Seoul, South Korea Travelogue – Through the eyes of first timer.

Seoul. There is a reason this city is called special. From its advanced technology to its growing K-pop culture and fashion industry, this city makes a statement as the destination favorite of tourists with every monumental stride it takes. It actually baffles me that I didn’t go to Seoul sooner; nevertheless, the important things is, I’ve finally seen this city (in December 2018) for myself and well, I love it! For 12 days and 11 nights, I explored the city documenting my experience at various tourist sites. And now, as I recall the vast array of activities and sights that I’ve done and seen, I’ve now decided to whip up this travelogue to share to you the beauty of Seoul.

Gangnam

Gangnam district in Seoul was made famous in that K-pop song heard around the world – Oppa Gangnam Style! and well known as a rather affluent district with high-end shopping. To me, Gangnam feels like a ‘high life’ haha, with high fashion, good food, and fancy restaurants and cafes.

Gyeobokgung Palace

An imposing reminder of the Joseon Dynasty, this site welcomes tourists to the South Korean Royalties of the 14th century. Simply, you are not visiting Seoul if you do not visit Gyeongbukgung Palace together with Gwanghwamun Gate. This palace carries so much history that it is a must for all visitors to visit. The Palace can be easily explored in a few hours. The buildings are relatively new, much was destroyed in the many wars of Korea, but have been rebuilt in style. It is very nice and well-maintained which says a lot about the history of Koreans. There is also a changing guard ceremony which should not be missed. I have also heard that if you wear a hanbok, entrance is free! There were costumes of the royal guards for you to wear for free too! Good for “instagramable” photos.

Buckchon Hanok Village 

This historic village stands as a memorial to the traditions and rich history of South Korea. It dates back 600 years ago and is one of the only places in Korea where the old ways are still preserved. Good location for many tourists to change to Korean costume and take pictures in this village. To be honest, nothing really big deal to me once you have visited China. It was just a stretch of old houses which resembled the ancient time. Time spent there was around 15-30mins? Moving on …

Jongmyo Royal Shrine 

The fact that this site is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site is a very strong reason to visit. It is one of the oldest shrines in Korea. Kings worshipped here since the 14th century. The spirit tablets of the kings and queens are kept here and ritual ceremonies with music and dance still take place. It is a good example of a Confucian royal ancestral shrine. There are guided tours in Korean, Japanese, English, and Chinese at specific times. The various buildings are interesting but some were closed during Sunday and could be viewed from the outside. I wish there was more to see. The guide did a good job explaining the history though. I loved walking the grounds. The place is calming and very peaceful.

Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP)

You wouldn’t want to miss the LED rose installations that brighten up the DDP with their enigmatic beauty. The display of lights that lit up as soon as the sunset held me spellbound. The architecture was fascinating enough to capture even a layman’s eyes like mine. At ever angle near the building, it was stunning to see it especially close to sunset. I spent some time taking photos of the building. Even more fascinating was how the building was not so obtrusive that it was rude to the environment. It remained modestly unobtrusive, retaining the harmony and yet feature its avant-garde intent.

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Changdeokgung Palace

This site once served as the home to the second and final emperor of Korea- Sunjong after serving royal families for 270. Another UNESCO Heritage Site, Seoul doesn’t cease to amaze me in its ability to preserve its history. This is one of “similar” places in Seoul. There are five or six places where the previous emperors have lived. Not a big difference, but the colors are a little bit different and the locations are different. There is a certain charm to the place and gives you an insight on how the kings and the princesses lived their lives centuries ago. Again, there are Korean costume rentals available where you can wear a costume which will seal your visit.  I did not do the secret gardens, I will keep that for next time.

Everland

This is Korea’s version of Disney. Plenty of rides, activities, shows, and fireworks to keep the family busy. I was there in the winter, it was too cold! My fingers and toes were practically frozen, but the lines were not too long. The parade in the evening is spectacular and you must stay for the fireworks at 9.30pm. I did not get to see the fireworks cause I had to catch the last bus ride back to Seoul. The wooden roller coaster is the highlight for thrill seekers (T-Express) –  It’s like a roller coaster but on the wooden rails which they claim to be the safest in the world. Overall, the place is huge and I think you will definitely take at least one day to finish.

Hongdae

This region bursts open with its arts, indie music culture and clubs. With so much flare and life, I believe it is safe to say that Hongdae has embraced the Western culture. I find it hard to explain what exactly this place is about. It has good shopping street, loads of small eateries to sink your teeth into, and not to mention the variety of street performances by what seems to be young budding K-pop singers, dancers etc. especially at night, buskers, generally young adults, come out and set up areas where they sing, play music and dance. The dancers, though, are amazing. The atmosphere is spectacular and there are so many people crowded around these performers and you can just stand there all night, absorbed in the enthusiasm and passion. Quite a bit to see here.  Probably spent a half day here and enjoyed the stroll and people watching.

Myeong-Dong 

It’s a long day, you have seen much of the beauty of Seoul and you are looking for a place to eat, shop and relax. Myeong-Dong should be your starting point.

If you would like to pick up a different type of cosmetic products, this is one stop for all. Do note that the pushcart on the streets is retailing more expensive than the underground stalls. My advice is you must know what you want to get from here and stay focus on your objective!  A lot of small lanes have similar shops.  There is so much to see, well-known (and not so well-known) shops to browse, and a plethora of restaurants, and street food vendors! Oh yes, expensive street vendors nonetheless.  They sell grilled lobsters on the street for goodness sake.

Common Ground

Apparently it is the biggest container “mall”. It is somewhat interesting but the things are quite expensive. I went there as I need to find somewhere warm to hide from the cold. Nothing much to do here. There are shopping and food, however, it is just a very small area. Most people just head there for photo taking purpose.

Octopus Street 

This place is packed with 30 different restaurants, each with their special menus of delicious meals made out of octopus. There can’t be a better place to have a taste of octopus in South Korea.

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Seoullo 7017 Sky Garden

This place gives you a good look and feel of the city, while still being perfectly safe. It’s a disused road that’s turned into an urban walkway. Nice nature and peaceful to sit. Extends from myeongdong to Seoul station. On a nice night, the walk from one end to the other is fabulous. It was worth the cold. It was beautifully lit and I very much enjoyed the views of the city.

Ihwa Mural Village (or at least it once was)

Well, the murals may not be as many as it used to be but it was still good to take that stroll up the slope towards Naksan Park. Nice cafe and little eateries as you go mural hunting. Before I visited this place I looked for past review, I thought there will be more mural paintings to see. But they are all either already faded away or badly painted over. Read on blogs that some murals were removed by the residents there as they could not take it anymore and witnessed some being covered by paint.

Naksan Park

Now, this is a place I would actually seek out because I love panoramic views but it was an unexpected find as I discovered it on my hiked uphill along the Ihwa Mural Village. The park is situated high on a ridge overlooking several Seoul neighborhoods, so it was a great place for views. This is part of the old city wall in Seoul. The walk up to the wall at the top of the hill is very steep but worth the effort.

 

I would like to end this travelogue by saying that the soul of Seoul is enigmatic, to say the least. With its fullness of life, drive for culture and vision into the future, Seoul indeed should be in your bucket list. Cheers!

 

Quick and Easy Side Trip from Taipei: Hualien.

Travel from Taipei to Hualien is made easy. This article is meant to be a quick and easy, guide for those who are looking for an idea to get out of Taipei for 3 days 2 nights. Before our trip, I read how Hualien and the eastern coast of Taiwan is a special place for many Taiwanese. As short as our trip was, it was more than enough time for us to understand why it’s so special.

Traveling to Hualien. 

We traveled to Hualien from by train from Taipei. There are 3 lines: Tze Chiang line,
Taroko line and Puruma line (I think). We took Tze Chiang line to Hualien and the whole journey is around 2.5 hours.

The train system in Taiwan is so efficient that I wouldn’t even think of traveling any other way.  Unless you’re in an extreme rush or couldn’t purchase train tickets, then traveling to Hualien by train is the best way to go. The trains are fast, clean and comfortable. But you can also elect to travel by bus, taxi or get a flight; you are truly spoilt for choice. The good news is that all these modes of transport are easy, friendly and comfortable.

Top 5 Things to do in Hualien.

1. Hike the Yan Zi Kao Trail (Part of Taroko George).

A trip to Taroko Gorge is the best thing you can do in Hualien. One of the main attraction is Yan Zi Kao Trail. Lauded as one of the world’s fascinating natural phenomena, this trail provides you with stunning scenery as well as beautiful jungles entwined with a clear winding river.

 2. Take a relaxing stroll at Qixingtan Beach.

This pebbled beach is one of the most popular and gorgeous of Taiwan’s beaches. Famed for its beauty and natural landscape. It is also well-known it unique crescent shape, allowing the mountains to naturally meet the sea. Every year thousands of tourists visit this amazing beach and it is easily accessible especially from a walking distance on the eastern side from Beibu railway station. Activities include sightseeing trails and star-gazing. Biking is also another popular activity that takes place along this beach. t’s between Hualien City and Taroko Gorge so you can make a quick stop here en route to (or returning from) the park. You can get to Qixingtan Beach from Hualien Station via the Taroko Tourist Shuttle Bus (1133A).

3. Feast the view from Qing Shui Cliff.

What a magnificent landmark this cliff is; the area around it has been designated not only for its amazing and stunning beauty but as one of the eight wonders of the world. The incredibly scenic view is that of mountains rising miraculously from the base of the Pacific ocean.  Atop the cliffs, you can amass yourself in the unique phenomena of diverse color tones which in essence, define the Pacific Ocean. You can easily access Qing Shui cliff from the southwestern part of Heren railway station. The truth is that for your overall Taroko, experience, Qing Shui cliff remains a key addition.

4. Hike the Shakadang Trail. 

Some people refer to it as “the mysterious valley trail”. The beauty of this trail is in the alluring and breathtaking sparkling and crystal-clear of the river water; which enchants and keeps visitors fixated on the site.  The Shakadang remains a gently flowing stream, and at the best of times, you can even wade through. Combined with the all the beauty that surrounds this trail, you have no single regret for coming.

5. Seek eternal youth at the eternal Spring Shrine… kidding. It’s just a beautiful shrine.

This landmark has a rich history behind it, and it is marked as a memorial shrine in Taroko National Park. Travelers visiting this shrine have the benefit of great views of the mountains and the waterfalls. Once you cross on the other side of the river, you have the best views which make for an impressive photography.

Things to do in Hualien at night?

We went in here twice, first night when we stepped out of our Hotel at ten this was the only place open at the time, although to be frank on a Thursday night three fourth of the stalls had closed. The corn cobs were nice, so were fruit juices but they are available world over, among the unique items we had were the sweet potato dishes, cheese, and curry buns and the candied tomatoes. There were many more options but we had our fill for the night. We also tried shooting games and such. Next day we went in at eight in the evening the place was lively, different areas had live performers and the atmosphere was fun.

Where we stayed?

We stayed at Kindness Hotel. Yes, spread all the kindness in the world. Good location, walking distance to train station, Cosmed just in front. A lot of food in the neighborhood. Breakfast & dinner are included, food is quite various. Self-laundry machines are provided, including the detergent.

Don’t Go to Mount Bromo in Bad Weather, Duhz!

 

Bromo is an active volcano in East Java, Indonesia. Mount Bromo is one of the most visited tourist attractions in East Java, Indonesia. The name of Bromo derived from Javanese pronunciation of Brahma, the Hindu creator. So, when recently a chance came for me to take a day trip to Mount Bromo in Indonesia, I was obviously excited.

But as I would soon realize, travelling is much more than setting off to a particular destination with your bags on your backs. You definitely need to do a bit of planning and researching. One thing you must definitely research before you travel to any destination is the weather (obviously). I failed to do this, and I paid a big price.

Bad early signs

My flight to the city of Malang, East Java Province was a nice one. But that’s just as positive as it got. I arrived 24 hours to the time I was supposed to start the trip to Mount Bromo. As soon as I landed, it was clear that it was going to take a miracle for the trip to happen. To say that the weather was bad, would be an understatement. It was raining and the fog was so heavy that you could barely see 30 meters ahead. My hope of catching the sunrise and witnessing the famed view in Bromo now hung in the balance.

It was now clear that I had made a grave omission by not researching the weather beforehand and the consequence was there for all of me to see. I was hanging on to hope that the situation would have improved by the time I started the 3-hour drive to Bromo at 12 a.m. the next day. So I crossed my fingers and waited. The Jeep journey to the viewpoint was an experience in itself. I was getting driven in darkness, around cliff points, unmarked roads and dirt tracks – exciting.

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The big disappointment – Anti-climax.

In order to catch the sunrise in Bromo, you need to be there by 5.30 a.m. So at 12 a.m. the six of us left Malang in a Jeep. When we got there at 3 a.m., the weather was not only foggy, it was drizzling. The temperature had to be around 10 degrees Celsius. There was no way the sun was going to come out in two to three hours. At 6 a.m., My attempt to see the sunrise was confirmed as one epic fail. I was disappointed, but I only had myself to blame.

The worst of Bromo weather was here for us to see.  At this point, with lack of sleep, overpaying for the private tour, waiting 3 hours and freezing my butt off just to see clouds. With the dense fog, I could not catch a glimpse of the much-hyped view of Mount Semeru.

So I ended up taking the only other available option which was to explore areas around Bromo with thick clouds hanging above us. My driver was from the area so he knew a few places that were interesting. But still, I had learned the hard way the importance of doing my homework before going on a trip.

Expectation
Expectation
Reality 
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Bromo is a great place, but …

In my opinion, based on my friend’s travel pictures, Bromo potentially a great place to visit, but I am not sure if I will be going back. One thing you have to deal with is the problem of overcrowding and cleanliness. It is overcrowded with local tourists and the whole surrounding viewpoint area is littered with plastics and cigarette buds. Street food culture also runs deep in the area. This means that there are a lot of vendors and littering is quite rampant.

 

Best time to visit

As for the best time to visit Mount Bromo, it definitely has to be during the dry season. It starts in April or thereabouts and goes all the way to October. Your chances of dealing with little or no rain are highest between May and August, which makes them the best months to visit. But even during these months, you still have to check the weather forecast to avoid being disappointed like I was.

 

Top 8 Attractions I visited in Beijing, China.

It takes 6 hours flight from Singapore to Beijing, a city not on our bucket list at first. My parents have been blabbering about how different and beautiful China is in comparison 10 years ago. So I am excited to explore China with Beijing as our starting point of interest.

When we arrived in Beijing, the weather was freakishly cold (-10 to – 16 degree Celsius). We got stuck in a terrible traffic jam and didn’t get to our hotel till 8:00 pm, so the only thing we managed to do on the first day was to go out for dinner. Here for only 7 days, barely enough to scratch the vast area of a 3,000-year-old country, we have to be very selective.

To give you a brief overview, here are the top 8 attractions and photos of the places we visited in Beijing.  Why 8? It is because the number 8 is considered extremely lucky. In  Mandarin Chinese, the pronunciation of ‘eight’ is close to that of the phrase meaning ‘to make a fortune’. The number 8 is also uniquely symmetric, and when laid on its side,  it resembles the Greek symbol for infinity. Booyah!


A glance at Tiananmen

World’s largest public square, open to Mao’s Mausoleum, History Museum, Great Hall of the People, Forbidden City & Qianmen Street. It is also located near the National Grand Theater. It has more of historical value. Remember the Tiananmen massacre? that happened here. The monument and open area are guarded with guards. Great location for a quick stop to take photos.

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Exploring The Forbidden City

Built in 1406-1420 by millions of labourers. Home of the emperor and his household until 1924. Located in the heart of Beijing.

 


Take a stroll in Beihai Park

This park surrounds Beihai Lake, whose island has the white Pagoda and occupies the site of Kublai Khan’s palace. Perfect for a Saturday or Sunday walk. This park is very peaceful and at least it was not crowded with people when I visited the park. From the top of the white Pagoda, you can feast your eyes on the amazing view.

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Sunset in Jinshan Park

Situated in the centre of Beijing, Jingshan Park is a beautiful royal landscape garden. The mid summit of the hill is the highest point in Beijing. Looking from the peak, we are able to get a full panoramic view of the Forbidden City.

From the Forbidden City, this looked way too high to attempt, but the walk up is easy and took less than 10 minutes. The view was rewarding and it was one of the highlights of my visit in Beijing.

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Feel the connection in the Temple of Heaven

Conveniently located in Beijing centre, just oppositive the Pearl market. The temple opens early. It is a place where local old folks go for early morning exercise.

Majestic imperial temple and park where emperors offered sacrifices. Featuring circular “Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest.” I am not a spiritual person, but there is definitely a sense of calm and serenity about this temple and it’s surroundings. Just make sure you take a tour that allows ample time to enjoy that serenity!


The Great Wall  at Badaling 

This is the easiest access to the colossal wall that fortified China against invaders 2700 years ago. The most popular site for tourists and renowned for receiving foreign dignitaries.

Climbing up the wall did take some effort, there were steep slopes and uneven steps. However, there was a handrail all the way up which did help. The views from the top were stunning and well worth the walk.

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Ornate and extravagant Gong Wang Fu (Prince Gong) Mansion

This is Prince Gong’s mansion which is now a museum. It is located at the North of Shichaihai Lake. It is the most ornate and extravagant residence in all of Beijing. The buildings include several courtyards, two-storey buildings and even a grand Peking opera house. The gardens include artificial hills and rockery, pavilions and ponds. Worth a visit if visiting the lake area and the surrounding hutongs.

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Experience the Old Beijing Street (Qianment Street)

2 Km-long street located just South of Tiananmen Square, now meticulously restored to reflect Qianmen’s 600 years old traditional shopping history and architecture.

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Yogyakarta Itinerary for a Weekend Getaway.

Yogyakarta is a perfect weekend getaway for people living in Singapore and other surrounding regions. However, to make the most of the city in such a short span of time, you must have the right plan in place.

Below I have created a simple four days three-night itinerary to help you explore all the vital points of the city when spending a weekend in Yogyakarta. Here, you must note that the best time for visiting the city of Yogyakarta is during the dry months between April and October. This would ensure that your plans don’t get impaired due to heavy rains.

Day 1 – City Tour;

Day 2 – Borobudur Temple and Prambanan Temple;

Day 3 –  Goa Jomblang; and

Day 4 – Candi Ratu Boko.


Witnessing the mesmerizing sunrise from the Borobudur Temple.

The Borobudur Temple, which was built during the ninth century, is the biggest Buddhist temple in the world. To witness the amazing sunrise you’ll have to reach the temple by around 4.30 am. The sunrise in this part of Indonesia takes place usually between 5.15 am and 5.30 am. So, to see the gradual change in the colour of the sky, you would need to reach the place around an hour before the sunrise. Borobudur is located around 40 km away from the city of Yogyakarta, which makes it a 1 hour 15 minutes’ drive from the city center. This means, your ideal starting time from the city should be around 3 to 3.15 am in the morning.

For the general public, the temple complex opens at 6am i.e. almost half an hour after the sunrise. The only way you can view the sunrise from the temple complex is by buying a special package offered by Manohara Hotel; the package would allow you to enter the temple complex from 4.30 am. You will have to spend 400,000 IDR or around $31 USD for buying the package. Here, it must be noted that staying at the Manohara hotel is not mandatory for participating in this paid tour.

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 Sunset in Prambanan Temples.

Ideally, you should reach Prambanan by 3 pm. This would allow you to have enough time to explore the entire compound and prevent you from being late for the sunset.

Prambanan covers miles of parkland and consists of numerous temples; it’s the biggest temple complex in the country (Indonesia). The trees enhance the beauty of the place even further by adding a sense of calm and serenity to it. The densely carved towers made out of dark stone are, however, the actual attractions of this temple complex.


Goa Jomblang or Jomblang Cave. 

You will need around 1 hour 40 minutes to reach Goa Jomblang from Candi Ratu Boko by car. This attraction consists of a series of beautiful caves. Make sure you reach the place by 9 am in the morning to make the most of your visit. That’s because you would need to leave the city on the same day. The highlight of the trip would obviously be the visit to the main cave, which has a massive hole in its roof. The hole allows sunrays to enter the cave and light it up, creating a truly spectacular view for the onlookers.

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Candi Ratu Boko. 

Candi Ratu Boko is situated on the hills overlooking the Prambanan Temples. If you stayed back in Prambanan during the previous night, you will need just 20 minutes to reach Candi Ratu Boko by car the next day.

Candi Ratu Boko is basically the remains of a destroyed half Hindu palace. The Palace premises cover a huge area and a guided tour can offer you some amazing information about the country’s culture and history. Many people give this site a miss as it’s much less talked about compared to other two temple complexes of the area, Prambanan and Borobudur. There is a large field (padang) within the palace complex where locals go for a picnic. You can bring along your lunchbox and sit by the field for people watching, relax and enjoy the surrounding view.


Where I stayed – Tentrem Hotel. 

What to see and do in Ho Chin Minh City (Saigon) in 5 days.

To a casual traveler, the city of Ho Chi Minh ( Informally referred to as Saigon) is simply the most populous city in Vietnam. However, there is more to this city than probably meets the eye and it takes a gutsy and adventurous traveler to discover Ho Chi Minh City. Being a first-time visitor in Ho Chi Minh City, I felt overwhelmed as everything appeared “complicated” and rather “in a jumble”.  However, I knew I had to begin somewhere and just dive into it in order to make the most my visit. With only 5 days and 4 nights to spare, the following are the places that I visited:

  1. Ben Thanh Market;
  2. Independent Palace;
  3. The Saigon’s Post Office;
  4. The War Remnants Museum;
  5. The Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral;
  6. The Jade Temple;
  7. Ba Thien Hao Temple;
  8. The Chu Chi Tunnel; and
  9. Mekong Delta.

The Ben Thanh Market 

The Ben Thanh Market is what I would call your “typical bargain market” and it is clear to see why. The market is the city’s biggest and busiest and you can find literally anything here. Of particular interest to me was the variety of indigenous Vietnamese food items. There are sections in the market where you can sample these dishes and the list is endless.

However, many vendors have exactly the same things. Most products do not have any price tag and they were overinflated. The products are very expensive relative to its quality. You have to bargain and I hate fighting over prices so, to me, totally not worth it. On the flip side, if you enjoy bargaining, you may be lucky and pay what the goods are really worth. Furthermore, vendors are pushy and they will rip you if you are not alert. So visitors before and shop at your own risk.

Personal Opinion:  

Good market to have a look, but don’t shop. Don’t barter if you aren’t intending to buy. A good place to spend 45 minutes browsing and take some pictures. That’s it – move on.


The Independent Palace 

This palace, also referred to as the Reunification Palace sits where the Norodom Palace used to be. It is a glorious landmark to behold. It played home and workplace to the South Vietnamese president during the infamous Vietnam War and when Saigon fell on April 30, 1975, this site marked the end of the war as a North Vietnamese tank crashed through the gates. Evidently, there is so much I learned aside from simply treating my eyes to this amazing landmark.


The Saigon’s Post Office 

The Saigon’s Post Office is at number-2 along the Paris-Commune St, District 1. Now, before you wonder as to why I even thought of visiting a post office despite my short stay, there is something about this post I would like to share with you.

The post office is housed in one of the city’s oldest buildings. The Central Post-Office was built between 1886 and 1891 and the architecture was based on the famous French architect Villedieu. This was the first time [and probably the last] I ever came close to any of the intimate works of Villedieu.


The War Remnants Museum 

My visit to this museum on Sunday 13th of August taught me something – there is no better way to share in the grief of those who lost their loved ones on the front lines than being in the war zone itself [or in a situation that is reminiscent of one].

The museum is located in District 3 along 28 Vo Van-Tan St and of special interest to me was the war crime exhibits section. Here, I came one on one with huge military artillery that was used in the 1961 to 1975 wars as well as some graphic photographs of the infamous chemical Agent Orange and phosphorous bombs aftermath.


The Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral 

The Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral is one place to go to if you are looking for religious emancipation. The building was constructed between 1863 and 1880 and is another great evidence of French involvement in the city and the country at large. I was particularly taken by its two belt towers that extend to about 58 meters high. Its huge size coupled by its spiritual significance is the reason I wouldn’t miss a visit on my next trip to Ho Chi Minh City.

Tips:

If you visit on Sunday, you can attend the mass in the cathedral. However, no pictures are allowed inside. Keep your camera away and do not state that you are a tourist. They did not allow tourist to go in for sightseeing as it will disrupt the mass proceeding.


The Jade Temple 

This temple is located in 73 Mai Thi-Luu St in District 1 and goes by many names including the Ngọc-Hoàng Điện or the Chùa Ngọc-Hoàng. Aside from the fact that this is a religious shrine, I found it to be a cool place to experience the Chinese heritage. The temple was constructed by the Chinese community in 1909 and its iconic pagoda designs make it a perfect go-to for any Chinese wishing to connect to his higher power away from home.


The Ba Thien Hao Temple 

I must say I wasn’t so lucky as my trip to the temple did not fall in the Lunar New Year when the temple literally comes alive. However, I was still treated to some of the rarest experiences in this part of the world – the burning of spiral incense. Armed with coils and incense sticks, I can still remember the enchanting smells that rent the temple immediately I, along with those in attendance, began burning our incense. This is not just a ritual to behold; it is the essence of spiritual connection.

 


The Chu Chi Tunnel

A staple tourist attraction in Ho Chi Minh City. The Chu Chi Tunnel is an immense tunnel network that connects major underground tunnels of this great city. The tunnels were first popularized during the Vietnam War as they played perfect military hideouts. However, in addition to that great heritage, I found the Chu Chi Tunnel an ideal escape route from the noisy life of this city. A temporarily detached from the hustle and bustle of the city. Trust me, you need a little break from Ho Chi Minh City center.


The Mekong Delta

My trip to Ho Chin Minh City wouldn’t have been complete without a visit to Mekong Delta.  The delta is basically a southwestern Vietnamese region where the Mekong River flows into the sea through a series of distributaries The many water channels created by the river are indeed food for the eyes but there is yet another marvelous activity to take part in here – boat rides. I realized that there was no better way to access the orchards, the swamplands, the paddy fields and other enchanting vegetation dotting this vast delta. And even better, the boat rides are availed at local rates so I didn’t have to worry about breaking the bank to enjoy this wonderful cruise.

 

 

 

Island Hopping in Krabi, Thailand.

This year, I was quite desperate for a beach holiday after completing almost a year of the rigorous process of getting called to the Singapore Bar. After much research, I decided to head off to Krabi Island for a 2-week island hopping itinerary.

Krabi has some really fascinating and unique islands. Hidden within many of these islands are lagoons filled with mangroves that give way to waterfalls and dramatic sea caves.  Krabi is very laid back and perfect for honeymooners or for those who would like to find peace and tranquillity.

Below, you will find my recommendations for the top 5 islands off the Krabi coast, including some side activities within Krabi itself. I believe it can be a basic guide for anyone’s first trip to Krabi.

Suggested Main Itinerary – Island Hopping*: 

  1. Hong Island (Koh Hong);
  2. Tub & Mor Island sandy causeway;
  3. Poda Island;
  4. Chicken Island; and
  5. Railay Beach.

Suggested side activities within Krabi island*: 

  1. Weekend Night Market;
  2. Meditation at a local temple – Ban Khlong Muang (Bureau of Monks);
  3. Trekking at Khao Ngon Nak National Park; and
  4. Stroll down Tubkaek Beach.

Where we stayed*:

Sofitel Krabi Phokeethra Golf & Spa.

*Below are the details and my original pictures for your reference. 


Hong Island (Koh Hong)

Hong Island is part of a group of stunning island in the Andaman sea. There are several spectacular beaches on Koh Hong itself as well as a hidden lagoon which, at low tide, reveals stunning coral and an array of tropical fish. The best way to see this island is with either long-tail or speed boat depending on the weather and go on a kayaking tour around the island. The sea around this area is perfectly clear and wonderful turquoise hue. This island is an ideal place to relax and escape on holiday.

Hong Island (11 of 15)Hong Island (13 of 15)

 

Tub & Mor Island 

An exotic tropical island, ideal for snorkeling and exploring on foot and, if the tide is low (usually in the morning), you are able to walk along the white, sandy causeways which connect the islands. Very touristy. I would suggest going as early as possible to beat the crowd.

Tub Island (2 of 7)

 

Poda  Island 

Poda is a beautiful island with a fine beach. The Charm of this idyllic island lies in its crystal clear water and powdery sand, a place perfect to find a secluded spot for sunbathing, swimming and be with yourself.

Poda Island (5 of 8)Poda Island (2 of 8)

 

Chicken Island 

A famous landmark, named after the shape of its unique limestone rock jutting out into the sea. Excellent snorkeling and open sea swimming opportunities in the warm, inviting waters all rich in coral life and with plenty of tropical fish.

 

Railay Beach 

Railay is one of Thailand famous and sought after beach areas. Just south of Ao Nang Beach, around a dramatic rocky headland and accessible only by boat, Railay presents an exciting beach. Further to the end of Railay beach, you can find a shrine where fishermen, before going out to the sea, made offerings to the symbolic Phallus of Shiva (Palau Khik in Thai). It is believed to be the home of a mythical princess and fishermen bring their offerings and pray for success, protection and fertility.


Side Trips within Krabi Island: 

Weekend night market – only available on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. 

Meditation at a local temple – Ban Khlong Muang (Bureau of Monks) 

Meditation (2 of 3)

Trekking at Khao Ngon Nak National Park (3.6 Km)

Stroll down Tubkaek Beach

Tubkaek Beach (5 of 7)


Where we stayed:

We checked into Sofitel Krabi Phokeethra Golf & Spa shortly after we arrived. Sofitel Krabi has located approximately 45 minutes drive from the airport. We were amazed by the kind hospitality of the hotel and the concierge and receptionist were super helpful and friendly. Special thanks to Ashley, Picky and Noori for their warm hospitality.

Fun facts:

  • Sofitel Krabi has the largest swimming pool in Thailand.
  • Approximately 20 mins drive to Ao Nang and 45 mins drive to Krabi Town.
  • Tubkaek Beach and Khao Ngon Nak National Park is 30-45 mins bicycle ride away from the hotel.
  • Sofitel Krabi offers hourly activities fit for any age within the hotel.