Siem Reap, Camodia

We visit Guangzhou and Hong Kong several times each year so the side trip to Siem Reap has been on the cards for many years.  It is a major tourist attraction and you can see why it is so popular.  The nearby Angkor Wat is probably one of the most well-known and visited UNESCO World Heritage sites on the planet.  But there is so much to see and do and Siem Reap is the perfect place to base yourself to see all the attractions.  We visited in September so we experienced a couple of heavy rainfalls but September is not as crowded as other months.  It was very warm and humid and this is the norm whole year round.

Cambodia is an incredibly inexpensive place but you have to be aware that this is a poor community heavily reliant on tourism and there is a level of underlying corruption so it’s important that you bear this in mind with all your dealings with some of the local people.  Local guides are everywhere and we found one who provided us with transport and local advice and was brilliant.  There was no set price for his services and at end of a couple of days we gave him a US$150 as he refused to name a price.  There is so much to see and do and part of the trick is having a good local guide to take you around avoiding the crowds, traps and forever offering you tips and tricks.

These are the list of places and activities that we covered off in the couple of days:-

  • Angkor Wat (including the sunrise) and Angkor Thom
  • Old Market and the Night Market  (must try the street food!!)
  • Kampong Phluk Floating Village  (this is one of several villages, and a must do)
  • Tonlé Sap great lake tour
  • Wat Thmey (Killing Field) (a dark chapter in recent Cambodian History)
  • War Museum  ( I passed but Geoffrey so Geoffrey saw this on his own)
  • Traditional dinner and dance show
  • Traditional Body Massage
  • Shopping (Markets great for looking but better to actually buy souvenirs from established shops.

We also visited one of the many orphanages in the town.  Geoffrey donates to one of the orphanages and the staffs were incredibly generous with their time in showing us around and explaining the workings of the orphanage. 

On our way back home at the airport the immigration officer “requested” a donation before stamping our passport.  It was a great informative trip up to then so this was an unfortunate way for it to end.

If you would like more information about this destination please do not hesitate to contact me.

Angkor Wat at dawn

Beijing – Guangzhou high-speed train

Geoffrey loves his fast trains and this was an opportunity he couldn’t resist – the chance to travel on the longest high-speed railway line in the world!   He’d complained that our previous bullet train rides had ended up been too short for him to appreciate fully.  So once making ourselves comfortable on board we sat back to enjoy the 2,298 km 9-hour journey at an average speed of 300km/hr …

What strikes you about the ride is how incredibly quiet and smooth it is.  We were lucky to secure seats in the business class carriage which meant we had acres of space to spread out or sleep (but that would have wasted the experience for Geoffrey).  How could one compare this to the stressful, cramped, noisy experience of flying?  You may save a few hours flying but this assumes the flight will leave on time whereas trains ALWAYS leave on time.  And unlike flying you can more productively use the time to due to the increased comfort of travel.

We were spoilt in the business.  There are dedicated crew on call and a complimentary meal service is provided.  We had access to our luggage which was stowed behind our seats.

It’s a great experience and a welcome change from flying if you’re not on a tight schedule.  It is also likely to more expensive as you can often pick up a cheap fare on this popular route.  But for sheer long-distance travelling pleasure it’s hard to beat.

If you would like more information about this destination please do not hesitate to contact me.

Information:

Every day, 5 pairs of high speed G trains are running between Beijing and Guangzhou with travel time of 8-10 hours. A second class seat ticket costs CNY 862. Every Friday to next Monday, additional 6 pairs of overnight D trains are available, taking 10-10.5 hours.

They are running along Beijing – Guangzhou High Speed Railway, short for Jingguang High Speed Railway, which is the longest  high speed railway in the world with a total distance 2,298 km (1,428 miles).

As an important north-south rail line of China high speed railway, it connects Beijing West Railway Station and Guangzhou South Railway Station, going through 28 China cities, including Shijiazhuang, Zhengzhou, and Wuhan. The speed was designed to be 350 km/h.

Taroko Gorge, Taiwan

After spending a few days amongst the hustle and bustle of Taipei it was great to take the opportunity to get out of the city and explore part of the Taroko National Park.

The park was named after the landmark gorge renowned for its canyons, vertical cliffs and waterfalls.  For those interested in geology, Taroko Gorge is a fascinating study.  According to geologists, this part of Taiwan is rising because of the subduction of the Philippines oceanic plate to the east.  However, Geoffrey, a keen tramper and runner was more interested in possible walks in the park and also about possibly returning to run the  Tarako Gorge Marathon one day…

We visited the Gorge as part of a 2 day tour which was great as it saved a lot of time dealing with all the practicalities of visiting the area.  It’s only about a 2 hour scenic train ride from Taipei so it’s an easy and convenient place to visit.

Major highlights were the Eternal Spring Shrine,  the Tunnel of nine turns, and the Baiyang waterfall trail.   There’s a wealth of information at the Part Visitor Centre.

There’s a big range of accommodation options available at Hualien and we elected to treat ourselves and stay at one of the nearby 5 star hotels.  There was also plenty to do at night with the famous Hualien Dongdamen Tourist Night Market (the largest night market in Taiwan) close by.

If you would like more information about this destination please contact me.

Pagoda in Tiansiang

Ayres Rock, Yulara, Australia

It’s a long way to go (especially from New Zealand) to literary a place in the middle of a desert.  To travel all that way to see a rock – although admittedly, a big rock!  And yet – when you get there, stand next to it – it’s totally awe inspiring.  As a keen tramper, Geoffrey naturally wanted to climb Uluru but instantly understood why Uluru is considered so sacred when he saw it.  He understood that he was more a guest and a visitor than a tourist. He therefore respected the wishes of the local people not to climb.

We stayed at the Ayres Rock Resort which is a short (free) coach ride from the airport.   That evening we did the Field of Light Uluru tour.  There are a number of variations of the tour.  We did the after-sunset tour and the contrast of the Field of Lights with the clear starry night sky was magical.

The following day it was another early rise for the full day out to the King’s Canyon Rim Walk tour. This was excellent but admittedly we had perfect conditions – cloudless, windless and a comfortable 21 degrees.  40 degrees plus is not uncommon and in those conditions you need to carry at least 3 litres of water with you as well!

The following day it was the 12km cycle around Ularu camel riding and visit to Kata Tjuṯa.

We decided to visit over the long Queen’s birthday weekend but really 3 days wasn’t enough.

Another brilliant getaway trip (but best to avoid the summer).

Ayres Rock (Uluru)

If you would like more information about this destination please contact me.

 

Hobart, Tasmania Australia

It’s a pity more people don’t visit Tasmania but part of the reason must be that you need to transit from the mainland.  So from Auckland you’re looking at the best part of a day to get there.  It was compounded for Geoffrey and I when the flight from Melbourne to Hobart was delayed so it was near midnight before we checked into the hotel.  Not a great start…

 We stayed around the main Victoria dock area – walking distance to a number of great seafood restaurants and to town.  However we did hire a car as we intended to venture out of town over the 3-day long weekend.  The great thing is that many of the main attractions are close and pretty compact – therefore not involving hours and hours on the road.

 Port Arthur is a day trip but is well worth it (a must see for those with an interest in Australia’s colonial history ).  It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and its beauty somewhat masks the significance of the area as a penal colony and of the tragic events of 1996.

 Another must-see is a drive to the top of Mt Wellington where there are magnificent views of Hobart and the surrounding area.  It’s a scenic drive to the top (1,271 m) and there is an enclosed lookout which offers protection in case it’s windy or too cold (which it was!!).

We also visited the Museum of Old and New Art  (pretty cool), Cascade Brewery (famous for the purity of the nearby waters) and the historic village of Richmond which included a miniature model village and which, was really well done.

Our hotel was close to the famous outdoor Salamanca Market.  Around the markets are a number of historic buildings housing interesting craft shops, art galleries and small restaurants.  We found this was a good escape from the crowds and bustle of the market.

There’s a lot to see and do and we had a busy 3-day schedule.  Geoffrey is a keen outdoors man and he’s vowed to return for a longer stay to experience some of the renowned Tasmanian walks around the island.

Salamanca Market

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Seoul, South Korea

“We have a couple of extra days in our Hong Kong itinerary.  Why don’t we do a 2-day side trip to Seoul?  It’s only a 3 ½ flight from Hong Kong and we’ve never been there”

Geoffrey was keen but was weary of the heat in August.  Neither of us can take the hot temperatures that well so good planning is important.  Ie. Visit the main attractions as soon as they open and take plenty of cool drinks and so forth.  The other important thing was food.  We both love most Asian cuisine but Geoffrey doesn’t do spicy at all well (even more so in the hot temperatures).

Over the 2 days we visited Ghangdeokgung Palace , Bukchon Hanok Village, Gwangjang Markets, N Seoul Tower and the Myeong-dong Shopping District.

Ghangdeokgung Palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and well worth a visit.  Unfortunately it was a blistering day, the Palace grounds are huge and Geoffrey and I found ourselves chasing shadows most of the time.   We liked the nearby Bukchon Hanok Village much better.  Lots of narrow alleys with interesting shops and small restaurants.  Gwangjang Markets were a good place to grab some souvenirs and try out a variety of traditional Korean cuisine.  Seoul Tower is for those who like, well, Towers.  It’s a bit out of the way but you will be rewarded with great views of the city if you make the effort.  Myeong-dong is a good place to check out at night.  Busy and full of colour (and of course cooler!)

We’ll definitely return for a fuller visit … but perhaps when the weather is a bit kinder.

View from N Seoul Tower

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Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, Japan

“No – we can’t fit in Mt Fuji into this trip.  But have you heard about the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route?”, I replied to Geoffrey.  Geoffrey enjoys outdoor activities, especially cycling, running and hiking.  There was no way I would even think about climbing Mt Fuji although I know this is on his bucket list.

The Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route is an easily assessable 37km horizontal route / 2,000 m vertical height over the scenic Mt. Tateyama mountain range in the Northern Japan Alps.  It is easily assessable from the major cities of Toyama and Nagano prefectures at either end.  Renowned features of the route are the many unique forms of transportation – funicular (cable railway); bus; trollybus; aerial tramway and walking.

Geoffrey continually marveled at the engineering of the route (especially the tunnels)  which had been constructed with maintaining the natural scenery in mind.  One of the main attractions along the route is the snow corridor – a 20 meter high snow wall on either side of the road.  Another spectacular attraction is the 186 meter  Kurobe Dam – Japan’s tallest Dam.  Kurobe lake dam behind the dam was frozen over when we were there but we understand that it’s incredible sight in the summer when the spillways are opened.

There were a lot of people on the route but it never seemed over-crowded especially when you were out of the tunnel and on the mountain.  That’s just Japanese efficiency at play – like many things that the Japanese do so well.

It has been stated that the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route is the world’s leading mountain sightseeing route.  It was a trip that easily exceeded our expectations.  You could easily take your parents and fit grand-parents through this route – it is that assessable.

Snow Corridor

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