One Killed in Silom Grenade Blasts

Note: As of 4:40 pm Friday Bangkok time, I’m revising this entry from the original three killed to only one, based on updated reports being released by local news media.

The political situation in Bangkok continues to heat up.  In the past few days, counter protests (pro-government groups who are against the Red Shirts, but are not necessarily part of the Yellow Shirt movement) have formed in the Silom business district.  These protests are ostensibly formed of office workers, business owners, and others who oppose the Red Shirts’ desire to spread their protest into this business district.

Before heading to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club to listen to a panel discussion about the future of politics in Thailand, I headed to Silom to take some pictures and see what the protests looked like.  I have learned my lesson, though, to heed the warnings from the US State Department.  An hour after I left the area, five four M97 grenades were launched (ostensibly from the Red Shirts demonstration area) into the “No Color Shirts” crowd, killing three one.  This happened in exactly the area I had been filming and taking pictures.

This map shows you the affected area.  The Red Shirts have set up an encampment in the plaza in front of Lumpini Park.  They have also established an impressive barricade made of tires, concrete blocks, and sharpened bamboo sticks, effectively cutting off Ratchadamri Road at Rama IV.

Note: As of 4:40 pm today local time, both police and Red Shirts have agreed to back off from their respective positions 100 meters (300 feet) today to help lower tensions at that particular location.

Crowd along the south side of Silom Road.  The elevated walkway connects the Saladaeng BTS Skytrain station to the Silom subway station.  The soldiers have closed the walkway, hung black tarp to obscure their movements, and are stations above the crowd.

Police officers in riot gear try to keep crowds on the sidewalk so traffic can continue to move.  There were about 1,000 “No Color Shirts” and probably 500 police and army troops in the area.  The police vans are in the picture are at the middle of the intersection.  The Red Shirts’ barricade is behind the vans.

From the median in Rama IV road looking back towards Silom Road.  The Dusit Thani Hotel is on the left – the first “high rise” in Bangkok, decades ago.

Soldiers take pictures of the crowd.  There was a row of razor wire immediately to my left between me and the soldier.

Back at Chidlom Road, the Red Shirts have erected barricades and are carefully checking any vehicles coming into their protest area.  I returned to the Chidlom area where the Foreign Correspondents’ Club is located about 7:30 and met with Ken for a quick bite at the only place open – McDonalds – before heading to the club. 

The audience for the panel was standing room only.  There were four panelists: the head doctor of the BMA Hospital, which received the majority of cases after the April 10th confrontation between the soldiers and Red Shirts; the ambassador from Sweden; and two academics, one who spoke of the history of political protests in Thailand and the second of whom is part of an organization working to mediate the situation and arrive at a workable, peaceful solution. 

Here are some highlights of what they had to say, as I’ve digested and paraphrased them:

  • The doctor shared a summary of casualties from the protests and showed forensic pictures of the “hard object” wounds.  Quite gruesome.  There is a lot of debate between the “committee” that has been formed to review the forensic evidence from the April 10th events, with printed rumors that the head forensic specialist disagrees with the committee’s conclusion.  The doctor himself was very careful to avoid drawing any conclusions, even when pressed during the questioning by journalists.  In fact, he wouldn’t state how many deaths were caused by bullets, perfering only to classify them as “death by hard object”.  I sense that there are bigger powers struggling to prevent the release of this information.  The speculation of one journalist was that based on the photos of the wounds to the Japanese photojournalist who died, he may have been hit by a rooftop sniper.  No comment by the doctor.

  • The ambassador spoke unofficially representing the opinion of the global diplomatic community, expressing his concern that whereas the Thais have managed time and time again to pull themselves back from the brink of political disaster, that this time things may have gone too far and become too escalated to result in a peaceful outcome.  Nonetheless, he expressed his hope that for the Thai people’s benefit, a peaceful, negotiated settlement occurs.

  • The historian compared this current political situation with previous protests that ended in violence in 1973, 1976, and 1992.  The biggest thing that distinguishes this movement, which he feels started with the coup in September 2006, is that the rank-and-file members of the Red Shirts represent a first-ever truly widespread popular political uprising.  His opinion is that in the past, people who showed up at protests, etc. were either just a few ideological individuals or large masses of mostly paid pawns.  This time, he feels there is some legitimate self-concern and sense of empowerment by the members of the Red Shirt protests.  His big question is, even if the Red Shirts win the conflict, will they be able to effectively govern this new, politically aware class of citizens?

  • The negotiator has been working over the past six weeks to secure a peaceful settlement between all sides in the conflict.  He differed with the historian, identifying former Prime Minister Thaksin’s sale of his company, Shin Corp, to Tamasek, the Singaporean sovereign wealthy fund, as the real starting point of this current conflict.  (You may recall that this sale, on which Thaksin and others made a huge sum of tax-free money) led to protests calling for his resignation, ultimately leading up to the coup.  The negotiator explained that the major parties have agreed in principle to a five point settlement: Dissolution of the House in five months; Free and fair elections; Acceptance of the election results; Respect for the rule of law – court verdicts, peace and order, etc. will be respected; an independent commission to look into the events of April 10.  The problem, he explained, is that neither side is willing to be the first to accept the terms, for fear of “losing face” and looking like the loser.

So where does that lead us?  It is Friday afternoon.  There is widespread speculation that the government will make a move to clear out the protesters before the weekend is over.  60,000 additional troops have been brought in from the south.  The BTS Skytrain is closing operations at 6pm tonight – bear in mind today is a payday so normally people are out and about spending their monthly salary.  All signs point to a bad weekend here in Bangkok.

Let’s hope the negotiations work.

Food in HK – Tsui Wah Restaurant

While Lan Fong Yuen claims to be the original Hong Kong milk tea, it certainly isn’t the only one serving this local treat.  We decided to try another stop on the Curry Puffy Culinary Crawl and breakfast (twice, in fact) at Tsui Wah Restaurant.  This chain might be compared to a Denny’s in the United States, but without intending the unspoken insult that lies in the comparison.  Tsui Wah serves basic Hong Kong comfort food at all hours of the day from a number of clean, efficient locations.

We decided to visit the one in Lan Kwai Fong, just above Central and a stone’s throw from Lan Fong Yuen.  The first visit was in the early morning, when only the limited breakfast menu was being served.  The second visit the next day was later in the morning, when more lunch-like items were available.

As you walk up D’aguilar Street from Queens Road it should be easy enough to find Tsui Wah.  Just follow the large green sign and make a right turn onto Wellington Road as it indicates.

It was a drizzly morning when we first arrived and being damp, we were looking for something warm and comforting.

The dining room (multiple stories at this location) is bright and a bit madcap in its interior design.  The menus are under the table glass with helpful pictures and English translations (which aren’t always super-clear but you’ll figure it out). 

The milk tea arrived in this cup and saucer, branded with a local evaporated milk brand.  I have to say that between the two milk teas, I found Tsui Wah’s a bit more bitter and spicy.  I preferred Lan Fong Yuen for its gentler flavor.

 

Breakfast was, in a way, not very Hong Kongese.  Yes, that is a bowl of oatmeal.  And after four days of not having my daily bowl of oats for breakfast, I was sorely missing it.  The rolls are a toasted “pineapple” bun (nothing pineapple about it that I could discern) that has butter and condensed milk on top.  Very chewy texture, like a Kaiser roll.  Not a fancy breakfast but cheap and tasty.  Tawn felt the buns were better here than at Lan Fong Yuen.

The second day I ordered a breakfast set that came (to my surprise) with a side of two scrambled eggs and a toasted roll.  Simple food, right?  But really, really tasty eggs.

The second part of my set, what I actually was focused on, was a beef stew over instant noodles with soup.

Tawn had braised pork cartilage over instant noodles with greens.

The conclusion for the second meal was the same: simple and satisfying.

Immediately across the street from this location of Tsui Wah is the world-famous Yung Kee Restaurant, which specializes in roast geese.  While I didn’t eat there this trip, I have several times before and can also recommend it.  Bring a group, though, as a little roast goose goes a long way.

Two other sites from Hong Kong: Aqua Luna, the junk that you can sail on for a harbour cruise with cocktails.  One of these years I’m going to book one of their just after sunset cruises and enjoy a bottle of bubbly while the lights come on along one of the most magnificent skylines in the world.

 

On the Kowloon side at the Science Museum a bride and groom posed for their wedding pictures, probably a few weeks in advance of their actual wedding day.  Here’s to the happy couple!

Regarding the rest of the Hong Kong trip, Tawn and I have been back in Bangkok since Saturday.  I’ll continue updating on food in Hong Kong as I have two or three more meals that need to be documented.  Then we’ll return to the regular programming.

Food in HK – Tsui Hang Village

With the exception of Agnès b. le pain grillé, our eating so far had been pretty low-key and casual even while the food was very good.  One evening we met my university friend Tehlin, her husband Chris, and their two children for dinner at a nice Cantonese restaurant in Central called Tsui Hang Village.

Tsui Hang Village Map

Tehlin and Chris recently returned to Hong Kong from Melbourne and while we’re sorry we didn’t get to see them in Melbourne, we’ll have many more opportunities to see them in Hong Kong.  They are one of these 21st Century couples – he an Australian who is fluent in Mandarin and works with emerging Chinese companies, she with Chinese roots in the Philippines, Taiwan, and the SF Bay Area.  They are really nice people and have two cute kids with a third on the way.

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One of the cute kids, Isabel, wasn’t in the best mood as dinner started, so she pouted a little while working on her coloring book!

Tsui Hang Village is named for the hometown of Dr. Sun Yat-sen and specializes both in traditional Cantonese cooking as well as some original Cantonese creations.  There is also a location in the Miramar Shopping Centre on Nathan Road in Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon.  The interior looks pretty much like every other high end Chinese restaurant – clean, bright, and a little like a hotel banquet room.  Service is prompt and attentive, though, and the real focus is the food.  Cantonese food, which sometimes has a reputation for being a little oily, is well done here with clean, bright, and fresh flavors with little use of heavy seasoning, herbs or spices – the very best of what Cantonese food is supposed to be about.

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Braised pork spare ribs baked in a clay pot casserole “Zhengjiang” style.

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Stewed “fungus” (mushrooms) in tofu wrapper in pumpkin, with pumpkin seed garnish.

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Wok-seared seabass with light soy sauce with green beans.

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Crispy roast chicken with green onions.

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Chinese broccoli – Hai Shean

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Shrimp wontons in broth.

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Pan fried egg noodles with shredded pork and bean sprouts.

We really enjoyed the meal, which was a nice complement to our visit with Tehlin, Chris, and their children.  What more of a reason do we need for a return trip to Hong Kong than good friends and good food?

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Uncle Tawn with an enthusiastic Samuel and a still somewhat undecided Isabel.  Sam’s a big transportation buff, so he and I always have plenty to talk about!

 

Food in HK – Agnès b. le pain grillé

After all the wonderful Chinese food, we decided one afternoon to take a change of pace and visit the Agnès b. le pain grillé at the IFC mall. 

Agnes B Map

Gary had recommended this and when we arrived, we faced some confusion.  It turns out there is both a café as well as a restaurant and in our confusion we wound up in the restaurant.  The slightly more expensive than the café restaurant.

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Nonetheless, it was lunch, the food and atmosphere were wonderful, so it worked out as a nice treat.  Note to anyone who goes to Hong Kong and decides to stop by Agnès b. le pain grillé: the café is the one outside the doors.

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Lovely interior reminds me a bit of our home, except with a nicer bar.  I like to wood flooring.

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Attempting to not feel out of place after we looked at the prices!  Nah, I’m kidding, it wasn’t that bad.  The three-course fixed price menu was HK$288, about US$38.  Pricier than my normal lunch but not the most expensive lunch I’ve ever had.

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Elegant place settings.

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Iced lemon tea.

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Truly amazing bread.  Oh, I wish Bangkok had good bread.  I wish I had an oven that could produce bread like this.

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Penne pasta with a seven-hour slow-cooked lamb.  It was really tasty.

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Tawn had a seared tuna salad.  It was really tasty, too.  So all in all, while it was a little pricey it was a really enjoyable, elegant lunch.

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Cute little “garden” outside the restaurant.  I really like the tile.

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At a gallery in Central: Watanabe Ryoko’s painting Marathon Man.

 

Revisiting the Red Shirts

Will return to the review of Hong Kong restaurants tomorrow.  In the meantime, I went to check up on the Red Shirt protesters Sunday afternoon.  Here are some video and photographs.  The link to my first visit to the protest area on April 9 is here.

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T-shirt being sold by one vendor, commemorating the move from Saphan Phanpha to Ratchaprasong.  Last week a few days after the army clashed with protesters at the Panfa Bridge (“Saphan Phanpha”) in the old city, resulting in two dozen deaths and more than 800 injuries, the Red Shirts left that encampment, moving instead to the Ratchaprasong intersection at the heart of Bangkok’s high-end shopping district.

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There are probably 4-5,000 protesters at the intersection, although they are spread out in the midst of the day seeking shade.  This view is looking south along Ratchadamri road.  The Grand Hyatt Erawan is the first all building on the left behind the Skytrain tracks.  Gaysorn Plaza shopping center is the building immediately on the left of the picture.

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Turning around and looking north towards Phetchaburi Road, you can see Central World Plaza and Isetan department store on the left, and Big C on the right.

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In the old city, protesters defaced much of the encampment they evacuated, including the Democracy Monument.  It seems that their respect for property (or lack thereof) continues at Central World Plaza.

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The famous Erawan Shrine, a popular destination for tourists from elsewhere in Asia, is closed.  A few Red Shirt protesters used a small side entrance to light incense and candles, paying their respects to the Hindu god depicted in the shrine.

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One thing I noticed was a large number of monks who have joined the protesters.  Unlike the situation in Burma, where the government is clearly repressing the people and I can understand why the Buddhist clergy is at the forefront of the protests, the Red Shirt position doesn’t seem to lend itself to religion.  Of course, neither does the position of the Yellow Shirts, who are threatening to counter protest this week.

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There were a few other farangs wandering around.  Most were taking pictures while this couple just seemed to not have received the news about the area being shut down.  Note to visitors to Thailand: when I talk about Thailand being a conservative country, I’m talking about the inappropriateness of this lady’s manner of dress: cover your shoulders and a bit more of your legs, please.

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This farang seems to really be getting into the act, joining his wife (girlfriend?) in the crowd.  I guess it is nice to support your spouse’s politics, but I’d remind him that the Immigration Department might not look too kindly on foreigners engaging in political protest.

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This was about the only thing for sale in the protest area that wasn’t red.

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It was a family affair with children dressed up and indoctrinated into the fun.  Perhaps they are planning on being away from home for several weeks more so brought the whole family.

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The heat was immense, especially in the direct sun, and I was impressed at the organization of the crowd.  There were security patrols, meals being dispensed, and first aid facilities.  With so much infrastructure, you have to wonder who is bankrolling the protests.

 

Food in HK – Lan Fong Yuen

Continuing the Curry Puffy Cuisine Crawl, Tawn and I headed out to Central one morning to retrace Gary’s secondary school breakfast steps, on the hunt for Hong Kong milk tea.  Our destination this morning was Lan Fong Yuen, ostensibly (but unverifiably) the place where milk tea was first created.

Located on the north side of Hong Kong Island, Central is the business district.  Immediately to the south of it is the 1800-foot Victoria Peak.  The rapid elevation gain combined with the population density creates an interesting warren of narrow streets that are great for exploring.  The Central Escalator, a public conveyance system that combines moving sidewalks and escalators, makes it easier for pedestrians to go from Central to the Mid-Levels, a popular residential and, increasingly, commercial area part way up the mountain.

The Central Escalator bisects Gage Street right where it meets Wellington and right below it sits Lan Fong Yuen.  The original shop (there’s a second one a few doors down) still has a pair of wooden stools out front on which you can sit and enjoy your milk tea and a light meal.  The picture above shows the Central Escalator in the top left of the picture.  The red taxi is on Wellington Street.

Looking down Gage Street from Wellington, you can hardly resist the urge to go explore.  It is a lively street with vibrant sights, well worth a post-tea stroll.  But before strolling, it is time for tea.

The interior is clean but dingy, looking just like a hundred other similar restaurants that have been around for ages.  The staff is friendly and a picture menu makes it easy for those who don’t speak Chinese to order.  Tawn, being part Chinese, gets spoken to in Cantonese everywhere we go in Hong Kong.  He’s much too polite, of course, to tell them that he doesn’t understand, so just smiles and nods, occasionally responding in Thai or English.

This is the milk tea.  Not much to look at, right?  This is the essence of simplicity.  It is a very strong black tea cut with evaporated milk.  The flavor of it is almost coffee-like, in terms of the richness of the tea.  It isn’t your grandmother’s Lipton.

The tea is made using pantyhose – the leaves steep inside a pantyhose strainer set in a metal pot.  The pantyhose is attached to a wire handle and it is lifted up and the tea is allowed to drain into the cup.  Worth noting, this is the exact same technique used by street vendors in Thailand for making Thai coffee and Thai tea.  (Note to self – that’s a future entry needing to be written.)

Lan Fong Yuen is an all-day operations offering the tea along with a dozen snacky type dishes to satisfy your hunger.

The fried pork sandwich, a single piece of fried pork loin put on a hamburger bun with a slice of tomato and a slather of sauce.  Incredibly simple, but very tasty.  While at first glance you might think it is tremendously unhealthy, consider that the alternatives offered at fast food restaurants have been heavily processed with added fillers, salts, etc.  This is just a slab of pork with some salt and pepper, fried up and placed on the bun.  Relatively speaking, better for you than a filet-o-fish.

Probably a little less healthy for you is the French toast.

Two pieces of white bread stuffed with jam inside, battered with egg and then fried in lots of oil.  I couldn’t identify whether it was butter or margarine on top and was tempted to think it was the latter.  This was tasty but after two bites was a bit overwhelming.  Probably best when trying to mop up a hangover.

Tawn ordered one of his childhood favorites – this is what qualifies as Chinese comfort food, it seems.  A plate of noodles with some veggies and fried chicken on top.  I looked at the noodles and remarked how much they looked like instant ramen.  Which was the point at which I learned that they are instant ramen.

So what’s the verdict?  Pretty tasty tea and the chicken and pork were both good.  There were several other menu items we wanted to try but we had lunch plans just two hours later and needed some room for that.  The French toast was fine but was pretty oily, all things considered.  For a quick breakfast or a spot of afternoon tea, though, Lan Fong Yuen is definitely on the list!

Food in HK – Shang Shang

Our friend Big Michael is a yoga instructor for Pure Yoga, a Hong Kong based chain.  He’s been teaching for several years, primarily at the Langham Place location in Mongkok, Kowloon.  As Tawn is an active yoga practitioner and has even considered becoming an instructor, he wanted to attend numerous classes during our vacation.  Michael arranged for Tawn to have a guest pass and so Langham Place became a frequent destination during our trip.

Shang Shang Map

Mongkok used to be the heart of the dark underbelly (mixed biological metaphors) of Hong Kong, home to the red light district, gambling dens, and the base of the Triads’ operations.  In Hong Kong popular culture, movies such as Portland Street Blues immortalized the nefarious underworld of Mongkok, where the allegiance of gang members and police officers was always suspect and subject to double- and triple-switches.

These days, however, Mongkok is much cleaned up.  The building of Langham Place, a large office, mall, and hotel complex, has transformed the neighborhood into a seemingly respectable district with bright lights, clean sidewalks, and plenty of legitimate business.  Of course, “cleaned up” is as much a cosmetic matter as a systemic one.  Walking back to Langham Place from Yau Ma Tei just before dinnertime one evening, Michael and I were accosted by a number of touts trying to sell us women from a range of nationalities: Thai, Filipina, Indonesian, Chinese…  I will say, though, that these activities were much more subtle than, say, Soi Cowboy in Bangkok, even if we were just a block away from the mall.

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After Tawn completed yoga one evening, Big Michael suggested we try Shang Shang, a Shanghai Cuisine located on the fourth floor of Langham Place.  There is actually a very decent food court there, both with sit-down restaurants as well as the typical food court take-away places.  Shang Shang is a bright and modern restaurant with attentive waiters and a reasonable price.  Oh, and tasty food, too!

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Fried prawns with spicy sauce.  Delicious and not as spicy as you might expect.

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Braised string beans with minced pork – always a favorite of mine!

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Fried rice

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“La Mian” noodle in spicy and sour soup.

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Sauteed chicken in spicy sauce with cashew nuts.

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Shanghai style steamed pork dumplings – the Xiao Long Bau that we enjoyed so much in Taipei.

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Wontons in hot chili sauce.  Again, similar to a dish we had at Din Tai Fung in Taipei while there with Andy and Sugi last November.

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For dessert, a feather-light bun filled with black bean paste.  Almost felt like meringue, the dough was so light.

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A gelatine dessert made from an aromatic flower similar to chrysanthemum.  I didn’t catch the name.  This is made with rock sugar and agar agar (which is made from seaweed).

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Above, Michael serves the noodles to Tawn.  All in all, this was a really tasty restaurant.  Total price for three persons was HK$400 – about US$51.  Worth a visit.

We’re concluding our holiday today, taking the ferry back to Macau and connecting to our flight back to Krungthep.  I’ll continue posting HK meals over the next few days as there are at least four more I need to cover.  I’ll also get these listed on a Google Map so you can reference them in the future if you so desire.  Remember, these suggestions primarily came from Gary, a foodie who really should blog more frequently.  (Hint, hint…)