Monthly Archives: January 2013

Dive Junkie

I couldn’t get out of Angeles fast enough, the final straw was when I witnessed someone with a striking resemblance to Brains from Thunderbirds escorting a young Filipino rent boy out of the hotel, I never knew I could regurgitate a slice of pre-cooked toast from 7/11 so fast…

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I’ve mentioned it before but let me briefly explain the term ‘skin tax’. A local person would pay maybe 20 piso for the trip to the bus terminal in a tricycle, a westerner would be expected to pay a lot more than that in most cases. I understand that by Asian standards we are rich compared to many locals, it’s when in places like Angeles, where the drivers are used to charging a ridiculous fare that I get frustrated. It becomes more about the principle than the money, subsequently the five kilometre walk to the bus station, with all our stuff in the baking heat was a sweaty one. Thankfully the 80 pence we saved was enough to buy us a couple of ice creams at the end…

Puerto Galera is Spanish for ‘port of the galleons’. Situated on the island of Mindoro a few hours by bus/boat from Manilla. The area of Sabang, to be exact, doesn’t have a nice beach or many attractions, but we were here for only one reason, scuba diving.

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The open water PADI qualification is something that I’d wanted to do for years while travelling, but most of the time just ended up getting drunk instead. Sabang is a drinking town with a diving problem, so I had to make sure the same wasn’t going to happen here…

The PADI open water course took three days and I really can not sum up the awesomeness of diving. Scary, weird, awkward, different and robotic are some of the words I would use to describe the way I felt when I first tried on the diving gear. Once in the water though, it all makes sense and those words become relaxed, beautiful, amazing, floating on the moon, the opening montage of For Your Eyes Only… Finally a certified diver, we loved it so much we decided to stay in Sabang for longer and dive some wrecks, instead of getting wrecked and staring at exotic fish than staring at the sun. Seriously looking forward to doing some more soon. Sadly cameras don’t work underwater, but sometimes it’s best to live for the moment behind a dive mask, other than a viewfinder. From this moment on,fish are friends not food…

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This week Like the wheels is approaching a milestone of 2000 views. So to celebrate we’re having a massive giveaway! The first person to comment on this post saying ‘I Like The Wheels’ will receive a special postcard from yours truly, sealed with a kiss…x

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Categories: Philippines | 6 Comments

The Good, The Not Bad, And The Ugly

Departing Chungking mansions, bags in hand to head to the airport, there was still time for someone to try and sell us a room, even though we were clearly leaving, comical. The short flight from Hong Kong to Clark airport, North Luzon island, took just over 90 minutes. Clark was originally the main airbase of the US forces in the Philippines until the eruption of Mount Pinatubo back in the 90s…

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Pinatubo from the sky

After a few short hours in the Philippines we went from a jeepney (the national symbol of the Philippines), to a bus, to hitching another jeepney, to a moter cycle with side car until we arrived at the small settlement at the base of the volcano, Santa Juliana.

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From the back of a jeepney

Pinatuno literally blew it’s top in 1991, with catastrophic consequences on the surrounding area. The top was reduced by 300 metres in height sending lethal volcanic ash all over the shop, then shortly after, a typhoon hit turning the ash into a soggy lahar, transforming Angeles and nearby towns into one giant swamp. To the locals, it was like waiting for a bus, nothing came in years then two natural disasters happened in one day, hundreds of people died and many were more injured. There is no sign of Mr Lava Lava today though, the 14 Km round hike takes you past the small village of natives, through the rugged valley that the lahar flow created and eventually to the crater lake, which has filled with water over the years. Knackered by the end, but overall the trip was good…

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Aetas village children

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Picked up some snacks from a stall before heading back to Angeles city, everything I asked about seemed to be 6 pisos, ‘how much for the biscuits?’-6, ‘how much for the coffee?’-6, ‘how much for for these oily peanuts?’ -‘erm… 6. This guy should just rename the shop, EVERYTHING’S 6 PESO, considering there are 65 piso to one pound, I guess that’s not bad…

We spent one night in Angeles city to break up our journey out of Luzon. Angeles city has one purpose only – sex tourism. After seeing something of such natural beauty, we then came face to face with the complete opposite, a place so rupulsivly vile created by the hands of man. It is because of Clark airspace that Angeles is what it is today, as the American soilders opened up a market for prostitution in the area. There’s no sights in Angeles, unless you consider hundreds of Lou Carpenter from Neighbours look-a-likes walking hand in hand with girls a third their age – at best, something on your must see list. There is no other way of putting it, Angeles is just downright ugly…

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The Cactus loves hiking

Categories: Philippines | 1 Comment

Hong Kong Is For Everyone

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Hong Kong, always on the move

‘Fragrant Harbour’ was the literal translation of the Cantonese/Hakka word ‘Hoeng Gong’ referring to the tiny inlet at the location of Aberdeen harbour. Oh How Hong Kong has changed since the first British settlement, less than 200 years ago, now a thriving metropolis, it’s one of the busiest and most densely populated cities on Earth.

The Bank of China tower on Hong Kong Island, offers pretty good views from the 41st floor, even though on a clear day, the Hong Kong skyline is almost always covered in a haze. The best thing, to scale the tower is free!

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The History museum tells the Hong Kong story, from the geological formation of the islands, through the Japanese occupation and eventually to the handover back to China in 1997. Interestingly enough, the first ever British settlers arrived in Hong Kong after a group of drunken sailors murdered a local fisherman in Macau during the opium wars. The Portuguese, not happy sent the yobs away and they were forced to anchor on the shores of Hong Kong. This was also the first ever account of British hooliganism abroad…

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View of the islands from Ocean Park cable way

Avenue of the stars is Hong Kong’s answer to Hollywood Boulevard. It features the hand prints of many famous people from the Hongkolly wood film and TV industry…

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Hong Kong’s own Bruce Lee

Ocean park is said to rival Disney land, it was how theme parks always are, a laugh. This the first sighting of the British influence over Hong Kong, as there were a lot of queues…

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Giant and Red Pandas, native to China

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Hong Kong is one of those cities you can wander around with no plans, there’s things to see and surprises around every corner. A pointless walk took us through some of the city’s busiest streets, and eventually to the bird market. Many bird fanatics gather here to sell exotic birds, cages, food and all things bird. Some simply come just to talk birds and show of their pride and joy in their pimped up cages. The bird market, is to a Hong Kong pensioner what Ocean road is to a Shields charva, except instead of shit cars being showed off, it’s birds…

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Check my bird out!

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Meat on the street

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Men gather in public areas to play cards

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The Royal Mail post boxes were painted green after the hand over in 1997, the colour of China Post

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The British influence can be seen in many Hong Kong street names

Chungking Mansions is good for one thing, after months of eating dodgy mutton meals and Chinese food, Indian curry never tasted so good! The Khyberpass mess club hidden away on the seventh floor has the best reputation and serves a wonderful vindaloo, at least our cheap room also provides free toilet paper…

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Andy Warhol’s exhibition was making a stop at the Hong Kong art museum. Was interesting to see his time capsules, the one on display showed items he collected on his trip to Hong Kong in 1982, turns out Andy was a bit of a hoarder…

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There’s no escaping Mao!

The zoological gardens is home to possibly my favourite animal, the Gibbon. I could never get bored of watching these creatures move around their habitat. We were told they have the same IQ as a three year old, higher than most of the numptys selling watches outside Chungking mansions. There were three brothers all together in one enclosure, Barry, Maurice and Robin Gibbon, collectively known as the Bee Gees…

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Barry Gibbon

The Peak Tram, opened by the British in 1926 was built to haul the rich residents to the upper levels of Hong Kong island. The steep tram way runs through the now swanky mid-levels area of Hong Kong through Soho, yes Hong Kong has a Soho. The peak is the highest point on Hong Kong island proper, so offers greats views of the city, both day and night…

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So three months on, we have travelled from Eastern Europe overland, through the Siberian late Autumn and the brutal Mongolian winter. One of the highlights of Hong Kong is being able to say we made it this far, and to be able to throw away the thermal clothes and hot water bottle, even if it did break my heart to say goodbye to my trusted Mongolian Moon pants. To Hong Kong, we’re just a passing bird waiting to fly, and just like the city, we won’t stop moving just yet…

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They saved my life!

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The city that never stops

Categories: China, Hong Kong | 4 Comments

Ghetto At The Centre Of Hong Kong

Would you believe that Hong Kong is only a quick two hour bus ride from mainland China? When we arrived at our destination, Chungking Mansions, it was more like the type of cultural melting pot you would expect to find in London, not Chinese territory.

World famous and notoriously dubbed ‘ghetto at the centre of the earth’ Chungking Mansions is home to more than 80 guest houses over 14 floors, as well as dozens of drug dealers, petty criminals, scammers and illegal immigrants, I’m sure they are some decent people in there somewhere. The word ‘mansions’ is ironic as I’ve never stayed in a smaller room in my life. We’re woken in the morning by the sound of a pneumatic breaker or a washing machine bouncing around the corridor outside. These are all the reasons why Chungking mansions is the cheapest place to get a room in Hong Kong, a city with limited floor space and high rent.

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There are many people from all corners of the world in Chungking Mansions and i’m not the first to note, that it really is like the cantina from Star Wars, only here, the force is not with me. Every time I enter the building through the main entrance, or even when just walking past, you’re bombarded with ‘suit sir, suit friend, taylor suit, nice watch, fake hand bags, hash, need room, coke, anything?’… The touts outside see you as nothing more than a wallet on legs. And seriously though, if you wanted a suit fitted surely you would go looking for one, not just decide you need one because some kretin from the street whispered it in your ear? Try to joke with them, like I have done, by saying things like… ‘What about gimp suits, got any of them?’ This will only aggravate them more. No matter how many times you walk past they won’t recognised your face and will never give up, so be prepared for a gauntlet every time you go through the door. Either way, Chungking Mansions is an experience and for the price of the rooms, you really can’t complain. So for budget travellers the ‘Mansions’ is Hong Kong’s best (or only) choice of accommodation. It also houses many shops, money changers and restaurants dotted all over the rabbit warren building. So just to clear the record, ‘I don’t want a suit, I’m not your friend, who is Taylor? If I wanted a watch I would ask, why would I need a handbag, I don’t smoke, you’ve just watched me walk out of my room so why are you asking if I need one?! And, I defiantly don’t want any coke, especially not from you’…more on Hong Kong to follow…

Categories: China, Hong Kong | Leave a comment

Oh, Ah, Canton…Yar

Totally deflated after coming from the tropical heat of Hăinán, back into the bitter cold of Kūnmíng, we have decided to abandon the trip into Northern Yúnnán and Sicuan due to bad weather at this time of year. The Tibetan areas will have to wait for another day, as will Shangri la, that’s if it exists anyway. My dream of opening up a bookys in China is now on hold, just as well, the Chinese don’t like Tibet…

While departing Kūnmíng we did get to see one last homeless dwarf at the train station. No wonder the Kingdom was such a shambles, as it seems they’ve paid some of their employees off around the festive period…

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Knowing it was my last long distance train on China still couldn’t suppress my boredom

Guangzhōu, formally known as Canton, is China’s third largest city and during the Chinese new year, it sees the world’s largest human migration. While travelling China we have been avoiding bars. Some shops sell beer and have a few tables and chairs outside. One in particular is nicely located underneath the bypass and draws in a mixed crowd, from drunken old men night capping to young students enjoying their first illegal drink. The night was spent eating peanuts and getting drunk at the ‘mother and son grocery shop’…

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One of the dwarves followed us all the way from Kunming!

Shamian Island, literally meaning ‘sandy surface’ in Chinese, was once a shared British and French concession. The tree lined streets are a subtle reminder of European colonialism.

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French Church

The Southern provinces of China and Northern Vietnam, was once an ancient kingdom known by the name of Nanyue. In 1983 when the government were reducing the earth to build new apartments, they stumbled across the tomb of Nanyue king Zhou Mo dating back to 122 BC. As well as old man Mo’s remains, the tomb contained hundreds of plates, weapons and other numerous junk items that the King had taken to the grave. It turned out to be one giant Blue Peter time capsule, as later, a sample of Anthea Turner’s extremely fuzzy hair was also discovered…

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The King’s Jade Burial Suit

Stumbled across Dr Sun Yat-sen’s memorial hall. Yat-sen was the first president of the republic of China and is often referred to as ‘the father of the nation’. Unheard of by a lot of people outside of China and normally overshadowed by the popularity of, erm… the M word…

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Yat-sen featured on the front of the old 100 Yuan note

The final days of our time in mainland China were spent in Phoenix city, just outside of Guangzhōu. A new city less than 10 years old and booming centre for real estate, the city is an alarming reminder of just how fast China is growing. And so that drew an end to our time in China, but like the phoenix, we’ll return. As the east and west are slowly blending together, let’s hope China doesn’t outgrow the inner beauty that as time goes by, will be harder to find. Until next time China, hoí tói jìan!

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Fenghuang Monument at the Entrance to Phoenix City

Categories: China | 1 Comment

A Short Stay in Kūnmíng

Kūnmíng is also known as the ‘City of Eternal Spring’ due to its equable climate, just so happens to be in the middle of a big freeze as we’re passing through. Looks like the Christmas tan isn’t going to last long. We found some heat by having a Chinese hot pot for lunch. In a hot pot restaurant, you select how spicy you would like the pot, then you cook the ingredients yourself inside. I thought it would be safe asking for ‘medium spicy’, I was wrong. This was by far the hottest thing I have ever eaten, thankfully our current accommodation has a western toilet…

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One of my top things to see in China, never mind Yúnnán, was not the Great Wall or the Terracotta Army, but the infamous Dwarf Kingdom. The Kingdom of the Little People as it is officially named, was documented by Karl Pilkington in his spoof travel series, an Idiot Abroad. The amusement park is a showcase of little people who work in the empire to put on shows and saunter around the faux village to entertain the spectators, frankly I could not wait.

Getting there is a little tricky, after taking a public bus, alighting on the main motorway and having to finish the ride up the hill in one of the many tiny robin reliant taxis, I knew then this would be a strange day…

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After paying 80 yuan to get into the Kingdom, we were greeted by an utterly depressed dwarf wearing a Santa hat. The park looked like it had been closed for years, and there was no sign of any other little people in the Mushroom village, this was more like a ghost town than a dwarf town. After wondering around the abandoned mushroom houses for a while, we were informed by Santa, that non of the dwarfs would be making an appearance today because of the cold weather, and that the show had been cancelled…

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On our way out, we were treated to a few more dwarfs loitering around the main entrance, smoking one tab after another looking something between sick and edgy, maybe this was the show they were talking about. The woman at the desk insisted we had seen enough to justify the 8 quid entrance fee, I begged to differ, we got our money back…

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Just outside Kūnmíng we visited the Bamboo Temple. Actually not made from bamboo, this Tang dynasty temple is home to over 500 sculptures of arhats or ‘noble ones’. Artist Li Guangxiu and his gringos spent 8 years attempting to represent human existence in the form of sculpture, something that Tony Hart done in a single episode of Morph. If you count along from left to right till you reach the number of your age, then this is the arhat that best describes your inner self. No surprises that mine was the most ridiculous and stupid looking one…

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Jumping photos never work

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The Noble Ones

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The Chinese don’t celebrate Gregorian New Year, everybody should know they have their own a few months from now. Treating ourselves to a nice meal, we were the only people in the bar counting down to midnight and proceeding to sing the auld Robbie Burns classic. You go in fancy bars, expect to pay fancy prices for beer, luckily ignorance is bliss and non of the Chinese bar staff could be bothered to tell us not to drink the bottles we bought from the street, in the bar…Happy New Year people!

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Categories: China | 1 Comment

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