Saturday 28 December 2013

Sydney Christmas


Christmas is all about kids and spending some time with family and friends.  This was a good one!

It was great to spend time with family and friends. Although it felt slightly strange to be  spending it in a hot country after Hong Kong which had felt cold and christmassy. Saying that, it rained on Christmas day in Sydney so it didn't feel too different from home!
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Thursday 19 December 2013

Changi Butterflies

Faced with a 10 hour daytime layover in Singapore, we'd usually head in to town and explore a bit.  However, we had a perfectly good time just enjoying the free theme park that is Changi International Airport.
On the one hand, Singapore Airlines cheaps out a bit by proving a cushy lounge for their Real business class passengers, and shunts all the Star Alliance Gold frequent fliers into a second-rate holding pen that satisfies their contractual obligations to the scheme.  It doesn't even have toilets, let alone showers.  But it does have lots of free food and self-service drink.  So the essentials are covered...
On the other hand there's lots of free goodies for everyone in the terminal.  There's dedicated darkened sleeping areas with comfy recliners.  There's a free movie theatre showing a non-stop schedule of the latest films.  There's even a huge multi-level butterfly garden to explore.  Not bad.
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Wednesday 18 December 2013

Friends and Family in Hong Kong


Hong Kong has been affectionately renamed by us as Food Kong as the whole 5 days revolved around food. It also felt a lot like Christmas with cold, rainy weather, Christmas decorations everywhere and mince pies from M&S. It was awesome to meet up with so many friends and family members. Ty and I both enjoyed the HK skyline from Emma's lovely apartment and at the Hopewell Centre where we had an afternoon tea in the revolving restaurant. I also loved visiting the beaches and learning more about the Tsang family history and had fun on a night out in Lang Kwai Fong with Miss Rickaby.

So glad that my Mom was able to fly out to meet us in HK for these few wintry days.  Nevertheless, it felt warming to explore around the island together, sharing in her recollections and memories of the little nooks and crannies that are so closely linked to our family's experience.  It brings both Phillippa and me a bit closer to our wider family roots, and helps offer a tiny seed of a sense of belonging to the place.

We also shuffled across to Macao on the coldest and wintriest day (8 degrees - that's cold for us now!).  I'd not been there since the Portuguese handover, and it was Phillippa's first trip.  We mostly hid indoors from the cold in the World's Largest Casino (so that wasn't too difficult - seeing as it is the sixth largest building on Earth by square footage).  However, we paradoxically elected to go into an even colder environment - the ice sculpture gallery at -4 degres.  That was cool, I suppose, though I'm not really sold on the use of coloured ice - it makes the sculptures just look like the cheap fibreglass cladding on the mechanical ponies of a trailered travelling fairground carousel.  Naff?  Nevertheless, seeing Nadine over there was a huge plus, and the little bakeries in town conjured up some amazing piping hot Sino-Portugese goodies while we waited.  All good!

Saturday 14 December 2013

Saigon to Shenzhen


It's been 15 years since I visited Vietnam - and I could hardly recognise the place!  The swarms of motorcycle traffic were familiar - but that was about it...  Nevertheless, it was great to enjoy the trappings of a developed tourist infrastructure - clean and cheap hotel rooms, menus with English, staff that are ready to help out tourists out, etc etc.  This swings both ways of course - in some places like Halong we had to keep our guard up for cheap scams and dodgy taxi just a bit too frequently to make it an enjoyable sparring game.  But I think we did fine, and it's been a great trip all the way up to the HK border!  (including some mighty comfy night trains and buses - no kidding!)

We had set ourselves an ambitious task- HCMC to Hong Kong over land in 10 days-you can't reschedule Christmas!

HCMC (Saigon) and Hanoi were both bustling energetic places with lots of people watching, food sampling and motorbike dodging. I really enjoyed the energy of both and particularly liked the rambling streets of Hanoi. Ty and I spent a fair amount of time on the trains travelling through the country, but I was impressed with the comfort and cleanliness of them and enjoyed the long journeys and even slept. Like Burma, I also enjoyed their sweets, especially the hot che which comes in all different varieties (mine was coconut goodness with glutinous bean paste balls-yum)

After stopping in Nha Trang for a night, we continued via Hanoi to Halong City. Having both heard wonderful things about the area we decided to exit through Vietnam this way. However, the place was not our favourite. It was deserted and as a result people were trying their luck left right and centre. The weather was atrocious and we couldn't even see the karst mountains (see the gloomy photo). The only positive thing about the place was the cheap accommodation and the great seafood.Ty and I had a fun time studying the mantis shrimp in the tank at the restaurant and then researching about them on wiki! 

The journey across the border into China was super smooth and easy and it was awesome to see the sheer size of everything in China, including the size of the guy in the poster enjoying his pampering at the spa! It was really great to meet up with friends on this leg of the trip. 
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