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.

Advertisements

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                                                                        

City Guide: Where To Eat In San Francisco

SF has its charms. I haven’t been there is over 30 years, so it was as good as visiting San Francisco for the first time. My visit here was a very short one, barely four days, so sight-seeing was very limited. But despite the little sightseeing I managed to squeeze into the days there, there was quite a few eating destinations I didn’t miss.

For foodies, it’s a must to go to the Ferry Terminal Building where artisanal food producers have their shops and restaurants. You’ll see long queues for artisanal breads, coffee, honeys and pop into Sur La Table, a kitchen shop for a smart array of kitchen tools. But it’s the seafood that you should come here for.

PicMonkey Collage - Oysters SF

Hog Island Oyster Bar is the place to go for a wide array of super fresh, briny sweet oysters, including Hog Island Sweetwater & Atlantic from the company’s own sustainable farms in Tomales Bay in northern California. Order a cocktail or two, and sit down to a platter of 12 oysters for US$36, a steal by our standards. We followed that up with a halibut ceviche was generous chunks of white, fresh fish in a light cream dressing, and the clam chowder ($14) was a hearty large portion, with carrots and young potatoes in a flavourful broth. They have a good selection of cocktails and wine. Have The Flupsy, a fresh, slightly sweet concoction. Really nice. I had two of them.

The Ferry Building Marketplace
Tel: +1 415 391 7117
(No reservations)

IMG_7252

Luce, with its one Michelin star (for 6 years running), is a smart restaurant at the Intercontinental San Francisco where we stayed. It was a lovely meal for two tired travellers not in the mood to venture outdoors on our first night. The prices are very reasonable, the food very well done, with clever food and taste pairings on a plate, and pretty presentations. The Pacific amberjack marinated in yuzu with trout roe ($19) and the duck breast, cooked with red wine and honey and lentils ($36) was lovely. A 10-course tasting menu just goes for US$96, such great value if you ask me.

888 Howard Street, San Francisco, CA 94103
Tel: +1 415 616 656

IMG_5031

PicMonkey Collage - tartine 1

Tartine Bakery is one of the most popular hang outs in SF, and even in the rain, locals are happy to queue from all the way outside the store, to get their hands on the cafe’s legendary massive, flaky croissant and other breakfast bakes. Located in the Mission district, it’s got that popular neighbourhood buzz but expect to do it self-service, and end up standing around with plates and coffee in hand and wait until a seat becomes available. The croissants are insanely layered and crisp, and worth the considerable effort. But if you just don’t want to be a slave to Tartine, buy and take away.

600 Guerrero St, San Francisco
Tel: +1 415-487-2600

IMG_5076 - Copy

Thanh Long may not be the place you’d think of going to for seafood in SF, but when our friends took us there, we realised it was special. The speciality at this unpretentious Vietnamese restaurant in the suburbs of SF is roasted Dungeness crab, cooked with their special garlic marinade. It was so aromatic and sweet with lots of butter and a light dose of black pepper. While it did remind me of our own black pepper crab, it is totally different, and the meatiness of the Dungeness crab made it easy to eat. We all had one crab each. So good I cleaned it up completely. Have it with garlic noodles, which I think is cooked with butter, garlic, reduced with white wine and just a hint of parmesan. A full bar is available, and their pear martini is nice.

4101 Judah Street
corner of 46th Avenue
Tel: +1 415 665 1146

PicMonkey Collage - bistro jeanty

Bistro Jeanty was where we lunched at Napa Valley, midway through a pretty disappointing wine tour of the region. The authentic French food served up at this classic French bistro was the high point of our day in the wine region. The day’s special of breaded pig’s foot was great, comprising tender cooked pulled pork reshaped into a pig’s foot, and friend in a crisp delicate layer of breadcrumbs. Their tomato soup in puff pastry ($12.50)  is legendary: share, because this large bowl of soup is sinfully rich with cream and butter, but just irresistible. The recipe is found on their website, which I intend to try. The sole meuniere ($27.50) featured plump fillets in perhaps to much buttery sauce, and the daube de boeuf ($24.50) was a hearty pot of full rich beef chunks with potatoes, peas and carrots. Its wine list features a good range of local and French wines, plus a full bar for cocktails and digestifs. Prices are sweet, as you can see, and portions are large. Best to share main courses.

6510 Washington St.
Yountville, Ca 94599
Tel: +1 707-944-0103

City Guide: Where, What, How In Auckland, New Zealand

A scenic view from Mission Bay, Auckland
A scenic view from Mission Bay, Auckland

With the end-May and June school mid term holidays around the corner in Singapore and the June school holidays hitting Hong Kong from end June through to August, it’s the perfect timing to go on a long holiday. And a long holiday is the best time to properly get to know and fully explore a holiday destination. Our go-to recommendation is Auckland, New Zealand. If you are hoping to escape the Summer heat then it is the perfect spot to enjoy the cool crisp of the Winter season as the seasons are in reverse from the rest of the world.

What do you do in Auckland? Lots .. especially if your holiday is all about chilling out and savouring the sights. Last December, I ventured over from Hong Kong and as the journey entailed almost a ten to eleven hour flight, I took the opportunity to make this a more relaxed holiday to really explore Auckland and take in the beauty and bits of what visitors have often called one of the world’s most scenic countries.

WHERE TO STAY?

To decide where to stay you first have to recognise that Auckland is a bit of everything – city, town and beach so I spent a few days in all three locales.

The Langham Hotel, Auckland
The Langham Hotel, Auckland

City living – in the heart of the city, there is no better location to stay at then The Langham Auckland. This beautiful and well-appointed hotel lies in the heart of the city on Symonds Street so you can just about walk around its immediate surrounds to get a taste of shopping, the great cafe culture, water front restaurants near the harbour and the in-city parks.

If you want a bit of a treat, we highly recommend checking into a Club Floor room at the hotel. The access to breakfast, complimentary tea, all day drinks, snacks and the free wifi will make your stay completely worth the while.

Whilst there we also recommend a must-do which is a massage or day treatment in the Hotel’s Chaun Spa for a complete relaxing treat and to complete your stay, nothing like the Wedgewood high tea at the Hotel’s Palm Court Lobby Lounge.

The Palm Court Lobby Lounge - The Langham Hotel, Auckland
The Palm Court Lobby Lounge – The Langham Hotel, Auckland
The Langham's exquisite Wedgewood Afternoon High Tea
The Langham’s exquisite Wedgewood Afternoon High Tea

You will see that this is the place for locals and high tea lovers who want to enjoy a ‘chi-chi’ treat in the middle of the afternoon, great service, a lovely piano lounge ambience, chatting over what must be the classiest nibbles in the city.

Small town getaway – to get a feel of what a small town feels like, you must spend a night or two in the village of Devonport. We checked into the heart of town at the Devonport’s Esplanade Hotel. This hotel is nothing short of quaint and charming from its friendly service to the tea with scones on the menu and the big and hearty breakfast (which was really good) and included in the room rate.

The charming Esplanade Hotel in Devonport, Auckland
The charming Esplanade Hotel in Devonport, Auckland
Tea and Scones, anyone?
Tea and Scones, anyone?

Just outside the Hotel which fronts the park and beyond that a small beach front, there are also several excellent restaurants, a lovely library, a small cinema, bars and even a well-stocked supermarket. Hotel guests also get 24 hour free parking if you are driving.

Rent a bike, segway or take a ferry ride!
Rent a bike, segway or take a ferry ride!

Also across the hotel is the ferry pier where for about NZD$7 you can take a ferry into the city or just rent a segway or a bicycle and cycle around the town – just to get a feel of small town living.

Beach Retreat – true blue Kiwis will tell you that there is no place to live in Auckland except along the Shore – the North Shore that is. This is beach lovers and surfers paradise and those who love the lifestyle will fall in love with the Takapuna area.

Takapuna Beach
Takapuna Beach

We stayed at the lovely Takapuna Oaks which has its own beach front and is a short drive from the main Takapuna town which is a bustling town centre with Shore City as its main high street mall.

The Takapuna Oaks at twilight
The Takapuna Oaks at twilight
A view of Auckland city from the balcony of the Takapuna Oaks Hotel
A view of Auckland city from the balcony of the Takapuna Oaks Hotel

A great place for a quiet and serene retreat and a glass of wine, the outdoor balcony on the dining room at the Oaks offers blissful views of the Auckland city skyline just across from the hotel.

WHAT TO DO?

I love the simple pleasures. My itinerary for a chilled holiday in Auckland:

The White Lady - Auckland's most famous food truck and burger stop
The White Lady – Auckland’s most famous food truck and burger stop
The absolutely delicious burgers - this was only about NZ$7!
The absolutely delicious burgers – this was only about NZ$7!

Eat at a food truck – over at the corner of Commerce and Fort street, check out The White Lady which sells the best tasting burgers that I have ever had.

Check out the waterfront restaurants for a gourmet evening out – known as the Viaduct Harbour area, there are over 30 waterfront restaurants to explore. Even if you walk around just outside this precinct, you will find many other interesting eats.

Go shopping at the outlet malls at Onehunga or one of the city’s larger malls at Sylvia Park.

One of the secret waterfalls we discovered on one of our hikes
One of the secret waterfalls we discovered on one of our hikes

Take a nature walk – there are so many tracks to walk or hike

Look out for a weeknight market at random empty carpark lots on weeknights or go to the many weekend markets, all over Auckland
Look out for a weeknight market at random empty carpark lots on weeknights or go to the many weekend markets, all over Auckland
Decadent donuts injected with a chocolate infusion
Decadent donuts injected with a chocolate infusion

Explore the markets – during the weekend, there are city and farmer’s markets and at night – there are markets (on weekdays) at various empty parking lot locales throughout the city that sell food and bric-a-brac. All loads of fun!

Make a date with lady luck at the Auckland Sky Tower Casinos or just go up the tower for a 360 degree view of Auckland.

WHERE TO GO?

Day trip to Waiheke island – think of a boat trip, a bit of a hike into another charming seaside town, vineyards and good food, a beach to explore, zip lining and you have a day out at Waiheke, a nearby island that makes a great day trip.

Waiheke, a pretty island getaway that has resorts, vineyards and good eats for a great day trip
Waiheke, a pretty island getaway that has resorts, vineyards and good eats for a great day trip
Waiheke has lovely vintage shops that you can explore
Waiheke has lovely vintage shops that you can explore

Drive to Rotorua – this is Volcano country, famous for its geothermal hot springs, mud pools, geysers. The area has many attractions and is about a 3 hour drive from Auckland itself but definitely worth a day trip if not at least an overnight stay.

Explore Auckland Zoo or Aquarium or the various theme parks

Fullers Ferries operate several daily cruises
Fullers Ferries operate several daily cruises

Harbour Cruise – or just take a leisurely cruise with any of the deals from Fullers along the scenic coastline.

Coromandel – another beautiful escape from Auckland is this beautiful, natural hideaway retreat that has somewhat become the Hamptons of Auckland.

Hobbiton – you can’t miss this one especially if you have made it all the way to the land down-down under! There are Tours of the movie set, dinner, a farm-stay and various events with lots to see – if you make the drive down to ‘middle earth’.

City Guide: 3 Great Places To Visit In Zhu Hai

A Singaporean passport is a valuable commodity these days especially when no visas are required to get in and out of China. Which is why when you are next in Hong Kong, besides exploring and eating your way through the fragrant harbour, we recommend a 3 day sojourn from Hong Kong into Macao and then across the Chinese border into Zhu Hai. Wandering on a whim from Macao into Zhu Hai, we were pleasantly surprised at what there was to see.

Zhu Hai is no small-time border town. Bursting with colourful nightlife from night clubs, KTVS and massage parlours to cheap shopping and good eats, getting there is hassle free. Jump on a bus from the main Macao train station and you are there within minutes, across the Chinese border into Zhu Hai or if you have decided to stay in Macao for a few days then the easiest way to get to Zhu Hai is to hop on a free bus from the Venetian Hotel (just enquire at their Concierge) to the border crossing from Macao. You don’t have to be staying at the Venetian Hotel to use the bus service!

Once there, we recommend three places not to miss, especially if entertaining the kids is one of your objectives:

THE NEW YUAN MING PALACE 

If you have ever wondered how to Emperor and his family and court used to spend their time, then a visit to the New Yuan Ming Palace (free entry) is a must.

Just outside the New Yuan Ming Palace
Just outside the New Yuan Ming Palace

This Palace built in 1997 comprises an amusement park of 1.39 km², including an 80,000 m² lake and surrounding grounds was recreated as a replica to the old Summer Palace (not to be confused with the new Summer Palace gardens and grounds in Beijing). The old Summer Palace built in 1709 was a palace ground with an imperial garden with 40 splendid scenic spots. Unfortunately, the garden was robbed and burned down by foreign invaders 140 years ago, leaving a scene of devastation.

The Yuan Ming Palace lies at the foot of the Stone Forest Mountain in Zhu Hai and is quite a delight to wander around as it replicates 18 scenic spots of the original Summer Palace in the same size and dimensions. Wandering around the courtyards, you get a glimpse of certain areas of the Emperor’s private quarters including his court, living quarters, throne room, school and class rooms for his children complete with costumes.

Daily lessons
Daily lessons
The young Emperor holding court
The young Emperor holding court
Costumes for hire

You can pose for photographs in some of the costumes for hire, take photos for a small fee with the resident actors, cruise the lake on the Emperors barge whilst being entertained by his court eunuchs and concubines or watch the theatrical performances which range from the Emperor choosing concubines to the Emperor holding court.

Sailing across the beautiful lake
Sailing across the beautiful lake
On board the Emperor's Barge
On board the Emperor’s Barge

Boat rides and theatricals are ticketed. There are souvenirs for sale on the shopping street, which was modeled after the shopping street in Old Summer Palace, where the emperors tasted the daily life of common people with handicrafts on sale. The website is in Chinese here but if you want more detail in English, see here.

THE OCEAN SPRING RESORT

If you like hotsprings (man-made rather than natural occurring) then this lovely resort by the ocean called the Zhuhai Ocean Spring has 69 hot spring pools over an area of 40,000 square metres. There is probably no other spa made quite like this in terms of sheer size and proportions so truly seeing is believing. There are a few hotels within the area that offer entrance packages etc so you might consider an overnight stay so that after a day of hot spring dipping you can collapse happily back into the convenience of a nearby hotel room.

Hot Spring Pools inside the resort
Hot Spring Pools inside the resort

The resort has two regions, indoor and outdoor. It is largely modelled after a Moroccon hot spring although each area has its own theme from Asian to European. The spring waters come from the depths of the ocean and contain mineral contents and trace elements that are reputedly good for health. From different flavoured hot springs that are fragranced with herbs and various perfumes and aromatics that have health benefits, expect also pools with salt water, chrysanthemum, mint, tangerine peel, ginseng and other herbs to pools with green tea and even milk, coffee and red wine that you can soak into. Definitely a nice retreat when the weather starts to cool. Check out the Trip Advisor comments here if you are planning a visit.

CHIMELONG OCEAN KINGDOM 

The place we probably thoroughly enjoyed in Zhu Hai and where you would want to spend at least one full day is the Chimelong Ocean Kingdom. Comparable to and newer than Singapore’s Universal Studios and way better than Hong Kong’s tired Ocean Park, the Ocean Kingdom has all the song and dance of a Disneyland entourage of performances, parades and shows plus roller coaster fun and water rides.

Walking into the entrance of Chimelong Park
Walking into the entrance of Chimelong Park

Connected to this attraction are 3 hotels that also sell packages for entry and within the same compound of hotel and theme park, is another attraction called the Chimelong International Circus City which has an award winning circus act. We had no time to explore this one but will definitely save it for a next visit.

Chimelong Park Aquarium
Chimelong Park Aquarium

The park features one of the world’s largest aquariums with whale sharks, beluga whales, polar bears, penguins and arctic wolves and has been pegged as a world class destination that I would say rivals most of Asia’s theme parks (including the one we have in Singapore)

Water rides
Water rides

There are 8 themed zones within the park – Ocean Avenue, Dolphin Cove, Amazing Amazon, Ocean Beauty, Polar Horizon, Fun Zone, Mount Walrus and the Hengqin Ocean. With each there are theatrical performances, animal performances and rides. Also food and souvenir stores. Basic tickets start at RMB350. Download the park map here.

Must do ride – try the Amazing Amazon that features one of the world’s longest roller coasters with a 1,300-metre track reaching as high as 20 storeys, the roller coaster is really a thrill seeker’s dream especially if you enjoy being looped in and out upside down!

City Guide: PingYao, China’s Only Walled City

The Ping Yao city wall at one of the main gate watch towers
The Ping Yao city wall at one of the main gate watch towers

We first laid eyes on Pingyao in a picture book about China late last year. The book listed 100 places in China to see within your lifetime, and a particular photo caught our imagination. It was of Pingyao, a UNESCO Heritage Site, hauntingly evocative with tight clusters of grey courtyard houses sporting elegant curved eaves and seductive with the promise of ancient Chinese history. We decided there and then that this 2,700 year old town was going on our bucket list.

The walkway of Ping Yao's medieval city walls
The walkway of Ping Yao’s medieval city walls

Barely six months later, we were there, having first caught a flight from Singapore to Beijing, then a domestic flight to Taiyuan airport, followed by a 100km drive to our final destination. It was off the beaten track but well worth the trot.

Night time in Ping Yao
Night time in Ping Yao

Pingyao in Shanxi Province is special because it is the only complete walled city remaining in China. Inside the 12m thick city walls are mostly Ming and Ching Dynasty courtyard houses which are still inhabited today by its resident population of 20,000. Apart from the locals, it is crawling with domestic tourists, but you can count on one hand the number of international tourists. It gave us a sense of having ‘discovered’ a hidden gem yet to be found by the bulk of the world’s tourists….I’m sure they will descend soon enough.

It’s all about history here. The first thing you should do is get the three-day pass that gives you access to the museums. (This is sold at a central ticket booth in the middle of the town.) These would be the 19 sites around the city, including houses, ancient offices, and temples which have been turned into museums. The city wall counts as one on the list too. Not everyone of them is worth visiting, as we found out. But here are the things you have to see and experience:

Walk the Wall
Walk the Wall

#1. Walk the Wall

From street level, all the homes may be hidden from sight behind high walls; but up on the city walls, all of old Pingyao is spreads below you. It’s a picturesque sight: undulating roofs, private gardens and 300 year old courtyard houses spread out below, and you understand why it inspired the setting of Dreamworks’ Kungfu Panda II.

The easy 6km walk on the city walls bring you round the city along an impressively clean, broad walkway. But some sections of the wall is unprotected, and you could unwittingly step off the edge to plunge to your death below, so keep to the middle of the path and you’ll be perfectly fine.

Dioramas of ancient life in Pingyao have been installed in the little turrets along the wall, so look out for those. Around the six city gates, look at old artefacts on display, as well as the fascinating architecture planned to repel and defend. There is an ancient dungeon by one of the city gates. We couldn’t find it, though we may have been looking at the wrong places.

Main courtyard of the bank, offices are on the sides
Main courtyard of the bank, offices are on the sides
Bank Manager's Room
Bank Manager’s Room

#2. Rishengchang, China’s first bank

Pingyao was once a centre of commerce and it was home to bunch of insanely wealthy merchants who dealt in trade as banal as tofu, to fine silks and firearms. Being ever practical and sensitive to opportunity, someone set up a bank — China’s first — to support these people. The bank, Rishengchang, is now a museum of…well, the bank. Laid out just like courtyard house, walk through bank offices, the bank manager’s residence, the dining room and even accommodation provided (as a service) for privileged customers visiting town which have been recreated in fascinating detail. Rishengchang issued the world’s first cheque and it is on display there, too.

Principal’s bedroom with money vault below; the secure carriage in which they transport valuables when travelling

#3. The Tongxinggong Armed Escort Agency Museum

No, it’s not about gun-toting prostitutes but a security company which provided armed escorts to clients travelling with valuable goods or cash. One of the most fascinating museums, this evokes all the stereotypical images you’d have from kungfu movies — gentlemen pugilists who practiced their moves in hidden courtyards, and took on bandits with their kungfu moves. You see it all here, complete with their collection of weapons and fascinating photographs of corporate travel.

Diorama of corporate travel; old photo of the agency staff in full pugilistic glory!
Diorama of corporate travel; old photo of the agency staff in full pugilistic glory!

The dioramas that depict their lives are impressive. Don’t miss the re-created bedroom of the ‘Principal’ who slept over an underground vault containing clients’ money and goods, and the practice yard which kungfu paraphernalia. They must have been very successful as all the principals — the sifus of the agency — lived to a ripe of age, even for our standards.

#4. The ancient government buildings

This sprawling complex is essentially the tax man’s office and courthouse rolled into one. It also shows you the priorities, obligations and consequences of the state and ordinary peasant back then. After seeing this, you’ll be glad you weren’t living in those days.

Beyond the main entrance and in an expansive courtyard designed to awe the hapless peasant, you arrive first at the tax office (priority Number 1) followed by the bailiff’s (priority Number 2) and torturer’s office (Consequence Number 1) nearby. Right next door over a garden wall, and cynically next to a pretty rose garden is the dank, dark prison complete with wooden cage and stocks. Used until the 1960s, it has no doubt been cleaned up, but you get the idea of how miserable life was there. Across the rose garden lies the exhibition hall of torture instruments which I happily skipped (there were instruments for interrogation, punishment and execution) and wandered instead to the magistrate’s quarters nearby, ensconced in lush gardens a distance away enough not to hear the goings-on in the rose garden. It’s well preserved, and interesting architecture and the story it tells is definitely worth a visit.

One of the main streets of Pingyao, pedestrianized and ready for tourists. But the buildings are authentically old.
One of the main streets of Pingyao, pedestrianized and ready for tourists. But the buildings are authentically old.

#5. Pingyao’s main streets

Pingyao is a little town and completely walkable. Explore leisurely and take time to look at the architecture, peep into half hidden courtyards and stroll down the side lanes off the main thoroughfares to soak in the real Pingyao.

The main streets are equally fun, though all the shops are targetted at tourists now. Then again, they are nice shops of local brands selling modern, design forward bags, retro-inspired skincare, stationery and artisanal teas all stylishly packaged. There are some ‘antique’ shops too piled with bric-a-brac like old Chinese door knobs, figurines and weighing scales.

The streets are abuzz until pretty late at night. During this time, Pingyao looks very different too, as every main door is alight with red lanterns, which seem a cultural practice here. Bring your camera and tripod.

_____________________________________________________

Travel Notebook:

1. Book a flight to Beijing. The domestic flight from Beijing to Taiyuan can be bought online on ctrip.com. They don’t issue e-tickets though: your receipt would serve as the ticket to board. Buy first class — it’s inexpensive and it gives you some relative peace and quiet.

2. Book your return hotel transfer from Taiyuan Airport in advance. It is a long drive and you won’t want to call the hotel to send a car only you arrive to find yourself kinda stuck.

3. Bring walking shoes. Leave your heels at home. There’s no ‘fine dining’ in Pingyao. Just go casual.

4. Three days is all you really need.

5. It’s a family friendly place. Public toilets at the tourist sites are generally clean, and if you’re tired of walking, there are loads of electric shuttle ‘taxis’ that ply the streets. Hop on one and agree on a fee, or book one to bring you around for the day. Only if you don’t want to walk.

City Guide: 3 Places In Shanghai To Eat, Shop, Explore With Kids

Shanghai makes a pretty quick and good holiday stopover, especially if you live in Hong Kong. A two hour plane ride gets you there relatively quickly and cheaply so its a great quick holiday idea if you are planning to get into China for some eats and shopping which is just what I did over the recent New Year.

3 Places To Eat

Lin Long Fang at 10, Jiangguo Dong Lu near Zhaozhou Lu – I think I am seriously addicted to what I consider the best and probably cheapest Xiao Long Bao that I have ever eaten along with the most delicious Onion and Scallion Noodles! A local hole-in-the-wall place that you definitely must not miss – this is Lin Long Fang which is a sister brand to the already famous Jia Jia Tang Bao. Enough said, the pictures tell the story as does the receipt and the amazing value for money – look at that bowl of chilli and the noodles. There are many variations to the xiao long bao and after trying most – I suggest you stay true to the original Pork filling. Simple is best! Delicious does not begin to describe this especially when dunked in their light vinegar and ginger sauce.

Onion and scallion noodles
Onion and scallion noodles
Pork Xiao Long Bao
Pork Xiao Long Bao
The Bill
The Bill was incredible!

Mr and Mrs Bund – Mr and Mrs Bund is a French fine-dining experience that you don’t want to miss whilst in Shanghai because whilst not cheap, it offers relatively good value and is located in one of the most central and beautiful colonial buildings along The Bund. It is run by Paul Pairet, who also recently opened the 3000RMB per head super exclusive Ultraviolet restaurant and bar. The food is good and the drinks are not watered down and there is a lot of oogling to do as this is surely the place to entertain, be seen and to see. Whilst still in the area, pop into the nearby Peace Hotel for a nightcap or aperitif at the Peace Jazz Bar in the hotel lobby. There is a minimum spending surcharge of 200RMB per person which you can fulfil easily by ordering drinks and eats from the bar menu. You will not regret a visit – soak in the ambience of this nostalgic old time jazz bar, the band of musicians (one of them is actually 94 years old) and the Shanghainese songbird with a sultry voice.

Mr and Mrs Bund is in this building
Mr and Mrs Bund is in this building
French fare at Mr and Mrs Bund
French fare at Mr and Mrs Bund
Inside the Peace Jazz Bar
Inside the Peace Hotel’s Jazz Bar

Tsukiji Aosora Sandaime at Luwan District Changle Road 191,1-2 Floor – This restaurant is so far the best Japanese restaurant that I have tried in Shanghai. Forget the ones at the bund and head to the Japanese enclave in Shanghai where you will also find a number of clothes and jewelry boutiques and small dessert and drink cafés all around this restaurant. True, that these are not the cheap prices that you pay in Japan, but given that this is Shanghai and other Japanese restaurants literally charge an arm and a leg – this place is reasonably priced for the quality and quantity. We definitely enjoyed the freshest sashimi here, a most creatively presented salmon carpaccio Japanese style and sake at RMB150 a bottle which is half the price compared to what you pay at all too average Japanese restaurants in Hong Kong. The staff here were knowledgeable and helpful and the chef who makes an effort to make small talk as he prepares the sushi offers tips on how to appreciate each morsel. Also a must-order is the eel rice – light and fragrant.

Sushi and Sashimi Counter

Sushi and Sashimi Counter
Sushi and Sashimi Counter

3 Places To Shop

From kitschy to cool, Shanghai has it all. My favourite places to go to in Shanghai are definitely these:

Tai Kang Road or Tian Zi Feng at No.210 Taikang Road, Huangpu District – Shopping and food all in one area – tian zi fang is also known as Tai Kang Lu and you should plan to have one meal here or even just tea as there are just so many cute hole in the wall tea-houses and restaurants to explore here. And after eating, you can meander through the lanes and shop at the novelty restaurants and shops. Must visits are the Tono Palace cat cafe where you can pet sleepy kitties who snuggle at your table, the Modern Toilet Cafe where urinals and toilet bowls are actually seats in the restaurant and the Teddy Bear Cafe where a tea party with teddies big and small seated at your table is actually possible.

View of one of the many shopping and eating alleyways
View of one of the many shopping and eating alleyways
Dessert at the Modern Toilet Cafe where your ‘poo’ ice cream is served in a urinal

Yu Yuan Bazaar at No.269 Fangbang Middle Road, Huangpu District – I loved this place! Not because I like kitzchy tourist stuff which I have to admit is such fun to look at and buy. From fridge magnets that look like bowls of rice and noodles to shops that sell water bottles that kids take to school to shops that sell xiao long bao that you can sip up with a straw … I had a fun two-hour wander into the bowels of this bazaar that is housed in a maze of pagoda roofed buildings. Definitely will go back the next time I am here.

Pagoda-style buildings each with shops on the ground floor
Pagoda-style buildings each with shops on the ground floor
Sip or slurp up your Xiao Long Bao
Sip or slurp up your Xiao Long Bao

The Superbrand Mall in downtown Pudong – This is about 5 floors of shopping haven – the mass market brands are all here from made-in-China brands to Hong Kong labels to international names, you will find them all here. Do not mistake this for an outlet mall offering slashed discount prices – the prices are generally retail and the merchandise to season. I bought lots of fun stuff at CA, a brand that I last saw in Italy and for the high street brand die-hards there is a big Zara, H&M and even a Toys R Us here. Expect to spend half a day wandering through it all. I was too distracted to take photos. LOL!

3 Places To Explore With Kids

If you have kids in tow and a long weekend to spare, then here are 3 places you might want to pop into. If you click the links they will take you to the attraction websites where you can see pictures of the attraction. Otherwise, I am afraid that what you see below is all I had time to snap whilst busy exploring!

The Science and Technology Museum at No.2000 Shiji Avenue, Pudong District – You can easily spend 3 hours exploring this museum as it has a few sections which are fairly far away from each other and the building is colossal in size. There are movie screenings for the different science related exhibits and walking from hall to hall is quite a distance so it takes a long time to explore but all in all, this is a pretty impressive Science museum and about the best one that I have ever been to. If you have boys they will love the Robotics area. The Home earth and Animal Kingdom sections are massive and all the stuffed animals which are in actual size make it feel like you are up close to the real thing and walking through a taxidermist’s personal zoo. The benefit of this is that it actually gives you and your little one/s a good perspective of the actual size of a real living animal – scary to say the least. Eat before you come by as the food options (as with most tourist attractions) are there but limited. Besides the food, the thing that needs some improvement is the gift shop which sells cheap and cheery merchandise. Unappealing and surprising considering everything exported globally in terms of toys and souvenirs is made here in China but definitely good for your pocket. Whilst you are at this venue, one shopping option to include is the amazing copy goods market at the ground floor of the museum outside EXIT 6. Good bargains and fake goods and toys but all around good fun. There are small independent restaurants inside this area but if you are thinking of heading back into the museum half way after shopping – forget it as the museum allows you to exit the exhibition halls with a quick uv ray stamp on your hand just to eat in their food mall but not physically exit their premises.

Behind the kids is the massive museum
Behind the kids is the massive museum

The Shanghai Ocean Aquarium at No.1388 Lujiazui Ring Road, Pudong New Area – The outside of this aquarium looks really impressive as is its location which is in the middle of main Shanghai city. The aquarium is mainly made up of travelators with overhead tanks – a bigger version of Singapore’s Underwater World on Sentosa. You walk through the first bit looking at all the tanks with the smaller fresh water fish and marine life and the rest is a long travelator which brings you around the various levels of sea water marine animals and fish and the occasional diver cleaning the tank or feeding the fish. If you have never seen this before then there is some thrill in it as you feel like you are moving through a safe passage through waters where only big fish swim. But if you are comparing this to Ocean Park in Hong Kong then it does not come close. The aquariums in Qing dao and Beijing are way more impressive than this one but this is adequate if you have small kids. There are no restaurants at this attraction and the gift shop here rocks which is why you may want to avoid it with your little one (unlike the Science and Technology Museum). No matter about the restaurants as just immediately outside this attraction are the IFC building if you want international restaurants to eat at or the alternative which is my new found favourite and a place my cousin introduced me to – YANG’S DUMPLINGS. You want to order the Shrimp and Pork Dumplings fried at the bottom, steamed on the top – heavenly on a cold wet day. MUST GO!

Aquarium
Aquarium
Yang's Famous Dumplings
Yang’s Famous Dumplings

The Pudong Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai History Museum – There are two ways to see the Pearl Tower – up on it or from a distance. The best viewing spots if you are opting for the latter are probably from the IFC Building in Pudong OR along the outdoor Bridge that connects IFC to the Superbrand Mall, Hyatt and other big buildings. For first timers, of course you should go up the Tower just for kicks but honestly it is for the novelty factor because the same view can be had from the Shanghai Tower, Jin Mao tower nearby or any of the other tall buildings in Shanghai. If in any case you are around the vicinity, we recommend you pop by the Shanghai History Museum which is below or at the base of the Pearl Tower. It tells the story in paintings and exhibits of Shanghai’s history from its opening as a port in 1843 to the communist takeover in 1949.

Paddington at Pudong with the Oriental Pearl Tower in the backdrop
Paddington at Pudong with the Oriental Pearl Tower in the backdrop