Categories
Travel

Milford Sound, New Zealand

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Milford Sound is a fiord, which is an inlet surrounded by cliffs of a mountain. It is located in the Fiordland National Park and can be reached from the major towns of either Queenstown or Te Anau. We went from Te Anau to Milford Sound then to Queenstown. You can also camp there overnight in the cabins.IMG_1643

Climate
Milford Sound is one of the wettest inhabited places in the world, with around 7 metres of rain per year in this area alone. We visited in January, which is actually one of 2 of the rainiest months in Milford Sound, the other being December, and both summer time for New Zealand. Being high up in the mountains and surrounded by mountain sides with melting glaciers, this area was wet and misty if not rainy. According to the official website, it is rainy for on average 182 days of the year. Even in the summer it was quite cold, in the low to mid teens.

When I visited: January 22nd 2016.

What I did: I joined the 1 hour 40 minute Milford Scenic Cruise with Real Journeys.

Getting here
Milford Sound is reached by driving very slowly up the mountain. You can rent a car and drive there yourself (free parking is available) or you can join a tour group. It can be reached from the major towns of either Queenstown or Te Anau. We went from Te Anau to Milford Sound then to Queenstown. Cruise Milford’s website has some excellent information about getting here and essential info about Milford Sound in general.

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Along the way you can see water running down the mountain from melting snow or glaciers.IMG_1639

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This is the bus bay for the coaches that bring in tour groups. This is right outside the cruise departure hall. Everyone else has to park in the public car park where the cabins are (close to the entry after you at the top of the mountain). This area is a 15 minute walk away from the departure hall.IMG_1647

Some more scenery at Milford Sound, seen from the carparkIMG_1644

!!Important to know:
Mobile Reception:
There is no mobile reception at Milford Sound. Telephone service are at:

-Knobs Flat and Milford Sound Visitor terminal (both are landline phones I believe*) and -a satellite phone at Homer Tunnel for emergencies only.

There are no places to refuel during the drive once you leave Te Anau. Make sure you leave with a full tank. You don’t want to be stuck with no fuel and no phone reception! Fuel (petrol for cars and diesel for coaches) is available at Milford Sound but only certain cards and pin number access are accepted. Fuel is also available at Gunn’s Camp in the Hollyford Valley, but this location is a detour from Milford Sound.

*This information is taken from the “Milford Sound Drive Guide” pamphlet provided by the Cruise Milford NZ company’s obtained in January 2016. The pamphlet says “card phone” however I believe they mean landline phones accessed with calling cards as I saw one such phone (blue one) at the visitor’s terminal but did not see one at Knobs Flats, and there was no cell reception at the visitor’s terminal. Visit their website here: www.cruisemilfordnz.com.

Activities here
There are a number of activities one can do here. The most obvious ones are to join a tour and/or cruise group. The cruise takes you onto the water and around to see the waterfalls and cliffs and scenery. If you are lucky like we were, you may be able to spot sea lions. You can also do kayaking here, hiking, and if one day is not enough for you, you can stay overnight in their weatherproof cabins at the permanent campsite. IMG_1741

My Experience and *Tips for photographers*
I joined Real Journeys and it was a largish boat with probably 100 or so people.IMG_1661As a keen photographer myself, although I did not use them, from the sound of their services, I’d probably recommend and am inclined to join Cruise Milford because their boats and groups are smaller so can get closer to waterfalls and things and you would have a better time taking photos.

Facilities:
All cruises depart from their departure hall and each company has their own reception desk.

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There was paid wifi available in the departure hall, but it was quite expensive, I feel. Although I suppose it is reasonable that they charge higher prices because there is no mobile reception there. This service might be aimed at campers seeing the data lasts 1 month. It should be enough for you to check your emails but no media browsing.IMG_1753.jpg

On the boat, there were free coffee, tea and biscuits provided on the cruise however they also have a paid food and souvenirs bar where you can buy postcards and photos, sandwiches, drinks, chips, chocolate, fruit and instant noodles (hot water is free). I suggest you bring your own food and have them with the hot tea. However I must say the boat swayed a lot and spilt tea was not an uncommon sight especially if you sat far from the coffee area.IMG_1739

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The cruise boats have both indoor and outdoor areas.

There are not a lot of people in this photo because most people were outside taking photos. It was about half full on my trip.IMG_1663

*Tips for photographers*
You will almost certainly get wet (even if it is just a spray), if you go outside when the boat gets close to the waterfalls. Therefore make sure you have waterproof gear if you have expensive gear. I just used my phone which was easy to shelter from the water so it was fine for me. When we went, it didn’t rain but due to the area, the air was misty and the waterfall made some people wet. You should definitely bring raincoats instead of umbrellas. A change of clothes wasn’t necessary for us as we stayed on the boat (although our entire luggage was in our car so if we did need a change of clothes, we could change when we got back). Layered clothes might be advisable. There is no real reason why you would become soaking wet. Most people also used point and shoot cameras and it was fine, but just a heads up.IMG_1744

Also, Milford Sound’s official website does not name a best time to visit,  nor does it give a very good guideline on what the weather is like for each season but it does say that the best time to visit will depend on what you want to see. (Sea lions and penguins can be seen in the cooler months of spring according to their website but we saw them in January.) Which brings me to this piece of advice especially for photographers/people who want to go to photograph the area:

*Tips for photographers* those pretty photos you see on the internet of Milford Sound, they are taken on sunny days, and you will definitely not be getting any of those types of photos if you go with a large cruise/tour group (unless you are VERY lucky) as everyone will be around the edge of the boat trying to get a picture, and the boat won’t be staying long in any one place. So you will have to join a smaller group or hire your own boat.

Best time to go:
If you want waterfalls, then the best time to go is during the rainier months, but if you want sunny photos, you can go when it is less rainy. The rain isn’t exactly heavy, just continuous. Like I previously mentioned, Cruise Milford’s website has some excellent information.

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Cost:
At the time (January 2016), Cruise Milford’s cruises started at $80 NZD per adult on a smaller group boat, while Real Journeys, the company we went with, charged $67.20 NZD per adult on a much larger boat and children were free. Both included complimentary tea/coffee and biscuits. As of July 2017, Cruise Milford’s prices have risen to $90 per adult, and Real Journey’s current price is $76.

Visit their official websites here:

www.realjourneys.co.nz
www.milford-sound.co.nz

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Categories
Accommodation New Zealand accommodation Travel

Alpine View Motel in Te Anau, NZ – A review

This post is a review of Alpine View Motel, a self-catered accommodation in Te Anau, New Zealand.

Alpine View Motel – 6.5/10
Address: 15 Quintin Dr, Te Anau 9600, New Zealand

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Alpine View Motel is a self contained cottage style accommodation. Check in staff were nice and yes you can see the mountains from here but that was about it. The facilities were not great and there were no toiletries except liquid soap.

Us two families each booked one cottage, exactly the same style but ours were not as good as our friend’s (facilities were a little inconsistent).

Location:
Within walking distance (about 15-minute walk) to the small town centre, there are some restaurants, larger hotels and a large souvenir shop there past the lake, and you can go for a walk there after dinner. This was located in a suburb, the streets are lined with other houses or hotels and surprisingly, the area is very quiet.

Facilities:
In our cabin, there were:

Double bed x 1, single bed x 2 (one in the only bedroom, the other in the living room). Television, basic cookware, fridge, and free coffee and tea. Shower and separate toilet which is always good. Car space for horizontal parking available in front of each cabin (as seen in the first picture in this post). Tv was in the living room. Bath towels available on each bed and a hand towel in the bathroom.

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Now, when we booked I specified we had 4 people and they had 3, however in our kitchen, our stove had 2 burners and theirs had 4.

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There was no salt in our salt shaker, and we could not connect to the internet even though our room was directly opposite the reception building where I assume the wifi hotspot should be.

Then there was the inconsistent information. Posters on our wall had different office hours listed than the one listed in our friend’s room.

Now here is something that annoyed me. One of the posters on our wall was a warning for people to not cook smelly foods, because if the smell caused the room to be unrentable you will be charged for it. It had a picture of a man with a peg on his nose and an annoyed expression.

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However meanwhile this was the only place we stayed at that seemed to allow smoking, and near a BBQ grill and children’s playground no less. There was someone actually smoking there and cooking at the same time when we visited the back yard.

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Picnic tables in the large back yard.

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Also, our friend’s room a few houses down didn’t have that same warning – so does that mean customers who stay in that room is exempt from this rule, or are they going to be fined anyway if they do cook strong smelling foods?

Breakfast is available for an extra fee.

Total price for 2 ‘cabins’ for total of 7 people for 1 night: $384.80 New Zealand dollars.

Stay time: January 21-22, 2016

Verdict: This place was okay and the location was close to the lake and the town center if you need it. I give this place 6.5/10 because according to the pictures on booking.com the other rooms seemed much nicer (perhaps it has been upgraded). The location was close to the lake if you are going for water activities (but there are closer and nicer hotels too), but this place could do with some slight refurbishment in the playground and kitchen area. There was also the issue of inconsistent information. This was the cheapest place we stayed at on this trip, but the in-room facilities were a little poor especially in the toiletries section. You will need to bring your own shampoo and toothbrushes. This was also the cheapest place we found at the most suitable location (We were driving from one city to another and didn’t want to drive too much each day so each accommodation location had to be approximately in the midpoint between the 2 departure and arrival cities). However I feel it was more expensive for the same standard of accommodation, for example, the bigger apartments in Christchurch, both Southern Comfort and Camelot Motor Lodge (this review coming soon) were cheaper although neither of these 2 provided toiletries apart from soap bars in the former, and shampoo/conditioner/bodywash at both places. The accommodation was clean and tidy, I give them that. This place would suit people who are not picky about their accommodation and would enjoy a laid back atmosphere where everyone hangs out together (although it was very quiet when we stayed) and things are very casual as you can see in the somewhat home made playground. Judging by the photos on Booking.com, the rooms are not furnished very consistently (unless they have been upgraded), with some rooms looking significantly better than (our) rooms.

Next stop, Milford Sound cruise.

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Categories
Travel

Larnach Castle, Dunedin, New Zealand

Larnach Castle, Dunedin

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Larnach Castle is promoted as New Zealand’s only castle. While it definitely has castle-like features, I think it is more of a castle-styled mansion. It was the family home and commissioned by William Larnach, a New Zealand Minister, banker and merchant for his first wife, Eliza Jane Guise. Construction started in 1871, and was built by 200 workmen over 3 years. After that for another 12 years, European craftsmen worked on the interior.

For some time the building became abandoned and in poor condition until it was bought and restored in 1967 by the Bakers family, and has since been their family residence. Now it is open to the public for an entry fee. Reservations is not needed.

The Building
From the outside, the building looks quite grand for a family home. It is constructed of stone with a turret, and the interior is fitted with carpentry.

Interior

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The grounds
There are some small ‘forests’ on the property and the driveways and carpark are lined with trees. This is the driveway that goes right up to the front of the building, used by tourist coaches.

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The stone building with glass facade looks quite unique and interesting.IMG_1528

The gardenIMG_1525

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View from the turret
This is the view from the top of the turrets. The climb is a steep yet not-that-hard-to-manage spiral steps in a small confined space. Maybe for some the view is worth it. For me it wasn’t anything special and it was quite cold outside. Because of the limited staircase space, you will need to give way to people going in the opposite direction to you.

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Forest on property (photo not by author)
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Forest on property (photo not by author)
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View of front of building and gravel driveway (photo not by author)

What’s here:
Inside the castle, there are a few small exhibits to see, and a room with a short documentary about the site.

There is a tea room/cafe onsite that is open every day, high tea is available but must be booked at least 24 hours in advance.

Unfortunately I do not have too many photos of the grounds. There are some small woodlands/forests on the grounds including a tree-lined avenue directly opposite the castle. There is also a very small garden outside the building.

There are no onsite accommodation options but there are ones nearby, and day tours that include this in the itinerary are available.

The gardens and grounds are wheelchair accessible and wheelchairs are available for use on the site. The castle itself is not wheels accessible and has a set of steep stone stairs to access and more inside.

Facilities:
Public toilets onsite available in the building on the ground floor near the ballroom/cafe. These are wheels accessible.

There are audio guides for hire (with a fee) or you can pick up a free pamphlet and do a self guided tour with that. The pamphlets are available in a variety of languages, including English, Chinese, German and French. I found the self guided tour to be totally sufficient, after watching the documentary (less than 10 minutes).

Free parking on site several metres away from the actual building.

Recommended stay time:
All up (gardens but not the rest of the grounds) and the castle tour and short climb to the top of the turret, took 2 hours.

Verdict:
If you have been to any castles in Europe, then this would be a let down. It basically is a castle themed mansion. However as a recommended New Zealand attraction I suppose it is worthwhile if you have not seen any other castles in Europe, or if you were interested in New Zealand history. I do not believe it is worth staying overnight nearby for this although the official website does have accommodation information.

At the end of the day, this is the private residence of the current owners, and in reality it is just a slightly small mansion (depending on your definition of ‘mansion’). It is basically the size of a typical wealthy family home/estate that would have different ‘quarters’ with servants back in the day. To be honest I felt ‘castle’ was pushing the title a bit, however the experience was not bad as such, for it’s size and what it offered, just a bit expensive and disappointing.

Entry Fees:
There is a fee to enter the building and is payable at the entry to the building, which is at the top of the stone steps at the center of the front of the building (see the first picture). It is not wheels friendly. The prices depend on what you would like to see, there are packages that include the gardens and building, as well as just the gardens and the grounds. Visit their official website for the full price list or click here to go there directly. We visited on January 21, the prices may update over time.

Getting here:
The official website has driving directions (we drove), however this location can be visited as part of day tours.

Address: 145 Camp Road, Otago Peninsula, Dunedin 9077, New Zealand

Official website: larnachcastle.co.nz

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Categories
Accommodation New Zealand accommodation Travel

Aria on Bank in Dunedin, NZ – A review

This post is a review of Aria on Bank, a self-catered apartment accommodation in Dunedin, New Zealand.

Aria on Bank in Dunedin – 11/10
Address: 42-46 Bank Street, Dunedin, 9010 New Zealand

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If you are coming to Dunedin from Christchurch’s direction, I strongly recommend you come stay here. Aria on Bank is the first accommodation when you enter Dunedin on Bank Street. It is a self-catered apartment.

At the time of visiting, the rooms are newly renovated and still had a faint smell of fresh paint. Everything was spick and span, all the appliances were new, which must mean they do fantastic maintenance. The staff were very friendly, the office was neat and professional, and upon check in every one of us were given one of their large cinnamon sugar muffins, freshly baked onsite by their staff daily. Those muffins were absolutely delicious!!! (coming from someone who doesn’t even like muffins).

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Facilities:
Free wireless internet (2GB) with unlimited number of devices. Password is the booker’s name.

Each cute double storey apartments each have a car space in front of them.

Newly laid carpets, carpeted living room downstairs, furnished well with sofas, coffee table, writing desk, television, glass table under the staircase, bathroom and a dining table and a very well kept and equipped kitchen, with a beautiful oven and baking trays, with plenty of crockery, cutlery, pots and new induction stove. There were chocolates and snacks hidden in the drawers and fridge which by the way there are 2 of, and the instructions for the induction stove were in the drawer.

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Absolutely spick and span oven. Have not seen a cleaner oven in a self contained apartment.IMG_1501

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The switch for the stove is on the opposite wall on the left hand side.

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Free biscuits in the drawer and chocolate in the fridge, nice! Salt and pepper provided too!IMG_1492

Of course there were free coffee and tea with coffee making facilities, and a beautiful bright red kettle.

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The bathroom had heated towel racks, hand held hair dryers and a wall mounted one behind the door as well, with free toiletries including shampoo etc as well as toothbrushes.

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There were 2 bedrooms, one with a double bed and the other with two single beds. Both had heaters which the thoughtful staff had turned on before our arrival to warm up the rooms.

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Wardrobe with plenty of hangers and storage area so your  business clothes won’t get wrinkled.

Windows were operable, however I thought it was strange that of all the places we stayed at on this trip, none of the windows or balcony doors had flyscreens to keep out mosquitoes.

Very impressed with the cleanliness and service, highly, highly recommended.

Total price for 2 apartments for total of 7 people for 1 night: $525 New Zealand dollars.

Stay time: January 20-21, 2016

Verdict: 11 out of 10 for the extra effort the friendly staff took to bake the muffins and to preheat our new temporary home!

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Categories
Accommodation New Zealand accommodation Travel

Southern Comfort Motel in Christchurch, NZ – A review

This post is a review of 53 Southern Comfort Motel, a self-catered apartment accommodation in Christchurch, New Zealand.

53 Southern Comfort Motel – 8.5/10
Address: 53 Bealey Ave, St Albans, Christchurch, 8013, New Zealand

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Location:
In January 2016, we travelled around New Zealand South Island for 8 days with another family, there was a total of 7 people in our group. We arrived in Christchurch Airport. Because we had 7 people, we would have needed 2 taxis and it would have been very expensive, so I specifically chose this motel for our group because it was located so close to the bus stop. We took bus number 29 from the airport. Christchurch international airport is tiny, the bus bay is right outside the exit when you get out of customs after arriving and is not hard to see. If you don’t know where it is, inside the airport there are Spark and Vodafone sim kiosks, outside the airport is a taxi rank along a patch a grass and standing at the airport doors facing the grass, on your left are the buses.

Facilities:
There is free wireless internet with unlimited number of devices. You are given slips of paper with login information.

The apartment we stayed in had 2 levels.

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There was a small courtyard outside with tables and chairs. Each apartment had a car space in front of it which is convenient for people who are renting cars. The car space is included in the room rental cost.

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Downstairs there was a small living room which was fine but also a small dining table that seated 4 people which made no sense to me since there was enough space to comfortably sleep 9 people, or 7,  if you don’t want to share a bed.

In the small living room there were sofas, couches, a heater, a closet with an iron and ironing board in it, television which we could not work out how the remote works and dvd player.IMG_1458

The kitchen was okay, was a good size, had adequate facilities and free coffee/tea/hot chocolate/sugar, but what was strange was that you had to walk through the kitchen to get to the downstairs combined bathroom/toilet. There were no toiletries like shampoo except an un-labelled empty shampoo/body lotion dispenser on the shower wall, but each sleeping place (ie 2 on a double bed) had a small bar of soap. The good thing was you can open the windows in the bathroom. Hairdryer available.

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Bedrooms:
There was one double bed bedroom downstairs, the rest of the bedrooms were upstairs.

Downstairs Bedroom 1
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There are 3 bedrooms upstairs, Bedroom 1 had a single bed, Bedroom 2 had two single beds and one double bed and Bedroom 3 had two single beds.

Note: Part of the staircase has no handrails(seen above). I am mentioning this in case there are people who travels with a large family (and hence books a family apartment) and there are elderly or otherwise people who need handrails.

Upstairs, Bedroom 1
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Upstairs, Bedroom 2IMG_1449

Upstairs, Bedroom 3
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I was in bedroom 2, it had a quaint little balcony with a great view (the apartments had a great timber cottage style with flowers so great cute photo opportunity) and I slept in the bed right at the door. That’s when I discovered that this room was most likely made for 2 beds because my bed was right in the way of the sliding door wardrobe, one of which doors opened to reveal the hot water heater.

(Just stating the facts, doesn’t mean I didn’t like the place or am recommending against it.)

January is supposed to be summer in New Zealand but it was still quite cold. I’m pretty afraid of the cold, but if you are like me you have nothing to worry about, the blankets and quilts were very sufficient, warm and comfortable, a little too hot even, for the weather. Bed was quite soft and comfortable, pillow too high (don’t know why hotels always have such high pillows). Each bed had bath towels.

There is also a separate toilet and shower room upstairs.

All the bedrooms and bathrooms meant there was plenty of space for all of us.

Breakfast is not included.

Price for 7 people for 1 night: $320 New Zealand dollars.

Stay time: January 19-20, 2016

Verdict:
I give this place 8.5 out of 10 for location, rooms, comfort and facilities. Staff was nice (the reception desk had just one staff member when we were there). Overall the bedrooms were very nice and all had their own heaters. The toiletries could have been a little better and the living/dining room was a bit small.

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Next stop, Moeraki boulders.


Whether it is a flight or a hotel, international or domestic, if you travel a lot, or like my blog, or both, please bookmark this page and support my blog by using my affiliate links to make your next booking!

©All rights reserved for all content and photographs, usage on 3rd party sites are forbidden without permission. Photos are taken by author unless otherwise stated.

Categories
China Photography Suzhou Travel

Humble Administrator’s Garden, Suzhou

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Suzhou city in Zhejiang Province in China is known for its gardens and waterways. It is a more traditional city, with ancient architecture and traditional gardens.

There is a saying in Chinese that goes Up above there is heaven, down here on earth there is Su Hang (Su Zhou and Hang Zhou).

One of the most popular gardens there is 拙政园 Zhuo Zheng Yuan or the Humble Administrator’s garden. Having researched many of the attractions in English, I wasn’t aware of what they were called in Chinese, so I have used both versions here.

Zhuo Zheng Yuan was a private garden and home to a government official during the Ming dynasty in the 16th century. The garden was opened to the public as early as 1911, when the then-owners could no longer support the running of it financially. There were tea houses, music, Shuo Shu (which is a type of story telling by one person, in an enthusiastic and animated way) and other entertainment.

The garden went through repeated and ongoing restoration and maintenance throughout the last century; parts were still under restoration when I visited in July (Summer) 2016.

In 1997, Zhuo Zheng Yuan became sister gardens with Yi Yuan in Vancouver, Canada, and in 2004, it became sister gardens with the Huntington Botanical Gardens in California, USA.

Enough of the history for now.

What’s on offer here:
There is a large lotus pond throughout the garden. Fish and turtles can be seen in the water.DSC07925

There is plenty of vegetation, the pond stretches from one end of the garden to the other and can be seen from any place.

There is a covered bamboo walkway with seats. This is the cooler part of the outdoor areas, in the summer, water mist is sprayed from the top to cool down the visitors.

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DSC07926Most of the buildings are open for viewing, one of them has seats and a short (about 10 minutes) video of the history and preservation of the garden. It was a great place to have a rest and break from the hot and humid summer atmosphere outside.

The garden is unique in that apart from the traditional Chinese aspects, there are some western aspects that were imported from European countries when the garden was first being built. For example there is an imported wrought iron bridge, and a small ‘sun room’ with windows made with imported stained glass.DSC08026

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There is a pond of 36 pairs of Mandarin Ducks (see if you can spot them all).DSC08014

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This is the duck perch set up especially for the Mandarin Ducks.DSC08010

The stone mosaic pathways throughout the garden are the original pathways, and have intricate and amazing designs.DSC08024

Inside the buildings you can see traditional Chinese furniture and artwork.DSC08018

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If there are fences or barricades around something , don’t be tempted to try out the furniture, as sturdy as they are, there are security cameras in all the rooms so you will probably get into big trouble for tampering with historical objects.

This is the detail in a carving in the timber door frame, now covered with glass for protection. I think the detail is amazing, you can see the facial expressions as well as the representations of the leaves in the trees.DSC07939

In one of the rooms you can see a display of (and buy) absolutely exquisite hand embroidery, my favourite are the reversible embroidery, these are not placed in an ordinary frame and hung on the wall, but instead are embedded in a wall itself with glass on either side so you can enjoy the artwork from both sides:DSC07933

Side 1DSC07936

Side 2DSC07937

Tickets:
The tickets are ¥50-70 depending on if it is peak or off peak season. Summer and spring are peak season. Tickets can be bought at the garden or online. Click here for their official website. I think this is a great deal. I visited in July which is school holidays season, and there weren’t that many people compared to other attractions.

Location/Getting Here:
The Humble Administrator’s Garden 拙政园 is located right next door to the Suzhou Museum, on Dong Bei Street Pedestrian Road 东北街步行街 (This is not accessible by vehicles except briefly on either end of the street near the main streets). Both are accessible from the main street (catch a cab), where 2 streets meet, Qimen Road 齐门路 and Lindun Road 临顿路.

Suzhou does not have an airport, so the closest airport is in Shanghai, both international and domestic.

Address: 178 Dong Bei Street, Suzhou.

Click here for a map and here for the official website.

Ticket Price:
The entry ticket price depends on the season. In the high season (April, May and July to October inclusive) the ticket is ¥90 per person. The other months are the low season (November to March inclusive and June) is ¥70 per person.

The garden it self does not sell food, but there are plenty of restaurants nearby.

Recommended stay time:
I stayed there for 3 hours (Google review results say people typically spend 1.5 hours there. Never trust google’s generic results! I have noticed their phone numbers, addresses and general details for various businesses are inaccurate) with a friend accompanying me, there was no hurry, we strolled around the garden and took rests when needed (it was really hot) and we saw everything. If you really like real Chinese gardens, with authentic architecture, artwork, and just want to relax, I’d recommend the same.

If you come during the summer, be sure to bring a bottle of water!

Facilities:
Toilets are available (squat and seated). Tickets can be bought on site. Places to sit for resting are located throughout the garden, in the form of actual seats like under various walkways, indoors, stone table and seats outdoors, and along the stone bridges which I was told aren’t actually made for the purpose of seating but rather to stop people from falling into the pond, but people still sit here.

Wheel accessibility:
Most of the garden is flat, including the stone bridges, however might be bumpy since the paths are paved with pebbles. Also there are places that are not wheel accessible, these include stone steps (natural or man made) if you want to climb to the top of a pergola or a slope for better views.

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Categories
Accommodation China China Accommodation Travel

Home Inn -A review

When I was in Shanghai, I stayed at 2 different hotels, Jin Jiang Inn in Jia Ding District and Home Inn closer to Shanghai CBD, both are chain hotels.

This is is a review of the rooms at Home Inn in Shanghai City, China.

In this post I will review Home Inn hotel at Guang Zhong Road in Shanghai City, located across the road from Shanghai University Yan Chang Campus North Gate in the city. Click here (double room) and here (single room) for the video review, and read the text below for a breakdown of the hotel.

Overall: 6/10
Based on my stay at the 2 hotels, I would not recommend Home Inn. Home Inn is more expensive than Jin Jiang Inn, has poorer facilities and poorer range of food for breakfast. There are other Jin Jiang Inns nearby (within few Kms).

Location
The Home Inn I am reviewing is located in Jin An district near the city CBD, however you can find them all over China.

Address:
English: 809, Guang Zhong Rd, Jing’an District, Shanghai
Chinese: 上海市静安区广中路809号

Locality
The hotel is located along a large street lined with few other businesses, among them, a bank, some small restaurants (Chinese food as well as one cafe with western food), a Family Mart convenience store and a China Mobile store. This street is larger than the street Jin Jiang was on but there are less businesses around the area so if you are staying here for more than a few days like I did, you may quickly get sick of the food around here.

Directly across the road is Shanghai University’s Yan Chang City Campus South Gate and a bus stop.

There is a metro stop 400m away, Circus World exit 2.

There is a large shopping plaza Daning International Commercial Plaza or 大宁国际广场, 1km away towards the east (or on your right when standing in front of the hotel facing the main road/university). There are a variety of restaurants (Chinese and Western) and bars.

The hotelIMG_3441

This particular hotel is located in the “Shanghai University apartment area” and is specifically for visitors to the university. While I was there I met a visiting lecturer. Given this, I expected that they would have at least the same facilities as Jin Jiang Inn, but did not.

You can only access your own floor with your card, by tapping in on the elevator, however there is nothing stopping you from using the fire escape stairs to access other floors.

You get free breakfast vouchers for the duration of your stay. The breakfast room is in the large lobby. There is a small space for a few cars outside.

The lobby is large with bathroom. There is a small couch and coffee table, complimentary computer.

Hotel Facilities
Non-24 hour reception, non-English speaking.
Free wifi in all areas (lobby, room and dining room) although the wifi was very bad on the 8th and 10th floor, pretty much non-existent.

There is no laundry facility, self service or otherwise.
Not sure if there is luggage storage.
Plenty of taxis are available outside the hotel that pass by, you need to hail one or you can ask the desk to call you one.

Breakfast consists of Shanghai style stirfries, steamed buns (meat, vegetarian and custard), congee, soy milk, and seasonal fruit. The selection is quite poor, especially compared to Jin Jiang Inn. You can get breakfast vouchers as part of your booking, might be extra.

The hall ways are large inside the hotel, carpeted but very dark feeling and the area near the elevator smell of cigarette smoke because people often smoke there, despite it being banned.

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The room
I shared a room with a room mate, as well ask stayed in a single room. I will review both.

The rooms don’t seem to be consistent.
The twin room I stayed in first was basic, the furniture was very basic compared to Jin Jiang Inn with basic timber tables, and a single chair. Dark linoleum flooring, has openable windows. The twin bed room that I stayed in had a small enclosed balcony. The single room I had to myself later, had better furniture but no bed side lamp at all.

Facilities:
-Writing desk with pull out tray, and a tea table connected to it
-Desk lamp
-Television with all the local Chinese channels
-Single (shared, for double room) bedside table with one reading light above it
-Enclosed balcony (in twin bed room) and openable windows
-cheap disposable slippers that is replaced everyday if you open them (slip off the paper ribbon that binds them together). I feel this is a waste and so try to keep the ribbon and put the slippers back in them so house keeping doesn’t replace it every day.
-Clothing rack in the bathroom and in the room to hang your wet clothing
-Free boiling water facilities and cup (boil the water before drinking, tap water in China is not directly drinkable), no tea
-Waste baskets
-Wifi internet (included in cost of room but very bad ie non existent apart from the lobby) and ethernet cable internet
-Power plugs located along top of table, easily accessible
-Free bottled water daily (ask for more from room service)
-Air conditioning
-Phone
-Wall mounted Hair dryer

Bathroom
Standing shower. As I mentioned previously, the room styles aren’t consistent, one single room I saw had an actual door and wall shower, with separate toilet. Mine had only a curtain.

Basic toiletries supplied including toothbrush, toothpaste, comb and soap. The toothbrush wasn’t so good, the bristles actually came apart and fell off in my mouth.

Price
The price per night here was ¥271 and breakfast was an extra ¥18 per person per day.

Note:
One thing I encountered at this hotel and Jin Jiang inn was that strangers were distributing unwanted escort ads under the doors of all the guests’ rooms. The front reception staff at Jin Jiang inn told me there is nothing they can do as even if they ban the person, the ad company just sends another person, who books a room and uses the card to access the hotel lift to distribute the cards. You can just bin the cards.

Verdict:
I give this place 6/10 for it’s convenience but lack of better facilities while being more expensive. It is located close to the metro stop and there are some restaurants and cafes, a bank and a convenience store outside next to the hotel. It is located across the road from Shanghai University and the only bus stop nearby is across the road in front of the university (it goes only 1 way). The staff were okay, I deactivated my hotel card by putting it with my phone, and was later fixed however, I mistakenly thought it was still malfunctioning when it won’t take me to my level. Turns out I was pressing the button for the wrong level. Never had a chance to appologise to the staff. Breakfast had a poor variety. Wifi was not good, basically not usable in the rooms and only accessible in the lobby despite that they are supposed to be accessible in the rooms. Lobby had 1 small couch and coffee table, which was quite few for such a large lobby. More could be done about the unwanted ads being distributed.

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Categories
Accommodation China Travel

Jin Jiang Inn -A review

During my 2 week visit to Shanghai, I stayed at 2 different hotels, Jin Jiang Inn in Jia Ding and Home Inn closer to Shanghai CBD, both are chain hotels.

In this post I will review the Jin Jiang Inn in Jia Ding District, Shanghai opposite Shanghai University. Jin Jiang Inn was cheaper than Home Inn; Jia Ding is a suburb, I am not sure if this affected the prices. Click here for the video review, and read the text below for a breakdown of the hotel.

Overall: 9/10
Based on my stay at the 2 branches of the 2 hotel chains, I would recommend the Jin Jiang Inn chain over Home Inn because it is cheaper with more/better facilities and better breakfast food. The customer service was very nice and friendly, and there was no smoking inside the hotel. The lobby was small but bright, clean and modern. The rooms were also very clean and well kept, and the more I think about it, the more I am pleased at this budget hotel.

Location
The Jin Jiang Inn I am reviewing is located in Jia Ding on ChengZhong Road across the road from Shanghai university Jia Ding campus, however you can find them all over Shanghai.

Address:

English: 197, Cheng Zhong Rd, Jiading District, Shanghai
Chinese: 上海市嘉定区城中路35号

Jia Ding is a suburb in Shanghai, this one is located directly across the road from Shanghai University’s west gate.

The hotel door front is located along a street lined with other shops. The hotel is the one with the red logo just visible, above the man in the scooter in the picture below.IMG_3409.jpg

Locality
Cheng Zhong Road is a long main road. Towards the south there is a bridge, and towards the north, is the busier ‘city center’ with lots of shopping centers, restaurants and buses. The closest bus stop is abut 230m up the road towards the north on the same side as the hotel and will take you there, the buses stop at every stop, be ready to get off, you will see the large shopping centres.
About 650m south past the bridge is Tesco, a large shopping centre and grocery chain. You can either walk to the shops or walk to the bus stop and catch a bus, but the bus stops across the road diagonally from the shopping mall.

There are 2 metro stops nearby, Jiading West located due west, and Jiading North, located north west. Click here for a guide to Shanghai’s metro system. Jiading North is about 2.3 km away and easier to find as it is straight along the main road Cheng Zhong Road. You can also catch a bus up the road and get off at the metro stop.

You can also catch a taxi from the metro stop to the hotel and vice versa.

The hotel
This is the hotel card
IMG_3043.jpg

You can only access your own floor with your card, by tapping in on the elevator, however there is nothing stopping you from using the fire escape stairs to access other floors.

You also need the card to get breakfast, which comes free with your room. The breakfast room is in a separate area to the main building but can be easily accessed by a side door from the lobby, or outside via the carpark, neither of which I have a photo of.
The lobby is small however the hotel is larger than it looks from the outside, with about 8 floors and the lower floor is quite large.

Hotel Facilities
24 hour reception, non-english speaking.
Free wifi in all areas (lobby, room and dining room)
Small lobby has a small couch and coffee table and toilet facilities and free drinking water to fill a cup or bottle with.
Luggage storage
There is a self service laundry facility.
Carpark
Plenty of taxis are available outside the hotel that pass by, you need to hail one or you can ask the desk to call you one.
Breakfast consists of Shanghai style light vegetable stirfries, steamed buns (meat, vegetarian and custard), congee, individual tubs of yogurt, milk, soymilk, coffee and seasonal fruit. Take away is possible, they provide disposable plastic bags.

Photos of their lobby can be found here: http://www.jinjianginns.com/4387.html

The room
I shared a room with a room mate so this review is for a double room.IMG_3038

The rooms are actually quite nice for a budget hotel, they are clean and quite homey with timber patterned flooring that is not uncomfortable to walk around on, and easy for suitcase wheels to roll around on.

At this particular hotel, rooms above ground like mine have openable windows. The photo above was taken at night, but during the day there is good day lighting in the room. A friend of mine stayed in an underground room with no windows, but everything else was just as good.

Magazine on the table is provided by the room.

Other room facilities:
-cheap disposable slippers that is replaced everyday if you open them (slip off the paper ribbon that binds them together). I feel this is a waste and so try to keep the ribbon and put the slippers back in them so house keeping doesn’t replace it every day.
-Clothing rack with cloth hangers and a small storage cabinet
-There is a television with all the local Chinese channels
-Writing desk with pull out tray, and a tea table connected to it
-Desk lamp on table (can be unplugged and moved to bed side table)
-One chair
-Free tea and boiling water facilities (boil the water before drinking, tap water in China is not directly drinkable)
-2 Waste baskets (one in bathroom)
-Cable and Wifi internet (included in cost of room)
-Power plugs located along top of table, easily accessible
-Free bottled water daily
-Air conditioning
-Each bed has their own reading light
-Phone
-Wall mounted Hair dryer
IMG_3041

Bathroom
Standing shower with hand rail on wall.
IMG_3040

Toiletries supplied including toothbrush, toothpaste, comb and soap (not pictured). Wall mounted refillable shampoo and body wash.
IMG_3039

Price
Unfortunately I do not recall the price per night, but I do remember that it was cheaper than Home Inn near the city. However, I went as part of a set program, so the host of the program probably did a deal with the hotel.

Note:
One thing I encountered at this hotel and Home inn was that strangers were distributing unwanted escort ads under the doors of all the guests’ rooms. The front reception told me there is nothing they can do as even if they ban the person, the ad company just sends another person, who books a room and uses the card to access the hotel lift to distribute the cards. You can just bin the cards.

Verdict:
I give this place 9/10 for it’s cleanliness and how well maintained it was. Service was good and the staff were friendly. Breakfast had a good variety. Wifi was good. Bit far from the closest metro station although the taxis are cheap. More could be done about the unwanted ads being distributed.

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Categories
Australia Food Sydney Travel

Sydney Lunar Markets food festival

DSC09684.jpg

To celebrate the 2017 Chinese New Year, Sydney, Australia is holding many events. One of these is the free-to-enter Sydney Lunar Markets food festival, a 10-night food night market sponsored by The Star and Menulog, at Pyrmont Bay Park. The markets runs from the 27th of January to the 5th of February. Get down here this weekend and enjoy a nice outdoor dinner and a view of the harbour.

Bag check on The Star side entry. No glass allowed, and no take away alcohol is allowed.
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What’s on offer:
Food:
The stalls here sell a variety of Asian food, some of the food on offer here include Vietnamese inspired modern street food (Pho’ritto, pho wrapped in a burrito with ground beef), Chinese dumplings, Thai noodles, Indonesian BBQ and also ice cream, donuts and pizza. The food market is quite similar to the Noodle Markets in Hyde Park, Sydney during Good Food Month, with more than a handful of stall holders selling here again.

DSC09702.jpgTrifecta Bao at Bao Stop, 3 for $20

DSC09703.jpgPumpkin and Feta, and Black bean Dumplings from Zagyoza $12.50

DSC09704.jpgAsian mushroom Pizza, not bad value at $20 for the size (about 30cm) (especially considering Let’s Do Yum Cha was selling 8 dumplings for the teeny price of $18)

There are even 2 pop up bars, one in particular was quite interesting. The Bubble Bar sells fruit flavoured bubble milk tea (lychee, peach) with or without liquor. For other non-alcoholic drinks, there is a popup drink stall.

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Entertainment:
There is free live music onstage here, as well as giant jenga and chess for the kids.DSC09654

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Facilities
The Lunar food markets are cashless so you need a bank/credit/debit card to pay.DSC09646

There is a red sheltered seating and dining area sponsored by The Star, which is across the road (in the spirit of the festival, the furniture is even made with bamboo), as well as other table and chair seating places at the Bubble Bar, a table and chair dining area next to the water as well as scattered seats. Come early to grab a seat.

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DSC09680Some stallsDSC09665

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Luke Nguyen’s Pop up restaurant (no, he’s not actually here… he’s probably still cruising the Mekong…)DSC09660

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Look out for the ladies in the red Qipao near the front entry to the The Star dining area and pick up a free red packet.

There are also plenty of portable toilets on the Sydney Tower side of the park.

There are also plenty of rubbish and recycling bins as well as table cleaning service, so please do not litter.

Tips:
There is a ‘table waiting’ service sponsored by Menulog, grab a staff and pay with your card, then wait while they wait in line and get you your food!

Also you may want to bring your own cutlery like a plastic knife and take away lunch box if you are planning to share and or take away some of the food.

Click here for a short video of the markets at night (noting that this was taken on a Thursday night, and around 9:15pm… don’t worry, if you’re here for the atmosphere, it gets a lot busier during the weekends)

Getting Here:
Pyrmont Bay Park is located on the water front between The Star and the Australian National Maritime Museum. Click here for a map.

To get here, one can catch the light rail (such as from Central) towards Dulwich Hill, a ferry on line F4 to Pyrmont Bay Wharf, or bus 389 from North Bondi to Maritime Museum. All stops are within 100m to the venue. For all details such as stop sequences, maps and timetables see http://www.transportnsw.info/.

Hours:
Monday – Wednesday: 5-9pm
Thursday and Friday: 5-10pm
Saturday: 4pm-10pm
Sunday: 4pm-9pm

Official Website: http://www.sydney.lunarmarkets.com.au/

For more things to do in Sydney, check out my other posts here.

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Categories
China Food

The Dining Room

DSC08512The Dining Room is a cosy restaurant serving modern Shanghai cuisine across the road from Tian Zi Fang.

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I was quite lucky to have been invited here by my mother’s friend who lives in Shanghai. She also spent several hours with me in the heat of July at Tian Zi Fang.

For even a picky eater like me, the restaurant serves delicious Shanghai food, albeit salty. This place along with a restaurant next door, is quite popular and one may need to wait in line for a while, but the food was very enjoyable.

Of course, you can order Xiao Long Bao 小笼包, tiny steamed buns (Bao 包) with pork meat filling, with unleavened dough wrapper. The Xiao Long Bao one gets outside of China are usually a hit and miss, anything with a fluffy wrapper and larger than a bit size, are not true Xiao Long Bao, because the ‘Xiao’ means ‘little'(Long or 笼 means steamer basket).DSC08510A tip when eating these is to very carefully, using chopsticks or a spoon, to slowly turn the bao over by pushing the base of the bao away from the wrapper so it is no longer stuck to it, then using chopstick if you can, gently lift up the bao from the tip where the wrapper is the thickest, then catching it underneath with a spoon, then eat it from the spoon. If you tried to lift it all up at once without peeling it away first, you might break the wrapper and all the juicy fillings will leak out. Eating it from the spoon will prevent this also.

DSC08509Shanghai Noodles. Serves one. The noodles were deliciously chewy, unlike the boring packet noodles you get at the supermarket.

DSC08507Spinach and egg

DSC08506One of my favourite was this tasting platter. You can choose from the menu what you would like. This platter had (clockwise from top left but not exact menu names) Cold marinated chicken, second one I unfortunately forgot, 3rd is cold black fungus salad with vinegar, and chicken wings.

Of course, as in any Chinese restaurant, there was also tea.

Location:
This restaurant has many other branches, but this particular one is inside the shopping center across the road from Tian Zi Fang in Shanghai, closest metro stop is Dapuqiao, closest entry/exit located within same shopping center.

Address:
In Chinese: 上海市徐家汇路18

In English: 618 Xujiahui Road, Shanghai

Click here for the official website.

Reservations recommended:
Not needed.

For more things to do in Shanghai, check out my other posts here, or if you are ready to come visit Shanghai, try these affiliate links (what are affiliate links?)

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