6 Things I Learned from 2 Years in Asia

thailand-doi-life

This month, on October 24th, marks 2 years since I arrived into Asia for the first time. My initial plan was to buy a 1-way flight to Bangkok, stay for a couple months, and if I liked it, stay for a year or so and travel the area, and if I didn’t, travel to another city in the area and try the same. Like many people, plans changed and I ended up staying longer than a year.

It is fascinating looking back seeing how perspectives change. I remember arriving day 1 very well, and the following weeks, with my certain expectations, lack of awareness and understanding, and a vision of the future. My perspective today is completely different than it was then. It doesn’t mean that it went from good to bad, or bad to good, it is just that I’ve been able to further understand the world, especially Thailand, and as a result things that originally felt really out of place now seem normal.

My time in Asia has drastically shaped how I view the world. You have huge extremes on every level, whether it is the mega-malls in Bangkok where you can buy a Lamborghini on the top floor, to the very poor and underdeveloped areas of much of the surrounding areas and countries. I’ve always been someone who doesn’t really mind what someone thinks, but more why they think it. I don’t mind that someone is Buddhist, or Hindu, or Christian, or Muslim, but what is the reason? What led them to those beliefs and why? Because of how many things I see that are unique from the West in Asia almost on a daily basis, I’ve been constantly asking the why for the last 2 years.  It has led to some of the most enlightening thoughts and conversations in my life.  Some things are amazing and fascinating, others are disgusting and vile, but it doesn’t change the fact that it is how it is.

The last 2 years have also taught me that it is difficult to understand without experience. I recently got back from Bangladesh and as much as I’d love to describe in great detail how it was (which I will try in an upcoming post), I don’t think it is possible.  My friend Mark recently was in India and posted on Facebook about his experience, and what he posted I think can represent much of the world that is ever so different than what we’re used to:

India is without a doubt the most interesting, fascinating, crazy, beautiful, disgusting, dirtiest, gem buried in a pile of trash, ever! It has been the biggest positive surprise for me on this whole trip and maybe in my life. It is a land of ultimate extremes! I didn’t think I would like the chaos of it before we came and at first, I didn’t. But we started it off in the beautiful,small villages in the Himalayas and surrounded ourselves with some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen. When we went back to the major cities, in particular Varanasi on the Ganges River, I began to see so much life and color and beauty hidden underneath the uncontrolled filth that comes with a country of 1 billion people mostly in poverty. You can literally close your eyes, point your camera in any direction and take the most unique and interesting photo you’ve ever seen. I don’t know how many times we said “you don’t see that every day”. Farm animals walking through every city street, shitting everywhere alongside people doing the same. People spitting tobacco, pissing in the streets, sleeping on the sidewalks. And many of the people can be some of the most vile, disgusting, shameless people ever with so much kindness, love, life, and beauty shining through it all. We watched the most amazing local concert of sitar, tabla and sarangi in a hole in the wall down a random alley and then just down the Ganges watched bodies being cremated and dumped into the river next to people and animals bathing. It is impossible to understand it until you see it and you could spend a lifetime exploring this country with only scratching the surface.

I haven’t been to India yet, but I think if you replace the city names with others, that description could definitely describe my trip to Bangladesh recently. I’d imagine lots of the undeveloped world could be described that way from a western perspective, because we share this planet yet we live such vastly different lives.

thailand-life

The reason I came to Bangkok originally wasn’t to setup such a life here, but was more to travel. Bangkok is centrally located in Southeast Asia, and from it you can easily access the rest of Asia, especially Southeast Asia. I wanted to explore this area of the world, hence why I chose Bangkok. At the same time, I wanted to have a place I could call home. While I could just constantly travel and explore, I’ve found that it becomes overwhelming and you lose many of the benefits of travel because you can’t properly reflect on what you see and do. It also means that you don’t get the chance to somewhat understand a single place. As I’ve written about in the past, it takes 2-3 months for me to overcome a culture shock, and then many more months to get comfortable in a culture. With constant travel you never get passed that, so as a result you only get the skim the surface. I know that you have to pick and choose what you skim and what you live, so I decided to spend 1 month traveling every 3 months or so, which I’ve consistently done for the past 2 years. This has enabled me to have a proper home in Bangkok, with all the amazing food I could want, massages, beauty, diversity, and people. And at the same time, has allowed me to explore much of Southeast Asia, where I’ve spent a few weeks in almost every country in the area.

What’s the future hold? I find myself very comfortable in this area of the world. If I was to write down the things that I want in life right now, Bangkok has almost all of it (aside from my family). With that said, it is easy to get comfortable and stop exploring.  I learned this when I lived in England, and told myself that whenever I get real comfortable, as great as it is, it is a sign I need to change.  The change isn’t to dirupt something great, it is change to push myself to keep exploring. In a couple months I will head back to the US for Christmas and spend a couple months with my family, which I’m really looking forward to. Early next year I will backpack some of central America and/or South America. I may move somewhere in South America, but not sure yet. In May I have a flight scheduled back to Asia, which I may or may not cancel. It is tough to predict what will happen by then, and only time will tell.  I’m excited.

Aside from the countless life lessons that you get from growing up, and then all the ones I learned on the side living in a foreign place and traveling places, below I’ve tried my best to write down some of the lessons or things I’ve realized since moving to Asia.

1. People are just animals

It sounds odd to some people if I say that, but it is true. In the West it is easy to think that humans are these superior beings that are completely different than animals we see every day.  But as you get out of the West and see what the rest of the world is like, you begin to realize that humans are just animals.

2. People are very different

It’s easy to say we are all just humans. And we are at a very flat level. But with that said, humans can be very very different from each other. I heard an analogy the other day: when you think of a plane and a paperclip, you would classify them as a plane and as a paperclip, not as “both are just metal”. If you compare two books, A and B, people generally will classify them as books, not as “writing about X” or a “poem about Y”. Humans are the same, we seem to classify everyone as a human, but they can be vastly different, like a plane and a paperclip.

3. Seek out people with different beliefs

It’s easy to surround yourself by people who think like you, because it is comfortable and the people relate to you. But it creates a massive confirmation bias. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard a Christian or Muslim say “but the people around me all believe the same, it must be true”.  Think about how strong of a bias a church is? If you want to understand the world, surround yourself by different beliefs, you’ll learn a lot as long as you go in with an open mind.

4. The value of money

Money to me is an external thing, man-made and not something “natural” – this is why I think money should never play a role in a relationship – love is internal, money isn’t. Today people sacrifice their lives for money, all over the world.  In Thailand alone I’ve seen countless woman give up everything in their lives to marry a rich man, even if he is twice her age.  The value of money is so strong that she will sacrifrice everything for it. In the West you see countless people work for half of their conscious life just to make money which supports some artificial lifestyle that society has pressed on them. At the same time, you see people living on a $1/day perfectly happy, enjoying every day with their family and friends. The last 2 years have showed me that money shouldn’t really dictate anything in your life.

5. Allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind

2 of the things I’ve learned have been better stated by someone else, so I will borrow them from BrainPickings, an excellent blog of observation and thought. “We live in a culture where one of the greatest social disgraces is not having an opinion, so we often form our “opinions” based on superficial impressions or the borrowed ideas of others, without investing the time and thought that cultivating true conviction necessitates. We then go around asserting these donned opinions and clinging to them as anchors to our own reality. It’s enormously disorienting to simply say, “I don’t know.” But it’s infinitely more rewarding to understand than to be right — even if that means changing your mind about a topic, an ideology, or, above all, yourself.”

6. Presence is far more intricate and rewarding an art than productivity

(also from BrainPickings) “Ours is a culture that measures our worth as human beings by our efficiency, our earnings, our ability to perform this or that. The cult of productivity has its place, but worshipping at its altar daily robs us of the very capacity for joy and wonder that makes life worth living — “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.””

I could go on and on about more, but I’ll leave my thoughts at that.

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Oct 29th, 2014 | Filed under Adventures, Thailand

Being Indispensible & Bad Science

Reading comic

I’ve been reading a lot lately, and recently finished 2 books, which I want to write a quick review about here.  We’re in the age of information, where abundant amounts of information is available. It is crazy, and constantly fascinates me, how much you can learn from a book in a few hours that took someone or a group of people a lifetime to learn. Reading a simple book makes you so much more aware of the realities of the world, and a lot of it is mind blowing.

Bad Science (Amazon)

The first one is Bad Science, by Ben Goldacre.  From 2008, it “criticizes mainstream media reporting on health and science issues.” While the idea of the book is good in that it exposes reality and dismisses the sugar-coated bullshit in the health and science world, the book was a bit redundant in its critizism.  Chapter after chapter seemed to be pointing out specific people and experiments, without looking at the underlying ideas. There are countless examples in the world, and I think the book went overboard with examples.  However, I did like the chapters on the placebo, Why Clever People Believe Stupid Things, and bad stats, all of which intrigued me. I was quite familiar with the topics in the book before I read it, and it didn’t enlightened much, but I think for people curious about the health and science world who aren’t familiar with the shady reality, it is definitely worth the read.

Comic about wisdom and knowledge

Linchpin (Amazon)

The second book is Linchpin, by Seth Godin.  I’ve known of Seth Godin for many years and have enjoyed a lot of his writings online and speeches, but never actually read a book of his until this. It is excellent, and I will definitely read more of his stuff in the future. The book seems to be targeted at companies looking to grow and at employees looking to create stability, but this is a good read for anyone, and I’d highly recommend it.

It talks about people shifting from the “factory worker”, someone who goes to work following more or less a set of instructions, to someone who is indispensable and creative (a creator of “art”, as defined in the book – see below). He calls this person a linchpin. He suggests that anyone can be a linchpin, and it is more about recognizing and utilizing your creative side as opposed to simply following instructions.  He brings up some good points in that following specific instructions started after the industrial revolution when companies wanted to create factories which employed people who simply followed instructions, where cheap to hire, and easily replaceable or depensible. This way of life has carried all of the way to today. Today, however, jobs like this aren’t safe anymore and are disappearing.  Work is either being taken over by computers and machines, or outsourced to someone cheaper. He recommends becoming a linchpin. It is an excellent book and would recommend it to anyone – the audiobook is read by Seth himself and very enjoyable to listen to. Every segment of the book is very interesting, and format of many short segments makes it an easy, yet though-provoking read.

“Art isn’t only a painting. Art is anything that’s creative, passionate, and personal. And great art resonates with the viewer, not only with the creator.

What makes someone an artist? I don’t think is has anything to do with a paintbrush. There are painters who follow the numbers, or paint billboards, or work in a small village in China, painting reproductions. These folks, while swell people, aren’t artists. On the other hand, Charlie Chaplin was an artist, beyond a doubt. So is Jonathan Ive, who designed the iPod. You can be an artists who works with oil paints or marble, sure. But there are artists who work with numbers, business models, and customer conversations. Art is about intent and communication, not substances.

An artists is someone who uses bravery, insight, creativity, and boldness to challenge the status quo. And an artists takes it personally.

That’s why Bob Dylan is an artist, but an anonymous corporate hack who dreams up Pop 40 hits on the other side of the glass is merely a marketer. That’s why Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappos, is an artists, while a boiler room of telemarketers is simply a scam.

Tom Peters, corporate gadfly and writer, is an artists, even though his readers are businesspeople. He’s an artists because he takes a stand, he takes the work personally, and he doesn’t care if someone disagrees. His art is part of him, and he feels compelled to share it with you because it’s important, not because he expects you to pay him for it.

Art is a personal gift that changes the recipient. The medium doesn’t matter. The intent does.

Art is a personal act of courage, something one human does that creates change in another.”
– Seth Godin, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?

Currently I’m reading “The Art of Thinking Clearly”, and “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” which so far are excellent.

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Sep 30th, 2014 | Filed under Other

A small part, in 3 weeks – the Philippines

Sunset in Siquijor, Philippines - December, 2013

Sunset in Siquijor, Philippines – December, 2013

As I began writing this, I was in a hotel in Bacolod, Philippines. However, this report has turned out not only to the one of my longest (7000 words), but also the most delayed – it has been over 8 months since the trip! There are a number of reasons for this, but nonetheless I’ve finished! One of the reasons I write reports is for me to a) reflect on the trip, b) record what I remember to look back on. I normally start writing during the trip and finish within 30 days of arriving home in order to write when memories are vivid.  Sadly I failed on this one. Luckily I had outlined in detail the trip throughout, and with the guidance of that and my pictures, I’ve been able to recall it quite clearly.

This trip report is on my trip to the Philippines from November 21 – December 11, 2013.

I flew out of Bangkok (BKK) on Thursday at 9am to Manila, the capital city of the Philippines. The night before I left, I stayed up quite late after a night out, so with 3-4 hours of sleep, I got up at 5am to finish packing, and was off to the airport by 6:00am. I arrived into Manila a few hours later, and taxi’ed to the hostel. I had booked a hostel for the first night, and planned to couchsurf the other night or two in Manila. I had a great conversation with the taxi driver about the recent typhoon that hit the mid-eastern part of the Philippines.  When I arrived at the hostel, the meter showed 274 pesos, so I gave him 300 (normal to tip).

The hostel was located by A Venue Mall off Makati Avenue (the business district). Decent area of town. After arriving, I unpacked, and in the room met a Columbian girl. She seemed friendly enough. We grabbed some food – I had the classic sisig. I then went home and napped for a few hours. When I woke, I got online a bit, and noticed a fellow, Zig, who offered to host me wanted to get together for dinner. So the Columbian, me, and Zig went and grabbed dinner. Later in the evening we met up with some of her friends at a bar/restaurant. Zig and I decided to leave after realizing all her friends were prostitutes, and perhaps herself. The next day I woke early, planned out the upcoming trip, checked out, and then grabbed lunch with another couchsurfer, Mike. He was a friendly Filipino who runs a food blog. He bought us a nice buffet lunch near A Venue Mall. A few hours later I metup with my friend Ayan at Wingman, who I had met in Vietnam in March and again in Bangkok (he lives in Manila). We had a few drinks, and then metup with Zig for dinner, who I’d be couchsurfing with. Dinner was excellent. Afterward, we walked for 20 minutes back to my hostel to grab my bags, and then grabbed a couple more drinks while watching some live music near A Venue Mall. We called it an early night.

 

Quiapo Church - Manila

Quiapo Church – Manila

I headed to Zig’s flat, which was located about 15 minutes by taxi away.  It was in the corner of the business district near “the Fort” area of Manila, which is the newer, more clean area of Manila.  I only planned to stay a night or two, but ended up staying 3 nights.  Zig was an excellent host, and because of him I was able to see much more of the city and nearby.  We explored the fort more, Chinatown, and old church (Quiapo Church).  We spent one day to travel to a waterfall about an hour out of Manila (Daranak Falls in Tanay Rizal).  While exploring Manila, Zig was telling me the horror stories of the city – such as the jeepneys (extended jeeps used all over the Philippines as public transfer) being held up at gunpoint, pickpockets everywhere, etc. I wasn’t too concerned until I realized I was the only white person in most of these places (which makes you a target), and the fact that Manila has one of the highest crime rates in southeast Asia.  When we got into the metro train in the evening, Zig warned me to watch my pockets, and when we need to get out, we would have to shove.  Sure enough, as soon as our stop came, we tried getting out, but as soon as the doors opened to let people out, everyone from the outside tried pushing in without letting anyone out.  No idea of the logic, it baffles me to this day.  However, we had to really drop our arms and power out.  It was quite difficult.  While we’re doing this, people are trying to pickpocket me, and I almost lost my sandal that someone was stepping on.  Once finally out, I look back and see one of the security guards also trying to push people in.  It makes no sense, and it was shocking how many people were doing such a mindless thing.

The trip to the waterfall was very neat.  Beautiful blue water, nice spots to jump in, and a beautiful day.  Coincidentally, in the morning was the Paquio (who is from the Philippines) boxing match, and I saw signs for it all over Manila.  We spent several hours at the waterfall, and with transit, it took the entire day.  While at the waterfall, I had a couple different people wanting to take a picture with me, almost as if they had never seen a white man in person.  I gladly allowed them to, but I found it is a bit funny.  The waterfall was quite out there – we had to switch to all kinds of homemade motorcyles and crammed vans to get there.  I saw guys holding chickens on the side of the road, and people farming with cows.  It was the classic image of rural Philippines.

Daranak Falls in Tanay Rizal

Daranak Falls in Tanay Rizal

The next morning I woke early, and caught a taxi to the bus terminal.  Taxis in Manila have a reputation for not only being some of the worst in world, but also quite dangerous.  I heard lots of horror stories of drivers putting chemicals into the AC to make the passenger pass out, and then they rob them or rape them.  I was a bit sketched out, but all ended up fine at the end.  It took quite awhile to catch a taxi, but once in, it only took about 15 minutes to get to the bus station.  Once there, I caught a bus up north to Bagio City.

I arrived near sundown with no idea where to stay.  About 5 minutes before arriving, I asked the guy next to me if he lived there and could recommend anything. Sure enough, he offered to help.  He said to follow him, but first I went to the information booth nearby and asked.  The guy followed me and started negotiation with the information guy about what rate he should try to get and how much commission he should get.  It was frustrating because I was hoping the guy next to me was legitimate, but unfortunately he was into me for the money (which is common all over southeast Asia). I didn’t want to spend much time looking, so the guy walked me 10 minutes away to a place, and I ended up paying 500 pesos for 1 night in a tiny little bedroom of a guesthouse.  After dropping my stuff off, I went and grabbed some dinner nearby, and headed back to the house to relax.

In the morning I woke early, taxied across town to a buddhist temple I wanted to see, but unfortunately it was closed.  I ate breakfast at the place next door, which was called AB Kitchen.  After that I explored that part of town for a couple hours.  Bagio City is interesting – apparently it has developed very quickly in the last few years.  There is something like 250,000 university students in the city alone.  It is built all over the mountains, and many buildings are tight together on steep slopes.  It was fascinating to me.  There wasn’t too much to see in the city though, and I wanted to spend a bit more time in the further north, so I walked to the bus station and bought a bus north to Sagada.  I had to wait about 1 hour for the bus, but once on it was about 7 hours north to Sagada.

Houses covering the hillside in Bagio City

Houses covering the hillside in Bagio City

While waiting, I met an American guy (who was with his Filipina girlfriend).  He was the first foreigner I had seen in many days.  He was quite friendly.  The bus we got on was pretty raged and haggard.  No AC, very crammed and old, but it honestly wasn’t really uncomfortable.  The ride itself was spectacular.  We would drive on very narrow roads but the views overlooking the mountains and villages was incredible.  I sat next to an older Italian guy and had lots of great conversations.  He had lived in Burma for 5 years, and traveled all over southeast Asia.  The American guy was the director of a cruise ship and had traveled extensively over the last 20 years.  I really couldn’t have asked for a nicer group of people to share the bus ride with.  The Italian man got off at the town near Sagada and was planning on spending a night there before going to Sagada.

Rice terraces on the drive to Sagada

Rice terraces on the drive to Sagada

Many younger school students got on the bus where he got off and rode the bus for 20 minutes or so to another town.  The rest of us arrived into Sagada toward the evening, and we went searching for some decent accommodation. The town was quite empty since it was low season.  I ended up picking a place pretty quick, and the woman running the place greeted me with some tea.  In the evening, the American guy, his girlfriend, and I metup for some drinks.

I woke the next day somewhat early.  The place I was staying was empty, so I pulled out a map and decided to hike around myself.  I first went to the big cave down the road.  I didn’t see any other tourists the entire time, and the jungle was very quiet for the middle of the day.  At the entrance of the cave lies many coffins with mummified people in them.  It was a bit odd, but interesting nonetheless. After maybe 20 minutes there, I hiked back toward my accommodation, passed through the town, and decided to hike the nearby echo valley by myself.  Most people hire a guide, but after doing a bit of reading I found that I could do it myself.  I spent most of the day out and about, hiking through the thick trees, getting lost a few times, seeing the infamous hanging coffins, and getting myself quite muddy.  I entered in on one side of town, and exited on the far other side of town.  It was only a 15 minute walk back though along the main road.

The classic Hanging Coffins of Sagada

The classic Hanging Coffins of Sagada

In the evening, I met the American guy again for some drinks, and also met an older (probably 70+) Canadian guy who has been traveling the world for the last 50 years.  He joined us for some drinks, and a bit later the American guy and his girlfriend headed out for dinner.  The older man and I stayed and talked for at least another hour, having a fair number of drinks.  The older man drank 3 750mL bottles of beer that were 7%+, called Red Horse.  It was quite surprising, and needless to say I helped him in the dark up to his accommodation.  He had some great stories, and his wife is Burmese, where he also owns some land.  Meeting someone like that not only inspires me, but also is someone who I can learn so much from.  It was great to meet him.

This guy has been traveling the world for 50 years. Lived in Myanmar and Thailand in the 1970's.

This guy has been traveling the world for 50 years. Lived in Myanmar and Thailand in the 1970’s.

Like in most Asian tourist cities, you can tell the locals don’t particularly like foreigners. They accept them since they give them money, but otherwise, they wish they weren’t there.  It is somewhat understandable considering the shear number of foreigners that visit some of these places each year, but what I think is really happening is a bit cultural disconnect.  The locals don’t quite understand why and how foreigners travel there.  Many of the people traveling through are friendly, young, mostly broke people.  Yet the locals often try to suck their wallets as much as they can.  I especially noticed the negatives perspectives in Sagada.  With that said, I still had a great time, and didn’t let it bother me.

The next day I caught a jeepney to Bontoc, which took about 30 minutes.  From there, I switched to a truck with benches in the back, and took that from that Bontoc over to Banuae.  I arrived into Banaue in the mid afternoon.  The truck I was in had about 10 people – 9 Filipinos and me.  As the truck was driving into the town of Banaue, a woman along the side of the road yells to tell the driver to stop.  The driver then gets out, comes around to the back, and tells me to get out here because I have to pay an “environmental fee”.  I got out, and the truck and the rest of the people carried on.  Come to find out they charge anyone with white skin a small fee of approximately $2.  It frustrates me racism is so widely accepted here, but it is the nature of the area.  Aside from that bit, Banaue was an excellent experience.

There were lots of nice accommodation in the small town, all with great views of the river and valley, all reasonably priced with great food, and all the people I met in the town were friendly.  They even had working wifi, which was surprising since the previous week wifi was rarely found.  For the rest of the evening I ate some great Filipino food, caught up with some business online, explored the town, and met a few other fellow backpackers.  I stayed at a place called the Halfway House – funny name, but very nice and clean place.

View into Batad - the infamous rice terraces

View into Batad – the infamous rice terraces

The next day I decided to wake early to do the tour of Batad, a nearby village known for its rice terraces. I went by myself, but met 4-5 other Europeans and 1 older American guy along the way.  It took about 45 minutes sitting in the back of a truck in a foggy morning to get there, then another hour or so hike in, but it was quite easy and relaxing.  I did it in a tshirt, shorts, and sandals, and it was fine.  Upon arriving in Batad after the hike, we ordered food (which would be ready in an hour), then hiked another 20 minutes to the infamous waterfall.  Once there, I went swimming a bit while other relaxed overlooking the waterfall.  As I was hiking back to where the others were, a girl from our group slipped on a rock and gashed her head.  It was pretty much the worst place to fall since we had a long walk back, but luckily she was okay aside from a bloody head.  A bit scary indeed.

After spending maybe 20 minutes there, we hiked back to the restaurant (probably the only restaurant in Batad) and ate, while overlooking the massive rice terraces.  Batad is maybe 20 houses, and I’m guessing less than 50 people live there.  They probably spend most of their days working the terraces.  Tourism has probably brought them quite a bit of extra income.  Interesting place. 2 of the girls (both from Holland who were doing some volunteer work in the Philippines) stayed in Batad for the night, while the rest of us hiked back.  On the hike back, we saw a group of drunken men carrying a pig in a blanket wrapped on a stick of bamboo.  Apparently someone was having a wedding the next day in Batad so they were bringing down the feast.  Friendly guys.

We got back to Banaue in the late afternoon, and I browsed the web for a bit, and then explored the city.  One of the guys on the hike to Batad happened to be from California, but owned some land in Crested Butte in Colorado.  He was a world class mountain biker.  In the evening him and I went out for dinner before calling it a night.

One of the many mudslides in the area near Banaue. This one took out the road.

One of the many mudslides in the area near Banaue. This one took out the road.

The next day was spent mostly relaxing and taking in all the great good and scenery.  I did explore more of the town, including a mudslide that wiped out half of the road (mudslides are very common in this area), and walking across one of the sketchiest bridges of my life.  In the evening I bought a bus ticket from Banaue down to Manilla (450 pesos). In the same bus were the two girls from Holland, who were also heading to Manilla, to then fly south to finish up their volunteering.  So when we arrived into a bus station in Manilla, we shared a cab to the airport.  We arrived into the airport in the early morning, just as the sun was rising.  Unfortunately, the earliest flight I could get south to Negros was in the evening, so that left me an entire day at the airport.  I had booked the flight the night before, since I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go next (I got recommendations from about 20 different people and everyone said something different).  One of the advantages of being at the airport all day was the ability to relax somewhere with a stable internet connection.  For the previous 10 days, the internet was sparse and where it did work it was very slow.

In the evening I caught a flight to Bacolod.  I chose Bacolod because it was in the northern part of Negros, seemed off the beaten path (to get true culture), and there was an active volcano I wanted to hike on Negros.  Negros was formally one of the wealthiest parts of the Philippines from its sugar canes, but during the wars it was obliterated. Nevertheless, today it is a beautiful place with lots of trees, montains, villages, and stunning views on it beaches.  The southern part of it, specifically Dumaguete City, is well traveled and quite touristy, but still quite beautiful.

Chicken Inasal in Bacolod, Negros

Chicken Inasal in Bacolod, Negros

I arrived into Bacolod at night, crammed into a shuttle (literally squeezed into a small van) for a 30 minute ride into town.  I had no idea where I was going to stay, so I asked around.  In the same shuttle I met two very friendly Filipinos from Manila who both recommended a hotel, the same one they were staying it.  So I got out of the shuttle with them, and we checked in together.  They used their business cards to give me a business discount, and it was very helpful.  They got the price reduced from 850 pesos to 680.  After checking in, I grabbed a quick bite to eat, and headed up to the room to sleep, as I had began feeling a bit sick.

I woke around 9am the next morning and spent most of the day walking around the city.  The 2 main places I wanted to visit in Bacolod were Manokan Country, and the “superintendent office”.  Manokan Country was a series of small restaurants which served Chicken Inasal. Everything I read about Bacolod recommended it.  So after waking up and visiting the tourist information center (Bacolod doesn’t get many tourists from what I saw), I walked to Manokan Country and had brunch there.  Inasal is basically marinated chicken legs, breasts, wings, etc.  It was quite delicious, and I ended up eating there several times while in Bacolod. After checking that out, I walked well off my map to find the superintendent office.  At the office I wanted to get a permit to hike Mt. Kantlaon.  However, after spending hours walking and asking everyone I could, I couldn’t find it. By the time the sun went down, I decided to take it easy and relax near the hotel.  I bought some pizza to go (from Jolibee, which is everywhere in the Philippines), and watch a bit of TV (I rarely stay in hotels so it was a luxury).  My plan since I couldn’t get a permit was to go to the mountain itself and try to bribe someone to let me hike it.

The next day my plan was to get to La Carlota, then from there go to Guintubdan, which supposed to have some bungalows that I could stay in near the volcano. So in the morning I walked out the hotel, and got into a jeepney which would take me to the bus station in Bacolod.  It took about 20 minutes to get there, and when I got out, I didn’t see any busses.  So I asked around of how I could get to La Carlota, and a few people directed me.  I ended up getting onto a bus that was jammed packed.  Like 2 people to every seat, plus people standing in the isles.  I also had my backpack on my lap, so it was a tight fit.  For the next hour or so I sat like this until I arrived into La Carlota.  I had to ask people which stop to get off at since they didn’t announce stops and people just get on and off a random times.  The reason the bus took an hour to get there was because literally every 500 meters someone would want to get on or off.  It is the classic southeast Asian way from what I’ve seen.

Similar jeepney used to get to the mountain.

Similar jeepney used to get to the mountain.

After getting off in La Carlota, I asked around of how I could get to Guintubdan, which was another hour into the jungle on the mountain.  They said only 2 jeepneys go there each day, and the next one would be in an hour – I got very lucky.  So I strolled through the markets there for the next hour until the jeepney filled up and took me up to Guintubdan.  As we were heading up, people were getting in and out of the jeepney.  By the time we got to the end of the road and I got out, I was one of the last ones in the jeepney.  The jeepney drops me off, I paid my fare, and they left.  At this point I’m in the middle of the jungle by myself.  I walked down the road  a bit and saw a group of people, and ask them how I can climb the mountain.  Basically a family runs the entire mountain, and manages everything from camping, guides, permits, etc.  I told them I tried to get a permit and couldn’t, and one of the guys told me to follow him.  So I end up following him into his house, and he introduces me to his family, none who spoke really any English aside from his son.  He ends up telling his son to take me to a nearby house (his uncle I think), and we talk about the permit.  The son tells me that he will guide me on the hike the next day.  I then ask him about food/camping, he tells shows me a small little shop that has basic food/snacks.  I end up buying stuff for a small dinner tonight, as well as stuff for hiking the next day.  After arranging that, he invites me back to his house and they welcome me to stay and eat dinner with them.  It was very kind of them and the food was excellent.  I also got to see their cock-fighting farm, and pig farm, both which were interesting to say the least.  After dinner, I rented a tent from another family member, and then we set it up in the dark.  He headed home and I laid now to relax.  The plan was to be up at 4am to start hiking in the morning.

I slept around 7-8 hours, and was up and ready at 4am. The son brought his friend who worked at the house with him along for the hike. The first few hours we moved quite quickly in the dark.  The trail was a bit moist/muddy, and the vines/trees virtually took over the trail. I asked the guide how many times he had done the hike and he said only a couple, but nonetheless he knew his way and I trusted him. We stopped to take breaks many along the way, which I spent mostly taking pictures.  When the sun started to come up I looked down at my legs (I was wearing shorts) and noticed I had leeches all over.  He helped pick them off me and we kept going.  While the first part of the hike was quite tiring, the second half became quite easy since both guides appeared to be terribly out of shape.  They kept telling me that we had to rush so we could get a view before the clouds came in, yet they took breaks every 10 minutes. When we got high enough where we could see the top and the clouds, I started moving up the mountain quicker.  The sun was fully up, the trail was dry and well marked, and I wanted to get a view before the clouds. They both kept taking breaks, but I just pushed ahead.  Once to the top, I took in the view and waited while they came.  About 15 minutes later as they came up, the clouds took over the mountain.  Literally within 15 minutes it went from a mostly blue sky to maybe 20 feet of visibility from the clouds.  The guide said that we could hike up further to the very top, but it would be dangerous (10 years ago someone fell from the top and killed themselves). So we decided to go into the shade in the trees, eat lunch, and see if the clouds would past. They came and gone every 5 minutes, so we decided not to go to the very top and just head back down.  There was a natural spring at the top where we could fill up our water bottles, which was very tasty and fresh.

The crater atop Mt. Kantlaon. Not as impressive as expected.

The crater atop Mt. Kantlaon. Not as impressive as expected.

The hike back down was relatively easy and it luckily didn’t rain on us.  Like most long hikes, the way down always feels much longer, but it ended up only taking us about 4 hours to get down. Once down, the guide asked if I wanted to jump into the spring, and I said of course.  So I went to the room nearby to change, and while changing looked up to see the biggest spider I’ve ever seen just above my head in a web. Quite a shocking sight, but it didn’t bother me. After putting on my shorts, and jumped into the crystal clear pond where the natural spring poured into.  It was ice cold, but very clean and pure (you could drink it).  It was a refreshing break from the long, sweaty hike.

Immediately when I got out of the water (still in a towel), the guide decided that it was a good idea to get my permit sorted and pay for everything.  So here I am, walking around this village wearing nothing but a towel, carrying my shorts and wallet.  We ended up walking around for 10 minutes, which was annoying because I just wanted to change before dealing with this stuff. When we found his uncle, I was about to pay when he said that I needed to pay another $30 or so “park fee”.  It was clearly a way to just suck money out of me, as he didn’t mention this in the cost beforehand.  I argued it a bit, but didn’t want to get on bad terms since the guide was very friendly.  It left me with a very sour taste of this family after such an awesome time with them. In hindsight, the hike ended up costing around $100, and it was a requirement to hire the guide, which was a waste really. Nonetheless after paying, I headed back to my tent, and went down to the small shop to get some snacks for dinner. On the way back to my tent it started pouring rain, so I got a bit wet, as did my dinner, but what could I have done. After 30 minutes the rain stopped and I was able to watch the sunset from my camping area.  It was quite relaxing being so far away from home, alone, watching the beauty of nature before me. At nighttime I relaxed in the tent and listened to some audiobooks and called it an early night. One of the unique experiences I had in that tent was that about 3 hours after going to sleep, I woke to the sound of something moving around outside the tent. There was a light that lit up the area about 50 meters away so it wasn’t completely dark outside. I saw the silhouette of a large cat moving around, likely a leopard, which do live on the mountain.  I shouted a bit and hit the wall of the tent and it moved away. There are also Tarisier’s living on the mountain, but unfortunately I didn’t get to see any.

The road next to where my tent was in the jungle

The road next to where my tent was in the jungle

I woke around 6am, packed up the tent and returned it, and walked down to the small shop that sells basic snacks.  The jeepney would stop there on the way back to La Carlota. I waited about 30 minutes, and when the jeepney came, it was nearly full, so I went onto the roof (which is common).  Over the course of the next 45 minutes, another 20 (at least) young teenagers found their way on the jeepney to school.  Apparently this is the only jeepney that runs in the morning, and there is 1 in the afternoon, so as a result they get very full.  There were literally people hanging off every part of the jeepney. We passed 2 different schools, and children gradually got off.  By the time we got to La Carlota, there were maybe 4 people left inside.  I hopped off there, payed my fare, and asked where to get a bus down south to Dumaguete.  The man said to walk to the main rode and wait at the bus stop, which is what I did.

I waited around 30 minutes, and the bus arrived, I confirmed it was going to Dumaguete, and then got on.  It didn’t have AC, but all the windows were rolled down.  All was fine on the main road, but about 20 minutes in we started weaving through villages on dirt roads and the bus quickly filled with dust.  The locals didn’t mind because they were used to it, but it was at times difficult to breath. After about an hour of that, we were on paved roads and it was quite comfortable.  The entire ride to Dumaguete took about 4 hours, and the last hour had spectacular views of the jungle and water front.  I remember toward the end of the trip, a group of armed police came onto the bus.  I asked one of them if I could take a picture, and he politely said no.  We started talking and apparently there was an “emergency” at the next town, so they hopped on the bus going that direction.  I found it a bit funny that the police used public transport to go to the next city when there was an issue.  There were probably 10 people, all holding large automatic guns, it was a sight to see.

Rest stop on the way south to Dumaguete, Negros

Rest stop on the way south to Dumaguete, Negros

I arrived into Dumaguete in the later afternoon, and already knew of a place to stay (a hostel), so caught a tuk-tuk there, which was only about 5 minutes away.  After checking in, I went to the rooftop where they had a restaurant, pool table, couches and tables, and wifi.  It overlooked the mountains to the north, and the waterfront to the south – it was beautiful. I relaxed on my laptop a bit, grabbed some food, and met a few fellow travelers. I met Sam S., an English guy from Birmingham, who had started traveling in England, and headed east through Europe, through Siberia, onto the Silk Road, and into Asia.  He then flew from South Korea to the Philippines.  He had an interesting story, and I remember him telling me how cool it was to see developed western Europe transition into less developed eastern Europe into Russia and then the middle east, and into Asia.  He said you could literally could feel history shifting as you passed through.  Very interesting guy.  We played pool, had a few drinks, and grabbed dinner.  I met another Sam (Sam G.) in my room, from London, who also joined us.  I would later host him in Bangkok a few months later – friendly, laid back guy.  The next day Sam S. and I explored Dumaguete, had some drinks, talked about bitcoin, drugs, culture, travel and life. While sitting at a bar, we met an Austrailian named Jimmy. He spent a lot of time in Siquijor (nearby island we planned to visit) because he had a friend who owned a bar/hotel there, and he invited us to stay there.  In the evening we played more pool at the hostel, met a Dutch and Aussie guy, and went out and about on the town. As a group we met an 18 year old American guy (first American I met on the trip) who was living in Dumaguete going to university. He was memorable because of his story about leaving the US at 18 to go to university abroad – very cool.  At the end of the night the group became split and Sam S. and I ended up at some random rave in town. It was an awkward place, with many questionable gender people hitting on us.  Funny, but awkward to say the least. After enough of that, we went back to the hostel to get some sleep.

Locals in the waterfront of Dumaguete

Locals in the waterfront of Dumaguete

In the morning Sam S. and I took a ferry to Siquijor to spend a couple nights on that island (huge island).  It is a beautiful place, and at the time there were almost no tourists there. The first night we stayed on a beach that was quite isolated, and did some cliff jumping. We met another English guy on the ferry over, Guss, who was traveling with a younger Filipina girl. The 4 of us had dinner together and relaxed in the evening by the beach.  In the middle of the night I woke up and was hugging the toilet with food poisoning.  Luckily after a few hours I was able to sleep, and drink a bit of water. Overall I was surprisingly fine, aside from being a bit weak.

Isolated beach in Siquijor - crystal clear water, and a cliff jumping spot. Perfect!

Isolated beach in Siquijor – crystal clear water, and a cliff jumping spot. Perfect!

The next day we wanted to explore a waterfall on the island, but because we didn’t have a motorcycle and there was no transportation from the beach we were on, we had to walk about 30 minutes to the main road and then wait for someone to pick us up.  We waited a good hour, and then found someone with a bike who individually gave each of us a lift to the next town. There we grabbed some drinks/snacks and caught a tuk-tuk to the waterfall.  It was quite the trek, and quite expensive. The waterfall itself was beautiful, and the tuk-tuk driver waited for us there for a couple hours. In the afternoon we got a ride back to the beach, did a bit more cliff jumping and snorkelling, and relaxed. Guss brought out some nice Cuban cigars and we had a very relaxed evening. I didn’t eat anything the entire day – only drank water and juice.

The next night we decided to move to the opposite side of the island, so the 4 of us took a tricycle for 45 minutes to the town of San Juan. Guss and his girlfriend checked into the accommodation they liked, while Sam and I dropped our bags off there, and rented mopeds with the plan to go to the next city for the ATM.  Guss was going to get some food and we would grill at his house. However, after driving an hour and being told to keep driving, we decided to just circle the entire island and explore while we were already 2 hours into the trip. Unfortunately we had no way of contacting Guss, but being such a laid back guy we knew he would understand. Sam and I explored many different beaches, and played basketball with some local kids. It couldn’t have been a more beautiful day. The days were practically empty, the sky was bright blue, and the beaches were incredible. There were many small towns throughout, and all the houses and buildings along the road were well built and maintained.  Absolutely beautiful place.

Cambugahay Falls in Siquijor

Cambugahay Falls in Siquijor

When we got back in the late afternoon/early evening, we met up with Guss and made some excellent food. After that, we all headed to “Get Wrecked”, which was the place owned by Jimmy’s friend. There was a pool table and bar, along with a great sunset view of the ocean. They also had some nice rooms available, so Sam and I decided to stay there for the night. After watching the sunset and playing pool for awhile, we had some drinks and talked with others at the bar. Sam and I had plans to catch a 8:30am ferry, so we had to be up and ready by 7:30am, when we had scheduled a pickup. We ended up getting to sleep around 2am.

The next morning, once back in Dumaguete, I ate some brunch, and booked a bus north back to Bacolod, where I would fly back to Manilla, and then back to Bangkok.  The bus left in the late afternoon, and arrived in Bacolod in the evening.  When I boarded the bus, I asked the guy sitting across the isle if the bus was indeed going to Bacolod to confirm. He says yes, and I end up chatting with him for another 30 minutes. His name was Brad, and he was the 1991 Poker World Champion, first million dollar winner in history.  He had an interesting story, and was living in some village in the mountains, with a wife and child. Interesting story to the say the least.

Farming with a water buffalo - Siquijor

Farming with a water buffalo – Siquijor

Right when I arrived in Bacolod, I took a taxi to a hotel (the Pension House), where I would spend the night. The next morning at 9:30am I took a shuttle to the airport, and flew back to Manilla. There I had most of the day to relax since my flight was in the evening. I had to double check on my flight since I had received an email that it had been cancelled, but at the end of the day it worked out.  Because I had already spent many days in Manilla and didn’t want to have to commute in traffic back to the city for a couple hours, I decided to stay at the airport and catch up on the last 3 weeks of work. About 2 hours before my flight, I looked to see which terminal it was in. Apparently it was in a different terminal. I figured it wouldn’t be a big deal to go there, but since I didn’t see any signs for it I asked where it was.  2 different people said I had to take a bus, and depending on traffic it would take an hour.  Confused, I hopped on a bus to get over there.  It was shocking that the other airport terminal was so far away, and there were no signs mentioning this.  Not only that, airports in the Philippines charge “terminal fees”, which means you need to pay fees upon entering (the flight area) a different terminal, around $15. Apparently airlines normally include this in the ticket price, but not here.  It was frustrating to have to pay this in every airport, and I suspect it is just the corrupt government taking money from people flying.  There is no warning anywhere, but you have to pay upon entering customs/security.  It is especially annoying when you have no more local currency left and need to go to the ATM just to pay this fee.

Last solid night in the Philippines - sunset in Siquijor

Last solid night in the Philippines – sunset in Siquijor

While waiting at immigration to leave the country, the customs computers randomly shutdown (while I was at the counter). The friendly office was telling me about the issue and how it has happened before, and the queue of people behind me became very long. The officer told me last time it starting back up quickly, but this time was the longest it had gone down for. People started shouting about missing their flights, and whatnot.  Luckily I was at the front of the line and had a good 40 minutes before my flight. After 25 minutes or so, it started moving and I made it through fine.

It was quite a day of unexpected events, but I made it back to Bangkok fine in the evening. It was one hell of a trip. It was definitely a unique one, with most of the trip spent on my own with the locals.

A few observations I wrote down throughout the trip:
– Saw lots of women smoking with a baby and/or pregnant.
– Saw Denver Nuggets jerseys many times, and lots of people wearing basketball jerseys – shows American influence.
– Many signs are in English, yet speak Tanglish (lots of English words)
– Banks, Western Union, lending places everywhere. Lots of ATMs with people who don’t know how to use them.
– Jolibee fast food everywhere, along with others. All American fast food is there, and every time I saw it was packed. They even deliver.
– Country is very Americanized. I met 1 guy who spoke perfect American english, and even looked like a darker American. Could easily get many people confused.
– Places were crowded – trucks, cars, bikes, people everywhere
– Lots of churches everywhere – saw one that had a sign saying “I give happy endings – god”.
– Terminal fees at airports are lame and scammy. 

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Aug 22nd, 2014 | Filed under Adventures, Sports

Fascinating Hong Kong – 2014

Night time view of Hong Kong from the Peak.

Night time view of Hong Kong from the Peak.

In June I spent a week in Hong Kong. It fascinated me in many ways – how crowded it was, how well dressed people were, how big it was, how much money there was, how diverse it was, etc.  I had high expectations going in, but it far exceeded them.

I woke up in Bangkok the morning of my flight.  My flight wasn’t until the evening (5pm), so I was taking my time getting ready, and knocking out some work before leaving.  I then noticed that Gmail had updated the email with the flight info to “cancelled”.  I went on the website of the airline (Orient Thai Airlines) and couldn’t find anything about it being cancelled, so apparently Gmail has access to their API which showed that, but wasn’t actually displayed publicly on their website (well done Google!).  At this point it was about 11:45am.

I called the airline and they said the flight was indeed cancelled, and that they will look into switching me to another flight and call me back.  15 minutes later, I get a call back saying they can probably switch me to a new flight, but I’d have to be at the airport by 1pm. I told them there was no way I’d be able to make it in time considering traffic and that I hadn’t packed anything yet or even showered.  They said I have to arrive by 1:30pm at the latest to even have a chance. They said go to level 3, row D, and find the airline.  So I rushed, hopped into a cab, and went to the airport.  I arrived about 1:15pm, and the row they told me didn’t have Orient Thai Airlines anywhere. I asked someone working there and they said that airline would open in 45 minutes.  So I walked to the side, and was about to call the airline back when a random guy, wearing normal clothes, walked up to me and asked if I was Patrick.  He said “Patrick, I have a new flight for you, can I see your passport?”.  I handed it to him, he confirmed my name, and handed me a ticket to a different airline (Hong Kong airlines) that departed the same time (and had the same return ticket time).  He was only holding 1 piece of paper, and it had my name on it. Interesting the say the least. What about all the other people who had the flight cancelled? I’ll never know.

At 5pm our plane departed, and I arrived in the evening into Hong Kong. There are 2 easy ways to get into the central part of town from the airport: 1) the subway/train, 2) a bus.  I decided to take the bus route because I wanted to explore the city a bit at night, I wasn’t in a hurry, and also wanted to see how their busses worked.  The only issue with their busses is they don’t give change, and since I had just arrived in Hong Kong, the ATM only spits out large notes.  So after waiting 20 minutes for the bus, and the driver tells me this, I go back inside to get change, and then wait another 15 minutes for the bus.  It took about 1 hour to get to my accommodation near Wan Chai. I checked in, relaxed for a bit, met a half American, half Hong Kong guy my age, and then called it a night.

Skyline from the other side

Skyline from the other side

The number 1 priority for the next day was to get my Thai visa sorted. I dressed nicely, and hopped on the tram toward the east for about 5km. The Thai consulate is in a massive building that shares the space with a massive fitness center, among other things. Once there, I grabbed the necessary form, then headed to the building across the street, the Lippo Center, to make copies. After doing that, I returned, waiting for about 5 minutes, and handed in my form, and money. The woman asked a few basic questions, and then told me to come back the next day.  After dropping that off, I headed back to the Lippo Center for some lunch. After lunch, I headed back to the hostel, relaxed and changed, and then headed out to explore the infamous “Peak”.

The Peak is one of the main tourist attractions in Hong Kong, where you can overlook the city from the top of the mountain nearby.  To get there, you can either hike up the mountain, or take a very steep tram for a few dollars.  I took the MTR (underground metro) to Central, then walked through the park nearby and to the tram entrance.  It was a 15 minute walk and had a few things to sight-see along the way. When you get the the tram entrance, you can buy a pass just for the tram, or a pass for the tram and skydeck.  Definitely get the skydeck pass too, as it is the best place to overlook the city. At the top of the peak, there are tons of shops, small malls, food, etc. It is a small city up there.

I got there about 4 hours before sunset.  I walked around the mountain quite a lot, through some residential areas, then grabbed a bite to eat.  I went to the skydeck about 2 hours before sunset, and then when I was about to go they said I couldn’t re-enter if I left.  Because I wanted to see the skydeck view at night time, I then just chilled up there until it got dark. Around night time it got much much more crowded. I sat down on the concrete because all the chairs were taken. After a minute, the security guy told me that I couldn’t sit.  So I was forced to stand for a good 4 hours if I wanted to see the dark view of the city. It was pretty annoying, and unfortunate that they don’t allow re-entry so people can eat and then come back freely.  Nonetheless, when night time came I took some great pictures, then headed back.  It took about an hour to get back because the queue for the tram going down was a good 30 minute+ wait.  Once back at the hostel I met 3 English guys and 1 Brazilian guy.  Chatted with them for a bit and called it a night.

Mong Kok in Hong Kong, the most crowded place in the world.

Mong Kok in Hong Kong, the most crowded place in the world.

On Wednesday I went to pickup my visa.  When I arrived, I got a queue slip, waited 30 seconds, walked up and picked it up and then left.  It couldn’t have been more flawless really, and I was impressed. Not so Thai-like, but was very professional. In the afternoon I met up with Georg, a fellow couchsurfer who lives in Hong Kong, to explore the city.  He has quite the traveling background, and has been living in Hong Kong for a couple years now.  He took me to a place that had fantastic dumplings, then we went to a coffee shop that his church owns, and after explored the northern part of Hong Kong.  He had a meeting in the evening so I explored Mong Kok on my own, a region of Hong Kong that holds the world record for the most densely populated place in the world. After exploring the area and eating some excellent dinner there, I headed back to the hostel and metup with the 3 English guys and the Brazilian for a night out.  We headed to Central area, bar hopped a bit, and ended up in a few different clubs.  It was a heavy night, but a fun night nonetheless.

Delicious Dimsum

Delicious Dimsum

On Thursday morning after getting ready, the 5 of us from the hostel went to eat some excellent dimsum. One of the guys knew of a place, so we hopped on the tram and went there.  The place we ate was a high-end place – everyone inside was wearing a suite except us.  Nonetheless, we sat down and had an excellent breakfast/lunch.  After that, I headed back to the church to meetup with Georg, and then we went to Stanley Bay to explore a different area of Hong Kong.  Hong Kong is great in that there is a metropolis, a wide range of preserved forests, and on the other side of the forest is a quiet set of beaches.  Fascinating to say the least.  While in the Stanley Bay area we relaxed, observed countless wedding photos, strolled the local markets, and had some excellent ice cream. We caught a bus back in the late afternoon, and explored the Central area some more.  We saw some awesome skybars and restaurants, a McLaren autoshop, and a great view of the north side of the city. Georg showed me the airport checkin in the middle of the city, where you can check baggage and checkin for your flight in the city, such that when you get to the airport you don’t need to do anything or wait in line.  Brilliant, well-thought through idea, which showed throughout my time in Hong Kong.

Beautiful Stanley Bay

Beautiful Stanley Bay

In the evening we watched the light show (many of the buildings that make up the skyline light up to music), and then ate dinner at The Festival Walk mall, which was absolutely fantastic. The Festival Walk is a very modern mall which just a few years ago got flooded during a massive hail storm that broken the glass on the ceiling allowing rain to pour in.  Hard to imagine in a place so big and modern. By the time we finished dinner, it was quite late and we called it a night.

On Friday morning I woke, worked a bit, and then headed out to meetup with Calvin and his wife, friends of mine who came in from Shenzhen (3 hr+ train ride away).  I’ve been doing business online with Calvin for many years, so it was great to finally meet him and his wife.  They took me out to an Italian restaurant which was delicious. He used to own a puzzle store in Hong Kong a couple years ago, but moved out to Shenzhen to build a factory and scale out his production.

Publicly posted road casualties in Hong Kong, 7,735 so far this year.

Publicly posted road casualties in Hong Kong, 7,735 so far this year.

After a few hours of meeting with them, I headed back to the hostel, checked out, dropped my bag at the front desk, and made my way to Macau.  My flight was the next morning around 7am, so I decided to spend the rest of this day and the following morning exploring Macau, and then come back to Hong Kong in the early morning and head straight to the airport. Macau has fascinated me for many years, as it is the biggest gambling scene in the world, doing 7x more revenue than Las Vegas every year.  It is quite a different place, however, in that Macau is a massive city, with many other buildings around all the casinos, and you pretty much have to shuttle to different parts of town to go to different casinos.  The Vegas strip, though long, can be walked in a few hours and makes up the bulk of the casinos in Las Vegas.  The thing I liked about Macau was that every casino had a free shuttle from the ferry port, so it was easy to get around the city, which isn’t really walkable.

Outside of the casinos and gambling in Macau, there is a lot of nice things to see. You can do a basic walking tour around town and see the famous landmarks, which seemed to be a common tourist thing as people were everywhere. Overlooking the city from above, it looked like there were some really run-down areas of town not far from the massive casinos.  This isn’t so surprising, but it is quite a view to see.

Part of the walking tour in Macau.

Part of the walking tour in Macau.

The last casino I visited was the Venetian, which is the biggest casino in Macau.  There is a Venetian in Las Vegas too, which is also massive.  The one in Macau was very very similar to the one in Las Vegas, but the casino floor however is quite different. Most floor games are Asian games I’ve never seen, and Baccarat, which makes up the majority of the floor. There was 1 craps table in the entire floor, and every blackjack table was $50+ minimum.  I went into the high limit area and was observing when some man stood up and started shouting at the dealer. Security came and surrounded him and started talking to him, but he kept shouting.  Everyone in the area just stopped what they were doing and watched him.  He then reached into his coat and started pulling out stacks of money, probably $20,000 worth of cash, and putting it on the table. He kept shouting for another couple minutes while security just stood their and watched him.

This is very different than in Las Vegas, where security would immediately eliminate that guy from the casino if he kept shouting.  Just think about during that 5 minute period how much money the casino lost by everyone stopping to gamble to watch him.  It was surely many thousands. The thing that struck me about Macau (similar to Singapore gambling too) is that the casinos themselves aren’t bigger than Las Vegas, it is that the table minimums are much higher, and the casinos are more crowded.  Every table on the floor was packed with people, and the cheapest table you could find would be $50 or so. People who gamble in Singapore and Macau tend to bring thousands to the floor, while in Las Vegas it is common for people to bring $100 or $200 and play all night.  Quite a different atmosphere, but it explains why Macau does so much more revenue than Las Vegas. Lots of people with lots of money playing – the middle class can’t afford to even play a few hands.

This picture doesn't do justice, but many run-down buildings in central Macau.

This picture doesn’t do justice, but many run-down buildings in central Macau.

I took a ferry back to Hong Kong from Macau around 2am, went past the hostel and grabbed my bag, then waited about 30 minutes for a bus to the airport, which took about an hour. Once at the airport, I did a bit of work since I couldn’t sleep, and after an hour took a short nap.  By the time I woke it was time to board my flight. While boarding, I was probably the only American, I got pulled aside by the airline asking me questions like “how long do you plan to stay?”, “how much cash do you have on you?”, “do you have a flight out?”, and “can we see you have a credit card?”.  It was a bit of a shock as I had never been asked these before, but the man talking to me said it is normal procedure for non-Asians to be asked these things. It does make sense because if I get rejected from Thailand upon arrival and don’t have money, the airline has to send me somewhere else.  Just something to watch out for.  I’m still hoping someday there will be a day where borders don’t separate us all, and that anyone, no matter their nationality, can freely travel the world.

Casino Lisboa in Macau.

Casino Lisboa in Macau.

Overall, it was a fantastic trip. Many of my friends told me that I would enjoy Hong Kong, but it certainly exceeded my expectations. Hong Kong is a very well designed city, that is crowded with hard working people with a lot of money.  While it does have one of the largest income inequalities in the world (similar to the US), it does a good job of masking it.  The city is designed very logically, and it is a comfortable place to be. I would highly recommend exploring Hong Kong to anyone, and I do plan to go back someday.

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Aug 13th, 2014 | Filed under Adventures