Mt Emei and Giant Buddha Leshan

17 02 2018

Fans or martial arts novels written by Jin Yong will be familiar with the “Emei Sect”. I am one of them and have always fantasize on going up Mt Emei, a beautiful and mysterious mountain located in Sichuan province in China.

Even if you are not a Jin Yong novel fan, Emeishan is also pretty popular destination for nature lovers with its verdant trees, splendid waterfalls, cute but super mischievous monkeys, mysterious sea of cloud and many other beautiful sights. The Golden Summit standing at more than 3000 meters above sea level gives one a magnificent view of the vast plain in the east and the snowy mountains in the west and is famous for the four sights of Emei: the sea of clouds, beautiful sunrise, the holy Buddha rays and the saint lamps.

For Buddhist, this is one of the “Four Sacred Mountains” together with Mt Putuo (which is the holy mountain of Avalokitesvara or Guangyin in Chinese), Mt Jiuhua (which is the holy mountain of Ksitigarbha also known in Chinese as Dizang), and Mt Wutai (which is the holy mountain of Manjusri or in Chinese Wenshu). Throughout the mountain, devotees are seen bribing joss sticks in prayer for good luck, with some devoted pilgrims prostrating with every 3 steps they took up to the Golden Summit. It is not surprising that Mt. Emei was enlisted as one of UNESCO world natural and cultural heritage site.

About an hour from Mt Emei lies another UNESCO World Heritage site – the famous Leshan Giant Buddha. This magnificent 71 meters high Maitreya Buddha statute carved out of a cliff showcase the wisdom and perseverance of ancient people’s wisdom. Legend has it that there were frequent incidents of boats capsizing her and thus Monk Haitong decided to commission this remarkable engineering feat to build this Giant Buddha. Miraculously, after the Buddha was built, boats can travel safely along the river. Divine intervention?

Many visitors can choose to walk from the top to the foot via the plant road with nine turns (Jiuqu Zhandao, 九曲栈道) which has 217 stone steps with the narrowest part only 0.6 meter. The park also has a 170 meters long sleeping Buddha statue, the largest and longest sleeping Buddha statue in the world, the Lingyun Temple located next to the Giant Buddha and Wuyou Temple located near the Buddha feet.

Tips:

  • Getting to Leshan and Emeishan from Chengdu is easy via the high-speed train. It takes 1 hour to reach Leshan station and another 20 minutes to reach Emeishan station. You will need to take the taxi (or bus) from the station to the Leshan Big Buddha or Emeishan sites. Note that for Emeishan, the sites are not in the city so ensure that the driver drops you in the mountain area and not the city area.
  • To travel between emeisan and Leshan, there is a long distance bus which costs RMB 11 one way. This is the cheapest way to go to Leshan from emei. Once in Leshan, you can then take the taxi to the Big Buddha site. If you take taxi, one way costs between RMB 120 – 150. You may want to arrange for the taxi to pick you up as it can be challenging to get a taxi along the street.
  • If you want to see the full image of the Buddha, the only way is to take the ferry and view from the river. If you go into the Leshan Buddha site, you will be claiming from the top of the Buddha to the legs but will not get the full view. The climb is rather steep with uneven high steps so it is not suitable for elderly.
  • Mt Emei is divided into various scenic areas. The Baoguo Temple area at the foot of the mountain has one of the oldest temple in Mt Emei. Wannian Temple area and the nearby Qingyin Pavilion midway up the mountain has some of the most scenic sights in Emei for nature lovers. The Golden Summit area is a must-see and if you are lucky, you get to see the famous sea of clouds, Buddha light and Saint Lamps.
  • To get to the Golden summit, you need to take the bus from emei tourist center to Leidongping carpark. From Leidongping carpark, it is around 15-20 minutes walk up flights of stairs to the cable car station. Thereafter, it is a short cable car ride up to the summit station. To get to the Golden summit, it is another 10-15 minutes walk up but this is less tiring than the first leg from Leidongping carpark to the cable car station. You can take the sedan chair too if you cannot walk.
  • Temperature at the Golden summit is typically 15-20 degrees lower than at the foot of the hill so be prepared with warm clothes. You can also rent the warm jacket at Leidongping carpark for RMB 30.

Food:

  • Most of the food can be found around the Baoguo Temple Food Village area. Majority of the eateries serve Sichuan food. If you can’t take spicy food, you can ask for restaurant to recommend less spicy or no spicy food.

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Chengdu – The land of the kungfu panda

9 01 2018

What is the first thing that come to your mind when someone mentions China? To me, it is the “real” homeland of Kungfu Panda. Indeed, Sichuan province in China with its bamboo forests is the famously known as the land of the Pandas.

So of course, I can’t miss a visit to the Panda center to see these cute black and white animals. There are a couple of Panda centers, the most convenient one is located in downtown Chengdu. For those traveling to Dujiangyan, the Dujiangyan Panda Base is a good alternative (which is the one that I went). One tip though – the pandas do take afternoon nap so avoid going around noon to early afternoon as they will be sleeping. But it is kind of cute to see them cuddle up and snoring away in their sweet dreams (yes they do snore and pretty loudly lol).

Dujiangyan irrigation system is a must-see if you visit Chengdu. Just around an hour plus drive outside Chengdu, this is one of the UNESCO world heritage site. It is amazing to see how an irrigation system with no dam can be so cleverly built 2,000 years ago and how this still remains in use today.

A short drive from Dujiangyan will bring you to Mt Qingcheng. This mountain is divided into the front side of the mountain and back side of the mountain with the front side famous for the Taoist temples and is the origin site of Taoism, a religion originating from China. The back side of the mountain is famous for its scenic spots and trekking though many drivers are reluctant to drive to the back mountain which is another 2 hours drive from the front mountain.

For those who love Chinese poetry, a visit to the thatched cottage of Du Fu, a famous poet during the Tang Dynasty, is a must see. Du Fu spent three and a half years living in this cottage.

Not far from the cottage is the Jinli Street, which used to one of the busiest commercial streets during the Shu Kingdom some 2000 years ago. The nearby “wide and narrow alley” got its name with its wide alleys and narrow alleys. Now it is lined with many bars. Why not get your ears clean too (if you dare)?

If you have read the famous novel “Three Kingdom”, you will be familiar with Zhu Geliang, the famous wise advisor and Prime Minister to Liu Bei of the Shu Kingdom during the Three Kingdoms period. The Wuhou Temple which is a memorial temple for the famous Zhu Geliang.

Once done with the sightseeing, why not head to Chunxi Road for some shopping? 🙂

Tips:

– It is very cheap and convenient to travel around Chengdu by taxi or the subway. However, most taxi drivers cannot speak English so if you can’t speak mandarin, get your hotel to write instructions for the taxi driver.

– There is free transport between Wuhou Shrine and Dufu Thatched Cottage. You just need to buy the entrance ticket for the other sight and look for the free transport sign at the entrance.

– The taxis boot have limited space due to the gas tank in the book. You can only put one 29 inch luggage, one 25 inch luggage and a backpack. So you may want to pack light if you are travelling with a group of four.

– Pandas usually take a nap in the afternoon so if you want to see them playing, go in the morning or late afternoon.

– There are a lot of ancient towns around Chengdu such as Huanglongxi ancient town, Pingle ancient town and Luodai ancient town so if you are interested, head to one of them.

Trips from Chengdu:

– Leshan Big Buddha and Ermeishan are just a short train ride from Chengdu (via fast train). I will blog on these places separately.

– Many tours of Jiuzhaigou and Huanglong start from Chengdu so you can plan them into your itinerary too. Note that these places have high attitude so you may want to consult your doctor before going.

– Chongqing is just a few hours train ride away from Chengdu. If you are interested to see the Yangtze River or take the cruise, I will share in a separate blog.

Food:

– Sichuan food is well known for its spices (more of “mala” vs hot which makes your taste bud numb). If you cannot take spicy food, ask for mild spice (or no spice). There is one nice (and very cheap) local eatery opposite the Chengdu East Railway station though the waitress may not be able to speak English (the shop name is in the photo below). They do have photos so you can also point to the dish that you like.

– If you visit Dujiangyan and Mt Qingcheng, do try out at the restaurant called 小轩堂(Xiao Xuan Tang).

– You can’t say that you visited Sichuan if you had not taken the mala hotpot. Most hotpot has 2 soups, one spicy and one non-spicy. So for those who can’t take spicy food, you can still join your family/friends in the mala hotpot feast.





Porto – The land of Port wine

7 01 2018

I love port wine. So since I was already in Lisbon, it will be a shame if I don’t pay a visit to the home of port wine, Porto. Well known for its wine, beautiful Romanesque and Gothic architecture, and yummy seafood, the second largest city in Portugal is well underrated and overshadowed by Lisbon. Given that there is much less tourists here versus Lisbon, Porto emits a more laid-back feel. The colourful city is split by river Douro (translated as the “river of gold”) with many nice bridges spanning across the river, the most picturesque being Ponte de Dom Luis I bridge (or in short Ponte bridge).

The city’s old town lies in the Ribeira district which is a world heritage site. The narrow winding cobblestone streets and churches somehow creates an old-world feel to this city.

The city’s Sé cathedral with its 12th century Gothic rose windows is a must-see. A visit to the famous book shop Livraria Lello Porto which is one of the world’s most beautiful bookstore will not disappoint. For Harry Potter’s fan, this bookstore used to play host to JK Rowling who once taught English in Porto. The São Francisco Church is also another impressive church to visit. Though the exterior may not look astonishing, the lavish design inside this Baroque and Gothic-style church where almost every inch is covered in gold will make you go wow!

For shoppers, Santa Caterina will be your heaven. Just make sure you spare some time for sightseeing and also head to the nearby cafes for the yummy Pastéis de Nata (custard tart) for your in-between shopping breaks 🙂

Tips:

1) For wine lovers, cross Ponte bridge to get to the south bank to the town of Vila Nova de Gaia to visit the famous port cellars.

2) Some spectacular views of the city can be seen from the Ponte bridge and also from the top of the hill (behind the cathedral) where you can catch a nice shot of the river, south bank and the Ponte bridge.

3) Porto can be reached by air and also via a fast train from Lisbon. You can refer to my Lisbon blog here for details.





Lisbon the city of hills

6 01 2018

I love cakes and pastries and one of my favourite is the Portuguese egg tarts. I always wonder if the Portuguese egg tarts that we have in Asia are indeed those that one will find in Portugal. Coupled with my love for port wine and the desire to see the iconic yellow trams, I decided to pay a visit to this western most country on continental Europe. Well, a “simple reason” to make a trip to the capital of Portugal lol.

It is hard not to fall in love with this hilly city. Yellow trams snaking up steep streets, black and white cobblestones, beautiful monuments, and of course the wonderful custard cakes Pastel de nata and many more, you will surely find something that you like in this city.

The first thing I did was to rush down to Torre de Belem (Tower of Belem), one of Lisbon’s iconic sight. This UNESCO World Heritage site was built in early 1500s and was once a fortification to guard Lisbon and the mouth of River Tagus. Looking at this beautiful tower, I can imagine how the Portuguese sailors felt back in the 16th century when they saw this tower, their first sight when they sailed home.

From the Belem Tower, you can see a bridge looking similar to San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge spanning across River Tejo. This is Ponte 25 de Abril suspension bridge which commemorates the revolution of Portugal from the Salazar regime on 24 April 1974.

Across the river stands the statute of Christ Cristo Rei with his arms raised similar to the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio Brazil. This is another Lisbon’s most iconic monuments and was built in reverence for Portugal avoiding the horrors of WW2.

Walking around the city central, you will not miss Arco da Rua Augusta, a beautiful arch at the open square of Praça do Comércio. A short walk away from the arch is the square of Rossio, paved beautifully with black and white cobblestones and has a column with a statue of Dom Pedro IV, the first emperor of Brazil. Walk further and you will reach Praça dos Restauradores and the obelisk, a monument to commemorate Portugal’s liberation from Spain. Here, you can get a good view of how Castelo se São Jorge and see how hilly Lisbon really is. For the singles looking for a partner, the statue of Saint Anthony in front of the Igreja Santo Antonio May well be of help to you. Apparently, if you can throw and land a coin on the book of Saint Anthony, your wish will come true. Let me know if this works for you!

I love the old Alfama district with its labyrinth of narrow streets that climb the hill from the Tejo estuary up to the castle, many nice cafes, boutique shops and small bars.

For me, the best way to wrap up the trip apart from sightseeing is shopping! Well most girls like shopping isn’t it? 🙂 Avenida da Liberdade, the Champs Elysee of Lisbon, is the place to go where you can literally shop till you drop (or broke lol). The closest metro station is Avenida which is 5 to 10 minutes away.

Other nice sites to visit are the Jeronimos monastery, the majestic Castelo de Sao Jorge (Castle of Saint George) which was the ancient seat of power for over 400 years, the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, the Sé de Lisboa Cathedral and many more.

One last thing, I did my countdown and welcome a new year in this city with lovely fireworks!

Side trips from Lisbon

(1) Sintra:

Sintra, which used to be a summer retreat for the Portuguese nobility, is now the most popular day trip from Lisbon. Extravagant palaces, grand residences, lush forests set amidst the cooling hills of the Serra de Sintra makes this town super charming. Sintra is connected to Lisbon by an inexpensive train service that departs from Rossio train station in central Baixa. The journey takes around 45 minutes. Thereafter, you can take Sintra 434 tourist bus from the train station to the town centre, Pena Palace and Moors Castle.

The historic center of Sintra with its cobbled streets and traditionally painted buildings and the Gothic-Renaissance styled Palacio Nacional de Sintra are must-see if you visit Sintra. Of course, don’t miss out the ruins of the Moors Castle constricted in the 9th Century by the Moors to protect the fertile lands of Sintra (though it was unable to defend against the Christian crusades) and the nearby Pena Palace designed by King Fernando II. You can also hike up to the Cruz Alta (530m), the highest point in the Serra de Sintra and will get to see wonderful views over the Pena Palace.

(2) Cabo da Roca

We all like to visit the “far-most point” and the westernmost point of continental Europe is one of the breathtaking site to visit. The high steep cliffs facing the Atlantic Ocean with strong winds and crashing waves will let you see (and feel) the dramatic forces of nature. Cabo da Roca can be reached by bus number 403 from Sintra and takes around 40 minutes though the timing is not regular so you will need to check the timetable. A better alternative (though more expensive) is to either drive or take a taxi.

(3) Devil’s Mouth and nearby Cascais

The Devil’s Mouth (Boca do Inferno) near Cascais provides an unobtrusive point along the coast. The nearby charming town of Cascais,a fisherman town, is also worth a stop. Cascais is easily accessible by train from Lisbon’s Cais do Sodre train station and the journey takes around 40 minutes. From there, you can take the taxi to Devil’s Mouth or rent a bicycle and cycle there.

(5) Porto: Fancy some port wine? The city of Porto is just a train ride away. Check out my blog on Porto here!

Tips:

1) Getting to/from airport: The more cost efficient way is to take the aerobus. There’s also metro available though the aerobus is more hassle-free. Again if you have 4 people, you may want to take the taxi which is around 15 euros.

2) Given that this is a hilly city, it also provides many nice viewpoints for you to snap wonderful photos. Some nice viewpoints include the Miradouro da Senhora do Monte, Miradouro de Santa Catarina, the roof tops of the Alfama district.

3) If you can not navigate around the hilly city, there are trishaws which can take you around.

Food:

1) Do try out the Portuguese egg tarts. They are delicious. Almost every shop I tried are pretty good.

2) I love the Portuguese seafood rice. Around Alfama area has some nice family run cafes. I went to the first one (can’t remember the name though) and the food is good!

3) If you ever go to Sintra, there are many nice residents in this charming town. If you like a traditional Portuguese restaurant, do head to Restaurant Curral dos Caprinos which is one of the locals favourite. This is 10 minutes away from the town center but well worth the effort to visit.





Seville – Lonely Planet’s #1 city to visit next year

22 12 2017

I have heard so much about Seville and how beautiful this city is. I am blessed with wonderful weather during my stay in this awesome city that makes me LOVE this place even more.

The streets were lined with orange trees or more accurately during my visit, the oranges fell onto the roads creating yet another beautiful sight. The old town is lovely with the plazas full of horse-drawn carriages, transporting one (including me) back in time to fairy tale land.

I was quite surprised when I was told that Seville (or Sevilla as called by the Spanish) is the fourth largest city in Spain. The sights are all closely gathered in the old city which misled one to think that Seville is a small little town.

The most famous landmark in the city is Real Alcázar which was the palace to a couple of Spanish monarchs in the past. The Alcázar used to be a fort for the governors of Seville in the eighth century but was subsequently converted to a palace by the subsequent rulers which resulted in a beautiful mix of Moorish, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles. If you are a Game of Thrones fan or have watched Lawrence of Arabia, you will find this place familiar as it was used to shoot some parts of the shows. Apparently, the royal family still use the upper floors when they are in Seville so keep a look out for them if you do visit.

Near the Real Alcázar is the Cathedral which you surely won’t miss with its impressive architecture. The Cathedral was built in the 15th century and is the third largest church in the world. I love to read stories about Christopher Columbus and thus was thrilled to know that Christopher Columbus remains rest in the Cathedral.

Take time to wander through the cobbled streets of the Santa Cruz quarter and along the band of the lovely river. Other nice sites to visit are the lovely gardens in Casa Pilatos.

I especially love Plaza De Espana with the beautiful buildings and tiles. Visit there during the late afternoon as the afternoon sun shining on the plaza gives it a nice colour.

Tips:

– Seville is the home of the flamenco shows so don’t miss it.

– I enjoyed the bull ring tour at Plaza de Toros which is extremely interesting and informative. The tour is free from 3pm onwards but you need to arrive early to queue for the free ticket which they only start to give out at 3pm.

– See my blog on Madrid and Barcelona for add-on to your Seville trip.

Food:

1) Carrillada de Cerdo: This is one of the most traditional pork cheek stew. One word – delicioso!

2) Serranito de Lomo: This is THE sandwich that you need to have in Seville. The seared pork loin (there’s a chicken version now) is topped with Serano ham and grilled green pepper is the signature sandwich of the city.

3) Cola de Toro: Well we heard from the bullring tour that when the bull is killed, its meat is then sold to restaurants to turn them into delicacies, one such is Cola de Toru (bull tail). I am not so sure if there are so many bull meat though and this may well be oxtail. But regardless this tapas is lovely. Sorry bull.

4) Torrijas: This bread dipped in eggs, deep fried to goodness and covered with sugar syrup, sweetened milk or honey is a must have desert. Ask if they can serve this with some ice cream which makes this already tasty desert even more heavenly.





Madrid in a day

21 12 2017

I must say my initial plan to stop by Madrid was not so much because I want to see the city but because Spain is the cheapest place to catch a flight to Morocco. I have been to Spain previously though it is limited to Barcelona and its surroundings. I mean when one thinks of Spain, the most popular city that pops up is Barcelona isn’t it? Ok this blog isn’t about Barcelona so if you are interested, you can read more in my separate blog https://thecarefreetraveller.wordpress.com/2013/09/03/barcelona/

Now talking about Madrid, the first thing that came to my mind is its football (soccer) team and of course many of my Spanish friends are from this city. I have not really researched on this city before I came as it was more of a “stopover” destination. Well I am pleasantly surprised that this city has so much more to offer than what the ignorant me has thought. Below is what I managed to cover in one full day and I surely need to go back again!

The Parque del Retiro is Madrid’s main park with the famous Crystal Palace (completely made out of glass) is a beautiful place to stroll around.

From there, you can walk to Calle de Alcalá and the Alcalá Gate, the stunning Plaza de Cibeles and Puerta del Sol, the city’s best-known square.

Plaza Mayor is another famous site. This plaza once used to have bullfights, tournaments, markets and even (scary) executions!

Another must see is the Royal palace. Though it’s the official residence of the royal family, they don’t live here and it is only used for state functions. Across from the palace is Madrid Cathedral where official state ceremonies are held. Though this may not be the nicest cathedral in terms of look, it is one of the nicest place to view Madrid’s skyline.

For those bullfighting lovers, make sure you visit the Plaza de Toros which is the home of bullfighting in Spain and arguably the world. The building is beautiful so even if you can’t get tickets to the show, it is worth a visit to see the building.

If you have the time, Casa del Campo park which has an amusement park and zoo and the Parque del Oeste where an Egyptian temple (the Temple of Debod) can be found are interesting places to visit. Too bad time does not permit me to visit these places. Next time!

Tips:

⁃ Travelling to/from the airport: There are four modes of transport – Metro, train, bus or taxi – each takes around 30–40 minutes with taxi being the fastest (and most expensive). You can ask the information counter at the airport on which mode of transport is most convenient for you to reach your hotel. If you have 4 people, the taxi may add up to a very reasonable cost for each and save you the hassle.

⁃ Central Madrid is very walkable but please wear comfortable shoes as you will be walking a lot. If you find it too tiring or is travelling a little further, the metro is a cheap, convenient and fast way to navigate around the city. They sell single tickets, a set of 10 tickets (which is cheaper) and tourist pass. Map out your route to determine how many times you are going to take the metro and you can do your sums on what works best.

⁃ If you are in Madrid on a Sunday, head to the El Rastro flea market along the streets between Plaza Mayor and Puerta de Toledo.

Barcelona and Seville are good extensions to your Madrid trip which I have separately blog.

Food:

– Do try the local speciality of Chocolate Con Churros. This is essentially long churros served with a big cup of melted chocolate which spells YUMMY!

– I am a paella and Sangria fan so Spain is a food heaven to me. The second photo is taken from the restaurant opposite the Central train station (just beside McDonalds) but I can’t remember which restaurant I had fo the first photo. Anyway I must say most of the restaurants that I stepped into are pretty good. Well it is Spain after all!





Morocco – The gateway to Africa

20 12 2017

To be honest, Morocco was not on my top list of countries to visit. My misperceived painting of Africa is sight of animals roaming (safari), Sahara desert, African tribes, ulu (Singlish for remote) towns and poor hygiene conditions popped in my head. However, since I was already going to Spain and Portugal, my initial thought was that I should just crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and get the African continent checked off the continents that I visited. This is the first time I set foot in Africa and I was glad I mustered the courage to venture to this country.

Morocco is really awesome. The landscape, architecture, food and people/culture are something that I have never seen or experience before.

Marrakech

I have chose to stay in the riad in the old town instead of the new town to get the “real experience” of Morroco. As the car drove into the medina, I was feeling rather overwhelmed with the crowded, noisy and chaotic scene. As the alleyways are too narrow for cars to pass through, we alighted at along the main street and walked through narrow alleyways to our riad. For first timer to this city (like me), navigating around the medina is like trying to get out of a maze, a rather daunting experience. Don’t worry, after a while you will get a hang of it and start recognizing your way 🙂

Some must see sights in this city is the beautiful garden of Yves Saint Laurent called Majorelle Gardens, Bahia Palace, the souks and Jamaa El-Fnaa. Many guides recommend the Saadian tombs but I must say I can’t help but compare it to the magnificent Chinese emperor tombs that I have visited. Well, I guess I should not but I just can’t help it… pardon me.

Atlas mountain

Just out of Marrakech lays the Altas mountain. Actually, the Atlas mountain (or mountains to be exact) are in fact three ranges, with the Middle Atlas in the north, the High Atlas near Marrakech and the anti-Atlas in the south. The Ourika valley, Ourigane, Imil and Jebel Toubkal, the highest peak in Morocco standing at 4167 meter are nice sites around the High Atlas not to be missed. Do drop by the Berber villages in the mountain area too. You could even pick up some nice argan oil along the way.

Before heading back to Marrakech, why not do a desert safari on the AV? I really enjoyed it though I ended up with sand all over my clothes lol.

Driving across Atlas Mountain

The drive from Marrakech to Ait Brnhouddou takes more than 4 hours one way across the High Atlas mountain, along the famous Tizi-n-Tichka pass. The first part of the drive out of Marrakech along river Ouled Zad is a rather arid landscape. The drive then takes one up the slope of the Atlas mountain, through small villages and olive groves until the first pass, Tiz Imguer at 1470 meter. I will suggest stopping at the nearby test station for a quick drink/bite, toilet break and of course take some interesting photos of the eroded coloured red rock wall below the pass and the surrounding view.

After which, the road ascend all the way to the Tizi-n-Tichka pass, with the landscape changing to more and more barren but majestic along the way. I was lucky that it snowed while driving through the pass so the scenery is amazing with snow capped mountain! Too bad I couldn’t stop to take photos 😦

The scenery on the other side of the mountain is quite different and the landscape slowly changed to a pre-Sahara dessert landscape. I would say that even though the drive is long and toting, it is quite an interesting and scenic drive. If you didn’t have time to see the Atlas mountain, this could be your opportunity to catch a glimpse of it, though the mountain itself is really worth at least a day or even more.

Ait Benhouddou

Ait Benhouddou was an ancient fortified city (ksar) built by the Berber people along the trade route between the Sahara and Marrakech and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is interesting to climb up the fortress, navigating through the maze of narrow and crenelated towers. I would say it is certainty worth all the hassle to make this long trip to see this site. Many movies were filmed here including the Game of Thrones so don’t feel surprised if you find the place looking familiar 🙂

Tips:

⁃ You can change to the local currency at the airport. The money changer would advise you to change some cash and credit some cash into a debit card. Do that as it is easier than carrying tons of cash. However, it is wise to say put 30% of the cash into the card as many small shops, the markets, entrance fees, drivers and guides do not accept card payment.

⁃ If you are travelling in a group of 3 or more, it will be cheaper to get a driver to take you around instead of joining day tours. It will also give you mor flexibility of what to see and where to stop for photos.

⁃ The Altas mountain and the valleys are very beautiful and worth a visit. You can stop by berber houses and see argan oil making too along the way.

⁃ Be warn that the drive to Ouzazarte and Ait Benhouddou is around 4 hours one way along windy mountain roads. So if you are planning a day trip, note that you will be spending 8 hours on the road.

⁃ For the best photo shoot of Ait Benhaddou, take it across the dry river bed of Oued Ounila.

⁃ Head to one of the kasbahs to see how the rich used to live back in the old days though I can’t imagine how the small dark rooms with uneven floors and tiny windows can be considered luxurious back then. Well time has changed indeed…

⁃ From Ait Benhaddou, Ouarzazate is a short drive away and renowned as the Moroccan Hollywood.

⁃ If you want to go into the Sahara desert, it is another good 3.5 to 6 hours drive from Ait Benhaddou or Ouarzazate depending which part of Sahara you are intending to visit (Zagora or Merzouga). From there, you need to ride a camel into the desert camp so make sure that you are well attired for it.

Food:

⁃ Highly recommend Cafe Kif-Kif in Marrakech, located opposite the mosque at the Souk. Serves really yummy Moroccan food at really cheap prices (~€6.50 for a main course) with a good terrace view.

⁃ Cafe Kasbah opposite the Saurian Tombs is super nice too. It is slightly more expensive than Cafe Tik-Tik but still cheap (~€10 euro for a main course).

⁃ If you are into fine dining with a nice Arabian ambience, head to La Maison Arabe. The price is not too expensive (~€40 per person excluding wine). They serve both Moroccan and International cuisine. The Moroccan cuisine tastes good but more of a fusion type hence the “Moroccan taste” is much lighter. So if you find the typical Moroccan cuisine too rich, this restaurant may suit your taste.

⁃ For food with a view, ask your guide to bring you to the restaurant by Lake Lalla, 40 minutes drive from Marrakech. Estimated price per person is €15 euros comprises of salad, main course and fruits.

Accommodation

I stayed in a riad (Riad d’Clefs Orient) which is the traditional local houses converted into hotels/air bnb in the Medina area. Each riad different decorations depending on the owners. The riad that I stayed in is beautiful and the owner (who are French staying in Morocco) is so helpful. I will strongly recommend that you book your stay in a riad for the Moroccan experience. The riad comes with breakfast and they could also prepare dinner of you like. But as the riad is made of stone walls, it can be cold at night during the winter months but you can always request for additional heater.