Asia and the Orient: February 24
to March 14
(Pictures are thumbnails. Click on them for a larger view. You may click on the subjects listed to go directly to them.)
Subjects: Hong Kong Aberdeen Floating Village Ferries Night Scenes Floating Chinese Restaurant Marriott City Views Harbor Tour Hong Kong City Views Double Decker Buses Central Market To Bangkok Bangkok Grand Palace Chao Phraya River Views Ayutthaya Elephant Riding Floating Market Largest Wat Shrine Rose Garden Thai Village Phuket Club Med Phangnya Bay Caves Singapore Zoo Night Safari
This update covers our time spent in three amazing places in the Orient. Thailand lays claim to the marketing term "Amazing Thailand," but all that we have seen here has been pretty amazing. Here are a couple of representative pictures from the three big cities: Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Singapore. There is a lot more to see in this segment of the Rich Odyssey. Just click on the box above or use the navigation frame on the left. Also, check out the new world map showing the entire Rich Odyssey World Itinerary. Please Send e-mail with any feedback on our trip or your life back home -- we appreciate getting it!
These two views of downtown Hong Kong (7 million people) show its bustling harbor and many tall buildings. The second view is from famous Victoria Peak. There are big office buildings and apartment houses everywhere. Denny felt Hong Kong looked much like the movie "Blade Runner," especially at night.
Bangkok (10 million people) has the large river, the Chao Phraya, as a major transportation artery. Buildings are jammed along the river and many other places. There is no real downtown as it is very spread out... and incredibly smoggy!! These ruins are of the older capital to the north, Ayutthaya, which was destroyed by the gold plundering Burmese in 1767. The capital was soon rebuilt further south as Bangkok. Bangkok is known in the Thai language as "Krung Thep" which means "City of the Angels" just like smoggy LA!
Singapore (3.7 million people) is a city on a small island adjacent to Malaysia. It is noted for being very clean, very orderly, and very structured. You can get a slight feeling of "Big Brother" sometimes, especially when you see the giant TV screens downtown. They show commercials, but with very loud sound, and they are very annoying. There are also misdemeanor laws prohibiting things like chewing gum and failing to flush public toilets, which contribute to its very clean image. The first picture shows busy Orchard road in the downtown area where we stayed. Next, a view of one of the many, many clean high rise apartment buildings where most people live.
We hope you enjoy learning more about The Rich Family Odyssey travels through the Orient!!
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After a long flight from Perth (via Singapore -- see the route maps), we arrived in Hong Kong in the evening to be picked up and taken to the downtown Marriott Hotel (thanks again for Marriott Rewards free stays!!). The trip from the very new airport (1998) was quick (new freeway and new bridges), and we got to see the hazy city as the sun was setting. We spent five days in Hong Kong sampling the culture, food and heritage that the city has to offer. As may you recall, Hong Kong island (and surrounding peninsula and 260 other islands) was turned back from the British to the Chinese in 1997. It is now known to the Chinese as a Special Administrative Region (SAR). If you want to visit "mainland" China (we did not), you still have to go through a Chinese border check with your passport. As far as we could tell, not much has changed from the days of the British. Hong Kong is a very capitalist city owned by a communist (slowly becoming capitalist) country. Hong Kong is billed as a shoppers paradise, so Jennifer thought she was in heaven!! She was only torn by the fact that we were about to continue to Bangkok and Singapore, also known for their great shopping.
Jennifer and Steffi celebrate our arrival in Asia in our Marriott hotel. Our room had great views of the harbor and the streets as you see in the next shot of all the red taxis lined up to pick up people at the hotels. If you click on the last shot, you can see Hennessey Street, a main thoroughfare, with its double decker buses and trams and taxis and an underground subway. Hong Kong citizens have no trouble getting around as public transit is excellent.
Denny and Steffi wait in front of the shiny chrome Marriott to check in. Next we show some of the many skyscrapers which make it a real concrete jungle. Finally Jennifer and Stephanie enjoy the view from the top of Victoria Peak, about 350 meters above the city. You can see the harbor in the haze in the background. The air was mostly ocean haze and clouds and modest smog compared with what we were later to see in Bangkok.
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Aberdeen Floating Village
We took a tour around the city stopping at the Aberdeen Floating Village on the south side of Hong Kong Island. About 11,000 people live here on their boats. Transportation to and from the boats is done on small water taxis as you can see in the last picture. Surrounding this area were many, many, many high rise apartments where most people live. In stark contrast, very wealthy people live up on the hillsides (40% of Hong Kong is rural, as they call it) in houses which can cost millions of HK$ (or US$ for that matter).
This apartment house was re-designed to improve its "feng shui," letting the environment and spirits pass between the mountain and the sea through the hole in the building.
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Complementing the mass transit on land, there are passenger ferries which run everywhere. The first is the famous Star Ferry which runs between downtown Hong Kong across the harbor to Kowloon, a major shopping district on the tip of the mainland peninsula. The other ferry is painted in red, white and blue stars and stripes, sponsored by United Airlines.
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We have all seen night scenes of Hong Kong shopping districts and it is truly a riot of color. This is Kowloon, across the harbor from Hong Kong's downtown area. When you walk in this area, you see street after street after street which all look exactly the same and are teeming with people. This night shot of Hong Kong from across the harbor gives an idea of the lights and scale of the many buildings. Victoria Peak can be seen in the background.
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Floating Chinese Restaurant
Stephanie loves Chinese food and would eat it at every opportunity. One night we went to eat at Jumbo, the largest floating restaurant in the world (Chinese, of course) located near the Aberdeen Floating Village. The restaurant is highly decorated, as you can see. For what is really a very large tourist attraction, the food was good and priced right. Steph also got a new French haircut in Hong Kong which we think will be terrific for the beach. Cute, huh!
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Marriott City Views
Since our hotel was right in the middle of the city, we weren't sure we would have great views or even a swimming pool. But the pool, shown here with Steffi trying out her new snorkel, was great, especially on a nice day such as this one. Nearby are many tall buildings forming canyons in all directions. Our room's harbor view is good, at least until they build another building to block it! Right now this land nearest the water is parking lots, and we all know what happens to them.
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The harbor tour guide stated that the Hong Kong harbor is one of the three most spectacular ones in the world, including also Rio de Janeiro and Sydney. We did agree HK's was big, but Sydney definitely wins the prize for beauty. The building with the bird wing roofs is the Hong Kong convention center. They compare it to the Sydney Opera House. Judge for yourself.
Hong Kong harbor is one of the largest container shipping ports in the world (we think Singapore is rated number one, but we didn't see it). Much of the container operation is on land fill which is shown in the first picture, and it seems literally endless with hundreds of cranes. There are plans to DOUBLE this capacity in next several years. Incredible.
The new international airport was built to the west of the city by leveling several small islands and bringing in land fill. The old airport was right in the harbor and had been very scary for pilots, passengers, and tenants in buildings who watched airplanes go right past their windows. A new airport freeway and new bridges were built at the same time. The first bridge is the longest span in the world carrying both cars AND rail. The second bridge connects the freeway to the north and is adjacent to the first long bridge. They are both quite beautiful and reminded us of the Jacksonville, FL spans. On our way through Hong Kong enroute to Nairobi, we snapped this picture of one of the terminals. It is VERY long. We must have walked a mile to get from the point where we came in from Singapore to the point we had to be to catch the flight to Johannesburg. Denver should be very proud of DIA and its effeciency!
Near Kowloon, a huge complex of apartments rises next to the harbor giving some idea of how many people live in such a small place. The second picture shows the tiers of graves in an old cemetery, probably Catholic, which is typical of the dense utilization of all space. Since much of the land is virtually full, people are now cremated rather than buried.
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Hong Kong City Views
Steffi pauses by a pool and fountain near the ferry terminal. A view of downtown through a window at a station on the cable railway going up Victoria Peak gives some idea of how steep the mountain is. This cable railway was built in the late 1800s to help people get to the top of the mountain.
From the top of the Victoria Peak, a couple of smoggy views of the city at dusk and after dark show city and harbor lights aglow.
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Double Decker Buses
Jennifer and Steffi enjoy a ride on the top level of a double decker tram. Out the windows on all sides you can see many double decker buses. All the large buses we saw were double and carry lots of people. Only the much smaller regional mini buses were one level. The fare on the tram was about 60 cents US.
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We made an early morning trek down to the central market (riding the tram, of course) where meats and vegetables are sold. Chinese people like their food fresh and this is where the selling is done. Three people sit around a table peeling prawns, getting them ready to sell. Jennifer studies the finer points of preparing various fish. Everything was alive, even the eels. The floor which specializes in meat products looks similar with the added attraction of misc. heads. The last picture shows a cage of tightly packed chickens waiting to be prepared for sale that day. Jennifer had never before witnessed the whole process from cage to ice, and thought the plucking machine was pretty cool. Stephanie actually swore off eating chicken for a week after observing how chicken processing was really done. The whole market was quite clean with a lot of people involved in hosing down and sweeping up. We'll stick to supermarkets, however.
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On one of our long flights from Hong Kong to Bangkok. We are glad we got a good deal on our One World package tickets. We're traveling a bit further, but the whole traveling process is less of a hassle. Steffi and Jennifer are smiling while they eat their ice cream for dessert.
Arriving in Bangkok, we were greeted with a lot of new sights and sounds. Mostly, one notices the hot smoggy air as we are now much nearer the equator than in Hong Kong. The Chao Phraya River is the main waterway through the city. The "long tail" water taxis shown here have large automobile engines mounted on the rear with a long protruding drive shaft and propeller. They can go very fast. Here is typical street corner with people selling everything in sight. In Thailand, everything is bargained for. The process consists of saying, "How much?" The vendor then produces a calculator and keys a number. You then say, "No!" and say or key in your number, typically half. The process goes from there until agreement is reached. For most people, it is fun, but it takes some practice. The trick is deciding early what you're willing to pay. The three wheeled vehicles shown are small taxis called Tuk Tuks. There are also normal metered cabs. The last picture shows several men asleep under a tree. They did not appear to be homeless... they were all just sleeping the hot day away.
Everything grows in Thailand and flowers are abundant and cheap. The lady is holding two batches of 50 fresh pink long-stemmed roses, which would only cost about $2 US!!! The city is filled with cars, taxis, motorcycles, tuk tuks and buses. It is noisy and congested and it's no mystery why there is so much smog. They have built a Sky Train which runs a short distance and are working on a subway. All in all, it was quite a contrast to Hong Kong with its many forms of mass transit and relatively few private cars.
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Bangkok Grand Palace
Within Bangkok is the Grand Palace, ceremonial center for the king and the grandest Wat (Thai for temple or shrine, honoring Buddha) in the country. The Thai people have always loved gold and fine decorations and each Wat and is very colorful and quite beautiful. To our surprise, we learned there are 31,000 Wats in their country. The first building is just outside the Grand Palace and is the place in Bangkok where all distances to other places are measured from. The grounds are very large and consist of many buildings, all of which make up the Wat overall. The two snakes along the steps are not viewed as devils or serpents, but as protectors. They each have five heads.
Some of the detailed art work is shown here adorning one of the buildings. Interestingly, the government department that manages all of this is not something like our Interior Department or National Park Service. It is the Fine Arts Department. Notice that gold is everywhere, and small pieces of gold leaf are put on the walls as part of a good Buddhist's offering to the temple. There is also a lot of ongoing restoration work to keep the buildings in the Grand Palace in good shape.
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Chao Phraya River Views
Here is a view of our Marriott Hotel by the river after sunrise. A river view from the Raffles Hotel patio and a toast to our continuing good fortune as we watch the sun setting in the smog across the river. LA looks pretty good now!
Click on the first picture to see the very little boat pulling three large barges containing rice or other cargo and the colorful water taxi bus in front. On a trip the next day, we noticed large apartments in the smog and an incomplete project in the foreground. In 1998 the Baht and Thai economy took a real hit. Projects were halted everywhere. Now, tourism is their saving industry and is helping their economy to a recovery. The Baht is valued at 45 per US dollar and was a very good deal for us and everyone else in the world, making Thailand a very popular tourist stop.
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This is the old city ruins of Ayutthaya, the previous capital, about 70 km to the north of Bangkok. It is a very large area consisting of an island, surrounded by three rivers. It was raided and destroyed for the gold treasures by Burma in 1767. Fortunately for the Thais, the treasure was hidden under the pagoda and wasn't discovered. We wondered if the heads of these Buddha statues were also destroyed by the Burmese. To our surprise, the heads were stolen by locals in previous years for sale on the international art market. Now, these areas are protected as historical sites and are major tourist attractions.
Part of our tour was to take one of the high speed water taxis all the way around the enclosed island city of Ayutthaya. This was a lot of fun and gave us a chance to see many more of the ruins as well as the towns surrounding the ruins. A river view of the wat shows Buddhist monks walking on the waterside paths.
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Steffi is feeding a baby elephant and then went riding with Mom for a good distance. The ride gave quite a sensation of rock and roll! A horse definitely gives a more user friendly ride, but elephants may be more fun. Our elephant handler was very excited with Stephanie's little Polaroid snapshot sticker camera. We gave them pictures of themselves, which they liked a lot.
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Damnernsaduak Market is known as the largest Floating Market. Everyone goes there for bargaining, and our tour took us there by a water taxi. People live in houses right along the canals on the way to the market. The Floating Market scene shows boats on the many canals with lots of goods to sell. Most merchandise, however, is sold right along the water.
This is one of many Thai wood carving education centers with many locals showing their trade in wood. Stephanie studies one spectacular completed piece of art that is about 4 inches thick and 2 meters by 1 meter. This took two men nine months to complete. The king and the government encourage Thai farming people to learn art skills to help supplement their income.
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Largest Wat Shrine
This is the largest Wat building in Thailand. The King in the early 20th century found a Wat in a state of disrepair and decided to build a very large replacement shrine building shown here surrounding the entire original building. It is about 100 meters high, covered in gold, of course, and is very impressive. The second scene shows part of the building which completely surrounds the tall shrine.
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Rose Garden Thai Village
We went to an exhibition Thai Village called the Rose Garden and observed many traditional Thai arts. This traditional Thai pole dance shows the dancing between the long bamboo sticks that are clicking together. If they goof up, they get a serious ankle ache. Of course, they were perfect as the rhythm helps keep their feet in time with the moving sticks. We also saw a demonstration of Thai kick boxing where hands, feet, elbows and heads are all legal. Quite impressive even for a show. Finally, an exhibition of marching elephants being very careful as they step over their keepers..
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Phuket Club Med
Happily leaving the Bangkok smog behind, we flew down to the island of Phuket to a Club Med resort that caters to kids. Kata Beach on the Indian Ocean was quite lovely as you can see. And Steffi had lots of fun doing things with the Kid's Club, as you can see here with her pink and black clown costume. It was a good time for relaxation.. a sort of "vacation" from our 'holiday."
One of the great treats of being in Thailand is to treat oneself to a traditional Thai body massage. Jennifer and Stephanie are on the beach both enjoying a massage. The nice hour-long massage costs only 300 Baht or about $7 US. Of course, we could have done the same thing at Club Med for about 1,000 Baht, but we enjoyed the beach environment more. Another fun thing for Stephanie was to count the cute gecko type lizards that typically hung upside down from the outside ceiling by the lights. They were obviously waiting to eat bugs drawn to the light, although there really weren't very many bugs (probably because they were being eaten by geckos!). Typically, she would end up counting about 80 to 90. We are not sure whether this should count as one of her school science experiments. Not so fast.
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Phangnya Bay Caves
One day we went on an excursion to Phang Nga Bay and some islands there. The trip had been sold just as a canoe trip to some sea caves, but it turned out to be much more than that as this bay is one of only three in the world like it. The first picture gives an idea of the shape of the islands. They are all limestone and are eroding very rapidly. The inflatable sea canoe that we are in made it easy to navigate around and THROUGH, these islands. Our Thai guide sat at the rear and took this picture. Denny really was not the only paddler.
This canoe is beginning to enter one of the caves leading into the middle of the island where there is a lagoon surrounded by very steep cliffs. At high tide one cannot get into the cave openings. We were at about a medium tide level. The next shot shows a canoe about to emerge into one of the inner lagoons. Steffi is sitting up, but will soon have to duck down very low to go under the limestone rock formations. The whole thing was really a kick!
After going through the cave you wind up in the lagoon you see in the first picture. Mangrove trees and hanging vines abound in the lagoons as shown here.. click on the picture for a better view of the roots. The third picture shows a canoe going back into the cave as it leaves the lagoon.
Near the mangrove tree, we were lucky to spot a family of monkeys!! These pictures are from our video camera as we ran out of batteries on our Nikon, so pardon the poor quality...but the monkeys were really something. We saw a family of 7 in all: a mom and dad with a baby nursing, three young monkeys and a grandpa emerged one at a time from the rock. The guides were telling us that to see even one was rare and to see seven was really something! We definitely felt blessed with this opportunity. None of us had ever seen a monkey except in a zoo.
On the way back to the boat harbor, the tide had dropped considerably and local Thai people were out in their boats working hard to capture sea life... probably oysters. The tide level dropped so much that the harbor turned into a narrow shallow channel. In fact, on the way back, our boat had to stop outside the channel because there was not enough depth to get in without waiting for the tide to rise again. We waited about 30 minutes for a speed boat to come get us and most of the crew for the trip back to our minibus.
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Phuket was a mixed blessing because we had such a good time, and it was good to recharge our
personal batteries. Nevertheless, the Odyssey continued, and we took off for Bangkok and then on to Singapore, our final Asian
stop. We got to Singapore, checked into our free Marriott hotel, shown in
the first picture on the left.
We were immediately picked up by Carolyn Viens, an IBM friend who lives in Singapore. With her three kids, Taylor (10), Jackie (6) and Bobby (4) in tow, she took us to Pasir Ris park on the north side of the island where we enjoyed a great local park with MANY other locals, primarily Chinese. We ordered great food from some local beach restaurants and had a feast in the park. BUT... we forgot the camera! Darn! Thanks, Carolyn, for the fun time and a very memorable evening.
One of our jobs in Singapore, in addition to many LMAs (Life Maintenance Activities) was to look for a real SLR film camera for our upcoming trip to Africa. We took the subway to a recommended camera store about 10 km away from our hotel. Steffi and Jennifer are working their way through one of the many residential apartment high rises. On the bottom floor are necessary shops. The final picture gives you a view of typical apartment living for a Singapore citizen. Their standard of living is very high compared with the rest of Asia and especially Malaysia (from which Singapore split shortly after gaining independence from the British).
Steffi is becoming a real world citizen and is getting very adept at figuring her way around. Here she is buying a magnetic card for our trip on the subway. It is the same system used on the Washington Metro and the San Francisco BART system. The train comes in to the very clean station as Jennifer and Steffi wait.
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Zoo Night Safari
Lastly, we were told we should not miss the Night Safari at the Singapore Zoo. At night, you ride a tram or take hikes to see nocturnal animals doing things you wouldn't see in the daytime since most of them would be sleeping. Most of the time, it was too dark for pictures, but we did get a couple of representative pictures of some Mouse Deer and slightly larger deer called Barking Deer. While we did not see the entire Zoo, we have been told it rivals the San Diego Zoo for quality. Based on our Night Safari unique experience, we would have to agree, especially as it displays Asian animals. Lots of fun and very unique and informative.
There are many other things that we were not able to see in our three days in Singapore. This is typical of everywhere we have been on our Odyssey. The world is a very big place and returning many times would be necessary to take it all in.
Now we are off to Africa. Unfortunately, limited (and expensive) African phones have delayed this update for a couple weeks, but we hope you have enjoyed it. We always hope that Odyssey followers will enjoy seeing pictures of some of the wonderful things we have seen and learned about our world. We'll have the African update in about a month when we're "out of Africa" at last. (HINT: our wildlife viewing was spectacular.) Thanks for stopping by!!
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