Bride’s Pool Hike

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It was China National Day long weekend and we were dying to go somewhere new. Hiking season has just began and I wanted to take my drone out for a spin. Chowpo showed us a new site that none of us has been – an UNESCO Geopark site where there is a sizeable waterfall.

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We took almost 90 minutes (taxi, car, taxi) to reach the starting point of Bride’s Pool Nature Trail where we spent a good 60 minutes hiking in circles, searching for the entrance to the falls. We were actually stopped right at the rapids where the stream will lead us to the falls but we totally missed that! Before we knew it, we exited the trail on the other side of the very small geo park.

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Just when we were about to leave the park, Tracy and Harshad spotted the falls half a mile away. It was located right at the spot where we aligned our taxi! Chowpo, Harshad and Tracy were too tired to walk back to the falls.

Smiling deep inside, I took my drone out and flew it effortlessly to the falls.

“Mmm…what a nice dynamic view from the top. 🙂 ” I thought.

That is the reason why I carry a drone to all my trips, there is always an easier way to enjoy the great view.

Flight, don’t hike.  Enjoy the vlog.

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Sex and the City (of bikes, cheeses, weeds and clogs)

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My new start-up life is hectic, no doubt, but I am enjoying the freedom and satisfaction in the remarkable pursuit of creating tomorrow’s innovation. My team and I were indeed very lucky that our product generated so much interests and demands. Since July, I was on the road to numerous cities, meeting new people and making countless presentations.  It was indeed time-consuming and I didn’t even have a decent break when my dad, mum and family were here.

A few months ago, I had a few business invitations to demo our new innovation to a couple of potential partners and clients in London. Suffering from aero-phobia, I never look forward to any long-haul flight. I was hesitant to go. Knowing a couple of close business friends will also be there in London during this “post-summer-holiday” seasons, I dragged myself on board a very bumpy 12-hour long flight.

Escaped from the endless violent typhoons and heat waves in Hong Kong, I had a marvellous and rewarding time in London. It was unreal to dine with my old friends  (Ricky, Olivia, Vicky & Cynthia) from Hong Kong (who have now moved to reside in London) in the unusual cold weather of London. Christy, Chowpo and Bianca also joined us for some light city-touring and dining. This was Chowpo’s first taste of Europe and I extended 4 more days to show her around.

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While in London, I was contemplating a short 3-day trip to Iceland to fly my drone. After checking with Olivia, a 3-day trip was a little too short. Also, there wasn’t any return air-ticket. Just when I was about to book a train ride up north to visit the distilleries at the Highlands, there was a failed bombing incident in London subway and another fire incident that disrupted the key railroad to Scotland.

In the end, I decided to take a train to Amsterdam (a city I intended to visit during our last family trip to the Artic Circle).

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Amsterdam is an unique and intriguing city. At the first glance, it was like a giant Venice with bigger canals, wider alleys and killer bikes. However, Amsterdam is more than just the “Venice of the North”, in my opinion, it is the unofficial “Sex and the City” or the “City of Weeds, Cheese & Bikes”!  Frankly, it was the infamous Red Lights Districts that enticed me to this city. Certainly not the power of Van Gogh or Anne Frank. And 100% not the windmills and Dutch Lady in heavy wooden clogs..

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For 4 days, Chowpo and I explored Amsterdam on foot. We walked nearly 100,000 steps (average 25K steps a day) – an incredible personal record and feat for both of us. We experienced all kind of weathers throughout our short stay – sunny blue sky, grey raining cloudy and even white foggy mist!

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First stop, we went window-shopping along the infamous Red Light Districts and visited its sex-themed museums. Wow! Big eye openers indeed! Many of these brothels are just located right beside a holy church! No wonder there are so many confession rooms in the church. On a serious note, the Dutch society is very liberal, after all, they are the first nation that legalised gay-marriage. There is nothing shameful or taboo about sex. It may be such openness that most Dutch households don’t close their curtains even when there is no one at home. It was quite an unique experience walking by and peeping into their beautiful homes.

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This is definitely a big Disneyland for the adults. There are so many sex-themed shops and coffee joints (selling weeds, space cakes and magic mushrooms)! Unfortunately, to the disappointment of many, we didn’t try the dope at all. Not even a puff. Why? At first I was tempted but after I listened to the horrific tale of Christy and Jeff that I lost all interests in those “magic tonics”. Maybe next time with my brothers-in-crime, I might.

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With only 800K residents, Amsterdam is certainly a big tourists magnet. Despite its kinky and naughty reputation, this city of slanting and crooked buildings charmed me deeply. We saw people chilling out by the edge of the canals and sun-tanning on the decks of their boat houses. What a pleasant and relaxing lifestyle! Unlike the stereotypes I heard about Dutch people, the people we encountered were generally warm, chatty and very humorous!

Here are some of the attractions we visited during our short stay. 

1) The Heineken Experience Tour

Like most Amsterdam’s tourist attractions, this place was overwhelmed with crowd. Beware of the crazy long queue and it is important to get a “quick-pass” to enter. For Heineken fans, this will be a great place to discover the heritage and brewing process of the world’s most favourite beer. There were so many interesting digital engagements and not forgetting 2 big bars for you to enjoy the beers! Remember to create your own “Personalised Beer Bottle” on the way out.

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2) WindMill, Cheese & Clog Factories (Zannse Shans, Volendam & Marken)

We joined a big group of tourists (50 of us) and explored the country-side of Amsterdam. Just a short 1-hour bus-ride away lies the famous Zaanse Shans windmills, the quaint fishing villages of Volendam and Marken’s Dutch cheese farm. Despite the big travel group, it was actually very enjoyable and relaxing. The tour guide was so chatty and fun to hang out with. The entire tour took about 4.5 hours. It was basically a touch-&-go tour, with little time to explore more at every stop.

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3) Canal Cruise (60-min Relaxing Ride)

There were many canal cruise operators. We got ours free when we signed up for the Windmill Tour at “Grab-You-Guide.Com”. The cruise comes with an open glass top ceiling. One important tip for the shutter-bugs – DO NOT BOARD THE CRUISE WHEN IT IS 80% PACKED. The next cruise is just 15 minutes away, board the next cruise so that you get a good window seat to snap the photographs.

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4) Sex Museum 

Located near Central Station, the Sex Museum is worth a visit. In my opinion, there are so much more to see here than the Museum of Prostitution. For a low price of Euros 5 bucks, it is worth every sense.

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5) Van Gogh Museum 

Having seen one of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers at the National Gallery in London, I wanted to see the other version here at Amsterdam. In the end, I was so drawn into the sad tales of this extraordinary artist. This is another star attraction with a long queue. The Van Gogh Museum is worth a visit. With over 200 paintings, 500 drawings and more than 750 letters to discover, the museum reveals the colourful life of one of the world’s most iconic and misunderstood artists of our time. (No photography and bags allowed in this museum).

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6) Amsterdam Duck Store 

If you like the giant floating Rubber Duck by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman, you will like the rubber collections at Amsterdam Duck Store. With so many duck characters to choose from, I couldn’t resist my shopping addiction. In the end, I walked away with 2 DuckVaders and I am now thinking if I should get a “Donald Duck Trump” to expand this rubbery dust-collection hobby.

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So, this is it! A short European “Eat, Play, Work” trip. Back to work and presenting more demos. Haven’t blogged for almost 5 months, I am getting rusty with my vlog and blog. This time, it took me more a week to put all the photos, videos and stories together.
This was more than just a business-vacation. This trip brought out the happy vlogger and excitement in me. Finally, I am back on the road once more, with my Osmo and Mavic Pro.  More happy trips ahead!

CNY Reunion in Batam – The Rain Goddess Strikes Again?

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9 days ago, I flew back to Singapore to attend our annual family reunion tradition. Seemed like a long week of break but good times passed by so fast. There was never enough time for everyone. Just when I was done with all the CNY formalities and was about to settle down well into my holiday mood, it was time to pack and leave.

 

This was our 5th Staycation CNY reunion. Auntie Amy started this tradition back in 2013. Since then, we have gathered at Sentosa (2013), Desaru (2014), Kukup (2015), Bintan (2016) and this year, the Wong and Chua families gathered at Batam Island. I am sure the location for our 6th Reunion (2018) will be an interesting one since we have covered all the nearby resorts. I wondered where will we go next year.

Infamously known as the “Rain Goddess” (雨神), Auntie Amy’s wet spell seemed to have worn out this year. For the first time ever, we got to enjoy a slightly normal reunion (it rained only for a short while this year!). All our past reunions were cursed with dreadful stormy weathers whenever Auntie Amy was around. Last May, when she visited me in Hong Kong, the city experienced its first ever typhoon in spring. That’s how she got her notorious divine nickname.

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We stayed at Batam Turi Beach Resort. Built along a long stretch of rocky beach, cascaded on the slopes of a quiet hilly forest, there was so much room for everyone. It was a wonderful place to relax as it wasn’t over-crowded with noisy travel groups. The pool was pretty quiet throughout our stay. There were 2 long jetties that stretched out to the sea where resort guests can enjoy a relaxing breezy scenic stroll.

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During the day, the families spilt out to enjoy their own personal activities. The old folks took afternoon nap while the kids played in the pool. Leon and Chester went out for a run and Elkan and I explored the forest nearby. Without so much free time to spare, I flew the drone around the resort to stalk my relatives.

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At night, the Wong & Chua Bar opened outside my old folks’ chalet. Thanks to Chester’s recent drinking spree, this year, we were “highly motivated” and bought many bottles of red wine and whisky. Most of them were drinking red wine, I had to clear most of the whisky by myself. By the end of the first night, I found myself e-scooting dangerously in the dark down the steep slopes back to my chalet. Thankfully, I made it back without a scratch. I certainly made my dad worried when I failed to reply his message that night.

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The second night, the bar doubled up as a small family makeshift gambling den. The gambling table was so small that we kept dropping cards through the floor of the slitted chalet. It was pretty hilarious when we had to stop the games and sent a few of us under the chalet to recover the cards in the dark. 5 Wongs vs 3 Chuas, outnumbered but not beaten, dad and I emerged as big winners after 24 rounds of disruptive blackjack. (Thanks to the blessing of a wild trespassed fruit bat (蝙蝠=变福) which showered my seat with droppings 5 minutes before the game.)

The families spent a good relaxing 3 days 2 nights at the resort. Other than the usual, costly beach activities, there wasn’t much to do. Felicia and I chilled out by the balcony, looking out to the sea. Elkan was lying on the bed, inside the chalet, glued to his games and online chats. Dining at the resort was expensive and limited, so on our last evening, the families hired 3 cabs, took a long 45-minute ride to the nearest shopping complex (Nagoya Hill Shopping Mall) for massage, shopping and dining.

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Strangely, the old folks seemed to enjoy this year’s reunion, citing it as the best gathering ever. I guess it must be due to the unusual good weather and the endless liquor-sessions. For me, this was certainly the prettiest and coziest resort we have stayed so far. The food was decently good and the environment was even better. No overcrowding during morning breakfast buffet and at the pool, it was all peaceful and calm.

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My only complain – the stay was too short for us to explore the island. Another 2 more days would be better. At least, I will have more time (and opportunities) to convince my 2 gadget-hungry cousins to buy my spare drones. After all, the Rain Goddess was weak on her spell this year.

 

Snowy weekend with Brother Yei and the World’s Most Famous Jigokudani Snow Monkeys

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It is official – I am finally off to enjoy my long overdue, postponed break. 17 consecutive days in total. Just before I fly out to Singapore for my annual Chinese New Year family reunion, I made a short detour in Tokyo to visit my dearest cousin, Yei. For the past 2 years, he has been inviting me to visit him. (Even my dad stayed over at his place for 3 weeks last summer!) I tried a couple of times to fly over but due to my unpredictable work schedule, it was just impossible. Finally, 2 weeks ago, I found a perfect time slot just for him! It is just one promise I have to fulfil. Yeah, that’s the power of bromance.

 

Yei was excited when I told him about my visit. However, I imposed one condition. He must bring me to some nice places to fly drone. I was certain he was frowning when he saw my request over Wechat. Flying drone within Tokyo city is a definite no-no. The penalty is heavy (as high as HKD30,000 for first time offender).

Being such a wonderful doting older brother, he specially arranged a trip for me outside Tokyo. Early Saturday morning, we travelled a few hundred kilometres up north, to a small town call Karuizawa. The bullet train ride was only an hour but it teleported us to another completely different world. Just before the train entered the tunnel, it was all bare, dry, urban concrete landscape. After a few short minutes through the tunnel, the world outside was fascinating. It was covered by a thick coat of white snow! What a big constraint! Wow!

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Of course, my cousin enjoyed the surprise look on my face. I never expect to see snow this trip. I always have the impression that snow scene like this can only be found many hundred miles up north like in Fukushima and Hokkaido. So, you can imagine my candid bursts of discovery-happiness.

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We spent the short day exploring the small sleepy town. I wasn’t fully gear for the snowy condition. I kept slipping on the icy roads. The cold was extremely brutal. I didn’t packed enough juice for my dying gears. Within an hour, both my iPhone and Samsung shut down. Worst, my iPhone went flat from 70% to zero (in less than 10 minutes) while I was flying the drone over the ski resort. Without the iPhone, I lost sight of my drone. Thankfully, the auto return home function worked and I managed to land the drone manually when it flew back. What a waste, there were so many unused drone batteries left in my bag.

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With no drone to fly, Yei and I went shopping. There were a lot of tax-free outlet stores beside the train station. We went to the old town alley and bought some local food products (honey, jam and snacks). Yei was sporty to entertain me when I asked him to talk to my Osmo along the trip. I continued to test his patience and guess what, he even didn’t mind when I “forced” him to take a mushy, lovely, uncanny “bromance shot”. What a great brother!

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Next stop, I travelled further up north to see wild snow monkeys in onsen (hot spring pool) at Nagano. The Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park is located 3 train stops after Karuizawa station. From Nagano station (¥16,000/adult return trip from Tokyo Station), I took another 45-min express bus (at Depot 24 right below the train station, cost ¥1400/trip) to Jigokudani Valley where I hiked another 2km (40-min) to the park’s entrance (park closes at 4pm during winter, ¥800/adult).

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Covered in thick snow, the hiking trail was beautiful. My trip was full of delightful surprises and discoveries. It was only upon arrival when I realised the important significance and uniqueness of this attraction.

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The Jigokudani Snow Monkey Park is actually the ORIGINAL and ONLY site in the world where you find wild snow monkeys dipping themselves in onsen during winter. All these while, I thought the original site was in Hokkaido! There are other venues where you can find snow monkeys in onsen but none of those are in the wild, they are mostly in zoos and parks. You can imagine that surprise look on my face again when I realised this was actually THE PLACE that I saw on TV and newspapers repeatedly over the past 20 years! What a surprise! (The right analogy would be like seeing a Chinese castle and only to realise it was the Great Wall!)

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Despite its popularity and fame, there weren’t many tourists around. It was just a small group of 20 over visitors. I spent an hour at the park observing these magnificent primates up close and personal! These snow monkeys sure know how to indulge themselves! The only difference between the snow monkeys and us – they got to enjoy the onsen for free! Best of all, they enjoy free meals (wheat and barley) provided daily by the park rangers too! (The real reason for the feeding is to prevent the snow monkeys from trespassing, stealing food and harassing the visitors at the nearby onsen hotels. The park rangers hope to contain their movement within the forests.)

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Drone flying is not allowed as I learnt that there were many open air onsens where visitors dip without clothing. It will be extremely unpleasant for them to see a drone in the sky. Disappointed but I respected the privacy of the estates. Nevertheless, I had a relaxing time hiking in the snow and an awesome close encounter with these famous primates. What a great way to end this volatile Year of the Monkey!

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All in all, it was a short and great reunion with my cousin. Time was so short and precious that I didn’t even have time to meet my other lovely friends residing in Japan (Ernie, Martin and Mica!)

Back in Tokyo, Yei treated me to many top-class dining. Being a foodie, he loves good food, especially those awarded with Michelin Stars. Thanks to him, I put on extra kilos. Nevertheless, it was a really new experience for me to try so many new odd-looking-but-yummy dishes. I was never a foodie, so all these fancy dining concepts were refreshing strange for me.

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Yei flew back to Singapore this wee morning. Thanks for being such a wonderful, generous host and a dear brother. See you bro this Friday in Singapore! And not forgetting another mischievous monkey is waiting for me back home!

His virgin flight and crash!

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What a great sunny cool day today but it took me quite a bit of effort to “lure” Harshad to go out with us. In the end, it was the temptation of drone-flying that he accepted my invitation to join us for a short “droning hike” at Kowloon Reservoir.

I thought we were heading to a new place. We ended up at the notorious Monkey Hill (Kam Shan Country Park). There were so many curious and aggressive monkeys around, I never like coming here. Tracy got “robbed” by a monkey 5 years ago when we last hiked here. I was worried for the safety of my small drone. It is never a good idea to leave a drone on the ground with these “snatch thieves” around.

Keeping my word, I handed the controller to Harshad. Within seconds, he took the drone to the sky. Confidently and superbly in control, Harshad operated the drone like a pro. (That’s my evil plan to get him hooked so I can convert him to another drone buddy!). Just when he was flying in ecstasy, he crash-landed the drone. Nothing serious, except a small crack line on the camera lenses. Of course, that didn’t dampened our mood, Harshad successfully attempted his second flight.

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It was not bad at all. Harshad managed to capture quite a lot of good footage. He just need to fine-tune his turning and panning. All good. Now, I may proceed to step 2 – to get him buy this drone which he had just crashed. Sales take time, especially with my Indian prince.

Sunset at Hong Kong’s most beautiful peak – Tai Mo Shan (大帽山)

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8 long years in Hong Kong and I totally missed it. I never knew the sunset view at Hong Kong’s highest peak was so stunning. It simply took my breath away! All these years, I have completely overlooked it. Not until I saw the beautiful photographs on Aaron’s Facebook. Best of all, the 2nd-tallest coastal peak (at 957m tall, almost double the height of the Victoria Peak) of China is accessible by car. Its peak was just a short 30-minute drive away from Central! For lazy people like, there is no need to hike for hours to reach the top.

I underestimated the cold weather at the peak of Tai Mo Shan. Hiking against the cold strong wind, I was trembling in my shorts and slippers. Normally, I had high tolerance against cold weather but this was too much for me to bear. Even the batteries of my iPhone and drones weaken drastically. My shivering body kept telling me to descend the mountain but the beautiful view kept me going.

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There weren’t many hikers, I saw less than 10 people. It was the best time to fly the drones. I had 6 fully-charged drone batteries to last for at least 2 hours. The “strong wind warning” kept flashing on the screen. Mavic Pro was fairly stable and its nimble motors managed to keep it afloat steadily throughout the flight. In the end, it was my iPhone who let me down. Its battery went flat and I lost vision. Thankfully, Mavic Pro’s Return Home feature landed precisely where it took off.

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I stayed at the peak for another 15 minutes and watched the sun set. The night view was even more beautiful. With the last light out, the fog set in and the temperature dropped. A pity I wasn’t warmly dressed to last through the night. Time to make my way back to the city. I will be back for more – with better camera gears and most importantly, a hot pot of tea.

Whisky blending at the world’s best single malt distillery – Yilan Food Trip

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Heavy workload has taken quite an unusual toll on our yearly Christmas vacation. No matter how early I planned my vacation with Felicia and Elkan, major important projects disrupted all my planning. Unable to spend 2 weeks away with my family, I felt really terrible and guilty. Thankfully, they are very understanding and loving. After a few adjustments, I managed to plan a short weekend getaway with them in Taipei last weekend.

As always, I kept the destination a secret. Elkan had no idea where we were bringing him. He was extremely excited when we told him that we were flying to Malaysia. He is a foodie and he is fond of all savoury street food. Since he didn’t know we were traveling up north, he packed very little clothes. Thinking it must be hot and humid in Malaysia, Elkan wore shorts and jersey. He was actively planning his eating itinerary when we were walking on the air bridge.

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As blur as he can be, the streets of Taiwan do resemble the shop houses of Kuala Lumpur. He simply had no idea that we tricked him until we pointed out to him. Of course, he wasn’t intrigued by Taipei 101 or Ximending (西门町). What captivated his senses were the braised pork rice and peppery Taiwanese sausages!

We took the morning flight and arrived in Taipei at 1030am. We dropped our bags at the hotel and hired a taxi for a 4-hour round trip to Jiufen and Shifen. Weather was surprisingly good, this was the first time when I didn’t need to carry an umbrella. It was raining cats and dogs the last 4 times I was here.

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It was extremely crowded at Jiufen Old Street (九份老街). There were so many Singaporean tourists here too. It was so easy to identify our own people. Felicia, Tracy and Elkan were delighted by the local street delicacies. They just couldn’t stop munching.

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At Shifen Old Town (十份老街), we visited the newly renovated Shifen Waterfall Park (十份瀑布) and the old railway town where hundred of people were releasing sky lanterns (孔明灯/天灯) on the railway track. We were very lucky to see the train bypassing the old town (timing: 430pm-5pm). It was an unexpected and interesting sight. We didn’t even have time to figure out what was going on until we saw the approaching train. Within seconds, street vendors ushered the crowd out of the tracks. It was a very narrow track and when the train went by, I was just standing less 2 feets away. What an experience!

Despite the warning penalties and signages, the crowd gathered back at the track instantly right after the train left. What a dramatic and spectacular scene transformation.

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Day 2 – next morning, we headed out to Yilan (宜兰)with our Taiwanese friends, Chen and his son, Yifang. They drove 2 hours from Taizhong (台中) and picked us up at our hotel in Taipei. The journey to Yilan took around 90 minutes with a couple of jams along the highway.

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We stayed one night at a modern farm hotel (River Forest Farm Hotel) located at Dongshan. Surrounded by paddy fields and fancy villas, we explored and cycled around the big farming estate. The air was so fresh and cooling. The calm reflection of the paddy fields created a surreal landscape, a healthy and quiet place to calm my hectic mind.

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I was looking forward to fly my new Mavic Pro at Yilan but weather condition was awful. It rained for 2 continuous days. Stranded indoor, I had to forego all the outdoor itineraries. Instead, we visited some of Yilan’s prestigious food factories.

Kavalan Whisky Distillery was one of the main reasons why I made a stopover at Yilan. It is afterall the world’s best single malt Whisky! The distillery was free and opened to public. There was no age restriction, children of any ages were welcome. To my disappointment, there wasn’t any guided tour. Tour was pretty much self-guided and intuitive with many educational exhibits. I gave my son a short Whisky induction. From malting to distilling to ageing, we were greeted by Kavalan’s massive production line. We stopped by the retail store for more free whisky tasting and bought a couple of miniatures for our friends back home.

photo2photo5photo4Before we left, we signed up for an exclusive Whisky DIY Class where we got to blend and personalize  our own whisky. We spent about about 45 minutes inside the classroom experimenting over 15 unique blends. In the end, all of us picked Chen’s creation as the most favourite blend. Using his recipe (1.5A, 1.5B & 3C), I reproduced 2 bottles for our VIP friends!

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Chen recommended 2 other big factories that we must visit – the famous Taiwanese cookie (宜兰饼发明官) and rice noodle factory (宜兰虎牌米粉). Elkan was super happy because those were his favourite food! It was a great educational trip for the 2 young boys. For the adults, we enjoyed all the delicious food samplings! We had so much yummy food that there was no need for lunch! It felt like a road trip down Australia’s Margaret River where tourists are pampered with local dairy goodies.

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All in all, it was a very short getaway with the family. Work was constantly, subconsciously flashing in my mind despite being away from office. Nevertheless, it was a good break with many priceless family -&-friends moments (our failed Mannequin Challenge and Extreme Bottle Flip was hilarious). As the saying goes, work hard, play harder. Enjoy the photos and vlogs. Looking forward to our next adventure!

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