Sunday, December 16, 2012

JianKou Great Wall 1 Day Trip

JianKou, known as one of the most beautiful great wall.  Its beauty lies in the fact that it is unrestored, a wild great wall, with a picturesque backdrop, which makes for a fantastic hike!
I took a day trip down from Beijing city to Jiankou.  Took the 1st bus (916 快express) out of Dongzhimen bus station (the indoor one) to Huairou bus station.  The express bus takes slightly more than 1H and 1st bus goes at 550am.  There is a regular bus but that would take twice as long, so look out for the 'express'.  Bus fare is 12RMB
Once i got off at the bus station (ok if you search the web, there are other stop which you can get off and catch a local bus.  But the problem with this is that you have to wait for specific timing of the bus.  If you are short of time like I was, or you prefer more flexibility, get off at the bus station and hire a minivan).  I was the only one off at the bus station at that time of the day, and an uncle approached me to offer his service.  I quoted RMB260 for his service - Return journey (from Huairou bus station to XiZhaZi village where I started) + waiting time.  Good deal I would say! If you were a group, even more worth it.
The ride took about 1H+.  Paid 20RMB at the entrance and very soon started the hike.  The morning started real cold and I was freezing when I walked towards the start of the trail. 

But soon enough, I started to warm up from the walking and uphill hike.  It took about 45mins to get from the village to up the Great wall.

I started at Beijing Knot towards JianKou.  Well it was not an easy hike.  I was faced with a vertical wall of at least 20m which I had to climb bare hand to get onto the wall.  Tried a few meters but gave up - Too difficult in my thick winter getup.  Would have been easier in summer I guess.

So I walked around the wall abit, trying to find an easier way up.  Finally, found a slightly less intimidating wall which I could kinda climb up.  Still no ladder or steps, just bare-hand climb up the wall.
I climbed up that wall

As I climbed up, a group of 4 hikers followed behind me.  1 of them managed to climb up the same way I did, while the other 3 went further up ahead to find easier opening.  Ended up hiking together with them through out.  Nice lads from Inner Mongolia, with interesting nicknames like Turtle, Eagles etc

The first section was the toughest.  Having to deal with almost vertical climb up! And almost vertical climb down.  Where I had to climb on all fours.  The rocks/stones were unrestored so some of them were shaky and uneven.  Was abit scary but it was damn fun!
Yes, we climbed down vertically

The weaher was fantastic that day, sun was up and bright and shining.  So made for a good day to hike, with no big wind blowing to freeze us hikers.

And I thought Jiankou is quite isolated with very few hikers.  Who knew we bumped into SOOOO many people!  There was even a group of 50+ hikers!  Well goes to show, even in winter, people hike the great wall!

 Our hike was intermitten, not continuous.  So we stopped along the way to rest a while, take photos, enjoy the scenery.  Of cos some people can just walk continuously, but what would be the point if you just walk and not enjoy the magnificent scenery and marvel at the grandness of the Great Wall?
The 4 Mongolian Lads who hiked with me

The hike took in total 6H from Beijing Knot all the way to JianKou, where I parted ways with the Monolians.  They were headed towards MuTianYu, which would take another 3-4H from where I left.  Caught up with my driver and another 2+H journey back to Beijing.  It was a great hike! I would go back again given the time and chance, to do the leg from JianKou to MuTianYu!  Of cos, I still have to go JinShanLing.  Too many great walls, too little time :)
The journey back was pretty smooth.  The 916 express bus was pretty frequent, like every 15mins, so it didnt take long for me to get onto a bus and rested my way all the way back to Beijing.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Reflections and Sentiments

Been doing a lot of thinking and reflection these few days.  I attribute this to mid-life crisis, and the fact that I'm hitting a big milestone soon... Real soon.  Emotional.  What did I do?

First off, I choped off my hair, it was short to begin with (shoulder length), but I choped it even shorter, funky loop-sided hair cut, and coloured it RED!  It has been a long time since I last coloured my hair, probably 4 years back.  Suddenly I just had this great urge to do something, to change something.  Didn't like how I looked before, wanted to change, give myself a different style, like chopping off all the burdens and troubles, hopefully bring me a new light, a new luck!  Alot of people say when a woman cuts her hair, something has happened to make her decide on such a big change.  You go figure it out...
Then, I had the urge to pull out my history, my past, what made me who I am today, what was I 20 years ago.  I remembered I was this arty, creative person back when I was young, I remembered I kept an art book (ok, not a pro Art book, just a note book) where  started drawing cartoons and pictures based on samples.  I'm not really those who can just create a new drawing, but I can draw good if I have a sample to look at.  After much searching, pulling books out of my pile, I found it!!

Imagine my joy and the emotional feelings I felt, flipping through the pages, trying to relieve the past.  That was from 15 years ago, when I still kept sticker books.  Then I started thinking more.  I used to be good at Arts & crafts, I did origami!  Made thousands of stars and filled up bottles, giving to friends as gifts.  I made origami swans!  And other origamis.  I tied friendship bands, chinese knots, necklaces.  I did all those things when I was young.  I liked those things!  I even remember I was good at moulding clay figurines!  Now, I'm an auditor!  What a change!  But not a conventional auditor, as people have always commented. "You are the most unconventional auditor", "Your hairstyle is too havok", "You dress very unlike auditor".  Honey, think out of the box!  It's 2012, the world may be ending soon, why follow the bandwagon.
Sometimes I do regret not living my life earlier.  Exploring, being independent, travelling much younger.  These are some of the things, when you look back, you think "What If".
I dug out my old diaries and old letters and greeting cards.  Yes, I'm a hoarder!  But I keep valuable things, like these memories from the past!  I spent a few nights, laying on my bed, reading through my old entries, reading the letters from best friends from my past, greeting cards from friends.  Brought back a lot of old memories, good and sad.  Reading the letters, I realized how much I miss my old friends from different phases of my life.  And how life can just easily dissolve some old ties.  It is sad, but sometimes that is life. 
And my diaries, how I have changed in the past 10 years. I started keeping a diary since JC times, writing about things, my feelings, relationships and stuff.  Reading them, I realized I had a lot of anger pent up, only let out through writing in my diary.  Being a teenager, of course the thinking was rather immature.  It was a really interesting read, reading how teenager I was, thinking about small insignificant matters.  A snippet - I used to think about getting myself a boyfriend so much!  Haha, 10 years ago!  Oh man!  Also, entries about my feelings, my relationships or the lack thereoff etc.  The fun times, the happy times, and the sad events.  From then through now. 
It was really emotional for me, reading those events that happened.  I smiled, I laughed, I cried.  Yes, I cried.  Surprising isn't it.  Must be age.  Sorry but I am not able to reveal the contents of my diary, or what made me cry or smile.  You can deduce by yourself, make your own guess and keep it to yourself.  Although I did regret stopping my diary for a period of my life, where I didn't get to record down some happy events in my life during that point in life.  I really do regret it now.  And I think I lost some of my diary entries when I scribbled them on other notepads.  Very regretful, cos they are memories, be it good or sad ones.  I vow to keep my diary more up-to-date.  To write more about me, my feelings, what happened.  It is really a good read, 5-10 years down the road.
Writing this entry, feeling so tired.  Yes, spent last night reading my diary again.  Old memories made me sentimental and cried.  It is age, must be age that led to this reflection of life, thinking about my life.  But I guess, it is good to do this once in a while.  Makes you think about your entire existence in the world!
I started some Arts again, with paintings.  Ok not free style paintings but painting with some aid.  And I really enjoyed it.  I can get soo engrossed into it that I will keep on doing it till late hours.  It is hard work but I really like doing it.  I think I do have that artistic seed in me, but not enough creative power to nurture it.  Who knows!  If I had enough willpower, I may have become a famous artist now, or some creative person!  Maybe that's why I'm working in an advertising and marketing industry, although not as a creative.  Keep on dreaming....

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Puerto Galera Weekend Dive

Long overdue post on my quick weekend dive getawayto Puerto Galera, Batangas, Philippines. 

If you are ever in Manila, and want to get away for the weekend, like for a dive, Puerto Galera is the place!  It is the nearest place you can get to without having to worry about "Oh no, I can't dive 18H before a flight!"; "Oh no, if I fly in the morning, I don't have enough time to dive"; "Shit, I can't book a flight" etc etc.  It is across the waters from Batangas, which is a 2H drive from Manila.  Buses run throughout the day, which means you can make your way to Batangas even if it's 10pm at night!  Although I really don't recommend that unless 1) You are a Pinoy 2) You have company 3) You know your way around 4) You just don't care about shit! 

Of course, it's not just a 2H ride! You have to take an almost 1H boat ride across to PG, which runs from 730am to 430pm.  Which means YES, you wouldn't be able to set feet int PG if you travel at night to Batangas, but at least you can be the FIRST to cross the water to PG the next day!  Which is precisely what I did!
So here's the lowdown.  On Friday night, I made my way to the many bus terminals in Manila.  If you are in Makati, it is at Gil Puyat LRT station.  You WILL NOT miss it.  Or just tell the taxi driver "Bus terminal going to Batangas" they will know which one to take you to.  Different buses depart from different terminals.  My taxi driver took me to JAC Liner.  Ok, I would probably recommend JAM the next time cos I took that on my return and it was alot faster.
The moment I got off the taxi, touts came and helped me manuveur the crowd to find the right bus.  Yes, I know I should have done it myself to save the tipping, but oh well, it was late at night and I just couldnt be bothered.  Anyway, just a tip of 20pesos is not much.  The buses run really very frequently.  I missed about 3 buses as they were all filled up and I was across the street buying my dinner, but got on the 4th bus easily.  The buses were packed! I guess people were going home from Manila for the weekend.  The bus made several stops on the way, and they played movie on board!  Wear a jacket, it's COLD!!!
After almost 3H, I got to Batangas Pier.  Make sure you get off at Batangas Pier cos the town is a distance away and if you want to catch the first boat, better to stay near to the Pier.  After I got off, the place was dark and almost empty, except for 1 bus taking people further away.  A Pinoy got off at the same place and thank god for him!  Cos I was trying to get my bearing and finding where Traveller's Inn was!  People that were there couldn't speak English.  So he took me to the exit and was about to walk to the Inn with me when the Tricycle rider finally relented on 40pesos to send me there.  They wanted 100! Crazy.  Seeing that it was almost 11pm and the road was deserted, I took it and checked in PRONTO!!  Traveller's Inn is the closest to the Pier, it's about 700PhP per night, and the room is nice!  Air-conditioned, with shower, tv and a HARD HARD bed.  Bed was SOOOO hard I couldn't sleep the whole night!
Early next morning, jumped on the first boat to Sabang!  Again, there are touts at the Pier who would help you buy your tickets and all those environment fees thingy.  You can DIY or like me, I just tipped me a little to settle for me :) Added up to about 200Php in total.
The boat was surprisingly rather prompt! Though it didn't leave on the dot but not too long after!
After a long ride, I finally reached PG!! All sunny and hot!
So PG isn't exactly a nice beach.  There isnt really a beach per sey!  The boats were all anchored close to the shore, the shore was full of stones and rocks.. Not really that pleasing a beach for tanning or laying around.  But I was there for the dive! 
 The town of Sabang is really really small, nothing much to walk around with a few eateries here and there.

I booked a room with Blue Ribbon Divers, at Small Laguna, just a 5min walk from the pier at Sabang.  This area is a little nicer, the beach is a little cleaner too!  The rooms are not budget, i.e. backpackers may not find it cheap.  My bungalow ws 1200Php per night, fully air conditioned, TV (cable!), double bed (this is comfy bed), toilet with shower and amenities.  An best of all a PORCH with HAMMOCK!!!!!  Nope, no sea view, but I don't really care! I have a hammock!!!

Pronto, dropped my bag and went to dive! 3 dives on the first day.  Dives are 1,100Php per dive, equipment is 200Php per day, regardless of what you rent, just 1 price. 
We went to Hole in the Sea, Giant Clams and Monkey Beach.  Awesome dive! I mean look at PG beach you may think "So ugly, what can this place offer!!", but the dive is really good!  And they are just 5-10mins away from the dive center!  Corals are beautiful and visibility is good!  Of cos, if you are into really MACRO like Sipadan, you may be disappointed, but PG is good!  For a place so close to Manila, worth the trip and money!
Hole in the Sea so named because there is a hole about 5m wide and 8m long where you swim through.  That was fun!  And when you get to the other side, the marine life is real great!  We saw gigantic fish, trevalis etc etc..
Giant Clams, obviously GIANT CLAMS!! Like half the size of me!!! And loads of them on the floor!  That dive was good as well, we saw throngs of trevalis and really big fish just swim past.  Did Giant Clams twice!
Night life was not really much.  THing is, it's the off-season.  Not many backpackers.  I must say, i see alot of locals (weekend getaway) but they don't dive actually, and old westerners.  Old folks.  The atmosphere felt old, and very quiet.  I guess, if people are vacationing in Philippines, they wouldn't choose PG specifically.  I would definitely go Boracay or Bohol for dives.  So wondering around Sabang town for dinner, I passed by lots of local clubs.  Yes, those local clubs with pole dancers, skimpily dressed Pinoy pole dancers gyrating around the poles, with local pinoys sitting up close, and some old FOLKS (i.e. westerners).  WHen i say lots, I mean lots!  Every 5-10 steps, there's one.  And I did notice not many young females walking along the streets, except me.  Made me feel rather conscious....  But if I gota eat, I gota eat!  Parked myself at a local stall eating Pancit Canton.  Then slumped and fell asleep, too tired from the early day and the dives.
Sunday did 1 last dive @ Monkey beach.  That was really nice dive! Saw a lot of things, and generally just had a good vibe of the dive!  Saw lots of live and nice corals too!  After 1 dive, I packed my bag and rushed for the boat.  Ok, there may have been a fixed timing for boat departure, but really, you never know!  So I was lucky to make the 1045am departure!  The next departure would have been 1-ish.  Probably no in between, at least that is what the locals said.  But like I said, you never know!  I never knew there was a boat leaving at 1045am, they said 1130am!  So I was lucky to catch it before it departed!  I thought I had to pay for the ride, but I didn't.  Nobody checked for ticket or anything.  So I guess when you buy the ticket to leave for PG, it is a return ticket for you to get back to Batangas!
Once I reached Batangas, it was easy peasy to get back to Manila.  Tons of buses just waiting and calling out to you!  Took JAM back to Manila.  167Php (same price) and within 2H I was back in Manila!!
Would I go back again?  Well If I were in Manila and only have 1 weekend, I would.  It's close enough and good enough a dive spot for the weekend.  If I were vacationing in Philippines? Nope!  I would definitely choose Bohol for diving.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Tree Top Walk

Time for some exercise, free air and greenery.  So my JC friends and I decided to go the Tree Top walk!  For reasons known amongst us, we decided to opt for the easier route that starts from Venus Drive, and only 2.4km long.  Because of all our busy schedules, we could only meet in the late afternoon, and since the gate closes at 5pm, it means we had no choice but to opt for the shorter walk.  Hey, as long as we reach the destination, the journey is not so important right?!?!
So lo and behold, people were late, and we started after 4pm, which made us more worried because it's a 2.4km walk to the gate which closes at 5pm. 

All geared up and ready to start the walk in the park!  Mei Mei was our 'leader' since she had done the walk before.  It was mainly a walk within the park, trails going up and down.  Quite a nice walk too!

And we made it to the gate before 5pm!!  Because it's a one-way route, you have to enter before 5pm, if not you would have made a wasted trip once they lock the gate.  But once you pass the gate, you have to keep on going forward, no returning back.
View from up there was quite nice!  Can see the MacRitchie reservoir.  But we were not avid bird watchers so we didn't really look for birds or foliage.  I guess our main aim was hit the bridge, walk the bridge, take photo and mission accomplished! 

So we spent some time taking photos as evidence of our presence on the bridge! 

And time for group photos!

All crouching down to get a good angle so Angeline can be seen... It is definitely not easy to half squat while maintaining composure for a nice photo!  That's where all those squats come into good use!

Yes, act CUTE poses are included!  Too bad Angeline was not able to tip toe herself higher!

Look there, it's a bird, no it's a plane, no it's the reservoir!

Just cannot NOT do a jumping pose.  The bridge is pretty sturdy so don't worry! Jump all you want!

Mei Mei and Sa trying to be artistic....
And I decided to do a jump shot with Mei Mei!  The bridge is only wide enough for 2 people to jump and capture the motion.  But it's a nice effort!

Now I have pinned Tree Top Walk as a place I've been to in small yet unexplored Singapore (well for me anyway).  We did the loop in under 2H!  Then it was off to a nice dinner to replenish all those energy we expended during the walk...
If you don't have the time, starting fromVenus Drive is good enough!  For those with more energy, drive and time, you can try to walk to MacRitchie.  Probably takes you a good 2-3H one way.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Stone Mountain

Over the weekend in Atlanta, I decided, upon suggestions from colleagues, to make a trip to Stone Mountain State Park.  Since I like nature, hiking an basically some physical activities, it was a good idea!  So on Saturday, I started the train+taxi ride into Stone Mountain State Park.

The day started slightly gloomy with slight drizzle while I was making my way to the Park.

Upon arrival, my room was not ready, so I decided to take a walk around the Park.  Nothing too strenous, or so I thought!

The hotel was conveniently located right in the middle of the Park with easy access to all th points of interest.  Marriott-Stone Mountain Inn is the hotel, and upon arrival they gave me a free 1-day Adventure Pass!  Not that I really needed it but it was handy cos I actually took 2 rides free out of it.

So I decided to walk the 5-mile nature hike while waiting, thinking that it was just a smooth walk in the forest.. So flip flops was alright.  Well I was wrong.  15mins into the walk, it led to stone/rock faces and uphill hike.  Well, I was already there and nothing much else to do, so I perservered.  And lo and behold, it started to rain!  Great!  So I decided to wait out under the cover of the trees.  A little help, not much.

Steep rock face which I walked in flip flops

When the rain started to slow down, I continued on, and very soon I was at the junction of the walk up Stone Mountain.  Well, that was when it really started to pour!! And I had to make my way down mid-hill to seek shelter.  That delayed me for about 30mins. 

And, the sun came out!  Really hot and mightly!  And I decided, well let's just hike up Stone Mountain.  Unplanned for that moment but well since I was already there, might as well!

So with my flip flops and sling bag, I walked up.  It was not tough, just that morale of the story - flip flops are not the best footwear for climbing up.  Yes, you can do it, but not the best option.

And it was VERY HOT!  Sun was sorching down and burning my skin a little...

And I made it up to the top in one piece!  Though drenched in sweat... But the view is amazing!

Was about to walk down, when the sky started clouding again.. And I thought "No way, don't want to be caught in the rain again"  So since I have the 1-day pass, I opted for the skyride!  Short ride but nice view.

I had another hour to spare before I can check into my room, so I wandered around the maingrounds.  Stone Mountain State Park is more for families or groups of friends, cos the activities are oriented around groups rather than individuals.  Like those adventure ropes, or mini gold, it would look/feel weird if you go ahead on your own.  So I didn't, though I had free pass.  But I took the train ride which goes round the Stone Mountain.  Well it's actually a piece of really huge granite rock.

Finally got to check into my room, rest a bit, slap on more sun screen and headed out for another walk towards the lake.

Then at 930pm, it was time for the laser show!  It was alright.  First few minutes was pretty ok, with pop music..then it got patriotic, which features of american history, national songs etc etc.. Which I'm sorry to say I cannot appreciate.  So I left early to sleep and get ready for another early morning start the next day.

Mission for the 2nd day is to complete te 5-mile hike!  This time, I strapped on my sports shoes!

And it was a lot of slippery rock hills/faces to hike through.  Luckily I didn't do it the day before with my flip flops..  But it was a good hike!  Exercise, what I needed!  But it was a really hot hot day! 

 Attempted to plank... Not easy when timer is set to just 10 sec

Exhausted from the heat after the hike I packed my bags and headed out of stone mountain.  Decided to take the bus to the train station, which involved a 2 mile walk out of the Park to the Stone Mountain Village.  Stupidly, I started walking the opposite direction for 15min before realizing I was going the wrong way!  Had to turn back, re-walked the 15min + another 2 mile.... Geez... But finally made it out and away from the park.

Fun times... And great workout!!