Category Archives: Travelling

Hong Kong, Matadors & Chinese Factories

Hong Kong, Matadors & Chinese Factories

After a 12-hour overnight flight from the UK the words “Welcome to the Langham Sir” were music to my ears. I’d just arrived in Hong Kong on business and would be staying in this magnificent hotel for one night before crossing the border into Shenzhen, China.

The Langham is a beautiful hotel, in fact it doesn’t feel like a hotel at all, more like a home away from home and despite being at the heart of the busy Kowloon district and seconds away from stores featuring some of the world’s leading luxury brands it’s actually a very peaceful place.

As you walk through the front doors the smell from the Flowers of Langham shop permeates the reception area; this coupled with the sound from the grand piano only adds to the feeling of luxury one gets from being present in the foyer.

After a glass of champagne and a few beers in Palm Court with my colleagues Jon and Stuart we headed out for a walk around the Kowloon district, ending up in a sports bar showing Sunderland vs. West Brom. We stayed for a while, enjoying the beer more than the game, before heading back to the Langham for a Chinese themed buffet.

Having not slept for 31 hours I was in need of a rest and so headed back to my room. Here I had one of the most luxurious baths I’ve had in a long time whilst watching the television from the comfort of the bath; a little bit of this always helps too.

The Bathroom In The Langham, Hong Kong

The Bathroom In The Langham, Hong Kong

After a morning of sightseeing around a very foggy and rainy Hong Kong harbour we began our journey to China. It took us approximately 1 hour to arrive at the border crossing and then we waited for what seemed like another hour before we were eventually let into the country. Chinese border control is a thorough but drawn out process.

Eventually we arrived at the Intercontinental only to discover that this particular 5-star hotel had a Spanish theme. If anyone knows of the link between Chinese and Spanish culture that inspired this then feel free to leave it in the comments below.

We were greeted by concierge dressed in matador costumes before being escorted past a miniature 15th century Spanish galleon and onto reception. The bedrooms at the Intercontinental in Shenzhen are exactly as I imagined they might be; the bed was very comfortable, the bathroom luxurious and I even had a Bose sound system.

A Spanish Galleon in Shenzhen

A Spanish Galleon in Shenzhen

The weirdness starts when you enter the hotel lobby and observe your surroundings. Could this hotel have employed two interior designers, both with very different views on what the desired outcome should be? That said, the hotel was very clean, well maintained and certainly had an abundance of character which made my stay all the more enjoyable.

The Lobby @ The Intercontinental, Shenzhen, China

The Lobby @ The Intercontinental, Shenzhen, China

On the Monday and Tuesday we visited 4 factories that specialise in the production of LED lighting and actually had the opportunity to have a traditional Chinese lunch with the management from one of these factories.

Lunch was an interesting experience and when the chicken feet arrived at the table I new that this was one item I had to tick off my bucket list. My colleague Stuart remarked that this dinning experience was similar to a bush tucker trial. I only tasted a small part of the chicken’s foot and have to say that it is similar in consistency to the end of a chicken drumstick. We tried a Chinese sea vegetable that looked rather like a piece of liver, but when tasted was actually very sweet and quite nice.

Traditional Chinese Lunch

Traditional Chinese Lunch

The experience of witnessing a part of the real China was one that I’ll never forget. The whole time I was in China I did not see a single house, only rows and rows of dark, run down tower blocks. Perhaps this is the result of over population and something we in the west have to look forward to?

Shenzhen’s factories were not what I had imagined either. They certainly did not fit in with the Victorian style scene with thick smoke polluting the atmosphere above a large metropolis that I had imagined. In reality, Chinese factories resembled run down tower blocks centred in residential areas.

The temperature in China was quite cold and it did not stop raining the entire time I was there. I also wondered whether the residents of Shenzhen ever witnessed the sun’s rays as it was quite a grey place and although brighter on occasions I did not see the sun the entire time I was in the far east.

After our final factory visit we headed back to the hotel for some relaxation before heading back across the border for one last evening in Hong Kong. I took the opportunity to have another bath and catch up on the Man Utd vs. QPR highlights before packing my suitcase and getting ready to leave.

A Wonderful Bath @ The Intercontinental, Shenzhen, China

A Wonderful Bath @ The Intercontinental, Shenzhen, China

The journey back to Hong Kong seemed shorter than the journey to China. When arriving back at the Langham the concierge greeted me: “Welcome back to the Langham. How was your trip to China? Did you enjoy it?”. I couldn’t help but notice the cheeky grin on his face as he said this, as if somehow hinting that he knew it wasn’t as good as Hong Kong; and as if by his own design, coinciding perfectly with his comments, there was an Aston Martin and a Ferrari parked beside us.

As it was getting late we visited the Bostonian restaurant and indulged our desire for western food. Monster burgers, with Coca-Cola, Heineken and cocktails were ordered and this meal didn’t disappoint.

Monster Burger! @ The Bostonian

Monster Burger! @ The Bostonian

After a night of drinks at Palm Court and a better night’s sleep I awoke on Wednesday morning and headed to the outdoor swimming pool located on the roof of the Langham. A few lengths and some time in the hot tub later and we decided that we should do some sightseeing. 30 minutes later and we emerged into another rainy Hong Kong morning ready to take in some sights. After crossing the harbour by ferry we arrived at the Central Pier before jumping in a taxi and heading straight for The Peak Tram to take us up to Victoria’s Peak.

Central Pier, Hong Kong

Central Pier, Hong Kong

Upon arriving it was clear that this would be a souvenir shopping trip as the only thing to be seen from the peak was thick fog. I’m sure on a clearer day the view from the peak would be outstanding, but in November it’s certainly not something I’d recommend.

We returned to our hotel for an afternoon of relaxation, followed by a champagne dinner and the opportunity to reflect on what was an enjoyable and extremely interesting few days in the far east.

After a quick journey to the airport we checked into the Virgin Atlantic Lounge and enjoyed yet more champagne and a selection of cold meats, cheese and frozen grapes before catching our flight home.

Stuart, Steve & Jon in The Virgin Atlantic Lounge, Hong Kong

Stuart, Steve & Jon in The Virgin Atlantic Lounge, Hong Kong

My trip to the far east was luxurious, enlightening and seriously tiring; but I am extremely grateful to SimplyLED for providing me with the opportunity to experience this trip.

The Beginning…

koh_phangan_sun

Hello and welcome to my new blog. I’ve been meaning to set this up for a while, but work and other commitments have delayed me until now.

Over the next few months I’m going to try and document my travels around South East Asia and the Middle East. I made this journey in 2011 so will be using my travel diary and back dating any articles related to this trip in order to appear as thought they were posted on the exact day that those particular events took place.

I’ll also be documenting my technical experiences with the Magento e-Commerce platform, SEO and general web design techniques – hopefully my findings might benefit others.

If you like my blog and want to comment on any of my articles then that would be great! I look forward to your feedback!

Enjoy the blog!

Time to Buy an Engagement Ring

Jumeirah Beach Dubai

Another early start, but strangely I don’t feel jet lagged – just excited and nervous about the prospect of trying to find the perfect engagement ring for Debbie. Having spent the last year thinking about my proposal to Debbie and digging for clues I already have a rough idea of what the perfect engagement ring will look like. I can visualise it now in my mind’s eye.

So after breakfast it was time to pay a visit to a particular jewellers in Dubai. I’m not going to tell you where it is, but if you’re a professional footballer or celebrity who has visited Dubai then the chances are you’ve probably bought something from this particular jewellers.

As I made my way into the jewellers I was unsure as to how I would accurately communicate the image of perfection that I had in my mind and then as if by chance I caught a glimpse of what I was looking for in the window. Well almost, the ring in the window was a different material and the diamond wasn’t quite right, but it was still a good starting point.

After an introduction to the manager and an explanation of what was required I was presented with a collection of different diamonds. After some time comparing different cuts, sizes and colours I found the diamond I was looking for. No matter which way you looked at it this diamond sparkled, it felt right and I knew that it would look beautiful on Debbie’s finger.

The manager gave me and my Aunt a drink, before discussing my expectations with one of his colleagues. I was then escorted to an adjoining building which contained the jeweller’s workshop and over the next hour watched in fascination as Debbie’s engagement ring was created from scratch to my exact specification by some highly skilled master craftsmen.

Upon returning to the jewellers I watched as the manager was presented with the engagement ring. He checked it over to ensure that it met my exact requirements and then invited me to inspect the diamond under a microscope. I could clearly see that inscribed into the middle of the diamond was a unique serial number – this certified that this was not a conflict diamond. I was then presented with the engagement ring in a beautiful wooden box and all of the documentation that accompanied this beautiful ring.

The entire experience of witnessing Debbie’s engagement ring being created from scratch was unbelievable and made the ring feel even more special – it was truly unique.

After paying for the engagement ring I made my way back to Liz’ Humvee, gripping the bag containing the engagement ring and documentation as tightly as I could. I then gave my Mum a call to let her know that I had not only found the perfect engagement ring, but had also seen it being created. I don’t think I’ve ever heard my Mum sound as excited as she was during this 10 minute phone call.

After an afternoon chilling out in Liz’ apartment we headed out to The Dubai Mall to catch up with some of Liz’ friends. In terms of leasable area The Dubai Mall is the world’s largest shopping mall and is part of the $20-billion Burj Khalifa complex.

We decided to eat at Karam Beirut, a wonderful Lebanese restaurant situated next to the Dubai Fountain and at the foot of the Burj Khalifa – the World’s tallest building. If you’re ever in Dubai I highly recommend that you visit this restaurant, sit outside and take in the atmosphere and views.

Back at the apartment I completed my online check-in and packed my backpack ready for the next part of my adventure. Tomorrow I fly to Thailand and I cannot wait to see Debbie!

Journey to Dubai

Dubai Part One: Emirates Plane

Up very early for a journey to Gatwick Airport with my Mum and Dad; I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t sad to be leaving, even if it is only for 7 weeks. Some people go away for 6 months at a time, some even go for a year!

You see I’ve never been the best traveller and I do enjoy my home comforts. I’ve also got a Primary Antibody Deficiency (PAD) which means that my body does not make antibodies and therefore I must regularly top up the areas in which I am deficient.

Luckily, this sadness was offset by the fact that I was heading off on the trip of a lifetime and come Sunday evening I’ll be in Bangkok with my beautiful girlfriend Debbie. I haven’t seen her for 23 days and am already missing her lots. Before that though, there’s the small matter of a 2 day stop over in Dubai and the task of buying Debbie an engagement ring. We’ve been together for 4 years and 10 months and I’ve decided that this trip will throw up numerous perfect opportunities to ask Debbie to marry me. More on this later.

After arriving at the airport I had a very easy check-in and just enough time for breakfast with my Mum and Dad. I can’t remember the name of the restaurant, but the breakfast was great – not as great as the look I got off the waiter when I requested some maple syrup which I promptly poured all over my fry-up.

With no delays expected for my flight it was time to head for security. I must admit I wasn’t looking forward to this part of the journey as I had a bag full of needles and immunoglobulin which I would need to transport safely to my Aunt’s apartment in Dubai. I will take this medication during the final week of my trip to help boost my immune system which by that point will be at a very low level after 6 weeks without a top up.

Prior to my trip I had let the airline know that I would be carrying these items on the flight to Dubai. I also had letters written by my Consultant Immunologist to help explain to any airport security officials why I needed to carry this medication. As an additional measure I had taken the opportunity to have these letters translated into Arabic – hopefully this will avoid any complications that might arise at security when I arrive at Dubai International Airport.

So after giving my Mum and Dad a hug and a kiss goodbye I headed through security and onto Emirates flight: EK0012 for the start of what was set to be a wonderful experience.

I’ve flown with Emirates a number of times in the past and each time the experience has been wonderful, this time was no exception; I was even greeted with a “…welcome back Mr O’Neil”. On board there was a lovely choice of food and after much deliberation I went for the chicken tikka, washed down with a few cans of Pepsi and a couple of white wines. The in-flight entertainment was varied as always, yet for some reason I didn’t fancy watching a film so instead viewed two documentaries; the first was about 90’s goal scoring sensation Gabriel Batistuta; the second focused on England’s epic experience at Italia ’90. I then spent the remainder of the 6 hours 50 minutes flight talking to a very interesting gentleman who was sit next to me. He was travelling to Abu Dhabi via Dubai for training related to oil drilling. During our conversation I discovered that he actually lives in Canada and is originally from Kashmir. It transpired that he can remotely control an oil drill from the comfort of his home office.

I landed in Dubai at 19:50 local time and as always was very impressed with the opulence of the airport. It took 10 minutes to get through passport control and then it was onto security. Now after being apprehensive about the airport security’s reaction to me bringing infusion equipment and immunoglobulin into the UAE the experience was actually a good one. The security guard seemed to appreciate that I had translated my documentation into Arabic and happily waved me through. After picking up my luggage I was greeted with a big hug and an ice cold bottle of water from my Aunty Liz. It’s always nice to see a member of your family who you don’t get to see as often as you would like. As we made our way through the airport car park to Liz’s Hummer I remember thinking that even though it’s the end of September and 21:00 it’s still very hot.

Liz had been aware of my plans to buy Debbie an engagement ring. However, by the time we got back to her apartment it was going to be too late to go ring shopping and if I’m honest I just wanted to get some food, get over my jet lag and get to bed.

After dropping off my luggage and more importantly my infusion equipment and immunoglobulin Liz and I headed over to Khan Murjan –  an Umawi Age inspired souk located next to the WAFI Shopping Mall. Khan Murjan is my favourite Arabic restaurant and if you’re ever in Dubai I highly recommend that you pay them a visit. Situated in an old fashioned courtyard with air conditioning, a traditional water wheel and Arabic music the experience and food is simply unbelievable! I can honestly say that I’d been dreaming of this meal since my last visit to Dubai back in September 2010.

Time for bed now, I’m expecting an early start tomorrow, there’s a lot to fit in before I travel to Bangkok on Sunday. Most important of all, I need to find Debbie the perfect engagement ring.