Drizzling Summer in Japan

Osaka (Namba 2 nights) –> Nara (2 nights) –> Arashiyama (1 night) –> Kyoto (2 nights) –> Nagoya –> Takayama and Shirakawago –> Tokyo (1 night) –> Kawaguchiko (2 nights).

No one warned me that I would fall in love with Japan. As someone quoted to me – he has never heard of anyone who went to Japan and came back not liking Japan. It was true. Neither have I.

With this trip, I completed my 4 East trips, starting with Beijing in November 2018, and then, Taiwan, followed by Jeju Island, South Korea and now, my first ever Japan trip – on a backpacking mode.

August 25, 2019
My afternoon flight arrived in Osaka, Japan in the evening, where I checked into Hostel Enisia Nambia before midnight.

Japan Travel 12 Days Sim Card RM72.76
Transportation Nankai-Kuko Line Airport Express towards Nankai-Namba (Namba Station) 920 yen (RM36.34)
Hostel Enisia Nambia for 2 nights – 2970 yen

Hostel Enisia Nambia offered a pleasant stay. Good wifi. Excellent location – short walking distance from Dotonbori.

August 26, 2019
Walked to Osaka Castle. Travel on foot was a good way to see Japan. It was a pleasant walk. I did not have much plan in Osaka. So, an hour walk to the castle was ok. The entrance into Osaka Castle compound was free but to enter the castle itself, it costs around 600 yen (RM23.70). I skipped as I was more excited about the compound and its surrounding than what was inside.

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Dotonbori was a more interesting place to explore, with buildings of unique displays and architecture. Its small lanes made me felt like I was walking in a straight maze, waiting to be surprised and delighted by round-the-corner creative door or front building 3D attraction.

At night, I walked to Shinsekai, which funnily sounded New World Park in Penang, Malaysia, where New World Park in Hokkien sounds exactly that. I could not find a good spot for a photo and had to go with what I could get. And then, it was a stroll back to Dotonbori (passing by the only porn shop in Japan I had come across) and back to the famous Glico Running Man. There was no way I could take a good selfie at night with the Running Man, by my Samsung Smartphone. Pity.

August 27, 2019
Before leaving for Nara, I went to Namba Yasaka Shrine. It was worth the time. The front of the building was unlike other common temples. Here, the door was the mouth of mythical lion. It was impressive.

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I did not realise I would be liking Osaka. Sure – it did not offer me much of traditional Japan look or nature scenes but the unique shops and narrow lanes of Namba stuck in my mind.

Transportation Kintetsu-Nara Line Rapid-Express towards Kintetsu-Nara (Osaka-Namba Station to Shin-Omiya Station) 560 yen (RM22.12).

I arrived in Nara in the drizzling rain. And then, it got heavier. My walk from Sin-Omiya Station got my pants all drenched wet but thank goodness my umbrella covered my top and my backpack. Nara was not as crowded as Osaka. I could be walking along empty streets at times. But then again, it was raining.

Nara Guesthouse Kamunabi was waiting for me. And I was the single guest in the 6 bed hostel room for one night. I stayed there for 2 nights, paying RM126. I chose Nara Guesthouse Kamunabi for the experience of staying in a traditional Japanese house. Sure, the wooden floor was creaking.  The location was a bit far from any convenient store. However, I did not mind. I was happy for the experience. Even the sliding door to my dorm room was charming.

The rain stopped for me to explore Nara in the late afternoon and evening. My first stop was Kofukuji Temple, which was very near to the station where I got off. There were deer all around. And their poop. But who cares, right? People come here for the deer in the wild, wandering around the parks and temples.

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My first night walk in Nara was really pleasant. The night was quiet. There were hardly anyone around and yet, it felt so safe. My walk led me through many old traditional houses, which were still occupied. These were unlike the modern feel of Osaka. In Nara, it was like a step back in time, although I knew the houses had been renovated a few times, but the old town feeling was there.

August 28, 2019
It was a day for more exploring and I headed for the park for more shots of photos plus, a wander off to Todaiji. The entrance fee to Todaiji was 500 yen (RM19.75), but I did not go in, when I could see that the fun of the area was at the compound, taking photos of deer.

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In the afternoon, I headed for Naramachi Koshino Ie. It was a Japanese old house, open free for tourists. The lady in charge of looking after the house was really friendly. The exploration was short as it would cover one floor up and then, to the back of the house. However, since that this was a good exposure of how the layout of a traditional house would be, I was pleased.

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I skipped Gangoji Temple, as there was a charge for entrance, but I was surprised to find a quiet, free site nearby. Ruins of Gangoji five-storey Pagoda stood a few lots away from the commercial temple and there, I had the whole place to myself. It was quiet. It was pleasing.

On the second night walk around Nara town, the feeling that I had felt the night before was gone. It was no longer a slow walk around the town and enjoying the solitude. Maybe I was already tired of long walking. I just needed to get back to my hostel as soon as I could.

August 29, 2019
I hiked up again to Kasuga Shrine. I think the actual attraction here was the moss that grew on the stone-lanterns. There were rows and rows of the lanterns. The temple was in a forest that would look dim, even during bright days. You know, something where Snow White would run into and got lost. But the tracks were clear and it was an easy path to go to the top, where the shrine was. However, again, I did not walk into the shrine.

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One detour that I did, and I was glad for,  was to Yoshiken Garden. Interestingly that this garden was free for foreigners to explore. I bet the garden would look exceptionally lovely during autumn foliage and winter. It was a short walk, passing by the traditional resort in the garden.

I was done with Nara. I headed to Arashiyama.

Transportation Kintetsu-Kyoto Line / San-In Line (JR)(Saga Arashiyama Station) 1370 yen (RM54.12).

I stayed in the overpriced Mulan Hostel. I read the map wrongly and thought the bamboo forest was on the same side of the river as the hostel. I learned that the map was marked wrongly and I had to walk a long way to where the attraction was. I wanted to stay near the bamboo forest, so that I could get there early in the morning, where the crowd would be less. Staying at such a distance kinda beat the purpose. And to make it worse.. there were two train stations in this area. My train stopped at the further station.

Mulan Hostel was nice and clean. It was a lovely place. However, for such a distance, I think it was overpriced.

I placed my bag and set out to explore. The evening was greeted by drizzling rain again and it made the bamboo forest perfect. There were so few tourists there. Since seeing this Arashiyama Bamboo Forest in so many internet photos, I had always wanted to go and see for myself. The view/visit was worth all my effort. Entrance was free. It was a short walk. And the fact that it was not even crowded in the evening made it a worthy deal.

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After Bamboo Forest, it was time to worry for dinner. I could not find a dining place of my liking but I did bump into Kimono Forest.

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My walk back to my hostel (as well as going back to the town) required me to walk on Togetsu-kyo Bridge. Many stood there to snap photos. However, my favourite spot on Togetsu-Kyo Bridge was not that main one, but the extension part of the bridge. It was here – 35.011466, 135.677414

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I found myself to be snapping photos of the river accompanied by the parked boats on its left and right banks, with the green hill at the background I snapped the photos in the evening, night, morning, and afternoon. I’d bet that the river looked even more dashing during autumn foliage.

By evening, most of the shops were closed. Thank goodness there were convenient stores for me to buy noodle cups and some bread for dinner.

August 30, 2019
My morning in Arashiyama Bamboo Forest did not disappoint me. There were few tourists there. It was another nice walk through the forest. There was a nice viewpoint at the top of the hill, but unfortunately the weather was not condusive for me to snap good photos. I headed for Tenryuji Temple. Already drenched with the rain, I was not in the mood to explore another temple wet. I headed back to Mulan Hostel to check out.

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My next destination was Kyoto.  Using Transportation San-In Line, the train fare was 240 yen (RM9.48).

I arrived in Kyoto early, and the reception counter at Kyoto Hana Hostel was closed, until afternoon. Kyoto Hana Hostel was acceptable. I stayed in Kyoto Hana Hostel for 2 nights, for the price of RM152 per bed. It was near the Kyoto station. If I could, I would choose a bed that was placed away from the window. I woke up in the early morning, thinking that it was noise from a bar, but eventually, I realised it was early morning talking and loud laughing from the volunteer workers of the hostel and their mates. In fact, the room stench came from the items that the volunteer worker’s clothes and bag. It was unpleasant to pass by his messy and smelly bed.

I was pampered for choice in Kyoto. There were simple too many to see and I did not have enough time to see all. And of course, I could get tired of seeing too many temples. My one mistake of going to Kyoto first was that I could have gone straight to Kinkakuji Golden Pavilion.  It would have save me the time and money.

August 31, 2019
Happy Merdeka Day, Malaysia.

In the early morning, I headed to Fushimi Inari. Public transportation was easy. I took the bus. I reached in the morning around 7 plus and headed up the hill. I did not realise the hike was going to be a challenge. I was not prepared to sweat. But the Torii Gates were so impressive that I was happy, although puffing away, in my hike. One tip though – the Torii Gates looked better when they are snapped facing downhill, and not uphill. Thank goodness I did not have better photos of me at Torii Gates, facing uphill. The wordings on the Torii Gates are at the back of the Gates, not facing front.

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With the 600 yen One Day Bus Pass, I headed to Kikankuji Golden Pavilion. It was not that crowded at the entrance but once I got through the gate, almost everyone, including me, crowded around the spot at the lake to snap a photo of the Golden Temple. Lucky for me that the day was clear and the golden temple was reflected nicely on the water. The 400 yen entrance fee was worth it. Although it was a short trail, I was glad I made the trip from Kyoto city to this area to view the beauty.

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From Kikankuji Golden Shrine, I headed for Kiyomizu-dera Temple. Since that it was already after lunch, crowds of tourists had already swamped the place. However, it was still nice to explore and take in the view the temple had to offer. From this temple too, I could see the view of Kyoto city as well as Kyoto Tower.

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Walked the path to my favourite Hokanji Temple, I passed by a short path of traditional looking houses. It was a good spot to snap photos but there were too many tourist to my liking. The rows of shops were intriguing. However, my heart was set on Hokanji.

I stood at the path that overlooked Hokanji Temple Pagoda for more than half an hour. It was really a good spot to snap photo. Almost like every minute a different look came about to try to get another good photo.

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I went back to Kyoto Hana Hostel, tired but not that tired to un-notice the smelly volunteer worker’s area in the bedroom. Thank goodness the night was quiet this time, without the street yells and laughs.

September 1, 2019
I woke up and headed for the empty lanes around Hokanji Temple. I was hoping to catch some good photos around the area. I did not get much.

After that, it was an uneventful day for me as I headed out for Nagoya. I just needed to stay the night to join a tour to Takayama and Shirakawago on the following day.

The bus from Kyoto to Nagoya cost me 2550 yen (RM100.73). I stayed in First Cabin TKP Nagoya Station, for RM95.56. Interestingly, this hostel provided me a free access to its bath house. I had to take a bath in the open, after dipping in its onsen. Yes, now I realised it could not be a real onsen but still, it was an interesting experience. I had actually done my research on this, but one thing that I was not prepared for was how hot the water was. I felt uncomfortable and realised then that I did not know how long I was supposed to dip in the water. It was an interesting experience. I have to try a real onsen one day. And I have to say that First Cabin provides the best hostel capsule that I had ever been to – free hostel wear (black t-shirt and shorts), towel, LED tv, breakfast, wake-up calls etc.

September 2, 2019
Sad to say goodbye to such a comfortable hostel – First Cabin, I headed to the station to board my tour bus to Takayama and Shirakawago. I was pretty excited. The trip cost me only RM305. I had done my own research. If I had gone on my own and stayed one night there, plus connection to Tokyo, I would need to spend around RM800 to RM1000. And this tour provided me free buffet lunch.

It was a 2 seats by 2 seats bus, and this would be the first time I realised that as a foreigner, I was given the whole 2 seats.

Takayama could not be enjoyed properly as it was drizzling. I was kinda lost at which area to explore as it was not easy to refer to the map in the rain. And I was busy trying to catch pokemon as well as raiding. Serves me right.

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But Shirakawago was as enchanting as I could imagine. I could not believe such a serene village would still exist, away from the crazy, busy civilisation. It was simply beautiful and marvelous. The gasshō-zukuri building structure, learned and preserved from the olden days, earned this village the UNESCO Heritage status.

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The tour bus returned to Nagoya by evening, with the adorable, young tour guide offering us free refreshment.

In Nagoya, I waited for my late night bus connection to Tokyo and this was my first time a language barrier in Japan became my liability. I had booked my bus ticket in advance. I was sent an email in Japanese language a few days before my boarding. It was all in Japanese. I learned later that it was to inform me of the change in boarding time. Luckily, I was not really affected as I was already there waiting. However, there was no bus arrival from the company that I had booked the ticket from. Nearby, there was a crowd watching two Japanese holding a banner, making announcement in Japanese language. I learned later that these two were announcing to the crowd of bus arrival – in another location. Once announced, the passengers would follow a line, walked for a distance of more than 10 minutes to board buses that were waiting by the road side. After waiting for quite some time, I approached the lady who eventually understood that I was one of the passengers and quickly pointed to a line of passengers walking a distance away. I understood that I was supposed to follow them. I rushed and caught up. We walked and walked until we reached a junction and there were 4 buses. I had no idea which bus to board. Through minimal communication, I found my bus. Walked up the steps and saw the seating with my name. I was seated at seat No.1. And again, I was seated alone at a 2 seaters. And the bus driver just drove away without checking tickets.

Night bus ticket from Nagoya to Tokyo – 3000 yen (RM118.50).

September 3, 2019
I arrived in Shinjuku Bus Station early in the morning. It was around 5am. And I was lost in the big station. Eventually I understood where I needed to go, to head for Sensoji Temple. It was nice to see early people in Tokyo city, heading for work and schools. The temple was already filled with morning people. I bought my breakfast from a 7-11 and had my light snack in the temple. And then, I hugged my backpack and tried to catch some sleep. It was going to be a long day before my hostel check-in.

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I walked to Tokyo Skytree Tower but it was covered by cloud. I prayed this was not how it would be like near Fuji Mountain.

I did not have any concrete plan in Tokyo. I headed for Imperial Palace and did not even know that I had my McDonald’s lunch at the famous, rich Ginza. No wonder there were so many branded outlets.

I was told by internet to consider Akihabara and I was impressed. I could never imagine a location to be so crazy high-tech as this place would exist.

My stay at Hostel EAST57 Asakusabashi was nice. It was just RM55.41, with breakfast. And just like in Nagoya, I found it funny that cities, just like in Malaysia, were employing foreigners to take care of convenient stores.

At night, I went to Shinjuku. Sadly, although I saw the busy crossings, I did not know how to take a good photo of it. And the night was with drizzling rain. So, it did not help me much in finding good spots to do so. But lucky for me that I did find the statue of the famous loyal dog statue – Hachiko.

September 4, 2019
I stayed in Tokyo only for one night. I was more excited for my next destination – Kawaguchi. I wanted my turn to view the famous Fuji Mountain. And I prayed that the mountain would not be shy to show itself to me. I prayed. And I prayed. And I prayed.

The bus fare was 2000 yen (RM79).

I arrived almost in the evening. Orange Cabin picked me up at Kawaguchi Station. It was cloudy in Kawaguchi. However, I consoled myself by saying that this did not count as an omen. The day was drawing to an end. So, it had the right to be cloudy. Along the way, I looked out the vehicle to where Fuji was standing. It was a view of nothing but cloud.

I was the only guest in Orange Cabin. Fantastic place.

September 5, 2019

Fuji Mountain was shy.

I sat almost the whole day at the lake and there was no sign of the mountain.

It was only in the late evening that I was allowed to have a peek at the peak.

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It was going to be a sad trip.

I had always thought of Fuji as a snow-capped mountain. Little did I know that that image was misleading. It was only snow-capped for months near or in winter. My further reading taught me more – there were other views of Mount Fuji. For example, Red Fuji, at a certain timing, the mountain looked burning in red. It would not happen so often. Or Reflection of Fuji on the water and more.

Whatever it was, I was not getting any Fuji love.

Orange Cabin was noisy. School girls checked in and they did not seem to sleep even in the early morning.

September 6, 2019

I woke up to my last morning in my Japan trip. Peeked at the window, in hope to see a Fuji mountain and….

I dashed out of the hostel and made my way to the lake. It was a 10 minutes run.

Fuji had shown up.

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After all the thrill and an hour of photo-snapping, it was time for me to leave for Haneda Airport (2470 yen). As if this trip was not fun enough, the bus took me on a path that made sure I did not forget another star of Tokyo; Tokyo Tower.

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Osaka (Namba 2 nights) –> Nara (2 nights) –> Arashiyama (1 night) –> Kyoto (2 nights) –> Nagoya –> Takayama and Shirakawago –> Tokyo (1 night) –> Kawaguchiko (2 nights).

Flight: Airasia Around RM750
Accommodation: 10 nights Around RM950
Transportation: Around RM900 and a lot of walking (around 25000 steps a day)
Meals: RM680
Entrance Fee: RM15 for Kinkakuji Shrine.
Total = Around RM3300

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Jeju in June

When it comes to this trip, most of those who had heard was that the return flight tickets cost me only RM337, from KL to Jeju.

So.. how could I resist?

June 18, 2019
Arrived at the Jeju City airport and took the local bus to Seogwipo immediately. Stayed at Jeju Hiking Inn & Gudeok Guesthouse. I have to say that this Guesthouse has one of the nicest staff workers, in my long experience of staying in hostels and more. Since that I arrived in the evening, there was nothing much for me to do, but to walk around Seogwipo city and to find my meals. I only wish that my hostel beds have power charging points for my powerbank and smartphones. It was not easy to get out of the bed often to walk to the charging points.

June 19, 2019
Heeding the suggestion by the friendly lady at the hostel reception counter, I walked to Jeongbang Waterfall, before heading out to Jusangjeollidae. Try to say the name and let it roll off your tongue. I kept saying Jusang only. Save me the embarrassment. Hehehe.

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Jeongbang Falls; the only waterfalls in Asia that falls into the sea.

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Jusangjeollidae Cliff was formed when thick molten lava from the eruption of Hallasan volcano flow met the sea. It has a recognition from UNESCO. The convenient public bus got me to the hotel where the cliff was located near to. There was some confusion as to the entrance but I did not really get lost. On a beautiful day, at the right moment, Jusangjeollidae could be breath-taking. I was lucky on that day that the blue sky and blue water were all there to jolt my admiration of the cliff. However, the cliff was off-limit. It did not really matter. The beauty of it was to be admired from a distance.

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However, Maps.Me (an important app to carry along, as Google Map is not completely reliable in South Korea due to national security issue) pointed out a spot nearby as a viewpoint. On Google Map, it is at 33.242711, 126.42002. Turned back to the main road, and walk towards the direction of Jungmun Beach. Before the bridge, there is a path on the left, heading to the park of a residential area. At the park, there are fences. Climb over the fence, at your own risk, and you shall be able to walk on the area alike Jusangjeollidae Cliff. Sadly, there were leftover bottles and snack wrappers there, to tell you that this spot was commonly used by some. Still, it was a wonderful spot to be closer to the cliff.

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I was not dressed up for an adventure at Jungmun Beach but nearby, I was happy to find a convenient store for me to enjoy lunch. Instant noodle and coffee.

It was an easy task to find my ride back to Seogwipo, with sufficient time for me to head out to Saeyeongyo Bridge, awaiting for sunset. As it was dark already, I had to postpone my plan to walk around the connected island – Saeseom Island. The spot was fantastic, cooling and not crowded at all. Thank goodness the sun was not shy to show itself as it sank lower, towards the sea.

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The walk back was comforting, with wonderful sea breeze. There was a young guy, strumming his guitar. He sang well. I did not join his few spectators. I did not dare to give any small tips. It was a pity. It was a good night to be crooned to, however, I fear for my budget.

For the second night in a row, I found myself at Seogwipo Maeil Olle Market for dinner.

I would like to point out that among the roads here, I like Ijungseom-ro best. Traditional-looking and less cars. It even passed by the one and only traditional home in Jeju Island, maintained to honour a prolific author who used to stay on the island. There is no entrance fee, unlike the ones in Jeju Folk Village.

June 20, 2019
I went, by local transportation, to Sangumburi. The journey was long. I had to change the bus once. Halfway waiting for the bus, I began to wonder if there would be any bus going my way. The frequency was low.

Among all the sites that I had to pay to walk in, Sangumburi was the 2nd highest. And I walked in, on the wrong season. There was no tall pampas silver grass at the crater. All I had was just grass. It would not have been so disappointing, if I had not have to go through a long wait for local buses or high entrance fee. The entrance fee was 6000 won.

However, at the other side of the crater, the view was more promising. It was a delight to walk around, with very few tourists around.

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My problem of the day was to get a connection to Seosakkak Estuary. I had to change bus halfway. And it was an even longer wait for the second bus to come. And it did not follow the route I was expecting, but thank goodness I got off at the right stop. Seosakkak displays a wonderful stretch of river, walled up by natural rocks on both sides. And this was the start of my walk on Jeju’s Olle Trail. It spanned more than 10km, giving me a wonderful walk by the sea, all the way back to my guesthouse. I had to say that I enjoyed this walk very much.

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June 21, 2019
I had to bid goodbye to Seogwipo. I went to have a glimpse at Cheonjiyeon Falls. It was not as impressive as Jeongbang Falls.

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I took a bus. A long ride and I got off at a junction to walk to Jeju Folk Village. Amazing. Even as I showed photos of the Folk Village to the people there, as I had a language problem with them, they would direct me to the wrong direction, and even suggested me to take a taxi, even though the entrance was less than 200 meters away.

Jeju Folk Village was pleasant for me. Although the fee (11000 won) was higher than the entrance fee for Sangumburi, it was a nice walk to see the how the old homes of Jeju were like. Not that many tourists. And there was a free show in the village ( a scheduled time) and it was interesting to see young performers, happily performing traditional dances. The houses were an interesting exploration. I was just happy that I got to walk around, without fighting for spaces with tourists. I spent a few hours there, before leaving for Seongsan.

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I arrived at Long Island Guesthouse at Seongsan late afternoon. This would be my introduction to a keyless guesthouse, where there was no security check. I had paid for my hostel bed, but it was not written on the book. I had to show them my Agoda booking. I was led to my room, where there were other beds there, and a few other units occupied. However, no key was given to me. Anyone could walk in and take my things and there would be no record. Of course they would say that no one steals in Jeju Island. Hmmm…

I quickly headed out to Seongsan Ilchulbong and walked up to the crater. And honestly, I was not that impressed at the peak, as compared to admiring the whole mountain from the entrance or from a far. At the peak, it felt plain.

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June 22, 2019
The sun rose earlier than expected. I gave up my plan to watch the sun rise and went back to bed.

The hostel served free breakfast, but only at the designated one hour. It was Korean food.

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Hostel dining area view.

I headed out to Udo Island. Luckily, although the sky was gloomy, it did not rain. It did drizzle for a few minutes. I rented a bicycle to ride around the island. The instruction from the shop was the same. Go eastward and ride the bicycle around the island and return from the west side of the island. Many tourists opted for the more expensive electric cars and motorcycles. The way some of them drove or rode at the start, made me feel that this would be the death of me.

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The bicycle ride was pleasant. It was windy at times, breezy and thank goodness, there was no hot sun. Someone on the net talked highly of the peanut ice cream on the island. I stopped for one. At least, I had my experience. It was not something that I would brag about.

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There were several stops I had to make along the way. The views were amazing. And just like what the bicycle shop owners told me – no one would steal my bicycle, even when it was left unlocked. Apparently so. But it did make me wonder why they would want me to surrender my passport, just for a bicycle rental.

There was a spot where I saw a lady taking a photo. I admitted that the view was nice. So, I stopped and parked my bicycle nearby to take a photo. It was at a curve of a road. I saw a narrow electric car coming. It turned the corner at a high speed, lost its balance and crashed… sliding toward me and my bicycle. I dumped my bicycle and jumped over a rock for protection, grazing my body at the sharp edges. The car slid and stopped very near my bicycle. One passenger in the car was unconscious. Luckily, they were alright. As said, these people would be the death of me one day.

The olle trail between the pier and my hostel, near Seongsan Ilchulbong was really a good place for a walk, sit or admiration. Pity that it was really cold but yet, I find myself missing that olle trail much.

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Udo Island can be seen at the back.

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June 23, 2019
I woke up earlier this time, walked in the dark but safe road. I headed to Gwangchigi Beach. Apparently, this was a popular spot among the local photographers to capture photos of the sunrise over Seongsan Ilchulbong. There were around 20 people waiting, but the beach did not feel crowded at all. It was a nice morning, shared among these common seekers, except for a young lady who did not learn her lesson when she slipped over the rock moss earlier and was trying to climb another rock again.

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I packed my backpack and was ready to leave Seongsan for Jeju City. I was kinda fond of the layback lifestyle of this isolated city.

Yeha Guesthouse was a nice place to stay in, except that we really could not choose the kind of roommates we want. I ended up with 2 snoring roommates who were so loud that my ear buds failed. Before sleep, I walked a long way to Yongduam Rock, which the hostel receptionist thought I was such a cheapskate for walking and not taking the local bus. Not that I was a fan of Jeju local bus drivers. We hardly understand each other.

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June 23, 2019
My second last day in South Korea.

I had planned to hike up Hallasan Mountain. The advice was to go up by Seongpanak entrance and to exit from Gwaneumsa. The public transportation access to Seongpanak was easily available. I did not regret going up through Seongpanak trail as it was easier, although it was longer, as compared to Gwaneumsa. Gwaneumsa trail was shorter but steeper. I met a Singaporean hiker who was cursing his team mates for not listening to his idea of taking Seongpanak trail. I met him as I was heading down Gwaneumsa trail.

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It was stated the hike up would take 4 hours. I was overconfident that I could settle this sooner and boy, was I wrong. It was around 4 hours for me, and the peak did not offer me much view, except for the crater. The view as I hiked down was better.

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I woke up the next day suffering leg strain. Thank goodness I did this hike at the end of my trip.

June 24, 2019
Even with leg strain, I still walked around the city a bit, before walking to the airport to leave Jeju. Again, I prefer to avoid any communication with bus driver, after the ugly incident going to Sangumburi where the bus driver was practically yelling at me at our miscommunication.

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Flight tickets : RM337
Accommodation : RM500
Transportation, meals, entrance fees etc : RM750
Sim card : RM55
Total : Around RM1650

Tracing Taiwan

This is another overdue entry of my travel in the year 2019. Yes, it is already 2020 now. I am months too late.

Return tickets = around RM750 from Penang to Taoyuan, Taiwan via KL.
Areas covered:
Hehuanshan + Cingjing by public bus/van.
Alishan by scooter, from Chiayi.
Hsinchu by public bus.
Tarako Gorge by scooter, from Xincheng Taroko Railway Station.
Shifen, Jiufen and Shen’ao Elephant Trunk Rock by train and public bus.
Taipei 101 and Xiangshan Trail by train and hiking.
YangMingShan by public bus.

March 30
Took the evening flight out from KL and it was a flight of anxiety as AirAsia failed again to leave on time. It had decided to take pity on late passengers and somehow, indirectly, punished punctual passengers, who might need to arrive in Taiwan on schedule. I needed to be at the airport before midnight. After more than an hour delay, the flight departed, to arrive at a congested Taoyuan airport and had to wait to park the airport. The time was close to 11.30pm. I rushed my way through the airport, managed to clear the immigration and got to the counter at 11.57pm, to get my much needed sim card, before the counter closed at midnight.

March 31
Got on the early morning airport bus to go to Taichung. The bus departed around 1.30am and arrived at Taichung Bus Station at 3.30am. Tried to sleep but failed. Taichung Bus Station seemed to be a safe place as several could be seen trying to catch some sleep before getting on 6am buses, including single ladies.

I had a tough time, trying to find my connection. Following the internet instruction, I ended up at the train station but I could not locate the bus stop. I asked the counter for help and she directed me to a building a few blocks away. I arrived on time for the 2nd earliest bus to head to Puli. And… just to learn that this bus actually passed by the train station and stopped at Taichung Bus Station to pick up passengers.

My initial plan was to go to Puli, grab a connection public transportation to Cingjing Farm and somehow, pray that I could find a way to HeHuanShan. But lucky me. My bus arrived in Puli. I waited for the bus to Cingjing. A van arrived. And I heard the conductor shouting for passengers who wished to go to HeHuanShan. I was so happy, I ditched my Cingjing plan and jumped into the van.

Hehuanshan was cold. It was not just cold. It was windy and cold. I swore my hands froze at times, when the wind blew past me.

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My first day in Taiwan and I just had to go to the peak. Trailing a few other tourists there, I was stunned to learn that I had to climb up a cliff by rope to the top. I was hesitating but decided to make the best of my trip. I climbed. And it was alright. Snapped a few photos and then, I realised others seemed to walk down the other way. So, I thought there was more at the peak for me to see. I followed.. just to find out that there were proper staircase to walk up to or down from the peak.  Like duh…

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I had to wait for the same van to return after lunch time for me to get down from HeHuanShan. Since that I was early, I decided to stop by the recommended CingJing Farm to see the sheep. Entrance fee was TWD200 and somehow, the farm failed to impress me. Yes, there were sheep and families seemed to be happy to be feeding them. Or taking photos with them. And that was my problem. I was alone. There was no one to laugh with. No one to take my photos beside the sheep. Not that I was interested to go near them. Something about me and animals. So, my entrance into CingJing Farm was a brief adventure and I walked out to find me my local transportation back to Taichung.

In Taichung, I stayed in Easy Single Inn. I had to say that I was really impressed by the hostel. It was what I would say a perfect ideal hostel for me. Friendly staff members, free drinks, snacks, comfortable bed etc.

April 1
I was sad to bid goodbye to comfortable Easy Single Inn but I was excited to get to one of my personal wish-to-go-to-list tourist spot – Alishan. My preparation for Alishan was tedious as it was not easy to find a cheap accommodation there. Some of the internet articles were not updated. I was told of the church dorm as well as another famous, beautiful guesthouse, but it was not an easy task to contact them.

Lucky for me, I found this Yunhai B&B. It was TWD500 for a night. This was a great steal, as compared to other accommodation that was easily 2 or 4 times more expensive.

Anyway, I arrived in Chiayi to rent a scooter. Lucky for me, a fellow Couchsurfing member decided to be kind to me and showed me a motorcycle shop that could rent me a motorcycle. In Taiwan, I was told that it would not be easy to rent motorcycle, unless I have a Taiwan license. In a remote area, perhaps the rule was slightly more relaxed. However, Chiayi was not a remote area. It was a city. Anyway, this one shop just opposite the train station let me rent a scooter for TWD700 for 3 days. Petrol was TWD100.

Riding up the hill and eventually mountain towards Yunhai B&B, which was halfway of my journey to Alishan was not difficult. The whole ride was enjoyable. And thank goodness I did not bump into any law enforcement. Not that I was a bad scooter rider.

Before arriving at Yunhai B&B, there were a few spots that made me stopped my scooter and took out my camera for photo-snapping.

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I arrived at Yunhai B&B around after lunch, to be greeted by the guesthouse keeper in a tone that I thought was harsh but eventually, I realised that was just the way he spoke. He was not rude. And.. I was the only one occupying the guesthouse that night. I believed there were around more than 10 rooms but I was alone. From my internet reading, I was given the impression that it was difficult to find meals but there was a well-equipped convenient store opposite of the guesthouse. I guess my stop at 7-11 before my ride up was not necessary.

I left my luggage in my non-luxurious room, rode my scooter to Fen Chi Hu, the fame town where the scenic train ride to Alishan would start. I came to Fen Chi Hu to have a hand on the talk-about Bento Lunch. It was an interesting experience and certainly a break away from cheapskate lunch budget.

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After lunch and a brief walk around the small, cozy town, I headed back to my guesthouse. Back in Yunhai B&B, I had the chance to go for a short hiking at Eryanping Trail. The trail was a highlight for me. It was interesting and peaceful. I even saw the much raved 53.1 guesthouse that I could not stay in, as it was too expensive. I had to admit it was beautiful. And what was great was that in the evening, I was already standing above the cloud when I was back at the start of the trail. It was too cloudy for any sunset view.

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The guesthouse keeper checked on me and requested me to join him for dinner. I turned him down politely as I had had my meals from my 7-11 purchase earlier. I did not tell him that I was having trouble flushing the toilet.

April 2
Just like non-sunset evening for me on the day before, my early wake-up was not greeted by any sunrise. Still, the misty mountains and clouds around the valley were great, along with the cool morning air.

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I started my ride up to Alishan. The whole ride from the guesthouse took more than two hours. It was a pleasant ride, except for the scary witness of 3 tourist buses rushing down the steep mountain road and almost crashed into one another, when they tried to overtake one another.

I had no idea how the folk song of Alishan came to my attention when I was a kid but the fold song stuck to my head. So, arriving at Alishan to see for myself the mountain the song was singing praises of – was important to me. And… honestly, I was disappointed. There were no native girls or boys. No native tribes or native feeling. It was all trees and trees. And the famous train, which I paid and took a ride. A short ride, in a train where windows were barred and felt too modern to feel anything special. I really wanted to like Alishan. I came all this way on my own to see this mountain. And yet, it felt lack of human spirit. I walked around, and looked at trees that spoke little to me. Perhaps I would have loved it more if it was a forest of autumn foliage or even great sakura blossoming. Without this, I was in a month of a dull Alishan.

I had more fun riding train from Bangkok to Hatyai. I fell in love with Phu Chi Fa where the peak was embraced by the tribe villages. In Alishan, I felt nothing of my expectation.

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I left Alishan with drizzling rain threatening my view of the slippery road. And mist was coming up. It was not easy to ride my scooter with visibility of less than 40 meters.

April 3
I left in the morning, to catch the fast train to Hsinchu. It was a day to meet my friend. So, practically, it was a day of doing nothing but to admire his university and to be pampered by his guide on food to eat. Other than Bento lunch, this day was a day that I was eating properly. LOL.

I left Hsinchu before it was too late, for Taipei. My hostel bed was waiting for me.

April 4
I headed for Hualien. This journey gave me a bit of difficulty in planning as it was almost impossible to get the direct train to Hualien from Taipei. Train tickets were sold out as soon as they were available. So, I did what internet told me – take a bus to Luodong and then, commuter to Hualien. The advantage was that it was cheaper. The unfortunate part was that I had to stand for the whole journey from Luodong to Hualien. It was a long ride.

Instead of heading straight to Hualien, I stopped at Xincheng Taroko train station. There was a motorcycle rental shop. I got a scooter for TWD400. Stopped at 7-11 for lunch. And I have to pause here to praise this 7-11 outlet highly. It was the most friendly convenient store I had ever stepped my foot in. The staff workers were so helpful, attentive and polite.

My decision to explore Taroko Gorge by scooter, and not by bus, was a good decision. The ride, the breeze, the view.. they were all very pleasant. Sure, at times I looked at the cliff and wondered of falling debris. Thank goodness nothing bad happened to me. I skipped the famous Zhuilu Old Road trail as I could not imagine spending my vacation, sweating on a long trail that could take my whole day.

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Where Alishan failed, Taroko Gorge reimbursed. I know I want to come back to this place again one day.

I ended up journey by a detour to Qingshui Cliff. No wonder some raved highly about this tourist site. It was really breath-taking.

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By the time I got to my hostel, it was too late for me to even consider looking for the firefly lake. It was a pity as the month of April was supposed to be the highlight month for such a tour. I needed my rest.

April 5
I took the trains to Riufang and then, to Shifen. The crowd at the train station was overwhelming. True enough, it was a struggle to be comfortable in the packed commuter to Shifen. The Shifen train station was another circus-like spot, as I needed to navigate through the narrow space with crowd to get moving. All around, people were raising lanterns from the train station and taking photos. I decided to explore first. My first target was Shifen Waterfall. It was a doable walk from the train station to the waterfall spot.

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I could not enjoy Shifen much due to the crowd as well as the fact that I was carrying my backpack with me and I prefer not to overdo it. I took the train back and switched to bus to get to Jiufen. By the time I arrived at my hostel, it was already late afternoon. I settled into my assigned bed and headed out to explore Jiufen town; the town that was said to inspire the movie setting for Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away (the animated film that won Academy Awards). Although the pavements were crowded with tourists too, it did not bother me much as I was busy enjoying the glow of the hanging lanterns.

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April 6
I woke up early to explore the town again. It was better as there were very few people going around the place.

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The friendly hostel lady at My Story Inn Jiufen told me that I should consider hiking up the nearby Mount Keelung. She said it would take me less than an hour to reach the peak. I was not really eager for any hiking or excessive sweating but since that I did not have much to do, I decided that I should.

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Instead of heading to Yehliu Geopark, I decided to go to Shen’ao Elephant Trunk Rock. It was said that the tourist crowd there was less. I took the bus from Jiufen to Shen’ao but I could not recall the routes I had taken. All I could remember that the day was really hot.

I headed back to Taipei.

My afternoon was reserved for Taipei 101. I would never understand how a tall concrete building like this could generate so much joy, just by being there to admire it. I still feel the same from viewing KL Petronas Twin Towers and I was feeling the same being near and watching Taipei 101.

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Of course I did not stop there. I had heard of Xiangshan Trail and view from the peak. So, I went hiking. It was challenging, since that I was already tired of walking for so many days. However, the wait for the evening to set in was worth it. The view of Taipei 101 was simply magical.

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April 7
My mistake was to head to YangMingShan National Park when I did not have any concrete idea of where I would want to go or what I had wanted to see. I just went with whichever national park bus was available and ended up seeing the sulfur mountain and also the valley with a lot of flowers.

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April 8
I left Taipei happy, with the plan in my head to come back for more of East Taipei. I do wish to see more of this side of the island and perhaps to take up the long train ride along the east cost.

Overall expenses = Around RM750 for flight tickets and around RM1000 for accommodation, meals, scooters and travel within Taiwan.

Back to Beijing (2018)

This is post is more than a year late, but still… it is a journal I care to jot for memories. So, here it goes.. going down the memory lane.

Managed to get return tickets from KL to Beijing for around RM500 and decided to visit Great Wall of China again. There was something magical about that World Wonder that would draw me back to it.

November 2
Took the 7pm flight from KL. Reached Beijing airport at 1.30am. So, I did what a backpacker would do. Tried to get some sleep at the airport before the morning express train was  available. Lucky me that Beijing airport was a safe airport.

November 3
Taking the airport express to Dongzhimen and then, to Jianguomen and then, another one to Tianenmen East was a bit challenging for me. I was beginning to wonder if some were correct when they asked if someone like me, a non-Chinese speaking Chinese, would survive in China. LOL.

Back there I was, arriving at my destination, meeting Alex, my Couchsurfing friend, who made himself available for me for the weekend to bring me around. First stop – Tianenmen Square and outer layer (free) Forbidden City.

The morning continued with our journey to Fragrant Hills. Unfortunately, since that it was a weekend, the line was long at the train station to head there. Still, it was interesting to wrestle with the crowd, who was not that pushy. Bad for me that I had a backpack that seemed to be a bother for those behind me.

Fragrant Hills was a must-stop for me, as I would hope to see my first autumn foliage. However, I arrived in Beijing when autumn was ending, leaving the season change for the start for winter. Still, I was hoping that some trees would hold their autumn colours for me.

I was in luck that a few trees were glowing with their red or yellow glory. The photo above shows my backpack for the 6 days in China. I still believe that I was overpacked for my trip. LOL.

I could not remember what we ate for lunch. That’s the problem of jotting down journal way too long after the trip had ended.

After Fragrant Hill, we headed for Mutianyu. More than 10 years ago, I visited China for the first time, following a tour. I felt robbed by the short time spent on Badaling Great Wall. I really enjoyed my climb to the peak then and I wanted to relive for my admiration for Great Wall. Alex suggested weeks earlier that we should do Mutianyu and I was only too happy to oblige.

However, my arrival in Mutianyu disappointed me for two reasons. One, from the guesthouse, I was not able to view any stretch of Great Wall. Two, the meals there were expensive. And… Alex and I were the only two guests in the whole guesthouse. It was nice, to have the whole courtyard to ourselves. There was nothing to do for the evening. The sky was threatening to rain.

November 4
Woke up to a drizzling morning. Early morning sunrise watching at Great Wall was called off. Anyway, it was not possible to see any sun as the sky was cloudy. Still, in the drizzling morning, Alex and I headed for Great Wall.

Maybe Alex thought I was funny to be overjoyed (maybe he had seen better) but I was really happy with the colours of the trees greeting my arrival at the bottom of the hill. We walked up to the wall. It was a challenge but it was a nice walk. Thank goodness I brought my raincoat.

The top was covered by mist when we arrived but I was lucky that at times, the sky cleared for a few minutes for me to see what I had wanted to see – the long stretch of Great Wall. I bet it would be even more majestic if the sky was blue and clear. Still, I loved the mist around the walls. And the autumn foliage… Sigh… beautiful!

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I was told the colours were even more glorious a week earlier. Still, I was happy with what I could get. This was good enough for me.

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Actually, I did wish to spend longer time there. However, I guess I should have told Alex that. He suggested us to go back after an hour or two, strolling along the stretch. Anyway, it made sense too. On our way down, more tourists were arriving. Some were huffing and puffing, looking regret that they were not ok enough to walk the steps.

As for me, I am still fond of Great Wall. Perhaps one day, I would want to see Great Wall in winter?

So, the rest of the day was spent on trying to get public transportation back to Beijing. This was not easy, to stand by the roadside, cold and waiting for a bus that seemed not to be arriving. And meanwhile, we were harassed by taxi that stopped by, claiming that public bus was no longer in service. The bus came, after close to an hour, and we were squashed in an overcrowded bus. I actually contemplated on my safety.

The night came and I bid my goodbye to Alex who went back to his wife in Tianjin. Oh yes. We did drop by Jingshan Park at evening, to view the Forbidden City.

I boarded my sleeping night train to Datong – RMB158.50. It arrived in Datong train station at 5am.

November 5
It was freaking cold. It was below 0 degree Celsius when I walked out of Datong Train Station. There was not many options for me to go to, and neither could I find any toilet. I walked into a shop and pointed at other table’s food, to indicate the meal I wanted. The buns was warm enough to sooth my cold hands. I was underdressed.

Took a 3 yuan public bus to Yungang Grottoes. The temperature was 1 degree Celsius. Entrance fee to Yungang was RMB100, for the off-peak season.

Yungang Grottoes was awarded UNESCO World Heritage in 2001, housing many caves with Buddha images. It was just the right time for me to visit as cold weather led to smaller crowds. But then again, it was really early in the morning.

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This Buddha statue was carved in a cave. However, the outer layer of the cave had collapsed, revealing the Buddha statue within.

Went back to the city center and got a bus for RMB70 to Taiyuan, as I could not get any train ticket to Pingyao, which was my next destination. in Taiyuan, my nightmare began. I had booked and paid through Expedia, a hotel room in Taiyuan. My plan was to look for this hotel – Bestay Taiyuan Railway Station, stayed the night and would leave early the next morning for Pingyao. I was having headache from insufficient sleep and was all too happy just to be able to get my evening rest. So, imagine my shock, after finding Bestay Taiyuan Railway Station, to be told that there was no room for me and I could not stay there. Expedia was not helpful. I could not get through Expedia for support. That was the one time that I was having communication barrier. I ended up, having to look for another budget stay. There was not many options. Looking at Booking or was it Agoda, I managed to reserve another hostel bed and went to search for it. It was an illegal apartment converted to hostel. The owner was resting on one of the bunks when I arrived. He got up from the bunk and told me that it was mine for the night. After Bestay and Expedia’s betrayal, the look of the bunk got me even more depressed. I slept with my hand on my backpacks, got up early morning and left for  Pingyao, not looking back.

Until today, Expedia did not reimburse my money. I would never deal with Expedia again. Not even a reply. How do I put a hashtag to label Expedia as dishonest?

November 6
Pingyao was everything I could wish for, to cure my bitter taste of Taiyuan. And my hotel room… sigh… it was a heaven sent. Again, I believe I was the only one occupying the whole hotel courtyard. The photos below was my hotel courtyard and it was occupied only by me. Like wow. This was Fly by Knight Pingyao Courtyard. It was RM94 for a night. The bed was comfortable. Towel. Hot water. Private bathroom.

Pingyao is well-known for the well preserved old ancient city look, within its 4 walls. As the weather was cold, there were not many tourists as well. So, the roads were almost empty and the tourist spots were not so crowded.

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The shot above was taken from the top of the wall of Pingyao. I paid for the entrance tickets to several traditional homes and this wall entrance for RMB125.

I did not regret making the long trip to Pingyao. It was really a trip of fond memories, despite my disturbing Taiyuan stop.

November 7
It was my ride back to Beijing. I decided to try the bullet train. It cost me RMB183.

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Honestly, call it a bullet train but one could never feel the speed, sitting in the train. It just got me to Beijing in a shorter time.

November 8
Ditched my plan to visit the end of Great Wall by the sea and went back to Forbidden City. I was glad with my decision as I got to see areas in Forbidden City that I could not during my first visit more than 10 years ago.

Caught this photo before I entered Forbidden City.

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By the time I left Forbidden City, and I was not really done with the City yet, it was already approaching evening.

And of course, one last photo of my favourite colour – the colour of autumn foliage…

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And I was ready to bid Beijing goodbye.

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Total Expenses : RM1600

Cebu City – Bohol – Moalboal – Osmena Peak

June 17 – 22, 2018

Day 1. Cebu City was indeed plain to me. I spent just 2 min at Megallan’s Cross. Walked and covered the Heritage of Cebu and Yap Sandiego House in less than an hour. And I had nothing to do.
Hotel used bedsheet as a blanket?

Day 2. Missed the 9.40am ferry to Tagbilaran, Bohol. Bought a 10.40am ticket and thought it was 11.40am. Wasted more than 2 hours, sitting in the warm air of Cebu.
Picked up my rented PHP500 a day rented motorcycle and headed to Panglao first.
Got a massage at Panglao. Did not see Alona Beach properly as the tide was high.

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Passed by many towns, in my hurry to reach my hotel, but something made me stopped on the long journey. The sunset at Dimion.
Arrived at Anda Beach around 8pm. Big mistake to go a place 3 hours away. My ass hurt. And missed out on seeing the beach because it was already dark.
Stupidly drank coffee for dinner. Woke up at 1am and failed to fall back to sleep.
Oh ya. Bedsheet blanket again.

Day 3. Left early for Alicia. Did not see any wonderful beach.
Binabaje Hills rocked. Awesome place. Tired. Nausea. Sunburnt.

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Hidden 2 hours away from Bohol’s famous Chocolate Hills is Binabaje Hill. Binabaje Hill used to be called Lapawan. Located in Alicia Municipality, Binabaje Hill is just waiting for its claim to be one of Bohol gems. As for now, very few knew of it. There are no tour buses and crowds of tourists.
So, what did I have when I was there? The whole beauty of rolling hills to myself and my guide.
I rode my motorcycle to the municipality hall, after getting in touch with them days earlier to reserve a tour guide for me. The tour guide cost me PHP300 (RM22.50). Entrance fee was PHP30. No motorcycle transfer was charged as I rode my rented one.
The people were welcoming and friendly.

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The hike up took me more than 1 hour. It was really hot, burnt under the merciless sun. My reward? The beauty of different shades of green rolling hills all around me. It was breath-taking. Heaven. And yet, so hot. Hell.

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Some slopes were really steep, but my guide did not give up on me. And although the journey to Alicia was tiring, Binabaje Hill made it worthwhile.

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My tour guide said Binabaje Hill was named after a boy who lived there. He was a boy who walked like a girl.

Skipped Chocolate Hills and Tarsier, coz it was raining. And I was tired.
Went back for another massage at Panglao.
Missed out on Paddleboard Tour. Did not see any fireflies.
Slept like a baby.
Bedsheet blanket.

Day 4. Left early (7am) for Chocolate Hills. Only a few tourists. The air was fresh and nice. Marvellous place.

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Chocolate Hills UNESCO Natural Monument.
Legend said that two giants in the ancient Visaya were fighting, throwing rocks at each other. Eventually they made up but did not clean up their mess.
Another legend said a giant cried over his love for a mortal human girl. His tears formed these hills.

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These are lime rock hills. They appeared chocolate in colour and looked like Hershey’s choc. Hence, the name, Chocolate Hills.

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There are more than 1700 Chocolate Hills in Bohol.

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Skipped Tarsier. Did not have enough time.

Loved Man-Made Forest. Loved it!!!
Along the road that connects Chocolate Hills and Tagbilaran East Highway, the authority built a man-made forest. It is a genius idea to preserve the environment. The result did not only help to keep this part of the earth green but created a 2km beautiful stretch of natural beauty.

 

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In the afternoon, motorists have to keep their eyes for those who stop to snap photos.
I cannot blame them. This place stole my heart too.

 

Arrived at Moalboal in the evening. Watched sunset at Panagsama Beach. Did not manage to go to Moalboal white beach.

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Bedsheet blanket.

Day 5. Left early (6am) for Osmena Peak.
Reached a wrong location for Kawasan Waterfalls. Stupid Google Map. Dead end. Locals offered to hike with me down to the waterfalls. Skipped paying entrance fee.

 


Kawasan Waterfalls water was amazing. So beautiful and clear. Spent 1 hour there. Also because I got lost on my way up.

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Continued my journey to Osmena Peak. The view along the way was beautiful.
Reached Osmena Peak registration counter. It rained. Registration fee was PHP30. Tour guide fee was PHP150. The hike took only 20 minutes.

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Plus thunder and lightnings. Right above my tour guide and me. Scary.
Osmena Peak was beautiful. Simply gorgeous. Breath-taking.

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Had to skip Casino Peak as the hike would take 45 minutes. I had to rush back to Moalboal, for my bus to Cebu City. And the trail to the peak was slippery.
Had an unfortunate accident. Motorcycle slipped on sand, on the hilly road. Grazed my right cheek, hand and knee on the road. Thank goodness I was alright. And the motorcycle was ok too. Could not imagine having to pay for bike repair when I was already done to my last few pesos.
Ended the night near MacTan Airport.
Bedsheet blanket.

Day 6. Walked in the dark to airport, at 4.15am.
Terminal fee – 750php?? Shucks. I only had 580php.
I did not know about terminal fee!! Ahhh!!!!

Backpack to Phu Chi Fa

This is an overdue blogging on one of the best places in Thailand for a relaxing getaway. Although this place was getting more attention, thanks to the internet, Phu Chi Fa was still relatively freer from the tourist crowd. In fact, most of the tourists here were locals. There were less foreigners.

Phu Chi Fa means ‘The Hill that Points to the Sky’. It is located around 3 hours drive away from Chiang Rai. I came across it when I was looking through TripAdvisor on things to do in Chiang Rai, other than Wat Kong Run. When I saw writings on Phu Chi Fa, I knew I had to go there. But how? It was not easy, unless one was willing to pay for an expensive tour package from Chiang Rai. I traveled alone. So, tour package was out of question. Luckily, with a bit help from here and there in the internet, I managed to reach Phu Chi Fa the town near Phu Chi Fa before sunset.

I wrote quite detailed explanation of my ‘adventure’ in TripAdvisor. This is what was written back then.

Here are the tips on going to this heaven from Chiang Rai and stay there for less than 1000baht.

Go to Terminal 1 Bus Station Chiang Rai, which is within the town. Ask around for Phu Chi Fa. You will be shown to a counter, where a hand-written signboard is hung above a desk. Tell the lady who sits behind the desk that you want to go to Phu Chi Fa. The return tickets is 300 baht (at this time of writing). The van will come to pick you up at 1pm. The journey takes more than 3 hours. The same van will pick you up the next morning at 9am, at the same spot of the van station at Phu Chi Fa.

I reached the Phu Chi Fa station around 4.15pm. Without any reservation of a accommodation, I was confident (blindly) somehow that I could find a place to rest. At the van station, there was a lady who held out a cardboard, written in English telling me she had a place for 500 baht only. So, I took it. The chalet came with free wifi and hot shower. It was just alright.

Some travelers opted for a tent. This costs 300 baht.

After checking in, I took a quick walk up the steep tar road to view sunset at the top of Phu Chi Fa. The road stretched a long 2.5km and it was really difficult for me, who was walking faster than my normal pace, as I was trying to reach before the sun set. That 2.5km distance brought me to the car park near the view point. There was another 760 meter to continue on. However, these 760 meter was not so taxing as the earlier 2,5km.

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Moon above the Pointing Hill

The reward was worth it. There were less than 20 tourists at the top, leaving the view point almost empty for quiet time, and appreciation of the wonderful sights of the mountains and surroundings, of Thailand and Laos.

I came back to learn that there were pick up trucks to bring anyone up (or down) for a fee of 30 baht each way. My guest house arranged one to pick me up at 5am. That would give me an additional hour to sleep in, as I was planning to get up at 4am to walk up.

Do bring torchlight. At the top, there were more than 150 tourists already taking their seats on the ground, awaiting for the sunrise. However, the better spot to view the landscape is not on the peak of the view point but to the left. A few steps further, I was able to avoid the crowd and enjoy wider landscape view.

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Another good place to take photo is to walk back down the trail, and stop at the nearby spot where the cliff can be seen. As the sun rises, but still below the height of the cliff, the view is simply breath-taking.

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Internet articles will tell you that the place is really cold and one can suffer hypothermia. Not true. You should have your jacket with you but the temperature is not that bad. The guesthouse thick blanket is already good enough to provide warm sleep.

The articles will tell you that there are hardly any eateries there. Time has changed. There are several places you can enjoy your dinner and breakfast the next morning. However, I brought some snacks up to the cliff, since that I knew I would be spending hours there. I was hungry. Thankfully I had something to keep the hunger away.


There are the tribal kids, all dressed up, singing for any amount of money donation. Support them, if you want to. They do look adorable.

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Native child

Be prepared to have a sleepless night. During the peak season (Nov to Jan), many locals would head there. They must have been really excited to see one another that they would stay up all night, just to chat and laugh. In a high volume. My German friends told me they suffered in their thin tent. As for me, in the chalet, I could hear my neighbours talking into the late morning but it was not that loud to disturb my sleep.

I am planning to go back there again. And this time, maybe I will stay for two nights. The life there seems so easy and relax, some thing that this aching old body of backpacker would wish to enjoy longer, just to get away from the crazy city life.

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A secret gem of Thailand – Phu Chi Fa.

*I was told Phu Chi Fa was best to be visited between Nov to Jan.

Backpacking in Laos

When it comes to Laos, I have only two places in mind to visit – Luang Prabang (World Heritage Site) and Vang Vieng (tubing town). There are other tourist sites – Vientiane (capital city), Pakse, (Si Phan Don) 1,000 Islands and Phonsavan (Plain of Jars) in Laos but since that I have limited days, I have settled for these 2 main choices.

There were ups and downs in my Laos trip. Generally known as the lay-back country or backward environment where almost anyone is expected to enjoy a life away from city buzz and hectic schedules, a trip in Laos demands patience and tolerance. And bargaining power. Here, I would just state the highlights of my trip.

1. Sunset Hill, Vang Vieng.

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All the tiny houses and green fields, viewed from the top of heaven.

Somewhere 4 km away from Vang Vieng town, across the Nam Song river, onto the path that leads to Blue Lagoon, nested a hidden gem (not listed in Tripadvisor or almost other online guides). Heading from the town, look out for the signboard that states ‘Pha Ngeun’. On this signboard too, the word ‘mountain view’ and ‘school’ are listed. Head in the unfamiliar path and shortly, a hut/booth appears. Pay 10,000 kip to the friendly teenage gatekeeper who speaks no English and you should be heading your way up the hill.

To the villagers here, this is their Pha Ngeun Mountain. Don’t let the word mountain scares you. It was really a high hill, that offered great view from the top. The signboard also says 500m. I have learned my lesson to take anything shared with me with a pinch of salt. The journey up was definitely more than 500m, demanding but still doable. I hiked up the hill, wearing sandals. Some slopes were tiring but the reward was magnificent.

There were two shelters built on the hill. The first shelter gave a reasonable view of the paddy fields in the valley, trapped between mountains. Catch a short break and then continue.

Around 10 minutes later, with another nice view along the way, I reached the bottom of rocky peaks. The path up these peaks was easy to be found. I realised later that I was stepping on broken pinnacles, to hike up to the top of the pinnacle peaks. At the top of the peak, I saw heaven.

There was a shelter built at the top, offering a majestic view of the whole green, luscious paddy field, surrounded by proud mountains. Tiny houses could be seen scattered along the red earth road that I had used earlier, heading to Blue Lagoon.

The hike got me huffing and puffing but the view at the top kept me breathless. I was alone at the top and yet, I could feel the world was with me. I was alone up there, enjoying this wonderful, beautiful view, and it was all mine, for those hours I spent there on my own.

It was cooling. The breeze was welcoming me. The joy was pure.

This site is good for sunrise/sunset view, if only one could negotiate the path when the light is not favourable. It took me 40 minutes to hike down. The whole journey was so worth the time and the money. It did not matter to me if I had hiked up a hill or a mountain. What did matter to me was that I hiked up and found my little heaven.

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As much the heart yearned to stay and watch the sunset, it was too dangerous to walk alone in the path, without any light.

 

2. Kuangsi Waterfall, Luang Prabang

Kuangsi waterfall is situated at a distance of 40 minutes car ride from Luang Prabang. There is much hype over this waterfall that I have to witness it for myself. Instead of taking the shared or private tuk tuk from the town area, I booked for a shared van tour ride to Kuangsi waterfall at the price of 50,000 kip. The entrance fee to Kuangsi cost me another 20,000 kip.

Unlike the other waterfall sites I had been to recently, Kuangsi waterfalls are felt along the river where the river flows down. There are 4 stages of the waterfall along the river in the park. Stage 4 is the highlight where the water drops from a high cliff.

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Kuangsi Waterfall, mother nature’s wonder.
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The trek was steep.

Cross the popular bridge where many photos were snapped, I found a hiking trail leading up to the hilltop for a view of the surrounding. Again, this path was demanding as the slopes were steep. Trees and small streams greeted me at the top, offering me one view of a nearby valley.

Tourists found their laughter in Stage 1. They swam and they dove. They hardly knew one another but they shared their joys that afternoon.

 

3. Tak Bat, Luang Prabang (and other areas in Laos)

Tak Bat is the morning alms tradition, uphold by the Buddhist monks. Early in the morning, after their chanting and meditation, these monks would head out of their monastery to seek for alms, from grateful and supportive villagers. To the villagers, monks uphold the practice as advised by the Buddha. They are also seek in times of emotional difficulties and for help. In gratitude, villagers offer support to the monks who have chosen to leave behind the life of unnecessary possession.

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Unlike in Vang Vieng, here a senior monk still leads tak bat.

To be a monk is not to escape from responsibilities. It is a commitment in seeking for self-actualisation.

Rows of monks can be seen in towns in Laos. To see them in the act of Tak Bat, I had to wake up as early as 5.30am and try my luck at different streets in hope to catch glimpses of the orange robes. There was something sincere and downright humble in seeing villagers still upholding this tradition, keeping it alive after years of modernisation.

These village ladies and men were believers. They knelt to show their respects. They offered to show their support. They rejoiced because they knew it was a well-done act.

And these monks were a field of merit to Buddhists all around. Homage to the blessed ones.

 

4. Tubing on Nam Song river, Vang Vieng

Tubing was the main activity in Vang Vieng. It was the haven for party-ers who wanted nothing but crazy blasting music, beer and weed as they went tubing down the river. It had stopped now. 4 bars were still standing as I tubed my way down the quiet, wide river.

Tubing activity in Vang Vieng starts at 9am and ends at 6pm. The shop stops taking new customers at 4pm. It costs 55000 kip, plus 60000 kip for deposit. The deposit will be returned if the tube is given back before 6pm. Free life jacket is provided. A free tuk tuk ride is offered to the start point for the tubing experience. The whole journey of tubing is 1.5 hours during rainy season and 4 hours during non-rainy season.

My advice? Bring along your sandals. You need them to paddle. Hehehehe.

The whole journey was relaxing although the current was strong. There were a few bumpy areas as the water was bouncy. One or two areas where the water swirled. Mountain views were seen although I was not really adjusted to the idea of floating yet on the strong current. So, I did not really get to enjoy the view much.

Kayaks would pass by and happy Koreans would greet me. There were more kayaks than tubes on the river. As I did not stop at any bar, I was floating alone. Nam Song was brownish and wide. The current was crazily strong and I had no control how I was rotated around, on my tube.

Another advice – try to stay close to the left hand side of the river. No one told me. I ‘over-floated’ my destination and no one was there to help my tube to stop.

 

5. Cycling

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Bicycle cost me around 10,000 kip. I was constantly reminded to lock up my bicycle. Apparently theft was an issue in Luang Prabang. There were enough stories about stolen motorcycles in Luang Prabang that made me hesitated on renting one. Moreover, motorcycle rental was expensive. One could easily cost me 140,000 kip, and that was without petrol.

So, I packed my lunch, cycled under the cloudy sky of Luang Prabang, snaked my way around the river and was charmed by the old-looking houses facing the river. Stopped by the river to eat my meal and just let the day rolled by.

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This was my bicycle in Luang Prabang.

In Vang Vieng, instead of signing up for a tour package to Blue Lagoon, I decided to cycle from the town to the Blue Lagoon. Guaranteed, going uphill at times was not really easy, plus the mud was not that appealing, the ride was worth it as it allowed me to stop several times to snap photos of the paddy fields and mountains.

 

6. Enjoy the sunset at Mount Phousi, Luang Prabang

On the day I arrived in Luang Prabang, I was determined to catch a good sunset. There had to be one, in my whole Laos trip. It was impossible to catch a good sunset due to the evening rain.

It cost 20,000 kip to enter Mount Phousi. There were 355 steps all the way to the top. Some stopped in the middle, to catch a breather. It was doable, although it did take a little determination and patience.

At the top, I joined the crowd, waiting for the sunset that was not so promising, during this rain season.

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Sunset in Luang Prabang, in the rainy season.

 

7. Slow-paced Life

Coming to Laos, one is expected to leave the concrete city world behind and just lay back. Enjoy the greens. Enjoy the water. Listen to children’s laughter. Look at how the villagers juggle between their culture and the world the tourists are introducing to them. Like it or not, these people have a lifestyle that we no longer have the luxury to enjoy easily in our city homes. They envy us for our gadgets. We envy them for their simplicity.

 

Laos, to me, was an intriguing country. This trip did satisfy my curiosity on what the country was about. I came and saw heaven, from the top of Sunset Hill, in Vang Vieng. I came and saw wonders in the cold, strong current Kuangsi Waterfall in Luang Prabang. The people had been introduced to the business world for tourists and they are learning how to milk from curious visitors. I would safely say that I am done with Laos, from the soul-less Vientiane to the expensive and village-like Vang Vieng to old, but progressing Luang Prabang.

Charming, but for how long still?

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View from Buddha’s Footprint Temple.