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.

Side trips:

– Why not plan a trip to Chongqing? Take a look at my blog here.

– You will likely come to Emeishan or Leshan from Chengdu. Check out what this city has in store for you here.

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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). Please see my link here.

– 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, check out my blog here.

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.





The hobbit’s journey to Middle Earth

1 07 2017

Growing up reading JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Ring, my childhood fantasy was to act as a hobbit and roaming through my make-belief middle earth (aka my house) carrying the burden of the ring (yes my toy ring became “the ring” lol). When I grew older and the replica of the ring became available in the market all thanks to the great success of the LOR movie, of course I did not fail to get one. So since I have already made my way to the south island, I made it a point to squeeze into my plan a trip to the north to visit my “hometown” Hobbiton. 

The flight from Queenstown to Auckland is no less spectacular. Flying over Mt Cook and the majestic snow mountains, once the plane flew across the sea separating the north and south islands, the whole landscape changed. Unlike the South Island with magnificent mountains, the north island’s green rolling hills are indeed a sharp contrast. 


Known as “the city of sails”, Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city with its iconic waterfront, the Harbour bridge and skyline is often regarded as one of the best places in the world to live. It’s not hard to see why. The beautiful city will satisfy the needs of a “city person” with ample nice restaurants, shopping and other “city life” while a short drive out will take one to the scenic sights. 



From Auckland, it was a 2 hours drive up north to Hobbiton. No words can describe how excited I was to finally stepped foot in The Shire and into my hobbit hole. During the tour around Hobbiton, the guide explained how relativity is used cleverly to give viewers the fallacy that the wizard is much taller than the small hobbit. I was hopping around from one hobbit hole to the other, snapping pictures non-stop as if I was a little hobbit (and I did carry the ring with me lol). Towards the end of the tour, we ended at Green Dragon Inn and have the hobbit’s favourite ginger beer 🙂


From Hobbiton, we drove up to Rotorua, a Volcanic zone famous for its dramatic geothermal character. Te Puia is a must see in Rotorua with the iconic Pohutu Geyser which erupts up to 20 times a day. You can smell the faint scent of sulphur as you approach. I love the colourful Wai-O-Tapu with its beautiful Artist’s Palette and Champagne Pool. Do say hi to Lady Knox Geyser which erupts (though induced) numerous times a day. 


For those who want to witness the destructive power of the volcanoes, head to The Buried Village of Te Wairoa where you can see the houses buried by a volcanic eruption. The volcanic soil is so fertile that vegetation is now growing on the soil, making the area looks really green and hard to visualise that the whole excavated site was buried by the 1886 Mount Tarawera eruption. If you fancy a mud bath, head to Hell’s Gate which has the largest hot waterfall in the Southern Hemisphere and the only geothermal mud baths in New Zealand.

Rotorua is also the place where you can experience the Maori culture so do drop by the Maori Village to learn more.


An eventful (or actually scary) incident happened while we were in Rotorua. As the weather was very cooling, our hotel decided to open all the windows in our room to air the room. However being city girls, it never occurred to us that we should not leave the lights on with the windows opened before we go out for dinner. So when we came back, our room was filled with insects all over the floor, ceiling and bathroom. It took quite a while for the hotel to clean up the mess. Super embarrassing….

Though it was a short trip to the north island, it was well worth it and I am surely planning another trip back to visit the rest of this beautiful country.

Tips:

– Tour of Hobbiton is by guided tour only. To avoid having to wait hours for the tour, it is advisable to book your ticket beforehand.

– Head to Auckland’s Harbour Bridge for one of the best view of the city’s skyline.

– Unlike the South Island, the North Island landscape is more of rolling hills and hence the roads are mostly straight roads. However, travelling from one destination to another will still take time given the distance and not forgetting that there will be nice scenery along the way that you will want to stop along the way. This is New Zealand after all so do give yourself ample of time.

– Why not explore the South Island as well? See my blog South Island

Food:

Auckland:

– The Crab Shack: This will make crab lovers happy. Before the meal, why not had a drink at its bar?

– Ortolana: I love this restaurant. Had a wonderful brunch here. Food quality is good with good coffee.



Rotorua:

– Ambrosia: Nice restaurant in Rotorua to have a relaxing dinner.

– Fat Dog cafe: A vibrant cafe for a nice brunch or lunch.

– Wai-O-Tapu Cafe: Nothing fancy but good place for a simple lunch.





New Zealand – The land of the long white cloud

18 06 2017

Kia Ora! New Zealand with its breathtaking scenery is often on many people’s bucket list. There is intense comparison amongst Switzerland, Canada (Rockies) and New Zealand on which country is the prettiest. My Canadian friends will say the Rockies, my Swiss friends the Swiss alps and my Kiwi friends always say that New Zealand wins hands down. Having seen the captivating scenery of the Swiss alps and seen the majestical Canadian Rockies, I decided that I need to make a trip down under to the land of the long white cloud to decide for myself.

As the flight flew into the South Island towards Queenstown, I was mesmerised by the sight outside the window. The sight of the snow capped mountain ridges just wowed me and this is the main reason why I chose to fly into Queenstown instead of the typical Christchurch. What an awesome prelude to the start of my wonderful stay in this country.



Queenstown

Though Queenstown can be touristy, it is a truly beautiful city. Located at Lake Wakatipu with the incredible Remarkables in the backdrop, I would say there are not many cities in the world where you can find such great views. Beautiful lakes with snow capped mountains in the backdrop is my ideal paradise on earth. The city gives me a peaceful and cosy feel and the best thing is that if anyone wants more “civilisation”, the city center with its cosy cafes and shops (for shopping addicts like me lol). For the activities seekers, there are tons of fun and exciting activities to do in and around Queenstown, from mild jet boat rides and canoeing to slightly more exciting activities such as paragliding to the extreme adrenaline rush bungee jumping and sky diving.


Glenorchy

A short 45 minutes drive from Queenstown along Lake Wakatipu takes one to Glenorchy where there are a couple of trials to do. For Lord of the Ring (LOR) and The Hobbit fans, this is Misty Mountain, Isengard, Lothlorien and Fanghorn forest and many more. Do try out Dart River jet boat and/or the canoe to explore the beautiful rivers. There are also plenty of walking trails.


Te Anau

We drove to Te Anau which is 1.5 to 2 hours from Queenstown. The drive is pretty scenic – we are in New Zealand so almost any drive is scenic 🙂 This town is a good stopover for a night before going to Milford Sound to break the long drive and also to visit its famous glow worm cave. The glow worm cave is a short ferry ride from Te Anau and I would say it is one of the most interesting experience I ever had, with the glom worms lighting up in dark caves like starry starry night. Too bad I can’t show any photos as photographs are not allowed as the flash will scare off the glow worms.
Milford Sound

Another 2.5 hours from Te Anau will take you to Milford Sound which is essentially fjords. The drive there is pretty scenic (it’s NZ after all) and you may want to make stops here and there especially at th Mirror Lake and Deer Creek. To explore the sound (or fjords), take the tourist cruise. Having been to Norway and done fjord cruise, I will say I am a little disappointed with Milford Sound as I find the Norway fjords nicer and find that the long drive just to see this may be a little over-rated. Maybe I have set my expectations way too high.Some friends say that Doubtful Sound is nicer but given that its location is more remote, I didn’t have the chance to visit. You may want to see them all and decide for yourself 😉 I was pretty tired and not feeling too well after the Milford Sound cruise that I decided to fly back to Queenstown, all thanks to my friend who is so kind to agree to take the car back to Queenstown. The usual flight back is on a bigger passenger plane. However, as there are too many of us (with me being the last minute addition), I was put on another 4 seater small plane and got to sit as the co-pilot. I was glad to make this decision to fly back. The view of the sound when the plane takes off and the whole flight back is breathtaking and well worth the money.


Mt Cook

Mt Cook is one of the must go place when one visits the South Island. Though it is quite a drive from Queenstown, the good thing is that there are many nice stops in between. Just a short drive out of Queenstown will take you to Gibbston area which has many vineyards. So for wine lovers, this will be your haven. I am the driver so I have to give this a miss, sadly…


After passing Gibbston area, the next nice stop is the Roaring Meg power station in the Kawarau Gorge which is the place of the original bungee jump. Are you daring enough to take the plunge? Haha.


Cromwell is another nice short stop where you can get nice fruits and juices. After passing here, do look out for the beautiful Lindis Pass. Do park your car at the designated parking area and take some photos. This pass is extremely beautiful and magical in the winter with snow (though the road may be closed if weather is bad) but summer is still nice too.


Driving on, you will reach Omarama. You will recognise this town when you see the merino sheep statute at the petrol station at the entrance of the town. There is nothing much here but it is a good toilet break and grab some food. For gliding enthusiasts, apparently here is a great place to glide due to the wind.


Before reaching Mt Cook, Twizel (which is 45 minutes away from Mt Cook) with the nearby Ahuriri River is famous for its rainbow trout/ salmon. I will recommend planning to have a meal in this town. For geography enthusiasts, you can visit the nearby Paritea cliffs to see the exposed Osler fault line.

You know that you are very near Mt Cook when you see a big lake. This is Lake Pukaki. I will say this is my favourite lake. I absolutely love its turquoise colour and the picturesque Mt Cook behind the lake. I was quite blessed with good weather and can see Mt Cook the moment we drove into Lake Pukaki area. Don’t fail to make photo stops along the way!


Mt Cook stands at 3,755m and is the highest peak in Australasia. To see the Tasman glacier and get up to Mt Cook, do take the helicopter ride or the scenic flight. 


I will also recommend taking the glacier lagoon boat to get up close to the glacier. 


There are also many nice walking trails to trek or just walk around so it is worthwhile to give yourself more time in Mt Cook. Also don’t forget to stare up into the sky at night. New Zealand, particularly Mt Cook area, is the best place to do star glazing and you can even see the Milky Way.
Tips:

– Best time to visit: Any season is a good time to visit New Zealand. However, summer is the high season as you get long warm days which are great for doing activities, though I caution that mid-day can be very warm and hotels are more expensive.

– The best way to get around the South Island is to drive. Do plan your route and give yourself ample time to travel from one point to another. It is rather easy to drive around the island as many times there is only one road but be weary that there are many bends and turns through the mountains. Though the locals are very familiar with the roads are can approach the bends at full speed, let the faster vehicles overtake and go at the speed that you are comfortable with and don’t feel pressured to go faster than you can handle. 

– To save time for Milford Sound visit, consider doing fly-cruise/fly from Queenstown instead of driving. It is expensive but well worth the money given the beautiful view and the ability to save time.

– Interested to see the North Island? See my blog on North Island
Food:

– Fergburger in Queenstown: This place is always packed and be prepared to queue for quite a while (I queue for an hour and I have heard longer queue time). Their burgers are really yummy, juicy and HUGE. This is a must try if you visit Queenstown.


– Rata in Queenstown is super good too.

– Three Sixty in Crowne Plaza hotel in Queenstown surprisingly serves very nice food at good price (I was given a voucher from the hotel which entitles guest to enjoy 3 course meal with wine at a very affordable price).

– Caribre Latin Kitchen in Queenstown is rated number 3 on TripAdvisor. Here is the place where you can quickly grab a cheap bite.

– Public Restaurant and Bar: For simple dinner and drinks, here is a great place to go and provides nice view of the lake.

– Patagonia: I will recommend this place for breakfast and ice cream. Who can resist ice cream right?

– Vudu Cafe: My favourite breakfast place in Queenstown. The coffee is one of the best.

– La Dolce Vita in Te Anau: The restaurant serves good Italian food and my good price. 

– Hermitage Hotel fine dining restaurant: The quality of food is superb. Highly recommended and well worth the price!

– Shawtys in Twizel is a popular Cafe that the locals patronise and it is not hard to understand why once you dine there. Just a short drive from Mt Cook, many locals staying in Mt Cook drive all the way here to have their meals. The food is great and pretty affordable. 


Accommodation:

– In Queenstown, I stayed at Crowne Plaza. There may be cheaper option but this hotel is located right in the city and opposite the tour bus departure point. Novetel hotel is also great place to stay.

– In Mt Cook, The Hermitage is the best hotel that you can get. Activities in Mt Cook all departs from here. I am lucky enough to see Mt Cook clearly from the hotel.

– In Te Anau, accommodation is pretty basic and mainly motels. So don’t expect too much. 





Saying Kimchi in Seoul!

5 04 2014

As a huge fan of Korean dramas, Seoul has always been one of my favourite cities. It will be cool if I can ice skate at Namsam park like what was shown in Boys over Flowers, sit at the doorsteps of the old house in Personal Taste just like the lead actor and actress, stroll in Gyeongbogung to see the famous lake where the crown princess drowned in Rooftop Prince, etc. Indeed, with the popularity of the Korean dramas worldwide, many fans like me have embarked on some form of “pilgrimage” to Korea. I made my first trip to kimchi-land 4 years ago back in spring of 2010 and was extremely excited when I had the opportunity to be back again in Seoul 4 years later, this time during winter.

There are tons of stuff to see, do, shop and eat in Seoul and so I am going to share some recommendations on the top things to do to maximise your limited time in Seoul (I realized that I was always racing against time in this city).

 

1) Gyeongbokgung palace and surroundings

Gyeongbokgung

This is the main palace in Seoul and it’s also where “Rooftop Prince” was filmed. Ticket costs KRW 3,000. There’s some changing of guards ceremony I think 3 times a day at 11am, 2pm and 4pm at the main gate. For those who like to take nice photos or would like to enjoy some peace away from the tour group crowds, I will recommend that you visit at 4pm to view the changing of guards (it is at the main gate so no tickets needed) and then proceed to visit the palace grounds. The palace closes at 5pm during November to February, 5pm from March to May and 6.30pm from June to October. Typically, there will be few visitors by close to the closing time and you can be able to enjoy the serenity of the palace and take nice photos without other tourists in them 🙂

Just opposite the Gyeonbokgung main gate is the Gyeonghwamum square which has the statutes of King Sejong the Great and Admiral Yi Sun-shin. A walk further down Cheonggye Plaza which is where Cheonggyecheon (aka the Cheonggye steam) starts. I would suggest visiting this area after seeing Gyeongbokgung and you could spend your evening strolling along the Cheonggyecheon.

Subway: Gyeongbokgung train station, exit 5

 

2) Changdeokgung palace, Bukchon Hannok Korean Village and Insa-dong

Cheonggokgung

Also known as the Eastern Palace, Changdeokgung is just a subway stop away from Gyeongbokgung. This palace is an UNESCO world culture heritage site, famous for its perfect harmony between nature and artificiality. There are numerous online discussions on whether to visit Gyeongbokgung or Changdeokgung. If you have the time, it will be great to visit both. However, make sure that you add on the Secret Garden tour (you are not allowed inside unless you join the tour) when you visit Changdeokgung. If you only have limited time, I would suggest Gyeongbokgung for most of the year unless you are there during autumn where Changdeokgung ‘s secret garden would be beautiful.

Just beside Changdeokgung is Seoul’s last few traditional Korean houses where members of the royal family and noblemen loved during the Joseon period. It is now often used for filming Korean dramas and movies and you can attempt to find the famous old house where Lee Min Ho was staying with Son Ye-Jin in the Korean drama “Personal Taste” 🙂

Hongbok

There are also 8 scenic sights in this area where you can get nice photos such as the view of Changdeokgung, the upward alley, the downward alley, etc. I really love this area and would highly recommend a visit even though you may decide to give Changdeokgung a miss. As this area is also a residential areas and the numberings of the houses may not be in sequence, I would suggest that you go to the information counter to get a map and ask specifically for directions of how to get to each sights including the Personal Taste old house.

Insadong

After taking in so much traditional sights, I find that the perfect way to come “back to the future” is to take a short walk to Insa-dong which has nice shops, eateries and galleries.

Subway: Anguk. This is a big area so I think the easiest route is to start with Bukchon Hanok Village (unless you know the area and do not need to take the map from the information counter else you may have to walk back-and-forth). Take Exit 2 and just follow the road into the Hanok village and you will be able to find the information counter for the Bukchon Hanok Village. You can then see the scenic sights 4 to 8, followed by 3, 2 and 1. After seeing scenic sight 1 (which is the paranomic view of Changbokgung), you can just follow the road along the palace towards the main street and you will reach the ticket counter for the palace. Do take note of Secret Garden tour timing (think the English tours are at 11.30am, 1.30pm and 3.30pm) and it takes around 90 minutes for the tour. Insa-dong is at Exit 6.

 

3) Namsam park and Seoul Tower

Seoul tower

I don’t think I need to say much about Namsam Park and Seoul Tower. If you are a Korean drama fan, you will realised that most dramas will show the lead actor and actress dating here. Yes, this is a really famous place for couples to date so if you are visiting with your boyfriend or girlfriend, you should set aside one evening to have a romantic kpop style date here 🙂

Namsam 1

By the way, during spring, you will get beautiful cherry blossom blooiming so make sure you go during the day to see. You can also catch nice view of Seoul from the park as it is up the hill. In winter, there is an ice-skating rink just outside Grand Hyatt hotel at Namsam Park and is a popular “dating activity” for the evening/night so you may want to try it. This is also where the lead actor and actress in Boys Over Flowers went on a double date.

Subway: Hoehyeon (exit 1). I suggest catching a taxi up to Namsam cable car station and you can then take the cable car up to Seoul Tower.

 

4) Gangnam area

Ok, you must have by now seen or heard the “Gangnam style” so how can you not go to Gangnam area? To be frank, there is nothing much except shops, business offices and the U street with many media poles but somehow after all the craze of Gangnam style, you just have to go here.

Subway: Gangnam

 

5) Apujeong-dong and Cheongdam-dong

I am not sure if you have watched the Korean drama Cheongdam-dong Alice. After watching that, I just tell myself I have to see this “atas” (Singlish way of saying posh) district. This is where all you can find Galleria, posh salons and all the luxury brands and designer shops. Unless you have an extremely deep pocket (which I obviously don’t), treat this as “sightseeing” rather than shopping.

Subway: Apujeongrodeo

 

6) Lotte World

Lotte

The theme park has separate outdoor and indoor sections, offering rides for both young children as well those seeking a little excitement. I love the Lotte World Hotel which is conveniently located beside the Lotte World theme park and would recommend that you stay one night here so that you can visit the outdoor theme park during the day and the indoor one when the sun sets.

Subway: Jamil exit 3

 

 

Transport:

1) Getting to/from airport and city centre: The easiest way of course is by taxi which costs around KRW 55,000 to 60,000 including tolls for normal taxi. Note that there are 2 types of taxi, the normal ones (in yellow) and premium ones (in black). Premium cabs will cost around KRW 75,000 for the same trip. If you are travelling on a budget, the cheapest way is to take the Airport Railroad Express (AREX) and transfer to the subway. Journey time is around 1.5 hours but it costs around KRW 4,000. Alternative, the airport limousine bus is the faster and not too expensive option to get into Seoul city (KRW 15,000, travelling time around 40 minutes).You can refer to https://www.airport.kr/iiacms/pageWork.iia?_scode=C1203050000 for more details.

2) The subway in Seoul provides an effective and efficient mode of transport around the city. The ticket vending machine has English instructions so it should be easy. Single trip ticket costs KRW 1,650 including KRW 500 deposit which you can get back after your trip by inserting the card into the refund machine. You may be intimidated by the complex train system initially but don’t worry, the Seoul train system is not that complex. As a usual rule of thumb, first take note of the station that you are at and the station that you want to get to. Then map out which train route(s) numbers you need to take including the direction of travel.

3) Taxis in Seoul is also pretty reasonably price (or could be cheap compared to the European countries, US, Australia and even neighbouring Japan). So if you have 3 or more people, it may be worthwhile just to take the taxi versus the subway.

 

Food:

– Pricing of food in Seoul is pretty reasonable. You should be able to get a decent Korean meal in a normal restaurant between US$10 to US$20 depending on what you order. Korean restaurants also serve Korean small dishes such as kimchi, glass noodles, etc for free when you order a main course and these small dishes are usually refillable.

– I believe most of you would be quite familar with Korean food and what to order. But for those who need a little help, I have put up some photos of my few favourite dishes. Unlike some other of my blogs, I am not putting names of restaurants here as most of the time I just pop into any one based on the type of food/craving that I was having and typically they are good (you can’t really go very wrong with Korean food if you like BBQ, Kimchi and soupy stuff). Must try food include the famous Korean BBQ and the Korean Gingseng Chicken Soup (we heard so much about it and so how can we not eat them)?

BBQ

– Another dish that I like is the Korean fried rice (which you will fry it yourself in 3 easy steps) and Bibimbap and sulphur duck

Korean fried rice

Sulphur duck

– There are more “formal” Korean lunch/dinner that are still pretty affordable (between US$20 to US$50) where you get a main course with more variety of side dishes and dessert. Of course, similar to any other cities, the further you are away from the tourist spots, the less likely you will fall into any tourist traps and get better and cheaper food.

Korea lunch YS

Korea dinner

 

 

 

Shopping:

Shopaholics will love Seoul. You can literally shop till you drop with certain shopping markets open 24 hours. Below is the list of my favourite shopping places:

1) Dongdaemum area: This is THE PLACE that you should go if you want to look for trendy clothes and shoes. There are various wholesale markets here so you would be able to get better deals versus the normal retail shops around the city (which would have gotten their stocks from here). I particularly love Nuzzon and Migliore. Take subway to Dongdaemum to see the nice Dongdaemum gate. This is a short walk to Migliore. Alternatively take to Dongdaemum History & Culture Park station which is nearer to the shopping.

2) Namdaemum area: If you are looking for much cheaper stuff versus Dongdaemum, Namdaemum market is a good place to go. However, I do find that Dongdaemum’s stuff is trendier although slightly more expensive. Take subway to Hoehyeon.

3) Other nice shopping areas include Myeong-don (subway: Myeong-don), Sinchon and Ewha university area (subway: Sinchon or Ewha), Itaewon (subway: Itaewon).

4) You may have heard from friends and colleagues who have been to Korea that they bought tons of cosmetics. Indeed, with majority of the Koreans being so obsessed with looks (it is common for Koreans to undergo some form of cosmetics surgery), you can trust Koreans to come up with good facial and makeup products. Popular brands include Face Shop, Étude House and Innisfree and it’s also much cheaper to buy them in Korea versus overseas.

 

Other tips:

1) If you are taking Singapore Airlines and have lounge access, there is a relaxing 15 minutes free facial massage in the lounge. No pre-appointment is needed and at the end of the facial, you will also be given a trial pack of facial products.

 

2) Side trips:

(a) Everland

Everland

If you love theme parks and Lotte World is insufficient to satisfy your adrenaline rush, head over to Everland which I would say is one of my favourite theme park. I love the beautiful garden which the theme will change every season (the one that I saw in April was beautiful tulip gardens with “Europe theme”). The theme park is not too far out from Seoul and can be easily accessible via public transport. You can refer to https://www.everland.com/web/multi/english/everland/everland_guide/transportation/Transportation01.html for more details.

 

(b) Jeju Island

Jeju

There are other popular areas (eg Busan, the ski resorts, etc) which are accessible either by train or long distance bus or flights. One of the most popular destination, also known as the honeymoon destination for Koreans, is Jeju Island located off the southern shore of Korea. It is easily reached by flight from Seoul and I will highly recommend this beautiful island. Famous sights include the Seongsan Sunrise Peak (a volcanic crater hill offering a splendid view by the coast), the mysterious “Mysterious Road” (where things go uphill), the Seongup Folk Village (which is the traditional Jeju island houses seen in the olden times), the Yongduam Dragon Rock (a nice lava formation by the sea shaped as a dragon), etc. For Korean drama fans, there are many places on the island such a the Teddy Bear Museum where Princess Hour was filmed, the “All-in” church and so on that you will just screamed in joy while busying snapping photos lol

 





The Little Red Dot ~ A Sunny Island Called Singapore

14 08 2012

Many friends (both Singaporeans and non-Singaporeans) have asked me whether I intend to write on Singapore. Having grown up in Singapore, this little island is just so close to my heart thatI just have too many things to write and thus at a lost where I should start. After delaying for so long, I have at last managed to pull together my little note on my homeland. The official website by the Singapore Tourism Promotion Board has lots of information but I will list down my top 10 in each category. For more details, you can visit http://www.yoursingapore.com/content/traveller/en/experience.html.

Feel free to drop me questions and I am happy to help 🙂

Quick Facts About Singapore

– First thing and the answer to the most common question that I get, Singapore has no four seasons. It is summer throughout with daily temperature of generally more than 30 degrees.

– In the old days, Singapore was a fishing village. Due to the good geographical location and the natural habour that the island has, it attracted many of our forefathers from different nations (eg. China, India) to come and stay on this little island. This is the reason why Singapore is historically a multi-cultural country with various ethnic groups. Singaporean Chineses, Malays , Indians, Eurasians lived alongside with foreign workers and expatriates from around the world. Generally, Singaporeans have high cultural and religious tolerance and understanding, upholding the Singapore pledge to be “as one united people,regardless of race, language or religion”.

– The official language of Singapore is English but the national language is Berhasa (which is also the native language of the Malays – but note that apart from the Malays, most Singaporeans can’t speak Berhasa).

– The non-official national language is “Singlish” which is Singapore’s version of English mixed with Berhasa, Mandarin, Chinese dialect (eg. Hokkien, Cantonese) and Tamil, created due to the cultural diversity of the nation, with different races living in harmony with each other and sharing each other’s culture (and indirectly influencing one another, thus creating a blended language called “Singlish”). That is, in a sentence, potentially there will be mix of different languages and dialects and of course, ending the sentence with the signature Singlish of “lor” or “lah”. This is uniquely Singapore and willl certainly warm the hearts of most Singaporeans when we hear Singlish being spoken especially when we are overseas.

– Politically, Singapore is very stable. Singapore used to be a British colony after Sir Stamford Raffles landed in Singapore in 1819 and gave Singapore its current name. Prior to that, Singapore was called Temasek (meaning Sea Town) and Singapura (meaning Lion City). People’s Action Party (founder Mr Lee Kwan Yew) has been the ruling party for Singapore since our little island gained independence on 9th August 1965. The following website provides a brief history of Singapore http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Singapore.

– The Singapore pledge “We, the citizens of Singapore,pledge ourselves as one united people,regardless of race, language or religion,to build a democratic societybased on justice and equalityso as to achieve happiness, prosperity andprogress for our nation”.

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What to do in Singapore

1) Eat, yes eat! – You may have heard that eating is one of Singapore national pastime and food, a national obsession. Indeed, this is not exaggerating. Which other Lonely Planet Guide apart from Singapore has more than half of the book delicated to food? Singaporeans really love to eat and we love our food. We held our gatherings over lunch or dinner (with lots of food). When there’s something to celebrate, we will gather and go for a nice meal. When asked to show friends from overseas around Singapore, the main “highlight” of the itinerary is surely feasting. That’s the way typical Singaporeans will show our hospitality to guests. To many Singaporeans living abroad, the one big thing that we will surely miss apart from our family will be the “Singapore food”. Singapore cuisine is pretty unique in a sense that it has lots of influence from Chinese, Malay, Indian and also the West, reflecting the cultural diversity of the country. I have provided a list of “die die must try” food (that’s Singlish, which means definitely must try). Do note that in most restaurants, there is a 10% service charge being imposed plus 7% GST (ie. VAT). There is no need to tip unless you really find the service really exceptional.

2) Shop – Singapore is a good place to shop, the only limitation is how much your wallet can take lol. The famous Orchard Road is filled with shopping malls and is a good place to start shopping. For greater bargains, you can head to Bugis Village which is like a flea market (http://www.best-singapore-guide.com/bugis-village.html). Try asking friends whether there are any “masar palam” (ie night markets) happening around their home which is a pretty interesting shopping (and dining) experience. Do check out with the retailers whether your purchase is enttiled to GST refund (ie VAT refund) which can save you 7% off your purchase price.

3) See the Merlion Park, together with the skyline of Singapore – The Merlion is a mythical lion head with a fish body creature and the mascot of Singapore. The lion head represents Singapore which original name is Singapura (meaning lion city) and the fish body symbolises the origins of Singapore as a fishing village.

4) Sentosa & Universal Studio – This is an island off Singapore. You can take the cable car ride from Mount Faber to Sentosa and then take a bus or taxi back to the island after you are done with sightseeing. See the website for all the attractions http://www.sentosa.com.sg/en/

5) The Singapore Zoo and the Night Safari

6) Take a walk in Chinatown

7) Take a walk in Little India

8) Jurong Birdpark – Apart from seeing the birds, the park also has the highest manmade waterfall in South east Asia.

9) Head to the beach – Sentosa has 3 beaches. However, if you want to experience the beach like the locals, head off to East Coast Park.

10) Gardens by the bay

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“Die Die Must Try” Singapore Food (aka Definitely must try)

1) The famous Singapore chilli crab

What’s the dish: This is a national dish and the favourite of most Singaporeans. It is not really spicy (just a little spicy plus some sweetness). When you order, do add on fried man tou (which are fried buns) to go with the gravy. If there’re a couple of you, you can order one chilli crab and one pepper crab (which is another favourite dish of Singaporeans).

Where to eat: There are many places that serve this national dish. Examples of the more popular ones are Seafood Paradise (there’s one at Changi Airport and also at Singapore Flyer) or to Jumbo Restaurant (a couple of chains http://www.jumboseafood.com.sg/profile.html)

2) Hainanese Chicken Rice

What’s the dish: This is a steamed chicken dish served with rice cooked in chicken stock. Apart from steam chicken, you can also order the roast chicken. I will recommend that you order both to try (you can request for them to give you both types in 1 dish and there’s no need to order them as 2 separate dishes which will be more expensive). It is called Hainanese Chicken Rice because it first originated from Hainan in China but the Singapore variation has made so much refinement to the dish that it can now be termed as a “uniquely Singapore” dish.

Where to eat: You can this dish almost everywhere. From the local food courts located in any shopping malls, or the hawker centres (including the famous Newton Circle Hawker Centre – which is only opened in the evening). For a more “upmarket” setting, try Mandarin Oriental Hotel “Chatterbox” cafe.

3) Laksa

What’s the dish: Laksa is a Perankan dish which originates from a fushion of Chinese and Malay cuisine. It consists of thick rice noodles (called “bee hoon” in the local Singapore language) cooked in coconut curry gravy. There may be eggs, prawns, “tau pok” (which are beancurd puffs), fish cake, chicken and/or cockles added. If you don’t like cockles, you can request for the cook to exclude it (whcih I usually do).

Where to eat: Like the chicken rice, you can get this dish quite easily. A famous chain will be Katong Laksa (the original store is at 51 East Coast Road, there are 2 branches at 216 East Coast Road, and also at 101 Thomson Road United Square).

4) Rojak

What’s the dish: The term “rojak” means a mix in Berhasa (a language used by Malays in Singapore and Malaysia). It is essentially a mix of different fruits, vegetabes, tau pok (beancurd puffs), you tiao (Chinese fritters), bean sprouts, prawn paste, etc.

Where to eat: Similar to Chicken rice, you can get this dish quite easily. Try Newton Circle Hawker Centre.

5) Nasi Lemak

What’s the dish: This dish is a Malay dish which consists of rice cooked in cocunut milk, served with fried fish, egg, fried chicken wings, etc.

Where to eat: Similar to Chicken rice, you can get this dish quite easily. Try Newton Circle Hawker Centre or Adam Road Hawker Centre (which is famous for the Nasi Lemak stores).

6) Curry fish head

What’s this dish: This is a Singapore Indian dish. I have to add “Singapore” in the name as no where in India you will be able to get this dish. Curry originated from India but cooking fish head in curry is quite uniquely Singapore. It can be a little spicy though (but most of my foreign friends who tried love it despite the spice).

Where to eat: The famous one is at Muthu Curry http://www.muthuscurry.com

6) Roti Prata

What’s this dish: This is also a Singapore Indian dish. You only get prata in India and not “roti prata” 🙂 It is an Indian pancake served with curry.

Where to eat: You can also get this dish quite easier in many food courts or hawker centres. The more famous stores are located at Jalan Kayu or at Causaurina (which personally I like Casuarina Curry http://casuarinacurry.com/)

7) Satay

What’s this dish: Grilled meat (usually beef, mutton, chicken) on skewers dipped in peanut sauce. Order some ketupat (Malaysia rice dumpling) to go along with the satay. I will strongly recommend that you buy from those served by the Malays as their version is more tasty unless you are a pork lover (then you will have to get from the Chinese).

Where to eat: In most hawker centres (the most convenient one will be the Newton Circle Hawker Centre).

8) Ice Kacang

What’s the dish: This is a dessert Grated ice coated with different colour syrups and evaporated milk, with jelly, red beans, corn and attap seeds.

Where to eat: In most hawker centres or food courts in most shopping malls.

9) Singapore Sling

What’s the drink: The famous cocktail first “invented” by Raffles Hotel around 1915. It’s basically a mix of gin, Cherry Herring, pineapple juice.

Where to drink: Raffles Hotel. If you are flying by Singapore Airlines, the crew served Singapore Sling as well.

10) Local Coffee (or “Kopi” in Singlish)

What’s the drink: The local coffee. There are many variations and the fun of the drink is to order it in the Singapore way (using singlish), like black coffee without milk (kopi-O), black coffee with condensed milk (kopi), black coffee with evaporated milk (kopi-C). You can order tea as well with or without milk (just swapped the “kopi” with “teh”). To ask for less sweet, add “siew dai” to the back of the order (eg kopi-O siew dai). For a sweeter drink, add “gah dai” to the back of the order (eg kopi-O gah dai). Also, try ordering some kaya toast (toasted bread with “kaya” spread which is a spread made mainly from pandan leaves, eggs, coconut milk) to go with the coffee or tea. They are supper yummy 🙂

Where to drink: In most coffee shops. One of the big coffee chain is the Ya kun coffee http://www.yakun.com/singapore.aspx

** There are just so many great food to try. Be it typical Chinese food (eg dim sum, fried hokkien noodles), Malay food (eg Nasi Lemak, Mee Siam), Indian food (eg Murtabak, Nasi Briyani) and all sorts of cuisines from all around the world. With so many different varieties, it is of little wonder why eating is one of the favourite pastime of Singaporeans – there are just too many good food here to tempt us, all shouting “eat me, eat me!” 🙂

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Transport

– Getting to/from airport and city centre: You can either take a taxi (which is the most convenient, only 20 minutes ride and typically less than $25), or the MRT (which is Singapore’s version of the subway. One trip cost less than $3).

– Getting around Singapore: Getting around Singapore is really easy and convenient. The MRT is the fastest way of getting from one place to another. If you prefer to see Singapore from above the ground (instead of in tunnels), you can hop on to the buses. Of course, the easiest way to navigate is to take the taxi which is pretty affordable.

– Do note that you will need an “EZ link card” for MRT rides which you can purchase at the MRT station. The one-way ticket has a $1 deposit which you can get back at the end of each ride.

– Driving in Singapore is easy. Do note that Singapore is right hand drive and the speed limit is typicall 50km/h on normal roads and 90km/h on expressways (but check the signs for the speed on each roads). You may need to purchase a “cashcard” to pay for ERP (the electronic road tolls) and parking at some places.

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Where to Stay

If you love a centrally located area with lots of shopping and food, choose Orchard Road area. The price may be more expensive but it is a super convenient location. For those who love waterfront view, the marina bay area is good.





The Carefree Traveller’s Book of ABC ~ D is for Datong

8 04 2012

The city of Datong in the Shanxi province in China is just a couple of hours drive from Beijing, the capital of China. The historical city of Datong was the capital of Northern Wei Dyanasty and the “support capital” of Liao and Jin. Being situated at the northern part of China at the bolders of Inner Mongolia, this city used to be the political and military centre of ancient China. The “importance” of Datong can be seen by its numerous historical and cultural relics such as the famous Hanging Temple and Yungang Grottes.

To read more on Datong and the other interesting cities/towns in the Shanxi Province, visit https://thecarefreetraveller.wordpress.com/2007/10/14/shanxi-in-search-of-duke-of-mt-deer/.