Category Archives: Travel

Can I still live in England?

Some thing happened since the last few years and I don’t think it’s totally related to COVID , but it doesn’t help. I don’t really enjoy living in England. That’s not a new feeling for me but I’ve started to feel progressively stronger anti-UK now.

Although it’s a bit of an exaggeration, I don’t always feel safe here. Something about the language and the people create strong feeling of unease that often leads to paranoia. When I was driving, I didn’t notice so much, but now I’m taking public transport, I see weirdos everywhere, and it’s very uncomfortable to have to face it directly.

Something I’ve tried to shy away from is exclusive male company, which was easy when I was growing up, but is harder now. I’ve become estranged from many of the women I went to school with, not by choice, but because that is what happens as you grow older. But England has always seemed a horribly aggressive place where violence is simmering just below the surface.

England Football fans are notorious for violence at European tournaments

it’s not just men, but women that I’m scared of, the differences between men and women have gradually eroded to leave a mass of people with little to distinguish themselves from each other.

Take a good look at this lady, she’ll soon be a thing of the past.

As a child, I saw that women wore skirts, and men wore trousers. Yet now is rarer to see women wearing skirts, or stockings, or anything that might make them appear feminine. That is no longer the goal, it’s clear. Instead, coarseness, ugliness and violence is the order of the day.

Take look a the video, and you’ll see that I’m not exaggerating.

Flying London to Bangkok with Scoot

Flight LGW to Bangkok

Airline: Scoot

Earlier this year, Low-cost airline Scoot announced that they would start flying to Bangkok direct from Gatwick, the first time that the carrier has made such a long-haul flight leaving from a London airport. 

You can now fly to Thailand from the South Terminal, avoiding the chaos, delays and stress of a journey from Heathrow. 

I was very happy when I found a one-way ticket with this airline for the price of £407.

Scoot was established as the budget arm of the prestige airline Singapore Airlines and I was intrigued by the idea of a no-frills alternative to SAG. My experience was mostly positive with a few caveats.

Avoid lengthy queues by arriving five hours before departure.

This is one of the last scheduled departures from Gatwick, with only TAP (Portugal’s flagship) and Wizz Air making flights after this. So no wonder that the airport was mostly closed in terms of shops and bars by the time most people were checking in. Tip: buy something in advance unless you want to eat the really terrible food that is on offer at this time. 

Flight departure time: 23.05

There is currently one weekly flight; depending on how popular the route is there may be more. For now, it’s clearly a service that is going to be well-used. 

I managed to avoid standing around in the queue at check-in by finding a stand that was open at the terminal at 6pm. They were happy to print my boarding pass. I needn’t have worried about loading any luggage as the weight was under the max weight of 10kg. 

Come half past nine, and most people were still queuing for check-in.  A downside of a budegt airline that charges extra for checked luggage means most people were taking their luggage on board, also causing more queues to go through security and boarding the plane.  

We queued up at the gate, where we we intructed rather rudely that we had to wear a mask, these weren’t employees of the airline but airport ground staff. There was a wait until everyone had their passports checked and then we were ready to board.

We had to wait at the gate to have our passports checked by non-Scoot staff.

With people taking most of their luggage with them , there was a buildup of passengers waiting in the gangway, looking to stash their luggage anywhere they could. Staff were busy with boarding staff , so there was only so much they could do to help.  Meanwhile, I took my seat in 13C and I was starting to wonder if the plane would ever leave. 

The boarding process

The seat

The seat itself was fairly standard in terms of legroom but the headrest was not particularly pronounced and was hard to lean back in. It took an hour for the plane to be fully loaded and every one boarded.

Unless you pay for the extra-legroom, you will be sitting in a standard economy seat.

Entertainment 

In terms of inflight entertainment, you’re strictly limited to what you bring with you. In economy, you won’t have any screen. Suffice to say that if you want to browse the net, you need to pay them for that, even charging your mobile comes with a charge, no pun intended.

In all honesty, I wasn’t too disappointed by that, I was looking to get off to sleep soon after the plane reached cruising altitude. On the other hand, I could see my passenger feel that he was having to pay a lot in extras for using the wifi, charging his phone and then paying for a meal on board and drinks.

Food 

The flight was catered by it’s charming all Asian cabin crew,  and most of the food is chosen when you make  your booking. I was offered my food at midnight when they brought the trolley through, but then they gave me the option to have it during the second meal service ,this was an easy decision as I had already eaten a few hours before. The next morning,  I was given my diner and I have to say it was really tasty and better than any of the options avialble on similar budget airlines.

Next  I ordered coffee, which sadly was offered in a cheap poly-cup with no branding, as if to make up for this, they gave me a box of tiny but delicious cookies. Then when I clumsily set the cup on the floor, leaking most of the contents, I was given a replacement cup. Any snacks you buy can be paid for by cash or card. To be honest, I don’t think you can do this with BA. And even if you get change in SGD, its satisfiying to be able to use the leftover notes in your wallet .

The cabin crew

The staff are all quite young, and as I said before, exlcusivley Asian . I don’t mind this, to be honest it’s more authentic like this. The women in particular were beautiful, let’s not pretend that this doesn’t make a difference , it really does. I can forgive low level of entertainment if the staff are young, attractive and like their job. Staff on board were either Japanese, or Chinese, or perhaps from Singapore. But all were more than able to speak English to passengers.

Mostly attentive service from the flight crew.

The verdict.

The flight was a long and difficlut journey based on the length, the lack of comfort in the seat, and the fact that I was sat near small children. I can’t blame the airline for that last one, although it would be great if they could seat children a distance from most other passengers who just want to admire the ladies doing their work, stare out the window or make witty conversation. I would use Scoot for short flights, but going all the way to BKK in one long haul was a bit too much, especially in my crappy economy seat. Still, I arrived at my landing on time, and there were no other carriers making the same journey for a similar price. So there you have it. if you think you can withstand the lack of comfort, give Scoot a try for your next Thailand trip.

To book: https://www.flyscoot.com/en

London’s best value 4*Hotel

London isn’t known for being good value, so when you do manage to find a bargain it’s all the more satisfying. Yet I managed to find a great hotel during the holiday season, and it wasn’t difficult! https://www.radissonhotels.com/en-us/hotels/park-plaza-london-park-royal

the brand-new, 4 Star hotel looks the part inside and out

I stay in a lot of hotels. I don’t get paid to travel and I’m not on business. So I need to look around to find somewhere nice, in a good location, and a main Hotel brand that has a loyalty scheme. The best offers for rooms tend to be off-season, or on quieter days. You get a cheaper room rate if you stay on Sunday than Friday night. Following this rule will only get you so far, though. On the whole, an average price for a 3-star hotel in London will be $148 (thanks Google). and a lot of hotels at his rate will only offer very small rooms, middling to poor service, or be old and tired inside. And 3-star hotels don’t offer much for service, or provide extras (gyms, free breakfast or late check-out).

Finding a VFM 4 star Hotel in London

You don’t need to spend hundreds of pounds a night for the kind of luxury you think you need. Yes, the top hotels are going to be out of reach for most travellers. But, looking outside the centre, you can find some real bargains!

Smart, modern design and a comfortable room in Park Plaza, Park Royal.

Last year I booked a room mid-week in London that I was not expecting anything from. By chance, it turned out to be my best London Hotel stay of the year. Most people would struggle to find any decent hotel in central London for under 100, even under 200 would be pushing it. However, the Park Plaza Park Royal is a fantastic hotel that simply cannot be beaten for price or quality.

The hotel is recently built so you don’t see any of the dodgy plumbing, tired wall paper or slow, out of work lifts. the building is fully up to date. Here’s a quick breakdown of my trip.

Location

Location might be your top priority, and whilst the hotel is not central London, it’s next to a tube station (Park Royal), and it’s near Wembley Stadium, which is one of the main tourist attractions in the capital. And it’s 45 minutes from Heathrow, which is really not that far.

check-in

I had received emails regarding check-in, but I checked in at the desk. It was well-staffed. I certainly didn’t need to wait long to be served.

Reception and lobby

the hotel offers a modern and slightly opulent design. You don’t feel like you are in Wembley next to a busy fly-over. The Staff uniforms are elegant and understated, plus the lobby is spaced out so you don’t feel crowded, and the place is quiet without being devoid of character.

The room

The room was a decent size. There was a well-appointed bathroom. The bed was thick , comfortable and spacious. I was more than satisfied by the room’s furniture and design.

Nice modern fittings in the bathroom

Tea and coffee

There was a kettle with tea bags and coffee sachets for making hot drinks, as well as fridge with complimentary bottled water.

TV/satelite

The TV was fixed to the wall and was a good size. the channels were mainly standard ‘Freeview’ offerings.

Bed.

With a leather headboard, high thread count, you’ll want to bed down once you come inside.

I had no problems sleeping in the room and the bed was luxurious, I couldn’t wait to hunker down.

Breakfast included?

Yes, they gave me breakfast at no extra cost, the buffet was very full and the staff were not putting anyone in a hurry to finish their breakfast. There were options to order from the menu as well as a full hot English breakfast.

Checkout

I checked out past one. I was very comfortable in the hotel. There is a large waiting area past the lobby where you can relax, read magazines and just chill.

Verdict

this is an absolute bargain for London. You are right next to tube station that connects you to central London in around 20 minutes. You aren’t staying a stones throw from the palace, but do you really need to be ? For less than a £100 – the hotel offers stylish design, great service, and breakfast. For even a 3-star hotel like a Hampton in a more central area you would pay more than double that. This puts Park Plaza at number one for best value hotel in London. This is ideal both for business and leisure travellers. I’m glad I made this choice and I look forward to staying in more Park Plaza hotels.

Chessington World Of Adventures: is it a good day out?

Billed as Britain’s Wildest Adventure , Chessington is a theme park and zoo combined! It has millions of visitor each year and is one of the famous parks owned by Merlin There are many good things about the park so explaining why it’s so popular is not difficult. But first, a quick guide to the park for those who haven’t taken the trip yet.

Situated in a town in south west London, Chessington aims to provide a fun day out for the family, with several themed sections (or lands) of the park that combine rides with animal enclosures and even special performances throughout the year! The park was opened as a home for exotic animals in the 1930s, and was a zoo up until the first ride opened in 1991. Now it is home to some twenty rides, some quite fast whereas others are for smaller children and less exciting.

Over the years as the rides have increased but the animals have continued to provide interest for all visitors. The safari ride, Journey into Africa is still a big draw. There is now a four star hotel for guests who want to make a longer break in the park.

Arriving at the park, most visitors will come to the large carparks that bring them to the Adventure point. The park is divided into themed areas, all of which have their own distinctive look and feel. Although the park has a lot of branding, it feels slightly less co-ordinated than when it was a different place in the nineties. the arrival of the room in the broom tie-in experience shows that the park has been able to make a deal with the publishers for the characters of the story.

What used to be the Bubbleworks is now a Gruffalo Ride, which is very much aimed at younger children. The park’s famous Vampire ride still takes pride of place, although seems to have less in terms of fear than it used to as the ride has seen more scary rides eclipse it.

Mexicana

Now we come to one of the best areas of the park. Taking a cue from the Wild West, the area has some cool stylings in the buildings that look like colourful storehouses and cantinas. There are two good rides here. The Rattlesnakes (a cart style ride that has a rickety looking track) and a runaway Train ride ‘Scorpion Express’. The area of the park manages to incorporate food offerings in a more subtle way; Tortilla restuarant sits in the centre of the area, giving you a view of the rides whether you sit in or out. There are even some jars of animal skeletons, and some animatronic figures by rattlesnakes that add to the carnivalesque atmosphere.

The Forbidden Kingdom

Just as you leave Mexicana, you will see the new Croc Ride. The jaws of the crocodile open to allow the vertical ride to drop the riders down to the depths. This was previously Rameses Revenge. Some would say that the new ride is not in the same league. True, it doesn’t have the same fear factor, it simply drops from the same position. however, the ride gives a great 360 view of the entire park, and uses some Egyptian curse ideas to give it some stylistic grounding in the area. Another ride that some love is Tomb Blaster! It’s a more immersive ride that takes place entirely indoors. Riders are given laser style GUNS and must ‘blast’ various targets. As a dark ride it could have been more scary but it’s a little too family friendly for that. Overall, the forbidden kingdom has some nice touches but it’s not the most enjoyable section of the park.

Wild Asia/land of the tigers.

Here we come to my favourite section of the park! The area was once known as ‘Beanoland’ but it has been completely revamped to look like jungle India and Thailand. It looks particularly fitting when you visit on a hot day – the grey concrete buildings reflect the sunlight – helping to create a sense of the exotic. The three big rides are all worth visiting. First, head to Monkey Swingers, the carousel style swing seat ride has some vertigo inducing moments as the seats ride into the air – and you can feel the wind blow towards you when you kick out your seat. Kobra is a nice ride that is very smooth – taking you back and forth on a rotating disc in the shape of a giant snakes head. But nothing can beat the Land of the tigers and Tiger Rock. The most spacious area is home to the superb log ride which goes through the tiger’s enclosure, hence the name! you can enjoy a bit of peace and quiet here as you walk past the streams and Chinese style bridge. My only complaint is that the area doesn’t offer any Chinese food. Some noodles, dumplings or fried rice would tie in nicely with the oriental theme, and offer something far more varied than the current food offerings.

Is it worth a visit?

Yes, we feel that, given the amount of activities in the park, it is worth going to at least once. Chessington is not a cheap day out, and it’s very commercial. It can seem as though every part of the park is designed to take money out of your pocket. You can save money by doing the following: arrive by public transport, saving petrol and car park fees. Bring your own food and drink. There is nothing to stop you from taking a packed lunch, and Chessington has a picnic area near the car parks. If you do visit a restaurant, Tortilla would be my pick. The food is good quality, and you get a good serving, as well as a nice seating area.

Caution

Some of the downmarket clientele at the park.

We love Chessington. but we have noticed that it tends to attract a somewhat downmarket clientele. Some may think that you need to wear a tracksuit and have tattoos covering your face and neck to fit in. That’s true for many, but not everyone here is like that. If you feel that it’s going to be a problem by all means you can avoid the park. But you will be missing a lot of the innocent fun of the theme park. https://www.chessington.com/

QUEENS SKATE DINE BOWL – why I love it

A short video I made showining ice-skating rink at Queensway

Get your Skates on!

The Skating rink at Queens is a funky and cool place, partly because it brings out everyone from dating couples, young people, kids, and elders. Although there is an image of skating and bowling as being a bit downmarket, it’s not really the case in the Queens skate dine bowl.

The location helps give it some class. Next to Queensway tube, West London, the area is next to some of the biggest consulates, as well as nearby Kensington Palace. The venue does get some idiots, mainly rough kids from some of the housing estates. On the other hand, you will see many young Chinese women, and Asians of other countries (something to do with ice-skating being seen as an acceptable past time). Have a look at the video, and you’ll see what I mean.

Booking a session

The website tells you that you need to pre-book, so that you can guarantee a slot. It’s not something that was a problem for me, and I did it using the website. Over 12’s pay 11.50 per hour, plus skate hire. I noticed many of the more experienced skaters had come with their own skates.

What’s on the menu?

It’s burgers, wings, and other comfort food. The company has partnered up with Meat Liquor to serve burgers, wings and Mac & cheese. It must be said that this is miles away from the kind of cardboard junk food that we can all remember eating on visits to the leisure centre after a swim in the community pool.

Can I have a drink?

Yes, most definitely. The bar serves some impressive-sounding cocktails, such as ‘Fallen Angelita’ and ‘New Cross Negroni’, you will find milkshakes and craft beer as well. Everything has been done with the utmost care and attention to detail. You could quite happily come here just for a drink, not using the ice-rink or bowling alleys.

Final Verdict

Queens Skate is a fantastic venue. The design, particularly the neon-lit ice-rink, is something I haven’t seen anywhere else. Staff are trained to help nervous skaters, you can book lessons and there are DJs playing some nights. I can’t think of a better activity to do in London during the holidays, so take my advice and book a session.

Rob in Japan’s Guide to Kumamoto

On the Southern island of Kyushu,Kumamoto is a city in Japan. It’s mostly rural and there are many beautiful sights to visit. Most people who have heard about the city know about the Kumamoto Bear, a mascot created to draw tourists to the region when the Shinkansen opened in 2010.

This loveable character has been seen countless times, thanks to free licensing rights that mean the image can be used as long as it promotes the area, and in fact the bear is the most popular mascot in Japan.

Some souvenirs from Kumamoto Prefecture.

You can buy all kinds of snacks for souvenirs in the shops. As it is for other cities, everything is impressively packaged and the service is first class, as you would expect.

Mount Kinbo

The mountain in Kumamoto is an extinct caldera volcano; it still smokes but does not erupt. It’s perfect for a day of sightseeing!

Kumamoto Castle

Considered to be one of three most important castles in Japan. In truth, it looks the same as any castle you will find all over Japan.

Food

Kumamoto is famous for ramen. It’s not as greasy as Hokkaido ramen, and includes sliced garlic and sesame oil.

Kumamoto Ramen

Getting there

Fly to Fukuoka, the largest city in the region, and travel by bus or train to Kumamoto.

Indonesia is the place to see this year

My travel destination this year is Indonesia. With more than six UNESCO designations it has the highest of any Asian country, and manages to provide a year’s worth of highlights in one trip.

Here are some of the places and activities I would like to see once international travel is possible in Indonesia.

Bali/Lombok

Known as a tropical paradise around the world, Bali is the most visited part of Indonesia. In fact, Bali is one of two islands that are considered to be world class – Lombok is the quieter one. People go to Bali for all kinds of purposes. Watesports and scuba diving are some of the most popular pastimes. Famous TV chef Anthony Bourdain made a documentary about the food, see picture below.

Ubud in Bali is known as a home to several famous yoga retreats and upscale resorts, in fact the whole island is home to some incredible hotels such as The Legian in Seminyak.

You can also stay very reasonably in a villa for 20 dollars a night. as well as the luxury and splendour of the resorts you can find centres of spirituality, such as the famous Uluwata Temple.

Komodo Island

Home to the biggest lizard’s in the world. Komodo Island can only be visited with a tour guide, and its very dangerous to get to close to the man-eating dragons.

Mount Merapi

The still active volcano erupted last year.

Jakarta

The bustling city is home to more than eight million people and would be a good place to start your trip, assuming you don’t mind heavy traffic and crowds. You can find some great food here.

People

“The friendliest people you can ever meet” according to Trevor Noah, who visited Bali in 2018. Indonesians are a diverse mix of ethnicities and cultures: the national language is Bahasa but Javanese is spoken in Java. There are Chinese Indonesians, moslems, Christians and Buddhists.

Music and culture

The Raid made a big impression five years ago, and the music of Indonesia that is most common is gamelan.

EGG FRIED NICE

  • a guide to some of the best places in Birmingham’s Chinese Quarter.

People visit Birmingham for many reasons. Some come for the sporting events. Others might visit because of the massive indoor Expos that are held at the NEC. Personally, I visited Birmingham because of it’s Chinese Quarter, or Chinatown. England’s 2nd largest city has an area of three streets which are full of Asian restaurants, bars, the occasional nightclub, and even a Wetherspoon’s.  The area is located just outside the city’s main train station, Birmingham New Street. After a night in the chaotic Broad Street area, I wanted to experience something more authentic. True, there are some Indian restaurants there which were doing a good trade, but most of the restaurants near my hotel were exactly the same chain-type places you will find up and down the country.

Getting there

As you leave the station, you can see the brown tourist signs directing you to the Chinese Quarter. it’s easy to go the wrong way, but if you come out of the station at the main entrance you can see Hirst road right in front of you. This is where the Chinese Quarter proper begins.

There is a rather lovely looking restaurant with a green-tiled roof (China Court Restaurant) on Edgbaston Street. Next to it is another traditional Cantonese restaurant – Chung Ying.

Chung Ying was the first Chinese restaurant to open here

As you walk along Hirst Street, you notice that most of the buildings have Chinese characters. You can’t miss a very large three-storey building houses Ming Moon, which caters to the Chinese love of gambling.

Further along, there is a branch of the very popular Happy Lemon bubble tea café.

Perhaps you wouldn’t expect to see a traditional pub, but that is what you get, although the styling of the Wetherspoon’s in this area blends in with its name and building’s façade.

If you feel that the street has a slightly faded air, which it does, you can take a left to the modern Arcadian area in Ladywell Way. This is a car-free zone. The restaurants cater to a younger crowd, with a few non-Asian venues such as Las Iguanas.

On show in the centre of the square was a stunning lantern display. As part of the marketing for the film Over the Moon (based on a Chinese fairy tale) Netflix has designed 26 handmade lanterns with characters from the film. Far from being showy and over the top like the Christmas lights in London, these were intricately decorated and looked even more magical in the evening when they were individually illuminated. At nighttime this would be a wonderful place to eat, especially if you can sit outside.

This area is home to a wonderful patisserie with cookies and cakes form Taiwan and Hong Kong – which are clearly made fresh everyday.

Coming back to Hirst Road takes you to an excellent Chinese restaurant which offers Dim Sum in the mornings and then Sichuan cuisine. This region of China is known for its red and black pepper which is pleasantly numbing. Many of the dishes incorporate tofu – eg mapo tofu or Salt and pepper tofu.

Walking still further down, you come to Korean and Japanese restaurants. It’s quite likely that these are still owned and run by Chinese restaurateurs who want to cater for those in the area who happen to like other Asian cuisines as well as traditional Chinese.

As the road goes down past the Glee club, there are student bars and nightclubs, and it seems to have become home to the gay population of Birmingham.

Whatever your thoughts on that, make sure you come to this part of Birmingham when you next visit.

Racist Korea

In 2017 I started working in Korea. I was full of excitement to visit the country I had learned so much about. But after living in Korea , I started to notice subtle forms of racism. The classic example that I can give is when I went to a restaurants and was refused entry as a solo diner. I never saw this happen to any Koreans. In fact, the only time I ever saw anyone denied entry was when they were foreign.

It got worse at work in the hagwon. Whilst a few of the Koreans made an effort to be friendly, a lot made it clear that they didn’t want anything to do with us. Perhaps the worst thing that happened was when a large bottle of air freshener was left on our desks – implying that even our body odour was offensive. I looked around to see if anyone had left any air-freshener anywhere else , but no. ours was the only desk to have a large bottle placed none-too subtly on our desk.

 Now I know you might be wondering why all this matters? Maybe it’s just a few companies that are like this. And I understand that the majority of Koreans will not be racist.

But here’s the thing. With millions of fans of Korean music, food and culture, Korea is positioning itself as the cultural capital of Asia. For example, the images you see on the Korean tourist board are of beautiful geography, food and costumes which are hard to match up to reality. Less developed Asian countries have bought into the Asian wave that the Korean government worked so assiduously to  build. Yet people from South-western countries are often discriminated against for being darker-skinned and coming from poorer countries. It can’t be right that a country with so much cultural power should be able to be so backwards when it comes to acceptance of other races.

Now another thing that makes it hard is when foreigners come to work in Korea without being able  to speak much Korean, they get taken advantage of, not just that they miss out on a lot of experiences that would be available to them if they knew the language, but there’s this uncomfortable feeling that a lot of Koreans will speak abusively about foreigners who they assume cannot understand them. I know that foreigners could make a greater effort to learn the language – but where’s the motivation? If I knew that a lot of Koreans would refuse to acknowledge me or talk to me in Korean , I would never have gone to the trouble of learning the amount of Korean language that I did.

For a lot of foreigners living in Korea, the level of Korean that they have learned already won’t be enough to make them easily understood to people. You can bet that this makes them an easy target for even more discrimination. You see, Koreans don’t really expect you to be able to speak Korean. Even if you can, they might act like they don’t understand you. Or laugh and simply ignore you, or speak over you without listening to anything you have said. So you can’t blame the foreigners who want to study and learn Korean only to lose motivation and interest. It’s too easy to give up; there aren’t decent resources available and Koreans refuse to speak to you in their language.

Right now, you could be thinking that I should be giving up. And it’s true that Korea is less of an interest to me these days. But its sad when I think that Korea was the first Asian country I visited, my girlfriend was Korean, and I studied Korean for years.

You often hear it said that Korea has the world’s fastest internet speeds. But that hasn’t led to Koreans becoming as developed in social affairs. But if you have ever bought Korean products, listened to K-pop, or even owned Samsung, you might want to take another look at the politics of the country that is behind them.