Sunday, July 23, 2006

Summer Sale in Hong Kong

Goodbye Singapore, hello Hong Kong... lovely clouds taken from the plane.

While everyone was still sound asleep at 4.30am in the morning, my friend and I arrived at the airport for our flight to Hong Kong – a truly shopping and food paradise.

This is my 6th visit to Hong Kong and I must say it’s the BEST. Our hotel, Harbour Plaza Metropolis, was not in the main shopping belt but it was next to the KCR Rail station and there was a free shuttle to Tsim Sha Tsui, making it easy to get around. I shopped till I dropped every single day (yeah literally). And unlike other trips where food was just to fill the stomach, I had lots of authentic and good Cantonese food and dessert this time round.

The weather was wet half the time we were there… good and bad. Good because it’s not so hot and the streets did’t stink as much. Bad because I had to carry a brollie all the time and I couldn’t take many nice photos. Therefore, I’ve also included things I did and photos I took during my last trip in 2004.

While most people were heading for Disneyland, I think the Poh Lin Monastery on Lantau Island is worth a visit. This was where I went in 2004 to see the huge Buddha statue and his relic kept in the monastery, followed by a vegetarian lunch in the dining hall.

This year, we did a very ‘aunty’ thing and went to not one but two markets – Tai Po Market and Fa Yuen Street market. I’ve always wanted to go to their gai si which is always shown in Hong Kong serials. And took some lovely and gross photos of bloodied fishes.

Another interesting place was the Goldfish Market where the whole street sells nothing but goldfishes. But I pitied those goldfishes that were dyed blue, green and yellow – I think it’s really cruel.

Must Eat!
As I said earlier, Hong Kong is a food paradise. Must-haves include char siew fan (barbecue pork rice) (yes, my friend ate this 4x!), siew gor (roast goose), gauw nam min (stew beef noodles), gong zhai min (instant noodles), wanton min (pork dumpling noodles), yu dan min (fish ball noodles), ju pa (pork chop), cheong fun (rice rolls), tan tart (egg tart), bo lo bao (polo bun) nai cha (milk tea), yin yang cha (milk tea mixed with coffee) and yes, the many different types of dessert!

The Le Coral Café, 香港仔鱼蛋粉 (xiangkangzai yudanfen fish ball noodles chain),许留香 (xiuliuxiang dessert chain), The Sweet Dynasty dessert chain are really good. But in general, most of the little eateries serve quality stuff. If we had more days there, we would have gone for zuocha (early morning tea a.k.a dim sum) and tried their famous claypot too.

If I were to give an award, it’ll go to the hawker centre style food court I found on Level 3 of Tai Po Market – really cheap and simply delicious. I also discovered that condense milk goes very well with peanut butter on toast.

Must Shop!
Even though I set myself a budget, I was on the verge of bursting it after my second day. Had no choice but to increase my budget because my friend there was going to bring me shopping on the next day.

These are the brands that are much cheaper than Singapore – Benetton, Sisley, Espirit, Prada, Geox etc. Other brands to look out for Michel Rene, Le Saunda, On Peddar… I can’t remember the rest. There are many huge malls that are worth a visit – Festival Walk at Kowloon Tong, City Plaza at Tai Koo Shing, IFC at Hong Kong station, Langham Place, are some of the newer malls. My friend also brought me to Argyle Centre which sells cheap stuff – I bought a HK$49 denim skirt and a HK$20 top. My best buy to date. And for the technobuff, check out the electronic shops – Fortress, Broadway etc – for your MP3 players, cameras and lenses – prices are about 10-30% lower than the lowest prices you can get in Singapore.

And my shopping haul? 8 tops, 8 bottoms, 2 pairs of shoes, a handbag, socks, bikini, 1 set of Korean drama, a Jang Donggun old movie, a bag load of Ichiban titbits for colleagues and friends and of course, lo po bang (old wife’s biscuits) and other food stuff for my dad. As usual, I went with one luggage, threw away all the clothes I was wearing and came back with 2 luggages ; )

In a nutshell
The trip was really great despite the fact that I had diarrhoea on my first day. Looks like I’ll have to try to make this an annual affair ; )

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Monday, April 17, 2006

Sun, sea, sand and s@#…@ Tioman

The sound of gentle waves lapping on the shores, birds chirping in the distance, the sight of playful butterflies on the shores, the fresh smell of the sea, the sound of silence… the tranquility… need I say more? This was the sight and sound that greeted me in the early morning on a little islet off Tioman. At low tide, you can just walk across from the main island, sit atop one of the rocks and enjoy the morning peace. And you have the whole islet to yourself so you and/or your partner can do almost anything you want, provided you don’t mind the birds watching.

I stayed at Paya Beach Resort on the South west part of Tioman island. While the beach was nothing to shout about compared to Patong Beach on Phuket or Santa Monica Beach in Los Angeles, the peace and tranquility that I got during my three days there more than made up for it. The water was crystal clear and very rich with marine life – sea urchins, sea cucumbers, marine fishes, crabs – could be seen just wading through the shoreline. I even saw a sea snake and an eagle!

Besides spending time on the beach, it was food, drink and more food.

Must Do!
The island boasts of unspoilt beauty, unlike many commercialised island resorts. If you just want to relax, you can do nothing – just bring a towel to the beach and enjoy the sun or read a book. Just remember to put lots of sunblock or risk looking like a cooked lobster at the end of the day! And beware of the irritating sandflies – they just can’t seem to stop landing on my body while I tanned.

For the active ones, snorkelling is a must but beware of sea bugs – you can’t see them but they sure are painful little pests. Or try jungle trekking. My friend and I were quite adventurous and decided to hike through the woods to the next village about an hour away. All we were told was to follow the electrical cables above us and it worked – we didn’t get lost. I must say the hike gave us a good workout which made us feel less guilty having binged and boozed so much everyday.

Must Eat!
In general, food is quite cheap but not great. What is highly recommended though is drinking – beer and wine is dirt cheap – because Tioman is a duty free island. In fact, a bottle of mineral water costs the same as a can of beer - RM3! And a reasonable bottle of wine cost only RM40 at the resort's restaurant. So, we followed the ang mohs, drinking even during the day, something I’ll never do back home. Do try the ramly burgers in the stores nearby the hotel - I sure enjoyed the special burger and banana fritters.

Must Shop!
Sorry, shopaholic me couldn’t find anything to buy except some titbits for my dad. Couldn’t even find a nice magnet for a friend.

In a nutshell…
Tioman is a perfect getaway from the busy city life… enjoy the peace and charm. Wish I can do this every other month to de-stress.

See my photos @

Saturday, January 28, 2006

2006 - Winter in Korea

It was by impulse that I decided to travel to Korea alone. All because I found a brand new winter coat that I couldn’t remember buying. And none of my friends were free to travel during this period. I still remember some people gave me funny looks when I told them about this adventure. This being the first time that I was travelling alone, I was naturally apprehensive initially. But as I found out later, all these were uncalled for. And I didn't feel lonely at all during the trip.

I took an 8 days, 6 nights trip that brought us to Jeju, Mount Sorak, Nami Island, Yongpyong, Everland, Lotte World and Seoul city. The itinerary was really packed. There were 13 of us in the tour group and surprisingly, I was not the only single traveller. There was a 68 year old granny who was also travelling alone. Auntie Sue was her name and she became my new idol. She certainly does not look her age and in my opinion, she’s even tougher than some of us who are much younger. She was really easy going and didn’t need any help with her luggage. The other tour mates, all married couples, were pretty nice people. When the security officer at Incheon wanted to confiscate my camera batteries, they readily offered to help me bring one each. But the unreasonable officer still confiscated the three sets of lithium batteries for what god knows what reasons. Anyway, I’m really thankful to meet such nice people on the trip.

This trip has also set many firsts for me – it was the first time I joined a tour in more than 10 years, I went for hotspring bath the ‘traditional way’, I skied, my dad missed me so much that he got a friend to contact me in Yongpyong – actually, I was really touched. And it’s also the first time I travelled without using my credit card – what a feat!

Must Do
Jeju – Climb up Seongsan Sunrise Peak. The peak is accessible by steps, some parts can be pretty steep and narrow. I enjoyed the climb as I knew this would be one of the few ‘workouts’ I was going to get on the trip. Interestingly, there was a group of Korean elderly folks who seemed to be having a picnic with a pig’s head in the centre of the picnic setting. Little did I know they were sharing food after a prayer session, or so says my tour guide.

Nami Island – Yes, this is the famous set where Winter Sonata was filmed. While it's really small, the winter scenes at the other end of the island, away from the tourist crowd, were really beautiful. If I had time, I could just sit there for hours enjoying the peace and taking in the views. It’s cute seeing the many couples armed with their little digi camera and tripod presumably to pose like Bae Yong Jun and Choi Ji Woo.

Mount Sorak – Another place with breathtaking wintry scenes. You can even see the moon’s
crescent up high in the mountains against the big blue sky. And the air is just so fresh and crisp. It was a pity I didn't have time to explore or go to the temple that's supposed to be deeper into the mountain.

Gangwon-do – Yongpyong Resort – This is another famous site where Winter Sonata was filmed. It is also where I learned how to ski. And I’m glad I managed the bare basics – ski down gentle slope, fall and get up and making slight turns – without breaking a leg or arm. All thanks to a very patient Chinese teacher whom my tour guide found.

Must Eat
Besides the standard Korean fare of bulgogi, bibimap, hotpot, etc, I strongly recommend the fruits, especially the Ginseng strawberry. It’s so sweet and juicy! Somehow, all the vegetables and fruits taste so good. Not forgetting the dried octopus that everyone loved. There’s also a great variety of delicious street food which costs as little as 500 won! For someone with a weak stomach, I was quite brave in trying a few types. That’s what travel insurance is for ; )

Must Buy
This being the winter season, even a shopaholic like me could not find much to buy. Especially when I didn’t want to be stuck with more winter clothing in sunny Singapore. But all the die-hard fans of Korean stars will probably snap up the many memorabilia in Myeondong -- key chains, notebooks, calendars, mugs, cushions etc you name it, they have it! Surprisingly, I wasn't tempted by any of the Jang Dong Gun items I saw - guess I've decided it's time to grow up ; )
Anyhow, visiting the Tapdong (underground shopping) is a must… just for the fun of it. There are also major departmental stores like Lotte Mall and Shinsegae that’s worth a stroll.

In the end, I just got lots of foodstuff from Lotte Mart. And yes, toiletries and cosmetics from The Face Shop -- Asia's answer to The Body Shop. Items are sold at half the price of what I have to pay for in Singapore.

In a nutshell...

... Treasure the sunrise and sunsets, and the beautiful scenery.

... Forget about netting any Korean hunks -- you'll only get to kiss Bae Yongjun standees that are everywhere! And don't ever stay in Waterpia Hanhwa Condo -- the rooms and mattresses are quite dirty.

Would I visit Korea again? 네. Certainly! Korea is such a huge and beautiful country. Next time round, I hope to visit Hallasan in Jeju, explore Mount Sorak and spend three days shopping in Seoul. This time round, it’ll be free and easy. But first, I’ll have to take some Korean lessons first.

Check out the following link for more photos: