A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Lingering

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
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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)

Hong Kong - Shenzhen

Here You Leave Today And Enter The World Of Yesterday, Tomorrow And Fantasy

22 °C
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Monday (10/12/2007) It was a two and a half hours flight from Brunei to Hong Kong. We were expecting it to be cold since it is mild winter (22 degrees celcius) there but instead of feeling cool like in an air con room, I still felt hot and sweaty after walking a while and wearing a thin fleece jacket whereas most Hong Kong people were wearing a jacket and they still felt cold So, I only wore a thin long sleeve turtleneck shirt which I still had to roll up the sleeves to feel cool. So much for winter LOL!

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Anyway, we stayed at Metropark Hotel in Mongkok which is only a few minutes walk from the MTR station. The room's not too bad considering that space is very precious in Hong Kong because it's bigger than the one we stayed in Singapore. They even gave us complimentary fruits when we checked in but unfortunately, all of the fruits weren't ripe yet. Then we went upwards from our hotel to check out the Ladies Market. There were lots of boots, winter jackets, clothes, shoes and fruits on sell. After having dinner, we went downwards along Nathan Road towards Tsim Sha Tsui. It was a very, very long walk but we saw a lot of people, streets, shops and side lanes. We even managed to check out part of the Temple Street which was full of tourists.

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Tuesday (11/12/2007) Our plan for today was to go to Victoria Peak. In order to do so, we had to take the MTR from our hotel to Tsim Sha Tsui and walked quite a distance before we reached to the Star Ferry Pier. It was so windy and cool there. In front of Harbour City, there were lots of Christmas decorations. The Star Ferry was an interesting ride and took only a few minutes to reach from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island. The upper deck cost HK$2.20 per person whereas the lower deck cost cheaper. On reaching the central pier of Hong Kong Island, we had to find Bus #15C because it will drive all the way to the Peak Terminus for us to board the Peak Tram. The ride was interesting because we sat on the top so we were surrounded by skyscrapers. However, on the Peak terminus, the queue to buy the Peak Tram ticket was so long that it went around the fountain. Fortunately for us, we were getting the 3-in-1 ticket that includes the Madame Tussauds' ticket, Peak tram and the Skypass so we didn't have to follow the long queue at all since there was another counter selling this ticket. The gradient of the Peak Tram was so steep that it was sort of scary when the tram stop midway two times but it was also fun because we get to see Hong Kong Island at an angle.

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We went up to the very top floor first (skypass) where we were able to see the whole of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. Not only was it hot because of the noon time sun but it was also windy at the same time. After that, we went to Madame Tussauds where we saw famous actors, actresses, singers, presidents and even sportsmen. We also went around some of the shops and I managed to find a doll representing Hong Kong which I did not see in China nor Singapore. By night time, we went back to Kowloon via ferry again and this time, we went to the Star Of Avenue where they have hand prints of famous Hong Kong actors, actresses like Michelle Yeoh, singers and John Woo, the director. Then exactly at 8pm every night, they have the symphony of lights show shown from the skyscrapers on the Hong Kong Island.

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Wednesday (12/12/2007) Today, we spent the whole day at Hong Kong's Disneyland. It cost HK$18 to reach there by MTR and fortunately, it wasn't crowded. However, it was a different story inside Disneyland itself. People were queuing up in Mainstreet USA to take photos with Disney characters like Mickey and Minnie mouse, Chip and Dale and Donald and Daidy duck. If you haven't been to a Disneyland or seen real life Disney character mascots, even an adult can act like a kid, happily lining up just to get a shot with the character. Mickey and Minnie mouse was a popular spot for kids and adults so we had to miss that out or else we would have to stand out under the sun for quite a while before it was our turn.

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We went around Adventureland first and managed to go for a jungle river cruise which was interesting and fun at the same time. Then we went to Fantasyland and there was where we managed to secure a spot to see the Let It Snow Christmas parade up front. Finally, we went to Tomorrowland and tried Orbitron, Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters and Space Mountain. It's like becoming kids once again when you're in Disneyland but the scariest one is the Space Mountain. My God! Even though I've ride on roller coasters before, it's very scary to sit on a very fast roller coaster in the dark, feeling the strong G force throwing you to one side and not knowing what will happen next.

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The light up on Sleeping Beauty's castle started at 6pm with Mickey Mouse directing which part of the castle to light up and that was much better than the Symphony Of Lights in Hong Kong Island. The finale of the show was the beautiful fireworks which started at 8pm and from the place where we were standing which was more than 20m away, we could actually feel the heat of the fire. It was worth the wait anyway. The most romantic moment however, was watching a marriage proposal of a young couple after they took photos with Winnie The Pooh while we were queuing up to take photos with Mickey Mouse.

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Thursday (13/12/2007) We had to check out of the hotel early today to catch a train to Shenzhen. From the Kowloon Tong MTR station to Lo Wu station, it cost us HK$33. It took more than 30 minutes to reach to Lo Wu Station. After passing the Hong Kong immigration, we had to walk a few minutes to reach the China immigration before we were officially in China. Fortunately because it was still a working day, there wasn't much queue in both immigrations. Finding the MTR station was a bit of a problem so we actually walked around the building where the immigrations was because we found out when going back to Hong Kong that we can just go across inside the building and the MTR station is just below it. Plus there are so many small stalls just connected to the immigration building which we missed out. Oh well, I'm not much of a shopper either and we just came back from China a few months ago so I didn't actually had anything to buy. Shenzhen however, is a heaven for people who are into branded imitation bags or clothes.

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Anyway, Oriental Regent Hotel is situated in the business district surrounded by banks and the Shenzhen Stock Market building was only a few blocks away. Even though there's not a lot of shops around our hotel compared to the commercial districts like Dongmen or Lo Huo, it was actually safer than the later because Shenzhen is actually famous for con-men and pickpockets. So, after checking in, we used the MTR to go to Splendid China and China Folk Culture Village. We checked out a few of the houses in the Folk Culture Village first but then realising that we don't have enough time to cover the Splendid China, we had to missed out a lot of the different nationality houses because Splendid China was actually our main target. Splendid China shows the replica of all the China's famous landmarks like for example the Forbidden City, Summer Palace, Potola Palace, Lamasery, Temple Of Heaven, Terracotta Warriors etc. Even that, we couldn't cover the whole place 'because Splendid China closes at 6pm and 6pm actually looked like it was already 8pm. Then night time, we decided to take the MTR to Dongmen District to have dinner. The menu in Pizza hut is totally different from the ones in Brunei or Singapore. We ordered the Christmas set which comes with party cocktail drinks and it's very cheap also! We also finally found the Dongmen shopping area after getting lost for a while searching for it and it was filled with people so we had to be extra careful of pickpockets but there wasn't much time to look around because we were afraid that the MTR station will close since it was late already.

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Friday (14/12/2007) Today, we went to Window of the World which is just directly about the last MTR station in Shenzhen. It's one of the most fascinating place that I've ever been and seen. It's actually incredible that the Chinese people can do an exact replica of the Eiffel Tower, Triumphal Arch, Piazza San Marco and Cologne Cathedral just to name a few. So, what else did we do for the whole day but just taking photos! I also managed to buy a Korean doll and a big Japanese doll which is twice the size of all the dolls that I've bought before. We also went up the Eiffel Tower but since it was already night time, we couldn't see Hong Kong except for the lights. If we were to go up during day, we could have seen all the buildings and houses in Hong Kong which is separated from Shenzhen by a river.

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Saturday (15/12/2007) Today, we had to rush back to Hong Kong because we had managed to get ourselves a free ride on the Duk Ling junk boat for 1 hour at 1pm. Since people don't work on Saturdays, boy, the queue were long long in both immigrations and people kept pushing to go forward to the immigration. MTRs were also packed with people. Since we arrived back to Hong Kong at 11am, we checked back into Metropark Hotel Mongkok again but since they were under critical condition of being fully booked, we only confirmed our reservations and fortunately, we were able to leave our bags at the hotel. We managed to reach to the Duk Ling pier a few minutes before 1pm but it was worth the rush! We did last minute shopping at the night market because we were leaving tomorrow. I bought 1 bag made of buffalo hide. It's quite expensive but hey, if it's real leather, I wouldn't mind paying more as long as it's lasting. There were also Tibetans selling Tibetan handicrafts so I bought 2 small praying wheels.

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Sunday (16/12/2007)Next day, we went to the airport at 1pm even though our flight was at 5pm. It was also a good thing that we were early because the queue to the immigration was quite long but after that, we just walked around and checked out all the shops. I bought a book called The World Of Suzie Wong which I've only started to read the first few pages today.

Overall, the trip to Hong Kong and Shenzhen was interesting even though it felt like I've done enough exercise for this month already since most of the places of attractions are very big. However, Hong Kong people are very unfriendly and you have to dress smart for them to respect you. How I wished Hong Kong has snow so that I didn't have to sweat!

Posted by Lingering 07:24 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (0)

Beijing - Chengde - Tianjin

You are not a hero yet until you have climbed the Great Wall

sunny 28 °C
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Friday (7/9/2007) Our transit flight to Beijing started at 3pm from Brunei International Airport. By the time we landed at KLIA in Malaysia, it was already 5.30pm. Since our next connecting flight to Beijing was at 12.30am, we had about 7 hours to spare before flying off. So, we checked out the Airside Transit Hotel first and then spent the rest of the time checking out each shop in KLIA. After having dinner, we sat at the Movie lounge and watched movies until our boarding time. The seats were so comfortable that we almost fell asleep but we had to keep ourselves awake or else we would missed our connecting flight.

Saturday (8/9/2007) We departed from KLIA at about 12.30am and by then, everyone was already asleep when the plane started to take off. Half an hour later, light dessert was served which wasn't too bad 'coz it was cream cheese sandwich. However, I only managed to catch 3 hours of sleep 'coz not only was the seat so uncomfortable but the lights came on and off every once in a while. By 5.00am, breakfast was served which was way too early for me so I didn't managed to eat much and by then, I couldn't go back to sleep either. On the other hand, being awake was a good thing 'coz I managed to see the sun started to rise on the right side of the plane by 5.30am which I assume would be Japan. Unfortunately, I was seated on the middle row so I was not able to take any photos of the sun rise. But it was just a lovely sight!

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We landed at the Beijing Capital International Airport at about 6.35am and managed to meet up with our tour guide, Andy. He looks and talk like a typical China man unlike Geoffrey, our tour guide in Shanghai. Anyhow, he can speak good English though I don't know why some of my friends found it difficult to catch his pronunciations and we were actually very impressed that he knows a lot of vocabularies which we don't normally use when we are talking informally. At least his Mandarin is easier to understand compared to other Bejing people that I've come across. We checked into Taiwan Hotel first before starting our tour.

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Our first stop was the Tiananmen Square (天安门广场) which has a total area of 108.7 acres. Within the square, there is a 38m high Monument to the People's Heroes (人民英雄纪念碑) which was built in the memory of the martyrs who laid down their lives for the revolutionary struggle of the Chinese people during the 19th and 20th century. The Chairman Mao Memorial Hall (毛主席纪念堂) or the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong is currently under renovation so it was closed to the public. On the north side of the square is the Tiananmen Gate, also known as the Gate of Heavenly Peace which separates the Forbidden City from the Tiananmen square and to the south is the Zhengyangmen Gate or the Qianmen Gate (前门), also known as the "Front Gate".

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Next, we entered through the Tiananmen Gate into the Forbidden City which was the Chinese imperial palace from the mid-Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty. It has an area of 720,000 square metres and took 14 years to complete. Not only was the complex big and very old but it was filled with ornaments and carvings on wood, bronze and stones so it was very interesting to see. It makes one wonder how a big structure cans till stay intact after all these years where no nails have been used to hold them together and how ancient people carve all these things without the use of machines and how long it took them to complete one carving.

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Very unfortunately, the Hall of Supreme Harmony which was used in movies like "The Last Emperor" and "Curse Of The Golden Flower" was undergoing renovation at this moment so we only managed to look at the thrones in the Hall of Preserving Harmony and the Palace of Heavenly Purity. It was a long walk though around the compound but very fascinating.

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Before lunch, we took a rickshaw ride through the Hutong area which is means only a small alleyway or lane as only 1 car can pass at a time. In this Hutong area, there are about 4 or 5 families sharing 1 courtyard. We also ate lunch in a local family in a small room which happens to be the bedroom also. After lunch, we went up the Drum Tower, also known as Gulou (鼓楼). The tower is only 47m high and has 69 steps. Behind the Drum Tower is the Bell Tower, also known as Zhonglou. The purpose of these two towers was to tell the time during the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties.

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Our last stop for the day was the Temple of Heaven (天坛) which was used by the Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties for annual ceremonies of prayer to Heaven for good harvest. The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests (祈年殿) was used by the Emperor to pray for good harvests. The Imperial Vault of Heaven (皇穹宇) is surrounded by a smooth circular wall called the Echo Wall because sound can be transmitted from one end of the wall to the other end. As told by Andy, we clapped our hands while standing in the middle the first slab in front of the Imperial Vault of Heaven which did not produce any echo at all. Doing the same action while standing in the middle the second slab produced 2 echoes while doing the same thing again on the third slab produced three echoes but the third echo was not so obvious as the second echo. Finally, we stood at the Earthly Mount (圜丘坛) which consist of an empty circular platform on three levels of marble stones that can echo back your voice if you stand at the centre of the circle.

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At night, we tried the food at the Wangfujing road for our dinner. There were scorpions, pupae, noodles, meat, fish, desserts and other stuffs which you would not think of eating at all but it was interesting to see food which we do not normally eat. As they say, one person's food is another person's poison.

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Sunday (9/9/2007) Today's tour started with a stop to the Jade factory. We were shown how jades were carved and polished and also taught how to distinguish between real jade, glass and marble. I bought a jadelite bangle for myself which is a mixture of green, brown and happiness that represents health, wealth and happiness. It is said that the colour of jadelite will become darker as one keeps on wearing it as oil is absorbed from the body of the wearer.

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Then, we were supposed to go to the Badaling (八达岭) section of the Great Wall (长城) but due to heavy traffic jam to that section, we decided to go to the Mutianyu (慕田峪) section instead. Unlike the Badaling section which has cable cars to bring people up, we had to go on foot in this section. Only 4 of us out of 7 decided to climb the Great Wall on the other side of the road while the other 3 just stayed around the parking site. It was an amazing experience to actually reach and climb 1 of the 7 wonders of the world! It was hot though while we were climbing upwards because by then, it was already noon time and the sun was directly above us. But as Mao Zedong saying onthe 'real carrot stone' in the Badaling section said, "You're not a real man if you haven't climbed the Great Wall" ( 不到长城非好汉) which can be found with the saying engraved on it.

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After that, we went for a foot massage before heading back for the Acrobatic Show. The show was impressive if one has never watched any Chinese acrobatic show before but it was not as good as the China National Acrobatic Troupe which came to Brunei last year. Anyway, 2 of my friends actually managed to fall asleep during the acrobatic show even though there was so much noise! After the acrobatic show, we dropped by the Niujie mosque (牛街清真寺) which is the oldest mosque in Beijing. Unfortunately, we couldn't get clear shots of the mosque because it was dark already. Then, we headed for our hotpot dinner which I think most of us were a little surprised and disappointed. The hotpot I saw on tv was totally different from this one and to the others, they thought it was like the steamboat we have here with is either served with chicken stock or fish stock. Unfortunately, we didn't like the sauce that much because it tasted like peanut butter mixed with salty black sauce but we couldn't eat without the sauce also because the meat was tasteless after being boiled in crab water.

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Monday (10/9/2007) We checked out of the hotel today because we were going to spend a night in Chengde. It was a 4 hours drive which was entertaining because we saw the Simatai (司马台) section of the Great Wall, beautiful mountains and agricultural fields. We checked into Jin Jiang Wen Guan Hotel which is located on Mount Seng Guan. It was quite isolated and very quiet but the wind was very cool. It was even cool in the hotel without switching on the air con.

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We then went to the Imperial Summer Resort and because the others did not want to "WALK", we took the bus ride up the mountain and missed out the palaces and temples at the bottom. The scenery on top of the mountain wasn't too bad but could have been nicer if the sky wasn't that smoggy. We also saw the Temple for Potarka Doctrine (普陀宗乘之庙), a replica of Lhasa's Potala Palace on the left side and the Puning Temple (普宁寺)) or Temple of Universal Peace on the right side. On the way out of the resort, we were surprised to see 2 groups of Chinese men playing a traditional Malay game which is also played in Brunei called "Pasang". We were even more surprised that it is even called the same name here. This game could have possibly passed on to China from the 14th century where Brunei and China people used to trade with each other in the past.

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At night, the hotel area was so windy and cold and I didn't even felt hot when there was a blackout in the hotel early in the morning. But I couldn't go back to sleep when they started the generator at 6am. A walk to the next block for breakfast was very refreshing 'coz the weather was very cold. If only Brunei was that cold all the time. After checking out of the hotel, we visited the Puning Temple (普宁寺)) or Temple of Universal Peace. This temple is modeled after the Samye Monastery, the sacred Lamaist site in Tibet and has the world's tallest wooden sculpture of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara of 22.28m high.

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3 of us decided to try the fortune telling just for the fun of it. However, Kolin didn't get her fortune told, Pauline got 1 green paper and I got 2 papers, 1 green and the other yellow. Don't ask me why 'coz I do not know also but according to my understanding, this is what the green paper says:
"Originally I will face extremely bad problems but then it will eventually change into extremely good matters. The person who gets this stick (which is no. 99) has very good opportunities and can find a way out of a desperate situation or problem. Even though bad matters will often bring worry, it can often bring unexpected good matters also. This kind of person can turn misfortune into a blessing. Life is not problem-free, but one can only forgive and the problem does not have any danger but ends with satisfactory. If you are currently having a problem, do not need to fear because the extraordinarily good luck is not far away." So basically, what the paper is say is that my problems are actually blessings in disguise. If my translation is not accurate, please correct me but I must admit that most of my previous problems did actually have a very good result instead of the opposite so I hope the future will still give the same result.

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Tuesday (11/9/2007) Today, we went for a 2 hour drive to Tianjin to visit the Food Street and the Cultural Street. Tianjin is more modern but hotter than Chengde. There wasn't much to see here but the food was delicious. The name Cultural street was a bit misleading because there were more of modern chinese commodities rather than the ancient or antique ones.

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Wednesday (12/9/2007) Before our flight back to KL in the afternoon, we stopped by at the Summer Palace (颐和园). It had rained early in the morning and by the time we reached there, it was only a very light drizzle which was very nice. I love weather like this because it is just so cool whereas if it rains in Brunei, it really rains very heavily. So, Summer Palace was so lovely because of the weather. We walked through the Long Corridor of 728m long which has more than 8,000 paintings of landscapes, flowers and human figures. Before going on a cruise on the man made Kunming Lake that looks the West Lake in Hangzhou, we saw the Marble Boat at the southwest foot of the Longevity Hill. It is very interesting to learn that ancient people used to store ice blocks underground so that they can put them around the Marble Boat during summer before refrigerators were invented.

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On our way to the Beijing airport, we managed to catch a glimpse of the Olympic stadium which is still under construction. Our flight back to Kuala Lumpur was delayed by 1 hour and by the time we landed in KLIA, we were so exhausted that we just wanted to check into the Airside Hotel and sleep. The hotel was nice and spacy and from our room window, we saw a MAS plane looking towards our room. Fortunately, it didn't take off or else, it would be very noisy.

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Thursday (13/9/2007) Flew from KLIA at 9.10am and landed in Brunei International Airport at about 11.30am. The differences between Beijing and Shanghai is that Beijing people are much more laid back and friendlier, crossing the road was not as scary as in Shanghai 'coz cars will stop at zebra crossings and wait for people to walk through before moving on and I feel that Beijing is much more safer than in Shanghai 'coz you don't see a lot of police on the road looking after commercial areas. Most of all, even though Beijing has a large population, it is not crowded everywhere like in Shanghai.

However, both places are worth visiting as they have their own special features. Beijing for the historical aspects and Shanghai for the modern concepts. I admit that it was a long trip especially getting there and coming back by plane but it was an enjoyable one for me. I wouldn't mind going back again and check out the other historical places that has not been covered in this trip yet!

Posted by Lingering 20:17 Archived in China Comments (0)

Singapore

Christmas In The Tropics

rain -17 °C
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Saturday (16/12/2006) We arrived at Changi Airport in the afternoon and then took a taxi straight to YWCA Fort Canning Lodge which so happens to be located just next to YMCA and Fort Canning Park. Since it is located in the Orchard Road area, all we had to do is just to walk through Park Mall, cross the road and we have already reached the Dhoby Ghaut MRT station. Cross the road one more time and we're already at Orchard Road. That afternoon was a really hot day even though it was already late afternoon when we started walking around Orchard Road, checking out the shopping centres.

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We also managed to find the Singapore Visitors Centre @ Orchard where we purchased a 2 day trip; City Tour and a Heritage Tour Sightseeing Pass which includes a free Christmas Light-Up tour for visitors using the HippoTours bus. At night, Orchard Road was very lively with lots of people doing Christmas shoppings, Christian activities and a lot of Christmas lights with Christmas deco. The special thing about Christmas in Singapore is that you can always find a Christmas tree in front or inside a shopping centre. So, just imagine Orchard Road, a whole stretch of shopping centres as well as Christmas trees along the way. There were Christmas trees which represents the 4 seasons; winter, spring, summer and autumn, a very huge Christmas tree inside Takashimaya and a special Christmas tree, exclusively decorated with thousands of Swarovski crystal ornaments just at the corner of The Heeren Shopping Centre. There was also a huge Christmas tree decorated with teddy bears that will be donated to the orphans after Christmas.

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Sunday (17/12/2006) Started our first sight seeing around Singapore today. In order to catch the early HippoTours bus in the morning, we had to walk about 8 minutes from the lodge all the way to Clark Quay. Just as we left Clark Quay, it started to rain so we had to sit on the lower deck instead of the open deck of the HippoTours bus. The HippoTours around the City Tour took us one round through the city of Singapore whereby we passed various places of attraction like the Botanical Gardens, Merlion Park, the ever famous Raffles hotel, the Esplanade Theatre, Orchard Road and Suntec City. At the end of the tour, we stayed at Suntec City where we checked out what the fuss is about on the Singapore Garden Festival 2006. Since we only had less than 1 hour before we leave for the Laser Musical Fountain in Sentosa and the Christmas Light Up Tour, we decided to check it out the next day.

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The 45 minute Laser Musical Fountain show in Sentosa was excellent! Although it was raining on and off throughout the whole show, it still went on. Kippy was the icon of Sentosa Island and the musical was really funny. Then we went to Bugis Junction to get some dinner before we were dropped off at Orchard Road since the HippoTours bus had to go through Orchard Road so that we can see the Christmas Light-Up. Rain and rain throughout the whole day!

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Monday (18/12/2006) Today, we took the HippoTours again at Clark Quay. This time the Heritage Tour took us to places like Chinatown, Bugis Street, Little India and Gelyang Serai which is a Malay village. Since Singapore Botanical garden was on the route, we decided to check it out. The place is just so fascinating. For those who love flowers and plants, the Botanical Garden is not to be missed 'coz they have various types of cactus, trees and lots of orchid species. The cool house is also something that should not be missed out because this special glasshouse is installed with air cons and mist sprays that sprays every few minutes so that it feels like you're in the montane forest that is a few thousand metres above sea level. The guide who was in the HippoTours bus that dropped us off in the Botanical Gardens earlier was happy that we actually spent 2 hours there.

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After that we dropped off at Suntec City to see the Singapore Garden Festival 2006. The ticket was $6 and it was worth that price. We took a lot of photos there because the landscapes and the floral arrangements were just so amazing and we ended up just being there for 4 hours. I wondered how they can actually carry up most of the big stuffs there like the Dome, the Chinese pavilion and the cottage because it was held on the 6th floor of the Suntec City Convention Centre. The chrysanthemum flowers were also extra huge! Then on the 4th floor, they displayed all the winners of the floral and ikebana arrangement from schools, educational section on pests and disease management, more orchids and also floral products for the public to purchase. If I live in Singapore, I would have bought most of the plants because they are quite cheap compared to Brunei. What a whole day of just checking out all the botanics of Singapore!

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Then in the evening, we caught a Night Safari Express Bus which cost $4 per trip from Orchard road. Since the Night Safari is located at Mandai Lake Road, it took us about 1 hour to reach there from Orchard Road and it was raining cats and dogs all the way. Due to the heavy rain, the night performances were cancelled so we only went for the tram ride. Of course, the animals were inactive due to the rain so it spoilt the night for us. But we had dinner at Bongo Burgers which serve very big portions and it was just delicious! By the time we got back to Orchard Road, it was almost 12am.

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Tuesday (19/12/2006) Our plan for today was to visit the Singapore Science Centre. In order to get there, we had to use the MRT which was actually new to us because there is no MRT in Brunei since everyone here has their own car. So, it took us quite a while to figure out which line to take from Dhoby Ghaut MRT station (there is a East West Line, North South Line and North East Line) and also which MRT station is the nearest one to drop off so that we do not have to walk so far. Finally, we took the NE line first until the interchange station before changing to the EW line until the Jurong East MRT station. That involved stopping at 11 MRT stations along the way. When we reached to the destination, we had problem finding where the Science Centre is because most people do not know where it is until we found it ourselves. By then, it had started to rain heavily again and we got quite wet by the time we actually reached to the Science Centre.

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Not only was it raining, but the queue from the ticket counter was so long that we had to line until outside the entrance but it was actually worth the wait 'coz this place is very educational especially if you like Science. We bought the Science Centre admission with 1 IMAX movie ticket for only $12.80. First we checked out The Mind's Eye which involves optical illusions and it was quite fascinating because it proves that your eyes can play tricks on you. Then we watched a demonstration on how a tesla coil work when electricity is passed through it. The sound of the lightning was quite loud so we were asked to cover our ears before the start of the demo and we were mesmerized that the tesla coil can light up flourscent lamps held by people among the crowd. There are also various exhibitions related to Chemistry, Biology and Physics.

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The 4D IMAX movie was shown in the Omni-Theatre which is 5 storey high and has a 23m diameter hemispheric giant screen that stretches 180 degrees horizontal from wall to wall and is tilted at a 30 degree angle to the horizon. So, people are actually looking at the wall of the dome instead of the normal flat white screen like in the cinemas. Honestly speaking, I almost fell asleep while watching Deep Sea 'coz the chair was so comfortable but never choose a seat near to the bottom row 'coz your neck will ache by the end of the show even though it only last for 40 minutes.

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After the Singapore Science Centre, we took the MRT to Chinatown to check out the products mostly from China before heading back to Orchard Road in the evening for window shopping.

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Wednesday (20/12/2006) Today, we went to the Jurong Bird Park by taking the MRT to Boon Lay MRT station which was 14 stops. From there, we had to take a taxi to reach our destination. There are more than 600 species of birds in this park like the emperor penguins, eagles and the snow owls. This place also houses the world's largest Lory Flight Aviary, tallest man-made waterfall, largest collection of South East Asia birds and hornbills and the largest colony of Humboldt Penguins bred in captivity.

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Next, we went to Haw Paw Villa which is the quintessential house of Chinese folklore. There are 25 clusters of original statues and figurines replicate Chinese mythology characters like the Laughing Buddha and the Fu Lu Shou (Taoist deities). The most fascinating part of this villa is the Ten Courts of Hell which features the ten steps of judgement before reincarnation. This exhibit serves as a teaching of moral values and Chinese cultural heritage for future generations but honestly speaking, if you have a wild imagination, it was a bit scary to just walk through the whole tunnel. However, even though it was bizarre and scary to just see everything in the villa, it was also quite fascinating especially when you wonder, how do they actually make all those statues and small figurines.

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Thursday (21/12/2006) Today was our second last day in Singapore and our last plan was to visit the Singapore Zoo. In order to go there, we had to go to the Ang Mo Kio MRT station and then take a taxi. The zoo consists of the Australian Outback, The Great Rift Valley of Ethiopia, Elephants of Asia, primate kingdom, treetop trails, Wild Africa, reptile garden and cat country. We also saw polar bears for the first time in flesh.

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When we reach back to YWCA Fort Canning Lodge late afternoon, we decided to wander around Fort Canning, since we were staying just next to it. It was quite a climb upwards as the hill was quite steep. There is a Fort Gate which is the remain of the fortress that was used from 1861 to 1926, a 9 pound cannon, Fort Canning Green which used to be the old Christian Cemetery, the spice garden which was Raffles' original experimental and botanical garden and the Keramat Iskandar Syah which some people believe that this is the resting place of Iskandar Syah, a ruler of Tumasek which is the 1st Malay king of Singapore during the 14th century.

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Friday (22/12/2006) Our flight back to Brunei was very early. We had to be at the airport by 6am which was quite tiring but honestly speaking, I was getting homesick already because I miss the weather in Brunei which did not rain everyday. Even though if it does rain, I do not need to carry an umbrella around in my bag 'coz I have my own car if I need to go here and there. But I'm glad that we managed to see almost all of the places of interest in Singapore regardless of the wet weather.

Posted by Lingering 21:57 Archived in Singapore Comments (0)

Shanghai - Hangzhou - Suzhou - Zhouzhuang

上有天堂 下有苏杭 "In heaven, there is paradise; On earth, there are Suzhou and Hangzhou."

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Friday (1/9/2006) What can I say about the Shanghai? The buildings are very modern and they have good transportation systems though the haze and traffic is very bad during peak times. It took us more than 2 hours just to arrive to the New Harbour Service Apartment that we were going to stay even though the distance from the Pudong International Airport was only 45km away.

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We were however, satisfied with the apartment because it has 3 rooms, 2 tvs, 2 toilets, a kitchen, a dining room and a living room. Since our room is on the 12th floor, we could see morning activities going on at the streets. Everyday, there’ll be old people doing tai chi in the park, people selling fruits and also a group of ladies dancing at the side of the street regardless of the cars passing by. It was quite a sight actually ’coz most people seemed to ignore what other people are doing on the roadside while others are just entertained by the sight of ladies dancing with fans in their hand.

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Saturday (2/9/2006) We met up with our first tour guide, Geoffrey. Quite an entertaining guy and a very fast learner. We went to the Yuyuan garden first which is the only place where the old Shanghai town is left now. After taking some photos and looking at some of the shops, we went to a tea house which used to be an opera house. We were shown how the tea ceremony is carried out, how to prepare the tea properly and we were also given 15 types of tea to taste. Good thing we didn’t get drunk just drink different types of tea but we had to go to the loo after that.

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Next, we visited the Shanghai museum which is really big and we were surprised that they allowed visitors to take photos and videocam of the artifacts shown. Then, we went for our lunch in a healthy living restaurant which serves medicated food. We were also offered a free cup of medicated Chinese wine made from seahorses, snakes, lizard tails, etc and surprisingly, it tasted like brandy. We also learnt that if we’re already full, we should leave some food on the plate or else the tour guide will order some more dishes to eat until we are full. What a different culture!

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Finally, we went to the Jade Buddha temple. On the ground floor, there are various gods like the Kwan-yin and Amitabha. Both the Sitting Buddha and the Recumbent Buddha are made of jade. Regardless of how noisy and buzy Shanghai can be, the atmosphere of this temple is very peaceful and transcendent. Then we passed by the French Concession to go to Hua Hai road which is supposed to sell imitation goods but we were unlucky because the authorities have started to stop all these imitation products from being sold in Shanghai.

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Night time, we walked to Nanjing Road which is 3.4 miles long. It took us quite a while to walked there’ coz we weren’t familiar with the streets but regardless of how early or late the time was, there will always still be people walking on the streets. Nanjing road is actually amazing ‘coz it’s a whole stretch of road filled with shops and neon lights. However, things are not cheap there so we just went window shopping. When we got tired of walking, we sat on a trackless sightseeing train which only cost each of us 2 rmb and just watched people walking by us.

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Sunday (3/9/2006) Today, we met up with out second tour guide, Troy who brought us to Hangzhou (Heaven on earth). Troy's character is the oposite of Geoffrey's. He’s very polite, humble and gentle (not to mention tall also so all he had to do was raised his arm for us to spot where he was). It was a long journey to Hangzhou from Shanghai ‘coz it took 2½ hours to reach there but it was worth the time. He also told us that if you go to China, you should go to 3 places; Xian which represent China of the past, Beijing which represent China of today and Shanghai which represent the China of tomorrow.

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The scenery around the West Lake is just lovely and it’s romantic for couples to stroll along the bridges. We visited the Guo Garden Villa first before strolling on the Fish and Flower Harbor and West lake bridge. Then we went on a boat ride cruise around the West lake where we saw the Three Pools Mirroring the Moon and also people paddling in small boats. We were laughing at some of these paddlers ‘coz some of them either got tired of paddling in the middle of the lake or even though they were paddling, the boat didn’t move at all. What a funny sight! Before heading back to Shanghai, we stopped at the Meijia Tea Village or the Dragon Well Tea Village. We were told about the advantages and tips of using green tea for health purposes.

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Monday (4/9/2006) We went with Geoffrey to Suzhou this time. First stop was to the Tiger Hill where the Pagoda of the Yunyan Temple is the oriental version of the leaning Pisa. It is said that the leaning angle of this temple is even steeper than the leaning Pisa. We were also told about the story of the Sword testing rock, Stone peach, Pillow stone, Zhen Niang Tomb, Thousand People Rock and Sword pond which was located throughout this hill alone. Then, we went to the Han Shan temple where each of us paid 10 rmb to hit the bell three times so that our wishes can come true (How true it is, I have no comment but I would consider it as just a mere concidence). Before going to the silk factory, we went to the Fishing Master’s net. The gardens are just so peaceful and impressive. There’s not even a single weed growing at all.

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Tuesday (5/9/2006) We took an extra day trip with Geoffrey to Zhouzhuang Village which is known as Venice of the East. We saw the Chinese opera and then visited the scholar as well as the richest businessman’s house during the ancient times just to compare the differences in the layouts. Then we went on a Chinese-style gondola to cruise on the waterways of the city. The weeping willows along the banks just made the scenery looked so heavenly.

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Wednesday (6/9/2006) We decided to try the Maglev and visit the Oriental Pearl TV Tower in the Pudong district today. We had problem at first of finding subway No. 2 but after that, we were able to go to the Maglev station just next to the Lujiazui metro station. It only took eight minutes (maximum speed of 430 - 431km/hr) to reach from Lujiazui to Pudong International Airport and the two way ticket costed us each 80 rmb (B$16). We then took the subway to go to the Oriental Pearl TV Tower which was worth the money we spent on the entrance fee. This tower is 468 meters high (1,536 feet) and is the world's third tallest TV and radio tower. Since we took the 85 rmb ticket, we could only go up to the 267m level at a speed of seven meters per second and because of the fast speed upwards, our ears got blocked a few times. From 263m, we could see most of Shanghai and the wind was really cold but no doubt, you can actually feel the floor swaying from side to side. Then we went down to 259m and 90m where we could still see the roof of most buildings around the tower. At the lobby of the tower, we saw the Transportations Exhibition, Overview Of The Old City, The Architectural Landscape Of Shanghai At The Beginning Of The 20th Century, The Metropolis Infested With Foreign Adventures, Traces Of Old Shanghai and Architectures Exhibition. It took us 4 hours just going around this tower alone.

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Thursday (7/9/2006) Just as we were about to leave Shanghai, the weather was slowly changing as the haze cleared up and the wind started to become cold compared to the first few days when we were in Shanghai. Basically, I would say, Suzhou and Hangzhou have lived up to the standards of what everyone has talked about. Shanghai is a lovely place for if you like to see very modern buildings but not necessary a cheap place for shopping. Hopefully, the next time I go to Shanghai again, there wouldn’t be too many major changes like what we were told as minor renovations will be done every 3 years and major renovations will be carried out every 10 years.

Posted by Lingering 10:18 Archived in China Comments (0)

Ho Chi Minh City - Mỹ Tho - Bến Tre - Tây Ninh

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Sunday (18/6/2006) We left for Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) at around 2.30pm from Brunei and the flight only took 90 minutes. Landed in Tan Son Nhat airport around 3.30pm (Vietnam time) and had slight problem in finding our tour guide, Mai because there were lots of people as well as tour guides carrying various names and labels. Finally managed to find her by calling her mobile.

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Before we checked into Windsor Plaza Hotel, we stopped by a tailor shop to make our ao dai. I chose a purple 100% vietnamese silk for my top which was combined with purple organza and my trousers was light purple. With the materials, workmanship and embroidery, it only costed me US$35. By the time we reached the hotel, it was already 7.30pm. The hotel looks grand. There's a small mini bar on the groung floor, 4th floor is the reception counter for those who are staying in superior rooms while we had to go all the way up to the 24th floor to check into the executive rooms. I stayed with 1 of my friend on the 21st floor because we took the twin beds while our other three friends stayed on the 20th floor which has 3 single beds. Other advantages include free international breakfast and dinner throughout our stay in the hotel. Now I'm about 3kg heavier than before I left for Ho Chi Minh!

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Monday (19/6/2006) We visited Thien Hau temple first before heading for the textile market. They have numerous stalls inside 1 building filled with cloth materials. However, the place was so cramped with textiles that it was quite uncomfortable 'coz it was stuffy and the lane to walk was just enough for 1 person to walk through. Next, we head to Ben Thanh and then Cholon market. These 2 places are famous for handicrafts, bags, souveniors, clothes, hats and other just about anything. Hoewever, prices do not come cheap because you have to bargain. Even after bargaining, the price is still higher than other places where you can get the same thing. Next, we went on to a lacquareware factory where they use mother of pearls and egg shells to do pictures of sceneries, animals and people.I bought 5 pieces for only US$120, 4 of which belongs to the Chinese myth that is the phoenix, unicorn, dragon and turtle. Finally, we headed to a gemstone factory which sells different types of stones and jewelleries before going to the tailor to try our ao dai.

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Tuesday (20/6/2006) We went to Mekong Delta using the Southern Peace boat which was actually for tourists who uses bicycle to travel around Vietnam. However, luck was on our side because since there wasn't any tourist at that time, our tour guide managed to get the boat for us. It's so spacious, very comfortable and relaxing. Pass through many islands before stopping by Mỹ Tho to see the fruit plantation. The first thing which caught our eye on the way to the plantation were longan trees. So, we just picked them off from the trees and kept eating all the way to the owner's home 'coz they were just so big and sweet! Then we took photos with the biggest pomelo fruit which we have ever seen 'coz the fruit is actually bigger than my head! We also tried the 'rambai' which was quite sour 'coz not all of them were ripe yet before we were served with rice cake crackers and tea with honey. The last destination was to another island, Bến Tre which produces coconut handicrafts and sweets before we headed for land to have our lunch. I don't know whether if it's because we're hungry (had it at 3.30pm Brunei time) or simply because the food was just so delicious.

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We went to Cu Chi tunnel in the morning which among all of my friends, I was the only one who could go into the original tunnel because of my small size but all of us had a try to walk in the tunnel in total blackness. Basically, you have to bend down slightly and touch both walls to see where you're heading to 'coz it's just pitch black. The only person who got a torch light was the tunnel guide but he was walking way in front while I was the second last person. It was tiring walking in that manner and quite stuffy in the tunnel wven though the walls felt cool. How the Vietnamese managed to survive in the tunnel is just amazing. After that, we headed to District 1 where the War Remnants Museum, Notre Dame Cathedral and Central Post Office is but before that we had our lunch at Restaurant 19. At night, we ate International seafood buffet for about almost B$20 per person. Worth the value if you are into seafood especially oysters, shells and snails.

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Thursday (22/6/2006) We did last minute shopping and packing before checking out at 1pm. Our tour guide, Mai had also managed to buy for us lai chee which is more sweeter and fleshy than those sold in Brunei and it only cost about B$1.60 per kg.

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What we have learnt about Vietnamese are that they love sweet, salty and hot food. But the food are very delicious and the sceneries are beautiful even though Vietnam is not as modern as other developing countries.

Posted by Lingering 14:43 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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