Hong Kong (1 year later) and Wrap Up

And then before we knew it, we were back in Hong Kong. One year less a couple of days later, it didn’t seem much different (you may recognize the market photo similar to last years shot!). But this time we had a much more refreshed view of the city and spent 2 nights there also.

We had arrived mid day and spent the first day getting settled, doing a bit of shopping and met up with Simon. We had booked in at the Eaton Hotel in an executive package which gave us free access to the executive lounge – with cocktails, free internet (wireless or their computers), snacks, gourmet breakfast buffet and more. And to top it off, our room was upgraded too!

So after a bit of luxury and shopping, we met Simon for dinner and had a much more congnizant visit this time around. It was great to catch up on how his life had changed in the past year and to recap our experiences.

The next day was reserved for Hong Kong site seeing. We took the MTR (the rail system in Hong Kong is flawless) to catch the gondola cable car to Lantau Island to see the Po Lin Monastery and Tian Tan Buddha. While we knew the cable ride was going to be interesting, it was much more impressive than we had anticipated. It was a half hour ride over water and secluded mountainside for over 5 1/2 km.

At the top is the Po Lin Monastery and the giant Buddha. We had a wonderful vegetarian lunch at the monestary (thanks again to Simon for his suggestions!), and spent lots of time exploring the Buddha.

The bus ride back down was quite time consuming and a little hairy given the single lane journey over twisting mountainside for much of it (they are widening the road) – we would recommend taking the gondola back down also!!

And still wanting to collect a few more items, we headed back and I did a bit of last minute shopping while Mike & Kyle hit the computers. We had one last dinner out (again one of Simon’s recommendations) – at a restaurant where one of the Iron Chef’s resided! As expected, it was another great meal.

In the morning we had a relaxing breakfast at the Eaton Hotel enjoying the smoked salmon, French pastries, fresh fruit and more on the buffet. And after a final leisurely shower and final packing, we were off home.

And that’s what a year on teaching exchange to Australia was like for us. We hope you’ve enjoyed sharing our journey – we’ve certainly enjoyed sharing it with you. Thanks to everyone who signed our journal and sent us emails – it was great to hear from you. And it’s great to be back seeing so many of you now. Although we do miss all the friends we have left behind. Stay in touch!

Thailand – Bangkok

Arriving early morning in Bangkok, our arranged transport to the hotel failed to show up (we heard from him later – he called to apologize that he had been given the wrong time). Again strangers were very helpful in assisting us with our troubles – and we managed to catch a taxi to the hotel no problem.

After checking in and showering, we headed to pick up our custom made clothing. We were re-fitted and they kindly had everything sent to our hotel later in the day so that we didn’t have to carry them around. We can certainly recommend Briani of Bangkok if anyone is looking for custom suits in Thailand.

So free of baggage, we took the skytrain and a river boat to the Grand Palace. Even after all the temples and pagodas we had visited, the palace was still very impressive.

There were endless buildings, each one overwhelming on its own. But en masse they are all the more magnificent. The buildings were well maintained with some tile work and painting still being done. We were not sure if it was restoration work – if they were fixing older artwork, the old was completely removed first.

As in many other cultures, gold is much desired and there is no shortage of it at the palace. Anywhere you see ‘gold’ in these photos, it truly is gold.

We visited the museum where many more gold artifacts were stored – no photos allowed of course!! There were personal kits of kings and queens. Each person gets a whole new set – no reusing of the past kings effects. There were belts and rings full of gold and diamonds and rubies and emeralds. There were also many examples of coins over the centuries. The form of their conis was very different prior to the 1800’s. At that point, the current king westernized the style of their coins and the old styles went out of use.

From the palace, we returned to do our final packing before heading out for dinner. We found a Korean neighbourhood where we had a very yummy Galbae. However, we (or should I say ‘I’) also ordered another dish of ground beef with spices and vegetables which is apparently eaten raw. So unfortunately that part of our meal went uneaten. Ah well, not an overly expensive lesson at $10!

Thailand Tour Day 5

We had a busy day on our last day of the tour – we started with a visit to Wat Doi Suthep – a temple in the mountains at 1,056 metres. We took an elevator rail to the top since were in a hurry (we had wanted to walk up). The monastery was built in 1383 by King Gue-Na. At left is the spiral pagoda – big chedi – which contains relics of Lord Buddha. We did walk back down the 300 steps though – which wasn’t all that many after all!

Next we travelled back down the winding mountain roads to an elephant camp. We started with a one hour trek through the jungles – a journey taken by Stallone for one of the Rambo movies.

Elephants are much revered in Thailand – the Hindu elephant God Ganesh is the son of Shewa and is an integral part of the Hindu faith. He is the God of Intelligence and Success.

After watching the elephants head to the river for a bath, we were entertained with a display of ‘skills’ / tricks learned by the elephants – from lumber hauling and bell ringing to playing soccer and basketball. Some of the elephants walked on their back legs, others on their front – and many different balancing acts also. Very impressive. At the end, they called for volunteers for an elephant massage – and so here I am getting my ‘gludial massage’!

There are 6,000 elephants in Thailand, and 4,000 of those are in camps. Each one eats 250KG per DAY – so imagine how much land they require in the wild!

We visited an orchid and butterfly farm for lunch. Absolutely breathtakingly beautiful! The orchids came in many different varieties and colours and aromas. Here are a few for your viewing pleasure! (It did make me quite sad that they grow so readily in this climate and not in Canada….)

And finally it was time to head to the Chain Mai station to catch our overnight sleeper train back to Bangkok. We had a cozy compartment, and Kyle had one which he shared with another person (not so bad as he only slept there). Although the boxed dinner left a little to be desired – we survived on our snack reserves that night!

Thailand Tour Day 4

We left Chaing Rai and headed for Ban Lorcha – a hillside village community. It is a tourist based community developed to promote a sustainable lifestyle for the villagers.

Two seperate tribes were relocated here and live in nearby communities, although not integrated. Their costumes were quite different and their languages also – they are so different that the two villages are unable to communicate verbally with each other.
The people in the villages tended to be either very young or very old. We suspected that despite the governments hope to sustain village life, the youth and middle aged people still left the village to find work in the cities.
As you can see in the photo at right, their household kitchen is very basic, and the whole home consisted only of one additional room. The entire village shares a toilet – so there is not much holding the youth to the village.
Although there were farming communities leading to the village (photo at right), the landscape in the hillside villages makes farming difficult. There is not really any farming in the village to speak of.
There were many crafts for sale – but most were not made by the locals, rather were brought in for sale. One exception seems to be the woven baskets – you can see the crop drying at right. But there aren’t many on sale, so I suspect they make items for their own use. And since there is much more selection and better prices in the city markets, there seems to be little reason to buy from the villages. I suspect the ‘sustainable tourism’ they were hoping for is not likely to succeed.

We proceeded to Chaing Mai and visited craft making sites – lacquerware, silk making, paper umbrellas, jewellery making and wood carving. Some places did not allow photos, and they were generally quite crowded, so few photo op’s -sorry!

In the evening, we attended a Kantoke Dinner with typical Thai food served in the traditional manner, and followed by dances and songs by various hillside tribes. Unfortunately, Mike had been downloading photos prior to leaving, and had forgotten to put the memory card back in the camera! So again no photos!!!