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!

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!

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!

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!

6 things I’ve learnt travelling as a couple

Travelling together as a couple is a journey of learning, and being able to appreciate each other is the key.

Since we’ve been married, the Married Woman and I have travelled to multiple destinations covering a wide range of activities. From multi-days outdoor adventures, city shopping sprees to romantic beach getaways, it has not always been an easy feat trying to adjust to each other preferences and needs.

This is because of some fundamental differences in our travel expectations. At least, during the initial years of our marriage.

For him, he prefers outdoor adventures, finds more fun travelling in larger groups, and tends to go budget on accommodation.

For her, she prefers urban travelling, sees travel as a couple’s quality time, and don’t mind spending on accommodation for comfort.

Despite these differences, over the years, we have managed to understand and been influenced by each other, making every travel experience something that we cherish now, be it by ourselves or with when travelling with our friends.

Looking back, below are some important things that I have learnt over the years from travelling as a couple. Hopefully it will be of some use if you are trying to balance your own travelling needs with that of your spouse.

1. Communicate and talk about your travel expectations

Remember, the aim is to understand each other’s preferences and not to persuade your partner into abiding by your travel style and plans.

A couple keeping engagement going through constant communication
Communication is key. Keep the conversation going between both of you.

I remember the days when we will talk about our travel aspirations over meals or coffee. We will share about places each of us have always wanted to go, things we want to do and see. Though the conversations never always ended in agreement, it was an important part of helping us understand each other’s expectations, and rethink how our travel plans can fit both our needs.

Do you know what are your partner’s travel aspirations, comforts, discomforts and preferences? Have you ever told your partner about your travel desires? If not, such conversations might be useful to have, as long as you both keep an open mind when listening to each other.

2. Develop a travel plan collaboratively with your partner

Talk to your partner and think of ways that you can accommodate each other’s travel needs. It doesn’t have to be far, or costly, if you know what matters to your partner.

A couple conquering the challenging Rinjani trek
Engaging in each other’s interests, Married Woman going through the Rinjani trek with me

Couple enjoying and relaxing at the beach of Gili Meno
But making sure that we also spend some time relaxing and enjoying quality time in Gili Meno.

A travel plan should factor the needs of both partners. There are many ways that we have structured our travel to meet both our needs. Some practices include having two trips in a year, with each trip focusing on one partner’s needs. For us, we will usually have a city and an adventure travel each year. Remember, you don’t need to squeeze and meet all the needs within a trip. If travelling with friends, we might also extend our trip such that we can have some quality time together, be it at renown beaches or stopover in cities on our transit back.

3. Helping each other open up to new experiences progressively

Be sensitive to the needs of your partner and help him or her adjust to the new experiences.

Taking a hike up Keelung hill in Taiwan
Squeezing in a half-day trek around Taipei for both of us.

That said, there are things that you can do to help ease your partner into the new experiences. Instead of jumping straight into a rugged 1-month backpacking trip, or schedule a 14 days camping trek with your partner who is totally new to such experiences, try to be progressive in your plans.

Throw in activities that you know your partner enjoys as well, or perks that can motivate both of you to look forward to the trip. Instead of a 5 days city tour, schedule a half-day hike in a nearby park, or end off the trekking trip with a beautiful beach getaway. At the end of the day, it is important to keep an open mind to new experiences and challenges as you embrace the activities that your partner enjoys.

4. Allow space to grow and experience, but assurance and appreciation is key.

Always show appreciation for your partner’s effort in trying out new experiences with you, before, during and after the trip.

You don’t need to feel like you have to be overly responsible or overly protective because your partner is going out of his or her comfort to join you in your activities. The last thing you want is to feel guilty for making your partner to do something against his or her will. Always remember that this should be a joint decision.

Allow your partner space to grow, experience and learn to see the fun and beauty of the activities. Sure, there might be some grudges or frustration at times, we’ve both experience that before, but that is all normal. Instead of confronting these emotions, be patient and be there to provide assurance.

5. The process is more important than the outcomes

A couple's quest to conquer the Rinjani Summit
On the way to Rinjani Summit, we were the slowest but it didn’t matter. It was more about the journey together than about reaching the summit.

We all have goals we want to achieve during our trip, be it places we want to see, food we want to try or mountains we want to conquer. So often, these goals determine if our trip has been a satisfactory one. I have travelled and seen many people who felt frustrated when they can’t find that favorite local stall, anger when their travel plans are disrupted by companions, or disappointment when they fail to ascend to the summit of the mountain.

These experiences have taught me that it is often the flexibility and process of travelling that really makes travel such a memorable experience. You can be searching for the well-known street food, but came across a local bazaar instead, missed the summit but spent your first night watching the stars together in a tent or met someone kind who stood out in your travel. These are processes that are equally, or if not, more important than the outcomes.

6. It is alright to take separated trips without one another, sometimes

At the end of the day, there are just some activities that your partner might not want to take part in, and prefers that you do it alone.

That is alright. Go ahead with your plans as long as you have talked to your partner about it. Do not feel like you should give up on your own dreams if it is something that is really important to you. After all, being in a relationship is to support each other’s in the pursuit of their aspirations and to bring out the best in one another. Though your partner might not join you, at least he or  she does not stop you from pursuing what matters to you. Go back to step 4, be grateful and show your appreciation to your partner, before, during and after the trip.

A couple's dedication to each other on the beach
Be grateful and appreciative of your partner always

Six tips to prepare for a trekking holiday

Returning home is the most difficult part of long-distance hiking. Prepare yourself before your next trekking holiday.

Mesmerizing lake along Tavan Bogd trek, Mogolia
Tavan Bogd, Mongolia

“Returning home is the most difficult part of long-distance hiking; You have grown outside the puzzle and your piece no longer fits.”
Cindy Ross

Every trek is a journey, and you never know what you might discover about yourself. It is for this reason that I will always include a trek, whenever possible, into my travels.  Whether you are hiking through the ranges of the Atlai mountains in Mongolia or on the quest to conquer the summit of Rinjani in Indonesia, treks are always a good way to disconnect from your life and reconnect with nature.

If you have not done a trek before, you should definitely give it a shot. While being away from the comfort of your home may seem daunting, some preparation will ease you into the process.

Below are 6 of my personal tips that I have accumulated over the years that may help you prepare yourself for an exciting trekking holiday.

1. Friendship is about doing crazy things together, gather like-minded friends as your companions

Preparing to trek to Olgiy peak, Tavan Bogd mountain
My trekking buddy and I embarking on the Tavan Bogd, Olgiy peak in Atlai Region, Mongolia.

That’s right, having others to share the excitement always help increase the motivation. Trekking is always more fun having people who can motivate you in your pre-training exercises, or give you the extra nudge when the trek gets tough. For me, it is also always fun when we relive the fond memories from the trekking experience, even after many years. I have seen some groups as large as 7 to 8 people, but I prefer to keep it to a maximum of 4 companions per group. 4 people in a group usually allow for easier planning and transport arrangements. Cost tends to be more effective as well.

I don’t think that you necessary need to find someone with trekking experiences to join the team, as going through a new experience together is sometimes more rewarding. I am generally open to traveling with most of my friends, but finding people who shares your traveling style, whom you can trust and don’t mind being confronted by uncertainties together can be a good way to start.

2. Research about the destination and trek

Knowing your destination and the trek will help you in your preparation. Things that I usually research on includes:

    • The destination. Check about how to get in, how to get out, and things you can do after the trek. Maximize your trip and try not to miss the flight home.
    • The route. The duration of the trek, whether a guide is necessary and if it is a camping or tea-house trek. Most importantly, find out about the weather and period to avoid, if there is.
    • Details about the trek. Read up about the difficulty of the trek and mentally prepare yourself and the group. Check if there are any equipment or fitness requirement.
    • Trek packages available. This is especially helpful as local operators can help in the liaison and coordination of the necessities, leaving you to focus on the experience. I will usually compare prices and itineraries offered by various local operators. Remember to check the inclusion and exclusion of each offering. It is also a good opportunity to ask questions about the trek if information is not readily available online. This will help you assess the knowledge and service quality of the operators.

3. Know your group’s fitness and health conditions

Regardless the difficulty of your trek, it is always good to know your companions’ fitness and their medical history. I have once made the mistake of bringing a group of friends up Mount Ophir in Malaysia without asking about their health conditions, only to find out that one of our travel companion has heart-related problem. Luckily for me, she was a sporty and spontaneous person, and through sheer perseverance, as well as the group’s unrelenting encouragement and patience, we managed to complete the trek safely. Be responsible, and know the fitness and health conditions of your friends. While I don’t believe in stopping people from challenging themselves, at least it will inform the pace for the trek, and help us keep a better lookout for each other.

4. Make time to train together as a team

Whether you are an avid exercise enthusiast, or the desk-bound person who only hits the gym once a year, making time to train together as a team is essential. For the saying goes, a team is as strong as it’s weakest link, training together allow you to understand the fitness level and help each other better prepare for the trek. Develop camaraderie by motivating and supporting each other during training. This is especially important as tiredness and fatigue can sometimes bring the worse out of us. Having the bond will help mitigate such challenges, and allow us to nudge each other on as the going gets tough.

Take the initiative and develop the training plan. Don’t just do walks. Do more legs and core exercises, such as step-up, squats, up-hill running, climbing stairs, flutter kicks etc. Some treks may require you to also train your arm strength. In my experience, spending time over meals after each workout is a good source of motivation for the team to appear for the trainings and build the camaraderie spirit.

5. Bring the essential gear, but keep it light

Deciding what to bring for your first trek can be a very perplexing experience. While you want to be sure that you have everything you need for all possible situations, you do not want to overload yourself with unnecessary weights during the trek. Below are a list of items I consider essential for my trips.

      • Beanie and a pair of gloves. Gloves comes in handy when you need your hands to help your ascend. Good if your gloves are waterproof.
      • Waterproof rain jacket and over-trousers.
      • One thermal wear and a cold jacket. For jacket, I usually use down or fleece. Cold jacket is usually required for most treks as it gets colder the higher you go.
      • Water (if not provided) and energy snacks.
      • Comfortable and waterproof trekking boots or shoes.
      • Extra daily wear and dry socks depending on the duration of your trek.
      • Medications and first aid kit. I usually consolidate them with two persons as you don’t need everyone having a comprehensive kit.
      • Altitude sickness pills are recommended for treks above 3800m. Consult your doctor for advice.
      • Trekking poles are optional. I prefer to keep my hands free, but trekking poles can be useful during your descend.
      • Sandals are optional. Good for river-crossing or when you air your boots at night after you have set up camp.

6. Have fun together but be safe

As you take-in your newfound experiences, never forget about safety. Whether it is descending from steep slopes and rocky surfaces, or snapping a photo near the edge of the cliff at the summit, always listen to the advices of the guide and make sure that you do not put your companions’ or your own lives at risk. Go slow or get down on your butt if you need to. A severe fall due to recklessness can ruin the entire experience for everyone in the group. Have fun but stay safe together. Follow the directions home.

Sign post in mountain

 


No time to read? Check out my infographic below!

Tips to prepare for a trekking holiday