Visiting The Three Gorges Dam

If you have a thing for world’s first and engineering marvels then this is one trip that you would want to make this Summer, and have it ticked off the bucket list.

Architectural Model – Photo taken at the Three Gorges Dam Museum showing the 5 ship locks bringing a boat downstream into the main river

The Three Gorges Dam or the Sanxia Da Ba (三峡大坝) is the world’s largest hydroelectric dam created to both produce electricity and increase the Yangtze River’s shipping capacity as well as reduce downstream floods. A project that started construction in 1994, it was fully functioning from 2012 complete with five ship locks and fully completed with a ship lift in December 2015. See TEN interesting facts that you may want to note about the Dam project here before you book those tickets.

As for us, we were curious to see what a project that saw China relocating 1.24 million people in 2008 to achieve, costing them US$27.6 billion or RMB180 billion to construct-looked like in reality.

Getting there was easier than expected, there is a 3 hour train ride option from Shenzhen but we decided to fly domestic. So we took the train from Hong Kong to Shenzhen via Lo Wu. From there, boarded a 2 hour flight from Shenzhen’s Airport into Yichang.

A map of the tribal villages living along the Dam – at least 360 million people live here in the stretch from Yichang to Chongqing

Seeing the entire Dam and the expanse of land that is home to almost 360 million people is no mean feat and the most common way to fully appreciate it is to take a 4 to 6 day cruise and there are many cruise companies that arrange tours with English-speaking agents and guides.

With limited off days from school and work, we opted for the shortest way to see the Dam – via a Day Tour and got it arranged via the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Yichang (where we were staying). They recommended an English speaking tour guide, Christine who turned out to be a real gem. With a good command of English, knowledgeable, friendly and passionate about her job, she arranged a 2 day itinerary which included a day out on a tour boat down the Yangtze river and a second day out to see explore the Ba tribal village, one of the many small ancient villages that snake around the Yangtze.

Day 1

Saw us getting on to a tour boat that would take us on a leisurely cruise down part of the Yangtze to cross the ship lock of the Gezhouba Dam, go inside the Dam area, view the museum, have lunch, and then take a bus back to Yichang.

The Boat Tour – TIP: For better all around views – pay the extra 40RMB per person and sit on the top deck which is shaded with a canopy
Scenic views along the way

Entering a SHIP LOCK – think of it as an elevator of sorts but this SHIP LOCK allows the vessel to sail in and brings you 22 metres down stream in 20 mins (about the rate of 1 metre per minute). The ship is literally “locked” into the contained area that you see ahead to prevent the water from rushing in and then carried down stream.

CLOSE sesame! We are inside and the doors lock shut once the vessel is in. Water tight – our 20 minute journey via the ship lock brings us another 22m further downstream the Dam

You can’t fly over the Dam because of security issues and you need special military permission to do that – so a bird’s eye view of how the Dam operates and comes together is pretty much out of the question. Thus, a visit to the Dam museum to look at the model of it and how it all works and comes together is mandatory.

Day 2

We headed by bus to the catch another boat that would bring us to see the Ba Village, a  tribe of people who have lived in the region for centuries and in a village built by the banks of the Yangtze River. After which we would catch a bus to eat at the famous cliff side Weng Restaurant, one of the only 8 cliff restaurants in the world.

The boat moors at the Ba Village dock. We have travelled up stream to  visit the BA tribe to see how they live, explore local customs and experience the geography in the area.
The BA Tribe – a breathtaking ancient Kingdom built alongside the banks of the Yangtze
A river runs through the village ending in a stream and a waterfall at the heart of the village
The Coffin Caves were where the Ba Tribe buried their dead – Do you see two coffins in this shot?
Inside the village

Leaving the serenity of the Yangtze behind, we hopped on a tour bus back into Yichang city but not before stopping for dinner at the world-famous hanging Fang Weng Restaurant.

This restaurant is built into the side of a cliff – one of only 8 cliff restaurants in the world
The inside is a cavern that has been converted into a spacious dining room

The most famous dish there is a fish dish in milky soup where the fish has a distinct gelatinous texture. Look out for our detailed review later.

Total cost for the 2 day itinerary – 500 RMB per person (inclusive the boat and bus transport and minus a tip for the guide, the meals, an Uber or what China calls a “didi” back to the hotel). Definitely a great way to spend a long weekend.

(This trip was my own personal holiday, paid fully by myself. Recommendations here are not paid for, simply that we want to share the great finds.)

City Guide – A Few Things To Do In China’s Scenic Guilin

From Shenzhen via a high speed train, Guilin is only about three and the half hours away. An easy escape, if you are looking for an easy weekend break, even if you are planning to travel out of Hong Kong, which was just our plan.

Why Guilin? This city or prefecture is situated on the west bank of the Li River and borders Hunan to the North. Its name ‘Guilin’ means “Forest of Sweet Osmanthus” as there are a large number of fragrant sweet osmanthus trees located in the city.

Does the landscape looks familiar? Well, take that RMB twenty dollar note and turn it around – that idyllic scene with the craggy mountains and the boat meandering through the river, really does exist – in picturesque Guilin. The above shot shows a slightly different angle but hey the boat’s there and the same mountainous peaks – well, almost.

So over the recent Halloween weekend, whilst revellers were carousing Lan Kwai Fong, we decided to head over to Shenzhen on Friday evening, stay the night at the border in Luo Wu and catch the High Speed Train (about a three and the half hour ride) the next morning from Shenzhen’s Main Railway Station straight into Guilin and then explore the Yang Shuo area from there.

 

TAKING THE HIGH SPEED BULLET TRAIN 

I did not personally book the tickets as we got a tour agency to do it for us so I can’t share much details with you on the how and what to dos. But the High Speed trains can be booked and boarded at Shenzhen’s North Railway Station. I found this website that I am sharing – particularly helpful as it was in English. So if you are reading this and asking the ‘how’ question – look HERE!

Very modern, clean and comfortable, China’s high speed trains are comparable to the high speed bullet express trains that you get in Japan. There is a food car for snacks and drinks and rotating tables and plush seats that allow you to face each other. We must have been in second class seats as the toilets we encountered though clean, were strictly of the squat variety. I am sure that there are Western style toilets but these are possibly in first class or business class. Also make sure that when you book a seat, you have an actual seat and not a standing space, which they also sell.

Get your camera out and have your phone ready to snap scenic shots like these along the journey. All the pictures in this post were taken on my iphone 6 (plus-minus some reflections) which I thought turned out pretty decent.

GETTING A TOUR GUIDE

You can be brave and do the research on line – in which case, do use an online tour planner like this one or you can book one of these tours or google how to book a local English speaking tour guide – for a more free and easy plan.

We went with a local tour guide from a local tour agency and took his recommendations on where to go. Whilst Mr. Tour Guide was very well informed and resourceful, he also spoke only Mandarin, so I had to figure things out along the way. Good practice for my rusty Singaporean-standard Mandarin but in the end, we managed to figure it all out. Some of the places he recommended are mentioned below. The amazing thing – he managed to arrange it so that we could cover everything in a matter of 2 full days which was great if you have only a weekend ahead of you, that you need to maximise.

ZIZHOU PARK

This sprawling park is located in the city center along the east coast of Lijiang River Guilin. There are several attractions within it so I don’t recommend you walk it. Instead 20 RMB gets you on one of these mini trams with a designated few stops so that you can get down and snap some souvenir shots.

The tram route takes you to see several famous sculptures of the Tang dynasty’s poets, philosophers and writers. One example is Tang Dynasty writer Liu Zongyuan (柳宗元) who wrote (訾洲亭记), a famous description of his impressions of the beautiful scenery in Zizhou, carved on this massive monument, for posterity to reflect upon.

Below, a statue of the same poet, Liu Zongyuan, who in his lifetime produced many poems, fables, reflective travelogues and essays, synthesizing elements of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism. The local belief is that good luck follows anyone who touches the tip of his beard, so yes .. do reach out and ah hem, stroke it!

 

ELEPHANT TRUNK HILL

Another drop off point within the Park, is a spot where you get a clear view of the Elephant Trunk Hill. Standing from a certain spot, this hill supposedly looks like a huge elephant stretching its trunk drinking water, hence the name – Elephant Trunk Hill. The hill has been the symbol of the karst landscape in the area and there is a cave eyelet that you can hike up to via a stone path that affords a good view of the surroundings.

BAMBOO RAFTING

Not quite finished with the Park, we were ushered further along to take a bamboo raft ride along the scenic and serene Li River to just enjoy the great weather and take in the sights. You can stop the boatman and take over the oars, if you want to pose for pics.

Much like the experience you get on the Venetian canals, the boat-man or woman croons a folk song and you are most welcome to join in if you can read from the book of lyrics on board the bamboo raft.

Along the way, catch sights of the locals washing veggies by the river …

Or see how the locals go fishing with Cormorants, a breed of birds that reaches into the water to catch a fish with their beaks and then skilfully deposits its catch into a waiting basket.

 

SILVER CAVE

The Silver Cave is Guilin’s largest karst cave. Karst being a type of landscape that characterises this  region. The cave is located in Maling Town about an hour plus from the city center of Guilin.

It takes about an hour to walk through this multi-level cave which apparently ascends up to 16 storeys and is divided into three main parts with 28 scenic stopping points. There are lots of stairs, so think of this as a bit of a hiking adventure where wearing comfy shoes is a must and ditch that heavy back pack. Carry as little as you can so that you are not weighed down and please do visit the loo before you get started.

The cave features crystal stalactites that extend from the roof of the cave and stalagmites that grow from the ground up. The inside of the cave is lit up by different colourful lights making these natural formations glitter like silver and diamonds hence its name, ‘Silver Cave’.

Below, one of the scenic spots inside the Silver Cave. This spot (direct translation from Mandarin to English) is called ‘Fairy Wonderland in a Jade Pool’.

 

WEST STREET, Downtown Yang Shuo

We ended up spending the first night in Yang Shuo Town (about 63 km North from Guilin) where there is a popular local and tourist street called West Street.

Yang Shuo’s West Street is located in the heart of the town and on a weekend the street is so packed that walking through its lanes is a challenge so watch your wallets as you wander through.

Above, note the many dessert and sweet stores demonstrating how local candy is made. There is also an array of shops selling souvenirs, paintings and calligraphy and traditional folk craft like embroidered silk, woven goods and embroidered shoes for women.

There are also restaurants, cafes and even bars with disco music blaring and lithe girls pole dancing.

LIJIANG RIVER BOAT RIDE

The highlight of any visit to Guilin and Yang Shuo is this 2 hour boat ride.

Expect breathtaking scenery that is completely photo worthy. You sail past different river bends, passing hills and formations that have been given names like the Spiral Snail Hill, the Lohan Hill, the Yellow Cloth Shoal into the vicinity of an ancient village with a history dating back 1,400 years, called Xing Ping, where you behold what is probably one of China’s most characteristic landscapes – what you see at the back of the RMB 20 note.

Sailing into the area is like suddenly morphing into a classical Chinese ink painting. Completely surreal!

Not short of photo opportunities, for a small fee you can snap a shot like this with a Cormorant sitting on the end of a bamboo pole that you carry, hat props and all.

LONGTAN ANCIENT VILLAGE AND THE DRAGON POOL

Stepping into Longtan village is like stepping back into time. The village has been in existence since the Ming Dynasty and one of the four ethnic minorities – the Dong clan continue to live in this village and survive up to this day, as silver smiths.

Just before you walk to the village, you need to pass a deep ‘pool’ just in front of a hill that resembles the head of legendary dragon inspiring it’s name – Longtan (Dragon Pool), and the name for the area, thus called, Longtan Village.

Part of Dragon Pool has a silver dragon built to look like its floating on the water. This is a reminder of the legend of the supernatural dragon that once lived in the pool who could command thunder and rainfall.

More than fifty ancient dwellings built in China’s Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties still stand in the village, and part of the tour is an invitation into one of these ancient family homes to listen to a rather long history lesson about the customs and traditions of the town, its craft – silver smithing and the healing and restorative powers of silver. What follows and marks the end of this visit, is nothing less than a compulsory walkthrough their touristy silver shop where a bracelet starts at a price of RMB500 and no less.

FAMOUS LOCAL MUST-EATS 

No visit is truly memorable till you try some of the local fare. The local must-eats are these two delicacies which almost every Guilin and Yang Shuo Chinese restaurant offer – Beer Fish and Guilin Mifen (a white rice vermicelli noodle that looks like laksa noodles). If yours is an adventurous palette, other exotic local specialties to sample are the Stuffed Snails, Lipu-style Taro Pork and the Lijiang Shrimp.

Above, the mifen noodles cooked with the beer fish, diced long beans, chilli and scallions. Not my favourite but a definite hit with locals.  

Above, Beer Fish Alla Pomodoro. Takes some getting used to (in my case) but don’t let that stop you dropping by one of their local restaurants and trying it just so that you can at least say that you have tried one of Guilin’s much coveted culinary delicacies.

City Guide: Five Favourite Places To Eat In Macau

Macau is to Hong Kongers what JB is probably to the foodie Singaporean and there is no doubt that its casinos are filled with top culinary brand names from around the world. But if you are there to just get a bit of your regular Macanese, Portuguese or Spanish fare, then here are a few of places that I venture to whenever I visit.

Dom Galo 

If you missed our earlier review – look for it HERE. The rstaurant is walking distance from the MGM Hotel and is a hit with locals.

My favourite thing to order here is the Clams that come in a thick creamy sauce, the African Chicken, the Gambas Style Garlic King Prawns and the Beef Short Ribs.

Theme these with a pitcher of their Sangria and for dessert, a helping of their homemade Serrandura which comes served like a slice of cake and their Chocolate Mousse and your visit is satisfyingly complete.

Note that on Public Holidays there is a 20% service charge!

Dom Galo                                                                                                                                                          Address: is at 32 Avenida Sir Anders Ljungstedt, Macau                                                                                         Telephone: (853)28751383

A Lorcha 

A very popular local restaurant, A Lorcha is an interesting nook that in my opinion serves the most delicious and authentic Portuguese food.

I like the ambience in this fairly small but cosy restaurant that has been decorated to look like the interior of a ship or an old Portuguese junk (known as a Lorcha vessel).

When there go for the Seafood Rice. Actually, all their rice dishes which come in porridge format are done really well because the broth is both hearty and flavourful and the ingredients are generous but this particular one, is a speciality for them.

They also have a very good Stewed Oxtail and their Fried Prawns with Garlic, Pig Ears in Coriander and Prawn Curries are highly recommended.

A delicious ending is their Serrandura which comes in an old fashioned ice cream glass. I just love the layers of fine biscuit crumbs that make this dessert, totally calorie-worthy!

Note that the place is closed on Tuesdays!

A Lorcha
Address: Av. Almirante Sergio, no. 289 AA, G/F, Macau
Telephone: (853) 2831 3193 or (853) 2831 3195

Fernando

I have to admit that its been some time since I last visited Fernandos simply because its slightly off the beaten track, location wise. But this place is a hit with the Macanese expats and locals alike and a reservation is highly recommended.

The place has a beach bar type atmosphere with a spacious outdoor area that doubles up as an alfresco bar for drinks whilst you wait for a table. Inside is spacious and the red-checked table clothes remind me of both an old style Italian restaurant and walking into Pizza Hut in the 1980s!

In terms of food, I remember the Suckling Pig, the Roasted Chicken, the Chorizo served with olives, the Sangria and their sugary donuts  being outstanding. The bitch was the after dinner task of finding a taxi back to civilisation but apparently there is a bus stop that takes you back to civilization although I am rather unsure where exactly it stops.

Fernando                                                                                                                                 Address: 9 Hac Sa Beach, Coloane Macau                                                                                  Telephone: (853) 2888 2264

Casa De Tapas

I consider Casa De Tapas one of my favourite Tapas restaurants in this part of the world. Almost every dish is amazing (to me at least) and the place is usually fully booked on the weekends.

The restaurant is located in an old Macanese house in Taipa Village and is actually run by a group of Spanish chefs. Expect well presented favourites like their Mozarabic Grilled Lamb presented on stone slates with delightful sauces, grilled vegetables and condiments.

Their Spanish Style Potatoes filled with paprika and topped with apple mayonnaise, the Roast Suckling Pig, Charcoal Grilled Black Angus Beef, Paella and Iberico Pork are all must-orders.

There also is a good selection of cheese, a good wine and innovative cocktail list.

Casa De Tapas                                                                                                                                 Address: Rua dos Clérigos No.9, Taipa, Macau
Phone: (853) 2857 6626

Bar Celona Tapas & Rice

Found this place on my most recent visit to Macau. If you are a Trip Advisor fan, you will note that Bar Celona ranks Number 3 on the list of top restaurants in Macau.

Another smallish restaurant, it is accessible by taxi and located off the Hotel belt. We got lost as our Taxi did not quite know where to stop us but the Restaurant Manager was lovely. He walked out to the road to get us and two minutes later, we were seated and ready to order.

Owner Antonio, hails from a Hotel F&B background and together with a Spanish Chef decided to open their own little piece of tapas heaven in a less touristy location in the hope of keeping the prices reasonable.

I was impressed by the Lobster promotion that they had on which included a Lobster Risotto with a free jug of Sangria. I narrowly missed the chance to order the last lobster for the evening so I settled for the Paella instead which turned out to be amazing!! The broth used to cook the paella had a lovely, hearty and rich texture that almost tasted like they had used beef stock rather than chicken although the rice was slightly too crunchy (which I personally liked but may not be everyone’s favourite).

I also had an amazing Tomato and Salmon Starter and an absolutely juicy and pink cut of Grilled Pork which was served with a side of mustard and definitely the evening’s highlight.

If you are a Sardine fan, try theirs which is deep fried in batter and was crispy and light so much that you might just mistake to for a plate of white bait! The Sangria was also excellent!

Note: Have the restaurant number handy if you hail a cab to get there. It is not easy to find and the staff can give your cab driver instructions if you are lost.  Kudos to the staff for their excellent service, helpful recommendations and yes, at the end of the meal, you can rely on them to hail a cab back for you.

Bar Celona Tapas & Rice                                                                                                                          Address:Rua da Venceslau de Morais, No. 16, Edif. Industrial Fu Tai Res-Do-Chao B, Macau
Tel: (853) 2872 1084

City Guide: Three New Reasons To Head to Macau!

It seems that every major Hotel in Macau, these days, needs a compelling draw for tourists. With a long weekend ahead of us last month. I headed over from Hong Kong to Macau to spend a night in Asia’s Las Vegas.

The agenda was mainly to eat at some of my favourite restaurants and to visit the three newly opened attractions – the Eiffel Tower replica at the Parisian and the SkyCab at the newly opened Wynn Palace. We also popped by to see the special Golden Reel Ride at the Studio City Hotel and Complex that opened late last year.

If you are inspired to visit after reading this, do just note that the attractions listed here are all pay-to-play attractions and entry is not included in the respective Hotel room rates.

Make It To The Top of the Macau Eiffel Tower

Forget the gruelling plane ride to France, the newly opened Parisian Hotel along the Cotai Strip is where you can expect to recreate the romance of the whole European experience … well almost.

The Macau Eiffel as it is fondly referred to, was constructed to half the scale of the real thing and has 6000 light bulbs to keep it lit up at night. There are speakers around its base around the hotel grounds that play music to create the ambience.

Also from inside the Hotel, you can join the long queues for a fee, you can take a lift up to the Observation Decks on levels 7 and 37 to get a bird’s eye view of Macau city and watch the Light Show with music, daily – every 15 minutes from 7:30pm – 10:00pm.

Inside the Hotel, an amazing Dome that quite rivals the Cathedral domes that you would expect to see in France and Europe.

A bird’s eye view from one of the Hotel’s shopping floors shows the palatial ground floor layout with a fountain in the middle of the lobby that changes colours.

Do you feel like you are in Europe yet?

And if you think that’s not enough to go check it out, note that the Parisian also has two other attractions on it’s grounds – the Aqua Pool and Qube Kingdom.

Qube Kingdom is a 20,000 sq ft indoor and outdoor playground that is opened from 9.30am to 9.30pm at night. Expect climbing nets and slides, a carousel straight out of Les Jardins de Luxembourg, a ball pool, and gaming consumes
The Aqua Pool has fabulous water features, a wading pool, a pirate ship with water guns. And big kids have a waterslide and several other things to explore.

See the The Parisian Macau for more details.

A Bird’s Eye View From A SkyCab

We took the SkyCab at the Wynn Palace Hotel only because it looked just amazing from ground level. In terms of construction and we had heard that this is the only cable car that can turn a corner without a mid-station which is supposed to be a bit of an operational fete.

The Wynn Skycab makes a total of 6 turns with 2 stations because it operates in an unidirectional configuration. You have to be inside one of these to experience the turn which feels a bit like you the way you would at Disneyland sitting in one of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Cups but of course, with turns that are not as sharp and abrupt.

There are two towers built in the form of a golden dragon and all the cabins taking passengers in a loop around the hotel are equipped with a custom audio system and are fully air conditioned.

Although it was a short ride that cost about MOP$100, the SkyCab gives you a bird’s eye view (a bit like a Bond movie) over the top of the Hotel’s restaurants, its Performance Lake and the Hotel pool where you can catch bikini clad sunbathers.

Inside the Hotel, there are an equal amount of distractions to oogle at. A stunning floral and circus theme some with movable installations confront you with a riot of colour in almost every public area.

World-renowned designer, Preston Bailey whose work is on display at the Wynn in Las Vegas has some sensational sculptures that are completely instagram-worthy.

Even the small kiosks that sell cakes and snacks are resplendant in design detail.

The food …

The Cafe interiors …

Even the floor tiles …

Nothing boring or sleepy about this amazing fantasy Palace.

The Performance Lake that the Wynn is well known for also comes alive with its water performance, best viewed in the evening complete with lights and dancing water.

See the Wynn Palace Macau for more details

Take A Spin On The Golden Reel Ride

The Chinese have always considered the number 8 a lucky and auspicious number. Well, at recently opened Studio City Hotel, you can get on the world’s highest figure-8 Ferris wheel for a view of the city from 130 meters up in the air.

Born from an epic Hollywood-inspired tale of two asteroids careering through Studio City’s main façade, the story is that they crashed through the facade leaving a perfect “8” shaped hole.

In reality, the Golden Reel is a panoramic architectural spectacle suspended at 130 meters between two Art-Deco hotel towers. Within the wheel, are 17 spacious cabins, each able to seat up to 10 people.

I did not have time to visit the Batman Dark Flight attraction which is also within the Hotel. This is DC Comics’ first Batman 4D flight simulation ride and offers the latest flight simulation technology and the very best in audio design and visual graphics pitting Batman in a race to save Gotham City against his arch enemies.

The Hotel interior carries through the dark flight-Gotham City dimly lit feel and theme.

For the kid’s and magic show enthusiasts, there is also a theatre attraction called The House Of Magic with daily magic shows and performances

And another one for the kids, a Warner Brother’s Fun Zone which has a 40,000 sq foot playground packed with play experience areas and themed play areas featuring all the popular Warner Bros., DC Comics and Hanna-Barbera characters.

See Studio City Macau for more details.

City Guide : Off The Beaten Track In Perth, Western Australia

I’ve been very quiet and off the grid this month and that’s because I have taken a month off to spend quality time with my sister and her family in Perth, Western Australia – enjoying the joy of the reverse seasons and the chill of Winter in July.

Whilst most people on holiday in Perth concentrate on exploring the city’s main shopping area, outlet shopping at Water Town, hitting the tables at the Crown Casino and eating at the many of the North Bridge and South Perth restaurants –  this trip for me was all about ‘Going Local’ i.e. experiencing how the locals live, making time to drive out to and exploring the areas that I normally would not have time to visit, if I had been on a short holiday.

First up, I rented a car at No Birds – probably the city’s cheapest car rental at A$33 a day  including a zero access insurance coverage.

TIP: If you plan to do the same, don’t forget your local driving license and bring along your GPS or else be prepared to rent one off the car rental company. You will also need to rent a car seat if you have toddlers with you.  As a back up, go get a local 30 day mobile plan with wifi so that you can use Google maps on your phone and you are good to go.

With car settled and a trusty GPS, I decided to fully explore places that I could actually drive to and park at for free or with very little hassle and here is where I headed to and I  I hope that it refreshes jaded perspectives, especially for those of you who have been there and done that ‘seen-the-city-already-thing’ in Perth.

HEAD TO THE BEACH

Cotteslow Beach – there are a couple of good beaches in Perth but I like Cotteslow as the  beach area has a jetty to walk out to and plenty of lovely beach front restaurants to try.

I ended up having lunch at the Cott & Co Fish Bar at the Cotteslow Beach Hotel. The food was worth the drive out for and complete with a glass of pinot grigio and a light sea breeze, there’s not much not to love about making the drive out.

A FULL DAY AT THE PARK

Whiteman Park – If you have kids with you, or just want a chill afternoon at a one-stop destination, Whiteman Park is the best place to head to for a whole day of entertainment.

Start with the Park’s main highlight – Caversham Wildlife Park. This is where you get to pet your cuddly Koalas, Kangaroos, Wombats and other small and cute critters and you can easily spend about 2 to 3 hours there.

After that, head for lunch at the Park’s Village Cafe and then go shopping at the Handicraft store or pick up some snacks at the Lolli Shop there. If you have the afternoon free, go explore the Tractor Museum, Motor Museum and Revolutions Transport Museum. There is a Heritage Tram and Vintage Train Rides to take for a small fee. Alternatively, grab the kids and head to the Woodland Reserve to explore the Children’s Forest. Feeling just plain lazy – just get a bottle of wine, some coffee and snacks and get ready to chill out on a mat and enjoy the great weather as you find a spot on the Park’s spacious Picnic Grounds.

INTO THE BUSH AND BEYOND

Serpentine Dam and Falls – this makes a truly scenic drive out to the Australian countryside. Find yourself in the Serpentine National Park area which is also home to a Dam, a Waterfall and several lush picnic grounds.

The area is a sanctuary for an array of plants, birds and animals (particularly kangaroos). Part of the Darling scarp, the park is stretched up the steep slopes of the Serpentine River valley, past a sheer face of granite polished smooth by the rushing waters.

We love the picnic area – come armed with proper bird feed and you will be surprised at the tame birds who will shyly but happily come around for a quick snack.

CHECK OUT A CHARMING SEASIDE TOWN

Fremantle – a lovely and charming seaside town with a great weekend market that is just about 20 mins from Perth city.  It reminded me of what Devonport is to Aucklanders. Walk around the Cappuccino Strip, head to the shops along the same strip, head to the markets or make a beeline for the water front. Alternatively a day at the playground in front of the Esplanade hotel (pictured below) or rent a bike to get around. Whatever you choose, a day in Freo as its fondly called is a leisurely and fun affair.

If its not the markets (pictured below) that you after, Fremantle is also one of the points that you can sail from (by chartered ferry) to Rottenest island and other various offshore attractions.

Then there are the great eateries – my recommendations Cicerellos for Beer Battered Fish and Chips, Little Creatures for drinks, bites and heavier meatier items amongst the many other choices that line the waterfront marina deck.

EXPLORE WINE COUNTRY

The Swan Valley – the area is just a 20 minute drive from the city and not just famous for its vineyards which offer free tastings but also factories and retail shops for Chocolate, Cheese, Nougat and Honey.

As far as eateries and vineyards go, Mandoon Estate is probably the easiest stop for a quality vineyard and restaurant.

Otherwise drive along and explore and stop for a drink and nibble at the many independent vineyards along the stretch of the Swan! Download the food, wine and attractions trail map HERE

THE JOY OF FOOD SHOPPING 

Food Shopping – if you are the type of traveler like me who is inspired by food and loves carting back loads of delicious eats then you have to check out these mega-marts that offer great discounts.

I headed to Spudshed, the Liquorshed and Aldi, three new finds for me that had amazing deals and variety in terms of fresh produce, gluten free food options and price-friendly food gifts that I could bring home to friends and family.

City Guide: 3 Days of Eat, Shop and Spa In Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam

Vietnam has rapidly overtaken Bangkok as a choice getaway for Singaporeans and Hong Kongers only because of the quality of the shopping (especially where homeware is concerned) and the wonderful food.

A 3 day 2 night getaway with girlfriends saw us heading to Ho Chi Minh for a gratifying 3 day catch up – the kind where girlfriends can talk about everything and anything on earth in every circumstance and location – over drinks, over pho, over massages .. you get the general idea.

Our itinerary was plain and simple – Eat (everything Vietnamese and French as Vietnam was once colonised by the French), Shop (mainly for homeware and favourite food) and Spa (wherever and whenever our tired legs said we needed a break).  The plan was to check into a hotel that was fairly central. We ended up at the Millennium, a boutique hotel that was a little bit off the beaten track but met our budget and requirements to stay in District 1 where all the general action is. The Hotel turned out no frills but with a good breakfast buffet included in the room rate and the beds were comfortable.

Day 1:

Bến Thành Market

Checked in our hotel by 10.30am. The flight from Singapore is an hour and the half but Singapore and Ho Chi Minh have an hour difference (in our favour) so think of it as one extra hour of shopping time.

Left the bags at Concierge and wandered out to explore the vicinity around the Hotel. Made our way to Bến Thành Market where we had a late breakfast of Banh Beo Hue The market is otherwise filled with vendors selling clothes from t-shirts to caps, bags and sunglasses to some selling a large variety of coffee powder and drip coffee utensils, indigenous goods, crockery and cutlery.

Judging from the number of helpers around the store packing takeaways and the number of locals and tourists seated all around on makeshift stools, it would have been a correct assumption to say that this was the market’s most popular food store.

This light and appetising dish tasted to me like the Viet version of Singaporean Bee Tie Mak (a steam rice cake) swimming in a lovely sweet and sour fish sauce garnished with coriander and shallots and bits of dried shrimp

Ice Coffee Stop

We wandered off outside the market to look for Saigon Square which was supposed to have fake t-shirts and branded bags and clothes in general – sort of like a mini Shenzhen. Found it and was duly unimpressed. Definitely if you are inclined to buy fake goods – get the A grades in Shenzhen (particularly Luo Wu) and give this a big skip!

The heat was unbearable outside Saigon Square and we would have melted on the pavement if not for the fact that we stumbled upon Cafe Vy as it is commonly known as  with a sign that says Kinh Chao Quy Khach – a wonderful local coffee place set up like a little French style side-walk cafe serving Vietnamese coffee – no food, just coffee which was oddly ok.

3A STATION 

Suitably imbibed with caffeine, we headed to a local Arts area called 3A Station not far from the Hotel. This 2000 square metre art area was formerly the site of 3 abandoned warehouses built in the 19th century when the French colonized Vietnam.

Now fully refurbished, the space has been converted into a creative space in which you can find clothing stores, home ware boutiques, art galleries, some offices and coffee shops. We stopped for a light lunch of crab meat spring rolls with cold beer at one of the restaurants there.

A FULL BODY MASSAGE 

Nearby our hotel, we found a small and cosy spa called the Temple Tree Spa which turned out fairly well-rated on Trip Advisor. So we headed there for a 60 minute long full body massage which came up to only SGD$32 (VND520,000).

EVENING STROLL 

Walking around the city at twilight was a treat as the temperature was far more bearable and the buildings were lit up beautifully.

VIETNAMESE PIZZA BREAK 

On the way to dinner, we found a lovely version of Vietnamese pizza or Bánh Tráng Nướng which we bought to try! Verdict – Delish – it was basically made from the skin used to wrap Vietnamese spring rolls but barbecued with shrimp, pork, eggs, cheese and a type of non-spicy chilli paste (at least that was what I thought it tasted like)!

DINNER AT CHI HOA 

Dinner that evening was at Chi Hoaa Vietnamese restaurant that brings the variety of street food favourites and home cooking together under one roof. 

Day 2:

BINH TAY WHOLESALE MARKET

After a hearty breakfast in the hotel, we headed out to an adventure to Binh Tay Market, a wholesale market sometimes known as Cho Lon Market in District 6.

Expect it to look just like this when you arrive – messy, crowded, dirty and chaotic and everyone pushing through the tiny avenues where goods are unloaded, vehicles parked and people are moving from one part of the market to another.

Inside the market, we stopped by the nut wholesaler where we picked up cashews and lotus nuts and a variety of other unusual snacks and chips.

Another wholesaler who sold Bird’s Nest and a variety of scallops

Along the market fringe, a lovely basket shop where my girlfriends went crazy and bought every conceivable basket and bag – in every possible shape and size

PHO FOR LUNCH 

No visit to Vietnam is complete without a big bowl of Vietnam’s most famous dish – Pho!    A lovely local recommended us to Phở Lệ – Nguyễn Trãi at 413-414 Nguyen Trai Street P.7,Q5. There is no website for this very simple eatery but rest assured the pho was nothing short of awesome with a free flow of veggie refills and sauces to go with any of the two or three types of meat that you choose. All doused in the most delicious bowl of steaming hot beef broth!

STREET SHOPPING

Obviously, our shopping quota had not been fulfilled so this was a trip to explore the street stores in District 1 where we found a few gems selling lacquer ware, clothing and quirky gifts.

Spa Time 

Another local friend recommended the Paloma Spa in District 1 which turned out to be a very reasonable but classy Spa located in a Vietnamese villa.  Well known for their facials using Sothy’s products and their body and slimming massages, this was probably one of the most exclusive spa locations that I enjoyed exploring in Vietnam.

DRINKS AT THE DECK 

We headed to pre-dinner drinks at The Deck another gorgeous restaurant and bar in the District 2 area by the river that had us watching the sunset and sipping cocktails.

DINNER AT LA VILLA

Just around the corner from The Deck was another restaurant set in an old restored Villa, aptly called La Villa, a French michelin starred fine dining restaurant.  Besides the amazing set menu (for just under S$100) that allowed you to choose a combination of appetisers alongside a main course and dessert, we were wowed by the cheese selection that ran from blocks of truffled brie to camembert alongside a generous cheese trolley selection of French favourites.

Day 3:

ANNAM GOURMET MARKET

A trip that starts with food must end with it and our last shopping stop before the airport was to the Annam Gourmet Market. The store carries a large display of gourmet groceries, cheese, organic products, gluten-free products, fruit and vegetables, gourmet deli items like foie gras and pates, wine, coffee and other beverages.

ONE LAST MEAL 

And finally before checking out, a final stop for our last taste of Ho Chi Minh.

Celebrity Kitchens In Hong Kong

Its no secret that Chefs all over the world who want a presence in Asia open first in Hong Kong just to see if the 9 million plus (unofficial population) will bite the bait, so to speak. So, if you are headed to Hong Kong, in search of the who’s who – here’s a list of what and who to check out!

Gordon Ramsay’s Bread Street Kitchen and London House

More charming than hellish in person, Gordon Ramsay has gone on to open two restaurants in Hong Kong. His Bread Street Kitchen opened in 2014 at LKF Hotel followed by London House which opened in TST in 2015.

Bread Street Kitchen has a gastro-bar feel to its menu with items like its delicious Tamarind spiced chicken wings, spring onions, coriander. There are also hearty meat dishes like the Dingley Dell pork BBQ baby back ribs, Cote de boeuf and for dessert a rather irresistible Sticky toffee pudding with clotted cream. It’s a good choice for date night as the place has a nice buzz with a shared table concept. Also a great place for Sunday brunch with the kids.

Bread Street Kitchen – Mezzanine Level, LKF Hotel, 33 Wyndham Street, Tel: +852 2230 1800 

London House is definitely more of an English pub type concept. Expect the latest game to be screened, live entertainment on weekends and a wide menu of beers, ales and drinks alongside comfort food like Fish and Chips, Bangers and Mash, my favourite – the Potted Crab with Seaweed Toast and Bread and Butter Pudding.

London House – G5, Tsim Sha Tsui Centre, 66 Mody Road, East Tsim Sha Tsui. Tel: +852 3650 3333 

Jamie Oliver’s Italian

Similarly Jamie Oliver also has two restaurants in Hong Kong. Both a spin off from Jamie’s Italian in the UK. Casual dining at its best, Jamie’s Italian has two branches – one in Causeway Bay on Hong Kong island and the other in Harbour City in Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon.

Expect a fun evening of affordable all-day eats and drinks, lots of canned food on your table to hold up their signature planks full of fish and meat starters. The menu is filled with easy eats like their Hong Kong Hot pizza, Prawn Linguine pasta, the Lamb Lollipops and the Epic Brownie for dessert.

We like the fact that they have a good kids menu, interesting cocktails – our favourite is the Bramble, decent wine – try Jamie’s Rosso and the fact that each of the restaurant’s has been uniquely designed to incorporate the history and personality of the city, as well as creating an environment where the focus is on exceptional food, good company and the relaxed conviviality of the ‘Italian table’.

Jamies Italian

2/F, Soundwill Plaza II- Midtown, 1 Tang Lung Street, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong. Tel: +852 3958 2222

Shop 412, Level 4, Ocean Centre, Harbour City, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. Tel: +852 3758 3333

Jason Atherton’s 22 Ships, Ham & Sherry & Aberdeen Street Social

Unlike self-made and self-styled Gordan and Jamie, Jason Atherton started out working under great chefs like Pierre Koffmann, Marco Pierre White, Nico Ladenis and Ferran Adria at el Bulli, before joining the Gordon Ramsay Group in 2001. After launching ‘Maze’ in London and overseeing the opening of five more ‘Maze’ restaurants globally, Atherton left Gordon Ramsay Holdings to launch his own restaurant group. To date he has quickly expanded into London, New York, Dubai, Hong Kong, Sydney and Shanghai. He has already opened 3 restaurants in Hong Kong – 22 Ships, Ham & Sherry and Aberdeen Street Social.

Ham & Sherry is definitely the place to go for light bites and a drink – nothing too pricey. There is a good and wide variety of Spanish tapas style eats and Asia’s largest list of Sherry.

Ham and Sherry – 1-7 Ship Street, Wan Chai, Hong Kong, Tel: +852 2555 0628                         

Opposite this eatery and along the same stretch of road in Star Street, you will find 22 Ships, a great choice for a night out with friends as it has a buzzy party pub feel to the ambience and food (also tapas inspired but incorporating a mix of European and Asian ingredients) is all about sharing. Good wine list with a nice cache of Spanish beers.

22 Ships – 22 Ship Street, Wan Chai, Hong Kong, Tel: +852 2555 0722                                  

Aberdeen Street Social is his latest offer in Hong Kong and takes on the party crowd in a hip setting. Located at PMQ (the old Police Marine Headquarters) in Central, this newly opened venue has two floors with outdoor terraces.  It is the sum of many parts – a restaurant with a private dining room, an all-day cafe, cocktail bar and a retail space that sells confectionery and sweets.

Aberdeen Street Social – PMQ at 35 Aberdeen Street, Hong Kong, Tel: +852 2866 0300

Alain Ducasse’s Spoon

With sweeping views of the Victoria Harbour, once French national and now a citizen of Monaco, Chef  Alain Ducasse’s 1 michelin star restaurant, Spoon is located at the Intercontinental Hotel in Kowloon.

All about the ultimate expression of culinary freedom, sophistication and design, it’s contemporary French menu brings together Asian produce prepared in French tradition with an excellent wine menu, where pairings are offered with your meal.

Prices here go from whatever you order on the ala carte menu to a Le Printemps set menu at HK$888 per person to a Discovery Menu at HK$1,688 per person.

Spoon – InterContinental Hong Kong, 18 Salisbury Road, Kowloon, Hong Kong.  Tel: +852 2313 2256

Joel Robuchon’s L’Atelier, Le Cafe, Le Jardin and Le Salon De The

Awarded three Michelin stars by the MICHELIN Guide Hong Kong and Macau for the fifth consecutive year.  It’s owner French chef and restaurateur, Joel Robuchon has won several titles including “Chef of the Century”, the Meilleur Ouvrier de France (France’s Best Craftsman) and he has published several cookbooks and hosted culinary television shows in France.

His main restaurant in Hong Kong is located at the Landmark Shopping Centre where it opened its doors in Hong Kong in 2006, featuring an intimidating decor that is all about lush red velvet seating complemented by dark wood furniture. The restaurant has gone on to  become an institution for French fine dining offering a variety of great French classics in innovative tapas style portions. Over the last three years, he has also opened several variations of the fine dining concept including a Cafe, a Cake Salon and Roof Top Dining area in selected locations around the city.

L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon features a circular bar enveloping an open kitchen, allowing customers to witness all aspects of cooking, from food preparation to the plating of dishes. A Lunch Set Menu starts at HK$598, a Discovery Menu at HK$2080. If you just want to check it out the fare then perhaps the Canapés Menu at HK$280 for Happy Hour at 6pm to 730pm is the thing to try. There is also a menu of Desserts at HK$170 each, an Ala Carte menu and even a menu if you are Vegetarian.

Le Jardin has an elegant interior setting and looks out to a quaint roof top garden. It offers a contemporary fine-dining experience and a menu of gourmet French cuisine.

Le Salon De The is a French tea salon that offers a great selection of sandwiches, bakery products, pastries and cakes, and coffee/tea for dining-in and takeaway. It is one of the best tea salons in town that famously serves afternoon tea, croissants as well as macarons. Their High Tea Set starts at HK$280 each or HK$528 for two.

Joel Robuchon’s – Le Jardin, Le Salon De The and L’ Atelier are at Shop 315, 334 and 401 at The Landmark, Central District, Hong Kong. Tel: +852 2166 9000.                                                                                  

Le Cafe is a much more casual version of the Atelier. The same heavy signature colours mark the Cafe but the menu is more casual. They also have a High Tea for 1 at HK$280 and for 2 at HK$580 and Crepes and Waffles on a separate menu. There are also sandwiches, crispy pockets and desserts, a boulangerie selection and drinks. All generally slightly above your regular cafe prices, naturally, but then again this is a spin off from a 3-star michelin experience!

Shop 2608-2610, Level 2, Gateway Arcade, Harbour City, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Tel: +852 2327 5711.                                                                                                                                       

Nobu

Nobu in Hong Kong is the first of Chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa’s restaurants outside of Japan. Known to the world simply as “Nobu”, his empire of Japanese restaurants located around the world spans from Beverly Hills to New York City, London to Tokyo, Aspen to Milan, Las Vegas to Miami Beach, as well as the newly launched NOBU Hotel brand. The restaurant opened in Hong Kong at the Intercontinental Hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui in late December 2006.

His training stems from Tokyo sushi bar roots and his life abroad in Peru and Argentina (think Nikkei-cuisine) and his travels around the world inspired him to create a whole particular new trend in Japanese cooking that features signatures like his fresh yellowtail sashimi with jalapeño, black cod saikyo yaki, toro tartar with caviar, white fish tiradito, sashimi salad with Matsuhisa dressing, rock shrimp tempura, soft shell crab roll and new style sashimi.

New creations that showcase local ingredients include Saga Beef Truffle Nigiri Sushi, Hirame XO Salsa, Sake Roasted Chilean Seabass with Sansho Salsa all feature at this Nobu.

Nobu – 18 Salisbury Road, The Intercontinental Hotel Hong Kong, Kowloon, Tel: +852.2313.2323                                                                                                                                 

 

Akrame Benallal’s Restaurant Akrame and Vivander Atelier

For a 33 year old, French born, Algerian Chef Akrame Benallal has come far and fast. Benallal was mentored by two of the world’s great chefs – Pierre Gagnaire and Ferran Adria (El Bulli). His cuisine sees fish and seafood as treasured ingredients and often the focus in his dishes. His signature is the way he cooks lobster in an infusion at the guest’s table. Other familiar elements lean towards the inclusion of black, his favourite colour, as well as handcrafted, hand-churned butter, with which he has an enduring fascination.

He opened Restaurant Akrame, Hong Kong along Ship Street in 2013. In 2014, the restaurant earned its first Michelin star.

Ever eager to embrace change, innovate and elevate, in March 2016, he relaunched his menu – introducing an inventive new tasting menu paired with his own line of culinary juices paired with a four, six or eight course menu option where components of each dish are complemented with a selected fruit blend. Menus start at 4 courses for HK$788 with juice pairing at HK$198.

Akrame – Shop B, G/F, No. 9 Ship Street, Wanchai Hong Kong. Tel: +852 2528-5068                      

His second Hong Kong restaurant, Atelier Vivanda is a take on the traditional French bistro. He opened this in June 2015 next to Restaurant Akrame, also along Ship Street. The same street has since become known as michelin row as it has also become home to michelin-starred names like Bo Innovation and 22 Ships.

Atelier Vivanda serves classic French meat dishes with twists of Chef’s famous creativity in a comfortable, casual setting that recalls the atmosphere of a countryside butcher’s studio. Menu selection is minimal, where high quality gourmet ingredients are simply prepared to casual classic French recipes, showcasing twists of Chef’s distinctive style in adventurous and unexpected flavour combinations. A light lunch is offered at HKD128, alongside a more substantial lunch menu at HKD298. Dinner is available from 6pm onwards and is priced at HKD448.

Atelier Vivanda – G/F, 9A Ship Street, Wanchai, Hong Kong.  Tel: +852 2109 1768                                                                                                                           

Catalunya

Opened in 2013, the opening team from the world-renowned Michelin three-starred El Bulli opened Spanish restaurant Catalunya in Wanchai’s Morrison Hill area. The 5000 sq foot restaurant boasts an El Bulli alumnae headed by Group Executive Chef, Mr Alain Devahive Tolosa and Group General Manager, Mr Pol Perelló, a Spanish native who held a similar role at El Bulli for over 10 years, so you can expect something pretty special.

This is one group that opened very successfully Catalunya first in Singapore at the Marina Bayfront and has now come to Hong Kong. Signature dishes from its restaurant in Singapore including items like their Cod Esqueixada, Roasted Meat Cannelloni, Lobster Rice, Roasted Suckling Pig with Lemon Puree, and all-time favorites such as Spanish Bombas and Truffle Bikini feature alongside a comprehensive Spanish wine list and cutting-edge cocktails.

Catalunya – G/F Guardian House, Morrison Hill, Wanchai, Hong Kong, Tel: +852 2866 7900

Demon Chef Alvin Leung’s, Bo Innovation

Bo Innovation has made big strides on the global culinary map. It opened in London late 2012 and won a michelin star for Bo London in 2014 but also closed that very same year, promising to return after a ‘refit’. If you are missing it, the Hong Kong eatery is still very much alive. Helmed by the self styled Demon Chef, Alvin Leung, Bo Innovation, earned its 3 Michelin stars in Hong Kong and Macau guide for 2014 to 2016 and still forks out extreme Chinese cuisine with a molecular touch.

The restaurant is located at Star Street. We first ventured there in 2012 when the lunch set was a humble HK$268 for a choice of two dim sum or Bo Signature appetisers, a choice of main course and dessert. A lunch drop by these days costs double at HK$430 per person for a Set Lunch (Entree, Main Course and Dessert) and HK$730 for the Chef’s Lunch. Dinner offers different menus with a basic Tasting Menu starting at HK$$1,680 per person with an optional wine pairing HK $1,100 per person. There is also a Chef’s Menu and a Chef’s Table Menu. Undoubtedly all serve premium ingredients like scallop, foie gras, unami, oyster, caviar, cod, Brittany blue lobsters, abalone, all beautifully presented, molecular in consistency, style and size (somewhat) and definitely innovative. Make sure you try their signature molecular cuisine specials the Caviar, Smoked Quail Egg at HK$280 and the Xiao Long Bao at HK$90. The latter is an expensive mouthful of one precious morsel occupying about ¾ of a Chinese soup spoon, laced with a thin red line of edible paper infused with dark Chinese vinegar. It had the texture of raw egg yolk, and once you popped it in your mouth, out oozed an intense, rich soup holding authentic XLB flavours. Very clever.

Bo Innovation – 60 Johnston Road, Hong Kong, Tel: +852 2850 8371