Monday 19 May 2008

Diving Pulau Redang

We got back to Malaysia at the end of April and had one more month left before our flight home. We decided to take the kids on a beach holiday and I also wanted to fit in one more diving trip.

Pulau Redang is an archipelago of 9 islands 12 miles off the east coast of Malaysia. The entire place is a marine park and it’s famous locally for fine beaches, clear water and excellent snorkelling. It’s not really on the international tourist circuit and is mainly visited by local tourists. There’s around a dozen resorts catering to different budget levels. There’s no roads on the island, just paths, so there’s not a lot to do beyond whatever is offered by the resort.

We flew to Kuala Terengganu with AirAsia and then transfered to a speedboat which took us out. Jenny’s parents came with us. We stayed at Redang Kalong mainly because we knew one of the owners. It’s not fancy but comfortable and more importantly, it has the best diving operation on the island. Besides diving and snorkelling, there’s kayaking, karaoke and a wide range of games. The crowd is pretty young.

As part of the package, you get four meals a day all inclusive and two boat trips to a variety of snorkelling destinations. All you need to do is rent your snorkelling equipment and wait for the boat to leave.

I’m very pleased to report that both our kids took to snorkelling well. R* wasn’t keen on getting into deep water but overcame that fear. It helped that we all wore lifejackets. K* took a little while to get used to the mask and snorkel but was soon swimming around. You’re not allowed to use fins as a precaution against people walking on the corals.

Snorkeling Practice

The boat provides a few loaves of bread that get shared by everyone on board. You take the bread into the water and you quickly get engulfed by reef fish in a feeding frenzy. It was a great experience for the kids. They got a good idea of what we see when we go diving.

Reef Fish

Snorkelling isn’t the first thing you might consider doing with your elderly in-laws but they’re good sports and gave it a go.

Jenny's Parents

We almost killed Jenny’s Dad.

After a long swim, we were called to the boat which required a long swim to shore. By the time we got there Jenny’s Dad was having trouble breathing and need help to get out of the water. I had visions of us needing an air ambulance but he recovered all right.

R* was confident enough that on our third day, she signed up for a one day PADI Discover Scuba course. Jenny’s parents looked after K*. R* did the course. Jenny and I went diving.

The first dive at Che Isa wasn’t too interesting but the second dive at Pulau Kerengga was good. For our third dive, we joined R* for her very first open water dive out at Pulau Lima South Point. She was very cool and had no problems do a backwards roll and descending with us to 10m. We even saw a turtle! She later admitted that the only way she managed was by not thinking about anything and just doing what she was told. The diving at Pulua Lima was superb with excellent hard and soft corals and plenty of reef fish. We even saw a massive stingray. The only downside was the visibility of 6m was rather poor.


Our package of 4 days and 3 nights was just long enough. It’s best to go during the weekdays outside of school holidays. Highly recommended.

Friday 16 May 2008


More catching up. After Tokyo, we spent a week in Beijing. I haven’t found Chinese cities to be very pleasant places and Beijing is fine example of an ugly city. It’s  built on a flat featureless plain and smothered by air pollution. The worse air pollution I’ve ever seen. It’s hazy just two blocks away! Beijing has massive multilane roads clogged with traffic and is not at all pedestrian friendly.

Luckily, the buses and subway work well and taxi’s are plentiful and cheap. It wasn’t hard to get around. We dropped the idea of riding bikes as it would put K* in too much danger. It’s bad enough just being a pedestrian.

We stayed at the Days Inn Forbidden City. It’s new, modern and clean. Price was reasonable. Rooms are small but adequate. The location is very convenient. Beijing has plenty of tourist attractions and we got around to many of them.

The first day we caught a public bus and made it down to the Temple of Heaven. It looks just like the pictures. More interesting is that it’s a major place to just hang out for elderly people chatting and doing exercises. Jenny was particularly taken by rouli chu or rotary ball.

From the Temple of Heaven we walked and walked and walked until we finally found our way to the Museum of Ancient Architecture. It’s a small museum off the beaten track but I thought it was very educational. They have lots of models showing how ancient buildings were constructed.

Fed up with walking, we took a taxi to the Liulichang Culture Street. It’s very touristy but a pleasant area to explore. We were going explore the backstreets but then discovered we could catch an acrobat show nearby so we went to the show instead. It was entertaining but not particularly outstanding.

TempleofHeavenLiulichang Culture StreetAcrobatic Show

The second day, we explored some of the parks. We started at Jingshan Park provides a superb view over the Forbidden City. Too bad the haze of air pollution spoils it. We then walked east to Bei Hai Park wandering around Qiónghuá Island and spent a lazy hour playing with an electric boat on the lake.

View of Forbidden City from Jingshan Park

From there we walked north up to Hou Hai Lake and got talked into taking a Hutong Tour in a couple of bicycle rickshaws. What wasn’t clear is that you have to pay an entrance fee at each and every hutong you want to see. Still is was good poking around a few of them. There’s a huge range of bars and restaurants around Hou Hai Lake so we had dinner there.

Kids driving our electric boat at Be Hai ParkHoutong Tour

On our third day, we joined a tour by the Chinese Cultural Center of Tianamen Square and the Forbidden City. The guide was excellent but there’s too much to cover. At the end of the tour, we spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the Forbidden City and Palace Museum. I was disappointed that the Hall of Supreme Harmony was under renovation work.

Forbidden City

With some “culture” under our belt, we spent our fourth day shopping. Wangfujing Street is rather ho hum. The Silk Market was fun and sharpens your bargaining skills. I picked up a Mao watch. The dirt market at Panjiayuan was excellent. Ton’s of bric a brac.

Dirt Market at Panjiayuan

It is a downright pain that the airline baggage limit is only 20kg. That said, we did send a box home by China Post and it arrived just fine.

After the market, we took a taxi to the Factory 798 district to have a gander at Chinese modern art. Unfortunately, we had left it a bit late and didn’t have enough time. I much prefer the modern art to the traditional fare.  Very interesting place. It’s in a more suburban district of Beijing and dinner there was much cheaper than around the center.

Exhibition at Factory798 Art District

As an aside, another place any visitor must go is the Donghuamen Night Market which basically puts anything that’s chewable on a stick and serves it you. Centipedes, snakes, starfish, whatever.

The fifth day was a write off. Pouring rain. We wandered around a mall and went to a large Decathalon outdoor shop to pick up some rain gear for the following day.

Day six was our trip to the Great Wall. We had previously arranged with a travel agency to take us on a 12km hike starting on a section of the wild wall and ending at Mutianyu. However, after the heavy rain, the wild wall section would be dangerous to hike. At least the rain had stopped.

We drove out to Mutianyu taking a short detour to see the Olympic site and the Birds Nest. It was great getting out of Beijing and eventually the air pollution receded and we were driving through pleasant countryside.

Jenny at Mutianyu

Mutianyu was excellent and there weren’t that many visitors. We took the cable car to the wall and huffed and puffed our way along it. The steep bit at the western part of the section was a struggle. The kids, of course, were running all over the place and we barely saw them.

Walking the wall at Mutianyu

We took the go kart track down from the wall to the parking lot. Really good fun.

Kart descent at Mutianyu

Since we didn’t get to hike the wild wall section, we negotiated with the agency to replace it with a tour of the Summer Palace so that’s where we went on our way back. It’s a nice park but the clouds were grey and threatening to rain.

So while there’s lots to do and see in Bejing, it’s not a city I enjoyed and wouldn’t want to visit again.

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Monday 12 May 2008


I love Tokyo. It's such a great hive of activity and concentrated Japanese culture. We took the kids around some of the main districts and mostly spent our days wandering and shopping.


Our first stop was Akihabara ("Electric Town") to check out all the electronics. The kids loved it. Lots of stuff but nothing particularly cheap. I picked up a new pair of earphones. I also had to witness this trend of waitresses dressed in french maid uniforms. Indeed it's true. There's even manga all about maid power! We also wandered around Shinjuku the same evening just enjoying all the neon.

AsakusaDrum Museum

We spent a full day wandering around the market and kitchen shops of Asakusa. Jenny picked herself up three knives altogether. It was a shop till you drop day. We had a good time bashing the drums at the Drum Museum.

Hirajuku MaidsHirajuku cosplay

We spent Sunday wandering from Harajuku to Shibuya taking in all the teen culture. This is where you can find the Japanese youth dressed in the various tribal fashions along Takeshita Dori and by Harajuku station. It's fascinating to watch.

Yoyogi Greasers

Yoyogi band

There was a group of greasers dancing in Yoyogi park and a local band playing on the sidewalk. Outside NHK Hall, there's plenty of buskers. It was a rather damp and cool day but there was still lots going on. It must be amazing in the summer.

NHK performers

Once you get to Shibuya, it becomes fashion city. I mean Japanese women really dress well. They are fantastic and are right up there with Italian women as best dressed in the world. If you get a chance, wander around the the 109 Building just to check out the shop assistants!

On our last day, we found the Sony Building in the Ginza district and checked out their latest toys. Unbelievably, we ran into Chung & Ang there - friends who had moved to Seattle. We chatted a while and then went in search of the Sony Playstation showroom which had moved to another district. It was rather disappointing and not worth searching out. However, along the way, we found the Honda building and got to see a demonstration of Asimo, their humanoid robot.

Sony Playstation ExhibitAsmio

We had to cut the day short as we needed to move to a hotel in Narita to make it easier to catch our morning flight to Beijing. In Tokyo, we stayed at the Hotel Edoya - yet another modern ryokan. I'd highly recommend it. It's quite central (near Ueno Park) and easy to get around.

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Izu Peninsula


Got a lot of catching up to do. We left Kyoto by Shinkansen and spent one day on the Izu Peninsula before heading into Tokyo. The Izu Peninsula isn't far from Tokyo and is reknown for it's hot spa's. Plenty of things to do if you can spend the time there. The hope was to get a view of Mt Fuji but the weather simply didn't co-operate. Lots of rain and no views.

We stayed at the Nanzanou in a small town called Izu Nagaoka. We had an absolutely fabulous room. It was the sakura suite. It was about thirty tatami mats in size and had a view over a private water pool. A cherry tree spread over the pool but unfortunately, most of the cherry blossoms were gone. We enjoyed just hanging around in our suite and didn't do much else.


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