Posts Tagged 'tourism'

Ho Chi Minh City

After our contract with Chatteris ended on Friday 31st May, we were free!! Adrian and I had tickets booked to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) in Vietnam from 1 June – 4 June, but on different flights.

Vietnam Airlines wasn’t the worst in the world, despite a tonne of negative reviews, got me there in 1 piece and I got a cab from a company recommended on WikiTravel, which were cheap enough at 170,000 Dong (about US$8). The hostel we stayed at was the Ngoc Thou Hostel in District 1 (the main place for tourists and backpackers) and was a decent hostel, which didn’t over-charge and were dead friendly.

The first proper day we had we were up early for a tour out of the city to the Cu Chi area near the Cambodian border where the Vietcong Tunnels were. Our tour guide called himself ‘John Wayne’ and his Dad used to be in the VC himself. That day, we…

– Went to a ‘Victims of Agent Orange’ shop where they allowed victims/people born with deformities to do art, sculptures and crafts which they sell. That was pretty poignant and our first taste of the other perspective of the ‘American War’ as they call it.
– Watched some VC Propaganda videos of them training
– Saw VC booby traps (proper chilling stuff…)
– Firing AK-47s (expensive, but SO COOL)
– Went down the VC tunnels themselves (really hot, little oxygen and you had to stoop, proper kills your calves!)
– Went in an US Tank which was destroyed by a missile and was now just a shell.

DSC01409

DSC01428

DSC01443

That evening, we headed to the famous make-shift bars where Siagon or Hanoi beers are 50c each. We had about a dozen I think, with people from the tour that day. Great to meet so many new people, but I felt rough the morning after.

Day 2 was the Mekong Delta tour. Early get up, feeling rough and on a coach for 2 hours. But worth it. The tour itself was padded out with things like ‘Hold a Snake’, ‘listen to these musicians play, and look they have a CD out…’ and ‘fruit tasting’ but the highlights were definitely the small canoe boat rides with Vietnam hats on, and visiting a huge Buddha and Temple.

DSC01582

DSC01668

That evening was more chilled due to me still feeling rough. So Cartoon Network in Vietnamese on TV was perfect.

My last day there, we spent checking out the markets, saw the Reunification Palace, Notre Dame Cathedral and went to the former US Embassy to South Vietnam, which was now the War Remnants Museum. Basically any war stuff that the Americans didn’t have time to evacuate or use as the north’s forces were approaching. It was full of propaganda and bias, but really showed a lot of truths about the war you can’t really get the feel for from books. A well good experience.

DSC01761

DSC01786

After that, we chilled a bit before I had to go to the airport and Adrian had one more night before Kathmandu in Nepal, the lucky sod.

All in all, Vietnam is bloody amazing, Saigon even more so, a definite recommendation!

Advertisements

Hong Kong: My City (2013)

My video project I’ve been working on…

Inspired by the photos my Grandad showed me from when he was here, through the James Bonds set here in the 1970s and retro YouTube videos of old Hong Kong.

Let me know what you think!

Singapura Singapore

I’d heard a bit about Singapore from colleagues or students. Before I went I had the impression that it was a smaller, more expensive Hong Kong – British colonial relics surrounded by newer, modern economic buildings of a Tiger economy, boasting an international population living in harmony.

They were right about the expensive part: Nat and I took $380 between us for the weekend and had $27 left for Sunday! Suppose though that you spend what you want and a day can be as cheap as you like if you’re willing to budget.

Our hostel was in the Arab quarter, an area with short, colonial-looking architecture with bars, hostels, restaurants and shops on the ground floors and a Mosque on the street. A really lively place, and very welcoming – not a closed off region of the city one might get the impression of. The hostel we stayed at was the Inn-crowd Backpacker’s Hostel – lots of backpackers from around the world, and it was reasonably priced.

We visited the Mustafa Centre (a renowned shopping place) which more or less reminded me of TK Maxx or something. I had to buy some shorts there as it was 31 degrees and I’d only brought my skinny jeans for the 2 days, what an idiot. But it was a decent place to buy stuff.

528428_10151484521932040_111760582_n

We then headed to Chinatown, which. despite its name, had a huge Hindu temple in the middle of it – the Sri Mariamman Temple. There was a small ceremony going on when we got there with a guy with all his Hindu gear on throwing sheets of cloth into a fire pit while chanting. Having been surrounded in Buddhist temples in Hong Kong and Taiwan for 7 months, this was a welcomed change in seeing different cultures.

226911_10151484522202040_1802745340_n

419787_10151484522022040_1680840790_n

487258_10151484522112040_190403452_n

Of course, there was a huge Buddhist temple down the road too – the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, which is named because it claims to have a tooth of the Buddha in the temple. We didn’t see this tooth, so they may have put it in a statue or urn or something, but was beautiful inside. Again, there was a service on where the monks were spraying the congregation with water from a blessed pot while chanting.


64112_10151484523362040_1932789366_n

625461_10151484523477040_751051004_n

We headed outside and the famous Chinatown markets were there – old fellas playing Mahjong, stalls selling food and souvenirs etc. We went to a Vietnamese restaurant for lunch and bought some stuff. We took the MRT (subway) to the Marina Bay area – a new area (clearly funded from Singapore’s recent economic boom) with the Singapore Flyer (big wheel, think London Eye) and the casino/hotel Marina Bay Sands (weirdly designed building of 3 separate adjacent buildings with a long roof garden connecting all 3). We went on the Flyer, took some amazing pictures there, then had a chill in the midday sun in an outdoor Greek theatre with a Tiger Beer, which was proper nice. We check out the Pit Stop for the Grand Prix circuit too – weird seeing this after seeing it on TV for the past couple of years, a definite highlight!


482422_10151484524412040_2015038192_n

View from the Singapore Flyer

66959_10151484524552040_1092280273_n

Me at the Singapore Grand Prix Circuit

We headed to a place further around the bay, where the canals begin to flow into the city. Here there were an array of old colonial relics, interestingly preserved. One was the Fullerton Hotel by the quayside, the Cavanagh Bridge, Victoria Theatre and Museum of Asian Civilisations.

563265_10151484524857040_468829574_n 285250_10151484524882040_42617974_n

We then did, for me, the highlight of the trip – we headed to the tallest point of Singapore – the roof garden Altitude Bar. It’s on the 62nd floor of a bank building and the views were spectacular. S$25 entry, with a free drink – which of course had to be a Singapore Sling cocktail. We stayed from 6pm to about 9pm there so got to see the sunset too with Malaysia on one side and Indonesia on the other – amazing!

64893_10151484525222040_607784709_n

Me, a Singapore Sling and the amazing view

559955_10151484525447040_552627178_n

Altitude Bar

482602_10151484526382040_1390356449_n

581846_10151484525107040_449730578_n

We headed to our last stop that day, the Sultan’s Mosque near the Bugis MRT stop. It too was an example of great architecture, and showed how diverse Singapore is. Unfortunately visiting times were over but it looked amazing. We headed back to the Arab Quarter and went to a curry house for dinner. I cheekily made sure we went to the one which had the Fulham vs Stoke match on and enjoyed a beer and curry before calling it a day.

On Sunday, we had a a few hours in the morning before we would head to the airport at 3pm for our flight. We headed to the old British colonial centre to check it out. We went through the grounds of St. Andrew’s Cathedral, a big white-washed Church with the British coat of arms still on its architecture. Next to that was a rugby pitch with a game on, the Cricket fields with a few guys practising in front of the Pavilion. Next to that was the Supreme Court/Government Building, which was being rejuvenated while we were there. There’s also a war memorial in the spitting image of London’s cenotaph, commemorating Singaporeans’ sacrifices in the 2 World Wars.

150492_10151484526597040_640839025_n

A little further through the grass, English-looking public gardens, Victorian waterfalls and lampposts, we found the famous Raffles Hotel, named after Stamford Raffles, the founder of modern Singapore, whose statue had been unveiled in 1887. Definitely had to get a photo with the head porter, although my shirt does look like it’s licking him…

541628_10151484526877040_626160836_n

549244_10151484526832040_726988337_n

Our last stop was the Merlion Park – a Fountain statue of Singapore’s emblem/mascot – a hybrid creature of the Lion and Merman. His image is everywhere on t-shirts, models, keyrings and postcards, and tourists love the dude. After a few banter pictures with it, we headed to the airport and headed home with literally S$2 to our name when we got on the plane. Pretty efficient budgeting…

524795_10151484527022040_1996497309_n

Overall, I loved Singapore. It was similar to Hong Kong with its colonial parts, which is the bit of history I find really interesting. But also the pace of life was much slower there. Things were open on Sundays but there was fewer people out and about. The MRT was never fulled to the brim like in Hong Kong’s rush hours. 4 of the world’s major religions and cultures lived and worship there – Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhist. There’s a pleasant mix of European, Chinese, Malaysian and Tamil cultures in architecture, people and practises. Things are expensive but not extortionate. It was a warmer, slower Hong Kong: a place, which, if I was loaded, could see myself spending a lot of time there. The retired, old expats and younger Europeans looked to enjoy life there, every culture on an equal footing. Definitely the little gem of South East Asia.

And as per, here’s a video I made of Spectacular Singapore:

Sik Sik Yuen Temple

There’s a saying that “Once you’ve seen one temple, you’ve seen them all”.

An obvious generalization and unfair summary, but there is some truth in it. If you’re going to Hong Kong for 2 days or 2 months, the Sik Sik Yuen Temple at Wong Tai Sin is the one to go to. Why? It is everything you would picture a Buddhist temple having, and more!

It is right next to the Wong Tai Sin MTR station and dominates the area. In the same way why palaces like Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle are the most popular in Europe, Sik Sik Yuen Temple is one of the most popular because it is a living, working temple. Some temples you see here can be old, disused, boring-looking, or not tourist-friendly (i.e., they stare you out of the place). Then there’s a few which are catered to tourists – the Man Mo Temple in the Mid-Levels, or Tin Hau Temple at Causeway Bay/ Yau Ma Tei and Sik Sik Yuen is one of these.

Highly popular with locals, it promises to deliver and surpass your expectations of a working Buddhist Temple in Hong Kong. In a place where space is a commodity and so precious, they even have room for a large inner-city garden which you can visit (for a small donation of $2). The temple has statues galore, good wishes in Chinese writing, hawkers selling incense to burn and fruit to offer and masses of worshippers. It’s difficult to do the ambience of the place much justice, so make sure you check the temple out!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Chinese New Year Lanterns

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Incense Sticks at the Temple

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Inner-City Temple

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Memorial Garden

How to get there:

Wong Tai Sin MTR Station, then it’s right there out of most exits. Would be hard to miss…

Taiwanese Adventure!

For Chinese New Year, we went to Taipei, the capital city of Taiwan. Beautiful place there, and even though it may not be the main priority on everyone’s “Where to see in Asia” list, it is definitely worth a visit.

We visited a lot of tourist places in Taipei, and a few places we just stumbled upon or into. In the 5 days we were there, here are some of the highlights:

  • Chiang Kai-shek Memorial – a big open space in the middle of the city, the resting place for the former leader of the Republic of China, and head of the National Revolutionary Army (NRA) – the military arm of the Kuomintang (Chinese Republican, anti-Communist, nationalist party). For a brief history of the NRA, KMT and PRC (abbreviations are a big thing in this period of history…), check out this video below Adrian and I did…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

  • Taipei 101 – what can I say apart from amazing views, the Fastest Elevator in the world, one of the highest post boxes in the world, an outdoor observation landing and a really surreal experience. A must-visit place even if you’re in Taipei for only 1 hour.

    OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

  • Longsham Temple – there’s a few temples with this name, but the main one is at its namesake MRT station 2 stops away from the Main Station.  We went on one of the big days of Chinese New Year and it was rammed… Great experience.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  • Taipei Zoo – I know this is something you can do anywhere in the world, but the zoo here is pretty mint. Tigers, Asian elephants, bears and orangutans were the highlights, with the 2 resident Pandas also being the stars of the show. Cheap enter at NTD 60 (about 1.50 pounds in the UK). There is also the Maokong Gondola at the zoo which runs for 4 stops – the queue was too big for us to go on it, and it was similar to the one we’ve been on to get to Lantau island’s Big Buddha, so we gave it a miss, but it is definitely a highlight of Taipei!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  • Shilin Night Market – one of the most famous night markets in Asia – great street food, quirky restaurants (we went to Modern Toilet – a toilet-themed restaurant where your food comes in little toilet-shaped bowls, you sit on toilet seats and drink from toilet cups. The toilet there wasn’t ‘restaurant-themed’ though…) and fun fair booths. For more of a feeling of this place, check out my videos below…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  • Tamshui – beautiful sunsets, Fisherman’s Wharf, Fort Domingo (old colonial fort) and lots of people. What I’d call the ‘Blackpool of Taiwan’. Worth a visit!
  • Xinbeitou Hot Springs – exactly what it says – the public bathes there is $40 entry and $20 for the locker. There are 3 levels of hot springs – the highest being 45 degrees Celsius, lowest about 35 degrees. Tastes like sulphur so don’t dunk your head (my first mistake), but very good for your bones. An old guy chatted to me there, asking where I was from etc, and told me this particular hot springs gets a lot of old people with arthritis and bone aches as it’s soothing for them. The old lad came 4 times a week and was insanely happy he got a 15% discount too, good on him, great chap. There are other springs which are better for skin. Saying that, our skin felt so soft after we dried too. A definite destination if you go to Taipei!!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

While we were there we did a lot of photography and filming (clearly…). So here are 2 of my final products.

1) A general ‘family video’ of what we got up to there:

2) A more ‘artsy’ video of the scenes of general Taipei. Named after the Taipei 101, I have created this video to be a preview of Taipei life in 101 seconds (so 1 minute, 41 seconds). Enjoy and let me know what you think.