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. 

Simple Guide on Phú Quốc Island, Vietnam

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

Getting There

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

Mekong River view from the sky

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

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

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

Where we stayed?

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

9 Station Hostel

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

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

Average price per night/bed: USD9

Sen Lodge Bungalow Village

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

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

Price for Treehouse/night: USD37

When to go?

Source: Phu Quoc Island Guide

What we ate?

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

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

Beef Pho: USD2

Pork noodles: USD1.80

Street snacks: from USD0.50 onwards

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

What we did?

Cruising on Motobike

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

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

Beach Hopping

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

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

Finding a clean spot to settle down without paying money

There’s always a pretty spot to take photos

The instagrammable “Paradise Swing” is a scam: USD1

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

Thom beach aka Local beach

Lunch by high tide shore

Sea urchin!

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

Most crowded beach but is well-maintained

Found another pretty spot for a picture!

Random structures for photo-taking

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

Visiting Night Markets

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

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

Admission: 20,000VND(<USD1)

Gambling game

Carnival games

Stage entertainment

Discover the dark side in Coconut Tree Prison 

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

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

Trek the Off-Beaten Stream

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

Drove for almost 2-hours on rugged paths

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

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

Be a kid at Vinpearl Land

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

Combo Ticket: Vinpearl Land & Safari

Token-free arcade!

Every themepark has a castle

View from on top of ferris wheel

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

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

Dubai: Cheap-Thrills You Shouldn’t Miss

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

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

Hit the Malls

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

The Dubai Mall

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

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

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

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

Who doesn’t fancy colorful brollies?

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

This is not just another arcade 

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

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

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

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

Nearest Metro Station: Burj Khalifa/The Dubai Mall Station

Mall of the Emirates

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

Nearest Metro Station: Mall of the Emirates

Ibn Battuta Mall

Ibn Battuta

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

Chinese Court (Exterior)

Chinese Court (Interior)

I thought this is a Chinese restaurant….

Not just a buffet-style restaurant

You can play arcade games at the same time!

India Court (Exterior)

India Court (Interior)

Egypt Court (Exterior)

Egypt Court (Interior)

Persian Court (Interior)

Tunisia Court (Interior)

Andalusia Court (Interior)

Even its hotel is so unique~

Nearest Metro Station: Ibn Battuta

Captivated the Largest Choreographed Fountain

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

Nearest Metro Station: Burj Khalifa/The Dubai Mall Station

Awed by the World’s Tallest Structure 

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

Nearest Metro Station: Burj Khalifa/The Dubai Mall Station

Discover the Rich Culture of Dubai

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

Diera Old Souk

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

Najmat Taiba (Star of Taiba)

Nearest Metro Station: Al Ras Metro Station

Bastakiya Quarter

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

Night time

Nearest Metro Station: Al Ras Station

Dubai Museum

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

Nearest Metro Station: Al Ghubaiba or Al Fahidi Stations 

Heritage Village

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

Nearest Metro Station: Al Fahidi Station

Dubai Creek

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

The only tourist on the boat

Sunset from abra

Take a Monorail to Man-made Island

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

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

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

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

You will only see this until you arrived at carpark

Get Lost in the Largest Flower Garden

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

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

Burj Khalifa made of oranges

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

Sunbathing at Free Public Beach

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

Marvel the Street Arts at JBR Walk

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

View from balcony

Cruising on Dubai’s water

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




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

 

A day at Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

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

Map of Gardens by the Bay

Getting There

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

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

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

Cruiser Services

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

Shuttle Service

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

OUTDOOR GARDENS AUDIO TOUR

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

Auto Rider

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

Outdoor Gardens Trails

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

Map of the sculptures’ locations, which is quite confusing

On a sunny afternoon of 27°C

One of the iconic buildings in Singapore: Marina Bay Sands

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

Each sculpture comes with a description panel

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

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

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

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

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

Tiger among the bamboo trees

Can you spot the lion’s head?

Seated old man stone

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

Chinese Totem (HuaBiao)

Dragon-Turtle

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

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

Can you spot the tortoise sun-bathing?

There’s a mini aquarium!

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

Turk’s Cap

“Sun-bathing” on the unique chair

Mexican Columnar Cacti

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

Flower Dome

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

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

Cloud Forest

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

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

**Purchase tickets online for better discounts!

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

Experiencing the Naadam Festival Without Joining a Tour

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

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

When is Naadam Festival?

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

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

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

How to get Naadam Tickets

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

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

Buying your own tickets

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

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

Totally not dressed for the cold night~~

The queue got longer and longer

Cold, hungry and sleepy~~

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

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

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

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

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

Buying tickets from a Guesthouse

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

Buying tickets from Tourist Information Offices

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

Buying tickets from a Scalper

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

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

Ta-daaaa!

How to attend for free

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

Horse parade

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

Traditional songs & dances

Where to watch

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

What to Expect

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

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

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

It isn’t a good seat after all

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

Mark from Thailand

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

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

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

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

Less than USD1

A storm is coming but I don’t care!

3,000MNT (USD1) for 5 tries

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

Found a spot to stand and watched for awhile

Things to Take Note

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

Dates of Naadam festival at different province (2017)

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

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.