January 2019 – Travelling to Nepal to see out the winter before heading south once again towards equatorial Asia. Please tune in to my random jottings as I venture across Southeast Asia.
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Hong Kong, April 2019: With my visa application in the hands of the Chinese authorities, there’s little I can do for the next few days but hang around, soak up some culture and enjoy life the Hong Kong way! Since I have been here before and covered the place extensively, right now there is no plan, no direction whatsoever, but surly one will emerge later, but for now lets just mooch around.
Mooching around, wandering aimlessly along the waterfront and looking across the Victoria harbour towards Hong Kong Island in a dreamy daze! The replica tourist junks are busy crossing the waters between Kowloon Promenade and the Central piers on the Island , weaving their way between the Star Ferries and commercial barges.
After an hour of battling through the mass of Chinese tour groups, time to escape, time to seek refuge and I know just the place – Kowloon Park. Peaceful, and its where the old timers go to have an afternoon nap!. Situated along Nathan Road one has to pass a couple of Kowloon landmarks – Peninsular Hotel and Chung King Mansions.
Full of exotic springtime flowers, a few exotic birds and the odd butterfly, this park really is a haven slap bang in the middle of Kowloon’s concreted jungle.
Hong Kong, April 2019: Hong Kong is an easy place to get into, especially if your British it seems. China, on the other hand is not. Tomorrow I have to get across Kowloon to a visa agency, fill out an application form, hand over £150 and wait 4 days for a 30 day tourist visa so that I can spend the next month on a scenic tour of the South West China mainland. In the meantime I’ll settle into this room I found via Air bnb for £20 per night, which is pretty good given Hong Kong is tops for being one of the worlds most expensive places to stay! A reasonable size, room enough for cupboard and even space for a TV. Since the visa will take 4 working days and I shall be here across the weekend, it all means I need to hang around for the next week – definitely worse places to hang around in than Hong Kong.
The China Visa has to be obtained via an agency since the respective Chinese consulate does not deal with the application process directly. After some careful research, Forever Bright Trading consistently topped the good review rankings. Although there are plenty of others, these guys are said to be more helpful in guiding us first timers to filling out the 4 pages of questions and information required by the Chinese authorities.
So, here’s the quick guide to obtaining a visa for China in Hong Kong based on my recent experience:
- Read the application rules: Not everyone is eligible for a China Visa and those citizens of countries out-of-favour with China may find the process less straight forward. Next read through the actual application form and prepare some notes such as addresses and phone numbers. Visa application (2013) is easily found on-line.
- Pay attention to the round trip ticket rule which suggests visitors must arrive and depart by air. In the case of a land crossing from Hong Kong, the landing slip obtained at Hong Kong immigration counts as an inbound to China portion of a round trip ticket – this is not mentioned in the visa rules, but advised as sufficient by the Visa agency.
- Prepare documents prior to arriving at the visa agency. Although the application asks for the complete itinerary while in China, its only necessary to prove the first night of confirmed accommodation and a confirmed departure flight or train ticket to leave China (Trains go to Moscow or Hong Kong).
- Arrive at the visa agency as early as possible. The application process takes about an hour, more if one comes unprepared, and there will likely be a queue. Deadline for applications is 12.30pm. The forms can be ambiguous in parts so its best to start afresh in the office with staff guiding through the myriad of questions.
- Have the visa agency take the required photograph. They know the specification and it has to be exact – applicants can not have long hair across the fringe!
- Handover passport, cash and get a collection receipt. come back in 4, 3 0r 2 days depending on how much is paid. £150 is for the 4 day wait with the price rising significantly the shorter the wait time.
- Go and find a Starbucks and spend the next hour recovering!
Next time, Hanging around in Hong Kong…
Bangkok, Thailand, April 2019: Today I’m off to Hong Kong, flying with Air Asia from Bangkok’s low cost carrier airport, Don Meuang (DMK). The good news is that there is a free shuttle bus from Bangkok Suvarnabhumi (BKK) for passengers with a confirmed flight, the bad news is it may rake some time to negotiate Bangkok’s notoriously bad traffic congestion, especially during rush hour, as there’s no direct expressway. Its recommended that passengers transferring between the two airports allow for at least 2 hours!
My flight isn’t until this afternoon so I’m not under any time constraints just yet! The free bus from Phoenix Hotel to Suvarnabhumi is available at 9, and if all go’s to plan I should be on my to Don Meuang by 10.
The Free Shuttle to Don Meuang is to be found on Level 2 at gate 3. Presentation of a confirmed e-ticket screenshot’d on my phone and a passport are enough to get me stamped onto the bus, a regular city bus but at least it has air-con. 1 hour and 15 minutes is the journey time today, probably better than average I’d say.
Don Meuang Airport was Bangkok’s original international gateway until it all got to much during the late 90’s. Now the place is exclusively used by low cost carriers, such as Air Asia, the Easy Jet equivalent of South East Asia and with whom I will be jetting off to Hong Kong in a few hours. Departure formalities are less onerous here and soon one is at the departure gate with time to spare – sounds like a cue for Starbucks!
For £60 one-way on Air Asia one shouldn’t expect too many comforts for this 3 1/2 hour flight over to Hong Kong. I didn’t pick a window seat since it’l be dark soon thus saving me about a fiver. furthermore, I’ve managed to squeeze all my belongings into cabin baggage saving me another £20. Not having to pay to have luggage thrown into the aircraft belts and I save a lot of time at destination is pretty worth while I’d say. Hong Kong is a popular destination and this flight is crowded, every seat taken. Leg room isn’t generous by any means and passengers will need to supply their own in-flight entertainment. So, for the next 3 1/3 hours then one is spirited into a world of intrigue and mystery – yes, I downloaded some Sherlock Holmes mysteries audio.
Next, Hong Kong and a Visa for China…
Bangkok, Thailand, April 2019: Lat Krabang, a neighbourhood situated in Bangkok’s eastern suburbs with the advantage of being right beside Bangkok’s suvarnabhumi International Airport. With several reasonably priced hotels dotted around the place then Lat Krabang is the ideal place for a transit stop. I’m staying at the Phoenix Hotel, about £20 per night double room and a shuttle bus from the airport is provided free, essential for those arriving late at night or very early morning. Tomorrow, I’ve got some time to take a look around here before heading downtown in search of a new camera – yes, yesterday in Kathmandu, my trusty Canon decided to malfunction! In the mean time I can just about get along with the phone camera.
In Thailand, one is never far from a Temple and here in Lat Krabang they have a pretty nice one. The architectural style is a familiar sight to regular visitors to Thailand and as the sun shines under the clear blue morning Bangkok sky, one can only marvel at the ornate structures.
I’m not usually one for traipsing around Asian shopping malls,but today I actually need to! I’m on the hunt for a new camera and a quick Google search reveals the best place for cameras i Bangkok is the MBK Mall located by Siam Square. Easily reached by hopping on the airport train for a 40 minute ride into Phaya Thai. From there is just a 20 minute stomp to the shopping centre – all this according to Google Maps! Shopping in Bangkok then is a whole new experience, especially in a giant mall where one could potentially get lost for several hours! According to Google cameras can be found on the 5th floor, so my grand plan is to locate, purchase and exit as quickly as possible.
Well, the whole thing went pretty well with my bank balance £300 lighter than it was 90 minutes ago. With a tax refund due and a tourist discount applied, the deal was a good one, about £100 less than the British price according to a quick squizz on-line. So, keen to get to grips with my brand new Canon 740SX, its back to base and a read of the instruction book!
Photo from a Canon 740
So, tomorrow then its off to Hong Kong, bur first I need to get to Bangkok’s second airport, Don Meuang International.
Kathmandu, Nepal, April 2019: The much anticipated trip to China begins today with a mid-morning flight from Kathmandu to Bangkok for a transit stop. Then it’s off to Hong Kong, essentially another transit stop while obtaining my 30 day China tourist visa. So, here’s how the story unfolds…
Flying Nepal Airlines: They don’t have a great reputation it has to be said, probably the reason then why they are the cheapest flight out of Kathmandu this April, especially since the demise of Air Asia’s service to Kuala Lumpur. I’m booked on the late morning flight to Bangkok serviced with an almost new aircraft – A European Airbus A320. Had they still been using their 37 year old Boeing 757, I probably wouldn’t have booked a ticket, even at half the price! £120 single to Bangkok booked in the UK via the Nepal Airlines website. Plain and simple with fare rules as flexible as was in the good old days of air travel when one could chop and change flights without penalty! No pick-a-seat facility or even ‘manage-my-booking’ options are available on-line so getting a window seat will be just pure luck.
Check-in at TIA (Tribhuvan International Airport) is old school style. Nepal still has some way to go before adopting the technological advances of developed nations where passengers can simply proceed through the formalities of checking in via smartphone or self-checking kiosk. Thankfully, the queues today are short – just 20 minutes to obtain ones boarding pass before stomping upstairs to the immigration desk and my stamp out of Nepal.
Wonderfully Tasty Meal, Nepal Airlines
On board and on time to as the aircraft starts to move off the ramp at Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu. Nepal Airlines is a full service carrier – adequately wide seating with good leg room and later food. No window seat unfortunately, luck of the draw wasn’t with me today, but having an isle seat comes with the advantage of a little more leg room. Its a pretty short flight to Bangkok, just under 3 hours so the cabin crew waste no time in getting out the drinks before serving up the lunch. A very tasty lunch it is too – chicken curry and served with a smile. Landing at Bangkok’s suvarnabhumi Airport is 40 minutes ahead of schedule, about 4PM local time.
The Verdict: A pretty good, comfortable flight with attentive crew – the girls dressed in traditional sari’s and the guys dressed resembling pilots. No in-flight entertainment on this Airbus A320, not an issue for me personally. Overall, a very satisfactory flight to international standards, no complaints from me.
Nepal Airlines Airbus A320
Dali, China, May 2019: Well its a nice enough place. The old town feels and looks pretty historic. The trouble is to get anywhere else requires an hours bus ride south back to Dali new city in order to get transport North again towards any place remotely interesting! Odd considering this is a major holiday hotspot. Day trips are pretty limited then to a hike in the hills or a boat ride on the lake! Even getting to the lake is a major hike, about 1 hour and 1/2.
So, A wander around the local market was pretty interesting and an eye opener to say the least… multi-coloured chicks and stuffed cobra’s.
Dali, China, May 2019: After a gruelling 14 hour day on the road yesterday traversing various cities to make connections, here I am this morning in Dali. Nice warm sunshine, and gone is that persistent mist and drizzle that plagues the whole of china, seemingly!
I’ll spend the next week stomping around the place looking for a slice of old school. good old fashioned culture – will I find it!
Here’s the skyline at 9 this morning…
Fenghuang, China, April 2019: As night falls, that plaguing cloud cover finally breaks. The stars are out and the air temperature drops dramatically, vaporising ones breath. So, the final showing from Fenghuang… at night.
Fenghuang, China, April 2019: At last, that persistent drizzle has, for the moment, stopped. Time then to make haste and explore around the quaint little streets of Fenghuang ancient town.
Tomorrow, on the move to another ancient town – Dali. I can get to the transfer city of Kunming, but onward to Dali by bus could be a problem as its a national holiday – and that’s always a problem for getting around if one is a foreigner who needs a ticket on the spot, apparently. Pretty bad timing on my part, but I might just get away with it, lets see.
Fenghuang, China, April 2019: After yesterdays excitement at seeing the place burn down, today I shall go and explore what remains. Actually that’s quite a lot since I exaggerated the situation. Day 2 then and the low clouds and drizzle that’s plagued me almost since I began this trip nearly 3 weeks ago is still here! So, Fenghuang, famed for being a preserved ancient town and yes, another Chinese holiday hotspot!
One positive take with the weather – it makes urban photography a whole lot easier. The light is equalled across the spectrum and one can limit the need for blue sky.
here’s a few snaps to be getting on with – Phoenix Ancient Town