Annapurna Circuit: What You Need To Know To Trek Without A Guide

Trekking the Himalayas in Nepal can sound intimidating. Many think that it is an experience accessible only to seasoned trekkers or those who can afford to use expensive trekking companies. Well, with enough research and planning, you can absolutely trek in the Himalayas independently – and on a budget just like we did!

The almost 300-kilometers Annapurna Circuit is challenging but rewarding trek. It is arguably still one of the best treks in the world which crosses two different river valleys and encircles the Annapurna Massif. If you open yourself to this experience, we guarantee that you will not be disappointed.

Getting There

Fly into Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport and spend at least two or three days in the city–sightseeing, getting your trekking permit, and shopping for supplies. We stayed in Thamel where is considered a backpackers haven. It is accessible by bus from airport, lots of guesthouses/ hotels to choose from, wide range of food places, walking distance to most attractions and many gear shops for you to bargain with. 

We flew in Kathmandu from Singapore with Airasia

Tribhuvan International Airport

You can literally bring no trekking gears and bargin in Thamel for good price!

Yes! There are famous for North”Fake” products

But of course, there are legit North Face and a few other brands stores just right outside the main street of Thamel 

Visa

Most nationalities can get either a 15/30/90 days visa when arriving into Nepal either by flight or overland. 

15 days – US $ 25.00 for 15 days single/multiple entry.

30 days – US $ 40.00 for 30 days single/multiple entry.

90 days – US $ 100.00 for 90 days single/multiple entry.

I, personally was quite impressed by the visa procedures. Maybe it was a low-peak trekking season, thus it doesn’t looks as hectic as what I’ve read online.

Arriving into the immigration lounge, walk over to the electronic passport scanners kiosks on the left

Simply place your machine readable passport ID page over the scanner on the lower left. Make sure the barcode bit of it is directly over the black part of the scanner. If successful you need to confirm by pressing on the touch screen. You’ll be prompted to enter in your hotel details and length of stay. You may enter “0000” for Nepali “Ward” and “District” (Thamel is Ward 29 & District is Bagmati). The machine will then try to take a photo of you (Yes! So you may keep your photos for other purpose). Confirm all your details and collect the bit of paper it spits out.

Payment!

The payment does not have to be United States Dollar (USD) or Euro (EUR)! They accept a wide range of currencies: Australian Dollar (AUD), Canadian Dollar (CAD), Singapore Dollar (SGD), Danish Kroner (DKK), Malaysian Ringgit (MYR), Pound Sterling (GBP), Swiss Franc (CHF), Emirati Dirham (AED), Qatari Riyal (QAD), Saudi Arab Riyal (SAR), South Korean Won (KRW), Japanese Yen (JPY), Chinese Yuan (CNY), Hong Kong Dollar (HKD), Thai Baht (THB).

After payment, queue up at the immigration counter on the right. There are counters for 15/30 days visa and for 90-days visa so do make sure you queue up the correct lane. Pass you passport and visa receipt to the officer, and you’ll get a sticker visa on your passport’s page within minutes!

SIM Card

We bought a Ncell SIM card from the airport. Alternatively, you can easily get one or recharge your card at most shops in Thamel. Documents required buying a Sim in Nepal:

  1. Copy of Passport
  2. Passport-sized photograph
  3. Sim Registration form
  4. Copy of Visa 

Wi-fi

Surprisingly, almost every teahouse we stayed had Wi-Fi but do not expect strong connection. And, the higher the altitude, the wi-fi rate goes from being free to USD1-USD3 for 24 hours. But hey we were in the Himalayan mountains so just enjoy being with the nature! 

Electricity

For Nepal, there are three associated plug types: C, D and M. Plug type C is the plug which has two round pins, plug type D is the plug which has three round pins in a triangular pattern and plug type M has three round pins. Nepal operates on a 230V supply voltage and 50Hz.

It’s a common issue to have power failure in Nepal, even in big cities like Kathmandu and Pokhara. Bear in mind to have touch light with you and keep in a compartment where you can reach out easily.

Currency

The legal currency of Nepal is Nepalese Rupees (NPR). I would recommend to change your home currency to Nepalese Rupees in Nepal itself as the rate will be much better. We actually brought USD50 worth of Nepalese Rupees out of Nepal without changing it.

Trekking Seasons

Best time of the year to hike Annapurna Circuit is Autumn – from September to November. And then – Spring, from Mid-March to Early-May. Summer, June through September is the monsoon season, when as much as 70% of the annual rainfall occurs. This is also when rocks fall and landslides are most likely to occur. December through February will be too cold to trek! 

We did our trek from Mid-April, which was considered low-season as we hardly met more than 5 trekkers each day (no photo-bombers!). We were glad to trek during this period as the guesthouses were mostly empty which made us easy to bargain for free private room and request for extra blankets. Until when we reached Annapurna Sanctuary Trek, that we met more tourists crowd.

Weather

There are no rules for the weather in the mountains. Over the 23-days trek we experienced 4 seasons with gorgeous sunny days with temperatures up to 20°C and then days below freezing temperatures, the lowest was a chilly -5°C (this was close to the Thorong-La Pass above 5,000-meters). The wind can suddenly arrive from no-where and you turn a corner to nearly get blown over, this was definitely the case walking through ‘Windy Valley’ (from Kagbeni to Marpha).

Do expect snow in Spring season!

Insurance

To get ACAP and TIMS permit, you need to have a travel insurance. The travel insurance should at least cover trekking altitude of up to 6,000-meters, or even better with emergency evacuation at mountains. There isn’t any insurance company in Singapore which offers such package for independent trekkers. So…..we decided to make do with a basic travel insurance and bluff our way through.

Trekking Permits

You will need to apply your Trekker’s Information Management System card (TIMS) and the Annapurna Conservation Area Permit (ACAP). You will need these to check-in at various checkpoints along the trek. The whole process is fairly straightforward and we spent less than 1-hour to get both done. 

TIMS costs 2,000 NPR and ACAP costs 2,260 NPR. Do bring at least 4 passport-sized photos (2 for each permit), have an insurance policy number, as well as you need to know when and where are you starting your trek, more or less your route and when and where are you planning to finish it.

Nepal Tourism Board

2 forms to be filled up

There are many different treks in Nepal. They are in different parts of the country. And in each part of the country there is a different trekking permit needed. Prices vary as well.

Prices for different trek permits

Different counters for different treks too!

And do not leave without getting some free trekking maps! Instead of buying complicated and detailed maps for the trek, we think these simple maps are good enough.

Packing List

For Him:

  • 3 x Dry-fit Tee
  • 2 x Long Trekking Pants
  • 2 x Boxers
  • 2 x Socks
  • 1 x Cap
  • 1 x Long Sleeve Shirt
  • 1 x Rainproof Windbreaker
  • 1 x Down Jacket
  • 1 x Sunglasses
  • 2 x Buff
  • 1 x Trekking Shoes
  • 1 x Flip-Flops
  • 1 x  Fleece Jacket (1000 NPR/ USD10)
  • 2 x Trekking poles (1000 NPR/ USD10)

For Her:

  • 2 x Sportsbra
  • 2 x Long Sleeve 
  • 3 x Dry-Fit Tee
  • 1 x Zip-off Trekking Pants
  • 1 x Long Skirt
  • 2 x Long Leggings
  • 25 x Disposable Underwear
  • 2 x Bikini Bottom
  • 1 x Fleece Jacket
  • 1 x Rainproof Windbreaker
  • 1 x Shawl 
  • 3 x socks
  • 1 x Trekking Shoes
  • 1 x Flip-Flops
  • 1 x Trekking Poles
  • 1 x Sunglasses

Gadgets:

  • 1 x GoPro 
  • 1 x Compact Camera
  • 1 x Universal Adapters
  • 1 x Multiple Plugs
  • 1 x Extra Memory Card
  • 4 x Power Banks
  • 2 x Headlights

Others

  • Dettol Wipes
  • Baby Powder
  • Water Bottle
  • LifeStraw
  • Ginger Tea with Lemon Sachets
  • Coffee Sachets
  • Toilet Roll
  • Whistles
  • Basic First Aid (Band-aids, Alcohol Swipes, Charcoal pills)
  • Sunscreen

Budget

Basically our only expenses in the mountains are accommodation, food and drinking water. Here’s a rough breakdown on how much both of us spent over the 23-days trek:

Accommodation: 4,000 NPR (USD37)

Food: 55,670 NPR (USD520)

Drinking Water: 545 NPR (USD5)

Accommodation

The Annapurna Circuit winds its way through towns with plenty of accommodation to offer. Room prices range from 100 – 500 NPR (USD1-5) per room. Generally, they will have a cozy common area with a fireplace and good company. All guesthouses will come with a “restaurant” where you are expected to dine in (dinner & breakfast). If you did not, they will charge higher rate for the room.

We didn’t pay for any accommodation until Thorong High Camp. We (basically me) always try my luck and ask for it – can you give us a free room, if we eat dinner and breakfast with you? And it works! They will usually show you the room first when you asked if there’s any available. If you are satisfied with the room, that’s the time you can make the deal. There are many others trekkers we spoke to had been paying for accommodation.

The higher you ascend, especially once you start Annapurna Sanctuary Trek (Annapurna Base Camp Trail) where there are limited guesthouses, the room charge DOES NOT include hot shower, wifi and power charging. All these necessities will be additional charges.

Food

The meals on the trek are basic with choices ranging from porridge, pancakes, and eggs for breakfast. For lunch and dinner, we usually choose between Dahl Baht, fried potatoes with mixed vegetables, or noodle soup. Meal prices typically range from 250 – 650 NPR (USD2.50 – 6.50).

 

Dhal Bhat comes with unlimited refills!

You will find small shops dotted along the trail and in small villages you pass. Be aware that goods get more expensive the higher you ascend. We stocked up our snacks at two places: Kathmandu and Chhomrong. Manang is also a good place to stock up your snacks at cheaper price. 

Shopping in Manang

Water

Make sure you stay hydrated! 1 liter of water in Kathmandu may cost you 25 NPR (25 cents), though further up the trail it is not unusual to pay 200 NPR (USD2) per liter. Nevertheless, you can save money by using water purification tablets or fill up at safe water stations available throughout the trek. For us, we used Lifestraw to drink from our bottles.

Safe water station

Instead of buying a new bottle for USD1, refilling the bottles is a cheaper option

The safe water drinking stations are available in: Jagat, Tal, Bagarchhap, Chame, Pisang, Humde, Manang, Churi Letdar, Mukinath, Kagbeni, Jomsom, Marpha, Tukuche, Larjung, Lete, Ghasa and Birethanti.

Trekking Route

Our trek started in Besi Sahar (an 8-hours bus ride from Kathmandu’s Gongabu Bus Park) and ended in Landruck where we took a jeep to Pokhara.

Our day-by-day route:

Besi Sahar – Ngadi – Jagat – Bagarchhap – Chame – Upper Pisang – Manang – Acclimatization in Manang – Seeri Khadka – Tilicho Base Camp – Tilicho Lake – Seeri Khadka – Ledar – Thorong High Camp – Muktinath – Marpha – Kalopani – Tatopani – Ghorepani – one more day in Ghorepani – Gurjung – Dovan – Annapurna Base Camp – Chhomrong – Pokhara

What to Expect from the Trek

The trek goes through from lush green jungle and farming areas through to barren and rocky mountains. The paths can be wet, muddy, slippery, rocky, dusty and lined with snow. The Annapurna Circuit definitely takes you through some of the most beautiful landscapes Nepal has to offer!

Bahundanda: 1,270-meters

Ghyaru: 3,730-meters

Ledar: 4,200-meters

Be prepared for all weather conditions. The weather to be hot and humid at the start. As you go higher, it gets cooler. You’ll likely start in shorts and a t-shirt and finish in a jacket and pants. The trail is well-marked with red and white markers, and there are guest houses in every 5 – 10 kilometers. As from our experience, the locals were happy to help us when we asked for directions!

Expect to be both mentally and physically challenged. Trek at your own comfortable pace and take some moments to enjoy your surroundings. After-all, this is all part of the fun of completing the Annapurna Circuit!

Thorong Pass: 5,416-meters

Colmar Tropicale: Medieval French Village in Malaysia

Colmar Tropicale is a highland resort inspired by the 16th century village in Alsace region of France, famously known as one of the fairy-tale villages in Europe. Located 2,700-feet (more than 800-meters) above sea level in Berjaya Hills in Pahang, Colmar Tropicale is undoubtedly one of the popular attractions to visit in Malaysia.

Entry Fee: RM15 (USD4)

Adjacent to the entrance of Colmar Tropicale is the Le Chateau (Spa and Organic Wellness) which is also inspired by a castle in Alsace. The beautifully crafted fountain with cranes (behind us!) is an official gift from Alsace, France.

A medieval French village in the middle of a Malaysian rainforest, the entrance to Colmar Tropicale features a castle’s wooden drawbridge which leads you through an intricate cuckoo clock tower which was inspired by France’s Riquewihr Tower into massive cobblestone courtyard.

No need to fly far for an European backdrop

On the way to find Rapunzel!

Surrounded by the greens

Views are always better from the top

Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to explore the Japanese Village and Adventure Park…So, till next time!

Getting There

Colmar Tropicale is just a 45-minutes drive from Kuala Lumpur city centre. Alternatively, if you have no intention to drive or hire a private car/taxi, Berjaya Group provides daily shuttle bus services that run daily from Berjaya Times Square, Kuala Lumpur to Colmar Tropicale, Berjaya Hills at the scheduled timing. A return trip with entrance fee will cost RM60 (USD15).

7 amusing things to do in Da Nang, Vietnam

Da Nang is Vietnam’s third largest city, after Hanoi and Saigon and the largest city of Central Vietnam. The city itself has neither the atmosphere of Hanoi nor the hustle-bustle of Saigon, but has its share of sights and is close to the ancient town of charming Hoi An and the imperial capital of Hue. Da Nang is probably one of those incredible backpacking destinations that is unfortunately skipped by so many travelers aiming for the main destinations like Sapa and Ha Long Bay.

We took a yellow-colored local Bus #1 from Hoi An to Da Nang. The fare is 20,000VND (as of Dec 2017). They will most likely ask for more if you are a foreigner but keep smiling and continue offering the 20,000 – don’t let your frustration show nor raise your voice and eventually they should give in. Note that Bus #1 only runs between 0530 and 1730.

#1 Chill at Hipster Cafes…or just along the road stalls

Da Nang is a perfect hub to experience modern Vietnam. It gives you an idea where the country stands and where it is heading. It’s more authentic than bustling Saigon, and less rough than the capital of Hanoi. You can easily find gorgeous-themed cafes in city centre or traditional low chairs stalls along the riverside. Either way, it’s a nice way to chill like a local in Da Nang.

Egg coffee and lemon tart

Coconut jelly

Coconut coffee

#2 Relaxing at My Khe Beach

During the Vietnam War, this beach used to be a chill and relax location for the American Army. Today, it is an ideal place for surfing, relax on the beach, enjoy the sun and clean sand. 

#3 Enjoy Cool Climate at Ba Na Hills

Enjoy four seasons within a single day: spring in the morning, like summer by noon, autumn by the afternoon and winter in the evening! With refreshingly cool weather and gorgeous countryside views, Ba Na Hills is a real treasure of Da Nang.

Take the longest cable car ride in the world!

A totally different climate from the city below

#4 Summit the Marble Mountains 

Located on the south of Danang, the Marble Mountains (Ngũ Hành Sơn) is a cluster of five limestone and marble mountains which are named after the 5 elements: Kim (metal), Moc (wood), Thuy (water), Hoa (fire), Tho (land). Over the centuries the Marble Mountains were used as a safe haven for soldiers and a place of worship for Buddhists. For years the hills were mined for their valuable stone, although that has been recently banned. You can see examples of intricate stonework along the roadside workshops from the bus stop to the entrance of Marble Mountains.

The Marble Mountains is located along between Da Nang and Hoi An, thus you can take Yellow local Bus #1 to get there.

40,000VND (<USD2) for entrance fee

Additional cost if you wanna take the elevator

150-steps!

#5 Discover Da Nang Cathedral a.k.a Rooster Church

Da Nang Cathedral was built by French priest Louis Vallet in 1923, with a pink-painted edifice that earns its reputation as one of the most unique catholic churches in Vietnam. Standing at 70-meters, it’s also known as Con Ga Church (Rooster Church) due to the imposing bell tower that’s topped with a rooster weather vane.

#6 Sleep in Unique Hostels

We stayed in two different hostels in Da Nang.

PACKO Hostel is a container inn with 16 colorful rooms, 5-minutes walk to My Khe Beach. There are 4 types of rooms, with room rates from VND180,000/person. Bedrooms have wooden floors and bunk beds. The toilets are very clean and fully equipped.

The Memory Hostel is located in the heart of the city, 800 meters from the Han River. The entire building is paved with refined bricks with attractive earthy colors and unique vintage touch.

#7 Catch Fire-Spitting Dragon Show

Dragon Bridge in Da Nang is the longest bridge in Vietnam, offering a dazzling display of lights, fire, and water that no first-time visitor to Da Nang should miss out on. Measuring at 666 metres in length, it is located in Da Nang City and constructed in the shape of a golden dragon.

Every weekends evening at 9 p.m, there will be a fire and water spiting performance at the head of the Dragon Bridge. It’s nothing fantastic but the place will be filled up with locals and foreigners. 

Ba Na Hills: A French Village in Da Nang, Vietnam

Located 25 km southwest of Da Nang at an altitude of 1,487m, Ba Na Hills are considered as “One temperate place in the tropical forest” because the climate is cool all the year round and you can enjoy four seasons within a single day: spring in the morning, like summer by noon, autumn by the afternoon and winter in the evening! With refreshingly cool weather and gorgeous countryside views, Ba Na Hills is a real treasure of Da Nang.

Source: justgola

How to get there?

Unfortunately for backpackers, there is no public buses to Ba Na Hills. Either, you can get a taxi to Ba Na Hills for 600 000 VND (USD26) round trip, or you can go by signing up for a Ba Na Hills tour. Alternatively, you may rent a bike from hostel (USD5 for 24-hours) and it’s about an hour drive. However, we only recommend this option for confident riders as you may pass by bumpy roads and with big trucks. 

Always happy to be your pillion

Beautiful scenery along the way

Nicely paced road once you reached the property of Sun World

Free sheltered-parking space for bikes

Security card for the bike

How much is the ticket?

The price to enter Ba Na Hills includes the ticket for all cable cars and theme park entrance ticket.

  • Adult: 650,000 VND (USD29)
  • Children ( 1m – 1.3 meters): 550 000 VND 

Luckily there wasn’t any long queues

This ticket price does not include the price for Wax Museum (100,000 VND/ adult, and free for kids), as well as food and beverage. You can read more about the ticket price here.

Grand entrance to take the cable car

Ba Na Cable Car

Apart from the cooling climate and its french architectures, Ba Na cable cars hold two Guinness World Records: the world’s longest single cable car system (5,042.62 m long) and the world’s highest gap between its departure and arrival station (1,291.81 m)! It was an amazing feeling on a cable car cabin floating over an ancient rainforest, hovering over boulders and waterfalls. 

When it’s so great to travel off-peak

Whole cabin to ourselves

Spectacular views

Longest cable car ride we ever had: 20-minutes

What to see?

We arrived at the D’amour Garden (or Le Jardin D’amour) at Ba Na Hills Mountain Resort. The whole area consist of 9 gardens: Love Garden, Mystery Garden, Legendary Garden, Memory Garden, Heaven Garden, Grape Garden, Thought Garden Suoi Mo Garden and Sacred Garden. It was very foggy once we were up there, and it started to drizzle. It was unfortunate for us not being able to take nice pictures. 

There is a Derby Wine Cellar with a constant temperature of 16 to 20 degrees Celsius for you to explore!

Take a funicular up to the French Village!

Here’s the part where I shall let pictures tell the story.

Once it gets too cold to explore outside, there is a 3-storey amusement park to play! All rides, rock climbing, arcade games and movies are inclusive in the entrance ticket except for wax museum and carnival games. 

29-meters drop & twist tower

21-meters rock climbing wall

Pac-man machine

First dinosaur park in Vietnam

Biggest indoor bumper car floor in Vietnam

5-D movie

We glad that we chose to bike up ourselves instead of joining the tour because there’s no way you can explore everything within the limited time frame! We will definitely come back again in another season for better photoshoot!

Avoid Unnecessary Expenses In Hoi An, Vietnam

Hoi An is a charming town on the east coast of Central Vietnam. The Ancient Town of Hoi An is recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Site and has become one of the “must-visit” destinations in Vietnam. Unfortunately to say, Hoi An has an attitude of “it’s okay to rip off the foreigners” much pervasive than most Vietnamese cities. Here are some of the things we had taken note of which we think are not worth spending on.  

Famous icon of Hoi An: Lanterns

Food

No doubt you can easily googled a list of popular cafes and restaurants recommended in Ancient Town, but be prepared to fork out two or three times more for a piece Bahn Mi or a bowl of Cau Lau (a local dish only found in Hoi An) where serving portions may be half of the typical size. Try getting your meals along the streets outside of Ancient Town, or best of your home-stay offers free breakfast!

Free breakkie made by our hosts!

Typical make-shift stalls along the street

Most costs about 20,000VND (<USD1) for a bowl of noodles

We did, however, splurge a bit on our last day in White Rose Restaurant which sells only 2 dishes: Bahn Bao Vac (White Rose Dumplings) and fried shrimp wanton. Each dish costs 70,000VND (USD3) which is considered quite an expensive snack in Vietnamese standard.

Bicycle Rental

Hoi An can be easily explored by walking or riding a bicycle (riding motorbike is not recommended as you can’t enter Ancient Town with it and most roads are quite narrow). If you are staying within the Ancient Town, chances are you will have to pay for bicycle rental from the owner of your homestay/guesthouse or from rental shops. However, if you are staying a little out of town, the owners are usually happy to let you use for free.

Parking Fees

From Ancient Town area to beaches, everywhere you will be asked to pay a fee, even for bicycles! Note that you can ride bicycle within the Old Town, and may push your bike if you are not comfortable riding in crowded places. For beaches, skip the main entrance to the beach or you may buy a bottle of drink for free parking.  

You will be stopped before even reaching the beach

i’m not sure if you are willing to pay and see this beach, but we are not….

Floating Lanterns

It is a common sight at Ancient Town to see old ladies selling floating lanterns at night. The gimmick is to make a wish, release the lantern to the river and wait for your wish to come true! While it can be a pretty sight to see all the colourful paper lanterns floating on the river, this is just another way of polluting the water used by the local. And some of these lanterns are being used again by another lady on the sampan scooping them out of the river!

Beautiful sight of paper lanterns floating on the river

Easily scooped up one for photo-taking

Doesn’t it looks like pollution?

Sight-Seeing

To enter most of the attractions in the Ancient Town, you are required to purchase a ticket. Most tourists purchased a ticket with coupons (USD5) which allows you to enter five attractions within 24-hours. To us, it’s not a worthy deal. Crossing the Japanese Covered Bridge is definitely no worth USD1 for us. You can easily cycle around to another street, or you may do so after 6pm where the staff is gone and you can cross for free! 

Japanese Bridge

You will be asked to show ticket, or purchase a ticket to cross over the bridge

However, it’s free at night!

Anyways, we suggest that you should cycle to other islands instead of just staying around the Old Town. 

You might be told that entering the Old Town need to present the ticket, but we weren’t stopped by anyone at the kiosk by passing in and out several times a day.    

Where we stay

We stayed at Beautiful Moon Hoi An Villa (Sky House) which is 15-minutes walk from the town. It is a 3-storey house runs by a young couple who make delicious local meals for breakfast. All rooms are private rooms comes with attached bathroom and TV. The owner, Mr. Sky, would give you his hand-drawn map of Hoi An Town will some recommendation of eateries and shops. 

Most people get to Hoi An from Danang, which is only 1-hour bus ride away. Since we were travelling from the South, we took a 12-hours overnight sleeper bus from Nha Trang to Hoi An.

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!! 

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. 

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.

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.