Archive for January, 2013

The Dragon’s Back

This weekend we went on a hike on the Dragon’s Back trail on the island. It’s a long walk but we started about half way through. We got the MTR to Chai Wan then the Number 9 bus outside the exit. The views there were great, even though the day we went was pretty hazy.

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At the end of the hike we ended up here at the village in the picture. It’s called Shek O Fishing Village on the South East of the island. Holly D told us how the British came in and moved the fishing settlements more south a couple hundred yards to make room for a Golf Course….which is so British Imperialism in the 19th Century.

Anyhow, we ended up at this really famous and delicious Thai restaurant there and checked it out – there was even Crazy Golf…The Beach there was mint too, but like I said, it was a bit of an overcast day, probably on par with a British summer to be fair, I was in shorts.

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After the hike, we headed back and we ended up going out. First round to Jack, Ian and Jordan’s place, before heading to the HK Brewhouse to see Belbin’s gig (which we unfortunately missed). Ran into a lot of the Chatteris gang, so was a decent night out.

Sunday was no decent, limited to lying in bed, Pirates of the Caribbean and loads of food to cure the headache. Hangovers are weird here because of the pace of life being so sped up, and usually means Sunday is a write-off. Did get time to fit a Skype session in with these sophisticated individuals… clearly get my looks from Mum.

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Happy Valley and The Peak

Work’s been similarly not really interesting this week as the kids are still on exam leave. We’ve been spending most of the time preparing for the next few events we have. Outside of work, we’ve been busy as usual though.

On Wednesday night we went to Happy Valley Racecourse for a cheeky flutter or two. Really great atmosphere there, lots of Westerners and a really easy way to bet on the horses. Minimum bet is $20 and I had 3 different bets, no winners. But was a great night anyhow.

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On Saturday, Aids, Tony, Flintoff, Tommy and I got a takeaway Dim Sum from a Michelin Starred place near our house, which cost a whopping $606 in total. It came in a box the size of a hoover, and they gave us 12 sets of chopsticks, thinking it would serve 12 of us, not 5. Was an absolute feast and well worth it. Later on Saturday we had a football match in Kennedy Town so Dim Sum-ed up we headed down there. Chatteris FC played really well and linked up in the best way I’ve seen yet this season, but we still got hammered despite scoring 4 goals ourselves, with 2 assists from yours truly.

On Sunday, Nat and I headed down to check out Kowloon Park in Tsim Sha Tsui. It was decent there, a little maze, fountains, plants – the usual. Few old men sat painting the landscape which was good to see, and loads of the Filipino maids who meet up and hang out together on Sundays. We got the Star Ferry over to the island after that, and headed up Victoria Peak, which we hadn’t done for about 4 months. Great views up there again, so much to look at, one of my favourite views in this place. And one that I’ll ever get bored of I reckon…

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Asian Vegas

On Saturday we headed to the Vegas of the East – Macau. I’d heard a lot of things about Macau – obviously you picture the Ocean’s 11 scene of Las Vegas for the casinos but also the beautiful Portuguese historical influence – but it was quite different to what I imagined it to be. We got a Groupon for $395 which included tickets for the Turbojet there and back, a meal at the Galaxy casino and hotel, an open-top tour bus ride and entry to Macau Tower’s observation deck (absolute bargain).

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We didn’t get time to go to the old historical sites, but did see the old town – the bit you never see when James Bond’s there. The main bit is definitely the Casinos though, and these really are MEGA Casinos. The famous ones like the Lisboa, we didn’t get to visit this time, but will definitely hit them up next time. We went to the supercasinos on Taipa island (the one with less Portuguese old buildings) and hit the Galaxy Hotel and Casino for some food, then met Tommy and Flintoff at The Venetian. This one had canals inside the place, with gondolas,  a sky with stars on the ceiling like the Trafford Centre, St Mark’s Square imitation etc. We even sampled some ‘Macau’ lager as we hit the casino in the City of Dreams. In total, I lost about $700 despite being a few hundred up at one point but proper enjoyed the trip and the time we spent there. Can see how some people become really addicted to it too, no windows or clocks makes time a weird concept when you’re inside.

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We had planned to stay during the night instead of book a room to stay over, so ended up getting the 3am ferry back to Hong Kong. Was a great weekend with the lads and we’ll definitely be hitting it again soon.

 

New Year’s Eve in Hong Kong, Fireworks and Temples

Not done a blog post in a while – the 2 weeks since we got back from the Philippines have been pretty quick but also nothing really interesting has happened. Apart from New Years Eve.

The day we got back from the airport, we had literally an afternoon to recover before we were off celebrating the New Year. At 8pm we met the group at the Harbour piers and got on our Junk Boat (massive shout to Ian once again for organising it). Cannot think of a better place to bring in the new year really – Hong Kong’s fireworks rival Sydney and London’s for expense and beauty and we would be yards away from them in the middle of the harbour (made better when I heard the crowds in Tsim Sha Tsui on the Kowloon peninsula were HUGE and couldn’t see most of them). Drinking dangerously high levels of gin and 12% Bear Beer, and in the company of great people we saw in the new year with a massive countdown…

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Don’t remember much after that…

Anyhow, getting back to work was not welcomed after more than a week in a beach paradise. Our students had exams so we were pretty under-utilised but Chatteris had prepared training for us after a few days in work, so we went to the office for a few days. I saw it as a much needed mid-term injection of TEFL training and ideas-sharing, which was made better with a ten-pin bowling trip on the Thursday.

Inbetween this, Nat and I went to the cinema twice to finally see The Hobbit and also Les Mis, which were very good films. It’s weird how British Hong Kong can be – film and popcorn for a couple of hours, I could have been in Ashton rather than Mong Kok, so it’s times like these when it’s great to get a feel of home again. We also booked our tickets to go to Taiwan for Chinese New Year, which should be great.

On Sunday we also headed to the Che Kung Temple near Sha Tin. It was fascinating to see all the worshippers doing their thang with incense sticks, the drums and chanting. And the design inside the temple was amazing, with this big bronze statue of a general in the middle:

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We also headed to the Hong Kong Heritage Museum after that, but got to say it was pretty naff. It struck me as a way for Chinese-nationalist Hong Kongers to be like ‘Remember how Chinese you are, so let’s stick a load of Chinese art, robes and Buddha statues that are loosely related to Hong Kong in a big building’. Overall, not really exciting but for $10 entry (80p) it wasn’t too bad. Kept us kids off the street anyhow.

We had Friday off work for claiming compensation leave, so me and Adrian had a great day testing out his new camera around TST and the island. We met the girls for Martinis and steak sandwiches in a place called Morton’s Steakhouse in TST, which was sweet because our hours don’t usually let us go there for the drink offers. Steph Carter’s mum was in town so we met her, headed to Erin and Sandy’s place for more drinks and then Aqua Bar in Yau Ma Tei before an early night on account of our big weekend trip. To the Vegas of the East, Macau.

Christmas in Paradise

So my first Christmas away from home was spent in the middle of 32 degree heat on white beaches with clear water. Paradise. I had read a few blogs of people who had travelled to the Philippines and Palawan especially and there’s a few things they omitted or did not expand upon which are pretty useful to know so I’ll try and do that here, as well as share Christmas 2012 with you.

Day 1: Tony, Soph, Adrian, Nat and I left Mong Kok MTR station at about 6am to get the Airport Express from Central station. Anyway, a really useful fact: you can check in at the station there if you’re running late, to save time at the airport which is a great idea. So for the first time since August 13th, I was back at Hong Kong International Airport. We headed off to Manila Clark airport and arrived there in the afternoon.

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One thing I noticed early on was how cheap everything is – the currency ‘pesos’ is at the current conversion rate of 0.01 for 1 peso. A 35 peso hot dog was 52p for example and Airport tax was 40 pesos. Hong Kong Dollar went really far there – we had about HKD 2500 for 8 days and that was just enough – so less than 200 quid which is what you’d easily spend in a weekend in say Paris. I’d also heard a few horror stories about taxis in Manila but at the airport door there were air conditioned mini vans all lined up and for a decent price (about 800 pesos each), the driver took us all the way to Manila airport on a 2 hour drive (we’re talking about ₤12 for a taxi ride that long, I spend more in a taxi after a night out in Manchester…). Manila took dodgy but we stayed on the main roads and highways and despite beggars coming up to the car windows at traffic lights trying to sell things, we avoided anything too dodgy. Everyone speaks perfect English as well – a 6 year old there speaks much better than my students in Hong Kong! We flew then from Manila Domestic Airport after a nice steakhouse meal, and landed in Puerto Princesa City Airport 2 hours later, to a pick-up that the hostel had arranged. Guy holding a card saying my name was a life win and a cross off the bucket list! The Hostel was called ‘Dallas Inn’ and was a beautiful place with staff who couldn’t do enough for us. At 300 pesos a night (₤4.50) it was a bargain, and the staff organised all the activities I’m going to mention here. Anyone going to Palawan, I can’t recommend this place enough to you! http://www.dallasinnpalawan.com/.

We met up with the rest of our group at a bar on the main street, where 7% Red Horse cost between 70p and ₤1.08 for a litre. And it can be bought from a pharmacy!

Christmas Eve: This was Christmas Eve and the hostel had organised for us to visit the Underground River, one of the 7 Wonders of the Natural World. We woke early and got in another air-con shuttle van that took us the 2 hours to Sabang Beach. It’s a great system we have there because everything is far away and tourists like to avoid the crowded public buses (which look more like funky metal vans), the shuttle vans take everyone and the tour guide looks after you pretty much 9-5 while you’re with them. They fed us at a Filipino buffet in Sabang and we had to wait a while to get a boat. The Mayor (who is advertised everywhere and pretty much worshipped) made it so only local people could run the tourism, so local Filipinos captain the boats. The waves were getting pretty rough and a lot of the boats refused to go out again, which made it difficult for us to get one. We finally did and it got us safely to the island with the Underground River. Monkeys were everywhere, and a few Mountain Lizards too. Here’s our group at the start of the tour.

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It reached nearly 24km into the rock and 8m deep, the tour guide told us a lot about it too. We headed back on some of the last boats to leave, and were lucky to see it as it turns out the waves were from the edge of the tropical typhoon that had hit the central Philippines at that time and had killed 17 people! We headed back to the hostel and went out for a meal and drinks again. It turned Christmas Day when there was 5 of us squashed into a Tuk-Tuk taxi (shown below) while singing ‘Fairytale of New York’. And met a guy called John from the Basque Country back at the hostel, had drinks with him talking for hours.

Christmas Day: We woke up early as we were heading out to Honda Bay for island hopping all day. A 2 hour shuttle bus ride and we were there in intense Christmas Day heat. The catamaran-style boat took us to 3 islands during the day – a turtle-shaped jetty where we could go snorkelling (beautiful coral and loads of exotic fish there), Isla Pandan and Starfish Island where there were loads of Mangroves. Won’t say too much about them but it was pretty much paradise – white sand, clear water, so much fun  and beautiful scenery. We found starfish, Adrian threw one like a frisbee (it wasn’t harmed…), jumping off a jetty, had a Filipino lunch prepared by the tour guide, lots of beers and an epic time.

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That night the hostel family included us in their meal (proper nice spread) and their traditional game of pulling a string over a high bar with a surprise gift in a sandwich bag on the end of the string. I won 50 pesos, Tony got 2 fried fish that stunk and Adrian got an orange… but was proper nice of the family to include us. We met up with the other guys at a restaurant, did our Secret Santa and had more beers to finish Crimbo Day.

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Boxing Day: We took it easy today because of the past couple of days being pretty hectic with meeting times etc. We headed down to the wharf, saw a huge Christmas tree set up by the town, and had a nice seafood lunch with a bucket of Red Horse in a restaurant. Nat also had a flight that night so it called for a dead chilled day. Beers, hammock, the works.

Day 5: We met a sound guy called Nate from Wisconsin in our dorm, a NET from Seoul in South Korea, who was heading to El Nido today so we joined him later in the day and took the 5 hour trip up north. So boring sleeping and listening to music but it seemed to pass OK. We arrived in El Nido late at night and in keeping with the Christmas story, there was no room at the inn. Apparently, the storm that had cancelled that day’s tours had caused people to stay another night in El Nido, coupled with the people who had made the trip, there was nowhere to stay. We ended up meeting another guy called Tom who teaches in Shanghai and finally found a place on the next beach along, who let us stay on the floor of the restaurant on mattresses from the sun loungers. Wasn’t ideal but we could shower and got a big breakfast so we weren’t complaining.

Day 6: Another relaxed day was on the cards because of all the travelling. Checked out the main street, beers in a bar, great food and Adrian playing guitar as we sat on the beach. Delight. That evening we had dinner in a live reggae place, at a table on the sand with the sea touching our feet and ran into Nate randomly. He recommended we stay another day (staaaayyy nowwww…) and go Island Hopping rather than our plan to get the 1pm bus back to Puerto Princesa. After a beer-influenced agreement to stay on the floor of his beach hut for our last night we changed our arrangements and did that…

Day 7: We got up early to meet our Captain for the day, Richard, who took us out to 5 of the best spots in El Nido. We did snorkelling, swimming, beaches and had a beaut of a meal that he made – he smoked tuna steaks in a cave on one of the islands the traditional way, delicious. You can choose which tour to do (A,B,C or D) all from 700-900 pesos each for the day. We went to all the places you get when you type ‘El Nido’ into Google: Small Lagoon, Secret Lagoon, Big Lagoon Simizu Island and the Seven Commandos island. We even fed fish remains to a wild Mountain Lizard, Steve Irwin -style – little fella’s shown below. Here are a few of the pics but they don’t do the place justice, far too beautiful there:

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We spent the night in Nate’s beach hut like I said, but not before we watched probably the world’s most beautiful sunset in Coron. We’re talking iMac wallpaper beautiful here, absolutely stunning.
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Day 8: Our last day we woke at 6am, got the 7am shuttle back to Puerto Princesa, chilled there for a bit then headed to the airport for 6pm, 20:45 flight to Manila, got in a shuttle taxi that took us back to Clark airport until 1am on New Year’s Eve, slept outside the airport for 3 hours, then checked in, slept waiting for the 07:05 flight back to Hong Kong. 24 hours of sporadic sleeping and lots of travelling but well worth it. Was one of the best holidays I’ve ever been on. So good they turned it into a movie…

Last week before Christmas

On Tuesday, we had the Pantomime in Kwun Tong. Got to say, after 10 practises and hours of graft, it came together perfectly. Was really chuffed with how it went, must have been funny to watch and can’t wait to see the video. Below is a photo of the whole Chatteris gang there. Classic ‘To the Pub!’ pose…

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On Wednesday we had a chilled day at work again, played some piano that had been left in the CILL and watched Emperor’s New Groove. And got paid for this. Life is sweet. Thursday was similar but this time with Indiana Jones. Life is still sweet. Thursday and Friday were again, chilled and pretty similar to the previous days but we went out for a curry on Friday with the staff and left at 15:00 to start the holidays! We went to a bar near our place called ‘Oasis’. They NEED one of these in Manchester, was a great place to have a chill and a drink…
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Then we went round to Molly, Jade, Jayde and Aaron’s flat for drinks with the rest of the CNETs who were still in Hong Kong, then called at Jack and Rich’s place after. Was a great night for seeing people and have some drinks. Saturday was out last day before heading to the Philippines on Sunday, so we spent it buying last minute things ready for our holiday away for Christmas. Merry Christmas to everyone wherever you are!