Create Your Very Own Personalised Russian Nesting Dolls (aka Matryoshka Dolls)

When Felicia gave me a handmade doll-house last Christmas, it was a cozy lovely house. It was a gift of craftsmanship and love, every thing was created to the finest details. But there was one problem, it was an empty house. Over the past six months, I have been thinking how to fill this beautiful empty home with our own personalised characters. Finally an idea came to my mind! I planned to surprise and cheer Felicia and Elkan up with a very special gift on their last day in Hong Kong since I expected it will be another heart-breaking farewell.

Thanks to my colleague who recommended me to “Etsy – a wonderful e-commerce website that focused on handmade or unique-manufactured items. At Etsy, I found 2 talented artists who helped me to personalised my first very own Russian nesting dolls! (As I couldn’t made up my mind on what I prefer, I ordered 2 different painting styles for the dolls – The Graphic Dolls were produced by Shiny in Hong Kong and the Still-life Painting Dolls, produced by Julia in Russia). Special thanks to Shiny (the artist who helped me with the Graphic Dolls!) What a small world, Shiny is also a friend to my ex-poly school mates, Eric and Dorothy! I sent Shiny a cartoon sketch of what I wanted and attached photographs of the attire and props, she quickly sent back the work-in-progress. The production was so smooth and easy! Shiny managed to paint my “favourite Superwhite Tees!” for me too! I personally like the Graphic Dolls more as it is timeless and neater. It is a personal preference. There is a always risk if the Still-Life Dolls don’t turn up to be as accurate as the real photos. Both dolls of mine are great!!! (Here is Shiny’s shop link: https://www.etsy.com/people/shinykins and this is Julia’s shop linkhttps://www.etsy.com/people/bakalnchik1)

It took about 2-3 weeks (plus a few days for overseas delivery) for the artists to produce the dolls. The gifts arrived just in time! I decided to surprise them this morning. They loved the gifts! Felicia was in tears when she saw the dolls! There are 5 nesting dolls, the first 3 characters are predictable – Me, Felicia and Elkan. What Elkan didn’t know was about the “Marriage Proposal Robot” and Felicia’s favourite bear! There are a lot of details in the dolls. I was holding a SX70 Polaroid camera, wearing my favourite Superwhite attire. Felicia was wearing her favourite crystal necklace and carrying a heart-shaped bread toast (which she made last year!) and she was in the beach attire that she wore in Bintan. Elkan was in the attire he wore at X-Box360 Dance Event 2 years ago and was accompanied by his addictive Minecraft character. The Robot was holding a bouquet of white lilies and a proposal ring and the Forever Friends Bear marked the date of our anniversary!

I am so happy to see the smiles on their faces. These are very meaningful and priceless gifts! What’s more, it is collapsible and doesn’t take up much space at home! We have plans to carry the dolls to all our future travel destinations as a photo marker!

Most importantly, the doll-house is no longer empty now! Home sweet home!

Wahbiang @ Chimelong Ocean Kingdom, Hengqin Zhuhai

After 18 months and many unsuccessful attempts to organise the Wahbiang Tour this June holidays, a small group of us managed to find time for a small gathering in Hong Kong last weekend. Juliana and Karen flew in with their boys and joined us for an arduous trip to the new Chimelong Ocean Kingdom at Zhuhai Hengqin (横琴长隆海洋王国).

This was quite an unusual and unique travel group combination. It was an interesting traveling experience with the company of four tough women and three very mischievous boys. I was the only man in the group. I know how chaotic it can be whenever you travel with a group of naughty kids and tiger-mums. Knowing we have to take multiple transports and cross 2 cities to the final destination, I was prepared for the worst travel experience but this group proved me wrong. Everything was very smooth. Everyone was on time and there was no delay. The pace was fantastic and it was pretty enjoyable! Best of all, I got to know the kids and mothers better!

How to go to Zhuhai Chimelong Ocean Kingdom from Hong Kong / Macau – Heading out to the new attraction can be challenging. There was no direct ferry connecting Hong Kong to Zhuhai Hengqin Port (珠海横琴口岸). The most direct route would be taking a 75-min ferry (cost about HKD220/adult) from Hong Kong Macau Ferry Terminal (港澳碼頭) to Zhuhai Jiuzhou Port (珠海九洲港). From Zhuhai Jiuzhou Port, take a 40-minute taxi (cost around RMB65-75) to Chimelong Ocean Kingdom. Using this route, the total cost for each pax is about HKD300. The whole journey takes about 115 minute.

We took a cheaper and slightly shorter route. However, this route took us a total of 5 transfers, compared with only 2 transfers in the earlier option. First, we took a 60-minute ferry (cost about HKD185/adult) from Hong Kong Macau Ferry Terminal to Macau. From there, we took a free 15-minute shuttle bus to Venetian Hotel where we transferred to another free 5-minute shuttle bus to Lotus Port (莲花口岸). There was no queue at all at this Macau-Zhuhai border. The distance between these two border-checkpoints is about 1km and we paid HKD3/pax for a 5-minute border shuttle bus. At Zhuhai Hengqin Port (珠海横琴口岸), we took a 7-minute hotel bus (free if you have the hotel vouchers or if not it will cost only RMB8/pax) to the Chimelong Ocean Kingdom Hotel. There were taxis outside Zhuhai Hengqin Port and it cost RMB30/ride to the hotel. Using this route, the total cost for each pax is only HKD225. The whole journey takes about 100 minute.

At the Zhuhai Hengqin Bay Hotel (横琴湾酒店), China’s largest ocean ecological theme hotel lobby intrigued us with its gigantic spectacular dolphin pillars. Houses over 1,800 spacious and luxurious suites and 4 big swimming pools, the hotel is connected to the Chimelong Ocean Kingdom by a 1,000m water canal. Visitors can take a private cruise from the hotel to the theme park.

Despite the grand interiors, services and hotel standard, in my opinion, was only so-so. Check-in queue was long and it took me over 30 minutes to get my room cards. Food charges were rather costly and the quality was satisfactory. There were a couple of convenient shops in the hotel but the prices were 200-300% more than usual. There was little signage around the premise to guide you to the key locations in the hotel but the hotel staffs were at every turn to guide you. Swimming pools closed at 8:30pm and it was quite a distance to our rooms. The only thing we liked was the hotel room. It was really spacious, clean and the beds were very comfortable.

We decided to watch the Hengqin Chimelong International Circus (横琴长隆国际大马戏) on Saturday evening and visit the Chimelong Ocean Kingdom on Sunday morning. During our free time, I brought the ladies and boys to Gongbei Port (拱北口岸地下商场) for lunch and shopping. We bought so many things! Both ladies and kids loved it!

Comparing with the Guangzhou’s Chimelong International Circus and Macau’s House of Dancing Water, the Hengqin Chimelong International Circus was appalling. Some of the acts were out-dated (even the kids were able to see through the magic shows), there were only 2-3 worthy acts. Judging from the overall applauds, only the Duo Golden Men Slow-Mo Act was astounding. There was no high point in the show, it was flat from the beginning to the end. It was not worth to pay RMB680/adult for the VIP seat. In fact, if you have watched any of the other 2 circus in Guangzhou or Macau, you can simple skip this and save some money. (Check the photos, I only captured those acts that were worthy.)

The next morning, it was pouring cats and dogs. We were at the theme park entrance 10 minutes after its opening hour at 930am. Despite the heavy downpour, there were thousands of visitors at the park!

At the entrance, we were greeted by a gigantic “Manta Ray” LCD roof canopy. It was massively impressive! Officially opened in March 2014, the RMB20-billion 132-hectare theme park houses 8 different zones. (Loop starting from the right: Ocean Main Street, Dolphin Cove, Amazing Amazon, Ocean Wonders, Polar Adventure, Colourful World, Mount Walrus and Hengqin Sea). Zoned in a circular format, it was very easy to navigate around the theme park – even without a map.

At Dolphin Cove, we came face to face with bottle-nose dolphins in its underwater enclosures.

Next stop at Amazing Amazon, Karen and Tracy took the park’s most scary roller-coaster ride, the Parrot Coaster. At a height of 50m, it is the third tallest ride in the world. Running at a distance of 1,278m, this is also the world’s longest and fastest “wing coaster” ride with a top speed of 108km/h. The girls didn’t know about all this fact before they queued up for it. All we knew was Tracy sprained her neck during the ride.

The Ocean Wonders is majestic and record-breaking! Here lies the world’s largest aquarium (yes, it topples the Singapore Sentosa’s record). Boasting a total water volume of 12.87 million gallons, the attraction holds another 4 new world records for “Largest Underwater Viewing Dome, Largest Aquarium Tank, Largest Aquarium Window and Largest Acrylic Panel”! Impressive marvels!

Here, we took a kid-friendly Deep Sea Odyssey ride. It is an unique 2-seater capsule ride that goes inside the aquarium and volcanic land.

At Polar Adventure, temperature was at 10-14 degree Celsius. We were soaking wet and cold from the rain and we didn’t stay long in this enclosure. Here, we saw the beautiful Beluga whales and the polar bears. At 11am, we went to the Polar Theatre to catch the talented Beluga performance! Like dolphins and orcas, the Beluga whales are very talented with an IQ of 6-year-old. After the show, most of us felt sad for these peaceful mammals as they should be freed and belong in the wild. While it is a good enclosure for the kids to learn more about these magnificent creatures, there should be more sustainable model to house and protect the animals.

Our last stop was at Mount Walrus (we skipped the Colourful World and Hengqin Sea). By then, the adults were fairly drenched and tired. We contemplated at the Walrus Ride and in the end, we all decided to give this a miss. At 3pm, we left the theme park and made our way back to Macau for dinner and a few rounds at the casino.

Like all Wahbiang gatherings, the trip with Karen and Juliana was an enjoyable one. After spending 2 solid days with the kids, I discovered new things about the kids. Zechariah isn’t a shy and gentle boy, he can be a very cheeky, active and adoring child. Alston and Elkan become good travel buddies and they share their toys and iPads. There weren’t any fighting among the kids, just the usual “catch and play” sessions. The ladies took turns to watch over the kids during the travel and shared parenting tips with one another. While the rest of the Wahbiang clan weren’t here, we talked a lot about them throughout the trip.

This trip opened my eyes on future Wahbiang trips. As long as the parents are able to manage their own children and be very discipline in the timing, it is highly feasible to plan a trip with kids and adults. While it might be difficult for every adults and kids to bond with everyone, it is still a wholesome get-together session for the clan – as long as we know how to manage ourselves and learn to divide and conquer.

Let’s plan for the next Wahbiang Trip soon. Looking back, the Perth trip is certainly ambitious but it is still possible. Let’s start with something small. Thanks Karen and Juliana (and kids) for the reunion and all the happy moments! Bet you ladies are well “China-trained” now!

A Birthday Reunion Surprise

I never forget all the birthday surprises. Wendy did it in 2005, Juliana in 2007, Duuk in 2008, SuperRace Teams in 2010, Chester and Auntie Amy in 2012, Sister & family in 2013 and mum and Auntie Amy did it again in 2014! Really, no matter how many times I went through these surprises every birthday, I am always deeply touched by the effort and presence of my loved ones. It never fails to put a smile on my face.

This year, the surprise arrived in the most unexpected way. My wife collaborated and instigated with Tracy and Chowpo. Knowing my meeting schedules, they planted a surprise right outside my client’s office!

Chowpo and I just finished a meeting at IFC and I wanted to go to the loo. I had 2 more meetings at the office and I wanted to finish the day early so I can spend some time with my boy at home. Just when I was walking towards the toilet, in that spilt-second, I thought I saw Elkan ran around a corner. I didn’t see Felicia around and I was wondering why my boy was alone at IFC. Just when I was about to chase after my boy, I saw Auntie Amy standing right there in my path! It was one of those twisted moments when my mind was fighting furiously against my logic to register the sudden reality. Shocked, surprised and extremely delighted, it took me a couple of seconds to register what’s going on. My eyes roved back to Chowpo and I knew instantly she was one of the accomplices. Then, I saw Felicia and Elkan holding 2 travel trolleys. They tricked me that Cousin Chester was hiding outside the mall. I went out and got my second and biggest surprise! It was my dear mum who was hiding behind the column! Double surprises!

I never expect to see them here in Hong Kong! I am very grateful to Auntie Amy and my sister for getting my mum to Hong Kong. (Auntie Amy was here for the past 3 birthdays!) Thanks to their well-deployed plan, I never expect to see them right outside my client’s doorstep! Superb timing and acting!

This was the best weekend ever! The timing was perfect! I have just finished a 8-week work marathon and this was the first weekend when I did not need to work! On Saturday, I decided to bring the family to Macau to watch the House of Dancing Water, and visited a couple of new casinos. On Sunday, I arranged a small birthday-cum-father-day brunch at Soho and invited Cousin Mike along. Dinner was at a scenic Chinese restaurant at iSquare building with 2 other lovely Hong Kong relatives. Auntie Amy and mum were a lot more active this trip. They were bold to explore the streets around Central by themselves! Despite the hot stuffy weather, they shopped tirelessly and bought many things! Mum even played an Augmented Reality Robot Fighting Game with Elkan at the Transformers Exhibition! (Wow, my mum is so high-tech now!)

This was a very short trip for both of them. Mum has to fly back to take care of the grandchildren. I tried to extend their stay for one more week but mum was unable to. This afternoon, Chowpo specially drove all of us to the airport and arranged a sumptuous dim-sum farewell lunch for Auntie Amy and mum.

When it was time to say goodbye at the departure gate, mum’s eyes were teary as she hugged us goodbye. This was the first time I saw mum weeping at the airport. My heart was broken. Her tears infected all of us. I saw Auntie Amy walked away with teary eyes. It was indeed a very blissful and eventful weekend! I miss their presence so much and I wish they can stay a day or two longer. Guess Elkan and I inherited mum’s genes, we are sentimental. Putting on a brave front, I went to give her a big warm hug and pat her on her head. I told her to take care and come back soon, hopefully during the next school vacations in Sept and Nov.

Thank you Auntie Amy and mum for making my birthday weekend so special and memorable. Please come back soon and do stay a little longer. Big hugs and smiles!

A Very Twisted and Mind-Blowing Birthday Gift

This is just so ridiculous, outrageous and twisted! I swear I never saw that coming, especially after last year’s notorious “harassment” case! Instead of giving me something more pleasurable and safe, my colleagues teased me with a very special gift that I cannot bring home! Seriously???? You could have top up some more dollars to get me one with Artificial Intelligence!

Meet “Joey” – my new inflatable action-figure-heroine! She is very very flexible and semi-transparent! Best of all, she is super light…We are talking about really Air light! My mum nearly got a heart-attack when I showed her Joey. Still, I am not going to discriminate my colleagues for their sincere gesture. I have already a list of ideas how I am going to make Joey useful:

1) Mid Autumn Festival Light-Up Lantern (I certainly need a long bamboo to hoist her up!)
2) Life-Saving Float for the next flood
3) Sex Education Tool for my boy when he turns 18 (mum just violently disapproved)
4) BB Gun Target
5) Leg-rest for the living room floor
6) Flying Drone Girl – with Gopro camera
7) Stand-In queue marker for the next iPhone 6 release
8) Convert her to the world’s first SIRI 3D
9) Scarecrow at open-air food court to chase those annoying birds away
10) Forget all the above – I am going to pass it to Harshad the next time he is super-drunk!

Thanks guys for the lovely “Playboy” cake and the very special QR-coded eCard! (Yes, it is a working QR-Code, just scan and you will see the e-Card). And a very “big thank you” to Chowpo for the touching birthday speech and the extraordinary Lego Portrait! I had a very “sexed-up” birthday celebration! Other than that, Joey is a big responsibility for me now. Really “超级白” to all!


Not forgetting I do get slightly “normal unique” gifts too! Thanks for all the messages and wishes posted on Facebook and Wechat! Thanks my sister Jovel, Tracy, Felicia and Kalinda for all your lovely and very special gifts!

Visiting China’s Ghost Armies and Anicent Capital, Xi’an (西安)

Perhaps the best trips are those that are unplanned and spontaneous. There is no itinerary or any expectation. Every corner is a new surprise. Pack a bag, head to the train station, hop onboard the next departing train and pick a random destination.

This was what I did over the long Easter weekend. I made a last minute decision to visit Jinmen Island, Taiwan (my ancestral hometown) the night before. My original plan was to take a 3-hour train from Shenzhen to Xiamen and take an 1-hour-ferry-transfer to Taiwan Jinmen Island.

Early Friday morning, Tracy and I left Hong Kong at 7am and headed to Shenzhen train station. Minutes before we arrived at the Hong Kong-Shenzhen border, I heard the news on the radio. The immigration department estimated there were about 800,000 travellers crossing the border! It was too late to turn back. In the end, we spent 2.5 hours clearing the jam.

By the time we arrived at the train station, it was already 10am. The queues at the train station were long and slow. While queuing, we found out another bad news – all tickets to Xiamen were sold out. Stranded and clueless where to go next, I decided to take my chance. After all, China is such a big country with so many diversities – North, South, East, West, there must be something new for us to explore. I bought the next available train ticket and hopped on.

It was a long 10-hour ride and the train’s final destination was at Xi’an (西安). Since both of us have never been to Xi’an, we decided to alight at the final station. The return ticket cost RMB2,810/each. Despite being more expensive than the usual airfare, I personally prefer train over plane. I managed to secure the hotel rooms five minutes we board the train.

Travelling at 300km/h, we were transported from the hot sunny coast of Shenzhen to the chilly foggy valleys of Xi’an. Since this was an ah-hoc trip, I didn’t prepare any winter/spring clothing at all! The billboards along the journey were remarkably interesting too! Property prices displayed on the advertising panels fell from $35,000/sqft at Shenzhen to only $2,500/sqft after Wuhan. What a world of difference!

Our ride ended at Xi’an at 10:30pm in the night. It was raining and windy cold. I didn’t expect the temperature to drop as low as 11°C. I began to feel worried for the chilly weather. Lots of people at the train station were staring at me as I was the odd one out in my Bermuda shorts, tee and sandals. It was one of those rare moments in my life that I felt worried for my situation.

The ride from the train station to the hotel took around 40 minutes. I tried to keep warm by staying indoor as much as possible. I wore up to 3 layers of t-shirts. I wasn’t sure how am I going to survive the cold tomorrow morning unless I postponed the sightseeing tours to the afternoon. I might want to take the morning to buy a jacket.

The next morning, I decided not to postpone the tours as I might not have time to visit all the places of interests. I decided to go ahead and braved the cold. Lucky for me, the day temperature was bearable at 14°C. Again, I was obviously the odd-looking traveler. Everyone was in their winter attires except me – simply just shorts, tees and sandals. Even my private hotel chauffeur was worried for me.


FIRST STOP – THE EMPEROR QIN SHI HUANG’S MAUSOLEUM SITE PARK (秦始皇帝陵遗址公园)

Here lies Xi’an’s 2 most famous world heritage sites – the Mausoleum of the China’s First Emperor (秦始皇陵) at Lishan Park (骊山公园) and the Museum of Terra-cotta Warriors and Horses (秦始皇兵马俑博物馆). Discovered in March 1974 by a group of local farmers who were digging a water well, this site turned out to be one of the world’s most important and amazing archaeology discoveries of our era. Completed 209 years before Christ, it was only in recent years when archaeologists, scientists and physicists identified the advanced technologies ancient Chinese used to create these magnificent funerary art. The astonishing mystery was how the Chinese mastered advanced technologies that were only made possible in the 21st century.

The site was located at the foot of Mount Lishan (骊山), an hour car-ride away (35km) from Xi’an’s city. Many travel bloggers advised visitors to come early in the morning to avoid the tour groups. I arrived there 30 minutes after the opening hour, the crowd was already massive. Thousands of tourists alighted from the tour buses, all headed towards the same enclosure. Tour leaders were reciting historical stories at the top of their voices and tourists were shoving to get good photo spots. It was chaotic inside the enormous pit.

It was impossible to get a good clean shot without the tourists in the frame. Thankfully, for only RMB50, there was a special designated photo spot (closer to the terracotta figurines) where a photographer took a nice shot of us. I used this opportunity to steal some quick close up shots of these marvellous relics.

The burial sites of the Terra-cotta Warriors and Emperor Qin are massive and impressive, almost doubling the size of Macau. There were a total of 2 separate key sites with 6 excavated pits opened to the public. It took me about 4 hours to explore all of them. Pit 1 being the largest (230m x 62m) holds more than 6,000 figures with a few thousands more remain buried. Many important sites like the pyramid-tomb of Emperor Qin remains untouched and protected for future excavation as the Chinese today do not acquire the right technology to excavate and preserve the relics. We also saw one of the surviving farmers who discovered the Terra-cotta Warriors. He was there almost everyday to autograph on the souvenir books. It is certainly still worth a trip to Xi’an to see this historical marvel and learn its amazing past. However, I do strongly advise travellers to visit during the off-peak travel seasons so one get to view these magnificent excavated sites at your own pace, space and comfort.


2ND STOP – XI’AN HUAQING HOT SPRINGS (西安华清池)

Naturally existed over 6,000 years, the Huaqing Palace (華清宮) was rebuilt and renamed in AD723 by Emperor Xuanzong (唐玄宗). It was the romantic tragedy love tale of Emperor Xuanzong (唐玄宗) and his favourite concubine, Consort Yang Guifei’s (杨贵妃) that made this place so special. The Guifei Pool was constructed in her remembrance. Consort Yang Guifei’s white sensual statue can be seen by the man-made lake today. Heated by the now extinct volcano, the water stays constant at 42.5°C all year round. The rich hot spring water consists of 12 natural minerals that is said to have therapeutic effects on the skin, improve blood circulation and cure rheumatism.

 

3RD STOP – XI’AN BANPO MUSEUM (西安半坡博物馆) 

Unearthed in 1953, Chinese archaeologists discovered several well organised Neolithic settlements carbon dated to some 6,500 years ago. The museum was built over the original excavations where visitors get to see the prehistoric aboriginal’s residential, pottery making and burial sites.


4TH STOP – XI’AN CITY WALL (西安古城墙) 

Build during the Tang Dynasty (AD618 – 907) and expanded during the Ming Dynasty (AD1370), the Xi’an City Wall is the most complete and well-restored ancient city wall of China. Standing 12m tall and a perimeter of 14km, the wall fortified a city area of 36km². Today, it serves as a great overhead highway to explore the scenic Xi’an City on foot or on wheels. For onlyRMB60/110mins (plus RMB300 deposit/bike), you can rent a decent good mountain bike at any one of the 4 gates (north, south, east and west) and ride on the wall. One complete loop of 14km takes about 2 hours.

Thanks to my colleague, Kelly’s recommendation, I rented a bike at the wall. I didn’t manage to complete the entire circuit as it was extremely uncomfortable to cycle long on the bumpy rocky path. Still, this is the best way to see the city. I rented the bike at the East Gate and dropped it off 60 minutes later at the South Gate where I walked to explore the remaining attractions on my list - The Drum Tower, the Bell Tower and the Muslim Quarter.


5TH STOP – XI’AN DRUM TOWER, THE BELL TOWER AND THE MUSLIM QUARTER (西安鼓楼,钟楼,回民街) 

The Drum Tower, the Bell Tower and the Muslim Quarter are located less than 2km away from the City Wall South Gate. It took me less than 30 minutes to walk to the attractions.

The Bell Tower (钟楼) marks the center spot of the Xi’an anicent city. Built in 1384 by Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang, the Bell Tower is the largest and most well-preserved wooden tower in China. Located 550m away is the Drum Tower (鼓楼) (built in 1380) where it houses China’s largest drum. Both towers were used as “watch & alarm posts” against invading forces.

The Muslim Quarter (回民街) marked the end of my tiring but super-rewarding 1-day Xi’an tour. There are about 20,000 muslims living here and it is one of the must-visit streets in Xi’an. Here, you find lots of authentic Chinese-Muslim street-food. Similar to those night-market streets in Taipei, the Muslim Quarter is packed with tourists at night! There is no need to park myself into any particular restaurant. I had a fulfilling night, simply walking and eating along the long stretch of colourful and authentic food-&-craft-stalls.


My spontaneous unplanned trip to Xi’an was unexpectedly rewarding.
 In total, I spent 28 hours traveling over 3,800km on rail from Hong Kong to Xi’an. I can never imagine how great it is to travel by impulse and without any pre-planning. The entire journey was surprisingly comfortable and enriching. This short trip to Xi’an sparked me off to read more about the history of the Chinese dynasties. Xi’an is no doubt one of the four Great Anicent Capitals of China and a great living history book for those who have yet been intrigued by its richness and wonders. With the completion of more high-speed railways across China, I will be doing more inland travels to explore more Chinese cities in the coming months. What a great Easter holiday!

Felicia and sisters’ surprise Easter Gift for Mum – A Trip to Penang

BLOG BY FELICIA (21st April 2014)

My first family trip was when my father won some lottery money and brought the whole family including my grandparents to Hong Kong! That was my first trip on the plane and I was 15 then.

This Easter, my sisters and I decided surprise our mom! We decided to go Penang!

Keeping the secret was easy task for us. Breaking the news was a tough one. Coz mom didn’t believe us and kept saying we were just pulling her leg! It took us a while to convince her before she decide to pack her luggage. Eventually she became excited and so much she couldn’t sleep the night before!

DAY 1: GOOD FRIDAY

First stop, 8:30am, Sunflower Garden at Changi Airport. This is just one of the many mini gardens within the compound of Changi Airport. The huge sunflowers kick start a very happy trip for us!

By 12 noon, we arrived at our hotel in George Town (named after King George III of England), capital of Penang!

It was free and easy for the first day. We spent the afternoon roaming the streets and eating along the way too. We all agreed the Chendol along Penang Road was the best! Only RM$2.30! There was a long queue under the hot sun for it. Best Dessert of the day!

There were always a small crowd around the wall paintings with tourist like us snapping fun shots. Other than Ernest Zacharevic’s paintings, there were other artists from Japan and local ones too. There were also some metal sculptures by the state of Penang to promote tourism. Ernest Zacharevic’s wall paintings have become so famous in George Town, even the Trishaw men offered routes to tourist to visit all the sites. But do beware of their charges. Usual rates of RM$40 per hour. They usually exceed the time and charge for more. So you got to watch your own timing! Or you could rent a bicycle at RM$10-20 for the whole day!

Dinner was great at the local food street along Chulia Street. Although the weather was still hot and humid in the evening, the fresh fruit juices were great so were the Fried Kuey Teow, Satay, Wanton noodle, Assam Laksa, Lok Lok and Fried Carrot Cake in a cone-shaped take away banana leaf!

DAY 2: SATURDAY

Our friendly local guide pick us up in the morning in a mini coach and brought us to the Penang Hill. One of the oldest colonial hill station established by the British during their time in Malaysia. A 8min tram ride up took us up the 823m hill. There’s lots of nature like botanical gardens and nature walk trails. An Owl Museum great for kids. Guided hikes were available too. We took a short 30min buggy ride touring around the hill top. The air was cooling and refreshing at about 21-3º.

Just a short drive from Penang Hill, our next stop is at Kek Lok Si Temple. Situated at the slope of a hill, a seven storey pagoda of the temple or the Pagoda of 10,000 Buddhas, was built in 1930. Some 70 years later, another 30.2m bronze statue of the Kuan Yin was completed and opened to the public. It was located on the hillside above the pagoda. The huge interior structure of the pagoda has beautiful ceiling paintings and sculptures. However the Kuan Yin bronze statue didn’t offer a good view as there were too many pillars around it.

We wrote some wishes and hang them on the wishing branches in the Pagoda. You can pick from the many wishes that were printed on colorful ribbons. Some interesting ones like: “Listen to the words of my father/mother”, “World Peace”, “Beautiful and Good Looking”!

Time for food again! Penang is known for it’s rich Peranakan heritage, Nyonya Baba food is not to be missed! Our guide drove us to Nagore Square where this area is dedicated to arts & cultural, F&B and entertainment. Lots of shophouse eateries along the streets. The Nyonya food didn’t disappoint us. Even Elkan loves it! He had 2 servings of rice!

The next attraction was a 200-year old Kuan Yin Temple. A very small temple. While mom and aunt do their prayers in the temple, I found caged birds which were sold at RM$4 each for you to release them so that they regain their freedom. Poor birds. They are kidnapped, and released if ransom is paid! Whoever paid for their freedom is their savior. This equation does not work out for me.

We get to see treasures belonging to others in the museums. But in this particular one, The Pinang Peranakan Museum, we found a treasure of ours! This museum is a mansion built in the end of the 19th century. It has over a 1000 pieces of antiques and collectables. My mom and aunt love the museum’s very rare displays. The biggest excitement was when my youngest sister, Chups, spotted a signage that says: “利昌金铺“. This signage belongs to our grandfather in the hay days when he owned a goldsmith shop. It brought back fond memories of days when we were young and running around at my grandfather’s shop house along Beach Road in Singapore. Best find of the day!

After the museum, we went to Batu Feringgi. Famous for its long stretch of beach. However, it was too hot to stroll along the beach, so we headed to the Straits Quay Marina. It’s a shopping mall by the sea and a Marina Club as well with a capacity of 40 pontoon berths. You can take a water taxi for an island tour.

By evening, our guide drove us to Gurney drive, well know for Penang’s local street food. We were dining under an umbrella to shield us from the evening’s drizzle. The variety of food is good but the queues are crazy…. And the food is a little over rated. Not the best choice so far.

Elkan was eager to move on to our next destination in the evening. The firefly boat trip. It was an hour’s drive to the mainland of Penang. We took the old Penang Bridge built in 1985 (13.5km) and traveled south along the North South Expressway. The boat trip was pleasant under the moonlight. We were well prepared with creams and sprays from mozzies! Our boat cruised along the dark riverbank with mangrove trees which were the natural habitat of fireflies. Elkan was excited to spot them and pointed out to us in a few directions. The boatman bumped gently into one of the bushes which scare the hell out of Elkan when the fireflies started to fly towards us. The boatman then handed me a net and signalled me to catch some of the fireflies. Elkan was relieved when he saw how tiny the flies were. Not some mega big bugs!

The boat trip ends our long and tiring day. We traveled back by the second Penang Bridge (24km) which was opened just about a month ago!

DAY 3: SUNDAY

We had a slow and easy morning. Elkan got to go for a fun dip at the pool while the ladies took their time the breakfast. We headed to our last attraction for this trip which was the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion or more commonly known as the “Blue Mansion”. The former home of tycoon Cheong Fatt Tze. It was rated one of the ten greatest mansions in the world by Lonely Planet in 2012. This house has a Feng Shui inspired architecture. Every corner and detail was carefully thought of.

After the mansion, the ladies preferred to stay indoors to enjoy the aircon. While Elkan wanted to try hop on to one of the colourful trishaws. So the ladies went to the nearby shopping mall while I took Elkan on our little adventure.

We went to search for the wall paintings which we missed on the first day. The trishaw man also took us to some interesting spots like the Camera Museum, Cat Cafe, Made In Penang Interactive Museum and the Clan Jetties. We stopped by the last stop, the Clan Jetties where we walked through houses on stilts to have a view of the jetty. Along the way every household sells some sort of souvenir or local food right in front of their door steps. My best find was the durian ice cream! Elkan hates the smell most. Haha… love the look on his face!

Too bad we didn’t have enough time to explore all of it. We had to head to the airport. This trip we had the best dessert, best found treasure and best of all, our family traveled together! Looking forward to the next one. Be prepared, mom :P

You can’t imagine this is Hong Kong (A Supernova Volcano 140 million years ago)

This morning, Tracy and I took a special boat trip (Geopark Tour) back in time to the early Cretaceous Period (about 140 million years ago) where Sai Kung volcanic rock regions were formed. Identified only in early 2010, Hong Kong was once part of a supernova volcano which had broken apart into multiple rocky islands over 140 million years. These beautiful islands were neglected for ages and it was only in 2009 when Hong Kong officially formalised the listing of the Geopark regions for on-going conservation, education and sustained development.

We boarded the vessel at Sai Kung Pier and traveled 15km out in the foggy sea where mysterious gigantic rock columns and sea caves greeted us. Terrain unlike any other, High Island Geopark’s spectacular hexagonal rocks bears a striking resemblance to those alienated worlds in the sci-fi movies.  The entire tour took around 5 hours, over 30km on boat and 3km on foot. Due to popular demand and the recent wet weathers, we waited about 4 months for this tour (we booked our tickets back in December 2013!). The tour leader gave us a rich lesson on geography and history. We were shown different types of rock formations and fault lines. We also visited 2 different villages at Yim Tin Tsai island (鹽田仔) and Pak Lap Wan (白臘灣) where we saw one of the most beautiful beaches with the clearest water in Hong Kong.

It is amazing to see such an extraordinary world so close to metropolitan Hong Kong. For HKD300/pax (with lunch included), I say this is a great natural education treat for everyone! This should be part of every tourist’s itinerary to Hong Kong.

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