The Vacationist

Doctor by profession. Traveller by heart.
  • 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 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


    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


    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


    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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  • 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


    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


    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


    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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