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Trip Report Round the World Part 3 - Hong Kong & Mongolia

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This is the third installment of our round the world trip. The first and second installments are in the Europe and South America forums.

We started this leg of the trip in Lima, Peru and ended in Hong Kong. We flew business class on Delta from Lima to Atlanta. Our flight left an hour late, around 1 am. We arrived and went straight after immigration to the Delta business class lounge and took showers. What a difference that makes! We had about 3 hours until our Korean Air flight to Seoul. We really enjoyed the Korean Air business class. It sure makes for an easy 13 hour flight! They had a video game called Luxor that I became addicted to! We spent about 2.5 hours in the Korean Air business lounge in Seoul, which was quite nice. Ate some dumplings and drank some Diet Coke and took another shower. We then boarded our A380 to Hong Kong. The top deck was all business class and was fairly empty. They have a camera that shows out the front of the plane, so you can watch takeoff and landing on your seatback tv – that was pretty neat! After takeoff, we headed to the bar in the back of the plane – I had some cocktail with Absolute Vanilla vodka and ginger that was quite good. Too bad it was only a 3 hour flight!

We arrived on time in Hong Kong and got a taxi to our hotel, Lan Kwai Fong. The staff was very nice and we got settled in our room. It was a very small room, but nicely appointed and we had an interesting view of the high rises going up the hill. We just went to sleep after getting settled.

July 6

We first walked to the nearest MTR station and bought our Octopus cards. We then wanted to go up the Peak, so walked there, stopping by St. John’s Cathedral on the way. After taking some photos and video, we got in line for the Peak Tram. We waited perhaps 30 minutes for our ride to the top. We walked around for a while, enjoying the views and taking photos and video. We were hungry by this time, so we went into the Peak Galleria and found Mak’s Noodles. We both had the shrimp wonton noodle bowl, which was delicious!! We thought about walking up to the actual Peak, but decided against it, as it was looking like rain. We took the #15 bus down to the Ferry landings. We took the Star Ferry across to Kowloon, then took the MTR to the Sha Tin station to go to the Temple of 10,000 Buddhas. We walked up the stairs to the top and looked all around, walking up to the top of the small pagoda that is there. It was very, very hot and humid!! I think my clothes were totally stuck to my body with sweat – yuck! We headed back down and went back to the hotel via MTR. We took showers, and went to dinner at West Villa on Bonham Strand. I had fried fresh squid in chili salt and DH had deep fried spare ribs with shrimp paste. Very good.

July 7

We took the MTR this morning to Lantau Island to go to the Big Buddha. We took the cable car up – stunning views of the islands. It is amazing how much “wilderness” there is on the islands! We got to the village up there and decided to have lunch. We ate at the Zen Noodle shop. I had a noodle bowl with lots of mushrooms. For some reason, I didn’t write down what we had and I don’t remember what DH had – some kind of noodle bowl also. We walked up the stairs to the Big Buddha – again, it was a blazing hot day with very high humidity. We kept standing around the little air conditioned shops that were around the base for breaks! We walked down and went over to the Po Lin Monastery. It seems they are building a very large hall behind the current one! We wandered around a little more and had a little look in the shops, watched some acrobats performing and then headed back to the MTR via the cable car.

We got out at the Central MTR station and went all the way up the mid-levels escalators. What an ingenious system for going up the hill! We walked down and saw an interesting street with fish and produce sellers and walked down and back up that street. We went back to the hotel and took showers and headed over to Crystal Jade in the IFC mall. We love Crystal Jade and have eaten there in Shanghai and Beijing. I love their hot & sour soup and had that and DH and I shared pork xiao long bao and pan fried dumplings. So good! We then rode the tram down past Causeway Bay and back. We walked back to the hotel and went to bed.

July 8

We got up early and went to the 9 a.m. service at St. John’s Cathedral. It was absolutely packed with people. They had great music at the service. After the service, we visited the gift shop. We bought a little carved wooden nativity that is like a triptych (sp?). After that, we went to Mak’s Noodles on Wellington Street. We had the shrimp dumplings again, and again delicious! I love noodles and dumplings and think about Mak’s often. (Lucky me, DH and I are going back to Hong Kong for Thanksgiving, this time for about 6 or 7 days – will have to check that – so I’ll get some more noodles and dumplings!)

I really wasn’t up for another day of sweating profusely, so I said, we must do something indoors! I had thought originally we would go to the Chi Lin Nunnery and the Bird Garden, but just couldn’t make myself endure the heat and humidity again! So we went to the Hong Kong History Museum. We got the audioguides and went through. I found the section on folk cultures to be very interesting, as well as the colonial street with its stores. The section on the Japanese occupation was also interesting.

We tried to go to Crystal Jade again, as we were leaving the next morning and didn’t want a late night, but it was jammed with people, and couldn’t find another restaurant whose menu looked particularly appealing, so we just grabbed McDonalds and headed back to the hotel to eat. Shame on us!!

July 10

We spent this day flying from Hong Kong to Seoul and then Seoul to Ulan Bator, Mongolia. This meant another visit to the Korean Air business lounge in Seoul! They kept telling us that the weather might prevent us from getting from Seoul to Ulan Bator, but in the end, the plane took off on time and we arrived. I was very nervous about this, because we only had 2 days in Ulan Bator and one of them was the Naadam festival and I really didn’t want to miss that! We had arranged a pickup by the hotel at the airport and our driver was there waiting for us. It was dark when we arrived and the road was very bad from the airport into town. We checked into the Chinggis Khan hotel and went to sleep. We had a very large room here and it was comfortable.

July 11

Our guide had left a message for us the night before, confirming our 9 am meeting time this morning. After a buffet breakfast at the hotel (at which all the hash browns were snatched up the minute they put them out, which was kind of funny!), we went to the lobby to meet our guide, EggE. I had arranged for us to meet up with a group during our time in Ulan Bator, since we certainly wanted to attend the Naadam festivities, and this would have been very difficult to arrange on our own. We were with a group of 5 others, who all were very nice. We went to the Bogd Khan Winter Palace and our guide translated from the guide at the site. The museum was very interesting. They had very beautiful paintings on silk and the guide(s) explained the meanings of the paintings. I also enjoyed seeing all of the robes and furniture in the museum. We took a quick look around the Natural History Museum, seeing the dinosaur eggs and an exhibit on a Mongolian astronaut and Mt. Everest climber. After a lunch at Nomads and a Chinggis beer, we took a rather long drive through bad traffic to a horse camp outside of town.

We went off the highway and out over dirt tracks, over green hills. It was so beautiful and the expanses of the hills in all directions were incredible. A rain storm blew up shortly after we arrived at the horse camp, so we went into one of the gers, where through our guide, we visited with the family. They had some horses that were going to race in the Naadam races the next day. We tried the salted butter tea and the airag (fermented mare’s milk). I don’t think I’ll be craving either very soon, but the airag wasn’t as nasty as it sounds! Kind of tasted a little like melted yogurt – with something a little off, though! The family had lots of food set out and what I tasted was delicious, but unfortunately, we’d just eaten lunch! We looked around at the horses a little more and took some photos, then headed back to the hotel. We arrived about 7:45 pm. Again, very congested on the roads coming back! We went to the grocery store that is connected to the hotel and just got some snack like items for dinner. I got a bottle of Sea Buckthorn juice, which was very tasty – and very inexpensive compared to the US! We also got some cookies – not made in Mongolia, but very good – a chocolate chuck and toffee flavor. They were made by a company called Fox’s, I think.

July 11

After breakfast at our hotel again, we met EggE in the lobby, along with two more people who had arrived the night before. We went to Sukhbaatar Square to see the flags carried out of the government building and to the stadium. They had a band and men in uniform on horses. They paraded around the square and headed to the stadium, at which point we did also! It was quite an amazing thing to see. It had been raining that morning, and we were glad to see our seats in the stadium were under cover! It only sprinkled once during the opening ceremony, though. We saw the President speak, the top 25 contestants on “Mongolian Idol” perform – they were good – and saw many different dances and costumes from Mongolian culture. They played the Mongolian national anthem, which is quite beautiful. We also saw the Mongolian Olympic team march around the stadium! (Fast forward a few weeks and we saw them in the Olympic Opening Ceremony while we were watching from our hotel room in Prague!) We stayed a little while after the ceremony to watch some of the wrestling then headed to the archery stadium. They definitely need a bigger archery stadium – we tried to get in and couldn’t after much pushing and shoving around the entrances! Our guide got us all over to the side, where we could watch – they were just warming up. We saw a little of that, then went to lunch at BD’s Mongolian BBQ. The buffet was good. DH and one of the guys on our tour each got a vodka shot for $1 and then bought the shot glass for another $1! A bargain! We headed out quickly after that to get out to the horse racing.

Traffic wasn’t quite as bad as the day before, surprisingly and our driver was very aggressive and got us there in plenty of time! Again, EggE got us amazing seats, down on the ground in front of the bleachers right at the finish line of the races. After waiting about 20 minutes, in the distance, we could see a cloud of dust – it was the horse out in front! He was being followed alongside by a car flying a big Mongolian flag. It was very exciting! The jockeys are all children about 4-9 years old and the winner looked to my eyes to be maybe 6 or so! He was a good ways in front – it wasn’t a close race, but the race for 2nd, 3rd, 4th places was closer. Some horses came through with no riders! Down the “track” which is a straight line, not a circle, one horse unfortunately collapsed and was taken away. :( I can’t stand that and it’s why I just can’t watch horse racing any more. We headed back to the hotel after the race and taking some more photos and DH and I again visited the grocery store for dinner. We packed up, as it was our last day in Mongolia and we had a 7:20 am flight out the next morning. I was sorry to be leaving so soon. I really enjoyed Mongolia and the little bit of scenery we saw outside the city left me anxious to go back there and spend more time and explore more of the country.

July 12

We had arranged for a driver to take us to the airport early this morning, and we got all checked in at the airport and waited for our Aeroflot flight to Moscow, then another flight after a 7 hour layover there, to Helsinki. The airport at Ulan Bator is very small!
The business class lounge at Moscow was nice and the time passed much more quickly than we expected. Uneventful flight to Helsinki, again on Aeroflot.

For the continuing trip report, please go to the Europe Forum!

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