Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Mini Travel Log: Oxford, UK

When one mentions Oxford, the oldest and prestigious Oxford University and the list of famous graduates comes into mind. The old town itself houses the university with various faculties, colleges and departments spread all over the town; or you could say the whole university compound is the town itself; whichever way you want to see it. It is amazing that while you are walking in the town, you are actually walking inside the university. Many old and majestic medieval buildings are actually part of the university itself. Some colleges do charge a visitor fee for entrance and visiting time after 2pm. Famous colleges like the Christ Church and Merton College charge an exorbitant entrance fee of 5 pounds while some lesser colleges do have free entrance. I do recommend you to visit the Radcliffe Camera (restricted access library) and climb the tower of The University Church of St Mary the Virgin to have a fantastic 360 view of the town. You can check out the Botanic Garden east of the town next to the river. For a 5 pound entrance fee, I would suggest you visit the garden only in spring or summer time. As I visited during autumn, the garden was mostly neglected awaiting winter and I still had to pay the entrance fee. The river is alive with boat rides and punting during summer time.

Oxford is easily accessible from London either by trains or buses. Many would have thought it is cheaper and faster by train. But this is not the case. If you choose train option and travel before 9am, you would have to pay 60 pounds for a same day return ticket! Trains after 9am cost 24.80 pounds and it is still expensive. Moreover, the train stops at Oxford station which is actually outside the town and you need another 5-10 minute walk to the town. The cheaper and hassle free option would be the direct London-Oxford buses. Currently there are 2 operators departing from different locations in London. One is the X90 and the other Oxford Tube. You can check out their websites to choose where to board from bus stops nearest to your hotel. I chose the Oxford Tube because I stay at Hilton Kensington nearby Sheperd's Bush. The bus stop is right outside the hotel. The bus runs at a frequency of 20-30 minutes. Ticket can be bought from the bus driver and it only costs 18 pounds for same day return. Journey time is just an hour, which is about the same as train. The best thing is that the bus stops inside the town at the old cinema. You can explore Oxford right away once you alight from the bus.

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Thursday, October 08, 2015

Mini Travel Log: Amsterdam, Holland (5)

This was my last working trip to Amsterdam on 777 as I have moved to 380. It was also the last week of summer so I had a nice stroll at Vondelpark. I am a fan of Tesla cars and there is a showroom just beside the park. While you can't drive the car out for test drive, the salesman is very courteous and helpful in explaining all the features of the car. You are allowed to sit in the car and play with the controls. The salesman is also kind enough to offer test drive on his personal Tesla to the countryside if you make arrangements with him before coming to Amsterdam. Sigh...too bad as I do not know when I will ever return to Amsterdam in the future.

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Monday, September 28, 2015

Mini Travel Log: Varenna, Italy

Varenna is one of the many beautiful lake towns around Lake Como. It is accessible with a direct train from Milano Centrale to Varenna Esino. A single trip train ticket costs only 6.70 euro and the journey takes about 1 hour 5 minutes. From Varenna itself, you can actually do town hopping using boat services to visit other towns around Lake Como. It is recommended to stay overnight to enjoy the sights and sound of various towns.

On my visit, I made a mistake of planning only a day trip. The first day that I wasted in Milan was actually clear blue sky. And on the second day when I actually visited Varenna, it was a washed out rainy day that almost ruined the whole trip. I made the second mistake of not staying overnight for the third day, which was back to blue sky again. This picturesque lake town is famous for its blue sky and blue water. The photos that I have taken did not do any justice. This town will be on my return list in the future.

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Friday, August 14, 2015


After hearing all the buzz about Windows 10, I finally jumped into the bandwagon. But I hit a snag during installation. Initially I did not give a thought about it, thinking maybe it was a one off thing. Good thing is that the installation was smart enough to restore everything back after I had to hard reset the computer. So I launched the second time installation. No luck as it encountered the same problem. And so my endless install, reboot and re-install cycle began.

My PC is a self built desktop which passed all the requirement checks done by Windows 10 installation. I never had hardware failure nor crashes (BSOD) before during my last 2 years of running Windows 8. But every time I try to upgrade to Windows 10, it will always crash (BSOD with a sad smiley face) and shown together with the error code of MACHINE_CHECK_EXCEPTION. It always happens during the "Copying file" stage and overall progress at 22%. At this junction, the computer will not restart or do anything. I have to hard reset it and let the computer reboot back to Windows 8.

So I googled up regarding this error code. It returned many results for all the previous Windows versions, but not a single result for Windows 10. Really? No one else has had this problem in their Windows 10 installation? I must be the damn unlucky one. I read up on this specific MACHINE_CHECK_EXCEPTION error code and understand that it generally means there may be a hardware failure itself or caused by other factors like overheating. I recalled back the sequence in my installation and it always crashes during "Copying file" stage. So I presume it may be problems with my RAM, or overheating of motherboard chipsets or hard drive (as huge chunks of data are being copied before it crashes). With this diagnosis, I tried the installation one more time, but pulling out a stick of RAM (making it single channel), pulling off my unnecessary DVD and extra hard drives and then blasting my room air-conditioning to max. Voila! It worked and the installation proceeded smoothly.

Windows 10 works so beautifully now. When I logged in for the first time, everything was intact where I left off in Windows 8; down to the very icons and their placements in the desktop. All programs, games and apps work as they were in the old version. The best experience is the new Internet Explorer called the Edge browser. It is giving Google's Chrome a run of its money. Apart from the installation issues, I am all praises for this new Windows 10. I do not blame Microsoft for it because they really did a good job in the OS. The installation issue is just a one off thing. With so many different hardware parts in the PC market, it is beyond Microsoft's control to make it compatible with all machines; unlike Apple who only has one type of hardware to play with. So it will be unfair to compare.

I hope this sharing will help others who encounter the same problem like me. Do not fume if you encounter it. We do what we PC geeks do best. Troubleshoot and solve it. It's the fun and privilege that Apple users do not enjoy. And lastly, enjoy Windows 10. It's worth to upgrade.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Mini Travel Log: Yokohama, Japan

It has been 5 years since my last visit to Yokohama. On my last visit, I did not have the chance to visit the famous Ramen Museum here. This time, I was adamant to go there even though I was tired and it was a short trip.

This famous Ramen Museum is actually called the Shin-Yokohama Raumen Museum and they have a website in English here:  And as the name suggests, it is located at the Shin-Yokohama district, accessible by either the JR trains or Yokohama City Subway (Blue line). I stayed at Yokohama Minato Mirai area so I hopped onto the Blue Line at Sakuragicho subway station. I alighted at Shinyokohama station and took Exit 8. It was only a very short walk by turning left at the exit and then right.

This Ramen Museum features many famous ramen restaurants all over Japan; all under one roof. They charge a nominal entrance fee of 310 yen per person. The interior is a recreation of the old Tokyo which is very beautiful and unique. Each ramen restaurant offers mini ramen bowls so you can try out as many types of ramen as possible with the requirement of minimum one normal sized ramen bowl order. If you're too full and don't have space to try out all the ramen, keep the ticket and come again at night. The ticket is valid for one day.

*Pictures in the gallery below are taken by Lumia 1020 phone in RAW format.

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Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Milano Expo 2015

The World Expo which is being held once every five years is currently ongoing in Milan, Italy. It opened its doors on the 1st of May and runs everyday until 31st October 2015. The theme for this expo is Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life which focuses on quality of food, science and technology behind food production and securing food to eradicate world hunger. However, not all countries follow the theme as some chose to promote their countries like tourism and business. Many middle eastern and oil producing countries also deviate far from the theme like showcasing their model cities and oil fields. In some pavilions, you'd be surprised to find weird objects being displayed like flying car, space age piano and nude arts. So it is a good mix of exhibition apart from just being food. This expo is like bringing the world to your doorstep where you can virtually travel and see many countries in one place.

The Milano Expo 2015 is located at Rho-fieramilano where it is best accessed by the M2 red metro line. While expo tickets can be bought from official online website or onsite, there are many ticket resellers around Milan that sell at cheaper price. I was at the Milano Centrale FS and bought the ticket from a reseller tobacco shop for only 32 euro instead of the official price of 39 euro.

I visited on a weekend so it was overcrowded. I reached at the opening time of 10am and there were already trains of people queuing up to go in. I made a mistake by following this train of people once inside. I had to queue for very long to go into each pavilion. Some queues were up to an hour long wait. From my experience, I would suggest a smart way to beat this queue. Once inside, you should walk all the way to the other end of the expo. The pavilions at the other end should be Oman and Indonesia. You should work your way back up in reverse of the train of people queuing from the start. By this way, you can avoid queuing at all to go inside the pavilions. Just a rough idea of how large the expo is, I visited from 10am until 8pm and still not manage to see all the pavilions.

After my visit, I have mixed reaction about my experience here. People with architecture background should love this expo as it is a display of architecture marvels with so many artistically and futuristic built pavilions. Many pavilions spent a lot of money in high tech projections which are quite nice to watch but I felt they relied too much on technology. In some pavilions, you spend 10-15 minutes walking from one room to another room just watching videos and come out still with no idea what they want to present. Some pavilions still rely on the good old fashioned exhibits and I really find it informative as I can take my time to soak up the information and also admire the things that were on display.

As this expo is themed around food, naturally all the countries try to showcase their local delicacies. But again I think it's a scam job and rip off. Many pavilions provide microwave packed food with lousy taste but exorbitant prices. There are some countries worth mentioning in providing freshly cooked food prepared from onsite kitchens. You should try the ones from Uruguay and Argentina. They really serve good meat and steak with wines. Else you can try the many food trucks selling hotdogs and other titbits especially from Holland or try the Belgian beer and waffles.

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Sunday, June 07, 2015

Bali Paradise

I was brainwashed by the media selling me beautiful beaches of Maldives. Originally I planned to visit Maldives for my yearly honeymoon trip; even though I have been there many times before. Luckily it is typhoon and rainy season now for Northern hemisphere. Therefore I changed plan to visit the Southern hemisphere, looking for another great island which offers great beach life. Bali was chosen after much hesitation. But it was a decision that I never regret as Bali offered me more than just beautiful beaches. It was really a different experience combined with many exotic attractions. I haven't had enough of Bali and I have already made plans to return again in the future.

Bali is a very large island. If you were to travel round the island by car, I think you'd probably need a full day. As public transportation is only limited around the town centre, the only way to get around the island is through car rentals or private tour guide with driver. There are many horror stories of foreign drivers of rented vehicles stopped for no reason by corrupt cops. Therefore I opted for private tour guide cum driver instead. I did some homework scouring the internet before going. While one can easily find a private driver from the airport or even outside, many are touts which fleece tourists with high prices and lousy tour experience. Many disgruntled tourists end up complaining online. I decided to look up in Trip Advisor and found an operator which has got the top ranking and positive reviews. So it was a no brainer decision in hiring them. The operator is called Bali Safest Driver which they also have a website at All the tour details and prices are listed in their website which after comparing with other operators, I can certainly say theirs are almost the cheapest. All prices are fixed so no worries of getting fleeced with extras. Best of all, I had such wonderful experience touring with them and on some days of my tour, they did not charge me extra for going extra hours and I was allowed to make modifications to the itinerary.

I was spoiled for choices in choosing where to stay. There are so many hotels in Bali in various parts of the island. Of course the popular ones are along Seminyak and Kuta beaches which are at the town centre. But this place is also the most expensive, price being driven up by tourists. Yes it is the most happening part of Bali, great place for sunset and surfing. But other than that, the sands are brownish, the waves are big and it is over crowded. So not really a good place to chill and relax by the beach if you are not surfing. Nearer to the volcanic mountains and forest, one can choose many boutique hotels in Ubud with nature setting. Down south near Uluwatu with steep cliffs, there are some isolated luxury hotels like the Bvlgari Hotel that has a fantastic infinity pool. There are also many hotels along the Jimbaran stretch next to the airport and this place is popular for sunset seafood dining by the beach. As for me, I chose the quiet stretch of beach at Nusa Dua. This place is to the south east of the airport and easily accessible by taxis. I only paid around 90,000 rupiah for a metered taxi ride (Blue Bird taxi) from the airport to my hotel that includes the Mandara bridge toll. On my first few days here, I stayed at Nusa Dua Beach Hotel and Spa. This is a true Balinese experience hotel. The best thing in this hotel is the spa which you must try for a very affordable price. Few days later, I hopped over to Sofitel next door to try out the luxury hotel experience. This building looks spanking new with very beautiful swimming pools. The beach along the Nusa Dua stretch is quite sandy with almost white sands. The waters are very calm, perfect for water dipping. However, it only has sunrise to offer instead of sunset; which can still be an amazing sight if you can wake up early in the morning.

Planning my itinerary in Bali was easy with the tour packages from my private driver. I just modify some to skip most of the shopping places and add in other places that I want to see. Basically my first day tour took me to Taman Ayun, Beratan Temple and Lake, Jatiluwih rice paddy field with lunch and ends with Tanah Lot sunset. Day 2 tour took me to Batu Bulan village for Barong dance, I skipped the many arts and souvenir centres, tasted the Kopi Luwak, continued to Kintamani volcanic area to see the beautiful Batur Lake, back to Ubud area passing through Tegallalang rice paddy terrace and finally back to Batu Bulan village for the Kecak dance. Third day starts at Benoa for Turtle Island and water activities, then see the white sandy beaches like Pandawa at the south and ends with sunset at Uluwatu. After that had seafood dinner at Jimbaran. Had such a wonderful experience with my driver so opted for a fourth day half-day tour to shop for souvenirs and back to Tanah Lot to capture some sunset time lapse. Other days were spent chilling and enjoying at the hotels, beaches and spa.

There are many food to try out in Bali. Of course many people talk about Babi Guling and there are a couple of restaurants that people recommend on the internet. But those are where tourists eat, the taste may not be good and the price may not be cheap. For my everyday meal, I relied on my private tour guide. I asked for recommendations of local food and I was brought to eat in many places where locals eat, not tourists. For newcomers to Bali, one must try the Babi Guling, Ayam Penyet, Mee Bakso and Ayam Bertutu (caution: extremely spicy). As for seafood, you must try the ones at Jimbaran. It may not be the cheapest but at least do try it once for the sunset dinner by the beach. The one I tried is called Ganesha and the seafood was fresh.

For those interested in watching some Balinese dances, try catch the Barong, Legong and Kecak dances in Batu Bulan village. This place is the centre for arts. So the performance here is top notch. Other places in Bali also offer such performances but there is a stark difference. Stick with the professionals.

With just a blink of an eye, my one week holiday here was over. There are many things here that I haven't do or see. I left this island impressed and I would definitely return as I have only explored a tiny bit.

Click on the image for picture gallery

Video 1: Bali Paradise

Video 2: Uluwatu Sunset Time Lapse

Video 3: Tanah Lot Sunset Time Lapse

Video 4: Spinorama Bali

Video 5: Water Sports and Underwater Activities in Bali

Video 6: Bali Legong Dance

Video 7: Bali Barong Dance

Video 8: Bali Kecak Dance

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):

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