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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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George Town – Malaysia

“The Pearl of the Orient”

George Town, Malaysia, October 2019

From the three times I’ve been to Malaysia, on each occasion I get to visit a new place, and this trip is no exception, no other that one of the best kept gems and most visited in the country, second largest city after Kuala Lumpur, the gorgeous George Town in the island of Penang. North of the Malay peninsula not far anymore from neighbouring Thailand along the Strait of Malacca, home not only to a great colonial city but to lush jungles, pristine beaches and excellent resorts.

Founded by the British in 1786 as their first settlement in South east Asia which together with Malacca and Singapore formed the Straits Settlements that developed into a crown colony in 1867, it became the very first city in the modern history of the country, title granted by Queen Elizabeth II shortly before the dissolution and independence in 1957. The Japanese occupation in 1941 after World War II and their massacre of Chinese people, then the short period where the British regained the colony and all the troubles carried over on reconstruction, sanitation, crime, unemployment, decline…and an independent country that forgot about George Town for decades did deteriorate every side of the city until only quite recently from the year 2000.

With such a potential with regards to history, culture and heritage, no wonder by the year 2008 it was included in the prestigious list of World Heritage Sites by the UNESCO. Continuous efforts in restoration, reconstruction and new construction; diverting the overcrowded traffic from the roads and great projects still going these days have transformed it into a thriving port city once again also becoming the major cruise terminal of any ship on an Asia/Southeast Asia tour.

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Malacca – Malaysia

“Historical City”

Malacca, Malaysia, October 2019

Malacca, one of the most historical and most visited cities in Malaysia is without doubt the little gem awaiting to be discovered. Often forgotten by visitors, yet still terribly overcrowded with countless foreign visitors, it is together with George Town in the island of Penang and of course Kuala Lumpur, the greatest highlights for anyone visiting the country. These are in any case just a small example of the incredible beauty and countless landscapes, lush jungle, historic cities or amazing idyllic islands and beaches scattered all over the nation.

Gladly, this is a second time for me in this city. And while back in 2013 it was a terribly rushed day trip from KL where we did only spend 3 hours wandering the streets, considering 2 hours to come and another 2 to return by bus, it was certainly not enough. On this occasion, it was well enough time and much better planned ahead hence a great chance for also updating this travel guide and bringing it in line more descriptively and complete.

A few notes on history, it was founded in the 14th century by Sumatran prince Parameswara, who escaped to the Malay Peninsula when the state-city once he ruled, Srivijaya in the island of Sumatra, fell to the Majapahit. The Portuguese soon saw the potential on such a strategical location at the confluence of the river and the Andaman Sea in a natural harbour on the Straits of Malacca, and conquered to their empire in order to grow their colonies in the hyper profitable trade route, yet not for long. The Dutch came after taking over the Portuguese and as last, the British in the 19th century until Malaysia’s Independence in 1963.

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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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