Category Archives: Asia

Hangzhou, Suzhou and Wuxi – China

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Travelling within China needn’t be all about the Golden Triangle of Shanghai, Xian and Beijing as this is one country which encompasses a mammoth area in terms of touristic sites to visit and it’s worthy of going outside the ‘triangle’. Art, food and theatre play a major part of China’s cultural heritage and traditions which can be easily seen in other more tame cities such as Hangzhou, Suzhou and Wuxi.


However, there are some destinations which are best I feel to be a part of an organised tour when it comes to learning from local guides about what’s interesting and historical in that region. In particular, quaint smaller cities you might otherwise miss if travelling independently. Additionally, it takes away the stress of traffic congestion, having decent hotels already sorted with all transfers included and language barriers overcome.

Overall, distances are huge within China and there’s a plethora of airlines, trains and buses servicing the country. However, a packaged tour is generally regarded as value for money allowing you to take in the sights without too much fuss.


In the area around Hangzhou, Mei Jai Wu Village is a tea growing district and here we learn about the differences of green and black tea – and anything else in between.


Hills and fields of green as far as the eye can see, with little Chinese workers’ heads bobbing throughout the rows and covered with cornical hats to ward off the heat, which in turn, is lovingly soaked up by the precious bushes producing one of the world’s most enjoyable beverages.


Tea leaves which are really quite delicate are harvested by hand before being dried and crushed to give many of us our first hot drink of the day. Well mine anyway …


Hangzhou’s West Lake has influenced poets and painters throughout Chinese history for its natural beauty and historic relics. It’s among one of the most important sources of inspiration for Chinese garden designers. If you look on the back of all Chinese paper notes, you’ll find all the heritage-listed natural wonders of China are revered here, rather than other past prominent rulers.


And onward we go with plenty of sites to see along the way. Distances between these three cities by bus is anywhere between three and five hours depending on the traffic.


China is known for its silk and Suzhou is most famous for producing its silk. Here at a factory we’re  able to see how intricate and fine the technique is for yielding quality products from these small cocoons.


Here silkworms are munching away on mulberry leaves as if it were their last meal, and yes it really is … What’s so amazing about the silk-making process is that the silkworm creates its cocoon out of a single silk thread that is continuous for approximately 3,600 feet.


Among the processes, making cocoons to skeins is especially important to produce quality goods.


For an extra couple of Yuan, take a very quick boat ride around the perimeter of the factory. Really have to capitalise on those tourists coming in …


Xue Fucheng’s former residence, also known as the Xue Family Garden, is the biggest of its kind in Wuxi our next stop. Once belonging to the late Xue Fucheng, a famous ideologist and diplomat during the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the garden was built in 1894 and covers an area of 21,000 square metres.


The magnificent residence with its gardens had been restored and is open to tourists to admire a bygone era. Obviously it’s in the middle of Wuxi’s central business district and thankfully had been saved from developers.


All around when motoring between cities, you’ll witness some amazing architecture, waterways and bridges.


Beautiful gardens at Panmen Gardens in Suzhou and if you’re a guest of the Pan Pacific Hotel it’s entry is free. Only a six-minute walk from the scenic garden and five kilometres from the Tang Dynasty-era Shantang Street.


The Pagodas in the Gardens are located on the south-west corner of the Main Canal, or the encircling canal of Suzhou. Originally built during the Spring and Autumn period in the state of Wu, historians estimate it to be around 2,500 years old.


Suzhou Culture and Arts Centre is regarded as the landmark of the development of the city’s culture and arts.


End of the day, a cool breeze and understanding some feng shui will help keep you balanced and ready for the next part of your journey.


Airports in China are not really any different to most when it comes to security and safety. However, I’ve not seen a Ladies Only line before. Didn’t make too much of a difference with long lines anyway. Ensure you have plenty of time to make it to the airport if travelling independently as the traffic is horrendous and language barriers can take time for explanations to departing passengers.

Let the tour company’s guides take all the hassle out of your travel by taking a packaged tour such as this one which included our flight as well and seemed great value; especially when short on time …

Next stop Beijing.

Shanghai – China


Shanghai China; big, bold and growing faster by the day. In fact, in terms of size, the whole population of Australia sits within this city alone.

Cruising the River Huangpu alongside The Bund, Shanghai’s cosmopolitan cultural district, an evening tour of the waterfront is a must see. Dazzling lights allow you to see the city’s most significant landmarks cloaked by the atmospheric cover of darkness.


The Bund area is  one of the most visited shopping centres within Asia and commands consumers to spend up – even if you don’t want to you’ll be hard pressed …


Stretching for almost five kilometres from the Bund through to Jing’an Temple, Nanjing Road features massive modern multi-level shopping malls, historic stores and specialty stores. It dates back to the Qing Dynasty and many of the same shops are still trading today which is a major drawcard.


I’d read an article which stated strollers should be left at home if visiting the shopping areas. It seems this mother and child never made it out …


Peking Duck features throughout the city’s crazed food markets and outlets. The Chinese have appreciated the finer qualities of roast duck for a millennia and in that time, they’ve refined their cooking techniques into a virtual art form. Over the centuries, the specialty evolved to become China’s national dish. And, from my observation, each restaurant claims to have the best and it seems to me once a diner has found their favourite eatery, that’s where the family and friends will congregate for their national treasure when it comes to food.


According to the pricing system of the rail traffic network, approved by the Commodity Price Authority of Shanghai Municipality, the ticket price is calculated on a multi-level which is based on mileage. For passengers travelling between 0-6 kilometres, the ticket price will be RMB3. Should you be travelling more than 6 kilometres, then add RMB1 for every 10 kilometres. A ‘Shortest Path Method’ is adopted to calculate ticket prices. For instance, when there’s more than one transfer path between two metro stations, the ticket price is calculated based on the path with the shortest mileage.

As for ‘getting around’ Line 2 will take you all the way from Pudong International Airport to Hongqiao Airport Terminal 2 and Hongqiao Railway Station at the opposite end. The train on this green line also stops along the way with the major sights such as Jing’an Temple and The Bund if need. This is the fastest and easiest way of going from one place to another within Shanghai as the traffic is horrendous with cars only allowed on certain days on various main roads; depending on whether the registration plate ends in an odd or even number!


For sightseeing I’d recommend take a Hop On, Hop Off Big Bus to view as many sights as possible in a short time. Shanghai is one of the Chinese cities whereby the 72 hour transit visa is applicable for Australians should their forward journey be outside of China. For example continuing onto Europe or the USA. With this particular visa an Australian passenger cannot enter through/via Hong Kong on both their inward and outbound itineraries to China. However, if your itinerary departs from Australia to Shanghai  (or other allowable Chinese cities) and then onto Hong Kong once before returning home; this is permitted.

Check with the Chinese Visa Application Centre or Consulate as the information here was correct at the time of posting this blog.


Emerging Hongqiao is an area where the very stylish Meliá Shanghai Hongqiao have recently opened its doors in late March this year of 2017.

If you’ve ever hopped into a new plush car on the showroom floor, that’s what this Melia Hotel feels like when you enter its expansive reception area. Polished and ready for its guests to be treated with precision and guaranteed service.


Upgrade to the sophisticated Grand Suites which boasts a generous and very spacious 75 m²  lounge featuring neo-Chinese décors and includes a massive TV of which delivers a multitude of stations from around the globe.

The delightful bathroom with a separate bath and rain shower will keep ladies from leaving it in a hurry. But once you remember the room rate includes entry into the lofty Club Lounge, it might be the incentive one needs to ‘move on’ from the mirror for some cocktails and canapés to enjoy in the early evening.


Love this note pad as a gift given to guests at this level.  I’ve not seen anything similar given by other hotel groups of which I thought was quite clever and thoughtful.The slogan on the cover states: Clearing your mind is relaxing, but filling it with colour is even better.


Oh and did I mention the Spa Treatments which complement the sauna and steam room within the hotel’s premises? In record time the award-winning Spa had me rested like a soothed babe encased in a May Gibb’s Gumnut – one of which I didn’t want to leave!


But at the end of the day, this hotel offers peace and quiet in an area which is fast becoming the cultural hub for meetings and events. Meliá Shanghai Hongqiao is one of the premier convention and meeting hotels being only five minutes from Shanghai’s National Exhibition and Convention Centre. However, the hotel provides 700m² of conference space of its own with multi-function meeting rooms to cater for different needs of conference and incentive planners – in addition to guests wanting a more intimate space to conduct their business.
Check the Melia’s website for more details https://www.melia.com/

Guangzhou, China


Trains in China are fast and speed past crawling traffic in the bigger cities. The train to Guangzhou from Shenzhen takes about an hour and fares are approximately CNY40 Economy and First Class CNY80 one way per adult. Upon arrival at Guangzhou Station the signage is clear in both Chinese and English.

Guangjiu (Guangzhou-Kowloon in Hong Kong) Railway stretches from Guangzhou in the north to Hung Hom, Kowloon in the south and is 119 kilometres away if you’re considering returning to Hong Kong.

On today’s exchange rate A$1.00 = CNY 5.24
Traditional cuisine tea drinking with fragrant dried chrysanthemum flowers are steeped in hot water (usually 90 to 95 degrees celsius after cooling from being boiled) either in a teapot, cup or glass.  This has become quite a habit for me now, not to mention addictive!


First up on a Gourmet Tour is a spicy beef  noodle soup and is a perfect luncheon for a full day of sight seeing around Guangzhou.


There’s a myriad of restaurants which are well patronized with hoards of locals coming in with their families for a treat of some of the best and most traditional dishes.


Built in the memory of the Founding Father Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall is reputed as one of the most outstanding landmarks of Guangzhou.


As an art for more than 3,000 years, Chinese calligraphy is regarded as an illustrious tradition in its culture. It’s neither just writing Chinese characters nor writing well. It’s actually an art to express spirituality and this artistry carries with it the calligrapher’s personality, thoughts and ideas.


19th-century architecture shown at the Chen Clan Academy and story telling of traditional and ancient times is replicated here.


Chen Clan Academy, also known as Ancestral Temple of the Chen Family, was built as a college in 1888 and was designated as the Guangdong Museum of Folk Art in 1959.

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Oh really, more food! Local street specialities are found everywhere, just need to know what it is you like and then have it cooked in front of you … Thought I’d give the sponge-like loofa looking things a miss …


Time out to reflect. In China, Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism are the three main religious beliefs, with others being supplementary to them.


Noodles ready for sale. Long noodles mean having a long life. So don’t eat any short ones! The picturesque environs of Lizhiwan Canal and a variety of goods at the Qingping Market make for a lovely day out.


Tree struggling for space in an ancient land being built out with modernisation and technology.


Five Ram Statue built in 1959 to give the local farmers a means of praying for prosperity and a sizeable yield from their crops when droughts have been prevalent in the past.

You can wander through the expansive green oasis of Yuexiu Park and explore the highlights of the park, including Zhenhai Tower and Temple Of The Five Immortals.


After lunch – out and about with all the Aunties and Uncles. Theatre in the park is where retirees gather for some afternoon delights, and in particular traditional performances which only require a small donation which keeps themselves entertained.


Gourmet dinner stop, ideal for an authentic meal of Southern Chinese cuisine before sailing off for an hour-long cruise along the Pearl River. Quite spectacular with brightly lit up buildings and bridges constantly changing colours.


Buildings which are easily recognisable at night such as The Canton Tower, or Guangzhou Tower. It’s a 604 metres tall multi-purpose observation tower in the Haizhu District and here showing itself off whilst we’re enjoying the river cruise.


Bright in light – Liede Bridge opened in 2009 crosses over the  Pearl River and the 4.3 kilometres (2.7 miles) bridge connects Pazhou Island in Haizhu District with Tianhe.  


More spicy fish – yum!

Guangzhou, formerly known as Canton is the birthplace of Cantonese cuisine, one of the eight traditional culinary cuisines of China. As a major trading port, Guangzhou / Canton has many imported ingredients, as well as fresh ingredients from farms or fisheries. Guangzhou Street Food shares many similarities with Hong Kong cuisine as the two cities are located relatively near each other and has a cross influence.

There’s a myriad of flights from both Shenzhen and Guangzhou to all other destinations within China.

 

Shenzhen, China


Breakfast at The Langham Hotel in Shenzhen is one favourable reason to hop out of bed and face the day with more eating. Especially when it’s a Gourmet Tour you’re about to embark upon; not to mention taking in some of the sights around the city …


Symbolism of Shenzhen’s early days; the city was established in 1979 and is a modern, highly-technological metropolis of China having been a fishing village which was transformed and soon established as the fourth highest economical region in China. In August of the following year, the country’s first special economic zone was established here.

‘Being China’s largest port city and window of opening up to the outside world, Shenzhen saw 239 million people traveling across the border in 2015. The policy of allowing mainland citizens to travel to Hong Kong and Macau on an individual basis made Shenzhen an intermediate point for people’s trips to Hong Kong. Statistics show that more than 60% of people travelling from mainland cities to Hong Kong or overseas destinations via Hong Kong choose to make a stopover in Shenzhen.’ Source: http://english.sz.gov.cn/


Dongmen Place in Shenzhen is a commercial shopping area in Luohu that’s been ticking away for over 300 years. Truly a maze of streets and buildings and on weekends it’s incredibly busy (just to let you know). If you like relaxed shopping, try going during the week and early with most stores opening between 10 and 11 am, closing later in the evening between 9 and 11 pm – depending on the time of year and day.

Tips: Be mindful of pick pockets, it’s a large area spread across several blocks and you won’t see everything in one day, double check the quality.
Cooling off with a refreshing mist in Dongmen Place is my guide Lisa who knows the humidity during the Summer months can cause heat exhaustion – especially if you’re buying up big in a very busy shopping precinct.

It’s a short walk from Laojie Station on Line 1 of the Shenzhen metro.


Meeting some locals in the park ‘advertising’ for their children to hopefully find them a partner. You can come and check out the profiles of those who don’t have time to spend here during the day. However, it seems these Mums do have the opportunity and possibly keen to have their ‘adult’ kids move out by promoting them to others who are in a similar situation. Some youngsters are like sticky rice and very hard to separate!


Hongfa Temple is located in Xianhu Botanical Park which is about a 20 minute cab ride from Luoho in central Shenzhen. Buy your ticket at the gate, then either walk through the park (30 minutes or so) to the temple or take a shuttle bus up. However, be aware the buses do not operate in the latter part of the day and a walk down is definitely easier than going up. Just don’t leave it too late as the lighting wasn’t operating at the time of writing this post.


Buddhist Monks at the Temple whereby you’ll see numerous believers praying and burning incense in its assembly.


Fledging Buddhists Monks counsel a newly-wed lady who believes her husband may be cheating on her … Of course, not being privy to the conversation, I was quite keen to know what advice had been given by inexperienced, never married men and what they believe might be the right path for her future? To stay or not to stay …

 


Afterwards walking around the Fairy Lake Botanical Gardens, (referred to as SZBG or the Garden) it includes biodiversity conservation, scientific research, science education and tourism. First constructed in 1983 and then opened to the public in 1988, it’s relatively new and has received international recognition.


The China Folk Culture Village is located adjacent to the Splendid China theme park and features displays of the daily life and architecture of China’s 56 ethnic groups (including the minorities) and opened to the public in October 1991. An insight to the many regions of China of which most tourists only wish to visit the Golden Triangle of Xian, Beijing and Shanghai – not realising there’s so much more the country has to offer, especially in terms of natural beauty and an ancient civilisation which had lasted for centuries. Much of the Chinese culture has endured, even in today’s modernism.


A lot of fun to be had by youngsters and all the ‘aunties and uncles’ who accompany them at the Culture Village with various activities.


Once the Culture Village lights up, it’s a beautiful setting in the evening with families drawn to it like fireflies. Featuring throughout the year there’s several cultural festivals such as the Water Splashing Festival of the Dai, the Shawm Festival of the Miao, the Torch Festival of the Yi, the  Huaxia Great Cultural Temple Fair, the Xinjiang Cultural Festival and the Inner Mongolia Grassland Cultural Festival.


Dinner, ah yes there’s a reason I’m here on this Gourmet Tour. More food and the offerings are of the local cuisine with a very spicy fish dish on this occasion with seasonal vegetables on the menu.


In the performance called The Dragon and Phoenix, the entire troupe of entertainers combine their efforts to produce an outstanding and dazzling spectacle for both young and old. The costumes are amazing and set in a versatile theatrical setting and undoubtedly worthy of seeing.

Next stop Guangzhou, China.

Hong Kong to Shenzhen, China

 


If there’s no other reason to visit Hong Kong than to hang out with friends, then you’ll always enjoy a Herbal Tea tradition dating back as far as anyone can remember – either made at home or being sold on the street in ancient days. Here with my mate Polly who is enjoying  a Dampness Expelling Tea and mine a Five Flowers Tea  for the princely sum of HKD10 each in Mong Kok.

In the 50s and 60s Hong Kong, there wasn’t too much influence from the West, beverages such as coffee and English tea was mainly served for high society with British Government officials and merchants in hotel coffee shops. The economy was blooming, people started to have more leisure, but there still wasn’t too many places for people to ‘hang out’. Herbal Tea Shops were the places which first installed TVs and radios, so it was similar to a chilling place for the youth at that time. Afterwards it started to be replaced by coffee shops starting from the 1980s.


And, it’s even better when your friend Polly knows where to take you for Yum Cha!


If you’ve seen Ladies and Flower Markets in Hong Kong,  a trip to Men’s Market might be of interest to the people who patiently tread the shopping mill with their partners; maybe sifting through and snatching an odd reward in Apilu Street will appease them.


Some of the finds here are truly intriguing. Perhaps it’s one way of keeping your man (or lady) extremely happy and that’s not to say there’s some useful items to take home. Never know when you might fancy an antiquated movie projector because you’re tired of the remote-controlled TV at home? Nothing like a bit of nostalgia …


The Jade Market is the largest offering I’ve ever seen and if gems are your thing then take the MTR to Yau Ma Tei.  Exit C and walk south down Nathan Road and after passing under a road viaduct turn left into Kansu Street. The market is located near the junctions of Kansu Street and Battery Street (fourth on the left) almost opposite the attractive colonial Yau Ma Tei Police Station. You’ll find other interesting items as well …


Lunch on the go is cheap and additionally there’s a plethora of small traditional restaurants serving authentic cuisine.


Later during my stay, it was time to catch up with friends Alex and Gwynne from Sydney who were visiting family in Hong Kong. Here at Ladder Street, we’re making our way up to Sheung Wan, which consists entirely of stone steps.


We also navigated our way up onto the Mid-Levels Escalator which crosses Hollywood Road and heads up towards Shelley Street. Although the people movers go on and on upwards, bear in mind, they do not operate coming down and the walk can be a little steep. But the good news is that you can stop along the way at a myriad of bars and restaurants; and if it’s later in the day, perhaps stop for a couple of cocktails within ‘happy hour’ to ease the burden of a long walk downwards – you won’t even notice how far you’ve traipsed after some bevvies … Check out Lan Kwai Fong for a lively smart area to chill out.


So, I’m heading off next to Shenzhen in China which borders with Hong Kong and easiest for me whilst staying here is to take a train across. Takes about an hour from Mong Kok East Station and the cost one way for an adult is HKD40 in economy and HKD80 in First Class which has its own dedicated queue to board. On today’s exchange rate A$1.00 = HKD6.21


On the Hong Kong side of the border is Lo Wu station and Luohu Station at Shenzhen, China with  a number of stops en route. However, a new faster express train is currently being developed for the near future and will take approximately 17 minutes I’ve been advised.


Australians require a visa to enter China and if seeking a 72 hour visa-free stay, then check with the Chinese Visa Application Service Centre for updated information. You can go online and make an appointment prior to going into the Centre to speed up the process.
Address: Level 5/299 Elizabeth St, Sydney NSW 2000
Phone: (02) 9475 8800
Hours: Open Monday to Friday 9am–3pm

At Luohu Shenzhen, there’s an underground subway which is also a major rail station and the border crossing immigration point is here – all in the one place. It’s a mix of old and new buildings and though the signs can be a little vague, eventually you’ll find your way out … You can fill in the arrival form found on the counters before progressing to the Immigration line up.


Checking into The Langham Hotel in Shenzhen had been made a breeze at the Club Lounge which is  inclusive of internet access and VIP welcome amenities. My advice is to upgrade and treat yourselves to take advantage of the Club privileges which include daily breakfast for two, afternoon tea, evening cocktails with canapés and additionally all-day coffee/tea with light snacks.


Rooms are beautifully appointed with natural light streaming into the room and it’s just what Aussies love – bright, stylish rooms. Classic European style in the heart of modern Shenzhen – you may not want to leave the hotel once settled in!


And at the end of the day, why wouldn’t you want to relax and soak up the classy atmosphere at The Langham …

Somewhere out there on the left is Hong Kong and it’s easy to see why the residents come in droves for a short break away when you can experience luxury at an affordable price in an elegant five-star hotel such as this one.

Next blog post – Shenzhen sights and Gourmet Tour.

Seoul, South Korea – Asia

travel_gracefully-c-2016-15En route to Nepal with Korean Airlines (KE) and Crooked Compass – a small niche tour company who encourages you to experience the lesser known and immersive side of many unique destinations. ‘Follow a different path’ is their mantra and we’re about to explore with our group the alternate southern side of the country rather than heading off to Base Camp style trekking.

One of the fantastic benefits of being a Korean Airlines member is that, once you have accumulated 4,000 points redeemable, you can gain entry into one of the participating lounges around the world – provided you are holding a KE boarding pass for onward travel.

Personally I would recommend at least three nights in Seoul as it’s one of those Asian cities which connects the senses by embracing culture, art and history, even though it leads a distinctive urban lifestyle.

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And the start to a wondrous trip can’t be any easier than relaxing in the Sky Team Lounge at Sydney Airport.

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There’s a few transport options into the city from Seoul’s Incheon International Airport; the bus being one of the most convenient ways and will deliver at designated stops within its area. Check with your hotel as it could mean either the  bus or train may be the better path to their address. Additionally taxis are available and more expensive as the ride will take approximately one hour regardless.

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Entrance of Four Seasons Hotel Seoul exudes class and an undeniably stylish décor. It’s smack in the centre of all attractions in Gwanghwamun – the very heart of Seoul and not far from the Gyeongbok Palace.

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The Four Seasons Seoul being a five-star hotel, offers 317 guest rooms and luxury suites. My recommendation is to upgrade which allows entry into the Executive Club Lounge.

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Wish this was my desk everyday … And the TV, well it might have to go – too much of a distraction … not!

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Buffet lunch at the hotel cannot be missed. Endless choices from all over the world.

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And, what are some of the things we love about Korean food? It’s all those tasty condiments which go with the main dishes. So much to choose from and if you like spicy, then this is the country to visit.

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Isadong is a shopper’s dream with so much on offer – of course it’s the tourist precinct but can’t be missed.  It gained in popularity with international tourists during the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

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Games, toys and techno? It’s all here.

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Smells divine too.

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A night out with my group calls for some cool décor and a place to relax such as Hangik, a neighbourhood wedged between two Universities which has a thriving arts and indie music scene. It’s home to an array of independent clothing labels and off-the-wall vintage shops. The relaxed vibe here can be best felt in any one of the area’s clubs, bars or cafés and is the closest city area to/from the airport. Located on Seoul’s Metro Line 11 is easy to find.

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In Hongdae, we  headed towards  the Mint Bar to enjoy their signature cocktail with Tom about to tackle his and yes, you have to sip and slurp with the bottle still in the glass.

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Even if you’re not a beer drinker, you’ll enjoy these,  the Coronarita! An icey blend of corona beer and a margarita.

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Going back to Incheon Airport by train is incredibly straight forward with a plethora of stations underground which feed into the main subway and effectively take travellers to where they need to go.

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Clean, fast and comfortable the train slices through any traffic hiccups. Cost is approximately A$4.00 one way per adult.

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Back at the airport and this has to be one of the most efficient airports in the world. Have your comfy shoes on because you’ll be running a marathon to check out all the duty free shops.

Next stop Kathmandu Nepal – Namaste till next week’s blog.

Labuan Bajo, Flores Islands – Indonesia

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Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport is 13 kilometres south of Denpasar. It’s Indonesia’s third-busiest international airport and currently one that has a visa waiver on Australians travelling to the country as a tourist (at the time of writing this post was still valid).  A saving of about USD35.00 per adult.

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A short flight of 90 minutes duration and Labuan Bajo (LBJ) is well serviced by Garuda Indonesia Airlines from Denpasar.

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Until not so long ago, Flores was hardly penetrable because of the chain of volcanoes which stretch across the 450 kilometre long but narrow island. Increasing numbers of tourists are visiting as Flores I’m told, is what Bali used to be like, but only 40 years ago.

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When you see the harbour for the first time, you’ll know this is a hidden gem, with stunning views of which even the locals will stop to take in the breathtaking aspect of this ramshackle hilltop’s vantage point.

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My stay was with the Jayakarta Suites Komodo-Flores is perhaps the best property located on the white sandy beaches of Labuan Bajo’s outskirts. It’s simply surrounded by beautiful sea views and stunning mountainous scenery.

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A walk along the foreshore from the property, it’s incredibly quiet and the water seems much calmer and safer here.

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A five-minute ride by Jayakarta Resort’s  shuttle service into the centre of the township reveals one of the jumping-off points for the trip to Komodo and Rinca Islands. It also marks the completion (or starting) point of the popular Lombok-Sumbawa-Komodo-Flores boat trips.

The giant pre-historic lizards, Komodo Dragons can be found in the Komodo National Park only half an hour or so by boat from Labuan Bajo. However, Rinca Island ( or Pulau Rinca) is a more convenient place to see them rather than Komodo island. The mating season for the dragons is July and August so they are often harder to spot during this time. Some privacy please …

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Yeah, yeah I know I shouldn’t be picked up by strangers on motorbikes, but $5.00 for a few hours seems reasonable for a bird’s eye view of the island – and besides I’m much bigger than my poor little driver.

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So this is what it’s like to fill up at the fuel station … hop in line and wait for your turn.

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Some absolute bargains around, just a little difficult to take home at times but worth considering.

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And some times, you’ll meet up with the youngsters from the neighbourhood. The cost for this photo was a pen each. Don’t forget when you travel to various destinations that pens, notepads and any other stationery is greatly appreciated by schools. Great way of clearing out the drawers at home and helping out because most of these items are quite expensive for young families.

Excellent to see children having fun with some old paint cans and not yet caught up in the techno age.

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There’s a number of other touristic sights in Flores such as Mirror Cave, Snake Cave, Cunca Rami Waterfall and the markets at night.

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Stall holders are always friendly and happy enough to do a deal.

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Hot, hot, hot are these chilies …

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Down by the waterfront of the township, it’s sort of l-shaped with a fish market worthy of an early morning browse in the centre. The main street only goes around one way – so if you’re in a vehicle and miss something,  you’ll have to go round again. And why not? The view from the top is spectacular.

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The marketers set up early in the evening and are open till approximately 9:00 pm each night with a number of food stalls and small eateries. There’s also shops to purchase any necessities if need. Fresh grilled fish and other Indonesian dishes are on offer and the prices depend on the type of fish and its size.

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Like a good strong coffee? Flores is definitely the place to purchase your stash.

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As dusk sets in, so does the spectacular sights of the region, gorgeous coral reefs and more than fifty dive spots around the island. It’s a fantastic place to experience different adventures such as diving, snorkelling and fishing – just a divine paradise for all to enjoy.

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For dinner at the resort, I’m trying out the local dish of Kerapu which is a yellow fish soup with rice. The chef here makes it with so many of the traditional spices which Indonesia is famous for – don’t go past this one!

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Pool at the Jayakarta Resort is easily accessible with the most stunning sunsets each night – just absorb it as you’re soaking up the panorama whilst splashing around in the cool water.

Legian and Kuta Hotels in Bali – Indonesia

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Along the beach front from Seminyak to Legian and Kuta it’s walkable and some might think Seminyak is somewhat more upmarket, however it certainly seemed to have ‘grown up’ since I was last there.

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A stay at the Jayakarta Hotel is situated in lush gardens and located right on Legian Beach.

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This Bali hotel is also within walking distance to shopping and entertainment areas.

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While offering peace and tranquillity, the grounds are perfectly manicured.

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Even though the beach is at the ‘back gate’, it’s always handy to have a clean safe pool for families with small youngsters.

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Beach area is a lot cleaner and seems to have a greater presence of security these days.

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Undoubtedly, Frank is ready and willing to show us non surfers how it’s done … Have a drink while you’re having your dreadlocks done too?

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Beach areas are never short on snacks!

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Bali has no shortage of temples, monasteries, monuments and historical landmarks, all of which are dotted around the island.

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Kuta Paradiso Hotel is also few minutes walking distance from Kuta Beach, the local arts market, restaurants, night clubs, shops and close to the famous Waterbom Bali Water Park, Discovery Shopping Mall, Matahari and Kuta-Square shopping centres.

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Secluded with your own bathing area, the accommodation is fantastic for couples wanting their own privacy. A separate kitchenette with a dining and lounge area is totally separate to the bedroom and its outlook is over the pool.

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Quiet accommodation in the heart of Kuta, who’d have thought …

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Breakfast, my favourite meal of the day starts off with some local delicacies including rice parcels.

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Yum, healthy and tasty – can’t ask for any more than these to be added into a meal during the day.

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And with a rooftop view just adds to the tranquil setting of the area.

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Well Kuta and Legian have been interesting to visit after so many years, but next stop is Labuan Bajo in the Flores region of Indonesia.

Benoa, Bali – Indonesia

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It’s never been easier for Australians to visit Bali, Indonesia as the visa fee of about USD35.00 has been made exempt by the government until further notice for tourists within a 30 day stay and single entry. As it’s airport specific for international travellers please check www.visalink.com.au for updated information. At the time of writing this Denpasar Ngurah Rai Airport was also exempt.

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So life’s a beach and I’m heading off to one of the best areas in Bali and that’s Tanjung Benoa, Nusa Dua.

A little quieter than some other areas of Bali, but that suits me these days …

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If going to Tanjung Benoa it’s located 15 kilometres from (Ngurah Rai) Denpasar International Airport and about A$10-20 taxi ride.

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The new Mandara Toll Road if coming in from the main areas of Bali helps significantly in easing of the traffic conditions and makes a faster trip. IDR11,000 is equivalent to AUD1.11 on today’s exchange rate.

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Freeway heading to Tanjung Benoa; like so many other beachside destinations in Bali, it used to be a fishing village and an old dock. The development of the peninsula has been momentous over the years as most of the shore-side properties are now hotels, resorts and water sports operators.

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Romantic entry into the Sol Beach House Benoa’s reception area, an all-inclusive property with three various packages (starting with Blue, Silver and Gold) which offer guests a rate suitable for their budget. Free WiFi is offered to all who stay with a fabulous daily buffet breakfast.

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Rooms are chic and classy with a cool aqua-blue setting which conveys a sense of space and simplicity. All room types have a balcony.

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Fine dining at The Amarta Italian Restaurant cannot be bypassed and a real treat – especially if you love pizza!

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Beautiful grounds of the resort resemble a lush tropical paradise. Birdlife is abundant here as it’s a newish resort area with pristine white beaches.

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Tanjung Beach, even on an overcast windy day, is still relatively calm and seems a safer area for families with youngsters. Fishing takes place when tides are low and it’s relaxing to watch others do some the work …

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Service with a smile on Tanjung beach’s private area – for full relaxation and rest, grab a cocktail and snack while admiring the view.

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Walk along the beach to see local handicrafts being made first hand.

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So it’s time to say bye to Tanjung Benoa and like many others I’m ‘on my bike’ and wishing I could stay longer at the Sol House Benoa …

You can contact me for further information or directly at www.melia.com and look for Sol Hotels and Resorts.

Seminyak, Bali – Indonesia

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Off to Bali, I’ve travelled on Garuda Indonesia on a number of occasions and Business Class has taken a new style of its own – even going back years ago there was ample room but take a look below at the new Business Class seating.

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Business Class seats in the Airbus A330 can be fully reclined up to 180 degrees.

24 spacious “Super Diamond” seats, in a 1-2-1 configuration giving all guests direct aisle access
• 24.4” width seat reclining into a fully flat bed
• 16” LCD touchscreen in-flight entertainment system
• Restaurant style service with sumptuous meals and a selection of premium beverages
• Personal storage
• USB & power outlet
• 40kg checked baggage allowance
• Priority check in and lounge access

Photo courtesy of Garuda Indonesia.

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Before departure at the SkyTeam Lounge, there’s the ability to relax after Immigration and duty free shopping. Here you can just sit and watch over the apron all the airlines coming and going about their routine.

Located on the Terminal 1 departure level at Pier B, the Sydney Lounge offers everything you need to unwind in comfort, do some work or grab a bite before your flight.

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Surf boards are permitted, however check with the airline their policy on weight and dimensions for carriage as Bali is a mecca for surfers.

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Courtyard by Marriott Bali Seminyak Resort’s double bedroom.

When was the last time you stayed at a Courtyard Marriott? Bet it wasn’t a resort … This property in Seminyak is one of two resorts in Bali and it’s just two years old (the other is located at Nusa Dua).

Incredibly impressed with the very modern, contempory and stylish rooms – mainly two types – Deluxe room (city/street view) and Deluxe Pool View room of which faces in towards the swim-up bar and inffinity pool spilling over into another lower level pool which is quieter and a little less celebratory – all within the complex.

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A swim-up bar is all that Aussies want at times without having to leave the property, and just simply enjoy what’s in front of them.  It’s all here …

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Breakfast at this hotel is somewhat a wowser! Anyone who orders the usual obligatory eggs and bacon are missing out. I travel to eat the local cuisine, doesn’t matter what time in the day it is …

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Change money at your hotel wherever possible – even if it’s a slightly lower rate. There’s a myriad of Money Changers all over Bali, however you may think the exchange rate  given is better, but when you receive back the difference between IDR70,000 and IDR7,000 it’s about A$6.50 on today’s exchange rate. You may not pick up the difference in currency at first sight and it’s easily missed, but at least the major hotels will give you the correct amount owing to you … It’s about the cost of two bottles of beer!

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Seminyak Village, not too far away from anything – it’s a modern and fashionable outlet with lots of commercial goodies for sale.

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The Junction, not to be missed as it’s one of the busiest cross roads and a fabulous bar.

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Before I die … Bit of street art to check out while walking around.

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Shopping for signs? Bali’s a treasure trove of fine art, handicrafts, antique and semi-antique furniture, paintings, delicately carved jewellery, wood and stone carvings, masks, woven and dyed fabrics.

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Self explanatory …

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Can’t say I’ve seen too many black cats in Bali, but this one’s staying close to its owner.

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The Library Café in Seminyak is one of my favourites and with my new drink of choice – Affogato to cool down while people watching.

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A beach buggy or a short walk from my hotel to the beach area is easily accessible.

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And, everyone loves having their favourite seat with a few bevvies waiting for the sun set.

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End of the day having a swim and cooling off ready for the next day’s swimming, eating and shopping – generally having a good time with lots of bargains on offer. Make sure you travel over lightly with your luggage because you’ll go home with more than you hoped for, and stall holders are often open till about 11:00 pm at night.