One of my favorite things about Hong Kong is the juxtaposition of the old, generic and boring high-rise apartment buildings with the modern construction from the past 20-30 years. Turns out that I’m not the only one who is somewhat obsessed with the old-school buildings there. Pro photographer Michael Wolf also is, and he’s got some awesome photos from around the city in a new book, Architecture of Density.
From bamboo scaffolding going up dozens of stories to awesome colors and crumbling structures, the photos are simply incredible. I’ve tried to take similar pictures from time to time and, needless to say, his are much, much better than mine. Doesn’t mean I’ll stop trying anytime soon, but I also don’t expect to see a hardcover 128-page photo book published with my name on the front anytime soon.
There’s another review here with some more of the photos in it. Very cool stuff.
Thanks to my wife for sharing the initial review which made me go dig deeper on this
Yes, 37E is a middle seat. Yes, it also happens to be in the last row of the United Airlines A320, which means limited recline. In just about every situation it is the least desirable seat on that plane (though I’d say 37B is worse because of the lav on that side, but only by a small margin). It is simply not where you want to be sitting. And yet I was incredibly happy to be there.
Do you want to sit here??
I was on my way home from Colorado and really wanted to get home in time for a reasonable dinner at home. Alas, the flight which let me do that meant a 28 minute connection in Denver and – not surprisingly – they don’t let you book those normally. So I booked the cruddy connection and planned to just run for it when I made it to Denver. Of course, when booking the cruddy connection I didn’t actually mean to book the REALLY bad one which would get me home near midnight but apparently that’s what I actually did. All of a sudden this SDC/standby game became much more important for my sanity. We landed on time into Denver and I checked the flight on mobile.united.com and it said seats were available. I was off to the races, from B69 to B37 (about half a mile, at altitude with a rocking hangover and people to dodge).
I made it to the new gate at T-12 minutes, and that’s when the agent told me there were no more seats available. Ughhh. The cutoff for passengers to be on-board is T-10 minutes and there were two not yet on-board so I had a chance. She added me to the list and told me I was first in line. They paged the passengers again and one showed up. Then the other showed up. Not good news for me. Except that apparently one of the passengers was intent on playing shenanigans.
It seems that one of the two was a non-rev, looking to fly on her pass benefits. She gave her name to the agent and a BP was printed and then, as the passenger was getting on board, the agent called out to stop the boarding. Apparently there were two people on the flight with the same name, one male and one female, and the non-rev accidentally got the paid guy’s BP. I’m not 100% certain that they were playing games with refundable bookings and trying to block a seat for the non-rev, but it sure seemed that way to me. Either way, it was now T-10 and the one passenger hadn’t shown up. The gate agent printed my new boarding pass and I was off down the jetway as the last passenger to be loaded on the flight.
View from all the way down the back of the plane
So, yeah, not the most comfortable place to spend 3.5 hours, but I got home in time for a late dinner and I even managed to sleep a bit in that middle seat with limited recline. I’m not going out of my way to choose it again for next time, but it turns out I survived just fine.
This is the room where I sat for an hour, more or less stuck while waiting to figure out if I’d get out of Yangon. No passport (the agents took it from me), no refreshments and no idea how long I was going to be there or if the agents actually understood what I was doing. Not the most relaxing hour of my life, to say the least. And just getting to that point wasn’t so easy.
I did my research before the trip regarding the transit process at RGN and I was pretty sure that I didn’t need a visa. Alas, the Thai Airways check-in agent at BKK had a different view of the situation. She started flipping through my passport, looking for my visa. I knew there wasn’t one there and told her such. At that point she was pretty much ready to send me away; I was not happy. Her version of the rules said transit without visa was only valid if remaining on the same plane passing through RGN; changing planes was not valid. I protested strongly (even though I wasn’t actually 100% certain I was correct) and she walked away from the counter, carrying my passport with her. About 15 minutes later – mostly spent by me pacing back and forth in the premium check-in area trying to figure out how I was going to save the trip – she came back to the counter and started printing boarding passes. I’m not entirely sure where she went or what she saw or why she changed her mind. But she did. I won’t look that gift-horse in the mouth.
A few hours later, following what will likely be my last flight on an Airbus A300 (yes, I booked the itinerary to get that), we arrived in Yangon and it was time for the part of the transit which I expected to be more stressful. I saw the sign for transit passengers as I walked off the plane so I headed towards that door rather than to the regular immigration queue. That freaked them out quite a bit.
Pretty soon I had three agents crowded around, trying to usher me towards the regular immigration queues. I had a printout of my onward itinerary and kept pointing out the flight details, hoping they’d figure it out. After 15 or so minutes I was escorted back towards the gates, through the gate lounge and backwards through the security check-point. The agent escorted me into a room labeled “International Transit” which is, I’m pretty sure, mostly used for storage.
The agent took my itinerary printout, my passport and my inbound boarding pass and walked away, asking me to wait in the lounge. So I waited. And waited. And waited. Having someone walk away with my passport is never something I’m happy about. Sitting in this room with no facilities other than the few chairs for an hour, waiting for the agent to come back with my passport had me rather frazzled. Turns out I’m not all that good at sitting still with no distractions.
Ultimately they returned with the boarding passes and escorted me to the Royal Jade lounge (not really all that great, but better than sitting in the other room on my own) to wait for my flight.
In the end the transit wasn’t all that bad. Not without some stress along the way and Myanmar is going to remain low on my list of desired transit countries given an option, but I eventually made my way on to Singapore and beyond.
More stories from the trip here.
It seems that not too many people show up in Perth at 6am claiming to be in transit. For me, however, this was the fourth immigration checkpoint in the preceding 4 days where that was the case. I had cleared immigration in Doha and Bangkok and remained in transit in Yangon (I’m still not entirely sure how I pulled that one off) and now it was time to play the same game in Australia. I tried to use the eGates, knowing that my passport doesn’t have the RFID chip so it would fail. On the plus side, that got me to the front of the line to speak with the officer.
Her: It says here you are in transit. Where are you in transit to?
Her: This is Perth.
Me: <internal voice>Ruh-roh</internal voice>Oh, right…so tired from that redeye flight. My next stop is Jo’burg, South Africa.
Her: Hmm….well, I suppose there is no good way to get to South Africa, huh?
Me: <smiles and keeps my mouth shut about my actual itinerary />
Her: Have a safe flight.
I suppose that could have been worse, though remembering where I am and where I’m going clearly starts to suffer as the trip progresses.
My plan for Perth was mostly that I didn’t have a plan. I had booked a rental car and I had dinner reservations at 6:30pm with a former co-worker. That left me with about 12 hours to explore the area and try to avoid any further awkward moments with law enforcement officers. I had considered trying to make the drive out to the wine country outside of town but too many people told me that would take up too much time. As I headed in towards town in the rental car I saw a road sign pointing towards Fremantle. That was also on my list of possibilities as a cute beach town to visit. And here it was, easily accessible. It seems my plan was starting to come together.
Most of my day was ultimately spent in and around Fremantle. I explored the waterfront area, lamented that I was there at 8am as the local brewery was not yet open and generally was lazy. Sometimes that’s the best way to “explore” a town.
That’s not to say I didn’t get out and see anything. Fremantle is home to the oldest standing public building in Western Australia, the Round House. It was originally built as a prison to hold locals caught out after curfew in the early days of the settlement. Today it sits atop a bluff over the beach with some rather impressive views.
At one point mid-morning I started to get a bit stir-crazy, hoping to see more of the area. The weather was a bit cool for all but the most dedicated beach-goers but I was interested in seeing what was on offer anyways. I headed up the coast to Cottesloe to check out the beaches there as well. I had the opportunity to dip my toes in the water and I also saw dolphins swimming just off-shore. Not bad at all.
As the day wore on I realized that I had a few more pressing needs than additional sightseeing. I had a bit of work I needed to get done (not a great time to discover corruption in the database behind one of your websites) and I was also desperately in need of a shower. I ducked in to a hostel on the main drag in Fremantle and for AUD$10 I had access to all the facilities, including the internet connection and the shared bathrooms. Quite a reasonable price to pay for getting cleaned up and a base to run from for a few hours.
By this point it was getting close to both sunset and to my dinner reservation time. I packed up and headed back up the coast, hoping to catch a glimpse of the sunset. I was not disappointed.
From there it was in to town where I finally saw Perth proper. Some tall buildings, quite a bit of construction along the waterfront and a casino where we had dinner. I must say that the locals – particularly the women – got very dressed up to go out to the casino on a Saturday night.
Maybe there is more to see in the CDB of Perth; if there is, I missed it. But I had a great time out on the waterfront all day. Not a bad transit stop at all.
Oh, one other thing about this chunk of the trip…for some reason the security in Singapore decided that my corkscrew wasn’t permitted in the cabin. Rather than forfeit it, however, they allowed me to check it through to Perth. Here’s how it looked when it arrived:
More photos from the trip here.
More stories from the trip here.
And I mostly just slept.
Doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as the infamous song by Murray Head, but it is true. I was pretty tired, having only slept a few hours the night prior in Doha and only a few hours the night prior to that on the plane to Doha. Even with most of my time spent sleeping, however, that didn’t stop me from getting out to see a bit of the city and enjoying the parts which I know I like.
The train in from the airport is incredibly easy and I managed to skip the traffic which was a nice win. Soon enough I was settling in to my room at the FuramaXclusive Sathorn. For a clean, conveniently located (1.5 blocks from a BTS station) hotel and only $55 for the night (~15% of which I get back through hotels.com WelcomeRewards and my cash-back booking portal) I have no complaints at all. It is actually the second time I’ve stayed at the property and I’d go back again at that price point. The location is not perfect – there isn’t a lot around the neighborhood open at night for dinner or such, but I like the hotel well enough and the price is quite fair.
Speaking of dinner, I walked around for a half hour or so, taking some pictures and trying to stay awake long enough that I’d be able to sleep through the night and sortof be on local time in the morning. I was also looking for somewhere to eat dinner. For no particular reason I was trying to find a restaurant rather than a table and stool on the street. I honestly don’t know what I was thinking. The street food in Bangkok is fantastic and I’ve always enjoyed eating it. Before too long I was settling in at the stall around the corner from the hotel and adjacent to the BTS station, tucking in to a plate of meat & rice with a beer to wash it all down. Not too shabby for ~$4.50.
The week I was in town was roughly the hottest of the year, and the humidity did its best to match the heat. It was, quite frankly, disgusting. Despite my best efforts to sleep in I was up early and that was actually almost a good thing as it meant I could get out and see a bit of the city before the sun was high overhead, turning the streets into a steam bath and turning me into an incredibly unhappy, sweaty, sticky mess. After grabbing fried dough of some sort for breakfast, I hopped on the BTS and alighted at the Saphan Taksin station, adjacent to the Central Pier, so that I could take a ride on the Chao Phraya ferries.
From my first visit to Bangkok I have loved the local ferry rides. There is an express version of the boats for tourists (I think maybe they speak more English on board, too) but those aren’t nearly as much fun. Packing on to the ferry with monks, school kids and locals commuting to work is a way better experience to me. Plus, the reasonably slow ride up the river offers plenty of time to see city life from that vantage point. It is a great way to get a feel for the vibe of Bangkok. On this particular trip I think the part I was most proud of is that I actually managed to figure out which boat I wanted to be on and get on the correct one the first time. That hasn’t happened on previous visits.
I was on the ferry for about 45 minutes, getting off at N9 (Tha Chang) which is the stop just south of the Grand Palace. The Grand Palace stop is chaotic and crowded, with hawkers selling food, hats, tchotchkes and everything else. The Tha Chang stop is just a bit calmer, but easy enough to get out of without quite such crazy crowds.
Of course, I then proceeded to walk up into the din of the Grand Palace crowds to get breakfast from one of the hawkers there, so it isn’t like I avoided the scene completely, but I did enjoy the walk and the few minutes of not being completely in the center of the crazy.
After breakfast it was back on the ferry, this time headed southbound, and back to the Central Pier station. I basically retraced my route back to the hotel and was in my room, showered and refreshed, about 2.5 hours after I headed out that morning. Just enough time to experience the bit of Bangkok I truly enjoy and also to clean up before heading back to the airport. Three flights to catch that day and I wanted to be there a little early because I was going to be transiting Yangon, Myanmar on two separate tickets and without a visa. I figured I’d need the extra time at the ticket counter. Plus, the massage in the Thai lounge is a nice little perk, too.
Bangkok isn’t really a city I love in Asia. There is good, cheap food to be had and I know my way around well enough but the general vibe of the city isn’t one I love. I’ve had some great visits there – one was for a wedding and we had a fantastic time – but overall I find the city basically a decent place to overnight on your way to wherever you’re actually going, not an actual destination. Fortunately that was the case for me this trip as well (though I’m still not sure where I was actually going).
With only 13 hours in Doha and needing to spend some of that time actually sleeping my options for dinner were somewhat limited. Fortunately I had a number of suggestions for dinner and, as an added bonus, a couple readers who were in town and willing to hang out. With so little time and looking to maximize my tourist exposure we headed directly for the Souk, the center of the public nightlife in town.
My first thought as we navigated into the market, was that it was way too clean. It had something of a Disney feel to it, with everything so clean and in place, but still trying to look authentic. There were a few western chain restaurants mixed in with the local options but it mostly was the local stuff. Still, it didn’t have the same sort of feel as the markets in Turkey or Tunisia, for example. Turns out there is a good reason for that. The Souk in Doha is relatively new. There are bits of the old market still there but the main drag is recent construction. That makes it quite a bit easier to navigate.
We ended up at a Moroccan restaurant, Tajine, and sat outside for dinner, one flight up from the hustle and bustle of the main market area. We sat outside, in the “cool” evening air, enjoying tagine, tea and watching most everyone else there puffing away on hookahs.
The food was pretty good and the company was great. Having normal (at least as “normal” as talking points and miles for a couple hours can be) conversations over a meal was great and getting to experience a bit of the local scene was most welcome. I won’t pretend that I’ve really had a Doha experience, but given my timing I think I did pretty well for myself.
Without any context this picture means roughly nil. With a tiny bit of background, however, it easily represents my greatest moment during the week we spent in Myanmar (or Burma, if that’s your thing).
It is a small piece of gold leaf, roughly an inch or so square, and it is the piece I applied to the giant golden rock at Mt. Kyaiktiyo, a Buddhist pilgrimage site southeast of Yangon. That I got to apply the square was cool in its own right. How that moment came to pass makes the experience probably one of my top 10 travel moments ever.
Even as a tourist and not a pilgrim, a visit to Mount Kyaiktiyo is quite an experience. Also known as the “Golden Rock,” the site is a major destination for Buddhist pilgrims and they come en masse, along with a fair number of tourists. The main place of worship is the massive boulder, precariously perched and, as legend has it, balanced by a hair of Buddha enshrined in the stupa atop the rock. The site is much larger than that, however, with many smaller temples surrounding the main one.
Additionally, because only men are permitted to pray directly at the rock (there is a small, attended bridge to that part of the site) there are a number of areas where the women have made themselves quite at home, chanting, praying and offering their respects to Buddha.
The rock maintains its golden color because pilgrims are constantly applying gold leaf to the surface as part of their visit. They show up with small packets of the leaf, rubber-banded together in 10 or so pieces to the pack. I very much wanted to participate in this tradition but had no idea where I’d get the gold leaf. I figured there would be a gift shop of some sort at the top of the mountain for unprepared pilgrims. Oh, how wrong I was. A bit disappointing, certainly, but nothing I couldn’t get over.
As I was standing on the small platform, taking some photos of the pilgrims a young boy started to make conversation with me. He was probably around 10 years old and his English, while much better than my Burmese, did not have a particularly broad vocabulary. Still, we managed to talk a bit and I expressed my interest in the process of applying the gold leaf and tried to ask him where to buy it. He responded by showing me how to apply it. Not really what I was going for, but I was impressed by his willingness and ability to communicate with me about it. And then something truly amazing happened.
Either he understood that I wanted to apply a piece myself or he was just feeling that generous. I’ll never know the real reason why, but he gave me one of the papers out of his stack and encouraged me to apply it to the rock. I was in awe. It is hard to express how wonderful that moment was.
We spent a few hours out at the site that afternoon, taking in the crowds and watching as the sun went down over the site. The day we were there didn’t have a particularly dramatic sunset nor sunrise, but the effect is still rather impressive. The rock is lit up spectacularly and the glow from the candles and incense is spectacular.
And, because it is a pilgrim site, there is no shortage of monks in the area. Some walk the line between pilgrim and tourist.
Others are there praying with (and for) the visitors.
All of them are quite photogenic.
While Mt. Kyaiktiyo can be visited as a long day trip from Yangon (the drive is about 3-4 hours each way) staying overnight in the area allows visitors to take in the sights around sunrise and sunset. Getting from the parking lot at the bottom of the hill up to the site requires cramming in to tiny benches in the back of a pickup truck and cruising up a steep, switch-backed road to a rest stop. At that point it is another 30-45 minutes of walking uphill. That is unless you opt for the more relaxing option of being carried to the top in style.
The spectacle of Mt. Kyaiktiyo is a sight to see. It is hard to describe the energy and excitement atop the mountain. And, for me, the experience I had is one I’ll never be able to replicate. Simply an incredible moment in my life.
In researching our trip to Bagan I read a lot of different resources. Each of them dictated a specific list of which temples to visit and what order to see them in. We sortof took that advice, seeing most of what was on the lists. And having now done that myself the best advice I can give to others considering such a visit is to completely ignore the lists and guides. Take advantage of the details they offer about the history of the various temples they have information on but don’t consider them the complete story on what’s worth seeing. It turns out that some of the best moments we had at the temples came while visiting the temples which aren’t featured on any maps or guides.
It is not entirely clear why, over a 230 year period at the beginning of the last millennium, the kings of Bagan commissioned more than 4,000 temples to be built in the area. But, 800 years later, there they are. Some are tiny, barely large enough for the small Buddha inside. Others are huge, going up multiple stories and hosting giant icons covered in gold leaf. Some you can climb up on the outside and others are far out in the fields where getting to them is quite a schlep.
Another thing the guide books are big on is sunrise or sunset. To be fair, part of that is almost certainly tied to the fact that it gets quite hot mid-day on the plains and there is nothing in the way of shade available. Our experience at sunset, however, left a bit to be desired. Yes, the light was nice for some shots of the temples. But the sunset itself was rather disappointing. No clouds in the sky made for rather limited colors and virtually no drama in the sky which typically make for a great sunset. I got a few good shots playing with the color balance a bit but the overall experience left a bit to be desired. The part where we then had to get back to our hotel with our bikes on dark roads with no shoulders was also a bit unnerving.
There are two main roads heading south-west from Nyaung U, the town where the airport and most hotels and restaurants are located. Rather than following the suggested routes in the guide books we simply chose to explore the temples on the main road the first day and the second road the second day.
We were riding on the quite unspectacular bikes the hotel rented us and with minimal navigational issues – the roads are basically long and straight – we were able to stop where and when we wanted along the way, unbound by a "circuit" we were supposed to be on.
We absolutely saw some of the big name temples. Unfortunately, to me, it seems that the main reason they are special is because they are bigger. And bigger is not always better. As we wandered amongst the dusty plains between the smaller temples we had the ability to better appreciate the history of the area and to experience the sites without the big crowds. And that covers both other tourists and touts.
Visiting these spiritual sites is more impressive to me when it can be done without aggressive hawkers as you come and go. By skipping many of the listed sites we got to see much of the same beauty and avoid much of the hassle.
After two days of all pagodas all the time I was pretty much done with Bagan. I was actually ready to be done with temples in general for a while given that they were basically all we’d seen over the prior week, far exceeding my usual tolerance for such. But there were more sights to be seen and many of them involved more temples. Time to press on…
Gale-force winds and freezing temperatures are rarely the desired forecast for a beach excursion. Given that we were in Jutland, Denmark in the middle of March, however, it was not particularly surprising that we were faced with that weather. The good news is that, as we headed up the coast, at least the sun managed to peek through from time to time.
The freezing temperatures didn’t’ stop us from making a few different excursions out on to the beach as we headed up the coast. The first stop was at a small resort town which was understandably deserted at the time. There were scores of small vacation townhouses along the waterfront, nearly all angled to take maximum advantage of the sun during the summer season. And a rather wide beach, too. The winds were whipping, making for a very uneven and chaotic surf; it was most unwelcoming to visitors even without considering the temperatures. And given the temperatures the sand had been covered in many areas with sheets of ice. It was not a typical beach adventure by any stretch. It was, however, quite beautiful.
Further north along the coast we climbed up over the dunes and considered a short walk on the beach; the weather seemed reasonable as we parked and got out of the car. Turns out that it was the dunes working in our favor there. We got to the top and were once again met with the gale-force winds. Beautiful, especially with the bleached out bushes growing along the dunes, but we were not going to be spending any extra time at that beach.
Just south of Skagen, the northernmost town in Jutland, sits the remains of the St. Laurence Church, also knows as the sand-buried church. The first church on the site was built in the late 1300s and it operated up until the end of the 18th century. It turns out that the winds were just as troubling even back then, too. They would constantly drive the sand up off the beach and against the church, essentially integrating the building into the dunes. By 1795 King Christian VII decided that the church could be closed though the tower remains. It serves as a navigational marker for ships in the area today. The site has markers showing where the ret of the church stood and it is quite easy to see how the sand was a problem, having risen up the side of the tower.
We passed through Skagen up to the tip of the peninsula. Technically the park isn’t at the northern tip as is it off to the east a bit. Still, it is an enormous beach with some history to it; there are WWII defensive structures which can be climbed on, in and around. On this day they also occasionally provided shelter from the winds, though not much.
The beach also offers the opportunity to hike out to a point and be at the "end" of Denmark. The wind was still howling and we were now headed out on to a beach with no protection from the weather. It was beautiful but also a ridiculously cold hike. We bundled up the best we could and set out to the marker at the end.
In addition to the cold they imparted the winds did some beautiful things with the sands on the beach. Watching the patterns created by the blowing sands as they swept up the beach was a lot of fun, if not incredibly cold to sit and watch.
Relatively close to the parking area there are a couple small coves created on the beach for families with smaller kids to play. Obviously no small families out playing on this day; the rocks used to create the coves tell the story of why. The waves breaking against them kicked up a mist which is common. The part where it was freezing, creating a salt water ice shell on the rocks was less common, at least to me. Beautiful, but darn chilly.
We eventually made it back to the car and paid our respects to St. Volvo, the patron saint of heated seats, thawing out a bit before continuing our adventures.
Obviously the area is much more popular when it isn’t bitterly cold. That didn’t stop it from being beautiful during our visit. In some ways I actually think it helped with the effect.
The timing of our visit to Aarhus, Denmark left a wee bit to be desired. I actually don’t really mind that we were there which it was freezing, windy and snowing. The bad timing comes from the fact that the main day we had to spend in town was a Monday and the two main museums are closed on Mondays. We didn’t get to visit the art museum nor the Viking history museum. But that didn’t stop us from getting a bit of culture and history in on our visit.
Not too long ago a new branch of the Nordea bank was being built just off the edge of the small canal which runs through the center of the city. Turns out that the construction unearthed an archeological site from centuries prior. While many of the bits from the find were moved in to the real museum the site itself was made in to a minim museum which sits beneath the bank today. It is only a 10-15 minute diversion, but still informative and interesting.
There is a skeleton on display in the position it was originally discovered which suggests that it was a murder victim and they ham up that story a bit. There are other bits, too, like a model of a home from that era, some original stones from the paved road which used to circle the inside of the protective wall and maps explaining the history of the town over the years.
One of the more interesting bits to me personally came when we left the small museum and headed back up to the street to wander around town a bit more. We crossed the small canal/river running through the center of town when I had one of those moments of discovery which I’m certain most others figure out well before I do. The water we were crossing was the same as the moat which was built nearly 1000 years ago as part of the towns fortifications. Today it serves as a centerpiece of the downtown area, providing a pedestrian mall and lined with restaurants and shops. Not the same function as for which it was originally built but equally important to the survival of the city.
Like many visits to a European city there was also the requisite church stop in Aarhus. The current iteration of the cathedral was built in the 15th century though the site was first used as a church more than 500 years earlier. Today the cathedral is known for the frescoes inside. They are certainly interesting, if not a bit bizarre.
We missed plenty in Aarhus due to our unfortunate timing. But was also saw some very cool bits, had a great meal and I learned some history. A very worthwhile stop as we explored the Jutland peninsula.