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!

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!