Scenes from Ocean Park, Hong Kong

Posted Friday 27 July 2012 and filed under: Hong Kong,Travel Snippet

The family and I went to Hong Kong’s Ocean Park a few weeks ago on one of Hong Kong’s many public holidays. The last time I was at Ocean Park Hong Kong was in the mid-1980s and I was around 10 years old. So it was some kind of wonderful to be visiting it this time around with my own children!

I forgot how amazingly scenic Ocean Park is, being built on rolling hills right by the sea. Honestly, the views (and associated heart palpitations) from the cable car ride are pretty much worth the cost of admission.

We didn’t get to go on too many rides as my youngest unfortunately fell short of the minimum height limit (which was from memory about 120cm). On the upside, it did mean that we spent quite a bit of time playing carnival games, which ended up being lots of fun (consequently I also found out that I am surprisingly good at the shooting games – I attribute that to many hours of playing PopCork!). So at the end of the day, we had two very happy girls with a bunch of cuddly prizes!

Next time we’re hoping to see the animal shows and enclosures. This fun park is definitely worth a whole-day visit if you are in Hong Kong (just be mindful of the height restrictions on the rides!).

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Travel Snippet: Hello Guilin, China!

Posted Saturday 16 June 2012 and filed under: Travel Snippet

Sunset on Guilin, China

It has been a cah-razy 8 weeks! Busy at work, busy with study, and a fun extended family reunion thrown in for good measure! I am feeling a huge sense of relief that the storm of activity has died down a little, and that I passed my exam for certification in the field of work I’m in. As a reward, the family and I spent the weekend in Guilin, China.

We didn’t know much about Guilin when we booked the flights – we just wanted to explore more of China (which is obviously so close in proximity to Hong Kong making it ideal for a weekend getaway) and take advantage of a really good package deal! After a bit of research, we found that Guilin now (and in its history) is known for its picturesque landscape. This really appealed to us as we are so used to living in a concrete jungle in Hong Kong.

The flight to Guilin from HK only took 55 minutes. On the way to the hotel we were already in awe of the hills and mountains that jutted out from the ground like giant, silent guards watching over the city.

We booked a whole-day tour to see the more popular sights. During the day we visited Seven Star Park, Reed Flute Cave and Elephant Trunk Hill. I took SO many photos but here are a few of my favourites :-)

Seven Star Park

Seven Star Park

Reed Flute Cave

Peach Blossom Lake

Elephant Trunk Hill

We were also supposed to climb up Fubo Hill but the heavy rain soon changed our minds!

At night (when the sky thankfully cleared up!) we took a cruise around Gulin’s four central lakes – this was definitely my favourite part of the visit. I’m currently reading “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” – a classic Chinese novel written in the 14th century. The novel is part historical, part legend, and part myth, and begins with the end of the Han Dynasty and the Three Kingdoms era of Chinese history, and ends with the reunification of the land in 280. It is a massive novel standing at 120 chapters and almost 1000 characters. The scenery along the lakes was magical and brought to life some of the images that had been floating around in my mind whilst reading the book.

Sun and Moon Pagodas

On the banks of the Wood Dragon lake

Stunning scenery, Wood Dragon Pagoda lit up

Performing traditional dances and songs

A two-day weekend is really not enough time to fully appreciate Guilin and its natural beauty. Thankfully it is only a very short flight from Hong Kong so it is on our list of places to visit again!

If you are thinking of visiting Guilin, I would definitely recommend staying at the Shangri-La hotel – honestly, we have been to a number of Shangri-La hotels and it never fails to impress. The hotel in Guilin has gorgeous hotel grounds, a view of the iconic Li River and surrounding mountains, the food is great, and the staff are wonderful (helpful and friendly).

Shangri-La Guilin hotel grounds

I would also recommend taking a tour with Visit Our China. We really enjoyed the tour we had with Shirley, our tour guide, who was very knowledgeable about Guilin and its history, myths and legends, plus she got along well with my daughters (even teaching them a song in Mandarin!).

The other upside of visiting Guilin is the inspiration it has provided – I’m SO looking forward to drawing again!

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Travel Snippet: Hello Shanghai!

Posted Thursday 24 May 2012 and filed under: Travel Snippet

Old Shanghai by One Red Robin

I celebrated my birthday at the end of last month and my wonderful family took me to Shanghai for the weekend (which is only a 2 hour flight out from Hong Kong). I’d never been to anywhere in China before (and I must admit that since living in HK my favourite food has become Shanghainese), so I was quite excited!

Shanghai by One Red Robin

I thought HK was a BIG city  – but Shanghai is HUGE! 23million people living in just that one city! I didn’t know much about Shanghai’s history but was amazed seeing the old Shanghai district (where the Yu Yuan Garden sits, 450 years old!), then the range of Baroque to Art Deco architecture lining the Bund (which is the financial hub) and the French influence that remains in the French Concession.

One weekend is not enough to fully experience Shanghai, so I’m hoping we get a chance to go back. Here are some of my favourite photos that I took on our short visit there:

In the Yu Yuan Garden by One Red Robin
In the Yu Yuan Garden

In the Yu Yuan Garden by One Red Robin
More of the stunning Yu Yuan Garden

A street in Old Shanghai by One Red Robin
A street in Old Shanghai

Tea tasting at a traditional Tea House by One Red Robin
Tea-tasting at a traditional Tea House

Looking across to Pudong from the Bund by One Red Robin
Looking across to Pudong skyline from the Bund

The Bund by One Red Robin
The Bund

The French Concession by One Red Robin
The French Concession district

I’ve been up to my eyeballs in work and study this past month! Haven’t had much time to get back into drawing (or blogging!) and I’m missing it! Looking forward to much less busy-ness come mid-June :-)

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Travel Snippet: Hello Cebu and Manila!

Posted Sunday 12 February 2012 and filed under: Travel Snippet

A few weeks ago we travelled to the Philippines to celebrate my daughter’s birthday. I have to say, there is something bittersweet and sentimental about showing your children some of the places that you used to go to as a child, in a country that they have never been to before. It was also a good way for us to start introducing them to their heritage – both the people and the country itself. And, of course, it was refreshing to be in a foreign country but be able to completely understand the language :-)

We stayed in Manila for a few days and thoroughly enjoyed the Shangri-la at Edsa. We managed to get out and explore surrounding areas and introduce the girls to some real Filipino food (so yummy!!).

We were there during Chinese New Year and the hotel put on a Chinese New Year ceremony to usher in the year of the Dragon.

We also managed to spend a whole day at Manila’s Ocean Park, where we hung out at the pools and watched a few marine shows for free :-)

We then travelled to Cebu, which is only about a one-hour flight out of Manila.

We stayed at the Shangri-la Mactan Resort in Cebu and we highly recommend this resort – especially if you have kids. They have a fantastic play-centre on site and a great kids program. They also have some awesome water slides that the kids will love (my youngest – 5 – went on their biggest water slide 24 times).

The resort also has an amazing (though smallish) strip of beach – the kind where you can step less that a metre into the water and you’ll find fish swimming around your legs. Also – see that crystal clear water? Amazing.

We have to say that the Shangri-la Mactan is the best resort we have been to so far. All staff that we encountered were super friendly and helpful – even preparing a yummy little cake for my daughter’s birthday. The accommodation itself is lovely – spacious, clean and modern. They have a well-equipped gym (yes, I managed to fit in a couple of runs while we were there!), and as I mentioned, excellent facilities for the kids including a fun family play room with billiards, air-hockey, etc. If you like Asian meals, you’ll find the food here absolutely DELICIOUS!! They have boat tours to nearby islands for snorkelling and scuba diving. They also have a bus that goes to and from the airport, and into Cebu city for a small fee of $2AUD. And to top it all off, staying there is very affordable.

If you haven’t been to the Philippines for a holiday, I would highly recommend visiting Cebu.

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Travel Snippet: Hello Siem Reap, Cambodia

Posted Monday 19 December 2011 and filed under: Travel Snippet

As I mentioned in a previous post, I recently traveled to Siem Reap, Cambodia, to do my first half-marathon. It was also my first time in Siem Reap.

The Siem Reap airport is one of the prettiest airports I have ever seen, reflecting Siam architecture. We were picked up by a driver and tour guide that we had hired and our tour guide gave us a great little history lesson on Siem Reap. I found Cambodian food to be so delicious – they have the best green mango/grilled fish/shrimp paste salad I have EVER tasted.

We stayed at the Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra, which must have the most beautiful and tranquil hotel grounds I have seen this year:

Also, the hotel was great value compared to some of the other more expensive hotels in the area – spacious and clean/well maintained rooms, massive outdoor pool, fantastic services at the Spa, very good food, and excellent service overall.

Beacuse we couldn’t walk much after the half-marathon (as expected), we only managed to visit two of the nearby temple ruins. Both were spectacular!

The Bayon Temple ruins:

And the Angkor Wat ruins:

We only spent a few days in Siem Reap but it’s definitely a place we would love to return to next December (as we are planning to do the half-marathon again!). Having a private driver was definitely a good investment (as the road rules are kinda ignored). Our private tour guide was fantastic and made sure everything flowed as smoothly as possible (especially on the day of the big run and getting us to the start line before sunrise!).

The people are absolutely lovely, so respectful and friendly. The history of the place is both breathtaking and heartbreaking – the Angkor ruins are only a few minutes away, as are the infamous Killing Fields. If you are thinking of exploring somewhere different and unique in Asia, please do consider Siem Reap.

I would highly recommend:
Hotel: Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra
Vithei Charles de Gaulle , Khum Svay Dang Kum , Angkor, 0 SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA

English Speaking Tour Guide: Yann Sorn (yannsorn [at] yahoo [dot] com)

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Travel Snippet: Hello Sepang/Kuala Lumpur

Posted Friday 16 September 2011 and filed under: Travel Snippet

Golden Palm Tree Resort, Sepang

We’ve recently returned from a few days away in Malaysia. Last month we visited the Malaysian city of Kota Kinabalu, which is located on the island of Borneo. This time we wanted to stay somewhat closer to Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur (KL) but try one of the resorts on the Sepang Gold Coast (which is a 1.5 hour drive from KL).

Golden Palm Tree Resort, Sepang

We stumbled across a resort known as the Golden Palm Tree Resort on the internet – it’s an eco-friendly resort made up of villas sitting on stilts over the sea. And the novelty is that all the villas together form the shape of a palm tree. It’s very picturesque, with lovely views over the strait of Malacca.

Golden Palm Tree Resort, Sepang

There are different kinds of villas depending on your budget and group size. We stayed in a Canary villa and it was magnificent – spacious and the perfect size for a family of four. There are two rooms:one with a king size bed and the other with two twin beds; two bathrooms; two porches overlooking the sea (one with an outdoor dining suite); and one shared lounge room.

Canary Villa @ Golden Palm Tree Resort, Sepang

There’s a small fridge, a flat-screen TV with a few cable channels, study desk, and toiletries – the only thing missing was an ironing board and iron, but I suppose that isn’t really important when you’re on holiday! You get around the resort by golf buggy, and there is a large infinity pool by the clubhouse overlooking the sea, which the girls really loved.

Infinity Pool @ Golden Palm Tree Resort, Sepang

We had dinner at one of their restaurants – Perahu, an alfresco restaurant sitting right on the beach. They serve both traditional Malaysian fare and some western food. The food and service were both very good.

Perahu Restaurant, Golden Palm Tree Resort, Sepang

Perahu Restaurant, Golden Palm Tree Resort, Sepang

I don’t like to complain but I will be honest about a few things that dampened the experience, especially if you are expecting a five-star experience from this five-star (and award-winning) resort:

1. With the exception of Perahu, Customer Service needs significant improvement. It was clear that the hotel is currently understaffed. Although most of the staff we came in contact with were friendly, they did not seem very happy to be working there. Just a few examples:

  • We had the buffet breakfast on one morning and it was chaotic. You had to secure your own seats amidst the crowd of people, clean up the mess on your table left by the previous diners, and scrounge around the place for some clean cutlery and plates. Also, the hygiene around the buffet was questionable, with flies and ants running rampant.
  • After that experience, the following morning we ordered in-room breakfast – it arrived cold, missing condiments you would expect were common for breakfast (butter, jam, etc) and was delivered 30 minutes late (I pre-ordered it the night before, requesting a specific time as we had a schedule for that day).
  • Funnily enough, after we advised the front desk that we needed to check-out at 6:45am on our last day in order to catch our flight home, we received an invitation from Management the night before inviting us to use the exclusive Breakfast lounge for special guests that opened at 7:30am – which of course, was not much use to us as we were leaving much earlier than that!

2. And a fairly minor point – which arguably is not within the control of the resort – but there were flies everywhere, which made outdoor dining during the day a real PITA. Also, when the room attendants clean your villa, they leave the front door wide open, so when you return your villa is nice and clean, but there are heaps of flies who have also come to stay!

Suffice to say the current level of service really spoils the experience, which is a real pity because the accommodation and the views/location are really wonderful. If customer service is something that would make or break your holiday, then I wouldn’t recommend staying at this resort until the customer service improves.

We managed to head into KL for a few hours on one afternoon (the resort provides a free shuttle in to KL twice a day) – but were there mostly to eat some authentic Malaysian food :-) We also got to see the famed Petronas Twin Towers.

Petronas Twin Towers, Kuala Lumpur

I won’t write much on KL since the time we spent there was so short, but hopefully we get a chance to return and if we do, we’ll be staying in the city.

Feasting on fresh Dragonfruit and Longan

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Travel Snippet: Hello Kota Kinabalu

Posted Monday 29 August 2011 and filed under: Travel Snippet

We’ve recently returned from a holiday in Kota Kinabalu (or KK) to celebrate the Mister’s birthday. To be honest, when we were first talking about booking this holiday, I had no idea where Kota Kinabalu was! Now I know that it’s the capital city of Sabah, which is a state of Malaysia, but is located on the island of Borneo.

41K feet above the South China sea
41,000 feet above the South China Sea

Flight time from HK was just 2-and-a-half hours.  As expected, the weather at this time of the year in KK is very warm and humid, but more comfortable than HK. We stayed at the Shang-ri La Rasa Ria resort, which is a 45-minute drive from the airport. The resort is absolutely gorgeous with lots of lush vegetation, a huge pool (made up of 5 pools with varying depths and water slides), a short walk from the rooms to the beach, and a great selection of activities, and places to eat.

View from our room
The view from our room

The main reason we chose the Rasa Ria was that it had an Orangutan Reserve located on resort grounds. At the reserve, they care for orphaned/abandoned orangutans up to the age of about 5 years old. This is where their rehabilitation journey begins. After this age, they move on to another, larger reserve where they are further re-habiltated and then released back into the wild. From inside the resort, we undertook a short hike through the forest up to a feeding platform, where two of the younger orangutans soon appeared for feeding time (and some comedic playfulness with the handlers!). The girls loved seeing them in action. It was a treat to see the orangutans up close and in their natural habitat.

Mulan the Orangutan at the feeding platform
Mulan the Orangutan at the feeding platform

Tan-tan the Orangutan - only 1 year old
Tan-Tan the Orangutan – she’s only 1 year old

Apart from seeing the Orangutans and learning about their conservation, we ended up spending most of our holiday in the pool and by the beach :-)

Writing their names in the sand
The girls writing their names in the sand

Powdery, soft sand
Loving the powdery, soft sand under their feet

Gorgeous Kota Kinabalu sunset
KK put on some amazing sunsets

Spending our last sunset in the pool
Spending our last sunset in KK in the pool

I cannot recommend the Shangri-la Rasa Ria highly enough. We were greeted by the bang of a gong, a round of cooling drinks, and refreshing face towels. The staff were incredibly helpful, responsive, and friendly – the best service we’ve received at any hotel. The room we had was perfect for a family of four with two small kids. We’ve never allowed the girls to go to a kids club before but we dropped them off for a few hours on one of the days we were there and they absolutely loved it – especially since they got to do some batik painting. Also, the food? So good. So, so good. In fact, the sudden tightness of my clothes attest to how good it was. And as I mentioned, the resort itself is just a fantastic place to relax.

Sunset by the beach
Golden sunset by the beach

The Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort
Pantai Dalit Beach
Sabah, Malaysia

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Travel Snippet: Hello Bangkok

Posted Monday 8 August 2011 and filed under: Travel Snippet

View of Bangkok from the Banyan Tree hotel

A few weeks ago we had the opportunity to spend the weekend in Bangkok as a family. It was a very last minute decision, taking advantage of a very good deal. I have to admit that one of the great things about living in Hong Kong is that it IS possible to visit a number of Asian countries over a weekend. The flight to Bangkok was just over 2 hours long – which is great when travelling with two little kids :-)

Our room at the Banyan Tree hotel

We stayed at the Banyan Tree hotel in Sathorn – a gorgeous hotel with the most friendly and helpful staff. It has an alfresco rooftop restaurant on the 60th floor aptly named ‘Vertigo‘. There’s a fantastic photo of it here. The forecast for that weekend was thunderstorms but thank God we had clear skies for most of our stay, including that night, so we were able to enjoy a hearty dinner there and took in the awesome view.

On Saturday we made the long trip up to Kanchanaburi, north of Bangkok. We stopped at the Damnoen Saduak floating market on the way, and hopped into a long boat, which took us through the myriad of khlongs (canals) that make up the market. It was super busy!

Damnoen Saduak floating market - traffic jam!

I have to say, it’s a total tourist go-to but what the heck, we were tourists!! We managed to try a few local Thai treats and pick up a few knick knacks. Most sellers were selling Thai decor and souvenirs but to be honest, we were more interested in the food!

Damnoen Saduak floating market - barbequing bananas on a boat

After the market, we travelled to the bridge over the river Kwai. Next to the bridge is a floating restaurant and we happily spent an hour there enjoying a Thai lunch.

Floating restaurant with the bridge over the river Kwai in the background

For the remainder of the afternoon we were in Kanchanaburi, petting tiger cubs, feeding deer, and riding elephants. It was surreal! But an experience we (especially the girls) will not soon forget :-)

Feeding a deer!!

Sunday was spent enjoying a buffet breakfast (where they served buffet ice cream! I know, I’m such a child sometimes…) and enjoying the rooftop pool. We made a quick detour to the Chatuchak market, which is apparently one of the world’s biggest markets spread out over an impressive 35 acres. We only managed to see a tiny portion due to needing to catch our flight home, but you could easily spend the whole day checking out all the stalls.

Yaksha 'demon' warrior statues at the Suvarnabhumi International airport, Bangkok

And before we knew it, we were back at the airport, ready for the flight back home. What a whirlwind trip! But the kind of short stay that makes you want to come back again and do heaps more exploring! The only thing on my to-do list that I didn’t get to try was to eat a crunchy scorpion – perhaps next time! ;-)

Recommendations for a short holiday in Bangkok, Thailand:

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Travel Snippet: A Tourist in my Home Town

Posted Tuesday 5 July 2011 and filed under: Travel Snippet

We’ve just returned from a very quick trip back to Melbourne. We spent 4 short but busy days there catching up with family and friends. We decided to stay in the city – our first time as a family – and it ended up being a very good choice. With Melbourne on our doorstep, we were able to play the tourist and really enjoy the city. It also helped that we had some lovely wintry sunshine throughout our stay.

A few of the things we got up to:

A stroll down Southbank promenade along the Yarra river, going up to the 88th floor of the Eureka Tower, and an outdoor lunch at the Noodle House:

A view of Southbank

A view of Southbank

Taking in some familiar city sites like Swanston Street, Degraves Street and Hosier Lane:

Swanston Street

Degraves Street

Hosier Lane

Visiting some favourite, familiar haunts like Meet Me at Mikes, window-shopping down Brunswick street, and getting my magazine fix at Magnation:

Meet Me At Mikes window

Brunswick Street

I was also stoked after being able to squeeze in a few runs around the Tan. I love running in the cold and I love running outdoors (I’ve been running indoors since coming to Hong Kong and it just isn’t the same!). Here are some of the beautiful scenery that accompanied me on my runs:

A view of Melbourne from Boathouse Drive

A view of Melbourne from Boathouse Drive

Playing tourist gave me a new appreciation for this beautiful city. This coupled with the great times shared with family and friends means I’m refreshed and ready to tackle the next six months!

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Travel Snippet: Hello Taiwan – Danshui & Stinky Tofu

Posted Thursday 28 April 2011 and filed under: Travel Snippet

We were very blessed to have beautiful weather during our short stay in Taiwan. On our second full day in Taipei, we took a taxi out to Tamsui Fisherman’s Wharf, which sits at the western tip of the Danshui District.

The scenery at Tamsui looking into the Taiwan Strait is just gorgeous. There is a very long pier, perfect for a leisurely stroll in the sun.

Should you get hungry, underneath the length of the pier are numerous eateries (snack shops and restaurants), plus an arcade and a few carnival-style games. You can also rent bikes, take a boat ride around the harbour, enjoy the incredible views from Lover Bridge, and sample the fresh seafood on offer or the more local Chinese handmade delicacies.

We stopped at the Water Bay restaurant for an outdoor lunch. I had the oysters fried in cheese and breadcrumbs, with a very refreshing glass of iced apple and melon tea (with little pieces of apple jelly – so yum!).  It’s a great place to enjoy the views of the harbour and people watch :-)

At night we went to visit the Shilin Night Market for some local food. Wow, it was packed!! We only got to sample a few of Taiwan’s popular food but missed out on others like giant fried chicken cutlet, sausage wrapped in glutinous rice, and pig’s blood cakes (which, honestly, I was quite happy to miss!). We did get to try Oyster Omelet (delicious!) and “Stinky Tofu“:

{Stinky Tofu image credit}

I have no idea what makes this so smelly but all the local vendors were selling it and the smell permeated a huge section of the market (and my clothes!). Yes, we tried it, but we didn’t finish it! Most definitely an acquired taste :-)

We also had some shave ice desserts – this one was a mixture of shaved ice, condensed milk, chocolate sauce and caramel flans for just under $3 AUD:

Overall, we found Taipei to be more spacious in its layout, much less crowded, and definitely more green than Hong Kong. The people we encountered were also very friendly, and it was good to be able to use just a tiny bit of the Mandarin that we’ve learnt so far.

The girls got an added treat at Taiwan (Taoyuan) International Airport – we ended up boarding at the Hello Kitty gate :-)

Thanks for the wonderful memories Taiwan – we will be back! But for longer next time!

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