Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Best Bargain in Hong Kong

For $7 HKD, our family rode the Star Ferry from Central to Tsim Tsa Tsui, on the upper deck even (the more expensive class). That's a whopping $1 USD - what a bargain!

The ride takes about 7 minutes and is a wonderful way to see the city from the water. It used to be be my favorite way to cross the Harbour when I was a teen (and even on a teenager's budget, I would ride in the upper deck - I didn't care for the squawking chickens on the lower deck back then).

Wild Pink Dolphins

On our last day in Hong Kong, I booked us on a tour with HK DolphinWatch - an organization to raise awareness about the plight of endangered pink dolphins in the South China Sea near where the Pearl River delta meets the ocean.

There are only about 150 of these dolphins left and we spotted a handful - and they're really pink! Note that it's really hard to get a good photo of a wild dolphin when it's 30 feet away and you can't tell where it's going to surface next! The babies start out grey (we saw one of those swimming with the mother) and then turn pink when they hit their "teenage" years.

I also couldn't resist taking a photo of one of our fellow traveller's choice of footwear for a 3 hour outing on a small boat ;)

Saturday, July 26, 2008

I've been spoiled...

We stayed at the Grand Hyatt in Hong Kong, one of the nicest hotels in the city - and it was just ho hum to me. I've been spoiled by our stay at the Venetian in Macau - the toilet here doesn't have a seat warmer!

Here's the view of Hong Kong Harbour from our window.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Olympic Fever

Since the Olympic Equestrian events are taking place in Hong Kong, there was a great deal of excitement when we were there. It started with a large Olympic countdown clock at the airport.

There was also a large Olympic display on the waterfront.
And lots of fuwas (the 5 mascots) everywhere.
Our favorites were the panda (Jing Jing) and the Flame (Huan Huan).

Thursday, July 24, 2008

My Greatest Pleasure!

I have to admit that my favorite thing about our outrageous high roller suite was the toilet. It won my heart over the other over-the-top features like the bathtub TV, the rain shower with 6 different massage heads, the fancy espresso capsule machine, the complex automatic light/curtain controls in every room and the fact that you could bowl in the hallways and still have room to spare.

Oh yes, you may think you've experienced cool toilets in Germany or even those high-tech ones in Japan, but this one, in the Venetian Macau - 5 stars all the way!

It looks ordinary enough, but has a sensor so the seat cover raises when you walk into the room. The seat is heated so wonderfully that it's a joy to sit down.

And oh yes, this is the control panel.

Gosh, I miss that toilet!

The High Roller Life in Macau

We headed to Macau for two days to celebrate my father's birthday - Macau is a Special Administrative Region in China, like Hong Kong, and was a Portuguese colony for the better part of the 20th century. Although it has some lovely European colonial architecture and a unique cuisine, it's best known for being a gambling mecca. I still recall my visits there 25 years ago - well, it's changed a lot. It now takes in more gambling revenue on a daily basis than Las Vegas.

A family friend was a high roller (i.e. big gambler) at the Venetian and arranged for 3 complimentary rooms for our party using his apparently very large balance of casino credits. When we arrived (picked up by many bowing people in private vans at the ferry terminal) we were ushered up to an extremely large 3 bedroom high roller suite and asked if that "would be ok" instead of 3 regular rooms. We quickly agreed ;)

The suite was unbelievable - probably around 3,000 sq feet with 3 large bedrooms with enormous walk in closets and bathrooms, plus a workout room with sauna and steam room, a massage room with massage table, 2 (yes, TWO!) salon rooms with hairdressing chairs, a kitchen, a media room, a dining room and 3 other large sitting areas. And really nice bath products (Bulgari The Vert - mmmm, good).

We counted 12 TVs in the whole suite - including 2 bath tub TVs (the kids were in heaven!)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Hong Kong Disneyland

We flew up to HK for a few days and spent one night at the HK Disneyland Hotel, in our continued quest to visit all the Disney properties around the world. The hotel looks just like the Grand Floridian at Disney World.

This is the newest of the Disney parks and faced a barrage of criticism when it opened that there was not enough to do. While we completely enjoyed the park, it was probably about 3/4 the size of Disneyland in Anaheim and had about 50% of the attractions. There was a noticeable absence of "E ticket" rides - no Pirates, no Haunted Mansion, one single Mountain (Space).

Still, our expectations had been set by reading some of the reviews beforehand and we had a great time. The one downside was that it was searingly hot - probably around 38 celsius (~ 100 F), and that really sapped our energy (HK had a bit of a heat wave while we were there - lucky us!)

Highlights included a Small World ride with an expanded Asia section and the incorporation of various Disney characters, and the lines were all very short.

It was the first time I had the option of snacking on Korean squid in a Disney park - and I had a really good blackcurrant jelly ice cream bar.

And the Chinese restaurant in the Disneyland Hotel (Crystal Lotus) was just phenomenal - check out the dim sum (this is known as "woo guo" - or crispy taro balls - first time ever presented as swans!)

If you're in HK with kids and have a day to spare, this is a worthy stop. But I wouldn't make a special trip here. As we left, my daughter asked, "Are we going to Tokyo Disneyland next year then?" Yikes!

Sunday, July 20, 2008


We headed to Chinatown yesterday to (what else?) buy various foods for dinner. This is our typical Chinatown itinerary when I'm in town:

- beef balls from a hawker stall located down a dark alleyway. We make noodles at home and serve with the beef balls and soup provided by the vendor.

- roast pork and rice. This is the Thai version of the Chinese cha siu fan. It comes with a thick gravy that goes on the rice. My dad wanted this. I often find this dish to be a little too sweet.

- Chinese roasted chestnuts. This is a HUGE fave. Nothing beats hot chestnuts roasted in charcoal, Chinese-style. You can see the vendor frying them up in a large wok by the side of the road.

- salty plum juice. OK, this is my personal highlight. "Nam Buey" from a little storefront in Chinatown run by people who may close on any given day, depending upon their whims. This is always a gamble. I felt very lucky they were open yesterday. And my older daughter now likes this as well.

Admittedly, this is not a very adventurous itinerary - you'd have to get my dad's typical route to truly get some adventurous food!

An Ad in the Bangkok Post

This ad appeared on the front page of Sunday's Bangkok Post. I found it tremendously amusing.

I'll let you discover what an orchiectomy is on your own ;)

Saturday, July 19, 2008

My Fabulous New iPhone

The iPhone 3G was released a few days before we left the States. Being gainfully unemployed, I went down to the Apple Store at Stanford to pick one up. I arrived around 9:30 am and the line had perhaps 100 people in it. The staff estimated it would take 2 hours. Well, after a little dithering, I decided to stay and wait.

The wait was mostly pleasant, a shady line area with the occasional bench - and Teuscher employees swinging by with coffee and cold chocolate. My casual observation was that about half the people in line already had the original iPhone. However, the staff estimate proved to be wildly optimistic, due to server and activation problems that have been widely reported. When I was near the end of my wait, a man walked down the line offering $100 to take someone's place - he had no takers!

After about 3 hours, I was finally in the Apple Store. Then I learned that due to various circumstances (switching my cell number from an Oracle corporate plan to a personal plan for example), I would not be eligible for the service discount if I kept my old number. Much irritated and after an annoying conversation with AT&T, I ended up getting a new phone number. It was going to cost me $200 extra to keep my old number and I refused to give idiot AT&T any additional revenue.

Aside from that one mar on the surface of my iphone experience, the unit is truly fabulous. It surfs the net like a dream (although at my house in Menlo Park, there's only Edge and not 3G). The interface is intuitive and App Store has done for apps what iTunes did for music. I've downloaded 19 apps so far, 3 of them paid for.

I'm in Thailand now and the iPhone is not released here. So whenever I pull it out, it's an object of great fascination. I gave my father an extended tour the other day - he was quite impressed. While travelling, data roaming charges can rack up, so I have that turned off and the iPhone picks up wifi for data whenever available.You can see the above screenshot of the GPS location of where I am right now - Emporium Suites on Sukumvit Soi 24 in Bangkok.

I couldn't be happier with my new toy!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Sunrise in Bangkok

We're here in Bangkok for our annual visit - day 3 and we're waking up at 5 am. Hence the rare opportunity to catch the sunrise. Let's hope this doesn't continue for too many days ;)

We're staying at our usual apartment at the Emporium Suites, on the 33rd floor this time. We've been staying here for 8 years now, ever since they opened. The kids love the routine of it all, although there seems to have been so much turnover that we don't recognize any of the staff anymore.

This is a serviced apartment, which means that it's like a hotel, with daily maid service but with all the facilities of an apartment. There are a mixture of short and long-stay people here - the short stays are either tourists or regional business people who come to Bangkok on a regular basis. The long stays are usually expats with one or two year postings to Bangkok, who don't want the hassle of dealing with a house or apartment rental (and whose firms pick up the high expense of staying here).

There's a nice gym which we've used (at 7 am yesterday!) and one of the nicest shopping centers in Bangkok is just an elevator ride away. It's the perfect location for us!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Fenton's Creamery and Nut Tree

We've gone back and forth to the Tahoe area twice over the past few weeks, dropping our daughter off at Walton's Grizzly Lodge for her first sleep-away camp (for two weeks! But that's another story...)

This weekend, we stopped at the new Nut Tree complex in Vacaville to check it out and grab a bite to eat. For those who've been in the Bay Area for a while, the Nut Tree was one of the few places to stop on the road to Tahoe (along with the Wooz maze in Vacaville!). I'm not quite sure when it was shuttered, but it's been upgraded and re-opened last year.

Aside from a standard strip mall, there are a couple of nice features that make it a good family stop. It was a little hot for the bocce ball courts, but the mini theme park was going strong. There are a bunch of rides available, including a little train and a pretty carousel. Admission was $4.95 per person, which included 4 ride tickets (which gives you one train ride). There was a little pond near the front, and you could rent a wooden sailboat and push it around with a stick. They were definitely going for an old time ambiance, appealing to nostalgia for the old Nut Tree. Overall a great stop to burn off some energy, especially if you have little kids (under 8, I'd say) in tow.

Next to the little park was an old time candy area - very little had opened besides a nice Jelly Belly shop where you could sample any of their flavors. Good if you didn't want to go all to the way to the factory in Fairfield.

And finally, a Fenton's Creamery was also right there - for those who aren't familiar with Fenton's, it's a soda fountain in Oakland that's very well known locally. Fenton's at Nut Tree was spacious and would probably have been very crowded had we stopped anywhere near a normal mealtime. We split a good club sandwich with excellent curly fries, and my daughter had mac & cheese, which she pronounced as "weird-tasting". Our waitress scooted right over and without our asking, promptly replaced it at no charge with chicken fingers (or whatever cute name they had for that dish on the menu). A nice old time soda selection was available on the way in with black cherry sodas, draft root beers and cream sodas. They also had a huge ice cream selection which we didn't end up trying because we were anxious to be on our way. Next time...

Overall, a great little stop on the way to Tahoe especially if you have little ones who need to take a break.