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?
Travelled in late 2013
Ho Chi Minh (“Ho Chi”) is an interesting city. It has all signs of an upcoming metropolis although the economists can debate how long that would take and whether it has what it takes. Nevertheless, there are ample number of new buildings coming up like many cities in India and draw the parallels of an emerging city in a fast growing country.
That said, the city does have its old world charm as well especially with some marquee buildings still preserving the old world architecture. Our idea for the trip to Ho Chi was to do more of a walking tour and not really see many “places of attractions” etc and we are very glad we did it this way.
That said, the city does have its old world charm as well especially with some marquee buildings still preserving the old world architecture.
Empires rise and fall. Great empires have their peak and then they falter and while some fall slowly but surely, others simply decimate quickly and suddenly due to varied factors. Well, I am not intelligent nor well researched enough on which category the history of Cambodia falls, but what I can say is that visiting the country did showcase the Great Empire Cambodia once had and that it lost its way in between to become one of Asia’s lesser prosperous countries now (2015).
I do see signs that the country wants to get back on its feet and regain some of the lost glory and ironically, the ruins of the glorious past are its immediate catalysts that are helping it do the same. This brings us to the journey of Angkor Wat. Which we took in early 2015. Read on for more! It was surely a delightful / insightful experience.
First written in 2009, updates in 2012, 2013, 2015
Chill-out, relax, eat eat and eat, Thailand is THE place in Asia for a relaxing and value for money vacation. It has some of the best beaches in the region, soooper warm and welcoming local people, great weather for most of the year, and of course – nothing beats the Thai messages especially while sipping away your fav cocktail at the beaches. Oh, how can we forget Thai food!!! Yummy spicy crabs, prawns, Thai green curry, and lot more!
Thailand is where we’d want to time and again – its one place we never “tick off” from our bucket list – to return again!
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…
Taiwan offers the perfect blend of nature and a vibrant city life. Coupled with the comforts offered by a well developed country, travelling around is a breeze as long as one manages to get around with slight language issue.The city of Taipei offers some good mix of nature, history, culture, modern life itself and in fact, one can spend a few days in the city itself and still not get enough of it.
Taiwan – Truly a great place, great people and great hospitality
Also, within small distances on the outskirts of the city, one can get to natural hot water spring resorts, mountains and the sea, amazing natural rock formations geo-park and so on. Overall, there is plenty the country has to offer and one can easily spend 1-2 weeks if one wants to see the country wholesomely.
Read on for
- Taipei – a city we loved for its warmth (in people)
- Day 2: Trip to Shifen and returning to see the Taipei 101
- Day 3: Yehliu, Beitou and Fisherman’s Wharf
- Taroko Gorge and the city of Hualien experiences.
TRAVELLED IN DEC 2012
Covered North Taiwan, including Taipei, Shifen and Taroko Gorge, Hualien.
Still to see the rest of Taiwan such as Koahsiung, Taichung etc.
- Airport/transfers: Taipei has two airports – Songshan Airport which is within the city and Taoyuan Airport which is further away from Taipei and bigger and more recently built, having an increasing proportion of international flights. Taoyuan airport itself is very well built, has a good modern feeling to it and quite efficient. The staff, like for more Taiwan people, are very warm and friendly although my dad mentioned his officer didn’t understand English which was surprising. The rest of us didn’t have that issue though. Access from both airports is easy with buses (including Express Airport Bus), taxis (more expensive option) and Touyuan also has the High Speed Rail (HSR) access. Overall, it is more expensive to come to the city relative to Songshan.
- For transfers after arrival, there are cabs, buses, MTR and the HSR (from Tuoyuan). We are told that the city is very safe to come by yourself even in late evenings and public transport access is a breeze.
- Phone connection: Surprisingly, we didnt find a lot of phone shops offering simcards. There are 7-11s which give sim cards but we were looking for proper shops so we could discuss what plan we wanted, as I wanted that having more data and less of talk time, since I can do my international calls through data (VoIP). There were some FarEastone shops but they were only selling mobile handsets so I was bit puzzled. However, this could be one off our experience.
- 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. So, the thumb rule didn’t matter for Taipei but nevertheless, the rate offered was still 1-2% less competitive than city rates, for whom it matters.
- Language: Mandarin is very commonly spoken there, and language is somewhat of an issue for non-Mandarin speakers. However, the people in Taipei and Hualien (where we travelled) were so warm and helpful that they did run around and find someone knowing bit of English to help us. While roaming around the city, we can say that most people knew English reasonably and all these factors helped us overcome the language issue quite easily.
- Getting around: Public transport is easy and convienient and not too expensive. Language was not much of an issue with taxi drivers but bus stops had all destinations written in Chinese only which was disappointing, though signs at Subway stops were in English and well displayed and that was never an issue. We went with our parents who were not very restrictive in their walking and hence accessing the public transport was not difficult at all. That said, if walking is a constraint, then access to some public transport such as Metro/Tube/Subway/MRT/MTR (whatever u call in your country) can be slightly more challenging though there are elevators and facilities in train to take care of that.
- Food and eating out: Taipei is known for some great street food for non-veg lovers and we think the reputation is not without a reason. The local food in the city is very good and a must try for those who like to experiment new cuisines, though for some time, forget that you’d be having more oil than your daily quota. Drinking Chinese tea with it will also help. For the not experimenting and veggies, there are limited options as such on the street as well as in local restaurants and Western restaurants are not that easy to find except in main streets and popular spots in the city.
- Tipping tips: Tipping in China is not as mandatory as in the US though typically tipping 5-10% is not bad anyways and some of the people we tipped appeared pleasantly surprised we did that.
Read on for Taipei and Taroko Gorge in Hualien experiences.
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.