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)

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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.

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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.

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Before the hike, all fresh faced at station 19.

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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. 

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

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Close up of the restored walls.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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Staycation at Studio M

Travel

tatumwrites staycation

Hello friends!

I feel 110% rejuvenated after a super short and refreshing break that I had at Studio M with my partner for our 2nd anniversary. Thought I’d share a few pictures from this awesome stay and all of the fun we had!

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Packed some of my favourite make up necessities in my pretty new Shu Uemura make up pouch

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As usual, I am never able to bring only 1 set of swim wear out so I brought 2 and chose the one that suited my mood better. Hahaha.

Bikini top (right) – Cotton On

Bikini bottom (right) – Eau Paix Vie

Bikini top (left) – Cotton On

Bikini bottom (left) – French Connection

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The pool area isn’t huge like other luxury hotels, but i found it quaint and really peaceful especially since there were not many people at all (probably since it was a weekday)

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Ok so I’m testing out a new photo editing software and I love how it makes the pictures glow. I really look Iike I’m glowing here and I love it!

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M being his usual self…

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& me being my usual self. No day is a happy day without chocolate.

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It was so relaxing just sitting there doing nothing. That’s the whole point of going on a staycation (in my opinion, of course) – to do nothing and just lie still.

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I love how the jacuzzi just overlooks the busy street. I have a few embarrassing pictures of me waving to the random cars in my swimsuit and having a good laugh about it but they are obviously too retarded to share.

Studio M singapore pool

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So we made such a horrendous mess in the room that I don’t quite have a presentable picture to share. But from the above picture where I’m receiving a smooch (hehe?), you can see that the room follows a loft design where the bed is on a upper deck whilst theres a couch and a super huge window thanks to the amazingly high ceiling on the lower deck. It really is an unconventional interior design concept for a hotel room – I believe its the only such one in Singapore? Well at least for such a price (about SG 250 a night), it definitely is an affordable option for such a stylish interior. The only annoying thing about the room was that the toilet was just tiny. No bathtub and tiny. I think this place would be close to perfect if this toilet constraint can be resolved!

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Here’s a silhouette picture M took taking advantage of the beautiful huge window in the room. Such an artistic shot but its really just of me trying to whip my hair back and forth and failing miserably. I soon gave up and made my way to the swimming pool. Hahaha.

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The next morning we decided to have brunch at a little book cafe named Book Cafe (I’d never have guessed that one). We had a beautiful brunch which surpassed my expectations in terms of ambiance and food quality. I loved that the cafe offers all kinds of international magazines and books to browse whilst having a meal or just coffee. There’s even quite a few giant sofas for customers to lounge on. Hands down one of the best cafe concepts I’ve seen.

Since this staycation was really to celebrate our 2nd year together, I thought I’d share a little tip/secret/advice (or two, yes make it two) from what I have learnt in our short 2 years together. It’s really simple – Laugh everything off! Especially if the problem isn’t really a problem – laugh at each other and with each other. I think its through laughter that we learn to forgive and grow as a couple. Oh, and… Pick. Your. Battles.

That’s all for today. Thanks for reading!

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Valley of the Giants TreeTop Walk in Walpole, Perth

Exploring, Travel

Hello again, friends!

There are few things in life that can be more refreshing than a treetop walk.

Since I just blogged about Singapore’s HSBC TreeTop Walk, I decided to share a very similar (but undeniably more breathtaking and magnificent) treetop walk that I experienced during my post-grad trip in Perth mid 2013. I can’t believe its been more than 1.5 years! That was my first overseas trip with my partner and it was quite honestly, one of the best trips of my life – everything about the trip was thoroughly relaxing – from the perfect weather to the laughter and song filled drives to some of the most scenic beaches. In this post I will be sharing a few pictures from the Valley of the Giants, Walpole TreeTop Walk – which is a 400km drive from Perth. We drove from Fremantle, had a lovely meal at a winery in Margaret River, then drove further down to Walpole where we lived in a beautiful cottage for a couple of nights.

I love that all the different species of plants and trees are extremely well labelled – it makes everything much more educational and interesting. The trees are all gigantic – which explains why the place is called Valley of the Giants. When we arrived, it was pouring – thankfully, the rain ceased after we spent an hour reading about the history of the park in the information room.

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Next to the entrance of the Valley of the Giants, you will see a small route that leads you to the Bibbulmun Track. Once we stumbled on it, we knew that we just had to come back after a few years to embark on this trail. Hopefully some day soon!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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