Hong Kong/Macau, at a glance

Hi all,

Here’s a short photo re-cap of my visit to Hong Kong/Macau during the Christmas period last year.

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I simply love their lemon tea (hot) which brought warmth (much needed) to the body in the cold weather. Not a huge fan of their tomato based spaghetti though. It was more like ketchup plus noodles stirred fried together to form soggy noddles.

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I’m those who prefer portuguese egg tart over the normal chinese egg tart. Naturally, I can’t visit Macau without having one of them. It was awesome.

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Here’s a snapshot from one of the outlying islands we visited from Hong Kong. Till the next post, bye!

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Desaru 2016, a city-break

Hi all!

Following the end of my finals, the beginning of the month saw my family heading down to Desaru for a day trip. Known for its pristine beaches, we made a quick pitstop at the Lotus Desaru Beach Resort to take a look at the coastline that bordered the South China Sea. The waters were pretty clear but the high temperature that day forced us into a quick retreat into the shade. The sand was literally burning.

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From the beach, we drove down to the ostrich farm, where tickets were priced at 15 RM for an adult. Once we were through the gates, we were treated to an exhibition of “cracking” the ostrich egg. But really, it was more like hammering a small hole in with a nail. There was then a call for the audience to pay and try an ostrich omelette. Did you know, an ostrich egg could serve up to 7 omelettes? Interesting eh… Also, when their beaks are orange-red, the ostrich is a male, while female beaks are grey.

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After having the omelette and a cup of coffee (ah~), we went to Jade Garden resort for lunch. The restaurant was only a short 3 to 5 minutes drive down from the ostrich farm. I would highly recommend coming here for the fish! Haha, super fresh and well-priced. We had a grouper (slightly more than 1 kg) for only 80 RM! Lunch was super good and it was accompanied by the sudden downpour, which brought some reprieve from the heat (even though we were in an air-conditioned room, lol).

Despite the on-going light drizzle as we left the restaurant, we decided to head down to Desaru fruit farm, in hopes that the rain has not hit the area yet. Entrance fee to this place was 25 RM/adult pax. While there were some interesting plant varieties here, most were left out by the plantation guide in favour of more tropically known fruit plants like the banana or papaya plants, to better entertain the children within the tour group.

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The animal farm located within the fruit farm was definitely an unexpected surprise, although the rabbits there were pretty sad. Especially one which was released from its cage to “interact” with the tourists. But it was so scared that it was shivering non-stop. Sigh… Even seeing the lone monkey in its small little cage made me feel so sad and guilty. But maybe because I’m used to the cage-less concept in the Singapore Zoo, seeing animals in a caged enclosure just makes everything seemed so wrong.

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But till the next post, bye!

Xi’an Day 4 & 5

Hi all!

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This was the most exciting (& highly anticipated) day in Xi’an. We were headed to Huashan!!!! Woots~ If there’s only one thing you can do in Xi’an (after visiting the Terracotta warriors), I would highly recommend Huashan. Haha, having scoured the internet for information on this previously labelled “most dangerous mountain,” I found that beyond the popular plank road, not much information (in terms of pictures and stuff) on its current status was available. Beyond the phrase it’s a lot safer right now, the possible hiking paths to take (at least to me) were not very clear. So I hope this post will help you guys somewhat (if any). Lol.

Tip 1: Be prepared to have some loose coins on hand as some machine would only accepted coins. 

First up, getting to Huashan from Xi’an city! You’ll take whichever mrt train from the station closest to you, in my case, it was the bell tower station (钟鼓楼: zhong gu lou), all the way until the last stop: Xi’an north station (西安北: xi an bei). One-way ticket price (you can get it from the ticket machine) is about 6/7 yuan from my station. But this varies according to where you hop onto the train.

Tip 2: Bring your passport along

You’ll need them to buy the express train tickets and subsequently, the entrance tickets to Huashan. You’ll also require them when you”check-in” the express train station since you’ll be headed Huayin (华阴: hua yin) city, which is in the Shanxi (陕西: shan xi) province.

Tip 3: Get your train tickets beforehand, especially if it’s the peak season. 

Grab your express train tickets the day before you plan to head down to the mountain to secure your seats on the train. Start the day early and go for the first train out of Xi’an North to Huashan North (华山北: hua shan bei). On a Saturday, I took the 7.53 am train (train no.: G652). The train would arrive more or less promptly at 7.51 am and the station master will hurry you on board so that the train can leave on time. The train is actually pretty clean, even in the 2nd class seats. We took the 1st class seats that cost 89.5 yuan. A small goodie bag of food and drinks was also provided for 1st class seaters. The journey to Huashan north, which is actually the next stop, is about 35 to 45 minutes. Pretty fast, if you ask me.

Also, if like us, you’re worried about missing your return train back to Xi’an North so you are considering to buy it after you descend from the mountain, DON’T! If you set off at the above-mentioned time, and you’re planning on this route: ascend North peak by cable car – hike North to West peak – descend West peak by cable car, you’ll be able to finish the journey at about 2 plus. The route is the same from the West peak to the North peak. This is the speed based on my average fitness level and little/no queue for the cable car ride. It also factored in some photo-shooting time. Accounting for the time you’ll get back to Huashan North station from the free shuttle service provided, you’ll reach Huashan North at about 3-ish pm. So if you’re worried, buy the return train ticket for about 6 pm plus. It’s better to wait than worry about being stranded at the station (which was what almost happened to my aunt and I as the train was so full). In my case, the return train we fortunately managed to get on was at 6.42 pm (train no.: G819). So we waited for about four hours at the station. Lol.

Tip 4: How to get to Huashan visitor centre from Huashan North station (and back).

To get there: Just follow the crowd as you get out of the station. You’ll see a horde of them rushing to the overfilled free green shuttle buses that leads you the huashan visitor centre. You’ll be able to spot the buses and taxi waiting right in front (towards your left) as you exit from the station. Alternatively, you can gather a group of four (or the taxi driver will gather them for you but you need to wait until he does so) and grab a taxi for 10 yuan/pax. There’s no need to fight with the crowd in this way.

To get back: At the Huashan visitor centre, follow the signs to carpark 2A, where you can take a free shuttle bus to Huashan North station. The only bad thing is if you reach the carpark at about 2 plus you’ll need to wait for the bus to fill up somewhat (at least half-filled) before the driver would move off. This can take a while but it varies (waiting time of 20-30 mins especially if you’re the first passenger on board during the non-peak period in a day). Make sure you’re on the right bus as there’s another bus heading to Huashan station, which is NOT THE SAME as Huashan North. But there’s a employee guiding people to the correct buses and you can always check with her for the correct bus.

Tip 5: Ascend the mountain early and entrance/cable car ticket information

Go early and you’ll not have to wait (long) to go up or down the cable car. Also, when getting your entrance tickets to the mountain, because they have to check your passport, it’ll take quite a while. We were the first group that arrived at the huashan visitor centre but we still had to wait close to 30 minutes to get our mountain passes. In fact, the next wave of people from the next express train arrived while we were still queuing. Can you imagine as people keeps flowing in how long you would have to stand in line? So arriving early was a good decision. 🙂

The tickets you purchased here (quite pricey in its own right) are only for the mountain entrance pass (180 yuan/pax to all 4 peaks that last for 2 days) and the bus ride to the North or West peak cable car station (FYI: there’s only cable car rides to the North and West peak). Bus ride up to the North peak (one-way) was 20 yuan/pax. You would also have to pay this price (total of 200 yuan/pax), even if you plan on starting out from the Soldier’s path (starting point is located at the base of the North peak cable car) . You can only purchase the cable car tickets either at the base/peak of the mountain. You’ll not be able to get them at the visitor centre. It’s important to remember that if you plan on taking West peak cable car, you’ll only be able to buy the ticket from the West peak (vice versa for the North peak). Cable car up the North peak was 80 yuan/apx (one-way) and cable car down from the West peak was 140 yuan/pax (one-way). Once you’ve descended from the west peak (i.e. base of the mountain), you’ll need to purchase the bus ride ticket down the West peak to the visitor centre (one-way) at 40 yuan/pax.

FYI: Bus & cable car prices would differ according to the peaks. It’s a lot pricier for the West peak.

Tip 6: Bring snacks and water! Proper attire!

Food and drinks on the mountain can be pricey as they’ve to be carried up laboriously by man. Pack a burger/sandwich, 2 bottles of mineral water and a small packet of sweet drink (to replenish your glucose level mid-way) for the hike. This combination worked for me. Most importantly, have something in your tummy before climbing so you don’t end up fainting on the mountain.

A point that cannot be reiterated enough: proper attire. Wear shorts/long pants, depending on the season you visit. If you’re going in the summer (which was what I did), shorts was good enough. Long pants would probably be too warm as it approached noon. Proper trekking shoes (or at least sports shoes) would be good. Even if stairs and handles have been built in by the government to improve the safety on the mountain, there are certain portions that can be dangerous if you’re not careful and slip and fall. I’ve seen so many Chinese woman wearing shoes with insoles (seriously?), sandals, wedges, heels etc. and complaining about the hike. How they lack the common sense to wear proper shoes is the biggest thing that befuddles me. There’s always a proper place and time for these footwear, seriously.

Tip 7: What route to take? How hard was the climb? 

I would highly recommend going for the hike from the North peak to the West peak. Sure, you’re ascending to the peak, which means climbing up the stairs, a lot of stairs. But it’s a lot less demanding on your knees and a lot less scary as compared to descending from the West to the North peak. There are certain points along this route where descending can be terrifying (because you’re looking down from the top and you can literally see the height from the ground). If you were to go up, you’ll only have eyes for the next step in front of you as you grip onto the metal chains at the side of the stairs. You’ll most likely not be looking around on the stairs cause a) it’s dangerous as the steps are pretty narrow b) there’ll be people at the back hurrying you on if you pause for too long. But plan your route well. If your aim is to go for the wooden plank route, then cater to it. Going from the North to the West peak (vice versa), you’ll actually not pass through it at all.

In detail the point of interest you’ll pass through: North peak – ear hugging cliff – up the heaven’s ladder – cang long ling – wu yun peak – gold lock pass (金锁关: jin suo guan) – West peak. There are also signboards, maps and people directing you at strategic location along the route. So directions were mostly quite clear.

Personally, I felt that the climb was pretty okay. No doubt, it was challenging, particularly at cang long ling (苍龙岭). This was due to the endless flight of stairs, which makes you feel like you want to give up. But there were actually old hikers encouraging me to carry on when I paused for a breather along cang long ling. That was pretty nice. But if you wish to skip out on this section of the route, you can go for the less intensive climb (but longer route) which, will also converge at wu yun peak (五雲峰: wu yuan feng). Coming to the end of my lengthy post, let’s admire the beautiful Huashan, one of the five most sacred mountains in China. ^^

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The starting point of the soldier’s path
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Entrance to the North peak cable car

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Part of the soldier’s path route from the cable car, and this was part of a milder climb up to the North peak.

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Approaching the North peak

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Map of Huashan, taken at an angle. Lol, but hope it helps! 🙂IMG_2022

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View of the West peak from the North peak
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Start of our climb, there’s no turning back now, haha.

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Ear-hugging cliff
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First example why ascending would be better. If you see the lady in the hat at the bottom of the picture, she actually suffered from a mild fright from the height and was too nervous to climb down. So a couple that was ascending had to slowly guide her down while the rest of us waited in line. You can only climb in a single row to make way for those that might be climbing down. Plus, it’s a lot safer to so as the stairs are quite narrow.

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The never-ending cang long ling.
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Finally! I made it up from the flight of stairs. Only to be met with more stairs up ahead. Oh lol!

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Midpoint check: the journey so far! You can spot the North peak cable car station (blue roof)!
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Wu yun peak, which literally translates into five cloud peak.
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A view of the Immortal’s palm peak
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Example 2 of a scary, almost vertical descend. The ascending route (on a separate flight of stairs) is just next to it.

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Pass this stairs, you’ll approach jin suo guan. That means, the end is near! Phew! In love with this pano shot form my iPhone 6. It even managed to capture the slightly fogginess at the mountain, which made the area all the more ethereal.

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This was taken when the tourist flow was marginally reduced. Well worth the wait.

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At the entrance to the West peak cable car!
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Coming down, we shared the cable car with a friendly Chinese family whose son could speak English pretty well. So we had a nice chat and enjoyed the antics of their sound daughter.

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If you try hard enough, you can actually see the line to go up the West peak cable car leading pass the blue roof. You can easily be waiting for more than a few hours and this was about 2 pm. Not much time for you to explore the mountain by then unless you’re planning to stay overnight up the mountains.

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Walking down this flight of stairs from the West peak cable car entrance to the buses. Another perk of why ascending from the North peak is so much better.
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On our last day, we wandered in the city area for some shopping before heading back to the hotel to rest up.

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Last day in Xi’an, I tried this popiah-like (a chinese-style wrap) thingy from the road side stalls just outside my hotel. It was pretty good when it was warm. Definitely 10 times better than the hotel breakfast, hehe! That’s all for my Xi’an post! Now, I’ve to back into the reality of my final year project which is pretty much at a limbo right now until my prof. approves a part of it. Getting quite stress up from it all as they’re both not replying my emails and I’m aiming to get this part done before October ends so I can focus on my finals. *Sigh, silently cries* Too much stress is going to my head, but anyway, till the next post, bye!
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