Archive for the ‘discovery’ Category

To start the day.

To start the day.

It’s nothing buy rice paddies when you go on the trekking tour.

$80/person for the overnight sleeper bus or $135 for the overnight train.  Ditch the overnight train.  You can negotiate the price.  There is a wide discrepancy with guests, I paid $80/person while another couple paid $68/person.  Your hotel will always state they offer the best price but do seek out other travel agents on the streets.  I find the agents working inside hostels to offer the best pricing.

The hotel is not special.  It was built to cater to tours and in dire need of a renovation.  Everything is old so it feels quite nostalgic.

The highlight of the tour is the homestay when you spend one night with the local family.  They make the best food.  I did not take photos of the rice paddies and scenery.

Sapa, Vietnam, Homestay food. Hand rolling the springrolls.

Sapa, Vietnam, Homestay food. Hand rolling the springrolls.

frying spring rolls

frying spring rolls

A real wood fire kitchen. The food tastes better.

A real wood fire kitchen. The food tastes better.

my sapa hotel burger. looks like everything was frozen and re-heated

my sapa hotel burger. looks like everything was frozen and re-heated

should have eaten in town rather than enjoy the free meal.

should have eaten in town rather than enjoy the free meal.

fried rice. Yuck.

fried rice. Yuck.

The food inside the town of Sapa is better than the food that is included as part of the tour package.  Do not eat the free food at the hotel unless you enjoy chicken, rice and sauce.  A net positive experience at the restaurants around town.  Sapa is close to the China border so if you enjoy Chinese cuisine you will find something to like in Sapa.  It lacks the refined finish of HK cuisine and most things are over seasoned but the cheap beer washes everything down.

I ordered fried noodles and got fried instant noodles.

mee gorang noodles?

mee gorang noodles?

Spring rolls are good but lack the savory meat filling found in the home stay iteration.

Vietnam restaurant quality springrolls.

Vietnam restaurant quality springrolls.

Chop Suey, still better.

Chop Suey, still better.

I forgot to take photos of the indigenous people, dependent on tourism for their survival.  They make wonderful trinkets and knick knacks.  I bought a passport holder and other things to take home.  Everything was cheap so I did not bargain.

Sapa homestay's dog. dirty.

Sapa homestay’s dog. dirty.

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Snicky's SIMBA pose

Snicky’s SIMBA pose

They hold a wide variety of dog food that cannot be found in other pet stores of the nature where it would be safe for you to ingest.  If it is good enough for human consumption it is good enough for my dog.  Don’t let the small location fool you as they are able to source most everything so long as it’s for the canine friend.

It is across the street from the Merton at the end of Catchick street.

Phone: 26281290

Lego in Hong Kong

Posted: April 9, 2015 in discovery
Tags: , ,

I see my friends collecting Lego toys all the time.  It’s the stereotypical thing to do in your 30s as once you start having real disposable income, you buy the things you wanted most as a kid – Legos, comic books etc.  It is quite the growth industry in old brands playing to the very kids inside all of us.  I remember lego being generic building blocks where you allow your mind to run wild.  Now lego has a large collection of special editions that will allow it to cover every end of the spectrum, gone is the creativity and in with following rote instruction.  It use to be so simple.

If you happen to be on the prowl to build out your collection of special edition lego sets, give a visit to Hing Tat Trading (Hong Kong) Ltd.

Address: 28 Kennedy Town Praya, HK.  You can't miss it.

Address: 28 Kennedy Town Praya, HK. You can’t miss it.

They carry a lot of special editions, with a wide variety in price.

2015-04-02 08.58.52

large assortment

You will be buying straight from the distributor so pricing will be cheap.

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big range in price.

You can also mention the blog for an even bigger discount.

Phone: Samuel Lee @ 28558263

I notice Hong Kong cabs slowly mimicking their Macau counterparts – asking exorbitant fares to travel short distances and cherry picking clients.  You see this fact unfold in plain sight of police officers on any given Friday and Saturday night in LKF.  Good luck convincing a taxi driver to cross harbour or go to the New Territories.

I took a cab from Elements to Ktown with explicit instructions to use the Western Tunnel on a Saturday night around 2am.  The meter read $60 but the driver elected not to add the tunnel fare but he asked me to give him $170.  With me being of unsound mine after consuming alcohol I paid the fare.  Prior to leaving the cab I asked for a receipt and this is where it goes sideways.  He tells me his machine is out of paper.  I told him as the fare was big I need a receipt.  All of a sudden he resets the meter and gives me a receipt for $22 but offering to write the fact I had paid $170.  UHHHHHHhh.  I don’t think this would pass muster with the company’s accounting dept.  But here we see his machine does indeed work and he did not want to give me a real receipt.  I took a picture of his photo found on the dashboard and left the cab.

Hong Kong taxi cabs

HK Taxi Cabs, the best selling car in all of HK

He followed me in his cab pleading to please stop as if I report him he would run into issues with his taxi license.  Drunk brain takes over.  I tell him I will pay him a visit on Monday morning over this incident of both cherry picking and charging exorbitant fares to which he will indeed run into licensing issues; unless of course he returns all my cash.  Done.  He gives me the full $170 in return and drives off fuming.

  1. Take a photo of the taxi driver’s dashboard picture showing his name and license.  He won’t allow you to take it but he will also do nothing to stop you.  Typical HK, all growl no bite.
  2. Take a photo of the meter showing the amount you owe.  At the very least if you lose you’re on the hook for X amount rather than arguing.
  3. Call the police in the event of any settlement issues.  These guys are preying on those that don’t know better.  The police would quickly put them in their place.
  4. If you don’t feel the need to call the police, just start walking away to see if the guy will give chase; if so, throw him to the ground.
  5. Pack small bills.  The unscrupulous drivers will always lack change
  6. When in doubt, just leave.  I have had taxi drivers tell me they can’t break 1000 but it’s not my fault.  I leave the cab and taxi drives off.  Free ride.
  7. Don’t bother trying to rob the taxi driver.  They don’t own the cab so it’s not likely they have much money.

I had planned to out the taxi driver in question but after considering the ramifications, there’s no need to cause harm.  The majority of the guys you meet will be fine, it’s just a few bad apples ruining the bunch.  They do a tough job that requires long hours.  Luckily with Uber now in the mix, consumers have other options.

Hong Kong’s work culture is conducive for the need to get away at any possible moment.  All the social dining and networking puts a real strain on down time so long weekends provide the perfect excuse to leave the hustle and bustle of the constant bright lights prevalent in a financial centre to an area of relaxation.  Flights within Asia are cheap out of HK airport playing a central hub and the ability to arbitrage the strong HK dollar to areas with less developed infrastructure.  Vietnam is one area to spend time.  To watch the development of Vietnam is to see a country in a constant state of flux.  Vietnam and Philippines had all the potential to beat China but squandered it only to now stand at odds with its giant neighbor.

Communism in the current model is at odds with its roots when you trace it back.  It’s a model that only works in the very beginning when you rid the past regime and make everyone equals but over time the discrepancy between haves and have-nots widens to such a point that it is poignantly obvious in Vietnam.  Case in point, the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.  Ho Chi Minh’s explicit instructions were to cremate yet by doing so the regime lacks the demi-god for the people to admire which is now prevalent in Communist societies where the founding fathers are perfectly preserved.  Lenin, Mao and Ho.

Vietnam Airlines and Cathay Pacific has flight shares for the route between HK and Hanoi.  Book the Vietnam Airlines ticket to reap the cost savings.  The food is nothing to rave about it.  Vietnam Airlines being one of two national carriers should use the chance to introduce passengers to Vietnamese food.  It must be too much to ask for Vietnam Airlines to force feed their culture down my throat as I was served the following nothing to rave home about airline food.  The flight to Hanoi at less than 2 hours makes it a rival to Taiwan.  Hanoi runs along the same longitude line as HK so expect similar weather.  Ho Chi Minh City is further south so you’ll find Tropical weather.

bad airplane food

bad airplane food

Vietnam now has in place Visa on Arrival (VOA) whereby you have your local Vietnam hotel/guesthouse/website send over a copy of your passport to the government so your Visa is issued at the airport when you land.  This makes the process easier for the consumer and less onerous than inundating their consular office.  The cheapest VOA procedure can be found online for $10-$15, use this as a guide to negotiate with your hotel.  They will do it for the price you dictate as all they do is submit a copy of your passport photo to the office in Vietnam.  The hotel/agent will send you a copy of Visa on Arrival Paperwork. Once you land at the airport, it’s a $45 USD fee for the visa office to process the paperwork.

Once you land in Hanoi (you realize the airport is brand new and a gift from the Japanese government) it’s a gauntlet to get outside.  You will pass through legions of taxi drivers and agents that would love to take you to your hotel for a fee.  Their idea of your hotel is to tell you the hotel is full/closed so they will take you to another hotel.  The smart thing to do is to book the first night at a hotel/guesthouse and have the hotel/agent send a car to grab you, $15-$20USD.  The hotel sent a Toyota Land Cruiser with air conditioning.  Our hotel told us specifically to do everything within the confines of the hotel, if you take a cab then have the taxi driver go into the hotel to settle the bill so it keeps them honest.

$8000 VND per beer.  $10k for a bag of peanuts

$8000 VND per beer. $10k for a bag of peanuts vs. tourist beer garden $15k/beer

Hanoi is full of street food vendors.  My first first meal was the nammer sub –  Banh Mi @$10k.  The guy told me $10k and charged me $20k.  I elected not to fight it.

The majority of the pho at the street food vendors was of the chicken variety which lacks the taste and depth of beef.  Beef Pho tastes better but it’s hard to find and may only be available in the mornings.  If you see something you think you may like to eat, do it.  Do not wait and return later in the day as most street food vendors shut down and close up shop once they sell out.  Beef Pho was easy to find for breakfast but tough to find after lunch.  Chicken Pho is available at any time throughout the day.  Salad rolls and spring rolls are lunch time food.

street food chicken pho

street food chicken pho

noodles without soup

noodles without soup

The best meal in Hanoi:

bbq meats in soup, rice noodles, spring rolls and plate of herbs

bbq meats in soup, rice noodles, spring rolls and plate of herbs

It can be found on 23 Bat Su street in the Old Quarter.

bat su and hang bo street

intersection of bat su and hang bo

One thing I notice is most street food vendors only do one dish and do it well.  There is no menu, you sit down on the plastic stool and they bring the food over.  They don’t ask what you want nor how you want it cooked.  You eat what they put in front of you and that’s it.

Drip Coffee with Milk.

$25k/cup for ice drip coffee with milk

$25k/cup for ice drip coffee with milk

Accommodations.

There’s a large variety when it comes to accommodations from guesthouses to hotels.  Hostels cost $4 USD per night, guesthouses mascarading under airbnb will cost $20 while hotels start at $30.  My first night was at a guesthouse off airbnb for $20/night, Hotel Hibiscus.  Hibiscus is in the Old Quarter by the Cathedral.  The location is right by all the backpacker hotels but not central to the nightmarkets and night life of the Old  Quarter.  Hibiscus has all the amenities to classify itself as a hotel with a bed (water-resistant linens), tv (sony flat screen), mini-bar and shower yet none of which comes together properly for a real hotel experience.  It’s more of a guesthouse with decent furnishings.  There is a complimentary breakfast every morning of the local cuisine.

The tail end of the trip was spent in a legitimate hotel, Spring Flower Hotel.  All the amenities of creature comforts that one comes to expect from hotel.  They even upgraded us to their junior suit.  The location is more central to the overall foot traffic prevalent in the Old Quarter with authentic dining options right outside the door.  It’s a short walk to the nightmarket which takes place from 7pm to late every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

General Observations.

Beware of scams.  Most travel agencies in Hanoi will have some form or another Sinh Cafe in their name.  Sinh Cafe is a travel agency with stellar reviews on trip advisor, their competitors start up shop beside them and on the same street with identical name and colours.  Always ask for the price prior to handing over money and always negotiate.  There are legitimate tourist tshirt shops: Ginko and Papaya, which are made in Vietnam.  The nightmarkets will have similar tshirts (also carrying the made in Vietnam label) but significantly cheaper (kirkland white tshirts are only 30,000VND which is $1.50 USD).

I thought HK’s population density was terrible on a normal day, I never did expect it could get worst.  The annual Chinese New Year Night Market is a perfect display of population density and fire hazard.  You are crammed into a confined space so tight it makes the sardine can look roomy.  Everyone behind is pushing to get forward, calm heads and a thick skin will need to prevail in this instance as blowing your top will leave all parties in a disgruntled state trudging along as together for the indefinite tour.

CWB Victoria Park, night market

Cattle entering the slaughterhouse.

If you must make a visit, go during the day when the sun is still out as once nightfall takes hold everyone with free time is out in a ample show of force.  Leave the strollers at home and wear good shoes, no need to dress warmly as it will get hot.  Take a look at HK couples, the BF holds the GF and they walk in unison.  I disdain listening to HK girls talking in their high pitched ‘cute’ voice.

HK bf life

Prevention measure for groping. Dude, no one wants to grope your gf.

The whole point of the night market is to buy knick knacks and trinkets.  The night markets on the Kowloon side is geared for tourists.  The annual Chinese New Year night market is geared towards locals with trinkets meant to appeal to the local tastes and lots of flowers.  Flowers are more expensive as people are caught up in spending money over the holidays.  You can get a better deal buying from the neighborhood flower stores.

flowers for CNY

$15 per pod compared to $10 at the store. make sure you buy in quantities of 5 as anything less is too few.

You have to experience this first hand.  Someone needs to yell FIRE into the crowds to experience a real melee and put HK crowd control on notice.  This place is a fire hazard so leave the kids at home at night.  I will never go back.

I got a call from a clown at Collins & Kent International (CKI) trying to peddle art as an investment.  I lose enough money on my own, I don’t need a consultant assisting me into a realm to which I know nothing.  If you have to cold call to find “investors” you may as well close up shop.  If one is really into art, the big auction houses will gladly assign a rep to handle your account.  There is no real need to go elsewhere.  Art galleries are a great way to launder money.  I am not saying Collins & Kent is a fraudulent business but take a look at the following investment thesis:   http://90million.blogspot.hk/2012/07/guaranteed-9-return-something-doesnt.html

I also had a guy offer to sell me shares in an incense tree plantation which is a well known scam.  HK is already famous for insider trading in the Hong Kong Stock Exchange so it doesn’t shock me that “alternate” investments take off.  People love the idea of making above average gains.  HK also has a wine and scotch investment fund as the elixirs are all the rage at the moment.  I have a tough enough job putting a syndicate together to raise $30M on LNG ship construction maybe it’s time to start cold calling…

Collins & Kent International Fine Arts – it’s time to overhaul the business model.  It might even help to turn your brain on once in a while.  If you plan to cold call, please send your sales force out onto the street and pass our leaflets.  I rather you not inundate my phone with calls.