Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Mini Travel Log: Brighton, UK

Good news to the fans of Hong Kong TVB series of "Triumph in the Skies". If you are in London, you'll be delighted to know that Brighton is one of the shooting location of the movie and is only 40 minute train ride from London.

Geographically, Brighton is the coastal city directly south of London, facing the English Channel. From London, one can easily access Brighton by using the Southern Rail services departing from London Victoria station. An off peak same day return ticket only costs 26.70 pounds.

This beautiful coastal city has three very distinctive areas which visitors can visit and it's all connected and within walking distance. From Brighton train station, walk out, turn left and under the bridge tunnel to reach the North Lanes. I'd recommend you reach there after 10 am so most shops will be open. These streets are very bohemian style and have many exotic retail stores selling unique merchandises like old books, vinyl records, bargain hippie clothing and accessories, and also some cafes. As you continue to walk south following the colourful bohemian trails and graffiti, you'll reach the Pavilion Gardens where the beautiful Royal Pavilion and Corn Exchange buildings are located. If you divert west (right) on North Street, you'll find all the familiar retail outlets of popular brands. This is where you would shop. If shopping is not your cup of tea, then you can continue following the colourful shopping "lanes" down south. The South Lanes area are a maze of narrow streets with many exotic shops and also jewellery shops. One particular exotic shop that you should visit is the Choccywoccydoodah; if you can find it in the maze. It is a chocolate shop specializing in art and design, turning normal chocolates into exotic cakes and decorations. If you manage to escape from the maze, you should be facing the open sea. You have reached the Brighton Pier. The pier itself has been turned into an amusement park, and the Brighton ferris wheel goes round and round on the left of the pier. The long stretch of beach on both sides of the pier is worth checking. This area has many cafes, eateries especially fish and chips, souvenir shops and also museums. If you are feeling adventurous, you can head a long way east from the pier. It should bring you to the sea wall cliffs and high grounds, where you can have a nice view of the city from top. And once again, fans of the movie would be delighted to know that one of green park area here was also used as a location for the romantic scene between Captain Branson (Louis Koo) and Cassie (Charmaine Sheh).

The official Brighton tourism guide is available here (including high resolution city maps for download): http://www.visitbrighton.com/

Click on the image for picture gallery

Monday, April 13, 2015

Mini Travel Log: Dachau Concentration Camp, Germany

If you have some free time in Munich and have nothing else to do, you can take a short train ride to Dachau to check out the Dachau Concentration Camp used during the WW2. If you go by your own, you'll only need to spend 8.30 euros instead of spending more than 20 euros following guided tours.

From any S-Bahn stations in Munich, hop onto S2 line Peterhausen direction train. You can purchase the XXL day ticket from the ticket vending machine for 8.30 euros. Make sure you choose XXL single day ticket as you'll be most likely offered a single trip ticket at 5.40 euros which you need to buy 2 for the return as well, making it more expensive. Train ride is only about 20 minutes. You can alight at Dachau Bahnhof. Remember to keep you train ticket because this ticket will also include the bus ride.

Right outside Dachau Bahnhof, you can wait for bus 726 Saubachsiedlung direction. You will never miss it because the stop itself has many Dachau Concentration Camp pictures and directions. You can alight at KZ-Gedenkstätte stop. A short walk will bring you past the visitor centre and to the camp entrance gate.

It is advisable to take the early train from 8am onwards so you can reach the camp at about 9am. This is to avoid groups of tourists which will stream in endlessly later in the morning. With almost no one else around, you can really take in the atmosphere, sometimes that eerie feeling in a huge camp.

For more information, you can visit the official website here: https://www.kz-gedenkstaette-dachau.de/index-e.html

Click on the image for picture gallery; First few pictures are from Munich itself

Friday, February 27, 2015

Mini Travel Log: Bath, UK

I revisited Bath in UK. This time as part of my honeymoon with my wife and also New Year celebration. Most of Bath had been described in my previous post. I will keep my post short here and let the pictures do the talking.

Click on the image for picture gallery

Related link: Bath, UK

Mini Travel Log: Winter Wonderland, London

This post is long overdue. So first up, belated Merry Christmas, belated Happy New Year and belated Chinese New Year wishes to all readers. I had been procrastinating for too long. Probably feeling burn out, but also wasted much time on playing computer games too. Am now too lazy to go back into writing for the blog. But here I am, finally managed to write and post something which dates back to last year.

I spent my New Year in London hoping to catch the amazing London fireworks. But disappointment set in one month before my actual trip. Hotels with direct Big Ben/London Eye view were all booked out in advance. So no joy in watching the fireworks from the comfort of the room. Next I tried to search for good fireworks locations along the Thames. To my disappointment, this year's fireworks were ticketed for the first time instead of free viewing. It was actually a guise for crowd control due to the heightened terrorist threat. Only limited numbers of tickets were released everyday at 12 GMT. Within minutes of the tickets' release, they were all sold out. I gave up after 3 days of trying.

So with the fireworks out of the question, I planned for alternatives. The streets of London were literally empty on the New Year day. Many London attractions were closed as well. Then I remembered a colleague of mine recommended a visit to the Winter Wonderland in London Hyde Park. It was the best amusement park experience I had in my life. There were so many attractions and colourful activities in there. For those planning a visit this year end, it starts on 21st Nov 2015 till 4th Jan 2016. The Ice Kingdom and Ice Bar is worth a visit, but do prepare for the very cold temperature inside. The rest outside are exciting rides and themed houses good for the kids and adults as well. They also have hundreds of stalls selling food and drinks.

Click on the image for picture gallery

Sunday, December 28, 2014

North Pole: Santaville

I visited Santaville North Pole but couldn't find Santa. But he surprised me with a magnificent Christmas Light Show and a shooting star. All I want for this Christmas has been fulfilled. Thank you Santa for the wonderful gift.

Click on the image for picture gallery

Related link: Aurora Borealis

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Mini Travel Log: Maldives (3)

I was officially a beach bum last month. After my holiday in Boracay, someone must have known that I didn't really enjoy or had enough of the sun. So a phone call came and 2 hours later, I was in the plane heading off to Maldives. I had not been here for 4 years already and I really missed this place. On my last visit, the beautiful sunset was still etched in my memory. This time, I stayed on a new island of Kurumba instead of the usual Bandos. Like all the islands in Maldives, this island is just as beautiful and the huge bungalow villa that I had was amazing. I was satisfied and soaked up the sun like there's no tomorrow. A real beach bum's life.

Click on the image for picture gallery

Related link: Mini Travel Log: Maldives (2)
Related link: Mini Travel Log: Maldives (1)

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Boracay Island: It's The Whole Package That Matters

Boracay Island is located in the central west of Philipines. This small island is only a boat ride from the main island of Panay. There are 2 airports serving tourists wishing to visit Boracay. The closest airport next to the jetty is Caticlan but it can only accommodate small turbo-props. If you are transiting from Manila or Cebu, you can consider this airport albeit the transit time may be long. The larger airport Kalibo is 1.5 hours away by bus but it can accommodate larger international jets. If you are taking direct flights from Singapore, this will be your option. From here, you can board a bus for 1500 peso per person to the jetty at Caticlan, which includes ferry fee and transport to your hotel.

Geographically, Boracay is shaped like a dog bone and very small in size. It is only about 7km long from one end to the other end, and only about 1km in width from western beach to eastern beach. There is only one main road in the middle of the island linking North to South. White Beach is the more popular stretch of beach in the western side. This is where the majority of hotels are located and center for activities. White beach is divided into 3 sections called stations. Station 1 is at northern side which has the most beautiful and white sandy beach. It also has more up class hotels where celebrities and artistes like singer Fish Leong who had her beach wedding there. Station 2 is the center for all activities, buzz and tourists. The central D-mall is located here alongside many big hotels. This is where you can come for food and all other activities. While there are many big hotels here, the truth is there is only one big player who had monopolized the whole area. Almost every hotels next to each other here are under the same foreign owned group Henann even though they have different hotel names. The last station at the southern side is Station 3. This side is very quiet with more boutique hotels and some western pubs and restaurants. The truth about this side is that many hotels and pubs here are also owned by foreigners who marry local wives who then bought up all the precious lands to build their hotels and pubs. Some even made so much cash that they ventured into other luxury holiday homes around the island. You can almost certainly see these foreign bosses sitting in their pubs everyday drinking beer and their local wives sending their kids to international school in the morning. Because of all these monopoly, do not expect prices of hotels to vary that much. I'd suggest you to choose Station 1 hotels since it has got the nicest beach and away from all the crowd. If you'd like, you can do hotel hopping from Station 1 to Station 3. Okay, so much about White Beach. The Bulabog Beach on the eastern side is a wind surfer's paradise. There is no white sandy beach here, a bit more rocky but the winds here are good for wind surfing.

Descriptions about the island above may give you an impression this island is very big. I must warn you that you may need to lower your expectations as beautiful pictures and words may not represent real experience. To walk along the beach from Station 1 to Station 3, you can cover the whole White Beach in just 30 minutes. To add in the fact that so many foreign players tried to land grab every precious piece of land facing the beach, it ends up with hotels and villas that are so small and cramped next to each other. I don't know about how others feel, but in my own experience, I felt very claustrophobic.

There are various activities that you can do here but another warning before hand. Prices are not regulated and official prices are often ridiculously high, maybe 3-5 times more than best price. Do not book from hotels. You can find very cheap prices out there and I'll explain why. The moment you step foot outside your hotel, the touts will swarm you like annoying flies offering cheap prices for activities. There was never one time where I had peace walking along the beach without all these flies bothering me. These touts work on commissions for activity operators and boat owners. The higher the price they fleece from you, the higher commission they will get. Again most of these operators/owners are foreigners so don't expect you can get cheap prices if you approach them directly at their counters or activity centres. No matter how annoying the touts are, they are still the best option for lowest price. Let me share with you the rule of thumb after I myself got fleeced a couple of times. Fair price or perhaps lowest price for activities like parasailing, helmet diving, zipline, zorb, ATVs, buggy etc is 500 peso per person. For sailing whether it's a day or sunset, it is 600 peso per couple. Don't buy into the offer of 1200 peso per couple for private sail because when you reach your boat, there may be other people and it's not so private after all and you've got fleeced. Just stick to the 600 peso price. Now for island hopping plus snorkelling, this is more tricky and the price range varies. Ball park figure is 1000 peso per person which you must insist includes the entrance fee to the private islands. If you are a good negotiator, you can negotiate to include lunch or some light bites for the same price. As a conclusion, do not be so hurry when the first tout offers you. With all these ball park figures in your head, you can right away ask for his price. If it's too high, you offer your final price. He will most likely counter offer with a slightly higher price. Then it's your time to gently decline and walk away. Very likely he will match the price you have offered. If not, you just walk away and I guarantee you the flies that had been watching you from the side will be able to match your asking price after you have walked away from the first one.

Activities that I recommend are sunset sailing, island hopping to Magic Island plus snorkelling, island hopping to Monkey Island plus cliff diving plus snorkelling, and helmet diving plus photos and movies included in CD. For adrenaline junkies, you can try parasailing, Zorb, zipline (make sure you ask for the longest zipline at the golf course, not at Mt. Luho and decline the cable car ride since they have free transfer anyway),and ATV or buggy ride to have a scenic view at Mt. Luho.

Now for food. Pretty standard type of international cuisine available from a typical tourist place. Most commonly are the western breakfast, western steak, fish and chips available from almost every hotel lobby and western bars and pubs. Due to the fact that 50% of the tourists here are Koreans, you can expect to find Korean restaurants everywhere too with few Japanese, Taiwanese and Chinese restaurants. Station 2 is popular with night buffet with prices ranging from 300-600 peso per person. D-mall at Station 2 has many eateries too which you can explore and even McDonalds for those on a budget trip. Local food that you can try is the roast pork which you can taste from the dinner buffet. High end dining is available at some hotels where you can choose fresh seafood on display to be cooked to your likings. Prices range from 600-1000++ peso per person. Do not expect Michelin star kind of food and also if you work out the price in your dollars, it may seem expensive even for the lowest priced food at the lousiest restaurant set up.

If you like to travel around the island, motorised tricycle is your best choice. Just walk out to the main road and hail down a tricycle. These people will also try to fleece you and asking ridiculous price of 60 peso or more. Just remember that travelling from anywhere around Stations 1 to 3 only costs 10 peso per person. You just need to share the remaining seats with others along the way. If the price is not right, walk away and hail down another one. It's that simple. For hire to Mt. Luho or further, the price may be higher.

Well, it seems like this post has more negativities. Do not be put off if you have planned or booked your trip there. Different people have different expectations and opinions. Maybe you'll be able to work out something to your fun and advantage with all these info in your head before you head off to the island. I have to agree that the section of the beach at Station 1 and sunset sailing here is beautiful, but that's just it. The whole package is just not there. This highly monopolized island by foreign owners, annoying touts and unregulated prices just kill the fun and charm of this otherwise beautiful island. If you ask me a choice between Maldives, Koh Samui, Phuket, Bali and Boracay, I would rate them as in this order.

Click on the image for picture gallery

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Bath, UK

Bath is a city in the south-west of England which traces back to the Roman empire. There are only very few hot springs in England and Bath is probably the most famous of them all when the Romans built the famous Roman Baths dedicated to the goddess Sulis. Bath is listed as a World Heritage Site and it attracts millions of visitors each year.

If you are travelling from London, you can reach this city in one and a half hour time by train. A same day off-peak return ticket only costs slightly less than 60 pounds. The train stops directly in the city centre. Since this city is not big, you can explore the whole city by walking. Half day tour is ideal choice if you are travelling from London and don't have much time.

Famous landmarks that you must visit in this city are the Pulteney Bridge, The Circus, The Crescent, The Abbey and the ever famous Roman Baths. Although you cannot enjoy the hot springs anymore in the Roman Baths since it has been turned into a museum, you can visit the grand and luxurious modern hot springs spa next door called the Thermae Bath Spa.

Click on the image for picture gallery