In Transit

Malaysia June 2018: Dear readers, I’m in transit to Kathmandu then Pokhara so sadly no blogs for a couple of days. Do stay tuned though, plenty more from Hong Kong in the pipeline including a visit to wonderful Cheung Chau Island.

Thank you, from Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

Advertisements

Japan – Fukuoka, The Bus to Nagasaki

Fukuoka, Japan, April 2018: I’ve been toying with the idea of a trip to Nagasaki for a few days now. According to information gleaned from the airport bus ticket desk a few days ago there are buses every 30 minutes, costs about £30 return and a journey time of 2 1/2 hours from Hakata bus station. A day trip to Nagasaki then is i’d say is perfectly feasible. So, today its an early stomp across to Hakata to catch the 7 AM bus south to Nagasaki.

The bus station is easy enough to find – its in a shopping mall next to the railway station. What isn’t easy is finding somewhere to actually buy a ticket. The buses here are local with tickets dispensed by machine, and no sign of a bus to Nagasaki let alone a ticket desk for even machine for an express intercity ticket. I’ve already missed my planned 7 AM departure, so now what? Another circuit of the station in a last attempt at finding this bus. A sign board catches my eye with indications that there are more buses on the 2nd and 3rd floor above! Oh silly me not to think I might be in a  multi-level bus station. At last, via the 3rd floor of this shopping mall there’s a counter selling the required tickets to Nagasaki – £30 with a credit card secures me a place on the next bus and the return trip later.

IMG_20180411_072635386

IMG_20180411_072521062

After pick-ups around the city centre we’r finally heading south to Nagasaki, should arrive 10.15 AM hopefully, allowing plenty of time to stomp around the place before returning on the 5 PM. So, for the next 2 1/2 hours sit back, relax and enjoy the scenery. Unfortunately what started as a reasonable day weather-wise has descended into another day of low clouds and drizzle. Nonetheless, one can still imagine green hills and a blue sky as the bus speeds past quaint little settlements between the hills.

Scenery on the way to Nagasaki…

 

NEXT… Nagasaki Hypocentre, Ground Zero…

Japan – Higashihirao Neighbourhood, Fukuoka

Fukuoka, Japan, April 2018: On my travels across Asia I’ll often go and explore a neighbourhood. Whether its in Bangkok or Kathmandu, suburban neighbourhoods can often offer an insight to real local life well off the beaten tourist track. One can experience local food at cheaper prices and explore the local architecture in peaceful surroundings, not to mention the parks and green spaces and get a real identity for the country that tourist ghettos just can’t provide.

Today we’re going to explore a neighbourhood close to the airport called Higashihirao. This place caught my eye on Google Maps because its predominantly low rise tiled roof properties. I’m guessing there might be a degree of community spirit to be discovered here and of course some local Japanese urban character. So, since the sun’s shining and the spring breeze is warm, lets go and stomp the neighbourhood.

Just a short ride across to the airport then from there its about half an hours stomp South towards Higashihirao along the busy highway. As the edge of suburbia approaches, turn left into a plethora of quiet back streets and start exploring.

IMG_20180409_153250005

If the Japanese have a social class system then I’d say this area belongs to the middle and middle-upper class. Properties here have character, look well maintained and have neat looking gardens. very quiet actually – no traffic, no people just tweeting birds under the blue sky. The place extends uphill but not enough to get dizzy through lack of oxygen – just a gently incline towards the local shrine.

IMG_20180409_154603023_HDR

Japanese shrines are generally places of historic interest to the average tourist, and an essential element of Japanese culture. The scriptures and artwork to be found here look in a pretty historic state but impressive nonetheless.

The first sign of life  – a group of boys monkeying around with sticks. Only one of them can speak enough English to say Hi and reveal his name, but they all smile and politely nod as they move away into the woodlands.

IMG_20180409_161310356_HDR

woodland trails around here leading up through the spring blossoms and red maple into a clearing surrounded by cherry blossoms, and plenty of them to. These must be the late variety since until now most of this seasons flowering has been and gone. Oh look, there’s another shrine, or something like it anyway. Very peaceful in the spring afternoon sunshine surrounded with the faint aroma of woodlands and blossoms.

A great afternoon away from shopping malls, skyscrapers and the incessant roar of the urban Jungle – well, to be fair the Japanese urban jungle of Fukuoka isn’t all that bad compared to others around Asia. For example, if a traffic light is on red, the place with take on an eerie quietness for a minute or two as the engines of queuing traffic will shut down! Anyway, just a little insight into suburbia Japan that is the neighbourhood of Higashihirao (Google Map).

Japan – Introducing Fukuoka (FooKwarker)

Japan, April 2018: In short, Fukuoka is a major coastal city in southern Japan, surrounded by hills and a few mountains and the airport is slap bang in the middle of downtown – well, close enough. I picked on Fukuoka because I want to experience a taste of Japanese living without the full-on tourism Tokyo or Osaka would have been and If I get a little board, I can always nip across to the airport and grab a few aeroplane photographs. Air BnB is a reasonable £24 per night for a private room but as for other associated costs of living, well, we’ll see how they stack up across the next 9 days.

Day 1 and its freezing cold, Gray overcast with the potential for rain and its a damn howling wind. Unfortunately I’ve left my winter cloths back in Nepal – I didn’t reckon Japan being this cold in April! I’m am however determined to get out and go and find some cherry blossom. Since I’m already a week late and with this howling wind, there’s a danger that all will disappear – blown away, all the way to Hong Kong probably!

Stomping around in the drizzle looking for breakfast and I’ve ended up near Yakuin Subway station (Google Map) and Masters cafe. So, for Japanese breakfast number 1 its a small bowl of plain rice, chicken soup with tofu and fish eggs. Oh, and comes with a raw egg all for £3.30. The staff kindly boil the egg for me this time, but apparently its supposed to be eaten raw!

IMG_20180407_084731642IMG_20180407_085634757

Quick research suggests the city park areas will be good for seeing whats left of this years cherry blossom, referenced by the Japanese as Sakura. The good news is that i’m in the right side of town, bad news is the weather looks slightly worse than when I started out, typically English one might say. Ohori Park then, just a few stops on the subway according to Google. (Google Map).

NEXT.. City parks,  Pink, Gray and anime.

Japan – Arriving Fukuoka (Fookwarker), Trouble ahead

Fukuoka, Japan, April 2018: arriving into Fukuoka airport is interesting. After circling round an Island for 40 minutes the aircraft makes its approach low over the city before a sharp left turn to line up with the runway. Its a small airport, almost deserted at the small international arrivals hall which is bad news because that gives the officials more time for potential interrogation!

Arrivals from most developed nations have visa free access for 3 months, providing one can give precise address details and phone numbers of the accommodation one is residing at while . This I wasn’t expecting – and all those details they wan’t are stored with Air BnB, on my Ipad! Thankfully the airport has WiFi but its slow and cumbersome with the Air BnB App, especially when one is slightly panicked. At last, 20 minutes and the officials at immigration let me in.

Next hurdle is the customs check. Since everyone has gone, I’m the sole passenger left and a big target. Yes, one gets pulled over and thoroughly interrogated! Seems that my visit to Nepal earlier this year has caused concern as they pull out a list of drugs with their associated images. I shake my head and thus the unpacking of my backpack begins with a degree of small talk in the process.

At last, on Japanese turf. With some rather sketchy directions from the Air BnB host I’m heading towards Hakata, on the airport bus, dark and cold. At Hakata I,m to get a train then a bus…actually I’m abandoning that plan. I can walk from here, 25 minutes or so and much easier with Google maps than trying to navigate Japanese bus’s. Dark, cold and windy but after about 40 minutes of looking for the place, helped by the staff at the nearby Lawson corner shop, I’m on the 7th floor of a housing block in Takasago and starving! I spotted a little noodle bar type of place up the road there, better make that the next stop before it all closes down for the night.

IMG_20180411_202058001_HDR[1]

Tonight’s cheap and cheerful chow comes in the form of noodle soup topped with 2 thin slices of pork. £4 for this, but right now I’m too tired to pass Judgement, just to say it was palatable.

IMG_20180407_081733452IMG_20180408_161832636

 

 

Hong Kong – Goodbye but not Farewell, Chep Lak Kok

Hong Kong, April 2018: Today is moving day. This time I’m off to Japan and the city of Fukuoka (Fookwarker) for 9 days, then I shall return to Hong Kong for further exploration.

A21 is the dedicated airport bus from Nathan Road, runs frequently, picks up just outside by the mosque, 33 HK$ cash only and no change so I am told by the hostel guy. Well, he got the pick up wrong – its down the road a bit and not obvious either. Thanks to the queue of white tourists towing suitcases I was able to find the bus stop and tag on in the hope that they know whats what! Another ride on the double-deck bus this stunningly sunny morning – an hour to the airport and indeed it is 33 HK$, about £3.30.

To the airport…

IMG_20180406_085836336_HDR

Efficiency beyond what were’r used to in the West. Here at Hong Kong Airport the queues my be long but they move fast thanks to officials directing passengers to the x-ray machines. No messing about having to get undressed or unpacking ones digital gadgets. Into the machines they go and out the other end hopefully! Immigration, about 30 seconds if the leaving card has been completed correctly and with in 10 minutes one is into the departure halls. With time to kill then an opportunity here for some plane spotting before My Hong Kong Express flight to Fukuoka.

Hmm.. “I wounder if that’s my plane!”

IMG_8688

One of the smartest airports I’ve travelled through in recent times. Spacious, plenty of natural light and loads of planes to spot! On the downside, if ones flight is with a budget airline then there’s quite a long hike along with an internal train ride to get to a terminal right in the middle of the airfield. Opened 20 years ago to replace Kai Tak airport Hong Kong’s Chep Lak Kok still looks brand new and fresh.  While passengers await their boarding call, there’s a bank of Apple Mac’s internet ready to while away the time.

Tracking planes in and out of the airport…

IMG_4294

3 good reasons to fly with budget airline Hong Kong Express. First, the boarding pass is sent via email as an image or downloadable PDF via their App. All I had to do was show the image on my phone to security for them to scan me into the system. Second, the cabin crew always with a smile and attentive which pretty rare on budget carriers these days! I was even asked “when would you like your food sir, now or later?”. Third, the price was pretty good – £60 for the 3 1/3 flight and that’s not a promotional fare either! So, with lunch over, time to settle in for the next couple of hours until Japan.

IMG_4276

Hong Kong – A Tourist Hot Spot, Tsim Sha Tsui

Hong Kong, April 2018: An enforced move from Bay Bridge has led me to Tsim Sha Tsui on the Kowloon Peninsular. Why, well I messed up on the dates and I since I wasn’t prepared to pay the big money Hong Kong hotels demand, I’m reduced to staying in a hostel room, something I try to avoid. Actually the place isn’t too bad here on Nathan Road. Clean, only 4 beds in the room and each bunk has a privacy curtain. The question remains how many of the other three inmates are alcoholics! So, here I am, killing time in the tourist hot spot of Tsim Sha Tsui – killing time because in the morning i’m flying off to Japan.

Tsim Sha Tsui is insanely busy. To say its a tourist hot spot is no understatement! Full of Chinese mainland dwellers according to some quick research and I’d agree with that. Pushing and shoving to cross the boulevards, queuing for shops like Gucci and filling suitcases with off the shelf cosmetics, the scenes here are extraordinary – a sight to behold for 10 minutes until one realises what its all about! An insatiable appetite for shopping, fed by wall to wall malls, plazas and shopping centres – yes, seems the worlds population heads here to shop, but why? Hong Kong is expensive with goods often cheaper at home as I take a few moments to compare some prices. Well, I’m not going to dwell too much on this as I shall be returning here in a couple of weeks, but for now I’m left feeling the place is somewhat overwhelming, full of arrogance with its visitors scurrying around like frantic ants – in short, crazy!

IMG_2156

When one is done with the glitzy shopping malls, palatial plazas and shopping centres and is in need of crowd relief then head up to Kowloon Park. (Google Map)  Situated the North end of Tsim Sha Tsui, Its a world away from the insanely busy streets surrounding the place. With plenty of seating shaded by palms, jungle recreations and rock formations then at least here one can take a break from the relentless pace of life. Yes, grab a coffee from the MacDonald’s kiosk and sit with locals enjoying afternoon sunshine. There’s even a public swimming pool on site. For about £1.90 visitors can take a dip, relax and unwind. One of the better city parks, definitely on a par with Bangkok’s City Park at Chatuchak.

Here’s a few snaps…

IMG_8683

NEXT STOP…Japan

Hong Kong – A Look At Tsuen Wan Town, New Territories

Hong Kong, April 2018:  Until now, Tsuen Wan (Google Map) has just been a place to pass through, a jumping on and off point for the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) and  place to grab some food. With a few hours to spare before I have to move on from the Bay Bridge Hotel, time for a deeper look into this local town. Situated on the Northern fringes of Kowloon, some considerable distance from the tourist enclave on Kowloon Peninsular, its a place where one can observe daily lives of residential Hong Kong as residents go about their business.

Established as a new town around 35 years ago Tsuen Wan is typically characterised today with a plethora of high rise towers surrounding the town centre – some swanky, some not so. With Chinese hillside squatter camps pulled down and surrounding villages bulldozed, I’m here on the edge of a mass urban sprawl housing those people, stretching far  South and East giving us the Hong Kong of 2018.

IMG_8506

While getting around town is pretty easy with elevated walkways, finding ones way down to street level is another matter. This invariably involves transiting through a shopping mall or just good old fashioned trial and error will eventually lead to a somewhat innocuous looking stair case.

The food culture here in Tsuan Wan is nothing short of marvellous. Tasty, vibrant and plentiful – local food here is about as cheap as Hong Kong gets when one arrives from places like Kuala Lumpur or Kathmandu but its reflective of the cost of living and at least its not as bad as it could be, citing Seoul South Korea as an example of enormous food costs.

Local food, simple food is the way to go, for me anyway. Rice, noodles, dumplings, shredded pork and of course soup with cabbage – its all good and low in calories! Tsui Wah is the cheapest cafe around here, especially when it comes to local fayre like shredded squid for breakfast!

IMG_8511

In Asian cultures one is never far from a temple or religious structure of some description. Hong Kong is no exception and here in Tsuen Wan, the town planners have given way to preserving the local temple by constructing green space around the vicinity. Urban temples are often original and historic at best, a modern reconstruction at worst. This one here seems pretty genuine if one looks deeply enough. The surrounding land may have been recently landscaped but a few of the trees look old enough to be originals! so, here’s a quick look at Tak Wah Park.

IMG_8512

IMG_20180405_093713336_HDR

The core of downtown, consisting of first and second generation public housing all seemingly crammed together in true Hong Kong style. Along with a host of covered markets, shopping malls integrating public transport and a few shop houses for good measure, its definitely a place with the feel of a town as opposed to being part of the suburban metropolis. Its worth a visit if only to observe locals going about their daily lives unhindered by thousands of Chinese and European tourists.

Next…Kowloon Park and the Peninsular

 

Hong Kong – Hurrah for the sun, Victoria Peak

Hong Kong, April 2018: The weather has held out rather nicely, more sunshine than when I arrived a few hour ago. With the afternoon sun behind lighting up the skyline as if to order, there’s only one thing left to do – take the pictures, again! So, along with the selfie obsessed crowds jostling for the best viewing spot,…well, let the photos speak for themselves.

Along Hong Kong Island and across towards Kai Tak and the old airport runway, which is now a cruise ship terminal…

IMG_8447

Looking west of the Kowloon peninsular and another round of land reclamation…

IMG_20180404_134110620

Look, there’s a gap, quick!

IMG_20180404_165521182_HDR

Creeping up the hill, these new generation skyscrapers now obscure views of the original Hong Kong Island downtown…

IMG_20180404_153404399_BURST001

The last hurrah for Victoria Peak – Blue skies and sunshine

In Summary….

When the sun shines, The Peak is Hong Kong’s number one attraction so expect the place to be crowded. Its not uncommon to be queuing for the tram up for around 2 hours! Equally, queuing for the tram down again can be just as agonising. To make matters worse there is a system of queue jumping. Here’s a useful website that explains all, with useful tips on trying to beat those queues – Click here

By far the quickest, easiest and stress free option is to take the Peak Bus 15 from Exchange Square, (Google Map) but for those insistent on a tram ride then consider taking the bus up, tram down. Beware the weather may deteriorate with visibility reduced to zero in fog by the time one arrives at the peak station.

Food and drink is priced as per tourist trap (maga expensive) thus bring a few snacks and a bottle of water if one wants to save a considerable amount of money!

Overall its a good experience when the sun shines which sadly isn’t that often. Mist and low clouds often shroud the peak and during my 9 days in Hong Kong I’d say 2 of those were good days for the peak!

So, heres a quick recap of the costs: Star Ferry from Kowloon 54p return. Bus to the Peak £1.96 return. Coffee at the tram station mall £3.30.

In my opinion: The tram that originally was the locals method of transport up and down is now nothing more than a tourists gimmick.The bus ride offers great scenic views of other parts of the Island, therefore I’d recommend taking the bus every time!

IMG_8454

Hong Kong – Tourism Overload on Victoria Peak

Hong Kong, April 2018:  Early afternoon on the peak, the sun is out and so are the crowds. The place is incredibly busy with tourist crowds coming to experience Hong Kong’s number one attraction. Its pretty difficult to move around without knocking into someone, sending their beloved ice-cream flying into the face of a cackling Chinese grandma! With queues for the tram spilling out into the plaza 3 lines deep adding to the mayhem then here on the peak it’s ‘full-on tourists’ the likes I’ve never seen before anywhere else – not even in London, Singapore or Bangkok!

Hong Kong’s obsession with shopping and glitzy malls has spread all the way up to the peak! Visitors arrive at the tram station which incorporates the mall, and there’s another one under construction across the street! To their credit, its not completely about shopping – no, there’s a Madame Tussaud wax work museum where visitors can observe dummy models of their favourite politicians and movie stars. On a practical note, its a place to grab a coffee and use the restroom.

£3.30 for a coffee from a crowded Pacific cafe. I have to wait for a seat even, but I do need that coffee after stomping around the peak for 2 hours then battling through all those tourists just to find a toilet! Food prices are predictably more expensive than the already expensive downtown prices, up to 1 1/2 x more on average, so bring plenty of cash if your going to have kids towing behind.

IMG_8403

So, as you can see from the image above, the Peak is not a place of calm and tranquility – anything but. Sadly but not unsurprisingly, with selfie obsessed Chinese visitors pushing and shoving for space at the best viewpoints along the front then one can only accept the tourist revolution and join in – may the biggest tourist win!

Here’s a few shots from the centre of all the action. Visitors can escape the crowds to some extent by buying a ticket to a viewing platform on top of the tram station. Beware that queues for the tram down are very long…

NEXT… Final look at the views across town…