A Travellerspoint blog

Hong Kong - Taiwan - Macau

semi-overcast

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
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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
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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)

East Coast US - Canada

The Big Apple

22 °C
View East Coast US - Canada on Lingering's travel map.

19/8/2008: Brunei - Singapore - Hong Kong
Our long trip started from Brunei Airport where we left for our flight to Singapore using SQ at 12.20pm. Landed in Changi International airport 2 hours later and waited for our next flight with Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong at 6.25pm. By the time we reached to Hong Kong, we just had to go up to the terminal to wait for our next flight to New York which will be on the next day at 9.45am.

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20/8/2008: Hong Kong - New York
Landed in JFK airport at 1.30pm. Depart for Wyndham Hotel in New Jersey which was 2 hours’ drive from New York and met up with our tour guide, Tony. At 7pm, we went for the night tour around New York city. This includes passing by the Empire State Building, Broadway and dropping by the Times Square and Rockefeller Center for sightseeing and photo taking. By the time we reached back to our hotel, it was already 9pm and we had to sleep early because tomorrow we would start our tour.

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21/8/2008: New York - Philadelphia
The tour started at 8am where we departed New Jersey for New York City. The 3 famous part of New York is Manhattan, Chinatown and the Bronx. In this tour we only concentrated on the Manhattan part where the first place that we stopped by was the famous Wall Street and New York Stock Exchange. Along 26 Wall Street, we came across the Federal Hall National Memorial in which it was the first capitol of the United States of America and the site of George Washington's first inauguration in 1789. It is also the place where the United States Bill of Rights was passed. As we walk along Broadway Street, we saw the bronze raging bull known as the Bowling Green Bull. Although the weather was quite cold, no one missed the chance of taking a photo with the bull as it is said to bring good fortune.

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Then, we walked to where the former World Trade Center or now known as Ground Zero. Currently, constructions have been going on in this site whereby 5 new towers and a centerpiece called Freedom Tower will be built on Ground Zero. The Freedom Tower will be the tallest building in US (standing at 540m) and it symbolize the freedom and independence of US.

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Next, we headed for the Empire State Building which is a 102-story Art Deco skyscraper in New York City at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and West 34th Street. It was the world's tallest building for more than 40 years since 1931 until the construction of the World Trade Center's North Tower. However, after the 9/11 event, the Empire State Building again became the tallest building in New York City and New York State. We went up to the 86th-floor observation deck to the 102nd floor to view the whole city of New York.

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We were then brought to see the United Nations Headquarters. Unfortunately, because the UN meeting was scheduled to be held next week, security had been tightened and public are not allowed to go near to this area. However, we took the opportunity with the NYPD polis which was very funny because they were offering themselves to the tourists to be photographed.

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The next destination was the Rockerfeller Center where we were given time to walk around and take photos. Facing the Rockerfeller Centre is the St. Patrick's Cathedral which we went in for a while to observe the Sunday Mass. Then we went to Times Square to have some lunch and look around before heading of for a Manhattan Harbour Cruise. We passed through the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg bridge (aka BMW bridge) and were showed where Calvin Klein and Leonardo DiCaprio lived. The highlight of this cruise was that we got to see the Statue of Liberty upfront.

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The last part of the New York tour was a visit to the Madame Tussauds Wax Museum which we chose not to go because I’ve seen the one in Hong Kong. So, while the others headed to this museum, we hanged around Times Square and have our caricature done which was pretty funny. I do have to admit that the artists are very good at their drawings and they can finish 1 portrait in less than 5 minutes.

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At the end of the day, we headed off to Philadelphia which was about 41/2 hours drive. 2 hours on the road, we stopped on the way to have Chinese buffet dinner in Cherry Valley and my, I do have to say that seafood must be really cheap as they serve tons of them! Finally, it took us another 21/2 hours before we actually reach to the Renaissance Hotel in Philadelphia.

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22/8/2008: Philadelphia - Washington D.C.
We started off at 8.30am today. Our first stop was to the Independence Hall where the signing of the Declaration of Independence was done and the Old Capital building. We also managed to see and touch the Liberty Bell which now hangs in the Liberty Bell Center, with its storied bell, and the nearby Independence Hall.

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We then headed south through Delaware and Maryland to reach Washington D.C. after 4 long hours. Our first stop was to the Smithsonian Air and Space museum followed by checking out the Hope Diamond in the Natural History Museum. The galleries include Hall of Geology, Gems, and Minerals, Hall of Dinosaurs and Hall of Mammals just to name a few.

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Next, we proceeded to the White House, Capitol Hill, Jefferson Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial and Korean Veterans Memorial. By the time we finish touring it was already evening, so we heading for a Chinese buffet dinner before checking into Courtyard by Marriott.

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23/8/2008: Hershey - Corning - Niagara Falls
Today was an early start as we had to leave the hotel by 7am to head north to visit Hershey Chocolate World via Harrisburg. By the time we actually arrived to the Hershey factory, we were actually the first group to arrive because the factory had not open yet but it was only a few minutes’ wait before they opened the door and we started our chocolate heaven tour. We went for the factory tour where we saw how chocolate were processed from cocoa beans to the end product of Hershey products. The smell of chocolate was so heavy that it actually stuck on our clothes. There’s also so many choices of Hershey chocolates to choose from that it’s impossible to buy everything but they are slightly cheaper compared to the ones sold in other places.
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Our next destination was the Corning Glass Center and Museum which was 2 hours’ drive from our previous destination. Since we didn’t join the tour, we just check out the different sort of glass wares sold in their shop. The price ranges from a few dollars to more than a few thousand dollars.

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The journey to the Canadian border was actually 6 hours long just you can imagine how tired all of us were since we woke up so early in the morning. After arriving to Niagara City, we had dinner in a Chinese restaurant first before checking into Super 8 Hotel. We didn’t have much time to freshen up in the hotel as we had to go out for our night tour to view Niagara Falls by night. The roaring sound of the Niagara Falls on the American side were magnificent eventhough we couldn’t see much in the dark. Then, we spent sometime in the city before actually heading for the Horseshoe Falls. Looking at the Horseshoe from the top felt like as if we were walking in the rain because of the wind blowing all the mists towards us. No one was spared from getting wet that night!

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24/8/2008: Niagara Falls - Canada - Toronto
At 7.30am, we were already at the same spot as where we were the night before, facing the Horseshoe Falls. Today, we were more luckier than yesterday because the wind were blowing away from us, thus, it was a very dry place! In day time, Niagara Falls even looked more magnificent than at night and the sound was as always, very loud and roaring.

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The next part of it was actually what all of us were waiting for that is being on the Maid of the Mist boat and just standing next to the Horseshoe Fall. Most of the time, people will get wet even though a raincoat was given to everyone. I was very fortunate because my raincoat could cover until my toes but unfortunately, it did not help much in protecting my shoes from getting wet. Even our tour guide was checking me out and he said I was lucky because I didn’t get really wet.

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We then headed of for lunch in the revolving dining room of the Skylon Tower, the tallest structure that overlooks both the American Falls, New York and the larger Horseshoe Falls, Ontario from the Canadian side of the Niagara River. It only took us 52 seconds to go up to the 160m high tower from the ground floor. The revolving dinning room offers a 360 degrees view of the Niagara Falls city as well as the American side. Some of us had steak while others had salmon. The food was very nice. After lunch, we went up 1 more level to outer balcony on top of this tower.

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By 2pm, we headed to Toronto which took 2 hours to reach. The scenery along the highway was of course very pleasant as one can see a lot of flat farmlands, dairy cattle and lots of maple trees with various shades of colours.

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When we reach to the Toronto financial district, we stopped by to see the old and new City Hall which was not far from each other because the old City Hall was facing in front of us whereas the new City Hall was just on the left side. Then we left for CN Tower which is located in downtown Toronto, standing at 553.33 m tall and situated next to the Rogers Centre where a baseball game was actually going on. The special feature of this CN Tower is its security check which is actually the only one in the world where they only use bursts of winds from head to toes. Another thing about this tower is that there is an area where the floor is actually made of glass only. So from this glass people can look 553.33m down to the road and the Rogers Centre.

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Then, we headed off for our dinner which was once again, Chinese and after that, we checked into Holiday Inn and slept very early because not only were we exhausted from the long drive but also, we had to leave very, very early.

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25/8/2008: Toronto - Thousand Islands - Ottawa - Montreal
We had an early start today at 6am to catch the boat cruise to the 1000 Islands, a water wonderland along the St. Lawrence River and the shores of Lake Ontario. It took us 21/2 hours to reach there which was good timing because by the time we reach there, it was just 8.30am and we were in time to have our breakfast buffet while cruising along these islands.

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In actual fact, there are altogether more than 1000 islands on this lake and for a place to be considered as an island, it must be able to accommodate a house. There is also a Boldt castle, a monument of love on the Heart Island of George C. Boldt for his wife, Louise. This castle has never been lived in as Louise had passed away before it was completed.

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After the cruise, we headed to the capital of Canada, Ottawa which was 11/2 hour drive. We first headed off to the Parliament Hill which is of Gothic style from Europe. In front of the Peace Tower of the Parliament Hill is a Centennial Flame. The natural gas that feeds this flame bubbles up around a metal dome depicting the centennial year logo (a stylized maple leaf) and the water runs under the coat of arms for each of the 1967 provinces and territories of Canada. The water runs into a moat surrounded by a stone enclosure listing the year each province and territory joined confederation. The use of a combination of fire and water represents the harmony between French and English Canada, with both communities coexisting happily alongside each other, despite any differences or distant history of acrimony, in all of the provinces and territories.

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We then headed east towards Montreal which took 3 hours of driving to the St. Joseph Oratory, a Roman Catholic basilica on the northern slope of Mount Royal in Montreal. We were shown the heart of Brother André and the largest wind organ. Next, we proceeded to the Montreal Olympic Stadium. This is the only Olympic stadium that did not make any money at all but was in debt for almost 30 years since 1976.

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After 11/2 hours’ drive we reached to Montreal’s Chinatown and had French and Chinese cuisine. As usual, there was tons of food to taste and I would have to say, it was the first time that I actually saw fried frogs’ legs being served. I had a try since it was included in the buffet and I have to admit that the meat is really juicier and sweeter than fried chicken. It was really delicious! We finally checked into Gouverneur Hotel after 8pm.

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26/8/2008: Montreal - Quebec - Boston
At 7.15am we drove 11/2 hours to Quebec. First stop was the Quebec City which looks exactly like a small town in France and the weather was colder than the previous few days. The main highlight in this city is the 420m2 mural situated on the wall of house Soumande known as La Fresque Des Quebecois. This mural features many historic characters which contributed to the development of the capital city of Quebec. Jacques Cartier, Samuel de Champlain, Francois-Xavier Garneau, and Jean Talon are just to name a few. It also features artists and writers and has also capitalized on Quebec's architecture and geography by featuring the fortifications and stairs, plus each of the seasons and how they change over the course of time.

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Next, we headed to the La Citadell, a military installation and official residence located atop Cap Diamant, adjoining the Plains of Abraham. This citadel is part of the fortifications of Quebec City, the only city with extant city walls in North America. This fort is actually star-shaped, built first by the French in the 17th century, then taken over by the British in the 1820s before the Canadian Forces took over in 1920.

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For lunch, we went back to the city to have a traditional French cuisine in a French restaurant. We had French bread, escargos (without the shell), pasta with salmon and the yummy cheesecake (small portion though). After lunch, we have a very long drive ahead because we were going to go back to US but this time to Boston. Since it was a 6 hour drive, we had to make several stops. After three hours on the road, we stopped by at the Canadian Duty Free shop. The specialty of this place which a tourist should buy are the salmons, Icewine, Icewine chocolate and cookies because they are only available in Canada. The US border was another 21/2 hours drive from our first stop. 31/2 hours later, we finally reached to Courtyard by Marriott in Boston.

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27/8/2008: Boston - New York
Today was the last day of our tour but we still had quite a bit to cover so we started our day at 6.30am. Our first stop was to Harvard University where we learnt about the 3 big lies that is:
1) Harvard University was not founded in 1638 but in 1636.
2) The statue in Harvard University is not John Harvard but a young handsome student that was picked out because no one knew how John Harvard looked like.
3) Anyone who touched the statue’s shoes will become intelligent (well, his left shoes looked very shiny from all those polishing over the years so I wondered how many have actually became intelligent?)

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Anyway, we were told that Harvard students do not use the main gate to come in and go out but instead, they use the side gates. The reason for this is that any student who walk through the main gate means that they have already graduated from Harvard University. We then went to Massachusetts Institute of Technology and walked within the faculty.

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Next, we stopped by at the Quincy Market where most of the shops are designer boutiques. We then headed for the Boston Harbor Cruise. Unfortunately, it had rained heavily the night before so everything was quite foggy. Only managed to see those near to the harbour and the USS Constitution. Then we walked to Chinatown from the harbour to have our lobster lunch which was very delicious. After that, we were given a short while to walk around Chinatown before we proceed to the next plan that is dropping off everyone at various airports, starting with the one in Boston.
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Our flight was at 11pm at night from JFK airport so we had to wait for a few hours but it was a good thing that we could check in our luggage as early as 6.30pm. The flight however was a very tiring one because we had to transit in Vancouver 4 hours after our flight left JFK before transiting to Hong Kong and finally to Singapore. That was like almost 24 hours on the plane ‘coz we landed in Singapore on the morning of 29th September. We spent another 2 nights in Singapore and I got myself a new Canon PowerShot SX110 IS at a price which was much cheaper than I expected considering that it’s a very new model on the market.

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Overall, a very tiring trip but well worth it and who would have thought we had the chance of sitting on a Boeing 747-400 which actually has 2 floors(main and the upper deck)!

Posted by Lingering 15:08 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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