R & R at Wynyard Hall (Roses and Relaxation to be exact)

I’ll be perfectly honest with you. Wynyard Hall is not a hotel that I’d been itching to try out. We’d visited about five years ago to attend the Living North Christmas Fayre and I just didn’t really take to it. It just felt a bit gloomy and there didn’t seem much to it apart from the lounge area and restaurant with small bar. But I had heard and read good things about the hotel and have been keen to visit the newly redeveloped Rose Garden, so we decided to give it a go after spotting a fantastic deal for an overnight stay with breakfast, 3 course dinner plus chilled bottle of Prosecco and chocolate dipped strawberries in your room on arrival. What’s not to love about that, so the deal was purchased and the room was booked (from www.itison.com) .


We decided to treat this as a late Valentines break so opted to upgrade to a Lake View room – The Hambletonian – for a little extra. We felt it was definitely worth it when we walked into the room. The room was roomy, light and welcoming with extremely high ceilings and traditional furnishings topped off with a beautiful, but not overly ornate, chandelier.


There was a lovely view from the tall window over the lake and surrounding countryside. The bed and bedding were extremely comfortable although the mattress was a bit ‘bouncy’ as I found out when I went to bed (If I rolled toward the edge I felt I’d spring out onto the floor!) The bathroom was a more modern affair with a rainfall shower over the bath, large mirror and divine toiletries from Temple Spa which, got a big thumbs up from Ron too. http://www.templespa.com/about-us



As is usual with me and Ron, once we checked out the room we headed off to explore and it was a this point I realised that one of my suspicions five years ago was correct, there isn’t really much else to the main building of this hotel apart from the restaurant, bar and lounge as the spa, event marquee and ornamental gardens are all short distance from the main building. However, this time we noticed the beauty of the hotel interior in a way we couldn’t on our previous visit. I suspect this was due to no events being hosted and we’d arrived when Afternoon Tea was over. You can see and sense the history in the building and yes, it is still quite dark but that is in keeping with the original purpose of the hall and the interior design and furnishings are enhanced with subtle lighting, candles and stunning floral arrangements. Most notable is the sheer amount of decorative marble and stained glass throughout (one of which looked strangely like a Jukebox).



In 1987 the estate was bought by Sir John Hall, a property developer and former owner of Newcastle United FC who embarked on a multimillion pound renovation programme to restore the hall and estate. A further investment saw his daughter Allison turn the hall into the county house hotel it is now. To read more about the history of Wynyard Hall here:


A stroll around the grounds led us on to the terrace which would be a lovely place to sit and while away time with a drink in better weather. The hotel has its own chapel and the function room is right next to this, a peep inside the windows showed a room partially decorated in an elaborate style ahead of some celebration. It certainly is a gorgeous setting for any event.


The peace and quiet of the hotel and our room made for a relaxing afternoon enjoying our chilled Prosecco and chocolate dipped strawberries along with a few of our own drinkies and choccie treats in the form of Vodka and coke, lager shandies, Payne’s chocolate brazils and Cadburys giant chocolate buttons…what? These classics beat the so called ‘luxury’ brand chocolate hands down for us!


We were so relaxed in fact that we could have easily forgone the meal and stayed in the room in the cocoon of our fluffy robes, however, that would have been the lazy option, so at 7.30 we took our table in the Wellington restaurant. This grand room features marble and imposing paintings hinting at the decadence of earlier life in the hall. The room was lit beautifully, striking the right balance between intimate and practical i.e. enabling you to read the menu without resorting to using the table candle or torch on your smartphone (my usual method). Most of the tables were occupied which provided a pleasant atmosphere without being noisy.

The service was extremely friendly and attentive without being overbearing (you know, like when you reach to refill your wine glass and POW! someone appears out of nowhere snatching the bottle from your grasp to do it for you…personally that’s not my thing). We were offered the A la Carte and Brasserie menus to peruse and on enquiring which we could choose from with our deal, the header waiter advised he was happy for us to choose from either menu, which was a nice touch as some dinner inclusive deals usually have restrictions.

The meal itself was absolutely delicious and akin to Nouvelle Cuisine in presentation and portion size, which is just as well when you got a stash of chocolate lying in wait to whisper to you, like a siren…I’m over here, I’m delectable, eat me…eat me!! The experience was only let down slightly by the overall time spent in the restaurant – 2 hours 15 minutes – now I don’t like to be rushed between courses however, the timings here were too long.

The peace and quiet of the location is evident as you lie in the sumptuous cloud of the comfortable bedding and pillows and notice the silence. This meant we drifted off in no time and woke to that lovely feeling of having no rush to go anywhere and just prop up on the marshmallow cushions to read the paper or one of the many magazines supplied in the room.

Breakfast again was quite a slow affair compared to most hotels I’ve stayed in so it could be that they were understaffed on this occasion however, that didn’t detract from a lovely breakfast with enough hot and cold options to satisfy. On a warmer day it would be lovely to sit out on the lake facing terrace with a cuppa reading the papers.

On check out we decided to visit the recently opened Rose Garden followed by a walk as suggested by the concierge, who also advised that entry to the garden was free at the moment as the roses are not yet blooming. The Rose Garden, the realisation of a boyhood dream for Sir John Hall, was designed by award-winning landscape architect Alistair Baldwin and currently contains over 3000 roses of differing varieties.



It is beautifully designed and exceeded our expectations even though the roses are not yet blooming and immediately we knew we’d like to return to see the roses in all their colourful, scented glory. The garden is set out in a series of terraced areas of contrasting design with waterfalls and fountains which mix traditional and modern features to great effect.


There’s also a farm shop and café stocking a fantastic selection of products ranging from foodie items to gifts and decorative interior buys and the staff I chatted to were very friendly and polite.




The café looks fantastic both inside and out with lovely views over the gardens and I’m sure it will prove to be a popular spot on a day out. Now, I would have loved to have tried something from the café but bearing in mind I‘d just had breakfast and it’s not long until my next holiday, I reluctantly abstained.


There is also a Marquee which is accessed through the gardens via a pergola walkway which will make for a grand entrance to any event.

Find out more about the garden and the Sir John Halls boyhood dream here:http://www.gazettelive.co.uk/news/teesside-news/pictures-wynyard-hall-rose-garden-9717287

Our stay was rounded off with a shorter walk along one of the paths that skirt the river passing through woodland, which wasn’t too exciting but helped to blow away the cobwebs and stretch our legs for a while. We spotted a few rabbits and had been told you can occasionally spot other wildlife including some of the deer on the estate. There are longer walks available taking you more off the beaten track. As is the case with a one night break, we headed of home wondering where the time had gone. All in all we had the relaxing retreat we’d wanted and I can’t wait to come back to see and smell the roses.

Bye for now. June xx

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labels: uk breaks, hotels, spa, Wynyard Hall, traveljems


Vietnam ‘From Paddy Fields to the Catwalk’ – Part 2 of Hong Kong Junie’s Asian Adventure

Now, I’m really excited at this point of the Adventure because I’m about to board a Cruise Ship. I just love that feeling, arriving at the port and catching the first glimpse of my floating home for however many days (I’m like a kid, ‘ooh! there it is, can you see it? no..no, that’s a building, look…THERE!) then staring up at this wondrous vehicle that will transport me effortlessly from one amazing port to another.

At this point I’d love to insert a fabulous picture of the Azamara Quest however, if you’ve cruised before you’ll know its near impossible to take a photo as you’re trying to stuff your passport/documents back in your bag, hold into your key card etc..at the same time as towing your land luggage and handbag, putting said bags through the scanner and posing for the customary ‘welcome aboard’ photo then sanitising your hands before climbing the gangway…phew!! so instead here’s photo of a replica Vietnamese ‘Junk’ boat and you can just see the tip of our cruise ship in the shot!


If you haven’t cruised, trust me this pre-boarding was not a stressful experience but, if you want a photo, then you really need an extra pair of hands! (or a partner who’s happy to carry EVERYTHING whilst standing in the heat waiting for you to get the perfect shot!) Personally, I’d rather forget the photo and be sprinting up those steps instead!

I think these photos are a better reflection of the Cruise Ship as they show what a fabulous view you get from the decks, and deck bars, everything looks even better whilst enjoyed with a nice cold drink, don’t you think?

Sailaway drinks at the Sunset Bar
Enjoying a drink with a view as we prepare to set sail. Azamara Ships enjoy a prime berth right in the heart of Victoria harbour
Fantastic views of Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong, from The Azamara Quest Sunset Bar. Azamara Ships are smaller vessels, which means they can sail into the heart of some of the best ports in the world unlike the larger cruise ships.

I love walking up the gang way to be met with a glass of something cold, sparkling and alcoholic (as on some cruise ships, like this one) whatever time of day, but the thing I love the most is the thrill of what beautiful interiors will unfold before my eyes (I’m the same with hotels and explains why it’s as rare as hen’s teeth that I visit anywhere twice!)

This was another first for us, sailing with www.azamaraclubcruises.co.uk on their ship the Azamara Quest and a Cruise Line we’ve been looking forward to trying. And boy! we weren’t  disappointed. For excellent service, facilities and entertainment, I can honestly say that this ranks highest of all the cruises I’ve taken (and I’ve sailed with most of the major Cruise Lines). The ship was classically furnished and did not feel at all tired or dated even though it is due to undergo a multi million pound refurbishment in April to bring it in line with sister ship the Azamara Journey. On this ship, there was a high staff to guest ratio which really showed. The bar and waiting staff were extremely attentive without being intrusive, and as alcoholic drinks are included with your fair, it was lovely to be approached and offered another drink or have your wine glass refilled without having to ask or wait at the bar. I’ve had worse service when I’ve been paying and tipping. (There’s no tipping on Azamara).

Sailing out of Victoria Harbour was a fantastic experience and as the bright lights faded into the distance our floating hotel headed for the open seas toward Vietnam.

Our itinerary included overnight stays in three ports in Vietnam: Halong Bay;  Da Nang for Imperial Hue and Hoi An and Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) as well as three sea days before reaching Singapore (I love a sea day, it’s soooo relaxing and with a programme of activities available, you can do as much or as little as you want, there’s no obligation to take part).

I must mention at this point that after leaving Hong Kong the weather was not on our side, we’re talking lots of rain, more rain and mist, but that could not spoil the adventure, it just meant it was different (and warm rain ain’t that bad!). We’d booked two organised excursions one to visit the Mekong Delta and another to cycle through the paddy fields and countryside followed by a visit to the beautiful town of Hoi An. A third excursion was a complimentary ‘Azamazing Experience’ a magical evening to Binh Quoi Village for a show of traditional entertainment, music, dance and food (This turned out to be spectacular as you’ll read later).

Firstly Halong Bay


The bay is known as ‘the bay of descending dragons’ and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site of great natural beauty, made up of nearly 2000 islands of varying size some of which are inhabited. They are known as ‘The Dragon’s Teeth’ as they look like giant molars protruding from the sea! Many visitors come to take a boat trip around the bay to weave between the islands and the stunning caves. We would have loved to see the bay in the glory of the sunshine however, the mist gave the bay a mystical air.

Halong Bay on a sunny day

The excursion we wanted to do was fully booked so we opted instead to look around the town and markets of Halong Bay. We have never let weather deter us so off we went brolly in hand. There is not really a lot going on in Halong bay, the streets seem practically deserted and out of the three ports, I would say that this area was the least developed from a tourist aspect apart from activities in the bay.

Halong Bay – Floating Village
Boathouses in the Floating Village – Halong Bay
We declined the offer to be ‘rowed’ around the bay by one of the occupants of the floating village and headed into town

One of the first things we noticed as we walked around was the hap hazard tangle of electrical wiring webbing its way in and out of buildings and across the streets. How the electricians would even know where to start I’ll never know.


It really is a working town with people going about their daily lives and that shows, which makes it much more interesting than visiting a tourist trap. The streets were very quiet and most people seemed to be in the market, which is the hub of the town, selling everything from fresh produce (fruit, veg, fish and seafood etc) to household goods and souvenirs. The sights, sounds and colours were amazing and as we tip toeing through the slippery floors of the markets, we were struck by the array (and amount) of items on offer. As most of the people there were working, it made us wonder ‘who buy’s all this stuff’.  As we navigated our way around, it’s fair to say that no one batted an eyelid as we perused their wares and observed them working and they were happy for me to take a few photos and videos.

Can I have three of those please…..!!
Yes they really do wear those hats…its not just in the movies. They’re called Non La (leaf hat)
I didn’t envy these ladies monotonously shelling seafood although, they seemed happy enough and were having a good old chin wag!
I feel a song coming on…’you shall have a fishy in a plastic dishy’…


Definitely a case of stack ’em high and sell ’em cheap here!
There was meat in the pan but I couldn’t tell you what else is on the menu (definitely catering for the locals not tourists, there were no English descriptions here)



One of the market entrances

In total contrast to the market, with its grand European style architecture, was the five storey Vincom Centre shopping and entertainment complex. This featured more upmarket shopping, dining venues, cinema and an ice rink and was the perfect place to take shelter from the rain.

Enter a caption
You’ll come to realise in time that, if there’s a Christmas Tree somewhere, I’ll take a picture of it
Finally some writing I can understand! and fabulous cakes too!

Despite the weather, our visit to Halong Bay was an enjoyable one and if we return,  well take the boat trip to see the spectacular caves. So with smiles on our faces and hope in our hearts for sunnier days to come, we returned to the ship to continue our journey toward Da Nang the next day.

halong-bay-vietnam-593839_1920 cave
One of the caves at Halong Bay


Da Nang – day one

Our excursion today would take us to Hoi An to cycle through the countryside, enjoy traditional food and take a look around the Old Town. First stop though, was the famous marble workshops to see local craftsmen work their magic on the marble taken from the nearby mountain of the same name ‘Marble Mountain’. Some of the pieces were huge and you had to wonder who would be buying them, as they are sold and shipped all over the world, not just Asia.


I can’t tell you how much I was looking forward to cycling through the paddy fields with the sun on my face, breeze in my hair and the Vietnamese countryside for company (and Ron of course). Well, they do say every  picture tells a story and here it is:


The sun we hoped for didn’t materialise, but we had one of the best (if not wettest) times ever. We joined the rest of the group for a welcome drink, then donned our helmets and ponchos and headed for the fields.


Well, everybody else headed for the fields but being near the back we missed the turn off they’d taken and headed off up a main road with another couple from the group. Bearing in mind I’d not ridden a bike for several years, the last thing I needed was trucks and cars passing me at speed on a wet road! Luckily, one of the guides on a moped came to our rescue and led us in the right direction. Despite the rain, which was warm and plopping in my eyes in big drops, it was wonderful cycling around the paddy fields on narrow tracks seeing people and buffalo at work on the land and passing locals sitting at their doorstep near the land they work. Because of the rain, we did not stop as often as we would have if it had been dry, so I just took in the sights as I pedalled around, feeling lucky to be having this experience and that made up for any lack of sunshine. I did manage to get a couple of photo’s  (it’s not easy when your using your phone, in the rain with wet hands!).

Not my best look! but I’ll get my own back…now where’s that bloomin’ phone
Gotcha!…ha ha

As you can imagine we had worked up quite an appetite cycling around, so it was a relief to find that the venue for our meal was only a short bus ride away. We quickly arrived at The Brothers Café in Hoi Ann and were shown to our table which we shared with six fellow cyclists. Now, I hope your not too disappointed, but I did not feel it appropriate to take foodie photos whilst friendly but total strangers were eager to tuck into their food from the sharing plates. I can honestly tell you that ALL the food was delicious and plentiful. http://www.brothercafehoian.com.vn/

Quite a feast!….and the lager was nice too! (and included)

After the great food and cheerful conversation, we headed back out into the rain for the second part of the excursion, a guided walking tour followed by free time to explore.

Ron decides to try and blend in…

Part of the popularity of Hoi An it’s well preserved Ancient Town. It has an interesting history and this is reflected in it’s architecture, with a mix of designs from Chinese wooden shop houses and temples to colourful French colonial buildings, ornamental Vietnamese tube houses and the iconic Japanese Covered Bridge and pagoda. Parts of the city have the quaintness of a themed setting in a Disney World Park, but the way it looks is authentic and just the way it has evolved.

By now you’re probably a bit fed up of photo’s with no sunshine, and I’d love you to see how lovely Hoi an is, so luckily enough my brother-in-law (who recommended Hoi an to us) sent me some photo’s from his visit, needless to say, you’ll know which ones were his!


Dragon Fountain at The Fukian Assembly Hall
Inside Fukian Assembly Hall
Japanese Father Christmas perhaps??


Hoi An 2
‘Sunny’ Hoi An
Hoi An 1
Colourful riverside of Hoi an

Hoi an is famous for the production of silk. This includes silk lanterns and these adorn the streets of the Old Town. We were not lucky enough to visit Hoi an at night, but for those who visit on the 14th day of the lunar month, you’ll witness the Lantern Festival (or Full Moon Festival) where the street lights are dimmed and the colourful lanterns lit. The festival is popular with both tourists and Vietnamese visitors, who flock to see the town in its old fashioned glory, enjoying street food and music, playing traditional games and buying paper lanterns with a candle inside to float down the river. This is said to bring luck, happiness and love.

We didn’t even get to see the sun never mind the Full Moon


hoi-an-daytine lanterns
The streets are festooned with lanterns of every colour

Hoi An 3

The following photo’s are of the entrance and interior of the small Japanese Covered Bridge (which isn’t particularly impressive) and was built in the 1500′ to link the Japanese community to that of the Chinese on the other  side of the stream. It is ‘guarded’ by statues,  a pair of monkeys one side and a pair of dogs on the other. There are various tales about their purpose, one being that the construction started in the year of the monkey and concluded in the year of the dog, another says that many of Japans emperors were born in the year of the monkey and the dog.

Heading for the shelter of the Japanese Covered Bridge
One of the Monkeys
One of the Dogs


Small temple built into side of the bridge

Part of our excursion took us to one the oldest houses in Hoi An, Tan Ky House which is centuries old and has been lovingly preserved by seven generations of the same family. This long, narrow house type served as a family  home entered from the street with a central courtyard to let in light, give a glimpse of nature and collect rainwater. The rear of the house faces the river and was rented out to merchants.

Tan Ky House
Tan Ky House Courtyard

Our final visit was to see silk production and some of the craftspeople who make beautiful silk garments, artwork and also hand stitch commissioned portraits copied from photographs. This was great to see.


We had a little free time and after the tour we’d usually have plonked ourselves down outside a café to have a drink and a bit people watch…as you do. As this wasn’t an option we decided to seek out one of the stalls we’d passed earlier selling the most beautiful ‘pop up’ Christmas cards. There were so many designs it was hard to choose, but choose we did and after sending some to family and friends, we kept these two as souvenirs.


xnas cards 2

To round off our visit before heading for the dry cocoon of our coach, we wanted to try some of the delicious looking street food, cooked fresh before our eyes. Now I know what your thinking…wasn’t the earlier feast at the Brother Café enough?? well it was, but our motto is always ‘well, we may never get the chance to come back again’ and so we forced ourselves to try prawn and spring onion pancakes (don’t ask me what they were called?think along the lines of Indian Chaat pancake) and a large sweet doughnut ring. Both were delicious and ensured we headed back to the coach with our love of Vietnam growing by the minute (as well as our bellies!!)

Da Nang – day 2

On our second day in Da Nang, we wanted to stroll around the city and do what we love, which is observing local life. The first thing you notice above everything else here cities is monumental number of mopeds  which is the favoured mode of transport in both the cities and countryside.

This photo was taken in Ho Chi Minh City on a previous (sunnier) visit

The reason I’ve not included a photo of mass mopeds taken in Da Nang is for this reason: It’s quite a bit of a bustling place and mopeds pull up off the road onto the ‘narrow’ pavement (if any) and practically park  at the shop door. Now, when your trying to  get your bearings (and failing) and crossing numerous roads to get back to the port, the last thing you want to do is 1. stand still to take a photo 2. try to cross the road slowly 3. take notice of the traffic lights (the drivers certainly don’t). The advice we were given was to  just go for it, they will see you and avoid you rather than you trying to avoid them…yikes! However, we tried it and it worked!

One thing that was a constant source of amazement and humour was the unreal amount of ‘stuff’ and number of people these mopeds carried. We saw 3 people on some.



Dragon Bridge Da Nang
Riverside Denang
Locals playing dominoes in the shelter of the bridge
One of many pretty Temples in Da Nang


How I wished we’d had more time to stop off here

Although De Nang is not very ‘touristy’ in itself, It’s a gateway to some really interesting places and is worthy of its inclusion on any cruise itinerary.

Ho Chi Minh City – day 1

On arriving in the heart of Ho Chi Minh City I’m glad to report that the sun had finally decided to show its warm and smiling face! Azamara Quest’s size means she can dock in the city port, unlike some of the larger cruise ships which have to dock in Phu My (as we did on our last visit to the city on the Diamond Princess) which is a 2 hour drive from Ho Chi Minh City. The information here will be drawn from both visits, and explains why we’re wearing different outfits in the photo’s!

This was going to be a busy day as we had two excursions to enjoy, daytime and evening with just a short time to spruce ourselves up in between. The first one was a Journey to the Mekong Delta, something we we’re really looking forward to. Half of the time was spent travelling there and back ( 2 hours each way) due to the bustling traffic more than distance, but it was worth it to visit the Delta with is maze of canals, islands and swamp lands.


On arrival we boarded a boat to take us over to one of the islands to witness the everyday lives of the river dwellers and visit the traditional home of a fruit farmer to sample, local tea, exotic fruits and then observe sweets being handmade from coconut. This was all very lovely and we enjoyed it however, you did get the feeling that the traditional home had evolved into more of a tourist trap to be honest, as after each experience, samples of everything we had tasted (apart form fresh fruit) was presented to us with an opportunity to purchase, before being led to another specially created area and the process was repeated. So yes, you’ve guessed it we came away with tea, bee pollen (and yes I have used them, just once mind, well it is for consumption in the outdoors, with sun and friends!!) and sweets, before boarding little wooden boats for our journey through the canals. (I could also have had dozens of post cards, hats etc…if the opportunist locals had their way, but I am quite good at saying no…I am..really!)

Vietnamese tea with honey and bee pollen, so delicious I had to bring some home
Tasty Vietnamese treats


More tasty morsels

After the food, we precariously clambering into our traditional xuong (wooden boat) to be rowed through the maze of the canals (with our goodies in tow, not ideal). Now I LOVED this bit (apart from the boat wobbling as the lady in front kept taking selfies!! what for? why not take in the beautiful surroundings instead! and which is the I didn’t take any photo’s while in the boat, but Ron got a couple). The surroundings were surreal and I had to pinch myself, when I wasn’t trying to keep my balance that is! and being surreal it seemed unreal, if you know what I mean (you now, like something Disney would create for one of their rides).

Nearly our turn
Adjusting her hat for the next selfie!

pixabay mekong delta pic.jpg

Our only disappointment was that it was over too quick, it would have been lovely to get more glimpses of life on the island as we peered through the shrubbery at the passing local houses and businesses. Again, it felt a bit like we’d been on a Disney ride.

The next part of this tour was lunch at the not so lovingly named Mekong Rest Stop Restaurant for a meal which included the specialities fried fish and vegetables in rice paper. Now, when your sharing one fish with another couple, where do you start? especially as its best eaten with your fingers! but we managed with our cutlery, being polite as us Brits are. So if you were hungry, you’d had it. The setting for this meal was all very nice but the ‘get them in and out quick’  mentality was in evidence so what could have been a more enjoyable experience left us a tad disappointed, again only because it was rushed.

Now where do we start??
This looked like something from a Sci Fi movie, this was a dessert which ‘deflated’ into a sticky goo

After the Mekong Delta, we were really looking forward to the complimentary excursion: A magical Evening at Binh Quoi Village, to experience Vietnamese culture in a lush garden setting of coconut palms, gentle creeks and colourful lanterns. So, after a quick freshen up, we were off again. The event was held in a park which is closed especially to host this event and the setting was magical with lanterns hanging from trees and traditionally dressed hosts serving complimentary drinks as you strolled toward the entertainment area. Along the way we were entertained by dancers, and there were various stalls offering complimentary craft items such as Palm flowers, personalised name scrolls and clay figures to name a few.


Vietnamese Bamboo Stick Dance

When we arrived at the seating area, it was laid out beautifully with decorated tables and chairs in front of a large multi media stage and catwalk. We felt this was going to be special and we weren’t wrong. They had even set up sail type awning in case it rained. What followed was an evening of spectacular music, song and dance followed by a fashion show which showcased how the traditional Vietnamese dress ‘Ao Dai’ had evolved throughout the centuries.

Captain Jose Vilarinho
The multi media back drop was exceptional
The Dan T’rung (traditional bamboo xylophone) sounded amazing
Traditional dancing

The fashion show was a real highlight and a complete surprise as it wasn’t mentioned in the programme. It showed how the ‘Ao Dai’ traditional dress has evolved due to changing fashions and tastes to become relevant for todays Vietnamese women. The show started with a modern version worn over jeans. These and the designs that followed were wonderfully colourful and a delight to see, and we had a ‘front row’ seat too, which had us feeling a bit like The Beckhams!



This is the best photo I got unfortunately (must try harder!)

Ho Chi Minh City – day 2

We were up and out early to reacquaint ourselves with some areas from our first visit in 2012. The city is easy to get around and if you like to explore on foot as we do,  there’s lots of interesting highlights within walking distance of each other. First on the list was Ho Chi Minh Square on route to Ben Thanh Market via the famous Rex Hotel.

Yep, this is me….Ron does take the occasional, though not always straight, photograph. Statue of Ho Chi Minh in the square of the same name, with the Town Hall  behind
Unlike me who tries my best to get a good shot
The fab Ben Thanh Market.

Here you can buy almost everything imaginable. The atmosphere is lively but not overly noisy. You will be asked if you want to buy anything but not in a pushy way. You might even find yourself with a shirt on your back before you know it if you’re not quick enough, but it’s all in good humour.

No processed food here
…or here

The Rex Hotel is famous as being the venue that hosted the military briefings given to the press each week during the Vietnam War. These briefings took place in the roof top bar, which was a well known hang out of military officials and journalists. The briefings became known as the Five O’clock Follies. On this occasion we didn’t go inside we just wanted to reminisce however, we had lunch at the roof top bar on our last visit, the setting and the food was lovely. I remember sitting there trying to imagine events that had taken placed and what it must have been like. How fortunate are we these days to be able to visit these places. Now you understand why I love a cruise tour.

The famous Rex Hotel
The scene of the ‘Five O’clock Follies’. Bet it looked a lot different back then
Is it Five O’clock yet?


The other places we visited included the Reunification Palace in 2012. This was the building that saw tanks storm the gates signalling the fall of the Siagon regime and the end of the Vietmnam War. One of the original tanks is  on display in the grounds. The city has it’s own Notre-Dame Basillica (ooh la la!) so its was no surprise to learn that all the materials came from France. Central Saigon Post Office was another highlight, even if you don’t have any postcards to send it’s worth a visit to admire the fantastic interior and beautiful hand painted maps on the walls. Lastly, we passed by the river slum houses, unfortunately its a sad fact that up to a quarter million people still live in slums around the city.

River Slums
Reunification Palace
Tank that crashed through the gates of the palace on 30 April 1975, signalling the fall of the Saigon regime
Notre-Dame Basilica
Saigon Central Post Office
One of the many hand painted maps

Lastly we decided to return to this lovely little café after visiting it in 2012, to enjoy a spot of light ‘brunch’ before our return to the ship and we weren’t disappointed. We’re not Vegan but the food and service is great as it was the last time.


Before we came to Vietnam for the first time in 2012 I wasn’t really sure what I expected to find, but I found it to be a wonderful country to visit and somewhere I’d definitely recommend to anyone planning a visit to Asia. We found the Vietnamese to be friendly and polite people and the customer service in cafes etc. was some of the best we’ve received anywhere. Yes, the sun didn’t shine as much as we’d have like but that can happen on any holiday, we were just unlucky this time, so don’t let that put you off.

So this marks the end of our time in Vietnamese. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about our adventure so far and that we’ve perhaps inspired you to visit Vietnam. I hope you’ll come back to read about  or continuing adventure as we now cruise off to Singapore.

Until the next time. Bye for now. June xx

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labels: Vietnam, Halong Bay, da Nang, Ho Chi Minh City, Mekong delta, Asia, Cruise, Travel, Travel Jems, Azamara Cruises

Hong Kong Junie’s Asian Adventure (Part 1)

Yes, that’s me!! To some members of my family I am known as Hong Kong Junie (usually shortened to Hong Kong), not because of my love of the place but ever since I decided to enthral my niece and nephew with my martial arts moves a la Hong Kong Phooey, the cartoon crime fighter…you know the one…

…Hong Kong Phooey, number one super guy (well ‘gal in my case). Hong Kong Phooey, quicker than the human eye…



Anyhow, enough of that and on with my adventure, where I finally got to visit…yes you’ve guessed it…Hong Kong!

Each year we usually have a holiday in early December so we can be back for the pre Christmas festivities including, of course, the annual Pantomime with the Grandkids…I Love it!…Oh yes I do! oh come on! surely I’m not the only adult who shouts ‘Hiya Hinny’ to panto Dame Rita louder than all the kids at the Theatre Royal, am I? ha ha!

This year we booked a cruise and stay holiday. This was 2 nights pre cruise in Hong Kong; 10 nights on the Azamara Quest taking in the delights of Vietnam followed by a 2 night post cruise stay in Singapore, packaged up by http://www.iglucruise.co.uk.

Usually our December holidays see us having to fly from Manchester or Heathrow to reach exciting destinations promising sunshine at this time of year. Not this time though, as you can fly to Hong Kong from Newcastle via Dubai with Emirates. This was the first time we’d flown with Emirates and it definitely won’t be the last.

It’s fair to say it’s probably one of the best flights we’ve ever taken, for comfort, food, service and entertainment. The aeroplane itself was brand new, having only flown 40 hours up to that point as the pilot proudly announced. Now, I don’t know about you, but the Hubby and I could not decide if that was a good thing or a bad thing??!!!…we didn’t mull over it for too long however, as the fantastic in flight entertainment system soon had us racking up loads of entertainment for the first part of our journey to Dubai 7hrs 05mins (how fantastic to be able to create your own playlists from tonnes of music and save films to watch at your convenience) however, it soon dawned on me that I’d got a bit carried away and had probably saved enough stuff to listen to/watch whist flying around the world TWICE!!

So, two flights later and we landed in Hong Kong and following a short journey arrived at the Harbour Grande Kowloon.



And as it was near Christmas the hotel was decorated beautifully to my delight!


We arrived a bit journey weary in the dark of early evening. Wanting to maximise our sightseeing time, we left the cases in the room and headed to concierge to ask the best way to get to Victoria Peak, a recommended viewing point to see Victoria Harbour by day or night. Not having the energy to either walk/taxi/take shuttle bus to the ferry terminal then take a short trip across the harbour, followed by a bus ride and then funicular up to the peak, we opted for a return taxi from the hotel which was surprising reasonable. Five minutes later we were on our way to Victoria Peak, with the colourful sights of Hong Kong from the taxi window keeping my sleepy eyes firmly open.

Wow! I’m so glad we took that recommendation. The views are fantastic and there are plenty of great vantage points. There is no admission fee to this area however, there are viewing platforms that you can pay to use above the restaurant and shopping complex. Personally, we didn’t feel the need.


To round off our first night we ate in a small pub/café not far from the hotel, the name of which escapes me. Simply furnished, with a limited menu, great spot on the waters edge and just a handful of locals, chilled music and the sound of the water lapping beside our table, it was just what two weary travellers needed.


It’s fair to say that if you’re only visiting Hong Kong for a day or two on a pre cruise stay, Kowloon is an ideal base as there’s lots to see in a condensed area and all easily reached by foot (as we did) or bus/taxi. So for the next day and a half we managed to take in a lot of the popular sights and these included:

Temple Street Night market; Yau Ma Tei Fruit Market; The Jade Market; ChungKing Mansions.

All of these places are worth a visit but it’s fair to say they are very busy with so much to take in, so it’s best to go along with the flow and enjoy the experience, which is probably why I didn’t get a single photograph! Be prepared to indulge all your senses in these colourful local markets.

From the hotel there was a pleasant walk along the Hung Hom Promenade to the popular Tsim Sha Tsui area.


There’s plenty of interest along the way including the Hong Kong Museum of Art where people (including Ron) were enjoying a rest on the grass ‘Day Beds’ and the Hong Kong Cultural Centre where we were lucky enough to see Graduation celebrations taking place.





We visited Harbour City – the largest and most diverse shopping mall in Hong Kong. We loved this mall even though we weren’t shopping. The atmosphere was welcoming and unhurried, not like the dodgem’s we have in some of our shopping centres and it was so clean…my goodness, I couldn’t see a speck on the glazed white floor and couldn’t imagine the need for the 5 second rule here! It’s worth a walk around just to admire the beautiful shop window displays. Yes, this place feels really special, even entering the mall was a ‘red carpet’ experience.


We enjoyed a stroll through Kowloon Gardens, a lovely park in the middle of the high rises which included the ‘Avenue of Comic Stars’ featuring a variety of statues of local comic characters.



You can take the girl out of Sunderland….




A great recommendation by our driver from the airport was the Whampoa Gourmet Place, offering an array of dining choices including Little Tea Wood, the place we tried. I had the most delicious fruit tea ever, and was so taken by the candle warmed Tea Pot and stand that I’m still trying to source one!


A popular attraction is ‘The Symphony of Lights’ extravaganza. As the name suggests, it’s a light and sound show accompanied by narrative telling Hong Kong’s history and culture. This is a free show offered by the city and takes place every night. It lasts about 15 minutes and features around 40 buildings displaying lights and beams in time to the music and can be seen from numerous points around the harbour. One of the best being from a Cruise Ship, but more of that in Part 2.


As a lover of all things Christmas, I was blown away by some of the extravagant decorations both inside and outside the buildings and hotels…here’s a couple of my favourites:



Well, that’s the end of Part 1 of the adventure, I hope you enjoyed it and will join me for part 2 where we sail off to Vietnam. I’ll leave you for now with one last photo taken from the roof top pool area of our hotel overlooking Victoria Harbour…what a place to spend your last morning.

Ron enjoying a swim with a view in the roof top glass walled Infinity Pool at our hotel        The Harbour Grand Kowloon


Bye for now. June xx

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Labels: june, traveljems, blog, travel, Hong Kong, Asia, Cruise, holiday, emirates

Where did my love of Travel begin?

Hi there and welcome to my first blog post….and as it Valentine’s day, let’s talk about love…

No, not about my Husband ha ha! but answering the question:

Where did my love of Travel begin?

Me and the Hubby on the Celebrity Solstice cruise ship


I suppose I should start at the beginning!

Apart from two caravan camping holidays aged 10 & 14, my passion for travel started the minute I walked (well…more like ran) up the steps onto the plane on my first holiday abroad aged 19 (to Magaluf with friends, as you did in the mid eighties!). I’ll never forget that feeling of excitement as I boarded that plane and to be fair my excitement begins much earlier these days , as far as I’m concerned my holiday starts the minute I leave the house to hit the road to wherever!

My generation and onwards are so privileged to have more time and opportunities for travelling compared to our parents/grandparents etc. My feeling is that I’m only on this earth once and I’d love to see as much of this wonderful world as I can.

Many people think of travel as being 1 or 2 week holiday or short break abroad and of course it is however, I also love a UK break and a good old day out locally and in the surrounding counties. Whether you fly, sail, drive, take the train or bus to get there, it’s a travel experience in my book.

I have travelled far and wide at home and abroad by all modes of transport however, anyone who knows me would tell you I LOVE a good Cruise adventure. So it’s safe to say that travel in all its forms is a great passion in my life. Even a trip down to Roker Beach, for a walk followed by a cuppa and bacon buttie at the Cat and Dog steps café, gets me excited!…see, you don’t have to go far to have happy moments.

So why the Blog? Well, I’m always asked advice on the destinations I’ve travelled to, what to do there and even what to wear (I’ve advised many a friend on a capsule holiday wardrobe).  It’s a great feeling when someone returns from a place I’ve recommended them to and they tell me what a wonderful time they’ve had.  However, we lead very busy lives these days and often don’t have the time we’d like to stop and chat with people about our holidays, never mind show our holiday photos. So, with that in mind, I decided to start the blog.

This blog will give me an extra resource to direct people to, where they can find inspiration and information. I love to inspire people to enjoy even the smallest travel experience and if one of my experiences can inspire just one person to have a great time…well that makes me really happy indeed.

I’ll be sharing ‘Jems’ of information about a variety of travel topics including places I’ve visited and think you would enjoy. I want this blog to be a positive resource for visitors, therefore if it’s been good or great I’ll tell you about it. If not, then I won’t. I’m not in the business of giving bad press, after all, it’s only my opinion.

Why Jems I hear you ask, not Gems? Well, JEM is my initials, so Travel Jems was born.

Well that’s a bit about me, and all for now as I’d love you to come back! (I don’t want you losing the will to say awake..ha ha!)

Next time I’ll be sharing my thoughts on my Asian Adventure Cruise and Stay Holiday in December 2015. It was fab and I’m looking forward to telling you about it. June xx

Labels: june, traveljems, blog, travel, Asia

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