In 2009 near the end of the year, my Dad and I went on holiday. I had only been abroad once before then, and this trip was longer than that. You can view the photo galleries or read my blog below. Some of the pictures in the blog link to the photos in the galleries.
The tours only gave a taste of where we visited. You didn't get long to stay at the different places. We could have spent all day at the National Orchid Garden but we only got half an hour. When we went to Little India we only got 15 minutes, just enough time to walk a short distance down the road and then turn back. Luckily we went back to Little India on our own and got to spend as long as we wanted there.
The tours always collected us from the hotel and then collected other people from their hotels. We usually went to the car park of the Singapore Flyer were we changed to the bus for the tour. When the tour was over the bus then does the hotels again to drop off the people. This was not the case with the tours in Hong Kong. The Open Top Bus tour was actually part of a bigger tour, but when we finished our part, we were left to find our own way back to our hotel.
Everywhere we went you could see construction, either of the buildings or of new attractions. This rather spoilt some of the views, and the end of the Singapore Flyer ride revealed the mess on the floor near the base of the wheel. From the ride we could see the Marina Bay Sands being built, which was three skyscrapers with a garden built on top and people would be charged to go up in the lift to the top for the view. This will be higher than the Flyer so the views will be great, if the weather is good.
There's not much to talk about Perth, except when went to Fremantle for the day. Despite the large number of restaurants we struggled to find somewhere to eat for lunch. One place we went to seated us, but we couldn't find anything good to eat on the menu, so we left. When we decided on Hungry Jacks (a.k.a. Burger King) we thought we were going to get a meal but there were problems. Their milkshake machine was broken, so no shakes. The toilet absolutely stank; I could barely cope with it myself. It was given the award of the worst toilet on the entire trip.
Adelaide showed signs of the credit crunch. When we visited the Adelaide Arcade, most of the shops upstairs were empty or up for lease. The shopping centre was busy enough though. The food area next to McDonalds had a serious problem with birds. As the entrance was close, the birds would come in and scrounge for food. The small birds were okay, but pigeons roaming around whilst you're trying to eat is a bit off putting.
Sydney was really good. The Travelodge Wynyard was close to the harbour, and within walking distance of the Tower and other attractions. The Glenmore pub was very nice, especially the roof garden. You get great views of the skyline, although it was a bit crowded. It's close to the office for the bridge walk so you get quite a few tourists, but there are a few pubs nearby if it's full.
The quay has several plaques on the ground around the bay. Barry Humphries and Germaine Greer were the only two I recognised. It might have been because of the time of year that we were there, but some of the ferries were very empty. The Opera House has a tour where you are not supposed to take photos when artists are rehearsing. The official photo you can have taken doesn't really show the Opera House very well, as it's taken near the back rather than the front steps.
The monorail is a bit of tourist gimmick. It takes you to some of the different areas of Sydney, but its not really used for transport. A round trip costs $4.80 and is a bit short.
The Sydney Tower has binoculars that are free to use (Auckland Tower and Peak Tower Sky Terrace please note) and you can get a really good view. I was looking at a liner that was in the port, but no one was on board. A girl was excited to see people climbing the harbour bridge, but as we had seen that from a cruise before then it was old hat to us.
The Jailhouse Rock pizza restaurant was a little overbearing. I was resigned to listening to Elvis' music all night, but as the CD kept sticking, it was a little annoying to hear bits repeat.
Taronga Zoo is a ferry ride then a cable car ride to the top of a hill where the zoo is. When we had lunch we had an Ibis bird wandering around for food, followed by a peacock. Of course, the kangaroos and koala bears and popular, and so are the elephants, but not when they give the public a shower at the end of their little show.
The Auckland Sky tower had two levels; the lower one had some glass panels so you could see all the way down. They are 38 inches thick, but despite that I was still nervous stand on them. The upper level gives an even better view on a good day. I say that as the weather was not good and restricted was we could see.
One Tree Hill was the only place I saw sheep in New Zealand. When in Australia I saw several road warning signs for Kangaroos, ducks, frogs and deer, but I didn't see any until I got to Taronga Zoo.
Food names were on the whole the same as the UK. Rice Krispies however are known as Rice Bubbles elsewhere, and I was intrigued by the Shrewsbury cookies I saw in an Auckland supermarket.
The tour in Rangitoto island was on a tractor pulled bus. The road was built by convicts in the 1930s and it was built very well as we were bounced around quite a bit. The view from the top was spectacular, but we had a fair climb from the drop off point to get there. Every time we went out I made sure we had at least two bottles of drink and that day there we certainly used. There are no shops on the island, and the toilets are a bit weird as they have a glass wall where the sinks are.
The tour to the museum with the cultural performance could have been longer. We got to see only a small part of the museum before the Maori show, and as we were there on the 11th Nov, they rang a bell at 11:00am.
The Kelly Tarlton bus to the Sea Life Aquarium was fairly wacky in appearance with a shark head on the front; the other one had a penguin on top. They only hold around 16 people and even though they are free, they could have had them more frequent than two every hour. The regular bus stop is only a few metres down the road from the entrance so you could use that instead.
Whenever you get your photo taken, you usually get a pack of postcards, photos, CD-ROM and the chance to download the photos from the website. The Singapore Flyer only had the photos, but you had a choice of backgrounds. The other attractions, namely The Sydney Tower, Sydney Opera House, Auckland Tower, Kelly Tarltons usually sell their packs for $35. The guy doing the photos at Kelly Tarltons told me that his sister runs the sky jump at the Auckland Tower.
The Metro in Hong Kong is very efficient. The trains arrive every three minutes, all the stations have the safety barriers, the trains tell you which station is coming next and which side the doors will open. They are clean, and you have no trouble getting a ticket from the automated machines (although they are a bit fussy of the two dollar coins). The only problem is the people using them, as they tend to push you around and they rarely let people off the train before boarding, despite the automated announcements requesting you to do so.
The Harbour Plaza North Point hotel where we stayed is a two minute walk away from the Metro and a local McDonalds. The Ngong Ping Village was a coach trip and cable car ride away, but you could sample the traditional tea in the Tea House and (after a long walk) see the magnificent Buddha statues. The pier was close to the hotel and the ferries give a great view of the harbour, even in the misty weather that we experienced. The city lights up at night and as it was near to Christmas many of the skyscrapers had festival displays on them. The Lane Crawford complex was a short Metro ride from our hotel and the Times Square shopping centre is massive and has to be seen to be believed. The Peak Tram station is long walk from the nearest Metro stop in the main city, but the the Peak Towers has the Bubba Gump restaurant, fabulous views from the Sky Terrace and a Madame Tussauds.
On our last day we took a bus (which have televisions in them) to Ocean Park. I wish we could have spent more time there as they have a zoo as well as many amusement rides. It is built on side of a hill so to get the best views you need to take the escalators (there were four very long ones) to get to the top.
Qantas (and British Airways) do not know how to cope with diabetics. The meal given (and you get no choice in its contents) usually contained orange juice (high in sugar) and a cake (also high in sugar). One meal did not include milk, but powdered creamer instead. On my return trip, the only thing I could eat was the crackers and the water. Sometimes the crew found some fruit or biscuits to give me, but none of them understood that I needed notice before the meal was served, so I could go to the toilet to inject. They always brought the tray before anyone else got their meal, and even after I told the crew about this, the next meal time they brought the tray without telling me. If I had a hypo I doubt the crew would know what to do.
When we left Heathrow, the security check insisted on putting my insulin in clear plastic bags. As I was taking all my insulin for the whole trip in my hand luggage, I had special bags with crystals in them that you soaked in cold water for a few minutes and it kept the insulin cool for several days. Everyone room had a fridge, but it was handy for when we travelled. I had to put the bags in a clear plastic bag, as per regulations when carrying liquids. No one else every asked about the insulin, or the letter I had from my GP saying that I could carry them and the rest of my equipment. Only when we were going home from Hong Kong did anyone ask to see the letter from my GP.
The hotels varied, and curiously the number of lifts only increased. The Miramar in Singapore had two, and the restaurant next to the reception did decent food. Everywhere that did a buffet breakfast had a machine to toast the bread that never browned the bread in one pass. No matter where we went, we had to do two passes. The Travel Lodge in Sydney had three lifts, but you had to play a guessing game when you called one to see which one would actually come. The top floor had the gym and the laundry services, with two washing machines and two dryers, both costing two dollars each. Unremarkably, people left their washing in the machines and did not come back in time, so often people would have take the clothes out and leave them on the side.
By the time we got to the City Life in Auckland, we had four lifts, but you had to swipe your key card to use them. The room had its own washing machine and a separate dryer, as well as a cooker, microwave, dishwasher and waste disposal. I had the sofa bed which wasn't as good a a normal bed, but we did have two TVs and a DVD player. By the time we got to Hong Kong and the Harbour Plaza Northpoint we had six lifts, with a light indicator to tell you which lift was coming. The room was small and like some of the other hotels use your key card to activate the lights/power in the room. Every room we stayed in was close to the lifts, which was convenient, but meant that sometimes it was a bit noisy when trying to sleep.
I found the staff in the shops in Australia and New Zealand to be very friendly. My watch battery ran out when we got to Perth, and we had to try three different places before I could get a replacement battery fitted. It was Watch Works, which was a stall in a shopping centre and it took half an hour to get changed. It cost nearly $29 dollars, which seemed expensive, and the first time the girl didn't fit something right and caused one of the buttons to stop working. She did fix it when I went back though. I had taken a battery foil shaver so I wouldn't have to worry about plugging in a shaver, but it really didn't do a good job. I went to a shop, called Shaver Shop in Perth and they were really helpful in finding a Phillips shaver that was rechargeable. As the power supply is the same as the UK I can use the shaver now I'm back home. Even when we shopped at the convenience stores (seven elevens) the people running the store were very helpful and asked about our holiday.
What pearls of wisdom can I pass on after my trip? Well, it was the the first time I had travelled in about twenty years, and the same for my dad, so things had changed quite a bit. I did a fair amount of research on the countries we were going to visit and looked at several travel web sites for some general advice. I also asked quite a few questions at the travel agents. It pays to prepared, but don't let it overtake the fact that you are going on holiday to enjoy yourself. If you have a pre-existing medical condition, then ask your doctor about what you need to do when travelling. If there is an organisation for your condition, ring them for advice.
- Make sure you have something to read on the plane. On the long flights, you can't rely on the entertainment system to keep you entertained. I watched all the comedy programs and documentaries and a couple of films. I then listened to a couple of albums and went to sleep. A good book would definitely been of help.
- Make sure you have a list of everywhere you are staying, with consulate addresses as well. You may never need them, but it's helpful to have.
- Use online check-in to speed up the process at the airport and to choose your seats. You can usually only check-in twenty-four hours before your flight, which can mean the time to check-in can be odd. Every hotel we went to had Internet access (or a business centre as some like to call it) although some will charge for printing (like your boarding pass).
- Don't spend all your time looking for gifts for people. Australia and New Zealand had many souvenir shops, but Singapore and Hong Kong didn't seem to have many. The only shop we found in Hong Kong was in the Peak Tower, but they had lots of stuff.
- If you take a camera, always have spare batteries when you go out. I always carried a pair of AA batteries with me, even if I put in a new set in the camera that morning. There may not be a shop to buy batteries in if they run out during the day.
- If you take a phone that can work abroad, you will usually get a text message when you arrive in the country telling you the charges. Well, I did with my pay-as-you-go T-Mobile, but it varied in price, from £1.20 to £1.70 per minute, depending on the country I was in. In the UK I pay 20p per minute. Find out how to call local numbers and mobiles, i.e. which codes you need to drop from the number or add to. Texting is always cheaper and quicker to use than e-mail, unless you have a PC/Blackberry with you and you are in a Wi-Fi hotspot.
- Always take some drinks with you when going out, and a bit of food. I wouldn't include an umbrella, but in Sydney and Hong Kong they came in handy. Probably due to the time of year we went. Take a card from the hotel if you are going to get a taxi, as it can help if the driver doesn't understand you.
- Don't pack too many clothes like tops or t-shirts as you can always buy them. Make sure you know where the nearest convenience store is when you get to your hotel. It may be cheaper to buy some food or drink rather than get them from the hotel or mini bar. If you take a camera, take plenty of batteries and a spare memory card. I lost count of the number of batteries I went through, some only lasting half a day. Mind you, I did take over 1500 photos.
- Take some tours to get an idea of what is around, but if you want more time at any place, go there in your own time. If you want help, ask the concierge/reception for as much information as you need. It's part of their job, and usually they know what they are talking about. The only bug I had was when cashing cheques in Hong Kong. The hotel would do it, but at a lower rate than the banks. When we went to a bank, they wouldn't cash the cheques. The bank down the road was a premier bank and would only serve you if you were a member. The third bank finally helped, but it was a ten minute walk from the hotel. Credit cards are preferred, but if you don't have one, get a prepaid one for the holiday. We had one loaded with Australian dollars and one with New Zealand dollars. They are accepted in most shops, can use a PIN number, and can be used to get cash from any ATM.
- Don't forget that you can't change coins back when you get back home, so either spend them at the airport, or donate them in the UNICEF envelope on the airplane. If you want to leave a tip at the hotel use the coins there as well.
- Enjoy yourself!
I managed to create some panoramic photos from the pictures I took, which wasn't easy as there were lots of people around most of the time. The pictures cannot do justice to the actual view, but give a fairly good impression of what it was like. The images are reduced in size from the originals but some are quite large (over 3000 pixels wide in one case).
Copyright 2009 © All rights reserved.