Hong Kong – Ting Kau Village, Castle Peak Road, New Territories

Hong Kong, April 2018: I refuse to pay inflated hotel prices when it comes to food and so the search for breakfast is on! Stomping along the Castle Peak Road, the air is still, fragrantly musty from spring blossoms lining the shore. Birds tweet while joggers pound the pavements in the early morning sunshine. Plenty of old timers shuffling up and down steps to the waterfront – aha, could this mean food? Alas no, not yet anyway. The area here by the waterfront has a recreational function. Swimming, water sports and table tennis, all occupied by Hong Kong’s old timers getting their daily dose of fresh air. A friendly bunch, even more so when they find out I’m from England. I would say this area has been around for a long time – long before the rise of swanky condominiums and mass housing blocks.

A nice view along the Tung Wan towards Lantau Island, but still no sign of any thing to eat. At some point there must be at least a shop wouldn’t you think. A bit more stomping then, up to that bridge and what looks like a small village.

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In the shadows of the bridge is Ting Kau village, its name according to Google maps. A very small place populated with some posh looking villas. Id say more of a second home hotspot than an actual village – comes with a nice beach though. Clean and spacious, bit too cold for a dip this morning. No shops, no food, I’m resigned to a trip into downtown again!

Ting Kau Village, notable for its beach but nothing else. Probably the closest beach to the Kowloon Peninsular without having to cross to Hong Kong Island. Here’s a few snaps for the record…

NAAFI… A surviving relic of British rule, this NAAFI sign I suspect was rescued from the demise of British military institutions on Hong Kong Island since I can’t find any reference to there being a NAAFI in this area. Spotted on a property on Castle Peak Road,  please feel free to jump in with a comment if you know any different.

For non British readers, NAAFI is a shop usually found on a British military installation for use by Navy, Army and Airforce personnel and their families.

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NEXT….Victoria Peak

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Hong Kong – First insight, Tsuen Wan Town, New Territories

Hong Kong, April 2018:

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Bus A31P drops pretty much at the gates of tonight’s crash pad – the Bay Bridge Hotel. I chose here because the price was a reasonable £25 per night. For the next 2 nights then I shall be residing on the Castle Peak road, New Territories between the town of Tsuen Wan and the village of Ting Kau. Its dark right now so there’s not much exploring to be done until tomorrow. What I need is food, and since the only option is this expensive hotel restaurant, a ride to downtown is necessary where hopefully I will stumble across some cheap and cheerful chow! A shuttle bus is provided to Tsuen Wan MTR station, a 10 minute ride and best of all its free!

One is confronted with a skyline reminiscent of Manhattan as the shuttle bus speeds away. to my right, Macdonalds, KFC and all that good gunk liked by Westerners. To my left, Supermarkets and Malls linked to a plethora of elevated walkways. After some 20 minutes of getting lost and confused, yes, even Google Maps was confused for a while, I’ve stumbled on a cosy looking local cafe. Bright, clean, full of locals and reasonably priced too – Taiwan Kitchen.

Here at the Taiwan Kitchen there’s very little English, but after some pointing to pictures and gesturing I’ve ended up with a bowl of rice! On that rice is a thimble of shredded pork surrounded with egg, tofu and cabbage – tasty enough and thankfully plenty of it for the £5 set back, oh it came with a glass of tea too!

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That then is my first insight into modern day living, Hong Kong after dark. Tsuen Wan is a residential town, far from the tourist districts further south. The place is bustling but not hopelessly overcrowded, but then it is nearly 9PM. Hong Kong by day I’m sure will be quite a different story.

Before one hits the pillow’s here’s the view looking over in the direction of North Kowloon.

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Nepal – Malaysia, Hong Kong, Japan, Hong Kong, Malaysia.

Penang, Malaysia, April 2018: Its been an intense month of travelling through April. Since leaving Nepal at the end of March. A transit stop in Kuala Lumpur before jetting off to Hong Kong where I spent a few days. Then it was off to Japan for more oriental experiences before heading back to Hong Kong for a better, more comprehensive visit. Once I got Hong Kong out of my system it was back to Malaysia where I shall reside for the next 5 weeks catching up on blogging and sorting the good photos form the not so good. So, if you want to see how crazy Hong Kong is or take a look around the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum then then please stay tuned for an exciting account of travels with Backpacking Paul.

Nepal – Best 5 Mountain Views from Pokhara

Pokhara, Nepal, March 2018: As this years Wintering in Nepal comes to an end I’m struggling to come up with a blog subject not already covered on previous visits. So my attention once again turns to mountains. After all, that is what most of us are here for, right – those awesome, magical Himalayan snow capped rocks stretching East, West, North and up!

Its fair to say I’ve taken hundreds of photos of the Annapurna Mountain range. Whittling my collection down to the top 5 was a pretty hard job but with perseverance I have arrived at what I feel are 3 of the best mountain views on the planet!

First the short list…..

Now the final 5…

Number 5:  From the road up to Sarangkot capturing elements of Himalayan life.

 

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Number 4: Taken from the airport runway as a sightseeing plane adds depth and dimension

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Number 3: From the airport, a shot of the Eastern part of the Annapurna range.

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Number 2: The inevitable sunset scene, again taken from the airport.

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Number 1: A picture postcard scene of the central Annapurna range, taken from the road up to Sarangkot.

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And there you have it. Would number 1 have been your top photo too?

Next week I shall be on the move to Kuala Lumpur on route to Hong Kong. Stay tuned for more exciting adventures across Asia!

Nepal – Lakeside Characters, Fewa Lake

Pokhara, Nepal, March 2018: Over the course a few weeks one gets to know of the characters that regularly frequent the Lakeside – characters that rely on the lake and its trappings for their very existence. As the days story unfolds, beggars and tramps will roll up looking eagerly into the eyes of those white tourists. Sellers mooch towards their pitches on the lakes edge – snack sellers, umpteen folk selling plastic beads, fruit ladies ply the lakeside path and then there’s the doughnut man limping past every morning with a dozen or so bags balanced on his head – don’t trip matey!

A reality check perhaps for those of us who can enjoy life without the challenges faced by the local natives here in Pokhara and across Nepal. No government handouts around here, no nanny state to hold the hands of its population. Each and everyone has to survive on their own merits.

Begging, inevitable in an undeveloped country like Nepal. Here on Lakeside about half a dozen regulars pass-by. From characters dressed in orange robes to grandma to the alcoholic barely able to stand.

Hawkers selling stringed beads, snacks fruits and shoe shine. Pitching up from mid morning one gets invited to “come and look, good quality”. Well, a nice enough display of brightly coloured beads and threads of string but the quality aspect  is somewhat debatable! As for the snacks, personally I’d avoid buying theses on the grounds of lack of  hygiene. The fruit, well, id only buy something that needs to be peeled.

Lakeside is evolving. With new shacks popping up every season there’s plenty of work for carpenters and bamboo thatchers as seen below. Then there are the Indian boys with their ‘twangers’. Yes, they wander along tugging at a chord – twang! Exactly why confounds the wildest imagination, but i’m sure there’s a good reason!

Fewa Lake, essential to daily life, washing their laundry, bathing and local transport as the villages on the far side of the lake are only accessible by rowing boat – a new twist on the school run! When the chores a done, a spot of fishing to catch some lunch.

And so life go’s on, with or without tourists. Locals surviving on what natural resources can provide for those that society leaves behind.

Nepal – Himalayan Sundown at Pokhara Airport

Pokhara, Nepal, March 2018: A 10 minute bus ride to Rastrabank Chowk followed by a 15 minute stomp up to the end of the runway at Pokhara airport  – a great spot for some mountain viewing. From here, one can see practically the entire Annapurna mountain range and since the weather has been unusually clear all day then today is an opportunity to catch a Himalayan sunset.

As the sun begins to sink a hue falls upon the glistening mountain peaks. A subtle pink turning into a deeper shade of orange as the sun sinks to the Southwest. A majestic and serene scene indeed. Mesmerizing to begin with then the mists and shadows fall obscuring the Eastern facing slopes until finally its all in the grasp of dusk. Time to head on back to base.

Waiting for the sun to set….

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Changing colours at sundown…

 

In Summary…

Sunset begins at around 5.30 this time of the year and lasts for about 45 minutes. Bus from Barahi (Map) to Rastrabank Chowk (Map) is 15 rupees. From Rastrabank walk up to Mustang Chowk (Map) and the airport is straight ahead. Turn right then next left to find the end of the runway (Map).  A great little expedition requiring almost no effort – great for non-trekkers like me!

Nepal – Boating with Great Scenery, Fewa Lake, Pokhara

Pokhara, Nepal, March 2018: Boating is the principle tourist activity here on the lake Fewa. For around £8, with or without a boatman, one can row around for an hour or so and feel somewhat at peace with Himalayan nature. For about £12 one can hire a boat all day and explore all those nooks and coves on the far-side. Swimming in the middle of the lake is not advised. There’s at least one death a year, blamed on the lake monster if local folklore is to be believed. Personally, Id say over intoxication could be the reason!

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Boat stations are situated conveniently along most of the lakes Northern perimeter so one is never very far from a potential spell of boating.Price’s are the same and rigidly set – there’s no negotiation for a discount – take it or leave it during high season. Low season may be another matter and i’m sure one could bargain on a little extra time for the same price.

So lets go boating and enjoy some scenery…

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In Summary…

If you have the time, wait for a clear day and you’ll see the mountain peaks poking up from behind the hills. Unless you want to go to the Barahi Island temple and back I’d avoid this station altogether – its crazy manic and you”ll have to queue (Google Map). Choose another launching station slightly further along, guaranteed no queuing! Its a great way to spend some time at one with the natural world, on water. Mornings are the best time to go boating when the air is fresh and crisp and scenery is at its best, especially for keen photographers.

 

 

Nepal – Introducing The Fewa Lake

Pokhara, Nepal, March 2018: There’s a sign prominently displayed by the roadside as visitors arrive at Pokhara’s Lakeside – “No Lake, No Lakeside”. A stark reminder of how important this natural freshwater lake is to the local economy. Its also a timely reminder to locals and business owners to keep the place nice and tidy! Cleanliness isn’t a word id associate with Nepal, but as far as lakeside go’s it is pretty clean. Not perfect like we’d see in New Zealand or England but compared to Kathmandu the place is like a sanctuary!

The rustic charms of this rather large tranquil Himalayan lake draw in domestic tourists all year round while international visitors are more of a seasonal entity, passing through on their way to or from the Annapurna mountains. Personally, this is my winter hangout – rustic, tranquil and above all cheap in a like for like comparison with the developed economies of the West.

Tranquility – looking across the Himalayan hills…

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Visitors in search of high-end fine dining along the lake front will be sorely disappointed. The menus are plain, simple and sometimes pricey for what one receives! Recent development has seen a sharp rise in the construction of food shacks – simple bamboo framed structures with a corrugated tin roof to more complicated bamboo structures with thatched roofs. Cheap plastic chairs and tables, sometimes wood slatted benches and stone slabs, all en-alfresco certainly gives this place that rustic feel.  Each shack though emanates its own style and personality. From a plain and simple eat and go to relax and stay for a while.  Personally, I’m opting for the relax and stay a while philosophy since I have bundles of time – yes travelling slow has its advantages.

Simplicity….

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Savouring the peace and tranquility, perhaps take a nap…

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A simple, basic shack…

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Exerciser Caution: While rustic may have its charms it should also come with a degree of caution. First, Nepal has  no quality control – no laws, no rules when it comes to hygiene and food safety. The smaller shack operators are family affairs making a subsistence living at best. Their philosophy for getting rid of garbage is to pile it up in the back yard – out of sight out of mind but an attractive proposition for swarms of flies and rodents. I’d never est anything that looks as if its been standing around, cold food items definitely off my food radar, not just at shacks on Lakeside but anywhere in Nepal!

By contrast, larger concerns are operated on a more professional level with college educated staff well ware of the perils and consequences of food poisoning. While these places are far from even close to matching Western hygiene standards they are somewhat better than some of the shacks. Wherever I eat though, id make sure my food is well cooked and as fresh as possible.

Back yards behind the shacks….

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In Summary…

Here’s a few simple guidelines when dealing with food on Lakeside and anywhere else in Nepal.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions about your food and try to gauge any potential problems. for example, I’ll always ask ‘how long has the rice been cooked for’? Once they hear that, you’ll get freshly cooked food. Try to pick on an establishment where the cooking can be observed. These tend to be the smaller places without the storage space of larger premises. Try to avoid meat and fish – a magnet for flies and may not get cooked right though.

Its a tricky business in Nepal but after 4 seasons of visiting here, sticking to a mainly vegetarian diet with the occasional chicken relapse, I haven’t suffered any food poisoning what so ever!

And that my friends is how it is, Lakeside Pokhara, Nepal.

 

Nepal – Holi Festival in Pokhara

Pokhara, Nepal, March 2018:  Today is Holi and that means its going to be a messy affair, especially later on if last year is anything to go by! Holi is a very big deal here in the Lakeside district of Pokhara with business’s gearing up for a financial windfall as thousands are expected to arrive here around lunchtime. With live music gigs at Centre-point, Camping chowk and at smaller venues along the lake front the scene is set for a very noisy, colourful, crazy afternoon!

The origins of Holi are somewhat lost in history for the most part with a tenuous link to the Hindu Lord Krishna. The modern and updated interpretation of Hloi however is ‘A Day Off Work’ Yes, another public holiday to herald in the Spring across Nepal. Coupled with the fact that everyone at some point in the day will be covered in coloured water and brightly coloured paint powder then defining Holi is pretty straight forward, ‘A Festival of Colours to mark the start of Spring and the season of Love’.

When the festival occurs depends on the Hindu calendars lunar interpretations, but generally speaking its after the full moon between late February and early to Mid March.

From around mid morning sellers are on the streets flogging bags of paint powder for 150 rupees while kids charge up their water guns, fill up buckets of coloured water and fill balloons with water in readiness for some good old fashioned mischief making – all under the guise of Holi of course.

Selling paint powder for Holi…

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Water….water….water…

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So, as thousands of Pokharas residents head on down to lakeside its time to change into something I can discard later, grab some lunch and tease the kids for a while.

Lets get messy….

As the music pumps and the powder flies its a good idea to keep ones mouth shut for the time being. Moving between gigs is when the water also flies with kids bombing tourists and small boys trying to smear powder across girls faces but often just tall enough to reach the breasts – Yes, quite a few slapped faces today I should think!

Thousands gather for Holi celebrations…

In Summary…

Holi day is a great festival for tourists to get involved with. Its a cultural experience like no other. However, with the vast amounts of paint powder flying around and considering that there are next to no reliable quality control measures in Nepal some powders may well be toxic So here’s a few top tips to follow for a happy, healthy Holi.

  1. Asthmatics should probably avoid large crowd concentrations.
  2. Before revelling in Holi buy a face mask or 2.
  3. Girls be prepared for some intimate touching by young boys.
  4. Keep that mouth closed as much as possible – eat and drink later.
  5. Don’t wear those designer jeans or the prized Tee-shirt – obviously.

 

 

 

Nepal – Shivarati Festival in Pokhara

Pokhara, Nepal, February 2018:  A festival celebrating Lord Shiva – a God of the Hindu brand of religion. The origins are somewhat murky depending on what one reads or who one believes, but everyone agrees on one thing – The National Holiday! Yes, a chance for those who are devoutly loyal to Lord Shiva to trot down to the local Temple for prayers, and the giving of garlands and various other offerings according to the belief. The kids are delighted with a day off school and certainly don’t plan on catching up with homework, and who can blame them. In simple terms, everyone’s happy with a day off!

Here in Pokhara, perhaps the most famous temple is that on Barahi Island, situated in the middle of Fewa Lake.Go(ogle Map) The lakefront is heavily populated with locals waiting for their boat to Barahi. Little blue painted rowing boats mostly, and some rather dubious double boat structures serve to triple passenger capacity to the point of no return! Its a 10 minute ride depending on how enthusiastic the boatman is. Price discrimination is alive and well practiced here with white skinned people paying 3 -4 times more than the natives. Nonetheless its an interesting cultural excursion.

Approaching Barahi Island…

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On Barahi Island with the crowds….

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Exploding Sugarcane: The national holiday celebrating Lord Shiva (Shiverati) culminates after dark with the heating of sugarcane before giving it a good wack on the road. A crack followed by a cloud of rising steam amidst cheers from the crowds gathered around the bonfire is the scene repeated at various locations around Pokhara’s Lakeside district.. Exactly what this represents with respect to Lord Shiva is hard to discover, and i’m still non the wiser. I suspect its just a bit of fun, mainly for the younger generations who have a spare 150 rupees for one long cane of sugar. Children are seen gathering the remains of discarded canes and sucking, vigorously extracting the sweet juices.

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In Summary…

Shiverati Festival occurs February to early March according to the Hindu calendar. A boat from Lakeside across to Barahi Island Temple will cost around 500-600 Rupees for non Nepali or Indian for a return journey. I suspect trying to swim there would be frowned upon! Id definitely recommenced getting involved, especially with the exploding sugarcane after dark.