Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Gwanggyosan - An easy mountain hike in Suwon, Korea

What's a trip to South Korea without a hike in the mountains?? Afterall, this is a national pastime (albeit for the mostly aged Koreans).  The many times I've been to South Korea, I've hiked one mountain each time, and this time it was no different.  I wasn't based in Seoul, but in Incheon.  No nice mountains to climb in Incheon (I think, I may be wrong), but my brother recommended me to visit Suwon for the fortresses and stuff but of course, I was attracted to the mountain that lies just outside the fortresses.
It's easy to reach, and not difficult to hike too! Get off at Suwon train station and walk out exit 4 where you will see the tourist information center.  It is very helpful to grab a map of Gwanggyosan even though it is in Korean - as it shows you the names of the peaks and route so you can do match the signage when you are actually climbing! Signage are all in Korean, so without the map you will have absolutely NO IDEA where the hell you are heading.  Bus 13 at the same side of the road will get you to the drop off point - alight at the reservoir - don't worry, you will see loads of fully geared up Koreans alighting there as well.  oh did I mention, there's FREE WIFI on board the bus too!  There is a HUGE bicycle rental shop at the stop as well, so look out for that too.  Once off, start off the hike right behind the bicycle rental shop.  I believe this is Route 1 in the map and just follow straight up, up, up.  There are signs and boards along the way at intersections but they are all in Koreans, so not much use.  Just go straight and follow the arrow that points to the longest distance. 
As I said, the map is very essential.  Because to get to the 1st peak, you need to match the Korean characters on the sign to your map else you might miss it.  Of course, you could follow the crowd but my experience there was the crowd went 2 directions - left and right.  To get to the 1st peak, you have to climb up a rock face.  It is not really that steep and you can do it without the ropes like I did.  Took me 1H to get to that peak.
After that, follow the sign (that points again to the longest distance) to the highest peak.  Again it really helps with the map so as to make sure you match the Korean characters correctly.  You'll come to a pavilion - this is NOT the highest peak.  I thought this was it and was utterly disappointed, only to follow the steps down and then discover - OMG I was wrong!  This part was still a bit fuzzy to me, how the hell did I make the mistake!  Anyway, from the pavilion, assuming you got there from that rock face peak, your next route should be the right side down the steps/slope.  NOT the side that faces the edge.  Follow that side to the highest peak.  Again I can't stress how important it is to map the Korean characters to your map.  You will get to a sign that points to 36m ahead and that is the peak.  You will see the standard rock that shows the name of the mountain and the height and a panoramic view from above. 
From there, DO NOT attempt to go down the right path - I made the mistake of trying to NOT take the same route, thinking the other path would take me down the other way.  Oh it sure would have, but down a totally different face of the mountain where I would NEVER KNOW where I would have ended up at.  Sure, I tried to map the characters and couldn't find them on the map.  And knowing that those characters DID NOT exist in my map, I still followed that path.  I saw people heading that way so I went.  20mins after, someone told me I'm on the wrong path.  So I had to re-traced my steps up again and down the same path I came up from.  Going down, I took Route 4, a split from the same path down from the peak.  It was easy walk down and soon enough, I got back to the bustop to Suwon station.
All in all, it took me 3.5H up and down.  It was a nice hike but not the best mountain I've been.  The view was not that fantastic as compared to Gwanaksan or Bukhansan, but at least it gave me a bit of activity for half a day! 

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Derawan - the mystical East Kalimantan island

Derawan is actually just one of the many islands near the East Kalimantan side of Indonesia.  And although it is considered the more developed amongst all islands, it really isn't that much developed as we would imagine.  Sure the guesthouses have air-con, there is a power station, but Internet is still very much non-existent. And there is no night life - unlike Labuan Bajo with its couple of pubs/bars and many great restaurants. 

A chance read of a magazine article drew my attention to Derawan - captivated by "Remote Island location", "island hopping", "stingless jellyfish lake", "great diving", I was sold.  I'm usually quite easily sold on such factors.  The next steps were a little harder.  Googling Derawan didn't throw much results in terms of finding out the transport arrangements, contact information for cheap homestays, dive center information etc.  You get the mega resort information and big dive centers that charge exhorbitant rates independent backpackers (like me) refuses to pay.  But my relentless googling efforts finally paid off.  Scouring through pages and pages, I finally found a blog that mentioned a low-cost dive center and got the contact information off of the blog owner!  That proved to be a real blessing and I managed to get my transport, accomodation and diving arranged through the local dive center.  Ichuk is the man! You can contact him at ichuk1782@gmail.com or +62-822-5441-2551.  Surprisingly he has WeChat too!  He can arrange the regular car and boat to get you on Derawan and book Losmen Danaken for you.

Before I get into the details, here's a summarized video of my fun and adventure in Derawan!

Now aren't you excited now!?!

Getting to Derawan isn't exactly easy.  Labuan Bajo is a lot easier to get to - just a flight and you are there.  Derawan - you have to fly to Berau airport (connecting via Balikpapan), get in a car for 2-3H (regular car is 150k IDR per pax airport to port, or for private is about 450K per car), and regular speedboat for 30mins (100K per pax or 300K per boat for private which leaves anytime you want).  Makes sense to get private transport if you have 2 or more people, and if you arrive late in the afternoon.  Speedboat usually stops when it gets dark.  Best to arrange for regular car with your homestay or ask Ichuk to arrange!  You wouldn't get any shared car/taxi at the airport - it's a small airport and practically impossible to find another traveller to share.  And you usually get quoted a much higher price (like 600K per car).  I got my travel all planned by Ichuk, and yes there was some waiting time between arriving at port and getting on the boat but it's alright.  There are many boats leaving for Derawan at the port if you arrive early afternoon.  To give you an idea, I started my flight from Jakarta at 530am and finally arrived in Derawan at 430pm - almost 10H!
Waterfront houses
I booked myself in Losmen Danaken, where the dive center (Danaken Dive center) is located.  That's where Ichuk works.  However, there are plenty of homestays along the main street of Derawan so you don't have to worry.  It costs me 300K per night (small breakfast, coffee, tea and hot water included) with air-con.  At this point, I have to point out that Derawan is not exactly a cheap place.  Judging by the cost of accomodation - it costs me 1/3 to get a room in Labuan Bajo, and diving costs (more on that later). 

Enter Losmen Danakan
Derawan is a small small island.  There is a village just behind the main street and basically it is a very quiet island as well.  There wasn't many travellers or backpackers.  In fact I did not find any independent travellers while I was there!  There were more couples and families (Indonesia families especially).  Come morning/afternoon, the town is basically a dead town - you'll be hard pressed to find anyone walking down the street.  Street vendors (the handful of them) are sometimes hidden in their houses, and restaurants sometimes appear NOT to be open.  But I can imagine nobody wants to be out under the scorching hot sun.
There isn't much to do on the island, so if you are not out in the ocean, you are just hanging around the beach or snorkelling. 

And so begun the bumpy ride out. Before we even dived, we were drenched
Diving - supposedly to be good in Derawan wasn't as it was made out to be.  I was unlucky.  Weird ocean conditions brought along huge waves which meant that diving wasn't good/couldn't be done in the dive sites.  Visibility was also badly affected.  The best dive spots - Maratua couldn't be done while I was there.  So I may not be the best judge but I was really disappointed in the diving.  Diving is also not cheap.  The cheapest - Danaken Dive Center charges 350K per dive for Derawan dive sites - which aren't the best dive sites.  For trips out to the other islands - Kakaban (great wall dive), Sangalaki (mantas), Maratua (barracuda) - you have to rent boats in addition to cost of diving.  Ichuk charges 1.5M/boat to the furthest (Maratua) on a 4-seater speedboat, but a dive boat would cost you upwards of 4M per boat.  We went out to Kakaban and Sangalaki for dives (1.5M per boat among 3 of us).  The other 2 dive centers charge twice the amount for each dive.  But I figured Tasik Dive Center is worth going with if you plan to dive in Maratua (USD165 for 3 dives, everything included). 

So I actually had a much better time snorkeling and island hopping there!  In Kakaban island, you get to visit the jellyfish lake (25K entry), where you get to swim with stingless jellyfish!  They really are cute! And really, they DO NOT sting.  Sangalaki is famous for the mantas (we saw a few), but the day we went, visibility wasn't that great and mantas were looming on the surface so diving wasn't great for mantas.  And that actually brought me memories of the Manta point in Komodo - BEST MANTA DIVE EVER!
Met an Indonesian couple (Imam and Keni) and went on an island hopping trip with them.  2M for the trip, split among the 3 of us. The usual tour is 3 islands - Maratua (visit the beach of one resort for 30K), Kakaban (jellyfish lake and lagoon) and Sangalaki, but since we've been to Sangalaki, we switched that for a secret cave on Maratua island for the same price.  We went with Pinades a Mr Hasan.  You can find him on the island.  We headed off to Maratua Island first - you can stay on that island but it really is for people who basically do not want to do anything but laze around the island and their resort because there is NOTHING on the island.  I'd be bored to death!  And it is a lot more expensive there.  The cheapest being maratua guesthouse, and twin room for USD40 per night.  But like I said, there is only 1 restaurant, and nothing else.  I'm not saying there is much on Derawan, but at least there are several restaurants and village and pancake man at night (you definitely have to find the pancake man for some mini pancakes.  Not the best thing, but the only form of dessert you can find on Derawan.  And trust me, they taste really great especially on an island where snacks are hard to come by) 

Aji Mangku, before the jump
The guide brought us to a cave Aji Mangku on Maratua Island, where you have to jump into a lagoon and swim through a cave to get up from the other side.  So anyone who knows me knows that I hate jumping from heights (anything >1M) and I refuse to do it.  No fear of heights, just fear of jumping from heights.  The one and only time I jumped from 3M was in Labuan Bajo at the canyon.  A Mr Theodore Niekras can attest to that. And till this day, I still have no idea how the hell I managed to convince myself to do that.  So there I was on Maratua Island, standing at the edge and looking down at the pool of water.  Hey, it's just water right? Not like I'm gonna die.  And I seriously thought I might be able to do it this time.  Really.  Shouldn't be a problem.  But nope.  I tried 3 times, just couldn't get my feet lifted.  They all jumped but me.  I basically found an alternative down into the pool of water.  I climbed my way down.  There you go.  I have Catapedaphobia (but only the high places >1M). So I'm never gonna be skydiving, bungee jumping, cliff jumping.
Anyway back to Aji Mangku.  Once you get into the water, it is actually crystal clear.  The bottom is 18M deep and there is a cave on one end where people go for cave diving.  On the other end is the exit point where you swim through and out from the cave exit.  It is pretty cool actually!  Water is a little cold though.

we made it out of the cave
Then approaching Kakaban, we were strangely brought towards a makeshift ladder in the middle of one side of the island and was told there is where we go for the lagoon.  There are 2 ways in the lagoon - the DRY and WET way.  DRY - up the ladder.  WET - through a cave.  Obviously I went for caving.  Really cool.  Reminded me of Koh Mut where I canoed through a dark cave to get to a secret beach.  Here, you wade through a cave (no need to swim or snorkel) and exit to the lagoon.  The lagoon is really beautiful and we were the only ones there!  No fish per say but a nice place to relax.  Then we were off to Jelly fish (my 2nd time!) Still can't get enough of them cute jellyfish.  Swim far away from the boardwalk towards the middle of the lake and you will see alot more jellyfish.  People usually stay near the boardwalk, especially the locals.  Not me.  I just swam far out and they just kept coming! 
Kakaban Lagoon

Once was not enough, 2nd time! They are sooo cute!
Snorkeling out near the Kakaban wall is pretty great!  And we saw dolphins! All in all a great island hopping trip.  That night we had a massive dinner - me, Indonesian couple, British couple (whom I'll go whalesharking hunting with), Italian couple (my neighbour at Losmen) and 3 Singaporean lads (don't have much to say about them because they kept to themselves mostly)

So, I wasn't expecting Derawan to have whalesharks but there were banners hung around the island advertising them.  I got hooked up with a British couple (Matt and Naomi) and we went hunting for them.  Not in Derawan.  We got a boat about 2H out of Derawan in Talisaya where they recently spotted whalesharks approaching the fishing boats there!  The boat costs us 3.5M in total but it was worth it!  We almost lost hope when after 4 boats we were met with "NO", and at the moment we decided we needed to pee before heading back, we saw it!  2! I was the quickest off the boat, basically threw all my gear on and jumped right in without a moment of hesitation.  According to Naomi, I was meant to be the guinea pig.  It was so great because we were the only boat there! For all of 20mins just 3 of us in the water with 2 whalesharks! Until the dreadful Russian lady came with her partner.  She was dreadful with her high-pitched "Honey" and incessant grabbing of the whaleshark.  But I mean whalesharks!  I think we were in the water for 1H or more.  And seriously I had no idea time passed that quickly.  We were happy.  The 430am set-out didn't matter cos we saw them.  And once back, we dropped straight to bed.  Oh not before I chanced upon the ice cream lady! At 11am in the morning.  Was early for ice cream, but on Derawan island, where there is no ice cream, you grab them when you see them because you will NOT see them again!
There it comes!

Getting a perfect selfie is so difficult.  At least I managed one pretty good one

Now these little jellyfish are beautiful but not cute cos they sting!

That is NOT a can of coke in my hand
Next day, I went out to the ocean again with the Italians (Gabriele and Veronica).  They are great funny people, especially Veronica who's just crazy sometimes.  I did 2 dives in Kakaban (not the greatest conditions.  No current no barracudas no big fish), while they snorkelled.  Then we all went manta chasing at Sangalaki.  And hopped onto the island to visit the Turtle Sanctuary.  My advice - Don't go.  We had no idea it was that EXPENSIVE! 100K per pax to see some baby turtles.  Sure they are cute but 100K?? Nope wouldn't do that again.  On the way back, I took charge of the speedboat and safely sped all of us back to Derawan.

With Veronica

The pure enjoyment on my face

Sangalaki island
And to cap off a good day, someone at the Losmen spotted a cuttlefish and I basically plotted its demise on the spot.  It's not illegal to spear them, so I commandered a quick task force - basically Ichuk, to spear that cuttlefish and we have cumi goreng for dinner.  That thing was huge!  Veronica, Gab, me and Ichuk couldn't finish.  We tried, it was delicious but we just couldn't finish.

Before long, I bade farewell to Derawan and my newly found friends.  As my flight out of Berau is in the morning, I had to leave a day before and stationed myself in Berau for the night.  It was a non-event, staying in a homestay that isn't worth mentioning.  Only good thing is it's 10mins from the airport, but at 250K per night, ain't the cheapest for the condition. 

All in all, still a good trip although the diving disappointed me.  Wished I had gone to Maratua for diving but conditions weren't in my favour then.  Too bad.  Not sure if I'll go back again. I mean if for diving, I'd rather go Komodo - much better diving and easier to get to and cheaper.  It still aint' a bad place to explore.  I was slightly surprised at the lack of tourists and backpackers.  I guess backpackers don't really go for Derawan.  Luckily I met some nice new friends, if not I wouldn't have been able to go about those activities alone - would have been too costly.  I was basically out in the water everyday except the day of arrival and departure, just what I needed and what I like.  I guess I would recommend Derawan or Maratua if you have a group of friends or at least 2 people.  As far as I can tell, it's not really much of a place for individual travellers.  For purpose of cost sharing, go with a group.  And it isn't that cheap to get to and stay in Derawan. Like I mentioned earlier, cost of accomodation is alot more expensive than some other places I've been in Indonesia, and because it's a remote island, alot of groceries and food stuff have to be transported from mainland or even Berau, which makes them even more expensive to purchase on the island! A can of Bintang (330ml) costs 30K and not all shops sell them. So if you have luggage space, suggest you bring your own supply of snacks and drinks, else be prepared to pay premium for them. 

And some random food picture

The one and only ice cream on the island 5,000 IDR. Reminds me of old school ice cream

Loittering along the streets wondering what to eat and I found gado gado! I love gado gado

Grilled shrimp YUM

Remember the cuttlefish we caught? It became this! So tender and fresh

Friday, August 14, 2015

Pacitan - Hidden Jewel of East Java - Diary of the faux surfer girl

I'm a bad surfer. I flop many times in the waves, I catch little small small waves, I play with white water. Maybe the board is too big for me. But I really really really like surfing! When I do get up and going, gosh that rush! I wish I were a better surfer. I wish I didn't have to fly and spend 3 hours on the road just to get to a surf spot.  Which was what I did just to get to a fabulous surf spot that is kind to bad surfers like me.
Pacitan, in East Java.  A flight to Yogyakarta + 3 hours drive to the very edge, where you lose connection with the outside world for the whole duration you are there.  Internet connectivity is really scarce and bad. I didn't even try. Out of sight, out of world.  A chance read of an article brought my attention to Watu Karung, one of the best surf spots in the world.  Of course, I'm so not qualified to surf Watu Karung. That is a reef break with fucking crazy waves and currents and it was scary just looking at them surf there.  Heard many surfers with stories of broken board, reef cuts all over the body, lost boards, etc. But I'm sure it's a surfers' haven if you are a great surfer!
Watu Karung beach
Internet search on Pacitan ain't gonna get you much information, especially on how to make accomodation bookings or transport.  Likely I perservered and found Harry's Ocean Homestay.  Pacitan doesn't have big, high end resort (yet).  It does have lots of homestays.  And Harry's is highly recommended!  Bring your own board or rent from Harry's! I'm pretty sure only Harry's rent surfboards.  And I love love Harry's.  It is a simple homestay - bungalows (120K IDR), bamboo air con (100K IDR), bamboo fan (70K IDR) and dorms (30K IDR) each with their own bathroom and cold water shower.  Seriously, I don't even know why you need air con! The sea breeze is awesome!  They have a small kitchen for you to cook.  There aren't many eating places nearby, even if you rode the bike to town, there are only small warungs and a couple of nicer restaurants around.  But do ask at Harry's for recommendation.  We went to an All you can eat buffet of fish + shrimps for 50K IDR which is really good value for money.  It's at BBQ by the sea at Seaview.  For bookings, contact Harry, the owner, at +628123411595.  He can help to arrange transport: private pick up is about 650K or choose the travelcar with fixed timing (pickup at airport at 12noon and 5pm) for 90K return at 8am or 11am.  I went with the travelcar and though my flight landed only at 1pm, i still made it for the noon travelcar.  There is also a bus from Yogya bus station to Pacitan.  That bus probably runs more frequently.
Harry was a great host! He brought me around and showed me places.  I am a bad motorbiker, so he took me to the surf spots, and also to the mountains.  I got an instructor 200K for 2Hs and he's great!  Board rental is 50K per day.

Empty beach right in front of Harry's
What is there to do besides surfing? Well apparently lots! You can explore all the different beaches - there are tons! Some a lot further than others.  Watu Karung beach is worth going even if you don't surf.  There is a cave about 90mins away from Harry's.  There is a mountain 40mins away which we went.  There is also the longest flying fox in SEA (400m) about 1h away! I wish I had time to do that, but next time!
Surfing - morning surf has more foreigners and less crowded.  Evening surf is more crowded as the locals all come out to surf.  This time of the year is the dry season and the water is a little colder.  Wet season brings warmer water.  Pancer beach is surfable during this season.  In wet season, you go to the water right in front of Harry's or Teleng Ria.  The waves are good - not too dangerous but still good enough for even the experienced surfers.  And the best thing - NOT CROWDED! At most I saw like 15 surfers in the water.  Plenty of waves to catch for everyone!
Left waves

It is advisable to rent a motorbike, so learn to ride! As you do have to go to town to buy groceries or to the minimart which is a long long way to walk.  Or if you want to discover other places - unless you hire a driver. 
We went to the mountain, and it was a really good workout but the trails are quite steep and slippery.  Alot of rope climbing required and a some points, the trail is not very visible.  I got lost coming down.  Missed my trail and followed another trail down, and faced with an unfamiliar trail, I wasn't sure if I should proceed forward.  I saw the narrow crevice which I thought would lead me to the right way, but halfway through, I thought I couldn't possibly squeeze through the tiny way!  So I went back and tried other trails, and tried bashing my way down.  Because the only way is down and I though eventually I'd bash to the right path!  Sure, I almost killed myself! At one point, I just slid down and had to hold myself in place with my arms pinned on the branches, and the only saving grace being a branch just out of reach of my arm.  With everything I've got, I basically pushed and rolled myself to grab hold of that branch.  It was just an instant thing and if I had missed, I would have gone down to the bottom.  Good thing all that gym work paid off.  Just my arm strength I pulled myself up.  And seeing that I had no choice, I called Harry for help.  He came and sure enough, the right way was through the narrow crevice.  The one I thought I couldn't go through. Fuck it! Right at the end of that crevice, I saw the trail I came up with.  Hah, at that point, I laughed at myself.  And may I add I climbed in flip flops.  Not advisable. Please wear proper shoes.  What was to be an hour return took 2.  Up at the very top, the scenery was really nice, but misty.  So you had to wait a few minutes for the mist to clear and quickly snap that mountain greenery and rice fields.

Now when I was up at the top of the mountain, I did what I usually do in a place where no one else is around. Heee, Flashed the mountain! It was actually windy and cold at the edge as the wind blew.

Really like that place.  There are a number of other beautiful beaches to discover in Pacitan, between a 40-60min ride from Harry's.  Next time I shall explore some other beach and do the flying fox!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Ningbo adventure 2 - The "Great Wall of China" by the sea in Huangxian 黄贤海上长城

Who says you have to go to Beijing to witness the majesty of the Great Wall of China?  Anything and everything is possible in China.  Even to recreate the greatest history of China, by the sea, in Ningbo, which has absolutely no connection whatsoever to Great Wall.  Yes, they re-created 3km of the Great Wall by the sea in Ningbo, and also the Tian Tan right at the end of the "Great Wall".   And I was curious enough to visit it!  I had to. 4A national ratings site!  FYI, there is an actual great wall by the sea in Beijing - Huanghua Great wall 黄花城水上长城 - which I went back in 2010 (read about my experience at beijing-travelogue) that is real, authentic great wall - water being the dam.

The story goes that there was a general who used that place as his attack station - as Huangxian is along the sea, he had to protect the city from sea invasion.  So he built lots of watch towers.  To "immortalize" his efforts, and to preserve some of Huangxian's history, the village built a "great wall" to link some of the watch towers.  It was a 20M RMB investment.

"Great Wall" by the sea

It's easy to get there - take a direct bus from Ningbo South Bus station to Fenghua (奉化) it runs about every 15mins or so and costs RMB10.  It's a minibus.  Then at Fenghua, look for public transport (RMB2 each ride) - bus 208 (RMB4) takes you direct to the site but it runs at interval and takes longer which means not so convenient.  Or you can bus 201 (RMB2) to the end and change to bus 210 (RMB2) to near the end.  You'll see the tourist site, where you can ask the driver to let you off.  All in all, it takes about 2H from Ningbo.  Advantage of taking the transfer buses is that these buses run frequently (every 5-10mins) so you don't have to wait or rush for the time.

Time schedule for bus 208 to and from Fenghua station

A fake stone mountain at the entrance of the forest park

View from the top of the hill at the forest park
Once there, the ticket for the tourist site + "Great Wall" is RMB70 which allows you entry first to the forest park (which is really nothing much and not worth it) and the "Great Wall" which is outside of the forest park.  Apparently, you can pay RMB35 just for the "Great Wall".  Personally I think even RMB35 is too much to charge for 3KM of a fake Great Wall.  Anyway, to get to the "Great Wall", you have to walk about 10-15mins uphill to the start. 

The temple at the end of the wall

So apparently they have a rollar coaster at the top of the great wall! Would be quite cool though

Up Up and Up
At one end of the "Great Wall" is the Tian Tan where there's a temple and yea I went in and gave my blessings and got a divine stick which apparently is a really really good fortune - I'll have great fortune, no big illnesses, get the man of my dreams, encounter a benefactor who will help me a lot and make great things happen to me blah blah blah.  Anyway you have to give a donation.  I did drop RMB50.  If you don't want, avoid at all cost stepping into the temple. 
Walking along the "Great Wall", though it is not real, but the scenery is for sure real!  Sure does have a fantastic view of the sea and mountains.  And the "Great Wall" snakes the mountain ranges which makes really good photo opp!  Only bad thing - they are building houses beside the "Great Wall" which spoils the whole scenery.  But I guess that's the purpose of the "Great Wall" - to give people illusion that they are living in some fantasy :) 

Building residential right next to the "Great Wall"

Tackling the "great wall" with my umbrella

I spent about 2H on the whole stretch, taking pictures, stopping, admiring the view etc etc, all the while with pouring rain and an umbrella in hand. 
The journey back is pretty much the same.  Except at Fenghua station, you basically just buy a ticket and join the queue for the bus - no fixed timing.
Was it worth it?  Hmm, if you have nothing better to do, and have a car, you can visit it!  The scenery is really good though it's not a great wall experience.  So you are still NOT a man even if you visited this great wall (不到长城非好汉).  Entrance is too expensive.  Skip the forest park - it's a scam!!!!! But yea it's an experience.  Would have been better if the weather was better, but you never know.  It was supposed to be heavy rain but it was not that heavy. 

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Ningbo adventure 1 - Danshan Chishui (red mountain crimson valley) 丹山赤水

Betcha didn't know Ningbo has anything to do yea? I thought so at first which was why I didn't bother to bring my camera.  Little did I know there are a bunch of places around Ningbo that are worth a visit!  Thanks to the handy tourist guide book from the hotel.  With so many places, I chose the ones easier to get to from Ningbo i.e. not that far away and reachable by public transport and at least a class 4A rating (this is a china rating but apparently the more "A"s the more expensive the entrance is).  So I chose Danshan Chishui 丹山赤水, which is a 2H drive from Ningbo city.  A place even some locals had no idea (my driver was surprised and amazed that I even knew the existence of the place!).  Anyway I had planned to take the public transport, which would have meant 2 transfers - first from Ningbo South bus station to Yuyao (direct 45mins), then from Yuyao to Dalan (public bus which would take about 1.5h), then Dalan to Shilin village which is where the place is (public bus about 15mins).  Problem being from Yuyao to Shilin, the buses run on certain time (which is practically impossible to find accurate information on).  Still I was hell bent on doing it that way because I'm sure I'll figure it out when I get there, but my client offered me a car which solved the problem easily!  2H in a car direct to the place, yea much easier.

The drive there is really pleasant! Passed through villages, mountains and valleys. A completely different scenery than the city and buildings. Nature makes me happy!

The valley where the obstacle course starts

Entrance to the place is RMB65 each, and during the season (summer time), you can add on the obstacle course to your ticket for a total of RMB165. The obstacle course takes place in one of the valleys and will take an individual about 1.5H (for me was just 1H). If you happen to join a big group, then good luck, it might take 2H. The obstacle course was really fun and a great way to explore that part of the attraction. Just take the first left all the way down after you go through the ticketing and you'll get there. You can walk through half the valley if you do not participate in the obstacle course.

It's all the way down
One of the obstacles - walk across the river
Happy face after I completed the course

Went for a hike up to the top after my obstacle course.  Nice view from up there!
View from the top

So many ways to go down the hill - left or right?
Just because it said STOP i went on
Towards the end of the valley
The dragon waterfall. Nope you are NOT allowed to swim or play in the water

After exploring the valley and obstacle course (which took me a total of almost 3H), I went on to Shilin village, which is an old village. So called Shilin as that is the Chinese word for Persimmons. Yes, if you come in October, you'll be in time for the persimmon season!!! Spent about 45mins just exploring the old houses and area. There are a few local village eateries as well if you feel hungry. No cafes though. There is a lodge in there if you want to stay a night. There is also a lodge right at the end of the valley near to where you can take a ride down the rapids. The scenery there is really awesome, though there doesn't seem much to do. Also, if you want to eat, you'll have to hike about 30mins uphill at least to the village for food.

Narrow alley of the village
Shilin Village (Shilin - persimmon)
Overall, it's a really nice place to explore if you love nature.  Nearby it is surrounded by Siming mountains and there is a Siming scenic area nearby where there are beautiful fields and mountains to explore.  I didn't have time for that.  Give yourself at least 3H to explore the valley.  And get a car.  It is really alot more convenient as you wouldn't be wasting time waiting for buses that do not come frequently.