[Where I’m At; a monthly update of what I’ve been up to, site news, and where I’m going next.]
I have more maps on the way, so stay tuned or follow updates on the Southeast Asia railways page.
Where I’ve Been
The month began at Tokyo where I finished up my brief trip on behalf of Tokyo Tourism Australia. As the trip originated from Australia I had to go back to Australia as well for one day. So I was in Sydney for a day which was kind of weird to be in Sydney and not Melbourne.
My flight from Sydney to Saigon was with Singapore Airlines, who offer a free stopover in Singapore, so why not make a stop. There is always something new to see there so I take any chance to revisit.
I was back in Saigon for two weeks where I still have a rented room. I’m doing some research on some future developments there, and I went to one of the new parks that has opened along the river. It’s a rarity to see a new park open in a city, especially in Southeast Asia where public space is increasingly encroached upon. The exception is the Gardens By The Bay in Singapore, which is reclaimed land that has been turned into a world-class park.
The new park in Saigon is Vinhomes Central Park, which is named after the developer and some park in New York. Despite the cheesy name this is a great park and a welcome addition to the city. It is surrounded by the new Vinhomes apartment developments and the Landmark 81 tower, which will soon become the tallest building in Southeast Asia.
Hong Kong, again! This was my third trip to Hong Kong this year, which is not a bad thing. This time it was a convenient departure city from Saigon for a visa run.
I had another trip planned which included departing from Shanghai, which I booked from Hong Kong. That trip fell through, but I decided to keep the Hong Kong and Shanghai portion of my trip. There is a free transit visa for 144 hours in Shanghai for many countries, so I took advantage of this. At the airport I was the only passenger in the transit-visa queue, so that was a bonus.
My trip to Shanghai was over a weekend, so I went unplugged for the weekend and didn’t get a VPN. Google (including Google Maps), Facebook, Twitter are blocked, and messenging services like Whatsapp were blocked while I was there during the Communist Party’s congress. I kept looking at my phone out of habit, which had been rendered into a bulky pocket watch.
I was in China earlier this year and I’m still amazed at how fast China is developing. Mobile payment is everywhere now, and it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that cash is dying. The future has arrived in China, and I’m not sure I like what I see. I plan to be in China again next year, so a VPN will be essential.
My first trip to Shanghai was ten years ago, and the skyline of Pudong (pictured above) was still being built out. This was the first time I have seen Pudong without any cranes in the sky. It’s interesting to come here while living in Saigon, as there is an undeveloped side of the river in Saigon that is being called “the Pudong of Vietnam”. Pudong was farmland in the 80’s, and now it has one of the biggest skylines in the world.
Shanghai to Chiang Mai is a four hour flight. I was happy to find a direct flight which avoided having to pass through one of the Bangkok airports (where I was stuck for 90 minutes getting a passport stamp on my last visit). It took me 5 minutes to get my passport stamped in Chiang Mai, and about the same time to get my bag. This is a much better way to arrive in Thailand.
I posted on the rail map how the two airports in Bangkok may get linked to U-Tapao airport (near Pattaya) on the one railway. With Qatar announcing flights to Pattaya in addition to Chiang Mai, this could be a game-changer for arriving in Thailand. Anyway, that’s probably years away.
I used to spend more time in Chiang Mai before basing in Saigon. It’s a great place to work, especially at this time of year when the mornings are cool and the air is clear. And now that Vietjet have direct flights from Saigon to Chiang Mai, I might be back here more often. I’m now waiting for direct flights from Saigon to Bali to add to the collection.
ICYMI – Last months posts
Visiting Aomori Prefecture in Japan – Aomori Prefecture is at the northern tip of Honshu (the largest island of Japan). Like many casual visitors to Japan with no ties to the country, I had never heard of Aomori. There are 47 prefectures (like a province or state) in Japan, and Aomori is one of the lesser visited of Japan.
Green spaces of Tokyo – As the biggest city in the world (by most definitions), Tokyo is not exactly famous for its greenery. There are some great parks and nature reserves within the city.