Hoi An, Wuxi and Suzhou l Old Towns

I love old towns. I love the idea of how these quaint towns have stayed alive, evolved with times and yet stayed charming and touched hearts over the centuries. Gamla Stan ( #throwback to Old Town Again), Tallin (#throwback to Tallin on coach and Tallin on foot) and Old Uppsala (#throwback to I can still see the sky of Old Uppsala) are some of my favorite old towns – you guess right, Scandinavia was where this romance started. And #throwback on Christmas Day brings back fond memories of white old towns.

Lately, I have started to appreciate old towns nearer home. When I visit Asia, I have always gone right into the heart of the cities – gigantic architecture/museums, dazzling promenade, shopping districts, theme parks, Michelin restaurants are  flashing in my head as I press – and overlooked the old towns.

So it was quite cool to chill in the ancient town in Hoi An when we visited Danang, Central Vietnam in April in spite of the hot weather! One can easily spend a day getting lost in the streets lined with shop houses with Vietnamese, Japanese and Chinese influences. Today, most are restaurants and shops with a few key landmarks that tell the Hoi An story.

Hoi An

Hoi An Bridge was one of the first sights that greeted us when we entered the old town. Spot any Vietnamese, Japanese and Chinese influences? On it is a temple. Crossing it brought us to a street that sells art work, mainly paintings, in shops that feel like galleries – spacious, neat, quiet till you decide to get one. That’s when the chatter and bargaining start.

Had a good time in Hoi An – beyond the old town, we went on a food tour and visited My Son Sanctuary. Shall live to press about these another day. Now off to the old towns in Wuxi and Suzhou!

Travelling with the family to China in June was memorable – it has been years since we traveled so long, so far together. For me, it has also been like a decade since my last guided tour. While I still prefer to travel free & easy, it feels good to follow an itinerary  for a change.

Heard about water towns in China liken to Venice in the east? I took it with a pinch of salt but having seen them for myself , the old towns in Wuxi (Nanchang Street) and Suzhou (Shantang Street) are quite charming. While Venice is more blue, chic (#throwback to Italy – Venice – D10 – Grand Canal), Nanchang Street and Shantang Street are more green, rustic.

We spotted Haagen Dazs and Starbucks along the canal on Nanchang Street. You would find restaurants and shops on Shantang Street too. It’s surreal. Because they fitted right in – a sign of old towns moving with changing times. Wish I had more time to explore them but well, had to leave on the dot of an hour whilst on a guided tour 😛

Glad I chose to press on Christmas Day this year, reminiscing about my travels. Cannot remember what I did last year! But I remember that all I want for Christmas last year was a white Christmas – that didn’t come true this year. It’s been a sunny-turned-raining day in Singapore today. This year, all I want for Christmas is to travel more and make more presses on them. What is your wish? Hope it comes true. Merry Christmas! 🙂

Posted in China, Travel, Vietnam | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Phuket and Danang l A Common Thread

Have not pressed for a while (a long while of 13 months!). A recent interview nudged me to press again. I believe things always happen for a reason. Whatever is the final outcome, I am glad this press happened.

One of the reasons (or excuses) for my lack of presses is that I have not traveled much and far in 2016. I summed up my vacations in the first half of the year. Counted a few enjoyable day trips to Johor Bahru, albeit the horrid traffic at times. Was looking forward to a US trip in the second half – that didn’t happened.

This happens in life sometimes  – plans just cannot keep up with changes. I am filled with thanks though –  I visited some of these cities (Phuket, Danang, Hoi-an, Nanjing, Wuxi, Suzhou) for the first time and I am glad to have gone on the China trip with the family. Discovered a common thread between Phuket and Danang – the beautiful beaches.

A beach vacation always makes one happy. At least it’s a happy quotient for me.

Believe it or not, this was my first trip to Phuket, a popular beach destination in Thailand. Have visited Krabi (check out my post on Krabi in 2007) and the Phi Phi Islands in-between but for some reasons, never Phuket. So so hard not to have fun in Thailand – glad it was my first trip in 2016 in Jan after a somehow hectic Dec in 2015…

20160201_065600Phuket Beach in the eye of my Samsung Galaxy S3 phone which doubled as my camera on this trip. Do you love the bubble-gum-pink-orange-hue post-sunrise like I do?

Didn’t expected My Khe Beach to be so pretty. It wowed us at first sight from our room that faced the beach! Just across the hotel we called home in Danang for 2 nights, it was so so good to have a beach view from dawn to dusk. Holiday Beach Danang Hotel & Resort wowed me too – loved the roof-top swimming pool and complimentary daily massage!

cimg0584 My Khe Beach reminded me of the Gold Coast beaches.Woke  up to catch the sunrise and many locals were already up and about – jogging and swimming at the beach. Happy to discover a side of Vietnam and her people I never knew about! Picture taken with my new Casio EX-FR10 on its very first overseas trip 🙂

There’s also a common thread between Hoi-an and China which I visited with my family in June. Know what is it? Make a guess or stay tuned for the next press.

Posted in Thailand, Travel, Vietnam | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kyoto l Gion Festival

My thoughts as I pressed today.

While change is the only constant, some remain the same. Like Gion Matsuri (祇園祭), the festival of Yasaka Shrine, which dates back to 869.

Was happy to be at the most famous festival in Japan when in Kyoto in July. In spite of the torrid rain, no thanks to the passing typhoon.

There will always be a silver lining. If you see change as positive, it is and will be.

Note to self: Did not managed to press weekly in the past 2 weeks. Got to try harder!

Posted in Travel | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kyoto l Zen

I think I now have a better idea of what zen feels like.

For me, it’s that feeling of being at peace with everything – people, things and activities – in spite of what is happening around you.  No expectations from anything, anyone (even yourself or rather your super ego).

For me, it all started with a visit to Ginkakuji…

Ginkakuji (銀閣寺, Silver Pavilion) Ginkakuji (銀閣寺, Silver Pavilion) IMG_5765 (1024x768)

Was a joy to walk around the Silver Pavilion which was not a huge compound, just breathing in the fresh air and taking in the scenery.

Ginkakuji (銀閣寺, Silver Pavilion) Ginkakuji (銀閣寺, Silver Pavilion)

Then a walk down Philosopher’s Path under a drizzle. Spotted temples, residential and some shops along the way – popped in at times to  hide from the getting-heavy drizzle.

Philosopher's Path (哲学の道, Tetsugaku no michi)

And finally Yudofu at Junsei Restaurant. Never imagined that the tofu menu can be so varied, creative and delicious, especially under wet circumstances (like walking in the rain prior).

Yudofu Yudofu, Junsei Restaurant Yudofu, Junsei Restaurant Yudofu, Junsei Restaurant

And it was zen despite the on-off drizzle before the typhoon started to descend in the next two days.

Come to think of it, holidays are probably times when we come close to zen. In an unfamiliar place where there are more strangers than acquaintances, we immerse in a new culture and see new sights, away from digital disruptions (or should I say less? Impossible to have zero technology these days) and from people/matters that demand our attention in life.

Posted in Japan, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Kyoto l Streets

Happy Sunday! Was looking through the photos taken on Day One in Kyoto last night. Looks like there will be a few more presses on them. Here’s the second one.

From Kiyomizudera Temple (read Kyoto l I wish I may, I wish I might) to Kodaji Temple (won’t be pressing about it – didn’t leave much of an impression on me), we walked through some of the prettiest streets in the Higashiyama District.

From Kiyomizudera Temple, we hit the street of Kiyomizu-Zaka first, then Sannen-zaka and Ninen-zaka towards Nene-no-Michi Lane. Didn’t planned to spend too much time here but time flies when you go in and out of the varied shops to check out the Kyoto food, confectionery, souvenir. Doesn’t help when Japanese stuff are such pretty sights.

Definitely a joy to explore. See them for yourself!

Posted in Japan, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kyoto l I wish I may, I wish I might

I can’t believe that my last press was 10 months ago (wow!), about Kazimierz The Jewish Quarter which I visited last Autumn.  Been venturing nearer home after Eastern Europe – to Bangkok/Hua Hin in Jan, Kyoto/Osaka in Jul and recently Macau/Hong Kong in Sep.

Took a 6 months break (alas) from long vacation in between, no thanks to work. Still blogged, now and then, at my other blog Long Vacation but never really got back  into the groove to want to press. Till recently. Getting home earlier helps. Staying in on weekends helps. So here I am, ready to press about Kyoto/Osaka.

How I feel about Kyoto, of an ancient city home to so many UNESCO heritage sites is complicated. I like walking through old towns and into cathedrals in Europe. The centuries-old streets, temples and shrines in Kyoto left me feeling undecided. Maybe there will be greater clarity as I press, I hope. Sometimes, I find myself in words.

So at least 1 press per week (my promise to self). And it’s always easier to start with a picture gallery.  So here’s one of Kiyomizudera Temple (清水寺 which translate to Pure Water Temple) in Kyoto – the first temple I visited in my first visit to Japan – where I discovered many wishes to be made!

Posted in Japan, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Kazimierz The Jewish Quarter

For many, Kazimierz probably came alive through the lens of Steven Spielberg and Schindler’s List.

For me, the Jewish Quarter came alive through the stories of the walking tour guide last September.

I felt a tinge of sadness in the district. Imagine the sadness that lingered back then when it was destroyed by the war.

Our walking tour took us from the Jewish Quarter to the Krakow Ghetto. Our first stop was the Old Synagogue. Jewish Quarter, Krakow, Poland

Another Jewish house of prayer, Issac Synagogue, opposite the Jewish cemetery.  Most of the tombstones were destroyed during the war. Was interesting to learn that the tombstones had the occupations of the deceased engraved e.g. book for a teacher… Jewish Quarter, Krakow, Poland

Plac Nowy, one of the main squares in Kazimierz. Such a stark contrast to the square in the Krakow Old Town.  Heard that there are many interesting pubs around this square. It looked quite scary in the day already so I guess the vibes would be quite exciting at night. Jewish Quarter, Krakow, Poland

One of the filming locations in Schindler’s List. Now a restaurant.Jewish Quarter, Krakow, Poland Jewish Quarter, Krakow, Poland

Kazimierz Town Hall.Jewish Quarter, Krakow, Poland

St. Catherine Church. Interesting to find churches in this district. The guide didn’t said much – not the focus of this walking tour, I reckoned.Jewish Quarter, Krakow, Poland

Krakow Ghetto where the liquidation took place… a memorial to Jews on their deportation site… each steel chair represents 1,000 victims. According to the guide, the chairs faced a dispensary where a doctor would try to help the Jews – he kind of represent hope.Jewish Quarter, Krakow, Poland

This was the second last stop of the walking tour which ended at Schindler’s Factory, now a museum. What I don’t like about walking tour is that we can’t really stop at stops longer or we would not be able to catch up with the group. So we had to explore the area as we traced our way back to the old town.

The Krakow Ghetto from the other side – we had to cross a bridge to get to the ghetto. The Jews were completely cut off from the rest during the war. Jewish Quarter, Krakow, Poland

Glimpses of Kazimierz. Charming in its own ways. Simple architecture – probably a reflection of its Communist days…Jewish Quarter, Krakow, Poland Jewish Quarter, Krakow, Poland

I posted this picture in Instagram (@ilovelongvacation) and this was what accompanied my post –  ”Happy New Year! Was surprised to see this graffiti in the Jewish Quarter in #Krakow #Poland where there were sad memories of the war. My take-away – life is really about moving forward and making better memories, forgiving and not forgetting when we look back at times. So no matter how last year had been for you, be happy (again)! #travel #throwback #Europe’

It was kind of hard to press about this. I don’t know why. It’s like I learnt so much about Kazimierz. But I guess I didn’t. I mean, how could I really know and understand how it was like then…

Posted in Poland, Travel | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment