A short holiday trip around Asia. 4 countries over two weeks.
  • Day14

    Maokong, Longshan & Taipei Zoo

    January 6 in Taiwan ⋅ ☁️ 25 °C

    Taipei Zoo is situated on the south east edge of the city as it climbs into the mountains. A large zoo with a wide selection of animals, reptiles, birds and insects it was definitely worth the visit.

    After the Zoo I took the nearby Maokong Gondola way up into the mountains. It's a really long cable car ride and it climbs up over several forested peaks and valleys. Stunning views can be had of Taipei and the mountains.

    It ends in Maokong where there are a number of tea gardens, tea houses and other sights such as temples. The trip back is just as spectacular. If you only visit one thing in Taipei I recommend the Gondola ride :-)

    Then it was back to the city on the MRT and off to Longshan Temple, probably ly the most famous temple in the city. There are also several other temples in the area that are well worth the visit and the street markets and sights and sounds of this old part of Taipei mean you can wander for ages.

    Well this was my last day in the remarkable city of Taipei and I have definitely enjoyed myself.
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  • Day13

    Yeliu Geopark & CKS Memorial Hall

    January 5 in Taiwan ⋅ ⛅ 23 °C

    Up early for the journey out to the northern coast and Yeliu Geopark. Figured it wouldn't be too crowded as it was so far from the city - 2hrs by bus - but couldn't have been more wrong. It was heaving with so many tourists a good shot of the wondrrful natural rock formations was just impossible. I guess that's the one big problem with traveling in Asia ; all the tourist spots are heaving with people.

    Then it was another bus back to the city and a visit to the impressive Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall with its stunning blue and white central building in the midst of a very large complex with two other buildings in more traditional multi colors.

    I also visited the Taiwan National Museum nearby and to my surprise the Old Masters exhibition of Aboriginal bark art from Australia.

    I got a Knife Therapy massage in the undeeground mall. Essentially being beaten with two large blunt chopping knives... an experience to be sure :-)

    Rest of the day and evening was spent wandering the bustling streets and eating street food :-)
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  • Day12

    Nǐ hǎo Taipei

    January 4 in Taiwan ⋅ ☀️ 24 °C

    Flew into Taipei this morning; a bustling Asian megopolis that feels like a cross between Siagon and Tokyo. Has all the crazy traffic, scooters and street vendors of a Saigon but also is very modern and glitzy like Tokyo.

    Took in the street markets (day and night) and Art Museum, a Temple at night and visited Taipei 101 for the 360 degree views of the city at sunset.

    I like the buzz of Taipei and I'm staying a place called Bee House which is totally Bee themed and very cool. Peace and tranquility in the heart of the bustling streets.

    Everything mingles and merges here. Street vendors outside a hardware store and next door to an up market gift store and all around the garish red and gold of the Chinese New Year themed stores... the smells of food... and neon and noise!

    Looking forward to my three days here, the life the sights and the food. Speaking if which I found an amazing Burger joint and enjoyed a brilliant burger and fries, which was really yummy after the last 10 days of Asian food.
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  • Day11

    Lazy Day in Okinawa

    January 3 in Japan ⋅ ☀️ 19 °C

    Had a lazy day today, slept in late then checked out of the hotel and drove an hour south back to Naha.

    Visited the Shikinaen Royal Garden and enjoyed its typical Japanese garden beauty with that added Okinawan twist of more tropical foliage.

    Then it was on into Naha to the Okinawa Prefectural Museum which was well worth the visit. After that got some lunch and did some shopping at the big Aeon Mall near the Museum, then a trip down the very touristy Kokusai Dori street in the center of Naha.

    All in all a lazy last day in this tropical part of Japan.
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  • Day10

    Garden, Castle, Waterfall, Cave & Beach

    January 2 in Japan ⋅ ⛅ 17 °C

    Started the day early at the Southeast Botanic Gardens near Okinawa city. Always good to get to these places early before most of the tourists arrive; had the place almost to myself.

    Driving north in heavy traffic I saw a sign for Todoroki Waterfall so took a detour to check it out. It was really nice and peaceful with very few other visitors.

    Next stop was Nakijin Castle ruins, a stunning castle set amidst jungle close to the coast. Very photogenic on this lovely sunny and warm winters day.

    After Nakijin I drove around the western coast for a while and stopped at Manza Beach before heading inland and visiting Cave Okinawa, a 200m long limestone cave with a walkway that I noticed a sign for as I was driving. Always something to discover when getting off the beaten track and taking back roads; again I had the place all to myself :-)

    After the Gardens, Castle, Waterfall, Beach and a Cave the day was almost over so I took a slow drive back to the Hotel on the eastern coast stopping at a local Aeon Mall to get some food for supper... some yummy fresh fish Sushi.
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  • Day9

    Two Castles & a Sacred Place

    January 1 in Japan ⋅ ☁️ 17 °C

    First full day in Okinawa saw me head of early in my hire car to Sefa-Utaki in the south east of the main island. A Sacred place down through the ages and specifically to the Okinawa native religion which is similar to but not the same as Shinto in the rest of Japan.

    Beautiful, powerful and peaceful I got there early before most of the tourists so it was very pleasant. Then it was off to the ruins of Nakagusuku Castle (中城) which is one of several castles, which were built across Okinawa during the era of the Ryukyu Kingdom, which had been in existence for several centuries before Okinawa became a Japanese prefecture in 1879.

    Okinawa is definitely different from the rest of Japan... but also the same.

    After Nakagusuku I traveled on to the ruins of Katsuren Castle. Another one with stunning views and magnificent stonework.

    Finally I just drove around the coast and out to two islands off the east coast - Miyagi and Ikie - connected by road bridges. Wonderful coastline.

    Ended the day back at the hotel/resort enjoying the swimming pool and relaxing after a few very full on days in Bali, Vietnam and here in Okinawa. More exploring tomorrow :-)
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  • Day7

    Saigon by Scooter - Day & Night

    December 30, 2019 in Vietnam ⋅ ☀️ 32 °C

    I was wrong about the bicycle rickshaw. The best way to see Saigon and soak up the atmosphere of this crazy city is on the back of a Scooter!

    Today I took two separate tours with Saigon Kiss Tours which is basically a female driver/guide dressed in the traditional áo dài dress who ferries you around to different places in the city, many off the tourist path so you can get a real feel for the city and it's inhabitants. In the morning I took a 4 hr tour with a girl called 'Linda' (her western name) to some great places I would never otherwise have known to go. First stop was a local market and a great crab soup snack then onto a famous old Coffee Shop hidden away down a side street that was a place where North Vietnamese revolutionaries met in secret when Saigon was capital of the South under the French and then the Americans. Lots of hidden wall spaces and a Hidden tunnel under a wardrobe used to escape should the police raid the place. Great coffee too :-)

    Then it was off to the place where the famous monk Thích Quảng Đức set himself alight in 1963 in protest at the corrupt South Vietnamese government and their persecution of Buddhists. He's known and worshipped as a Buddha now and his shrine stands by the intersection where he committed the ultimate sacrifice through self immolation.

    Then on to an old complex of apartments in District 3 to see how many of the people live. Narrow bustling streets and small balconied apartments above with all the plants growing, washing hanging and baskets of garlic drying. Designed by an American architect in the mid 60's the government now wants to knock them down but they are clearly well lived and loved homes with low rents and people do not want to move.

    The Scooter got a puncture here (or maybe it's passenger was just too big and heavy) so we stayed a while and had a lunch of the famous Vietnamese soup Pho; it was really delicious and eaten in a very authentic setting.

    Then off to the last stop of the day at a 260 year old Pagoda down by the Saigon River. Very ornate and Chinese it is really beautiful and peaceful... just us and the caretakers, no tourists.

    The night ride started at dusk in heavy beeping traffic and proceeded to some delightful street food stops. Lan Nhi picked me up from my hotel and first stop was taste of authentic Banh Mi, the Viet French Baguette then on to another market where tried the thin rice cake pizza like thing that was delicious then a flower market and yet more wonderful Vietnamese street food; before a trip under the River in the tunnel to District 2 which is very new and was very quiet and peaceful compared to the city. Final stop was for desert in District 4 before the trip back to the hotel.

    All in all an exhilarating whirlwind scooter tour of this crazy vibrant city. Highly recommended if you ever visit Saigon. The best way to see and feel the beating heart of this big hearted city.
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  • Day6

    Saigon Serenade

    December 29, 2019 in Vietnam ⋅ ☀️ 26 °C

    Started the day with a strong black coffee at Trung Nguyen Legend ' energy coffee' that claims - probably among many - to be the best coffee in the city. This is a great coffee city and it's usually served in a single cup slow drip with a cup full of ice or some hot water if you prefer. Amazing stuff!

    Photos can't really capture the bustling sights and sounds of the city but hopefully I captured some of the iconic images of Ho Chi Minh City.

    I spent the morning taking in the city slowly via cycle rickshaw, the best way to travel if you really want to soak up the city vibes... and fumes from the traffic :-)

    Lots of wide tree lined streets here that expose the cities French influence. Stopped at the War Remnants Museum first and looked aghast at what the USA, Australia and NZ did here during the Vietnam War. But all seems forgiven as you often see Viet and US flags flying side by side here. The US embassy however looks more like a fortress with high spiked walls, bollards and guard houses. The irony of the red hammer and sickle flag flying outside was not lost on me. After all the Viet Cong did win the war(s) despite all the atrocities visited on this country, first by the French, then the Japanese and finally by the USA and her allies.

    Then it was on to a large Pagoda to soak up the more peaceful vibes of the Chinese style Buddhism practiced here. Both the Pagoda and a Temple I visited were packed with praying people and the tourists seemed a little out of place, although ever present. Unlike Temples in Japan they are not really havens of peace in the city, they are actually quite noisy bustling places full of life.

    Catholics make up about 20% of the population thanks to the efforts of French missionaries so there are Chuches and a Cathedral also. Notre Dame Cathedral is more complete than it's namesake these days but also under reconstruction.

    Then it was a classic Banh Mi roll for lunch and back to the hotel to freshen up and escape from the heat of the midday sun.

    Visited the Independence Palace in the afternoon and the park lands around it. Learning lots about Vietnamese history on this trip. Much more complex than I had thought previously, despite growing up during the Vietnam War Era. Also reading a great historically accurate novel by Anthony Grey called Saigon.

    The serenade of the title, if you had not guessed, is the almost musical sound of the traffic, scooters, street vendors and beeps, honks and shouts of the crazy traffic as everyone somehow avoids colliding.
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  • Day5

    Good Morning Vietnam!

    December 28, 2019 in Vietnam ⋅ ⛅ 30 °C

    Up early to a humid grey Saigon after a long day of travel and two hours in queues at Visa and Passport Control. Welcome to the job creating bureaucratic state!

    A day trip down the Mekong delta by boat and car awaits.

    What a crazy, energetic, bustling city, even at 6am. Scooter madness and bikes and trucks and cars and buses and hordes of pedestrians.

    Street vendors, carts and people hustling the tourists... but not in a bad way. Lots of smiles on people's faces. Neon signs and shops everywhere in buildings bearing the unmistakable patina of tropical decay.

    Chaotic is probably a good description of everything here; but it seems to work... It just takes time. As does traveling anywhere. Time in Bali and here reminds me why I enjoy traveling in Japan... it's just so much faster and more enjoyable there. Everywhere else I have been in Asia the traffic is insane and getting anywhere takes two or three times longer than you might expect. I sure have spent a lot of time so far in traffic jams.

    At the end of the traffic we reached My Tho by the Mekong River and on to a boat to get ferried across to one of 5 Islands, Unicorn Island, and a visit to a Bee Cafe where we got to see all the bees while drinking honey tea and eating honied snacks like dried bananas. Next a visit to a chocolate factory and sample their varieties of chocolate. We also got to see and sample the many types of tropical fruit that they grow on the island.

    Then it was on to Coconut Island on another boat. First for lunch and then for a bicycle ride around the island. Really pretty place with little houses among the coconut groves and canals, with narrow winding concrete pathways shared by pedestrians, bicycles and the ever present scooters. Apparently there are 12 million scooters in Saigon and 15 million people :-)

    After the island and a paddle boat ride up one of the many tributaries of the Mekong it was back across the river and on to an amazing Buddhist Pagoda at My Tho... a giant Laughing Buddha and a giant Sleeping Buddha among a collection of ornate temples and giant Bonsai.

    Then back to Saigon and out for dinner for some more of the amazing food in Vietnam. I am like totally hooked on the delicious salads they have here. The one in the pics below is a 5 color Beef salad... I never knew green leaves could have so many different flavors. Delicious!

    All in all a pretty full on day for my first day in Vietnam. Going to explore Saigon tomorrow :-)
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