Siem Reap Temples in the Grand Circuit

The Grand Circuit also known as the Grand tour is a collection of temples on the outer road of the Angkor archaeological park. All tuk-tuk, taxi and tour drivers would know which collection of temples to take you. I did the Grand tour on my second day in Siem Reap but it was my first day visiting the temples itself. We booked a Sunset evening tour which followed the Grand circuit route and spanned around 4 hours. This tour was carried out using a Tuk-tuk which in my opinion is the best way to experience the Archaeological sights.

Preah Khan

Preah Khan which means ‘Royal Sword’ is a temple complex built around 1191, it was a gift by King Jayavarman VII to his father. The temple was built upon victory of a battle against the Chams.

This is the very first temple we visited on our visit to Siem Reap. Hearing all the great things about all the temples in Angkor, I was particularly excited to see for myself and witness what all the fuss was about. Our first impressions of our first temple Preah Khan was amazing, enchanting and very much perfect and picturesque. We didn’t even enter the temple walls and we already spent half an hour taking photographs. The entrance had a nice old bridge crossing a beautiful calm stream, it was a perfect sight but somewhat ruined by some scaffolding as some structures were still being refurbished or repaired. The place was very quiet which was the exact opposite of what I was expecting. The temple complex was huge and you can easily spend an hour or even more here. There are still a lot of rubble in different areas which is awaiting to be rebuilt or repaired.

A great start to my temple experience and knowing it can only get better made me eager to see the rest. Best part for me here was the entrance where the bridge is situated with the calm relaxing stream.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Neak Pean  

This was our next stop after Preah Khan, this was a much simpler temple. Firstly from the drop off point you would have to walk around 10-15 minutes on a very beautifully scenic elevated platform towards the temple. The walk is a pleasure however when arriving to the actual temple it is (in my opinion) not bad but somewhat of an anti-climax compared to our first temple. However the complex is beautiful and has huge significance to the area at its time.

Neak Pean was also built by King Jayavaraman VII on the second half of the 12th century, he dedicating this to the Buddhists. the complex is small and consists of an island temple surrounded by four smaller ponds representing wind, fire, water and earth. It is said that this was built to be a place of healing whereas bathing on the ponds would heal disease or wounds.  

My impressions for this temple was ok. If you are a photography type tourist it wouldn’t be much of a loss to miss this place, however if you like learning about the place then there is much information to be had here. Best part for me here is the walk to get to this complex.

20190417_152158

Ta Som Temple

Ta Som is one of the Smaller temples in the Archaeological area. This temple is another built by King Jayavaraman VII but its purpose is still a mystery, some say it was built dedicated to his father whilst others say it was for his teacher.

This temple is one of the most completely restored and you can visit almost everywhere possible. Like a few other temples in Angkor there are trees growing on this temple which make for good photo opportunities. The ancient artwork is also well preserved in this temple. Best part for me on this complex was its surroundings of tall trees, it was magical and enchanting to say the least.

We somewhat rushed through this as it was similar to the first temple we visited (Preah Khan). You start to get the impression that all temples are similar and visits to others would be boring unless the architecture or styles change drastically.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

East Mebon

East Mebon was one of the earlier temples in the Angkor Archaeological park built in the 10th century. King Rajendravarman II built this mountain temple complex dedicating to the Hindu god Shiva.

Visiting East Mebon was a pleasure, it had different architectural style than that of the other temples. The complex consisted of step terraces shaping as a pyramid. It had huge sculptures of elephants on each corner. This place was clean and I didn’t see any loose stones awaiting to be repaired.

For me, East Mebon was interesting for the difference it had to the other temples we visited. The complex was not too big and you could spend 30 minutes to roam. This temple did however have steep narrow steps so a bit of care is required when visiting this place. It was very picturesque but was ruined by dark clouds which brought rain as we were leaving this complex.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Pre Rup

Pre Rup is another temple built by King Rajendravarman II around the year 961, said to be the state Hindu temple of the King. It is also thought that this was popular in burial ceremonies and some say the complex is one huge crematorium. It has similar architectural style as that of East Mebon as a mountain temple complex with a pyramid step styled terraces. 

This was suppose to be the grand finale of our tour (Sunset tour), as it is meant to be a spectacular sunset. However the experience was ruined by the showering monsoon style rain. We didn’t have any jackets or umbrellas and even if we did the rain would’ve been too strong. We stayed in our tuk-tuk waiting for a possible stop, but this unfortunately didn’t happen and we ended up going back to the hostel, seeing the sunset on our journey back.

However reading about this specific temple it was not one to miss out on even though this is the quiet compared to other notable temples in the Angkor region.

3238877325_6f03b79eec_b.jpg
Pre Rup      (Photo from https://www.flickr.com/photos/mckaysavage/3238877325)

Overall Conclusion

The temples in the Grand Circuit are astonishing to say the least, I saw two different styles of ancient architecture and saw lots of unique art. The difference in architecture style did make the tour more fascinating and boredom didn’t occur on this circuit. I was surprised that there weren’t huge crowds in any of these temples, I don’t know if we were lucky or we just chose a good time. My experience was somewhat ruined by the rain, but then that’s no fault of this fantastic place, actually apart from the heavy shower on the last temple (Pre Rup) the light droplets on other temples did give the place character and cooled the place for us as it was the peak of summer.

In my overall opinion the Grand Circuit which could be completed in a single day is perfect to start off with. The reason being is that because the more notable temples are on the small circuit it would be a better progress the experience rather than to have an anti-climax. As in my opinion although the collection of temples in this circuit are astonishing the temples in the small circuit are a little better.

Thanks or reading, please follow and share if you enjoyed it

Please read my further experience:

  1. Tickets, Entry to the Temples
  2. Small Circuit
  3. Grand Circuit
  4. Further Temples 

and also read my full experience in

 

GIF 1

Reference:

https://www.wmf.org/project/preah-khan-temple
https://www.tourismcambodia.com/attractions/angkor/neak-pean.htm
Ta Som
https://www.renown-travel.com/cambodia/angkor/pre-rup.html https://justsiemreap.com/temple-guide/pre-rup/

 

Advertisements

Travelling Around Tallinn

Travelling around Tallinn was one of the most difficult I have ever encountered around Europe in a tourist’s perspective. Not only was the journeys difficult, tickets were also confusing to obtain.  There were also only a number of modes of transport you can use as metro and trains are non existent in the city.

Walking- If fit the capital is small enough to walk around ,most of the attractions within the city are very close together, so walking is very convenient.

Bus –  The Buses in Tallinn was very cheap however, you can buy your tickets before you board from some machines situated in some stations, however this can be very difficult to find as there is not many around.  It is also possible to buy your ticket from the driver however this can be very difficult when the bus is full.

Trams- Similar to buses this vehicle is easy for locals but somewhat difficult for tourists. Reason being is that you have to buy tickets before boarding, usually done online which for tourists could be somewhat daunting. There are not many machines around and there is no way to purchase from the tram operators.

Taxi’s- Cheap compared to other countries around Europe but still expensive compared to the other forms of transport in the capital.

Back to “Two countries, three capitals”

 

 

GIF2.gif

Travelling Around Rovaniemi

Travelling around Rovaniemi is not too difficult. There are only a few ways to get around the various attractions some more expensive than others.

Walking-  Within the city centre walking around is somewhat easy as points of interests and hotels aren’t too far from each other, the only difficulty may come from the snow (if travelling in winter). However from the city centre to the more outer attractions such as the Santa Claus village it would be a much longer and a little more difficult.

20181216_103545

Rent a Car – Probably the easiest and more convenient way to get around, nearly all the attractions and hotels have car parks. Traffic is also none existent here in Rovaniemi, however the only difficulty may come from snow and ice a dangerous feat for those not used to the driving conditions. There are collection points and companies near the airport.

Bus – I did not use the normal public buses so I know very little about them, however I did use the special tourist bus called the ‘Santa Express’ which travels to and from the airport, the city centre and all major attractions in Rovaniemi. The express bus only had limited times, I believe for when flights arrive or depart. It is easy to use but these buses can get very busy.

Tours – Probably the best way to get to and from your artic activities is a pickup/drop off which is usually included in any tours and activities you book. These are very convenient as all you’ll need to do is see your driver in the reception area and they’ll take you to the location you need, this way you can never be late as your driver will probably be your guide.

20181217_101301

Back to Finland Trips,
Back to “Two countries, three capitals”

 

 

GIF2.gif

Tallinn

” Some call Tallinn little Helsinki”

Type : City Break
Best Date: ?
Expense: Medium
Things to do: Shopping, City tours
Points of Interest: Estonian History Museum, Oleviste Church, Tallinn TV Tower, Kadriorg Palace and the Town Wall ect
The Good: Cheap, Beautiful place, Walkable city
The Bad: Small

Brief

Estonia is a small country in Europe just celebrating 100 years of its initial independence  from the breakdown of the soviet union in 1918. Its capital is Tallinn where first settlers dates back 5000 years which makes this city one of northern Europe’s oldest capitals. Today the city has a population of around 444,085 about a third of Estonia’s total population of 13.3million.

20181219_124912

The Place

Estonia’s capital Tallinn was the last place I visited from my Finland/Estonia trip. My first impressions of the city was that it was too quiet and there was not too much going on. I also had the impression that Tallinn was not huge on tourism as I only saw locals and workers on my journey from the airport to the city centre, not a single tourist which was a very new experience from any trips ive done. Furthermore the journey to my hotels was not very easy for a newbie tourist like me, I had to use google map and even ask a friendly local for help, even with these I still managed to get lost. In addition paying and using the trams were also confusing, although very cheap at 1 euro there was no way to pay using cash and I believe everybody has a special travel card (like the oyster card in London), I could also hardly find any ticket machines even at larger bus stations.

Tallinn is very small and the main area to visit is the Vanalinn district or the Old Town which has one of the best preserved medieval structures in Europe. Along with all the winding cobblestone streets, gothic spires and fairy tale like architecture, stories within the city will both amaze and enchant you. Within the old town there is a huge collection of different points of interests for tourists, you will probably pass along many of their significant buildings but not notice them. Best way to see the town is by joining the free walking tour which can be arranged in the tourist information centre situated in the middle of the old town.

From my perspective the best places to see in the old town are the Alexander Nevsky cathedral, Vanalinn district, Toompea castle and a few others. Firstly you must visit the Alexander Nevsky cathedral which graces Toompea Hill, this orthodox church built by the Russians during their occupation of the capital in around late 1890 to early 1900. The cathedral was frowned upon by many Estonians around 1924 due to the symbol of Russian oppression and was due for demolition however with lack of funds this was never implemented and its beautiful architecture still stands today. Neighbouring the cathedral is Toompea Castle which was an ancient stronghold but now houses the country’s parliament. The castle has both a unique blend of modern and old whereas the walls and towers are of the ancient stronghold whilst the entrance is of modern designs. Behind the building stands the Tall Hermann an important tower which stands high above Tallinn which currently holds the Estonian flag and has held flags of different occupants of the capital.

20181219_201510

A three minute walk from Toompea in a more secretive area lies the Danish King’s Garden which is a brilliant place to find. There are many different legendry stories that has happened here but most notable of a falling flag which changed the favour of the battle to King Valdemar II. The small garden is a brilliant place to stop by and relax, there are also a few vendors here for quick snacks. Also situated within the garden are three statues of headless Monks one of which is praying, another that is begging and the last which keeps watch. There is a few different meanings to these three statues but its erection is unlike no other in the world.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

There are two amazing views high above Tallinn the Kohtuotsa viewing platform and the Patkuli viewing platform. The two different platform are difficult  to find with the maze like footprint of the town, but once found these picturesque sights are a pleasure to see.

Yearly around mid November Tallinn is especially a nice place visit due to their charming Christmas Market which is famous around the world. Situated in the town hall square the market hosts a number of stalls ranging from food, clothing, souvenirs and traditional products around a central Christmas tree and a stage for festive performances.

20181219_194728

Probably one of the cover landmark of Tallinn is the Viru Gates which was part of the city’s defence on the 14th century. These two towers are now a popular place for photographs and are said to be the main entrance to the old town.

20181219_165707

You will see plenty of different significant churches spread out in different locations around the old town. St Nicholas Church, Swedish St Michaels church, Holy Spirit Church and many more are worth the visit. All have different stories which may be of interest to you. There many also many other attractions outside of the old town which are worth a visit like the Kadriog Art Museum, Maritime Museums, Open Air Museum and others a like, but I didn’t have the chance to see these as I took my trip to Tallinn pretty easy and relaxed and ran out of time.

Lastly another important monument to visit which unfortunately was under refurbishment when I visited is the War of Independence Victory Column, which is situated in Freedom Square. 

tallinn.jpg
This picture taken from (https://www.flickr.com/photos/hanspoldoja/7045958209)

Conclusion

Overall Tallinn is a beautiful little city brilliant for an excursion whilst visiting other Baltic or Nordic regions. The city has both new and old attractions and particularly appeals in the winter festive season as its Christmas markets has always been highly received. I do feel their public transport trams and buses to be highly impractical for tourists. However Tallinn is small enough to be able to walk around without the need of transport. The city is affordable and couple of days is enough anything more may result in boredom, saying this if you stay longer it is a brilliant city to take it easy and relax as I did. All in all a thumbs up for me, the city’s charm is unlike no other.

Back to ‘Two Countries, Three Capitals’

GIF 1

Reference:

https://www.visitestonia.com/en/why-estonia/estonia-facts
https://www.worldscapitalcities.com/capital-facts-for-tallinn-estonia/

 

Two Countries Three Capitals

My last trip of 2018 and I have decided to fulfil a winter trip north of Europe into Finland and Estonia. Whilst in these two countries I have decided to visit three capitals, Helsinki the capital of Finland, Rovaniemi capital of Lapland in Finland and finishing the trip with Tallinn the capital of Estonia.

I had an open plan and didn’t cement the duration of each stay so my trip depended factors such as activities and whether or not  there was much to visit. (click on the headers below to read more)

20181219_192537

First Stop Helsinki

Landing in Helsinki which will be a centre base for me. An easy public transport for tourists like me to use.

Next Stop Rovaniemi

Maybe one of the main purpose of the trip was to see Lapland and enter the artic circle. This winter wonderland really did shape the trip.

Back to Helsinki

I used Helsinki as my base so really as there was no flights direct from Rovaniemi to Tallinn. But instead of directly transiting through I thought to stopover for a night to visit other areas I didn’t manage to visit.

The Finale in Tallinn Estonia

A worthy relaxing end to the trip. Three days in the Estonian Capital, probably one of the most difficult public transport for tourists but once within the inner city a pleasure to get around by walking.

 

Helsinki

 

” A momentous artistic capital”

Type : City break
Best Date :  ?
Expense :  Expensive
Things to do : Shopping, Dine, Cultural, Christmas market,
Points of Interest: Senate square, market square, Temppeliaukio Church, Suomenlinna, Helsinki central station, Uspenski cathedral, Kamppi Chapel, Sibelius Monument.
The Good: Friendly warm atmosphere, Artistic city
The Bad: Not too much to do

Brief

Helsinki is the capital city of Finland and the country’s largest with around 600,00 in population. According to various sources Helsinki is one of the best places to live and has the better standard of living around the world. Although Helsinki’s population grows every year it is still considered one of the smallest.

20181218_130318

The Place

Helsinki was the central point for me on my  travels to Finland and Estonia. I stayed in the capital first then branched back and forth to Rovaniemi and Tallinn eventually ending and flying back home from the city.

Before the trip my research into the city showed that there was not plenty of attractions or points of interest within the city, it also doesn’t have a monument or building with the magnitude comparing to the Eiffel tower or statue of liberty. However my first impressions of the city was that it was very artistic or art conscious with plenty of the streets having its own decorative designs, even as simple as a street light had a modern imaginative design. As you start to roam the city in depth you will start to realise why the city is one of the best cities to live in (according to metropolis 2016), and not such a bad place to visit as a tourist.

20181218_132725
Helsinki Cathedral

Firstly a must visit for tourists is the Helsinki cathedral which is situated in the Senate square. Built around 1852 this Finnish Evangelical Lutheran cathedral which is operational and performs mass services proves to be the main stage for tourism in the capital. The cathedral which has huge historical significance to the city proves to be an area where tourists flock to take pictures. Senate square marks the centre of old Helsinki and is a good example of neoclassical architecture, the square is surrounded by the government palace and the main building of Helsinki University and the Library of Finland all equally as picturesque within the square. Furthermore the city’s main Christmas market is placed here at the start of December each year. In my opinion the market was the cleanest and neatest of all Christmas markets ive been to its relaxing ambience and sauna was something new, but it was too quiet for my liking. Nonetheless their products were much better quality than that of other markets and food were outstanding. The Christmas market is worth a visit if your around the city at that time but I wouldn’t set up a trip solely for this market.

Other churches that are worth a visit are Temppeliaukio church, Uspenski cathedral and Kamppi Chapel. Firstly the Uspenski orthodox cathedral which was built around 1868 is advertised as one of the city’s main place to visit, with its red bricks and golden cupolas the building is and interesting place to visit. Although a great piece of architecture with a nice of history for me it wasn’t something spectacular and I see plenty places of worship on par with this one. A more modern religious structure which was only completed on 2012 is the Kamppi Chapel. Built with local Finnish wood  in the centre of one of the city’s busiest street the chapel also takes the name of “Chapel of silence” as it is meant to be a place of calm a serenity within the city. Lastly in my opinion one of the most fascinating place to visit in Helsinki is the Temppeliaukio church which is unlike no other church I have ever seen from all my visits. The architecture is different in that the building is excavated straight under solid rock, its roof is a large copper dome like plate supported into the rock by beams and when the sun shines proves to be a spectacular sight to see.  The church built by architect Tuomo Suomalainen on 1969 is the best spot I visited in the city and I highly recommend this place.

20181218_123041
Temppeliaukio church

The Sibelius monument built in dedication for the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius  located in Sibelius park is in my opinion the best piece of art work within the city. Built with 600 hollow steel organ pipes built in a wave to portray sound waves with the composers face protruding in front of the monument is a nice sight to see whilst walking around a admirable park.

16194439692_b2103d9085_z.jpg
Sibelius Monument, photo by Rob Hurson (https://www.flickr.com/photos/robhurson/16194439692)

Another popular place for tourists is a visit to Suomenlinna island . I did not particularly have time to visit this place as I ran out of time but am told this is another must go area to visit. Reached by boat included in the day passes or tickets in the ordinary machines around the city the island has enough to consume a full day. The UNESCO world heritage site use to be a fortress for the Fins, Swedes and Russians. The island has beautiful sights, museums , restaurants and cafes.

798px-Suomenlinna
Photo by Michal Pise

Helsinki central station is another place to see. You wouldn’t need to go out of your way to come across the central station as it will probably connect your hotel and any points of interests you visit. The station was voted the worlds most beautiful station in the world in 2013 (BBC) and has consistently been within the top batch each year in various lists. The station initially opened on 1862 but grew after a competition on 1904 where it was then designed by  Finnish Eliel Saarinen and reopened 1919. The station has 4 large sentry statues which hold spherical globes illuminated oversee the masses of people go in and out of the station, this is the sight to see.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Other places to see is Market square and the city’s various shopping districts. The Market square which is in the eastern most part of the city nearby the senate square and adjacent to the presidential palace is another of the most recommended areas to visit by various tourism media. Why? I am not too sure why. I visited the area three occasions during my visit at various different times but I didn’t see the charm of it.  However shopping in Helsinki in the many different districts or malls is a must. The many places such as Kamppi centre, Galleria Esplanade and Kluuvi shopping centre is just some of the places for a nice shopping atmosphere. Beware that items in Finland is a bit more expensive than others countries in Europe. 

I don’t usually recommend particular restaurants or bars but the ‘Oluthuone Kaisla’ 10minutes from the Central station is one of the best craft beer in town, It was a brilliant atmosphere whilst visiting two friends that I met in a backpacking trip in Peru. There were a huge choice of beverages including Finnish and Estonian Beers. It was fairly relaxed and quiet when I went there but am told weekends is busy. One of the highlights of my visit.

20181214_160834

Conclusion

Helsinki does not have any attractions that would compare with the magnitude of Paris’s Eiffel tower, New York’s time square or London’s Big Ben however the city’s beauty is with its lifestyle, arts and atmosphere. Within the city and from the airport Helsinki had one of the easiest public transport system from all the places I have been which is always a big plus for me and would be for tourist in general. Nonetheless once within the city all attractions are a walkable distance. However the city was expensive which wouldn’t be very attractive for the common traveller. Overall all I can say is Helsinki is a beautiful place to unwind get to know new cultures, try new beers and appreciate some history, you have to be open minded as the city isn’t as extravagant as other European capitals but it does have brilliant characteristics. A two to three day stint in the city is enough time to roam the city and enjoy its prestige.

Travelling around Helsinki
Back to “Two Countries, Three Capitals”

GIF 1

Reference:

https://www.travelonspot.com/en_GL/article/travel-journal/holiday-corner/top-7-interesting-facts-about-helsinki
https://www.stat.fi/tup/satavuotias-suomi/suomi-maailman-karjessa_en.html
https://www.myhelsinki.fi/en/see-and-do/sights/senate-square
https://www.hel.fi/helsinki/en/socia-health/income/resident/chapel/

Kyoto

Type : City, Provincial
Best Date : Feb-May
Expense : Expensive
Things to do : Sightseeing, religious prayers, dining, shopping, dress up in kimono, ect
Points of Interest: Nijo Castle, Fushimi-Inari, Kiyomizu-Dera, Gion, Kyoto Impreial Castle, Nishi Hogan-Ji, ect
The Good: Best preserved Japanese culture
The Bad: Generally expensive

Brief

Kyoto is another of Japans former capitals. Rich and famous for is various Buddhist temples, shrines, gardens, imperial palaces and wooden houses. The Prefecture or city is said to be the historical and cultural centre of the country with its traditional society, dining and architecture still experienced today. The kaiseki dining and the female entertainers known as geishas are found within this city.

20180530_090655

The Place

Getting a train from Osaka to Kyoto (S rapid train) within 30minutes was amazing to say the least, even though it was very busy and crowded. I was expecting to get out of a very rural small station but was surprised to arrive to a large station just like Osaka central. Walking out of the station I was starting to get a vibe that Kyoto was anything but provincial but another metropolis.

I arrived in Kyoto in the evening and planned to check-in and head straight out to visit what I could. The first building you see once stepping out of the main entrance of the station is ‘Kyoto Tower’ which is an observation tower overlooking the city, I didn’t enter the building but ive heard its a sight to see. After we planned a trip to a place called Shijo Dori (Shijo Street) to have something to eat and see what the nightlife is like as it was also the area for their clubs and bars. Walking around the streets there were plenty of shops some more traditional than others. Arcades were also a big thing around these streets and can get very busy with local children, some even still in their school uniform.

The next morning we went to ‘Fushimi Inari-Taisha’ it rained but this gave our experience a little more character. Dating back to year 794 when Kyoto was capital, this shrine is one of the most important which is dedicated to the Shinto god of rice, Inari. The iconic shrine is famous for having over a thousand orange vermilion torii gates which routes up mount Inari and into the wooden forest. The experience was incredible, the whole visit took about 3-4 hours in total trekking up and down the shrine. There were plenty of stops and different shrines to visit. I saw lots of fox statues and didn’t know what they were for till I found out that foxes are seen to be the messenger for the God Inari. The top of the mountain (shrine) was a bit of an anti climax (in my opinion) as there was nothing different than the various shrines that you pass along the way.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After hiking for almost 3-4 hours, we went back to Shijo street then got something to eat in ‘ Nishiki market’ which is known to have the best traditional food in the city.

On that same day we also visited the ‘Kiyomizu- Dera’ which is a one of Kyoto’s notable attractions. ‘ Kiyomizu Dera’ is a huge Buddhist temple which is significant to the city and named a UNESCO world heritage site. When I visited the main building was being refurbished and had plenty of scaffolding and a cover, so it wasn’t as picturesque as it would normally be. Nonetheless the Kiyomizu-Dera is one of Kyoto’s main attractions and must be visited, even with all the construction the place was still very beautiful and scenic.

‘Gion’ is also an excellent place to visit especially in ‘ Hanamikoji Dori’ the street famous for the Geisha tradition. Filled with long-established wooden buildings, this area is also famous for its traditional dining and hospitality. The walk is only about 10 minutes from one end to the other and the Geishas are rarely seen, there are very strict rules in the street which include no touching of the geishas, selfie sticks, littering and others alike. Take note although dining here is a must, it is very expensive.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Nishi-Hogan-Ji is another place that should be visited as it is the largest school for a particular type of Buddhism. Here you will find beautiful large traditional Japanese architecture.

170216_Nishi_Honganji_Kyoto_Japan13n

One place that is not really advertised for tourist to visit is actually an observation point above Kyoto station. Here there are views of Kyoto but the most observed are its stairs with LED lights acting like one huge screen where short light shows happen. I don’t know a special name for this place but yeah, the light stairs!

LED_Flower_stairs_at_Kyoto_Station_in_Sep_2013.jpg

Conclusion

Kyoto was the best place I went to in for Japanese culture and history. I was expecting a provincial rural atmosphere but was surprised that the whole city looked like a miniature Osaka and Tokyo with many lit up and technological areas such as ‘Gion’. Although it rained when I was there, this only just gave the city more character. Tourists rent Kimonos and Geisha outfits whilst around the city. This was interesting as this is not done in any other place around the world with their local traditional outfits. I did however under estimate the time I needed in the city, so there were plenty more places I haven’t visited.

Back to my Japan Trip
Reference:

https://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3915.html

Photo:

www.circumnavacation.com (Kyoto station light show)
663highland (Nishi Hogan Ji)

Ha Long Bay

“Paradise Cruise, an excellent way to experience Ha Long Bay”

Type : Cruise, Island Hopping, Beach, Fishing
Best Date : Nov-Dec, Mar-Apr
Expense :  Expensive
Things to do Island hopping, swimming, fishing, trekking ect
Points of Interest: Tuan Chau, Dau Go cave, Thien Cung cave, Ti-Top island ect

Brief

Ha Long Bay which means the ‘Descending Dragon Bay’ is a popular excursion away from Hanoi’s bustling and chaotic city. The bay is a UNESCO world heritage north east of the Vietnam in Quang Ninh province. Ha long bay is said to have around 1,600 limestone islands and islets, many of which haven’t been influenced by human presence due to their steepness, height and sharpness which make them dangerous to venture and discover.

20171023_124757

The Place

There is many ways in which you can enjoy ‘Ha Long Bay’ but most popular is to take a 2 or 3 day cruise, many take private boats and some stay on the shores. Activities such as canoeing, trekking, scuba diving are available at some areas of Ha long bay which after experiencing the serene scenery, the reason why so many come here.

I experienced Ha Long Bay through a 2 day voyage with ‘Paradise Luxury Cruises’ which has plenty of tours to offer, they have a fleet of many named ‘Paradise Elegance 1’, ‘Paradise Elegance 2’, ‘Paradise Peak’. ‘Paradise Luxury’ and many more. I was in ‘Paradise Elegance 1’ and I will write about my the tour and my personal experiences with them.

20171024_101941.jpg

Our itinerary went like this.

DAY ONE:

07:30 – 11:30 Transfer from Hanoi to Halong Bay

11:30 – 12:15 Arrive in Tuan Chau Island. Light snacks at Paradise Suites Hotel

12:15 Transfer to Paradise Elegance Cruise ship

12:30 Welcome drink, cruise information and check-in

13:00 – 14:30 Lunch at Le Marin Restaurant (onboard)

14:30 – 15:30 Cruise and sightseeing along Halong Bay

15:30 Visit Sung Sot Cave

17:00 – 18:30 Happy Hour (Buy one, get one drink), free time

17:30 – 19:00 Anchor at Coconut Tree Island for overnight stay
Cooking demonstration at L’Odyssée Sundeck (onboard)

19:00 – 22:00 À la carte dinner is served at Le Marin Restaurant 

21:00 Enjoy live music at Le Piano Bar (onboard)

DAY TWO: 

06:30 – 07:00 Tai Chi demonstration at the Sundeck

07:00 – 08:00 Light breakfast, coffee & pastries

08:00 Visit Titov Island (1 hour) for swimming or hiking

09:00 Breakfast Buffet

09:30 Bill settlement and checkout

10:30 Return to Tuan Chau Marina

10:45 – 12:00 Light snacks at Paradise Suites Hotel

12:00 Return to Hanoi

 

So our journey started on an overnight stay in Hanoi having booked our hotel as a package deal with the cruise. The pickup from the airport to our Hanoi hotel using a luxury limousine van was inclusive of the package deal. Staying in the capital first was a good way to start off our Vietnam experience not only to climatise but also to soak up the atmosphere for the days to come. However the next morning an early wake up was required for the transfer to ‘Halong Bay’, the pickup arrives 07:30 which means a rushed breakfast. Again the transfer to ‘Halong Bay’ is inclusive with the whole tour experience and uses the luxury limousine van (used from airport to Hanoi hotel). Before the journey starts the driver will introduce himself and a bottle of water would be given to each passenger. The journey takes about 3 hours with a stop over to a lovely Vietnamese product factory which sells paintings, artwork, clothes and food products, however strictly no photography is allowed. This stopover also acts as a little toilet and snack break from the long journey.

20171022_214528.jpg

Upon arrival at the Halong Bay area you get off at ‘Paradise Suites Hotel’ at Tuan Chau island where you will register, check-in, get little instructions and receive your key card for your room in the boat. At this point you will no longer need to carry your baggage around as next time you will see them is at your room. Before leaving for the boat you will be invited for light lunch at the hotel until the transfer to your boat is ready (main buffet lunch is served on-board the boat). The transfer to the boat is about 5 minutes where you will get an extraordinary welcome, my highlight is petals getting thrown on you from a balcony upon stepping foot on the boat, which doesn’t usually happen. A quick welcome dance, safety and information briefing (whilst sipping on some welcome drinks) will be given before you get to go down and enter your rooms for the first time. After a brief wind down in your rooms the buffet lunch will be served, whilst the cruise starts to move.

20171023_143002

After cruising through the spectacular majestic limestone islets for about 2 hours you arrive at the first stop at ‘Sung Sot Cave’. This excursion is somewhat tiring  going uphill with plenty walking required, if you are not fit or would just like to relax then it is possible to stay on the boat and rest. However ‘Sung Sot Cave’ is an awesome sight to see and I advise everybody who has the chance to see this sight. After the tour which takes about 1.5hrs – 2hrs, you return to the boat, which is then a time to relax and have a rest. Alternatively if you don’t want to rest then the bar is at happy hour at this time which means 2 drinks for the price on 1.

20171023_161052

At about 17:30 there is a cooking demonstration/ lessons. This is a fun way to end the evening and to learn Vietnamese cuisine under breath taking sceneries, after completion a certificate is awarded at dinner. After that there is a 3 course ‘A la Carte’ (included in the package), divided into 2 menus ‘Western Cuisine’ and ‘Eastern Cuisine’, from what I can remember the ‘western cuisine’ had steak, roast chicken, pasta and more a like, ‘Eastern menu’ had food such as noodles, spring rolls and so on. Usually during dinner there is a live band or pianist but ours didn’t have one, but our host ‘Ronald’ was very good at conversing and entertaining his guests. The last activity on that day is ‘squid fishing’  here patience is required and although I didn’t catch anything, I still enjoyed the experience. After that I then ordered a few to drinks, returned to my room and then called it a day and slept in my nice comfortable ‘Queen size bed’, the only bad side is that the televisions didn’t work as well as it should due to signals being difficult to reach.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Next morning, I woke up around 05:45 ready for a morning ‘Tai Chi’ session. The sunrise was spectacular from my balcony, and more so at the sundeck where the tai chi took place. The morning exercise took about 20-30 minutes full with warm up stretches, the martial art itself then a warm down. It was a weird experience and I definitely know I didn’t do it correctly but the result was interesting, my body felt very good after and throughout the day. After that, light breakfast is served which means a simple tea and coffee with some croissants and biscuits, only small bite until the full breakfast buffet which is served at 09:00. However before that there is another excursion out of the boat and onto ‘Titov Island’. This is an island much more challenging than the first outing at ‘Sung Sot Cave’ with much longer walks and steeper stairs, but it is not necessary to go to the top of the island and many just stay at the shores swim on the beach. However hiking to the top is enjoyable and it is the highest point of ‘Halong Bay’ overall, which has beautiful, majestic panoramic views. I didn’t get to swim in the beaches but all guest were told to be careful of jellyfishes, which didn’t sound very safe anyway.

20171024_080938

Upon returning to the boat there is about 10-30 minutes to freshen up and then the breakfast buffet is served. The buffet is like any continental breakfast found in any high end hotels, with hot and cold foods, fresh eggs, a good choice of juices and many more. After breakfast you start to feel the end of the cruise as you bill out at this point and pack to leave your luggage out of your room for collection (you wont need to carry your luggage again until arriving to the ‘Paradise Suites Hotel’. The last chance to take photos and videos and catch last glimpses of these islets are at this point of the journey. Upon arriving at the harbour you say farewell to the amazing staff and head to ‘Paradise Suites Hotel’ where you await your transport back to Hanoi. The last offering from the whole tour package is the light lunch whilst waiting for your ride back to the capital. When your ride arrives there is another 3 hours ride with a stopover, the whole cruise experience sadly ends.

Overall the cruise was a fantastic experience for all the family to enjoy, although younger kid may have limited to do. Firstly the boat was spacious with rooms good enough to be compared to a 5 star hotel. The staff in the cruise were very nice and knowledgeable, loved to converse and take care of their passengers with in high regard. The activities such as canoeing and fishing were good additions. The only small downside is that the television and Wi-Fi signals can sometimes be very weak. Although the cost of this cruise was very high plus a few add-ons, I still believe the experience was well worth it and thought that the 2 days wasn’t enough.

“If you liked this write-up please Like, Follow and Share this page and my other social media pages shown below”

https://www.facebook.com/sunandthreestars.blog/

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCC1uERdoNlavObtWQeCQ3fQ

“Thank you for reading”