Sunday, May 1, 2016

30 April - Hong Kong

Another day in Hong Kong and still waiting for better conditions to visit Victoria Peak. This morning we all hopped on the MTR to travel to Mong Kok which is about 1.5 km from our hotel. John, Sandra and Rosa were off to the Ladies Market and I wanted to visit Sim City which is a three story building full of camera shops selling the latest and greatest as well as loads of second hand equipment. I've been looking for a longer telephoto lens for my Panasonic Lumix GH4 and this morning I found the Panasonic 100-300mm at a significantly lower price than what's available in Melbourne. After returning from the market I immediately took my new purchase to Kowloon Park to get some better shots of those magnificent flamingoes.
Although this lens has had some mixed reviews (hence the lower price) I'm very happy with my purchase particularly as the light was marginal and the shots were taken hand held at the full 300mm.
Later in the afternoon we walked down to the Ocean Terminal to check out the best spot to view the laser Light and Sound show which is performed on and by the high rise buildings of Hong Kong Island. 
By now the weather was quite overcast and turning somewhat chilly and we were glad we didn't venture on to Victoria Peak - maybe tomorrow.
After dinner in Harbour Town we returned to the foreshore to join thousands of other locals and tourist to wait for the 8pm light show. The harbour at night is a fascinating sight. The colourful cityscape provides a marvellous backdrop to the abundant water traffic of Star ferries, tour boats on dinner cruises and junks and the occasional cruise ship. Just as the light show was about to start the Star Cruise Line's Pisces sailed right past us.
The hazy conditions detracted a little from the experience of the laser lights but it was still a magnificent sight to behold. 
Just as the show finished the rain started and we joined the general rush to find cover and get out of the rain. Tomorrow is our last full day in Hong Kong and our activities will be dictated by the weather.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

29 April - Hong Kong

We are now in the last few days of our holiday, and the toughest issue each day is deciding a program for the day - there is so much to see and do here. We decided today to visit Victoria Peak in the afternoon if the visibility was OK. John took Rosa and Sandra shopping while I chased down a few of the recommended camera stores here in Hong Kong to see if there were any bargains to be had. There weren't, most gear here is more expensive than in Australia even though they do not apply any sales tax. Sometimes you need to travel to find out how well off you are. We regrouped early in the afternoon and decided to defer the Peak visit to tomorrow. Instead we visited the wonderful Kowloon Park. It is an oasis of peace and beauty in the middle of the incredible hustle and bustle which is Hong Kong. The park is home to a large number of Greater Flamingoes and these are absolutely fabulous birds to watch. I'll go back tomorrow with a telephoto lens to get some better photos.
After our visit we carried on to Temple Street which turns into an incredible night market every day at 4pm, and continues until 10 pm.
This area, located about 1 km from our hotel is much more the authentic Hong Kong/Kowloon experience, far away from the endless expensive international brand name shops which I find quite boring. This market is for the locals and the occasional tourist and it features everything imaginable at quite competitive prices. 
By the time we had wandered up and down the market a few times it was time for a drink and we sat down in an open air local restaurant to enjoy a couple of large bottles of the local beer.

While food and alcohol is incredibly expensive in the more fashionable part of town, when you venture into the areas where the locals live and eat and drink prices are a lot more reasonable. Here, drinks for 4 came to HK$60 which is about AUD12. The local beer here which comes in large bottles is terrific. After all our wandering we decided to use the MTR (Subway) to get back to our hotel.
So altogether a busy, tiring but very enjoyable day. Hopefully we can do the Peak tomorrow.

Friday, April 29, 2016

28 April - Hong Kong

We woke this morning to a warm but very hazy Hong Kong. Air pollution, caused mainly by motor vehicles is a major problem in Hong Kong and this morning it was bad enough to postpone our plans to visit Victoria Peak to get some panoramic views of the area. Instead we caught the Star Ferry to Hong Kong Island before catching a bus to Stanley which is a tourist area on the southern most point of Hong Kong.
This involved a 40 minute bus ride initially through some of the busiest city roads I've ever seen and then along the very steep and winding coastal road. Stanley is a great tourist attraction mainly because of its market, coastal scenery and restaurants.
After an extensive visit to the market by the ladies we then strolled along the waterfront. There were a few groups of school children who had been given the project of approaching tourists and asking them to participate in a short survey. John volunteered twice and everyone seemed to enjoy the experience.
By late afternoon we decided to take a break and have a drink and a meal at the Pickled Pelican. The meal consisted of Australian Black Angus steaks and a pint of draft Carlsberg. Very enjoyable.
Finally it was time to get back to the bus for the return trip to the ferry terminal and then back to The Prince hotel. Tomorrow we are hoping some of the pollution will clear so that we can go up Victoria Peak for a good view and photos of Hong Kong and Kowloon.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

27 April - Hong Kong, Day 1

After 23 nights at sea our cruise finally came to an end this morning when we arrived at the Kai Tak Ocean Terminal in Hong Kong. As a sharp contrast to the near perfect weather we've enjoyed since we left Melbourne, the weather here, while still warm, was overcast, quite hazy with a light drizzle. We had opted for a late departure from the ship as hotel rooms are generally not ready till 2-3 pm, and so, after a leisurely and final breakfast we made ourselves comfortable in the Explorer's Bar, our designated holding area for disembarkation. At 10:20 it was our turn to walk off the Golden Princess for the last time, through HK Immigration to join the longest taxi queue any of us had ever seen. However the departure organisation was ultra efficient and 45 minutes later we were packed into a medium size taxi (all four of us + luggage) on our way to downtown Kowloon and the The Prince Marco Polo hotel. We had booked our rooms here more than 6 months ago through booking.com and it is always a bit surprising, and quite a relief, when you arrive and they are expecting you. This was certainly the case here - the staff were terrific and although we had to wait for our rooms to be ready, by 2pm we were settled into the biggest hotel rooms we've been in after a while. Certainly, after 23 nights in a very compact ship's stateroom it was nice to be able to spread out and settle in for the next five days. After unpacking and a bit of rest we walked down Canton Rd to find a liquor store to buy a few essentials and a bit to eat. Our hotel is located right in Harbour Town which is the largest shopping centre (3 levels) we've ever encountered. Tonight we opted for an early night so that we can be fresh and ready to explore Hong Kong tomorrow. It was also nice to find that our rooms provided free high speed internet access, which meant I could finally catch up on all the updates on all my devices and to finally download all my email.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

25 April - Nah Trang - Vietnam

As we dined and slept last night the Golden Princess sailed to our next port in Vietnam - Nha Trang. This is one of Vietnam’s premier beach resort cities and the modern high rise hotels are springing up every where. This was another ‘tender’ port which meant we were ferried ashore using the ship’s lifeboats. Although this process takes a bit longer than simply walking down a gang plank, it is an interesting experience and provides a unique view of the Golden Princess close up. 

Once ashore complimentary shuttle buses had been provided to take us into town.
Our main focus was the local market which is astounding in the sheer range of items for sale and the very low prices. At first the prices look high in the local currency (Dong) but once you divide them by 17,000 to convert to AUD (or 20,000 for USD) then things look remarkable cheap. Of course no one pays the asking price, and after some good natured haggling we generally arrived at half price - good fun. 

Tomorrow is our last full day at sea as we arrive in Hong Kong, and the end of our cruise on Wednesday. So, lots of paperwork to fill in and the process of packing will occupy some of the day.

24 April - Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) - Vietnam

Once again we woke this morning to find the captain had quietly parked the Golden Princess in a busy port which serves as the main import/export hub for Ho Chi Minh City formerly known as Saigon. I was really looking forward to visiting this city for a couple of reasons. First I wanted to see the development that has taken place since the Vietnam War (called the American War here) ended in 1975, and second because of the long occupation of the area and the city of Saigon by the French, the city was renowned for its tree lined boulevards and elegant buildings. So, we signed up for a tour “The Best of Ho Chi Minh City” to see as much as possible as we could in a single day. And what an amazing day it was. HCM City is still an elegant and beautiful place and the new development going on is turning it quickly into a high rise citadel which will one day rival Hong Kong or Shanghai. It already has a population exceeding 10 million. For a nominally Communist country, capitalism appears to be rampant and I’m not sure it is benefiting the average Vietnamese very much. Our visit included the Presidential Palace which was the scene on 30 April, 1975, captured as an unforgettable image, of a lone North Vietnam tank driving up the boulevard and knocking down the iron gates. We also visited a lacquer work factory, the Opera House, Notre Dame cathedral and a beautiful Chinese temple. 

Lunch was provided on the tour and accompanied by a fantastic performance of an ensemble of Vietnamese dancers and musicians. After the performance we were encouraged to join the performers on stage for photo opportunities and to play tambourines and castanets. Almost a party atmosphere and very enjoyable.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

22 April - Laem Chabang - Thailand

 Overnight the Golden Princess moved up the coast of Thailand to berth at Laem Chabang which is the port for Bangkok. As Bangkok was a 2-3 hour bus ride away we decided instead to catch the shuttle bus to the holiday resort town of Pataya. Pattaya is best known for its fabulous beach and associated water activities such as SCUBA and parasailing, its shops and markets and it’s racy nightlife.
We spent most of our time shopping both in the air-conditioned departments stores as well as in the local markets. 
One obvious feature of these Asian cities is the overwhelming presence of motorcycles in all shapes and sized, particularly of the step through scooter variety. To see one these tiny machines loaded with a couple of adults and one or two children, mostly without protective equipment is an experience indeed. By 3pm we were worn down by the bargaining, the heat and the humidity and we caught the shuttle bus back to the ship. This gave us time for showers and a little snooze before dinner at 6pm, and then the daily show in the Princess Theatre, which featured a singer called Louis Hoover performing a tribute show to Frank Sinatra - very good show. 

After the show we went to the top of the ship to watch our departure from Laem Chabang. This was made especially interesting because our sister ship the Sapphire Pprincess was departing at the same time and the evening was beautifully lit by a full moon. 

Tomorrow is another sea day before we get to Vietnam.