It was long-awaited and over the past couple of months I had been sketching a moderate itinerary when the date finally arrived and I found myself thirty-three thousand feet airborne and heading to fabulous Thailand and Hong Kong for a month long respite from the cold and damp of winter in the Pacific Northwest. Getting away at any time for me is always exciting, perhaps even when it's simply an overnight excursion to the Valley, but arriving at your destination over 10 000km away from your starting point is exponentially more thrilling!
Thailand is a large country full of everything imaginable. From ancient temples to sun-drenched coastlines, sumptuous (and unbelievably cheap!)cuisine always paired with local brew--Singha--Thailand's National Beer, and plenty of nightlife to keep you stirring till the wee hours no matter what day of week. In fact, if you shirk the bars & discotheques thinking you'll turn in early so you can get a head start the following day, you'll find yourself wandering deserted streets and Sois with typically nothing open till a casual 10 or 11a.m..
My first week was sequestered at a lovely Villa of a generous friend in Pattaya , which is about a 3 hour drive from Bangkok. Most of the time was spent lolling around poolside, enjoying SPY wine spritzers I snatched from one of dozens of 7-11's--or just 'the 7' as all Thai's call them (Yes, convenience is a worldwide enterprise!)--and catching up on some reading. There were a few adventurous days, touring around on the back of one of many ubiquitous motorbikes and I saw the Big Buddha along with the amazing and stunning Sanctuary of Truth . Other days were spent wandering around Pattaya and Jomtien beaches, relaxing under the plentiful umbrellas while being served up literally anything I fancied. Lunch--including a couple of cool, crisp Singhas--and a postprandial manicure, set me back about eight dollars total! Every time a Tab arrived at the end of whatever terrific meal or service given, I cringed self-conscious at how little I was expected to fork over. By comparison, the difference between Thailand's powder white sandy beaches & azure waters, and Hawaii's, is night and day--at least when you come to pay for paradise!
From Pattaya I flew south to Phuket , where the enormous Tsunami hit a couple of years ago. I was stunned at not seeing a shred of evidence of the overwhelming destruction I had seen on CNN of this place. Apparently tourism is such a vital component to the area's economy that they cleaned things up and got everything back together in short order. Patong Beach this time again, became a favorite resting spot. Heck, I came to learn fast that any beach in Thailand will do! Phuket is also the place to arrange a trip to some of the best islands of Thailand, namely Phi Phi don and Phi Phi lae--or Koh Phi Phi . I can't explain how thrilling it was to be whisked away in a 350hp speedboat out to the place where the Feature film 'the Beach' was shot along with scenes from one of the early Bond flicks. (In fact I don't know what an official atlas of the area looks like these days, but they've actually renamed one of these little islets after the famous sleuthing Protagonist!). And the snorkeling at Pileh Cove was phenomenal--with a massive array of corals and fish of every stripe to commune with. We rounded out the day with a quick trip over to Khai Island--one of the area's most natural wonders--a relatively small landmass that I can only describe as a sand dune with scarcely room enough for four huts--where you can get your fresh picked Coconut Shell Pina Colada--and a hundred or so beach chairs and umbrellas for relaxing after such a grueling day of activities in the sun & surf! Phi Phi certainly was a highlight and as I mentioned previously about the tab..it all came to a paltry $60 bucks for the entire excursion, which included a spectacular Thai-inspired smorgasbord too. Time was short for this part of my journey but next time, I will certainly plan to stay longer and explore more of Thailand's Southern Archipelago.
Next on the itinerary was Bangkok, which is a world apart from nearly any other area I had visited so far. Loud, filthy, swift, frenetic and curious would be words I'd use to describe it. But it's also exciting and fascinating as there are as many things to see and do as only your time permits. Mine was spent (a lot of it, I confess) wandering around the gloriously tempting showcases downstairs at Siam Paragon 's famous food court. Any ethnicity and every proclivity could be reasonably satiated by a meal had in this gargantuan complex that stretches out over a football field in length. Never mind if you overindulge as you can walk most of it off casually wandering the several floors of various upscale shoppes ogling million dollar jewels or Mazerati sports cars. On the top floor of the complex--and this was where I eventually wound up--you can lace up your bowling shoes and play a couple of games at the slickly designed UBOL or see a first-run Hollywood Release in the King's Theater, with an awesome Dolby THX™ surround screen replete with plush velvet sofa-style seats and gorgeous golden shimmering Thai Silk Proscenium and ceiling. But beware if you want to take in a movie here; You must stand for the King as you watch a several minute montage of Him underscored with triumphant music culminating with a Symphonic sweeping crescendo and cadence. ...It's enough to make you...cry!
Of course you musn't miss meandering slowly up the Chao Phraya on a boat to witness the remarkable Thai and Khmer-influenced architecture of the Grand Palace and Wat Arun. My camera's memory card was laboring hard as it tried to meet my pace of pictures in which one can shoot in any direction, and come up with many extraordinary images. Again I could have spent several more days in Bangkok discovering any number of interesting sights along with some of the best shopping anywhere in Asia...but I had a plane to catch to my final destination--Hong Kong.
One of the prettiest cities in Asia (or anywhere in the world for that matter) is Hong Kong SAR. It was about 10 years since I had last set foot here and my, how it's changed! Hong Kong has always been a city on the move...and I wondered where it had gone since the place now in plain view of me was nothing at all what I remembered and reminisced! It has changed dramatically since the hand-over back to China in 1997. Not all of the change I approve of but I can't say that Hong Kong never ceases to astonish or impress even the most jaded visitor or Patriot. One of its lasting pleasures is a ride across Kowloon Bay on the 100+ year old Star Ferry Service. The terminal on the HK side--much to the dismay of staunch traditionalists--has been moved further west but alas, it's still one of the best ways to view the city and head over to Kowloon perhaps for high tea at the lovely (but overcrowded) Peninsula Hotel . I skipped the tea mostly on account of the tab I got used to paying in Thailand(!), but wandered through anyway for ol' time sake. Getting around is always easy and there are plenty of taxis for hire along with the clean, efficient and broad service of the MTR subway, a plethora of buses--both double-decker and smaller 16-seaters, and of course the famous HK Trams . I boarded one of the smaller 16 seaters one day touring to the other side of Hong Kong Island, a place not a lot of Hong Kongers or tourists to HK see often. Aberdeen fishing village, the beautiful enclave of Repulse Bay & (former)Hotel (I just don't get the name!) and the quaint market of Stanley are all recommended stops and easily fit into anyone's schedule for a short unique day trip. Meeting up with old friends in Lan Kwai Fong and hanging out in Central, Wanchai and Causeway Bay rounded out the week but before I knew it (and before I was ready!), it was back to the vast HK International Airport via a relatively new and swift train service from Central, where I checked my bags through all the back to YVR. Now THAT's what I call impressive! It was a comfortable 13 hours or so in the skies over Russia and the Pacific Ocean with Cathay Pacific's excellent service, food and amenities and finally back to Vancouver. Winter still hasn't quite broken it's frigid stranglehold on us here yet, but at least I broke it up with some terrific sunny days at the beach, warm evenings by the pool and lots of great Pixarola-style images to remember it all by. -Ty