Tag Archives: travelogue

Travelogue: London!

I am obviously trying to avoid my “permanent” (note how I use these quotes) relocation to New York, by leaving after about only a week’s stay to visit one of my oldest friends, Teresa, in London.

This is actually my first time to the UK.  Though I’ve now been to over 20 countries and territories now, I’ve hardly touched Europe.  Before this trip, the only European country I’d ever been to was Austria for a ski trip in Innsbruck of all places.

But finally I am in London at long long last.  I say finally because I had been such a big Anglophile through high school and college.  I loved reading English authors (P.G. Wodehouse was a long-time favorite), loved BBC programming, Britpop, Royal history – basically all things English. MY undergraduate thesis was actually about the historiography of the famous murder of Edward II.

So given this history, plus the history I have with Teresa, I knew it was about time I came for a visit.  So I organized a bit of a between-jobs break, and set down 20 days to spend in the UK with a side trip to Holland ((hopefully) more on that later).

I’m nearing the end of my stay  and I have to say I totally see it now – London is a magical place.  It is grand and majestic, vibrant, and full of culture and history.  Just look around you and there is something interesting to see – no doubt full of history too.

Unfortunately, I must conclude this city is completely overpriced and there is no way that any ordinary person can survive and save a little tuppence for a future retirement.  You will probably have to work all your life to make ends meet, and have any kind of indulgence along the way, but no savings, that’s for sure!

The Tube is incredibly expensive, with the minimum fare being just over 2 pounds.  Unfortunately, you’re unlikely to have such a minimal commute if you’re going to live here, so multiply that by 2 or 3 or more! Rents are no doubt outrageous, especially if you want to be anywhere within the city confines.  Then the food – though of nice quality – is always expensive.  Most of my meals have averaged about 20 pounds each time (I admit, I won’t skimp on overall quality, and will indulge in either dessert or a drink to go with that).  That is pricey!

Though there are plenty of free attractions (loads of quality museums), most pay attractions will cost anywhere from 9-22 pounds! It seems like highway robbery at some – like the Wellington Arch, where you pay about 9 pounds just to go up to the top to see a not-so-awe-inspiring view of the park, and check out a random collection of photos about something inane like gas stations (I am serious!).

So what can you do for fun if you want to some day retire? Stay in your far far away home and learn to knit perhaps?

It’s no wonder that in London I hardly hear a single British accent – international wealth has taken over and driven up the costs to an unrealistic level.

Fantastic city to visit (with money), but extremely limiting and wealth-depleting to live.  Oh – and I did not even talk about the weather!

Travelogue: Nepal

Aiya – if I don’t write something soon, I will not have written at all in the entirety of February 2013! Since I owe a note on my experience in Nepal, here goes…

Nepal, for some reason, had never been on my top to-do list, despite the fact that it is home to two of the greatest mountain hikes (Everest Base Camp and Annapurna Base Camp). 

Nepal is an incredibly beautiful country, with a whole lot more to offer than I’d realized (for whatever odd reason).  On my tour I spent about 6 days in and around Kathmandu, with an emphasis on religious sites like Namo Boudha, Pharping, Changunarayan.  Afterwards, I had a tour guide assist me in organizing 9 days from Pokhara to Chitwan to Lumbini.

In the first part of the trip, I joined my friend, a professor at the City University of Hong Kong, and her  photography and new media Masters students.  We travelled together with a very sweet nun, Ani Choying, who runs a travel agency in Nepal focused on religion – Red Tara Travels & Tours. Choying did a great job and I really enjoyed talking to her about her Buddhist practice and views on life.

We even got to stay one night at the school for nuns that she graduated from – the Arya Tara School. I have so much I could say about this experience, the beautiful girls I got to play with there, and Buddhism generally – but perhaps another time.

At the end of this segment, I moved on to a short 3-day hike to just get a taste of the Himalayas, paragliding in Pokhara, saw rhinos in Chitwan, and visited Buddha’s birthplace in Lumbini.  Each of these experiences were all so meaningful and joyful. 

What makes Nepal so special is its people. Folks are warm, and a mix of cultures are embraced here. Being next door to Tibet, some of the people have very interesting mixed South and East Asian features. 

Being still very much based on an agrarian economy, life is simpler here.  The food is very clean and unadulterated.  There are no pesticides or fertilizers in use here, and the chicken you eat for dinner was probably running around beside you just that morning. 

And once you’re out of Kathmandu, the air is fresh and clean. I have also never seen such beautiful clouds in my life before!

In preparation of this post,  I re-read my India impression from 2009/2010 and can say that despite many Nepalis looking like Indians, despite the pervasiveness of Bollywood in Nepal, and despite the similarities in food, religion, and culture – Nepal is not its neighbor India.  It’s far less populated, and while it is by no means a rich country, the poverty gap is far less wide – which I think makes a huge difference.

I did not see any slums, and I only encountered very few beggars.  Of the adult beggars – they were always very very old, and hanging out in tourist sites.  I cracked and gave one very elderly lady some small amount.  Of the children – again, very few and only occasionally on the hiking trail, where they were only asking for chocolate or candy.  Notably, none of the beggars physically touched me – which would happen a lot in India (even through taxi or tuk tuk windows).

This compare and contrast exercise loomed large at the time of my trip, since that horrible Delhi gang rape story had been in the news at that time.  It would come up when I spoke with local Nepalis, and many would tell me how even they would have a hard time travelling in India, despite knowing Hindi and looking local. Of course – that terrible incident shouldn’t overshadow the beauties and wonders of India either.

I hope to return to Nepal some day.  It would be an amazing experience to get to either the Annapurna or Everest Base Camp – though rather time consuming.  I hear the roundtrip takes about 14 days!

There seems to be endless places in this world to visit, and my love for travelling has not dampened since my move.

Travelogue: Yosemite National Park

Most of my travels since moving to Hong Kong have been in and around Asia, but there have been quite a few trips back to the U.S. in the past several months especially.  Last holiday I actually spent some quality time in the good ol’ USA.

One of the stops on the itinerary was a 3D2N visit to Yosemite National Park, and though I did not have much expectation for it, I would definitely recommend it as one of the world’s must-do’s, and I am so proud for this natural treasure to be in my home country!

The beauty of the nature itself is just absolutely stunning.  Having now seen so many incredible natural sites across the world, including Guilin and Halong Bay to name a few in Asia, Yosemite ranks as some of the finest I’ve seen.  As soon as our little rental car approached the valley, and out appeared some of Yosemite’s finest landmarks – Half Dome, Cathedral Falls, etc., my jaw just dropped.

What’s even more commendable about this national park – it’s incredible beauty is accessible to all and there’s something for all physical types to enjoy.  The open top valley floor tour is a must for anyone, and all you need to be able do is sit and enjoy. The ranger will give you an incredibly informative tour, as you check out all the main highlights.  The drive along Tioga Road is not too scary during good weather conditions and you can achieve a lot of altitude.  Also easily accessible from Taft’s Point is an incredible view of just about all the major granite formations in Yosemite, including Half Dome, Mount Hoffman, Mount Dana, and Clouds Rest.  Again, you can drive to this spot and take a short walk.  I believe there may have even been some wheelchair accessible roads here too.

Then there’s plenty of challenges for those looking for some wild rugged times – we chose to do Clouds Rest, and the view after the death defying ridge at the end, was well worth the courage. The climb itself was rated “extremely strenuous,” but for the average Hong Kong hiker, this was really nothing! When we practiced on Maclehose 4, we found Clouds Rest a piece of cake!

It’s odd that I’d visit this US treasure from so far away, and I have none other than my boyfriend to thank for that.  We were visiting NYC together for the first time on this trip, but he didn’t want to spend the entirety of our time on the East Coast, and urged that we do some other US travelling. So Yosemite, along with San Francisco and Las Vegas became a part of our itinerary.  And surprisingly, our multi-city flight from HKG – SFO – LAS – EWR – HKG was considerably cheaper than any direct round trip flights between Hong Kong and New York that we could find at that time.

So top lessons learned – Yosemite is a truly grand site that everyone should aim to see if they can, no matter how far the trip, and if you’re having trouble finding an affordable round-trip to the US from HK, try a multi-city. I may just be stopping in on some West-coast based friends more often in the near future!