So I did it. After boring many a social circle with my tentative statements about going off solo 'to see the world', I headed over to Terminal 4 and boarded my flight destined for Mumbai.
I am aware that the departure part is probably the most tedious so I will summarise it as follows;
...I nearly missed the flight.
I am not exactly sure as to how this happened, but after a brief farewell phone call with Harry, I started wandering about the pretty small shopping area only to find that I had about 2 minutes before my boarding gate would close. As you would expect, I immediately sprinted through, flashing my boarding pass and passport, and this must have been only to the amusement of the armed guards for I was wearing 2-tonne trekking boots.
Anyway, the flight itself was luxurious in that I had 3 seats to myself, a selection of films and some really random Jet Airways Indian food. The stop-over in India was a different story with the beret-toting customs workers poking me with their truncheons and telling me to 'move on' whilst I faffed about with my newly acquired luggage.
Deprived of sleep, (I made the fatal error of pulling an all-nighter prior to long-haul travelling), after 15 hours I eventually made it to Hong Kong, and the sun-bleached airport outside perked me up immediately. Many of you will know that it is one of my dreams to eventually make it to Japan, but due to cost and really weird planning, I've had to postpone this to next year. As such, Hong Kong was to act as a replacement.
My first impressions?
Firstly; The airport there is amazing. It has everything Heathrow has but enhances it by 20 times with a shrewd-layout, pristine floor, and new atmosphere.
Secondly; It is hot.
Now do not get me wrong - I was more than aware that I was likely to hit 30 degree plus temperatures, but the humidity was alien. And this was at the airport! Get into the city itself, and the humidity, combined with the noise and smell of traffic, new foods and rampant pollution, made for my first 'culture shock'.
Being the sociable lad that I am, I somehow met some Middle-Eastern businessman who advised me to forget about the airport express and get the 'Air Bus' into Mongkok - the main shopping hub in Kowloon where I was staying. This saved me a few bucks but trying to walk down the stairs of a moving double-decker bus with a 15 kilo backpack on is not fun. Think Bambi, but with massive boots on.
After a quick phone call, my host for the week, Mr. Scott Hughes (take a bow) met me at the cross roads of Mongkok which really does not look too dissimilar to Shibuya in Tokyo (google it) and after a manly 'hug', we went on our way.
He was not kidding about the stairs either. You had to walk up five flights of stairs before you got to the door, and then you had not only a door, but also a gate which appears to be standard throughout Hong Kong.
Shattered and sweaty, I met my second host, Nick, and began to find my bearings.
To be honest, the first day was the only real time I saw Hong Kong in the daylight. It would be best to describe my experience as... nocturnal. Now this is not to the detriment of my hosts' hospitality whatsoever. It was more of a case of realising that these lads are pretty much living the dream and maintaining the uni-like lifestyle. For example; Expecting to settle down for the night to recover from my jet lag, it was insisted that we head over to Lang Kwai Fong in Central (a strip of clubs and bars) and the night consisted of this;
. A few Long Island Iced Teas (a bad sign).
. A bar for which you syringed vodka jelly into your mouth.
. An 'ice bar'.
. Accidentally meeting two prostitutes and then proceeding to give them alternative career advice.
. Jumping on the stage with a Phillipino cover band to scream the "oooooWWWWWOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAHHH" bit to Sex is on Fire.
. And an absolutely stunning view that few first-time visitors would get to see.
I woke up the next day at 4 PM(!?) You get the idea. And to make the hangover worse, I had the wonderful experience of discovering that I had lost my Blackberry.
I had been there not even 24 hours and I had lost the f***ing Blackberry.
The next night, I was taken to Wan Chai which is in no way whatsoever the way that Shenmue game portrays it. It is another bar district, and slowly I was beginning to realise that Hong Kong citizens like to party. Never mind New York - Hong Kong really is the city that never sleeps.
On Wednesday I had the pleasure of going to the Hong Kong races. Now this was an experience. The rich and beautiful Ex Pats from all over congregate to blow their hard-earned/inherited money on ever-odd changing horses as angel-suit wearing Chinese girls push Carlsbergs into your hands. As for myself, I did terribly. If I recall correctly, I won once, and that was only on a place-bet. C'est la vie. To drown my not-so-existent sorrows, we once again headed to Wan Chai to party amongst the international students.
Nick (Left): "The second photo (this one) is the best (most flattering) one".
As for day-time activities, I managed to wander into both the Mongkok markets and the night-ones at Ya Ma Tei. These were quite a good laugh, and bartering in foreign countries is always an experience. Furthermore, it would be an injustice to not mention the Yoshinoya-establishment.
This place is as convenient as a McDonalds, but they provide Japanese rice and meat dishes. They're excellent and I feel blessed for having been shown them. (Probably a bit of an exaggeration).
Also, whether you go at day or night, the view of the sky scrapers in Central is stunning. You can either marvel at the particular architecture, or "Oooh" at the light show displays that occur pretty much every night. Despite the problem of pollution, HK really is a beautiful city and the contrast of new-technology amidst Chinese tradition is well worth the journey alone.
On Friday I was invited along to a birthday meal at Lama Island which was a fantastic experience. I do not do seafood but even I vigorously tucked in, in what must have been some pretty top-notch cuisine. Furthermore, I gained exclusive entry into the 'Beijing Club' for which you have to ride a lift to the club floor and never have I felt so Western. A good laugh nonetheless, and upon leaving I discovered the convenience of 7-Elevens and their cheap drinks for street-side Strawpedos. It was here that I acquired a few new friends and even after 5 days I was feeling more and more like a local.
Sadly though, my time in HK had to come to an end, and after saying a gradual farewell to my numerous hosts, I headed over to the the airport via the pristine International Express. Destination; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
A big shout out goes to my kind friends Scott, Nick, Nick, Sam, Alex and Simon for putting up with not only me, but also my incessant questioning about what to expect from Asia. You certainly showed me a side most tourists would never get the chance to, and I think I'm still paying for it right now. Be safe boyz!
I meant to write the above section about a week ago, but simply never found the time. But in a nut shell, I headed over to Malaysia with the intention of participating in a volunteer turtle conservation project. Many of you have asked a lot of questions about this so I will do my best to describe it in person should I gloss-over interesting details.
My domestic flight from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Bharu allowed me to take a very enjoyable taxi ride to Kuala Besut. This quaint, little jetty provides the gateway to the Perhentian Islands, otherwise known as paradise.
I am currently staying at the Bubbles Dive Resort which is situated in fortunately the most beautiful bay I have seen as of yet in Perhentian and it has certainly been an experience.
Prior to coming, I was warned that due to the season, I would not see any turtles nesting and that there is no guarantee that I would see hatchlings. Within two days however; I have seen one false crawl (where a mother approaches the shore, digs a big hole, but for one reason or another, leaves without laying); a mysterious false crawl (I got covered in sand here. It really is impressive how a turtle at the size of about a meter in length, can get so far and get so deep); and two hatchling releases. Not only this, but these events have been filmed by the Discovery Channel for which there is going to be a strong chance that I am on TV. Could be my big break, talk about timing, huh?
When thinking of a hatchling run, you have no idea as to how cute and funny the experience is. Even the most hardened person would find it hard not to grin as these little guys struggle along the 10 meter sandy run to the sea. The way it works is when laid, the eggs take about 2 months to incubate. Assuming they haven't been devoured by Ghost Crabs (these are hilarious as well) or ants, somehow the 3-inch babies dig to the surface and head towards the moon with the hope of continuing their journey into the sea. This leads to some confusion of course, and when I was holding a torch whilst chatting away, there was a long line of them heading towards me and away from the sea.
To avoid the cliche, it really really is a beautiful sight and I feel lucky to have seen it, especially with the knowledge of the odds against them.
Without human intervention (poaching and tourism), pollution and an over-abundance of predators, the chances of a hatchling becoming an adult are 1 in 1000. At the moment, it is 1 in 10000. So it is understandable that I felt somewhat sad knowing that a lot of these guys would not make it. Either way, seeing them go from a land-struggle to practically sea-flight was truly amazing.
In addition to this, I was also blessed with the opportunity to head over to the main village and help in painting a mural at a school. The kids were so friendly and amusing, and it appears that the Shakira-hit 'Waka Waka' is a big deal there. Fortunately, I am going to see them again this coming week, so with the ice broken, god only knows what is going to happen.
Furthermore, my days are hardly taxing. Despite the 3-8am poacher watches, I have pretty much spent my time; snorkelling, for which I have seen turtles, rays and even sharks; sun bathing; and playing a lot of beach football.
The season is coming to an end so the tourist numbers are dying down, but I was fortunate to have met and spent time with the infamous 'Edward Group'. A party of 22 diverse personalities for various reasons whom made for very colourful company, and there is talk of reuniting with a certain traveller-cum-rastafarian in the jungle next week. Oh dear...
Looks like I'm going to venture into the deep via some scuba as well, so I am sure I will have a few amusing incidents to relay back on here. For now though, the beautiful sun and warm waters are calling me.
I have one week left at the project, and my next plans are to head into Teman Negara jungle for a few days so I will do my best to update prior to then.
Until then, much love, be safe, and keep me updated with UK happenings.