A Travellerspoint blog

UK And Europe

Austria, Czech Republic, Germany and London

snow 2 °C

Thursday (5/12/2013) I started my first leg of my trip to London from Brunei at 9pm using RBA's latest plane. Since it was my first time going to London and Europe, not only was I excited but I also felt nervous as it was also my first time travelling alone to a far country. Being on board RB's new plane, 787 Dreamliner which boast about being more spacious and comfortable than the older planes, the only differences I noticed was the touch screen where you can plug in your usb to charge your phone and the window pane darkens if it is sunny outside. However, the seating tray was not as good as the older planes where you could pull it closer to you because for this one, you have no choice but to lean forward towards it which is near to the screen.

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A lot of Somalians were also on this flight. I sat next to a Somalian brother and sister who just couldn't sleep so they kept on talking and fiddling around with the screen. Initially, I thought all of them were also heading to London but the boy told me that they were going to Saudi Arabia. We landed in Dubai airport at 1.20am (5.20am Brunei time) after not having much sleep at all. Everything was pitch black outside and there was nothing much to do except sitting around and waiting until 2.30am (6.30am Brunei time) to board again for London. Fortunately, most passengers this time chose to sleep rather than watching movies so I was able to catch at least 4 hours of sleep.

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Friday (6/12/2013) Landed at Heathrow airport at 6.47am. Temperature was 3 °C with cold wind but no snow. Custom clearance was fast and the immigration officer was friendly. Managed to find Heathrow Express to go to Terminal 1 without any difficulty. While waiting until 1.55pm to board the plane to Stuggart, I managed to have hot chocolate and chocolate pastry for breakfast. I would have to get used to eating bread and pastries throughout my stay in Europe instead of rice. With plenty of time at Heathrow airport, I checked out all the duty free shops especially Harrods and bought a bit of postcards. After less than 2 hour flight on German Wings (more spacious than I've imagined) and being given a box of refreshment, we landed at Stuggart airport at 4.35pm and wind was very, very cold (also 3 °C). The airport was actually very small. The arrival hall was on the ground floor and the departure hall was just on the first floor. There were only a few shops, so more waiting for the next flight. The flight to Vienna was at 5.40pm and this time, the connecting flight was Austrian Air which was even smaller than AirAsia planes! Finally arrived at Vienna airport at 7pm (after almost 24 hours of flying and transiting from one airport to another). Met up with Uwe and went straight to his apartment. Along the way to his apartment, there were rows of shops and restaurants on neat narrow apartment style buildings.

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Saturday (7/12/2013) After 24 hours of flying in the plane and going through 3 different time zone, the jetlag just sets in but weekend is not the time to sleep in since Uwe would show me on how to go around Vienna. His apartment was nice and comfy and had a nice view since you could see down the road on the right side and up the hill on the left side from the window. After breakfast, I went with Uwe to the nearest metro station to get the single day travel ticket for 7.10€. Then we took a tram ride to the Meidling train station where I will need to go on my own when taking the train to Judenburg and Prague. We went to the library first where Uwe borrowed a book about Vienna for me to refer to so that I get around on my own. Then, slowly we walked by foot to a small Christmas market. The various Christmas decorations were very lovely and eye catching but expensive. Then all of a sudden, it started to snow lightly! Fortunately the snow fell like raindrops so it wasn't too bad but the blowing wind was pretty cold. We then headed towards the Christmas market at Maria Theresien-Platz which were packed with people, mostly tourists from all over Europe, enjoying the Christmas atmosphere and especially the hot wine. By the time we were inside the Hofburg Imperial palace compound, the snow had finally stopped falling but the place were just packed with tourists. Uwe suggested that I come back on a working day to go inside the palace where it's not as packed as the weekend.

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We then walked towards Stephansplatz and walked around the square which just consist of shops and concert halls. We went into St Stephen's cathedral (lots of tourists also) which is a typical gothic, gloomy church setting. They were in the process of cleaning the exterior building which had been covered with black soot over the years. The Imperial Crypt was not far away from St Stephen's cathedral, which like other tourist sites, it was just too full of tourists, so once again Uwe told me to come back on a working day. Next, we went to Hundertwasser village which was built by the artist, Friedensreich Hundertwasser in 1990 and 1991. The Hundertwasserhouse used to be a car tyre factory before and its original structures had not been removed but improved by changing and adding components with new shapes and colours. We then stopped by at the Rathausplatz Christmas market located in front of the City Hall. This market was pretty unique compared to the others as there were different types of lights hung on each tree like teddy bears, snowman, guitars and music notes. For dinner, Uwe brought me to his favourite palatschinken restaurant which well, they weren't selling the usual pancakes like we have in Brunei for breakfast. Both of us ordered a 3 pancake set with different fillings. Not only were they delicious but also very filling. By the time we had finished dinner, the temperature had gone down to 2 °C so it was nice to go back to Uwe's apartment where it was warm.

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Sunday (8/12/2013) After breakfast, we went to the nearest train station again to buy a 1 week travel card for me before heading towards Schloss Schonbrunn by foot. It was a nice day for a walk where it wasn’t too cold nor hot even though the sun was shining. On the way, we passed by a primary school, shops and heard the church bell ringing. We walked to the side entrance of the castle which leads to the garden area and then slowly walked up the 60m high hill to see the Gloriette as well as the whole of Vienna city and the back of the castle. After taking some shots of the landscape, we slowly walk down to the garden area where there are no blooming flowers but a few interesting sculptures and structures. After all the walking, we headed to the Christmas market in front of the palace. There were more snacks and cookies and all sort of pastries here than the previous Christmas markets that we went to. After enjoying some snacks, I wanted to see the grand tour inside the palace but since it’s the weekend with so many tourists stopping over Vienna, we decided not to go in like the other touristic places but leave it on a working day.

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So we went back to Uwe's apartment and took his car up to Kahlenberg which is 484 meters high and lies in the northeastern foothills of the Eastern Alps. The wind on top of the hill was freezing cold and very strong even though it was only 7 °C with the sun still out. After struggling to take some photos of the evening view of Vienna and the Daunbe river, we finally head back to Uwe's apartment and decided to have dinner at a Turkish pizzeria just below his apartment. Nice pizza though the cheese was slightly too salty and I also tried Almdudler (which means "singing in the [alpine] meadows"), Austrian’s national drink soft drink made of apple and grape juice concentrates flavoured with herbs. Very nice because of its sweet and fruity taste! By night time, the temperature had gone down to 2 °C again.

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Monday (9/12/2013) Today’s itinerary is visiting the Schonbrunn palace. Since Uwe was working, I walked by foot on the same way as we did yesterday. It was drizzling slightly so everyone were either inside the castle, the souvenir shop or the restaurant which offers the apple strudel show. I was interested in learning how to make the apple strudel but the restaurant was fully packed with people so that plan was cancelled. Instead I went into the palace and took the Grand Tour which covers 40 rooms and we were lead from one room to another by just following the audio guide. It was very interesting as the audio guide tells the life story of the Habsburgs family especially Sisi (Empress Elisabeth). There were elaborate paintings of the Habsburgs as well as their original furniture. It was a very educational visit for a rainy day. By the time I was done with the tour around the palace, it was already afternoon and since most place of attraction close early during winter, I decided to call it a day. On the way back, I stopped by Billa and did a bit of grocery shopping to cook for dinner at night. Salmon and plums were so cheap compared to Brunei that I couldn’t resist buying them. Temperature throughout the whole day was 2 °C.

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Tuesday (10/12/2013) First stop today was to go to Meidling station to see if I can still remember the way and how long it would take to go there since I will be taking the train to Judenburg tomorrow. After feeling satisfied that I won’t have difficulty in knowing where to go, I headed straight to Karlsplatz. Not far from Karlsplatz station is the Karlskirche with a small Christmas market. There were not many people there except for some students who were studying in the Vienna University of Technology which was just next to the church. After taking some photos of the church and checking out the Christmas market, I walked towards Belvedere Palace. It was difficult at first to find the correct direction to walk since the map provided on the guide book wasn’t fully detailed so it took me quite a while to figure it out. On the way, the architecture of all the buildings are just fantastic.

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I finally found Belvedere Palace and bought the ticket to see the Lower and Upper Belvedere. Between these 2 buildings, there is a large garden area where you actually had to walk quite a distance upwards to reach to the Upper Belvedere (good exercise during the winter season). Both buildings houses paintings and the ceiling painting of the Marble Hall in the Upper Belvedere was just magnificent that you can’t help but wonder how long did the painter take just to finish that ceiling alone. At the back of the Upper Belvedere was the Christmas market and there were more people here than the one in front of Karlskirche. I bought a mini Carnival Venetian mask made of clay as a souvenir to remind me of the Christmas markets in Vienna. I had my lunch of latspeck-lauch-krauternockerl made of pasta, bacon, leek onion, herbs and seasoning for 4.90€ which was delicious but a bit too salty. I made an attempt to find the Naschmarkt but wasn't able to find the accurate direction and was heading towards Karlsplatz station instead. Since it was getting dark after 5 pm, I decided call it a day and come back another day to find it. Temperature for today was once again 2 °C which was pleasant as it was not too cold at all.

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Wednesday (11/12/2013) Today I headed to Judenburg to meet up with Michaela who I have been corresponding frequently for 5 years now. I board the 10.30am train at Meidling station and since it was my first time travelling from 1 place to another by train, it was also a learning experience. The last stop of this train route is Villach so along the way to Judenburg, the train passed through a lot of villages. The scenery along the way was very lovely as most landscape was covered with snow with a lot of mountains. The train finally arrived at Judenburg station at 1pm and I had to wait for a while for Michaela to come. When she finally arrived and the feeling of meeting up with someone who you have never seen face to face except reading their thoughts through letters for first time is just wonderful and exciting and it’s just like we’re just old friends who actually see each other daily. We had a lot to talk about so it was fun catching up in real life. We had lunch at a nice simple restaurant just below the cinema. She recommended me to try weiner chicken with pumpkin seed oil (shocking to see that it was green in colour at first but it didn't taste bad at all) which was different from the one in Vienna. We then stop by her lovely house, had tea and Christmas cookies (a tradition which I noticed is quite common in Europe around this time of the year) before going to town centre. Although her house is smaller than in Brunei, her backyard is pretty spacious with a garden and a small swimming pool!

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The town centre is pretty small with a tower that was next to St Nicholas church. Unfortunately, the tower had closed by the time we reached there so we went inside the church instead. Then we headed to the small Christmas Market by foot and since both of us are not really drinkers, we just had warm orange punch with cinnamon and other herbs. Since there was still time before I had to go to the train station, we dropped by Michaela's brother, Mathias and Suzie’s apartment to see Nico. When I first saw him in the photo sent by Michaela, he was just newly born baby but now seeing him in person, he already can walk and talk, though he is so shy but so excited to see new faces . Unfortunately, he was too shy to take photo with me but he’s so cute. By the time we got to the train station, I had 15 more minutes before the train arrive, so we talked a bit more before going to the platform. It’s such a nice trip to Judenburg even though it’s a small town, lovely change of scenery but unfortunately it is a very short visit. Temperature in Judenburg was -0 °C and but the time I reached back to Vienna, the temperature was 0 °C.

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Thursday (12/12/2013) My goal today is to find Naschmarkt which I failed to find before. I remembered passing through a station with the word Naschmarkt when I was taking the metro towards Stephenplatz so I decided to use that route again. After passing a few stops, I found that station and got out through the nearest exit. Temperature was 1 °C and the wind was colder than when I first arrived in Vienna. Goal achieved, I finally found it! It’s a very nice place for taking photos as you see all sorts of food at this market. I was surprised to see jackfruit sold there too since I didn’t think European people even know how to eat it. Most of the stalls were selling almost similar stuffs like olives, pastries, spices, vegetables, fruits, dippings, etc but still very interesting to see the range of food available daily. Then I came across a stall which sells my favourite flower, tulips of various colours! Was so tempted to buy them but then again, I couldn’t bring them back to Brunei and even if I could, they would have wilted by the time I reach to Brunei.

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Since I was already in that area, I then headed towards Wien museum which was pretty interesting. I wasn’t aware that Vienna had an old city wall around it and from the model that they have created on the whole of Vienna, it wasn’t actually a big city at all. Votivkirche (Votive church), a neo-Gothic church was my next target which isn't too difficult to find once you come out from the underground station because of its unique 2 slimline towers. Inside it like every catholic church that I've been to, it has that dark, cold, gloomy atmosphere. By the time I’ve finished touring Votivkirche, it was still bright enough to go around some more and I was planning to find Scottenkriche (Scottish church) which was not far away and thought I was heading towards it since I was coming from the back side. Instead after a while of walking around, I realized that I’ve been to this place before and it so happens that I actually went through the side of the City hall with the Christmas Market that I came with Uwe during the weekend. So I had a late snack and decided to buy a pair of Austrian traditional dolls for my collection. Since Uwe is attending his company's Christmas party, I decided to go to Stephansplatz to check out the souveniour shops since I haven’t got much of that to give away. I also found a fairly cheap priced shop called Forever 21 and bought a bag and 3 spaghetti string vest. After having enough of shopping, I headed back to Uwe's apartment to check how to pack the things for tomorrow night since I'll be headed to Prague on 14th December. Temperature today is 4 °C.

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Friday (13/12/2013) I decided to do some packing before going out so that I don’t have to spend a lot of time packing tonight. Today's target is to find Hoher market to see the Ankeruhr, a large gilded clock in Jugendstil style and The Imperial crypt (Kaisergruft). I started off looking for Hoher market but could not find the exact location so I ended walking around the area a bit and instead, checked out Jesuit and St Peter church. Not wanting to give up on Hoher market, I kept on walking and ended up at Stephensplatz instead. Since I’ve reached to Stephensplatz, I decided to check out the Imperial Crypt which is beneath the Capuchin church and actually had to walk almost 1 whole round passing through the Hofburg palace before finding it. It is very rare and amazing to see 107 metal sarcophagi in the Imperial Crypt, all members of the Habsburg family. The last crown prince of the Habsburg family to be buried in this crypt is Ott von Habsburg who passed away in 2011. I tried to find Hoher market again but the more I walked, the further I went to the other direction and ended up in Karlsplatz so in the end, I decided to head back home.

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I was surprised to find Uwe home early and since it was my last day in Vienna, I decided to treat Uwe for his hospitality, He took me to an Austrian family run restaurant which surprisingly, did have English menu. I tried the traditional Austrian veal snitzel which was delicious and had crispy coating. The only thing I didn’t try is the Viennese Sachertorte as I don’t think I could finish the whole piece of cake if it is too sweet nor would Uwe help me to finish it off since he doesn’t like very sweet food either. Well, after staying in Vienna for a 1 week, I kind of got used to living there and it feels kind of sad that I have to leave already when there are still some more places to check out. Temperature today was surprising slightly warmer than before which is 6 °C.

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Saturday (14/12/2013) Since today’s the weekend, Uwe sent me to the train station and after we said our goodbye in Vienna (since we’re going to meet up in Berlin again), I was on my own heading towards Prague. It’s a 4 hour ride and unlike the route going to Judenburg, there wasn’t much things to see along the way since there’s only flat lands and farms so it was kind of boring. The train was expected to reach Prague at 1.20pm and I am to meet up with Dan and his girlfriend at the train station. The train was very comfortable and unlike the train going to Judenburg which has 2 seats in each row on the left and right side, this train has 6 seat compartments which means privacy and it was a good thing that not many people were heading to Prague. Upon arriving at the Prague station, I finally met up with Daniel and his girlfriend, Silvia. They are a nice couple though sometimes we do have communication problems since English is hardly spoken in Czech. I had booked a room at Benediktska and although both Dan and Silvia do come to Prague often and with the help from the GPS, they still had problem finding where it is and I had to call Vincent at least 3 times before finally finding it. After putting our luggage in the apartment, we went to the Prague castle area.

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We walked to Petrin Lookout tower which according to Dan is Prague’s “Eiffel Tower” and in order to go there, we had to use the tram to go to Petrin hill. Petrin Tower, a steel framework tower of 63.5m tall has 299 steps with no elevator for people to use. While climbing that 299 torturous steps in winter with the cold wind blowing, I was not in a good shape especially when my knees start to ache after climbing a few steps. I actually had to rest for quite some time on the top platform before I could enjoy the night view. Going down was not as bad as climbing up but that was enough exercise for a day. We then headed to the mirror maze room where we had to find the way out and came across various types of mirrors that distort your body to different shape and sizes.

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We then headed slowly down towards Prague castle and I was told that there is changing of guards at noon time tomorrow. We walked on Charles bridge (which is said to be a very romantic bridge if you have a partner with you) and I can't believe that I am finally in Prague, walking on Charles bridge and looking at Prague castle! Unfortunately, night is not the best time to take photos of the scenery of this romantic bridge so, I will have to come back again during day time. We continued walking towards the Christmas Market in the Old Town Square where the main attraction is the astronomical clock which is 600 years old already. Every hour, there would be the procession of the Apostles and it’s just amazing to see it still running smoothly. Food, people and Christmas decorations are just everywhere on the square. I tried a dish called Slovenska Bramborové halušky, a Slovak potato gnocchi. It looks similar to the one I had at the Christmas market in Belvedere Palace in Vienna but less saltier. Then we drove to Wenceslas square just to check out the Christmas market which has lesser stalls than in the Old Town Square before going back to the apartment. After coming back to apartment, I talked with Dan until 1 2.30am before having a late night bath. I can’t believe that my hair can be so damp even though I didn't sweat at all since the temperature today is 4 °C.

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Sunday (15/12/2014) Today’s temperature is still 4 °C with the sun shining brightly. Silvia dropped me and Dan near to the Old Town square and we walked towards the Prague castle through the Charles bridge to see the changing of guards. It is very similar to the changing of guards at the Buckingham palace though the only difference is that these guards walked by foot from their station to the palace so when they march, you can just hear total silence and their footstep stomping the ground whereas the guards in Buckingham palaces uses horse. It was very interesting and I’m glad that Dan told me about it because I wasn’t aware that they also have it in Prague. Fortunately, the people who also watched this show were not as many as those always waiting to see the changing of guards in London. I love the winter uniform and hat of the Czech guards, it makes you feel like you’re still in a communist country. There was also a man who was protesting at that time but the guards did not do anything to him as people are allowed to do demonstration as long as they don’t get violent.

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After taking some photos, we then walked back to Charles bridge where Silvia picked us up and we head towards Ostrava which is a 3 hour drive. On the way, we stopped at a restaurant for lunch and they treated me with a traditional Bohemian platter which is roasted pork with knedliky (dumplings) and cabbage. I don’t know whether if it’s because we are hungry but that dish is very, very delicious! By the time we reached to Ostrava, it was almost 6pm and I met up with Daniel's mother (she also has the same name as me) who was looking after their son, Daniel and their cute smiling daughter, Natalia. Initially before I started my trip, I was told by Dan that I will be staying at his mother’s apartment but due to unavoidable circumstance, I ended up staying at their apartment which was not too bad but indeed small. I slept in their son's room and fortunately, I was not very tall so I could sleep on his bed eventhough Daniel is only 10 years old. Dan offered me their homemade family wine which to me, I can’t tell whether if it is good or not since I am not a frequent drinker. It has been a long day with long driving but well, at least I get to see another part of Czech and let’s see what Ostrava has to offer tomorrow.

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Monday (16/12/2013) According to Dan, Ostrava does not have much to offer as is an industrial city with a lot of factories. So, to start of the day, he took me to his work place which is a juvenile institute for problematic youths (mainly from parents who are drug addicts) between 13 to 17 where they are taught discipline, academics, sports and also life skills. The institute has very strict security as every door has to be locked to prevent the youths from escaping but they have good facilities for them like yoga room, games room, tv room, etc. According to Dan, the youths will be allowed to use those facilities or even go out if they have earned a certain number of points for good behavior but if they escape or do not return back to the institute on their day out, then their points will be erased and they have to start all over again from 0. It’s an eye opener on how an European country deal with their juvenile delinquent problems and I’m glad I know Dan who is willing to show me how his institute work or else I wouldn’t have any chance to even step into these sort of institute. Since Ostrava is an industrial city, one should not miss visiting a factory and that is exactly what Dan brought me to see. We went to visit Dolni Oblast Vitkovice which is the number 1 attraction in Ostrava and has been inscribed on the European Cultural Heritage list. After 170 years of producing pig-iron that is used in the Eiffel Tower, this factory has been discontinued. Everyone who study Chemistry has learned about iron production and about the blast furnace in theory only so it is amazing to actually see a blast furnace in an iron factory in real life. A senior worker who has been working in this factory for a long time took us on the tour and explained about how the factory worked. We saw the coking plant, blast furnace and was also explained on what happens to the melted iron once it comes out of the furnace. To me, it’s like learning about iron production all over again but this time with the real stuff. The highlight of this tour is actually the ride on the funicular, followed by climbing up a few flight of stairs to the top of the blast furnace. The view was not really that spectacular as you see smog below the blue sky since there are still factories in operation. However, the wind at the top was freezing cold even though we were only 65.7m above the ground.

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We then went home for a late lunch and waited for Silvia and Daniel to come back. Dan gave me honey wine and one of Czech’s best wine which are all very strong for me. In the evening when Silvia and Daniel has returned home, we went out to the New Town City Hall at Prokeš Square to go up the tower to see Ostrava by night but unfortunately, they closed very early on that day. So, we walked to the Christmas market which is pretty small compared to the ones in Vienna and Prague but there is a skating ring. Since it was cold, Dan bought me a hot wine punch which makes your body warm on a cold night. Since it was my last night in Ostrava, Dan wanted to buy me a drink (which actually end up to a few) even though he knows that I’m not a drinker. So we walked to the pub area and he took me to a pub with cool decorations. He ordered for me Pilsner, Czech’s famous beer and then while flirting with the bar girl, he also ordered for me a sweet kind of vodka. If I have never drank any and beer or wine before in my whole life, I would have gotten slightly drunk already so I know am aware of my limit when it comes to drinking. Then not having enough of drinking, he brought me to an Irish pub and this time, he ordered Radegast, another Czech beer with Nakládaný hermelín, a Czech appetizer made from hermelín which is a soft cheese soaked in oil and spices that originates from Central Bohemia for our dinner. It is pretty tasty when eaten with bread but a bit too spicy and filling for me since it is cheese plus we are drinking beer with it. I realized that Dan was probably slightly drunk already since he kept on ordering beers compared to me (I only had 2 beers and 1 liquor for the whole night) and kept on flirting with the bar girls. He wanted to go to another pub after that but I said I had enough since I will be going back to Prague the next morning.

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Tuesday (17/12/2013) Dan took me to the train station and I thanked him and Silvia for their warm hospitality even though they do not understand or speak English very well. We said our goodbye and start my journey back to Prague at 10.53am. Czech trains offer better services as we were given free drinks (I asked for mint tea) and they even had internet connection! I managed to use this opportunity to contact Gautier, the host who I’m going to stay with for the next 2 nights. We decided to meet up at Burger King at the main train station at 2.30pm. I didn't expect him to be the same height as me (since all the men I’ve come across in Europe are way taller than me) but he spoke good English though soft at times which makes it difficult to understand what he is talking about. His apartment was not far from the main train station but quite far away from the main town area where I stayed with Dan and Silvia earlier on. There wasn’t much at his block except for a few pubs, restaurants, meat shop and a Vietnamese shop. After trying his lentils and sausage dish, we went out to see Prague by night. First, we went to the Namesti Miru Christmas Market since we were going to use the tram to go to Prague castle area. I tried trdelník, which is a rolled dough, grilled on a stick and coated with both sugar and cinnamon. In addition to that, I requested that the inner side be coated with chocolate (actually the original plain ones without chocolate is more nicer). Gautier showed me the John Lennon Wall which is filled with John Lennon-inspired graffiti and pieces of lyrics from Beatles' songs. Then we walk through the lovers bridge (between Kampa Island and Lesser Town) which is just full of love locks. We finally walked slowly back to Gautier’s apartment by foot from Charles bridge, passing through the Old Town Square where I’ve been to with Dan and Silvia. The temperature today was not very cold at all.

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Wednesday (18/12/2013) Prague’s weather is pretty cold today (1 °C). Since the Hong Kong siblings woke up when I was about to go out, I asked them to go around together since we only have one set of key which I will only give it to them after tonight as I was going to leave Prague the next morning. We decided not to use the tram but walk by foot instead which was pretty interesting as we passed by a lot of places. When we were at the Wenceslas Square Christmas market, we were called by a young guy who was manning a stall that sells coin souvenirs on Prague’s iconic sights but the interesting thing is that you make it yourself. Since I did not buy a lot of souvenirs from Prague and those coin souvenirs were pretty light and small, I decided to get 2 different types of image that is Prague castle and the astronomical clock. I know how heavy the sledge hammer is and if not enough force is being applied, the image would not turn out very nicely and since I do not need to have aching arms the next day when I have to carry my heavy suitcase up the train for my next journey, I told the Hong Kong siblings it do it for me since the sister were pretty interested in trying it out. So the brother did the first coin, followed by the sister as I knew how heavy the hammer is. Both of them did a good job as the image did turn out quite well. As we walked upwards, a lady and a man was playing music and some guys which were a bit high (probably from having a lot of hot wine early in the morning) were enjoying the music. I was suddenly pulled by the lady who was strumming on a huge violin with a man playing the accordion and of course, photos need to be taken. Pretty friendly people.

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Since I was pretty bad at direction, so it took us quite a while to reach to Charles bridge but on the bright side, we took a lot of photos especially on the architecture (not as impressive as in Vienna though). Since there are a number of bridges in Prague, it was difficult to know which bridge we were heading to at first when we reached to the bank of Vltava river but when we turned to our left and saw the Prague castle, we actually saw that we had walked towards Mánesuv most (Manes) bridge. By the time we reach to the Prague castle, we were 15mins too late to enter into St Vitus cathedral so we just looked around. Since we didn't use tram, walking by foot back to Gautier's place was a long way since we weren't familiar with the direction. How I miss Vienna and it's subways. We waited for Gautier to come back at 8.30pm for dinner as I told them that it will be my treat since it’s my last night in Prague and I wanted to try the authentic Czech cuisine. When we got back to his apartment, he seemed a bit drunk from his company party but we went out for dinner anyway. It was a medieval restaurant with armour and weapons from the medieval time. Gautier recommended the onion soup which was nice and it had cheese and meat strips in it. Then our pork hock came as a shock to us as I didn't expect it to be so big but the guys seems to enjoy their food. Gautier as usual, drank more than 1 glass of beer and even on the way back to his place, he was still inviting us for more drinks at the pub below his apartment. At home, he offered abstinence which I declined as I had an early train to catch the next day but he and the Hong Kong siblings went ahead with it. After coming out of the bathroom, I was surprised why the party had already died and apparently Gautier had burnt his fingers while heating up the abstinence. What a funny thing to hear!

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Thursday (19/12/2014) Woke up at 7.15 am with too much acid in my tummy (reason not to drink alcohol if possible). Packed up all of my stuff and left Gautier's place at 8.30am which is a good thing because I got lost going towards the train station. Fortunately, a handsome guy was nice enough to help me carry my luggage down the stairs towards the subway and I had to asked a few people for the direction to the train station which most of them gave different answers (so much for being helpful). Finally, I found the short cut to the platform where I arrived from Ostrava. Fortunately, I had 10 minutes to spare because I was getting panicked that I will miss the train. The train ride to Munich is about 6 hours. The view from the train is so lovely. I don’t understand why the view from Vienna to Czech is the only view that is very dull whereas to other places, they are just so breathtaking.

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We finally reached Munich main train station later than expected as it is the last stop for the train route. It is a pretty cool the train station as the trains just park in front of small kiosks and when you step out of the train, you can go and grab a bite or go shopping. I went straight to find Hotel City Atlas following a man’s instruction which was not quite accurate but I was lucky enough to come across a helpful young American guy who helped me get my direction right through his mobile map. Thank God for that and I managed to find the hotel eventually. The location was not bad as it is pretty near to the train station. However, the room was no different that the size of the hotel rooms in Singapore or Hong Kong but for 1 person, it is alright. After resting a bit, I went back to the main train station which was only a 15 minute walk. I decided to check out Marienplatz which has Christmas markets before heading to Karlsplatz. The metro was easy to use so I didn't get lost as bad as in Prague. Marienplatz is just full of tourists checking out the Christmas markets. They have many types of Christmas decorations which is different from those in Vienna and of course they are more cheaper. My favourite stall in the Christmas market is the fruit stall where they sell fruits for only €1 (B$1.72) especially for blueberries! Obviously, things are more cheaper in Munich than other parts of Europe so far because of the lower standard of living.

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Saturday (20/12/2014) Today’s wind was cold as the temperature was 0 °C. I went to main train station to look for the free city tour and found them next to the Starbucks Coffee shop at the main train station. Jonathan was very good looking British lad from Bristol but he's in charge of the Danuch tour. We left with Scott (an Ozie) to Marienplatz where we were then split into 2 groups before the tour started. Scott introduced us the history of the Rathaus-Glockenspiel in the City Hall which has a funny story of the dancing figurines and the rooster. The top half of the Glockenspiel tells the story of the marriage of the local Duke Wilhelm V (founder of the world famous Hofbräuhaus) to Renata of Lorraine. In honour of the happy couple there is a joust with life-sized knights on horseback representing Bavaria (in white and blue) and Lothringen (in red and white). The Bavarian knight wins every time, of course. The bottom half and second story is about Schäfflertanz (the coopers' dance). According to myth, 1517 was a year of plague in Munich. The coopers are said to have danced through the streets to "bring fresh vitality to fearful dispositions." They remained loyal to the duke, and their dance came to symbolize perseverance and loyalty to authority through difficult times.

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We then head to Frauenkirche (also known as the Devil's church) whose twin towers dominate the city’s skyline. The legend said that the devil made a deal with the builder to finance construction of the church on the condition that it contain no windows. The clever builder, however, tricked the devil by positioning columns so that the windows were not visible from the spot where the devil stood in the foyer. When the devil discovered that he had been tricked, he could not enter the already consecrated church. The devil could only stand in the foyer and stomp his foot furiously, which left the dark footprint that remains visible in the church's entrance today. Half way through the tour, when we were at the Max-Joseph-Platz, the wind became very cold and it started to drizzle lightly. We stood in the cold open area while waiting for Scott to explain to us about the history of Bavaria. Finally, we quickly walked to the famous Hofbrauhaus beer drinking hall where it is warm and it still looks elegant for its age. We were told how men actually pee while still having their beer which was pretty funny and yet disgusting as they had pipes installed below the table for that purpose. After 3 hours of learning about Bavarian history, we ended our tour in Vitualitry market which I think I saw rabbit meats being sold. Originally I had planned to go to Nymphenburg palace after the city tour but with the rain and the cold wind, it was wet and too cold to be out in the open. So I decided to spend the rest of the day at Marienplatz to do a bit of shopping and ended up buying more fruits and decided to get Uwe a personalised cutting board. Oh, and I also managed to find a 1 euro store which sold everything for only 1 euro! Then I checked out the neighbourhood around the hotel and found St. Paul's Church and also a restaurant that has Bavarian meal.

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Sunday (21/12/2013) The highlight of the Munich trip is the visit to Neuschwanstein Castle which is said to be the inspiration for Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle. There were a lot of visitors who wanted to go to this trip and they were fortunate enough to be able to go even though they did not do any reservation beforehand. By 9.15am, we started the 2 hour train ride with Michelle (who is an American) to Füssen in southwest Bavaria and the scenery along the way was just magnificent. Everywhere is covered with snow and the mountains were just breathtaking. I also got to know Wai Lan and Ajane who also lived at Vincent's apartment in Prague. Small world after all. We arrived at Hohenschwangau village around noon time was told to have a quick lunch before walking uphill. I can’t believe that I am finally here and seeing this castle in real life instead of from a postcard that I’ve received from a friend! Walking uphill in the cold weather was a challenge but we know that we will get our reward at the end of the trail.

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Neuschwanstein Castle was built by King Ludwig II as his retreat and as an homage to Richard Wagner, an opera composer who he likes so much. Ludwig used his personal fortune and through extensive borrowing to have this castle built. Apparently, King Ludwig II’s cousin is the famous Sisi (Empress Elisabeth) who was married to Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph. Inside the castle, we had a German tour guide who spoke clear English and explained to us about each room in the castle. King Ludwig is known as the virgin king who never married because he was gay. He spent 34 million on building 3 castles of which only 1 was complete. He died a mysterious death but seems like a conspiracy complot by the government to kill him because he was spending too much money building castles! After lots of photo taking, we finally left Füssen at 4pm and reached back to Munich main train station at 6pm. I was planning to try out the Bavarian dinner at a restaurant which I came across yesterday but unfortunately it was closed by the time I reached there. Oh well, at least I tried the roasted pork with dumplings and cabbage in Czech and there would always be another trip back to Munich again one day.

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Monday (22/12/2013) Today would be a 6 hour train ride to Berlin. I checked out from the hotel and waited at the main train station. I couldn't find the train which I am supposed to board at first because apparently, there were 2 different trains going to Berlin. Fortunately, a train driver who had just finished his shift was friendly enough to help me find where my train is. The train left at 9.10am and is expected to arrive to Berlin around 4pm. Since it was a long ride, I managed to get some sleep as the train wasn’t that full. Uwe will be waiting for me at the main train station to bring me to his cousin, Ralph’s place as I would be stay with them for Christmas. Although Ralph could only speak a bit of English but Petra couldn't, they were still friendly and hospitable. Their son, Ronny joined us for dinner and we ate at a German restaurant near to their apartment. I ordered creamy turkey with mushroom which was nice. After dinner, we walked back to Ralf's apartment and just chill out while watching Jamie Oliver's cooking show in German.

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Tuesday (23/12/2013) Today after having a hearty breakfast, Uwe showed me the most important sites in Berlin. We walked from Alexanderplatz where the Weltzeituhr (Worldtime clock) shows various times in different countries, passing through the Berlin TV Tower towards the Berliner Dom which is a very nice 19th century cathedral. After showing me where the Museum Island is which consist of the Bode museum, Pergamon museum, Egyptian museum of Berlin and the Altes Museum, we walked to Brandenburg gate where we saw some guys dressed in funny costume like Mario brothers, Star Wars and the funniest ones we saw are 2 guys dressed in German soldier’s uniform but holding flags of different countries so that tourists will pay money to take photo with them. We passed by part of the Berlin wall that had been torn down (which Uwe told me that he will bring me to the part where part of the Berlin wall still exist tomorrow) towards the Victory column to see the whole of Berlin. Climbing up the 285 steps to go to the top of the column was painful but as they say, no pain, no gain. The scenery of Berlin from the top was nice and it was interesting to see the cars going through the big roundabout. We stayed there long enough to see the sun slowly setting in Berlin before heading to Kathy's place which was near to Alexanderplatz since she was going to join us for dinner at Ralf's place. Tonight’s menu is salmon fish and I have to say that Ralf is a very good cook.

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Wednesday (24/12/2013] After another day of hearty breakfast, Uwe and I went out to see where the remaining Berlin wall is. We went to the Berlin wall on West Berlin side to see the artwork of artists from all over the world where they express their ideas and feelings. On East Berlin, the 14m high Berlin wall is still there with the watch tower. We saw videos of how Berlin was separated to East and West Berlin over night and how people from the East side tried to go to the West and how people were killed when they tried to cross over the Berlin wall. There was even a video on how a family from the East side managed to get some people to the West side by digging a tunnel under their house which remained unnoticed by the soldiers until they were finally caught. The place where the wall still exist is a very solemn, quiet place where visitors can only watch through videos and touch the Berlin wall but can’t comprehend how the Germans would have felt at that time when they were separated from their friends and families overnight during the Cold War. Then we slowly walk towards the park and finally to the back of Charlottenburg Palace which is the largest palace in Berlin and the only surviving royal residence of the Hohenzollern family. Since it was Christmas eve, we head back to Ralf’s place for dinner. After dinner, it was present time where I was surprised that I was even given a present by Ralf and Petra which was very nice of them. Since there is not much of history left in Berlin due to World War 2, they got me a book on Historic Berlin which is very interesting because it contains black and white photos taken in Berlin in the past.

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Thursday (25/12/2013) We didn't go out today as we were going to have Christmas lunch with Ralf’s family. Having goose thigh for the first time instead of the traditional turkey was different but nevertheless, delicious especially eaten with kale and potato dumplings. Ralf's father, brother and daughter, Anna came with her husband and Johnny, their 10 month old son. After lunch, we all took a walk around the park near their area. At night time, it was only 5 of us left when everyone else went home. We had leftover potato dumplings and food from lunch for dinner which was filling enough and rested for the night.

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Thursday (26/12/2013) Since today is my last day in Berlin and I haven’t seen what I came for in Berlin which is to visit the Pergamon museum to see the Seat of Altar for myself, Uwe took me to see it before my flight in the afternoon. It’s a very interesting museum which shows artifacts from the past especially from biblical times like the miniature model of the Tower of Babel and the huge replica of the Babylonian wall. Finally seeing the life size of the Seat of Altar was just amazing as Ernie mentioned about it in one of our School of Bible lesson. We had beef goulash for lunch which is cooked by Ralf before going to Berlin airport to catch my flight to London. Shocking enough, the arrival gate is the same gate for departure. What a small airport for a big city when compared to Brunei’s airport. The flight was delayed by 1 hour so I arrived in London 1 hour late. Using the tube from the airport wasn’t too difficult but it took an hour to reach near to where I had booked my accommodation. Everyone was caught off guard by the construction they were doing on certain lines and the last station where I am supposed to get out from was also affected. So from Earl’s court station people either have to walk by foot (like me) or get on the double decker bus which has already been assigned to take passengers to the nearest line of the route. I had to call Melinda for the direction to her place by foot which wasn't too far once you know the road and eventually found it after calling her 3 times. There’s a big Tesco shop at the corner on the way to her place but unfortunately, it was closed since I forgot Boxing Day is actually a public holiday in the UK.

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Friday (27/12/2013)– Finally, first day in London for the first time. The first and foremost important place to visit is the Buckingham Palace to see the changing of guards which is done everyday. Since it was cloudy and drizzled a bit before the ceremony start, we were told that there will be no full changing of guard ceremony but a less elaborate one will still proceed at 11.30am. Hundreds of tourists crowded around the area just to watch this event. It was interesting, somewhat similar to the changing of guards in Prague castle. By the time it was over, it was already noon time and I had to find the Hop On Hop Off bus which actually did stop at the side of the palace. I decided to go for a round trip first to get myself familiarize with the city and then decide which place is worth to visit. In the end, since the queue to Westminister Abbey is so long and they were about to close, I decided to do it on the next day and slowly walked towards Nelson Square. On the way, I order big Mac for my late lunch so that I do not waste time on sitting in a restaurant just to eat since every place of attraction seem to close very early during winter time even though it is not even dark yet! A lot of tourists were just taking photos or just sitting around in Nelson square so while eating my late lunch, I was also people watching. Weather was pretty hot in London as I was sweating when I was walking.

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After having enough of sitting down, I walked slowly towards the London Eye to find Thames Clipper for a free cruise along the Thames river. Finally found where the pier for that boat is and took the cruise from the London Eye to the Tower of London only even though they do go all the way to Greenwich but it would be difficult to get transport back to this area again. Tower of London is another place to check out which have to be done the next day before I leave London. After shopping for some souvenirs at the souvenir shops next to the Tower of London, I took the Hop On Hop Off bus again to Victoria station. Before going on the tube, I did a bit of shopping at Waitrose and then tried to find Sainsbury after getting off from Earl’s Court station which I was told by Melinda that it is located at the back road of the apartment where I was staying. After walking for a while and couldn’t find it because all the roads were pretty dark to read the signs, I decided to leave it and checked out Tesco instead. Bought food for breakfast and dinner which was pretty cheap as they had pastas on offer. Enough food to last me until I go back so it was time to head back to the apartment and rest.

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Saturday (28/12/2013) Today is my last day in London and I intend to cover 3 important places. After half an hour tube ride to London city, the first place I went to is to Westminister Abbey. The queue was pretty long as the line went towards the side of the Westminister Abbey but fortunately, the waiting wasn't that long. With St. Margaret's church beside it, Westminister Abbey has a very rich history and with many important people buried inside it. After spending at least 2 hours listening to the history of Westminister Abbey, I headed to St. Paul's cathedral, one of Europe's largest cathedral. It was very big and you could go up to 85m high but you would have to climb up the few hundreds of steps to go to up to each of the gallery above which I opt not to do so since my last target was to see the Tower of London. Unfortunately, by the time I reached to Tower of London, the ticket seller said that they were going to close in 45 minutes time and the guy said that there would not enough time to cover everything and told me to come back the next day which I can't since I'm leaving London tomorrow!! So feeling disappointed, I ended up eating fish and chip from the stall next to the Tower of London and then waited for blue route bus to go to Harrods. Since the bus only stopped until Victoria station, I had to take the tube to Sloan Square since I thought South Kensington station was closed. After walking for a while through the high end shops, I managed to find the famous Harrods. It is a very big department store and I had to look at floor map to find my way to the souvenir section. It was so hot inside that everyone took off their jacket. Harrods' merchandise is just incredible and very expensive but then one should never miss getting something from Harrods if you're in London since that is also one of the iconic symbol of London. Well, after a long walking day, I was glad to be back at the apartment and packed all my stuff, hoping that my baggage won't be excess.

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[b]Sunday (29/12/2013)[b] After more than 3 weeks travelling around Europe, it's time to head back home to Brunei. I took the tube to Heathrow airport which is about 45 minutes ride and since it was pretty full, I had to stand up the whole time until it was near the airport and people started getting off at each station. Fortunately, there is a baggage scale at the airport so time for repacking again but thank God, I managed to keep within the weight limit though my hand carry was pretty heavy. Well, another 20 hours on the plane back to Brunei. Overall, it was an incredible learning experience going to Europe alone. Hopefully I will have the chance to come back again to go to other parts of Europe and see the Tower of London one day!

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Posted by Lingering 04:45 Comments (0)

Hong Kong - Taiwan - Macau

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Monday (3/12/2012) After an unexpected and unfortunate event of missing our direct flight to Hong Kong, we finally arrived there 7 hours later through alternative route. Although we were shaken by our unexpected experience, we were determined to make the most out of our trip as we had paid double for our air ticket already. Right after finding our driver at the airport, we straight away headed for Kowloon to find City Econo Guest House which is located along Nathan Road. Not knowing that the car company I have booked mainly drive visitors to Ritz Carlton and not to budget hotels or Guest House, the driver had some difficulty of finding where it exactly this guest house is as the sign is not even very obvious unless you look upwards to where all the signboards are.

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After settling in our room and not wanting to waste anymore time, 2 of us headed out to survey the area where we were staying and also try to find some nice place to eat. After a short round walk, we ended up back in front of the guest house and decided to have our dinner in a Korean restaurant which was just across the road. Korean food were more cheaper here than back in Brunei but nevertheless, the side dishes are always interesting because different Korean restaurants serve different side dishes. After having dinner, we decided to check out Temple Street which was not far just to survey what is interesting to get later on when we come back after our Taiwan trip. As always, Temple Street is full of foreign tourists and they sell various souvenirs and accessories which you can't find back home. We ended up buying scarfs for now which we plan to wear in Taiwan as we were going to spend some nights on the mountainous areas.

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Tuesday (4/12/2012) Today, we checked out earlier and headed straight to the airport to catch our flight to Taipei. Upon arriving at the airport, we were shocked to see that 2 flights to Taipei was cancelled, including ours. Fortunately, when we checked with the Eva Air staff, they said that we could follow either the earlier flight which will be leaving in about 1 hours time or the later flight which leaves only in early afternoon so not wanting to wait that long, we checked in straightaway and were 1 hour earlier than our scheduled flight. However, later on after coming back to Brunei, I found out that Eva Air has rescheduled our flight to the afternoon flight through email but since I didn't have access to the internet in Hong Kong, I was not aware of the flight changes but nevertheless, we still ended up going to Taipei.

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When we arrived at Taipei, we had to wait for our driver, Charles as I was not able to contact his number since before we flew off because they had this funny code which you have to add first because you can dial the number. I guess he was shocked to hear that we have already landed as we were not supposed to be in Taipei that early but it was at least a half hour wait before he finally showed up. Since it was going to be at least 3 and a half hours drive to Hualien, Charles told us that we will have a stop somewhere before we drive straight to Hualien for a late lunch and also asked if any of us are car sick as it has happened before to his previous clients. We were wondering how could people get car sick since all of us drive or sit in cars all the time and none of us have ever experienced car sick before. By the time we made a stop at Yilan to taste the best beef noodle in that county (or so claimed Charles) it looked like as if it was almost evening even though it was only 3pm but because it was drizzling slightly and cloudy, it became dark faster than usual. I'm not really a big fan of noodle actually but to have a bowl of hot soup in cold weather is a blessing.

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After filling our tummy, we had another 2 hours of driving towards Hualien and we finally found out why people get car sick when they travel on the mountains of Taiwan because it involves driving around the winding, narrow roads which to us is pretty scary especially when big vehicles like a lorry or a bus pass by us. It feels like if we're not careful or drive too near to the edge of the road, the car can fall off the road anytime and it's no kidding matter to fall from a high mountainous area. Little did I know that one of our friend who sat behind me got car sick and she was lucky to vomit into a plastic bag in time before we stop to see the Qingshui cliff. Though it was getting darker by now, we still could see the blue water and it would have been a very nice view if it was in day time.

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By the time we arrived at Marshal hotel, the rain was getting a bit heavier so we rested for a while and waited until the rain stop before we went out to see what the shops around the neighbourhood were selling. As we walked, we noticed that Hualien is famous for its bakeries and mochi as you can see many shops selling similar products at different prices. It was also difficult to choose which shop to buy the most tastiest pineapple cake even though they do give free tasting though as Taiwan is famous for making them. It was also the first time we saw charcoal peanuts whereby the peanuts are coated black which we assume, the flour is mixed with the charcoal. There were also some shops selling cute stuffs like dolls and stationaries as well as clothes but we had to keep on reminding ourselves that we still had many places to go in Taiwan and we'll be going back to Hong Kong and staying there for a more few days so we had to limit our shopping.

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Wednesday (5/12/2012) Today, we are going to the Toroko Gorge and on the way before we leave Hualien, Charles brought us to see the Chishingtan beach which was an amazing view because even though it was drizzling slightly at that time, we could see that the sea is very blue. After a short time of enjoying the view of the beach, we started off our journey towards Taroko Gorge which means back to the winding roads on the mountains. This time, it was another hour drive towards the other side of the mountain, passing through a number of underground tunnels which were made through each mountain. It was a pretty scary ride though as the roads are narrow with some parts having sharp turns and it's supposed to be a 2 way road. At certain places because of the landslide or the road could only let 1 vehicle pass through at a time, either one of the vehicle would have to reverse backwards to let the other one pass through first which well, maybe to the Taiwanese, they are used to it but not for those who come from places where no roads are built at the edge of the mountains.

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When we reached to Toroko National park, all we could see are mountains with fog everywhere with a river flowing through it. Fortunately, the drizzle had stopped and the sun wasn't too hot. By the time we got into Toroko Gorge, the sun was out but the weather wasn't too hot as we were shaded by the mountains. At one point, we were able to walk a distance by foot until where Charles was waiting for us at the other end. It's a beauty to see all the natural formations of the rocks formed by the flow of the winding river through long periods of time as well as the Swallow's grotto whereby the swallows have made their nests inside the holes that was created in the rocks. The feeling of walking through the dark tunnels of these mountains also felt eerie but you can feel the coolness of the air as you walk through them.

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After having enough of walking and seeing the works of nature, we drove on again and came to the Marble bridge where basically some parts of the bridge, the lion statue and the pagoda are made of marble that was obtained from Toroko gorge. We then headed for our lunch in the pitstop which is located at the end of a mountain. Even the air in that area felt cool without any wind blowing at all. After having our lunch, we headed for another 3 hour drive along the winding, foggy road of the mountains again but this time we were heading towards Hehuanshan Mountain (also known as Joy Mountain) which is the one of the highest mountain in Taiwan, standing at an altitude of 3275m. Charles told us that he was told by his friend that it had snowed for a few minutes early that morning at Hehuanshan and I was thinking to myself that we're in trouble because we didn't have any gloves as we didn't expect to even see snow in Taiwan! It was raining and visibility was not good as the clouds came down to the road. Since we had quite a distance to go, Charles decided to stop for a while to refresh himself as we could see that he was tired. So we stopped for a while to see the Bilyu Sacred Tree and also checked out the small shop that was selling dried fruits and fried mushroom chips.

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By the time we reached to Hehuanshan, one of our friend (without any of us realising it) got car sick. So while the 3 of us when to the top of the peak, she was puking by the side of the car. We didn't stay out on the top for more than 10 minutes as the wind was so freezing cold and we rushed back to the car to get heated up again. Boy, the feeling of the hot air from the car heater on my freezing hands felt like just in heaven. We then headed towards Cingjing through the rain and bad visibility of the once again curvy mountains. This destination took us an hour drive which was not too far. By the time we got to Cingjing which was on an altitude of 3100m high, we headed to the Swiss garden first which was quite small but a lovely place to enjoy the scenery if it wasn't raining and foggy. We took time to go around the park and even fed the ducks and birds before going to the main building where the Carlton King cardboard shop was selling products made of cardboard which was a very creative idea.

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Since it was getting dark, we then headed to the place where we will be staying for the night which happened to be one level lower than the main road is. It was a small cottage completely made of wood which looks very cozy though the space inside was quite small and it was cold as there was no heater. There was a small living room, balcony, toilet and a double bed on the ground floor while on the top floor, they provided a king sized bed on the floor with a small balcony looking outwards and no other furniture. After resting for a while, we headed out to check out the 24 hour shop and also try to find something to eat for dinner. It was quite cold as the drizzle did not stop at all. By the time we got back to our cottage and got ready to sleep, the air inside the cottage was cold. The bed was so cold and even colder when we covered ourselves with the blanket provided. But we finally found the trick which is when you have already settled down on the bed in the sleeping position you want to sleep in, do not move at all to a new position again because it will take a while for the heat to develop in that new area.

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Thursday (6/12/2012) We woke up early to enjoy the scenery before we went up to have our breakfast. After enjoying a hearty local breakfast, we headed to the Green Green Grassland where they rear sheep for people to see, touch and feed while their wools get sheared for other purposes. After spending an hour feeding and patting the sheep, we headed off to Alishan which is 5 to 6 hours drive depending on the weather condition. Passing through JiJi, we stopped for a while to see the Wuchang Temple which was still left undisturbed. The centre of the building was destroyed completely by the 7.3 magnitude Chichi earthquake back in 1999 and you could see that second floor had came down and destroyed the ground floor. The way to Alishan was a very long and dangerous drive. Not only did the clouds made visibility almost zero but the street lights made it even worse especially at because all you see are just fog. We almost missed a cornering and would have gone down the mountain at one point when the lines on the road couldn't be seen at all if Charles hadn't break immediately and it was a heart stopping moment for everyone of us! I prayed hard for the next hour that we would reach Alishan safely and Charles had to drive extra slow until we reached to an altitude where we were above the clouds and visibility returned to normal and we were so relieved to finally reach our hotel in Alishan!

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Friday (7/12/2012) Next morning, we started our walk with Charles through the Alishan forest. It's like having a morning exercise but without having to sweat at all because the air was quite cool. We saw cedar trees, ponds and tree stumps of various natural shape like a pig's head and a heart shaped trunk. Then we walked through a wooden canopy to cross the other side and walked through a mini temple for people who want to pray to the God before heading for Alishan's trademark, the train which we took on the Jhushan line to go back to the main railway station. It was a nice ride considering that the only train that I've followed so far is the electric Maglev train in Shanghai. After checking out from our hotel, we headed to the Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village. It was a 3 hour drive to reach there but at least the weather was fine. Since Charles told us that we could take the cable car from this culture village to the Sun Moon Lake, we agreed to meet up with him at the Sun Moon Lake where he will wait for us.

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The Formosan Aboriginal Culture Village is made up of the Aboriginal Village Park, the Amusement Isle and the European Garden. The European garden is said to be the largest one in Taiwan while the amusement park contains the tallest free-fall ride in Taiwan. We decided to skip the Amusement Isle as our main intention of coming here was to see the Taiwanese traditional tribal lifestyle and the aboriginal traditions. While waiting for the cultural performance, people waiting there were buying mango ice cream from the ice cream shop which was super delicious. After the performance, we decided to have lunch by trying out their local cuisine before we catch another cultural show that is showing later on. The performers were the same people who performed in the first cultural show that we saw but they were dressed in different costumes, singling and dancing differently. After the performance, we headed pass the Amusement Isle to the the cable car ropeway station to go to the Sun Moon Lake. The cable cars are either one of these colours; red, blue and yellow whereby red represents sun, yellow represents moon and blue represents lake. It was a 6.8 minutes ride through the 1.87km route where the cable cars pass through the forest, mountains and the blue Sun Moon Lake. The view of the Sun Moon Lake from the air was just so amazing though the ride was kind of scary for that long distance as we only depend on one rope which could snap anytime.

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After we landed and met up with Charles at the cable car station, we stopped by the Sun Moon Lake visitor centre before heading to Kaohsiung. It has a unique architecture and we could see the water flowing towards the Sun Moon Lake. After appreciating the natural beauty for a while, we then started our 3 hours drive to Kaohsiung which is Taiwan's second largest city in Taiwan. On the way, we stopped over at a resting place which had shops and food courts inside. I finally managed to get the Sun Moon Lake cakes which was recommended by people from the internet which I couldn't find before and fortunately, they had 1/2 a dozen pack which means lesser weight to carry back as we have to remind ourselves that we are heading to Hong Kong again after this trip. We were excited to see the Mirador hotel which Charles have booked for us because when we looked it up on the internet, the hotel is very colourful as the walls are painted with European concept even though the name comes from Spanish. Not only is it unique in Kaohsiung but it is also a first of its kind in Taiwan. To add to that, they have even put a bench inside the elevator for people to sit down! We were not disappointed at all when we arrived there because it looked exactly like what was shown on the internet and the whole building (including our room) is just so lovely like as if you're staying in an European cottage instead of a Chinese country.

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After giving us enough time to check out the lovely paintings and design of the hotel, Charles took us to the Love river for a boat cruise. According to him, in the olden days, men would bring their girlfriend to walk around that river for their dates but now, it's the tourists that are mainly seen hanging around that area. The cruise was nice and relaxing with the cool breeze blowing on our face. All you could see at night are the lights on the buildings and people walking along the Love river, probably couples going on a date. After our short cruise, we headed off to the famous Liuhe Night Market which was full of food, ranging from seafood, fresh offal, grilled stuffs, fruits and drinks that we don't actually know what to buy. We tried the cheese baked oyster which was super delicious and almost wanted to try the stink tofu but then seeing that it's drizzled with a wet sauce, we decided to wait until we go to Taipei and try the real one. After walking to the end of the street and absorbing all the food being offered with our eyes alone, we decided to go back and wait for Charles to pick us up so that we can check out the places near to where we were staying and get a late dinner.

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After reaching back to the hotel, we walked out again to where we saw a lot of people when we passed by earlier on to check out what was happening. Without us realising, we were actually staying near a night market called Xin Jue Jiang where there are restaurants, clubs, shops selling clothing and accessories and also once again food stalls. Since there were sales on winter clothes, we both ended up buying a winter jacket which was definitely way cheaper than the ones we have bought. It's nice to see what is the current trend in Taiwan for winter as different countries have different trends like the time I went to South Korea. Of course the weather in Taiwan wasn't as cold nor are there any snow here than in Korea so it's not surprising to see the ladies wearing skirts. After going one round checking what they were selling in this night market, we headed off to have our late dinner which happened to be McDonald that is right opposite to the entrance of this Xin Jue Jiang night market.

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Saturday (8/12/2012) Today, we checked out from our lovely hotel and headed to E-da theme park which is famous for their Greek concept. It is a big theme park with shopping centre, hotel and a university inside its compound but it is pretty isolated and located far away from the town centre. We decided to skip the shopping area as well as the hotel and headed right to the amusement area. Basically this amusement park is divided into three different land: Acropolis, Santorini and Trojan Castle. The Acropolis building is the main building which has the food and shopping area. Santorini Mountain city is modeled after the Greek island by that name, followed by the Trojan Castle which is located at the end of the park. The only ride we tried was the coaster that goes through the water and boy, were we really wet even though we had a raincoat on. We also found out the reason why they provided hair driers near to the toilet inside the building which we saw earlier as we ended up using them also after the wet ride. For our late lunch, we tried out Greek food which was not bad. After having enough of E-da, we headed out and met with Charles who waiting for us at the entrance.

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Our final destination is to Taipei which was 4 and a half hours drive. It was a long drive along the highway and with the heavy traffic jam towards Taipei, we finally reached to our hotel by evening. The hotel is pretty new and modern and it's the first time we stayed at the basement of a hotel (in fact I think this hotel is the only one that even have rooms on the basement floor) since we were staying in the family room. Lo and behold, since we were staying at the Sports level, there was even a football table for people to play. It's a good place for guys to stay in which will keep them occupied while the ladies go out shopping! Both of us decided to give a test try on Taipei's MRT and headed towards the Main Taipei Station where there are supposed to be an underground Main City Mall. Not knowing that the shopping areas are interconnected under that train station, we didn't know where we were exactly as the first building we went up to happen to be inside a shopping centre where we managed to find the food court and had our dinner. After walking around and trying to find where the underground Main City Mal is, we finally found it but unfortunately, it was getting late so we planned to come again tomorrow since they have a lot of things on sale.

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Sunday (9/12/2012) Today is our free day in Taipei City. I have made plans to meet up with my German friend, Uwe who had also planned for a Taiwan and Hong Kong trip. But since our trip started way ahead before his, today was the only day that we could meet up and discover Taipei together before we fly off to Hong Kong while he start his Taiwan trip. We headed off to Taipei 101 first as that was the easiest place to meet up since we stayed in different location. Me and my friends went up first to enjoy the view of Taipei from the top of Taipei 101 which is said to have the fastest elevator in the world until your ears get blocked like you experience it while the plane is just taking off. I also had the opportunity to send postcards from here as they also sold stamps so while the others were eating ice cream and enjoying the view.

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Close to noon time when the clouds have finally came down and blocked the view of Taipei 101 and Uwe is finally awake after his jetlag, I met him downstairs since he decided to leave the Taipei 101 view to a more clearer day. We headed off to Taipei Main Station by foot where this time, even though we still do not know which shopping centre we are in, we managed to find a food court which was on the ground floor. The food that I chose so far is forever delicious. After having our lunch, we checked out the shops and even the train station. Apparently, a mass wedding was going on at that time and Uwe was so amazed to see such wedding like this (which is pretty common is Asian countries) and also because of all places, it was held in a public place like the train station as they do not have that in Europe.

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Then we decided to check out the famous Longshan temple where they were having some sort of celebration as people were offering food to the deities as well as praying to them. It's a pretty small temple compared to the ones I've seen so far though they have a lot of small Buddha statues. After taking some photos, we headed off to check out Ximending which we consider as high class shopping area where modern fashion and trends can be found. Since most of the things are pretty expensive there, we decided to head off the to famous Shilin Night Market where it is known for offering various types of food and of course my main target is to try their stinky tofu!

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Shilin night market happens to be a very big place where most of the stalls offer almost similar types of food but with variation in their taste. This was the chance for us to taste all the famous Taiwanese food that is well known throughout the world. There were the pearl milk tea which was different that the ones I've tasted before, stinky tofu which tasted way different than the one I had in Suzhou as there wasn't any bird poo smell or peculiar taste after they have become cold, the Taiwanese sausage which was double the size of the normal chicken franks that we have and the fried chicken fillet which was way too big and meaty for us to finish off as they use the breast part. After feasting enough with our eyes rather than our mouth, we finally call it a night as we still have to do last minute packing of all our stuffs since we'll be flying off to Hong Kong tomorrow.

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Monday (10/12/2012) Charles picked us up from the hotel and drove us to Taoyuan International Airport. We finally said goodbye to Taiwan and started our next trip in Hong Kong. By the time we reached to Hong Kong, it was already evening. So after checking into the same guest house that we stayed before we left for Taipei, we decided to grab dinner somewhere along Argyle Street as we wanted to check out what they sell at the Ladies Market and Fa Yuen Street. After walking around looking for places to eat, we ended up in Pizza Hut where they offered pizzas which is not even available in Brunei. When our tummy have been filled up, we headed for the Ladies Market and Fa Yuen Street, followed by a walk to the Temple Street. As the night progressed, more and more people were out on the streets checking out the stuffs that is sold. I would say that this would be a shopping heaven for people who love to bargain and hunt for cheap (though not really that cheap) clothes and souvenirs. I ended up buying a few skirts, dresses, Chinese qipao and some souvenirs to give away.

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Tuesday (11/12/2012) Our plan for today is to go to Victoria Peak. Since it was a sunny clear day, the view must be very nice. So we headed off to the MRT station and hopped off at the nearest station to the Victoria harbour. Along the way, we stopped by Heritage 1881 and took photos with the huge teddy bear which was displayed outside. We also had the opportunity to check out some of the shops while looking for Starbucks. Going on the ferry ride was fun as the cool wind kept on blowing. When we got to Hong Kong island, we were waiting for the Peak Tram bus that pick up passengers from the harbour all the way to the Peak Tram station at the same place where I got on 4 years ago without realising that they have moved upwards and the spot that we were waiting is now for the Rickshaw bus which is like the hop on and off bus in Singapore for tourists. In the end, we finally got on the right bus and headed for Victoria Peak. Fortunately, the queue was not too bad and we didn't have to wait too long or squeeze into the packed tram car.

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We checked out the shops and I went to look for the Post Love To The Future place where they provide the service of sending your postcard the following year according to the date you wish it to arrive. After writing some postcards and buying stamps from the small post office, my postcards were ready to be sent in advanced to several people for their birthday. After that we went to the Madame Tussauds wax museum to take photos with actors and actresses as well as famous people. Then we headed up to the Sky Terrace to see the overview of Hong Kong island as well as Kowloon. Unfortunately by that time, the sky has become slightly hazy so the view wasn't that clear. After spending time taking photos here and there as well as writing our wishes, we then headed to the Peak Galleria to check out their shops as well as the rooftop garden. By the time we headed back to Kowloon, it was evening but not too late to go out again and check out the shopping centres along Nathan Road. We came across Uniqlo which was having sales on their clothes which we took the opportunity to get some. By the time we were done with our shopping, we were pretty hungry and went hunting for restaurants that were still open that late which we were lucky but then again, since it was a small restaurant, they were in a hurry to chase people out after they are done with their food to cater for new clients.

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Wednesday (12/12/2012) Today we went to Disneyland. It was a long ride but fortunately, we weren't caught in the peak time so it was alright. It was a hot day and the sun was shining so brightly by the time we reached there. The new attractions since the last time I came here are the Grizzly Gulch, Toy Storyland and It's A Small World while Mystic Point is still under construction. The Jungle River Cruise, is always forever exciting and we took up the courage to try the Runaway Mine Ears which is actually not a long roller coaster ride but because it goes forward first and then travels backwards which people are not used to it, it looked pretty scary because you can't see what's happening at the back. Good adrenaline rush I should say and it was a good thing that all of us went on an empty stomach. After the ride, we took our lunch before moving on to the other half of the park. The last ride we took was a slow water boat cruise through the It's A Small World building where we saw dolls dressed in different national costumes and the theme song is very catchy too! How we felt like small kids once again!

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After watching the Christmas parade and since we had 1 more hour before the fireworks, we decided to take our dinner first. I tried the nasi biryani which was delicious but a bit too spicy for my taste. By the time we were done with our dinner, we were still early enough to pick good spots to sit and watch for the firework show. No matter how far we sat, we still could feel the heat from the fire but nevertheless, the fireworks were always spectacular! After the fireworks which marks the end of all the performance, people started to head back to the town centre which means full trip and long queues. But it was enjoyable day where we relive our childhood days again!

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Thursday (13/12/2012) Today, we decided to go to Macau instead of tomorrow so that at least we wouldn't be in a rush to come back to Hong Kong to pack up all our stuffs since we'll be going back to Brunei on Saturday. None of us have been there before so our first task was to find out where exactly is the China Ferry terminal which happens to be located inside a shopping centre. After walking around, following signs and asking a few people to make sure that we're on the right direction, we finally found it on the first floor. There were a number of ferry companies selling the same tickets but at different prices and different time so we had to go to each booth and ask how much is the cheapest ticket and also when is the earliest boat that will be leaving and coming back the latest. After getting our ticket, we had to queue for the immigration which also happens to be on the same level and wait for boarding like as if we're in the airport. Fortunately it wasn't a long wait but it was unfortunate that we followed a group of China people who not only refuse to follow instructions but also love to talk loudly. So much for having a rest on the 1 hour boat ride. The boat was pretty stable and you can't actually feel it going up and down like the boats going to Labuan when it was going at fast speed. We finally reached to Macau immigration and even though the queue was long, the immigrant officers were efficient enough to cleared everyone off as fast as they could. Good thing we don't need visa anymore too.

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We're finally in Macau! Our original plan was to walk by foot as I've searched on the internet that the places we wanted to go wasn't too far but considering that 2 of our friends are not used to walking long distances, we ended up taking a van offered by a tour company which will take us to the main places of interest in Macau though we told that man that we wanted to go to Venetian Macao. The driver took us to a Portuguese restaurant where we had our lunch. All the waiters and waitresses are Filipinos instead of Macanese which was a surprise to us at first. The food served were mainly Spanish food like tapas but I chose to try the Macanese cuisine, African Chicken which looked and tasted exactly like the chicken that is cooked with kunyit in Brunei. Not bad though considering that we were hungry.

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After lunch, the driver drove us to Senado Square where we were dropped on the top level and had to walk down a small alley down the hill. There were catholic churches and small restaurants as well as shops selling biscuits, clothes and food. When we reached to the actual Senado Square, there were a lot of tourists, mainly from China taking photos as well as shopping. The buildings were colourful and of Portuguese architecture. The shops range from high end shops to ordinary shops offering anything and everything and I was even surprised to see a stall offering turkish ice cream. We ended up buying some souvenirs and Macanese biscuits before heading off to the see famous tourist attraction that is the ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral. It's one thing to see pictures of it in the internet but the feeling of seeing the real structure with your own eyes is just indescribable and it makes you feel like you're not even in an Asian country!

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Before going towards Taipa where Venetian Macao is located, the driver took us to see A-Ma temple which is noted to be the oldest temple in Macau. There was also a Caucasian man sitting a distance away from the front of the entrance, smoking his pipe while sketching A-Ma temple which was very nice. After seeing people praying to the Gods and rubbing auspicious things like a bowl of water for good luck (believe to bring luck to those who are planning to gamble in the casinos here), we then headed off to a place where we could see Macau tower. We had no intention of going up Macau tower as I have been up to numerous towers before nor was our objective to do bungee jumping so we told the driver that we will head straight to Venetian Macao without stopping anywhere else since that was our original target to come to Macau in the first place.

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By the time we reached to Venetian Macau, the sun was starting to set but we were able to take some photos of the external building and the gondolas before heading in. With the architecture and the presence of gondolas, there a feeling of Venice in the air. We also had the opportunity to see a young couple taking their own wedding shots with the Venetian architecture as their background. So sweet and saving money. The interior design of the place was even more stunning that outside. The hotel lobby was covered with paintings on the ceilings and there were golden sculptures. As we walked towards the centre of the building to where all the shops are located, the scenery changed to Venetian architecture again where each block are of various designs and colours. They even have a small Venetian canal in the middle of the building with gondolas for people to ride on! The shops are mainly selling high end stuffs and the only thing I could to afford to get as a souvenir was a box of Venetian chocolates. The building is so huge and split into several blocks that even to find the Lord Stow’s bakery was quite difficult unless you have the map of the whole building. But we managed to find it in the end after walking around the same area a few times as it was tucked away at the corner, unnoticeable from the main walkway and I finally got to taste the original Portuguese egg tart from Lord Stow. The taste was so delicious, unlike any Portuguese tarts that I've tasted before though it was very oily and they only packed it in paper bag. The last thing we did before we call it a night was to go through the casino area just to have a look and 1 of my friend tried the Jackpot for fun and only ended up winning HK$1.50 which was not even amounting to B$1 so in the end, she just kept the ticket as a souvenir rather than cashing it. To go back to the ferry terminal to catch our ferry back to Hong Kong, this time we took the free Venetian shuttle bus which pick up and drop people off from the ferry to Venetian Macau and vice versa. When we got to the ferry terminal, we were early and we were lucky enough to get on the boat in less than 30 minutes. It was a nice trip in Macau but I wished we had more time and had walked on foot to explore more like the Fisherman's wharf but there will always be a next time. By the time we got back to Hong Kong, everyone was tired but kept on talking about Venetian Macau before going to sleep.

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Friday (14/12/2012) Today is our last day in Hong Kong and we decided to just have a stroll and check out things that we missed out before. We walked by foot this time towards Kowloon Park and it so happened that they have comic characters on display. After taking photos with the characters, we walked to the park and enjoy looking at the birds, roses and people doing their morning exercise. After enjoying the fresh air of the park, we headed towards Miramar shopping centre to check out places to eat as we haven't had our breakfast and it was lunch time by the time we reached there. I happened to be given a tomato by a lady as a form of advertisement for a new restaurant. Not that we'll be going to that restaurant to eat as the sticker on the tomato says, "Bring me to the restaurant and turn me into a tomato soup" and not knowing what to do with a big juicy tomato like that, in the end I just kept the tomato in my bag and we went on searching for a nice place to eat. We chose a Japanese restaurant in the end where the food was nice though service was quite slow but then again, we weren't in any rush so we took our time to enjoy our meal.

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We then went to see St. Andrew's church which had the same name as the church I am attending in Brunei and it's the oldest English speaking Protestant church in Kowloon. After looking inside and taking some photos, we headed off towards the Avenue of Stars. Along the way, we took opportunities to stop by certain shops that caught our interest as some of them were having sales. By the time we got to Avenue of Stars, it became cloudy and windy so the weather was just nice to be out in the open. We then use the MRT to go across Hong Kong island to see Tiffany's Christmas tree which was set up in Statue Square. It wasn't a long distance to walk from one place to another, provided that you have a map to guide you to the right road. After checking out the Tiffany's trees and the merry-go-round where they were guarded by securities and Tiffany's staffs, we walked towards Garden Road where St. John's Cathedral is located. It was difficult to find this place at first because the road sign was not on the main road where we were walking but apparently it was at the back lane which we didn't know we had to walk in from the main road. But if we had kept on walking upwards the main road, we would still have seen St. John's Cathedral name on the side of that building which happens to be the back of the church. Eventually, we followed some visitors who were also going to this church. What's special about this church is that is it the Diocesan cathedral of the Diocese of Hong Kong Island and the focus of the Province of Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui. So since our Archbishop lives in Kuching and is under St. Thomas, I had the pleasure of seeing Hong Kong's Archbishop's church.

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We then slowly walked towards the Mid Level Escalators where it starts off at the Elgin Street entrance. In order to reach there, we passed by high end shopping centres which we didn't bother to stop by to check them as we couldn't afford all these branded stuffs. The Mid Level Escalators is the longest outdoor covered escalator system in the world and they're not kidding about it at all. Going up was fun as you just walk a bit and then you just step on the escalators which keeps on moving upwards while you just enjoy seeing people left and right especially English expatriates hanging out in the bars. We didn't actually reach up to the very top as the escalators seem to go on and on and there weren't any escalators going down at all so it was going to be a long walk down if we kept on going upwards. Coming down took us a while and by the time we reached back to Elgin Street, we were starting to get hungry and went around to find places to eat. We ended up having Subway sandwich as our dinner which I ordered my favourite, the BLT. Since it was still early, we headed back to Kowloon and took the MRT all the way to the Ladies' Market again as I wanted to get something. Before heading back to our guest house, we stopped at an ice cream shop where I ordered ice cream sundae while my friend ordered Durian shaved ice cream which was the first time I've heard and seen before. A good treat after spending the whole day walking, shopping and sightseeing which was fun.

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Saturday (15/12/2012) Since the driver will only pick us up at noon time to go to the airport, we checked out from the guest house and left our luggage with them until the driver come. Meanwhile, we had 2 more hours to spend so we just walked around the area to see where we can have our early lunch. After walking here and there, we ended up in a Turkish restaurant which serves western, Cantonese and Turkish cuisine. Since they had just open for business, service was very slow and the shop was pretty small as it could only fit at least 4 tables only and the kitchen area was next door. By the time we finished our lunch and head back to the guest house, we were just in time because the driver was there already to pick us up. At least this time, we have no more problem catching our flight and if we hadn't missed our flight in the first place, it would have been a nicer trip.

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Overall, I enjoyed Taiwan and Macau more than Hong Kong. It has been a wonderful trip, full of scenic views from mountains and cold weather to cities full of night markets offering various types of food. Not to mention that Charles' Volkswagen has proven to be a very stable car despite of all the curves and narrow escapes that we had encountered on the mountains. Venetican Macao is also for those who wish to go to Venice but can't afford to do so. Anyway, nothing is impossible and who knows, one day I'll be back again in Taiwan and Macau to do more trips to other places that we haven't covered in this trip.

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Posted by Lingering 09:28 Archived in Taiwan Comments (0)

Singapore 2011

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Sunday (21/7/2011) This is my second trip to Singapore but my first time using AirAsia, the Malaysian low budget airline. For those who have used AirAsia before, you would be familiar with the continuous flight as well as the delays which used to be up to 1 hour long when it first started. Very disappointingly unlike other airlines, they do not even have the luggage check through service all the way from Brunei to Singapore and we had to check out of the KLCC airport and then check in again with our luggage to go to Singapore.

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When AirAsia landed on Brunei International Airport (on time surprisingly), after about 15mins of dropping off passengers coming to Brunei as well as their luggage, it was our turn and our luggage to get on the same plane and off we go to Kuala Lumpur. The plane was small, only 2 rows of seat with small leg space but it was alright for a 2 hour and 15 min flight. Funnily unlike the other airlines that I’ve been on, no one uses the toilet nor did anyone make much noise since there wasn’t any entertainment so it was easy to catch up with our sleep. KLCC is surprisingly just next to KLIA and we had to walk down from the plane on the runway with the hot late morning breeze blowing on us while we walked a distance to the Malaysian immigration area. Queue was bad and the process was very slow. By the time we passed through the immigration and gotten our luggage, it was already noon time and we had to check in our bags again before we can have lunch. I had to learn how to do self-check-in which is pretty easy once you know how to do it and the machine print the boarding pass right away but then we still had to queue in the check in counter to drop our luggage. We had a quick lunch in an “open cafe” inside the terminal and boy, not only was the service so slow but the place was full of flying houseflies that it was impossible to eat in peace and enjoy the meal even though the portion was big! The waitress had to stand next to our table and swat at the houseflies which was very unhygienic. I really wonder how the health authorities can allow these types of “cafe” to operate in an airport terminal.

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We arrived at Changi’s airport terminal 1 at 3.30pm and then took a taxi which drove us all the way to Waterloo Street. The road wasn’t that jam as it was a lazy Sunday. When we arrived at South East Asia Hotel, there were a lot of people praying in both the Buddhist and the Indian temple as well as lotus flower sellers. For only S$100, our room is not too bad actually, much bigger than the Brooke Hotel I stayed in Hangzhou last year. It’s just like your typical bedroom that you have at home but the only thing missing is a small fridge which is useful if there is one. After resting for a while, we decided to go out and check on the surrounding. First we went and checked out all the small shopping buildings around and well, basically almost all of them have sales to remove the older stocks so that they can put out new ones. We bought a pair of comfortable shoes each as well as some clothes.

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Since it was already getting late, we decided to drop off our things at the hotel first before going to the Albert food court to see what sort of food they sell. Mostly they had porridge and pig spare parts which both of us don’t eat so we decided to have the Indonesian “ayam” (chicken) BBQ for only S$4.50. It’s not bad though I don’t know why they dip the BBQ drumstick into the black sweet soya sauce for since it’s supposed to be BBQ. Then we walked through Bugis Street and crossed the road to go to Bugis Junction just to see what is available there. They had an exhibition on the smurfs designed by the locals which you can bid in conjunction with the movie “The Smurfs In 3D”. By the time we finished going around Bugis Junction, it was almost 10pm so we made a quick round in the Bugis Street. Most of the stalls had already closed so we didn’t actually see all of the clothes and accessories that they sell and decided to check them out again the next few days since it’s so close to our hotel.

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Monday (22/7/2011) Breakfast is from 8.30am to 10am daily. The menu is either vegetarian Chinese buffet or an American breakfast. We chose vegetarian Chinese buffet since they had fried rice, noodles, fried carrot cake and also vegetarian pao which is not bad at all considering that I’m not a 100% vegetarian. Our plan for today is going to the Universal Studios in Sentosa. In order to get there, we took the MRT all the way to Vivocity and then took the Sentosa Express for only S$3 (return trip) which was located on the 3rd floor of that shopping centre.

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It is similar to Hong Kong’s Disneyland though smaller in size and instead of concentrating on Disney characters, they concentrated on Madagascar’s characters. We didn’t see a lot of mascots going around unlike in Disneyland, probably because of the hot weather. We managed to watch Madagascar Boogie dance by 4 penguins, Alex and King Julien XIII which was pretty funny but we didn’t stick around to take photos with them since it was so hot. Then we went for rides like A Crate Adventure which is a water ride that helped to cool us down slightly from the hot weather and then queued for Shrek 4-D Adventure which is actually a simulator ride that smacked our legs with something when the spiders came and squirted water at our face whenever the donkey sneeze. Feels like you’re riding a horse at the same time too LOL!! After that we tried the Enchanted Airways for some adrenaline rush and I have to say, the last time that I went on one was like 5 years ago and you feel like you’re going to be thrown off the ride anytime. Man, a few seconds just feels like 1 minute!

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Our next target is to watch the Water World which was full of actions (not to mention water too) and it was pretty interesting. It can accommodate a lot of people at one time and it was 30 mins long. By the time the show was over, it started to drizzle a bit so we decided to take a break and have lunch at their food court. It was fully packed as everyone was taking this opportunity to take shelter from the drizzle too. Very good business during raining times I would say! The chicken rice that comes with a soya bean pudding is not bad even though it is expensive (S$10.50) compared to the chicken rice we have in Brunei but it was much more worth it than the one I had at Chinatown which costed S$8 for only a few pieces of chicken. After lunch we went on our way to the Lost World and then to the Ancient Egypt which both wasn’t 100% completed yet. But the Ancient Egypt looks magnificent like the one you see in “The Mummy”.

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Our original intention was to try all the rides in this park as there’s only 3 and we’ve gone on 2 already. However, we had to give up on Battlestar Galactica ride as we don’t want to throw up our lunch but it looks very exciting even though the loops and the ride was much more longer than the Enchanted Airways. So we just kept on walking to Sci-Fi City which was nothing much and headed to New York which is just basically some buildings found in NY like the Rockefeller Centre and its famous statue of Atlas. There wasn’t much attractions to see in Universal Studios unfortunately and the only mascots that we took picture with is Woody Woodpecker’s girlfriend and King Julien XIII who is a very cheeky lemur for sure!

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By 3pm, we ran out of things to see so we decided to go back to Vivocity and look around for a while before heading to South Bridge road to get my new Canon Powershot SX30 IS. I’ve never been to this area before so it took us quite a while to find it but eventually we did. After dropping my things to our hotel, we took a bit of a rest before going to Singapura Plaza as I wanted to get some embossing crafts. Things have changed a lot since I last went there. Spotlight isn’t selling a lot of scrapbook materials as they used to but I managed to get my heat gun from another shop 1 floor below Spotlight. After doing some shopping, we decided to call it a day and head back to the hotel to get some sleep.

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Tuesday (23/7/2011) Today, we headed for Marina Bay Sands® Hotel. Following the instructions I’ve gotten from the internet, it was pretty easy to go there without using a taxi and we didn’t even need to board any bus as stated as it was only walking distance from the MRT station. It was a pretty hot day and there weren’t many people heading towards that direction either. We entered through The Shoppes which houses so many brand names and walked from one end to the other end, passing by the casino area before we actually got into the hotel area and once again went from one end to the other end of the hotel just to find the entrance to the SkyPark area. They have to improve by putting up signs to show the direction to go to the SkyPark for visitors for sure! Going up 52 floor isn’t anything new to me as I’ve been to towers higher than this one. From the top, you can see constructions going on which is expected to be completed in 2012 and the tall buildings that crowds Singapore city. Since there wasn’t anything much to see and it was getting hot as it was close to noon time, we decided to check out the swimming pool of this hotel which is located on the roof top. Pretty nice view and it looks like as if you’re swimming without any walls at all even though they do have glass panels to prevent their guests from falling off from the swimming pool.

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After coming down from the SkyPark, we decided to have lunch first before continuing our tour to the Art Science Museum which is another small building outside The Shoppes. There’s a wax skating ring around the food court which offers various types of dishes. The Art Science Museum is very small as it only has 3 galleries. We went to the Van Gogh exhibition fist and actually sat down there and just looked at his paintings while relaxing to the music. Then we went to Dali’s gallery which is famous for his Surrealism’s sculptures. Before leaving Marina Bay Sands, we decided to check out the casino and I did try and play the jackpot which was pretty expensive as 1 credit cost 5 cents and the cheapest game to play is a minimum of 50 credits which cost $2.50 per game. I played a total of S$17 on jackpot only, lost more than S$13 at first but in the end during the last 2 games, I managed to cover back most of the money I lost and eventually only lost S$3.75 which is not bad at all. I would say that jackpots are addictive and no wonder a lot of Chinese men and women just sit around all day at the jackpot machine and just keep on pressing the button in hope to strike it big!

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By 3.30pm we decided to head towards Chinatown. There wasn’t much decoration for the Mid Autumn festival like last year and the paper lanterns weren’t as nice as before too. However like always, you can see a lot of tourists from various countries looking for souvenir on Temple Street, ranging from shirts, magnets, keychains, mirrors, etc. We checked out the “bak kua” or the BBQ pork jerky as well as some of the shops around Chinatown. After getting some souvenirs of our own, we decided to sit down and have some snacks. I had ice kacang for S$2.50 while my friend has satay with rice for S$6 which is not too expensive. After having enough of rest for our feet, we walked towards the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple And Museum which was not too far away but unfortunately, it was already closed by the time we found it so we decided to head back to Bugis and have dinner before going back to rest.

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Wednesday (24/7/2011) Today, we head to Science Discovery Centre which took at least 30 mins to reach by the MRT but since it wasn’t crowded, it was a relaxing ride while we just look out the window and see the seneries away from the city centre. We reached to the Science Centre in time to see the IMAX movie first which was quite interesting because it’s about 2 great women who took care of baby organ utans in Indonesia and elephant orphans in Africa all their live and it shows how dedicated they are to their work. Very touching and the orang utan sanctuary in Indonesia looks very interesting. After the show, we headed to the main gallery and watched the Tesla coil show. Most of the things looks the same like last time but they have changed some of the galleries so it was interesting to see new things. They also have the dancing iron filings that moves according to the rhythm of the song being played. They even had a demonstration on fire tornado and explained to us how it is formed. It’s a very educational place for people to bring their kids along as kids gets easily fascinated by animals and things they can’t explain themselves.

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Since were already in Jurong area already, we decided to go a bit further to Jurong point, also another shopping centre selling stuffs at a cheaper price than in city area. I managed to find angry birds stuffs for my boyfriend’s niece and nephews since they’re so crazy about it. They also have a Japanese food court where they sell all sorts of Japanese food but not to our liking so we decided to go back and grab dinner around Bugis area. Man, more than 30 mins ride on a fully packed MRT is not your ideal way of travelling as you have to stand up all the way like sardine fishes in a can!

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Thursday (25/7/2011) Since we have finished all the places that we intended to see, the next few days are just solely for shopping and some sightseeing. I wanted to see how a Jewish temple look like so we went for a walk from Waterloo street all the way to Bras Basah MRT station. There were some colourful houses and I finally found Maghain Aboth Synagogue not too far away from the MRT station. Unfortunately, it was closed so we didn’t have a chance to look inside.

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After that, we took the MRT to Geylang Serai which is located between Paya Lebar and Eunos station since my friend wanted to find cloth materials for her family. It’s a Malay area where there are lots of stalls selling “baju melayu”, “kebayas”, Malay biscuits, decorations and curtains for the “Hari Raya” festival. Not all the eateries are open though since the Muslims are still fasting during the day so we didn’t try any Malay snacks. By the time my friend got the things she was looking for, it was just about lunch time so we decided to head back to the hotel first and grabbed lunch at the Bugis Junction's food junction.

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In the afternoon, we decided to check out Orchard Road since we had to get some things from some of the shopping centres there. After walking from morning until night time, my feet were really aching and I had no choice but to get a foot massage there. When she started massaging it, my feet were really stiff and every massage she did caused a lot of pain but after 25 mins, they felt so comfortable and painless. Ready to walk non-stop for another few more days I hope. So we walked all the way towards Ion Orchard and saw an ice cream man on the way. We decided to have ice cream wafer sandwich for S$1 and sat for a while to rest our feet while enjoying our cold dessert. After walking all the way to the end of Orchard Road, we headed to Ion Orchard where I wanted to get Royce’s Champagne Pierre Mignon since we don’t have chocolate liquor available in Brunei before we ate at the food court since it was already getting late.

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Friday (26/7/2011) Since today is our last day in Singapore, we plan to do last minute shopping before we head back to Brunei tomorrow. We first went to Orchard Road to find Begawan Solo and also some clothes in OG complex. For lunch, we decided to grab a Subway sandwich on the way back to the hotel. Yummy! It’s the first time I tried Subway’s ham sandwich even though I’ve seen it before in US and was trying to find it at Changi’s terminal 2 but couldn’t find exactly where it was. We started to pack some of our stuffs until about 2pm and then went out again to Chinatown to buy bak kua. Since we don’t plan to go out for dinner again that night in order to do our final packing, I ordered bimbibap as takeaway which is not bad and it’s cheaper than the one in Brunei. Our final stop was to Albert Complex to buy some shirts for the men in our family.

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Saturday (27/7/2011) We woke up early today as we checked out the hotel at 6am. Even though it’s dark at that time, there were already people who came and pray at the 2 temples and people selling lotus flowers. We had to wait for the taxi driver since there were 2 taxis parked at the taxi stand without any driver. Finally one of the lady came to her taxi after praying at the temple so she drive us to the airport. Fortunately, we were already in a taxi when it started to drizzle. All our flight coming back were delayed but the pilot from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur managed to make up with the delay time by reaching KLCC in just 30 mins. After all the hassle of checking out from the immigration and taking our luggages and then checking in again, we only had about 1 hour left to grab lunch at McDonald’s and then had to walk quite a distance to reach to the boarding gate. Overall I would say, AirAsia is only good if you only intend to go to 1 country directly instead of transiting but it’s not very comfortable for long distance travelling nor do I like the KLCC system very much. But for less than S$270, what do you expect from a budget airline.

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Posted by Lingering 00:46 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Shanghai - Suzhou - Hangzhou

Shanghai Expo 2010

semi-overcast 20 °C
View Shanghai Expo 2010 on Lingering's travel map.

10/9/2011: Brunei - Singapore - Shanghai
The last time I went to Shanghai, Suzhou and Hangzhou was back in 2006. 4 years later, my main aim is to check out the Shanghai Expo. Ever since before the Shanghai Expo officially opened for the public, there has been a lot of commotion on it for months so a lot of people wanted to check it out since Shanghai is not too expensive to go. Since there was no flight to go to Shanghai directly from Brunei on our scheduled trip, we transited through Singapore to go to Shanghai. Once again like in the past, Singapore Airline flight from Singapore to other destination is always after midnight which once again, this time, we left at 1.15am. It's a good thing that SIA have comfortable planes to rest but still not good enough to catch any sleep.

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11/9/2011: Shanghai - Suzhou
After only a few hour of shut eye, we landed at Shanghai Pudong International Airport at 6.15am. The airport is fully operational now as compared to back in 2006 where it was only 3/4 complete at that time and I remembered we had to walked down the runway and then get on a bus which took us to the airport building. This time, we just walk through the airport building from the plane. We then met up with our Shanghai tour guide.

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The first place we went to is the Oriental Pearl Tower which I've been before. There are some change like now part of the floor is made of glass which you can look down to the bottom of the tower just like the CN Tower in Toronto. Not for those of the faint hearted though as you have this feeling of just falling down from 263m high. Other than that, there's not much changes except that there are some major changes in the scenery around it with more new high rise buildings continuously being built. After that, we had lunch in a Chinese ethnic restaurant and they also had a few dancing performances for us. After lunch, we went to check out a small fruit stall just opposite to the restaurant to see what fruits are available in China. They have the usual peaches, apples, pears, grapes, prunes, berries but most of all, what we didn't expect to find in China are the Thailand mon thong durians!

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We then proceed to Suzhou and stop by the Hanshan Temple first which I visited 4 years ago. My intention was to make a wish and strike the bell again 3 times just like what I've done 4 years ago but this time, there was a long queue of people just waiting to make their wishes. Then we proceed to the Suzhou museum which is something new to me. The most impressive article to me in that museum is actually the carving of miniature warriors from one end of an ivory tusk to the other end. I wonder how many months or even years it took the artist(s) to complete the whole detailed carvings.

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I never did go to any shopping centre in Suzhou before so it was nice to check out the so called Guangqian Street. In order to get to this street, we had to walk through a shopping centre first and the most offensive smell that strike me at that time was like the smell of bird shit inside an air con room. I thought the shopping centre had very bad air ventilation that even the smell of the bird shit could get in but when we went out of that building and stood on that Shantang Street, I finally realised what that awful smell was. It was actually the smell of stinky tofu because the food cart was just next to that building and they kept on frying that stinky food! Of course since stinky tofu is only sold in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and China, this is the opportunity not to be missed! When you stand near to the frying station, it actually smelt very enticing and delicious, nothing like the bird shit smell earlier on. It looks like a typical fried beancurd but when you bite into it, it looks greenish grey instead of the pure white colour. It tasted very nice and I actually ate 2 cubes with the red salty sauce on it but after that, every bite started to taste funny and the smell started to change to something which puts you off to eating it anymore. I wouldn't say I will be specifically looking for it again next time but maybe 1 or 2 bite would be enough. There are high end shops, medium class shops and food shops selling all sorts of titbits like cookies, candies and mooncakes. Our accomodation in Suzhou wasn't that bad, very spacious and has a very big fridge! Too bad there's no kitchen or else it would become and apartment already.

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12/9/2011: Suzhou - Hangzhou
Today, our first destination was to the silk factory. Very different from the one that I went to 4 years ago as this was located near to town area. It's a very small building where they show how silk quilts are made and how they stretch the cocoon of the silkworm to make the silk sheets. We had a try to pull 1 sheet of the stretched cocoon on a quilt before they push us through the big business area where the quilts and silk bed covers were displayed. One thing that I forgot to mention is that we had 2 guides in Suzhou, one is our Shanghai tour guide and the other one is our Suzhou tour guide since our Shanghainese tour guide said that she doesn't know Suzhou as much as her colleague. We have no problems with having 2 tour guides at all but what we don't like is being forced to buy something so expensive which we are not even interested in and that Suzhou tour guide was rude to us, being impatient because none of us wanted to buy the quilt blankets which was already prepared before hand for each of us. No one told her to wait around since she had to go off at noon time and expect us to buy so that she can get commission when we were just waiting to leave and move on to our next destination since we have nothing to buy. But no, we had to be stuck there for 30 mins before that Suzhou tour guide left and then our Shanghainese tour guide finally took us to the next room to watch a silk fashion show. Never in my whole life have I come across a tour guide who force people to buy things when they already told her that they do not want to buy it at all!

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After lunch, we headed to Hangzhou and went straight to the Dragonwell Green Tea village, the same one I went to last time. Bought 500g of Emperor's green tea because they don't sell in small tins anymore. By the time we left the tea village, it was already time for dinner in a very busy street. We didn't expect people to spit again since we haven't come across anyone doing so for the past 2 days but we were so wrong about it. An old man actually spitted on the restaurant floor while we were still eating! Ewww.. so gross! Good thing I wasn't sitting near to that old man. Mingqing Hefang Street was just walking distance from the restaurant where we had our dinner. They have all sort of shops and even small stalls in the centre of the street. They had one shop selling peanut candies where they smash and cut the peanut candies freshly right in front of you. The hotel we stayed in was in the middle of nowhere, so far away from the town centre. Even though the surrounding and the hotel itself look nice, the room we were given is so pathetic. With our 2 luggages and 2 single bed inside that small room, there was even hardly any space to walk around except to walk in a straight line just to go to the bathroom.

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13/9/2011: Hangzhou - Shanghai
When we complained about the room to the tour guide the next day, she said it's because there were 2 of us in a room. Apparently 3 groups stayed these small rooms while the rest stayed in a spacious big room even though we paid the same price for the tour package like them. We were really not happy with it because we felt we were being ripped off so we told the other members of our tour group about it. They also brought up why we had to pay for some of the places she took or is going to take us on the first day of our trip since it should be included as stated in our package itinerary. So we confronted the tour guide about this and she said it was her company who told her those things weren't included while we showed them the itinerary we got from our Brunei travel agent. Apparently, there was no communication between both travel companies and the China's travel company's policy is, once they get the money from you, they cannot pay you back in cash at all. So in the end, we were only given the option to either see the Madame Tussaud's wax museum or 1 other option which was not even worth up the amount we had already paid.

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Our final destination before leaving for Shanghai is the West Lake. We took a 1 hour boat cruise around the lake on a dragon boat before taking a walk around the park. We saw a lot of people eating black coloured corns so 2 of them went and bought it because they wanted to have a taste of it. Although the black corns looked unique, the taste is otherwise, nowhere even near to it's so called "sweet" black corn at all because it was tasteless. No one finished it and ended up throwing them away only after a few bite. Before heading our way to Shanghai, we had a very nice Hangzhou lunch before going for a free foot massage at the Beijing Tong Ren Tang. Now, I do understand that businesses are trying to make money as much as they can but they should not just stop the foot massage halfway and tell you to leave because they want to accommodate the next tour group coming in. The result of a 1/2 completed foot massage was an aching foot which i had to walk on for more than half a day! The worst foot massage I've ever had in China!

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The ride back to Shanghai was at least 2 hours long and the scenery changed from farmlands to the modern buildings as we got closer and closer. Have I also mentioned that traffic jams in Shanghai after office hours are unbelievable! Barely even moved 500m after 5 mins. Anyway, we got a glimpse of the expo site from the highway. Very fascinating to look at how big the whole site is (and not to mention how far we have to walk from one end to the other too!) Looking forward to 2 full days of exercise tomorrow with an aching foot! After dinner, we had a relaxing cruise around the Huangpu river and we could actually see a row of people with their camera flashes taking photos from the Bund as we cruised through slowly. Full of colourful neon lights on all the buildings, it makes you wonder how much of electricity Shanghai use in 1 day. Once again, our hotel is way out of location but the rooms are very big and spacy. Didn't even realise that it's located in the automotive area where one of the car factory is just visible from our hotel room.

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14/9/2011: Shanghai Expo
Today is the day where the highlight of this tour starts. The SHANGHAI EXPO! Queue was pretty bad and slow at Zone A as they had to check though every bag before they let you in. This happens in all the 8 gates at different parts of the 5 zones. We had a deal with our tour guide who got us VIP access (of course with a price). We managed to check out 4 pavilions within 2 hours without queuing for hours like what most of the other people had to do just to go into 1 pavilion. Of course, the main and most important one of all is the China pavilion with the huge moving wall painting. The most important thing in this expo is not to forgot your Expo passport book where you can get the pavilion stamp on it. The next pavilion we went to is the France pavilion which is also as interesting as the China pavilion. They have the French garden outside the internal building, French food and hundreds (or probably even up to 1000 bottles) of their famous Bordeaux wine. Luxembourg wasn't as interesting as the first 2 but then again, we were the ones who chose to check it out so nothing much could be said about it. However, the last pavilion is the coolest. Italy, which showcase all the modern designs and high class lifestyle like the Ferrari, Biaggi's motorbike, Italian fashion, pasta and wine. A lot of fascinating and interesting taste and designs to see. Not too bad considering we could check out the interesting ones without wasting too much time on queuing just to enter 1 pavilion at a time. However, it's very unfortunate that we didn't check out the Japan pavilion because the queue is just so incredible as we were told that they have to wait at least 4 hours in the queue just to get in and the VIP access for Japan is too expensive for us to afford it.

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After that, all of us are on our own. We checked out the African pavilion first which houses 43 mini pavilion of each African country. Of course we took the opportunity to get all the stamps from each country. Then we opt to check out the pavilions with the least queue so that we don't waste time on queuing itself. We managed to checked out quite a lot of pavilions on the first day alone and also watched the expo parade right in front of us which lasted for half an hour. Our tour guide only gave us until 8pm to spend at the expo but even before that time, our feet were killing us and we had to find places to sit and rest out feet. By the time we got back to the hotel, all I could do is just take a bath and lay in bed only.

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15/9/2011: Shanghai Expo
Final day at the expo. This time we entered the expo zone through Zone D which is less crowded and require people to take a ferry boat to get to Zone A, B and C of the expo site. We checked out the pavilions in Zone D first before using the ferry to get to Zone A. We decided to check out the Asian pavilions as we had not done so the day before. These countries display a lot of artistic skills especially in their fine carvings. Our last pavilion before we finished out Expo tour is of course Brunei's pavilion. It doesn't offer much like other South East Asian pavilions but they did give a button saying "I Love Brunei" and the last stamp to conclude the expo passport is also the Bruneian stamp. The next expo will be held in Milan, Italy in 2014. For those who live near Milan, it's worth checking out this expo if you can't afford to travel all over the world :)

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16/9/2011: Shanghai
Today's the last day in China, packed out stuff and checked out from the hotel. We were taken to a place where they sell puer tea from Yunnan. The lady who explained to us about the puer tea has a very unique way of talking like as if she's singing while talking to us. Then after having lunch, we headed for the Old Shanghai Street. It hasn't changed much but we did pass by all the different lanes and see the items they sell. Things however are slightly more expensive here than elsewhere as this is basically a tourist spot. Then we went to the Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum which is smaller than the one in Hong Kong plus most wax figures here are mainly Chinese artists. We then headed for the Nanjing Road where it's packed with lots of people. Managed to find the vacuum packed braised pork leg at a cheaper price than at the Old Shanghai Street. We had an early dinner since it was the last part of our package but we managed to discuss with the China travel company to give us at least 2 hours to look around and shop at China's Walmart since our flight is after midnight.

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17/9/2011: Singapore
Finally landed in Singapore at 6am. Having not enough of sleep and having headache, I didn't actually have the energy to go around Singapore much. We did decide to go for a short trip around Singapore though it was too early as a lot of shops have not opened yet. Went around Chinatown and then Bugis area. Then headed back to the airport by 10am and then waited for our flight at 2.30pm. Taking midnight flights is not an ideal way of travelling. Overall, all I can say is that China has only changed in terms of new buildings but in terms of weather wise, the sky however, is still the depressing hazy, yellowish type like 4 years ago. Oh and one more thing. There's so many brands of China beer which is so cheap that if you exchange a bottle of unopened carbonated drink in any restaurants, they will give you 2 bottles of Chinese beer back.

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Posted by Lingering 22:28 Archived in China Comments (0)

Nami Island - Suwon - Seoul

Christmas Snow In Korea

snow -8 °C
View South Korea on Lingering's travel map.

23/12/2009: Brunei - Singapore - Seoul
We arrived at Changi International Airport at about 8.40pm after less than 2 hours flight from Brunei. From terminal 2, we headed off to terminal 3 whereby we had a 3 hour gap before our next flight to Seoul. Terminal 3 is smaller than terminal 2 but nevertheless, facilities are still available. Did I mention that I thought my mobile was already switched off throughout the whole flight before we left from Brunei hehehe... It was a good thing that they provide mobile charging facility and 3 hours was more than enough to fully charge my mobile or else I'll be going around with a dead mobile for 1 whole day. We also had time to change our clothes for the cold weather. It was actually very cold inside the terminal at midnight. The ride all the way to Seoul was not smooth at all as we experienced turbulence throughout the journey. I only managed to stay awake until after 1.30am but unfortunately, I only had 2 hours of sleep before I was woken up by a baby crying in front of where we were sitting for a whole hour. By then, I was already too awake to go back to sleep. Mental note - Try as best as possible not to sit near a baby or a small kid next time on a plane unless you plan to stay awake throughout the whole flight. Breakfast however, was very early which was at around 5am and guess what I had? Kimchi fried rice though it was soggy but the smell is definitely undeniable!

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24/12/2009: Gangwondo
When we arrived at Incheon airport at 6.38am (not an ideal time to arrive in a country and start the tour right away if you did not have enough sleep on the plane though), not only was it hot in the immigration area but it was also very, very slow. After getting our luggage, we met up with our Korean tour guide, a Chinese lady by the name of Ah Mei who is probably in her late 40s but still very energetic. We also talked to the boss of the tour company who goes by the name of Ali Baba which was very funny because he's a Korean. He's a funny guy though and was teasing those who were still wearing t-shirt when the temperature was only 1 °C. We didn't feel the cold at all at first until we stepped out of the airport. Boy, it really felt like as if we were in a very large freezer with the cold wind blowing even though there was no snow at all. We could even see smoke coming out of our nose and mouth! The last time I saw smoke coming out from my nose was only at the Boston harbour in US in September.

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The windows of the bus were badly fogged up so we can't see much outside without constantly wiping the windows. Our first destination was driving all the way to Chun Cheon for two and a half hours. On the way, we made a toilet stop which I would say, the toilet is very big plus there is a supermarket next to it. I was tempted to buy a Korean wine sold in there since it's not expensive and it came in a very nice box. But then the thought of having to carry in here and there just made me changed my mine though now I regretted not getting it since it wasn't sold anywhere else. Almost everyone had bought some sort of snacks and some of the guys tried the Korean plum wine. We also stop half way to have our first Korean lunch before heading again to Nami island. It was a healthy lunch I would say as it consist mainly of vegetables and rice cake but honestly speaking, the rice cake was actually tasteless and just tasted of flour only. Lots of kimchi to go about and also seaweed soup. Oh, one of the guy who bought the plum wine tasted it on the way to the restaurant and his face was really red during the whole time while having lunch.

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After lunch, we headed all the way to Nami Island, a "MUST NOT" miss island for anyone who comes to Korea. Made famous by the Korean drama, Winter Sonata, this island is only 6km in circumference and shaped like a half moon. A Korean teenager was also trying to take the opportunity to take a photo with me by asking his friend to take a shot of him near me while I was busy taking photos near to the pier. Both me and a guy from our tour group was surprised that this kid was trying to ask me to wait (though I didn't let him take my photo with him) and I got teased by our tour mate after that. He did try again on the ferry but decided not to in the end LOL! Geez, doesn't that kid know that I'm twice his age! It was however, very cold over there and it made me dropped my camera twice. Good thing it didn't drop into the river! I would say the natural scenery on Nami island is just amazing. Straight rows of trees along the way everywhere. A lot of young Korean couples also took the opportunity to come here during the Christmas holidays and take romantic photos of themselves. It would be more lovelier during autumn though because all the leaves would be of different shades of colours.

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After Nami Island, we headed straight to the famous Myongdong Shopping Street before heading to the ski resort. I was actually expecting a long row of shops or at least more than what we saw. On one side, you have the high class shops and on the other side, you have the food lane. We tried the bungeoppang which is a fish shaped pastry filled with red bean paste. Very crispy and not too sweet, just right. Should have bought more though because we didn't see anyone selling it anywhere else. We also bought strawberries which was pretty expensive but then again, it's very fresh and sweet. After getting what we wanted, we headed off to our last destination which is Hyundai Sungwoo ski resort which took another hour to reach from Myongdong.

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We were sharing an apartment with 2 other people from the tour group since each apartment has 2 bedrooms. It wasn't too bad though the bathroom do need some improvement especially not having hot water constantly. Each bedroom has an ondol, meaning that the floor gets heated up at night so a thin bed is just spread on the floor. A must try if you come to Korea. When everyone had settled down, we went to for dinner, a delicious one I have to say or probably it's because we were just too hungry. After dinner, we went to a ski rental outlet and got all our ski attire before heading back to the resort. Our Korean tour guide also held a small Christmas party for us that night in their apartment whereby not only did we have 3 types of Christmas cakes; mocha, chocolate and coffee flavour but we also had fruits and Korean desserts like kkul dduk that is rice cake filled with brown sugar syrup and sesame seeds and also rice cake that is coated with peanut powder. We also exchanged gifts and also each of us was given a Korean pouch with small gifts inside from our Korean tour guide. What a day to end our first night in South Korea. Oh yeah, did I tell you that people were still skiing outside on the slopes even until late at night with all the spotlights switched on?

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25/12/2009: Hyundai Sungwoo Ski Resort
Today is an exciting day because all of us will be having our first ski lesson! First of all before collecting all our ski equipments, we had our bare feet measured and mine's just a 230mm. Next thing is to walk out in the snow to the other part of the slope with all the heavy ski equipments as well as the heavy snow shoes. All inexperienced skiers walked like penguins. I expected it to be cold since it was -8 °C but in fact, it was just alright even though we were out in the snow. We were made to line up sideways in 2 rows facing each other. The first step is learning how to walk upwards the slope sideways without sliding downwards and also how to stop when required. Each of us were then asked to ski downwards towards her and funnily, quite a number of us fell on our butt and our Korean tour guide had to stop us from sliding down any further and also help us to stand up or else we would still fall down again. The guys fair better at it as some of them went higher up the slope while 2 of them tried snowboarding whereas the rest of us were still struggling to stay upright while skiing down the slope. Good thing the snow was soft instead of the artificial ones. After that, we took lunch and I had udon noodles which was not bad. We rested for a while and guess what? Exactly at 2.30pm, it actually snowed and what else did we do but rush out with all our ski equipments and played with the falling snow. Everyone was so excited about the snow and well, who can blame us because we never had snow before in our own country. It got heavier as time goes by and didn't stop snowing until evening. It was really cold though that night but we had the most delicious dinner which is grilled bulgogi which we wrapped with fresh lettuce, put a slice of garlic, spread fermented soya bean paste and a piece of kimchi before stuffing the whole thing into our mouth. After we returned our ski outfit, we headed back to the resort of a rest. We tried out the Korean plum wine and I have to say that it's a bit too strong for me because I felt so light headed in less than 20 mins. I fell asleep quite fast too but work up in the middle of the night feeling very fresh and our bedroom was so cold. If I had known that they had left a bit of the sliding door open, I would have closed it right away instead of wearing all my thick clothes back on again to sleep. Even the ondol wasn't even working.

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26/12/2009: Everland
After breakfast, we headed to Everland theme park located on a mountain in Yongin. I was told in advanced by a Korean friend that it is really cold over there but I never expected it to be that cold even though the temperature was the same like the day before at the ski resort. Right just after getting of the bus, everyone was freezing and complained about their numbed fingers and feet. It was a good thing that they had heaters at the entrance and that was where everyone headed to first to warm up their hands. It did helped a bit for a while but then again, we would be in the park the whole day. At every stop, everyone tried to find a place to stay warm. The guys managed to group inside a telephone booth for a while just to gather some body heat before going out in the cold again. The main attraction of this park is actually the liger which is a cross between a lion and a tiger but because it was so cold outside and the queue was so long, not many people were eager to queue for at least an hour just to have a few minutes peak at those ligers. We just went around the park and looked at the animals they have (and also at the same time keeping ourselves warm from the cold weather). I had cone pizza, corn dog and churros which was a bad choice because I didn't feel so good after that. We then watched the Christmas parade which was well, not as good as the ones I saw in Hong Kong's Disneyland but then again, it's still better than nothing for the Koreans. We only left the park at 7pm which was such a torture because my nose was already so runny. Dinner wasn't that nice, probably because I didn't feel well after eating those oily snacks also. Mandu guk was pretty tasteless to me and I didn't eat much. I didn't feel comfortable the whole night after that. Oh, the main attraction of the hotel we stayed in which caught everyone's attention was the automatic toilet. Everyone played with it but the only thing they (and also me) couldn't figure out was how the massage works or what is it for.

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27/12/2009: Suwon
Today, despite of another day of cold weather, we headed for Suwon where our first destination is the Hwaseong Fortress. Some of them eagerly tried Korean archery but unfortunately, no one managed to hit any target. Then, we walked up the fortress halfway before going to Hwaseong Haenggung Palace, a temporary palace of retreat for the king. It was also the shooting place of a famous Korean tv drama called Daejanggeum or Jewel In The Palace. We also had the opportunity to take some photos with some Korean men who dressed up as Korean warriors. Most women in our group agreed that 1 of those men were good looking and the other one was very masculine that even our Bruneian tour guide teased a lady's boyfriend to be careful as his girlfriend kept on looking at the masculine guy's photo which he had taken with his camera.

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For lunch, we had samgyetang, ginseng chicken in a very cold building. We can't believe that we were freezing inside a building more than outside while waiting for seats. But having that lunch was really refreshing and kept us really warm. Guess what? It started snowing again but this time it was more heavier than at the ski resort. Everyone of course took the opportunity to take as many photos as possible but the walkway had became quite slippery also. We then went to Dongdaemun Wholesale Market to buy some Korean souvenirs before checking out the COEX Shopping Mall which was very big. You can get lost inside it without a map to go about with since there are so many directions which are linked to each other. At night, we went to Lotte World which was what I was hoping for but unfortunately, a lot of rides on the outdoor amusement park were closed because of the cold weather. We went on The Adventures Of Sinbad and also enjoyed a panoramic view of Lotte World in a mid air monorail. Unfortunately, it was too dark to take any photos outside or even of the Magic castle nicely. We also watched the Galactic Odyssey laser show which was not bad with all the flames going up once in a while. Unfortunately, the character was speaking in Korean so all we could enjoy was the laser show. For late dinner, I had the kimchi instant noodle which was unfortunately, a very bad idea because I had to constantly go to the toilet frequently the next morning.

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28/12/2009: Seoul
We had Chinese breakfast today which well, in a way is good because there's no kimchi (again). Another very cold day (-11 °C) since after the snow yesterday and also the kimchi in the instant noodle must have been very effective for my tummy. Not a good start but at least it went away before lunch time. We went to the kimchi outlet where we learnt how to make kimchi. Unfortunately, I wasn't paying much attention to it since I was wanting to go to the toilet but I did get a hand on making it before I had to go. On the other hand, I changed my mind about buying any kimchi for myself as 1kg is too much for me to eat alone since my family do not eat it because it stinks to them. All of us also took photos in hanbok and I had to say that I was given a very nice colour. We then made a stop to the ginseng and amethyst factory as well as at a cosmetic shop which sells Korean cosmetic products. One English mistake we noticed though (or probably the way they use the word inappropriately) on one of the box was that it says, "It will keep your HORNY and rough skin moisturized and arranged for clearness with various vegetable and cosmetic ingredients". People started complaining how cold the weather was and it was so uncomfortable and out Bruneian tour guide told us that we got what we paid for which is true because we get to see real snow falling twice and she also said, when it's too cold, we complain. When we go back to Brunei, we complain that it's too hot. People can never be satisfied LOL!!

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After having a bland Chinese lunch, we passed by the blue house which unfortunately, we couldn't visit because President Lee Myung-bak was not in Korea at that time. Then we headed to the National Folk Museum where we saw all the traditional cultures that a Korean has goes through in life from the day they were born until the day they pass away. Next to this museum is the Kyongbok Palace where the kings used to live. Nice architecture and the weather was so cold that icicles were forming on the roofs. We also stopped at a store selling Korean food products like Korean biscuits, cuttlefish, seaweed, sweets, etc. Our final shopping destination is the Ewha Woman’s University fashion street. They have a lot of cute stuffs like clothes and accessories for women but mostly for the winter season so not so suitable for Brunei weather but the boots did look really nice. For our last Korean meal we had bimbibap with small shrimps which was delicious but I still prefer the one in Brunei. It is much more tastier and had more ingredients. That night, we decided between having McDonald's or Korean noodle for breakfast the next day since we have to be at the airport very early. If we want to eat noodles, we would need to need to leave the hotel by 5am but if we eat McDonald's at the airport, then we can start moving at 6am. Knowing that everyone of us are too lazy to wake up so early, all of us decided McDonald's in the end.

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29/12/2009: Seoul - Singapore
We checked out very early today and the snow was still thick but started to melt already so everywhere was wet and dirty. We reached to the airport close to 7am and with all the luggages each one had, we really did quite a lot of shopping (or maybe the things are just bulky). I had 3 luggages to check in plus 1 small luggage which I am bringing with me to Singapore. The check in counter was really slow and they made a huge mistake on the luggage which had been checked in earlier because instead of checking all the way through to Brunei, they checked it through Singapore only. Due to that error, it delayed the rest of the check ins and also, they didn't managed to find my luggage as well as my friend's but there was nothing much that we could do since we were running out of time already. By the time we queue to go through the customs check, it was already 8.45am whereas our flight was supposed to leave at 9am. It was a good thing that there's 30 of us still together or else the plane would have left without us. Our Bruneian tour guide had to demand assistance to bring us straight to our departure lounge because it wasn't our fault that we were late. A staff then came along and asked all of us to run in order to catch the plane. Thinking about about it, it must have been a really funny sight for those who were watching us running with our bags. We ran to catch the sky train to go to the other terminal and then ran again to catch the plane. It was such a huge terminal that we only finally reached the plane at 9.20am. By the time I actually sat down, I was practically knocked out even before the plane took off from the runway! But it was a good rest because when the plane started to take off, I felt quite refreshed. Now I wonder, how did Incheon Airport managed to get the 1st position for being the best international airport when their service is really slow!

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We landed at Changi airport at 3pm and we had a good laugh over the incident at Incheon airport. Never in our life had we need to run just to catch the plane. One of them even said that it was like running in an Amazing Race and seeing who can be the first one to reach the plane. What an experience! The wind in Singapore is very hot and dry even though it wasn't sunny (we can never be satisfied with the weather). The hotel that we stayed in is not that bad and there are also shopping and food centres around it though we would really prefer if it was near to a MRT so that we could go to Orchard Road. Unfortunately, they didn't have a camera store where I can check for new cameras. We checked out the stores and did some shopping before having dinner. For dinner I had ABC and also nasi bryani with curry lamb which was not bad as compared to having kimchi for the past 5 days. Next day, we headed off to the airport at noon time and it was a good thing that the Changi staff did managed to track where all our luggage are so we do not have to come back to the Brunei airport again another day just to get our luggage when it is finally sent over during the next few days. It would have been a nice trip if weather wasn't too cold and they didn't make a mistake on our luggage which make us ended up having to run for our flight. Overall, I managed to get away with 33kg of luggage in Korea and another 10kg of luggage in Singapore without having to pay for any excess. That's one big advantage of following a tour group :)

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Posted by Lingering 01:30 Archived in South Korea Comments (0)

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