Lantau Island is the place you have Hong Kong International Airport and Hong Kong Disneyland, but it’s also where the Po Lin Monastery and its Tian Tan Buddha statue is. To get to there, the popular option is to take the 25 mn, 5.7 km cable car, where you can relax (or not if you have a fear of heights) watching as you move in the air the mountains, the forest or the huge artificial island built for the airport.
Cheung Chau is an island south-west of Hong Kong, it takes 30 mn to get there with the fast ferry. A cave on the island is said to have been the hiding place of Cheung Po Tsai, a famous 19th century pirate.
Aberdeen (the one on Hong Kong Island, not the one in Scotland) is famous for its floating village, we went there mostly to visit the fish market: in Hong Kong fish is often sold alive, so the market consists of many aquariums filled with fishes.
After Bali, Hong Kong is a real change of pace. Reviewing the few photographs of the city itself, I wasn’t able to capture what I found was nice about Hong Kong, the mix of old and new, some form of patina. You’ll have to go there to find out yourself. When you do, go eat some dim sums, they’re really excellent.
One of the first visits we did was to walk to Avenue of Stars which is on the waterfront:
We made a few other visits around Mong Kok where there are several markets: bird market, flower market, goldfish market, ladies market (contrary to the name, they sell souvenirs), Temple street night market. One of the few things around that wasn’t a restaurant or for shopping was the Tin Hau temple:
I’m left with a few pictures from Bali that I don’t know where to put. So here they are. The first four are from Ubud Palace. The following three are from an obscure temple in Denpasar (referenced in the Lonely Planet but with a totally non-obvious entrance, the guest book made it clear only a handful of tourists find their way there every month). The last one will appeal mostly to environmentally conscious persons (and/or swedes) is about recycling Absolut Vodka bottles for holding petrol at impromptu gas stations.
The best place to see manta rays in Bali is at Manta Point on the south coast of Nusa Penida. Getting to the dive site take about one hour from Sanur (where we were staying). When we arrived on the site, we immediately saw one manta ray from the boat so we jumped right into the water. We mostly stood still in the water, looking at the rays circling in the water. There were a few other boats with other divers, snorklers and some people seemingly on their first dive (see the picture with one instructor holding two other divers). A real magical moment.
The two other dives the same day were drift dives. You jump in the water, dive to the depth you want to be at and you let yourself go with the flow. The first one was on the north coast of Nusa Penida and the second one north of Nusa Lembongan. It’s a little like being on a bus or a train under water, watching the landscape go by. We didn’t anything “special”, but we saw a lot of nice things: because the current took us at a faster pace than usual, and also because we were making less efforts we could stay longer (both dives longer than 60 mn).
The Ubud Monkey Forest is a small park in Ubud with trees, temples and many monkeys. The monkeys are interested in visitors for the treats they might offer, but also curious. We stayed and watched the monkeys playing, socializing, and we observed the elder bigger ones stealing from the smaller ones. A one point rain came, and monkeys as well as tourists took cover in a big hall. Monkeys formed small groups to keep themselves warm.
When we came back to Bali, we went to the city of Ubud where we stayed a few days. One of the activities we decided to undertake was a bicycle hike. The day started early with a minivan transfer to Kintamani on the rim of Mount Batur where we had breakfast and could admire the caldera and the lake. After that we went to a place where we got our bikes. The ride was pleasant as we went downhill between villages and rice fields. On the way we stopped at a place where we could taste (and buy as we’ve had the opportunity many times already) spices, tea and coffee and most notably the Kopi Luwak. We also stopped at a family compound where we learned some information about the way traditional balinese families live.
Before going to eat a late lunch, we got the choice between 10 mn of bike and minivan transfer or 45-50 mn of bike, with a warning that the second option was more “athletic”. Aline wasn’t interested, but I chose the second option. Of course, this turned out to be a much more difficult endeavor than expected, led by a couple of very athletic riders, we finished the (mostly uphill) route in 40 (very long) minutes. I was so tired and in need of rehydration that I didn’t really enjoy the lunch.
The good thing about diving in Gili, is that the dive sites a very close and not too deep. We saw our first sharks.
Gili Trawangan is the biggest of the Gili Islands. It a small flake in the sea, very close to Lombok (you can see its coast and volcanos in many of the pictures below). We got there almost immediately after getting to Bali. Several person we know or met described it as heavenly. The beaches and the view are beautiful. The pace is calm (no cars, only horse carriages and bicycle). And strangely no dogs allowed, only cats.
We did cycle around the island (7 km), tried indonesian food at different warungs, went scuba diving. Great memories.
Similan 9 (or Koh Bangu) was the last place we dove in the Similans.
The dive sites were called “Chrismas Point” and “Breakfast Bend”.
The 9 islands of the Similan Islands are numbered (Similan is derived from the word “nine” in Yawi language), and on the boat we’d only use the numbers. The evening and morning dives didn’t yield many usable pictures because of the low light.
Donald Duck Bay of Similan 8 (named “Koh Similan”) was the mooring place for our second night onboard.
Our next two dives were at Koh Bon (Similan Islands).
The second dive location, Koh Tachai (Similan Islands), was the place we moored during the first night.
It was the favorite of the dive instructor diving with us. One of its features was the “green monster”, a cold current coming from time to time loaded with green particules. The rest of the time, we got to see a lot of fishes, among which a big school of barracudas, and a smaller one with a weird-shaped individual (nicknamed “banana barracuda”).
Richelieu Rock seems to be one of the most desired dive sites in the Similands (if not Thailand). When we got there, I counted 8 dive boats circling around the same location. I expected to see a small island in the center, but it seems only a very small part comes out of the water at low tide. The first dive was shortened by the fact that we didn’t have enough weights (it seems the equipment used and/or location requires heavier weights than in Guadeloupe). The second dive was much better, and justified the reputation of the site.
Going to the south of Thailand was part of the plan, our outgoing plane ticket leaves from Phuket. We weren’t sure where we’d go but decided to go fly to Krabi, from there several destinations seemed interesting: Phang Nga (and it’s James Bond island), Ko Phi Phi, Koh Lanta, Rai Leh. But looking at the hotel prices in most of these places, the bad timing of the transports to those places from Krabi, and the interest in diving in the Similand Islands, we chose to go to Khao Lak essentially because it is the best departure point for Similand Islands dives.
Getting to our guest house in Khao Lak from Krabi airport wasn’t easy, essentially because we wanted to save money (we saved more than half the fare). It took three buses and one local “taxi”. In Khao Lak, we looked at several options for diving and chose a liveaboard package for 3 days, 2 nights with 10 dives on 5 sites:
We probably made a strategic error in our planning for Chiang Mai: we thought that we could make the best from this city in one and half day, but couldn’t. We should have started the visit of the old town right away instead of waiting for the next morning. The temples in the old city were nice but in a way too similar to the smaller ones in Bangkok (maybe because we were enchanted by Sukhothai the previous day). The old city is nice, but in some parts too touristy. A little bit outside of the old city, the night market seems to be one of the main tourist activities after dawn.
We felt we were missing out on Chiang Mai, because there seemed to be several interesting visits outside of the city, but due to the limited time and the fact that those visits were seemingly temporally mutually exclusive and incompatible with our old city visit, we only stayed in the old city.
One of the visits advertised in every corner of the city was a tiger park, with encounters with tigers of different ages. We were tempted, especially me I’ll gladly admit, but I went online and checked some reviews. It became quickly obvious that we didn’t want to participate in this kind of operation: the tigers are apparently drugged to keep them calm, and physically abused to keep them awake while tourists are being photographed with them.
400km north of Bangkok, Sukhothai is an ancient capital of the Siam kingdom. When we arrived at the airport (with a propeller plane), you instantly get the feeling that it won’t be a big city. The modern city (“New Sukhothai”), where most of the hotels are, is a few kilometers west of the old city and Historical Park.
We went for a full-day bicycle tour to the Historical Park. The tour started in the modern city, so we rode between 30 and 40 km through the countryside. It was a really pleasant adventure with many charming temples and statues.