The Vacationist

Doctor by profession. Traveller by heart.
  • Day7

    Heavenly Lake Tianchi

    October 20, 2017 in China ⋅ ☀️ 9 °C

    Off we went to a land 68 miles east of Urumqi city, to a place where nature welcomed us with a chilly breeze. Lake Tianchi, truly heavenly as the name states.

    To get here, we took a bus from Urumqi to Fukang worth ¥15. It took about an hour. Once in Fukang, be careful you must as there are alot of people overcharging for rides to Lake Tianchi as they include tours. What you must find is the shuttle bus. You can ask the staff at the bus station. This shuttle bus costs ¥5. What I found highly annoying during this journey is the multiple security checks along the way. I've scanned my bag so many times I fear it might mutate soon.

    Once at the entrance of Lake Tianchi, you must pay ¥215 (¥125 for ticket and ¥90 for the bus ride to the lake and back).

    We got there at 10.30am and the cold wind just slapped me in the face. However, it started to get warmer as the sun started to rise higher. But anyway, the view was awesome! There was snow and the mountains were covered with it. It wasn't like that yesterday so we were super lucky to have picked today to visit Lake Tianchi. A fun fact: the lake gets its water from the melted snow from the mountains.

    We brought bread, raisins, apples and biscuits to eat for lunch as they aren't any shops or restaurants nearby. The whole trail around the lake takes about 3 hours, but we just went halfway and turned back.

    We headed back by 4pm the same method we came and we reached by 7pm.

    At night we were invited to dinner by a friend of a friend who is a local here. We ate at a hotel restaurant called Herembag. The food was amazing. We were served local Uyghur delicacies. Lots of mutton, noodles, dumplings, even chicken (that's super rare here). We had mint tea with honey to wash it all down. My favourite was the walnut dumpling. There was also mutton stuffed bun, which we could not finish because we were stuffed, so we took it to go.

    Overall, I had a great day experiencing nature and eating to my heart's content. I wonder what adventure awaits me in the week to come.
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  • Day6

    Urumqi

    October 19, 2017 in China ⋅ ⛅ 11 °C

    We arrived in Urumqi at 10.30am via train. We had a bit of transportation problem as a guy outside the station exit claimed he was a taxi driver and told us to come with him. We did but we soon realized he was bringing us to his car in the parking lot and we asked him how much and he said ¥80. We decided against it eventhough he was very persistent. So we got into a taxi and got dropped of at our hostel and guess what? It was only ¥23. Do be careful of these creeps.

    We checked into Ziyou Hostel and started doing our laundry as we had quite a bit to wash and there was a washing machine available. Also because we are going to be here for 2 nights instead of our usual 1 prior to this, so thats enough time for our clothes to dry.

    We started wandering around nearby. The Nuts and Dry Fruit Market was around the corner but we didn't buy anything as we already had raisins and walnuts from Turpan. We bought a traditional Uyghur nan bread from a store nearby and then we walked to the Urumqi Museum. Took us around 20 minutes. Museum entrance was free so Yay for saving money! There were alot of exhibits on the paleolitic and bronze era as well as the ice age. What I found interesting was that they even had ancient cake on display. There was also an exhibit on the multiple ethnicities in Urumqi and the history behind it.

    After that we took a 20 minute taxi ride to Hongshan Park. Our main reason for going there was the Red Hill Pagoda but we also enjoyed the sight of the colourful temples and the wind blowing the autumn leaves around. There is a pond there where people were fishing and we witnessed some successful attempts.

    Once we were out of there, we walked over to People's Park. This is a beautiful park with its autumn colours at full glory. Old retired folks walking about, exercising, and chatting on the benches. It was rather enchanting. We were done by 6pm and we decided to leave as it was getting cold and we weren't sure if the night market was open tonight. We thought we better ask the hostel staff. Turns out, no night market. Its been banned recently due to some unwanted circumstances.

    And so, we headed out for dinner at an Uyghur place nearby. We had cold noodles and some meat we could not identify. We think its chicken. Atypical chicken. On our way back we bought some nan bread from a roadside vendor. That would be for our journey tomorrow.

    Good thing about today: Attractions were all free! Not for tomorrow though.
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  • Day5

    Turpan

    October 18, 2017 in China ⋅ ⛅ 22 °C

    We took the overnight train from Liuyuan (a town 2 hours via taxi from Dunhuang) at 12.10am and reached early this morning at 7am. You would think that 7am is pretty bright already but 7am here is actually 5am. We only say 7am because the whole of China follows Beijing time.

    It was cold and dark when we got here. We where welcomed by a huge friendly golden retriever when we checked into Dap Youth Hostel. The hostel staff speak good English. With an American accent might I add. We had a warm shower and had breakfast and then left to explore the place. A private car was provided for us by the hostel with a price of ¥450. A day taxi would have been cheaper by it is not as easily available here. Good thing about it is, our driver, Anuar, also spoke excellent English so we didn't have to use sign language like we did in all the cities before this.

    He brought us to see the Flaming Mountains. They are named so not because its an active volcanoe, but because of its colour and pattern. We were planning to head for Astana Tomb, but it was closed for some reason, so we headed down the road through Gaochang Village and saw the ruins along the way. The people here look more like those of Central Asia. Fair skinned, light coloured eyes, almost Arabic or Nepalese. Also, security checkpoints are almost everywhere, some of which require us to show our passport. It is because of the territorial dispute around these parts. If you look around, you see barb wires on houses. Feels like I'm in a war zone. It doesn't really scare me. Instead I'm dying to know more about this place and its people.

    Sweaters and jackets were rendered useless once the sun came up. The weather was so hot it was like as if I was back in Malaysia. I supposed being in the Gobi dessert gives it the extreme temperatures. Temperatures touch 40°C at times. The Turpan Depression is also known as the Death Valley as it is the lowest point in China and the 2nd lowest point in the world at 154 metres below sea level after the Dead Sea.

    Tuyuk Village was our next stop. This village has a history of 2600 years. Currently there are about 65 households with over 370 people, all of which are Uyghurs. Their main source of income are grapes, raisins, mulberries and melons. Most of these products are sold dry and are very affordable. We bought a bag of raisins, walnuts ans dried melons for ¥30. The buildings here are made of rammed earth so they have a brownish-reddish colour. There is also an old mosque in this village and its quite a sight.

    We had our lunch here before leaving. It consisted of bread and tea, raisins, laghman noodles (consist of lamb and vegetables), dumplings and lastly, freshly cut melons. All for ¥25 per person.

    We were stuffed and snoozing in the car after lunch. Before we knew it, we arrived at Emin Minaret or Sugong Tower. This place has a beautiful rose garden in front. The minaret was built in 1777 in honour of a Turpan general named Emin Khoja. It is 44 meters high making it the tallest ancient Islamic tower in Xinjiang. It has a mosque below which is still in use today.

    We dropped by the Turpan Museum in town for about an hour. Good news: Its free. Bad news: No photography at some exhibits. There was alot on dinosaurs and mummies here as alot of remains were found in China itself.

    Lastly, we visited Jiaohe Ruins. These is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is one the oldest and largest ruins in the world. As it has been well preserved for over 2000 years, it has been given the title World's Perfect Ruins. Why did it become ruins? Well, Jiaohe City was built during the 2nd til 5th century BC but because of continuous wars from 9th til 14th century, it was abandoned and subsequently became ruins.

    After all that adventure, we headed back to our hostel by 8pm after having dinner. Decided to hit the sack early as our train to Urumqi tomorrow is at 8.45am.
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  • Day4

    Dunhuang

    October 17, 2017 in China ⋅ ☀️ 18 °C

    It took us a 5 hour bus ride from Jiayuguan to get here. We reached at 9pm yesterday. After a well deserved rest, we started our day by visiting Mingsha Mountain Crescent Spring Scenic Area. The entrance fee was ¥120 per person. This is actually the Gobi desert beyond the Great Wall. The mountain is also known as the Sand Echoing Mountain because at times when the winds are strong, you can hear howling. It has an oasis with a crescent-shaped lake, hence the name.

    There are multiple tourist activities here such as camel riding, hiring a helicopter and renting a glider. I didn't do that as I didn't find it all that interesting. I'd rather move on foot and save money as I have another 11 days of China to go.

    We first visited the oasis, where there was a pagoda like structure called the Yuequan Pavilion. Too many tourists wandering here so I decided to skip the picture taking and climb up one of the dunes instead. To me, the climb was physically challenging as well as shoe filling (with sand). I only climbed up the first dune as I had the physical stamina of an 80 year old with a heart condition. Once up there, I just sat there for a bit admiring the view as well as observing the colourful chinese tourist with their high enthusiasm for posing during photo taking.

    We were done with this place by 1pm. We headed off to Mogao Grottoes as we had tickets for 2pm. The fee for this place was ¥220 and it covered everything from the videos, to the english speaking guide as well as a 2 way bus ride to the grottoes. Lucky for us, the staff let us in by 1.30pm (because we mentioned we had a train to catch at night). We watched 2 videos on the history of the place, one of which was 3D and was simply amazing as the screen covered the entire dome. Then we took a shuttle bus to the actual Mogao Grottoes. It wasn't exactly what I expected as it has been touched up in view of its old and crumbling structure. The cave entrances now have doors with numbers on it.

    Built 1000 years ago by a wandering monk who once had a vision to teach peace to the world via Buddhism. Slowly through the course of time, more and more caves were built with statues and murals representing the Buddhist religion. There are about 735 caves here, of which 492 had Buddhist statues in them. Out of those, around 300 were built during the Tang dysnasty. Other dysnasties that contributed were mainly the Sui and Ching. From what I gathered, the people from the Ching dynasty simply loved the rebuild and repaint the statues and cave walls.

    They also had a library with thousands of manuscripts and paintings, most of which have been taken/bought (I would say stolen) by foreigners from France, America, Japan, etc. One genius even took an entire Bodhisattva statue and sold it to the Harvard Museum. Like why would you take away history from its original resting place. Greed obviously.

    There is a Buddhist statue 35.5 metres tall here, which is the third tallest Buddhist statue in China. It was huge! I saw it but I couldn't take pictures inside any of the caves. The 2nd tallest one in Mogao Grottoes had a height of 26 metres but I couldn't see that one as it was undergoing reconstruction.

    Besides meditating caves, there were over 200 caves on the Northern end for travellers and merchants on the Silk Road to rest and also for protection against bandits.

    So much history here but I only gathered a glimpse of it today. Before this, I never even knew a place called Mogao Grottoes existed. Yet another reason for me to hit the history books.
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  • Day3

    Jiayuguan City

    October 16, 2017 in China ⋅ ⛅ 10 °C

    The Great Wall of China. Today was solely about that. This city is home to the western part of the wall. First up, we visited the first beacon tower of the great wall in Jiayuguan. It is also called the Tao Lai tower as it is located next to the Tao Lai river. This beacon tower had an important role by acting as a vanguard in warning by beacon. Unfortunately its rubble now.

    Next, we visited the Overhanging Great Wall. It is also called Badaling of the West. It was built on the eastern slope of the Black Mountain and it overlooks the Gobi Desert. This was constructed in order to protect not only the country but the traders along the Silk Road. It was quite a workout climbing up here but totally worth the struggle. On the way down, people have put padlocks on the railing and it represents their wishes/prayers. I suppose they believe it will come true if they do this.

    There is a place called the Jiayuguan Pass. This is a complex city connected to the Overhanging Great Wall. To say it simply, it appears to be a military base with an inner and outer city with multiple buildings and towers of different functions to organize and strategize the ancient military force. Not forgetting its surrounding moat. So if enemies do get through that 4.2 metre wall, they are going to have a tough time penetrating this city of multiple walls and doors.

    To get to Jiayuguan Pass, you can either walk from the main entrance or rent a bicycle for ¥10 (which was what we did). We did a loop around the lake and took some pretty good pictures of the scenery. I hadn't rode a bike for sometime so this was refreshing.

    There is a lot of history here. Even the little bit that I gathered today was too much to write. It made me realize that I need to hit the history books.
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  • Day2

    Zhangye, China

    October 15, 2017 in China ⋅ ⛅ 13 °C

    Today we woke up at 6am and left on a train to Zhangye West by 7.30am. We reached 3 hours later and we had trouble storing our luggage at the train station because apparently they don't have a luggage storage room. Luckily there was a convenience store nearby that offered that. How very convenient for us. We then hired a day taxi (friend of the store owner) and he brought us to eat as well as to visit some tourist spots. He charged us ¥500 but it seemed reasonable for 3 people and a long journey to and fro.

    Of course, the reason we went to Zhangye was to see the colourful mountains of Zhangye National Geopark but that is almost an hour from town, so we decided to visit the Zhangye Buddhist Temple first. Now, the interesting thing about the temple is that it is home to the largest clay sleeping Buddha statue with a wooden core in Asia. However, taking pictures of it was not allowed so I took pictures of the building and surrounding instead. We spent about an hour there and then we left to see the Danxia colourful hills.

    The entrance fee to this park is ¥75. Good thing is that is offers buses to the different platforms, as it was a rather sunny day. These hills are a result of years of geological activity causing it to erode and appear to have a myriad of colours. From what I heard, its even more colourful if it rains the day before, which was not the case for us. But anyway, still a magnificent sight. A fun fact: the 2015 Hollywood film "Great Wall of China" was partly filmed here, amongst some others.

    We were supposed to watch the sunset at the last platform which was platform 4, but it was getting more crowded towards 6pm and so we decided to leave in view of the fear of being crushed by chinese tourist.

    We boarded our train to Jiayuguan at 10pm from our earlier train station and reached an hour later, having trouble finding our hostel as it was in some shady part of town. Surprisingly though, the inside of Pearl Hostel did not match the outside, and soon I found myself snuggled under the covers of the comfortable bunk bed.
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  • Day1

    Xi'an

    October 14, 2017 in China ⋅ 🌫 13 °C

    We landed in Xi'an airport at midnight. We were tired so we took a taxi and went straight to our hostel. It was called 7 Sages Youth Hostel. After freshening up I slept at about 3am only to be up again by 6am. We went to the bus statiom nearby and took bus no. 5 (306) at around 8am to see the Terracotta warriors.

    So this is sort of an mausoleum consisting of 3 archeological pits founded in 1974 and their excavation is still in progress. These statues are life sized and are very detailed. Of course, alot of them were already damaged when they were found. To me, it seems like an ancient king wanted to make a time capsule, and he had too much time and money on his hands. Still amazing nevertheless.

    After that we headed to the Muslim Culture Street. So much food here we just couldn't stop eating. The pomegranate juice was to die for. It is pomegranate season right now, so they're everywhere. We had some Osmanthus cake and beef and shrimp dumplings as well as some frozen yoghurt, and lastly smoked squid.

    As we continued walking, we stumbled upon a souvenir shop alley. Tshirts, key chains and magnets, but what I liked the most was the artwork. Planning to get that when I come back to Xi'an towards the end of the trip.

    Then we came across the Great Mosque of Xi'an. Beautiful courtyard and intricate architecture. This place was built on 742AD during the Tang dynasty making it 1300 years old.

    After that we headed back to our hostel, made our way to Xi'an North train station via the metro and subsequently boarded a train to Lanzhou West. The journey took us 3 hours so we reached at 11.30pm and then got lost in finding our hostel so we finally reached at midnight again.

    Had to be up by 6am as our train to Zhangye West was at 7.20am. We couldn't get a direct train from Xi'an to Zhangye so we had to break it up for bit. On the bright side, I got a bed to sleep on.
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  • Day7

    Taipei

    July 30, 2017 in Taiwan ⋅ ⛅ 31 °C

    So this morning, we woke up at 5.00am in hopes of having a traditional Taiwanese breakfast near the Shandao Temple area. Good news: No more typhoon. Bad news: The shop was closed. So we headed off to Taipei main station to catch our bullet train to Kaohsiung due to depart at 7.30am. More bad news though. Bullet trains are not running before 12pm. Our flight from Kaohsiung to Kuala Lumpur was still on time due to take off at 1.30pm. There was no way we were going to make it back on time.

    So, we reorganized. We bought flight tickets from Taipei airport to KL. Buying them last minute, we considered ourselves lucky as there were still seats available, but the price was on the high side. It was either going back or being stuck here. Not that thats a bad thing but we had work the next day.

    So off we went to Taoyung International Airport and boarded our airplane which departed at 1.30pm. We reached KL at 6.30pm. We later found out that there was a second typhoon by the name of Haitang that struck Taiwan that day. We considered ourselves fortunate to have missed that one.

    Overall, a good trip that ended with a bang. Might go back to Taiwan again in the future, but maybe not typhoon season next time.
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  • Day6

    Taipei

    July 29, 2017 in Taiwan ⋅ ⛅ 31 °C

    This capital is pretty much like every other capital there is - crowds of people, busy streets, skyscrappers. But we also discovered a little bit more than that. We went to Taipei 101 in the morning which was the tallest building once upon a time. The observertory is on the 89th floor. From there, the entire city can be seen. Though unlucky for us, it was a rather cloudy day.
    In the afternoon, we headed for Elephant Hill. It was a long hike up. Took us a little less than an hour. Of course, it wouldn't have been that long if not for the rain, wind and our achey overworked legs. It was a rather pretty trail with lots of lavenders growing at the sides. From there, Taipei 101 can be seen clearly. We didn't spend much time there due to the worsening weather.
    By nightfall, the weather had gotten worse. We were planning to go to the Shilin Night Market, but when we reached Jiantan station we aborted that mission due to the strong winds and heavy rains. It just didn't seem safe. Only then I found out that Typhoon Nesat has been messing around with us. Hopefully, our train back to Kaohsiung and flight back to Kuala Lumpur tomorrow will be on schedule.
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  • Day5

    Taroko National Park

    July 28, 2017 in Taiwan ⋅ ☀️ 27 °C

    We hired a driver for the whole day today to bring us to Taroko Gorge and back. Turns out he is also an awesome tour guide. We did a few trails today. First up was the Shakadang trail. It is a 1.6km trail but we only did 1km of it as it pretty much was the same thing the whole stretch. The view was that of a river in between the mountains. Clear blue water streaming down. Then we made a short stop to see the Changchun shrine and the Enternal Spring with flows from beneath it. Next up, we went to the Swallow Grotto and this is where I got some of the most magnificent shots of the gorge. After which we headed to the Cimu Bridge and Pavillion. The bridge is made of marble and its pillars are red in colour, overwelming the surrounding gorge. We also crossed a suspension bridge near the Yu Fei Pavillion but after that had to walk back across it as going beyond requires a permit and we didn't possess one. It was almost 2pm by the time we were done so we headed off to lunch at a place nearby. One interesting dish I had was the Golden Needle Flower (or daylily) soup. Apparently these grow nearby at a town south of Hualien. After that we hiked the Baiyang trail. Now this trail requires you to walk through a dark tunnel with a flashlight followed by a 2.1km trail. We only did 1km as the trail was closed off due to reconstruction because of damages from a previous typhoon. Just when we thought we were done, our driver/guide brought us to Qingshui cliffs. This is a 21km stretch of coastal cliffs with beautiful ocean view of various color tones. After that we went to an isolated beach nearby and just enjoyed watching the violent waves. Our train to Taipei was departing at 7.30pm so we headed off to the Hualien train station about an hour before. There was an impending typhoon coming towards Hualien and so the alert was on. Coastal shops and houses were to be evacuated for 3 days. We were lucky to be able to spend a wonderful day in Hualien today. Taipei is now upon us.Read more

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