The Great Wall of China

Hiking, Travel

Hi lovelies!

You’d probably have felt my absence in the past 2 weeks due to the lack of posts – I do have a damn good reason for it though. I spent the past few weeks making a few of my travel dreams come true. This year, I had an unspoken new year’s resolution to climb the Great Wall and I can’t believe I actually made it happen. Its funny especially because people say that if you want to succeed, you shouldn’t tell anyone… I guess now that saying really does make sense to me. I have been to Beijing about 10 years ago but I was too young to make my own decisions then, so this time, I made sure I conquered one of the world’s greatest wonders.

Oh, I also visited North Korea which was the highlight of the trip of course. You know, just sayin’. The journey to North Korea was rather tedious but definitely worth every effort… and if you have interest in international affairs like I do, I definitely encourage you to take a leap of faith and just book your ticket to see what the country is like for yourself. No media source will ever be able to tell you what’s going on for real in that country.

Back to the Great Wall – I booked this hike trip through an adventure agency that was advertised at a little hostel I was staying at – Peking International Youth Hostel. Its a beautiful and cosy little place that I  recommend spending a few nights at – its incredibly affordable too! There’s a lovely fresh and dried floral theme going on in the entire hostel building, complete with a quaint rooftop cafe. The fact that its situated in the middle of a ‘hutong‘ adds an element of unique Chinese authenticity. The only downside is that its slightly more an hour’s drive away from the airport. (100RMB taxi fare or you could take the subway to the airport if you don’t have much luggage)

IMG_5269

IMG_5284

peking youth international hostel review

I paid 250RMB through the hostel counter for the trip. This fee covers a total of 4 hours bus journey (to and fro), a decent Chinese lunch at a restaurant, a tour guide who will not be on the Great Wall with you (he will wait at the restaurant for about 3 hours while you climb) and an orange Adventure Tour Great Wall of China armband thingy that I will admit, is pretty cool.

What this fee does not include is the cable car (RMB 100) which you will HAVE to take from the start of the wall to the 19th station because you only have a total of 3 to 4 hours to complete your hike. From the 19th station to 24th station of the Great Wall at Mutianyu is really where you would wanna hike anyway because the path is most steep there and also the authentic walls are there. Before these stations, almost all of the walls are restored.

IMG_5297

IMG_5295

Hiking from the 19th to 24th station was NO JOKE. The way up took about 2 hours and the way down was much easier so that took slightly about an hour. If you’re asthmatic like me, I definitely recommend bringing your puff along. I forgot to pack my asthma medication in my bag so I found myself severely out of breath on the way up. Thankfully, I managed to make it all the way up thanks to my hiking partner, Albane, who made it so the climbing of super steep steps so much more bearable by singing ‘Yellow Submarine’ throughout the hike. She truly is one of the sweetest people I’ve met.

In case you’re wondering if it’s crowded, yes it surely was and will be – at least the first half of your hike will be difficult because of the number of people packed in that narrow space. The good news is that there are barely any people at all from the 22th to 24th station because the steps are really really steep there so many families with children/ elderly/ pets will not venture into that area. As such, your best photo opportunities will definitely be from the 22th station on wards.

IMG_5316

Before the hike, all fresh faced at station 19.

IMG_5404

Only about 30 minutes into the hike, there really are many people around. Despite the cool air, the sun was pretty fierce so I was perspiring like crazy. 

IMG_5305

If a little poodle can climb the Great Wall, so can you!

IMG_5347

Close up of the restored walls.

IMG_5381

Beyond the 24th station, you will see this sign basically telling you that if you go any further, it is completely at your own risk. I couldn’t go beyond this point even though I really really wanted to because I had the wrong shoes on..you really need some good hiking shoes to make it beyond this point because the rocks are really unstable.

 IMG_5371

I love this picture because its of me at the original structure of the Great Wall.. it’s at the peak of the Mutianyu Great Wall so the remnants of the original structure basically ends there.

The view from the 24th station frankly isn’t as wonderful as the view from the 23rd station only because at the 24th station, there are many bushes and trees so you can barely see anything. I did cave in to purchase the most expensive can of Coke ever at the peak where an old lady was selling chilled drinks. I bought it partly because I really pitied the old lady – I simply can’t imagine having to climb the wall everyday to set a stall up. And I was honestly also dying to quench my thirst too so yeah – that can of expensive coke was definitely worth it!

great wall of china mutianyu hike

Amazing view on the way down at the 23rd station. The mountains in the backdrop really appear endless. I was pinching myself throughout the hike and at one point, I thought aloud ‘I feel like I’m at the top of the world!’ A stranger heard me and responded ‘It sure feels like it, doesnt it? It really makes you feel so small and humble.’

So would I recommend going through an adventure agency? Yes and no – depending on what you’re looking for. If you’re an avid hiker, then you should go free and easy. Get a couple of friends, rent a private car and take your time to climb the wall from start to finish. With an adventure agency, they give you only 3 hours to complete everything… which forces you to take the cable car to the 19th station. Going free and easy allows you to complete the entire hike from the bottom to the top without having to take the cable car. In addition, if you have a few more friends to share a private car, I do believe you can save a bit of money. Its abouot 900 RMB per private car, so if there are 4 of you and you don’t take the cable car you could easily save about 100RMB.. which is only a small sum of money but hey, why not.

I would recommend an adventure agency, however, if you’re only looking to take nice photos at the end. Even if you’re a slow hiker, you don’t really have the worry because the guide will not leave the restaurant until everyone has made it back down.

All in all, guyssss, I just CANNOT get over the fact that I made it to the Great Wall this year. I’m incredibly proud that I didn’t spend the money on some Chanel bag instead because the experiences you get through travel is just priceless.

signoff

Singapore Trail: Chua Chu Kang to Bukit Timah

Exploring, Hiking

Hola Amigos!

After more than a month of refraining from exercise because of me frequently falling sick, we finally went on our usual Sunday hiking trail from my house to bukit timah yesterday. I’ve never shared this route before so I thought I’d do a post on it!

This is actually a bike route, but we decided to be rebels and follow this path on foot. Bike routes are comparatively fun and challenging they usually are really plain dirt trails.

IMG_1687[1]

IMG_1689[1]

The grass here is so tall – even taller than me!

IMG_1691[1]

…and here are very very big leaves. Larger than life grass and leaves – man, I felt like I was in some kinda giant world. Nature can sometimes make you feel so small. M was like “Eh go stand under the big natural umbrella!!” He told me that cavemen in the past used such leaves as naturally occurring umbrellas. I mean how would he even know. But I guess it makes sense. Hahaha…

brown and cony LINE characters

IMG_1692[1]

This route reminded me ALOT of the Bibbulmun track in Australia – a seemingly endless narrow path.

IMG_1694[1]

Here my partner in crime is having his moment.

IMG_1696[1]

Singapore does not have her own natural water resource. We get our water supply from our neighbour Malaysia from such huge water channels which we came across along this route.

IMG_1698[1]

See the danger sign above? It’s there for a damn good reason. Bikers love to speed at this slope for a temporary high. My beloved boyfriend used to be a bike fanatic and had a terrible accident at this exact location where this danger sign is now placed. He was speeding on his bike at the slope many years ago and flew off his bike. His head hit a rock and he had to go for stitches and ended up missing a biking competition that he was training for. He tells me that if this accident didn’t happen, he would be a star biker by now and would have not met me. Well, I’m sure glad that he had that accident then! He also says that this danger sign was only put up after he had that nasty accident.

IMG_1699[1]

IMG_1700[1]

I mean – honestly, there is NO WHERE else you can actually find untouched nature in Singapore other than from such hiking trails. Singapore is heavily modernized, sometimes we forget that such beauty still exists.

IMG_1701[1]

The only sign of human intervention are these signposts which are there obviously for a very good reason. We don’t wanna get lost in the forests! Then again I doubt its technically possible to get lost in our forests because they are tiny compared to forests in other countries. Either ways, I would be really scared if I were to be lost in a forest even in Singapore. I’m such a coward – I even get scared if my boyfriend walks to fast so I have to always keep up with him. Sometimes he even runs because he knows I would get scared and have to choice but to chase him. Hahaha…What a work out!

IMG_1703[1]

IMG_1704[1]

Like I said… this really is a bike trail.

IMG_1705[1]

I have an obsession with weird looking trees. I mean how do they just sprout out from the ground like that.

IMG_1706[1]

I also have an obsession with mangroves. What lives in those shallow waters?!

IMG_1707[1]

So, usually what actually keeps us going on a long 10km trail, is a good chilled cup of sugarcane juice. For my non-Singaporean followers, sugarcane juice is an awesome local natural drink that you MUST try. its naturally sweet and so refreshing almost like coconut water but its green in colour.

IMG_1708[1]

I know I don’t ever feature food on my blog, but hey there’s a first for everything! Above is a Malay dessert called ondeh-ondeh. Its my favourite Malay dessert (‘kueh’) of all time. Inside this balls is melted black sugar which just oozes out like a dream when you take a bite. I love how this particular stall, Food Mapping, makes it – fresh and so very very affordable (SGD 1.50 for a packet of 6). This stall also makes the BEST AGAR AGAR (jelly) CAKES IN THE WHOLE WORLD.

IMG_1709[1]

Here’s my last picture that I have to share from yesterday’s trail. Its a hamburger with patty made of ayam keluak (chicken + keluak). The stall that sells this in Beauty World Centre #04-49 (last level of the building) is called Hambaobao. I love the concept of this burger as it is really a modern take on a very traditional dish. Keluak is the meat of a nut which is black in colour. I grew up eating keluak rather often because my grandmother cooks it a lot. She picked up the recipe of this Peranakan dish when she was living in Malacca during the war.

Okay, this post was longer than I intended for it to be. Hope you enjoyed it either ways!

signoff

Singapore’s HSBC TreeTop Walk

Exploring, Hiking

Yesterday, my partner and I set off for our usual Sunday hike and decided to visit HSBC’s TreeTop Walk again. I love this treetop walk because it reminds me so much of Walpole’s treetop walk (Valley of the Giants) that we visited when we went on a road trip in Perth.

We hiked a total of 12km under the most unforgiving sun – starting from Venus Drive (theres a parking lot and also a whole list of buses that goes there) and ended at Bukit Timah.

If you intend to visit the HSBS TreeTop Walk for a hike, you should prepare yourself for a minimum distance of 10km and there aren’t many exits along the way. Ensure you have at least 2 bottles of water and some snacks (well hidden in your bag, away from the monkeys) to keep you going through the hike.

Funny story – merely 500 meters into the hike, I was munching on my breakfast when a monkey spotted the food and hurried towards me. I was so frightened and there was no bin around so I threw it away to the side so that the monkeys could help themselves to it. It was really quite a daunting experience as about 10 monkeys came running to my breakfast roll. My partner was visibly shaken too and told me that I shouldn’t have done that as more monkeys would come after me, thinking that I have more food in my bag. Thankfully, that didn’t happen.

Moral of the story: Keep your food in your bag at all times, out of sight from the monkeys.

IMG_0530  IMG_0533 IMG_0532

Entrance of the TreeTop Walk

IMG_0535

IMG_0538

Picturesque view from the top – of trees, and more trees. You can even see through the ground of the platform – so if you have a fear of heights, you may like to get over your fear right here. 😛

IMG_0539

You can see Upper Pierce Reservoir from a distance – my favourite reservoir in Singapore! Click here for the hiking route along Upper Pierce Reservoir.

IMG_0545

IMG_0549

End of the suspension bridge, a flight of wooden stairs will lead you to a little hut where you can take a rest (Tempines Hut)

IMG_0551

IMG_0552

Take note of the opening hours! Not opened on Monday, Public Holidays and beyond 5pm on any other day.

IMG_0553

On this map, you can see where we started (Venus Drive) but we hiked towards the direction of Bukit Timah which should be to the left of the map, not pictured on this particular board. You may choose to hike towards MacRitchie Reservoir to the bottom right of this map but it would be a really short distance. Previously, we have started from the entrance of MacRitchie Reservoir -> TreeTop -> Bukit Timah which was about at 15km hike altogether.

IMG_0555

IMG_0554

This sign tells you that you have completed 5 km. 7 more to go! The 2nd half of the hike proved to be more challenging due to the a more uneven ground than expected.

IMG_0560

Had to stop for a stretch and my 2nd break because the scorching weather was really wearing me down. So yeah, I just sat on the ground since there were no more huts in sight.

Whenever we end our hike in Bukit Timah, we usually have a hearty lunch either at Beauty World (top level awesome and hugeee hawker centre) or Bukit Timah Market & Food Centre which is along Jurong Kechil road. Nothing motivates us more during a hike than a nice ice cold cup of sugarcane and lemon juice. Ahhhhhh…

signoff

Butterfly Trail @ Chestnut Avenue

Exploring, Hiking

We went on (by far) my most favourite local hike last Sunday and I would be selfish and lazy not to share it. The latter half of the hike really could be an ideal location to shoot a whole new Survivor season. Apparently, this trail is “unofficial” which means that hiking in this area is probably illegal as its not open to the public – so you wouldn’t see many signs around. While we didn’t spot any other hikers, there were many cyclists on their super cool mountain bikes.

The total distance for this hike was slightly more than 8km. If you wish to do a shorter one, you could always start directly from the cyclists’ trail entrance at chestnut drive – that’s the most scenic part of the hike and its a 4km loop so you won’t get lost.

Walking from CCK to Chestnut Drive (4km)

We started from the park connector nearest to where I live – Pang Sua Park Connector behind Pioneer Junior College. As usual, M lovingly prepared breakfast for me because I will only wake up for food. He throws anything that tastes decent into the wrap so it tastes yummy but honestly looks gross most of the time.

butterflypost1

image(1)

So basically you just got to follow the Pang Sua Park Connector and you’ll pass plenty of refreshing sights – really a feast for your eyes especially when you’re in the midst of a plain ol’ concrete jungle diet. Little privately owned vegetable farms, Singaporeans dressed up like farmers digging away at the soil to plant their organic cabbage heads… foreign workers laughing and running in their exciting game of cricket. The marriage of harmony and tranquility practically unfolds before your eyes.

image(3)

image(2)

Once you reach Bukit Panjang Post Office, its going to be a boring urban hike for a while (about 2km) where you walk pass 10 mile junction and many hdb blocks and finally Zheng Hua Secondary School. Continue walking alllllll the way forward (be sure to follow the wooden signs along the entire bukit panjang road stretch) and you will eventually see a pretty prominent neighbourhood market and Kim San Leng coffee shop next to it (blk 268, bukit panjang ring road). Cross the traffic light to the other side of the road at the coffee shop and walk straight ahead, passing the bus stop and overhead bridge. Turn right into the park where you will see the final brown signboard with ‘Pang Sua Park Connector’ written in bold white font on it.

image(4)

Once you turn into the park, you will see rows and rows of huge water pipes on your left. Turn right and walk away from these pipes (pictured below).

image(5)

As you’re following the track, you’ll notice there’s a narrow side road next to the path you’re on (NOT THE HIGHWAY). Cross over to that road. We crossed over through the bushes at a little hole we found (pictured below with the Bata van)

image(6)

You’re officially on Chestnut drive! Yaaaay congratulations if you made this far because I definitely wouldn’t have made it this far without any assistance with directions. Make a U-turn following this road – i.e. walk on the opposite direction.

Chestnut Drive & the Butterfly Trail Loop (4km)

Walk all the way straight following the road (you should now be walking the the opposite direction as you were before you got onto this road) You should walk pass the 2 landmarks as pictured below.

(Alternatively, you could always cab or drive to this road and do a 4km hike from here)

image(7)

image(8)

At the end of the road, you’ll see Chestnut Avenue Waterworks (PUB) and the entrance to the butterfly trail loop should be just on your right, just before the PUB entrance sign. You will probably see a congregation of cyclists resting at the entrance.

THIS. is where the fun starts. I was grumpy until I entered the loop. Amazeballs. You won’t get lost in the loop – cause well ya its a loop. HAHA. The entire dirt trail is literally next to Upper Peirce Reservoir and there are NO BARRIERS. The water flows in as if its a beach or something. Just so beautiful. And the roots of the trees create a stunning formation on the ground. Pictures don’t do such nature justice especially because they are such uncommon sights in Singapore. You really need to go check it out for yourself before the authorities start to introduce infrastructure such as barriers in this area and the essence of the area definitely wouldn’t appear as authentic as it does there now. Construction in this area is already underway, so you got to get there pronto.

Enjoy the pictures!

image(9)  photo 1(1)

image(10)

photo

photo 2(1)

signoff

Surabaya: Part 1

Exploring, Hiking, Travel

Last September, my partner and I decided to go on a rather unconventional trip. We booked a flight to East Java, Surabaya, with the intention to catch a glimpse of the sunrise at Mt. Bromo – little did we know that we were in for much for than we bargained for.

We walked away from this trip with a whole new regard for hikers and mountain dwellers and even had an opportunity to swim at the foot of a breath-taking waterfall.

This post is for independent travelers who plan to visit Mt. Bromo on an average budget. If you’re scared of not having a tour guide or if you need to be chauffeured around when the going gets tough, then you’re at the wrong page.

I’m a huge coward myself and I had no idea what my cheeky partner had planned so I found myself frightened out of my wits and tired to the bones throughout the trip. Nevertheless, I cannot deny that it was an enriching experience that I never imagined I was capable of going through – given the fact that I’m the kind of girl who usually travels only for shopping and typical sightseeing that doesn’t involve any element of danger.

1. Book a budget flight to Surabaya

We booked a one-way flight to Surabaya as we planned to fly to Bali after the Surabaya trip. Booking a one-way trip should cost you about SGD 80 one way via budget airlines (we took Tiger Airways)

2. Book accommodation at Mt. Bromo

Do not go to Surabaya without having already booked your accommodation. We met many lost and confused backpackers at Bromo who had not done their homework for their lodging and ended up staying at areas way too far away from Mt. Bromo and, well, when this happens, the locals will take advantage of the situation by offering you their driving services which is an unnecessary waste of money if you had planned your lodging wisely.

We booked our lodging at Cafe Lava Hostel which, in my opinion, was perfect. It definitely wasn’t your 4 or 5 star hotel kind of environment, but it nicely captured the essence of backpacking on a foreign mountain far far away – quite magical. The room was very brown as everything was mostly made of wood, and the tv was broken (we didn’t bother making a fuss out of it – who goes to the mountain to watch tv, anyway?) but we had a ball of a time pretending to be authentic mountain dwellers. On a practical note, Cafe Lava is walking distance to all the other hotels which means that food is easily accessible. Price wise, it costs about IDR 400 000 (SGD 43.00) per night. We booked Cafe Lava for 2 nights.

3. Arrival at Junda Airport

Everything will be chaotic, and well – foreign, naturally. There will be a swarm of touts coming up to you to offer their tour services, but do not pay them any attention. As an independent traveler, you need to master the art of ‘the poker face’. Walk straight out to the front road of the airport (whilst maintaining your poker face), look for a DAMRI shuttle bus to the main bus station (Bungarasih Bus Terminal) You will have to pay IDR20 000 (~SGD 2.10) for a 15-20 min bus ride.

4. Bungarasih Bus Terminal

Here you will need to catch a public bus to Probolinggo. This bus terminal was definitely the scariest bus terminal I’ve been at in my life – so crowded, everyone is at your face trying to sell you something, they follow you everywhere, native clamour is astounding. Don’t fret, don’t show you’re afraid, just put on your Poker Face again. You have to walk pass plenty of food and other stalls, find your way through the other end of the terminal where all the buses are waiting at. Ask around to find out which of the buses go to Probolinggo. We didn’t see proper signages around so that was the only way. Once you board the bus, a countless number of local sellers will start streaming in and dropping random items on your lap which you can determine whether you would like to purchase or not.. they will make another round to collect the item from your lap if you’re not interested in buying in. The bus conductor will then come by your seat to collect about IDR 30 000 (SGD 3) and then issue you a bus ticket. Once the bus moves off, the local sellers will get out of the bus and thankfully, your 3 hour journey on this bus will be somewhat peaceful.

10653852_10152712167180853_3521197243493409293_n

5. Probolinggo

Try to plan your itinerary in such a manner that you arrive at Probolinggo no later than 4pm – you want to get to bromo ASAP before its too dark and you don’t have time to rest before the hike. Once you alight, walk straight to the main road and turn left. Keep walking straight ahead and you will see a few mini buses parked at the main road. There will probably be many other backpackers standing around too. The mini buses are parked just infront of a couple of food and fruit stalls so if you need to grab a drink or a bite, here would be ideal. The driver will wait for a minimum of 10-11 people to fill up the mini bus before he agrees to go. The ride will cost you roughly IDR 30 000 (SGD 3) depending on the number of people in the bus, the more people, the less you pay as the cost of one bus is IDR 450 0000. The bus will stop you right at the door step of your lodging. The entire ride will be about 1.5 hours.

10407151_10152712167255853_5093423074935863939_n

1545623_10152712167230853_6520483541518840027_n

6. 3 AM hike up Mt Penanjakan to catch the sunrise overlooking Mt. Bromo

This was the scariest sh*t I did in my life. It didn’t help that my hand-held torchlight was so dim that it hardly provided any form of decent light. Thankfully, my partner’s torchlight was working well. I also had my miserable little head light which well, shone a tiny spotlight wherever I went. I knew that my partner had been looking forward to this hike for ages, so I had to suck it all up.

10550940_10152712167350853_4797330266098489484_n

(Above picture taken just outside our room at Cafe Lava at 3am as we were setting off for the hike)

10678807_10152712167585853_42447250160021598_n

The route that we took started at the sandy foot path to the left of Cemara Indah Hotel which is about a 10 minutes walk from where we stayed (Cafe Lava). From there, its about a 5km hike to the first view point. Sounds easy, right?

7. Hike to Viewpoint One

Wrong. It’s pitch dark, super cold (about 5 degrees at 3am) and a fair portion of the hike was rather steep and very sandy. The pain in my feet wasn’t bugging me, but the sheer darkness of the place creeped me out. I thought the worst was over when we finally completed the 5km and arrived at Viewpoint One. Here, there were many other tourists but they are all taking the jeep. They looked so happy and calm, I really wished I could go on the jeep with them. The viewpoint was pretty lively with a little stall selling hot coffee and little snacks. I had no appetite for any of that though.

8. Hike to Viewpoint Two

We continued the second half of the hike up Mt. Pananjakan which is 2706m high. This route was much steeper and uneven than the first half of the hike. For a brief moment, I imagined my lifeless, decapitated body at the foot of the mountain. I shuddered and yelled at my partner to shine some light where I struggling to climb. My new gloves tore apart as I pulled myself up rock after rock, barely managing to maintain my balance on the sandy surfaces. After about 2 hours, we were still slowly progressing and a little part of the sky was turning an orangey-red colour but by this time fear had consumed my being and I was unable to appreciate the beauty around me. The only group of hikers we met on the way up decided that the route was too dangerous and turned back. I looked at my partner with pleading eyes, but seeing him full of enthusiasm to take the less favoured road, I  mentally prepared myself for death. The next 15 minutes, my mind was blank and I just thought about the possibility of teleporting myself back home in Singapore, in the warmth of my bed.  My hole-y glove came right out off my right hand and fell off the steep surface that I was on, into the darkness. That was probably the last straw for me as I started tearing uncontrollably.

10533442_10152712176250853_4452089222225862934_n

(Tried not to roll down while taking this shot, shortly after my one of my gloves disappeared into the darkness.)

10636183_10152712176365853_5516038827276134688_n

Well, it definitely wasn’t my day to die as we finally made it to the top and my partner was beaming with joy. I could barely stutter a word. He jumped and ran around and starting taking pictures and I sat down to catch my breath. Yes, the view was beautiful, but out of spite, I couldn’t help but think that I would have enjoyed this view much better on a freaking postcard.

We took a motorcycle down, obviously. There was no way my wobbly legs could carry me any further.

Risking my life to witness a beautiful sunrise – Check.

signoff