Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Long time, no post.

I know, it's been awhile since my last post. Life has been crazy and hectic and busy and insane. And by "life," I mean work. But when work takes up 12+ hours of your day, then it basically becomes life.

And this time of year is busy enough anyway, just on its own. With Thanksgiving so late this year, Christmas has snuck up on me. And here I am, barely a week away from getting on a plane to fly home to Houston for Christmas. I did get a little holiday candy-making done last weekend, but cards have yet to be signed (much less mailed) and I have packages that are not going to mail themselves either. Why can't Christmas be in January this year?

For now, though, I'm enjoying a short visit from my bro who I will see again in a week.

Happy Holidays!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The holidays are upon us.

I know this because peppermint mochas are back on Starbucks' menu. And I had my first one of the season yesterday. I love this time of year.

I know, my life is sad.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Las Vegas

I just returned from my first trip to Vegas. It is likely to be my last. I'm apparently one of the few people in the world who doesn't think Vegas is the shiznit. Fortunately, I was accompanied by maybe the only two other people who aren't enamored with the glitz and glam of Sin City and were perfectly happy to shop, eat, and laugh. After all, that was the primary focus of this Girls' Weekend: great shopping, great food, great company.

Sharon & I arrived at almost the exact time Lisa's flight from Oregon arrived, so we met up in baggage claim and then waited in a long-ass taxi line to get to our hotel. We were not staying on the Strip, since that (again) was not the purpose of this trip. And I'm glad. I would have hated being in a hotel that is a tourist attraction and constantly packed with mobs of people streaming through the lobby, casino, restaurants, bars, etc. The only reason to be in a hotel, IMO, is because you're staying there. Hotels are not a destination. They're a place to sleep. But then again, it sounds like I just don't "get" Vegas. And don't get me started on the nastiness of having to walk through smoke-filled casinos just to get to a restaurant. In a hotel I'm not even staying at. UGH.

Anyway, we dropped off our stuff at the Courtyard by Marriott at the Convention Center, then caught a cab to Mandalay Bay, where I had chosen The Burger Bar for dinner. It's actually in Mandalay Place, the "mall" between Mandalay Bay and the Luxor. Great choice. I had an awesome sampler plate of sliders, including a buffalo slider with caramelized onions that turned out to be my favorite. And an amazing strawberry shake. Yum. Afterwards, we walked up the Strip, gawked at the scantily-dressed and drunken people crowding the streets, joked about the people who must think being in Vegas is just like being in Paris, or Venice, or Rome, and eventually caught a cab back to the hotel.

Friday morning we decided to pick up a rental car, after spending more than $50 in three hours on Thursday night for cab fare. It turned out to be money very well spent. We picked up our car at the Riveria, where the nice Hertz woman upgraded us for free and waived the fee for us to return the car to the airport. She seemed surprised and excited for me when I told her it was my first trip to Vegas. Good thing I didn't also mention how much I was hating it there. ;) Then we were off to the Premium Outlets, arriving just before they opened at 10:00 and hitting Starbucks for a caffeine jump start to our power shopping day. Who knew we would be closing the place down 11 hours later at 9:00! For the record, that was not 11 hours of straight shopping. We did take a break for lunch in the food court and a late-afternoon Dairy Queen sweet treat to hold us over until dinner.

Dinner was on the way back to the hotel, an unassuming strip center Thai place called Lotus of Siam that was just off the strip. It turned out to be one of the best Thai meals I've ever had, and that includes the meals we had in Thailand last month. EXCELLENT. The three of us shared a generous cup of tom yum kai soup, a Thai salad, crab fried rice, pad thai, garlic squid, and musaman curry. We cleaned up surprisingly well -- the shopping must have really worked up an appetite. The food was all incredible, the service was a bit on the slow side, but the prices were very reasonable. In fact, we walked out with a total tab of less than what each of us spent the following night at Nobu. For much less food. That was ten times better.

Day One's shopping haul:

Saturday was another bright and early day. First stop, Zappo's shoe outlet. It turned out to be a total bust on shoes, but I found a great purple cocktail dress that I didn't need in the slightest. I reluctantly hung it back on its rack and said I'd come back for it if I was still thinking about it in the afternoon. From there, we headed to lunch and then the Las Vegas Outlet Center for more shopping. I was still thinking about the dress, so we stopped back by Zappo's, then back to the Premium Outlets for returns and more shopping. We rushed back to the hotel to change for dinner, then off to the Hard Rock for our 7:30 dinner reservation at Nobu.

We all wanted sushi, so I did my due diligence to find a great place for dinner. But as with nearly any place, you can ask 20 people for the best sushi place in Vegas, and you'll get 20 different recommendations. I figured we couldn't go wrong with Nobu. Our server tried to guide us to the hot and cold menu items, but we were really just interested in sushi rolls. In his defense, he did warn us that they were good but nothing special and that for the "Nobu experience," we should go with the hot and cold menus. We did order a couple of things off the cold menu, then mostly stuck with sushi rolls. And he was right. They were good, everything was very fresh, but they were nothing particularly special. And especially not for the cost.

Lisa & Sharon at Nobu:

Sushi rolls at Nobu:

We skipped dessert at Nobu and headed to the Fontana Bar at the Bellagio, where we were meeting up with other friends for drinks. We snagged a table on the outdoor patio, where we had a great view of the fountain show every 15 minutes on a gorgeous evening.

Julie & Glenda were ready to shut the bar down, and I was still disappointed from not getting dessert, so we left them at the bar and set off in search of something sweet. We were guided to Jean Phillippe Patisserie at the Bellagio, and I was rewarded with the best chocolate gelato shake I've ever had. It was TO DIE FOR. Sharon's Nutella and banana crepes were pretty damn good too, and I'm not even a fan of crepes. Stuffed and exhausted, we headed back to the hotel and hit the sack.

Chocolate fountain at Jean Phillippe:

Best. Chocolate. Shake. EVER.

Sunday morning was spent trying to cram ten times more stuff than we arrived with back into our suitcases. Lisa was modest with the purchases so she was fine. I did OK, if you count carrying a briefcase onto the plane stuffed with 8 pairs of shoes OK. Sharon's situation was rough. Her suitcase was full, she had my outside luggage pockets filled to the brim, and it was looking like her "carry on" was going to be a triple-lined paper shopping bag overflowing with about 50 pounds of clothes. After a mediocre breakfast/brunch at the Sidewalk Cafe at Bally's, we dropped off Lisa at the airport and bid her a safe flight home. Then Sharon & I headed back to the outlet stores one last time, where she bought an extra suitcase to haul all her crap home. We had a little bit of time to kill in the late afternoon and went back to the Burger Bar for more excellent sliders and shakes. Stuffed and broke, we finally headed home.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Introducing Jeb and Tookie!

Don't ask about the names. Che came up with them. He said they look "hickish," and I guess Jeb and Tookie are hickish names?? Anyway, given that he wasn't thrilled about them coming home with me, I figured the least I could do was let him name the boogers. I got vetoed on my choices, which were Bunsen and Beaker.

Sara is not a fan so far, and they are not at all fond of Nacho, but I think in time, they will all learn to live peacefully. At least that's my hope.

Don't ask me which is which. Despite all efforts, we have yet to find any distinguishing markings that will allow us to tell them apart.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I hate being sick.

There is little I hate worse than being sick. It just throws everything in my life out of whack (eating, sleeping, exercising, working, EVERYTHING) and even the smallest of colds can take me weeks to recover from 100%. I don't even know what I have, but everyone (but me) is pretty sure it's not the bird flu, SARS, or the hanta virus. Probably just a cold or a sinus infection. But that on top of mild jet lag on top of trying to return to real life after two and a half weeks of vacation sucks.

The in-laws returned home today. It's nice to get my house back and feel like I can do whatever I want, whenever I want, without disturbing anyone else, but they were a godsend, both while we were gone and before/after our trip (especially with me being sick this week). And I'm sure Nacho and Sara are super sad that they no longer have someone at the house 24/7 to let them out whenever they want to go. Grandma and Grandpa will definitely be asked to return for future long trips, if they can be bribed to come back. They were the best housesitters we've had.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Days 16 and 17: Headed Home

This was our last day in Hong Kong, but a full one as our flight didn't leave until almost 11:00 p.m. We had planned to go to the Zoological and Botanical Gardens, which we missed the previous day due to the communication gap with our taxi driver, but I wasn't feeling up to it. I think I'm actually sick, and not just with allergies.

Instead, we met Jay & Cheron for dim sum at Tao Yuan Restaurant in the Great Eagle Centre in Wan Chai. Fortunately we had Cheron there to order for us, as the dim sum menu (which was ordered off a menu like sushi, not off of the more traditional dim sum carts) was all in Chinese. We had a delicious sampling of soup, dumplings, vegetables, and sweets, my favorite of which was the chicken soup with dumplings and cabbage. Afterwards, we headed back to Mongkok, where Che & I needed to pick up a new piece of luggage. After spending the morning in the hotel packing up, we realized that two of our three checked pieces would be over the allowed weight limit on Singapore Airlines for our return flight to Hong Kong. Cheron & I went off in search of a bag while Jay & Che hit the Fish Market one last time.

From there, we headed back down to our tailor in Tsim Sha Tsui to pick up our clothes. They fit great! My dress will be perfect for next year's Chinese New Year party. We did a little more last-minute souvenir shopping, then Che & I went back to the hotel to collect our stuff and repack our luggage. From there, it was off to the airport. We took a taxi to the Hong Kong MTR station, where there is an Airport Express line to the airport. However, all of the major airlines have ticket counters at the MTR station, so you can check in for your flights, get your boarding passes, and, best of all, check your luggage in! That way, you can ride the train in comfort to the airport carrying only your carry-on items and not worry about having to transport large suitcases as well. Very convenient.

The flight to San Francisco left just before 11:00 p.m. Hong Kong time on Saturday. With the time change, though, our 12-hour flight would be arriving in San Francisco at about 8:30 p.m. Saturday, SF time. We had booked a hotel room at the San Francisco Airport knowing it would be too late to get a direct flight home. We knew we couldn't sleep the whole return flight because we needed to get off the plane and pretty much be ready for bed in order to adjust our sleep schedule as quickly as possible. So we stayed up long enough to eat dinner on the plane and watch a movie, then napped for a few hours, and we were awake for the last 4-5 hours of the flight. By the time we arrived in San Francisco, got our luggage (why is it that baggage claim in every other country is so much faster than in the US?), cleared immigration and customs, caught a shuttle to the airport, checked in to our hotel, showered, and ate room service for dinner, we were pretty much winding down and ready to call it a night. Success on avoiding jet lag!!

Or so we thought. We both woke up Sunday morning at 4:30 a.m., wide awake and ready for the day. So we watched a movie in the room, went downstairs for breakfast as soon as the restaurant opened, then leisurely showered and packed our bags up for the last flight of our trip - home to Phoenix!! We arrived home mid-afternoon on Sunday and were just as excited to see the animals as they were to see us. And then the fatigue hit me. I was ready for a nap by 4:00, but Che talked me out of it for about an hour and we spent the hour showing his parents our trip pictures. By 5:00, I couldn't keep my eyelids open any longer, so at 5:30, I laid down for a nap. I got up at 7:00 thinking I would eat dinner, catch up with my in-laws, and maybe watch a movie, but a half hour later, I was ready for bed for the night. I got a good night's sleep and got up Monday morning bright and early at 6:30 a.m. feeling pretty well rested but officially sick with a cold or sinus infection, not sure which yet. So I'm hoping that the worst of the jet lag is done. Otherwise, it's going to be a very long week.

Day 15: Victoria Peak

Woke up with a scratchy throat and head/sinus congestion. Either the pollution is finally getting to me or I'm getting sick. Just before lunchtime, we headed out by taxi to the Victoria Peak tram terminal. Victoria Peak is the highest point on Hong Kong Island and is one of the wealthiest residential neighborhoods in Hong Kong. The tram is a funicular railway built in the 1800s that is still in operation today and transports people from the Central District of Hong Kong the 1.4 km up to Victoria Peak, with a few intermediate stops on the way. At the top, there is a shopping mall of sorts with some dining options and, on the top level, a Peak observatory that offers amazing 360-degree views of Hong Kong.

We got off the Tram and had lunch at Tien Yi, a Chinese restaurant located just one level below the observatory. Our table was right next to the window and we had a spectacular view of the city while we enjoyed a prix fixe dim sum lunch. Everything was delicious. Afterwards, we headed up to the observatory and walked around the terrace looking at views of the city from all angles. When we were done, we took the tram back down to Central.

From there, we tried to hop a cab to the Zoological and Botanical Gardens, but we kept getting English-challenged cab drivers, none of which could comprehend our destination (even with me pointing to the location on a map). So we headed back to the hotel instead and got cleaned up. We took the MTR to Tsim Sha Tsui and returned to the tailor for a fitting on our custom clothes. Then, I decided I was underdressed to meet our friends Amy & Erik for drinks at a swanky bar later that night, so I went off in search of a new outfit. I settled for a new top and shoes, which drew attention away from the ratty jeans I was wearing better than the t-shirt I had on. We were fairly far north in TST and needed to get back to the waterfront area quickly (not to mention I was wearing new shoes) so we tried to hop a cab and struck out again with the language barrier. Although this time, we had an English-speaking cab driver who clearly understood me when I said "One Peking Road," but kept asking for the address. Um, that IS the address -- ONE PEKING ROAD. He didn't get it, so we ended up high-tailing down there on foot.

Aqua Spirit is located on the top floor of One Peking Building (located at, yes, One Peking Road) and has awesome views of the Hong Kong Island skyline. As it turns out, though, the views were even better from Amy & Erik's apartment nearby. We had some drinks and appetizers, then went off in search of real food. We ended up at a restaurant close to where Amy & Erik live and had delicious and inexpensive late-night noodles. Amy & Erik were kind enough to invite us over for an impromptu visit at their apartment, which was incredible. They live on the 60-some floor of an apartment building in Kowloon, and from their balcony (which is a little high off the ground for me, but I did step outside and look for a bit while clutching the handrail tightly) they have breathtaking views of the Hong Kong Island skyline. It would be so easy to sit in their apartment every night and just be overwhelmed by looking outside the window. Their apartment is large by Hong Kong standards (and US standards in many big cities as well) and just gorgeous. We had a blast hanging out with them and hearing about their lives in Hong Kong as American expats. But we long overstayed our welcome and headed home by taxi after 1:00 a.m.

The tram to Victoria Peak:

Dim sum lunch at Tien Yi:

Views from Victoria Peak:

Che getting fitted for his new suit!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Day 14: Kowloon Markets

We spent the entire day today in the Kowloon part of Hong Kong, north across the harbor from Hong Kong Island. Our first stop was a custom tailor shop, where Che wanted to have a suit and shirt made. I was just along for the ride but couldn't pass up the opportunity to have a Chinese dress made for myself. The staff was very patient in helping us choose the fabrics and styles we were looking for, then measured us for our new clothes. We go back tomorrow afternoon for a second fitting, then our clothes should be done and ready for us to pick up before we leave on Saturday. We're very excited to see how they turn out!

After the tailor, we met Jay, Cheron, and several of her coworkers for a traditional family-style Cantonese lunch, which was delicious. Cheron returned to work, and three of us set out to explore Kowloon, starting with Mong Kok. One of the interesting things about shopping in Hong Kong is that oftentimes, you will find a single street with hundreds of the same type of store. So if you are looking for something aquarium-related, you would go to the Goldfish Market. If you are looking for plants or flowers, the Flower Market. And for birds? You guessed it, the Bird Market. The same is true for many other types of goods, so it's extremely difficult to do one-stop shopping.

I wanted to take a quick stroll through the Flower Market, which is a street lined with nurseries, gardens, and shops and stalls selling tons of blooms and greenery. The variety of plants and flowers was overwhelming, and the street was so colorful and lively. And there was a huge range from very inexpensive flower stems (huge stems of lilies for only cents) to very expensive (rare and exotic orchids in the thousands of dollars). From there, we headed to the Goldfish Market, an obvious stop for the boys, who are both reef keepers. I tagged along for about two hours, but got bored of fish, corals, lights, and pumps, especially when I realized that they hadn't even made it through half the stores yet. We parted ways, and I headed south to the Jade Market, which was just closing up shop when I arrived. The Jade Market consists of over 400 vendors crammed in a warehouse-type space, each stall full of all things jade - carvings, jewelry, etc. Even with more than half the vendors packed or packing away, I was overwhelmed. I browsed but didn't buy. From there, I just wandered different areas of Kowloon - Yau Ma Tei, the shops along Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui - and eventually made my way down to the MTR station at TST where I met up with Jay, Che, and Cheron.

The four of us walked down to the TST promenade, where Che & I had been a few nights before with Amy & Erik. Between 8:00 and 8:20 every night, the skyscrapers on Hong Kong Island put on a colorful laser light display that is synchronized to music on the Kowloon side. The show was a lot of fun to watch, although it was difficult to capture any decent photographs. Afterwards, we headed back north to the Temple Street Night Market, Hong Kong's largest and most popular night market. Temple Street is closed to traffic after 6:00 p.m., and the street is crammed full of vendor stalls hawking anything and everything you might want to buy and/or eat. We picked up some souvenirs there, grabbed a bite for dinner, and finally made it back to the hotel room after midnight. It was a long day to be on our feet the whole time, and we're thinking massages might be on the agenda for tomorrow. We won't expect to pay Thai prices, though. I think the days of $7 massages are over for us.

Gorgeous rows of blooms at the Flower Market:

Can anyone tell me what these purple/pink flowers are? I thought the ones on the left were peonies. I have no idea about the ones on the right. Either way, I would have loved to have bought some. Each cluster (you can sort of see them arranged in clusters in the picture), at least three large blooms, was only $18 HKD (that's a little over $2 US).

Hong Kong Island's light show:

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Day 13: Ocean Park

Ocean Park is a marine center and amusement park, a Sea World of sorts, on the south side of Hong Kong Island in Aberdeen. Our main interest in going was to see giant pandas. I have only seen them in real life once, on a junior high field trip to Washington D.C., and Che never has. I have been obsessed with pandas and all things pandas since I was a little kid, and seeing the pandas up close and personal at Ocean Park were well worth every penny of the (relatively) steep admission price and what turned out to be the most miserably hot and humid day on record.

The pandas were our first stop at Ocean Park, and I could have spent the entire day there. The park was nearly empty on this Wednesday, and the pandas were all playing and romping about their habitats. Soooooooo cute. One was napping (and sometimes stirring around) right up at the front glass, so we got some great pictures of them in their enclosures and had zero crowds to deal with in the process. I had planned to get a second glimpse of them at the end of the day before leaving the park, but we stayed too late and the exhibit was closed.

We spent the rest of the day sweating our asses off at the park. You can actually see the sweat on my skin in some of the pictures. Gross. Che & Jay rode most of the rides there, we saw a cool jellyfish exhibit, an aviary, a very nice large atoll reef exhibit, a marine mammal (seals and dolphins) show, and some other marine-related attractions and stayed until the park closed. After desperately-needed and greatly-refreshing showers, we met Cheron (who had to go back to work today) for dinner at a Japanese restaurant in Causeway Bay, then walked around a small mall to burn off our gigantic desserts. Interestingly, most stores here are open very late, like midnight. As it turns out (and much to my surprise), Hong Kong people (I haven't figured out yet how to refer to people from Hong Kong - Hong Kongers? Hong Kongites? Hong Kongians?) work very long hours, typically 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. Every night that we have been on the subway late, like returning from dinner, the trains have been packed with people leaving work, even at 10:00 p.m. or later. And here I thought I had it bad.

Che & Jay on the Bungee Trampoline:

This is Ying Ying, a three-year old female panda, being playful:

An An, a 20+ year old male panda, came right to the window to greet his visitors.

Sea lions performing at the marine mammal show:

Che's "Chocolate Mountain":

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Day 12: Po Lin Monastery, Tian Tan Buddha

We took a 40-minute MTR ride to Lantau Island, the largest of Hong Kong's 230+ islands (and the one where the international airport is located), to visit the Po Lin Monastery and the Tian Tan Buddha. Upon arrival at Lantau, we followed the signs to the Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car, a relatively-new 25-minute aerial ride from the MTR station at Tung Chung to Ngong Ping, where the monastery and the Buddha are located. The only alternative to the cable car is a one-hour bus journey through Lantau. The ride there was spectacular; the ride back was terrifying. There was really no difference between the two, other than my sudden realization that I was suspended by a cable more than 50 meters in the air, but I started to freak out and wish we had opted for the bus trip instead. (And, as it turns out, I learned only afterwards that the Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car only reopened in December after a cable car fell from the cable last year - the car was empty at the time, but that was not much reassurance to me. Had I known that at the time, I surely would have opted for the bus.)

Upon arrival, we bought tickets for the Tian Tan Buddha, which came with a vegetarian lunch served cafeteria-style at the monastery. We chose to eat lunch first, then head up to the Buddha. Lunch was quite good. Each table (we were seated at our own table, although it isn't uncommon for strangers to be seated together) received a bowl of eggplant soup, a pot of steamed white rice, and four entrees: vegetarian spring rolls, mushrooms with bok choy, stir-fried tofu with vegetables, and ma po tofu with peas and corn. After lunch, we wandered the monastery grounds. Po Lin Monastery is an active Buddhist monastery founded more than 100 years ago by reclusive Buddhist monks. We only saw a couple of monks while we walked the grounds. Afterwards, we headed up the 260 steps to see the world's largest seated bronze Buddha. Built in 1993, Tian Tan Buddha is 102 feet high and weighs 250 tons. Standing below it, it appears absolutely massive, and there are also great views of the monastery and Lantau Island from the top.

The cable car to Ngong Ping:

View of Lantau Island from the cable car:

Looking towards Tian Tan Buddha from Po Lin Monastery:

Tian Tan Buddha:

Close-up of the Buddha:

Overlooking Po Lin Monastery from the Buddha:

Monday, September 15, 2008

Day 11: Exploring Hong Kong

After a leisurely brunch with Jay & Cheron, the four of us headed to Hollywood Street and the SoHo area of Hong Kong Island to shop and explore. We parted ways mid-afternoon, and Che & I continued to walk around on our own, eventually wandering back to our hotel in the late afternoon. The subway system (MTR) in Hong Kong is extremely user-friendly and has been easy to navigate. An octopus card makes it even more convenient. For $150 HKD (or approx. $20 US), you get a debit card with a balance of $100 HKD to use on all forms of public transportation (MTR, buses, ferries) and at many convenience stores and restaurants as well. The remaining $50 HKD is a deposit that is refunded to you when you return the card. It allows you to conveniently access the subway and not have to worry about purchasing a ticket for each ride, figuring out the appropriate fare, or carrying exact change for the buses.

We cleaned up and rested for a bit at the hotel, then met up with new friends Amy and her husband Erik for dinner at a fabulous Vietnamese restaurant, Indochine, for delicious food and wonderful company. Afterwards, we took the Star Ferry to Kowloon to walk along the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront, which affords incredible views of Hong Kong Island's brightly-lit night skyline. There was also a wonderful and huge lantern exhibit on display at the waterfront called WonderWaterWorld, an artistic effort to increase public awareness of environmental protection, in particular marine and wetland creatures.

Che at the Admiralty MTR station adjoining our hotel at Pacific Place:

Full moon at the WonderWaterWorld lantern exhibit on the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront:

Sea life at the WonderWaterWorld lantern display:

Pearl in oyster:

View of Hong Kong Island skyline from Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront on Kowloon:

Day 10 Post-Script: Mid-Autumn Festival

Jay and Cheron called at 9:00 p.m. and asked if we wanted to join them for Mid-Autumn Festival festivities at the beach. Having done hardly anything on our first day in Hong Kong, we felt obliged. We took the bus to Repulse Bay Beach, where thousands of people were gathered to sit on the beach and light candles and lanterns in honor of the full moon that appears around the 15th day of the 8th lunar month. It was also an excuse for lots of young people to get drunk on the beach and set things on fire.

According to the paper the next morning, this year's Mid-Autumn Festival experienced the hottest temperatures in 13 years. As a result, we only stayed long enough to watch our candles burn out, then headed back to the hotel.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Day 10: First Day in Hong Kong

Today was a rest day. We are both showing signs of getting sick (scratchy throats, achy muscles, general fatigue, etc.) so we decided we were better off just taking it easy today. It's also a holiday here in Hong Kong (the Mid-Autumn Festival) so many shops were closing early. Seemed like a good day to just stay in.

We slept in late, then I wandered off in search of cold and sinus medicine for Che. Our hotel is connected to Pacific Place, a large upscale shopping mall full of high-end boutique stores (Versace, Fendi, Escada, Tiffany, Hermes, etc.) and cafes and restaurants. Fortunately, there is also a Watson's drugstore, where I picked up meds. I then followed the signs that said "Great Foodhall," thinking I could pick up food for lunch and take it back to the hotel room. Great Foodhall, however, was not a food court like I thought it would be. It's actually a fantastic Western-style grocery store complete with a gelato bar, juice bar, deli, and amazing bakery. I picked us both up fresh-squeezed juices chock full of Vitamin C and headed back to the hotel room. By then, Che was up and about, so we headed back to the mall for some lunch.

Pacific Place does not have a standard fast-food food court area like most malls. Everything here is a sit-down restaurant. Che was craving an American breakfast/brunch, so we hit a grill-style restaurant and afterwards he started feeling lousy again. He headed back to the room, and I headed off to the grocery store to get pastries for breakfast and a coffee from Starbucks. When I got back to the room, he was asleep. I was pretty beat too, so I laid down for a nap, and that's been our day - lounging around the hotel room, resting, and watching TV. I've also mapped out an itinerary for the week, so it wasn't a completely wasted day. Plus, we have great views from our hotel room (if you look past the reflection back into the hotel room):

High-end shopping at Pacific Place Mall:

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Day 9: Leaving Phuket, Arriving Hong Kong

It was a long day but not much to write about. We had planned an early morning swim before checkout, but the rain was coming down and the winds were gusty. So we packed up leisurely, then checked out and headed towards Phuket Town for some last-minute souvenir shopping. We picked up some great things at a shop on Rasada Street selling all Thai handmade goods, then grabbed a quick lunch before heading to the airport.

First task was dropping off the rental car. I neglected to mention that earlier in the week, we had a minor casualty with the car when Che backed it into a big cement post and dented and scratched the bumper plus broke the tail light out. Hey, at least it wasn't another car or, worse, a guy on a scooter. Thankfully, we had picked up the insurance (something we never do in the states but would definitely do again when renting a car abroad), so we handed over the keys and all was good.

We had an uneventful flight to Singapore and then to Hong Kong, arriving Hong Kong late Saturday night. We took the subway to Hong Kong Island and then a short cab ride later, we were arriving at the JW Marriott Hotel at just after midnight, just in time for bed.

The nicest subway by far! It was more like riding a passenger train from the airport to Hong Kong Island.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Day 8: Khao Phra Thaeo, Wat Chalong, and Muay Thai Boxing

Finally, our first sunny day in Phuket! It would turn out to be our only sunny day in Phuket, but it was a gorgeous one. We had another lazy morning swimming at the resort and relaxing in the hot tub and sauna before cleaning up and headed off for the day. First stop was Khao Phra Thaeo, a national park with hiking trails to Ton Sai and Bang Prae Waterfalls. Time didn't allow for the full hike to both waterfalls, but we did hike about 5 km through the forest and along Ton Sai Waterfall. The waterfalls in Phuket are small, not like the tall falls you might see in Hawaii, but feed into long, flowing streams.

After sweating in the forest for a couple of hours, we headed down to the southern part of Phuket to visit Wat Chalong, the largest of the 29 Buddhist monasteries/temples in Phuket. This is an active Buddhist temple and, surprisingly, they invited us inside despite that we were not dressed appropriately. We had only planned to walk the grounds and take pictures from outside, but the temple was closing to visitors and before shutting the doors, the guard motioned for us to come in. Inside, the temple has granite floors and marble staircases as well as detailed and intricate painted woodwork and large colorful murals. There was also a small market on the temple grounds with various food and craft vendors.

Next stop was Phromthep Cape, the southern tip of Phuket Island, to watch the sunset. Unfortunately, our sunset was obscured by clouds despite it being a gorgeous sunny day, but we still had beautiful views of the shoreline from the Cape.

Jay does Muay Thai Boxing, and he really wanted to see some real fights in Thailand, so we headed to Suwit Boxing Stadium to pick up tickets for their weekly Friday night fights. With tickets in hand, we had some time to kill before the fights started at 8:30, so we headed off in search of dinner. Instead, we ended up at a night market selling produce and meats, much like a Farmer's market. We walked around just to look, then headed off again in search of food, not just ingredients. We ended up at a roadside "restaurant" for more stir-fried noodles and rice. A half hour and $6 US later (that's for all four of us), we were full and happy and ready to watch some fights.

Muay Thai Boxing is sort of a combination of regular boxing and kickboxing. Striking with fists, shins, knees, and elbows is all allowed during a fight. Matches are 5 rounds, 3 minutes each round. There were seven fights leading up to the main event, which was a 130-pound weight class fight. The first six fights were youth of all ages, some as young as 6 or 7, the oldest being late teens or early twenties. The fight just before the main event was one of only two adult fights, and the only one with a foreigner (Australian) fighting. It was an interesting cultural experience, particularly to see many of the rituals associated with the fights. For example, fighters pray and perform a Ram Muay ritual dance before each fight, wearing Mongkon headbands and Prajed woven armbands for blessings and protection.

We arrived back at the resort at midnight and had a late night of laundry and packing. Headed off to Hong Kong tomorrow. This week has flown by.

A gorgeous sunny day in Phuket:

Hiking through Khao Phra Thaeo to the Ton Sai Waterfall:

Wat Chalong Buddhist Temple:

Eva & Che at Phromthep Cape:

Ringside seats for Muay Thai Boxing: