Indulging in Premier Nha Trang’s Mud Bath and Spa

Soaking in a tub of mud feels as eccentric as it sounds, but it has become a quintessential Nha Trang’s experience. The mud is claimed to have all sorts of healthy, therapeutic properties. Other than mud bath, the facilities usually include Jacuzzi, mineral water swimming pools and other novelties for a full day hydrotherapy extravaganza.

What is a mud bath?

Mud bath is soaking in a bath containing mineral mud. Mineral mud is a natural mud formed from the change of geology, mineral mud derived from plants such as trees, flowers, grass buried or from land created mineral mud.

The medicinal benefits of mud-bathing include removing dead skin cells, detoxifies, deposits minerals into your body, strengthens bones, reduces fatigue, smoothen and toned your skin. It is also believed to treat a number of diseases such as chronic arthritis, tuberculosis, insomnia, sciatica, stress and psoriasis.

I-resort

As highly recommended by Mozjo Dorm’s staff, we chose I-resort to experience my very first mud bath (Gan did it few years back at 100 Egg Mud Bath). As I-resort is located in the hillside on the outskirts of the city, the hostel arranged for us a shutter bus for a fee of 30,000VND (USD1.30). 

Since we didn’t get to do diving for this trip, we have more budget to splurge a bit to pamper ourselves. We got a private tub for 300,000VND (USD13) per person. The price includes a bathing suit (if you need), towel, locker and usage all other facilities in the resort. The mud bath was prepared right in front of us and we were then asked to enter the tub. The bath was very relaxing and calming, leaving the skin soft and refreshed.  A very unique experience to say the least!

After 20-minutes of soaking in the hot mud, we washed off with hot water and explore the rest of the facilities. There are a soaking hot mineral pool, 2 swimming pools with Jacuzzi and four hot waterfalls to enjoy. There are also hydrotherapy sprays for massaging muscles! 

Other places to consider

Thap Ba Spa

Being the first mud bath service in Nha Trang, Thap Ba Spa is considered the cheapest but most crowded mud bath compared to the rest. Starting price is 150,000VND (USD6.50) for shared tub with cold mud. 

100 Egg Mud Bath

For a more unique experience, 100 Egg is a place devoted to eggs! Everything from tubs to decoration to menu in the restaurant are all about eggs. A private egg tub is big enough to hold 3 people for the price of 300,000VND (USD13) per pax.

Apart from diving, this is a must-do experience in Nha Trang!! 

5 Reasons Why You Should Visit Crazy House in Dalat, Vietnam

Thailand has Wat Rong Khun (White Temple), Vietnam has Crazy House!

The Crazy House, as it is called by locals and tourists alike, does actually have a real name – the Hang Nga Guesthouse. It has rooms that can be slept in but also open during the day for visitors to wander through and explore.

Our plan was to stopover at dalat to do canyoning, but it was far too cold so we decided to come back again during summer. And that left us a few hours on this highland before proceed to our next destination. Our option is pretty obvious: The Crazy House. 

Entrance fee: 50,000VND (USD2)

Here’s 5 reasons why you shouldn’t miss The Crazy House: 

It has an inspiring story

The existence of the Crazy House exists purely through the undying faith and perseverance of Dang Viet Nga. An idealist with lofty ambitions overcomes overwhelming obstacles to make her dream a reality. Her neighbors tried stop her. The banks tried to stop her. Even the government tried to stop her, but she never gave up on her dream.

Even though it is theoretically a hotel, Hang Nga Guesthouse is today regarded as a “museum” of dream, childhood and abnormality. The Crazy House was not her ticket to fame and fortune but her ticket to headaches and heartburn, her passion, her contribution to the world, and her triumph. 

This whole project is still in progress and aimed to be completely done by 2020.

This area is still in construction, but visitors can walk around at their own risks

Under-the-sea’s theme coming up!

Unique architectural designs 

As art, as architecture, even as an attraction, the Crazy House is true only to the artistic spirit of Dang Viet Nga. The Crazy House is outrageously beautiful, hideously eccentric, and downright weird of tree-houses with uneven windows, tunnel-shaped stairways, etc.

It is the top 3 strangest hotels in the world

Dubbed “The Crazy House” during its construction, this bizarre guesthouse in the heart of Dalat City is the creation of Vietnamese architect Dang Viet Nga. Featuring ten nature-themed rooms, the hotel is “Gaudi meets Disneyland,” with more than a little of Dali thrown in.

Everywhere is an instagrammable spot!

Great view of Dalat City

Getting there to Dalat

We left Mui Ne on a small bus and headed to Dalat, a city in the Highlands region of Vietnam. Lying on the hills and surrounding Ho Xuan Hurong Lake, its climate differs from the otherwise tropical climate of Vietnam—the lower temperatures and humidity gave it the name of the “City of Eternal Spring”.

The journey took around 4-hours (99,000vnd/USD4) through twisting roads and cars overtaking us like in an action movie. On the bright side, the landscape grew greener as pine trees started covering the hills. Up there, coffee plantations and strawberries greenhouses substituted the dragon fruit plains of the lowlands.

There are many more things you can do in Dalat besides The Crazy House. We will definitely come back on drier season and explore more places! 

Explore the best of Mui Ne, Vietnam (for literally free!)

On the southern coastline of Vietnam, there is a little fishing village called Mui Ne. Most of the time there is the wind and a good amount of waves, which makes it the perfect spot for surfers. Mui Ne is just a 4-hours bus ride away from Saigon but it feels like you’re visiting a different country. It’s the place-to-go to escape the hectic big cities.

So, what did we do in Mui Ne…….for free?

Visiting the Red Sand Dune

The red sand dune is a must visit in Mui Ne. It’s a tiny piece of desert in Vietnam, which gives you a whole different view of the country. Just 20-minutes from the town centre, it is a spectacular place to be during sunset. Honestly, there isn’t too much to do around the Red Sand Dunes. However, do prepare yourself as there will be children as well as women who will approach and offer you to rent a plastic sled to slide down the dunes for about 20,000vnd (USD1).

Entrance Fee: None

Strolling barefooted along Fairy Stream

I was skeptical about this thinking that it is probably a tourist trap. We even walked far off from main entrance to avoid being asked for entrance fee. This stream is tucked between the beaches and the fishing village. You will be impressed by the colors and the limestone formations which look like a mini scale of Grand Canyon. Do be careful of local teenagers coming to you trying to be your guide and helping you to take pictures, just politely refused and walk off.  

When you decided to start your long walk at noon

Side entrance to the stream

Only local tourists walk through this entrance

Feeling good to soak our tired feet in this cooling stream

Popped-up stalls along the stream

If you walk through the red sand dune, you can reach fairy stream too!

Entrance Fee: 5,000VND if you enter from main entrance or with a tour

Sightseeing in Fishing Village

A local small school

Wet market

Less than a dollar chicken rice

Entrance Fee: None

Awed at Kite-surfers

Kite-surfing is a big deal in Mui Ne. Locals and travelers all enjoying the wind and waves.There are a lot of kite-surfing shops where you can rent the equipment or pick up the skill from an instructor. However, the prices aren’t cheap.

Chasing Sunrise and Sunset

Sunrise at the beach

Sunset at the fishing village

Hiking up on Random Hill

Yes! We saw a hill at the end of the beach where we were staying…why not hike?

What we didn’t do:

Rent a Motorbike

We were being advised by the locals that the police in Mui Ne often organizes “road block” to stop foreigners riding motorbikes. Even if you do have an International Driving Permit, the police will still find an excuse to make sure you pay some money to them. We had witnessed the scene and glad we heeded their advice. The fine is usually about 200,000vnd (USD8-10). 

Police behind me stopping foreign riders

White Sand Dune

The white sand dune is about 25-kilometers away from town center; too far for us to walk, and no public bus to go there. Besides, it’s just another land with sand.

Take a Tour

A standard half-day tour inclusive of white and red sand dunes, and fairy stream will cost USD5 from most hostels. It sounds reasonably-priced, but you may not get to enjoy each attraction at your own pace, and usually the guide will lure you into tourist traps like quad-biking at white sand dune or paying a fee for fairy stream. Moreover, there is a frequent local bus (no.1) which stops at red sand dune, fairy stream and fishing village which costs only 13,000vnd (USD0.50) per trip!

We were lucky that the local bus stop right outside the resort

Where we stayed?

We stayed at Long Son Mui Ne Campgrounds located on Suoi Nuoc Beach, 15-kilometers north of Mui Ne. The campgrounds have an east facing beach, meaning the place is ideal for sunrise views. It is a secluded yet well-located campground resort for travelers who would like to escape from the hustle and bustle of the main tourists spots. We stayed in a double-tent comes with mattress, pillows and blankets. Over here, you will experience resort living at backpacker’s prices$1 menu, $1 cocktails, free wifi, clean beach and lots of activities. 

Lobby

Common area

Dinning area

Bar

Lockers

Beach double-tent: USD7/night

Chilling area

Getting There

There are many bus companies that run from Saigon to Mui Ne, but we put our trust on The Sinh Tourists to travel around Vietnam. The bus journey is about 4-hours, costing 119,000vnd (USD5) inclusive of a bottle of water and wifi onboard. 

Is it Worth to Splurge on Vinpearl Land in Phu Quoc Island?

With the scale of 170,000 square metre, Vinpearl Land Phu Quoc Island is invested to become the largest modern amusement park complex in the Southwest of Vietnam, turning beautiful Phu Quoc Island into a new destination for both local and foreign tourists.

Combo tickets: 750,000vnd (USD33) for Vinpearl Land and Safari

Adding on to the amusement park, a 380-hectares safari park with 150 species of animals and 400 species of plants was opened just 10-minutes ride away. The park is divided into 2 main areas: open zoo for guests to walk around and a safari where guests board a tram to see animals wandering around. 

Known as the Disneyland of Vietnam, Vinpearl Land Amusement Park consists of 5D theatre, indoor games zone, an aquarium, outdoor thrilling rides, water park and amphitheatre. 

The castle which houses the 5D theatre

The most amazing thing about their indoor games zone is that every game is token free!! We spent almost 2-hours trying out as many games as we could.

The aquarium, though small scale, includes a variety of sea creatures and reptiles from all over the world. Upon entering, you will be greeted by Gentoo penguins – which is known as the fastest in the penguin family. Unfortunately, we missed the mermaid show at the main panel.

Source: phuquoc.vinpearlland – The mermaid show we had missed

The highlight for many is the waterpark, which combines a man-made beach, water slides, lazy river, and a large kids splash pad. Lockers service and changing rooms are available inside the waterpark area.

Locker usage: 10,000vnd (less than USD0.50)

There’s no need to carry tube all the way up by stairs!

Despite having more than 10 outdoor thrilling rides, we only played bumper car and the Ferris wheel (’cause there are so little guests in the park and we don’t want to be the only riders). 

View from top of Ferris wheel

To end our wonderful day at Vinpearl Land, our last activity is to catch the water musical show. The show lasts about 30 minutes with Vietnamese and international music performance combining with beautiful light system and water music.

Though Vinpearl Land and Safari were considered one of the more pricey activities we had done, we glad that we did it and we both agreed it’s totally worth the splurge!

Getting There

Vinpearl Land Amusement Park offers regular complimentary shuttle services for visitors who purchase tickets from travel agents within Duong Dong Town. There are many pick-up points in town, so you can easily check with your hostel where is the nearest pick-up point and the timings.  We do not recommend to bike there as it will be a waste of your one-day’s rental. The last shuttle bus back to town is as late as the park closes.

Simple Guide on Phú Quốc Island, Vietnam

Known as the jewel in Vietnam’s crown, Phú Quốc is a gorgeous tropical island off of Vietnam in the Gulf of Thailand, situated near Cambodia. Being the largest island of Vietnam, Phú Quốc boasts idyllic beaches, romantic sunsets, evergreen forests, and a serene atmosphere, making it a whole different world from other parts of Vietnam. 

Getting There

Flight from Saigon: The fastest and easiest way to get to the island is fly from Saigon. We paid USD60 per person for round tickets via Vietjet.

Mekong River view from the sky

Bus-ferry from Saigon (via Ha Tien or Rach Gia): A much cheaper way of travelling starting from USD19, but the journey will take you about 11-hours. 

Bus-ferry from Cambodia (via Kampot): A popular way of travelling among the backpackers.

Take note: Ferry tickets sell out fast during high or holiday seasons.

Where we stayed?

You will be pampered with so many choices on different types of accommodation this island can offer! Accommodation ranges from cheap dorm-bed hostels to luxurious beach-villas. Over our 4 nights on the island, we stayed in two different places for different experiences.

9 Station Hostel

Located along the Long Beach district in Duong Dong Downtown, 9 Station Hostel features a bar-restaurant (with free flow beer every evening), outdoor pool, pool table, free laundry and daily night activities such as beer pong and pub quiz. The hostel not only provides scooter and bicycle rental but also offers affordable boat tours to small islands where you can experience snorkeling, swimming, fishing and corals sightseeing.

What we love: friendly staffs equip with good knowledge on the island, open space bar, daily free beer, walking distance to beach and night market, dorm-beds with privacy, large locker for backpacks.

Average price per night/bed: USD9

Sen Lodge Bungalow Village

Located away from the main street, Sen Lodge is a little oasis if you prefer a quieter environment. The bungalows are super cool built with charming wooden structures that are nestled around a beautiful garden and pool area. We can only afford to stay for a night just for the treehouse!

What we love: super helpful staff, laid-back environment, peaceful, clean and tidy everywhere.

Price for Treehouse/night: USD37

When to go?

Source: Phu Quoc Island Guide

What we ate?

Apart from Phở, we fell in love with the Vietnamese grilled pork chop rice which is a popular dish in Southern Vietnam, along with other street food!

Grilled pork (marinated with coca-cola) with broken rice: USD1.50

Beef Pho: USD2

Pork noodles: USD1.80

Street snacks: from USD0.50 onwards

Note: Food on Phú Quốc’ Island are slightly more expensive than in mainland. 

What we did?

Cruising on Motobike

The cheapest and easiest way to explore the island is by riding motorbikes. Luckily, Phú Quốc’s traffic is nothing like Saigon or Hanoi. The island is pretty quiet traffic-wise, so even first-time motorbike riders can get around without too much hassle. We rented a motorbike from 9 Station Hostel for 150,000VND (~USD6.50) which is much cheaper than renting from other motorbikes rental shop. Petrol costs 45,000VND (~USD2) for full tank and can actually last us for one whole day’s journey.

Take note: By law, in order to drive a motorbike, foreigners must have an International Driving Permit. This is enforced through regular traffic stops and if you’re caught, expect to pay a fine.

Beach Hopping

There are so many beaches on the island and it was quite impossible to visit all during our short stay (okay, we tried to do it on one day but we got bored after seeing more or less the same stuff).

The first beach we explored was Sao Beach, which is supposed to be the best beach on the island due to it’s powdery white sand. However, maybe due to it’s popularity with tourists, the beach is no longer as pretty as it should be. There are a lot of accumulated rubbish and the sand isn’t that white. 

Finding a clean spot to settle down without paying money

There’s always a pretty spot to take photos

The instagrammable “Paradise Swing” is a scam: USD1

We visited Thom beach by chance while riding around the Northern area. Located on north-eastern part of the island, Thom beach is a wild and not well-maintained rugged beach. We weren’t sure if there is an entrance to the beach, so we just rode into one of the home-stays along the coast which offers reasonable-priced meals. 

Thom beach aka Local beach

Lunch by high tide shore

Sea urchin!

Stretching over 20-kilometers, Long Beach is the most popular beach clustered with hostels and villas. It is considered the main beach of Phú Quốc where you get to enjoy roof top bars and international music festival being held here. 

Most crowded beach but is well-maintained

Found another pretty spot for a picture!

Random structures for photo-taking

And here’s to our favorite beach: Ong Lang Beach. Not the most idyllic of spots, but this is one of the peaceful beach away from hustle and bustle of Long Beach. This is also one of the best places to catch sunsets!

Visiting Night Markets

Eating and shopping at night markets are probably one of the few things you can do at night on the island. The most popular and well-known night market is Phú Quốc Night Market (used to be known as Dinh Cau Night Market) where you get to eat the freshest seafood right out from the tanks. However, this market is “made-for-tourists”, thus prices are much higher compared to the mainlands of Vietnam. 

Again, we had “accidentally” came by a local night market on the other side of the island. However, this night market is more of selling common necessities and has a carnival with games and stage performances (guess that what the admission fee is for). We were later being told by a local that this market only happens a few times to encourage locals to buy more stuff as everything sold here are much cheaper than he norm.

Admission: 20,000VND(<USD1)

Gambling game

Carnival games

Stage entertainment

Discover the dark side in Coconut Tree Prison 

Also known as Phú Quốc Prison, this war museum serves as a bleak reminder of Vietnam’s turbulent past, where thousands people were imprisoned and tortured during the Vietnam War. Since 1995, it houses authentic torture instruments, photographs of former detainees and exhibits of brutal punishments.

Price: 3,000VND (we got in for free during the lunch break)

Trek the Off-Beaten Stream

Instead of visiting the popular Tranh Stream, we chose to ride further and rugged path for a hidden gem. 

Drove for almost 2-hours on rugged paths

Suối Tiên (a.k.a. Fairy Stream) is a small stream and forested area near a fishing village which is not easy to find. The place is renowned locally for its scenery, giant flat rocks, and ambiance. At certain places the small stream splits into several arms or flows into a pond, surrounded by interesting plants.

Price: Free! However, you will need to pay 5,000VND to the local family who will help you look after your motorbike.

Be a kid at Vinpearl Land

Vinpearl Land Amusement Park Phú Quốc  is a massive entertainment hub that contains several sections, including an outdoor water park, a safari, indoor arcade centre, an aquarium, and shopping street. It’s an incredible resort that is absolutely the best family friendly entertainment centre on Phú Quốc  Island.

Combo Ticket: Vinpearl Land & Safari

Token-free arcade!

Every themepark has a castle

View from on top of ferris wheel

Price: 750,000vnd from Sen Lodge (USD33/pax for combo tickets)

We think that one should spend at least 4-5 days to explore this beautiful island, any lesser will do injustice to yourself.

Dubai: Cheap-Thrills You Shouldn’t Miss

Dubai has a reputation for being a city of extravagance, and is the least backpacking-friendly country I have ever been to so far. A lot of people are afraid to visit not just because of cultural differences but also for fear that it would be too expensive. However, like any other city, travelling in Dubai can be as expensive or as affordable as you want!

Targeting to become the number one destination in the world for luxury tourism, Dubai is currently the 4th most visited tourist destination in the world. Whereas it’s true that in order to enjoy the fancy Dubai, you need to spend a lot of money, there are actually loads of affordable or free activities to do! 

Hit the Malls

Unless you are planning to splurge on shopping, there are lots of free entertainment to do in those big malls. Here are some of the malls which I highly recommended to visit but do take note to dress appropriate (if not, you might be asked to leave by the security guard). And yes, these malls provide free wifi too!

The Dubai Mall

Who wouldn’t be curious about the biggest mall in the world?! I’ve been there 3 times and every single time I discovered new stuff within the mall. Apart from window-shopping from 1,200 retail outlets, this is one good place to avoid the heatwave and keep yourself entertained for a whole day.

Happiest thing to do is shopping at the World’s Largest Candy Store!

Without paying for ticket, you can still enjoy marine view from one of the largest suspended aquarium in the world

Meet DubaiDino, a 155 million-year-old dinosaur skeleton

Who doesn’t fancy colorful brollies?

Who says you can’t ice skate on desert land?

This is not just another arcade 

It’s a 2-stories themepark with 9 rides & 250 games!

No money to enjoy fancy dinner? You can still enjoy fancy dances outside those restaurants

If you look long enough, you might have an illusion these men are really falling

Walk across to Souk Al Bahar to see how the rich indulge in fancy meals

Nearest Metro Station: Burj Khalifa/The Dubai Mall Station

Mall of the Emirates

If ice skating on the desert land doesn’t impress you, how about skiing, snowboarding and penguins encounter? In order to enjoy 365-days of Winter, Ski Dubai Resort was built in this mall with real snow!  

Nearest Metro Station: Mall of the Emirates

Ibn Battuta Mall

Ibn Battuta

Being the World’s Largest Themed Shopping Mall, Ibn Battuta Mall has 6 themed-courts which designs are inspired by some of the countries visited by the great Moroccan Berber explorer, Ibn Battuta. I was totally awed by the architectures and interior designs of the whole mall.

Chinese Court (Exterior)

Chinese Court (Interior)

I thought this is a Chinese restaurant….

Not just a buffet-style restaurant

You can play arcade games at the same time!

India Court (Exterior)

India Court (Interior)

Egypt Court (Exterior)

Egypt Court (Interior)

Persian Court (Interior)

Tunisia Court (Interior)

Andalusia Court (Interior)

Even its hotel is so unique~

Nearest Metro Station: Ibn Battuta

Captivated the Largest Choreographed Fountain

Just right outside The Dubai Mall is Burj Lake which offers the tallest performing fountain in the World. The Dubai Fountain runs daily in every 30-minutes from 6:00pm to 11:00pm. 

Nearest Metro Station: Burj Khalifa/The Dubai Mall Station

Awed by the World’s Tallest Structure 

Instead of paying a premium price to go up Burj Khalifa, why not watch it from the bottom for free?

Nearest Metro Station: Burj Khalifa/The Dubai Mall Station

Discover the Rich Culture of Dubai

Escape the skyscrapers of the city center and travel back in time with a trip to “the other side” of Dubai. The original town was built along the Dubai Creek and that area still maintains an authentic feel with traditional wind towers, bustling courtyards and maze of winding alleyways. You can explore the whole of Old Dubai in one day by foot.

Diera Old Souk

Deira Old Souk is Dubai’s largest and oldest market. Its narrow alleyways are full of treasures: traditional spices, gold, and perfume side by side with Chinese electronics and plastic toys. Do you know the World’s Largest Gold Ring is on display in one of gold shop at Gold Souk? Remember to look out for it!

Najmat Taiba (Star of Taiba)

Nearest Metro Station: Al Ras Metro Station

Bastakiya Quarter

One of the oldest residential area in Dubai, which was destroyed during the 80s to build an office complex. However, thanks to a preservation campaign, the project was stopped and the houses restored. Nowadays, traditional Arab Gulf buildings and homes stand along its streets.

Night time

Nearest Metro Station: Al Ras Station

Dubai Museum

Al Fahidi Fort houses the Dubai Museum. For only 3 dirhams (Less than USD1), the museum gives you a great summary of the UAE’s history, from before the black gold times. The exhibits are a bit low tech considering Dubai’s modern whizz bang image. Life size dioramas depict before the discovery of oil. 

Nearest Metro Station: Al Ghubaiba or Al Fahidi Stations 

Heritage Village

Get to learn the different styles of the traditional local life ranging from coastal, desert to country and mountain life. The village displays many types of buildings made of stone, palm fronds and also tents. 

Nearest Metro Station: Al Fahidi Station

Dubai Creek

Skip the expensive boat tours and take an abra across the Creek for 1 dirham between Diera and Bur Dubai. In Deira area, there are two stations, one near the Spice/Gold Souk and the other one near Riviera Hotel/ Deira Twin Towers. On the opposite side, there are two stations as well: one near the Textile Souk and the other one near Bur Dubai bus station.

The only tourist on the boat

Sunset from abra

Take a Monorail to Man-made Island

You don’t need to stay in this 5-stars aqua themed resort in order to visit the Palm Island. The cheap-thrill here is to spend a small amount to take a monorail across and enjoy the view. A return ticket for monorail ride is AED25 (USD7)

Getting there: Unless you are ready to spend on taxi, getting there by public transport can be a bit tricky.

Take Metro (Red Line) to Jumeirah Lakes Towers or Dubai Marina and change to Tram (Orange Line)

Once alight at Palm Jumeirah station, you will need cross a overhead bridge (there was no signage so I asked around)

You will only see this until you arrived at carpark

Get Lost in the Largest Flower Garden

Dubai Miracle Garden is the Middle Eastern city’s latest mega super project. It has the record in Guinness Book of Records for having the longest wall of flowers which will give a new landmark for Miracle Garden and for the City of Dubai, which is believed to be the leader in diverse and cultural tourist attraction. 

What a unique entrance! Fee: 30AED (USD8)

Burj Khalifa made of oranges

Getting there: Take Bus 105 from Mall of Emirates (outside Metro Station), 5 Dirhams (USD1)

Sunbathing at Free Public Beach

There are many private beaches in Dubai, but public beaches such as Jumeirah Beach and JBR Beach are free! Any style of beach wear here is normally acceptable; however nude or topless sunbathing is not allowed. In addition, alcohol is not allowed on the beaches and men should be advised that certain days at beaches are ladies day!

Marvel the Street Arts at JBR Walk

Jumeirah Beach Residence (also known as JBR) is a luxury residential area with waterfront view. I was lucky to have a friend staying in this area, allowing me to indulge in this extravagant lifestyle. 

View from balcony

Cruising on Dubai’s water

Apart from getting around via Metro, you can get to attractions on water as well! The Dubai Ferry can be a great option for tourists as it enables them to see the city from the sea and get a view of some of the most popular parts of Dubai including the Burj Al Arab and the Palm Jumeirah. 




So, here’s my cheap thrills done over my 10-days stay in Dubai. Do leave your comments below if you have done others and would like to share with others! (=

 

A day at Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

Gardens by the Bay (GBTB) is not just about Supertrees and the tallest indoor waterfall, there are so much more to explore beside that. And the best thing is, most of the gardens are FREE! And so, Gan and I decided to explore this one-of-the-best-attractions in Singapore on our self-guided trails by foot.

Map of Gardens by the Bay

Getting There

The cheapest and easiest way to get to GBTB is by MRT (railway system in Singapore). You can either take a Circle Line (Yellow Line) or Downtown Line (Blue Line) to Bayfront Station. Take Exit B and follow along the underground linkway till you see a flight of stairs leading up to exit. 

Walk along this linkway till the end where you can see a flight of stairs leading up to Bayfront Plaza

If you are walking from Marina Bay Sands, there is an overhead bridge (Lions Bridge) located at Marina Bay Sands Hotel which leads to GBTB as well. However, do note that the door only operates from 0800-2300 hours. Alternative, you may walk along the waterfront from ArtScience Museum which leads you into Bay South Garden.

Cruiser Services

It can be quite a walk from Bayfront Plaza to the Conservatories which are the main attractions in GBTB. Be it sunny or rainy, the cruiser services seem like a popular option among the tourists and the locals to go around the gardens. There are 3 types of cruisers for you to choose from and only for a small fee.

Shuttle Service

This service loop between Bayfront Plaza and the Conservatories only. For a fee of SGD3 (USD2), you can take unlimited rides for the whole day. 

OUTDOOR GARDENS AUDIO TOUR

For a fee of SGD8 (USD6), you can enjoy a 25-minutes ride around the outdoor gardens with informative commentary on the cruiser. This tour will go around the cooled conservatories, Heritage Gardens, The Meadow and Supertree Grove. 

Auto Rider

This is the coolest transportation we had ever seen in a garden. The Auto Rider is a fully operational self-driving vehicle which allows visitors to see more of the Gardens from the comfort of an air-conditioned tour vehicle, with live commentary on board. Due to limited capacity (6 passengers per rider), the tickets are sold on a time-allocated basis which starts from Bayfront Plaza to Flower Dome for SGD5 (USD3.50).

Outdoor Gardens Trails

One of the fun things to walk around GBTB is to find as many art sculptures as you can spot! There are more than 40 sculptures from around the world featuring in unique pieces, intriguing crafts and stone works. Unfortunately, we didn’t managed to spot all of them.

Map of the sculptures’ locations, which is quite confusing

On a sunny afternoon of 27°C

One of the iconic buildings in Singapore: Marina Bay Sands

The first sculpture which greeted us was a giant baby named “Planet”. 

Each sculpture comes with a description panel

Walking further, we entered into “World of Plants“, which learns all about the spectacular myriad of tropical plants and the systems these plants support. Our favorite theme here is “Web of Life” with 8 life-sized topiary animals from Southeast Asia. 

Once done with “World of Plants”, we arrived at the center of GBTB where Supertree Grove is. This is the first time I see these Supertrees in the day time. They are not as enchanting as night time but still awed to look at. 

There are two pairs of guardian lions’ sculptures placed to welcome visitors at both ends of the Supertree Grove.

It is believed the male lion (Right) guards the entrance, the female lion (Left) protects the interior of the dwelling

We went into a shady area to plan where to go next, and found more stone works hidden among the lush greens. 

Tiger among the bamboo trees

Can you spot the lion’s head?

Seated old man stone

Moving on, we went to “The Canyon” which showcases a large collection of sculptural rocks and exotic plants species unique to arid regions. But before that, do not miss the Floral Clock which is located beside the Canopy. 

Chinese Totem (HuaBiao)

Dragon-Turtle

Once out of “The Canyon”, we were wowed to see a big water play area for children, and that’s where “Children’s Garden” is located. What surprised us was that this play area is much bigger than we were expecting. 

Instead of walking along the waterfront promenade after “Children’s Garden”, make a loop and you will find yourself in a secluded area of the Gardens: Victoria Lily Pond.

Can you spot the tortoise sun-bathing?

There’s a mini aquarium!

Out of the loop led us to “Sun Pavilion” with amazing desert-like landscapes and over 1,000 desert plants! 

Turk’s Cap

“Sun-bathing” on the unique chair

Mexican Columnar Cacti

Last of the free outdoor gardens we had explored was “Heritage Gardens” which separated into 4-themes: Indian, Chinese, Malay and Colonial. 

Flower Dome

Another reason why we have decided to visit GBTB was because of Autumn Harvest Floral Display (From 1 Sep to 29 Oct 2017) exhibiting in Flower Dome. Being the largest glass greenhouse in the world as listed in the 2015 Guinness World Records, Flower Dome has its permanent floral display as well as an area for seasonal displays. So, no matter which month you visit, there’s always something to see! 

Waiting for Cinderella to come out from her “Pumpkin” carriage

Cloud Forest

Cloud Forest is famous for its World’s Tallest Indoor Waterfall of 35-meters. Entering Cloud Forest is like stepping into the world in “Avatar” movie. As you walk along Cloud Walk and Tree-top walk, you will have a closeup view of various plant species that clad the side of the whole “mountain”.

Cost of Flower Dome & Cloud Forest: SGD20 (Local Resident Rate) / SGD 28 (Foreigner Rate) 

**Purchase tickets online for better discounts!

Last but not least, do catch the free light and sound show at Supertree Grove! Shows run every night at 7.45pm & 845pm. 

Experiencing the Naadam Festival Without Joining a Tour

Naadam, also known as “the three games of men”, is the biggest traditional festival held in Ulaanbaatar, the Mongolian capital. Each July, men compete in Mongolian jaw-dropping wrestling, spine-tingling horse racing and unbelievably accurate archery in the city’s multipurpose National Sports Stadium. Today, women also participate in the archery games and girls in the horse racing. Through this event, the Mongols prove that they’re man (or woman) enough to be the descendants of their notorious and illustrious hero Genghis Khan. 

Naadam is like Christmas to the Mongolian people. Days before the festival, Ulaanbaatar was buzzing with Naadam fever and reached a bewildering climax. It was a sight to witness everyone dressed in their finest deel (traditional clothing of Mongol tribes), prepares lots of food and arak (fermented mare’s milk) and spends the days out in the sun with friends and family. I am lucky to be able to experience the main event in Ulaanbaatar and a more local one in Kharkhorin.

When is Naadam Festival?

The Festival which held in Ulaanbaator is on the 11th and 12th of July each year. Most businesses in the city close from the 11th to 13th of July, and there will be 5-days of national holiday (11th-15th July) for the locals. The outskirts of Mongolia will be holding their own Naadam Festival events throughout July, although the exact dates usually aren’t confirmed until mid-June or early July.

The regional festivals are usually free of charge, and enable you to get much closer to the action. Different towns and regions will hold their festivals on different dates, so it is advisable to do your homework before travelling out of the Capital. I cam across this website which provides a detailed and updated information on Naadam (and other popular festivals) every year. 

This is peak tourist season in Mongolia so be sure to book your accommodation (especially in Ulaanbaator) well in advance. Some of the most popular guesthouses are fully booked for the whole month of July.

How to get Naadam Tickets

There are a few ways to get the tickets in Ulaanbaatar. Due to the popularity among the tourists and locals, be prepared to pay for a hefty price.

The official price for Naadam. Tourists price is USD25 if you are able to get it yourself

Buying your own tickets

There are 3 places where you can queue up for the tickets: Central Stadium, National Wrestling Palace and Central Cultural Palace box offices. Tickets sale usually start about one-week before the festival (6th and 7th July). If you think you can start queuing from early morning, you are so so so wrong! I started to queue at 9.30pm the previous night before, and yet I still can’t get the tickets (even though it is said that 1 person can only buy 4 tickets)!

I wonder what time did these people come??!!

Totally not dressed for the cold night~~

The queue got longer and longer

Cold, hungry and sleepy~~

The queue got longer from the front ’cause other family members all coming in to “join” the queue

I’m just getting further and further away from the box office )=

The moment when the box office opens, and by then it’s noon!

When we thought it’s reaching us soon……..

With less than 5 people in front and us getting so excited, the policeman suddenly announced that the Naadam tickets were all sold out! After queuing for 17-hours under 15 degrees, this is not what I’ve expected. It has been a long time since I felt such disappointment. Nevertheless, we hurried walked off as other Mongols were raging towards the policemen. 

Buying tickets from a Guesthouse

Most of the guesthouses sell Naadam tickets with a tour package (costs around USD120 – USD180 with transportation and meals). Some of the guesthouses which do sell the tickets only that I known of are: Golden Gobi Guesthouse, Taiga Guesthouse and Sunpath Guesthouse. However, they usually charge a premium price, but it shouldn’t cost more than USD60 per person for a 2-day ticket. You may email a few guesthouses before arriving in Mongolia as there are other travelers who pre-booked the tickets at least a month ahead.   

Buying tickets from Tourist Information Offices

There are a lot of Tourist Information offices in Ulaanbaatar. Similar to guesthouses, they do charge a higher price instead of selling the official ticket price. One of the traveler I met bought her Naadam ticket at post office for USD48 but they only issued her a ticket for opening ceremony. 

Buying tickets from a Scalper

I did not try this but I did hear from locals who mentioned that there are ticket scalpers outside Wrestling Palace before the day of the festival start. The price may vary from USD30 to USD100. However, there is always a risk with buying tickets from scalpers that they may turn out to be fakes, so please beware!

After spending days of asking around for Naadam tickets, my Couchsurfing host managed to get me those tickets from some forum for USD50 just the night before the festival! 

Ta-daaaa!

How to attend for free

You can still enjoy the Naadam Festival without buying a ticket! Only the opening and closing ceremonies, and the wrestling need tickets to enter the stadium. You can watch the archery and horse racing for free! The wrestling finals are aired on a big screen in Chinggis Square, which is fun to watch with the locals. There are also free concerts and fireworks every night at the Square.

Horse parade

There are always something going on for 3 full-day!

Traditional songs & dances

Where to watch

The opening and closing ceremonies, and the wrestling matches are held at the Naadam Stadium. The archery is held just next door to the stadium. The horse racing is located at “khui Doloon Khudag (Хүй долоон худаг) racing field, approximately 40km from Ulaanbaatar. There are free shuttle buses that transport people from the city to the racetrack from Misheel EXPO (Мишээл EXPO) and Dunjingarav (Дүнжингарав) parking lots – check with your hostel or the ‘student police’ for directions. 

What to Expect

Expect to be pushed around and find yourself surrounded with true-mongol-attitudes! The stadium will be absolutely packed and it is basically impossible to move once the ceremony begins. I was sandwiched at the gate for 15-minutes with the policemen stopping entry, and the people from behind keep on pushing. It was quite an experience!

We got different seats so we can’t watch the ceremony together )=

Many of the seats do not have shade, so bring plenty of water and sunscreen if it’s hot. The opening ceremony is spectacular, and features impressive war reenactments, singing and dancing. Unfortunately, the central stage was blocked by a monkey float from where I’m sitting.

It isn’t a good seat after all

I’m amazed by how little time they took to build a ger

Mark from Thailand

The opening ceremony took about one and a half hours, with all the different tribes and community parading around the Stadium. This was my favorite part of the ceremony ’cause the entry and exit points were just next to me! 

After the ceremony is over, the wrestling match began. By then, the stadium will be quite empty (probably it was too hot and people were getting hungry) and security became slack. I managed to walk to photographers’ area and get a good view of the match.

One of the photographers offered to help me took a picture!

Outside the Stadium was a super huge fair with tonnes of food, games, and basically you can find anything to buy. You can even try out traditional costumes and take pictures with nice backdrop for 10,000MNT (USD4)

Less than USD1

A storm is coming but I don’t care!

3,000MNT (USD1) for 5 tries

The archery can be easily found next to the Stadium. There isn’t much seats to watch the archery. Even if you get a seat, you can’t really see the target unless you brought a binoculars.

Found a spot to stand and watched for awhile

Things to Take Note

  • Beware of pickpockets! Make sure to always carry your belongings in front of you as it will be very crowded and people are always pushing around.
  • Look out for drunkards, especially if you are a female and travelling alone.
  • The event is held during the hottest month of the year, so remember to drink up, apply sunscreen and bring a cap/hat/sunglasses
  • Whether you attend the festival in Ulaanbaatar or other provinces, commentary will only be in Mongolian.
  • Wear comfy walking shoes. Traffic in Ulaanbaatar will be chaotic during the festival, so it is best to travel by foot. The Stadium is about 20-minutes walk from Chinggis Square.
  • It is okay to ask locals to move away if you want to take a photo (without them inside your picture), or if they trying to cut in before you.
  • The locals are always happy to pose for your photos in their traditional costumes.
  • Once you are out of the city, there are no road signs directing you to the exact location of the Naadam celebration fields, your driver will have to ask around.

Dates of Naadam festival at different province (2017)

Hope this guide will help to get you prepared and save some money for the upcoming Naadam Festival! 

Kharkhorin: Ancient Capital City of Mongolia

Kharkhorin (Хархорин), historically known as Karakorum City (Хархорум), is a small ancient town located 373-kilometers Southwest of Ulaanbaatar. Despite being small size and remote, it was one of the most important cities in the history of the Silk Road because of its strategically location on the most important east-west route across Mongolia. Not much remains of the ancient city’s ruins but a beautiful Buddhist monastery called Erdene Zuu was built on the site in the late 16th century.

Getting There

Take a bus from Dragon Bus Terminal. Bus leaves daily at 1100hrs and 1400hrs. The journey takes about 6-hours and cost 17,000MNT (USD7). When boarding the bus, you will be approached by a little girl who asked if you have booked any accommodation in Kharkhorin. I later found out she is the older daughter of Gaya’s Guesthouse owner. 

Where to Stay

Hostelworld has 2 hostels in Kharkhorin: Gaya’s Guesthouse and Family Guesthouse Ger Camp. (There aren’t many places to stay honestly). I stayed at Gaya’s Guesthouse and it was one of the best experience I had.

Bus Station in Kharkhorin

Easy-going and bubbly Gaya!

Gaya waited at the bus station and fetch travelers who were planning to stay at her place. She makes you feel comfortable like home and her staff can speak English! Her youngest daughter helped out in the hostel (’cause it’s summer holiday) and she remembered all the guests’ names! Gaya will let you work out your own itinerary and she will help to make arrangement. I like that she will not ask you to take any tour in the first place, and even encourage you to explore the town yourself as everywhere is walking distance from her guesthouse. 

Shared ger: USD8 per night

Did I forget to mention they provide FREE awesome brekkie?!

If you get a little lazy to walk out to eat, you may order their meals-for-the-day at USD3 (lunch and dinner). 

What to do

Experience Naadam Festival at the Countryside 

The big attraction in Kharkhorin is Erdene Zuu Khiid (Эрдэнэ Зуу хийд), which is the oldest and largest existing Buddhist monastery in Mongolia. The site has some of the few Buddhist temples that survived the Red Russia purges of the 1930′s. Only a small portion of the complex has survived until today but it is still good for a look around.

I was lucky to be in time to catch the mini Naadam festival held at the monastery. Through this event, I got to watch traditional performances, managed to talk to some locals to understand more about Naadam. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see how the traditional game, Shagai (known as knucklebones), been played.  

Day-pass to enter the monastery and “peace tent” for all the performances (10,000MNT / USD4). This is what was known as “visa” in Chinggis Khan era

Time schedules of different performances

I thought I was late for the opening ceremony, but luckily Mongolians aren’t very good for being on-time.

Pop-up stalls selling food and traditional gifts

“The Queen”

Managed to get good view for opening ceremony

Before the rest of the performances happening in the “peace tent”, I explored the monastery in the mean time. 

Didn’t expect the place to be so empty!

A total of 108 stupas surround the monastery

The “Golden” Stupa

One of the few existing temples

You may pay for a guide to explain more about the history

An old man turning the prayer wheels

Time for some Mongolian’s traditional dances!

I’m pretty surprised by their aerobics performances!
Explore a World Heritage Site

Classified in 2004 as World Heritage Site by UNESCO as the cradle of nomadic Mongolia, Orkhon Valley Cultural Landscape (Орхоны хөндийн соёлын дурсгал), covers an extensive area of pastureland that stretches approximately 80km from long and 15 km wide on both banks of the Orkhon river. Getting there from Kharkhorin is a 3.5-hours rough ride (and another 3.5-hours back!) which requires experienced driver and a good 4WD.

Russian Vans are commonly used in Mongolia

Great place doesn’t need grand entrance

When I thought we had reached, but it’s just the beginning of the worst part of the ride

Hardly had the chance to experience this kind of ride! 

Along the way is just sheep and more sheep!

Yay!! Finally arrived somewhere and come to a stop

Had to do some hiking as vehicles are not allowed to enter any further

Cows lazing around under the sun

Hello Mr.Yak!

Horses!!

Nomad kids

The Orkhon Falls are actually the Ulaan Tsutgalan River Falls. The river falls into a spectacular canyon formed after an earthquake and a volcanic eruption more than 20,000 years ago, forming a cascade of 20 meters high and 10 meters wide. About 25-meters downstream from the waterfall you can climb down to the bottom of the gorge; it’s 22-meters deep and dotted with pine trees. 

And here’s the waterfall! Not exactly what I’ve imagined though…

Really not a big waterfall

Getting down to the bottom of the fall

Too cold for a dip

Only one way up and down

Ovoo: sacred stone heaps used as altars or shrines

Anybody lost a bone??

Shared van (round trip): 35,000MNT (USD15)

National park fee: 3,000MNT (USD1)

Stay with a Nomad Family

If you didn’t stay with at least one nomad family, you can’t really say you have been to Mongolia! This nomad family I stayed with is Gaya’s friend. With meals, an overnight stay in their ger and a day of horseback riding into the wild cost about USD40.

The youngest son of the family

Freshly-made dumplings!

Fresh warm milk~~

The only cat I saw in Mongolia!

Warmer cum stove

Airag: fermented mare milk mixed with ferment from the year before in a big cow bag (khökhüür)

Steam dumplings

Awesome nomad hosts!

Learn Horseback Riding

I had a 6-hours horseback riding lesson by my nomad host’s 15-years old son. I guess it was so much fun than learning in a typical stable. Though at the end of the day my butt really hurt, but it was totally worth the pain!

Me and my 15-years old coach

My horse is the youngest so he always the follower

Thirsty from the long trek

Snack time!

Back to “work”

“Shaun” everywhere~~

Nature + Peace

Such a small old town, yet so much more to do and see!

Northern Mongolia: Lake Khövsgöl

Lake Khövsgöl (Хөвсгөл нуур) is located northwest of Mongolia near the Russian Border. Famously known as “Blue Pearl of Asia “, it is the second-most voluminous freshwater lake in Asia, and holds almost 70% of Mongolia’s fresh water and 0.4% of all the fresh water in the world. Untouched by industry and modern urban life, Lake Khövsgöl’s water is unbelievably clean. This area is paradise for outdoor travelers and there are plenty of room for activities like hiking, birding, fishing, horseback travel and kayaking.

Getting There

The comfort way: There are flights twice a week from Ulaanbaatar to Mörön for about USD100 per way. The journey takes about 90-minutes.

The budget way:  There are buses leaving daily at 0800hrs, 1500hrs and 1800hrs to Mörön (Мөрөн) from Dragon Bus Terminal. The journey will take about 18-hours on paved road and costs 32,000MNT (USD13).

Do note that there is no sleeper bus in Mongolia, so it would be really nice to have someone you comfortable with sitting next to you for such long journey. And there will not be proper toilets along the way! The driver will just stop along the roadside when someone requested to. Also, be prepared for overloaded bus as the driver will pick up random locals along the way and you may find people sitting next to you on the aisle. 

Ice cream!

To get to Lake Khövsgöl, you can share a taxi/van at Mörön to go to Khatgal town where the lake is. The cost is about 15,000~20,000MNT (USD6-USD8) for 2-hours+ drive. I would recommend taking the 1800hrs as it will be the last bus to arrive at Mörön and the drivers waiting they may be more willing to lower their price.

Arriving at Mörön

Quite a dead town

We arrived at about 6am and haggled for about 30-minutes for a good price up to Toilogt Camp. Initially, we were asked to wait till 8am when the next bus will be arriving if not we will have to pay another 10,000MNT (USD4) more. We were okay to pay extra as we were exhausted from the long bus ride. Less than 10-minutes out of Mörön, the driver decided to charge us more because he said going to Toilogt Camp is dirt road hence more petrol will be used. And so, we ended up in the middle of the road for another 45-minutes before someone willing to drive us for 25,000MNT (USD10).

Not sure if it’s a good decision but I definitely not going to overpay my transport

no car passed by at all~

Time for some road shots

After about 3-hours+, we are finally here!

Toilogt Tourist Camp

Accommodation

Upon reaching at Khatgal, you can either stay at the guesthouses in the village or you can ask the driver to bring you all the way to the national park where you are able to see the whole lake. We chose a luxury option of staying at Toilogt Tourist Camp to pamper ourselves. 

It costs us 60,000MNT (USD25) each for one ger by ourselves for one night. If you google online searching for ger camps in Lake Khövsgöl, you will only find a few established ones and this is one of them. In fact, there are actually a few more smaller camps along the lake and they cost much cheaper. So, the next day we moved to another camp which cost us USD10 per night. 

Eat

Most of the tourist camps has their own restaurant whereby you can choose to include meals with the accommodation. I would suggest to stock up your own food to last you long enough because this area is a perfect picnic spot! We made a mistake for not doing that and we ended hiking 6-kilometers to Khatgal town and 6-kilometers back to camp.


Nevertheless, the hike is totally worth it!!

View of Khatgal Town from the top

Activities

You may do fishing (need to get a permit from tourist office in Khatgal) or kayaking (rent from the bigger camps) on the lake. We chose to do horseback riding instead. An hour of horseback riding cost 10,000MNT (USD4) with guide. 

And everywhere here is soooo nice to take pictures with!!