City, which can easily be done if half a day. We treated ourselves to High Tea darlings, at the Eastern & Oriental Hotel – great fun, tongue in cheek & delicious.

We loved our road trip through Thailand so much, that we decided to do the same through Malaysia and the next day we were on our way to Kuala Lumpur with a planned overnight stop at Ipoh. My gosh, what a place – dire, average, creepy, ugly, and seedy. It was another horrid travelling day, scoping grim guesthouses (some of which were brothels) before we settled on somewhere nice and new and slightly out of our price range – sometimes, there really isn’t much choice. Oh, and we had a McDonalds Chocolate Milkshake for dinner – the only place that looked decent (!) that also had WiFi.

Onwards and upwards to Kuala Lumpur – we were determined to make this City- break a good one which Ross will update you on the next blog.

What we’re trying to say is that though we are have a fantastic time, and each experience, good or bad is stimulating; it’s not always fun. Sleeping and eating – our two preoccupations have been dire of late, and in between the highlights of the places we have visited, is has been hard work and budget draining to get to them!

Posted by charlieandross 06:24 Archived in Malaysia Comments (4)

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