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.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Me and Gunung Rinjani - the story behind

The second highest volcano in Indonesia, standing at 3726m above sea level, Gunung Rinjani is a formidable mountain to climb.  And I've been meaning to tackle it since 2008.  Stuff happened, Mt Kinabalu happened, Mt Apo happened, still Gunung Rinjani eluded me for years.  Now that I've been there, done that, there was a real good reason it eluded me.  And I'm glad it did! For it allowed me to face other less intimidating mountains as a training ground.  Though those couldn't have prepared me to face the terror and hardship that is the summit climb of Gunung Rinjani.  I'm not gonna mince my words, and say it as I felt it.  It is thousand times harder than Kinabalu.  And I fucking hate sunrise hike!! Still hate it. No matter how great the sunrise is.  I'm a sunset girl, and I think sunsets are so much more beautiful than sunrise.  Nope, still not loving sunrise, but apparently every mountain hike includes a "must-do" sunrise hike.  Really? Do people really love waking up at 2am and hiking in the dark, not knowing where you're headed or how far you've gone, in the middle of nowhere with a growling stomach to get up there by 6am, then after continue the hike down down down?  I know I'm not a fan.  Ok, if it's a 15min hike up to the top, I can do it but I really DO NOT like waking up in the dark and doing a 3-4H hike.  And Gunung Rinjani didn't make it any easier and better.

Side remark:  Apparently, there is a annual Gunung Rinjani hiking competition held in August and the record time was by an American in 2014 - 12H! 12 fucking hours! Amazing!  These people must have a passion for running up and down mountains.  Even our guide said that he would never do it, even porters don't do it.
This is my story of how I fought through tears, pounding heartbeat and near faintedness (out of hunger or pure tiredness I couldn't tell) to finally reach the top of Rinjani in one piece.
It all started with my business trip to Indonesia, which gave me a chance to just hop over for a 3D2N summit hike.  You can also do it in 4D3N, so the hiking hours would be evenly spread out through 4 days - we did 9H on the 2nd day with the summit hike.  I had no idea which group to join so I searched for the cheapest shared trip and came upon Ary Trekking.  I contacted the owner Ary ( and he was really quick in response and arranging my trip!  A shared group means you go and pray hard you get a fun group to hike with - with Ary, the maximum is 8 per group.  If you prefer to do it privately, of course you can choose the 2 per group or even 1 per group - all that means is you pay more for the extra attention.  Which I did not need.  So it was IDR1.5M for the shared group, including 1 night stay at Senaru (where the office is) and return transport within Senggigi and Mataram.  Any other places in Lombok would be at extra cost - I needed pick up and drop off at airport so paid extra IDR200K which was reasonable.  Sure, Ary may be more of a budget operation, though they do have the private tours, but I'm happy with their services, good enough for me! And frankly speaking, I'm not sure how high class other more expensive tours would be - pretty much saw the same food being cooked.  Yea, with private tours, you set your own pace cos it's only you and your own group and shared groups do not have that luxury.  Also, I guess you can set your own itinerary for private group within the allocated time period - like maybe you don't want to do a sunrise climb :) But no-one does a sunset climb there as you are facing the wrong side of the mountain for sunset, and it gets really cloudy there at night.
My trip started with a 1H flight delay which ended up with me at Senaru at past 1am.  It's about a 2.5-3H drive from airport to Senaru.  Boy was I damn tired as it was a 730am start the next day.  The accommodation is really very simple - a bed in a non-fan room, with cold shower or more like the traditional tub water bathroom.  They do have a western toilet, no flush though.  Hey, I'm not complaining as long as I get a bed to sleep in!
Next morning started with free breakfast of yummy banana pancake - apparently free fill! 2 was enough for me, though they came back with more!  And that was when I met my group - 3 young boys! Alex - the French, Miro and David - the Swiss cousins.  Yes, when I say young, they are young, at least 1 decade younger than me.  But they make me feel young :)  And boy was I relieved that they were fun boys! Imagine stuck for 3D2N with a bunch of boring people - really would be the death of me! 

Our trekking route
So our hike was to start from Sembalun and end back at Senaru - which means a ride of about 45mins to the start point.  After registering for our hike, we started walking.  There had to be at least 30-40 hikers that day! Crowded!  The first 2 hours or so was easy walking in the open - no shade.  Then we had a lunch break under the canopy of simple noodle soup with vegetables and pineapple.  Our group of 4 was led by our funny man guide Soultan and 2 porters who were also funny guys!  Soultan's a cool guide - he's actually really funny and not really accurate in his estimation of our hiking time! Hah he is wayyyy too optimistic and doesn't really tell us the truth the whole truth about what lies ahead.  But in a good way, we always joke about it with him!  And he's like Doraemon, with packs of biscuits hidden in his backpack, ever ready to pull them out to feed us every now and then. 

After lunch it was the hard hiking - straight up, up and up - that went on or 1.5-2H.  It was tough with the sun shining strong, and it seemed endless mountains after mountains after mountains. It's pretty similar to Mt Apo in that it was trails, not steps, but a lot longer uphill and steeper.  Finally after like 5H of hiking, we reached our campsite - just beneath the peak.  Where a long line of tents were propped up.  Weather wasn't great - really cloudy so we couldn't see a thing - not the crater lake or the sunset.  But we did have a great dinner of Nasi Goreng!  And a makeshift stall - just a tent - was beside us.  They were selling Bintang and chocolates and stuff, at exorbitant prices - you're paying for the 5H hike up :)  It was an early night as we had to get up at 2am the next morning.  From our campsite looking up to the summit, it seemed not so far or tough but we cannot be fooled by what we see.  The night was cold, but the tent was actually pretty warm - still warm clothings are needed! I had my zero degree (Fahrenheit mind you) sleeping bag from USA and I must say I LOVE THAT BAG!! Whoop! I wished I had it for Mt Apo - which I feel was much colder than Rinjani. 

The mighty porter - I tried lifting the weight (about 25-30 kg)
Uphill hike - the beginning

After a not so great night, pretty much didn't sleep - we started with hot tea and some biscuits at 2am and then started the hike at 230am.  By then there were already people making their way up! Soultan told us the hike would take at least 3H - first hour of loose gravel uphill = tough, then 1H of hiking up a slight slope = easy, then the most physically demanding last part another 1H up up up loose gravel path.  So, all those talk sure didn't prepare me for the actual thing!  The first part was tough, it's like walking up sand dunes, only this is really loose and you would keep sliding down or slipping if you're not careful.  At times it felt like you're not making progress, fighting against gravity.  Finally after 1H, we reached the easy part - which was a great relief, but at 330am in the dark, and starting to feel hungry and after that 1st part, it still felt a little shitty.  Then the real test begun.  The last part was really a killer!  Imagine a steep sand dune but instead of sand, you get loose gravels all over.  This part was worse than the first.  Much steeper.  With each step you take, you sink into the gravels and slide down, your feet weighed down by the weight of your body and the gravel.  It was a nightmare trying to make some distance!  And at that point, my body was extremely spent and burnt - not sleeping the night before didn't help.  I felt sooo sleepy and soooo hungry! SO hungry that I didn't have much energy to continue!  At one point, I had to stop Soultan cos I felt I was gonna faint from hunger and started downing half his pack of biscuits.  By that time, the 3 boys were nowhere in sight - they had carried on faster but actually in the end they were only 10mins before me.  At that point, 10mins felt like eternity.  You couldn't see where the destination was and that made it even harder.  Time had no notion then, and you kept seeing lights flashing and thinking that might be the end, only to realize it came from some group 5mins in front of you.  I really though I wasn't going to make it, and then "miracle" happened - Soultan offered his hand, and guided me up.  He pulled me through the last 20/30/40 mins - like I said Time had no notion.  I really had no idea how long I survived.  I'm deeply ingratiated by his help for which I would not have made it without.  Finally, I heard - 10mins to the top.  And I really nearly collapsed!  But in the end I made it!  3.5H of hardship, driven purely through mental strength and that hand.  Surprisingly, once I got to the top, I wasn't tired or hungry or dying.  I was able to jump and hop around.  Ha!

My boys and I

The loose gravel hike
How was the sunrise? Blah.  Like I said - not a sunrise person.  But the sky cleared up real well and I guess that was the main purpose.  Throughout the entire hike, it was really cloudy and many times I thought I was gonna be real stupid going through all those only to be greeted by clouds and nothing to see at the top.  I would really kill myself.  Luckily it cleared and we were greeted awesomeness!  And obviously really really freezing cold up there!  There were people still trying to hike up by the time day broke, even when we were hiking down!  Still worth a trip up to the top as the sky was really clear in the morning just after sun breaks - clouds started to gather again later in the morning.

The lake

The road down

Slot canyon!!! Whoop

Before long, it was time to head down!  With clear skies and the sun, we saw what we went through.  Going down was easy - just sliding all the way!  But while I was going down, I still couldn't believe I did all that to get up.  It took 1.5H to get down to our campsite and while going down, it didn't feel or looked that tough! We were ravenous when we got back and were treated with banana pancake and toast, with a fabulous view to boost!  But we had no time to rest - time to get moving and head down to the next point.  This was the day of the 9H hike. 
Relaxing after the gruelling summit hike - we didn't want to move

Breakfast with a view - Priceless!
Crater lake

So we started with 2H of down hike - rocks and huge steps for about 1H, followed by meandering ups and downs for another 1H to the edge of the lake where we waited for our lunch.  Of course, the highlight of this day was obviously the HOT SPRING!!!  There are 2 - 1 which is extremely hot about 35 Celsius and smaller, and the other bigger one, less hot about 30 Celsius but with a waterfall!  We stayed a bit at the smaller one and proceeded to the big one.  Yup, definitely stick to the big one - a big pond with waterfall, and a jumping point if you feel like doing cliff jumping.  For all those who know me, you know I DO NOT fear height, but I DO NOT like jumping from heights.  The boys were having a fantastic time jumping off the cliff into the hot spring.  Well I enjoyed being a spectator and dipping in the hot spring, washing away my sweat and dirt and whateves!  That feeling of sweat and dirt for 2 full days, and finally getting to soak all those tiredness away - that's what I call heaven.

Us at Hot Spring
Hot spring makes me Happy!

Before long, it was time to get moving to campsite 2 - but not going down.  We had to go up again as we will camp on the opposite side of the crater lake as Night 1 - so another 2H uphill hike.  This was not as tough as Day 1 and pretty manageable!  Though it was tough as we already did like 7H of hiking.  But the great scenery along the way made it a little better - you get a pretty good view of the lake at some point!

Campsite for Night 2
Our porters found us a real nice area for the night, right at the edge of the mountain with a fantastic view of the sky for the sunset.  We sat not moving and just looking and playing "Guess what that cloud looks like"! Though we were physically tired, we didn't exactly crush to sleep - still not so easy to sleep really well and sweet, especially since our tents were pitched slanted.  But at least it was a better night than before!  Oh, did I mention, they even have toilet tent!  Fun fact - apparently you're allowed to start a fire in the national park! Who knew! I thought it's not allowed in national park but hey - campfire is so fun! If I had known, I would have brought marshmallows!!! I mean BBQ marshmallows - who doesn't like that?  And up on top of all 2560m? Even more fantastic!

The last day was the easy day.  All downhill, nothing but downhill.  But after the 3D, we were all so sick of hiking we really just wanted to end it all! Ha! And the effects of the uphill climb started to kick in - hurts going down, or lifting your legs but we had a mission, a final target and we forgot the pain and persevered on like the warriors we were.  It was easy hike down - 4H and we were at the lunch stop, which is actually just 30mins away from the pit-stop! Yup, no choice cos lunch was included so we had to stop for lunch before ending it all!  Also, it was good that we started at Sembalun and ended at Senaru - cos the return trip was all in the forest so shade all the way!  That is especially a relief after 3 days.  Pretty much nonchalant walk downhill for 4H - the first hour or so was down slippery slopes so be careful, but nothing like the summit hike.  After which easy walk in the forest.

The End!!!

Oh god, finally we arrived at around 1230 noon, where we started, after a quick shower, it was ride to the airport! We cramped into the MPV and off we went.  The full stretch and muscle ache kicking in right then and we just didn't want to move. 

All in all, a great experience! I thought I was never gonna make it to Gunung Rinjani after 7 years, and finally I decided to make it a reality! And what a reality! Seriously a tough climb, if it were rock faces up at the summit hike, then it would have been much easier.  Food-wise, Ary did a good job catering to us.  Well, for the boys the portions were small and sometimes not enough for them but just nice for me.  Mostly vegetarian dishes, with chicken for dinner.  Very simple affair.  I would say compared to the food during Mt Apo, this was real simple.  Though I prefer the pancake and toast breakfast to the Filipino breakfast of rice and rather heavy dishes.  And I was constantly hungry during Rinjani hike! Like I knew from Mt Apo that if I ate too much and started to hike strenuously I would regret it cos of the burn in the stomach, but nope not here in Rinjani.  Food had no effect, just burns straight off!  And of course, the view!  Rinjani definitely has a fantastic view! The lake, the mountainous terrain and such - amazing! Definitely worth the trip - though once again I must stress I still do not like sunrise hike.

So can you do the hike on your own - apparently you can after you register with the local trekking office, and I think you need to at least hire a guide??  The path seemed pretty straight forward, but everyone we saw was with a hiking group.  Anyway it's good to have company and a guide to guide you along, telling you about the terrain, route and how long more to the next stop.  Porters help too with the tents, sleeping bag and food.  Anyway, taking into consideration the transport costs and 3D of taking care of us, it is not that expensive to join a tour, especially if you are alone.