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Hong Kong, Pearl of the Orient

semi-overcast 15 °C
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Next on my list was therefore Hong Kong, after having had an unsuccessful attempt to visit it before my trip to Korea, because of the Chinese New Year's celebrations. Indeed at that time (around February 1st), the Chinese New Year occurring at the same time meant that all cheap accommodations were already fully booked and the prices were rocketing high. But two weeks later, it seemed that everything was back to normal and I had no problems finding a hostel to stay in.

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The first thing which strikes any visitor coming to Hong Kong for the first time is the multitude of skyscrapers. It seems that every company wants to have a higher and bigger building than their neighbours, and more shining as well with lightning effects. Inhabitants face also a space issue, because there are too many people for the space the Hong Kong island has to offer, then people usually live in tiny flats in 15 or more storeys buildings. Unless you make a lot of money I think it must be very hard to find a decent sized accommodation not too far from the centre. And my hostel was no exception to the rule: in what probably used to be a normal flat on the 14th floor of a building in the Tsim Sha Tsui busy district, there was now a hostel with dorms rooms, with at least 12 beds in a 12 square metre room... you see the picture... But I was not coming to HK for its quality of life but more to catch a glimpse and understand why people nicknamed long time ago this lively city Pearl of the Orient.

Actually from the beginning of the 90s, people also started to refer for Hong Kong as the "Golden Egg" because anybody could come, start up a business and make a good fortune, a bit like the American Dream.

And I actually quite enjoyed my days there, it was not as hot as it could be with temperatures averaging the 15 degrees, and humidity was not an issue either (I have been told that during other months the humidity levels can reach 100%!). As usual, staying in a hostel meant that I could meet a lot of people who were like me willing to explore the city and its surroundings (an hour away from the centre, there are actually very nice hikes to do and beaches to relax on), and even managed to fit a day trip to Macau, one of the two "Special Administrative Regions of the People's Republic of China" with Hong Kong. Macau was actually quite interesting with its mixed Portuguese/Chinese heritage and its new massive Casinos which makes it Las Vegas' little brother.

But one week was enough (at least for this world trip) as Hong Kong is far from being cheap and after a week I realised it was time to move on to South East Asia if I wanted to make my bank account happier... Overall I had a great time there, met nice people and I would definitely recommend to spend at least a few days in Hong Kong if you are in the area!

  • Hong Kong

Hong Kong "by night" is quite impressive and photogenic!

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  • Dragon's Back hike

One of the nice hikes available only at a short distance from Hong Kong island.
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  • Lantau Island

Lantau Island is the largest island in Hong Kong, where is located the 85-foot (26 m)-high bronze Tian Tan Buddha (or "Giant Buddha") statue, once the world's largest seated outdoor bronze Buddha statue. Walkers can ascend from Tung Chung to the monastery in two hours. Visitors can also take a 25 minute ride on a Ngong Ping 360 from Tung Chung to the Ngong Ping Plateau via a 5.7 km cable car journey with a cultural themed village and easy access to the Tian Tan Buddha Statue.

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  • Macau

The streets, old fort and casinos of Macau.

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Posted by manolo84 19:30 Archived in Hong Kong Tagged cities english treks Comments (0)

Detour via South Korea

in a Gangnam Style...


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Not originally in my list of places to visit, but after hearing a lot of positive things about South Korea, I decided to make a short detour to Seoul in order to join a few friends I had met along the way and discover the Korean culture. And indeed it was quite a nice surprise, at the exception of the weather with temperatures oscillating between a chilly 5 degrees Celsius during the day and a freezing -5 degrees at night... But with some good gloves and scarf, nothing is impossible.... :)

Although I did not spend too much time there (about two weeks more or less), I absolutely loved the Korean food, was pleasantly surprised about the kindness of Korean people (although their average English level is really not that good, even worse than France if I may say so...) and was really astonished by their culture in general. It would be too long to detail all the little things which made me like this country but I would definitely recommend a visit (maybe more during spring or autumn though, when the temperatures are more mild). I had very little time to visit the countryside but I heard there is lots of hiking to be done in the high season so I will definitely come back one day to explore the back-country.

Therefore here are a few pictures taken during these two weeks, between Seoul, the capital, and Jeonju, a smaller town in the South.

The Gyeongbok Palace, the former king's residency

The Gyeongbok Palace, the former king's residency


Another house from the Gyeongbok Palace's complex

Another house from the Gyeongbok Palace's complex


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The National Folk Museum, near the Gyeongbok Palace

The National Folk Museum, near the Gyeongbok Palace


Little detour via the fish market, near Noryangjin

Little detour via the fish market, near Noryangjin


Inside the Hanok (traditional) village in Jeonju

Inside the Hanok (traditional) village in Jeonju


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The traditional dish of Jeonju: Bibimbap. Rice, meat, vegetables, all mixed in a big bowl... Really good!

The traditional dish of Jeonju: Bibimbap. Rice, meat, vegetables, all mixed in a big bowl... Really good!


Having someone who can translate Korean definitely helps! <img class='img' src='https://tp.daa.ms/img/emoticons/icon_wink.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=';)' title='' />

Having someone who can translate Korean definitely helps! ;)


Totems protecting the village (in ancient times)

Totems protecting the village (in ancient times)


In the Korean Folk Village, just outside Seoul

In the Korean Folk Village, just outside Seoul


My friend Bo-ok trying to fit into a Korean gama (litter vehicle)... <img class='img' src='https://tp.daa.ms/img/emoticons/icon_smile.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=':)' title='' />

My friend Bo-ok trying to fit into a Korean gama (litter vehicle)... :)


Horse show

Horse show


Seoul too has its tower with the Namsan Tower, overlooking the city

Seoul too has its tower with the Namsan Tower, overlooking the city


View from Namsan Tower

View from Namsan Tower


The toilets inside Namsan Tower, not bad... <img class='img' src='https://tp.daa.ms/img/emoticons/icon_wink.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=';)' title='' />

The toilets inside Namsan Tower, not bad... ;)


That's what I call some a nice restaurant BBQ!

That's what I call some a nice restaurant BBQ!


The side dish...

The side dish...


Seoul by night

Seoul by night


Obviously I couldn't come to Seoul without having a glance at that famous area from the Song! <img class='img' src='https://tp.daa.ms/img/emoticons/icon_smile.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=':)' title='' />

Obviously I couldn't come to Seoul without having a glance at that famous area from the Song! :)


Seoul by night, near the canal

Seoul by night, near the canal


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Seoul by night

Seoul by night


A few month ago, my Korean friend had made me discover an amazing Korean pianist, quite famous here and maybe in the world, Yiruma. And by pure coincidence, I could assist to one of his "concerts" live in the subway, which was part of a promotional event organised by Sony Music. Definitely unexpected!

A few month ago, my Korean friend had made me discover an amazing Korean pianist, quite famous here and maybe in the world, Yiruma. And by pure coincidence, I could assist to one of his "concerts" live in the subway, which was part of a promotional event organised by Sony Music. Definitely unexpected!

Posted by manolo84 17:26 Archived in South Korea Tagged villages food cities palaces music english Comments (0)

Auckland and the Waitakere Ranges

sunny 30 °C
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My first days in Auckland were how to say it... quite relaxed. I had been travelling non-stop for the last 6 months and a half and I needed to rest a bit (especially after that tiring flight). Besides I had no idea yet about what to see in New-Zealand, nor how will I see it.
So the first days were spent visiting a bit the Kiwi biggest city, catching up with my friend Dave I had met a few months before in Peru, trying to establish an itinerary and so on...

One of the ideas I had in mind was to find people in order to rent a camper-van or something similar. At that time it seemed the best option to travel freely without too much constraints. However as I would find out, there were a few issues to that last point. Indeed we were in the high season, when all New-Zealanders are also on holiday and that meant that renting wasn't an option anymore. Buying could have been ok but it would have meant that I needed more time to find the right vehicle and also allow time at the end of my trip to sell it back. And last issue, the costs for petrol is quite high here, and also the cost of the ferry in order to cross from the North Island to the South Island (and back again). Even with 3 or 4 people with me it wouldn't have been worth it.

Another idea was to use the bus networks like Intercity or Naked Bus but the problem with that is that you can indeed go to the cities or big villages but once there you are kind of stuck and cannot go to that nice spot a few kilometres further that you have heard of. Besides I would have had to book everything in advance to avoid the transportation being too expensive.

Finally someone (thanks Daniela!) recommended a bus company called Stray which offer different fixed itineraries throughout New Zealand in a hop-off / hop-on basis. Basically it means that if you find a nice place, you can easily decide to stay a few more days and to take the next bus passing by. Besides they allow time everyday for a few activities (which you are free to do or not if you don't want to) and are going "off the beaten track" which means that they make you discover some non-touristy places, which is always appreciable. It wasn't the best option but definitely the "least worse" and therefore I opted for that one.

During that time, we took the opportunity with Dave and his brother to go for an afternoon of waterfall jumps in the bush, in the Waitakere Ranges off the Lone Kauri Road, not too far from Auckland. And it was quite fun actually, even if we almost ended up lost in the middle of nowhere...

The Sky tower in Auckland

The Sky tower in Auckland

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Welcome to the Bush!

Welcome to the Bush!


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Caution, freezing water ahead!

Caution, freezing water ahead!


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Just before we got lost...

Just before we got lost...

Posted by manolo84 18:23 Archived in New Zealand Tagged waterfalls cities nature buses bush english Comments (0)

The End of the World

Close Encounters of the Penguins Kind...


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That's it, the journey in South America was almost over when I finally reached Ushuaia, dubbed the End of the World city, in Argentina. After travelling thousands of kilometres from Mexico, I had finally set foot on the most southern city in the world, the closest from Antarctica. I could have carried on a little bit as there is also this village called Puerto Williams, in the Chilean part, at only a 15 minutes boat ride from Ushuaia, but technically this is only a village hosting no more than 2500 inhabitants and besides that this 15 minutes boat ride costs 125$, one-way! So let's say Ushuaia is the most southern point in America. :)

The first impression when you arrive in Ushuaia is that this town seems to only benefit from tourism. There are tons of souvenirs shops, hostels, restaurants but always at a higher price than the rest of Argentina. Everything here is dedicated to "El Fin del Mundo" and after a while your wallet starts to feel it...

I have made it!

I have made it!


Mexico, 8771 km... 6 months ago...

Mexico, 8771 km... 6 months ago...


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Ushuaia by night

Ushuaia by night

Unfortunately when we were there the weather wasn't at its best and it prevented us to visit and hike in the national park Tierra del Fuego which is supposed to offer some very nice views. However I managed to realised one of my childhood's dream, to see penguins in their real habitat! There are lots of marine wildlife around Ushuaia and it is common to spot whales, dolphins, seals, orcas, penguins, it just depends of the time of the year as most of these species are only passing by to migrate between different oceans.

But one common attraction here is as I said, to visit one of the several penguin colonies around Ushuaia. Magellanic and Gentoo penguins can be seen almost all year round, with the odd King penguin making an appearance as well. But to see Emperor penguins, one would have to hop on onto one of the cruise boats to Antarctica and spend around 15 days navigating the glacial waters, for a "small" cost of minimum 3000 US$... I guess this must also be the experience of a lifetime but that is not really an option when travelling on a budget... Well whatever, it will be for a next trip!

Ships waiting to set off for Antarctica

Ships waiting to set off for Antarctica

And after a few days spent in Ushuaia, I felt that it was now time to go back up to Chile as my flight to New Zealand was only a week away. I would then hop off on a bus, through snow and strong winds in direction of Punta Arenas (Chile), only to find out that all the ferries which make the crossing in the Magellan Strait were not running because of the strong winds blowing off that day. Fortunately after a 6 hours wait, the wind decreased and we could finish our journey to Punta Arenas.

Magellanic penguins

Magellanic penguins


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More rare though, the Gentoo penguin

More rare though, the Gentoo penguin


And even more uncommon, the King penguin, it was the only one we could spot that day. It felt like that lovely penguin had taken the wrong turn and was like: "WTF am I doing here!

And even more uncommon, the King penguin, it was the only one we could spot that day. It felt like that lovely penguin had taken the wrong turn and was like: "WTF am I doing here!


The King penguin keeping an eye on the Gentoos brooding their chicks

The King penguin keeping an eye on the Gentoos brooding their chicks


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Be careful...

Be careful...


Penguin attack! <img class='img' src='https://tp.daa.ms/img/emoticons/icon_smile.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=':)' title='' />

Penguin attack! :)


Trying to communicate with the penguins... Not that easy!

Trying to communicate with the penguins... Not that easy!


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Tree shaped by the wind on the J Road

Tree shaped by the wind on the J Road


Lots of snow on the way back, not even sure how the bus managed to go through

Lots of snow on the way back, not even sure how the bus managed to go through

Posted by manolo84 15:17 Archived in Argentina Tagged animals cities english Comments (0)

From Salta to Bariloche

via Mendoza


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After San Pedro de Atacama I decided to cross straight away the border to end up in Argentina, in Salta more precisely. Salta is one of the biggest towns in the north of Argentina and located at the foothill of the Andes, also surrounded by the desert. The architecture is nice, with a colonial style, but I don't know why I wasn't feeling a good vibe there. My mind was probably already thinking of Patagonia and therefore after just a day, I took another bus (22 hours...) to reach Mendoza...

And I think Mendoza is probably a more familiar name as this town (and region) is the centre of the Argentinian wine industry, for which it is world renowned. It is also located near the Aconcagua, the highest mountain outside of the Himalayas, just a few hours away by car (or bus....). The weather is good, not too hot (at least when I was there) and it seems to be a lively city where it is good to live in. And there are a few things to do when you come to Mendoza, the first one being to visit as many bodegas as you can! :) Be careful though, sun + good wine (+ food) is a lethal combination which can send you to bed by mid-afternoon! It definitely felt like being in the South of France....

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View to the Andes from the vineyards

View to the Andes from the vineyards


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The next day, I packed my small backpack and took the bus in direction of the Aconcagua National Park. We were the 14th of November and the park officially opens the 15th of November for the summer season so I couldn't get very close or even reach the first base camp of this enormous mountain (almost 7000 meters) but it was enough to have a glance at it and to tell myself that I would come back one day and make it to the top! I also had the chance to meet a nice french couple who offered me a ride back to Mendoza (and thus avoid waiting hours for the bus) and on the way we couldn't resist but to stop in a typical Argentinian restaurant to eat the local parrilla (meat grill). I think I easily ate at least 500g of meat that day...

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Condors circling in the national park

Condors circling in the national park


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bridge formed by thermal waters and minerals near the Aconcagua national park

bridge formed by thermal waters and minerals near the Aconcagua national park


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But time was running short once again and once back in Mendoza I decided to take a bus for my next stop in Argentina, Bariloche.
The bus ride was quite long (22 hours) and the landscape changes drastically between the two cities, but for the best I should say. Bariloche is a little jewel of a town which reminds a lot of several ski resorts in France. The main reason why people stop there I think is the amazing landscape as the town is located on the shores of the lake Nahuel Lapi and inside the National Park of the same name. There are a lot of outdoors activities available like hiking, horse riding, biking, kite-surfing, etc.. and I really felt it was a good place to relax and spend a few days...

Lake Nahuel Lapi

Lake Nahuel Lapi


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Stream inside the Nahuel Lapi national park

Stream inside the Nahuel Lapi national park


View from the Refugio Frey

View from the Refugio Frey


A weird shaped tree

A weird shaped tree


More waterfalls...

More waterfalls...

Posted by manolo84 00:58 Archived in Argentina Tagged mountains lakes cities wine english treks Comments (0)

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