Wake up, drink coffee, open blinds, look at beautiful ocean, go to poolside bar for breakfast, drink more coffee, swim in pool. What a wonderful way to start your day, and that’s exactly what we have been doing. Marvellous.
We are already settling in to life at the Hotel and having a great deal of fun, and we’ve only been here a few days. It is a charming place set in the midst of a mountainside jungle with a spectacular view of the Andaman sea with a tantalising glimpse of Kata beach to whet your appetite for a day of adventurous sunbathing!
Our first night consisted of a dip in the pool, then bed, and after a wonderful nights sleep and a fabulous breakfast we took full advantage of the hotel shuttle service, (being perched on a mountainside is all well and good until you actually have to climb said mountainside, which is where the shuttle service comes into it’s own!), and headed off into town to get our bearings.
The villages of Kata and Karon are situated in the South West of Phuket and between them are home to what must number several thousand hotel rooms, several hundred cafes restaurants and bars, a slightly smaller number of retail outlets and 3 glorious beaches. Kata Noi is the smallest ( but still nearly 1 km ) and most secluded of the 3, then just around the headland is Kata beach a beautiful 2km stretch of golden sand, and if that wasn’t enough, a little further on is the long straight stretch of Karon Beach with its bizarrely squeaky sand.
Kata beach is the most commercial beach with many and varied activities from parasailing, jet ski-ing and surfing to the slightly more sedentary hair braiding services (which Moo just had to try and astoundingly sat for over an hour while 2 nimble fingered Thai ladies worked her ‘do’) and numerous massage areas where you can get a full hour oil massage for the princely sum of around 6 pounds (which I will be trying out in the very near future!).
All of the beaches are home to numerous food stands which serve both Thai and western menus and a mouthwatering selection of tropical fruit smoothies, or you can just have a freshly picked coconut with a straw. The beaches are also home to many many vendors who will try and sell you anything and everything including sarongs, belts, necklaces, musical instruments and a vast assortment of souvenirs featuring elephants, (the national animal of Thailand), and just about anything else you can think of. If you have no wish to buy a polite no thank-you or 3 and a smile should do the trick, but be warned if you do buy anything you will become a target for the other sellers for the rest of the day so it’s best to leave any purchases you wish to make till you are just about to leave. And don’t forget to haggle.
On our second day we visited the village of Karon and found what I think will be our favourite eatery. It’s a roadside shack (as many of them are) opposite the temple school and if you hit it at the right time of day you can watch the sunset over the temple and listen to the monks evening chants as you eat some of the best food I have ever tasted. Magical stuff. We had ordered a simple meal and as we waited Moo became completely absorbed in an episode of a very strange Thai soap – opera that was on the TV. The general jist was something about an evil spirit who took control of various leading ladies causing them to fight each other for no apparent reason. This story continued during our meal and I got not one single word of conversation from Moo till it had finished, at which point she declared it to be one of the best things she had ever seen. There’s no accounting for taste.
When we finished our meal a plate of mystery fruit* was presented for us to try and Moo was given a beautiful paper flower that the waitress had been making while we were dining. Such small gestures of kindness and welcome have been found all over the place since we arrived and I cant wait to get more of a taste of the island over the coming few weeks.
*The mystery fruit has since been identified (and purchased in bulk) as the delicious langsat
OK so here’s the deal . I am a little behind (about 3 weeks) in my blogging, and there are still a few things I need to write about China But I’m finding it hard to catch up and we have moved on a little….soooo.
I have inserted a couple of titles below which I will edit in the pieces when they are done and let you know!
If I don’t start to put the new pieces in now I will end up months behind, and that would be bad.
I had it covered, really I did. All the bookings printed out, passports, tickets and a plan. The plan was a good one too. We get the 11 am ferry from Macau directly to Hong Kong airport, that way we are all checked in by the time we get there and spend a leisurely couple of hours strolling the airport boutiques and changing our currency before boarding the flight to Thailand, without the need to cart our baggage on the underground across the centre of Hong Kong at a busy lunchtime. I told you it was a good plan. Flawless.
Well almost flawless.
Apart from the fact that when we arrived at the ferry terminal it transpired that there was no 11 am sailing to the airport, but all was not lost there was an 11.30 departure and the flight didn’t leave till ten past 2. We would be checked in at 11.30 and in Hong Kong airport by 12.30. lovely. Apart from the fact that when they said that when travelling to the airport by ferry you had to be checked in 2 hours before your flight what they actually meant was that you had to be at the airport 2 hours before your flight and ‘checking in’ at the ferry terminal didn’t actually count as part of the 2 hour time scale. I was then very calmly informed that if I arrived at 12.30 I wouldn’t be accepted for ‘airport check in’ as I would technically be 20 minutes late and would be sent back to Macau on the next ferry.
OK, so the plan was starting to look a tiny bit flawed now I’ll admit.
It was now 10.40am and time for a hastily constructed plan B.
11am ferry to Hong Kong non airport ferry terminal, there by mid-day, 20 minute taxi to central station then a half hour ride on the airport express. Easily be there by 1pm with an hour and 10 minutes before the plane left. That was do-able. Boarding began at 1.40, but that would be OK. Really we would make it in time. We would.
Plan B was rapidly replaced by a panic stricken and rather desperate Plan C when at 11.15 the 11am ferry was still idling in the dock at Macau.
By 11.20 we were finally under way.
At 12.21 I dragged 2 cases and a very excited Moo in my wake and joined the mercifully short lines at Hong Kong immigration. By 12.40 we were in a taxi heading directly for the airport with the cabbie on a promise of a $50 tip if we got to check in by 10 minutes past 1.
We got to the check in desk at 1.20, but as the cabbie had loaded our bags on a trolley and run them up to the counter himself he got his tip anyway. It’s not his fault there was a torrential downpour on the way there and he had to cut his speed a little.
With boarding passes in hand we hurtled thought the airport towards the gate, which was of course the furthest away, and arrived as they were calling for our row numbers to embark.
To say it was a relief to sink into the seat would be something of an understatement.
During the flight a young lady approached us and told us that she had been through the same panic stricken routine having arrived at Macau expecting the 11am departure, and had seen us on the ferry and was very glad we had made it. She had chosen the HK airport express route as it turns out you can check in at the train station and that does ‘count’. But she had only arrived at the gate minutes before us and had run most of the way. On balance I think with 2 cases and a 5 year old in tow plan C was defiantly our best option.
I am please to report that the rest of our journey was smooth by comparison and I can once again make an airline recommendation. Thai Airways are simply marvellous. Although the flight was only 2 and a half hours we were plied with alcohol almost as soon as we sat down and a lovely meal was served. There was a slight hiccough with meal as they had run out of the one I wanted and I was asked to wait a couple of minutes while they fetched another from elsewhere. When the ‘any more bread rolls’ lady was doing the rounds I mentioned I was still waiting for my meal and less than a minute later it was presented with a glass of champagne by way of apology, then 10 minutes later the steward who had forgotten arrived with a fresh gin and tonic and after that, quite frankly, I couldn’t care less.
There was a brief and incident free change of planes at Bangkok and another quick hop, (this time I thought I had better refuse the G&T if I actually wanted to make it to the hotel in any fit state), to Phuket. Our hotel driver appeared and 40 minutes later we were sipping complimentary check in drinks at the pool-side bar. After a swift coffee in the, very nice, room there was just time to take a dip in the pool before heading off to bed.
I have only been in Thailand for a few hours but I have already been struck by the genuine kindness and gentleness of the people, and by the darkness of the night sky. Coming from the neon lit nights of Macau and Hong Kong I had forgotten how dark the night sky actually is and how brightly the stars can shine.
After the storm had dictated very little sleep we decided to start the day in the hotel pool, (which seems to be becoming a bit of a habit), and drop the frantic pace of yesterday to leisurely strolling.
We began with yet another market, this one Jardine crescent, to see if there were any more bargains to be had, of course there were. I found this particular market to be extremely claustrophobic as the gap between the stalls most of the way up was less than a metre wide and the ramshackle roofs joined in the middle not a great deal higher than head hight in most places. This is obviously a great idea to protect the stalls during the rainy season, but on a hot crowded Sunday afternoon it made me feel a little queasy. But I soldiered on and managed to buy a couple of dresses for Moo and a few bits and bob’s. AJ’s passion for hair accessories is almost reaching the proportion of mine for stationery and by the time she returns home she will have enough to open a stall of her own, she indulged a few more times before we left.
When we did leave we headed back to the Mong Kok area and a few markets of a different sort. The flower, bird and fish markets all lie within a short distance of each other and although the kids weren’t too keen I was determined I would get to experience these famous streets before we left the city.
According to Guinness world records, Mong Kok region has the highest population density in the world with 130,000 per km sq. or 340,000 per mile sq. and I think every one of them was out and about this afternoon.
(Incidentally the world record for the most nationalities in a sauna at the same time is 57. Not that I let myself get side-tracked at all.).
The Yuen Po Street Bird garden was build in 1997 on the site of the near derelict former bird market as a way to improve the environment and to provide a much needed clean up of the area to keep the tourists flocking in (sorry I couldn’t resist at least one bird related pun).
The gardens and courtyards are a beautiful oasis of calm in a overcrowded bustling area of the city. If you make it there in the early morning you will be treated to the sounds of dozens of songbirds both in chorus and competition as owners take their pets for a stroll and compare specimens. Later in the morning the sellers arrive with their hundreds upon hundreds of caged birds for sale and everything you could ever need to pamper and preen you pet from ornate 6 foot metal cages to hessian sacks full of live crickets for feeding time.
Whilst I’m not a big fan of caged birds in general it was a fascinating insight into the everyday rituals and habits of the city’s residents. From the old men singing softly to their charges and lovingly feeding them honey water (to keep their throats lubricated), to the excited youngster picking their first pets and marvelling at the beautiful Macaw’s on show, it was something I will never forget.
Long before I was satisfied the kids had had enough,(one was freaking out and the other bored), so I called time on the bird market and we crossed the road to Flower Market Street. No prizes for guessing what goes on here.
This is THE place to get your blooms in Hong Kong, everything from a single stem to a multinational hotel chain’s floral displays are sold here 5am-7pm every day. Everywhere you turn your senses are beguiled with richness of colour and smell, it is almost overwhelming. From the tiny spouts of a young bamboo plant to towering palms, from the delicate pale hues of a fragile single blossom to the bold and, more often than not, ostentatious lobby displays, it’s all here on one street. But for me nothing could top the orchids.
From the small brittle stripy petalled ‘Acampe’ to the subtle seductive ‘Vanilla’. This is what heaven must smell like.
Once again my reverie was broken by the small peoples verdict of ‘s’alright I s’pose’ and their general calls for food and or a sit down pulled me back to the present and it was time to move on once more.
With one more street market under our belt on the way we found ourselves on ‘Fish Market Street’. I have to say that although the Anglicised street names may lack a little imagination and poetry, it certainly makes it an easy part of the city to navigate.
By now we were all a little hot and weary and after a couple of stores I found myself, for once today, agreeing with the ‘youth vote’ as we all reached the conclusion that it was all just a lot of old carp.
The sight of some admittedly rather cute and fluffy kittens for sale stopped the girls in their tracks, but it was the sight of a nearby MTR station that soothed my aching sloes.
Next stop Kowloon harbour for a much needed coffee and an with an hour or so to wait for the evenings event to take place we took the opportunity to admire the setting sun and generally sit still and not do any shopping for a little while. As we waited we got chatting to some ‘locals’ who turned out to have lived a few miles away from us in Bedfordshire for a number of years. Thousands of miles across the world and I meet someone from Luton. Really, what are the chances of that?
As the sunset turned rapidly to darkness and the crowds on the harbour wall swelled it was time for the ‘Symphony of lights’ to begin. This is a nightly event that sees the buildings on the opposite shore take starring roles. The music begins, and the main buildings are ‘introduced’ one by one to the crowd with a twinkle of their exterior lighting. For the next 15 minutes over 40 buildings ‘perform’ a synchronised music and light show topped with searchlights and lasers and, if you happen to be there n a celebration day, a stunning pyrotechnic display is added to the show. As bizarre as it is entertaining it is a must see for visitors to this utterly bonkers city.
The only thing to mar the evenings display was the presence of 5 police boats in the harbour searching for the body of someone recently departed form the end of the pier. But at least they dimmed their search during the show so it wouldn’t interfere with our enjoyment (really, they did)…..
When it was all over, and the police resumed their grim task away from the gaze of the crowd, we decided to revisit temple street for one last burst of shopping. We hadn’t quite covered all of the market the previous night so headed straight for the north end where we found gadgets galore and tourist trinkets as far as the eye could see. Somehow this end of the market didn’t seem quite so much fun and very few items made it into the shopping bags (I may have sneaked in a leather bound notebook, but my stationery habit is under control. I could stop any time I wanted to).
When we hit temple square the atmosphere changed in an instant. Gone were the myriad of fortune tellers and impromptu roadside karaoke shacks with their happy drunken singers and in their place was something a lot less palatable. As with every city there are sights which really should not be seen. I must admit I wasn’t expecting to walk into an opium trading den in the middle of a tourist route, but that’s exactly what we found at the intersection of north and south markets.
The smell was the first hint as you entered the square it hit you like a wall, the acrid bitter fumes in stark contrast to the floral delights experienced a few hours previously. Then I noticed the shambling dead-eyed mad walking around in no particular direction looking like he would topple at any second and the not so furtive dealings taking place on the temple steps with notes and small packages changing desperate hands in full view.
Needless to say I ushered the girls out as soon as I could and called it a night, all desire for further exploration drained in those few seconds. Time to go to bed.
We were all exhausted by the time we got back to the hotel and with no looming weather to interrupt us we tried to get some rest. Hubs would be joining us early next morning and from the Macau ferry terminal we would all go for a much needed soothing relaxing quiet family day out on what was predicted to be a blazing hot day at the peak of the Chinese holiday period to the biggest and busiest theme park in South China.
After a couple of days of serious relaxing it was time to up the pace so we headed off to Hong Kong for a ‘girlie’ weekend shopping trip.
With the finest shopping instructions Google could supply, we dumped our bags at our hotel in the rather splendid harbour view corner room (more of that later), and armed with our ‘octopus’ (HK travel) cards a fist full of small notes with the promise of bargains galore ringing in our ears we headed straight for the ‘ladies market’ on Tung Choi Street.
We were not to be disappointed.
It took a few minutes to get accustomed to the utter chaos of a proper Chinese street market, but once the senses had stopped being utterly overwhelmed the Scot in me came to the fore and the haggling began.
There was some hard bargaining done and the many hints and tips I have picked up from Hubs over the years certainly seemed to pay off as I stretched AJ’s shopping money further than she had dared to hope.
And as I am a nice sort of person I will share a few top market shopping tips with you.
1. Remember it’s a game.
2.Always haggle with a smile – you will get a much better result.
3.Ask the price, look shocked/disappointed and say no.
4.They will then ask you how much you want to pay. Go for broke and offer half.
5.They will almost always refuse your first offer, and so the game begins!
6.Bartering up and down in price is normally in $10 or $20 dollar increments
7.If you reach a happy medium it’s all good. If they are stubborn on the price and you still don’t like it, walk away, (you can usually find the same items a stall or two away).
8.This is the really fun bit – it may just happen that the stall owner follows you and tries to keep haggling. If this happens you are generally on to a winner and can name a price you want to pay and get your item.
9.If not then carry on around the market till you find another stall with the same goods, and start the process all over again.
10. When you have agreed a price pay with a smile and say thank-you. Of course this isn’t really a tip for getting a discount, just a pleasant way to end your transaction.
As there are many stalls that do carry the same goods, another bargaining tool is to tell the stall holder that you saw the item for a much cheaper price on a different stall, whether this is the whole truth or not I will leave to your own discretion, but it is a tactic that has worked on may occasions.
With our first set of purchased made it was time for a quick refreshment stop and map check to find Canton Street and the Jade markets. AJ was utterly determined to buy some jade on this trip (well it is what the J stands for after all) and found the most beautiful necklace almost the moment we stepped in.
The Market halls were beautiful and a lot less frantic than the ladies market, there was much more time to browse the beautiful and sometimes obscure objects on sale. I was sorely tempted by the 1 meter high jade relief carving of Elvis, but fortunately my sanity won out on that occasion (but not before I had enquired about shipping costs….).
More refreshments (and a rest for the feet) were needed before we ventured on to temple street for the world famous ‘night market’.
By now I was haggling like a native and secured my biggest bargain of the weekend by getting a ‘$420’ teeny bikini for just $150. (For those of you who know me I can calm your minds by assuring you that the bikini was not in fact for me but for AJ. The world is ready for a lot of things, but nothing could prepare it for the sight of me in a teeny bikini!).
I did manage to do a little shopping for myself, but it was a much more sober full length silk dressing gown for my shopping bag. And fear not our Moo was not forgotten, but she was more than content to come away from the evening with a $10 squishy black rat toy, although she did have to be talked down from the ‘musical’ rubber chicken. Out tired feet managed to drag us back to the MTR and the train whisked us back under Kowloon harbour and then it was but a short taxi ride back base camp.
The intention was to crash out early and gather our strength for the day ahead but mother nature and two ‘window walls’ had other ideas.
As we settled down to gaze out on the harbour view noticed something rather peculiar. It wasn’t there. The world famous city lights were disappearing before our eyes as one by one the mighty skyscrapers were eaten up by a wall of solid rain and in less than 3 minutes were completely blotted from the landscape. What can only be describe as an ear-splitting roar accompanied by 6 or 7 almost simultaneous forks of lightning across the bay, along with the yelps of two surprised and slightly terrified children, and I knew there was only one sensible thing to do. It was time to take full advantage of the glass walls on 2 sides of our room and the curtains were whisked aside and pillows thrown to the floor and there we sat for a couple of hours as the storm ripped the very heavens and the harbour view room came into its own. Whilst technically we could no longer actually see the harbour, wow-what a view. AJ got a real kick out of standing pressed to the glass feeling the thunder, and this from a girl who arrived in Asia frightened of storms. Pure magic.
As the harbour emerged from the rain bank and the thunder and lightning re-grouped over the mountains to gather it’s strength for a second wave, the girls drifted off to sleep leaving me sitting by the window wondering once more at the sheer awesome power of mother nature, The dazzling bright city lights of the towering shrine to the great gods of commerce obliterated in an instant and thoroughly outdone by the forces of nature.
By now it was around 2am and as the storm rolled round the bay once more I was also left wondering how on earth 2 such small people could take up so much space on a super king size bed.
Gaaarr, it’s happened again. Another week has gone by without me seeming to find the time to communicate with the outside world.
I am woefully behind on my blog writing, although extensive notes have been made in one of the many notebooks which are part of what is rapidly becoming an extensive stationary collection, so far it seems there are too few hours in the day to do anything with them.
We have been showing AJ as much as we can of the area and trying to give her a small taste of Asia, not easy in 2 weeks, but we have managed to pack quite a lot in.
With very large thanks to a colleague of Hubs, we got walk-through tickets to see Zaia ,the Cirque Du Soleil show at the Venetian. Moo was quite annoyed that we were sitting in a booth until the audience participation down on the ground began. She is not a big fan of ‘joining in’, particularly when those doing the asking are in large and loud costumes. That the protagonists in this case were dressed as clowns made it doubly worse as she seems to have developed an aversion to these particular circus freaks. Can’t think where she gets that from….
It was as the lights were lowered and the eyes were widened that it occurred to me that this was the first actual performance of a show that Moo has seen. She has witnessed many rehearsals and been on more backstage tours than the most dedicated ‘stage door johnny’, but as we settled back and watched high rise buildings appear from the ground and performers drop in from the sky, it was pure and utter wonderment.
As the circus acts followed each other in rapid succession, I must admit to being more than a little bewildered as to the actual story arc they were trying to follow, and between us all we still have absolutely no clue why one of the main characters was carrying an, I’m sure what must have been a hugely symbolic, oversized prop egg on his back.
The performances of the acrobats were undeniably extremely polished and professional, the performer flying looked nice, if a touch repetitive, (there seemed to be a lot more ‘kit’ up in the air than was actually used during the show), and the lighting was beautiful. But overall we had a ‘hung jury’ regarding the show.
1 emphatic ‘Meh’ from AJ (who it has to be said was asleep for half the time). She found its 90 minutes over-long and the circus acts and music were not to her taste at all.
1 luke-warm ‘okay’ from me. Whilst I enjoyed the acts and the visual spectacle, I felt the ‘story’ element was utterly lost and I can’t help but feel that bringing an entirely circus oriented show to China is rather like taking coals to Newcastle or ice to the Eskimos.
Moo however shared none of these concerned and when the 90 minutes was up she was bitterly disappointed that it was home-time. She was utterly captivated from start to finish and was full of questions, both artistic and technical, although I think she may have slightly annoyed some of the ‘off duty’ cast members who were sharing the booth that night when she began suggesting ways to improve certain aspects of the show…..
To see the delight in her eyes as the lights swooped round in ever changing colours and the cast defied gravity and threw fire around the place with seeming recklessness was pure magic to my eyes and brought home to me once more the power of a ‘show’ to inspire and enthral.
1 very large thumbs up from her then. Apart form the clown. She really didn’t like the clown.
Another highlight of any visit to Macau has got to be a visit to ‘The wave pool’ situated on the mezzanine roof terrace of the Hard Rock hotel, and as Moo and I had never actually made it there before now it was a new experience for all of us.
When walking onto the roof terrace of any hotel you expect a decent view. What I didn’t expect to see was a perfect strip of white sand beach bedecked with loungers and umbrellas surrounding an enormous multi-tiered swimming pool, complete with a ‘swim up’ bar and restaurant, but that’s exactly what we got. Not to mention the beach volleyball court and enormous hot-tub platform. It was all a little surreal but from the look on Moo and AJ’s faces as we walked in I knew I had scored a serious amount of ‘cool-points’ for this outing.
With barely enough time to feel the burning hot sand beneath my feet both kids were in the pool making good use of the many and various flotation devices available and it wasn’t too long before I joined them.
It also wasn’t long before Moo had attached herself to a group of French children around a similar age and the need for mum and big sis almost entirely vanished, well until it was time for tea anyway. The idea of spending just a couple of hours here evaporated in the afternoon sun as we were all having way too much fun to leave and the decision to order up a very reasonably priced and delicious ‘poolside pizza’ was greeted with much enthusiasm.
The in-pool entertainment for the afternoon was mainly provided by AJ who had grown rather attached to what I can only describe as a ‘big red wobbly floaty thing’ and once she had managed to master getting onto it and floating around in the sun, decided that it was time to try and stand up on it. After many, what can only be described as disastrous but hilarious, attempts, she finally managed a few seconds upright to the delight and not inconsiderable applause of her fellow pool dwellers.
As the sun began to set and the hotel lights came on I found myself lounging on an oversized pool ring trailing my head and my hands in the cool waters. Looking up at the fading sun reflecting off the inverted column of metallic wave like ‘ripples’ that seem to grow organically from the façade of the Hard Rock hotel, with Lou Reed gently urging me from the underwater speakers to ‘Take a walk on the wild side’, I wondered if the day could get any better.
As it turned out it could. When the lights of the surrounding hotels began to shimmer in the darkness of the still warm night, I had a cold beer in my hand and headed to my new favourite spot and once more used my ‘phrase of the day’.
“If you need me, I’ll be in the hot-tub”.