For my first post, I thought I’d recap my journey to Hong Kong and Thailand – 14 days filled with food, temples and lots of walking.
Hong Kong: Lantau Island and Mong Kok
We started off our trip in Hong Kong because it was financially smarter to start there. Total cost for a round trip flight from SFO > HKN was $805 on Cathay Pacific. Fun fact: there’s a full movie theater at the Hong Kong airport if you ever get stuck there for more than 4 hours.
We only had about 24 hours in Hong Kong before we depart for Thailand, so naturally we had to squeeze everything in.
We first wanted to pay a visit to the Big Buddha on Lantau Island. The Hong Kong airport IS on Lantau Island and it’s only a simple bus ride and then a cable car ride to the big guy. To take the cable car is about $30 USD a person (round trip) – we opted for the crystal car ride up there, meaning the floor was made of glass so you can see the bottom. I suggest going early, it gets crowded pretty fast and lines for the cable cars can get annoyingly long. There’s not much around the area itself, mostly just tourist attractions. We spent about 30-40 mins there.
We were pretty hungry at this point, so we wanted to get to Mongkok asap. The train system in Hong Kong is extremely easy to use – all color coded and traveler friendly. Mongkok is known to be a busy district – tons of food and shopping to be done. Our first stop, Tim Ho Wan – the famous michelin star dim sum restaurant. We got there around 2pm and there was no wait. They have english menus and we ticked 4-5 dishes off. Beware – you can only order once in Hong Kong. Once you’ve made your decision, there’s no turning back. The most memorable dish was the BBQ pork bun. After eating, we were pretty damn thirsty. I didn’t trust the tap water in Asia, so the entire time I was eating, my mouth was becoming increasingly dry. Luckily, King Of Coconut was nearby! If there’s ONE drink you need to try in Hong Kong, it’s this damn coconut drink. It’s refreshing AF.
One thing I was obsessing over while in Hong Kong were egg tarts (dan tat). Since we only had a limited time in the city of smog, we were only able to try one place. We decided to try the famous Tai Cheong Bakery – known for their perfectly flaky egg tarts. The shop itself is small, no seating inside means you have to sit on the steps of random storefronts outside. Totally worth looking like a bum in my opinion to eat these egg tarts warm.
We were hungry again, so the last stop on our list was Yat Lok, a famous hole-in-the-wall known for their roasted duck and pork over rice. The tiny place was made famous by Anthony Bourdain. The verdict: I’ve had better. The portions were also small – maybe I’m just used to being a fat ass American, but I could have had another plate.
Wrapping up our time in Hong Kong, we made our way to Tsim Sha Tsui promenade for a stroll by the waterfront with a nice view of the city. The promenade is jam packed with people and performers and it’s a nice way to really take in the atmosphere and the poisonous air.
Thailand: Chiang Mai, Pai and Koh Samui
Our first stop in the land of smiles was Chiang Mai, probably one of my favorite cities in Southeast Asia. The last time I was here, it was during the Lantern Yi-Peng Festival (posting about this soon!), so I was excited to see what the city would be like without all the craziness of the festival. We stayed right by the river at a cute boutique guesthouse aptly named Rustic River. The location of the guesthouse was convenient, walking distance to several night markets, but away from the commotion of the city center.
The dish to eat in Chiang Mai is Kao Soi – a northern thai dish that has a coconut curry base with noodles and chicken. We went to Kao Soi Sa Mer Jai, where all the locals go to get their Kao Soi fix. The food was good, but it really messed up my stomach.
Wat Doi Suthep – a 20 minute drive up the hills of Chiang Mai. We stopped along the way to appreciate some other wats (temples). We were traveling with a Thai local and we were able to pass ourselves off as Thai to avoid paying for the entrance fee they charge foreigners. Make sure you’re appropriately dressed before visiting any temple in Thailand – I was wearing shorts and had to pay 20 baht to borrow a wrap.
Elephants – The first time I went to Chiang Mai, I really didn’t want to see the elephants because it felt wrong. I wish we did more research before we chose a “sanctuary” this time around because the only legitimate sanctuary is the Elephant Nature Park where guests are not allowed to ride elephants. Any camp/sanctuary that allows for guests to ride the elephants are unethical and it pains me that I partook in the activity.
We went to Baan Chang and the trainers there emphasized ethical treatment of the elephants and though I do believe they don’t mean the elephants any harm, at the end of the day, the elephants were there to entertain the guests. Elephants were chained and were forced to take guests on a ride around the park. These beautiful creatures are intelligent and gentle, and I really encourage anyone who wants to see elephants to choose a camp that doesn’t allow for guests to ride them. However, it truly was an unreal experience to be so close to the elephants.
Doi Inthanon – the highest peak in Chiang Mai. It’s about 2 hours outside of the main city center and many tour groups offer day trips to visit for about 800 Baht. We had a friend who was nice enough to take us there and again, we pretended to be Thai for a cheaper entrance fee. It’s beautiful up there! There are two temples – one meant for the king, one meant for the queen. Thinking back on it now, I can’t believe a place like this exists. It’s something out of a dream.
Pai is located about 3 hours north of Chiang Mai and is about a 200 Baht bus ride – you can organize this through your hostel/hotel. Pai is perfect for those who want to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Rent a scooter and ride up to the country side for the day and come back to the main area for the night market. There’s not much to do in Pai but relax.
Highlights – Pai Caynon and scootering (as cheap as 100 Baht/day)
Wrapping up our trip, we finally arrived to the beach. We were only on Koh Samui for a few days and wanted to get the most out of the beaches. Let me preface this by saying that Koh Samui is definitely catered towards tourists. If you have the budget, I would suggest splurging on a nice resort with a pool along the beach, it will be worth it. We stayed near Chaweng Beach which is beautiful and also has good nightlife.
We knew we wanted to visit Ko Nang Yuan, but getting their on your own without a tour is quite difficult. Your hotel will try to sell you tours for an absurd amount, we decided to walk down to a few tour vendors and negotiate the price. We ended up paying 1400 baht/per person for a full day tour that took us to Ko Tao and ended at Ko Nang Yuan.
After spending 2 weeks in Asia, we wanted to stay there longer. Coming home, we missed the cheap price point of food and activities. What we miss the most: 200 baht massages, live music at bars/restaurants, and coconut milk.