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! 

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

Laos: A real taste of laid-back lifestyle

Laos (pronounced as Lao), is one of the poorest country in Southeast Asia. A mountainous and landlocked country, Laos shares borders with Vietnam to the east, Cambodia to the south, Thailand to the west, and Myanmar and China to the north. 

Communist Laos flung open its doors to tourism in the early 1990s and the decades since have witnessed a steady growth in traveller numbers. The country is changing fast, but the lifestyle of the people remains the same, revealing that the true meaning of “Lao PDR” is Lao – Please Don’t Rush.

I took the longest route to travel from Chaing Rai to Luang Prabang, Northern Laos. The whole journey took about 2-days, mainly on the boat. I would recommend to book through an agency to help you arrange the necessary transportation. I had calculated the cost and the difference is about 200-300Baht, better than risking taking unreliable public transport and missing the boat or without a seat. (They have overloaded the boat due to overselling of tickets and I kinda feared the boat might sink!) 😨😨😨

Price breakdown from the hostel. I paid 1450Baht from a tour agency at night market

Van pick-up to Chiang Kong at 0545hrs

Chiang Khong Border

Bus to cross over to Laos Immigration

Show this to board the right tuk-tuk

Being the only Asians who don’t need visa, need to wait for others 😔😔😔

Grab food for boat ride

First leg of the journey: to Pakbang Village

Nope! Not gonna let my backpack squashed underneath

Boat only leave after 2-hours later…. 😥😥😥

Looks empty ’cause travellers start to form groups either at the front or back smoking and singing

Prepare to meet some locals ’cause the boat gonna stop at small villages along the Mekong river

If you are not prepared, there’s food and drinks selling triple the price

From Huay Xai to Pakbang village is about 8-hours. Once you reached the village, you will be approached by the villages selling their accommodations for the night stay. Most guesthouses offer twin bed-room which cost about 500Baht (USD15). If you are travelling solo like me, it will be a wise choice to make friends on the boat so you have someone to share a room with.

Once you’ve decided where to stay, you board the van and they will send you to the guesthouse

My roomie, Laura, from Netherlands

The eldest traveller met on the boat. She spent Winter in S.E.A ’cause she’s so sick of the cold in France

A different but smaller boat for next leg of the journey: Luang Prabang

Pure boredom 😐😐😐

After 7-hours, finally I am here!!! 😊😊😊

Getting a ticket for a ride to town

Luang Prabang

Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995, the town was described by the global body as “an outstanding example of the fusion of traditional architecture and Lao urban structures with those built by the European colonial authorities in the 19th and 20th centuries. Its unique, remarkably well-preserved townscape illustrates a key stage in the blending of these two distinct cultural traditions.”

50,000kip (USD6) per night

Most guesthouses provide breakfast like this!

There are only 2 purposes for me to visit this touristic town on this trip: Kwang Si Waterfall and Tak Bat. 

About halfway between the park entrance and the waterfall is the Asiatic Black Bear rescue centre, which houses a couple of dozen animals rescued from the hands of poachers and traffickers. The bears are in large enclosures with trees and some simple toys like tire swings. An elevated viewing platform has been built near the enclosure so visitors can observe these endangered animals 🐻🐻🐻

After exiting the rescue centre, continue to head upwards the trail and you will see the waterfall.

While I had not decided where to go next, most days I am just wandering around. Most of the temples need to pay entrance fee so I just take pictures from outside.  

 

There is a daily night market in town and the most popular hidden bar where all backpackers chill every night. You will always see familiar faces and quite a nice place to meet other backpackers to exchange information. 

Not easy to find this place even though you are using google map.

5 solo female travellers

On my last day in Luang Prabang I went for Tak Bat with the other girls I met on previous day. Known as Alms Giving Ceremony, Tak Bat is a daily tradition which gives you an opportunity to experience an ancient Lao tradition. However, as more and more travellers discover Laos, the Buddhist tradition has turned into a circus show with disruptive and disrespectful behavior from tourists. As such, more and more locals stopped participating the ceremony to avoid being part of the show.

Locals will prepare their own food for the monk, whereas they are vendors selling for tourists who wishes to take part in the ceremony

Nong Kiaow

A small town 3-hours away from Luang Prabang on the banks of the Nam Ou River, Nong Kiaow boasts a gorgeous backdrop of imposing limestone mountains, picturesque river views and genuine local colour. This is the place where I can fully connect with nature and enjoyed me-time without interactions with other travellers after 3-weeks.

What I did in Nong Kiaow were mainly hiking and kayaking.

50,000 kip (USD6) for a room all by myself

Instead of heading to Vang Vieng, the party-town, I decided to go Vientiane instead. As Nong Kiaow is a small town with limited buses in and out, I had experience my worst sleeper-bus ride. 

22,000kip (USD3), 13-hours ride

The bus is divided into 2-rows of double-deck beds. Bad news is, it’s a sharing bed. Therefore, I shared mine with a plump local lady who took up 3/4 of the space the moment she laid down. The bus smelled of leek and onions (locals bringing it to the city to sell), and a girl opposite me kept vomiting non-stop. There was no proper toilet stop, you simply have to pee along the road the driver stopped for you. By the time I have reached Vientiane, I was in a very foul mood. 

Vientiane

For many years a sleepy backwater capital of an equally backwater state, as Laos has slowly opened up to foreign investment and tourism Vientiane has undergone vast changes and continues to expand. With a population of only 850,000, this is likely to be the smallest capital city you will find in Southeast Asia.

50,000kip (USD6) per night

This hostel serves very nice food!

Days spent in Vientiane was as slow as I spent in Nong Kiaow. Coming to the end of the trip, money is running low so I walked from one place to another most of the time. I made friends with the cook of the hostel and often get free food.  

Once under French colony, most street names are still very frenchy

Patuxai Victory Monument

It’s not the local Lao cuisine you must try in Vientiane, it’s FRENCH cuisine! I had tried in a restaurant near my hostel. A 3-course set meal cost me 120,000kip (USD15). Totally worth it!!

Between 1964 and 1973 the US army dropped over two million tons of ordnance on Laos, making it the most heavily bombed country per capita in history. The Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise (COPE) is a non-profit based in Vientiane that runs rehabilitation centres aiming to provide care and support to UXO survivors, including orthotic and prosthetic devices and physiotherapy.

Buddha Park is a combination of Buddhism and Hinduism depicting various deities and scenes from both religions. The park provides no context for the various myths it depicts, except for the giant concrete pumpkin that is supposed to represent hell, earth and heaven. 

Instead of taking a shared tuk-tuk which cost 70,000kip (USD9), try taking a local bus which cost only 6,000kip (less than USD1). From Central Bus Station from Talat Sao, take Bus route 14, an air-conditioned green and white bus that runs regularly to/from the Friendship Bridge. Buddha Park is a few kilometers past Friendship Bridge.

Opposite Buddha Park there’s a bus stop to return back Talat Sao

Last but not least, don’t forget to catch sunset at Mekong Riverfront. This is also where the local night market is.

Watching sunset and doing manicure at the same time

I’m already looking forward to my next trip back to Laos, exploring other hidden gems!!

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.