The Vacationist

Doctor by profession. Traveller by heart.
  • Day4

    The Pad Thai Shop and more night markets

    August 20, 2018 in Thailand ⋅ ⛅ 27 °C

    We utilized the swimming pool at dCondo Mine today. It was huge and we were the only ones in it (for the most of it anyway). Once hunger struck we got ready and left for The Pad Thai Shop around 30 minutes away.

    The shop was packed with locals and tourists. Alot of their dishes had finished by the time we got there. We ordered the prawn pad thai, chicken krapow with fried egg and rice, and crab fried rice. The pad thai was the best one I have ever had. The chicken krapow delicious but spicy as hell. Crab fried rice always the safe choice anywhere. Their portions were huge and only for THB 50 each. They even have free flow chicken soup which was very rich in flavour. I definitely would recommend this shop. Oh, and a plus point, the staff speaks excellent english.

    Since it was out last full day here, we needed to do souvenir shopping. So off we went to Malin Plaza Market. The souvenirs here were the cheapest by far. Tshirts, key chains, magnets, bags, wood carvings, you name it. Food was of abundance too. We bought the mango with sticky rice to go since we were still full.

    It was 7pm by the time we got done, so next stop: Chillva Market. This is somewhat like a hipster night market. We didn't buy any souvenirs here since we already bought everything we needed, but we couldn't say no to food. So we bought sausages, smoothies, sushi and many more and made our way back to our condo to call it a night as we have an early flight in the morning.
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  • Day3

    Big Buddha and Sunday Night Market

    August 19, 2018 in Thailand ⋅ 🌧 25 °C

    Woke up and it was raining so we slept in and left our condominium at 11am and went to Gallery Cafe by Pinky, famous for their breakfast and brunch. Ordered smoothies and a whole lot of other stuff. Rather pricy but food was good.

    Still raining at 1pm and so visiting beaches is out of the question. So Big Buddha it was. This is a huge Buddha statue on top of a steep hill and the view of Phuket is magnificent from here. The temple was under renovation when we went so there was alot of rubble lying around. However, we did discover the most awesome coconut ice cream ever. It was at a stall near the entrance. It tasted literally like the coconut meat turned into ice with no preservatives added.

    By the time we left it was around 5pm, so we headed off to one of the famous night markets, the Sunday Lardyai a.k.a. night market. We bought some soap carvings shaped like flowers and a whole lot of food. Then we headed back to devour it all.
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  • Day2

    A series of beaches and viewpoints

    August 18, 2018 in Thailand ⋅ 🌧 29 °C

    We reached yesterday evening but were too tired to go out. Plus our car that we rented was only coming in the morning. Stayed in dCondo Mine (its an Airbnb hosted by a guy named Lupthawit) and went to bed early.

    Got a Toyota Vios from Pure Car Rental at 9am today. Very affordable thanks to Lupthawit's discount code. Only paid THB 2700 for 3 days. Its cheaper to rent a car here than to keep hiring taxis as there are multiple beaches to visit.

    First up, we decided to visit Patong Beach but it was so crowded and the water was brown (maybe because it rained the day before), so we moved on to Karon Beach. Water was blue there and the waves were violent. Most areas wasn't suitable for swimming so we just walked along the beach for a while.

    After that, we went to Karon Viewpoint for a bit. Not a bad view but again full of people taking selfies so we didn't spend much time there.

    We headed off to Kata Noi Beach next (didn't go to Kata Beach in fear of massive crowds). This is a cute little stretch of beach where very few people were sunbathing and splashing around on.

    Then we made a short stop at Nai Harn beach. Another small beach but with more people around. Some people even bring their dogs for walks here.

    After all that it was nearly 6pm, so we headed off to one of the most prominent viewpoints, Promthep Cape. It is said that this place is famous for its sunset view but it was rather cloudy so not much of a sun was seen.

    Since it was a Saturday, we went to find the Weekend Night Market, which we did after alot of time in traffic. They say it closes by 9pm, but we reached there at 8.30pm and were there til about 10pm and it was still as lively as ever. Alot of food variety here but not very much different from Malaysia. Bought fruit smoothies, mango with sticky rice, grilled prawns, crab fried rice, and black bean filled pastry (no idea whats it called). Oh, and they sell crickets and silk worms too. Didn't have the guts to eat those though.

    That was that. We called it a day. More adventure awaits tomorrow.
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  • Day14

    Huashan Mountain

    October 27, 2017 in China ⋅ ☀️ 14 °C

    The finale. Known as the most dangerous hike in the world. Mount Huashan is one of the 5 sacred mountain in China, and holds the title of "most precipitous mountain". Just imagine climbing a mountain shaped like a square, with the vertical incline at almost a 90 degree angle.

    We left our hostel with our bags at 6.30am and walked to the nearest metro station to take a train to the Xi'an North station. We left our heavy luggage at the storage area there for the time being. From there, we took a bullet train (pre-booked on Ctrip site) to Huashan North station. It took around 30 minutes to get there. There is a free shuttle bus service every half an hour from the train station to Mt. Huashan. Entrance ticket costed us ¥180, but there is more. The bus ride to the mountain proper is paid separately. We took a bus to the North gate (¥30) as most tourists go to the West gate, so it wasn't as congested. From there you have to take a cable car and pay again. It was an expensive day but we didn't care because it was our last day in China.

    Once at the top, we walked up and down stairs to the multiple peaks starting from the North Peak. It was tiring and my knees needed a break every now and then. Luckily I had muffins and Snickers. Unhealthy I know.

    It was a mildly cool day so a regular spring jacket was adequate. The views are pretty much the same for all the peaks, but what we wanted was an adrenaline rush. We reached the Dangerous Plankwalk people have been talking about after 3 hours of hiking. After waiting in line for almost 2 hours and a fee of ¥30, we were worn harnesses and allowed on the plank. Now this was thrilling. Just a plank against the mountain wall and the view is just breathtaking. Some tourists were screaming and crying but still wanted their picture taken. This is not for those who fear height.

    After that adventure, we continued our way down to the West Peak and took West cable car down the mountain. We took the park bus and then the shuttle bus to the Huashan North station and caught our train bound for Xi'an North station.

    We were so hungry by the time we reached Xi'an North that we started binging on McDonald's. We then grabbed our luggage and took the airport shuttle bus since it was only ¥25.

    Our flight was departing at 12.50am so we took the time to eat again since we were done checking in by 9pm. It was time to say farewell to China. This trip has taught me alot, especially regarding the Silk Road history.

    Here's some tips I can offer:
    1. As far as possible try to opt for roaming. If you don't then you have to have VPN everytime you connect to wifi. I recommend the Express VPN app.
    2. Book your train tickets 1 month in advance from ctrip.com or the app. Otherwise, it is highly likely you won't get a train buying tickets over the counter.
    3. Carry snacks with you as you are going to be very nomadic. Biscuits and bread will do.
    4. People in China don't understand English much so I recommend using the Google translate app. It can help in constructing sentences as well as reading the chinese writting on signboards and menus.
    5. Expect smelly public toilets even in decent looking places, to avoid disappointment.
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  • Day14

    Xi'an

    October 27, 2017 in China ⋅ 🌙 7 °C

    Took a 6 hour flight from Kashgar to Xi'an today. Reached Xi'an at almost 5pm. We got a rip off taxi driver who charged us ¥200 from airport to our hostel which was near the DrumTower.

    Chang'an Youth Hostel. Nice place. We got twin beds and our own bathroom. So we left our luggage and off we went to Muslim Street to get some food and souvenirs.

    All kinds of food here. We had fried banana, fried potatoes, stuffed chicken wings, beef dumplings and of course, the ever famous pomegranate juice.

    I bought quite a lot of souvenirs. The price can go down by almost 50% if you have the energy to haggle. I bought bookmarks (they are light and easy to carry), a scroll painting, fridge magnets, and T-shirts. Oh, and I got myself an artist to draw a potrait picture of me. Costs ¥80. Fortunately, drawn me looks better than real me. Real me has been walking around China lacking hydration and sleep. Picture me looked flawless.

    We left the place 10pm. From what I hear, most stalls close by 10.30pm here.

    Rather easy going day today. Off to the deadly Mt. Huashan tomorrow morning. Going to need all the rest I can get.
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  • Day12

    Tashkurgan to Kashgar

    October 25, 2017 in China ⋅ ⛅ 12 °C

    Before leaving Tashkurgan, we visited the Stone City, or the Stone Fort. This area has a 2000 year history as it was a major caravan stop along the Silk Road. It served to control the traffic along these caravan routes and provide refuge for the merchants. For a fee of ¥30, we were allowed in to view this ancient monument. It has wooden pathways which lead upto the Stone Fort, where a magnificent view of the Golden Grasslands and the Pamir Mountains can be seen.

    We left soon after and travelled down the Karakoram Highway making the same stops as we did yesterday but with one additional stop, which was where the trees formed sort of a dome/tunnel along the highway. We took some pictures in the middle of the highway when the road was empty.

    The skies were clearer compared to yesterday, so the Muztagh Ata was more photogenic today. Because of this, the White Sand Lake and Karakul lake seem to be shimmering due to the unshielded sun rays.

    It took us about 8 hours to get back to Kashgar as there were multiple security checks and traffic jams.
    We checked back into the same hostel, the Kashgar Old Town Youth Hostel, and checked out at dawn the next day to catch a flight to Xi'an.
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  • Day11

    Karakoram Highway to Tashkurgan

    October 24, 2017 in China ⋅ 🌧 8 °C

    The epic journey from Kashgar to Tashkurgan via the world's most dangerous highway commenced this morning. We shared a van with 5 other people from our hostel. Costed us ¥400 per person for the journey.

    Along the way we made multiple stops. Our first stop was a town called Opal. We stopped here for lunch and to stock up on food. This is a town run by Uyghurs so expect predominantly Uyghur food.

    Next we stopped at the side of the road to take pictures of the Red Mountain, also known as the Oytagh Canyon. A river crosses nearby making the pictures look more dynamic.

    Along the way we could see the snow capped Karakoram mountain ridge. The weather was getting colder as we headed to higher elevation.

    My all time favourite was the White Sand Lake. The turquoise lake with the white sand dunes in the background is a great combination. I couldn't get enough of the scenery. But it was cold, so I had to surrender to the elements and get back in the van.

    A little further up was Karakul Lake. Now this is the highlight of the Karakoram Highway. However, the clouds were thick so Muztagh Ata (translates in Uyghur to "Father of Ice Mountains")could not be visualized clearly. The mountain has a height of 7509 metres. There were camels around and one could ride them for a fee. I decided to save by butt the agony.

    Tagharma plateau wetlands were next. These are at the foot of Muztagh Ata at 3050 metres above sea level. The coursing river in between makes a beautiful view of gold and blue.

    Lastly, we arrived at Tashkurgan, a little town that is at the Pakistani, Tajik and Afgani border. Ethnicity here is mainly of Tajik. Before we went to our hostel, we went to the town's glassland. Looks like a marsh to me. There is a river with water wheels placed. The Pamir mountains beyond adds to the scenery.

    We stayed at the Kute Youth Hostel, which was pretty affordable (¥50 per person) and had a classy feel to it. Dinner was at a hot pot restaurant nearby where we had yak meat and plenty of vegetables from the steaming pot. I think the place was called YipNYak Nourishing Hot Pot. It was nice to have warm broth in my stomach in freezing weather.
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  • Day10

    Kashgar

    October 23, 2017 in China ⋅ ⛅ 12 °C

    This is the westernmost city in China, where the north and south Silk Roads met and created a trading frenzy. Alot of history here but a lot of it also has been demolished.

    It has an old city, which consist of houses built using rammed earth, but the Chinese government has started a program called Dangerous House Reform back in 2009 and it is still ongoing until about 85% of this city has been modernized. The rest of it will turn into a museum-like town. Honestly, I'm not too happy about this "new" old city but maybe it is better for the locals to have more sturdy houses.

    There is a mosque here by the name of Id Kah Mosque. It was built was back in 1442. Somehow the more west I travel, the older the structures are. This mosque is the largest in the Xinjiang province.

    We also visited a tomb here. Abakh Hoja Tomb, established in 1640 by the king of the Hoja regime, is known to have the largest dome in Xinjiang. 72 people from 5 generations of the Abakh Hoja family was buried in the coffin chamber here.

    We stayed Kashgar Old Town Youth Hostel, which was in the "new" old city, so we pretty much spent our day walking around this part of town. At night my travelmate went to the night bazaar but it quickly closed at 9pm as the police were upto something. I didn't go though. It was cold and I'd rather sip warm tea in my hostel room.

    And that concludes my written tour of Kashgar. Tomorrow, Karakoram Highway awaits!
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  • Day9

    Kuqa

    October 22, 2017 in China ⋅ ☀️ 18 °C

    We headed to our Airbnb as soon as we reached and we passed out on the hard bed. Felt more like a table lined by thick cloth. Fun fact: There is only one Airbnb in this town.

    This is a small town with its very own old city where the architecture is pretty much ancient. Hence, we decided to go there first. We went to the Kuqa Mosque where a few kids were playing in front. One hungry kid was even eyeing the samsa (Uyghur fried dumpling) I was holding so it quickly became his. Entrance to this mosque is ¥15. Turns out this place was bulit in 1559 and was renovated and repaired multiple times thereafter due to multiple disasters like fires and earthquakes. It still stands strong till today and locals still go there to pray. It has earned the title of 2nd largest mosque in Xinjiang after the mosque in Kashgar.

    Since we were running short of time as we have a train to Kashgar to catch tonight, we decided to hire a taxi to take us to Tianshan "Mysterious" Grand Canyon. We managed to get a taxi to take us to and fro for ¥400, which is pretty affordable in my opinion as the place was 2 hours away.

    After multiple security checks along the highway, we finally reached our destination, and let me tell you, it was worth it. The huge rock formations stand like giants all around us. The light from the sun makes it look like the canyon is gleaming. We spent around almost 2 hours here walking to the end of the canyon and taking pictures from multiple angles.

    We reached back to Kuqa at around 7pm and our driver brought us to a fancy dining place where the waiters fill up your glass even after you have just taken one sip. It wasn't our ideal as we wanted to eat at the old city but due to communication breakdown we thought we just give in and eat whatever we could get our hands on. Besides, we were quite famished as we been eating biscuits and grapes the whole day.

    We headed back to our Airbnb and packed up and left for the train station by 10pm. Don't want to get caught up in all the security checks and end up being late. Surprisingly we were done by 10.30pm and so we just sat there waiting for 2 hours.

    We got a hard sleeper and I fell sound asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. We were bound to reach Kasgar @ Kashi at 9am tomorrow.
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  • Day8

    Xinjiang International Grand Bazaar

    October 21, 2017 in Malaysia ⋅ ☀️ 28 °C

    We woke up later than usual today on purpose. Today's plan was just to visit the Grand Bazaar and do some souvenir shopping. One of our travelmate has to catch a flight back today so we decided this was the best thing to do. It gives us all a chance to do some shopping as other days mostly involve alot of sightseeing.

    We left the hostel at around 10am. It took around 20 minutes by taxi from our hostel and costed us about ¥15 to this place. Once there, we were subjected to security checks (again) before entering.

    You would think this bazaar is an important part of the Silk Road, but no, it was only built in 2003. It is the biggest bazaar in the world apparently. Smack in the middle of it is a 80 metre sightseeing tower. There is also a mosque within the vicinity.

    The bazaar has goods consisting mainly of dried fruit, figurines, jewellery, carpets and scarves. We wandered around for a bit before meeting an English speaking Uyghur shop owner who sold dried fruit. We asked him where to eat around the bazaar area and instead of just telling us, he brought us to the shop and even helped us in ordering food. The restaurant was called Alim Characteristic Polo (Yea I know, doesn't sound like a restaurant). We had polo, also known as pilaf (rice cooked in seasoned broth and had dried fruit, meat and spices) which is an Uyghur traditional dish. We also ordered barbequed mutton ribs coated in some local spices.

    After lunch, we headed back to the hostel as our travelmate needed to get packing and head to the airport. And then there was only two of us continuing the journey upto Tashkurgan. We also had overnight train to catch at 8.20pm today, so we left our hostel at around 7pm. That was a bad idea because when we got to Urumqi South station, there was a huge crowd undergoing security checks. After a series of security checks, we made it to our waiting hall at 8pm only to realize our train was delayed to 8.55pm. Since we didn't have time for dinner, we bought instant noodles and ate them in the train.

    The soft sleeper bunk beds are really comfortable and we shared it with a Japanese couple who were quiet the whole night. We will be reaching Kuqa (Kuche) at 6.33am tomorrow. Can't wait!
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