As the title suggests, I took the tourist path today and went visit the Vinamnek Mansion (B100) which is a palace made for King Rama V and constructed entirely of gold teak without a single nail (wood pegs only). It is an incredibly beautiful place with awesome artefacts and you will have no pictures because we are not allowed to take any . At 10:30AM I was just in time for the Thai Dancing show (B20 if you want to take pictures otherwise free...) and walked down to the Wat Benjamabophit (B20) which is the last major temple to have been built in Bangkok (early 1900s). I then went all the way down to the Democracy Monument and went quickly to the Wat Saket aka Golden Mountain (B10) that houses the holy hash remains of Lord Buddha.
I have been wandering today in the (un)famous part of Bangkok: Khao San Road. Basically Khao San is filled with guesthouses, restaurants, internet cafes, tailors, etc.. and is also packed with backpackers. In this area you probably see more western backpackers than thais. So if you are looking for a little bit more authenticity and calm, get out there.
I just arrived in Bangkok about 2 hours ago after a short flight from Hong-Kong(2 hours, it is roughly the same distance than to Cebu). I took a metered taxi from the airport (300 bahts) after avoiding the hawkers close to the exit gate that wanted to get me in their taxis for 500. That was a hell of an experience to have a conversation with a Thai taxi driver who speaks slightly more english than I speak thai. I managed to learn a few thai words during the ride and he dropped me at the expected location .
I have a bit of time so I will write my first feelings as a dumb tourist in the Philippines. Being there for only a week. All in all this was my first contact with Asia if I except a couple of long or short term involvement with people in the French and American asian community. Anyway. What first strikes as a man in the Philippines is obviouslly the deep interest you attract toward Filipinos young women. And I can tell you that there are some extremely attractive one !
I just received an email from TopClassHost support . The site is being moved to a better featured and more reliable control panel. This will correct the email and permission problems. The move will be completed today, and the new access details forwarded to you.. I'm crossing my fingers .
As some of you may have noticed my host provider TopClassHost was unable to offer redundancy yesterday and thus the whole site was unavailable for some unknown time. They even did not configure the website properly to avoid a 404 error on url with paths only the root was displaying the maintenance message
I'm back to Cebu City after a week spent diving in Moalboal. I left around 10AM from Moalboal and took a V-Hire for 60 pesos. A V-Hire is a Filipino-style 'matatu' meaning that it is not an official mean of transport and not registered by the minister but they are much more confortable than the local buses. Moreover they are air-conditionned, take up about 12 peoples only (unlike in Africa they don't stuff as much people as possible inside) and a little bit faster (though driving here is a constant challenge between pedestrians, tricycle, motorbike, buses, dogs, etc... ).
Back again to Pescador in the morning, I'm persisting over the frogfish and the visibility conditions are great here anyway. I'm also experimenting with some 'landscape' shots that would normally be much better with a wide angle lens and a powerful strobe. The problem here is to have enough light to have the color in the foreground and a nice blue in the background. Since I have no wide angle lens, I have quite a narrow one (well that sounds logical) and the shots are not that pleasant to the eye, but that's good experiment nonetheless.
Everyday is making history I did my longest dives ever. I topped 90 minutes (max. 27m) while diving Pescador Island and 124 minutes (max. 15m) while diving White Beach. This is quite easy as the temperature is a cool 27C and it is a very relaxing diving here in Moalboal. Moreover I'm the only diver so there is no one to cancel the dive after sucking his tank in 30 minutes and I'm having excellent DMs that use as little air as I do. I really love it.
I'm having excellent dive these last days in Moalboal with Blue Abyss. The staff is absolutely first class and I'm literally spoilt. All my dives have been on an average of 80 minutes. I'm really getting the most value from my money out there, especially since I'm seeing critters rarely or never seen until now.
Some people often wonder what are these splendid creatures looking like slugs, well, they are called more generally nudibranchs. They are probably the most beautiful creatures in the ocean. Most of them are small, in the range of 5cm though there is a big one known as 'Spanish Dancer' that can reach about 50cm !
The 'Haruyot' typhoon has been striking the north of the Philippines yesterday and is now heading straight to Hong-Kong. That's what I'm calling timing ! Now that it is over here, the sun is back with the water calm as a lake. Thus I went diving to Pescador Island this morning, a small island 15 min banca (motorized outrigger boat) from the shore.
As mentioned yesterday, I have been diving today with Blue Abyss. This was just some kind of test dive in the house reef as the sea was somewhat rough and visibility was expected to not be very good, but it appears to do a quite pleasant dive. I did not do much as I spent time looking around getting familiar about what can be seen here. It is clear that this is a macro place. Everything is tiny tiny tiny and I would need a macro lens to take full advantage of it. About the dive site it is drop down wall about 50m from the shore so it is quite easy to go there and the reef is in excellent condition. The visibility was better than expected and I would say 15m easy even though there was a bit of sand due to the rough sea. While at the dive center I met Simon P. Oliver who is a professional photographer and I must say that his equipment is quite impressive. All of it cost an astonishing amount of $50,000 and is insured for $15,000 per year. Gloooops !
I left Cebu in the morning after a breakfast with a whopping price of 7 pesos ($US0.13) to take a bus from the South Terminal to the city of Moalboal, 89 km south. It cost me 50 pesos (US$1) from the YMCA to the bus terminal, 50 pesos for the bus ride (an experience itself) and 40 pesos for a trycicle ride between Moalboal and Pamasagna beach where are located the beach resorts/dive centers. (the last ride is a bit overpriced as it cost normally 5-6 pesos)
I managed to arrive in Cebu beside Cathay Pacific delaying the flight for more than one hour, changing the gate and put it 2km away from the other one and finally changing the boarding call in the way. I had a survey to fill during the flight and could express my feelings . I'm leaving Hong Kong just when a warning as been issued due to a tropical cyclon approaching. The sky during the flight was amazing as there were different thick cloud layers from 3000ft to probably 40000ft (we were flying at 37000ft).
I'm writing this from the Sky Garden bar,in the West Hall of Hong Kong airport. I'm ready to board my flight to Cebu, Philippines in the next 30 minutes. I took the Airport Express train from Kowloon Station (HK$90). While going there using their free shuttle I managed to stay in sync with my ability to lose something in every country I stay, but this is probably my most expensive mistake. I lost my sunglasses (corrective lenses) I don't know how, probably while boarding the bus. I had them around my neck but when putting all my bagages on board they probably fell somewhere and I found myself inside the bus with no sunglasses. I'm VERY pissed off. And of course my insurance does not cover this. Sometimes I'm wondering when an insurance is useful.
The Giant Buddha is located at Lantau Island, next to the Po Lin monastery. It is the world's largest seated, outdoor, bronze Buddha. I took first a ferry from Kowloon to Hong Kong (HK$2.2) then another one to Lantau island (HK$16. , then the bus to the monastery (HK$16 one way) and went back using the fast ferry (HK$21).
Apparently from my chinese lessons from today Hong-Kong means "The Fragrant Harbour" (it used to export fragrance years ago). Kowloon itself means "Nine Dragons" and refers to the hills that form the backdrop to this area. A chinese speaker or someone married to a chinese - hint, hint - may (in/con)firm this culture minute.
I landed in Hong-Kong about 4 hours ago. I woke up in Capetown around 5:15AM to take a flight to Johannesburg at 7:30AM and jump into the one to Hong-Kong at 12:50PM. After more than 13 hours of flight, here am I, hanging in the Chungking Mansions shops.
I took again advantage of the unusual fantastic weather to hang out and take a few pictures from Capetown. I have been to the Greenmarket square which is an open air market where you can buy african crafts at relatively decent prices unlike the thousand of luxury shops in town selling the same items for 10 times the price (and of course bargaining is de rigueur at the open market), to the Waterfront, the aquarium (R50), and the Gold Of Africa museum (R20).
After trying to reach Cathay Pacific for 3 days using every possible phone number, the travel agent managed to have someone this morning and confirm the booking. I shall be in Hong-Kong by july 18 and will try to stay at the YMCA until saturday.
I managed to do a pretty decent pictures update for july, I hope you will enjoy them. They might be the first landscape pictures from south africa I took On the airline side, this is still a total mess thanks to Cathay Pacific. I called all possible numbers on South Africa to have no one answering. I came back to the travel agent I saw saturday and same results, she managed to be in the queue line but could not got past it one hour later. I sent a complain to Cathay Pacific to tell them how I like the way I need to confirm flights with them in SA.
I have a hard time booking flights to and from Hong Kong as they are all fully booked in M class. I had one available on monday but the Capetown-Johannesburg flight was fully booked. I'm due to leave on thursday but have to wait until saturday to get my connection to Cebu, Philippines. I will have to reconfirm this on monday with Cathay Pacific as they were not open on saturday and the BA agents were the most clueless people on Earth. Stay tuned for more news. I will probably use these 2 nights in Hong Kong to sort out if this is a right time to flight to Philippines and Thailand or if I should start with Indonesia. I have met several people here that were in Thailand during July and August and this seems quite good on the east coast.
I managed to be at the Capetown stadium for the rugby match between South Africa (Springbok) and Australia (Wallabies). It was the opening match of the Tri-Nations championship (South Africa - Australia - New Zealand) and there was a fantastic atmosphere. It is hard to say whether the stadium was full of South Africans but it looks like nearly all tourist backpackers in town were there because of the good deals we had on tickets (R80, standing seats). The locals and the press were kind of pessimistic about the results, but the Springboks managed beating Australia 26-22 with what is said to be the best try in the Springbok history.
I went today to Stellenbosch and Franschoek. Basically this is THE place for wines and champagne in South Africa. Stellenbosch was the first locality in the country to wake up to the marketing potential of a wine route back in 1971 and it has been hugely successful. It is extremely easy to travel as there are wine-route signposts along the main road and obviously wineries know how to accommodate visitors. Franschoek (French's Corner) itself while hosting some wineries has emerged as the culinary capital of the Western Cape with restaurants such as Le Ballon Rouge.
I had again a rough night yesterday as we celebrated Nick's birthday in Capetown. Nick is a former colleague of Celine and they met strangely in Ashanti Lodge in Capetown. Before that it happened that he was staying in Hermanus during the time I was there and went shark diving the day before. This is a small world.
I have been to Robben Island today. Robben Island was the center of detention of political troublemakers during apartheid time Nelson Mandela was detained there for 18 years. I was extremely disappointed by the content of the tour, not to say the conditions, especially considering the high price (R150, we could not make it for the special promotion of R60).
I went today to Cape Point (ie, Cape of Good Hope) taking advantage of the beautiful weather. While returning to Capetown I stopped in Simonstown to visit the colony of jackass pinguins living on the beach. Pretty cute animals and smaller than I was expecting.
I'm undecided about the next trips to Asia. I was supposed to go to the Philippines and Thailand next, but the weather forecast looks like a succession of thunderstorms for days and days which is absolutely not unusual for the june-october period...
After recovering from the night I went to Table Mountain and did some hike on top even though I felt powerless. It was already the middle of the afternoon when I went up so it did not take that long to end up in Camps Bay to have a drink at 5PM as we all scheduldd. Capetown is simply amazing, this is winter and the conditions are great to hang out in a bar facing the beach and looking at the sunset in the middle of the ocean.
I went today to Gansbaai and do Great White Shark diving. The water was a chilly 12C and visibility was poor, a brave 3m at most. All this in a rough sea. That said, we managed to see about 6 or 7 Great White sharks ranging from 4.5m to 1.5m for a small baby. I did not manage to take good pictures on the surface of the shark because it was really fast action and the swell did not make things easy.
It happened that the shark diving I wanted to do in Mossel Bay was somewhat canceled due to extremely poor visibility (about 1 meter, meaning you will probably see the shark at the last second and get frightened for life
). So I moved to Hermanus which is well known to be the best land based whale watching spot.
This is just a quick note to say that Maher (remember, I met in in Dahab, he was just finishing his RTW when I was starting mine) is now officially a resident of Dubai due to work constraints. On a side note, many thanks to him for the looong email he wrote me today about the do/don't in Thailand and Indonesia. And congratulations for the (expected ) job (private joke)
I arrived in Mossel Bay in the afternoon after driving along the Garden Route from Plettenberg Bay and through Knysna and the landscape was fabulous. I stopped on the way in the Goudveld forest near Knysna and did the Woodcutter trail. This is a 9km walk in the forest starting and ending at the Krisjan-se-nek picnic site which is a grassy site situated alongside a spectacular 880 year-old Outeniqua yellowood (don't hold your breath, I did not know the name of this big tree before reading the sign).
As I have been driving quite a lot these last 2 days I decided to relax and go hiking a few kilometers to enjoy the nature around here. In the morning I did the 'Robberg'. Robberg is a peninsula a few kilometers from Plettenberg Bay and is a marine reserve. There is a well known scenic hike (9.2km) that do the tour of the peninsula.
I left Cintsa in the early morning again by 6:45AM just during sunrise. I have been driving all the way through East London and Port Elizabeth to end at Plettenberg Bay and I'm staying at Albergo For Backpackers which seems pretty cool. Plettenberg Bay is a lovely upmarket little town where wealthy people from JNB usually end up during summer. The ocean view is simply stunning and you even have whales watching spot down there as they usually come close to shore. Plettenberg Bay is known as "the jewel of the Garden Route."