Saturday 30 December 2017

Our Adventures in Hong Kong!

During the first few days of September this year, we were in Macau – the Vegas of Asia – and you can read all about that fabulous trip in my previous post. From Macau, we took a Turbojet High-Speed Ferry over to Hong Kong. We were there in the wake of a terrible typhoon and although the weather was sometimes cloudy and a little wet - as you'll see in the photos - that didn't stop us from having the most fabulous few days there.

Hong Kong has long been a fascination to us. We were thrilled to be there at last and determined to make the most of every minute of our visit. We had a lot planned but found it actually impossible to do and see everything that Hong Kong has to offer in the time we allowed.

The first thing we did after checking into our hotel – the Holiday Inn - was to put on comfortable shoes for a long sightseeing walk. This is of course the best way to see the sights and attractions and to browse the shops and markets and street food stalls – of which there are thousands!

We must have walked along the street and the entire length of Hong Kong and Victoria Harbour. Feeling pretty tired afterwards, we hopped onto a traditional tram all the way back to our hotel. The transport system around the city is really good and there are a constant stream of buses and trams and trains and subway trains and taxis and boats to take you quickly and easily and cheaply (not sure about the taxis as we never used one) to wherever you want to go.

On the corner from our hotel was a restaurant called Dim Sum Square and this was where we ate on two occasions because they had the best dim sum we have ever tasted. As you might expect, the best dim sum is in Hong Kong!

We also ate at several other small restaurants – not the fancy western ones or hotel linked ones – but in the side streets where the locals ate and we found the food delicious and reasonably priced. I did see various unusual and strange bugs and insects and sea creatures and parts of animals being cooked and eaten in Hong Kong and, although I'm normally quite adventurous with food, I have to admit that I stuck to what we consider to be normal Asian foods, like fried rice and shrimp and chicken and duck etc.

One thing that fascinated and also appalled me in equal measure in Hong Kong was the amount of traditional medicine shops that are selling very strange things as tonics and remedies. I won’t go into the details.

The next thing we did was to take the famous and charming Star Ferry boat across Victoria Harbour to Kowloon. This is the most inexpensive way to see the famous city skyline and to experience a beloved icon and traditional mode of transport that has been in operation since 1888.

We spent some time in Kowloon, exploring once again on foot, until we eventually ended up at the famous Temple Street Market – the last remaining example of a traditional market in Hong Kong. This is a famous market in its own right for shopping and souvenirs and street food but also the star of many a movie – as it is every movie makers ideal China Town.

One of my very favourite things to do in Hong Kong was our visit to The Peak on The Peak Tram. Not only will the tram take you to the top of Victoria Peak – to the Sky Terrace and a 360 degree fabulous view over the whole of Hong Kong and its skyscrapers, the harbour and all the surrounding islands - but you get there on the world steepest funicular railway. It was an amazing experience and the views – oh my goodness – they are truly breath-taking.

The night before we left Hong Kong we did something so memorable and so iconic that I will forever hold it dear to my heart. We took an old junk boat - an old traditional boat with its billowing red sails - out into the harbour after dark to watch the spectacular nightly light show from the best vantage point possible.

The Symphony of Lights – a light show set to music and colourful lasers and spotlights and LED screens flashing and streaking across all the tall shiny glass and steel buildings around both sides of the harbour is now recognised as a signature icon for Hong Kong – and was simply stunning.

I will forever hold Hong Kong in my heart as a wonderful, romantic, happy and exciting and memorable place. But we were ready to leave simply because our flight the next morning was to take us to Seoul in South Korea – where for the next ten days we would be visiting our family there – our son James and his wife Sujeong and our beautiful two-and-a-half-year-old grandson Aaron and our in-laws, the lovely Kang Family.

So next time here on the blog, I’ll be in South Korea. Join me soon!

Love Janice xx

Wednesday 20 December 2017

Our fabulous weekend in Macau – the Las Vegas of Asia!

At the very start of September this year, we were looking forward to spending a couple of days in Macau – the Las Vegas of Asia!

It’s a place that has long been on my bucket list and I was keen to see for myself how its fun attractions and cosmopolitan hotels and casino resorts really compared to those we enjoyed in Las Vegas USA.

Macau has its own international airport although it is just an hour away on a fast ferry from Hong Kong. So, we planned to fly from Kuala Lumpur into Macau and spend two nights there and then three nights in Hong Kong to make the most of our time in these two iconic cities. But, right up to the last minute, we really didn’t know if our trip was going to happen at all because just a few days earlier a terrible and devastating category typhoon had hit Macau and Hong Kong.

I contacted our airline for an update and we were told our flight was unaffected and leaving as scheduled. I contacted the Parisian Hotel, where we had tickets for the final night of the Michael Jackson tribute show ‘Thriller’, and we were told the show was going ahead as planned too.

We were concerned and also sensitive to the loss of life and the destruction that Macau and its people had suffered, but it was made clear to us that the city was recovering quickly from the terrible storm, and that it was business as usual. We decided to go ahead but to keep away from the old historic town that had been worst hit by the typhoon. We certainly didn’t want to add to the burden and pressures of the recovery effort, and so decided to confine our stay to the Cotai area, and to The Strip.

The weather was not so good after the typhoon – it was wet and stormy - but that hardly mattered at all when almost all attractions are undercover and there are walkways between them. We stayed right on the Strip by all the big hotels that both Macau and Las Vegas are known for – like The Wynn, The Venetian, The Mandarin Oriental, The Ritz Carlton, The St Regis, The Conrad, The Sheraton, The Holiday Inn, and others - and still in Macau - the famous Sands Hotel and Resorts.

It was sad, however, when we were able to venture outside, to see some of the evidence of damage and what was left of the palm trees in the area. They just looked like broken stumps.

We did manage to have a fun ride in the gondolas at The Wynn and we had a fabulous lunch there too at the famous buffet – which we had enjoyed in Vegas too - and can report that they are both equally as good!

We had a good walk around the resort hotels, and in the Venetian Hotel particularly, I wouldn’t have known that I wasn’t in the one in Vegas as it was exactly the same and as equally impressive with its canals and operatic singing gondola drivers and exclusive shops and fabulous skydome interior.

Perhaps the highlight of our trip was attending the Thriller Live Show at the Parisian Hotel. It was the final performance in Macau and this show had started in the West End in London and has travelled throughout the world.
It was truly fabulous and everyone was up dancing!

After a truly amazing couple of days, we were really excited to be leaving Macao knowing that we had not only done it proud but we were going on to Hong Kong next by TurboJet High Speed Ferry.

Join me next time here on the blog when we explore Hong Kong – the iconic city and the colourful harbour with its famous skyline, the mouth-watering food and the history and the culture, our trip by tram up to Victoria Peak and our Star Ferry trip over to the island of Kowloon with its famed Temple Street Market.

Love, Janice xx

Saturday 25 November 2017

Getting our his and her travel-theme sleeve tattoos in KL!

The Tattoo Parlour Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur

On the last day of August this year, we were back in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia after a month in beautiful Vietnam (you can read about Vietnam in my previous post). We had just a few days to spare in KL before our next adventure – two nights in Macao (the Las Vegas of Asia) and three nights in Hong Kong - before we flew onto South Korea for a ten day visit to see our son and his wife Sujeong, and our grandson Aaron, and the rest of our lovely family in Korea.

In Kuala Lumpur, we checked into one of our favourite hotels outside the city, very close to the place Trav had researched and found to do the tattoos we have been talking about getting this year to celebrate our 34th wedding anniversary.

We wanted to mark this anniversary by getting his and her half-sleeve travel tattoos in black and grey that would represent our love and our nomadic lifestyle.

I'd rather be getting tattooed!

We wanted a compass and a map as the main theme with individual touches such as our astrology signs of Scorpio and Pisces. We wanted palm trees to represent our love of tropical places and three little birds in flight to represent our three boys flying the nest. I wanted a quill pen to represent my writing and Trav wanted a diver to represent his passion for scuba diving.

These are our final approved designs. Mine on the left. Trav's on the right.

We consulted with the very talented young artists and tattooists at The Tattoo Parlor Malaysia at Petaling Jaya, Kuala Lumpur. It took many hours of consultation and skill and patience for them to fine-tune our ideas and to get the tattoo designs just right for us. During this time, while tattoo artists Bruce and Oren Lee were busy designing, Cheryl the owner of the shop looked after us, bringing us coffee and food. The atmosphere in the shop was really friendly, fab, and fun.

Tattoo artist Bruce Lee positions the design template onto Trav's arm

Tattoo artist Oren positions the design template on my arm

With the design templates in place that tatttoing can begin!

Then the tattooing began and after over eight hours in the shop, including five long hours in the chair and under the needle, Trav and I finally had the tattoos we had wanted so much and which meant so much to us. We were more than thrilled with the results. I do have a few tattoos already but this was Trav’s first tattoo. I'm so proud of him and we both agreed that the pain was worth it!

The outline is being tattooed and I'm in a bit of a sweat!

The amazing results - photographed raw - after five hours under the needle!

Thank you to ace tattooists Bruce and Oren at The Tattoo Parlor Malaysia!

We love our his and her’s travel tattoos and we will wear them with pride.

Now that our tattoos have healed they look even better!

 Do you have a tattoo/s? What do you think of our new tattoos?

In my next post, I’ll be sharing our fantastic trip to Macao and Hong Kong and explaining to you how the trip very nearly didn’t take off!

Love, Janice xx

Saturday 4 November 2017

An amazing month in beautiful Vietnam…

The end of July through August is a tricky time of year in South East Asia – as many places are having their monsoon season. Having spent a month on Koh Chang in Thailand in the rainy season and then a few fun days in Singapore and Batam Island, which you can read about in previous posts, Trav and I were back in Kuala Lumpur and looking for somewhere to settle down for a month or more, where I could get down to some concentrated work on my current writing project and where he could get in some scuba diving.

We were also looking for somewhere that satisfied several other criteria too - hot sunshine, a nice beach, and most importantly, affordability. And, quite crucially, to satisfy our wanderlust, it also had to be somewhere we hadn’t ever been before.

So, rather than stick a pin in a map, we did our usual research. I’m aware that my posts and photos on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram just show us jetting off and exploring places - but I think you might be really surprised at how much time and effort we spend on planning our travels. Actually, we often don’t go to our first choice of destination. This could be because it would prove too damaging to our current budget or because of the possibility of violent weather (like somewhere being affected by a category tornado/hurricane) or simply because we have reluctantly decided to heed the advice of the UK government’s warning about a place being deemed too unsafe for travel just now. (The UK Gov's website is a good place to check on your travel plans HERE).

Anyhow, after doing our research, we decided on beautiful Vietnam.

Vietnam ticked all our boxes.  We hadn't ever been there before and August is at the end of their hot summer dry season. Our research told us to expect the weather to be good there for at least another month. The coastal regions are renowned for their stunning white sandy palm-fringed beaches and scuba diving and, because it was the end of the season, we expected the price of accommodation to be low.

Also, we had spotted that Air Asia had a bargain flight from Kuala Lumpur to Da Nang in Vietnam, which is very close to the coastal resort of Cua Dae Beach and the larger An ban Beach, and the beautiful ancient town of Hoi An, which is one of only seven UNESCO World Heritage sites in Vietnam.

The river running through the old town at Hoi An Vietnam

At this point - but only once I had completed my writing project - we thought our tentative plans might even lead us up the coast to Na Trang and onto Ho Chi Minh City too, as we have friends there whom we’d love to catch up with again. Then maybe to even flying on from HCMC to Siem Reap Cambodia, to take in the amazing sights at Ankor Wat as it has always been on my bucket list?

The first thing we had to do, however, to get into Vietnam, was to secure a tourist entry visa. We applied online, and as there wasn’t much difference in the price between a one month or three-month visa, and as we were still unsure of our onward plans, we went for the longer one. Then once the visa came through into our email we were able to go ahead and book our flight with Air Asia.

For our accommodation, I looked at Agoda and First, we stayed in a homestay right opposite Cua Dai Beach. It was clean and reasonably priced – a little bit pricier because of its beach location – but we were swayed by the sea, the sand, the seafood restaurants nearby, and so we booked for two weeks.

Our homestay on the beach at Cua Dia Vietnam
An Ban Beach Hoi An Vietnam

During those first two weeks, Trav went diving and I sat on the bed writing. Really, for almost two weeks, I hardly left the room in daylight hours and because there was no desk I had no choice but to sit on the bed! When I did FINALLY finish my project (seriously concerned that I'd damaged my bum irreparably) I really wanted to spend my days lying in the sun and swimming in the sea, but by this time, we decided we needed to move into town, where the accommodation was a bit more affordable.

Trav enjoying the diving off Cham Island Vietnam

So we moved into Hoi An. Again we stayed in a family homestay – there are so many of them in Vietnam and they are run like small boutique hotels.

We had a nice room with a balcony overlooking a pool. Luxury in this incredible heat! I should mention that during this time, the weather was so HOT that it was almost unbearable at times. We have been to many hot and humid places in the world and we can usually cope with it - even when we don't have air conditioning - but my goodness I can’t think of anywhere hotter than Vietnam!

Consequentially, we spent our days not in town but back on the beach at either Cua Dai or An Bang (and that's when I took all the photos). In the early evenings, however, having gone back to our homestay in town for a lovely swim in the pool and a glass of beer, we often took a walk into Hoi An looking for either a restaurant or good street food.

With the fruit sellers in Hoi An Town Vietnam

Hoi An is at its best at sundown when hundreds of lanterns are lit and all the traditional old boats are on the river. Also in the evenings, the use of motorised transport is banned in the old town and so it is enjoyable to explore the pretty streets at this time, either on foot or in an old-fashioned cycle tuk tuk.

As well as the historic buildings in Hoi An, a must-see sight is the iconic old wooden covered Japanese Bridge dating back to the 16th century, built by the Japanese community.

The Old Japanese Bridge in Hoi An Vietnam

One of our favourite spots in the Old Town was the White Marble Bar – where you can sit in the open (no glass) windows (opposite a fan!) with a vodka lychee martini cocktail (oh wow – they were good!) and watch the world and the hundreds of beautifully dressed Chinese tourists wearing Vietnamese hats being transported around in those cycle tuk tuks.

Hoi An is also very famous for its tailors. You can get beautiful clothes made to measure very inexpensively here. It seems that every Vietnamese in the town is a dressmaker or seamstress – as was our landlady, Moon. I had a dress made by her during our stay (that's the fabric below right) and Trav had two linen shirts, a pair of smart city trousers, and his old denim shorts that were falling to bits perfectly replicated. We were delighted. You'll see the resulting outfits being worn in an upcoming blog post!

Moon, our landlady, was also an expert tailor and we had our new clothes made to measure

After spending a whole month in Vietnam in Cua Dai and Hoi An, quite spontaneously, we spotted an absolute bargain flight to Seoul in South Korea. 

We immediately called our son James and his wife Sujeong, to ask if they were up for having us come over to see them and our grandson Aaron and the Kang family of South Korean in-laws. Like many of our spontaneous trips – they are booked on the basis of a favourable price – and this flight, in ten days time, was from Hong Kong to Seoul return.

So we just had to plan to be in Hong Kong in time for our flight.

We had been to Hong Kong once before – but only as a transit stop between flights. I fell in love with Hong Kong when I had looked down at the city from our plane and saw it lit up like a Christmas tree as we flew in. So this was our big chance to spend a few days and nights there before flying onto Seoul. 

I’d also always wanted to tag a couple of nights in Macao onto a Hong Kong trip too. Macao, known as the Las Vegas of Asia, was just a one hour ferry from Hong Kong. I could see a fabulous adventure materialising before my eyes!

So we abandoned our plans to explore more of Vietnam and Cambodia (for another time) and we flew back to Kuala Lumpur for a few days - not exactly a direct route to Macao and Hong Kong - but it actually worked out cheaper as all the bargain flights were out of KL. Good job we don't mind flying!

So, at the end of August after spending a whole month in Vietnam, we were back in our Asian hub of Kuala Lumpur for a few days. We relaxed at our favourite hotel just outside the city and we booked flights, hotels, and looked up transport schedules for buses, ferries, and trains in Macao and Hong Kong and South Korea. See, I told you we did a lot of research and planning.

While we were back in KL at this time, through his own research, Trav happened to find the right tattoo artist to do our ‘his and hers half-sleeve travel tattoos’ that we had been talking about doing this year for our thirty-fourth wedding anniversary, and so we jumped at this fabulous window of opportunity.

These are our final fabulous designs for our tattoos.
You see mine (left) has a feather pen to represent my writing.
Trav's (right) has a diver to represent his passion for scuba diving.
Both tattoos have a compass and a map and palm trees and our astro signs.

Please do join me in my next post, where I’ll be excited to show you our fabulous new half-sleeve matching travel tattoos now permanently on our arms!

Love, Janice xx

Thursday 19 October 2017

Singapore Universal Studios and Batam Island

Towards the end of July, after chilling out on an island called Koh Chang in the eastern part of Thailand, we decided we needed a change of scenery and also a bit of fun. You can read about our month on Koh Chang in my previous post.

So we took an Air Asia flight from Pattaya to Kuala Lumpur with the intention of taking a flight over to Singapore the next day, where we could catch a ferry over to nearby Batam Island.

Air Asia is a budget airline and we fly with them often using Kuala Lumpur as our transit hub in South East Asia. We keep an eye on their flash sales and have managed to get some amazingly cheap deals. In fact, we often make decisions on where to fly next on the basis of their cheap and available flights.

But sometimes, as is often the case with budget airlines, they are occasionally subject to cancellation or delay. Unfortunately, our flight with Air Asia from Pattaya was delayed several hours and when we eventually got back to KL and our favourite Holiday Inn hotel, it was well past midnight and we were tired and hungry and a little grumpy because we’d missed our complimentary food and cocktails in the club lounge!

The next morning, when I checked-in online for our Singapore flight, I suddenly realised that the flight we had booked was mid-morning and not mid-afternoon. So after a crazy mad dash to the airport in an Uber Taxi - we managed to get to the gate just in the nick of time - only to be told the flight was delayed. Phew!

Batam, although part of Indonesia, is very easy to get to from Singapore via a subway ride from the airport and a ferry from the harbour. It is also an extremely affordable place to stay compared to the expense of Singapore and it also has a Holiday Inn Resort and Spa. And, as we had enough hotel loyalty points to stay there for free for a few days, we decided it was just the spot for some R&R before heading back to Singapore and finishing off our trip with some fun at Universal Studios.

The weather in Singapore was hot and humid and overcast when we arrived but we had a great view of the famous city skyline from the ferry as we headed over to sunny Batam.

Our hotel on Batam Island was lovely – with a fabulous pool – and I had what I now consider to be my best-ever spa experience there at the Tee Tree Spa with a full body aromatherapy massage and facial treatment. Bliss.

Back in Singapore, a few days later, feeling relaxed and rejuvenated, we checked into another Holiday Inn not too far away from Universal Studios.

We have been to Singapore once before – two years ago – when we took a pre-Christmas trip from KL for shopping and sightseeing. Back then, we took in all the famous sights like Marina Bay and Raffles Hotel and we went for a Singapore Sling cocktail at the Long Bar. This time, we made the theme park our focus of attention. Universal Studios Singapore is very like the one in Orlando Florida – a bit smaller perhaps – but lots of rides like ‘The Mummy’ are exactly the same and so much fun that we went on that one twice. We found the waiting times for the main attractions much shorter than those we encountered in Orlando – maybe an hour rather than three hours without the expense of an express pass.

We had a wonderful day out – although it was blisteringly hot all day.

Feeling rested and rejuvenated by our trip we headed back to Kuala Lumpur for a quick twenty-four hours - just long enough to meet with our next Air Asia flight. This time we were looking for a bit of adventure and culture - so we were headed to a top destination in South East Asia. A country known for its breathtaking natural beauty and unique heritage - and, excitingly, somewhere we'd never explored before. Join me here on the blog again very soon to find out about our next exciting month-long destination!

Love, Janice xx