My Last Few Days in Bangkok

Started the day off right with a bowl of barbecue pork and noodles at my favorite place in Silom. Next, I decided to make the schlep to the Jim Thompson outlet store, since I love a bargain. And, honestly, it wasn’t even that much of a schlep, just a bit of a ride on BTS, then a short walk to the store.

I was kind of disappointed when I first walked in and saw a whole floor of bolts of fabric for upholstery. I was thinking I’d see the same items from the regular Jim Thompson shops, but apparently the outlet is really for wholesale buyers. OR WAS IT? Thankfully, the fourth and fifth floors had all the usual silk pillow covers, apparel and accessories I was used to seeing in the regular shops. I scored big time on pillow covers and also got some lovely handkerchiefs. The prices aren’t dirt cheap, but were about 25% cheaper than if I’d shopped for the same things at the mall. I think it’s mostly last season’s patterns – but keep a close eye on the quality. When I got back to SF, I discovered a small hole in one of my pillow covers which may or may not have been there when I bought it.

Met Ak for lunch at Som Tam Nua at Siam Centre. Great som tum, natch, as was the the rice noodle dish. For dessert, I tried the place in the food court specializing in matcha flavored treats – and was kind of disappointed with overly-gelatinous match pudding. Sigh… My life is just one trial after another.

Did a bit more shopping before getting ready for an early night on the town. Since my first visit to Bangkok a year-and-a-half ago, Ak had been trying to get me to go to Tep Bar and Teens of Thailand, two bars that consistently show up on just about every list of BKK’s best. It wasn’t so much that I was reluctant to go on my previous visits as it was that it was hard to find time to go – and my worry that these bars were super scenester-y, which is really not my favorite.

WELL. I could not have been more mistaken. Granted, we were out early (since I am old), but I’m willing to declare Tep Bar one of the best bars I’ve ever been too. Small and intimate, with great drinks and an attentive and skilled staff – plus four musicians playing traditional Thai music. I really loved it and can’t believe I waited so long to visit!

As for Teens of Thailand, I liked it. It was low-key, again due to the early hour, but def had a more of a hipstery vibe – so perhaps not as much my cup of tea (well, cup of gin, actually, since that is the spirit in which they specialize) but an enjoyable visit.

Finally, we popped into Ba Hao, a trendy new spot that was very cool looking with a Shanghai 1930s vibe – but sadly the service was slow and the drinks unmemorable. Very much a beatiful people type of place, which really rules me out anyhow.

Dinner at a French crepe place nearby (I know, I know – not eating Thai food in Thailand is ridiculous) which was tasty. We also popped into a bar with live music, including a couple of very talented singers. It was great fun, despite my raising the average age in the place by about 20 years…

Spent the next day at Khlong Lat Mayom, a floating market outside Bangkok. The floating part is pretty small, but there was a really excellent assortment of food and we tried a bit of everything. The only downside was that our taxi driver on the way there ripped us off, with the meter about double what it should have been. Taxis aren’t terribly expensive to begin with, so I wasn’t out a lot of money but it made me feel like a rube.

After making it back into the city, doing a little shopping (because duh) and then freshening up for the evening, we had drinks at Vogue Lounge, in the shadow of the rather glorious MahaNakhon building, the just-built skyscraper that is now Thailand’s tallest. Cocktails were delicious (and 2-for-1 at happy hour!) and it was a lovely evening to be sitting out as the sun set.

Dinner at Suppaniga, an old favorite that Ak and I have been to several times. It’s a fairly easy walk from Le Meridien. This visit, we sat upstairs in a lovely room – though the lights were adjusted in such a way that they shone right in the faces of the diners. I felt like I was being interrogated – next time, I’ll request the first floor! Or maybe just confess my crimes… Happily, the food was delicious as always. We tried a beef dish with tomatoes and a luscious reduction. It had a bit of sweet-and-sour to it that was quite reminiscent of my Jewish grandmother’s cabbage soup.

The next day we visited Central Embassy, a mall so fancy that I had never heard of half the brands in there. But in addition to selling astronomically priced schmattas and ugly handbags, this mall has a really amazing food court in the basement called Eathai (get it?). “Food court? How dreadful!” you must be saying – but in fact food courts in Asia consistently offer an astonishing assortment of delicious food.

Eathai in particular has multiple stalls and carts offering just about every variety of Thai food, from noodles to larb to moo dang. And me being me, finding the moo dang (bbq pork) was the first order of business. It was sublime – as it should be, since Ak explained to me this stall is an outpost of one of Bangkok’s most famous places for moo dang in Chinatown.

We also shared some fishball soup, sausages and moo ping. It was all really great and my absolute favorite way to eat breakfast.

The rest of the day was spent wandering, allowing me to catch up on a few of my regular shopping stops. We also checked out the Jim Thompson Shop in Silom. It’s lovely and worth a visit – though I much preferred the prices at the JT outlet!

Before our last dinner, we stopped at Lucky Fish for a drink and I had a super-refreshing matcha mojito. Then, up the street to Soul Food Mahanakorn, one of our favorite restaurants in Bangkok. The food is always great – especially the mieng kham, the little DIY packets of pork, peanuts, ginger, lime, coconut and chiles. Also had some really tasty khao soi and northern style sausage. Oh, and maybe a cocktail or two. It was a great meal as always.

And that wraps up another trip! Headed to BKK airport for my long but luxurious ride home in Singapore business class, flying BKK to SIN to HKG to SFO. I was a little wiped out after the long day – but can’t wait to return. Next trip already in the works with stops in Hong Kong and Saigon before heading back to Bangkok. Can’t wait!

 

 

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Our Last Few Days in Singapore

We adopted a two-pronged approach for our visit to Gardens by the Bay: get there early to see the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest while they were still uncrowded, then return that evening for the Supertrees light show. This turned out to be a great plan!

We got to the gardens without issue – even my discount tickets from Klook worked perfectly (unlike last year’s super-stressful visit to Big Buddha in Hong Kong, after which I rashly declared I’d not be using Klook again – but my love of discounts was the siren call that made me reinstall the app). And it was quite uncrowded at this early hour on a Monday.

First stop was the Flower Dome, which was in the midst of celebrating “Tulip Mania!” – I love tulips, so this was a real treat. (Q: What’s better than carnations on a piano? A: Tulips on an organ). The dome itself was massive – and surprisingly chilly. We wandered through the various zones and gardens representing different climates and parts of the world, including a Californian Garden, which included some delightful smelling citrus trees.

We probably spent most of our time gazing at the tulips – they were gorgeous and plentiful. Of course, by “gazing” I mean “taking photos” – me with my hefty DSLR, Ak with his Android. And let’s face it – his mad Instagram skillz mean his photos are usually better than mine. Kids these days! But I managed to get some nice shots.

Next up was the Cloud Forest. Now, I’ll be honest – I thought, “Oh, another giant greenhouse but with trees instead of flowers. Zzzzzzzzz.” Well, I could not have been more wrong. Walking into the place, you’re first greeted by a giant waterfall. The air is chilly and damp and there are clouds of swirling mist. Having actually visited a cloud forest once in Hawaii, this is a pretty good simulacrum – plus I didn’t have to wear a ridiculous rain poncho and there was an elevator to the top.

Once out of the elevator, there are various catwalks that wend their way through the clouds and forest – and also brought us to the top of the waterfall we’d seen on the way in. We made our way down, encountering ferns and mosses, flesh-eating plants and colorful blooms along the way. It was all pretty great, frankly.

Back out into the hot Singapore day, we only had one thing on our mind: food! “What should we eat?” is perhaps the most wonderful and most difficult questions to ask here, given that there is so much food and it’s all so damn good. We decided to head over to Little India to check out hawker centre at Tekka Market. I had some very tasty chicken tikka along with nice chewy naan and some merely adequate daal. We had a walk around Little India and I picked up some burfi from one of the sweet shops.

Next stop: the mall! Because malls in Asia are both ubiquitous and great. I found a cute shirt at Giordano’s – a brand that Ak advised me was very “basic” after I’d purchased it (the shirt also shrank despite the salesman’s assurances to the contrary and now doesn’t fit me properly, i.e. can fit over my belly. Basic indeed!). We also happened upon another Tokyu Hands, which was a delight.

Also at the mall was the Gudetama Cafe. I frankly wasn’t all that keen on visiting (the menu didn’t offer much hope with the rather overwrought offerings), but the decor was certainly on-point and ripe for Instagram (of course). Had a diabetes-inducing spot of tea along with a quite adorable Gudetama cookie.

Headed back to the hotel for a bit of a lie-down (and we did manage to stop in Chinatown for another helping of char siu…) before making our way back to Gardens by the Bay for the nightly light show in the Supertree Grove. It was pretty great and we’d found a nice spot looking up at the trees to enjoy the show.

Next stop: Lau Pa Sat hawker center. The main attraction here is the the street abutting the center which every evening becomes “Satay Street.” I’d read about this place and heard that stalls 7, 8 and 10 were the best. As far as I could tell, stalls 7 & 8 had merged – and we needed to save room for more treats from Lau Pa Sat itself, so we didn’t get to try stall 10 – and I can say with 100% confidence this was the best satay I’ve ever tasted. Combine that with a lovely warm night and a couple of ice cold beers and this was pretty close to a perfect meal (despite someone being a bit cranky – and no, this time it wasn’t me!) – and a really excellent last night in Singapore.

Headed to Changi International Airport the next morning for our flight to Hat Yai, Thailand – our jumping-off point for Koh Lipe. The biggest disappointment at the airport was my inability to locate the Staff Canteen – another hawker center that is for airport workers, but also open to the public. I was hoping for one last plate of char siu… We did manage to find some OK food – as well as the Dnata Lounge, to which my trusty Priority Pass provided access. Comfy, quiet and with free beer and decent food. A nice spot to chill before boarding Tiger Air for Hat Yai. So long, Singapore! It was a fantastic first visit for me and I can’t wait to come back.

Back to Hanoi

As we got ready to disembark from our Ha Long Bay cruise, Mom reported she was starting to have some stomach issues – seemed she’d eaten something dicey at some point. She got worse rather quickly. We decided to hire a driver to get us back to Hanoi rather than taking the van. It wasn’t a very fun ride for either of us, though for Mom especially. We did make it back to Hanoi and our rooms at the MK Premier Boutique Hotel without incident, though there were some close calls on the three-and-a-half hour journey. Mom retired to her hotel room and unhappily had to miss out on the next couple of days in Hanoi – though she did make a full recovery by the time we were flying onto Bangkok that Tuesday.

My friend Ak was waiting for us in Hanoi. He’d flown in from Bangkok the night before so we could all spend some time together in Vietnam. We were both unhappy that Mom would be sitting out the plans we’d made for our time in Hanoi, but she insisted that we not make any changes while she was recuperating – and I did check in with her regularly to make sure she was OK!

Ak and I had dinner on Saturday evening at Chả Cá Thăng Long whose specialty is (wait for it…) chả cá thăng long, a dish prepared at the table made of fish with fresh dill and scallions, along with the usual Vietnamese accompaniments like vermicelli, fish sauce and peanuts. It was simple and delicious and went great with a couple of cold beers. Ak and I had no problem polishing off everything.

The next morning was our Hanoi street food tour with (wait for it…) Hanoi Street Food Tours. Our guide was Tu and he really knows his food! And he was kind of a riot. Hailing from the south of Vietnam (which I gather is a bit like being a New Yorker in terms of one’s demeanor), his decidedly straightforward approach took a moment or two to adjust to, but once I did, I found him to be both knowledgeable and pretty hilarious – for example, giving us the following advice about photographing: “Just take the pictures. Don’t ask first or they’ll just say no.” Tu himself is a pretty impressive photographer and is really good at the Instragrams. Check out his stream at vietnamesegod.

Tu was also very hands-on. Our very first meal was not at a food stand, but courtesy of a woman on the street with her carrying pole, a gas burner on one side and ingredients on the other. She made us a simple and tasty omelette – with Tu providing her with some very specific instructions on preparation, even grabbing her spatula at one point to help with the cooking and to make sure the omelet was cooked through.

While Ak and I were eating, our chef disappeared – leaving us with her plate and utensils. Tu explained that this was due to the police coming down the street. Apparently, this is a game that everyone plays here: the cops make the technically illegal vendors pack up and leave (or they just take off on their own); then everyone comes back in ten minutes and continues what they were doing.

We stopped at a cool cafe and juice place for a little pick-me-up – coffee for Ak and Tu, some really tasty fresh apple juice for me. A mom and dad were in there with their adorable little girl – and she couldn’t stop staring at Ak and me, likely due to our hairy (and monstrous, obv) visages. She kept looking back and forth, back and forth, with an expression on her face that bordered on terrified. When we tried to get a little closer and say hello, she immediately burst into tears. Eh, I’m used to that – it’s how most people respond when meeting me…

Other food on our tour included grilled pork skewers, crab noodles, a really cool cafe, stewed pork, coconut-coffee slushies (sublime!) and I’m sure I’m forgetting lots – but I took photos of most everything. Surprisingly, thanks to the portions not being crazy big and lots of walking, the amount of food didn’t feel overwhelming at all. It was a really fantastic morning! Our three hours with Tu were over in the blink of an eye and we were sad to see him go. A really excellent tour and I highly recommend it.

Ak and I spent the afternoon at the Ho Chi Minh complex. The mausoleum is currently closed for renovations, but we were able to check out the exterior of the building. We also visited the HCM Museum which was… odd. Given Uncle Ho’s importance to the founding of modern Vietnam, I was surprised at how unwelcoming the museum was. It was quite difficult to navigate, there were signs everywhere instructing “DON’T TOUCH” or “DON’T ENTER” or some other scolding message. The displays were a bit dated and definitely had something of a ‘70s Soviet feel to them – though with that being said, I certainly did leave the museum knowing more about Ho Chi Minh, his life and the history of colonialism and revolution in Vietnam.

After a lie-down and checking in on Mom’s vital signs, we went out for bún chả at (wait for it…) Bún Chả Ta. Ak had eaten here his first night and I hadn’t had bún chả yet, so it was a good choice and we both enjoyed our meals.

Afterwards, we headed off in search of the massage place Tu had pointed out earlier, advising they did a great foot massage. Well, thanks to the wonders of modern technology, the picture I’d taken of the place contained its location in the metadata and pulled up the spot in Google Maps and we found it with no problem – even including a quick stop on the way at Bánh MR HEO, a little bakery specializing in pig-shaped waffle-y treats (IKR?).

Massages were fine. The place wasn’t exactly the most luxurious nor as clean as an operating room – but then the massages were US$5.00 – so the price-to-value ratio was just about unbeatable.

During my massage, three Western dudes came in and were carrying on a lively conversation in a language I couldn’t identify. At first, I thought it was Russian, but the sounds weren’t quite right. Was it Norwegian? Probably not. Turkish? I don’t think so. Anyway, I finally asked and it turns out they were Hungarian – they actually chatted me up a bit about the origins of the Hungarian language, which is to some extent shrouded in mystery. In an odd coincidence, the gal who was on the cruise in Ha Long Bay with us was also fluent in Hungarian! Maybe the fates are telling me to visit Hungary…

Back to the hotel then. Mom still alive and improving – but she did decide to skip tomorrow’s scheduled tour to Trang An. More to come on that!

Hong Kong to Hanoi

Our last day in Hong Kong! And it’s one of those kind of weird last days: our flight isn’t until after 5PM, so we have some time to do stuff in town – but not really that much time since we need to get to the airport, deal with luggage, etc.

The original plan was to visit the Asia Society for a photography exhibit, then have a reputed-to-be-excellent dim sum lunch at one of the fancy hotels. Well, given our track record with fancy expensive meals, Mom and I decided to head back to Joy Hing for a breakfast of char siu – it was amazing, of course and only about US$8 for two. As much as that dim sum place seemed interesting – and probably tasty! – I’m glad I went with a third trip to Joy Hing for their incredible bbq pork as my last meal in Hong Kong.

The Asia Society is a pretty cool venue in and of itself. It’s a modern exterior built into the side of a hill. After passing through the entrance then up to quite lovely roof garden, one heads back to three old British colonial buildings used to store arms back in the day. They’ve been updated with the middle converted to an exhibition space.

The show itself, Picturing Asia, was a “conversation” between photographs taken during monsoon season by Brian Brake and Steve McCurry. There is a clear streak of exocitizing of Asian people and culture in the works of both photographers – I wouldn’t go so far as to say fetishization, so I guess that’s good?- and I just recently read a critic refer to McCurry’s work as boring. But I found much of the imagery to be quite striking – and McCurry in particular is adept engaging the viewer in the humanity of his subjects.

It wasn’t a large show, so it proved to be just the right way to wrap up our stay in Hong Kong.

Had an uneventful transit through HKG and arrived in Hanoi on schedule (flying in coach! #howdreadful). Made it to the MK Premier Boutique Hotel wiith nary a problem and were ready for bed soon after arrival. We’d been upgraded to large suites – IKR? – which was pretty deluxe. So, we had huge rooms each – but they weren’t the most thoughtfully laid out: no dresser or other drawers; the bathroom was large but with a huge, high-sided tub/shower which was a bit of an ordeal to climb into; not much space to lay out one’s toiletries; and the AC seemed to struggle to keep the room cool. But still – the staff was friendly and accommodating and the lobby bar on the front patio proved a nice location to knock back a few beers.

This part of the Old Quarter is also home to some rather prominent boots-and-pants-and-boots-and-pants song stylings from the backpacker bars along the street  and it was rather audible from our rooms at the front of the hotel. Happily, though, it turned out not to interfere too much with sleep and Mom and I both slept well.

Spent our first full day in Hanoi touring with Guang and Kien, two young men from Hanoi Free Walking Tours. It’s a total win-win: they get to practice their English and we get a local perspective on the city. We visited several temples, ambled through the French Quarter, had some coffee in a “secret” cafe on a rooftop overlooking the lake and a great lunch at a big, busy Vietnamese place where our guides ordered for us. Needless to say the lunch was delicious. Also stopped at Hỏa Lò Prison, which was grimly fascinating – and a stark reminder of the cruelty of colonialism.

After our walk our guides delivered us to Spa SF, where I’d made appointments for Mom and me – she for a foot treatment, me for the whole works: massage, reflexology, facial. WELL. It was delightful and I was very happy with my treatments – though I’m not sure how happy the therapist was with my snoring during the facial component.

It had been a long day, so Mom and I just had some snacks and cocktails on the roof of our hotel and called it a day. Tomorrow we out to Ha Long Bay for a two-night boat excursion.

Monday in Hong Kong

Woke up about 4:00 Monday morning and decided to get a jump on our visit to see the Big Buddha on Lantau Island by pre-ordering our tickets for the cable car ride up. The site to book directly required printing the tix (IKR?), so I used Klook – the travel aggregator/reseller I’d used to book my ill-fated airport pick-up at HKG. But it seemed legit – order via their app and you get instant confirmation and a voucher sent directly to your phone. What could go wrong?

Well, after placing my non-refundable order, instead of a confirmation, I got a “we’re still processing your order” – and this being a local holiday, Klook’s help desk doesn’t open until 9:30AM which was exactly the time I planned to already be at the cable car desk redeeming my voucher. So, this was infuriating. I was able to contact them at about 9:31AM from our destination and get things sorted and the voucher was delivered. But I shan’t be using Klook’s services again…

Anyway, the cable car ride up to see the Buddha was pretty cool. There’s a pretty good stretch of the trip that provides a fantastic view of Hong Kong’s airport and I loved watching all the planes taking off and landing. We also got to watch from above as the many more physically fit types hiked up the mountain via the well-maintained but no doubt grueling trail to the top.

The Buddha is quite magnificent, with his serene expression and raised hand. To get up close, a hike up  what I seem to recall is 268 steps from the bottom – not too bad, but definitely a trek! Great views from the top, both of the surroundings and of the Buddha.

After making it back down, we treated ourselves to the vegetarian lunch served at the Po Lin Monastery. It was decent, though nothing to write home about – and certainly superior to the Subway sandwich shop we’d passed on the way in.

The ride back down on the cable car was as nice as the ride up – and I felt like quite the smart tourist for getting an early start. The lines to ride up were massive and here we were already on our way back into town!

Mom and I decided to go our separate ways: she headed back to the history museum and I decided to check out the Tea Museum. It was OK, but I did have a nice walk through the park. On my way back to the hotel, I treated myself to a match latte followed by a foot massage at a little place near the hotel called Sala Raj. Not luxurious by any means, but very well-priced and really excellent service. After five days of non-stop walking, my dogs were barking – and I left here feeling like a million bucks.

Dinner was at Mott 32, a trendy space done up in a sort of 1930s Shanghai-via-Hollywood with a dash of tiki. Drinks were tasty and the food was quite good – though also quite pricey. And as much as we enjoyed our meal, it didn’t seem to have as good a price-to-value ratio as some of the simpler joints we’d tried. I guess that’s pretty much true everywhere in the world…  I will say that I loved the dessert. Maybe a post-modern Moonpie? Chilled disks of chocolate mousse enrobed in a matcha couverture and encrusted with sesame seeds. Simple tastes with a nice variety of textures. Really delicious!

Back to the hotel to start wrapping up our visit to Hong Kong. We fly tomorrow to Hanoi – though not until late afternoon, so we’ll probably squeeze in one or two more activities…

A Busy Day in Hong Kong

We spent Saturday morning with Yvonne, our guide from Context – a walking tour company I’ve used in several cities around the world and always with very interesting walks. This morning was no exception, I’m happy to report. Yvonne met up with us in Statue Square and spent the next three hours walking with us through Hong Kong’s center, first among the towering (both literally and figuratively) financial institutions like HSBC and Bank of China, then up the hill, through SoHo’s trendy restaurants and quieter neighborhoods.

Yvonne’s knowledge of Hong Kong was impressive and Mom and I both enjoyed the morning. I especially liked some of the trivial-but-no-less-fascinating bits of local knowledge  – like learning the nickname of Jardine House, one of HGK’s more distinctive skyscrapers thanks to its round windows, is sometimes known as the House of a Thousand Assholes – referring not just to the fenestration but to Jardine’s still somewhat unsavory reputation given that their business started out smuggling opium.

Along the way, we stopped at the Honolulu Cafe, a greasy spoon style place known for its egg custard tarts. They were very tasty – though my allegiance to Macau’s Portuguese custard tarts remains unchanged.

Some other highlights included St. John’s Cathedral – Hong Kong’s oldest Anglican church; a small local shrine that makes an appearance in a Wong Kar-wai film; and Yvonne’s broad knowledge of local food trends – she gave me several good leads on more places to eat during our few days left in Hong Kong!

After winding up our walk and saying our farewells, Mom and I took the subway over to Kowloon for afternoon tea at the Intercontinental. There are quite a large number places offering afternoon tea set, so it was difficult to choose where. I’d been leaning toward the Peninsula initially, given its reputation as the OG tea in town – but from what I’d read, it can be a bit of a zoo thanks to its popularity and their no-reservations policy means there’s likely to be a wait. A couple of other promising contenders lost out thanks to gimmicky sounding (though rather tasty looking, I’ll confess) themes or mixed reviews – the Intercontinental seemed to tick all the boxes, plus the venue offers a spectacular view of the harbor.

As it turned out, the view was indeed the highlight of the visit. The experience for the most part was a victory for style over substance. The food – both sweets and savories – was lovely to look at, but really not all that interesting to eat. I thought they were a bit stingy with the savories, though that may be as much my personal preference as an actual drawback. But most of the food was difficult to eat – too large to eat in one bite, but too unwieldy to make it two bites without it falling into one’s lap. This was especially true of the sweets. For example, the darling little berry cream shaped like a ladies’ spring hat was served on a little pastry cardboard – when I removed it from there, half of it wound up down the front of my shirt (which was white, of course and the pastry bright red, of course).

The tea was served tepid. The table was too small to easily accommodate the tea service. The chairs low and cushy – comfortable for sitting, not practical for eating from, especially given the dangerous instability of the sweets to which I’d already fallen victim. And the price was really quite breathtaking.

I suppose I should have known better from the get-go, given that reservations are not accepted for afternoon tea at the Intercontinental. This isn’t some trendy little hole-in-the-wall – it’s the lobby lounge that’s part of a luxury hotel chain with locations around the world. The fact that they’re unwilling to accept reservations smacks of “you should be happy that we’re allowing you to eat here” – which is further exacerbated by forbidding non-hotel-guests from sitting at the most desirable tables or from using the hotel’s wifi. The hotel is certainly within its rights to manage their establishment however they like, but it certainly left me disappointed with the experience, particularly given how ridiculously expensive it was.

When we left the hotel, it was still rather early in the afternoon, so we had some free time. On a bit of whim, we walked up to the Hong Kong Museum of History. This turned out to be a very wise choice! The museum didn’t look like much from the exterior, but inside had a huge and extensive history of Hong Kong from prehistoric times to the present day. Even going through at a rapid clip, the 90 minutes we spent there really only got us as far as the Opium Wars – we may try to squeeze in another visit if we have time.

Back to the hotel to rest up for this evening’s festivities – which really just consisted of a reservation at J.Boroski. I’d been to the original Bangkok outpost of this bar and really enjoyed it, so was quite excited to visit their new outopost in Hong Kong. Located down an alley and behind an unmarked door, the interior is super cool – a long room with a low curved ceiling covered with mounted scarabs, the bar on the left some tables down the center and along the wall with some fringed dividers. A really cool space. Had a very nice bartender who did the usual spiel, asking about what spirit we wanted in our drinks and what other flavors we liked. He made mom a very tasty take on a margarita but with elderflower and fig. I indicated I liked citrus fruit and watermelon, perhaps some fresh herbs or heat but nothing medicinal – and he prepared me a drink that had no discernible fruit and was medicinal. Sigh…

Dinner was down the street at Mak’s Noodles for wonton noodle soup. We’d tried to go the other day, but too early and they’d not yet opened. I wasn’t planning on a return trip, but our guide Yvonne had indicated that they really do make some of the best wontons in HKG – and she was not wrong! Portions are a bit on the small side, which was nice since neither Mom nor I were famished at this point. It was a really great meal and I’d say don’t miss it if you’re in Hong Kong.

Headed back to the hotel and called it a night. Well, just about – I convinced myself I was still feeling a bit peckish, but I think I really just wanted an excuse for another plate of char siu at Joy Hing. Saw Mom up to her room, then nipped up the street for my bbq pork fix – it was just as delicious as the previous evening. I hope I can squeeze in one more visit before we leave for Hanoi on Tuesday – but we’ve still got some other places to eat while we’re here!

A Day in Macau

Mom and I got an early-ish start on Friday and made our way to the Hong Kong-Macau Ferry Terminal for our ultra-deluxe, mega-luxurious hour-long ferry ride to Macau in Premier Grand class on TurboJet. Was it worth the money? Hard to say. We got priority boarding and reserved seats in a comfy-though-not-exactly-Cathay-Pacific-first-class-style, if you know what I mean. We also got a meal – which was also not exactly first class, consisting as it did of scrambled eggs, “sausages” which were much more akin to chicken hot dogs and canned corn.

But then again, we did also get to pass through immigration before all the other passengers – and once cleared, TurboJet provided us with a driver to take us to where we wanted to be dropped off in Macau.

He left us at Rotunda da Carlos Maia and we followed along one of the several walking tours laid out in the Macau Tourist Bureau’s really quite good app. Saw a few different temples, ambled through the Fireman’s Museum and enjoyed walking the narrow streets which are certainly reminiscent of Europe given Macau’s long history as a Portuguese colony. Stopped in the park along the way and a group of school kids spotted the two Westerners and came running right at us – they were practicing their English by asking questions such as “Do you like chocolate?” and “Do you speak more than one language?” and tracking their results. Nice kids and a fun little break. 

Took in the ruins of St. Paul’s, doubtless Macau’s most famous landmark. Sitting at the top of a hill it’s impressive to behold – as are the hordes of tourists. Starting our walk had taken us through more local scenery – but here we were at the nexus of the throngs of visitors. It was a little hectic to say the least.

One saving grace: there was an outpost of Tai Lei Loi Kei at the bottom of the hill, Macau’s most famous purveyor of fried pork chop sandwich. Mom and I got one regular and one served on a sweet bun. They were just OK, sadly. Not bad, mind you – but I certainly didn’t understand the hype.

I’d wanted to visit the Macau Museum, but it turned out it was a fairly long schlep back up the hill we’d just walked down and mom was not eager to fight our way back up through the crowds in the noon heat. We made our way toward Senado Square and took in some of the of other churches and government buildings, eventually winding up at the Opium House near the Inner Harbor. There wasn’t actually a lot to see over here and it was still early – so I suggested we just get a cab to take us back to the museum. No schlepping involved, plus some much needed AC to revive us.

WELL. This turned out to be a great decision. Mom and I both loved the museum. A solid and entertaining overview of Macanese traditions and history along with a special exhibition about Chinese opera. We were both so happy we decided to make the trek.

Next stop was in Coloane Village (after a rather difficult time finding a taxi) where I wanted to try Lord Stow’s Portugese egg custard tarts. I think they have branches in some of the hotel/casinos here, but I wanted to check out the OG location. It’s still tiny shop on the edge of the water, though they’ve added a comfy little cafe around back where Mom and I sat down for some tea and tarts. The tarts were absolutely delicious! Unlike the egg custard tarts back in Hong Kong, these were creamier with golden brown crust on top – almost reminiscent of crème brûlée – and a crispy flaky crust. Given that I’m unlikely to be in Macau again soon, it certainly seemed correct to order a second tart…

Had a little walk around afterward, checking out a few little side streets and some shops along the harbor. Very quiet and local – a nice way to wrap up our day in Macau.

Our exclusive and ultra-fancy Premier Grand VVIP shuttle showed up right on time and whisked us back to the ferry terminal. The ride there was pretty interesting as we got a closer look at some of the truly astonishing casino hotels here. Several of them are quite gargantuan and outlandish – Vegas, eat your heart out!

Upon arriving at the terminal, a helper from the ferry greeted us and asked if wanted to get on the 4:30 ferry rather than the 5:00 we were ticketed on. Answer in the affirmative, so we hot-footed it through the terminal and were escorted to our seats. About two minutes later we were headed back to Hong Kong.

After getting back to our hotel and freshening up, we decided we could use a little something to eat. There’s a very well-reputed roast meat shop called Joy Hing just up the road from our hotel. I wasn’t sure if Mom would be in the mood for the experience, so I texted her with the particulars: it’s divey, not pristine, small and very crowded which means sharing tables, could be a wait, servers are brusque and the ambiance is “eat, pay and get out.” Her reply to me was, “Do they have beer?” So off we went!

Happily, there was no line and we got right in – though we were disappointed to discover they do not in fact have beer. We ordered some roast chicken, which we both found pretty “meh” – not a lot of meat on the bones and skin was rubbery rather than crispy. The char siu pork however was sublime – I’m quite comfortable declaring it the best roast pork I’ve ever had. Tender, meaty, a bit smoky with a caramelized exterior and served on rice. There was some sweet-and-spicy sauce on the table that one of the quite-reasonably-friendly ladies working there recommended. This was the best meal I’ve had this trip so far and I’ll be sure to be back – possibly daily since they open at 9AM and I love nothing better than roast pork for breakfast (save your jokes, Skip and Emily – I’ve already made them all in my head).

Since we didn’t get our beers, we retired to a local restaurant and had a couple of cocktails while sitting on their terrace enjoying the warm tropical evening. A great way to wrap up our latest adventure here.