Well hello everyone, and welcome to my last blog of Asia. I have quite a lot to tell you about the last week and a half so sit tight, and here we go...
I left you exhausted at the end of my Indochina Loop tour, and I woke up on Wednesday morning with surprisingly little hangover, despite having been more than a bit drunk the night before. I thoroughly enjoyed not having to be out of bed until 12 (check out time), when Katherine and I jumped in a taxi and sped across town to Khao San Road, where we would be spending the next few days. We checked into a less than salubrious hotel (hey, it had air conditioning and a pool, who cares about the suspicious stains on the walls) and then meandered around for the rest of the day. Bangkok is probably not the cleanest city to spend a week in (many people wear breathing masks when out in the street, and it has been said that breathing Bangkok air is equivalent to smoking 60 cigarettes a day - I'm not sure if that's a joke but I can certainly believe it to be true.) However, it turns out there is enough to do to sustain someone for a week or more.
In the evening we travelled with the boys (who were due to leave the following day) to MBK - a seven floor shopping centre on the other side of town. There, we had a bit of a wander round, before going to see The Happening (M. Night Shyamalan film). My advice to you in relation to this film would be: don't bother. I spent about half of it with my fingers in my ears not daring to look at the screen it was so scary (although remember I was scared when I watched Signs, even the second time, so don't put a lot of stock by that) but when I was able to look at the screen I was laughing in utter disbelief at the badness of the plot, the script and the acting.
After this disappointing experience, we jumped into two tuk-tuks, which raced all the way back to Khao San Road. There, we said goodbye to the boys, and we were all alone in Bangkok.
Thursday was an extremely uneventful day, which was largely spent lying in the painfully hot sun by the pool, and trawling the internet for celebrity gossip, which I have missed greatly while I have been away. In the evening, though, we did go to Bangkok Night Market, which we thought would be a small, backstreet, unprofessional affiar, but is actually competely huge - so big it's entirely possible to get lost, with its own food court and a stage hosting Thai singers who mispronounce the words to Western songs. I came home a few hundred baht lighter - well I can't wear tracksuits in America can I?
On Friday I sunbathed by the pool until it was time to move hotels to the much nicer D&D Inn (which Carly will know and love, and yes Carly, I had to deal with that THICK girl again. Repeatedly.)
Once we were settled in our new room, we decided to go and see Bangkok's premier attraction - the Grand Palace, a former palace of Kings. It is absolutely huge, and unmissably gold. I took many pictures of this thing as we walked around it, seeing the huge number of ornate buldings and the awe-inspiring temple which is the most holy of its kind in the whole country, and contains an emerald Buddha taken from Vientiane in Laos several hundred years ago. There is also a big gold dome, said to contain part of the Buddha's breast bone. If this claim and all similar claims are true, the poor Buddha seems to have been comprehensively smashed up and spread across most of South-East Asia. We also saw a scale model of Angkor Wat as it used to be in part of the Thai empire. Unfortunately, we couldn't visit the museum, as the King's sister (who died in November) is still lying around in a nearby building. It would appear that they haven't got round to cremating her yet, but she must be getting quite mouldy.
After the Grand Palace we walked through a nearby amulet market, which consisted of a number of stalls selling these lucky charms. Thai people carry them around with them for luck, and there are different types. For example, you can buy one which protects your tuk-tuk from oncoming traffic, which judging by Bangkok driving, must be a particularly powerful talisman.
Saturday was the day to visit Chatuchak Market - the huge weekend market with 8000 stalls which is on the northern edge of the city. To save money we took the bus, which was an interesting experience as we got to see a lot of the city. It was cheap too - about 12p for a one way fare. The market was huge and incredibly crowded. It was exhausting to walk around, and there were so many clothes stalls it was impossible to see everything. I managed to pick up a few complete bargains, and we left to spend the rest of the day dossing around.
Sunday was another day of doing little apart from sunbathing, and catching up on my blog, which as you know I was very behind on. We did venture back to MBK in the evening though, where we saw Wanted, the new Angelina Jolie and James McAvoy film. It was really good and made up for the last disappointing experience. That night I had my last journey in a tuk-tuk, as we headed back to Khao San Road.
I woke up Monday and noticed that more people than usual were wearing the King's colour (yellow). I had noticed this previously, but I went to ask one of the Thai women why it was that so many more people wore yellow on a Monday. She replied that this was the day the King was born and people wear yellow on a Monday to show their love for him. As I previously told you, the Thai people are serious about their King. All shops and restaurants contain at least one picture of him, and most contain several - it would be considered unpatriotic not to. The walls of most shops in Thailand are lined with pictures of him and the royal family. At the cinema, before the film plays, the whole audience has to stand up and watch a video of the King doing good deeds and generally being adored, played along to some particularly cheesy music. The duty free shop at the airport is called King Power. And when I was in the hairdresser's there was even a picture on the wall of the King getting his hair cut! There is speculation as to what will happen when this ageing King dies - he apparently has only one son who is reported to be gay.
Katherine had to drop off some stuff at the hotel she is staying at after visiting the islands, so we took the ferry down the river to her new hotel. The ferry is a great way to travel as compared with the roads it is uncongested. We had a nice afternoon looking at the sights from the water. Then it was goodbye to Katherine, who was heading off down south, and I was on my own!
I spent my last day in Bangkok getting everything done that needed to be done - haircuts, shopping, and a Thai massage (she nearly killed me, she was brutal, and unexpectedly so considering she was half my size!) I got soaked in an incredibly fierce thunderstorm - I will never even wake up to British thunderstorms again after Asian ones. And then it was time to pack up my stuff and go to sleep, so that I could get up early the next day to fly to my last stop - Hong Kong.
Wednesday was a bit of a non-event day. Because of my RTW ticket being with Singapore Airlines, I had to fly via Singapore to get to Hong Kong, which is a bit like going from London to Cardiff via Edinburgh. Luckily, I was only in Singapore Airport (for the third time) for three hours, and then I was on my plane to Hong Kong. I arrived fairly late at night, and got the bus to my hotel (2 quid airport transfer, not bad.) My hotel was in a working class, heavily populated district of Hong Kong. Hong Kong has about 7 million residents (95% of whom are Chinese) but it has a very small area of land, and so pretty much everyone lives in towering apartment blocks. My guesthouse was on the 14th floor of one such apartment block. My room was about the size of a walk-in wardrobe (literally) but managed to contain a bed, space for my bag, an air conditioning unit, a flat screen tv and a phone. for 12 quid a night this wasn't bad. And it was spotlessly clean. The staff spoke barely any English (weird when you consider that the hotel is advertised on an English website) but made up for it by being absolutely lovely. I then fell into a comatose sleep, which I obviously needed, as I didn't wake up until nearly lunch time the next day.
When I did wake up, it was up and out the door to explore. For anyone who is considering travelling but is worried they won't be able to navigate a foreign country alone, I urge you to visit Hong Kong first. It is unbelievably easy to get around. There are buses, trains, taxis, ferries and trams. For nearly every form of transport you can use a rechargeable card called an Octopus card to pay, and everything is clean and runs on time (and much cheaper than London). If you decide to walk, there are signposts everywhere directing you to any place of interest you might wish to visit.
My first port of call was to get the paper ticket for my flight home changed, as I had rung up and altered it to come home a couple of days early. Once this was sorted, I turned to exploring. I took the Peak tram, which is actually a cable car, up to Victoria Peak, Hong Kong's highest peak. The cable car is the world's first funicular railway, and is so steep that it has steps in the cars to help you stay upright. It felt weird being at a 45 degree angle to all the buildings, but it is completely safe - it has been there since 1888 and has never had an accident.
The view from the top was breathtaking - the most beautiful cityscape I have ever seen. Hong Kong Island is comprised almost entirely of hyperbolic skyscrapers, and this view added to the boat-dotted blue harbour made the view incredible. I took about a million pictures but nothing can compare to seeing the sight for yourself.
That evening I went to see the light display with a friend I made in the lift near my hostel. Every night Hong Kong's buildings lining the harbour put on an amazing light display for visitors, all along to music. The view of all the skyscrapers lit up at night is amazing by itself, but the light display makes it even more so - an absolute must-see. We then went for dinner in the rambling Chunking Mansions, which is a rabbit warren of a building that is always being threatened with closure due to the fact that it is a massive fire hazard. The curry we had was first class though. Unfortunately the evening was cut short by the guy's girlfriend calling him and going mad that he was out to dinner with "some friends" he'd made in the hostel, and hung up on him. Some girls are mental.
On Friday I headed down to Tsim Sha Tsui, the harbour on the tip of the peninsula next to Hong Kong Island, and took the Star Ferry across the harbour to Hong Kong Island. The Star Ferry has been in operation for a long time, and it one of the things you have to do when you visit Hong Kong. Seeing the skyline in the day time was fabulous, although the rolling waves made me feel a bit like I wanted to throw up my sandwich!
When I arrived on the island, it was time for a bit of exploring. At first I just got lost in amongst the skyscrapers, an awe-inspiring experience all by itself. But then I went to take in a few of the sights. First on the list was the Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corporation building (or HSBC as we know it). It was the world's most expensive building when it was erected in 1985, at $1 billion US dollars. It has two bronze lions guarding its doors: one still has bullet holes in it from when Japanese soldiers used it for target practice in the Second World War.
Next I headed to St John's Catherdral, built in 1849. There are very few old buildings in Hong Kong, as space is at a premium, and this is one of the oldest. It is also the only bit of freehold land remaining in Hong Kong!
I then went up the huge Bank of China Tower, which is the third tallest skyscraper on the island. The view of the harbour from the 43rd floor viewing platform was remarkable.
I spent an hour relaxing in the Zoological and Botanical Gardens, which like everything in Hong Kong, is amazing. They contain an aviary and a pretty impressive zoo - all for free. I also visited the Cenotaph, the Mandarin Oriental (often considered the best hotel in the world - I didn't go in in my scruffy clothes, just took pictures!) and one of Hong Kong's bustling food markets.
The evening was spent on an hour-long Star Ferry cruise of the harbour - another chance to gaze at Hong Kong's awesome skyline, as well as seeing the light display again from the water.
On Saturday it was back to Hong Kong Island to browse some more of the markets. I picked up a nice Chinese picture at one of them to put on my wall next year. I walked past a marching band competition (it turns out there are a lot of marching bands in Hong Kong - do we even have any in England?) and went and sat in Hong Kong Park. This is another free public work of art. As well as some impressive fountains, it contains a natural waterfall, a T'ai Chi garden, a memorial to those who died in the 2003 SARS outbreak, a viewing tower, and a huge netted aviary full of exotic birds, which you walk through on a wooden viewing platform level with the tops of the trees. All of this to a dramatic background of skyscrapers and hills.
My next stop was Causeway Bay - the shopping area, which on a Saturday afternoon was stuffed with people and very hard to negotiate. I got onto one of the city's narrow, rickety trams, and headed back into the centre (a trip on the tram can be paid for on the Octopus card and is a flat fare of less than 15p for wherever you want to go!)
Today is my final day. After getting up and checking out of my hotel, I have been exploring the district of Kowloon, which is where my hotel is. I first headed to Kwun Tong, which has nothing of note apart from being, according to my book, the most densely populated area in the world, with 50,820 people per square kilometre. I was hoping to catch the district on a Sunday afternoon when everyone would be wandering round the streets, but unfortunately the heavens chose today to open, and a lot of people obviously hadn't bothered to venture out. I did get some great photos of the towering apartment blocks though, and of about a million teenage girls eagerly awaiting the arrival of a Chinese boy band in a shopping centre.
I then went to visit come of the local markets - I bought some earrings in the Jade Market and browsed through the packed ladies' market, which contained hundreds of fake bags and sunglasses, as well as clothes and jewellery. I wandered up to the flower market - a street of shops selling fragrant flowers for amazingly cheap prices. And finally to the bird market. Hong Kong Chinese love their pet birds (vertical living rarely allows for dogs or cats) and there was a huge array of exotic species on sale here.
Now I am in the internet cafe and flying home tonight. I can't quite believe that this six months has come to an end, but I am excited too. Next time you hear from me I will be halfway across the USA!