Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Macau, P.R of China

The Ruins of St. Paul
Macau is a former Portugese colony from the mid-16th century to 1999, and is now one of two special administrative regions of the People's Republic of China and is most known for its tourism and gambling at their numerous casinos and resorts.

This was my second time visiting Macau, the first being in 2007 in the scorching heat. Similar to Hong Kong, the weather can be quite daunting, both being hot and humid during most of the year. But being the first time for my cousin to visit Asia, it was really a must to visit here for a two day getaway.

Staying at The Venetian Macau

Having heard from some of our distant relatives about their recent trip to Macau and the promotion deal with the ferry ticket and accommodations at the Venetian. So we booked it with a room with two queen size beds for $1,600HKD including first class high speed ferry tickets. Arriving by ferry, there are numerous free shuttle buses that bring visitors to various hotels and casinos. Inside the hotel/casino, it was very similar to the one in Las Vegas with the artificial sky ceiling and the canals with gondolas.

The room itself was very spacious. It had a sitting/lounge area with a table and television (old one). The room featured beautiful decor and two spacious comfy queen sized beds. The washroom area was also really large, with both a separate bath, waterfall showers and double sinks. The pool area had many pools: regular, warm pool, and three hot tubs/Jacuzzi.

One feature in the Venetian Macau I was extremely interested to visit was the Manchester United Experience. Unfortunately, when I was there, it was under maintenance meaning the exhibits were closed, leaving only the retail portion of the store open for business. We also went to watch a Cirque du Soleil show called ZAIA; the most dazzling spectacle ever in Asia. Finally I enjoyed a meal with my cousin at one of the Portugese styled restaurants called The Madeira in the casino, bit pricey, but delicious.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Hwaseong Fortress, Suwon, South Korea

Hwaseong Fortress and the skyline of Suwon

The Hwaseong Fortress (화성) in Suwon was designated a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site in 1997 and encircles Central Suwon; including King Jeongjo's palace Haenggung.

The fortress has four gates: Janganmun (north gate), Hwaseomun (west), Paldalmun (south) and Changnyongmun (east). Janganmun and Paldalmun are the largest of the four main gates and resemble Seoul's Namdaemun in roof design and stone and woodwork. The wall is 5.74km in length and varies between 4 to 6 metres (13–20 ft), originally enclosing 1.3 square km of land.

Suwon, well I didn't know much about this city other than for it's world cup stadium and Park Ji-Sung, but while researching I noticed the city had one of Korea's famous UNESCO Cultural Heritage Sites, the Hwaseong Fortress (The flower of castles). This meant a perfect one day trek there from Seoul, approximately an 80minute subway ride (approximately 30km south of Seoul) from Hapjeong Station with a transfer at Sindorim Station.

Arriving at Suwon Station, I felt a bit lost. The station was huge because it was also a KTX Station, but luckily I found a tourist information centre and the representatives there were kind enough to give me a map and which bus to take towards Paldalmun and the Hwaseong Fortress. Armed with a guide map, I thought hiking it would be no problem, but once there, I was a bit intimidated with the hills towards the west walls.

The Suwoncheon is similar to Seoul's Cheonggyecheon (청계천) runs through the centre of the old city towards Paldalmun Gate, with the rest being covered today. Once I reached the Hwahongmun, I was already exhausted and burning in the scorching sun so it was relieving to relax a bit by the stream. I then walked along the stream towards the Hwaseong Haenggung, the former palace of King Jeonjo from the 17th century.

In the centre of it all is the Hwaseong Haenggung where they had similar architecture and design as many of the other palaces around Korea. I remember seeing the palace from the hills while hiking along the fortress walls and walking there and looking back up to where I once was, I was impressed with myself. After a long day, I ended having some dolsot bibimbap (돌솥 비빔밥, dolsot meaning "stone pot") at a local shop before taking the train back to Seoul.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Jeonju, South Korea

Standing in front of Pungnammun
Jeonju is a city in South Korea known for its famous Jeonju bibimbap (비빔밥), historic buildings, Jeonju Hanok Village, and innovative festivals. The city has been included in UNESCO's Creative Cities Network which recognizes the city's traditional home cooking handed down through generations over thousands of years, its active public and private food research, a system of nurturing talented chefs, and its hosting of distinctive local food festivals.

Prior to visiting Korea, I never thought of visiting Jeonju, not knowing much about it as a city and what it offered. But on a holiday weekend, one of my Korean friends was going back to her hometown, Jeonju, and had told me a lot about it and it intrigued me to visit. So I booked my ticket for the Korail and made a plan for the weekend to visit Jeonju and Yeosu for its Expo.

Armed with my backpack with a change of clothes and my camera, I set off early in the morning to Yongsan Station to catch the Mugunghwa (connecting train) for 17,400KWN from Yongsan to Jeonju and 9,900KWN for the Jeonju to Yeosu Expo leg. The train ride being around 3hrs long on the Mugunghwa.

Jeonju Railway Station
Upon arrival at the Jeonju Railway Station, I was waiting to meet up with my friend to pick me up from the station. The first thing on the menu? get some food because I was starving. Making our way through the city on bus and a short walk thereafter, we made it to a traditional Korean restaurant selling the famous Jeonju Bibimbap.

Jeonju bibimbap 비빔밥
The Jeonju Bibimbap was slightly different in taste from the regular dolsot bibimbap I usually have. It included many different things like almonds, taro, corn, carrots, mushrooms. It was also served with many different side dishes, which unfortunately, I did not enjoy too much.

After lunch, we made our way to Pungnammun which is the south gate of Jeonju. Closeby is the Jeonju Hanok Village where traditional arts and crafts are available for purchase, unique cafe shops, and other festivals.

It was a tiring day, but I still had to catch the train for Yeosu for my next stop for the weekend.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Chicago, United States

Going on this trip was something of a different sort- a weekend getaway. The only other times I remember of going on these weekend trips was when I was younger and going on a family trip by car or bus. But this time, with Air Canada's 50% promotion to select eastern United States cities, I managed to snag a cheap airfare to Chicago with a friend. With the flight already booked, finding accommodations for that weekend, the civic long weekend in Ontario, proved difficult as it was also the Lolapalooza weekend in Chicago.

Through researching all sorts of different accommodations from Bed and Breakfast Inns, hotels,,, Expeida, and hostels. But there were no vacancies available, so it did become a bit stressful. But we always had the backup cheaper option of staying at a hotel by the airport. Luckily, I found a sweet deal of 20% off from the Air Canada website for booking our flight at the Fairmont Chicago- Millennium Park. The location was ideal, just steps away from everything, shopping, Millennium Park, Lake Michigan, and the Chicago River.

Our plans were simple that weekend: See as much of Chicago as we could in the two days, be relaxed and enjoy our time there, and eat deep-dish stuffed pizza. To see the city, we walked around the downtown area along State Street for shopping as well as the 'Magnificent Mile' along Michigan Ave. We also took the train towards the former Sears Tower, now named the Willis Tower and walked back to the hotel from there. We also had the chance to take a river cruise that showcases the architecture of the city and concluded with a fireworks show by Navy Pier. The second day, we also took part on a biking tour which was also very informative and allowed us to explore the northern part of the city.

So the bike tour brought us to the northern part of the city where we rode past Streeterville, Near North Side, Old Town, and to Lincoln Park. Our guide had instructed us to rub Lincoln's shoe as a sign of good luck. We stopped by at a cathedral which was unique and beautiful. We then had a break at Lincoln Park, so we quickly walked around the free zoo in the city and it also had a nice view of the skyline in the back. We then rode along Lake Shore Drive with its beautiful beaches and skyline (shown as the first picture), most notably known as the world's third most beautiful skyline after New York City and Hong Kong respectively.

As our tour concluded, it was almost time to go home; but we had to just make one more stop on the way to the airport, and that was to Giordano's for their famous Chicago stuffed pizza. It was so much more delicious than expected, (we had it as a midnight snack the night before) but eating in and having it freshly baked, and in tropical Hawaiian (my favourite) was just so mouthwatering, also considering we didn't have much of a breakfast and after a 3hour bike tour.

I had a wonderful time at Chicago, truly amazed with its beautiful architecture, green parks, its river, and its food (stuffed pizza and Chicago hot dog). If we had one more day, it would have been perfect to just spend it at the beach or to explore the south side of the city.