Winter Sports and PyeongChang Olympics 2018

With PyeongChang Winter Olympics happening less then 200 days from now, there are no lack of winter sports that I would certainly be watching out for. In one of my previous post, I mentioned there are a total of 102 Gold Medals up for grabs across 15 winter sports for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics game and 80 Gold Medals up for grabs across 6 winter sports for the Paralympics Games. Of all the winter sports, I like Luge, Skiing and Ski Jumping most. I had the opportunity to try out the amateur versions of these winter sports.

PyeongChang Winter Olympics is less then 200 days away

Sledding – an Amateur version of Luge

I was in High1 Ski Resort, 3 hours train ride from Seoul, last year for winter. Coming from a tropical country, snow is never seen here in Singapore. As I have never tried skiing before my trip, I was hesitant to try skiing without going through proper lessons. Being my first winter sports, I wasn’t ambitious in trying skiing, and opted for sledding instead. Sledding requires me only to slide down a short slope on a sled. Sledding is a fun version of the Luge, which is a competing sport in the upcoming PyeongChang Olympics. Luge is a fast sliding sport where competitors (one or two lugers) race down 1,000 to 1,500m track while lying face up with their feet stretched in front of them. Runs are timed up to 1/1,000 of a minute. While the sledding is not as intensive nor the track is as long, however it gave me a glimpse of luge as a winter sports. Sledding requires no training, all I did was to grab a sled and slide down the slope. The only “technical” part about sledding is the braking. It is a fun sport for amateurs and families.

High1 Ski Resort, 3 hours train ride east from Seoul

The ski slopes at High1 Ski Resort in Gangwon-do

My friend getting ready to sled down the slope in High1 Ski Resort

Me and my friend trying sledding for the first time. This is our first time trying a winter sport

My friend with the sled in High1 Ski Resort

The snow in High1 Ski Resort is perfect for sledding

High1 Ski Resort in Gangwon-do

My First Shot at Skiing

As I visited Hokkaido earlier this year, I finally got to try skiing. I took a beginners lesson on skiing and I loved it. Without the use of poles, the trick to skiing is really to control the braking speed with the inverted “V” shape that one would need to form with the skis. Prior to learning to ski, I always thought that the poles are used to control the speed and was initially puzzled why I was not provided the ski poles. After some clarifications by the instructor, I realised that the poles are used to increase the speed of skiing down the slope, especially for Alpine Skiing, another event in the upcoming PyeongChang Winter Olympics, where competitors slides down snow-covered slopes on skis with fixed heel bindings. Alpine Skiing is comprised of largely two types of disciplines: the speed (velocity) events and the technical (skills) events.Skiing down the slopes gives me a sense of freedom, just letting gravity doing its job. I can imagine the exhilaration the competitors must have feel during velocity Alpine Skiing, rushing down the mountain at great speeds. Skiing is a fun sport and is a fun even for kids.

Having ski lessons

I was glad that I managed to ski for the first time

My friend learning to ski

A Skier in action

Skier coming down the slope

Despite still learning to ski, we immediately fell in love with this winter sport

Me on a chairlift up a ski slope for beginners

My friend skiing down the slope under the watchful eyes of our instructor

The Elegant Ski Jumping

I had the opportunity to watch Ski Jumping broadcasted over the television when I was in Hokkaido. Prior to visiting Ski Resorts, I always thought Ski Jumping is boring. However with my very limited experience in Skiing, I came to realise Ski Jumping is quite fun to watch. The skier glides down a ramp at 90km/h to jump and fly as far as they can go in Ski Jumping. Because the downhill launch souring through the air is so beautiful, it is also called “The flower of ski sports”. Just looking at the jump from the slope is enough to deter me from trying this sport (perhaps one of these days I might try this sport). Ski Jumping is both elegant and thrilling just by watching it. This is also one of my favourite winter sports. Ski Jumping is also an event in the upcoming PyeongChang Winter Olympics. Can’t wait to see Ski Jumpers in action during the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in 2018.

Ski Jumper in action (image credit: https://www.pyeongchang2018.com/en/sports/ski-jumping)

[Hotel Review] – Anantara Baan Rajprasong (2 Bedroom Superior Suite), Bangkok, Thailand (21 – 23 Jul 17)

Location

Anantara Baan Rajprasong is a service apartment under the Anantara group, a Thai hotel chain group. The location of Anantara Baan Rajprasong is very central, located next to Lumpini Park. It is within 10 mins walk from the famed Erawan Shrine and within 15 mins walk from Central World. There are 2 BTS stations that provides excellent accessibility to the service apartment. The nearer Ratchadamri BTS station is 5 mins walk from the service apartment. This BTS station is one stop from Patpong and also one station away from Siam Interchange Station, where Siam Square and Siam Paragon is located.

Hotel Signage

Facade of the hotel

Fountain at the entrance of the hotel

Reception in the hotel lobby

Hotel lobby

The Suite

Kitchen

We checked into the 127㎡ 2 bedroom suite in Anantara Bann Rajprasong. Entering the main door to the corner suite, the kitchen to the suite is located to the right of the entrance to the suite. The kitchen is well equipped with a stove, a microwave oven and a full size fridge, allowing guests to do some cooking. There are utensils and cutlery, together with dinner wares for 4 stowed in the various cabinets in the kitchen area. There is a coffee machine as well as a electric kettle placed on the counter top of the kitchen area. A washing machine is also found under the sink in the kitchen area.

Fully equipped kitchen in the suite
The kitchen in Anantara Baan Rajprasong is furnished with a full sized fridge
Kitchen area in the suite. This door leads to the bathroom in the second bedroom
The kitchen is well equipped that it allows guests to do some cooking in the suite
Kitchen washing gears, that also comes with detergent for the washing machine
Mini bar amenities with complementary water, coffee and tea

Living Room

Further into the suite, pass the kitchen area is where the living room is located. Just behind the counter that separates the kitchen from the living room is a small dining table with 2 chairs. I particularly find it weird that only 2 chairs are furnished despite the suite being a 2 bedroom suite and can accommodate 4 adults. Further into the suite is where one can find the lounge area, decked with a 3 seater L-shape couch that faces the 42″ LED TV. There are no lack of international channels being played on the TV. The TV is placed on top of the TV console that stretches to the end of the room, extending into the work desk tucked by the wall of the living room. A little further into the suite, is where the balcony of the living room is located. The balcony is furnished with 2 chairs and a table, which makes it a great place to hang out. The view from the balcony here is not that great as it faces an office building.

Dinning table for 2 pax only in the suite
Couch in the living room of the suite
TV console and work desk in the living room of the suite
Air conditioner controls in the suite
The balcony in the living room is furnished with 2 chairs and a small table for guests to chill out

Bedrooms

Master Bedroom

The bedrooms are located on either side of the living room. To the left of the living room, from the main entrance is where the Master Bedroom is located. The Master bedroom is significantly larger than the second bedroom. The Master bedroom is furnished with a super king size bed, that can sleep 3 adults comfortably. The king bed is placed by the wall, next to the entrance to the bedroom. A couple of side tables are placed on either side of the bed. To the right of the entrance to the Master bedroom is where a couple of wardrobes are located. These large wardrobes provides ample space for guests to store their clothing. There is an in-room safe placed inside the wardrobe next to the make-up table. The make-up table is placed on the left corner of the bedroom, with a large mirror and a chair, the make-up table provides space for guests to place their cosmetics on. At the other corner, to the right side of the king bed is where the TV placed on the console is located. The placement of the TV console and the make-up table provides ample space for guests to walk inside the Master bedroom. The King bed is placed opposite a floor to ceiling window, allowing guests to lie on the king bed and peep into the scenery outside the room. The balcony in the Master bedroom is the biggest in the entire suite. The balcony wraps around the parameter of the bedroom and provides a great view of the swimming pool below.

King bed in the master bedroom. The TV console is nicely tucked in a corner so not to obstruct the view outside from the bed
Dressing table
TV console in the master bedroom
Wardrobe in the master bedroom
Another wardrobe in the master bedroom with in-room safe
A large balcony in the master bedroom that wraps around the perimeter of the room

Second Bedroom

To the right of the living room, from the main entrance, is where the second bedroom is located. The second bedroom is significantly smaller than then Master bedroom and there are limited walking space in the second bedroom. Furnished with 2 super single bed with a bedside table between the 2 beds, the second bedroom feels a lot more cluttered compared to the Master bedroom. Opposite the beds here is where a third TV placed onto the cabinet that stretches the entire length of the second bedroom is located. There is another make up desk at the end of the cabinet with a large mirror hung onto the wall, next to the entrance to the balcony in the bedroom. The cabinet provides ample storage space in the second bedroom. There are 2 small wardrobes placed on either side of the entrance to the bathroom here. There is also another in-room safe being placed inside the wardrobe. The balcony here is the smallest in the entire suite and it is not furnished with any furniture.

2 super single beds in the second bedroom
TV console and dressing table in the second bedroom
The wardrobe is a lot smaller than that in the master bedroom.
Wardrobe in the second bedroom with in-room safe
Wardrobe in the second bedroom
The bedside table is placed between the 2 beds in the second bedroom

Bathroom

Master Bathroom

What I like about the 2 bedroom suite in Anantara Baan Rajprasong is there are 2 bathrooms inside both the bedrooms. The bathroom in the Master bedroom is very big. The walk-in shower, enclosed in a glass cubicle is tucked in one corner of the bathroom, with the toilet bowl opposite the entrance to the bathroom. To the left of the entrance is where one can find the sink area, which does provide sufficient space for guests to stow their toiletries. A huge bathtub is placed on the right of the entrance to the bathroom. Anantara Baan Rajprasong provides 3 types of bathsalt, each with different healing properties for guests to soak in. Anantara Baan Rajprasong does not provide toothbrush as part of their bathroom amenities.

Walk-in shower and toilet in the master bathroom
Sink in master bathroom
A large bathtub only found in the master bathroom

Second Bathroom

The bathroom in the second bedroom is a lot smaller as compared to that in the Master bedroom. Unlike the bathroom in the Master bedroom, the bathroom here does not have a bathtub. Entering this bathroom, the first thing one would see is the walk-in shower. Compared to that in the Master bedroom, the walk-in shower in this bathroom is bigger. The toilet bowl is located to the left of the bathroom, while the sink area is located to the right of the entrance to this bathroom. A second entrance in this bathroom leads to the kitchen.

Sink area in the second bathroom, exactly the same as the one found in the master bathroom
Toilet with bidet
The walk-in shower in the second bathroom is bigger than the one found in the master bathroom

Swimming Pool

Anantara Bann Rajprasong features a freeform swimming pool located on 3rd floor of the hotel. The swimming pool is fun for both adults and children. For the adults, the swimming pool allows guests to get a decent swim. For the children, the freeform pool is a great place to play in the water. There is a wading pool that is separated from the main pool for the children. There are plenty floats around at the swimming pool for both adults and children. There are no lack of suntan chairs around the swimming pool. There are more of these chairs on the second level of the pool, allowing suntanners to get a great tan. Inside the toilet by the pool, guests can enjoy the sauna and steam room facilities. The swimming pool is a great place for guests to escape the heat in Bangkok, however the water temperature can be a tad too cold for some.

View of the swimming pool from the balcony in the suite
There are 2 sections to the swimming pool, the smaller wading pool in the foreground and the main swimming pool in the back
Free form pool is located on level 3 in Anantara Baan Rajprasong
Floats are provided in the pool area for patrons to use
Sauna inside the toilet at the swimming pool
Steam room inside the toilet at the swimming pool

Gym

Located next to the swimming pool is where a small gym can be found. Despite its small size, the gym still allow guests to get a decent work out. Treadmills, stationary bicycles and weights can be found inside the gym.

The gym is located next to the swimming pool on level 3 in Anantara Baan Rajprasong
Small gym which has the basic equipment for guests to do a decent workout
Inside the gym in Anantara Baan Rajprasong

Breakfast

As I booked my stay directly on the Anantara website, the hotel gives guests a choice of opting for complementary breakfast or 1-day BTS ticket. We opted for the breakfast. The breakfast is served in the Coffee Club located on the first floor of the hotel. The hotel does not provide buffet for breakfast, instead we were given an option to choose from the various breakfast sets from the menu. The breakfast was decent, sufficient to fill guests for the start of their day exploring Bangkok.

The Coffee Club on ground floor behind the reception where breakfast is served daily
Fruits were served as part of the breakfast set
One of the choices of breakfast set

Service

The good service started even before our stay in Anantara Baan Rajprasong. I emailed the hotel several times to make arrangements for our stay, the staffs were very prompt and replied to my emails  acknowledging my requests within minutes of sending these emails.

Whenever we walked past the reception, the staff will never fail to greet us with the signature friendliness that the Thais has come to known for. During check-in and check-out, we were offered drinks and cold towels. We were warmly welcomed by Vincent and Kwan at the reception at our arrival. Their friendly smiles gave us a feeling of familiarity, very much like friends welcoming us to their homes as guests. Both Vincent and Kwan processed our check-in swiftly to ensure that we do not need to wait longer than necessary despite our arrival at the hotel earlier than the stipulated check-in timing. Vincent took the chance to find out what we wanted to see in Bangkok and was not stingy in recommending other places of attractions and how to get there by BTS. Kwan brought us to our suite, explaining the locations of the various facilities in the hotel. She also took the time to explain the features of the suite to us and assured us we could call the reception at anytime if we needed help.

The bellboys in the hotel were excellent in service as well. They promptly helped us unload our luggage from the cab and brought our luggage to the suite without any delay. These very observant members of the hotel never failed to open the door for us whenever we enter or leave the hotel lobby. They took great care of our luggage when we were out spending our last few hours in Bangkok and ensured that the cabby took us to the correct airport in Bangkok. The bellboys were never stingy with their smiles and “wais” whenever we walked past them.

The exemplary service was also received by members of the housekeeping team. As I had requested for a baby cot and baby bathtub, shortly after our luggage were being brought to our suite, a member of the housekeeping team knocked on our door and brought us the baby bathtub. He also explained that he will be bringing up the baby cot soon upon confirming that we indeed requested for one. The housekeeping staff even checked with us if everything in the suite was fine and informed us to notify them at anytime should we need anything else.

Welcome tropical fruits are found in the suite adds to the thoughtfulness of the hotel

Towel origami found in the Master bedroom is a delightful sight when we enter the room

Overall

I had a wonderful stay in Anantara Baan Rajprasong Bangkok. The suite was terrific and well appointed to provide us with a comfortable stay during our time in Bangkok. The air-conditioning was very powerful to dispel the heat in Bangkok during the time of our visit. The bedrooms were functional and the beds provided us with excellent sleep quality, ensuring that we wake up afresh the next day. The freeform pool ensured that children can have fun and was decent for adult patrons to swim their laps. The service provided by the staff is top notch, making us feel welcomed and we were treated with smiles and “wais” by the staff. I would highly recommend for visitors to Bangkok for this hotel, given its central location and the excellent hardware and heartware.

Chef : Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab – Immensing in Korea’s Non-verbal Comedy Musical

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One of the dancing scenes in Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab

Non-Verbal Comedy Musicals in  Korea

Non-verbal musicals that infuses Korean culture, be it food or lifestyle with dance and acrobatics, is one of the must-dos while visiting South Korea. These popular musicals are watched by Koreans and visitors. Several years ago I had a chance to watch Jump, one of the several such non-verbal musicals, whilst traveling in Korea. I was amazed by the fact that despite no language was used, I was still able to understand the show and was kept entertained throughout the show. It is refreshing that the Koreans are able to pack laughter throughout the theater despite not using any form of language. My friend and I managed to catch one of such non-verbal musicals that has made its round to Singapore. Chef: Bimbap is a show about a group of chef learning to make a perfect Bibimbap. It combines dance, beat boxing whilst introduces Korean’s iconic dish, Bibimbap to the audiences.

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Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab standee outside the theater

Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab

The show that is being shown in Singapore, Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab, feels like a localised version of the original show Chef. The story seem slightly different from the original Chef. Instead of having a group of chef learning to make a perfect Bibimbap, Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab is about 2 chefs (green and red chefs) pitting their culinary skills to outcook each other. The show saw both chefs taking turns cooking up cuisines from sushi to pizza to Chinese chicken noodle and ended off with a show down of both taking the stage, with one side cooking the Chili Crab and the other Bibimbap. Despite departure from the orginal show, Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab, still has the same theme throughout and did not lose its essence of infusing break dancing and beat-boxing into the show. The 1-hour show saw the use of beat-boxing live on stage most of the time, with small occasions where recorded music was used or complimented with the beat boxing. The actors doing the beat boxing seem to be masters of the art, verbalising musics for the most part of the show (including the Korea Folk Song, Arirang). There is segment where they beat- boxed a series of songs from K-pop songs to Michael Jackson hits. The beat boxing added to the entertainment value of show.

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Beat Boxing was performed lived on stage

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Beat boxing was the main source of music throughout the entire 1 hour show

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One of the character singing to the tune of beat boxing

Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab packed laughter in the theater for the entire duration leaving audiences amazed by the breakdancing of the actors. There is a segment where one of the characters sang and the light went out. In pitch black emerges luminous hands mimicking fishes and scenes of underwater. There is even a diver swimming underwater in this scene. Audiences later were made known how this diver underwater was created with the diving appearing in a comic way. Audiences were also invited up to the stage to become part of Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab at times during the show, which adds more comedic effect to the show. Watching Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab does reminds me of similar performance that I watched some years ago in Korea, which has earned itself a place as a pop-culture of Korea. The show is highly recommended for one who wants to immerse themselves into this aspect the Korean Culture.

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Scenes in Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab where the 2 master chefs pit against each other

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Scenes in Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab

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The underwater scene in Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab

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Break dancing in Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab

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Scenes in Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab

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Audience (the guy in the middle) were invited to the stage to participate in the show

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Final showdown in Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab

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Audiences were treated to breakdancing in Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab

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More breakdancing in Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab

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Breakdancing in Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab

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Scenes in Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab

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Breakdance showdown in Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab

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Breakdance showdown in Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab

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Scene in Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab

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Audiences were treated to a series of dance and songs in Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab

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The cast of  Chef: Bibimbap Vs Chili Crab

 

PyeongChang Winter Olympics 2018

Olympics Return to South Korea

After 30 long years, the Olympics flag is flying high in South Korea once more. The city of PyeongChang, about 2 hours KTX ride from Seoul, has been chosen to host the 23rd Winter Olympic Games. The last time South Korea flew the Olympics flag was in 1988 in the Summer Olympics version. More information, including ticketing and schedules can be found in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics website.

Image Sources:
https://www.pyeongchang2018.com/en/index
https://architectureofthegames.net/tag/pyeongchang/page/4/
http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/sochi-olympics/see-you-four-years-russia-hands-south-korea-n36786

 

[Airline Review] – Qantas (QF6) / (QF81) – Economy Class, SIN-SYD (17 May 17) /SYD-SIN (23 May 17)

Qantas uses A330-200 to ply between Singapore and Sydney. We got 2 different variations of the aircraft on both legs of the flight

On The Ground

Check-in

SIN-SYD

The check-in counter for Qantas is located at Row 5 in Terminal 1 of Singapore Changi Airport. For passengers who arrived earlier than the check-in timing, they can proceed to the early check-in counters just behind row 5. Despite being 6 hours early, we were able to check-in at the Qantas counters without the need to use the early check-in facilities in the airport. There was no queue at the time of our check-in, perhaps due to the early timing we have arrived at the airport. Checking-in was a breeze with the agent handling our check-in fast and swift. After handling taking our luggages, the agent handed our boarding pass and reminded us of the departure gate and the time we need to be there. Clearing Singapore Customs is a breeze as well. As citizens of Singapore and citizens of selected countries, we can use the electronic lanes. The airside of Singapore Changi Airport is always lively regardless the time of the day. There are no lack of duty free shoppings from luxury brands to perfumes and cosmetics to electronics. We boarded first before Business Class passengers as we have a baby flying together with us.

 

Qantas check-in counters are located in row 5 in Singapore Airport Terminal 1
There are no queues as we arrived at the check-in counters very early
Singapore Airport is a shopping haven at the airside
Our boarding gate was changed last minute to C25, which is located at the far end of the terminal
Aerobridge towards QF6
Qantas A330-200

SYD-SIN

Qantas has a dedicated counter in Terminal 1 of Sydney Airport. The counters are located in Row C of the Terminal. Qantas has separate counters for Economy, Business and First Class passengers. The queue in Economy Class is rather long, before we reach the queue, a ground staff was around to direct human traffic. Upon seeing that we have a stroller in tow, she diverted us to the Business Class check-in queue, which was a lot shorter. We were next in line to be served. The agent at the Business Class check-in counter is not exactly the friendliest person around. There were no smiles, no greetings, as though we owed her a living. Despite that, she was rather efficient. We were given our boarding passes after she has checked-in our luggage. Clearing the custom was fast as well due to the electronic clearance gates that we were able to use. We were at airside within minutes of clearing security and custom. Sydney Airport has a lot of shopping options, mostly selling Australian made products. There are also cafes and eateries around in the airside as well as opposite the departure gates. As with outbound flight, we were also boarded before Business Class passengers.
QF81 departs from Sydney Airport Terminal 1
Qantas occupies Row C for checking-in
The queue was very long for Economy Class at the check-in counter
We were diverted to check-in at Business Class counters as we have a pram in tow. There are no queues at the Business Class check-in counters
Passing this departure wall is the security and custom clearance
There are no lack of shopping options in Sydney Airport airside
Other than the standard spirits and tobacco, the airside has a number of shops selling Australian made products
There is quite a crowd at departure gate 32, where we board our flight to Singapore
Passengers with infants are boarded prior to Business Class passengers

The Cabin

Qantas uses A330-200 to ply between Singapore and Sydney, however we got 2 different variations of the aircraft. Both aircrafts has 2 different cabins, Business Class and Economy Class. Despite the different seats, both aircrafts has white cabin with red seats. The choice of white colour makes the Economy Class cabin look fresh and big. The Economy Class cabin is organised in 2-4-2 for both variations of the aircraft.
Qantas Economy Class cabin for the older A330-200 variant. The entire seat is red from headrest to the seats
A newer Qantas A330-200 variation with black headrest and seat. The seat back still retains the “Qantas” red

Lavatory onboard both variations of aircrafts are the same. They are of a decent size but has very limited amenities. There is only hand soap and tissues in the lavatory. No other amenities are present in the lavatory despite flying out on an overnight flight, no dental kits were offered or found in the lavatories.

Sink area in the lavatory
Tissues in the lavatory
Toilet
Mirrors
Coat hanger is found on the door of the lavatory
Amenities are limited in the lavatory, even for overnight flights, there are no dental kits
Handsoap is the only amenities provided in the lavatory

The Seat

SIN-SYD

The A330-200 that we flew from Singapore to Sydney seem to be the older version. There are signs of the aircraft being aging. The seats on this variation of Qantas A330-200 has a pitch of 31″ and width of 17.2″. The seats at the bulkhead is far more generous measuring about 60″. As we were seated in the bulkhead seats, there are pockets on the bulkhead to store inflight magazines and reading materials. However these pockets are unable to store items such as cameras. The Economy Class seats are rather simple and does not come with USB or power plugs. The recline button is found on the side of the armrest together with the headphone jacks. As with most Bulkhead seats, the tray tables are stored in the armrest of the seat. The seats are rather uncomfortable and I did not manage to get a good night rest.

The entire seat is red. These seats are not very comfortable especially for long flights
The legroom is generous for bulkhead seats
Aircraft safety card, reading materials and headphones are made available in the pocket on the bulkhead
Aircraft safety card
Magazines found in the seat pocket

 

Air-con ducts and lightings on the ceiling
Pillows and blankets are already placed on the seats when we board the aircraft
Tray tables are stored in the armrest of the seat
Business Class seats in this variation of Qantas A330-200. These seats does not offer 180° flat bed, rather they are angled flat beds

SYD-SIN

The A330-200 that we flew from Sydney to Singapore looks like it has been refurbished. The seats on this variation of Qantas A330-200 has a pitch of 31″ and is slightly wider at 17.5″. Unlike the previous variation, this version of A330-200 has a USB port located to the right of the IFE screen. The legroom feels a little cramp, especially so when the passenger in front reclines his/her seat. The IFE controller is fixed on the right armrest, which the placement is a tad counter intuitive. Many a times, I accidentally pressed on the IFE controller of my friend who is sitting next to me. The single layer seat pocket on the back of the front seat is rather standard and cannot store bulkier items such as a camera. As with the previous variation, the seat recline button and headphone jacks are located on the armrest. As with the previous flight, seats are rather uncomfortable and gave me a backache after the 8 hour flight.

 

Seats are decked out in red and black colour for this newer variation of the Qantas A330-200
There is a USB port on the side of the IFE screen
Seat pocket
Aircraft safety card
Reading materials founding the seat pocket
Legroom is a tad cramp in the Economy Class
Tray table
IFE controller is fixed on the armrest and the recline button on the armrest
Air-con ducts and lightings on the ceiling
Headphone Jacks
The new Business Class seats on this variation of Qantas A330-200 which offers passengers 180° flat bed

In Flight Entertainment

SIN-SYD

As mentioned earlier, this is an old aircraft. The In-Flight Entertainment system has a mere 8″ screen. As we were sitted at the bulkhead, the IFE screen is stowed below the seat and cannot be used during take-offs and landings. The controller for the IFE seem dated and is stored on the inner side panel of the seat. The screen on these seats are not touch screen, control of the movies to watch have to be made via the controller. The IFE system on this variation of the A330-200 seem to lag. Nonetheless, Qantas does offer a huge selection of entertain options on their IFE system. There are the latest Hollywood Blockbuster as well as tons of movies and TV shows to keep passengers entertained. The Headphone quality is a tad bad,  I had to adjust the headphones a few times to get sound on both sides of the headphone.

8″ IFE screen that is stored under the seat during take-off and landing
IFE controller store in the inner armrest of the seat
Bad quality Headphones provided onboard

SYD-SIN

As this variation of the Qantas A330-200 is newer, it has a 10.5″ IFE screen. The controller is fixed on the armrest of the seat and does not control the channels to be watched on the IFE screen except for the volume. Control for the shows are done directly on the touch screen IFE, which is quite sensitive. Brightness of the screen as well as on/off switch are found under the IFE screen itself. However as with the previous variation, the headphones provided suffer from constant poor connection issues.

10.5″ touch screen IFE screen on the newer variation of Qantas A330-200
IFE controller is fixed on the armrest and only controls the volume.  The placement is so bad that I keep on hitting the IFE controller of my friend’s seat

Meal Service

SIN-SYD

There are 2 meals being served onboard this leg of the flight. Shortly after the seat belt signs are turned off, the flight attendants went around passing passengers menus. Night snack is served shortly after the menus were distributed. No options are given for the night snack, however when we got the night snack, it is different from that stated in the menu. However I thought it is a good idea to serve wraps as night snack, which will not make one feel too full, and yet not allow one to go to sleep hungry in the night. Options were given for breakfast, we were offered either the omelette or fruits for breakfast together with coffee or tea. The food served is decent and does the purpose of filling one’s stomach. Qantas already placed a bottle of water in the seat pocket at the time we board the aircraft, which is not done on most other airlines.

Menus were distributed shortly after taking off
We had roasted chicken wrap for night snack
Omelette was distributed for breakfast

SYD-SIN

As with the previous leg, 2 meals are also served on this leg of the flight. As the flight was delayed, flight attendants went around distributing menus prior to take-off. Lunch was served shortly after taking-off and we were given 3 options to choose from. I opted for the Peri Peri chicken, which is rather dry and the portion served was a tad too small. The wedges are not fried but boiled and the sauce is bland. Another meal is served 1 hour prior to arrival. There are no options for this meal. We were given vegetarian Chinese stir fried noodles. The noodles itself taste decent, the sauce that is given is delicious.

Menu for the SYD-SIN leg
We were served “leftover” orange juices from Business Class cabin prior to take off
The Chicken tasted dry and the sauce is blend
The stir fried noodle is decent but the sauce that was given makes it taste delicious

Service

Service was a mix onboard Qantas and feels pretty much personality driven. While most of the flight attendants are friendly, there are some whom seem not too willing to serve. On the SIN-SYD flight, we asked for help from one of the attendants from Business Class. He came over unwillingly and chilled us off for asking for help. Guess he thinks helping Economy Class passengers is an insult to him. Other than him, the rest of the crew on Economy Class is a lot more friendlier. They were seen patrolling the cabin to check on passengers and were very responsive to call buttons. As the flight was relatively empty, one of the attendants, while conducting her night patrol of the cabin, approached me and notified me that I am free to occupy the 2 empty seats by the window to make myself more comfortable. Crews are certainly more friendly on the SYD-SIN flight. Attendants are always ready to help and constantly patrol the cabin to ensure passengers are well taken care of. Attendants voluntarily offered me drinks upon seeing my cup is empty and quickly return with a can of coke. As I felt hungry in the middle of the flight, I asked one of the attendants if there are buns left. Despite having no buns left, the flight attendants offered alternatives and brought me some nuts instead of just saying no. Attendants are seen smiling and helping passengers during boarding with storing their hand-carries on the overhead compartment.

Qantas flight attendants conducting safety demonstration, which is rare these days with most of the airlines showing safety demonstrations through their IFE

Afterthought

Qantas feels like they are operating on a budget concept. Despite including the meals and check-in baggages, other things such as choosing of seats is chargeable, unlike most other airlines. Qantas does not provide any amenities in the lavatory, and not even dental kits or eye shades for overnight flights. They even charge A$10 for a deck of poker cards, which many other airlines would give out complimentary. The seats are rather uncomfortable, given me backaches after the 8 hour flight from Singapore to Sydney and back. The food portion is small and tasted mediocre. Service is a mix but with more flight attendants whom are friendly, which makes up from the mediocre food and the bad seating. The IFE does the job of keeping passengers occupied with loads of entertainment options. Overall Qantas does the job of bringing passengers from one point to another, but the Economy Class seats are rather uncomfortable to travel in.
There was a delay in Sydney Airport and we were kept updated by the Captain of the flight
Soaring above Australia
Flying above the clouds onboard Qantas

Sydney Day 5 (22 May 17) – Blue Mountains National Park : Beyond The Beauties of the Three Sisters

As iconic as the Sydney Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House, the Blue Mountains National Park is a must visit when coming to Sydney. We planned to visit this national park during weekdays to avoid most of the crowd and indeed visitorship is rather thin on this Monday at the time of our visit. Blue Mountains is located about 100km West of Sydney and took us 1½ hours to drive from Sydney Olympic Park. Our first stop is Scenic World, which is a great place to start the trip to Blue Mountains National Park.
Baby Ryker excited to visit Blue Mountains
We travelled more than 200km to and from Blue Mountains
Driving on the highway towards Blue Mountains National Park

Scenic World

Scenic World overlooks the Jamison Valley where the famous Three Sisters is located. This is also where we bought our day pass that allowed us unlimited rides on all 3 modes of transportation for us to appreciate the beautiful Blue Mountains. Visitors are free to customise the way they wanted to use the 3 modes of transportation when visiting scenic world. For us, we took the Scenic Railway to the valley floor, did a short walk and took the Scenic Cableway up to Scenic Top Station and took the Scenic Skyway to the East Station and back.
My Brother-in-law and Baby Ryker in Scenic World
My friend and I at Scenic World
View of Three Sisters from Scenic World Top Station

Scenic Railway Ride to the Valley Floor 

Scenic Railway is boasted as the world’s steepest passenger railway with a inclination of 52°. I thought riding the railway down to the valley floor is more fun than riding it up backwards.  The train brought us down 310m into Jamison Valley and takes about 5 mins. There are options for passengers to customise the way they want to ride the Scenic Railway. My friend and I opted the “daredevil” Cliffhanger mode, which allowed us to ride the railway at 64° inclination. As there are no seat belts on the seats, half the time we were trying to prevent ourselves from sloping towards the seats in front of us. Nonetheless, we were glad we rode the train in their cliffhanger mode and had a great time riding the world’s steepest passenger train. As my sister and her family had a baby in tow, they opted the laidback mode, riding the train at about 30° inclination. My nephew, despite being only 9 months old, enjoyed his ride down to the valley floor on the Scenic Railway. As no prams are allowed in this ride, visitors with prams or wheelchairs are not able to take this ride, there is still the Scenic Cableway option down to Jamison Valley.

Scenic Railway signage
The train pulling into top station
My friend and my sister’s family ready to board the Scenic Railway
3 options for passengers in the Scenic Railway
Taking a wefie before the train leaves the station
My sister and her family inside the moving train. Baby Ryker is too busy enjoying the ride
Riding through the rainforest in the world’s steepest passenger train
The Three Sisters as we rode down the Scenic Railway

The ride down to the valley floor, started with a gentle slope. In the beginning we were not able to feel the steepness of the railway. A little in the ride, the railway suddenly tilted steeper as we descend to the valley, I find the Indiana Jones theme song playing inside the enclosed train carriage a little cheesy. Soon the Railway reaches a cliff-side tunnel, all of the sudden everything was pitch black. We can only hope that we don’t find ourselves sitting on the carriage floor after we pass the tunnel. As the train descends further into Jamison Valley, we were out of the tunnel. The view from the left side of the train is spectacular! I can see part of a waterfall and the Three Sisters peeking through the canopies of the forest. The inclination of the railway turns gentle once more, we know our ride is over as we were at the Scenic Railway Bottom Station.

We rode down this rail track
Three Sisters from the Bottom Railway Station
My sister and her family with Three Sisters in the background
Taking a wefie with Three Sisters
View of the surroundings at the Bottom Staton

Strolling in the Scenic Walkway

Exiting the Railway, we stopped briefly at the side of the station. We felt so small being enclosed by the cliff where the Three Sisters sit and the vastness of the land that seem to stretch forever. After snapping a few more pictures, we headed to the Scenic Walkway in the Jamison Valley floor. There are 3 routes that we can take in the Scenic Walkway, all of which end up in the Scenic Cableway Bottom Station. We took the shortest of the 3 route – Coal Mine Route, which took us around 15 mins to reach the Scenic Cableway Bottom Station, the other routes are the Lillipilli Link (30 mins) and Yellow Robin Link (50mins). True to its name, there are a couple of coal mines along the Coal Mine Route. The air is indeed fresh down at the valley, with the freshness of the rainforest. My nephew seem excited about the forest walk. He was smiling and very curious about the things around him. We passed a closed mine shaft, that used to be an entrance to the coal mine. These days it is a tourist spot that served for photo opportunity for tourists. Further down the path, there is another bigger entrance to the coal mine. Despite being unsealed and armed with a sign saying “Danger Keep Out”, no one seem to be entering the coal mine. Along the path we felt as if we are in scene in Jurassic Park, the forest seem as old as time and cliffs that seem to be sheared off by a giant sword, with its near vertical cliff face. A rock sitting on the side of the pathway that seem to be nature’s creation. Very soon we found ourselves at the Cableway Bottom Station.
The walk through the Jurassic forest in Scenic Walkway is very easy
My friend and I at the ventilation shaft of the coal mine
Baby Ryker is curious about his surroundings
Baby Ryker seem happy to have touched a tree for the first time
Coal carts that was used before
My sister’s family in Scenic Walkway
Horses used to pull these coal carts
An entrance to the coal mine
Flora in the Scenic Walkway
Wefie in the Scenic Walkway
My sister’s family in Scenic Walkway
We are some 300m from the top of the cliff
My sister’s family with a huge rock that seem to fell off the top many years ago

Scenic Cableway

The Cableway was just calling into the station when we reached. We boarded the Cableway and journeyed 510m to the Scenic World Top Station, where we started. The Cableway is a huge cablecar that is designed to ferry passengers up and down the valley. The cableway is less thrilling than the Scenic Railway, however the 10 min journey allowed us slowly enjoy this scenic part of Blue Mountains. While the Scenic Railway dashes us through the rainforest cliff, the Scenic Cableway gave us a bird’s eye view of the entire valley as we ascended in it. We were above the canopy of the rainforest that we were in just minutes ago. All this while, we had the Three Sisters constantly in our sight. At the side of the Cableway, we seem to be narrowly passing the cliff, as though we can almost touch them if the windows are opened (well it is not exactly that close). As we approach the top station, the staff in the Cableway, who has been giving commentaries about the Blue Mountains, suddenly announced a lone rock that we will be passing by, known as the Orphan Rock. The staff mentioned that there used to be a trail that leads to the top of the Orphan Rock, a wedding has even  being held there. However due to corrosion, the trail to the top of Orphan Rock is closed. Nearing to the top station, I spotted some rail tracks. These are supposed to be a roller coaster ride that used to be one of the attractions here in Blue Mountains and has since closed in 1982. The Scenic Cableway is Wheelchair and pram friendly too.
Scenic Cableway pulling into the Bottom Station
View outside as we ascend to the top station in the Scenic Cableway
View of Three Sisters at the Scenic Cableway top station
Wefie with the Scenic Cableway car that we just rode in
View of Three Sisters from Scenic Cableway top station

Scenic Skyway

After having lunch at the Scenic World Top Station, we went for the Scenic Skyway next. I have been to Scenic World more than 15 years ago. I recall the Scenic Skyway used to pull us out halfway to where the Katoomba Waterfall is and than back to the Top Station. Fast forward 15 years later, another station has been built on the other side of the cliff. These days the Scenic Skyway brought us to the Skyway Eastern Station, where we can view the Blue Mountains from another angle. As the skyway leaves the station, I felt we are like an eagle soaring up the sky, viewing the entire Jamison valley region in the Blue Mountains from the sky. The centre of the Skyway is a panel of glass that allows passengers to step on and view the valley from high above. Sitting solemnly afar, rising up from the grounds is Mt Solitary. Once at the Eastern Station, we took the short trail to the left, leading us to Cliff View Lookout, which is about 5 mins walk from the station. Here we can see Katoomba Waterfall on the right, with a relatively small stream of water falling 300m into Jamison Valley and Mt Solitary. The view of Three Sisters is obscured from Cliff View Lookout. There is a trail that leads to Echo Point which takes about 45mins walk, while it will only take us 5 mins to drive there. We took the latter option. After some photos, we headed back to the Skyway East Station and took the next skyway back to Scenic World Top Station, where we drove ourselves to Echo Point.
Me in Blu Mountains
Taking a wefie in Blue Mountains before we ride on the Scenic Skyway
My sister’s family in Blue Mountains
My friend and I in the Scenic Skyway
Taking wefie in the Scenic Skyway
The Scenic Skyway brought us across the Jamison Valley
Katoomba Falls from Scenic Skyway
Scenic Skyway that we just rode in
View of Jamison Valley in the Blue Mountains
Panoramic shot of Jamison Valley in Blue Mountains
My sister’s family at Cliff View Lookout
My friend and I at Cliff View Lookout
View of Mt Solitary from Cliff View Lookout
Jamison Valley from Cliff View Lookout

Echo Point Lookout

Echo Point Lookout offers the best up close view of the Three Sisters. Just a 5 mins drive from Scenic World, it did not take us long to reach Echo Point Lookout. Legend has it that a witchdoctor turned 3 beautiful sisters into stones to prevent a warring tribe from forcing them into marrying into the other tribe. However the witchdoctor died before he can turn the sisters back to human. To this date, the Three Sisters sits on the cliff waiting for someone to turn them back into their human form. The Three Sisters are 3 cliffs that sit on top of the north escarpment of Jamison Valley. Visitors can take a short walk to the lookout below for a closer view and photo spot with the Three Sisters. It can get crowded here with bus loads of tourists here. We did not stay here for too long and continued our journey to other parts of the Blue Mountains.

Echo Point signage
Close shot of the Three Sisters at Echo Point Lookout
Wefie with the Three Sisters at Echo Point Lookout
There is a lower platform that visitors can access to for a closer shot with the Three Sisters at Echo Point Lookout
View of Blue Mountains at Echo Point Lookout

Cahill’s Lookout

For most of the visitors, their trip to Blue Mountains will end at Scenic World and Echo Point Lookout. Blue Mountains has a lot to offer (if one travels here via driving). Our next destination is Boars Head Lookout and stopped by a couple of lookouts before that.  The first 2 lookouts that we stopped by, Eaglehawk Lookout and Narrow Neck Lookout, while offers views of the Jamison Valley from another perspective, the view isn’t that great. There are no proper parking spots for cars and the views are obscured. We snapped a few pictures before heading to Cahill’s Lookout. Soon we arrive at Cahill’s Lookout. After parking the car, my friend and I headed to the lookout (my sister and her family was too tired to join us on the 3 min walk to the lookout). While walking to Cahill’s Lookout at which lies at the end of the pathway, we stopped by Boars Head Lookout. The view at Boars Head Lookout is magnificent! It offers a different view of Blue Mountains, other than the already popular Three Sisters and Jamison Valley. From Boars Head Lookout, we spotted the Narrow Neck Plateau that separates Jamison Valley from Megalong Valley. The Narrow Neck Plateau looks like the body of a dragon lies in deep sleep. The land below us seem to stretch to the end of the earth. We continued our walk to Cahill’s Lookout, which is an octagon platform that looks out into Megalong Valley. The views here is no different from that of Boars Head Lookout, except that we were able to see the cliffs off Pulpit Rock and Bonnie Doon Waterfall. As the sun is setting, we still have another spot to head to, my friend and I headed back to the car and continued our journey to our last stop of the day.
View of Blue Mountains at Eaglehawk Lookout
View at Narrow Neck Lookout
Narrow Neck Plateau in the Blue Mountains
Taking a wefie with Narrow Neck Plateau in Cahill’s Lookout
My friend with Narrow Neck Plateau in Cahill’s Lookout
Me in Cahill’s Lookout
My friend in Boars Head Lookout
Taking a wefie of Narrow Neck Plateau and Megalong Valley in Boars Head Lookout
Panoramic shot of Narrow Neck Plateau and Megalong Valley
Cahill’s Lookout
My friend in Cahill’s Lookout
Panoramic shot of Megalong Valley from Cahill’s Lookout
View of Megalong Valley from Cahill’s Lookout

Govetts Loop Lookout

The drive to Govetts Loop Lookout takes about 45 mins from Katoomba, where the Three Sisters is located. To get there we passed by the town of Blackheath. There are signs well placed to point drivers to Govetts Loop Lookout. Govetts Loop Lookout offers views of the Grose Valley. Due to the low clouds, the view here looks mystical, as if it is nothing from this world. The view here felt a little like Pandora, the homeland of the Na’vi from the movie Avatar. From the lookout we can see a waterfall – Govetts Loop Falls. Since it is our last day in Sydney and our last stop of the day, my sister, my friend and I decided to take the 30 mins walk to the top of Govetts Loop Falls. The walk to Govetts Loop Falls is downhill. The initial walk was gentle, there come a point where there are stairways carved out of the soil and at some more dangerous points railings installed to ensure the safety of trackers. As we were walking, the sound of water appears to be closer. Not longer after a series of down “stairs” walks, we knew we arrived at the top Govetts Loop Falls. The view here isn’t that great, as the “lookout” is not overlooking into the valley. Rather we were treated to a view where the stream falls into the valley. There is a smaller waterfall on the side where we came from, with gentle streams flowing from the rivers on top. At the other side of the stream, we saw part of the Govetts Loop Brook that seem to come from a forest on top of the waterfall. After taking some pictures, we traced back our steps from where we came from and headed back to the car. The walk back to the car park can be tiring for some as it comprises a series of stairs to climb up. We made it back to the car before the sun sets and were on our way back to Sydney. As we were driving out of Govetts Loop Lookout, the clouds are so low that the entire area fogged up. The drive back to Sydney took around 2 hours. We headed back to Chinatown in Sydney for a well deserved dinner after a whole day at Blue Mountains and a way to end our trip to Sydney. We headed back to our accommodation early to pack and rest as we fly out of Sydney the next morning. There are more places to Sydney than those we visited, given essentially only 5 days in this city, we visited most of the icons of the City.

View of Grose Valley from Govetts Loop Lookout
View of Grose Valley from Govetts Loop Lookout
Wefie at Govetts Loop Lookout
Panoramic shot at Govetts Loop Lookout
The low clouds makes Govetts Loop Lookout look mystical
My sister with a well in Govetts Loop Lookout
Another shot of Grose Valley in Govetts Loop Lookout
We started our trek to the top of Govetts Loop Falls

 

The initial walk was easy down to Govetts Loop Falls

 

A small waterfall at the top of Govetts Loop Falls that flows into the stream
My sister and my friend playing on top of Govetts Loop Falls
My friend at the top of Govetts Loop Falls
Wefie at the top of Govetts Loop Falls

 

My sister posing carefully to ensure that she don’t slip and fall into the river on top of Govetts Loop Falls
Govetts Loop Brook that flows down Govetts Loop Falls into Grose Valley

 

The waterfall side of Govetts Loop Brook falling into Grose Valley. It is a shame that we cannot see the waterfalls from here

 

My sister taking a break while walking back to the carpark at Govetts Loop Lookout
My sister taking another break while walking back to the carpark at Govetts Loop Lookout

 

My sister taking yet another break while walking back to the carpark at Govetts Loop Lookout

 

My sister now can celebrate after all the walk up to the carpark

 

The cloud is very low at the time we return to the carpark at Govetts Loop Lookout

Sydney Day 4 (21 May 17) – Exploring Sydney – From Darling Harbour to Chinatown

Sydney Wildlife Zoo

Our itinerary is pretty light today. We visited the sights in Sydney and catered some time for shopping around town.Our first stop for the day is  the Sydney Wildlife Zoo, located in Sydney’s Darling Harbour a 25 mins drive from Sydney Olympic Park. There are 2 other attractions in this area on top of the Sydney Wildlife Zoo. The Sydney Aquarium and Madam Tussauds are located in the vicinity. One can consider getting the multi attraction pass and visit these attractions at one go to save time and money. We used the same attraction pass that was issued to us the day before to gain entry. Sydney Wildlife Zoo is rather small housing in a building occupying a total space of 7,000㎡. The wildlife park has a 1 km walkway that snakes through the entire Wildlife Zoo, across all 6 zones. All the animals housed in the wildlife park are found in different parts of Australia. The first few exhibits are snakes As the park is rather small compared to most other wildlife parks, it only took us about 1.5 hrs to finish the entire park. We spent about 10 mins listening to one of the staff educating us on the habits of koala bear. My sister bought a photo opportunity with the koala, instead of holding the animal taking pictures, they only managed to take picture with the koala at a close distance. We felt she was kind of being ripped off by the park. There is a Kangaroo petting area, which is rather small. Visitors are not allowed to feed the Kangaroos, just allowed to pet them as the keeper brought the animal around the open area. There is also another crocodile tank, which only house 1 crocodile. The entire Wildlife Zoo is rather disappointing (compared to the one in Gold Coast that I have visited last year), there are not much opportunity for visitors to interact with some of the animals plus Sydney Wildlife Zoo is small. Given a chance to come to Sydney again, I would skip this place.
My nephew – Baby Ryker posing on a fake Tasmania Devil 
Sydney Wildlife Zoo sits in a building next to Sydney Harbour Bay. Visitors can take these water taxis to Sydney Opera House area
My friend and I outside the building where Sydney Wildlife Zoo is housed
Entrance to Sydney Wildlife Zoo in Darling Harbour
Sydney Wildlife Zoo is housed in the same building as Madam Tussauds and Sealife Aquarium Sydney
This python is the first exhibit we saw as we enter Sydney Wildlife Zoo
A couple of lizards is in sight as we walked along the walkway
and more snakes
There is a Tasmania Devil living in Sydney Wildlife Zoo
and more snakes
Finally we see a species of kangaroo
My sister and her family in Sydney Wildlife Zoo
We also spotted a kookaburra in one of the enclosures
My sister and brother-in-law wondering where to go
Another species of kangaroo in Sydney Wildlife Zoo
My sister and Baby Ryker getting close to a koala
A keeper is “walking” this kangaroo in the open area allowing visitors to pet it
A mouse in the night zone of Sydney Wildlife Zoo
and more snakes
My sister and my friend with Baby Ryker
A lone crocodile at the end of the 1 km walkway in Sydney Wildlife Zoo

Paddy’s Market at Haymarket

We were glad we exited the boring Sydney Wildlife Zoo. We headed to Paddy’s market at Haymarket next (which closes at 6pm). Haymarket is located in Chinatown, a 20 mins drive from Darling Harbour. The covered market place comprises of 2 levels, we spent time exploring only the first level. The stalls are well organised in neat rows and columns, which makes it very easy to navigate around. There are 2 main sections on the ground floor in Paddy’s Market. The section nearer to the entrance sells mainly clothing and souvenirs. This area occupies 2/3 of the ground floor. Things on offer here are reasonably priced and is definitely cheaper than some of the tourist attractions and downtown Sydney. The common souvenirs such as T-shirts, kangaroo skins can be easily found here. There are also stalls selling nougats and locally produced chocolates. Paddy’s Market is a great place to stock up on souvenirs of all sorts.

Entrance to Paddy’s Market
There are lots of stuff on sale here in Paddy’s Market
There are lots of stuff on sale here in Paddy’s Market
My sister and her family shopping in Paddy’s Market
Paddy’s Market in Haymarket
My friend and I outside Paddy’s Market

Further into Paddy’s Market is a section selling fruits and vegetables. These produce seem fresh and is reasonably priced. One can get a pint of strawberries for A$5. This area is very lively, we could hear vendors shouting the price of their products on sale. It might be closing time is near, the vendors in market place here are trying to close as many deals as possible. Compared to the section further out front, this section seem more crowded with shoppers, probably due to the smaller area. As it is near to closing time we got out of Paddy’s Market.

The market area in Paddy’s Market
Paddy’s Market signage

Sydney Chinatown

The night is still young and hunt for dinner around Chinatown. Across the road from Paddy’s Market is a Chinese styled red archway, seem to tell visitors we are in Chinatown. There are no lack of Chinese Restaurants pass the archway, mainly selling Cantonese cuisines operated by Hong Kong immigrants. We settled our dinner in one of these restaurants. There are also shops that opens till late at night, selling mostly the same stuffs, Australian souvenirs of all sorts that can also be found in Paddy’s Market. The price is more or less the same as that in Paddy’s Market.  After dinner, we walked around Chinatown. Instead of Chinatown, it felt like a place where the Asians congregate. Interestingly, the different nationality who migrated to Sydney seem to cluster according to their country of origin. There is a cluster selling Taiwanese food and dessert, yet another cluster of restaurants selling Korean food and another selling Japanese food. We came across this shopping mall – World Square, where there is a supermarket in its basement. Near to the World Square, is where one would find a street of Thai Restaurants.

Walking around Chinatown
There are Chinese restaurants pass the Chinese styled archway
My sister deciding if we should dine here
Taking a wefie before our food arrives
My sister and my friend trying to decide what to eat first
My friend and I taking a wefie in Chinatown

 

Sydney Day 3 (20 May 17) – Icons of Sydney : Sydney Eye Tower , Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge

My friend and Baby Ryker with Sydney Harbour Bridge

Carriageworks Farmers Market

No trip to Australia would be complete without a visit to one of a numerous weekend markets. I read that Carriageworks Farmers Market is one of the top farmers market in downtown Sydney, offering a good variety of the freshest produce the land down under has to offer in Sydney region. We made our way to Carriageworks Farmers Market in Sydney, which is around 30 mins drive from Sydney Olympic Park.
Driving in downtown Sydney to Carriageworks Farmers Market
Walking towards Carriageworks Farmers Market
Carriageworks Farmers Market is housed what seemed to be some abandoned industrial area. The market is rather small, selling mostly vegetables and fruits. There are some stalls selling flowers and meats, while other selling homemade products such as cheese, biscuits, etc. There are a limited number of stalls selling food from Chinese dim sum to coffees to freshly pressed juices and steaks. Carriageworks Farmers Market is rather small, it only took us 15 mins to finish the entire market. It is not as big as we imagined it to be. Feeling disappointed, we headed to downtown Sydney to look for lunch. We had lunch in Kings Cross before heading to Sydney Eye Tower in the middle of Sydney CBD.
Carriageworks Farmers Market is rather small
Carriageworks Farmers Market
Some of the freshest produce on sale in Carriageworks Farmers Market
They sell flowers too in Carriageworks Farmers Market
My sister and her family checking out what is on sale in Carriageworks Farmers Market
Carriageworks Farmers Market
My sister and brother-in-law checking on Baby Ryker
Baby Ryker and his dad
My friend and Baby Ryker in Carriageworks Farmers Market
My sister buying some dumplings
Sharing a bowl of dumplings

Sydney Eye Tower

Sydney Eye Tower is located on top of Westfield Shopping Centre in the heart of Sydney’s shopping precinct. Parking is a tad difficult to find in this area as we had to go around a few rounds before being able to find a parking spot. As it is located in the heart of Sydney, parking rates can be a tad expensive. Westfield Shopping Centre stands out among the shopping malls in downtown Sydney, it is the building with a single tall tower affixed on top. Sydney Tower Eye is the tallest building in Australia, standing 309m tall. The observation deck is some 268m from the ground. We got a 2 attraction pass from Experience Oz and NZ website, which is value for money and allowed us to choose how many attractions we wanted to visit. The ticket prices are discounted and we did not have to pre-select the attractions when buying the tickets. We can appear at one of the 5 attractions and get our ticket validated and visit the rest within 30 days of the first attraction.

Sydney Tower Eye seen from Kings Cross
Sydney Tower Eye sits tall on Westfield Shopping Centre
Street outside Westfield Shopping Centre
My sister and her family in downtown Sydney

The lift to the observation deck, is located on 5th floor of Westfield Shopping Centre, where the food court is located. Tucked away in one corner of the food court is where ticketing and the lift up to the observation deck is located. I visited Sydney Tower Eye almost 20 years ago (it was known as Sydney Tower back then), there are a couple of new additions to the tower. There are some models of the tallest buildings in the world, where one can see how tall Sydney Tower Eye stacked up against other giants around the world. Another new addition is a 5 mins 4D show in an auditorium prior to the lift up to the observation deck. The show is rather unique in that it introduces Sydney to visitors from the eye of a bird flying through some of the tourists attractions in Sydney.

My sister and my friend ready to go up Sydney Tower Eye
Models of some of the tallest buildings on earth
My sister and her family ready to go up Sydney Tower Eye
A happy Baby Ryker at Sydney Tower Eye
My friend and Baby Ryker at Sydney Tower Eye

After the show, we took the lift that whizzed us up 268m into the sky within minutes to the observation deck. Stepping out of the lift, we were treated to unobstructed view of the entire Sydney. Sydney Tower Eye is a good place for visitors offering a 360° view of the city, especially great for first timers to Sydney to get a glimpse of how massive the metropolitan city is. It is also a great place to orientate one on where’s where of Sydney. The side that faces Sydney Harbour Bridge was the most crowded, as visitors are here to get a different perspective of the famed icon of the city. However Sydney Opera House is kena obscured. I managed to find the Opera House peeping out in between 2 buildings. One can also see the entire Sydney Harbour Bay from the observation deck. We spotted the Blue Mountains sitting afar from the observation deck, as well as the Sydney Airport and the many suburbs. Walking one round takes around 5 mins (provided one do not stop and take pictures). There is a souvenir shop on the observation deck selling overpriced souvenirs (Hay Market in Chinatown offers souvenirs at half the price here on average). We stayed in Sydney Tower Eye for about 1 hour as my nephew needs to be fed, however Sydney Tower Eye can be done within 20 mins on average.

View of Sydney Harbour Bridge and a small section of Sydney Opera House from Sydney Tower Eye
View of Sydney Harbour Bay from Sydney Tower Eye
View from Sydney Tower Eye
My friend and I at the observatory deck of Sydney Tower Eye
View of Sydney from Sydney Tower Eye
My sister and her family in the observatory deck of Sydney Tower Eye
Sydney Harbour Bay seen from Sydney Tower Eye
Baby Ryker seem to spot something below
Sydney Harbour Bay from Sydney Tower Eye
Sydney Harbour Bay from Sydney Tower Eye
Sydney Harbour Bay from Sydney Tower Eye
My sister had to put the koala ears on Baby Ryker
My friend and I on Sydney Tower Eye

Shopping in Downtown Sydney

Coming down from Sydney Tower Eye, we spent sometime exploring the shopping malls in downtown Sydney. There are no lack of shops ranging from Myers department store to upscale boutiques to mid-range boutiques around this area. One would be spoilt for choice with the numerous amount of shops here. There is even an Apple Store round the corner in downtown Sydney. Do not miss some of the small stores selling finger food such as sushi and cream puffs in the basement of some of these shopping malls. The nearby Queen Victoria Building, a Romanesque architectural building built in the late 1900 Century, that once housed government offices and public library is hard to be missed. The well preserved building, spotting a large dome right in the centre of the building stands out from the rest of the modern skyscrappers. Queen Victoria Building now houses a 4-storey shopping mall in its most recent reincarnation. We did not spend much time to shop around here and headed over to the iconic Sydney Opera House.
Shopping in downtown Sydney
Shopping in downtown Sydney
My friend and I in downtown Sydney
My friend in downtown Sydney
My friend and I in downtown Sydney
Downtown Sydney
Queen Victoria Building is now a shopping mall
Some of the cute cream puffs in downtown Sydney
Downtown Sydney at night
We came across this Roman themed theatre in downtown Sydney
My friend and I taking wefie in the Roman themed theatre
Baby Ryker with his parents in the Roman themed theatre

Sydney Opera House

The iconic Sydney Opera House is a good 30 mins by foot from Sydney Tower Eye. As we had Baby Ryker in tow, we decided to drive there instead. There are ample (but expensive) parking spaces in the carpark of Sydney Opera House. By the time we reached the Opera House, it is already nightfall. This is when the restaurants in the Sydney Opera House promenade is bustling with life. Sydneysiders gathered here in the evening to chill out in the night, while some others come here to watch performances. From the promenade, one can get a good view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Night view of Sydney Harbour Bridge
My friend and I with Sydney Harbour Bridge in the back
My friend and Baby Ryker with Sydney Harbour Bridge in the back
Sydney Harbour Bridge at night
Sydney Harbour Bridge with a little of Sydney Opera House
A bit of both icons in Sydney

We headed towards the Sydney Opera House, comprising of 7 “shells” which look more like sails. From a distance, the Sydney Opera House resembles a sailing boat sailing in Sydney Harbour Bay. The iconic white roof looked as if it is coated with a blanket of white paint from afar, upclose, these white parts of the buildings are tiled with uniform mosaic tiles. Getting up close to the Opera House, it seem to emit a sense of timeless beauty and classiness. There are plenty photo spots around the Opera House buildings, however one would not be able to the entire building into the picture. For a great view of both Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge, head to Mrs Macquarie’s Point, a short 10 mins drive from the Opera House.

My friend and I outside Sydney Opera House
Sydney Opera House at night
Taking a wefie with Sydney Opera House
My friend with Sydney Opera House
Another wefie outside Sydney Opera House
My sister and Baby Ryker at Sydney Opera House
Sydney Opera House from the promenade
Sydney Opera House up close at night
My sister and her family at Sydney Opera House
My sister and her family at Sydney Opera House

We headed inside the Opera House. The ceilings are decked in the concrete grey, as though telling visitors no fanciful dressings is required for its interior. The building is already magnificent even with the plain grey concretes. There is a shop inside the ticketing area of the Opera House selling memorabilia. One can also opt to join a 1 hour guided tour of the Opera House (costs A$37) to get a better understanding of the history and architecture of the building explained in detail by the staff. We stayed here for quite awhile to admire the grandeur of this iconic structure that visitors and locals come to identify Sydney with before heading back to rest for the night.

Interior of the Sydney Opera House

Sydney Day 2 (19 May 17) – Yengo National Park – Viewing Mt Yengo From Finchley Lookout

Our plan today is to visit the Finchley lookout and the Chocolate Factory as well as some wineries in Hunter Valley, New South Wales premier winery region. However we did some last minute change in plans after our visit to Finchley Lookout in Yengo National Park. It is autumn at this time of the year in Australia, this means that sun will set at around 5pm, after which it would be dark. My previous experience with driving in Australian roads tells me that we would have to rely on reflectors along the road when driving after dark in suburban roads. Hence we  visited the Finchley Lookout on our way to Hunter Valley.
Baby Ryker and mummy ready to go out
Pit stop at Mooney Mooney Rest Area
Mooney Mooney Rest area is about 1 hour from Sydney Olympic Park
My friend and I at Mooney Mooney Rest Area
My sister and her family at Mooney Mooney Rest Area
Taking a wefie at Mooney Mooney Rest Area

Towards Finchley Lookout

The drive to Finchley Lookout takes around 2 hours from Sydney Olympic Park. Finchley Lookout is located some 150km northwest of Sydney Olympic Park. We set out about 3 hours later than planned as my nephew, Baby Ryker, woke up pretty late. We wanted him to sleep a little more before setting out. As we were driving towards Finchley Lookout, the 3-laned highway turned into one-laned (2-way) country road, zipping pass some farmlands and rural areas. Whizzing up and down mountainous roads, we eventually ended up into a single lane gravel road. This is when a sense of adventure begins. There are no reflectors nor barriers as we were driving up and down slopes. The drive from where the gravel road starts to Finchley Lookout takes around 45 mins, longer than I had expected. From my research prior to the trip, I was expecting gravel roads before we reach Finchley Lookout, but I did not expect the drive to take 45 mins. At this point, we were glad that we made the decision to visit this lookout during daylight and I thought to myself, the view better be worth the drive.
Our journey from Sydney Olympic Park to Finchley Lookout takes around 2 hours
As we were driving along the gravel road, a sign was in sight pointing to Finchley Lookout. We finally arrived at our destination after 2 hours on the road. There are no proper parking facilities, but just some space for us to park our vehicle. There are no one here when we reached Finchley Lookout.  We will soon find out if the drive was worth it at the bottom of a small flight of stairs that led to a  wooden platform – The Finchley Lookout. We reached the Finchley lookout after climbing up the stairs, the surrounding opened up from deserted forest to a remote land of wilderness stretching beyond the horizon. We were awed by the view and soon felt the drive was indeed worth it! Coupled with the fact that we were the only ones here at the time of our visit, it felt like we had the entire Yengo National Park to us. From Finchley Lookout, we spotted Mt Yengo standing majestically afar from the forest, as though it commands the entire Yengo National Park. We could almost see the entire Yengo National Park, which is one of the eight protected areas in Blue Mountains Region that was enscribed to form part of the UNESCO World Heritage list. Yengo National Park holds a special place in the hearts of the Aborigines in this region as it is an important spiritual and cultural area for them for thousands of years. There are over 600 recorded Aboriginal cultural sites in this national park. It is legended that the ancestral being stepped off Mt Yengo into the sky after finishing his creation. As it is getting late, we headed off to Hunter Valley before it turns dark.
We finally reached Finchley Lookout in Yengo National Park after some 45 mins drive on the gravel road
My friend and I at Finchley Lookout signage
Me at the Finchley Lookout signage
My sister and her family getting ready to climb up to Finchley Lookout
A monument beside Finchley Lookout 
View of Mt Yengo and Yengo National Park at Finchley Lookout
My friend at Finchley Lookout with Mt Yengo behind
My sister trying to take a family wefie at Finchley Lookout
A happy Baby Ryker at Finchley Lookout
Mt Yengo towering over the entire Yengo National Park
Panoramic view from Finchley Lookout
My sister and happy Baby Ryker at Finchley Lookout
Forest around Finchley Lookout
Mt Yengo at Finchley Lookout

A Change in Plan

As we were driving towards Hunter Valley Winery region, gravel road turned into tarred roads and civilisation were once in sight. About 1 hour into our journey, it started to pour heavily. We were glad that we got off the gravel roads before it started to rain. Soon we found ourselves in the town of Wollombi, the last town before we reached Hunter Valley Chocolate Factory. Along the way there are signs that points towards some Wineries. As we missed our lunch and we were getting hungry, we stopped by to grab some food. It is already 4.30pm now. Knowing that shops close around 5pm, a check with the Chocolate Factory’s website confirmed the closing time. At this time, I proposed to change in plan and head back to Sydney instead as the factory will be closed by the time we reach (we still have another 30 mins drive from Wollombi to the Hunter Valley Chocolate Factory). As we were driving towards the main roads, we spotted a shopping mall with supermarket. My sister wanted to check out the supermarket and we headed there. We spent some time at the supermarket.

The night was still young, we headed straight to The Star Casino in Sydney, hoping to find some food before we head back to our apartment to rest. The drive back to Sydney took another 2 hours. It is around 11pm when we reached The Star Casino. Most of the eateries in the Casino has closed for the day. We headed to the nearby Harbourside Shopping Centre for later dinner before heading back to Sydney Olympic Park.

The Star Casino in Darling Harbour, Sydney

 

 

Sydney Day 1 (18 May 17) – Arrival in Sydney – Shopping in DFO HomeBush and Rhodes Waterside Mall

My sister wanted to visit Sydney when she did not managed to visit Gold Coast last year due to her pregnancy. As the rest of the party had never been to Sydney, we made a 6-day trip to the capital city of New South Wales state in Australia.
Sydney Opera House, an icon of Sydney

Arrive at Sydney

After a tiring overnight flight from Singapore, we finally reached Sydney Kingsford Smith Airport, the city’s international gateway. Clearing custom was a breeze thanks to the efficient automated gate clearance and the numerous airport security staff directing visitors who are eligible to use the automated custom clearance. No pre-registration is required for visitors to use these automated custom clearance gates, which is a plus unlike some countries where one is required to pre-register in order to use these facilities. We wasted no time and quickly got our SIM cards from one of the 2 telco counters (Optus and Vodafone) to the right of the immigration gates. Personally I prefer Optus due to the value for money (we paid A$10, including SIM Card, for 5 days of data and phone usage) and the reliable connection from my previous experience last year while traveling in Gold Coast. After the staff had our phones set up for data usage, we proceeded to the car rental counters, located to the left of the immigration exit to pick up our rented car.
We got our Australian SIM Card from Optus, which is to the left of the immigration exit in Sydney Airport
Waiting for me to settle our car rental
My sister’s family at the exit of Sydney Airport

Sydney Olympic park

It is expected that we will be drained from the overnight flight, we intentionally kept today’s itinerary very light. We drove to our AirBnb accommodation located in Sydney Olympic Park, located about 30 mins drive from Sydney Central. Our host was already waiting for us with the keys to the spacious 2 bedroom apartment. Sydney Olympic Park was the venue for the 2000 Sydney Olympics games, complete with villages where the athletes were housed back in 2000. Today the Sydney Olympic Park is a major suburb, twice the size of Sydney Central Business District, where residential and commercial activities are located. Other then being a commercial and residential suburb, Sydney Olympic Park is also a major sporting hub, where sporting facilities used during the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games are “recycled” for the public and professional athletes to use. There are shops, eateries and supermarkets within minutes drive from our accommodation, making it an ideal place to settle in for this trip. It is already getting late by the time we settled into our apartment, as planned we headed out to the factory outlet nearby Sydney Olympic Park.
View of Sydney Olympic Park from our apartment
My sister’s family happily settled in our accommodation for the next 6 days

DFO Homebush

The only outlet mall around Sydney, the DFO Homebush outlet mall is a mere 5 mins drive from our accommodation in Sydney Olympic Park. The 2-stoery outlet mall is rather disappointing, compared to Harbour Town in Gold Coast. Unlike Harbour Town, DFO Homebuswh feels dead with not much people shopping around. There are no eateries, except for a few cafes that were closing at the time we visited. The outlet shops are located on level 1 of the shopping mall, while the home living shop and a couple of sports gear outlet shop occupies the ground floor of the building. We only spent about 1 hour here in DFO due to the disappointing shopping experience. While some of the big brands such as Burberry, Calvin Klein offers good discounts, the goods on offering did not appeal to us.
Before heading back to our accommodation, we headed to the supermarket to get some food for breakfast in Rhodes Waterside Mall, which is a 5 mins drive from DFO Homebush.  This shopping mall is a vast world of difference from DFO Homebush, there are more people shopping in this mall. Rhodes Waterside Mall houses Ikea, Coles Supermarket, Target and Priceline amongst other shops. One can find most of the daily needs here. We headed back to Sydney Olympic Park to rest after getting what we wanted from Coles Supermarket (which opens still midnight). Before heading back to our accommodation, we got our dinner from Dominoes which is a mere 3 mins drive from our accommodation.