Tag Archives: Shopping

Singapore Champagne Slinging

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Hit by the humidity after 28hours on the air con bus from Koh Samui, Singapore was stifling, yet spotless – as everyone said it would be.

Concerned with only a shower and a solid meal, I was pleasantly surprised how helpful people were in finding my hostel for me! The subway was too confusing even for the eagerly assisting expats and recommended a cab after seeing the size of my luggage and the spreading sweat patches. The taxi driver gave me a “Singlish” guided tour on the way through the Little India, past Chinatown and toward Bugis Junction – destination of my digs, the super eco and highly recommended Tree Inn Lodge hostel  – as well as home to the Singapore’s tradition of hawker stalls and street food.

Refreshed and enthused by the exuberant hostel hosts (fellow back packers with an encyclopaedic knowledge of all things ‘traveller’), I set out to see the many Singaporean sights – of which there are probably enough for four to five days at least.

I stumbled upon Raffles by accident – honest! Spending a Saturday night with a spot of live Jazz and a Singapore Sling in the Long Bar sounded like a real treat. Surrounded by fellow tourists sipping on said ‘Slings’, flashing their cameras for the souvenir shot and sitting amongst the peanut-shell strewn bar, I tried to blend in and not draw attention to my solo status. However, a misbalanced Champagne bottle flew from the tray of a passing waitress, hit the stone floor and within seconds I was the centre of attention, soaked in a Champagne shower and being stared at by the entire crowd! Ah well, drinks were on the house from an apologetic Maître De and a sympathetic drinking companion and the Jazz was a blast, so no harm done (and no real dent in the budget either!).

After a night on the tiles, a hostel buddy took me to Bugis food court for a mango smoothie and claypot rice brunch, which set me up nicely for a mammoth meander round the city, including the hustle and bustle of Chinatown, Little India – with the streets all beautifully dressed for Divali and the stunning Singapore Museum.

The Red Dot Design museum was a highlight, which has also cleverly teamed up with local like-minded arty types and can suggest full and half day tours of many places of interest in the surrounding area.

Bugis Junction is an enormous shopping plaza bursingt with the latest designer gear, whilst over the road Bugis Street food and clothing market is home to the less than original branded wares.  Hawker stalls provide a fascinating feeding experience, where literally hundreds of Singaporeans and expats alike spill out onto the pavements and chow down on a plethora of delicacies and drink cheap(ish) beer.

Once fed and watered for under a fiver, I headed to Marina Bay, which hosts even more high end retail and top notch bars. Every evening, to add to the waterfront ambiance of the lotus flower ArtScience museum and the stunning Singaporean skyline, an incredible light show provides even more entertainment with holograms projected onto droplets of water – quite amazing.

The last mention needs to go to the architecture. If you like colourful buildings, a bizarre blend of old Chinese temples in amongst glass skyscrapers or colonial style villas brightly painted in rainbow hues, then you will never tire of taking in the many and varied streets, alley ways and avenues which never fail to surprise in Singapore.

It can seem expensive compared to the likes of Thailand and Malaysia, but if you keep out the shops, eat like a local (leave Raffles as a one off) and use local transport with a tourist pass or hit the streets on foot, your budget can go far.


Hong Kong highlights

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I LOVED Hong Kong. Despite a traumatic arrival, it was a place where acquaintances became life-long friends, I was re-energised to tackle the world and, above all, I had a really, really great time.

After being put in touch with an old school mate through a mutual friend (Facebook does have some benefits), a suggested catch up for coffee turned into two weeks of home comforts, family feasts and an expert expat take on the best of Hong Kong that I will never forget.

There was so much to do and such diversity of culture and landscape… Whether it was tasting life as an expat in Sai Kung or bunking down with the backpackers in Causeway Bay, I could wax lyrical about Hong Kong all day long, so here’s the condensed version…

Hong Kong Island…

Vibrant, bustling and cosmopolitan – a rich blend of Asian alley ways, western consumer culture and corporate skyscrapers.  Whether it’s brand name shopping, top notch cuisine, an evening’s entertainment, a visa run or a walk along the waterfront, you’ll find everything around Causeway Bay, Central and Wanchai.

Lang Kwai Fong and Soho, in and around Central/Mid-Levels (ingenious escalators), are the places the rich kids hang out. It ain’t cheap, but so many great spots to soak up the after work drinkers vibe, sample menus from all over the world, take in the antique streets and meandering markets. You’ll also find Asia’s first comedy club – which is a very entertaining night out indeed!

For a unique experience, the funicular tram up Victoria Peak is fantastic way to see the city and beyond. Not to mention the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co restaurant at the top (which fellow Forrest Gump Fans will find fabulous!), that has some of the best views over Hong Kong from its bar. Nearby, the Zoological and Botanical Gardens offer respite from the tourist trail and is home to many plant and animal species.

Happy Valley Races are a must for any racing fan (or horse racing virgins). At HK$10 for a ticket on Sundays and Wednesdays, it’s a great night out on the cheap and you might even get lucky backing the winner!

In the south, a short bus ride to Stanley, passing Repulse and Discovery Bays on your way, is a relaxing way to escape the city, check out the market, get some beach action and see a slower side of Hong Kong life.

And that’s just the Island, I haven’t even got started about the other stuff!

For a more authentic Asian experience, Kowloon offers up even more delights – from the Rolex and Gucci lined Nathan Road and the infamous Chungking Mansions (where I had the best curry ever – thanks Jordan), to the markets of Mong Kok and Temple Street. There’s also a LA style ‘Avenue of Stars’ with a free light show every evening that illuminates Hong Kong in musically accompanied neon lights!

Over on Lantau there’s the Ngong  Ping 360 cable car taking you to the Big Buddha Temple (and that is one massive Buddha)and an illegal drive (apparently you should have a permit) takes you to the quaint and quirky fishing village of  Tai O.

Towards the New Territories there‘s the lesser known, but fascinating Ten Thousand Buddha Monastery in Sha Tin and for a bit of nature there’s the  beautiful Sai Kung Country Park.

Then there’s the food, the trams, the Star Ferry and so much more…take your walking shoes, extra memory cards and go and see for yourself!

Dedicated to Family Atko…you are the best and I can’t ever thank you enough for making a good trip GREAT x x x

Enough to make me sweat…


Despite being in central Shanghai – one of the most cosmopolitan and forward focussed metropolises in the world, finding basic toiletries such as deodorant was somewhat of a challenge. 

Antiperspirant, it seems, is not a common item in Shanghai, even in the most Western of stores. Having searched every supermarket, Seven Eleven and Family Mart in a three subway stop radius I found an old skool glass bottle of Nivea extra perfumed, whitening roll-on in Carrefour (highly unsuitable for a backpack that gets thrown from the top bunk of a train on a regular basis). And, despite my lack of deodorant, I refused to pay 50 Yuan (5 quid), as I’d already been fleeced for a tenner the previous week buying a razor.

So, I finally plucked up the courage to go into the pharmacy and ask! How hard can it be? Armed with my Mandarin- English dictionary, I approached one of the maroon smock wearing ladies for help. Actually, she got to me first and spent the next two minutes following me round in an uncomfortably close manner, trying to assess whether I was about to rob the place or perhaps hoping I’d buy everything that my roaming eyes stumbled upon.

After a couple of minutes of unsuccessfully reading the Chinese labels that lined the aisles and not being able to spot anything obvious, I put my new shadow out of her misery and got out the dictionary to show “deodorant”. To my horror the word was not there, but by then it was too late, I was in the hands of not one but six mature, maroon-clad and well-meaning pharmacy assistants wanting to assist.

Did I mention that no-one spoke English and I cannot speak Mandarin? So, in trying to explain my requirements I ended up acting out applying deodorant and miming “no smelly armpits”, to which they all squawked in agreement about what I needed, handed me a white, blue and yellow box and ushered me to the payment desk.

After parting with 14 Yuan (about £1.40), I returned to class with my bottle of liquid, detachable spray nozzle and what looked like ear drops. I asked my Chinese teaching assistant what I had just bought  – she had no idea! We looked through the items, instruction booklet (which had some drawings very similar to the mime I had just performed) and deduced that I had been given something for body odour – which I should not use under any circumstances!  

The experience alone had been enough to bring me out in a sweat. So, if you’re travelling for a while in China, take your own toiletries!

Six weeks in Shanghai

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For some reason Shanghai was like my own personal Mecca.  Arrival signified that I had made it overland across China and could do this traveling lark after all! It was a welcome (albeit brief) reunion of fellow Vodkatrainers, lost to individual itineraries for a few weeks. It also signified my first real taste of solo travel and the start of the rest of the year of adventure.

With no plan and even less of a clue the world literally was my oyster. As well as a very excited tummy, I don’t mind admitting that I was bewildered and overwhelmed by the possibilities that lay before me.

To be honest I didn’t have a Scooby what to do between Shanghai in April and Singapore in October, but I needn’t have worried, as it turned out to be the place where my trip unfolded unexpectedly and I loved it there so much and met so many great people, I stayed for six weeks!

Via the internet I signed up for a four week TEFL course with Orient Now and spent five days a week studying teaching techniques, observing 4 to 14 year old students at the DD Dragon English School in downtown Shanghai. Spending my weekends and evenings seeing the sights, even in six weeks, I was never at a loose end for something new to do or eat!

People’s Square, People’s Park  and People’s Avenue were amazing for people watching (funnily enough); shopping at East Nanjing Road and the “wanna buy a watch, iPod, DVD, bag” crew were always entertaining – if a little stressful; the beautiful Bund never grew tiresome with its Jetsons-esque city of the future at one side of the river and replica old London on the other.

The view from the top of the Shanghai World Financial Centre in Pudong was incredible (and if you go at 5.30pm and hang around you get to see day and night and the whole of Shanghai turning its lights on!). The view from the Oriental Pearl TV tower however isn’t so good, but the tower itself is one of my favourite buildings to date.

A mosey along the Ancient Culture Street with its Old Film Café and colonial and Chinese architecture is amazing. The Shanghai Museum, Shanghai Planning Exhibition, Moganshan Art District, Shanghai Downtown, the never ending shopping malls, the (very hands on) Science and Technology and Contemporary Art museums, plus the covert Communist Propaganda Art museum were a constant source of stimulation.

Only an hour and a half by train outside the mega city, the water village of Suzhou gave a break from the hustle and bustle and offered beautiful gardens, ancient temples and Venice style waterways to while away an afternoon.

Getting around was simple (if a little squashed) on the vast and inexpensive subway system. Or, getting in amongst it with the locals by bus was a sweaty and surreal way to travel to school (but for 20p you can’t complain!). And, if all that racing around makes you hungry, there is food to cater for every palette (and most budgets).

A sprawling metropolis with more cosmopolitan attitudes than can be found elsewhere in communist China, Shanghai is clearly going places. Fast paced, with its sights firmly set on the future, Shanghai is a “must visit”– even just for a couple of days.

Beijing’s best bits (Part 1)

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Once you have adjusted to its size, culture shock has kicked in and you are emerging from the other side, Beijing boasts a veritable banquet of history, culture, communism and capitalism all rolled into one.

There’s the amazing Hutongs – narrow alleyways and courtyards crammed with character, dirty looking restaurants serving the most amazing food, curious Chinese families and the ever-present laundry hanging out on bamboo poles from upstairs windows (the laundry not the families, they sit on little stools and play marjiang or Japanese chess!).

Despite the damage done by the Cultural Revolution there are some transformed temples…The Temple of Heaven was a personal favourite, where emperors would hold gatherings and pray for crop yields in the forthcoming harvest. For me it was a peaceful and serene place with impressive architecture and calming grounds.

The Lama Temple, known as Yonghe Gong, was more of a working temple. Met with the overpowering smell of burning incense, there were literally hundreds of Chinese worshippers leaving offerings and lighting incense sticks and kneeling in front of the many gold Buddhas encased in ornate wooden structures.

If it’s a glimpse into the Communist Party’s beating heart you’re after then Tiananmen Square is a must. Imposing, concrete, cold and creepy, it is where the Party’s head honchos address the masses and Mao Tse Tung officially declared the formation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. Site of the 1989 student massacre  – widely reported internationally, but still publicly unspoken in China itself.

Opposite is the Forbidden City (which is literally an ancient city within the city that the rest of Beijing was built around). Home to emperors from the Ming and Qing Dynasties and their closest comrades and concubines, local people were forbidden to enter and led an impoverished life on its boundary. Allow a good few hours for a walk from the West to the East Gate (or vice versa) – Chinglish audio book or over enthusiastic local guide are optional extras.

If shopping is more your thing, the famous Wangfujing area hosts a range of big name brands and designer goods. Or, if you want big name brands (of dubious origin) and bargain basement prices the multi storey Silk Street and Pearl markets are a must. However, have an idea of want you want before you go, be prepared for sensory overload and some serious bartering. Running the gauntlet of Louis Vitton and Gucci knock-offs is a stressful experience for even the savviest of shoppers!

There’s also the 2008 Olympic legacy to take in. With the iconic Bird’s Nest stadium, the Water Cube (with a really cool wave machine and slide area, so take your cozzie!) and the Olympic village square. Ironically the only place to eat in this tribute to international athletiscism is MacDonald’s, so eat before you go!

Entry fees for attractions range from free to around 60Yuan/RMB (£6), but expect to pay more for overpriced souvenirs and the ability to take photos/video and the Olympic Park.  Bartering is completely expected on everything except the entrance fee and be prepared to share your experiences with the masses…

Live scorpion skewers and Mao Tse Tung tat

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Whilst travelling I have lived by the rule that I would try anything once, maybe not a second time, but I would at least give it a go. However, I broke my own rule instantly at the Donghuamen night market in Beijing, with snacks on offer to turn even the sturdiest of stomachs…

Everyday from around 4pm until 9pm the market in the Doncheng District is alive (quite literally) with a plethora of creatures, cured meats and candied fruit kebabs.

“Miss, do you like penis?” was shouted from a side stall, to which we all tittered, until we realised we were being offered a dog penis skewer (brings a whole new take on the Skegness’ famed “Cock on a stick” eh?).

The sights, smells and sounds were an assault on the senses and I couldn’t bring myself to sample the live scorpion skewers (still wriggling), beetle BBQ sticks, dried tortoise, whole baby pigeons, fish heads and pig trotters.

The long row of stalls offered fried noodles, an array of spiced tofu, huge fresh fruit portions and the most popular dish on the street seemed to be the giant toffee apple style fruit kebabs. A few of us sampled, but after witnessing the washing of fruit in filthy water at the roadside and an upturned rubbish bin with potential live critters crawling out, I was ready for a change of scenery!

After walking through Beijing’s famous shopping area, Wangfujing, in awe of the neon skyscrapers boasting the best brand names and towering shopping malls, we stumbled upon another night market with a similar assortment of weird and wonderful food, as well as a wealth of Mao Zedong (Tse Tung) memorabilia! It was tat heaven!

The bustling market had the offensive aroma of fried tofu, mixed with sweaty bodies and the sweet smell of hawthorn kebabs and candy floss. Traders touted their wares, giving cries of “Looky, looky”, “I give you good price”.

There was everything you could think of from replicas of Mao’s little red book of quotations, waving Mao watches, Mao hats, bags, T-Shirts, lighters in the shape of burgers, chewing gum, cigarettes and even naked women. There were tea sets, playing cards, post cards, handbags, posters, watches, smiling buddhas. All set amongst tea shops, shoe shops, restaurants and massage parlours, in the smallest space imaginable.

Definitely worth a visit – even if you aren’t hungry (probably better that way) and great for souvenirs (if a bit more expensive than other markets)…go with an open mind and a guarded wallet!