What and where to eat in Moscow

Thinking of what food to try, places to eat or bars to chill? These are some of my recommendations during my trip to Russia!

Food is one important aspect of travelling. While some argue that food is a cultural representation of the people, I am usually more puzzled when I stare at the menu and find some variation of food that seems similar to what I have back home, or at least in other parts of the world that I have been to.

Food in Russia is quite unique. Throughout out trip, we couldn’t really identify something that we have never tried or tasted before. All the food somehow resembled something other food that we had eaten before. Perhaps, this is because Russia is so huge and diverse, with influences from Northern and Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Siberian, and Eastern Asia.

Things on menu to look out for and try when you are in Moscow

That said, Moscow does have it’s own share of local cuisine. If you are wondering what these are, here is a quick list of some Russian food to try, if you happen to see them in the menu.

  • Russian Pelmeni (meat or vegetable dumplings) served with sour cream as dip
  • Pirog (Russian pies) , with sweet or savory filling
Food at Izmailovo market
Pies and Pelmini at Izmailovo Market
  • Borscht soup
Borscht-soup
Borscht soup, one of the best during cold days. Or when you are waiting to catch a train.
  • Okroshka soup (Russian cold soup), with a sour taste
Okroshka soup Moscow
Cold soup, sour…not for everyone’s tastebud. Photo source: ruwikipedia.org
  • Sushki (small crunchy bread rings)
Sushki Russian snack
Sushki, not sushi. Quite an interesting snack.
  • Vinegret, salad made of boiled beets, potatoes, carrots, pickles, onions, sauerkraut, and sometimes peas or white beans
Vinegret and Russian food
Vinegret, Mushroom soup, Lasagne and some Russian mushroom pies. The drink is actually berry syrup for pies, which I thought was drink.
  • Porridge, quite different and authentic. Served in whole grains instead of the typical rice we have in South-east asia, including barley, buckwheat, oat and millet
  • Shashlyk, a string of meat served in skewer. Quite similar to kebab from central Asia.

With that in mind, here, I will introduce to you 5 restaurants worth trying if you are in Moscow. Websites are for your reference in case you would like to look at the menu. But do note that they are all in Russian and you will need to use Google Translate to work your way through them.

1. Belorusskaya Hata

Belorusskaya-Hata
Baked cheese, meat (lamb, beef, salmon) and potatoes.

This was the most memorable restaurant for us.

This fine restaurant serves Belorussian food. Walking into the restaurant felt like walking into one of those medieval cottages, with log tables and benches. If you are a potato lover, this is a place you must definitely visit. Draniki, also known as potato pancakes, are a Belorussian speciality. Alcohol lovers should also visit the place as they serve a range of traditional drinks, from vodkas to moonshine. Non-bottled Kvass (honey drink with a slight tinge of alcohol) is not easily found in Moscow central, but can be found here as well.

Drinks:

Vodka-with-flavours
Flavoured vodka is a must try!
  • Homemade Hooch (42% alc) – Bootleg alcohol are always intriguing, served as shot.
  • Moonshine Good Farmer Ale (40% alc) – Don’t be deceived by the ale, it is actually more of a hard liquor really. Served as shot.
  • Vodkas (assorted flavor) – A range of assorted flavored vodkas. You can really taste the difference when you gulp it down. Linden Honey and Cranberry are two shots that you must try.
  • Kvass – Supposedly a non-alcoholic drinks, and served in Eastern Europe to some parts of central Asia. Each have its own distinct taste and make. Something to try for those who do not like alcohol.

Food:

  • Draniki, potato pancakes – Served with meat or fish, in a pot or hotplates. You must try at least one of the Draniki dishes when you are there. We tried the carp in cast iron, which was a mixture of fish, cheese and potato pancakes. The other Draniki to try would be the Manchanka, pork in mushroom sauce with potato pancakes.
  • Beef baked with mushroom – Baked beef and mushrooms to fill the stomach, with cheese topping. Good to try if you have a large group for sharing.

Deserts:

  • For deserts, we tried the Cake Male ideal.  It was a little too dense for our liking. Deserts were generally alright. Nothing exceptionally outstanding.

2. Daily bread

Breakfast-at-Dailybread
Breakfast at dailybread

Daily Bread is a breakfast cafe chain outlets that you can find in some parts of Moscow. They have only one outlet in Saint Petersburg. While operating more like a breakfast cafe, it does have on its menu some main courses. The coffee and cakes in Daily Bread are good. Below are some of the other items that we ordered that is worth trying.

Drinks:

  • Hot Chocolate – Russians love their hot chocolate thick. Something very different from Singapore. The drink is literally melted chocolate. Served with a glass of hot water for you to wash down the thick molten as you enjoy the bitter sweet beverage.
  • Coffee – The coffee are quite good here. Typical range of Flat white, Cappuccino and Mocha that you can try.
russian food
This is how chocolate drink is served in Russia. Thick with a glass of hot water.

Food:

  • Borsch soup – A generous serving of meat with soup. Good as something “before the road”.
  • Bread bowl – A thick creamy chicken soup, goes well with the home-made bread. Though I think it was sour dough bread.
  • Oatmeal – For those who likes something healthier, their hot oatmeals comes with a tinge of sweetness. Great for a good hearty morning meals
  • Eggs Benedict – You can either try it with salmon or without. Usually eggs benedict can’t go wrong. However, portion is relatively small for this.

Deserts:

  • Medovic – If you are a desert lover, you must definitely try the Medovic, a layered cake made of honey and condensed milk. It is mildly sweet and the texture is good.
Medovic Honey cake
Medovic, a layered honey cake.

3. Cafe Mu-Mu

Typical-food-at-my-my
Food you can generally find in one of these restaurant. Just queue the line, and pick what you want on the counter. Pay at the end of the line.

Throughout Moscow or Saint Petersburg, you will find restaurants where you will queue to take the food that you want and pay at the end, something like Marche in Singapore. Mu-Mu (pronounced as My-My?) is one of these restaurant. The good thing about this is you can choose what you want to try, and control how much you spend. The flow is simple, get a table, join the queue, go through the different food stations and take what you like, and end off at the payment counter. The good thing about this is there is one just around Red Square, and pricing is reasonable.

Drinks:

  • Typical range of liquors, wine, beers and non-alcoholic drinks. Drink counters located separately from the food counters.

Food:

  • See what you like – Too much to introduce, but if you are really keen, try their grilled duck, if it is available.
  • Grilled Duck (if available) –  The meat was very tender. Something for you to consider when you are there.
  • Vinegret – So far, not easily found in most restaurants. Or perhaps we skipped the salad section. But you can find and try this in Mu-Mu.

Deserts:

  • A wide range of deserts you can choose from. Just to note, there are red berries mixtures that are served in drink glasses. I think they are sauces for crepes and pancakes. It looks like a drink, but it is not as it is thick and sweet.

4. Trattoria Venezia

Trattoria Venezia
Very good Italian food is served in this restaurant.

Trattoria Venezia is an Italian restaurant right beside one of Tripadvisor’s recommended Pelmeni restaurant, Lepim I Varim. We originally wanted to try Lepim I Varim but went to the nearest nearby restaurant, Trattoria Venezia instead. This was after finding out that Lepim I Varim was a Pelmeni restaurant. Not that it wasn’t nice or anything, but because we wanted to have more than just dumplings for that night. It was a good stumble upon as Trattoria Venezia serve quite delicious Italian food in Russia.

Located near Bolshoi Theatre, you can consider walking over after a stroll along Tverskaya Sreet.

Drinks:

  • Typical range of liquors, wine, beers and non-alcoholic drinks

Food:

  • Pizza – Woodfire oven pizza, the crust is thin and crispy. Something definitely worth trying.
  • Pasta – Like all Italian restaurants, the pasta is runny and creamy at the same time. You can taste the egg white in the sauce, and it is not overwhelmingly cheesy
  • Risotto – Another must try in all Italian restaurant. The Risotto is well cooked and neither too dry not sticky.

Desert:

  • Tiramisu – Strangely, i used to think Tiramisu was from Japan, but it actually originated from Italy. The Tiramisu kind of melts in your mouth.
Tiramisu
Delicious tiramisu…only found out on this trip, this is from Italy, not Japan.

5. Eric the Red

Eric the Red, located right in the centre of Arbat street is a good place for a drink and people watching. It is pretty crowded in the evenings, so to get a good seat, you might need to go slightly earlier. It serves a wide range of craft beers. The food is surprisingly decent for a place that is known more for its drinks.

Drinks:

  • Wide range of craft beers – For those who love beer, you can look through the range of beer, mostly ales. Below are two that perhaps is worth trying for something different.
  • Russian Imperial Stout – If you look at the menu, you will realize that they do not serve this in a pint. Reason being that the alcohol concentration may differ, and it might be too strong for a pint. Strong coffee taste for those who loves stout.
  • Loosh Tropical fruit – A sour beer, not very common in Singapore. Sweet and sour, but taste like beer. Quite hard to make sense of it but worth a try.

Food:

  • Pork in sweet and sour sauce – To my fellow Singaporeans, do not try this. For all others, you can try it if you have never tried sweet and sour sauce.
  • Pork ribs – Not bad as a beer food. We ordered portions of fries to go with the beer as well.

Desert:

  • Cheesecake Eric – Quite a good cheesecake, it was not too dense. Something to try, especially if you are ordering wine.

So there you go, if you have got really no idea about what to eat, consider these 5 places when you are in Moscow.

Check out my other relevant articles on Russia:

17 things and places you should not miss while in Moscow

Thinking of visiting Moscow but not sure what is there to do in Moscow? Check out these 17 things that you must do or visit while in Moscow!

Overview of Moscow city, with Kremlin not far away
A view of Moscow, with the Kremlin and its cathedral in view. Just so much things to do and see in Moscow.

Moscow is an exciting place to be, with a sophisticated history evident in its well preserved architectures and monuments. To really maximize your trip in Moscow, two days in the city is probably not enough. In fact, you will need to be prepared for a tight schedule if you are spending only 4 days or less. 

A week is a pace more comfortable if you intend to visit the museums and flea markets, stroll along the streets, chill at the cafe to people watch and really immerse yourself in the city’s atmosphere. This post shall introduce to you 17 things to do if it is your first time in Moscow!

Tips: Open your google map and pin all the places you read in this article. This will help you decide where you want to go and plan the best route for your itinerary later on

Tours
Museums
Cathedrals
Street and Sightseeing
Shopping

Tours

1. Join a free walking tour in Red Square

For us, it is always a good idea to start the trip with a free walking tour. Walking tours are good ways to get to know people if you are a solo traveller. I love it because it helps to orientate us to the key places of interests and give us some historical understanding of the city.

Moscow walking tour
A walking tour is a quick and efficient way to orientate yourself to the destination. Ask your guide to point you to places for food and drinks!

Both Saint Petersburg and Moscow offer free walking tours. We booked with MoscowFreeTours while we were there, and the tour was comprehensive and well-structured. They also offer paid walking tours packages if you like their services.

2. Do your own Metro-tour

Moscow Metro railway subway @amarriedtraveller
Visiting the Moscow metro is not just about getting a ride, but is also an historical tour.

The metro is a comprehensive underground railway system built by the Soviet Union. In each station, you will find interesting monuments, sculptures, paintings and architecture that reveals some aspect of the Soviet Union’s glory, its controversy and its propaganda.

Moscow metro propaganda

Moscow-metro-4

The promise of a good life was often a propaganda used during the Soviet Union to motivate and inspire its people.

Moscow metro sculptures @amarriedtraveller
People stroking the sculptures as a sign of good luck. Sculptures often depicted men and women in their various roles as farmers, herders, hunters, soldier or engineers in the times of the Soviet Union. The men and women are often youthful and well-built to inspire a generation of people

For the self-tour, we found this website, Moscow 360, that provided a comprehensive guide about which stations to visit and what to look out for when you are there. You can do some modification to your tour, just as how we did so that we did not have to exit the stations.

Moscow metro propoganda @amarriedtraveller
Originally an image of Stalin depicted as a saint, but was removed by the people and replaced with this image after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Below are some guides to help you with the metro tour.

Avoid peak period – You will often see other tourists wandering around the station while you are there. Try to avoid the peak period as you might face annoyed passengers trying to rush to or get off from work.

Recognize the colors – All the metro lines are colour coded to ease your planning. The names of the stations can be quite long and hard to grasp, so just for your convenience, below are the stations that you should visit on your metro tour.

Tips: You can quickly save these station on your google map for easy reference. Also, download and print the official English metro map here

  • Station 1: Ploschad Revolyutsii (Transit station between Blue/Green/Red line)
  • Station 2: Kurskaya (Blue – transit to Brown)
  • Station 3: Komsomolskaya (Brown)
  • Station 4: Novoslobodskaya (Brown)
  • Station 5: Belorusskaya (Brown line transit to Green)
  • Station 6: Mayakovskaya (Green)

Museums

You will probably not be able to cover all the museums during your trip. The museums in Moscow are huge, and depending on your interests, you might want to pick a couple to visit. Below are some museums that you can consider during your trip in Moscow.

Tips: Some museums have machines that you can purchase tickets using your credit cards. This will help you skip the long queue at the ticket booths. Overseas student pass are generally not accepted in Central Moscow, but can be helpful if you are travelling along the Golden Ring of Moscow

3. Lenin’s Mausoleum 

The resting place of Vladimir Lenin, the founding father of the Soviet Union. There are contraversies about whether the body is a wax replica or Lenin’s genuine corpse. You can visit the place to catch a glimpse of his body at rest to make your own judgement.

  • Opening hours: 10 am to 1 pm.
  • Closed on: Monday, Friday and Sunday

Lenin-Mausoleum Red Square Moscow @amarriedtraveller
Entrance to the Mausoleum

4. State Historical Museum

Historical museum with artifacts dating back to the prehistoric tribes, and paintings collected by the Romanov Dynasty. Good place if you are a fan of history. Strongly encourage you to buy the English audio guide to really understand what is at display.

  • Opening hours: Daily, 10 am to 7 pm

State historical museum Moscow Redsquare @amarriedtraveller
You can spend around 3 to 4 hours here if you are into the historical stuff, but if you are the kind that browse through the displays, 2 hours is more than enough.

Stuff-in-museum-1

Stuff-in-Museum

For non-history lovers, keep a lookout for interesting stuff to keep yourself entertained!

5. Kremlin & the Armory Chamber

Behind the Kremlin walls houses various cathedrals, the Armory chamber and the President’s office. You can either buy a ticket to the main Kremlin square, where you can walk around the Kremlin square and access the cathedrals, or purchase the ticket that gives you access to the Armory Chamber as well.

Kremlin, President house
The President House within the Kremlin. They say whether the flag is flying suggests if Putin is in the house. Though everyone always see it flying.

The Armory Chamber houses treasures collected by the leaders of Russia, including art pieces, carriages, jewelries, the famous Faberge eggs, thrones (including the famous twin throne) and gifts from Sweden, Britian etc to the Czars. The following website might give you a better understanding about the Kremlin, what you will see and how to go about buying the tickets.

  • Opening hours: 10 am to 5 pm
  • Closed on: Tuesday

Walking-within-Kremlin

Kremlin-Cathedrals

Within the Kremlin there is the cathedral squares mostly ordered to build by Ivan the Great (III), where you will see at least up to 6 ancient cathedrals and churches parked around each other

6. Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts

A collection of European art pieces in Moscow, you can probably spend a whole day walking through the art museum.

  • Opening hours: 11 am to 8 pm
  • Closed on: Monday

the pushkin museum of Fine arts
Image sourced from weheart.moscow

7. The State Tretyakov Gallery

If you have only time to visit one art museum, I will recommend this.

The first depository of Russian fine arts, the Tretyakov Gallery was started by Moscow merchant Pavel Mikhailovich Tretyakov. The merchant acquired by Russian artists during his time, which eventually led to the opening of a museum to display the finest work from Russia.

  • Opening hours: 10 am to 6 pm
  • Closed on: Monday

StateTreyakovGallery
Image sourced from Wikipedia

 

Cathedrals

8. Saint Basil’s Cathedral 

Aside from the cathedrals in the Cathedral Square within the Kremlin (Assumption Cathedral, Church of Laying our Lady’s Holy Robe, Annunciation Cathedral etc), the other cathedral worth visiting is definitely the Saint’s Basil Cathedral in Red Square.

It was built by Ivan the terrible between the 1555 to 1561, to commemorate the capturing of Kazan and Astrakhan. You will notice that the interior is slightly different from the other cathedrals, with 8 side churches around a core, instead of a central opening to a main cathedral.

  • Opening hours: 10 am to 5 pm
  • Closed on: Tuesday
Saint-Basil's-Cathedral Red Square Moscow @amarriedtraveller
Saint-Basil's-Cathedral-1

The iconic Cathedral stands tall in the middle of Red Square

 

Streets and sight seeing

9. Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Tomb of the unknown soldier
Witness the change of guards parade, which happens every hourly if you can.

Also located around the Red Square is the Tomb of the unknown soldier. The tomb is guarded by royal guards, and there will be a change of guard parade every hour. You can try to catch the change of guard and take photos as the guards march into their post with their escorts.

10. Zaryadye Park 

The space where the park is currently located has been under contestation by developers to build fancy hotels, restaurants, and apartments, until Valdimir Putin finally declared a park to be built on the space for the general public.

Zaryadye-park1 Moscow @amarriedtraveller
The house of the early Romanov families can be seen here, right behind that concrete structure between the two cathedrals. Can you see the insignia?

This amazing small space was once homes to the reach Romanov families, a Jewish enclave, earmarked by Stalin to be the site for the 8th Stalinist building and was a monolith hotel with 3000 rooms, before it was finally demolished and became Zaryadye park.

Zaryadye-park view
The view from Zaryadye park. The Rossiya Hotel built during the Soviet Union stretched across this whole image and was a grand building that was demolished only in 2006.

One key highlight of the park is the angular floating bridge that hangs over the canal, where you can walk on to take panoramic views of the Red Square and its surrounding.

11. Arbat Street

Arbat street is a long pedestrian walking street lined with restaurants and bars. You will see street artists singing and performing as you walk.

Grab a drink along the bars and enjoy a relax evening people watching. There are many souvenirs shops along the street, though the things there are pricer than what you can get if you head out of Moscow central.

Arbat street
Arbat street is a good place to relax and chill in the evenings, at any of the restaurants and bars.

12. Tverskaya Street

This is a street recommend by many online. We did not manage to walk the street due to our tight schedule. It holds multiple historical buildings with unique architectural designs from the 19th to 20th century.

Moscovery provides you with a great overview of what to expect at Tverskaya if you decided to pay the street visit.

Street-of-Moscow

13. Watch a play at Bolshoi Theatre

Swan lake is probably the most famous ballet in Russia, and Bolshoi is probably one of the most famous and historical theatre in Moscow.

Bolshoi Theatre
We didn’t catch a play here due to the cost. Decided to catch Swan Lake at the Comedy theatre in Saint’s Petersburg instead.

Catch a play, ballet or opera in Bolshoi Theatre, just to get inside and view the majestic auditorium. Do note that the price for plays in Bolshoi Theatre can be quite costly though.

Where to shop

Prices in most of the flea market in Russia is relatively fair and not exorbitant. Surprisingly, during our trip there, most shoppers were Russian, even at souvenir shops around tourist hotspots.

People do not smile much, but you’ll realize that the store owners are friendly and helpful once you greet them. Ask all the questions you want about the history of the antiques or about their products, and they will gladly respond without demanding you to make a purchase.

Tips: You can request for a bargain, but discounts usually range between 10 – 20%

14. GUM

Also known as the State Departmental Store during the Soviet Union period, GUM used to hold thousands of vendors selling daily products and necessities. Today, it has turned into a high-end retail outlet populated by big and luxurious brand.

GUM, Moscow State Departmental Store
Catch the lighting of GUM after the sun set.

While not exactly a place to shop for us, it is still worth a visit just because of its history. Who knows, some of you might want to visit these shops to check and compare the prices of luxurious products.

GUM, Moscow state departmental store @amarriedtraveller
Speak of eco-friendly architecture. Think the Soviet has gotten it right years ago with its glass ceiling to maximize lighting.

15. Discount-Center Of Ordzhonikidze 11

There are multiple factory outlets for brands such as Nike and Adidas around Moscow. We headed to the Discount-Centre of Ordzhonikidze 11, near Leninskiy Prospekt metro station as the Married Girl wanted to get a Russia World Cup jersey with her Russian name printed.

The outlet has some brands and you can get some of the sales item at discounted rate. Brands include Oasis, Karen Millen, Columbia, Samsonite, Quicksilver, Roxy, Tommy Hilfiger, GAS, Fred Perry and others.

16. Izmailovsky market 

This place feels a little like Disney land upon our arrival. The main entrance brings you into a Kremlin, looking something like a castle. Within the main square are food stalls and some museums and craft-shops, such as the Vodka Museum, Bread Museum or Weapons Museum. The museums are not worth visiting as they are relatively small and targeted at tourists.

Head out of the main square to the flea market. From the main square, you will connect to the second level of the flea market. This is where you can find antiques, from religious paintings and sculptures to vine recorders, Soviet union badges and coins. The lower level of the flea markets sell more touristy products, such as Matryoshka doll, Farberge eggs and apparels made of animal furs.

The prices here are not the lowest, but fair compared to Moscow central. The quality of some products are really great and you may not be able to find them back at central Moscow. We saw a series of finely hand-painted Matryoshka dolls, which we could not find elsewhere. However, expect the prices to be a little more premium for these products. You can expect a bargain of around 10% to 20% for some items.

  • Opening hours: Weekends

17. Levsha Flea Market (Novopodrezkovo station)

This place is a wonder, with loads of antiques, glasswares, soviet union badges, coins, tech gadgets to paintings and sculptures  from the 19th and 20th century. Walk the place and take your time to look at the products as they can be stacked in a mess within some stores.

However, if you are not interested in antiques and decors, you might not find this place enjoyable. We found the place totally worth it and bought some antiques at a discount as compared to elsewhere.

Levsha market Moscow @amarriedtraveller
Not much information on this market online, but all you need to do is find Novopodrezkovo Train Station on Google Map, and you will see the market.

This is not an easy place to find on Google Map. But if you search for Novopodrezkovo station, you will see Barakholka “Levsha”, which is the flea market itself. It is a little further out of the city, and will take you approximately 45 minutes of car ride to get to the spot. Alternatively, you will need to take the metro to Komosoml’skaya and transit to a train from Leningrad Station to Novopodrezkovo station.

  • Opening hours: Weekends

Check out my other relevant articles on Russia:

Planning a trip to Russia? Tips you need before heading to Moscow

Thinking of going Russia? Tips to help you plan your trip to Moscow

Moscow is a place rich in its history. It is an architecture wonderland with intricate sculptures decorating the pillars and walls of every building. Witness the gandiosity of the empires dating back from the 15th century and listen to stories about the rise and fall of the Soviet Union. Hunt for ancient treasures or talk to the streets of craftsmen and artists, displaying their work of creativity along Izmailovsky market. There are just so much to take in when you are in Moscow.

But before you start packing your bags, there are some things that you might need to know. Read on and begin making your plans for your trip!

Before you go: Visa requirement
Data plans
Where to stay
Getting in and around
Car rental
Money changer
The people

You can check out my other post about the things you should do and places to visit while in Moscow, if you are already familiar with these tips!

Soviet Union history and landmark. Moscow metro
Reminder of Russia’s past, evidently everywhere in the metro

Before you go: Visa requirement

Passport @amarriedtraveller

You will probably require a tourist visa to enter Russia. Depending on where you are coming from, the fees will differ.

For fellow Singaporeans, fees are generally higher if you require it to be processed within 4 days. There is also a Russian Visa Application Centre service charge of $42 (including GST) for each visa application. You can apply for your visa via the VFS.Global website.

As visa application generally takes 7 to 28 days, make sure you do this early to prevent any issues with your travel. 

Data plans

Buying a data plan will definitely ease your travel. You can source for information about where to go, eat, read up on the historical sites, make hotel or transport bookings and communicate with the locals using google translate (though in Moscow, it might not be necessary as most people do speak some English).

Dataplans and SIM cards @amarriedtraveller

You can get the data plan at the airport. The cheapest one is currently offered by Megafon (while we were there). It costs us around 1000 rubles for 14 days, giving us unlimited data usage for key applications such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram. There was also 10gb for normal internet surfing. MTS on the other hand, cost 1500 rubles for 30 days with 7gb of data and unlimited data for the key applications. Both telcos offer free talk time and messages.

Aside from Megafon and MTS, there are also other telcos at the airport that you can explore. The staff will help you activate the card, but make sure that the data is connected before you leave the airport.

Where to stay

If you google the map of Moscow, you will realize that central Moscow is outlined in the shape of an egg that is sunny-side up. Red Square is the central of Moscow, and is right smack in the centre of the egg yolk.

Map of Moscow central
Can you visualize the sunny-side up? Red Square is right in the centre and staying in the central will cost you more.

Finding hotels around the road that forms the outline of the “yolk” is probably going to cost you lesser than living right within Red Square. We stayed at capsule hostels around Arbat street, as indicated in the starred places within the map (above).

Our choice of stay was at Capsule Hostel and Jedi Hostel. Both capsule hostels are quite worth its price, and are near to the SMOLENSKAYA metro (Blue line). Thought we will just give you a brief overview of our two accommodations.

Capsule Hostel

View of Capsule Hostel Moscow
Image sourced from Booking.com

Located right beside the Singapore Embassy (place to be if you want to feel really safe?), Capsule hostel is an apartment with three rooms. There are around 30 capsules across the 3 rooms, with a common area, kitchen area and 2 toilets. The capsules are stacked, and it may be difficult accessing the higher capsules due to the way the steps are designed. Also, you can’t do it without the capsules creaking.

The capsules are generally smaller in size but still reasonably comfortable without us feeling claustrophobic. For those who are concern about the toilets, both the capsules and toilets are well-kept and clean. We didn’t really have any complaints. You might find some long-term guests hanging around the common area, probably a good space if you like to meet new people. You can make yourself some coffee or tea in the kitchen, but the cleanliness of that space is alright.

Jedi Hostel

Jedi hostel
Image sourced from Booking.com

Located diagonally opposite Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and also one of the 7 Sisters with the Stalinist architecture, you might be able to get a beautiful view from your room if you are lucky.

There is a living, dining and a small kitchen area where you can make your drinks or cook a meal. The whole hostel is clean and well-kept. The capsules are generally spacious, with between 4 to 8 capsules in each room. We got the room with only 4 capsules. The steps to the higher capsules are also broad and easy to access. The bathrooms are well kept, and because there were 3 dry and 3 wet toilets, we didn’t have to wait to use the bathroom throughout our stay. A place I will recommend if you are planning for a hostel stay in Moscow.

Getting in and getting around

There are three main airports where you might enter Moscow, depending on the airline of your choice. Domodedovo is located to the south of Moscow Central, Shemeretyevo is located to the north and Vnukovo is located to the southwest.

Getting in

There are the Aeroexpress train services that connects the airport to the metro services, where you can transit to whereever you are staying in Moscow central. The cost for the Aeroexpress is 500 rubles and a metro ticket cost 55 rubles, regardless of the station you exit. There are also tickets for family of 4 that will cost you 950 rubles for 4 pax.

Aeroexpress in Moscow to get you to the metro
Imaged sourced from Aeroexpress.

That said, if you have 2 pax or more, you may consider calling Uber, which will cost you between 900 to 1100 rubles. The journey for both the train and the car will be between 45 mins to 1 hour. Try not to get the cab from the airport, as the taxi from the airport will cost you significantly more, costing anything between 1700 to 2500 rubles.

Getting around

Once you are in Moscow central, you can easily get around using the metro system. The metro system covers most of the city center, and there is a good chance that you will be able to find a metro near you wherever you are. Rather than repeating content available online, this site that I came across provides you with a good overview of the metro services and how to use it.

Moscow Metro, easy to get around. @amarriedtraveller
The metro is an efficient system that connects to almost everywhere around Moscow central.

Within Moscow central, if you are travelling with 3 pax or more, I will suggest that you go with Uber instead. Depending on where you are going, the prices can be comparative or even cheaper than the metro. It will also save you time from having to walk to the metro stations. Below is a snapshot of the costs of our Uber ride during our stay in Moscow.

Moscow Uber expenses
Snapshot of the cost of our Uber ride in Moscow. The cost of those above 600 rubles were for distance equivalent to the airport, and the 1000 rubles was to get us to the airport itself. You can calculate the exchange rate of the credit card from here too.

To get to other cities in Russia, there are multiple ways, including bus, trains or plane. The most commonly used services would be the train. You can read up more about the various transport services from this guide that I found.

Car rental

Driving in Russia can be quite a madness. If you have taken the taxi or the Uber, you will know what I mean. I will not recommend driving in Moscow central as the metro is convenient and Uber is readily available. That said, the drive outside of Moscow central can be really enjoyable, with straight clear roads and nice sceneries. You can try driving the Golden Ring of Russia if you are planning a road trip.

If you intend to drive while you are in Moscow, you will need an international driving permit. This can be applied through the AA Singapore’s website for Singaporeans.  Do note that most car rentals in Russia require at least 2 years of driving experience.

While most car rentals require a deposit prior to the collection of the car, we managed to skip that with Rentmotors. We filled up the form on the website, and the booking was confirmed. Deposit of 10,000 rubles through credit card was only collected the day we got the car.

While the reviews of Rentmotors online is not entirely positive, mostly due to the attitude of the staff, we had no complaints. Other than looking slightly impatient, all the staff we met spoke English and answered all our queries. Also, the price was significantly cheaper than the other rental agencies that we found online. The car was also in good condition, and the collection point was in central Moscow. That said, do make a thorough check, and make sure that the spare tyre is in the car boot.

Money changer

Russian rubles @amarriedtraveller
The official currency of Russia is rubles.

It is always good to bring some rubles over to Russia as the exchange rates at the airport are usually not attractive. Once you are out of the airpot and in the city, the rates are generally better. While in Moscow, banks are the places where you can get your money changed.

While not easily available in Singapore, you can still get rubles at some of the money changers in Chinatown and The Arcade. The rates were competitive to what we’ve got in Moscow.

You can change slightly more rubles if you would like to, but do note that you might have problem changing them back to your own currency once you leave Russia. My advice is to change enough rubles for a couple of days, and bring US dollars to change while you travel.

Lastly, you can consider using your credit cards in Russia as the exchange rate from the cards were not that far off from what the banks offered.

The people

Russia bear greeting amarriedtraveller
Stay friendly and say hello!

Modern media definitely does not do justice to the people of Russia. While western media often portray Russian as fierce, unfriendly, angry-looking mobs, the people we met in Russia were kind and pleasant.

While it is true that most people do not smile much, you will almost always find a response when asking for help or greeting the shop-owners. The shop owners were  actually very helpful and took the time to answer our queries, regardless of whether we were buying stuff.

As long as you keep an open mind, be geniune, do not take matters personally, throw in a couple of jokes as you engage in conversations and recognize that there will always be some cultural differences wherever you travel, you will definitely enjoy yourself in Russia.

Check out my other relevant articles on Russia:

Beach holiday? Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered. Go Koh Lipe.

Thinking of a beach holiday? Find out everything you need to know about the sunny island, from the best time to visit to getting in and out of the island.

There are many beautiful beaches around the sunny island of Singapore, but one particular island that captured my heart is Koh Lipe. Less well-known and popular to Singaporeans, this island offers crystal clear water that you can swim and snorkel alongside fishes. If you are lucky, you can even see sea anemone growing just off the shore! With multiple white sandy beaches, this is a good place if you are seeking a holiday retreat or looking for a break in-between your backpacking holiday from Malaysia to Thailand.

Clear blue water of Koh Lipe
Witness the crystal clear blue water of Koh Lipe and snorkel by the fishes

Where is it and when should you go?

Koh Lipe is located at the West Coast of Thailand in the famous Andaman sea, just beyond the border between Malaysia and Thailand. It is slightly further north of Langkawi. It is rich in it’s marine life due to it’s location, and whale sharks used to visit the island regularly. There are multiple dive sites around the island, and you can find many dive shops on the island itself.

There are only two seasons on the island, the wet or dry season. Visiting the island at different timing of the year can be a very different experience. Below is a rough guide on the weather across the 12 months.

  • Peak season – December to January
    Usually crowded but with the lowest rainfall, you can enjoy most of the sunny island if you are fine with crowds. Accommodation also tends to be most expensive during these months.
  • High season – October to November, February to March
    Slightly less crowded than the peak season, you can visit the island with a hope to have more space on the beach for yourself. That said, the line between the peak and high season is thinning as Koh Lipe becomes more popular with tourists from abroad.
  • Low season – April to June
    The high season ends around early April. Rainfall is expected to increase. Despite that, rain does not usually fall continuously throughout a single day. We visited the island in May, with some light showers in the early morning, or occasionally, afternoon. There wasn’t much crowd while we were there, but that said, Koh Lipe is getting popular. I think this is still a good time to visit if you want to escape the crowd. Be prepared for rough waters if you are coming from Pak Bara by speedboat.
  • Rain season – July – Sept
    While transportation from Pak Bara to Koh Lipe runs throughout the year, ferries from Langkawi stops by June and resume in October. Rainfall is usually the highest during this period. The sea can be rough and ferries from other piers beside from Pak Bara are usually not in operation. Most of the shops on the island are closed.

Long-tail boats of Koh Lipe
Stretched of Long-tail boats parked along sunrise beach.

Getting in and out

There are two main routes to get in and out of Koh Lipe. The most convenient and comfortable way is to get in from Langkawi. The other route, less travelled by Singaporeans will be to enter Koh Lipe from Pak Bara. I shall briefly introduce you to both routes to help you get your planning going.

  • Singapore to Hat Yai Airport to Pak Bara Pier to Koh Lipe

Duration: The total time to get from Hat Yai to Koh Lipe is estimated to be 4 hours. The time from Hat Yai to Pak Bara pier is approximately 2.5 hrs, and the ferry to Koh Lipe from the pier is 1.5 to 2 hrs. Ferry departs at 3 timings daily to Koh Lipe. More schedules are available during high season.  The first ferry departs at 9.30 am while the last ferry leaves Pak Bara by 3.30pm.

Ticketing and timing: There are now connecting tickets that can pick you up from the airport or hotel in Hat Yai directly to Pak Bara, where you will transfer to the ferry at the Pak Bara pier. If you are intending to head down to Koh Lipe from the airport, you will need to make sure your arrival timing allows adequate time for you to transit to Pak Bara and catch the ferry to Koh Lipe. You will probably need to depart Hat Yai by 12 pm to catch the last ferry at 3.30pm. If you are staying overnight in Hat Yai, you can arrange to leave Hat Yai by 8 am to catch the earlier ferry at 11.30am.

Compared to 5 years ago, there are many ways to purchase the combo tickets now. From booking online to arranging with travel agents, you can find your preferred arrangements. You can use sites such as 12Go Asia to see the list of operators providing the combination tickets, or to check the schedules of the buses and ferries. (Proclaim: I have never booked through the website myself, so be sure to check reviews before booking). If you have time, you can also walk around Hat Yai to source for travel agents offering the same services, which was what we did previously. Be sure to make some price comparison before booking.

Tips to get out:To get out of Koh Lipe by the same route, we requested for our accommodation to help us book our ferry tickets. Get this done the day you arrive to secure the tickets home. After reaching Pak Bara, we walked around the pier and book with a travel agent to catch a minivan back to Hat Yai.

On a side note, expect some chaos when transiting from the minivan or bus to the ferry. You may need to take some initiatives to check your ferry tickets and timing to ensure that you do not miss the boat.

  • Langkawi to Koh Lipe (Not available from mid-June to early October, check the schedules before arranging for the trip)

This route is more direct. There are two jetty that you can catch a ferry to Koh Lipe, Kuah Jetty and Telaga Harbor (Telaga opens only during specific months in the year). You can either get the ferry tickets at the jetty or book through online platforms. Tropical Charters offer ferries that depart from Kuah jetty while Telaga Terminal depart from Telaga Habour. (Again, I’ve not booked with them before, so do find might a little more before booking). Ferry schedules are limited, so be sure to check the timing and coordinate your arrival and departure out of Langkawi. To be safe, I will usually arrive in the country one day earlier and plan for my flight one day later, after returning back to Langkawi. You should also check-in to the ferry terminal at least 2 hrs before the departure timing. You will be expected to clear immigration at the jetty and also upon arrival in Koh Lipe. You will be transferred from the ferry to a speedboat, on a off-shore platform as there are no pier for the ferry to dock on Koh Lipe.

You will probably arrive in Pattaya beach. From there, you can walk down to your accommodation, or use one of the long-tail boat-taxis to your accommodation.

Places to stay and things to do

There are three main beaches in Koh Lipe, Sunrise beach, Sunset Beach and Pattaya beach. Sunrise beach stretches more than a kilometer and has knee-deep water that seems to stretch for miles during low tide. It is not as crowded as Pattaya beach, but a short walk to the main walking street is required, where you can get food or drinks. It is a good place for snorkeling and you will be able to catch fishes or even sea anemone at parts of the beach where fewer long-tails dock.

Pattaya beach is livelier, and is a stone throw away from walking street. There are also some bars lined-up along the beach. As the beach is sheltered from strong waves, many long-tail boats dock in the area. Sunset beach is relatively shorter, and as you guessed it, provides a good view of the sunset. There are not many amenities in this side of the island, and much less convenient than the other two beaches.

Sun rising in Koh Lipe
Beautiful sunrise at Sunrise beach.

The island can be covered simply within 2 hours walk, maximum. It really is an ideal place if you are looking to sit by the beach, read a book, take a dip in the waters or feel the afternoon breeze blowing gently as you close your eyes to relax. It is also a heaven for divers, as the dive spots had ample of beautiful soft corals while we were there. Whale sharks were known to be sighted in the area as well. There is a walking street where there are bars, food and shops selling souvenirs. However, most of the shops were closed during the low season.

Sunset at Pattaya beach, Koh Lipe
The popular Pattaya beach, where you can still catch a glimpse of the sunset in the distance.

Walking street in Koh Lipe
Stroll through the walking street in Koh Lipe. This island really is a place just to relax, swim and do nothing else.

Things to take note

Cash is king: We didn’t see any ATMs while we were there, though reviews indicated that there are some. My advice is to change enough money before going over to Koh Lipe. Also, expect prices on the island to be slightly higher than the average, as everything from fruits to beer are imported from the mainland.

Proper wear: Whether you are coming from Pak Bara or Langkawi, it is best to wear strap-on sandals if you do not want to lose your slippers in the water. The boats will dock you in the shallow waters of the beach, and you might be expected to waddle to the shore with your luggage. Make sure you waterproof all your clothes, just in case the bags ends up in the water.

Crazily exciting boat rides: The rides by speedboats from Pak Bara can be pretty rough, and may not be for the faint-hearted. Down a life-jacket if provided. You may also want to take motion sickness-pill if you are prone to sea-sick.

Don’t over-cramp your schedule: Lastly, many things can happen on the small island. Whether boat rides are delayed due to poor weather conditions, or tickets are sold out during high season. Give yourself ample of time between your flights, and getting in and out of the island. My advice is not to schedule your flight the same day you depart the island. The last thing you want to do is to end up stressing over a beach getaway!

Thinking of going Chiang Mai from Bangkok? Check out our friend’s couple blog to find out more about how to do that!

A Lombok experience, a day of learning and exchanges

Our day-trip in Lombok that led to a sharing of personal memories, local folklores and cultural learnings. Read on to find out more!

A cultural trip around Lombok

After hearing all the stories shared by Mr Irwan, we were quite excited to explore the island and understand a little more about the culture of the Sasak people. The married girl and I had a quick “English” breakfast of poached eggs and toast before heading out to meet Arun, the guesthouse staff who was also our guide for the day. Our driver was silent throughout the trip, probably due  our language barrier. Nevertheless, he was friendly and got us some snacks which Sophia gladly ate along the way back.

Photo taking over Tanjung Ann Beach
Arun our guide and friend, with Sophia, posing over Tanjung Ann cliff.

Practical usage of the land

Arun was exceptionally sociable and quickly started introducing us to Lombok. Pointing to the vast padi fields that decorated the land, Arun shared that the yields were mainly harvested for domestic consumption, rarely exported (which we were informed again later at the traditional (Indra) village of the Sasak people). As we passed by some hills, Arun turned and asked, “What do you think people who live on the hilly area of the mountains, where the soil is often dry, do with their land?” I randomly looked at the hills which was now covered with vegetation that looked like shrubs or wild plants. “Erm…I’m not sure, maybe used for cattle grazing?” A feeble attempt at the question, even though I was quite sure that was definitely not what the land was used for. “There are two types of rice crops in Lombok, one that requires the water-logged fields to grow, and the other dry-seeded rice that could survive on dry land, which was often planted in the hills. This was to help increase the rice yield during the dry season and to maximize the land use in Lombok”. Another new piece of information for a tourist like me.

Paid-fields in Lombok
Water-logged padi-fields, ready for harvesting, decorated the landscape.

Stories of love, tradition and marriage

Along the way, we were stopped by a massive traffic jam with people streaming on both side of the car. “This is a wedding ceremony!” Arun exclaimed. We managed to catch a glimpse of the bride and the groom whom were both dressed in white traditional Sasak costumes, with a Sarong wrapped across their top. The groom was also carrying a huge Kris (dagger), which Arun explained was a symbol of protection that grooms provided for their brides. It was also a tradition that served a function in the past, as long distances between villages meant that the grooms had to carry their own weapons in case of enemy’s attacks.

Arun then explained to us that in Lombok, people can get married by “being stolen”, if the parents were not agreeable to the union between a couple. Similar to the idea of “elope”,  young couples will get married in the middle of the night outside the village with the support of their close friends. After that, the “newly weds” will return to their villages to inform and seek their parents’ consent to proceed with the marriage. A formal ritual will then occur once the consents have been given. In the culture of the Sasak people, it was difficult for parents to reject the marriage due to the stigma associated with women who had been “stolen”. Arun shared that his wife and himself went through a stolen marriage to get together, as their parents were not very supportive of their union. Though relationships with his parents-in-law used to be tensed, the birth of his daughter has helped reconciled the relationships. It was an interesting cultural exchange from Arun, given that Sophia and I were also planning for our wedding back then. The idea of “being stolen” tickled me for a moment.

Banyemulek, a small village in the global world

Not long after, we reached our first destination, Banyamulek. Arun pointed out that Banyamulek used to be a pottery village in the past, where every household made potteries for living. Today, there are a few pottery factories in the village still engaged in the trade. He led us into a building where we found ourselves standing  in a room filled with handmade pottery products, from vase, to ornaments, to coasters, to teapots and all. Most of the potteries are shipped to the Middle-east for sale, said a lady who walked into the store to greet us. It was amazing to imagine how the pottery seated in the store in this little village might be ending up in some mega-malls in the Middle-east shopping districts.

Banyemullek pottery collection
The shop lady informed that Turkish buyers ordered in large quantity and exports them overseas.

A shop lady brought us to a counter and presented to us what looked like a “teapot”. There was no opening at the top, but a large hole at the bottom of the pot. With the teapot inverted, she took some water and started pouring into the hole. Then, like a confident magician, she flipped the teapot around and started pouring water from the stout. No water spilled out from the bottom of the vase, despite the big gaping hole at the base. Grinning, she knew her trick worked as I was immediately attracted to the teapot (which I ultimately got from her in the end). Arun explained that the ‘teapot’ was called Kendil Maling, which also meant burglar, as water entered from the back, like a burglar entering a house through the backdoor.

We were then led to the back of the store where a few women sat on stools. “Go ahead and make one” Arun encouraged. We sat down and got started on our own little pottery. Throughout the 15 mins, I was busy trying to talk to the ladies with my limited knowledge of Bahasa Melayu, instead of making the pottery. We laughed trying to help each other comprehend each other, and of course, I learnt that my Melayu was nowhere near understandable.

Pottery making at Banyemullek
Learning to make pottery, and reliving my younger days when I was actively doing arts and craft work.

Sukarara Village – The weaving village

We reached our second destination, also known as the Sukarara Village. A local guide brought us around the village, which was a very short and simple tour. Nevertheless, it was interesting to look at how weaving made up the entire economy of the village. Noticing that only the women were busy weaving in the village, while the males sat around in groups and chit-chatted, I asked the guide politely about the gender segregation of roles. The guide explained that only women were allowed to weave, and in the culture of the Sukarara, women who could not weave will have difficulty finding partners. It seems to be quite a tedious job as the women wove each thread manually to form the traditional batik. Sophia got her hands on it, and I’m glad she managed to weave a few threads. “Better learn how to weave, if not no marriage for you next year!” I gave my boldest threat to her in a light-hearted way.

Weaving at Sakurara village
Every household, you’ll see someone weaving. But it is all women doing the work.

Weaving at Sakurara village
Children start from young, selling their woven piece to the traders who come and order in bulk from the villagers.

Learning weaving at Sakurara village
Sophia getting her hands at weaving. But wonder what’s the little girl thinking at the back.

The cultural heritage of the Sasak people

The last cultural trip was to visit a traditional village of the Sasak people. We visited a traditional house that was made with cow “dung” and mud. It was a simple house with no rooms or any partition. The door was low and the ceiling was made of straw grass. An old benevolent looking grandma sat on the porch right in-front of the house, and some photos of the granny decorated the entrance to the place, giving the place a warm and homely feel. Remembering what the guide said about giving respect to the owner before entering, I turned and gave my widest smile to the granny, greeting her “Selamat Tengah Hari Macik!” (Good afternoon auntie!). She looked happy at my greeting and smiled, revealing the few teeth that she had left. Despite looking like an old and frail granny, she was a hipster at heart. The granny beckoned for me to take a photograph with her while at the same time assessing whether I fitted into her definition of healthy young man by squeezing my arm and shoulders. I must have passed her assessment because she kept giving me the thumbs up sign. I was shock when she raised her “lets rock” hand gesture.

Taking photo with old Sasak Granny
Young at heart, she is really a delightful old lady.

We took some photos with her, and took a tour around her place. It was clean and neat and everything was nicely hung in place on the walls, including utensils such as ladle and spoons. Sacks and sacks of rice was piled up at a corner of the room. Despite the dung used in the construction, there was no smell. I was impressed how little they needed and how tidy everything was kept in place. We also found out that couples in the Sasak did not sleep together except for times when they wanted to be intimate (which the guide said was not often). The husband slept outside the house at the porch, while the women slept in the huts. Children will usually sleep together with their mother in the huts, and once the couple had children, it got even harder for intimacy. This was a totally different culture from us, and made me wonder how love is defined in the traditional villages of Lombok. We walked through the village and identified the traditional houses of the Sasak people. The tall “horse-shoe” shaped roofs stored rice crops, and also provided resting areas for the people. It must have been an important symbol as many of the modern buildings in Lombok replicated its design.

A traditional sasak storage
A traditional storage space. The crops are kept under the huge roof of the structure.

Sasak-house
A traditional Sasak house from the outside, made of clay and cow “dung:

Rice stacked neatly in the house
Stacks of rice, only additional are sold

A-nice-view-of-the-traditional-house
An overview of the neat and simple home

One of Lombok Fantastic 4 – Tanjung Ann

“Walk barefoot on distant sands, amid the brightly painted boats at rest”
Connor Reade (1932 – 99)

The trip was scheduled to end with a beach visit. “You must definitely visit Lombok’s Fantastic 4, Selong Belanak, Mawun, Kuta and Tanjung Aan beach. It is like our Lombok’s 4 treasure!”  proclaimed Arun as we asked him where will we be heading to. “It is not like Kuta Bali, so many people and so much drugs”. Indeed, Kuta Lombok still offers sandy white beach with deep blue water. The beach was also relatively quiet, just a couple of tourists who biked their way over.  I noticed that unlike Senggigi or Gili, there were no guesthouses, shops or restaurants around the beaches. In fact, Arun informed us that the government has cordoned off and pull-down guesthouses that used to stretched along some of these beaches, so as to conserve the natural landscape for the locals.

We drove on for another 15 minutes to Tanjung Ann, through some badly paved roads, alongside tourists who slung their surf boards at the side of their bikes. Arun pointed to a pond along the way, and shared that buffalo races are conducted here every year and men who owned buffaloes will take part. I was a little surprised due to the depth of the water. Arun must have caught it as he quickly explained that the water will be shallower during the dry season when the competitions were held.

Suddenly, the path opened to a lagoon guarded by two green hills to its left and right.  The water was turquoise blue and the sand… Arun grabbed a handful of the sand, and showed it to us. “Pepper-grain.” He said. Each grain was round that looked like pepper. But under the feet, it still felt soft and smooth.

Pepper grained sand in Tanjung Ann beach
Sand in the form of pepper-grains.

We walked down the white sandy beach and I jumped into the turquoise blue water for a swim. The water was deep. Just as we were relaxing by the beach, Arun walked over with two coconuts in his hands. I felt bad having him serve us our drinks, and thanked him repeatedly. It was a good way to end the trip. After an hour or so, we decided to make our way back. We took out our Polaroid camera and took two photos with Arun, one which we gave to him. I’ve never seen anyone who appreciated the photo so much as he repeated thanked us and claimed that this will really cheer his daughter up. It moved me to see him appreciate such a simple gift and his constant thoughts about his family, especially his daughter.

Tanjung Ann beach
Mesmerizing Tanjung Ann beach. It felt like we had the whole beach to ourselves.

A tale of a princess and a cliff.

Arun insisted that we stopped one last destination before heading back. It was just 10 minutes’ drive from Tanjung Aan. He stopped at a beach outside a resort. The beach looked as equally magnificent as Tanjung Aan. “This,” he said, “is Mandalika beach”. According to legend, Princess Mandalika was a beautiful princess of Lombok. She was so astoundingly beautiful that it attracted princes from different kingdoms. Kingdoms threatened war in order to ask for her hand. Facing the brink of a war occurring between kingdoms, her father asked Mandalika to choose amongst her suitor. Mandalika knew she was left with no options. The burden of her decision was heavy and will ultimately lead to the war amongst kingdoms.

To announce her decision, Mandalika invited all the princes and kings to the cliff that now overlooked the Indian Ocean. On that fateful day, she turned to the crowd and jumped off the cliff  without making any decision. Her body was never found despite the King’s effort to search for her remains. Rumours was that her body had turned into sea worms that was a source of food for the people. To commemorate Mandlika’s sacrifice, a ceremony was held every year at the Mandlika beach, where villagers will gather to look for sea worms and make offering to the princess. Arun pointed to what was left of the cliff after years of erosion, and showed me the place where Princess Mandalika was said to have jumped. It was strange to me when I first heard that her body turned to sea worms but I guessed sea worms must have been useful for the people in the past. Nevertheless, it was a fascinating story to me.

Mandlika beach
Arun sharing the story about the Mandalika princess, and what is left of the cliff today.

Mandalika cliff
Taking a photo on the remnants of the Mandalika cliffs. People will gather around to celebrate and commemorate the Mandlika princess here each year.

We made it back by nightfall, exhausted. It was a long day, but a good way to end our trip in Lombok, having at least seen something different from the beaches and the mountains, and learning about the stories and traditions of the local people

Visit Borobudur and hike Merapi over a long weekend (3 days 2 nights)

Have a long weekend to spare, but not sure what to do? If you want to explore something different from your usual staycation, check out how you can conquer Merapi and visit Borodudur in your next long weekend holiday!

Are you looking to maximise your holiday over a long weekend? Searching for something more than the usual staycation? Lucky for you, being in Singapore means that there are plenty of destinations around us that offer unique experiences that you can cover over a short trip.  All these with some proper planning of course! In this post, I will share with you on how you can trek the famous Mount Merapi and visit Borobudur, one of the world’s seven wonder, all within the course of a long weekend.


The summary of the itinerary as follow:
Day 1:  Arrival in Yogyakarta, Visit Borobudur temple, Depart to Selo village
Day 2:  Ascend Mount Merapi, Return to Yogyakarta, Visit Prambanan temple (optional)
Day 3: Depart Yogyakarta to Singapore


Day 1:  Singapore to Yogyakarta
Estimated arrival time: 12pm – 1pm
Activities: Visit Borobudur Temple tour, Mendut and Pawon Temple, Check-in hotel (optional), Depart for Merapi Sunrise trek

Based on current flight schedule, AirAsia offers the cheapest and most direct way of getting into Yogyakarta from Singapore. Arrive around 1pm in Yogyakarta and meet with your guide. I will recommend a guide for this trip due to the tight schedule, and also because it is easier to get around with a vehicle. Have lunch and head straight to Borobudur and witness one of the world’s greatest wonder. Borobudur is one of the world most majestic Buddhist monument built around the 8th to 9th AD under the reign of Syailendra Dynasty.

Once you reach Borobudur, you will notice that the whole temple is structured into layers, forming a slight pyramid with the Stupa as its tip. The Borobudur temple is divided into three layers, representing the concept of Universe in Buddhist cosmology. The base layer of the temple signifies Kamadhatu, or the ‘spheres of desire’, and is symbolic of how we are bounded by our humanly desires. The five square terraces of the temple forms the middle layer, representing Rupadhatu , or ‘spheres of forms’, where one abandons all desires but is still bounded by our name and our form. The three circular platforms and the huge Stupa at the top forms the last layer. This is symbolic of Arupadhatu, or ‘sphere of formlessness’, where we are nothingness, neither name nor form. The temple reflects the concept of nirvana in Buddhist teachings and is an interesting monument that you have to visit. You can also engage a local guide who will be able to bring you around and explain to you the cravings along the temple walls.

Borobudur temple and its layered structured.
Borobudur temple, if you look closely, you will see the layered structure of the temple. Take your time to explore the sculptures lining the walls of the temple.

The temple compound consists of three buildings, the main Borodudur temple and two smaller temples, Mendut and Pawon temples. Visit Mendut and Pawon and imagine how huge the temple must have been in the past, when you remove all the roads, shops and building surrounding the structures in the modern world today.

By the time you are done, you will notice that it is almost 5pm to 6pm. Head down to a local restaurant and have a good feast to prepare for the night’s climb. If you prefer to have a shower, you can book a hotel to drop your luggage and have a quick wash-up before departing to Selo village, where you will begin your trek to Merapi. Alternatively, you can also save some money by keeping your luggage in your guide’s vehicle and head down to Selo Village after dinner. The ride to Selo is about 2 hours and the local trekking guides in Selo will bring you up Merapi. You can freshen up in their office while you wait for other climbers to arrive.

Merapi guidehouse
Office of the guide house, with a poster of Sony, the owner and experience mountain guide who specializes in rescue and volcanic eruption photography expeditions


Day 2:  Selo village – Yogyakarta
Activities: Conquer Mount Merapi, check-in to hotel in Yogyakarta, visit UNESCO World Heritage site, Prambanan Temple (optional but highly recommended)

You will begin your trek between 1am and 2 am in the morning. The trek is challenging. Please do train and be mentally prepared for the climb. You will need to be quite fit to reach the summit within the next 4 hours to catch the sunrise. To give you an indication, the group we hiked consisted of about 30 people. We heard that less than 10 made it to the summit to catch the sunrise. It gets harder the higher you go, as the path becomes more inclined, and loose rocks forms the footpath instead of soil. You will need to ascend at a relatively quick pace to make it to the summit for the sunrise. But not to fret, even if you can’t reach the summit before the sunrise. There are 3 check-points before the summit where you can stop, each at different altitudes, and each offering a good view of the sunrise. If you are feeling too tired, the guides will recommend that you stop at the check-point nearest to you, so that you can still catch a good view of the distance rising sun.

Sunrise at Merapi
If you can’t reach the summit in time, the first check-point will also offer an amazing view of the sunrise

Some tips to prepare you for the trek, you will need to bring water, and probably some light snacks. It can get quite cold as you near the summit, so do wear a good cold-jacket or wind-breaker. Most importantly, a good pair of trekking boots and a pair of gloves can do you a lot of good for the trek.

Merapi summit
Smoking hot summit of Merapi from afar.

Mount Merbabu from Merapi
Mount Merbabu is not too far away. You can also trek and hike at Merbabu for a fantastic view of the sunrise

After conquering the summit, you will return to Selo by around 9 to 10 am. Tired and sleepy by now, get back to Yogyakarta and check-in to your hotel. You can have a good shower, freshen up or rest for the day. But to really maximise this long weekend, I will recommend that you arrange with your guide to visit Prambanan temple, one of the UNESCO World Heritage site. Unlike Borobudur, Prambanan is a Hindu temple built to honor the Hindu deity, Lord Shiva. It was built by the Hindu Sanjaya Dynasty, supposedly to outshine Borobudur and to mark the end of a century of the Buddhist Sailendra Dynasty domination. It is equally as majestic as the Borobudur temple, with intricate carvings lining its tall and pointed architecture. Catch the sunset at Prambanan, before heading off for a good dinner, some beer and rest for the night.

Majestic view of prambanan temple
Prambanan temple, the ancient Hindu temples with its pointed acrhitectural structures

Prambanan temple in the night
The intricate sculptures lining the tips of the temples at night.


Day 3: Depart Yogyakarta to Singapore


Some final thoughts

So there you have it, a good cultural and outdoor adventure trip, all within the duration of a long weekend.  Just a couple of my own thoughts below for your consideration, if you are planning to proceed with this itinerary.

Flying in one night before – Due to the tight schedule, it is always good to fly in the night before the long weekend, so that you have at least 2 full days for your holiday. That said, there isn’t a lot of flight timings that you can choose from. At the moment, AirAsia offers the cheapest and most direct way to get to Yogyakarta, though the timing may not allow you to maximise your holiday. Alternatively, if you don’t mind a longer flight time, you can check out Garuda Indonesia for alternative options.

Engage a local operator to save time – Also, do consider going with a local operator for this itinerary. Having a local operator can help you save time by maximising your schedule. Also, with a vehicle, you can get around to places with cheap and good local delicacies. I booked with Dejong Asia for my last trip. We met Frans, who was really considerate and made our experience much more memorable by bringing us to local food places, and introducing us to some of his friends at Selo Village (Just to proclaim, I do not get commission for the introduction, but a good service is definitely worth a recommendation). If not, you can easily find your own local operator from the internet and make this itinerary work.

Go with a group to save money – Lastly, I will recommend going with a group of 3 to 4 companions to save cost. If you are going with a local operator, sharing the cost of the guide and the vehicle with a group of friends is definitely a good way to cut some budget off your travelling expenditure. We spent approximately $300 for 2 pax for the activities for this trip. A group of 4 will definitely bring this lower.

I do hope this itinerary will bring some possibilities for your next holiday over the long weekend. Please do share with us your experiences and contribute to improving this itinerary!

Stories about Lombok waiting to be retold

Stories about Lombok, from legendary princess to mystical caves. Waiting to be retold.

From surviving a grueling Rinjani to walking by the beautiful beaches of the Gilis, we finally arrived in Senggigi, the last destination of our trip. Our journey from Gili Air to the town of Senggigi was not entirely hassle-free, with the agent from Persona not wanting to drop us at our hotel, and subsequently trying to sell us an over-priced airport shuttle service. But I guess we kind of got used to such situations by now.

We arrived at Jo Je Bungalow in the morning, with the sun shining brightly and the flowers outside the resort still moist with the morning dew. Almost immediately, we heard someone greeting us merrily, “Selemat Pagi! Jepun?” We were amused by the comment as we had been repeatedly mistaken as Japanese throughout the trip, perhaps due to our charcoal-burnt skin and Sophia’s hair, styled in a bun. We looked towards the direction of the voice, only to see a short, hardy looking man peering at us through a small window, which seems to be the kitchen. We smiled and I replied in my broken Bahasa Melayu, “Selemat pagi! Saya Singaporean” while the man hurried out of the kitchen to welcome us. “Hi! I’m Mr Iwan, the manager here, aaah, Singaporean!” exclaimed Mr Iwan, signaling to us that he should have second guessed that we were from Singapore instead. Very quickly, we introduced ourselves and chatted in the waiting area while we waited for our room to be ready.

Jo Je Boutique and Bungalow
Arriving at Jo-Je Bungalow

Mr Iwan was a small size, but sturdy looking man who spoke slowly and patiently. It was obvious that he was a man who was proud and passionate about his country. We shared about our experiences in Rinjani while he excitedly shared his, having climbed the mountain himself four times.

“There are so many beautiful and magical places in Rinjani. Like the Payung cave, a cave with a very small entrance between two rocks, which locals believe that only people who lived their lives with good intention and morals can pass through those rocks, unharmed.” he spoke slowly, with his eyes shifting slightly to look at us, trying to assess if he had gotten our attention. “You see, I’ve witness this. I saw my friend, bigger than you, going through the gap with no problem. Easy. But this white tourist, smaller than me, had to struggle and squeeze through the rocks. He was small, but we don’t know why he couldn’t pass. After that, inside the cave, he stopped and we saw cuts across his chest and bruises on his elbows. This is the working of the spirits guarding the caves.”

Mr Iwan continued with a couple more stories, relating to us his experiences of the milk caves (Susu Caves) where locals will sometime visit and stay overnight to enjoy the hot baths and sauna. “Only those with strong self-confidence will rest at ease in the caves, while others who often doubted themselves or had evil intentions will have restless nights, visited by snakes, scorpion, centipedes and even shadows of the other world”. We were intrigued by the stories that Mr Iwan shared, and can’t help, but be amazed by the cultural richness of the people in Lombok.

People fishing by the coast ofSenggigi
Fisherman gathering by the beach in front of Jo-Je to collect the net. Passerby helped out too.

I asked Mr Irwan what to do while we were in Lombok. So many people have skipped the mainland during their trip from Rinjani to the Gili. He suggested that we visit the different cultural activities of Lombok while we were here, and to understand the local Sasak people’s way of life. Since we had nothing in mind, we signed up for a trip with the hotel, and quickly identified some of the cultural places that interest us.

We went for the trip the next day with Arun, but that is another story, waiting to be told another time. After returning from the trip, I spoke to Mr Iwan about our experiences, and things we had learnt about the Sasak people. To our disappointment, there were so many other places that we could have visited if we had more time in Lombok.

Mr Irwan talked about the biggest fish market in Lombok, Tanjung Luar that one can visit. “Tanjung Luar supplies fishes to the regional restaurants and markets. Fishes like sharks, manta rays, and sometimes even dolphins are on sale.” I was dismayed by the fact that sharks and dolphins were hunted, and asked Mr Iwan who bought these fishes. “Chinese restaurants in Bali, Java or Jakarta demand these fishes. Many people feel that it is wrong, but it is the way of life for the local people”. Feeling perturbed, yet intrigued, I felt compelled to visit this early market if I ever come back again.

“Tanjung Ringgit, the Grand Canyon of Lombok,” he added “is a very beautiful area that overlooked the ocean. You can take your wedding photo there!” he laughed (thinking back, it totally slipped our mind during our wedding). “You can also visit Bangkang caves, the house to many bats. Not far from Senggigi”. Bat hunting, which he proclaimed was legal, can also be done on the Eastern part of Lombok. “There are so many things to do that you can’t find in Lonely Planet or Tripadvisor”. Indeed, Mr Iwan`s introduction of Lombok, the things to do and to see, definitely sounds more exciting than what was recommended by Lonely Planet or TripAdvisor. Too bad, we only gave this island three days, after hearing from friends that there was nothing much to do, and finding nothing from online travel guides.

Seaview of Senggigi, with Mount Batur from afar
Beautiful view in front of the resort, with the view of Mount Batur in Bali from afar.

For the remaining of our trip, we spent our time mostly in the resort, reminiscing our first trekking experience together. Jo Je Bungalow was a beautiful place and our room faced the ocean. The sand in front of the resort was brownish black. Though it looked muddy, it nevertheless felt soft and smooth as you walked along the beach. Every evening, we’ll sit by the beach chairs and enjoy the gentle warmth of the setting sun. If it was raining, we’ll watch the rain drops softly on the sand from the comfort of our room. Other times, we’ll just sit by the beach, hearing the sound of the waves crashing against the sand. It was a good way to end the trip, and hopefully this story too.

Black sand beach in front of the resort
Beach with black sand right in front of the resort

Sunset at Jo Je bungalow
Enjoying the sunset every evening in Jo Je Bungalow.

 

Why I’ll still choose Lombok over Bali

Reasons why I’ll definitely not miss Lombok for my next holiday, and you shouldn’t too!

Most people only knows Lombok for two things, scaling the almighty Rinjani, and visiting the pristine clear waters of Gili Islands. But Lombok offers more than that, with many hidden gems waiting to be uncovered. Don’t get me wrong, Bali is still a wonderful travel destination, with its own attractions and experiences. But there are just so many unique and off-beaten experiences in Lombok that you can’t resist going back again.

Believed to be the next up and rising “Bali”, Lombok is relatively less well-known than Bali, is less crowded and also less touristy. It is definitely a place that you should visit before it rises through its rank to become the next tourist hotspot in Indonesia.

1. Pristine and secluded beaches in Lombok

Unknown to many, but Lombok has one of the nicest and most beautiful beaches around. Beach-hopping is a must if you are visiting Lombok. Step foot in Lombok’s Fantastic 4, Selong Belanak, Mawun, Kuta and Tanjung Aan beach. Be amazed by the undisturbed, pepper-grained or white sandy beaches. Hike to the surrounding hills to catch a breath-taking view of the scenery and take panoramic selfies. Or take a dip in its deep blue or turquoise water, while you enjoy a coconut sold by a couple of street hawkers by the beach.  There is just so much you can do. After you are done with the Fantastic 4, visit Pantai Tangsi, also know as the Pink Beach in Lombok. Head there just before sunset and be dazed by this beauty Witness the beach turn pastel pink as the sun sets across the sea.

A quiet and peaceful Tanjung Ann beach
Visit Tanjung Ann, a quiet and peace beach with water in shades of turquoise and blue

The famous pink beach in Lombok
The famous pink beach, especially visible before 8am and after 4pm. Image source

2. Immerse in an array of off-beaten, unique activities

Home to the Sasak people, there are plenty of cultural activities that you can engage in. Visit the pottery village, Banyemullek, and get your hands muddy as you attempt to make potteries with the guidance of locals. Or go to the Sakurara village to learn about the weaving economy and catch a glimpse of the traditional weaving methods practised by women in the villages. Or head down to a traditional Sasak village to hear about the traditional Sasak way of life. Visit houses made of clay and cow ‘dung’, and understand how different crops are used during wet and dry seasons to maximise a farmers’ yields.

Banyemullek pottery village, with its massive archive of pottery

All kind of colorful products made out of pottery

A Sakurara-woman-weaving-and-the-kid-learning
Woman are responsible for weaving and men are barred from the activity. A kind learning while a mother weaves.

Visit a traditional Sasak house
Visit a traditional Sasak house, made of clay and cow dung as its base.

Inside a Sasak house. Small but come
Inside a Sasak house, small but cozy. A year’s supply of crops, stacked upon each other.

If you are looking for more off-beaten activities, wake up in the wee hours of the morning and head down to Tanjung Luar. Watch as people trade for all type of fishes in the regional fish market. But be wary as you will see that many of the precious marine wildlife are traded here, including sharks, manta rays or sometimes even dolphins. You can also try to catch the annual Male’an Sampai buffalo races in April, organised to celebrate and pray for fertile yields before the dry season. Alternatively, you can visit Bangkang cave and be swamped by millions of bats living within. Bat hunting is still practised and bat meat is a local delicacy in some parts of Lombok.

Buffalo race competitions in Lombok
An annual buffalo race competition, a tribute to the gods before the commencement of the dry season.

Tanjung Luar first market
Tanjung Luar. While the government has banned the export of sharks overseas, demand continue to exist from restaurants within Indonesia.

3. A land of legendary myths and mystical stories

With a vibrant culture comes legendary myths and mystical stories. Every destination has its own secrets and stories waiting to be told. Chat with the locals you meet along your trip, and be awed by how everyone has some stories to tell.  Hear about the story of Mandalika, the Lombok princess who sacrificed her life to prevent a war from erupting between kingdoms. Or the mystical milk caves where locals would visit and stay within, where “only those with a strong self-confidence will rest at ease in the caves, while others who often doubted themselves or had evil intentions would have restless nights, visited by snakes, scorpion, centipedes and even shadows of the other world”.

Mandalika cliff and the mystical story
Whats left of the Mandalika cliff, where the princess jumped to prevent a war. Her body was never found, believed to have turned into sea worms, a food source for the people.

Mandalika beach and the remains of the Mandalika cliff
What remains of the Mandalika cliff, where locals gather annually to collect sea worms and worship the princess. The retreat of the cliff over time. One can only image how far beyond the ocean it used to stretch.

4. Tanjung Ringgit, the grand canyon of Lombok

If you have not gotten enough of the ocean, head down to Tanjung Ringgit, also known as the grand canyon of Lombok. Tanjung Ringgit is the cape located at the Eastern edge of Lombok, constituting a series of majestic cliffs overlooking the open sea. The view is amazing as you stroll along the edge of the cliffs.

Tanjung-Ringgit

5. Day treks and waterfalls

If you are craving for treks but don’t feel prepared for Rinjani, you can easily find day-treks that takes you to beautiful waterfalls. With a huge national park (Rinjani National Park, covering a total of 413 square kilometers), you can expect easily find day-treks and  waterfalls to visit. Trek to the Benang Stokal and Benang Kelambu curtain waterfalls, and witness the water falling through the trees. Or head to Sendang Gile and Tie Kelep waterfalls in Senaru, where the treks are easier but the waterfalls are no less breath-taking.

Hidden waterfalls within Rinjani National Park.
Visit Hidden waterfalls within Rinjani National Park.

6. The Gilis

There are more than just the three famous Gili, Gili Air, Meno and Trawangan in Lombok. Check out the other Gili in eastern Lombok if you have not done so. The 5 popular Gili, Gili Kondo, Bidari, Petagan, Sulat and Lawang in eastern Lombok are mostly inhabited, retaining much of authentic beauty. Petagan is best known for its abundance of mangrove and corals. An intermix of the two is truly a unique sight as you snorkel in the water of Petagan.

7. The crowd (there is literally none!)

Aside from the jetty heading to Gili Trawangan, there was literally no tourists in Lombok when we were there. I am not sure if this is still the same today, but compared to Bali, Lombok is definitely still much quieter and peaceful. If you are looking for a relaxing getaway, away from crowds and people, you should find Lombok a much more attractive location to visit.

8. You can rent a scooter to ride through the island, without having to weave through crazy traffic

We’ve read that you can get a motorcycle of scooter in Senggigi to ride around the island. I can imagine just the ride itself will be hell of an experience.

That said, we have not been able to cover all the mentioned attractions and activities during our trip in Lombok, which is precisely why I will still choose to come back to Lombok if I had the chance.

So the next time you are attempting Rinjani summit or heading to the Gili islands (Trawangan, Air or Meno), don’t skip Lombok mainland. Give yourself a few days and be rewarded with the experiences that Lombok has to offer!

2 weeks free and easy in Taiwan (12 days 11 nights)

Travelling free and easy is really the way to get in and experience the country first-hand. This is the itinerary to our 12 days free and easy trip in Taipei and Hualien.

Three years ago, Married Girl and I decided to take an overdue post-marriage trip to Taiwan. If you have read my previous post on My reflections travelling as a couple, you’ll realise that we will try to mix some adventures into our city travels, just so that both our travel needs are met. If you are looking for a bit of excitement amidst what the thriving Taipei city can offer, this post might be just for you!


Itinerary in brief: Our trip covers the following areas in a loop, across a 12-days period.

SG – Taipei (台北) – Hualien (花莲) –  JiuFen (九份) – Taipei (台北) – SG

Taiwan-Trip-Itinerary
The train runs along the white route in this picture.

What to expect: This is a free and easy itinerary so you will be expected to travel by public transport! But don’t worry, this route is easy as the train passes through all the cities listed. We also took some day-trips to Shifen and Keelung while we were at Jiufen.

Things to see: The highlights of the trip was the breathtaking Taroko Gorge, a bike trip through the amazing east coast highway (Provincial Highway 11), weaving through the Old Streets of Jiu Fen, hike the less travelled San Diao Ling nature trailas well as visit famous city spots in Taipei such as XimenDing. You can check out my other post on Things to do in Taipei and Hualien for more information about the places we covered.


Day 1: Singapore – Taoyuan Airport, Taiwan
Place of stay: Dongmen, Taipei
Hotel we bumped in: Dongmen Hotel (東門旅店)
Total number of nights: 2
Destination covered: Yong Kang Street

To allow adequate time to orientate yourself and to book train tickets out of Taipei, I will recommend that you spend the day after your arrival in Taipei.

Take a bus from Taoyuan Airport to Taipei Main Station, where you can connect to the city metro (MRT). You can take Kuo Kuang bus (1819) from the airport. The journey will take approximately 1 hour. Alternatively, we heard that the airport rail has also opened and you can now take a train directly to Taipei Main Station.

Taiwan-bus-to-airport
Buses are convenient and a comfortable way to get around in Taiwan.

You will alight at Taipei Bus Station (note, there is also the Taipei City Hall Bus Station, which is not the same as Taipei Bus Station). Head up to Taipei Main Station (for trains and MRT). After orientating ourselves, we took the MRT and headed straight to Dongmen, where we stayed for 2 nights.

Dongmen is centralized and located on the red line of the MRT. It is three stops away from Taipei Main Station. After checking in, we visited Yong Kang Street for dinner. Known to be the food hub of Taiwanese cuisines, and home to the famous Din Tai Fung restaurant, Yong Kang is worth a visit. You can consider spending a late afternoon here, and cover the area within 1 to 2 hours. Also visit the Shida night market, which is just a 10 minutes walk from Yong Kang street. We still managed to grab some snacks at Yong Kang Street despite the time.

Dinner-at-Dongmen-Yong-Kang-Street

Taiwanese-snacks-fried

In the morning, just below our hotel is a morning market that you can visit.

Morning-market-nuts

Morning-Market-Lotus-roots.jpg


Day 2: Tour around Taipei
Destination covered: Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall / Taipei 101 / Tamsui

We took a walk from Dongmen to Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall. Strolling will take you around 15 minutes. You should be able to cover the memorial hall in 1 to 1.5 hours. If you have not bought the train tickets to Hualien, you can now head to Taipei Main Station to get them.

Chiang-Kai-Shek-Memorial-Hall
The entrance to the memorial hall.

After settling our transport, we wasted no time and headed straight to World Trade Centre Station, with a hope to visit the famous Taipei 101 observatory tower. The place is like the central district of Taipei, cluttered with skyscrapers and shopping malls. We skipped the observation tower as it was crowded, but of course, not without snapping some photos from the bottom of the building.

Taipei-101-Observatory-post
Taking a quick selfie from the majestic tower.

The last stop for the day was Tamsui. Take the MRT all the way to the opposite end of the red line. Stroll along the riverbank or visit the old wharf, revealing what was once part of Taipei bustling trading post. There are many food stalls and street hawkers selling famous Taiwanese snacks and deserts. Sit around and people watch while you snack away at the delicacies. If you have time, you might want to spend half a day to really cover the entire Tamsui. Alternatively, a 2 – 3 hours should suffice if you only want to explore the riverbanks and nearby streets.

Tamsui-street-Taiwan
The busy streets of Tamsui, especially crowded as this is a favourite spot for locals too.

Tamsui-street-artists
Watch the street artists perform away as you people-watch by the riverbank


Day 3: Taipei to Hualien
Place of stay: Hualien
Hotel we bumped in: LangHuaYiDuoDuo MingSu (浪花一朵朵民宿)
Total number of nights: 3
Destination covered: Hualien city

There are two routes to Hualien, either by the Tze-Chiang Express train, or by a combo ticket that offers a local, bus-transit-train, package. For the combo ticket, you will take a bus to Luodong (a city 1.5 hours from Taipei) before boarding the local train to Hualien. No advanced or online bookings are available for the combo tickets, but the tickets will never sell out. You can buy the tickets via the Capital Bus booth at the Taipei Bus Station. The journey time is about 2 to 3 hours for both, but the cost is double for the express train. We went with the express train to minimise the trouble of transferring our backpacks, but you can try the combo tickets if you want to.

Map-of-trains-route-Taipei-to-Hualien
The grey route is taken by the Tze-Chiang Express, while the blue route reflects the bus-train combo package.

After reaching Hualien, we took a cab to our “Mingsu”. The Mingsu was relatively far away from the city centre, located along the famous Provincial Highway 11. If you don’t like to stay in hotels, you can consider looking for Mingsu, speciality lodgings similar to the English Bed & Breakfast concept. Staying at the Mingsu along the highway will offer you a nice ocean-front view, but it can be a hassle getting to town. Public buses arrive hourly, hence, you will need to time your travel if you don’t have your own transport. Alternatively, you can book an accommodation in the city itself, which is probably a lot more convenient.

We still had the night for that day, but we decided to relax by the Mingsu, enjoying the view that opens out to the ocean. You can try to catch a bus to town and visit the Tungtamen night market if you have time. We ate at a food stall right beside the Mingsu, which is also the home to a young couple with the dream of setting up their own beach-side restaurant one day.

Taipei-Hualien-Train-ticket-stubs
Tickets for the express train with an indication of the cost.

Hualien-Sunset-from-window
The view from our balcony: the sun setting across the Pacific Ocean

Hualien-Home-cooked-food
A homely meal at the house of the couple residing beside the Mingsu.


Day 4: Taroko Gorge
Destination covered: Taroko Gorge, Qixingtan

We rented a scooter for the next 3 days to get to Taroko Gorge, and because we wanted to travel down the scenic Provincial Highway 11. We took a bus back to town early in the morning to hunt for the bike rental shops. There are a whole stretch of bike rentals near the bus station (click on the link for the map). You will need a valid driving license and your passport to rent the vehicle. Rental of a 125cc scooter for a day will cost you around 400NT.

Scooter-Bike-Rental-Taroko-Gorge
The winding road up Taroko Gorge can be quite steep at some parts.

Alternatively, Taroko Gorge can be reached by bus from Hualien. The journey to the entrance of the national park is about an hour’s drive. Board the bus station at the bright orange building beside the train station. Unlike city buses that runs every 10 minutes, buses usually leaves every half hourly or hourly. Be sure to check with the station master and grab a copy of the schedule on the day of your arrival, so that you can better plan your trip for the next few days.

The nearest station to Taroko Gorge is Xincheng train station, where you can also grab a bus into the national park. If you are not keen to rent a vehicle, an alternative option is to stay a night at Xincheng or within Taroko itself before coming to Hualien. This way, you can spend 2 days in Taroko Gorge to explore all the different treks. Accommodations are easily available on sites such as Expedia or Booking.com.

Taroko-gorge

Riding up Taroko Gorge

Visit Qi Xing Tan (七星坛) on the way back, which is along the way from Hualien to Taroko Gorge. Unfortunately, it was raining heavily the day we were there, and we couldn’t really do much. Nevertheless, I can imaging the place to be quite charming, if the weather was sunny. Recommended activities including cycling and relaxing by the beach.

Hualien-Qi-Xing-Tan-beach
The rain definitely did not stop the tourists from coming by.

Overall, we spent only 1 day in Taroko, but I will recommend 2 days if you have the time, and include Qixingtan on the second day.


Day 5: East-Coast Highway, aka Provincial Highway 11
Destination covered: Provincial highway 11 / San Xian Tai

We spent this day riding down the Provincial Highway 11. The highway connects Hualien to Taitung, another major city nearer to the south of Taiwan. Enjoy the smooth ride, empty roads, scenic views and warm breeze. This is a must-do if you are in Hualien, whether you go on a bicycle, scooter or a car. There are many pitstops along the way where you can take photos or a break. We travel all the way to San Xian Tai (三仙台), which was nearer to Taitung, before heading back. Just to note, we came across a few traffic police and speed cameras along the highway, so you might want to keep to the speed limit to avoid a speeding ticket.

East-coast-highway-Hualien-Provincial-Highway-11
The bridge that you will pass by as you ride out of Hualien towards Provincial Highway 11.

Provincial-Highway-11-Hualien-East-Coast-Highway
The highway is well travelled by locals and tourists travelling from Taitung to Hualien. Many places to stop for photos along the highway.

Sanxiantai-Taitung-Hualien
Reaching San Xian Tai view point, before we turned around and headed back to Hualien.

Day 6: Hualien City Centre
Destination covered: Hualien City Centre

On this day, we headed back to town to return the bike and visit Hualien city centre. There are many food outlets in the city, but aside from that, there isn’t really much to do. You will probably only need half a day to cover the main central area. Visit the Tungtamen Night Market if you have time, which we missed while we were there.

Hualien-city
Streets of Hualien is less crowded than Taipei. Low-rise building and shophouses line the street.

Hualien-Oyster-Mee-Sua-Stall

Hualien-Oyster-Mee-Sua


Day 7: Hualien to Jiufen 
Place of stay: Jiufen, Ruifang
Place we bumped in: Long Men Ke Zhan Jiufen (九份民宿龍門客棧)
Total number of nights: 3
Destination covered: Keelung Trail (基隆步道)

It might be a good idea to pre-book your tickets out of Hualien upon your arrival, as tickets are sometimes sold out. Due to this practice, we managed to secure the train tickets from Hualien to Ruifang at the timing that we wanted.

Ruifang Station is where you should alight to get to Jiufen. Once you alight at Ruifang Station, take a bus to Jiufen Old Street (Bus 788). Personally,  I will recommend staying over at Jiufen for a couple of days while you explore the surrounding areas such as San Diao Ling and Shifen.

Jiufen-old-street
Jiufen Old Street is on a hill. The view from our hotel overlooking the sea.

While waiting for the hotel room to be ready, we came across Keelung Trail. From the entrance of Jiufen, walk further up the road to find the start of the trail. The hill provides a breath-taking view of Jiufen and the Pacific Ocean. The hike will take you approximately 1 to 2 hours, but is a relatively easy hike. Other trail includes Teapot Mountain trail, which you will need to take a bus to get there

Keelung-hill-trail
Walk up the main road until you see the sign to Keelung Trail.

Keelung-trail-hill-Jiufen
The walk is beautiful, with Lalang decorating the steps all the way up to the peak.

Keelung-hill-Jiufen
From the peak, be rewarded with a breath-taking view of the open sea.


Day 8: Jiufen & Keelung
Destination covered: Jiufen Old Street / Miaokou Night Market

We spent the next day exploring the old streets of Jiufen. Walk up and down the winding alley and stairways, through rows and rows of shops selling souvenirs and food. This is where you can buy home the famous Jiufen Ginger tea with assorted flavours, or try the renown Lai Ah Po Yam and Sweet Potato Balls desert (images below). Expect a crowd, especially on the weekend, as tourists flock over for day-trips from Keelung and Taipei city. We skipped the Gold Mine Museum, but you can probably head there if you have the time. You can take a bus further up the hills to the museum, or to the Teapot Mountain trail.

Jiufen-desert-Lai-Ah-Po

Lai-Ah-Po-Desert

Jiufen Old Street
Shops lined up against the narrow alleys. Especially crowded in the day.

Near mid-afternoon, board bus 788 again directly to Keelung city to visit the famous Miaokou Night Market. The journey will take you approximately 1.5 to 2 hours. Remember to check the timing of the last bus back to Jiufen. Miaokou night market is famous for their seafood, and is a walk away from where you alight. Keep your stomach empty and stroll along the night market to fulfill your seafood craving. After that, take the same bus back and be mesmerized by the night view of Jiufen, as shops and houses are littered with lights. Take a relaxing stroll back to your hotel and rest for the night.

Keelung-Miaokou-night-market
The night market with its assortment of stuff. The market opens at 5pm.

Keelung-Miaokou-night-market
Choose from the many stalls to fulfill your seafood craving.


Day 9: Sandiaoling
Destination covered: Sandiaoling Waterfalls / Houtong Cat Village

From Jiufen, you can easily get to Sandiaoling or Shifen using the Pingxi train line. Tickets can be bought at Ruifang train station. Trains arrive hourly, so be sure to plan your return.

Sandiaoling is known for its tranquil trails and waterfalls, especially popular amongst the locals. Get off the train and follow the train tracks to the Sandiaoling village. Once there, signs should guide you to the start of the trail. Reaching the 3 waterfalls and back should take you no more than 3 hours.

Sandiaoling-Hiking-Train-tracks
Follow the tracks to the village. Grab some light snacks and drinks if you do not have any.

We initially planned to visit the waterfalls before heading straight to Shifen. However, we met some friendly and enthusiastic locals who urged us to continue on from the third waterfall. From the Sandiaoling trail, you can actually continue on the Pingxi trail all the way to Houtong Cat Village. Houtong Cat Village is located one station before Sandiaoling. The trek will take you approximately 4 – 5 hours, and you can basked in the peace that nature provides. We skipped Shifen as we reached Houtong pretty late. Worth a hike if you are a trekking enthusiast, or prefers to be off the beaten tracks. If not, you should have ample time to cover the waterfalls and head to Shifen for other activities.

Sandiaoling-hiking
Continue from the last waterfall to the Pingxi Trail

Sandiaoling Waterfalls
There are waterfalls along the Pingxi trail as well.


Day 10: Jiufen to Taipei Ximending
Place of stay: Taipei
Hotel we bumped in: Rainbow Hotel
Total number of nights: 2
Destination covered: Ximending

From Jiufen back to Taipei, you can take a bus (1062) directly from Jiufen Old Street to the SongShan Station, a station on the Green MRT line. The bus journey takes approximately 2 hours to get to SongShan. From there, connect via the MRT to Ximending, where we stayed for the remaining days of our trip. Same route applies if you are heading from Taipei to Jiufen.

We arrived in early afternoon and decided to walk around the area just to orientate ourselves.


Day 11: Ximending
Destination covered: Ximending

If you noticed, you will not have spent much time on shopping thus far. So spend the last day at Ximending free and easy, shopping for clothes, stationeries and food.  Ximending is a good place to shop. Known as the youth centre, you can get all kind of funky, intricate products or trendy, fashionable apparels. A must-try, however, is the Ah Zong Mian Xian (oyster noodles), opened since 1975. If shopping is not for you, you can also choose to visit anywhere else that you want to see in Taipei.

Ximending-Taiwan-Food
Eat and shop before you head back home. We definitely took our time to explore Ximending.

Ah Zong Oyster Mian Xian-Ximending-Taipei
Ah Zong Oyster Mian Xian, since 1975, is a must try. Located in central Ximending.


Day 12: (End of trip) Taoyuan Airport, Taiwan – Singapore

For the last day, make your way back to the airport. We took a cab as we have too much things to carry.  Also because we wanted a relaxing end to the trip.


Some comments about the itinerary

So that concludes our 12 days free and easy itinerary to Taipei and Hualien. We didn’t pack our schedule tight, as we prefer to take our time to explore each destination. You can definitely tweak the itinerary to maximize the places to visit.

Also, this itinerary consists of a variety of activities, from city shopping to trekking to bike trip, and may not be suitable for everyone. Taiwan is relatively easy to travel, and there are tons of resources online that you can follow up from my blog.

If you like this itinerary but will like to make some amendments, keep a look out for the copy of my itinerary that I am thinking of uploading in the blog. On and off, and whenever possible, I will share the Excel Spreadsheet (primitive, yes, but functional) that I use to plan my itinerary.

Lastly, if you liked what you have read thus far, drop your email and be updated about the Married Traveller’s travel stories, travel tips and travel reflections!

Things to do in Taipei and Hualien

If you are thinking of travelling to Taiwan, read this blog to find out about what you can do free and easy when you are in Taipei and Hualien!

Taiwan is definitely a place that you have to visit once in your life. Suitable for backpacking or just a short getaway, Taiwan caters activities for all kind of travellers, whether you are a city tourist or an adrenaline junkie.

A few years back, Married Women and I decided to visit Taiwan as one of our post-marriage travels (we decided not to have a honeymoon trip, as we prefer to continuously experience the joy of travel!), mixing a bit of adventure with city travelling.

If you are thinking of travelling to Taipei, Hualien or Jiufen, this post will briefly introduce things you can do in each of these destination. I will also briefly cover some tips on transportation, on how you can get in and out of the area. Read on to find out more, and if you like the places that you are reading, check out my other post at the end, where I will provide greater details on how to cover this in a 11 days free and easy trip!

1. Taipei (台北) 

Taipei is the capital of Taiwan. It is a great place to be, friendly locals, products so cute and intricate that you will feel like splurging all your money on them, regardless of whether you need them or not. However, uniquely Taiwan is the exuberant variety of delicacies that you can find. From the famous friend chicken, scallion pancakes to oyster noodles (mee sua), street food and night market is usually within a walk away wherever you are.

Like most cities, it is well connected and you can get around by metro. Below is a quick run though of the places that you can visit while in Taipei, all accessible by metro.

Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall (Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall Station, Red/Green Line Intersection)

A dedication to the founder and former president of Taiwan, you can visit the memorial hall to find out about the history of the Kuomingtang, their involvement in WWII or observe the change of guards parade, if you are lucky.

Chiang-Kai-Shek-Memorial-hall-Museum
Paintings depicting significant events in KMT’s history and during WWII

Taipei 101 (World Trade Centre Station, Red Line)

Spanning 101 stories, at a height of 508 metres, many tourists will usually drop off at the Word Trade Centre Station to visit the Taipei 101 observation tower. You will need to buy a ticket up, but you’ll be rewarded with a 360º viewpoint of Taipei city. Around the place are fancy shopping malls that you can visit.

Taipei-101
Taipei 101 from afar.

Tamsui (Tamsui Station, Red Line)

Right at the other end of the red line from the World Trade Centre station is Tamsui. Consisting of a riverbank, it used to be an important trading post. Today, the old streets are lined with food stalls, selling local delights such as the “smelly” tofu (beancurd), barbecued squids glazed with sweet sauce or baked milk curds. This is also a good place to people watch as you walk along the bustling riverbank, crowded with locals, tourists and street hawkers. Visit the old wharf if you have time. Convenient place to visit if you are staying in Beitou, else it might be a little out of the way to get here.

Tamsui Taipei Taiwan
Take a relaxing walk along the riverbank.

Streets of Tamsui Taipei Taiwan
Street murals on walls along Tamsui street.

Tamsui-Taipei-Taiwan
Stop by the street hawkers and grab some snacks as you relax by the riverbank.

Yong Kang Street (Dongmen Station, Red Line)

Personally, I find Dongmen a good place to stay for a day or two. It is quite centralized and price range of accommodations are relatively cheaper than popular places like Ximending. If you are around the area, drop by Yong Kang Street for a walk. It is known as the Taiwan food hub, and home to the famous Ding Tai Fung restaurant. Visit Yong Kang from late afternoon onwards, and take a 10 minutes walk to Shida Night Market. There is also a morning market around Dongmen Hotel that you can visit.

Yongkangstreet-Taipei-Taiwan
Visit Yong Kang from late afternoon onwards for dinner.

Ximending (Ximen Station, Blue/Green Line Intersection)

If you are in Taipei, then you must definitely visit Ximending, the youth shopping district. The place is a reflection of youth vibrancy, with activities lasting late into the nights. You will see both students and office workers gathered around the streets, eating, drinking or hanging out with their friends. We managed to see a youth dance competition going on in the parade late into the night. Again, this place has really good street food that you must try, such as Ah Zong Mian Xian (Oyster Noodles) or the Prince Cheese Potatoes, just to name a few. For people who like shopping, this is also the place to be as you will find lots of fashionable apparels.

Taipei-Streets-of-Ximending-at-night
The streets are crowded even when it is late at night.

2. Around Taipei (台北) 

Jiufen (Ruifang Train Station)

Jiufen-TaiwanJust slightly north of Taipei is the famous Jiufen, known for winding alley of shops and steps (known as the Old Streets). Originally a home to miners until the mines were closed in 1971, the place can still give emit instant nostalgia of an old miners’ town, as you walked through the maze of lanes and alley, and past shophouses that resembles traditional Japanese inns. The Old Street is located on a hill overlooking the sea, and is usually very crowded as tourists flock over from nearby Kee Lung or Taipei city for day-trips. You can’t miss the Old Street once you are at Jiufen. The place is also famous for the Jiufen assorted-flavour ginger tea, as well as the authentic and traditional Lai Ah Po sweet potato and yam ball desert. Activities in Jiufen becomes more latent in the evening, providing a relaxing and repose atmosphere.

Jiufen Old Streets-Taiwan
Packed streets in day. The place is also popular with Japanese tourists due to its history.

Jiufen Desert-Taiwan
Seeing this means you have found the famous Lai Ah Po home made sweet potato and yam ball desert.

There is a beautiful hill near Jiufen Old street, known as Keelung Hill (基隆山道). The trail takes you to a spot overseeing the ocean and the whole of Jiufen. At a height of 685m, the hill has pathed steps all the way to the top and takes approximately one hour to climb. It is definitely an easy but tiring trek, especially if you don’t exercise regularly. You can take beautiful panoramic photos of Jiufen at the peak. There are also other treks around Jiufen, such as the Teapot Mountain Hiking trail that we missed. You can visit the Old Gold Mine Museum if you want.

Keelung hill-Jiufen-Taiwan
The final steps to the peak of the mountains, with lalang lining the sides of the trail.

Keelung Hill-Taipei-Jiufen
Enjoy picturesque view of the ocean from the peak.

Keelung Hill-Jiufen-Taiwan
View of Jiufen from the peak. You can trace the winding path and locate where the Old Street is.

Sandiaoling Waterfalls 三貂嶺瀑布 (Pingxi Train line)

Sandiaoling is popular amongst the locals for its waterfalls and nature trails. From Ruifang train station, you can easily get a ticket to Sandiaoling or Shifen via the Pingxi line. We were initially planning to visit Sandiaoling followed by Shifen. However, we changed our plans as we met some friendly locals who urged us to continue trekking through to see the beauty of the park.

From Sandiaoling train station, walk along the train treks until you come to the Sandiaoling village. From there, there will be signs guiding you to the waterfall trail. The pride of Sandiaoling is its three waterfall, the Hegu, MoTian and Pipa Cave waterfall.

Sandiaoling-Village-Pingxi-Ruifang-Jiufen-Taiwan
Walk along the train treks until you reach the Sandiaoling village. Grab food or drinks here before you proceed.

The hike is simple and fun, with some variations from the dirt tracks along the way
When you reach the last waterfall, you can ascend to the Pipa cave and continue on from there. Follow the trail that takes you to Houtong Cat village, which is one stop before Sandiaoling train station. The trek took us approximately 4 – 5 hours as we took our time to absorb in all of nature’s wonder.

Motian waterfall, on the left is the largest waterfall amongst the three. The Pipa Cave waterfall on the right signals the end of the Sandiaoling waterfall trail. Continue to Pingxi trail from there.

Sandiaoling waterfall

Sandiaoling Waterfall-Pipa Cave Waterfall

It was a beautiful and peaceful trail, with lesser people as we went deeper into the forest.  The trail will lead you to the opposite of the Lion’s mouth mountain, giving you an indication of how the mountain acquired its name.

Signs-Sandiaoling trail
Follow the signs to Houtong Station

Sandiaoling-trail-Shizikou
Can you see how the Lion’s Mouth Mountain got it’s name?

We reached Huotong late in the afternoon, but the trek was definitely worth it, even though we missed Shifen. Nearby Houtong Cat Village, you will come across some abandoned miners’ quarters and coal mining plant.

Houtong cat village-Taiwan
Miner’s lodge at Houtong. I wonder if the mesh is installed after it’s abandonment, or if olden houses was build this way.

Houtong Cat Village-Coal mine
Old coal processing facility. It looks quite interesting to a city person like me who have never seen one before.

Keelung Night Market (Keelung Station)

From Jiufen, you can also schedule an afternoon to visit Keelung and its Miaokou night market, which opens at 5pm. Miaokou night market is known for its seafood, including lobster, crabs, prawns, you name it. The bus from Jiufen Old Street, 788 goes straight to Keelung station. From there, you want easily walk to the night market. However, take note of the time the last bus departs from Keelung station if you need to get back to Jiufen.

Keelung-Miaokou night market
The streets are packed with seafood.

3. Hualien (花莲)

Hualien is about 3 hours by train from Taipei city. Compared to places like Ximending, Hualien will appeal to you if you are looking for a quiescent place to be. Even though it is the largest eastern city in Taiwan, you’ll not find any skyscrapers or highways with heavy traffic. Instead, you are greeted by streets and streets of shophouses and low-rise buildings, with  mouth-watering eateries at every corner. We reached Hualien around early noon and only spent a day in the city. Visit the Tungtamen night market on one of your nights here.

Hualien

Hualien

Taroko Gorge

Hualien-Xingcheng-Taroko Gorge
A natural formation and a wonder of nature. This is what most people comes Hualien or Xincheng for.

Taroko Gorge is a well-known heritage destination if you are in Hualien. We rented a scooter, which is very helpful if you want to do a day-trip to Taroko Gorge. The ride takes approximately 45 minutes to reach the entrance of Taroko, travelling at a speed of about 60km/h.

You can stop at various parts of the national park to explore the treks. There are multiple treks along the national park, such as the Shakadang trail (砂卡礑步道) or the Yanzikou trail ( 燕子口), which is a closed of segment of the old road circling round the gorge. You can also visit the Changchun shrine (長春祠), a dedication to the workers who died building the highway, or the Lushui Geology Exhibition Hall, where there is also a short Lushui trail nearby.

Yanzikou-Taroko gorge-Hualien
Yanzikou trail, you will need safety helmet to protect against falling debris, as you walk along to old road.

We headed straight to the Tianxiang Youth centre as we wanted to embark on the famous Baiyang Trail, known for its Water Curtain Cave. Unfortunately, it was closed due to the heavy rainfall. It was also too late by that time for us to head back to Zhuliu Old Road, where you can experience the breath-taking narrow mountain passage used during the Japanese occupation. I will recommend 2 days if you intend to really cover the sites in Taroko.

Tianxiang recreational are-Tarok
Tianxiang recreational area is also where the Baiyang Trail is.

Taroko gorge-Hualien
Looking at the meandering river and wondering how long these boulders must have been laying there.

Taroko-Gorge-Valley
There are many hidden spots and treks all along the national park. Explore slowly if you have time.

Qixingtan Beach 七星坛

Along the way to Taroko from Hualien, if you are driving or riding a scooter, you can stop by the famous Qixingtan beach. Formed in the shape of a crescent, the beach is where the mountains meet the open sea. You can rent a bicycle and do some cycling if the weather permits, or seat by the beach enjoying the breeze from the pacific ocean. There are street hawkers along the beach, and you can definitely find the famous DaChangBaoXiaoChang (大肠包小肠 , or big sausage wrap small sausage), made of Taiwanese sausages wrapped in glutinous rice. We stopped by the beach and grab some hot food, as it was pouring cats and dogs on our way back, but also because we wanted to   see what Qixingtan was all about.

Hualien-Qixingtan
The beach on a normal sunny day, stretching miles and miles.

Hualin-qixingtan

Qixingtan-Hualien

Travelling through Provincial Highway 11

Whether you rent a scooter, ride a bicycle or drive a car, enjoy the idyllic coastal road and feel the warm breeze against your cheeks as your travel through the Provincial Highway 11, just south of Hualien. We travelled down from Hualien all the way down to San Xian Tai (三仙台), a look out point which was nearer to Taitung. It took us a full day ride through and fro, covering about 200 km in total. Keep to the speed limit as there are traffic police and cameras situated all along the coastal road.

Hualien-East coast hightway 11
Ride through the empty roads along Provincial Highway 11.

Hualien-Provincial Highway 11-East coast highway
Ride though mountains and catch a glimpse of plantations from the high ground.

Hualien-Provincial Highway 11-East coast highway
The mountains meet the open sea again the road stretching for miles.

Sanxiantai-Hualien-Provincial Highway 11-East coast highway
The final stop, a view of Sanxiantai before we headed back to towards Hualien again.

Provincial Highway 11-Hualien
Stopping by the riverbank near to Hualien to enjoy the sunset before ending the road-trip.

4. Our afterthoughts for the trip?

So this sums up the places that we covered over a 11 days trip in Taiwan. With proper planning, you can definitely visit more places than we had, as we prefer to take our trip slow. That said, you should definitely try to cover Shifen if you can, as well as stay a night or two at Beitou in Taipei to enjoy the famous hot baths, which we couldn’t due to time.

Taiwan is definitely an easy place to travel free and easy, if you want to. It is well connected and there are tons of resources online to help you plan. Though language can be a barrier in the rural areas if you can’t speak Mandarin, don’t worry as people there are really helpful and will try to assist you as best as they can. Also, with Google translate, anything is possible now.

If you like what you have read, and want to try planning your own free and easy trip, check out our 11 days free and easy to Taipei and Hualien for more information on detailed itinerary and tips on how to get around by public transport. You can also download a copy of my itinerary there if that is something that interests you!