Introduction and planning
“For the next trip, let’s throw a dart at the world map. Yeah, that sounds like a good idea.”
OK, ready! Close your eyes… shoot! WHACK, Thud!
So, where do you think it landed?
So as the title of this page suggests, we actually went to Phuket really late given that we are from Asia, living very close to this wonderful and famous beach destination and which is usually one of the first ones for Asians would go to. Given that we went to Uzbekistan, Africa, Iceland and most of SE Asia including Bali, it has indeed been “news!!!” that we have NOT been to Phuket yet!
So ladies and gentleman, travel buddies and backpackers… yes, we finally made it to (arguably) the most famous beach destination of Asia – Phuket in 2014! Checked! Done! Been there! Marked!
To be fair (to us!), there had been a few reasons for us not going to Phuket for quite a while…
Old Market of Siem Reap
So we reached Siem Reap after a good flight actually and a very supportive Isha who was a wonderful kid during the journey. In Siem Reap there are two main attractions, Angkor Wat temples (obviously!) and Old Market Area. We went to the latter the first and it was a nice easy evening to walk around the place. It was obviously very hot during the day but evenings were much more pleasant. Not totally but sufficiently to walk around for an hour or two.
I am sure there will be many posts to this page, since there is just so much to see.
And I realise this is a vacation travel blog but my first trip to England was due to work, in London in 2012. While work kept me busy for most of the weekdays, making most of the little opportunity, I thought of making most of the two weekends before and after the weekdays when I was working.
So, one weekend, I was off to Oxford where a kind friend studying in the university there showed the place around while London was a wonderful walking tour all by myself. Really enjoyed it… read on for more details…
TRAVEL NOTES HERE ARE FOR TRIPS IN DEC 2012, AUG 2013
- Airport/transfers: London has two airports – Heathrow Airport which is on the outskirts of the city, bigger and very busy, perhaps one of the busiest in the world in terms of aircraft traffic. The other airport, not surprisingly is within the city. Heathrow, where I got down from, was quite efficient in terms of getting through immigration, baggage and the likes, and connectivity to the city is very good. You have the buses, trains, cabs etc. The cabs can set you back by as much as 100 pounds if you are going to the eastern side of London and are not cheap at all. Nevertheless, overall, the arrival experience was a breeze. Departure however can be quite cumbersome mainly due to security check lines which are really long… really really long, unless you are on business class. Spare yourself as much as an hour sometimes for this. Otherwise, it is all smooth.
- Phone connection: There are many booths offering simcards, international calling cards etc at the airport. Else, the city has many shops offering sim cards for any data plan or voice plan. Not an issue.
- Money exchange: As a thumb-rule one should not exchange FX at the airport, but after coming out of the arrival gate, there are bank counters, which did offer competitive rates. There are many money exchangers in London (mostly run by Asians) whose rates are ok, not as competitive as I could get from Hong Kong, but nonetheless.
- Language: Haha, is mentioning English here needed? With presence of truly a huge variety of nationalities, one can hear a lot of languages being spoken in the city but of course, everyone would be knowing fairly decent English throughout the city.
- Getting around: Public transport is easy and convienient but quite expensive. Cabs can be prohibitive especially for long distances and tube system is the more efficient way in London. Other cities I am told, one is better off with car rentals.
- Food and eating out: London has a great mix of nationalities. And with that naturally comes a huge variety of cuisines to choose from, while deciding restaurantes. There are many spots throughout the city that can be famous for certain cuisines such as Turkish food, Lebanese food, Indian or Asian food, and so on. Clearly, London is a great place for food lovers and those who would love to try new cuisines in their somewhat unadulterated form and that too in one city. London!
- Tipping tips: Tipping in London I felt was not mandatory as in the US given that some restaurants charge service charges. However, be on a lookout whether this is being charged or not and typically, tipping is expected in restaurants, hotels and even cabs, albeit to a lower extent as that in US.
WALKING TOUR – LET THE PREPARATIONS BEGIN…
So, on Friday evening after winding up work post a fabulous drinks and dinner session with my ex-colleagues in the streets of London, I sign into my hotel (Sheraton Park hotel, decent hotel, great location in Knightsbridge), and start searching for the spots I have to capture for my two day tour. As much as I wanted my Oxford friend to come along, who would have better idea where to start from while I also have company (which later I realised, I do enjoy by myself as well), since I knew that was not happening I started frivolously searching for hotspots to cover.
So, after spending over 3-4 hours of research and shortlisting, I came down to the following spots that I needed to cover during the trip. Not to say that this list is exhausting, but I think I did a good enough job to cover what I thought were the key highlights of London.
So, day one started as a fine Saturday morning. I was told that on weekends, there is less rush on the road given that it is a holiday and Londoners like to spend weekend mornings at home relaxing while evenings can get active again. So, I thought of starting early (and it was still at 9am only, for Londoners that’s no way early). Nevertheless, I was prepared to walk more than 10-12 miles today so as to cover as much as I can and leave very little for Sunday as I also had an evening flight to catch.
Knightsbridge market, next to the Tube Station, a very central location dotted with some good hotels such as Sheraton and Mandarin Oriental, some very fine restaurants and the famous Harrods shopping mall
So, day one had the following spots I covered…
To an extent, one can say that the last day of our Taipei trip (before leaving for Hualien) was left for some of the best stuff Taipei could offer. However, while it appears to be, this above itinerary is actually not that hectic even with parents. We covered Yehliu geonational park, which is about two hours from Taipei by bus towards east of the Taiwan island. Then, Beitou which is about 45min by MRT in the northern outskirts of Taipei and summed up by a trip to the Fisherman’s Wharf.
Yehliu is a geopark with some stunning natural rock formations. It is next to the sea and hence has some great views and photography spots. About 1.5hours from Taipei by bus, which is NT$60 per person one way.
Beitou is a place where people go for natural hot water springs. There are many hotels there as well if one wants to stay and also have access to private natural hot water pools.
Fisherman’s Wharf is at the northern end of Taipei, near to Beitou where the Taipei river is close to meeting the sea. It is another place for some wonderful street food, seafood, a great photography spot and where one can just spend the evening relaxing. It is also next to Tamshi, which is a good mid-market shopping market.
Before we get into the details, incase you missed earlier, please see the day 1 or day 2 part of Taipei. We also visited Hualien in case you’re interested. Hualien is a retreat place with the famous Taroko Gorge trip.
On day 2, we planned a trip to Shifen, which is about waterfalls, walking amongst lush green lanes and roads and mountains. It is so much better for those who can walk a bit – not much but say, about a km in one go. For those with little kids, it is a manageable journey. A carrier is always helpful and think needed, given the walk involved. Do not expect much food help, so carry what your child needs here.
See Taipei day 1 link here for introduction to Taipei and day 1 highlights.
- Day 3: Yehliu, Beitou and Fisherman’s Wharf
- Taroko Gorge and the city of Hualien experiences.
The trip to Shifen is about 2 hours train journey away from Taipei. OK, note that Taiwan has three types of trains in the city, and one should not get confused.
- MRT – which is for Taipei’s metro/tube/subway type travel within Taipei only
- TRA – The slower version of cross country trains which runs across Taiwan country
- HSR – the newer train which is High Speed Rail again throughout the country, but more powerful, fast, but costlier.
We found Taipei to have the features of a fast paced capital city most countries would have but with a blend of nature to it. In many ways, we found it closer to say, Hong Kong rather than Singapore, New York while London is in another league altogether.
Despite being our first trip to the country and not knowing Mandarin, getting around was not an issue with the very efficient public transportation. However, bus travel can be a bit of an issue given that sign boards at the bus stops were only in Chinese in a lot of locations, if not all and hence we almost always needed to ask someone for the same. Eventually, that was a non issue in what was truly a fantastic experience.
Visited December 2012
Sunday morning, a wonderful walking tour behind and a nice and bright sunny day glowing with me gleeing at the thought of summing up my London tour with another day of photo-adventures.
But, before we begin, a few comments to review the hotel I stayed in – Sheraton Park Hotel, Knightsbridge.