Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Return to Kapas Island, June 2017 version

In July last year we had a week in Malaysia on Kapas island.  We decided to do it again – we had not been to beach since then.

Before this, there was a weekend in Bangkok doing some errands: fixing phones, going fabric shopping etc. Andrew was so good and sat in the gentleman’s waiting chair.  He agreed that a stretch Hummer was not the most practical of vehicles, and that no, we neither needed a lap dog nor a dog pram to push it in.  But a fan is a very useful piece of portable kit when you are sitting in a humid train station waiting 10 minutes for the airport train to arrive.


Then it was the trip to Kapas via KL and then KT.  KT, Kuala Terengganu, is the town nearest Redang, the Perhentian Islands and our quieter and less touristed destination Kapas Island.  Last time we did this trip we were supposed to spend the night in KT but when Andrew left his iPad on the plane and we had to do a detour rescue mission to retrieve it, that plan went by the wayside.  So this time we deliberately added a full day there.  The town turned out to be a quietish, provincial city, worth a look but not a destination in itself.

Then it was onto the small boat that ferried us to the island.  There had been a bt of rain the day before but Monday was clear and sunny and made for a pleasant 15 minute ride.  In fact it did not rain at all the entire stay even though quite a bit of rain was forecast

Turtle Valley is a laid-back place with simple accomodation and fantastic food.  Sylvia and Peter and the crew do it well.  This year it was Ramadhan and although that had no impact at Turtle Valley it did mean there were not the dining restaurants open at lunchtime each day.  We did not starve , we adapted our routine to be back at Turtle Valley each day for a lovely lunch.
The water was good, and we swam and snorkled.  The walkways that had been built around the island are quite an asset.  The island was quiet with only a few tourists mid-week and at times we had beaches entirely to ourselves.  The one thing that did not leave Andrew alone were the mosquitoes.  They LOVED him and left lots of bites.  He had time on his hands and actually counted what he could see.  He thought there were 300+. 

We had 4 relaxing days there and then it was back to KL for a couple of days.  We arrived into KL Sentral station at about 6pm on Friday night.  We took the circle train to our hotel.  We have never been squashed into a train carriage as much as we were on that leg.

After checking in we decided to head out for dinner.  But outside the heavens had opened and a massive tropical downpour was happening.  We stood and waited 15 minutes or so, and finally decided to brave it as it was sort of easing off,  And the restaurant we wanted to go to was about 400m away.  We got sooo wet and the restaurant was over-airconditoned and freezing, but we had a good steak. 
We walked, did some shopping and generally enjoyed a little bit of city.  One of the highlights (unexpected) was visiting the Japan Store by Isetan.  A new concept store with beautifully curated products, simple and sophisticated it was a visual treat and we spent quite a lot of time looking around all floors. 

Stayed @ Holiday Inn express and ate well The Ship, Lot 10 and Taps beer

Friday, May 19, 2017

Taipei, just a bit more

We spent a lot of time eating this trip, and did not have a single bad experience. In all the guidebooks it says if you see a line join it,  it doesn’t matter if you don’t know what you will get – the line pretty much guarantees it will be worth it.  One of the best was a stall selling green onion pancakes.   The line was long, but the reward was delicious!!!!

Din Tai Fung our favourite Xiao Long Bao chain of restaurants originated in Taipei and we made the trip to their original restaurant.  The wait was 45 minutes when we arrived so we took our number and went for a wander around the streets.  I left Andrew to his own devices for 15 minutes and came back to find he had sourced a poppy seed bun/cake. 
We had planned to do a guided market tour on our 2nd day in Taipei as a introduction to Taiwanese food.  It was postponed and we ended up doing it half way through the trip – but it was a good way to get some good off the beaten track insights.  We went with Taipei Eats and Jean was lovely. We sat in the streets and tasted smoked shark, sausages inside rice sausages, beef noodle soup, rice dumplings  etc etc.  Some of the stalls had been operating for 40 or 50 years. 
night market
And we spent some time eating our way again Ningxia night market not far from our apartment.  Busy and full off options including an ice-cream wrap with peanut toffee  shaved with a carpenter’s plane and finished with coriander.
night mkt
We spent some time on cultural pursuits visiting the Confucius  Temple and the well-restored Baoan Temple

Another highlight was the National Palace Museum with it’s superb collection of Chinese artifacts.  The porcelain and metal work were particularly stunning.  What was not stunning was the sea of humanity otherwise known as Chinese tour groups.  We went early in the morning but they were still oppressive.  The guides are pushy and the people often just as pushy as they press their phone cameras against the exhibits. Leaving your water bottle while visiting the exhibits and collecting it on exiting was a new one for us  (we didn't have water bottles, just observed others doing it)
Taiwan is a highly recommended destination with it’s green spaces, friendly people and great food!

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Taipei as a base

We came back to Taipei and a lovely apartment in the Zhongshan district.  A short walk to the metro system, plenty of restaurants and a supermarket nearby, and very quiet.  One of the pleasant aspects of Taipei is the number of small backstreets and small boutique/specialist shops.  We used this as a base to make a number of day trips and activities.
There was the trip out to the end of the MTR line and the sea-side suburb of Tamsui.  We headed off around the coast and Andrew spotted an ice-cream vendor.  We watched the funny spectale as the vendor teased a small child by offering the ice-cream then taking it away. He was a true showman knowing how far to go and having the crowd in fits of laughter.  Eventually he gave the child the ice-cream.  Andrew decided he would have one too.  He did NOT think the many would toy with little Andrew.  How wrong he was.   With sleight of hand he offered and took the ice-cream away from Andrew

If that wasn’t bad enough.  Little Andrew spent the 1 minute with an empty ice-cream cone in his pocket.  He still doesnt know how the man managed to put it in there without him knowing.
And the ice-cream was delicious.

We wandered around the Fort San Domingo.  Built originally in the early 1600s by the Spanish, the Dutch came through and re-built it, the Chinese had control of it for a while and it ended it’s active life as the British Embassy in the 1980’s when Taiwan (China)  took back control.

We spent a morning up Maokong Hill.  A ride on the MRT takes you to a semi-rural area with plenty of walking and views back over the city.  Here there are tea plantations and camphor forests.  We took the gondola up and wandered around. 
mao kong
Down at Taroko, there were plenty of sandfly/mosquitoes.  As usual Andrew was an insect magnet and spent the remainder of the trip itching the 80 or so bites he got.  And, yes, he did spend time counting them.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Biking and walking down the Taroko Gorge:

We headed to the East Coast of Taiwan for two nights.  Our destination was the Taroko Gorge, one of Taiwan’stop tourist destinations.  The Gorge is a part of a large national park with steep mountains and narrow valleys. 

We took a comfortable train on a two hour journey, much of it along the coast.  The sea views were interesting.  The large number of processing factories was a little unsettling – were we headed to a spoiled playground? No, of course not. It was a well managed natural area, untouched by large scale industry. 
We were picked up by the lodge host and taken to the Taroko Lodge.  We went for a brief walk before we met the other guests and were taken to the nearby larger town for dinner in a simple local restaurant.  The other guests turned out to be 2 international families and 2 international school teachers from...Bangkok.  In a small town, on the edge of Taiwan, there were 13 people taking advantage of Laos/Thailand New Year holidays.  It’s a small world

The next day were were driven in seperate group up the Taroko Gorge for a day of walking and biking.  This was a very pleasant way to see the natural sites at a pace of your own choosing, without being on a tour bus.  The weather was mild, even verging on cooler by the end of the day.  It made for pleasant walking conditions.  And the general direction of travel was downhill so we couldn't complain about the biking leg either.
taroko walk bike
The scenery was stunning and there were some impressive tunnels through the rock.  Traffic was not too bad, but when biking we didn't stop too many times for sight-seeing aiming to get to the next destination. 
Taroko valley
 There were plenty of tunnels on the walks and in half of them a torch was needed to light the way.  And there were plenty of ‘danger of rockfall’ signs, encouraging you to keep moving.
As well as the general natural beauty and trails, we walked to a number of temples.  Bicycle theft is not a major issue here.  At each stop we parked our bikes and wandered away for the time we wanted.  The Lodge owner was following the group as support in case of flat tyres etc, but was not checking on the bikes.
man-made taroko

  It was a very good day, which we enjoyed and recommend.  We wanted to stay another night in the Lodge, but it was fully booked.  We instead took the train 12 minutes down the line to the larger town of Hualien where we spent the night and had a wander around before returning to Taipei.

A couple of uncanny likenesses?

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Taiwan, escape to the ‘Heart of Asia’

Lao New Year is a great opportunity to make the most of some statutory holidays to get a good break away.  And it is a perfect time to visit Taiwan, not typhoon season, warm not hot and only a bit of rain in the forecasts. 

We arrived into Taipei and got onto the train into the city.  Two things immediately stood out: the transport system is well signposted and efficient and there is plenty of green spaces around the city, obvious bike lanes and families using them…are we really in China?…actually not really.

We had a hotel Relax V, near the Taipei Main railway station and it was the ideal base for the first two nights.  We arrived late in the afternoon and then wandered out for a reconnaissance mission.  We concluded we were not going to go hungry in this city based on the enticing street stalls everywhere we went. And that proved to be the case. 

Our first find was the superb Pepper Pork buns.  Like a small pie, the ball of meat is placed on a bed of green onions (scallions) and the bun dough shaped around the filling. 10s of buns are prepared waiting for current batch to come out of the the tandoori type oven.  And all the time more and more people line up eagerly awaiting the buns.  And when they are ready they are crispy, almost short pastry like and the filling is delicious.  All for NT$50 (about NZD $2.50)
pepper buns

We had also lined up a coffee place, Notch, and then just around the corner some of the most delicious bread for breakfast.  The girl in the bread shop was so kind the first day explaining to us what each bun was.  A hip cafe Drip, provided some comfort food ( so good we returned one other day as well) and a dark “Japanese style’ Beer
taipei food2
We also managed to do some sightseeing!  Thankfully most Chinese signs are supplemented with English, and even if we got lost, someone would have helped us.  We stopped once to decide which direction to go, and someone came up and asked if we wanted help.

The Longshan temple was one of our first destinations as we walked the neighbourhood.  Buzzing it was the centre of community life.  Also appealing was the large (man-made)waterfall feature along one wall. 

Everywhere we walked there were parks or masses of flowers.  It is a very tidy, green and pleasant city.  And we have never seen so many turtles in the ‘urban wild’  Almost every pond we saw, had masses of turtles piled up in water feature rocks.
peace park
We visited the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial – a massive-scale edifice.  In the memorial Hall, a smiling Chiang Kai-Shek beams down, guarded by two soldiers.  The changing of the guard is a tourist spectacle and plenty of people crowded around to watch the spectacle.

Chang Kai Shek
Chang Kai Shek2
change guard
Outside we saw an interesting man walking his 5 or 6 tiny white dogs, with their tails and ears dyed pink (just the dogs, not the man )  There was also a rather good park sign prohibiting all the normal activites in public places such as littering or overnight camping.  There were a few other prohibitions such as no clothes drying  or own desks and chairs – which suggest these may have been an issue in past?

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Saalbach-Hinterglemm for a week skiing

The main purpose of this trip was to allow Andrew to have a week skiing and Saalbach-Hinterglemm (Austria) was the chosen ski-area.  We had a very nice apartment, Anna Apartment, located a 1 minute walk from the lifts.

While it had been –12 to –15 when we landed in Munich, a week later it was much warmer.  And by the end of the week skiing there was a bit of snow melt happening.  On the bright side, Andrew got a ski-pass for 5 out of 7 days and could ski all 5 of those days.  It also suited me, because while he was out each day, I could work remotely and finish my month-end obligations.

He enjoyed the 270km of interconnected ski-slopes across a number of fields.  The infrastructure was good and one day he came home very excited that the gondola car he had tried that day had HEATED SEATS!!!  The down-side was there were queues for the lifts at times.  We had deliberately timed our visit a week before major European half-term breaks.

On his rest day from skiing we drove 30 minutes down the mountain to the town of Zell am See.  Here, the lake had frozen over for the 1st time in 10 years and people were out walking and skating in the middle.  So we joined them for a short time –Andrew was a tad apprehensive about the whole idea.

On the 90 minute journey from Salzburg to Hinterglemm we stopped in the ski-village of St Johann im Pongau.  Andrew had skiied here 40 years ago.  It was a little different than at that time, but the copper, twin spired, church was still there. 

We returned to Munich, on Saturday (4th Feb).  Being Saturday it was change-over day in the ski-resorts and it was rather a slow trip for the 1st half.  We stopped for lunch at the small market-town of Wasserburg am Imm.  It was a surprisingly good destination: preserved old town, colourful buildings, good atmosphere and a very good cafe under the old town hall

At Munich airport we returned the rental car and checked into the airport hotel.  A morning flight Munich-Doha, Doha-Bangkok awaited the next day.  But there was one last opportunity for a litre of beer, and some pork knuckle, at the Brewery on-site at the airport.

And a last reminder of Gnome-boy : so retro he’s cool again.  Saalbach-Hinterglemm’s advertising catch-prase is “the home of lässig”.    Lässig translates as a West-Austrian term for
a) something being cool, b) dressing casually…that’s Andrew!

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Destination Salzburg

Having acclimatised to the –12 degree temperatures we picked up our rental car and hit the back-roads off to Salzburg.  We could have done the journey in 90 minutes, but we chose the scenic route.  Our Skoda was registered in Slovakia, so it was just like having learner driver plates on – everyone knew we weren’t local and could give us a wider berth.


We stayed in an AirBnb in Ainring, about a 10 minute drive outside Salzburg.  This was our base for 4 nights.

On our 1 day in Salzburg, Andrew spotted a bakery and demanded we stop for coffee and CAKE and to warm up a bit.  Cake tempted him many more times on this trip, but he never again had the same amount of cream piled on the side.

We did manage to fit in some time outside the cafes in the old town

Given the salt connection with the area, one of our day trips was to the Salt Mine, in Berchtesgaden


At the mine tour we donned the regulation overalls.  After we took these pictures we realised we didnt need our winter coats on under the overalls – so took off a layer of extra padding.  Down the mine temperatures were a constant 12 degrees all year.  The tour was good, learning about the extraction process, from drilling to sending salinated water 20km down the road for the drying process.

As well as riding a tourist train and a boat across a crystal clear mirror lake, there were two wooden slides we happy tourists went down.  The touristy photo was too good to pass up.  Look at that happy face on the gold-card holder.  5 years old again and he squealed like a girl!


On returning to the car, he wasn’t quite so happy as the car-battery had died.  This necessitated a call to the rental car company and a 40 minute wait for the roadside assistance to turn up and jump the battery.