Around the South China Sea

by Peter Sacco on April 7, 2014

Macau nightThis tour round the perimeter of the South China Sea takes in everything from crazy, 24 hour nightlife to long, lazy days on white sand beaches; from bustling, spice-scented street markets to gleaming cities bristling with skyscrapers.

Just decide whether you want to fly or – if you’ve got a month or two – go by boat…

Macau

We start in the ex-Portuguese colony of Macau, where the clash of European and Chinese cultures has produced some memorable cuisine, and some exhilarating nightlife.

When Stanley Ho’s monopA casino in Macau.oly on gambling in this tiny Special Region of China ended in 2002, the current casino boom began almost overnight. Today Macau makes Las Vegas look small-time; it generates around five times as much as the Strip in gambling revenue!

If you’re new to the card tables, consider honing your skills online first; try the Promotions at Euro Palace for decent bonuses. Food-wise, if you love pastry you’ll love Macau. Portuguese Egg Tarts are everywhere, as are Pork Chop Buns; try Tai Lei Loi Kei in Taipa Village for the latter.

Taipei

Longshan_Temple,_Taipei_01

Longshan Temple in Taipei.

Next on our clockwise trip is Taiwan. Landing in Taipei, it’ll soon become obvious that the city is stuffed full of temples and museums to visit, including the amazing Longshan Temple in Wanhua (which has been regularly rebuilt and renovated since 1738), and the National Museum of History in Zhongzheng.

When you’ve had your fill of culture, try the dazzling array of street food in one of the night markets. Raohe Market is a great place to try Taipei staples like Stinky Tofu and Duck Innards Stew – but don’t worry, there’s plenty of stuff you’ll actuaLongshan Temple, Taipeilly want to eat as well.

Manila

Now we head directly south to Manila, a 2 hour flight from Taipei with several non-stop flights per day.

The Philippine capital is a chaotic city that doesn’t give up its charms easily, but stick with it and you may find yourself falling in love with the place. There’s some fantastic shopping to be done here, with the Robinsons Place Mall one of the main attractions if that’s your thing. Manila is another vibrant, culturally mixed city, where Spanish influences are strong. Cafe Juanita in Pasig City has superb local food – try the Kare Kare, but book your table before you go!

Cafe-Juanita-manila

Da NangCafe Juanita, in Manila, Philippines.

 

Our final stop, on the western edge of the South China Sea, is Da Nang, Vietnam. There are some beautiful white sand beaches in the area, though you should look out for warning signs regarding riptides if you’re planning to swim. The Waterfront is a superb restaurant and bar on the river and well worth an end-of-trip splurge. There’s great street food in Da Nang of course; seek out Bun Cha (fish cake noodles) and Oc Hut – the latter for snail fans only.

(Images courtesy of condominiumcentral.net, smh.com.au, wikipedia, manilareviews.com)

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Sorrento, Italy: Easy to Love

by Peter Sacco on March 20, 2014

View of the cliffs that Sorrento Italy is famous for.

View of the cliffs that Sorrento Italy is famous for.

Before embarking on my first ever trip to Sorrento I was warned that it is a place very easy to fall in love with. Being what I consider to be a voracious traveller, having seen some of what are described as the best sights in the world.

I put this to the back of my mind as I head to Italy’s Neapolitan Riviera. On the way we are told that both Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp were spotted there a few days previously. Although not one given to being particularly star struck, Mr Depp’s name gave rise to a flutter in the stomach.

After the hour long transfer from Naples airport we arrive in the high rise resort. I call it this as it sits atop the cliffs which embrace the bays that make up the sun-drenched southwest coast of Italy. Arriving at our hotel, the Villaggio Netauna, the first thing that hits you is the highly organised but laid back air. Staff go about their duties quietly and efficiently you do not notice them.

First Impressions Last

Wandering out onto the sun terrace I was rewarded with a jaw dropping view over the spectacular coastline. With private access to the beach, al fresco dining, and room more spacious than many I have stayed in. I have to thank icelolly.com for bringing my attention to this one. I deliberately go for mid range hotels as I believe this is where the best comparisons can be made. I have to say my very first impression of Sorrento is extremely positive.

After quickly unpacking, and a glass of excellent local wine, its time to head into town to see if the town lives up to the hype. Within minutes we are in Sorrento with its plethora of bustling shops, bars, restaurants and street cafés. The port is pretty special too, and one of the main stops for numerous cruise liners. Not being a big fan of cruising myself, I can already understand why so many ocean weary travellers would enjoy their albeit short time here.

Food Perfection

I have to admit here and now to being a café culture junkie. At Marina Grande I spot a café/restaurant that is pretty busy even at this quiet time of year. Bagni Delfino certainly didn’t disappoint, and you can imagine this place would be jumping when a cruise liner slips into town. There is something about travelling that you don’t realise you are hungry until you see people around you eating. So instead of just a drink we also ordered risotto. I am pleased to report it was one of the best I have ever tasted, and trust me there have been many.

This gives me and my companion an opportunity to plan our sightseeing agenda in a bit more detail. Being a last minute trip this hadn’t been discussed much. He stressed an interest in visiting the frozen in time Pompeii. Ever since I saw a picture of my grandmother taken with Gracie Fields on the island of Capri I have wanted to go there, and he was in agreement.

Up Pompeii

Pompeii, Italy.

The fantastic ruins of Pompeii are near Sorrento. Max Hartshorne photo.

We all know the story of Mount Vesuvius erupting and forever embalming the city of Pompeii, but nothing prepares you for actually being there. Our hearts sunk the day we went as the place was heaving with visitors. The ambience of the place had the desired effect on everyone however as we walked around in near silence. Only punctuated by the clicks of cameras and murmured conjecture about this ancient disaster zone.

Two days later, after enjoying chilling out in the town and indulging in some gastronomic delights in the hotel. All courtesy of the man who brings fresh fish every day, we headed off to Capri. This 4 square mile island has 1200 residents but the numbers in the peak season swell exponentially. An estimated 3,000 hotel guest and 6,000 day trippers invade this tiny isle. I once again am thankful we are here out of season.

Jetfoil to Capri

The jetfoil from Sorrento has us here in just over 20 minutes. You cannot deny it is a lovely place, especially at night when the streets come to life. An unparalleled view is offered across the sea to Naples and Sorrento. And their array of twinkling lights which looks for all the world like a diamond necklace in the moonlight.  The larger island of Ischia is also worth exploring, with far fewer tourists crowding it out.

After another couple of days relaxing on the beach and eating far too well it’s time to return home. Have I fallen in love with Sorrento? Let’s just say I have that heady excitement of a new relationship and those feelings could well develop over time. Maybe next time I will catch a glimpse of Mr Depp to add to a perfect holiday.

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