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.

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. 

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! 

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!!

On our way back, guess what we saw??

I am definitely coming back to the North and spend some time with the Tsaatan Tribe!! 

 

A day trip to Gorkhi-Terelj National Park

Gorkhi-Terelj National Park (Горхи-Тэрэлж) is the third largest protected area in Mongolia, and the nearest national park from Ulannbaatar. Located about 80-kilometers northeast of Capital, Terelj National Park is a popular attraction for both locals and tourists.

Bus number XO:4 leaves daily at 1600-hours from the bus stop opposite Narantuul Hotel, and take two and a half hours to get to Terelj Village, next to Turtle Rock. Coming back, the bus leave Terelj Village at 0800-hours and 1900-hours. The bus costs 2,500MNT (USD1) per way.

Turtle Rock

If you prefer to do a day trip, it is possible to do it as well. Day trip tour will be charged at about USD150-USD180 for single traveller. It will be much cheaper (USD50-USD80 per pax) if you can ask another 2 or 3 travellers to join you! 

I happened to meet another solo traveller, Tammy, along the street and we both agreed to go on this day trip together. Instead of joining a tour, we hired a driver (recommended by a staff from the hotel Tammy was staying) whom charged us USD10 per hour. It was considered quite a good deal as we are more flexible with the itinerary and we can take our own time to explore. 

We did our day trip to Terelj National Park on the second day of Naadam. Mongolians are given a week public holiday for this festival. From the driver we then found out that most locals from the capital were likely to drive up to Terelj National Park to spend their holiday! We were glad that we didn’t plan to stay overnight as it will be so crowded.

As this is the first trip out of Ulaanbaatar, I was awed by the countryside’s scenery. 

We stopped by along the road for a mandatory eagle photo-taking!

And we continued our journey to the famous Genghis Khan Statue Complex.

According to legend, this is the place where he found a golden whip. The statue is symbolically pointed east towards his birthplace.

The Genghis Khan Statue Complex comprises of a visitor center which showcases the largest boot in Guinness World Record.

It also has 2 small museums which exhibit the archaeological cultures during Bronze age and another during the Great Khan period. 

And now is the highlight of this complex! 

yes, in reality its very crowded up there

Our last itinerary for the day is to the legendary turtle rock!

Expenditures break-down:

Driver: USD70 for 7-hours (USD35 per person)

Fees for eagle photo-taking: 4,000MNT (USD1.50)

Entry fee to Genghis Khan Statue Complex: 8,500 MNT (USD3.50)

Food & drinks: Prepare snacks from supermarket before embark on the trip

Northern Thailand: Chiang Mai, Pai and Chiang Rai

Introducing Chiang Mai, Pai and Chiang Rai, the underrated treasures on the northern part of Thailand. Apart from affordable shopping and unbeatable natural scenery, get ready for stunning ancient temples, large underground caves and gorgeous sunsets over mountaintops as I explore this part of the country.

I was lucky to catch the most luxurious and newest train from Ayutthaya to Chiang Mai. This particular train uses new high quality Chinese-built sleeping cars introduced only recently in November 2016. 

12-hours journey, 856Baht (USD25)

After 20-minutes on the train~~ 😴😴😴

Automated door and information panel

The cleanest toilet I had seen on a train so far 😱

Like airplane’s toilet 😱

Bed converted to spacious seat upon arrival

YAYYYYY~~ Finallyyy~~~

Chiang Mai is often referred as “the rose of the North” and is the second largest city in Thailand. It was built as a walled city surrounded by a moat, with new city grown up around it. Though a good portion of the original city wall has collapsed, the four corner bastions are still intact along with various other sections. Most of the ancient temples and museums are located within the walls, I would recommend staying in old city where everywhere is within walking distance.

Inside the wall

Outside the wall

Not expensive to rent a bike to ride around but I prefer to walk since it’s such a small city!

Most of the temples are free to enter! However, do respect the dress code especially for females.

Young monks

Wisdom trees

Though an old city, Chiang Mai is filled with creativity! 🎨🎨🎨

Massage is slightly higher than Bangkok if you enter a nice, air-conditioned parlor. However, you can still find cheap and good masseses inside a temple or pop-up stall at night market. The price difference can range about 100-150Baht for a 60-minutes body massage.

Sunday night market is a MUST go and it’s within the walled city. There is also stage performance by the students as well. If you missed it, there is a daily night market outside the wall but not as good as the Sunday ones. 

Most travellers would opt for elephant camp or tiger kingdom whereas I chose to explore Doi Inthanon National Park, the highest peak in Thailand. Along the way to the peak, you will see two pagodas for the King and Queen.

Inside the King’s pagoda

This is actually not the highest spot…..yet

King Inthawichayanon’s tomb

A little history here: The name Doi Inthanon was given in honor of King Inthawichayanon, one of the last kings of Chiang Mai, who was concerned about the forests in the north and tried to preserve them. He ordered that after his death his remains be interred at Doi Luang (former name which means “Big Mountain”), which was then renamed in his honor.

Now, here’s the highest point!

Nearby, there are two waterfalls: Siritarn Waterfall and Wachiaratarn Waterfall. Siritarn Waterfall was named by the Queen who came to visit the fall. Visitors are only allow to view the 40-meters waterfall from a designated wooden platform. 

Wachiaratarn Waterfall is a spectacular steep drop of 50-meters with a large cascade plummeting over the edge into a deep pool below, creating a misty veil of great beauty.

Due to dry season, it doesn’t seems spectacular

Meet my pai-buddy from Belgium!!

Since both of us are done with Chiang Mai, we decided to take a more adventurous way by riding up to Pai!! 🏍🏍🏍

A popular choice among the backpackers to rent a bike up to Pai as they have another branch over there. Free baggage delivery service!

We shared this bike for 140Baht (USD4) per day

Ready to brave through 762 curves on Route 1095!

Pai is a small town of population 3,000 people, up in the valley north of Chiang Mai. With Thai-Western style restaurants, daily night market, live music bars, tattoo parlors, and lots of hidden gems to be discovered, Pai is a haven for backpackers.  

3-beds room for 160Baht (USD5) per night

First thing to do after 5-hours of riding

As long as you can ride, there’s nowhere you can’t go in Pai!

We were stopped by the police….to take a photo with us

yes, he broke the vine!

50Baht to spend half a day soaking in hot spring

Boss of land split. No charge to visit the land, eat or drink. Amount is given by your own choice

Most popular place to catch sunsets

One of the coolest bar we found inside an alley

The Chinese Village; best to come for sunrise

Luckily there’s 3 of us to share the cost

60Baht (USD2) to spend a day to chill

We spent days biking around looking for new places to explore and chill. When we were done with Pai, we decided to ride back to Chiang Mai before parting our ways 😢😢😢

And yet we went to Pai without a scratch!

Last meal together

My next and last destination in Thailand is Chiang Rai. It’s only less than 4-hours bus ride from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai. 

129Baht (USD4)

There is only a few popular attractions in Chiang Rai, pretty straight forward if you google it. 

Wat Rong Khun (White Temple)

Admission: 80Baht (less than USD2)

Best time to go: Late noon to evening to avoid crowds

Things to note: Photography is not allowed inside the temple. Females have to wear pants/skirts/dress over the knee in order to enter 

Baan Dam Museum (Black House)

Admission: 80Baht (USD3)

“Long Neck” Tribe

Admission: 300Baht (USD9)

The women in “Long Neck” tribe aren’t literally looooong neck! The metal bangles they been wearing are so heavy that their collar bone sank, giving the “long neck” impression.

Blue Temple

Admission: Free

Golden Triangle

Admission: Free

Mae Sai (Thai-Burma Border)

Admission: Free

There’s a huge market for shopaholic 

Where Thailand and Myanmar networks intersect

Immigration border to enter Myanmar

Clock Tower

Admission: Free

Light-Changing Timing: 1900hrs, 2000hrs, 2100hrs

Something to keep you entertained if you stayed around the area. 5-minutes walk from night market.

2-weeks in Northern Thailand….and next will be spending 2-days on a boat ride to Luang Prabang, Laos.

Bangkok: Off the Beaten Path

“If man has no knowledge of the past, he is nothing but a vessel without a rudder on the high seas” 

Bangkok, probably the most popular destination in Asia with its chaotic streets and crazy nightlife. Been in this bustling city several times with all the eat-and-shop-till-you-drop experiences, so this time I’ve decided to explore a little out of the city. No Chatuchak, no night markets, no fanciful cafes nor those “must-visit” temples 😎😎😎

Erawan Museum

Just outside South of Bangkok in Samut Prakan province stand a 250-tons, 44-meters tall three-headed copper elephant. That is the massive icon of Erawan Museum which houses one of the most exquisite art and religious collections in Thailand. 

I was wowed by the impressive rounded stained-glass roof the moment I stepped into the shrine 😱😱😱

A world map blending into the Zodiac and galaxies beyond 😍

A small statue of Mahayana Buddhist Bodhisattva of Compassion

As you continue to head up through a long spiraling staircases, you feel cooler and somehow reached a “fantasy world”.

Standing Gold Buddha surrounded by moons, sun, clouds and constellations

If it’s not too hot, you can take a walk along the tropical garden outside the shrine.

How I get there: BTS Skytrain to Bearing Station and then use Uber Bike to Erawan Museum (130Baht; USD4)

Admission Fee: Foreigner price is 400Baht (USD12).  I used Klook apps to book online which cost me SGD11 (USD7) 

The Ancient City

Taking up 320 acres of land, roughly in the shape of Thailand, Ancient City is the largest open-air museum in the world. This huge park reproduces over 100 important monuments from around Thailand. Some of them are reconstructions of buildings that no longer exist. Other buildings are examples of traditional architecture that were scheduled to be demolished and instead were purchased by the Ancient City, dismantled and reconstructed in the park. 

Entrance to the museum

Map of the museum

Opening Hours: 0900-1900hrs

Tourist pass is 700Baht (USD20), but if you go after 1600hrs, the fee will be halved (USD10)

Bicycle rental is inclusive! Trust me, you wouldn’t want to walk in this museum

Spending a day here taking pictures with all the architectures is as good as going around Thailand visiting different temples and monuments!! A great place for instagramable photographs 📷📷📷

How I get there: Taking Uber Car from Erawan Museum to Ancient City: 200Baht (USD5.50)

“Death Railway” in Kanchanaburi 

One of the major projects during World War II was to construct a 250-miles railway from Ban Pong, Thailand to Thanbuyuzayat, Burma. Originally called the Thailand-Burma Railway, it earned the nickname “Death Railway” because over one hundred thousand laborers died during its 16 month construction between 1942 and 1943. Today, part of the railway is still in use daily for visitors to pay remembrance to the horrific history of the Death Railway.

100Baht one-way, about 3-hours journey

Only 3rd class train available

Thai-Burma Railway starting station

River Kwai Bridge where usually tourists will get off here

But I continued on to pass this bridge by train