Monday, March 18, 2019

Scenic views from four Phuket viewpoints (Photo-essay)

In addition to the cave temple at Suwan Kuha and a couple of local museums, my alternative (to beaches and spas) list of places I liked to visit in Phuket (and nearby environs) was one of the scenic viewpoints to be found on the Thai island.  As it turned out, I ended up getting up to four of them in the same afternoon -- ranging from a lookout over Phuket town to another at the southern tip of the island and two that offered up vistas of beaches on the western side of Thailand's largest island... ;b

Viewing platform and mainly urban vista at Khao Rang

Puppet Ponyo found conditions on the windy side at Promthep Cape
View of the most southern part of Phuket and 
a couple of smaller neighboring islands
Another view from Promthep Cape
Puppet Ponyo also posed for the camera at Windmill Viewpoint :)
View from Windmill Viewpoint of Promthep Cape and
a nearby island and beach minus Puppet Ponyo ;b
Call me jaded but I couldn't help but compare this view from 
and thinking that the latter's far more impressive ;S

Add in some sunshine on the water though and 
the view from pretty much anywhere will be magical :)

Sunday, March 17, 2019

One bona fide museum and two historical homes in Phuket Old Town

A historical museum housed in a former school building

Two-paneled painting in the museum depicting ethnic Chinese residents 
on the left and Peranakan Chinese denizens on the right

The Chinpracha House in Phuket Old Town
A couple of weeks before our Phuket trip, my mother asked me to send her a list of places I wanted to visit on the Thai island that she'd send along to her Thai cousin who would be in Phuket when we were there.  In addition to the cave temple of Suwan Kuha, other cultural attractions I relayed my interest in checking out were the Phuket Mining Museum and the Peranakan Phuket Museum.  
But because they're appear to be located fairly out of the way (or, at the very least, not in Phuket Old Town, where my aunt has her house), we ended going to neither of them.  Instead, she took me to visit a museum housed in her old school (while my mother waited in the car because she can be quite the museumphobe and refused to pay the 200 Baht (~HK$49.50 or US$6.31) fee for foreigners)!
For myself, one glance at the building which houses the Phuket Thai Hua Museum and I was pretty much sold.  Among other things: it is aesthetically pleasing, looks to have been well maintained/restored and was fairly substantial in size.  And as it turned out, this museum which provides information on the Chinese community of Phuket (which included immigrants from what's now Fujian, Guangdong and Hainan provinces over in Mainland China, and also ethnic Chinese immigrants who moved from Penang) along with the school previously housed in this location -- which was the first Chinese medium school on the island -- also contained a good number of interesting exhibits that kept me happily occupied for around an hour. 
After getting confirmation that I was indeed interested in historical and cultural stuff, my aunt then took our party to an old row house nearby that belonged to her late husband's family.  There we met with a few members of the family who still reside in the house but have opened up the lower floor of the house to visitors for a fee but nicely let us in free of charge.  
Given how much the outside of the building looked like the row houses to be found in Penang, I didn't find it all that surprising to discover that their internal spaces resembled those of such as the old George Town, Penang, row house that's now home to a Dr Sun Yat Sen Museum.  Those who aren't as familiar with buildings like these will probably find them more picturesque than me, I'm sure.  For my part though, it was more fun to look at old family photos there than the old furniture and such arrayed around the place.
The third and final cultural site I ended up exploring in Phuket Old Town was another ethnic Chinese abode, albeit one that was quite a bit more spacious.  Erected in 1919, the Chinpracha House was Phuket's first mansion built in the Sino-Portuguese style.  Like with my relative's relatives' row house, its upstairs area is still home to members of the family that owns the place while its lower floor has been turned into a cultural museum of sorts that's well described on a Phuket-based website as "something halfway between a museum and a collection of personal items gathered along time".
If truth be told, I enjoyed my visit to it less because I got much information there but because I found the mansion to have a certain aesthetic charm.  More precisely, its main area has been beautifully restored and I thought the lotus pond within is a really nice touch, not least since there are nice reflections to be captured on its surface.  And while some of the other sections of the house do have rundown feel, the decaying look seems to work well, and be appropriate, for this place whose owners appear pretty aware that their family's glory days are in the past but the historical connections they have are still of some value today.   

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Mystery meat and places of worship in Phang Nga and Phuket

Thai satay lunch for two at Phang Nga
The first full day of my recent Thailand trip was full of mystery.  It's not just that Phang Nga's Suwan Kuha (caves and cave temple) turned out to somewhat different from what I imagined.  (As an example: for some reason, I had thought the there would be an opening that led to the sea -- but there wasn't!)  Rather, it was also due to the fact that the fellow driving me around for much of the day -- a relative of a Thai relative -- turned out to have far more limited English proficiency than my aunt had thought was the case.
Before I got into the car, I knew that he would be taking me to Suwan Kuha and also that we would be having a Thai satay lunch in Phang Nga (since, my aunt told me, the town's famous for that particular dish).  However, when we got to the eatery where we'd be partaking of Phang Nga's culinary speciality, my host for much of the day was unable to tell me what animal's meat and intestines I would be having on skewers for lunch with the happily easily identifiable whole shrimp!
Looking at its color, I figured it couldn't be beef (which usually ends up darker looking) and guessed that it was chicken.  Having already tried skewers of wild boar bacon and venison in Takayama last fall, I figured I should just trust my host's taste and assume that the marinated mystery meat would be delicious.  Thankfully, it was indeed actually very much to my liking along with the similarly marinated intestines satay from the same animal (which I later found out from my aunt was pig) -- and, in fact, I liked both the pork and pig intestine skewers I had for lunch more than the shrimp! 
My host cum car driver also decided to make two other stops before we got back to my hotel at Surin Beach.  At the first, I thought, upon spying a public toilet, that he wanted to use those facilities.  But it turned out that he wanted to say some prayers at Lak Muang, the (locally) famous shrine dedicated to the diety of Phang Nga province (whose details I only found out in bits and bobs later, including post Googling a few minutes ago)!
After crossing the Surasin Bridge back into Phuket, we made a stop at a Buddhist temple in Thalang that looked to be pretty well regarded by locals as well as maintained but I'm guessing isn't actually a major tourist attraction (though I've seen a few websites suggest otherwise) since English language signs and explanatory information was pretty thin on the ground.  Home to Luang Pho Phra Phut ("the Buddha that emerges from the ground"), Wat Phra Thong was built around a gold Buddha figure that, legend has it, was discovered after by a boy who tied his buffalo to a pole that turned out to be set atop a buried Buddha image -- and can never be fully dug out of the ground since everyone who has tried to do so has met with untimely deaths!
Again, my host for the day's reason for stopping at the temple involved his wanting to pray there.  I think he also thought, after I had requested to go visit the cave temple at Suwan Kuha that I was a religious Buddhist and/or had a particular interest in religious sites.  Mulling this whole matter further, something I found interesting amidst it all is that he deigned to go into the cave temple and was instead content to wait for me outside of it.  Perhaps it's because Wat Suwan Kuha is more tourist attraction than a bona fide place of worship unlike those two others he opted to stop at; with evidence for this being the case including that you have to pay to enter the caves but not Lak Muang and Wat Phra Thong.     

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Religion and nature at Phang Nga's Suwan Kuha (Photo-essay)

Shortly after I agreed to go to Phuket for a reason that didn't involve tourism, I went ahead and did some research about what are its attractions since I figured that I'd have some leisure time to check out some sights on my trip.  Upon discovering that they appear to mainly revolve around sun, sea, sand and spas, I freaked out a bit since sunbathing, swimming and spa-related activities are so not my kind of thing!

Before I actually got to the Thai resort island though, I had managed to come up with an alternative list of places to check out in the area -- and neighboring areas.  For, as it turned out, the very first attraction I ended up visiting on this most recent Thai trip (and the first to Phuket) ended up being the Suwan Kuha caves -- one of which houses a Buddhist temple a la the cave temples I visited a couple years ago in Ipoh -- over in neighboring Phang Nga province...

 Cave and temple entrance at the 
limestone hill known as Suwan Kuha

 Buddhas abound in main cave that's home to Wat Suwan Kuha

One of the more sacred sections of the cave,
 which one can only get to upon removing your footwear

Cave wall with inscriptions commemorating royal visits
Cave wall with grafitti despite a sign posted next to it 
asking visitors to not write anything on the rock surfaces :(
I initially thought the figure was as alive 
as the dog in the same picture! :O
The deepest and darkest cave was the one
I actually found to the most intriguing
View from close to the highest as well as deepest section 
of the cave system that visitors were allowed access to

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

A short visit to Phang Nga, home to much greenery and interesting geology

Two geological formations in Phang Nga 
that are said to resemble elephants
A part of me wanted to get on a boat and get closer
to those limestone formations
View from a cool cave on a super hot day
On my first full day in Phuket, I went on a car journey that allowed me to see more of it than just the area around Surin beach and also took me off the island for a few blessed hours.  More specifically, I was driven over to Phang Nga, a neighboring province I could see was greener and filled with interesting geological formations even while the car was travelling along the 660-meter-long Sarasin Bridge which connects Phuket and the Thai mainland!

In any event, I got to see the pair of geological formations that Phang Nga is said by at least one local source to have got its name.  I also got to see a number of other eye-catching limestone formations in my short time there -- but, alas, did not get to see perhaps the most internationally famous of them all: that which has come to be popularly known as James Bond Island thanks to it having appeared as 007 antagonist Scaramanga's hideout in The Man with the Golden Gun.

Before this recent Thailand trip, I had read about boat tours that could be taken from both Phuket island and the Phang Nga mainland that would get you close to James Bond Island.  Not being that great a fan of James Bond (and not having seen the 1974 James Bond film for which it was a movie location), I didn't bother to look too closely into doing so.  And even while the island does look pretty stunning in pictures, I'm glad I didn't book a boat tour when I was in the area as it really was hellishly hot for much of the time that I was there.
Still, this is not to say that I didn't get out of the air-conditioned comfort of the car I was being ferried around in to get up close to any cool geological features during my brief visit to Phang Nga.  Indeed, as it turned out, my primary reason for heading over to this part of Thailand was to check out a trio of connected caves, all of which were blessedly cooler temperature wise than the outdoor areas exposed to the harsh, unforgivingly bright sun that shone pretty much all day that day!      

Sunday, March 10, 2019

In Phuket despite it not being a place I particularly wanted to visit ;(

Blue skies, sun and sand abound in Phuket
Portable stalls catering to tourists at Surin Beach
This time last week, I was in Phuket, Thailand; having flown there from Penang, Malaysia, where I had flown over to from Hong Kong the day before.  Those who know me well would be absolutely correct in thinking that this Thai locale would not be anywhere near the top of my "places I want to visit" list -- and it's true enough that I reacted with horror after doing some research on Phuket in the weeks prior to my trip there and realizing that it's primary attractions involve sun, swimming, sand and spas.
Suffice to say here that my reason for agreeing to go to Phuket wasn't the usual tourist one.  As it turned out though, the hotel into which I was booked was indeed one located right by a beach -- and I ended up going there twice out of a sense of obligation to check out an attraction that was about the only one that I could get to on foot from where I was staying.  
The first time, it also was to view the sunset -- which was pretty enough to sooth my soul somewhat.  The second time around, it was on the morning of the day of my departure from Phuket -- and, because of the blazing heat that was typical of what I encountered on my visit to this Thai island, I only lasted about 15 minutes before beating a hasty retreat to the air-conditioned confines of my room!
The Russians who appear to be particularly attracted to Phuket may have loved the 36 degree Celsius high temperatures but I found it pretty unattractive and hard to tolerate.  In addition, I actually found, to my great surprise, that Phuket's much vaunted beaches are less visually attractive than some I've been on in Hong Kong (e.g., I think Sai Kung's Tai Long Wan and Long Ke, and Lantau's Cheung Sha beaches has the one in Surin beat), never mind those to be found in the likes of Okinawa!
As it turned out, it was a good thing too that I (also) hadn't planned to spend time in a spa having a massage or such since the spa in the Phuket hotel I stayed in was -- unannounced on its website -- closed for renovations!  Instead, I spent a good bulk of my daylight hours venturing far away from Surin itself as well as its beach -- and it was on my visits to other parts of the island (and, on one day, over on the neighboring mainland section of the country) where I was happiest on this Thai trip.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Lots to see on an easy D'Aguilar Peninsula hike (Photo-essay)

When you see hikers on the number 9 bus bound for Shek O here in Hong Kong, the chances are high that they will get off at the To Tei Wan stop to hike along the Dragon's Back or, less frequently, to go along Section 7 of the Hong Kong Trail in reverse.  In recent years, however, I've also seen quite a few hikers get off to begin an excursion or board the bus post-hike at Windy Gap, with Cape d'Aguilar having become quite a popular place to visit for those who don't mind that the closest bus stop to it is a few kilometers away.

Since the trek down D'Aguilar Peninsula is largely along a paved road that is on the flat side, I've since marked it down in my mind as a good warm -- or even hot -- day excursion; and this all the more so after a hike there during which visual treats were to be found along the way to as well as at Cape d'Aguilar itself...  

My first critter spotting of that day's hike :b
View of Kau Pei Chau and islands further to the south
The same island looks so much higher 
when viewed from a different angle :O
 Still in Hong Kong -- and on Hong Kong Island, in fact!
Among the structures to be found on the d'Aguilar Peninsula are
lots of transmission towers and Hong Kong's oldest surviving lighthouse
I really would not have cared to be in the rough waters
off this rugged, rocky section of coastline!

A popular photography spot at the cape
Large spider spotting on the way back to civilization ;b

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Artefacts and fun at the Hong Kong Science Museum!

Dinosaur bones on display in Hong Kong!

Close by at the Hong Kong Science Museum... ;b
Many years ago, when I was interning at a museum in London, I learnt that museum admissions tend to increase on rainy days.  And it's true enough that, on my travels abroad, I've often turned to museums to save the day when it's been too wet outside for me to really enjoy going for such as a stroll in a beautifully designed stroll garden or an excursion up a mountain.   
Even here in Hong Kong, where I do have the option to stay comfortably dry at home rather than brave the rain by venturing outside, I've long looked upon museum-going as something to do when the weather is on the wet side.  And because this week has been on the rainy side, I've actually ended up visiting two different museums -- to check out special exhibitions on show there -- over the course of just a few days!
One of these museological establishments was the Hong Kong Science Museum, which I've actually been to more often to attend Hong Kong International Film Festival screenings than to check out the museum's exhibits!  Indeed, this week's visit was only the second time that I had ever gone into the display areas of this museum that I've looked upon for the most part as being geared for children; with my first visit proper to the place being for the Death in Ancient Egypt special exhibition a couple of years back that featured a number of artefacts on loan from the British Museum.

On that occasion, I had ended up spending quite a bit of time checking out a few of the museum's permanent exhibitions and found myself reminded of the interactive displays at the Science Museum in London that I had loved as a child.  And on this visit to the Hong Kong Science Museum to view the Landscape Map of the Silk Road special exhibition, I ended up being lured into some of its permanent exhibition galleries once more.  
This time around, I got to remembering the times I spent in London's Natural History Museum upon finding myself wandering around the Hong Kong institution's Biodiversity Gallery; this particularly after I came across a whole dinosaur skeleton on display there!  And while the latter space is no rival for the former in terms of its holdings as well as its architectural grandeur, I still did find plenty of things to capture my attention, educate me -- and also amuse!    
An old university friend who visited from America with her son some months had raved about the Hong Kong Science Museum (and the neighboring Hong Kong Museum of History).  After visiting the adjacent World of Mirrors permanent gallery, I also now know where they had taken a fun photo involving trick mirrors that she had posted on her Facebook timeline -- and am tempted to return to the museum at some point in the near future with a friend to take photos of me posing there too! 
Since I was there by myself on this visit, I "made do" by taking photos of the exhibits themselves and, in one instance, other visitors interacting with the exhibits in a way that I found visually amusing.  Since their faces were obscured by the large "animal heads" in which they had inserted their heads,  I figure they wouldn't mind too much that they ended up being the subjects of my camera while doing things in the name of science -- even while they did look pretty funny in the process! ;b      

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Encounters with death at my first beach clean-up after celebrating Chinese New Year

Large, dead jellyfish on Coral Beach :(
Long dead bird on the same beach on Cheung Chau :(
Dog searching for scraps at Tung Wan Tsai
Have you heard the saying "Life's a bitch (and then you die)"?  Not only have I done so but I've also heard the saying rendered as "Life's a beach and then you die".  And that latter line was what I found myself recalling on at least a couple of occasions when taking part in yet another beach clean-up at Cheung Chau's Coral Beach (aka Tung Wan Tsai) earlier today. 
Here's the thing though: while I think those who coined that particular phrase had meant it to mean that life was fun until you die, I think those dead animals my group of volunteers came across at the beach today didn't have the most pleasant of lives as well as deaths; not least because I reckon they died prematurely as a result of the pollution created by humans.
To be sure, I didn't look too closely at their corpses -- and thus didn't actually find such as 1,000 pieces of plastic in their stomach (as was the case with a dead whale which washed ashore on one of Indonesia's thousands of islands late last year).  Nonetheless, I wouldn't be surprised at all if the dead bird, fish, squid and jellyfish I saw on the beach today had died after ingesting too much of the plastic that's found not only strewn on land but also in the seas and oceans.
While I've come across dead fish before over the course of beach clean-ups (particularly after red tide sightings in Hong Kong), today's was the beach clean-up where I've come across the most variety of dead animals.  The superstitious part of me was thanking heaven that this beach clean-up hadn't taken place during Chinese New Year since the sight of so much death around me would have been taken as an inauspicious omen.  Even so, these were not sights one likes to come across any day -- especially if one is a lover of nature, the environment or, for that matter, seafood!    
While we're on the subject of seafood: seeing the dead jellyfish that had washed ashore on Tung Wan Tsai today got me really realizing how plastic bags can get mistaken as jellyfish, and thus food, by sea turtles and other sea creatures that view them as food.  And, in fact, several beach clean-up participants had to be cautioned against mistaking the jellyfish for a large, water-filled plastic bag!
Late into our beach clean-up, our group were joined on Tung Wan Tsai by a wild dog that was on the thin side and also obviously was a new mother.  Seeing her rooting about for food among the trash, I was relieved to find that the dead jellyfish that had washed ashore previously had then been washed back to sea by the tide as I have personal experience of getting badly stung by one of those creatures and wouldn't wish it on anybody else, including wild dogs!
Over on the beach clean-up front: I really appreciate that despite the weather forecast having included mention of some showers today, we had a good turnout.  Happily, we were rewarded by the Hong Kong Observatory's predictions proving to be incorrect once more and, working in what turned out to be pretty nice (not too hot, not too cold, and definitely not too wet at all) conditions, were able to collect more than 30 bags of trash between us by the time we decided to call it a day and reward our efforts with a delicious lunch at one of Cheung Chau's many eateries.   

Friday, February 22, 2019

A Tai Tam Country Park hike with plenty of critter spottings and other cool sights (Photo-essay)

I realize it's on the anal side but I do keep a hiking diary in which I write details of each hike I go on in Hong Kong, including the date, route, who I went on the hike if and also observations I include noteworthy about such as the weather that day and types of critters spotted on the hike.  And without such notes, I wouldn't have remembered that I actually spotted 15 spiders on a Tai Tam Country Park excursion I went on with a friend one gray but pleasant weather day -- because, as it turned out, I actually don't seem to have taken a single photo of an arachnid over the course of that particular outing!

I guess it was because the sight of spiders (even if they were Giant Golden Orb Weavers, as I expect that at least some of them were) felt too common on a hike in which there were a good variety as well as number of critter spottings (along with other cool sights) -- something which I've come to expect of hikes in Hong Kong, including ones on Hong Kong Island as well as the more far flung sections of the Big Lychee! ;b

My first critter spottings of the day: sunbathing tortoises 

When hiking up Violet Hill, it's good to be able to stop
every once in a while to enjoy the sight of a pretty butterfly :)
It can look at first glance like another type of insect
but this also is a species of butterfly alright!
 The kind of landscape I was hiking in and trail I was hiking on 
I wonder how many people over at Repulse Bay's beach and 
many expensive apartments are aware of the wonderful
hiking trails that really aren't that far away from there?
One of the hairier critters spotted during that day's hike!
View of Stanley from the Tsz Lo Lan Shan Path
Close-up of flowers whose color I reckon could be described as violet,
only I saw them on the Twins rather than Violet Hill that afternoon ;b