December 3, 2013 Leave a comment
(Photo Taken – A man-made swimming lagoon out in the sea at Maldives)
E V E R Y D A Y . B E A U T I F U L
December 3, 2013 Leave a comment
The recent Maldives video editing gave me so much joy that it motivated me to dig out all the past video files from my photo/video archive. This is one trip that should earn a special spot in my blog. That place was YongPyong, Korea – it was there where we celebrated our first white Christmas. And this was the trip that set off our tradition of Christmas traveling since.
Took me a couple of days to locate the messy archive and went through more than 460 video files. These footages are priceless. It captured a very chatty and playful young Elkan and a chubbier Tracy. Of course, Felicia and I looked so much younger (and fitter) then. Last night while editing the video, the family was having a great time watching these “almost-forgotten” fun images. It was a good experience to revisit the past – especially the beautiful and significant ones.
During the edit, I didn’t show much of Korea or the ski resort we went. I put in a lot of footages of young cute Elkan and all the funny things we did. It is less of a travel video but a very precious family Kodak moment. Bet the grannies will enjoy this post.
November 29, 2013 3 Comments
There is never a more perfect 20th Anniversary gift for Felicia! Thanks to my lucky star, I flew my loved ones to one of the world’s most beautiful paradises – Maldives!
It was supposed to be a sweet surprise for Felicia but my cousin unintentionally leaked out the big secret during a family reunion dinner 4 days before the trip. It drew big smile on Felicia’s face when the secret was out. There were mixed reactions from Elkan and my daddy. Elkan was excited about the ocean bungalow and swimming with the fishes. My daddy wasn’t too keen about the destination as he was unfamiliar with Maldives and questioned why do we need to fly half the world just for a simple beach holiday. He frowned when I told him that we may not be able to buy beer as Male is a strict Islamic city. I loved his expression at that moment. I was looking forward to see his amazement when we touched down at Maldives.
Thanks to Cathay Pacific, there is now a direct flight connecting Hong Kong to Maldives. Our flight took 7 hours and we arrived at 9pm. Maldives was 3 hours behind Hong Kong. As it was nightfall, I parked all of us at a nearby budget airport hotel. Flight tickets to Maldives were relatively affordable, it was the accommodation, food and cross-ocean transport cost that caused a big dent in my travel budget. VAT in Maldives is a high 18%. I paid about HKD6,000-HKD8,000/room per night for lodging and HKD900/pax for speedboat transfer. Is it worth the money? I will give a big YES – provided you are there at the right season, on the right island with the right company! The best time to visit Maldives would be during its driest season which is between late December to early April. Avoid June to Sept as you don’t want the wet weather to spoil your expensive dream trip. There are over 1,000 islands across Maldives, therefore it is of paramount in your selection to choose the right island. Every island promises a different experience, ignore the big hotel brand names and choose wisely.
Maldives deserves its reputation as the Paradise of Asia. Friends who have been to Maldives used to tell me that you don’t need a fancy top-end camera to capture stunning photographs. They are right. The sun, white powdered beach, blue sky and turquoise water of Maldives are so unreal. There is no place for Instagram filters or Photoshop. Its colours are so vivid and it is like being teleported into the movie world of Life of Pi. Seamless horizon of the blue sky and smooth calm water, it brings a new level of zen in you.
My dad who was skeptical and complained about the unnecessary extravagant travel cost was speechless when he saw Paradise the next morning. While waiting for our speedboat transfer to our first island, dad was busily snapping photographs of the jetty and its turquoise clear water. He was amazed how clear the water was at the jetty. The thought of no beer didn’t exist in his mind anymore. That smile on his face was priceless!
In total, we spent 3 nights at Maldives. Picking the right island was a challenge for me. It was more difficult than my last Europe trip planning. Every island is so beautiful. In the end, I picked 2 different islands located at the nearby North Male Atoll region.
Our first stop was at Angsana Ihuru. It was part of the Banyan Tree resorts and I will highly recommend this place to all my friends. I booked 2 private beach jetpool villas with our personal private beach front. The sea view was truly beautiful and breathtaking. Super white powdered beach, shallow crystal clear water and spectacular house reefs. Our resort guide was a young Malaysian lady. I told her she had the best job in the world! Isn’t it marvellous to work on this island?
Everything was so calm and peaceful in Maldives. It was the perfect spot for a lazy afternoon siesta. Dad was floating on the shallow water and Elkan was snorkelling, chasing after the fishes. Felicia was relaxing on the swing. I was walking around the island, capturing the beautiful sights.
Angsana Ihuru houses one of the best house reefs in Maldives. Located just 30m away from our beach villa, we immersed ourselves in a rich, vivid colourful world of coral reefs. During our snorkelling, we spotted lots of fishes, sharks and sea turtles. There was no need to scuba-dive to see all these magnificent creatures. They were just right outside our doorstep!
Later in the evening, we took a ferry across to Banyan Tree island where we saw many wild eagle rays by the beach. Every day without fail at around 5pm, these eagle rays come by the beach for a free treat. The staff at Banyan Tree drew them close with fresh cuttlefish and gave us a short induction about these gentle creatures.
The next morning, dad woke us up at 5:30am to watch sunrise. We took many beautiful photographs by the beach and at the jetty. By noon, we checked out of Angsana Ihuru and headed out for our second island resort – Sheraton Full Moon Maldives.
Sheraton Full Moon Maldives offered us a different experience. I booked 2 water bungalows on stilts, overlooking 200m of 1m-shallow-deep crystal clear water. One of the biggest draw to this resort was its close proximity to the water. You can simply jump into the ocean from the resort. Water was very shallow at only 1m deep and it was safe to swim underneath the bungalows. However, there wasn’t any corals around the bungalows. The seafloor was covered with dead white broken corals. Nevertheless, there were a lot of stingrays, eagle rays and reef sharks taking shelter underneath our bungalows. Just make sure you don’t accidentally step onto one of the dreadful stingrays.
4 days 3 nights was just perfect for all of us. By the 4th day, I was resting by the deck, watching the sharks and eagle rays with lesser excitement. Time passed by slowly. I was like living in another different world, on a different pace and leading a very different life. It wasn’t boring at all. Doing lots of self-reflection and cherishing my loved ones beside me. No matter how much it cost, it’s worth it. This is no doubt the best and most memorable travel gift I gave to my wife, my dad and my son ever. Counting down to our next stop: The aurora borealis.
October 10, 2013 Leave a comment
For years, I didn’t have the courage to bring out my kawaii-looking FujiFilm Instax Mini. Those things weren’t designed for men. I was worried what onlookers will think of me – a big sized chubby old man snapping away with a small girly instant camera.
Finally, FujiFilm answered my prayers. Last week, FujiFilm launched the new Instax Mini 90 in all its vintage glory. When I saw this new design at the Hong Kong Airport duty free shop, I bought it “instaxly” within seconds! This was one of the fastest and most impulse shopping decisions I have made. I bet this is going to be a sell out – for both women and men! Now, men like me who enjoy instant photography can proudly swing this over our necks and parade this classic-looking camera.
This is more than just an outer-changeover. The new Instax Mini 90 comes with improved features such as auto ambience detection that control flash brightness, a macro mode, and double-exposure shooting, and bulb mode for up to 10 second exposures. Perfect for my next Europe tour this Christmas!
October 7, 2013 2 Comments
With more than 6 hours to spare before our show, Taboo, I decided to visit the Panda Park in Macau. Tracy and I decided to take the local bus as it was difficult to get a cab during the Chinese Golden Week. Unfortunately, that was the wrongest decision we made that day. We missed our bus stop and alighted at some remote location of Macau. Unable to get a cab, we ended up walking 2km back to City of Dreams.
Since we had no fate with the pandas, we decided to catch the award-winning 360° ”Dragon’s Treasure” show at City of Dreams Bubble Theatre. We paid MOP$50 each (Free ticket for every MOP$200 spent at City of Dreams). We entered one of the world’s largest projection dome theatres (measuring 27m tall, 40m wide) and it was free standing format so audience can walk freely to watch the 360° projection show.
It was a very entertaining and unexceptional 3D projection show! Fantastic audio and visual effects! Throughout the 18-min show, the audience were teleported to different magical worlds of dragons. Worth every cent and expect 100% multi-sensory experience! A must visit for all new visitors to Macau.
October 2, 2013 4 Comments
I cannot remember when was the last time I visited Taipei. Or what brought me there. It is good that I keep a blog. Within seconds, I got my answer. My last Taipei trip was almost 3 years ago – with Hovman! (It was the day Mrs Lee Kuan Yew passed away). Instead of switching screen to continue writing this new post, I spent 1 hour browsing the old blogs of 2010. Time flew so quickly and it was only when I read the old blogs, I realised so many major life episodes happened since my last Taipei visit.
There have been many small changes around in Taipei. The airport had completed its new facelift less than 2 years ago. I thought I arrived at a different new terminal. New Taipei taxis are equipped with multiple innovative external cameras that alert drivers of potential “blind spots dangers”. Newer and bigger condominiums sprouted along the streets. The city seems greener and cleaner without the massive road construction blockage of 2010.
3 years seem like a long time. I couldn’t remember some of my favorite dining haunts. By sheer luck, I managed to find my way back to one of the first fancy restaurants I visited back in 2007 – The Herbs Villa. The night markets (通化街夜市 & 士林夜市) and Ximending (西門町) remain the same. Most of the major malls (Sogo, Eslite, Bookstore, Taipei 101) stay unchanged too. With only 2 short days, I decided to visit a couple of places that I have never visited.
First stop, I made my way to the top of Taipei 101. I wanted to experience the “Ferrari” of all elevators (world’s fastest elevator at Taipei 101) and to capture the sunset view of Taipei city. I arrived at the tower 30 minutes before dusk. Unfortunately, my journey up to the top deck was delayed by a long queue of Chinese tourists! It only took the world’s fastest elevator 37 seconds 382m up to the 89th storey but it took me 45 minutes to clear the 50m queue. In the end, I didn’t get my sunset and the rain clouds blocked most of the good views. What a pity.
The next day, I booked a “Spirited Away” tour to visit a northern coastal town of Taiwan - Jiufen (九份). I have no luck with the weather. Despite sunny blue sky weather in Taipei, it was stormy wet at Jiufen. I had lots of expectation of this place. It was an old gold town littered with rich Japanese and Taiwanese history. It was said that the enchanted town in animation “Spirited Away” was inspired by the meandering Japanese and Chinese-styled buildings of Jiufen. It did strike a close resemblance of the animation except the lanes were cluttered with bargain-hunting tourists. I wished I have more time to explore this place at dusk when there will be much lesser crowd. This place was full of characters with lots interesting shops and different local delicacies to try. Jiufen was the venue where the award-winning (Venice Golden Lion Winner) film “A City of Sadness” (悲情城市) was shot. Given the history and setting of this place, on second thought, the rain and mist set a very nice ambience for my first visit to this “city of sadness”. (Thanks Brandon for reminding me that!)
Strange but true – this was my 8th trip to Taipei but the first time I explored the “rustic sites” outside city (excluding my past trips to Taichung, Kaohsiung and Kenting). I will be making more frequent trips back to Taipei in 2014 (since it is only an hour away from Hong Kong) to explore the northern and western towns of Taiwan. Accommodation and food are fantastic and value-for-money. Best of all, Taiwanese are extremely friendly, chatty, honest and warm.
September 24, 2013 Leave a comment
CNN headlined this place as Hong Kong’s most buoyant dinner and The Guardian Post rated it as one of the top 10 seafood restaurants in Hong Kong. Thanks to Chowpo’s recommendation, we celebrated Gareth’s farewell dinner at one of the most unusual dining spots in Hong Kong! Extinct for more than a decade and returned in 2011, Shun Kee Floating Restaurant offers an authentic and rustic dining experience! Best of all, it serves great tasty sumptuous seafood! Even the most picky and harshest food critic like Gareth, enjoyed the dishes.
Hidden at the Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter, we took an underground tunnel below Excelsior hotel to the pier. A cluster of tiny floating dining boats were docked less than 20m away from the pier. Each boat can carry up to 12 diners. There is no need to share boat with different people so you get complete privacy with your guests. There is a minimum spending of HKD1080/boat for a set dinner for 2 and it can easily triple up to a few couple thousands for a bigger group. Diners must make reservation before coming as there are limited boats.
While at the pier, we waited for our own exclusive dining boat. 2 boat-women rowed the boat by the pier and we were seated on the dinning table. The boat-women rowed our boat to the floating kitchen where all the other dining boats were tied to. There, we met the chefs and watched them in action! Surprisingly, the boat wasn’t rocking or swaying too badly. The only time when the boat swayed violently was when I walked around to take photos of the surrounding. The dining boat offered a great view of Victoria Harbour. Breezy, dim and quiet, we had a great time on the boat. I had a great time watching the chefs in action on the floating kitchen and saw how the waitresses served the dishes crossing from boat to boat.
The verdict? If you do not suffer from any sea-sickness and a seafood lover, I would strongly recommend you to try out at this unique rustic floating restaurant! Forget about the touristic, not-so-authentic and pricy Jumbo Floating Palace at Aberdeen, Shun Kee’s seafoods are just so irresistible fresh and tasty. You must certainly try its iconic dish, the 避风塘 crabs! I bet this blog is going to generate lots of dinner requests from my friends and families! Yes, as long as you treat me, I am always happy to bring you there and be your best dining photographer!
Phone reservation: +852 8112 0075 (Cash only). Website: http://www.shunkeeseafood.com/
September 17, 2013 Leave a comment
Right after I bid farewell to Elkan and Felicia at the gate, I hopped on the next flight to Shanghai with Chowpo. It was a very short business trip. I was glad that I was able to juggle my time between work and leisure. With only a couple of hours free, I managed to meet up with some of my close friends (Calvin, Echo, Johnny, Ming, Francis & Doreen) and cousin Yei. Thank you all for squeezing some free time to
meet up dine and drink with me. It was certainly a very fulfilling reunion (I gained another 2 sinful kilograms)! I guess we have to think of new “gathering activity” the next time we meet. I cannot eat and drink at every gathering. Nevertheless, thanks for showing me all the new attractions of Shanghai. Special thanks to Johnny and Ming who treated me to such a beautiful scenic dining place. Hope to see you guys soon! It is always good to be back!
September 14, 2013 4 Comments
It was September School Holiday, Felicia and Elkan were in town for 10 days. I was clueless where to bring them around Hong Kong. For the first 5 days, Elkan was lazing at home playing console games. I decided to give both of them a small surprise – their maiden trip to Vietnam!
As usual, I planned this trip at the very last minute. I am always seen as an impulse traveler. More than 65% of my travels were decided and departed within 48 hours. Let me correct my critics here, I am not an impulse person. I don’t like planning a trip many months ahead (unless it is a long difficult journey). Planning is for those who take a long to decide something. A long wait can develop different types of expectation that may leads to disappointment. When I want to travel, I just pack my bags and go. I like the feeling of freedom and instant gratification. There’s no need to plan, just do it. I like to discover as I go along. It feels more like an adventure.
Elkan was very excited when I told him that we would be exploring the underground-forested tunnels and swampy waterways. He likes adventure but he remains a very timid and careful boy. As much as possible, I would want to expose him to different parts of the world so he get to experience life outside his little shoebox universe in Singapore.
Day 1 – It was a short 2.5 hour flight from Hong Kong to Ho Chi Minh City. We arrived and checked into our hotel at 11:30am. By noon, we ventured out and I gave them a quick 4-hour city tour. I brought them to the city’s most popular tourist spots – The Central Post Office, Notre Dame Cathedral, Saigon Opera House, Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee City Hall, Reunification Palace, Ben Thanh Market and Dong Khoi shopping street. (Felicia and Elkan managed to recognise the location where Harshad shot his infamous conference video 2 years ago.) All the tourist attractions were located within walking distance from our hotel, it was very easy to explore the city center on foot.
Our last stop for the day – We visited the War Remnants Museum. Through the rich war history of Vietnam, Elkan learnt the important lesson of peace and harmony. There, we saw many disturbing war photographs. This is my second visit to the War Remnants Museum and it still evokes a deep sense of grief and anger in me. These war stories reminded us the true value of peace and the pain of wars. For a country that went through 2,000 years of war (first against the Chinese, the Mongolian, then the French, the Japanese and finally the American), Vietnam underwent many generations of untold and unimaginable sufferings. The last war may have ended more than 20 years ago but the aftermath of the chemical war crimes continue to haunt its victims and their next generations. It is a lesson that Syria must heed from Bosnia and Vietnam. War is simply senseless and victory-less. No one wins – except those merchants of wars.
Day 2 – We woke up at 6:30am and went on a half-day tour to the Cu Chi Tunnels. Along the way, the travel guide brought us to a Vietnamese lacquer-ware factory where handicapped war victims work. There, we were given a brief introduction of lacquer-ware making. Despite the emotionally story of supporting the war-victims through purchasing these products, I didn’t buy anything from this factory. The prices of these handicrafts weren’t cheap. All the items were priced 300% more than the ones in the city. Clearly, this was a “tourist-shopping-trap”.
We had lots of fun at the Cu Chi Tunnels. The Viet Cong built these tunnels as a defence network against the offensive American troops. During the war, the tunnels served as a communication and supply-routes for the Viet Cong. The tunnels housed soldiers and their families. Some of these tunnels extended over 200km long and 10m deep. Presently, many of these tunnels were lit with lights and made wider and taller to house the bigger-sized tourists.
Both Felicia and Elkan successfully descended into the original A4-size ground hole. I didn’t bother to attempt, as I know my chubby body won’t fit into the small entrance. Tunnel walking was a breeze for Elkan but not for the adults. Almost all the adults came out of the narrow 40m long tunnel with tiring perspired expressions, except for Elkan. He was the only one who wanted to go for a second round. Elkan was bursting with energy. Instead of doing 1 underground tunnel crawl, he managed to persuade the tour guide to let him explore more underground tunnels.
The weather was unpredictably hot, humid and stormy, I was too tired to go anywhere else. After Cu Chi Tunnels, we headed back to our hotel where I took a short nap. Later in the evening, I met up with a good Singaporean friend, Kelvin for dinner. He brought us to a very cozy and beautifully decorated shop house for authentic Vietnamese food.
Day 3 – We joined a group of Australian and Singaporean tourists to Mekong River. It was a full day tour. We started the day at 8am and returned at 6pm.
We had an excellent English-speaking local guide. The trip to Mekong River took 2 hours. Along the way, we saw many rice paddy plantations and old towns. We stopped by at a temple of giant Buddha and Goddess statues and a bus depot where I saw a kind tourist guide entered a lotus lake to retrieve a young girl’s watch.
All was well until Elkan broke down in tears at Mekong River. He was having a really bad stomachache. His frantic cries made everyone worried. The Australians and Singaporeans travelers were very kind and offered medicines and ointment oil. Even the local drink stall owners made hot ginger tea for him.
Elkan struggled the pains throughout the Mekong tour. His cries frightened the boatmen. Imagine this, we were the only one with a crying boy along the peaceful, scenic Mekong River. Every passing boat gave us that strange look. Elkan was screaming and crying on the boat. We had an extraordinary express tour, the boatmen sensed the urgency of his condition and rowed the boat super fast. We reached the jetty ahead of everyone else. There, Elkan vomited and made a couple of “emergency toilet breaks”. It was so bad that we have to make an instant “temporary toilet shelter” for him out on the jetty. Fortunately, we were in this village where there were stalls selling t-shirts. We bought him a new t-shirt (as he vomited on the one he was wearing). This is certainly one painful and unforgettable trip for Elkan and his poor parents. Thankfully, the whole group of travelers was very understanding and kind towards our plight.
Just when we decided to cut short our tour and head back to the city, Elkan’s tummy wasn’t painful anymore. He was back to his old self – noisy, jumpy and naughty. My son is indeed a big joker. He certainly got everyone’s attention. He is one big chaotic charmer.
On our last night in Vietnam, we met up with my primary school friend, Rosline Heng. Her husband and her were stationed in Vietnam for many years. We missed an opportunity to meet up with her last month when they visited Hong Kong. Guess fate gave us a second chance to meet.
Tomorrow is the last day of our short adventure. We will be packing and heading back to Hong Kong for one more night. On Sunday, Felicia and Elkan will be flying back to Singapore and I will be heading north to Shanghai for a short business trip.
Guess I will be missing them for another 2 months before their next return in November. By then, I will be making another impromptu trip. Surely up north where northern lights glitter – the only questions are which country, with who and when.