Shenzhen – China

“The Silicon Valley of China”

Shenzhen, China, November 2019

Returning from a holiday in Thailand heading back to London, was nice to have this brief stopover in Shenzhen and even on a super rush, being able to visit some of the main sights, notably admiring the impressive skyline rising as far your eyes can reach. This is one of the fastest growing cities in the world, and here are some numbers and facts that will surprise you. Back in 1979 its status was raised from Town to City. With a small population and almost non-existing infrastructure other than the railway terminus of the Canton to Kowloon (in Hong Kong) line, it exploded like nowhere ever seen before in such a short time to be home of more than 13 millions inhabitants, although the numbers in question are likely 20 at any one time as the authorities estimate. Home to one of the busiest container port in the world and becoming the “Silicon Valley of China”. How all this happened this quick is simply fascinating!

It forms what is called the Pearl River Delta Megalopolis together with Hong Kong just south across the border, the major cities of Haizhou and Dongguan in the north and other cities all of which home to a population of approximately 50 million people. The province, Guangdong, is one of the most populated in China. It’s a funny fact that one can take the metro in Shenzhen to the south border, comply with the customs and immigration and take Hong Kong’s metro to continue your journey; this is how near one to each other really are.

So while on our way into Thailand the stopover was at Chengdu where we enjoyed the traditional side of China, the important tea culture so vivid over there, temples and shrines; here was totally the opposite, with a fascinating new city built in 40 years, doubling its size in almost no time. Nowadays it is one of the cities with the largest amount of super-tall towers (defined as anything over 300 meters high), and a metro system expanding from 8 to over 25 lines, that’s almost 1000 kilometres of new tracks when the project is completed. (more…)

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Ayutthaya – Thailand

“Venice of the East”

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Once of the major archaeological sites in Thailand, the once gloriously wealthy capital city of the former Kingdom of Ayutthaya, founded by King Ramathibodi I in 1351 AD, and overtaking Sukhothai as the capital of Siam (nowadays Thailand), was ruled by 35 kings during its history. Reaching a size of almost a million inhabitants by the year 1700, making it one of the largest in the world at that time, it was also one of the wealthiest. Merchants from all over the world made from Ayutthaya one of the most important trading posts between Asia and the West. Unfortunately, the glorious past was pretty much destroyed by the Burmese army in 1767 burning it to the grounds.

Nowadays, fortunately, you can see most of this imposing past from the huge ruins of the hundreds of temples around, with excavation and restoration continuously going on. It is one of the most complete historical site listed by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in the country.

The great side is how easy it is to reach from Bangkok. There is a god timetable of trains on this route, and forget what you read over the internet that the trip can take 2 hours or more. It’s merely 1 hour, or even shorter if taking the faster trains. I would not recommend you spend more than a day here. At the end, there is nothing else to do here than sightseeing the historical park, hence a day trip from Bangkok is more than viable without stress and getting tired at all. Or as how we did on another trip, leaving Bangkok early in the morning, being for the day in Ayutthaya, and then continuing on the night train to Vientiane, the capital of Laos at the end of the railway line. (more…)

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Bangkok – Thailand

“City of Royal Palaces”

Bangkok, Thailand, November 2019

Incredible Thailand, and the astonishing capital city, Bangkok. To this date the fourth time here, and certainly looking for more to come in the future. Since 2011 when we first came here on what was the very first trip ever this far away, to now and the other times in between it still did not change anything in my opinion towards it. I simply love this place, more than ever. And not just the city, but this country itself, ranking among my top favourite 5 from the many I have been in the world, and that’s already over 100!.

It is such a gigantic city, with so many places to visit, ancient, historic and modern; so many temples, and so, so welcoming and charming, it feels the time is never enough, always short to do as much as you would like. Of course one of the reasons would be moving around the different areas and sights where you do require quite a long time.

The first impression a visitor takes, could not be better. Most of the international arrivals are in the spectacular Suvarnabhumi Airport. It is quite obvious why it has won so many prizes and awards for being one of the best in the world; it’s great architecture, easiness, environmental friendly and many more. So straightforward and quick to clear immigration, and so super fast to get to the heart of the city by the well connected railway links.

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Chengdu – China

“Starting point of the Southern Silk Road”

Chengdu, China, November 2019

A very unexpected visit to a city I did not actually plan on any trip at all in these years nor in the coming future, however it worked great as a surprise having found the best air fare to the final destination Bangkok. Not only the stopover was meant to be 12 hours all during the day, but an almost last minute change of schedule from the airline translated in giving us an entire day over there. What is best, no need to even apply for a visa to enter China. someone travelling from a country A to country C via country B, in this case China, is automatically granted 72 hours visa free transit which allows, depending on the city of transit, to be ONLY in the city, or across an entire region such as the case of Guangdong Province. In our case, with the city was good enough for a little stroll and break a long haul flight.

Chengdu, the capital of the Sichuan Province, might sound unheard to the average tourist, however we are talking about a city larger in population than any across the entire European continent including Russia. It’s home to over 10 million inhabitants, over 18 including its metropolitan area, this makes it the 5th largest conglomeration in China. It is a very powerful centre for finance, economics, education, industry, transport, communications and culture and its development and growth do not see an end in the near to mid-term future.

It is also world famous for being the capital city of the region from where one of the cutest animal on the planet lives, the giant panda bear. The main research and care base is some 2 hours northwest from the city, and this is the only one place in the world where you can hold one in your hands, a baby one of course. (more…)

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Singapore

“City in a garden”

Singapore, Singapore, October 2019

Returning once more to the most perfect “sin-city” in the planet, the stunning and shiny capital of this tiny nation-island, Singapore. While the first time I came here was as part of a wider trip visiting Thailand and Malaysia as well, on this occasion there was no difference. Coming from Malaysia, after spending two weeks travelling through Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan. And funny-wise, it’s the matter of just a month after this trip that I will be returning to Southeast Asia, precisely to Thailand, one of my all-time favourite countries ever. No matter how many times I keep coming to Southeast Asia anyway, it is always so good that I cannot wait too long for the next one.

Singapore is the city of the future as many refer to it. A place where everything is being planned with a future perspective of 50 years ahead, and now even beyond. It is a very small nation, where space is their limitation. Completely surrounded by water, only a bridge links it to mainland Malaysia. Every project must be carefully studied and planned, and they excel at it like no other city in the world. From design, to comfort, environment, technology and efficiency; everything seems out of this world in the sense of cleanliness, safety, order and superb education and respect of its citizens. It’s really everything. A country which claims to have one of the highest educational levels and lowest crime in the world, and anyone can totally agree with that.

Now believe it or not, it is merely some dozens of years ago that this territory was in a completely different league and story. While it thrived as a British colony, it lasted until 1963 when the British left and so it joined Malaysia for a brief period of 2 years. For Malaysia, the fact that majority of the population was Chinese it was seen as a threat, hence on 9 of August 1965, Singapore became the first and only country in the world to gain independence against its own will. I’m quite sure Malaysia is still regretting such part of their history. Nowadays it is a non-stoppable growing Asian Tiger, like its other tigers Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea.

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Kuala Lumpur – Malaysia

“The Garden City of Lights”

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Once more back to the vibrant capital city of Malaysia. An ever growing jungle of concrete where the sky is the limit. Booming more and more since how I saw it in the previous trips back in 2011 and 2016, now quickly transforming radically the skyline into another dimension. And not that it needed to really do anything about it since it is already one of the finest and most recognisable in the world with some masterpieces such as the Petronas Twin Towers or the Menara KL; but since space is the major limitation in an already overcrowded downtown core there’s nothing else that looking up. Merely three years later and the change is brutal. Unfortunately there is an ever growing concern and problem, the lack of any pavements to even walk the streets. How is it possible they do only care about building towers occupying every possibly limit, and zero space for a pavement? We find this very inappropriate and terrible, because slowly they are destroying the Central Business District. That said, you have been advised walking is difficult and dangerous to cross the roads.

Malaysia, although a Muslim country, is absolutely open-minded, friendly and respectful. A proper westernised country where the only time you will know you are in a Muslim country is when you hear the call to prayer over the loud speakers of the minaret mosques. Here religion is a fusion of cultures, and each respect the others on their beliefs. Mosques, Catholic churches, Hindu, Buddhist, Chinese temples or synagogues coexists together and are a major reason for the success and great development of Malaysia.

It’s incredible to think how the city was only founded in 1857 as a small centre for the Chinese, Malay and Sumatrans tin miners. Destroyed several times in wars, suffering from fires, floodings and diseases, but was always rebuilt until it was made the capital of the British colony in 1880, moving it from Selangor and growing non-stop from this point. All the grand colonial structures date from these days, quite a wealthy city originally fuelled by the tin production and more greatly, the rubber industry in the 20th century. But a country rich in gas and petrol reserves, precious minerals, plantations among a strategical location translated in becoming a super-power for finance, insurance, business, tech, education, transport and tourism. Did you know it is the 7th most visited city in the world as it stands today?

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Taipei – Taiwan

“Formosa: The Beautiful Island”

Taipei, Taiwan, October 2019

Taipei, the capital of the Republic of China (well better known as Taiwan), is the heart of one of the Four Tigers of Asia, together with South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore. A fascinating overdeveloped city in an island with a very strong personality and heritage very much to the likes of South Korea and Japan, where everything is perfect, cared for and respected. Some of the most polite, educated and helpful people, and a place of contrasts where old traditions survive in the shadow of the countless new towers and districts being created.

It is nice to return for a second time here. Back in 2014 it was a trip from Manila as we were touring a little bit of the Philippines. Today is again a wider trip, coming from Hong Kong, then continuing into Malaysia. On both occasions the time spent here has been the same, 2 days and a half. While not a lot, it is enough to get a glimpse and enjoy most of the sights in the city however, the island has other wonderful cities and villages, nature and landmarks truly worth to explore, but unfortunately it will have to wait for another trip in the future.

As a little background history, Taiwan used to be known as Formosa, name given by the Portuguese meaning “beautiful”. It was part of the Spanish Empire for a short period of time however was never keen to deploy any army and settle nor build the infrastructure needed to protect it against other invaders such as the Dutch to whom it lost the colony. The Spanish colony only lasted from 1626 to 1642. Thereafter the Dutch and the Portuguese developed their settlements and claimed to their own for centuries. Wars and occupations did the rest until its modern history.
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Hong Kong – SAR

“Fragrant Harbour”

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A well deserved time to return to this fascinating city almost 7 years after the first time, and once again as part of a much wider trip across some Asian/Southeast Asian countries. It is still the fact that no matter how many times I come to this part of the world, that I enjoy more the more times I return especially with Southeast Asia as the favourite from everywhere I’ve been in the world.

Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, or let’s keep it short as everyone else in the world does, simply Hong Kong, while not a sovereign country itself, it enjoys its freedom of economy and people’s right as part of “One Country, Two Systems”. This was the deal agreed between the United Kingdom and China when the colony was handed over to China back in 1997. On a same note and same year, the nearby ex-Portuguese colony of Macau was handed over to China with the same principles in the agreement. Now to anyone’s eyes, it’s hard to say you are in “China”, especially if you’ve been to mainland China itself, not to mention there is not even need to apply for a visa in order to visit Hong Kong or Macau is you are a citizen from Europe and most of the Western World countries.

At almost 7.5 million inhabitants considering such a reduced space, it is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. With not much space to even build, the sky is the limit they say. Towers, towers and more towers, with some latest additions becoming super tall skyscrapers with some truly icons designed by the top world class architects. It is out of question the city will impress any visitor for its incredible skyline. Merely built in just few years, aligning both banks of the impressive Victoria Harbour as if it was an avenue. However, not everything is as shiny as it might appear on a first look. Just behind such glorious skyscrapers of beautiful care for design, lies a maze of tiny streets with high-rises of awful taste and dubious designed communal blocks where millions of people live in tiny spaces. Nevertheless, even such constructions have become a sight on their own among the tourists looking to get great pictures, especially of the thousands of windows and air-con units on their never endingly high patios.

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