A quick day trip out to Qibao Watertown

Qibao (七宝镇Qībǎo Zhèn) is a small town in one of the many districts of spawling Shanghai that can satisfy your urge (if any) to get out of the crazy crowded metropolis of central Shanghai. If you are interested in taking a stroll along an old watertown steeped in rich history and culture away from the modern skyscrapers you do not have to go very far. Or you may if you wish (I read that some of the others are nicer) but I only had just enough time for Qibao this trip. It takes around 20 minutes to get to Qibao as compared to other possibly more popular and bigger watertowns such as Zhuzhajiao – 50 mins, Wuzhen – 120 mins, Zhouzhuang – 60 mins or Tongli – 90 mins. I thought Qibao was a quaint little ancient water town which sufficed (no entry fee required unlike some of the above mentioned towns – Wuzhen, Zhouzhuang and Tongli) and I had a pretty good morning there!

IMG_3658One of the stone bridges across the Puhui river

I was thoroughly amazed by how well preserved the buildings were (given some refurbishments here and there) inspite of this town being built during the Song Dynasty (960-1160 AD), it still managed to retain quite a fair bit of its character and the chinese heritage (give and take the tacky modern items sold in the stores) through the old buildings and their attempt to retain certain old time attractions there .
Getting to Qibao was relatively easy from central shanghai. You can choose to take the bus (92, 763, 513, 753) from around central Shanghai to Qibao or take the subway (Line 9) and journey to Qibao Station. Take exit 2 and follow the crowds out of the station taking the first right after a 2 – 3 minute walk and then walking some more. You will see a row of shophouses after you pass this long pedestrian stretch. Walk to the end and take a left. The entrance to Qibao Town will look like the first picture after this paragraph this on your right. My journey from the Pudong area took at most 40 minutes with walking time and it was a rather pleasant journey on the subway.

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Things to do in Qibao

1.  Explore!

Spend some time to wander around the old and tiny alleyways of this little town. Its not very big (only 2 kilometers in size) so it did not take too long to wander every tiny little street and alleyway in the old town. It was a delight to find traditional candy being made and sold, to see the trade of traditional bucket making still in existence and miniature wood carvers still working their craft. Ignoring all things modern, I think it is possible to imagine what life would be like a thousand over years ago.

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2.  See!

There are 9 official attractions to visit in Qibao consisting of tiny museums such as (1) Cricket House, (2) Shadowgraph Museum, (3) Cotton Textile Mill, (4) Zhou’s Miniature Carving House, (5) Qibao Calligraphy Arts Room, (6) the Old Trades House, (7) The Memorial Hall of Artist Zhang Chongren, (8) The Clock Tower and (9) The Pawn Shop. Admission into each attraction is around 5RMB or 10 RMB and 45 RMB for a ticket covering 9 sites. I did not visit all 9 so shall briefly talk about the few I had the chance of going to.

Qibao Cricket House

Qibao is apparently famous for its fighting crickets, and a small cricket museum can be found along one of the cobbled narrow streets in the pedestrian area. Entry is a mere 5 Yuan however, if you are not into bugs and if there are no cricket fighting performances for you to look at, you’d most probably find the tiny museum (if you can call it one) place most boring. I would actually rather have spent the money on a street side snack however, for those interested, I was told that the cricket-fighting performances occur each day only during the golden weeks of May 1-7 and Oct 1-7.

Qibao Shadograph Museum and Theatre

Shadow Puppet plays is considered to some of the locals to be a lost art where there are very few who understand and appreciate the art of these plays and even fewer able to stage these performances these days. The art form dates back to about 120 years ago and is known to be part of Shanghai’s culture and heritage. The museum gives one a brief overview of how the art of shadow puppets began and it shows the evolution of the shadow puppets created and the types of stories told over the years. There are currently shadow puppet shows staged every Wednesday and Sunday afternoon at 1pm to 3pm (it can start anytime depending on the puppet master). It is interesting to watch these shadow plays to visualise how people in the past sought entertainment. The play was performed in a suburban shanghainese dialect that is rarely heard of these days and it had live music in the form of traditional opera instruments being used as accompaniment throughout the play. Although I had no idea what was being said, it was still rather interesting to watch the entire play.

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 10.10.00 PM 2Part of a fight scene in the shadow puppet performance

Cotton Textile Mill

Entry into this museum details the process of traditional cotton production methods. Strangely it also houses a traditional Wedding Hall which contains more traditional rosewood furniture than Wedding attires (which would have been more appropriate) that was kind of strange but perhaps they ran out of exhibit ideas and with the extra space, they decided to build a wedding hall instead! In general, I thought the museum (if you can call it one) was good for the purposes of learning about the old traditional chinese method of producing cotton but left me very underwhelmed by the entire visit there.

Zhou’s Miniature Museum

Zhou was an artist well known for his miniature carvings and I was utterly blown away by how intricate his works were. Its not very big but I spent quite a fair bit of time staring at each miniature porcelain plate till a bunch of screaming chinese kids came in and pushed me around and I couldn’t for the life of me bear another minute with them in such close quarters. It was in this little house that I suddenly wished I had a doll house when I was younger filled with all these amazing little trinkets. I would recommend visiting this Museum.

Screen Shot 2015-05-19 at 9.10.58 PM 2check out how intricate the items are!

3.  Eat!

It is impossible to go hungry in Qibao. The streets are practically lined with food! You would surely find yourself a wider selection of food than there are attractions to visit in this little water town. It would be amazing to be able to try and be able to eat everything that was sold on the street but unfortunately my usually pretty large appetite vanished with the sweltering heat of Qibao and I was more interesting in quenching my thirst with cup after cup of ice old ridiculously sweet bubble tea. What a pity. I leave you with more visuals and hope you leave this page hungry for more.

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Tips for Qibao!

1.   Wander around and try the amazing street food

I’m not sure if it is truly that clean but if you have a rather strong stomach, assuming the food sold is legit meat and all, I found the food in Qibao to be quite tasty.

2.   Plan your attractions

Decide if you will be visiting all 9 or some. With each attraction costing 5 RMB or 10RMB per entry, it does not make sense for you to pay 45 RMB for entry into perhaps only 4 of the 9. Also, plan your route so that you do not end up walking from one end to another and then the other end again because these attractions are spread out around Qibao.

3.   Try to avoid the weekends and public holidays

If you are not able to do so, try to arrive early in the morning. That being said, if you arrive too early, the shops may not be open for business and if you would like to watch the shadow puppets, it may be quite a long wait till 1pm.

3 days in Shanghai – Tips for a short trip to this amazing city

Crowded, Cosmopolitan, Charming.

Shanghai is one city that I feel almost needs no introduction. It is constantly in the news for reasons good and bad, its also one that amazes me because it is a country so full of extremes. For one, most travellers i’ve met either love or hate the city. It is difficult to find someone indifferent to the place. The juxtaposition of tall gleeming skyscrapers amidst old dirty slum like buildings or street side vendors peddling their chow just outside the doors of fancy expensive restaurants together with the ebb and flow of this city intrigues me so much because of how it has through the years somehow managed to find this balance of east meets west. While it opens up to the rest of the world and is has become one of the world’s superpowers, it has somehow managed to retain its culture, some of its charm and certainly loads of its values.

There are no UNESCO sites in this city, no real natural scenery, no particularly famous attractions, only smog. Practically everything is built up and if the second hand smoke from the city does not kill you, either the smog or the ridiculously crazy drivers there surely will. Still, I found myself there one weekend with zero expectations whatsoever (also zero plans!) and found myself becoming very fond of this place!

I spent my first evening exploring East Nanjing Road and the Bund and my second day out of the main city to this ancient water town called Qi Bao together with Xin Tian Di back in central Shanghai. Finally on the last day, not only did I manage a food trail around this city I managed to shop a little at Qipu Wholesale Shopping Centre and also somehow managed to sightsee along with squeezing in a manicure and a massage right before I was set to leave for the airport for my night flight! It never ceases to amaze me how I arrived without a plan, sat desperately before my laptop attempting to Google (and failing to do so, Google is blocked!) / Baidu (google equivalent. beware! much of it is in Chinese) and having to figure out the Chinese site with my half ars ability to read some Chinese just to come up with a tightly packed itinerary. Without further ado, here are my lists and tips for tackling Shanghai in a short span of time (China is huge! loads of other places to explore!).

1.   The Bund

Waterfront in Central Shanghai with the Huangpu River running through. I would suggest heading here in the evening for a nice stroll and for the beautiful and ever so colourful lights dotting the landscape of the Financial District on the other side. This really reminds me of the view of Central Business District Skyline in Singapore from the Marina Bay Sands and the Skyline of Hong Kong from Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade. In comparison, the Bund is not only bigger, the skyline larger and more colourful, it was also way more impressive compared to the other two. Going to the Bund, not only will you be able to enjoy the skyline of the Financial District on one side, on the other, there are the old colonial-esque architecture which I found to be just as grand and impressive.

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Tip: avoid the crowds who tend to flock to the area closer to Nanjing East Road and the Peace Hotel. Head further down the Bund away from the sight of the Pearl Tower for just an amazing a view but without all the bobbing heads in your picture. If you have some extra cash and would like a nice drink with a view of the Shanghai Skyline, head to VUE bar at Hyatt Hotel else, hanging along the bund with your water bottles is pretty nice too.

2.   East Nanjing Road

Main shopping belt in Shanghai where not only will you find the big brands and departmental stores, there are also international brands such as Zara and H&M together with local stores and street stalls selling souvenirs too. East Nanjing Road is wide, it is huge and there was so much to take in. In spite of the crowds, I thoroughly enjoyed walking down this stretch and absorbing the smell and smog of capitalism at its finest here. There were some old colonial buildings that looked so grand and beautiful. I loved how the planners of the city lighted them up juxtaposing them with the other normal buildings and street stalls.

IMG_9192this place is especially beautiful at night

Tip: Take the metro to East Nanjing Station and walk along this road taking in the sights at night before ending at the Bund. Note – if you do this, be prepared to walk a fair bit. Unless you are well skilled in the art of hailing a taxi, avoid trying to hail one along the Bund, the crowd and the skillfulness of the locals make it quite impossible to get one.

3.   Qibao Ancient Town

If you would like to escape the madness in central Shanghai and to explore a different side to the crowded, cityscape you are now familiar with, I recommend going to Qibao Ancient Town located in the outskirts of Shanghai. Like Zhujiajiao Ancient Town, Suzhou Tongli Town and Zhouzhuang Water Town, Qibao is an ancient water town that has managed to retain quite a fair bit of its old ancient architecture and charm (I will be posting more on Qibao later). After doing quite a fair bit of research, I decided on Qibao due to its proximity to Shanghai (it is the closest and easiest to get to) and also due to reviews of it being less commercialised compared to a much larger Zhujiajiao (47 square kilometers).

I loved my day trip out to Qibao. There was so much culture and history to absorb. I only wish I had more time in Shanghai to visit the other ancient towns. Buses 92, 763, 513, 753 from around central Shangai stop at Qibao. Alternatively, take the subway (Line 9) all the way and get off at Qibao station. Take exit 2 and follow the crowd straight up, taking the first right and then walking some more. You should be able to see the start of Qibao town on your left. It takes approximately 40 minutes on the subway from Pudong area and I found my journey on the subway to be quite comfortable.

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Old shopping Street in Qi Bao

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View of the famous Qi Bao Bridge from the Shadow Puppet Museum

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Typical Ancient Chinese courtyard

Tip: Avoid the weekends and public holidays if possible. There was quite a large local crowd there. Also, try the street food and go for the shadow puppet show! I will be writing more about the Qibao and the attractions later on.

4.   Xin Tian Di / Western Quarters

I have nothing but fond memories of Xin Tian Di. I loved how it was so laid back, how there were restaurants and bars aplenty to suit everyone. It was different strolling along Xin Tian Di. The streets were cleaner, people more alive and happy and completely unlike the crazy hustle and bustle of central Shanghai with the hordes of people.

To get to Xin Tian Di, the subway station (Xintiandi) is on Line 10. Alternatively, it may be better to go to Huangpi South Road (Nan lu) station on Line 1. From Huangpi South, its a walk along Madang Road to Xintiandi.

Tip! Go to Xin Tian Di for food, for drinks but not for souvenir shopping. Gifts there are double the price. Bring your credit card if you would like to do some serious shopping (like branded kinda stuff). Many people tell me that they go to Xin Tian Di for the atmosphere and not the food and drinks because it is quite pricey for Shanghai’s standard. I cant help but agree but I couldn’t pass on having at least one proper Chinese meal there, so I did and I utterly loved it.

5.    Old City of Shanghai and Yuyuan Garden

If time is an issue and you do not have any to journey to the outskirts, definitely do not miss the Old City of Shanghai and Yuyuan Garden. Not only will you be able to find age old architecture (constructed in the 11th Century), you will also be able to enjoy some peace and quiet in Yuyuan garden itself, do a little shopping, eat some street food and just take a little stroll back in time. Perhaps people might find Yuyuan really small and nothing to be impressed about compared to many other places in China but I was quite captivated by the ancient architecture and history that the place holds and so I truly enjoyed my few hours of exploration there!

To get to the Old City and Yuyuan Garden, you can get there by bus (736, 920 – drop at Lao Ximen) or take the Subway (Line 8 to Laoximen Station / Line 10 to Yuyuan Station).

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Old City Architecture

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I loved how they managed to preserve this little oasis in the middle of the city!

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Inside Yuyuan Garden

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It was really beautiful and surreal inside

Tip! I suggest once again avoiding the weekends and the public holidays. Also, to get a guide to take you around Yuyuan garden. I was too cheap so I ended up missing out on the amazing history lesson given by the tour guides and so I had to lurk around others pretending to take pictures when really I was eavesdropping on them.

Tips for surviving Shanghai!

  1.    Plan your trip!!

Try to never travel during the Chinese Public Holidays. in a nationalistic country of 1.3 billion, limited tourist attractions in Shanghai, expect massive crowds everywhere! Public transport is going to be most uncomfortable and hailing a taxi will be akin to going to war with the Spartans.

Many of the locals do not speak English and even if they do, its pretty limited so planning for a trip there or anywhere in China is critical. As mentioned earlier. Google is blocked and the google equivalent is Baidu which isn’t so easy to navigate. That being said, there is a tourist information centre on the Bund, but I would advise doing ample research before heading there (unless you already know someone living there) or you can try asking your concierge for information on the best places to visit as a last resort.

  1.    Take some time to understand the Subway!

The Subway system in Shanghai is pretty efficient but difficult to master. Signs are clear enough and the ticket machines have an English-language option. All lines are numbered, so simply find the location on the line you want and if you need the other line to transfer to another. If you’re still unsure, ask for an English-language subway map as back up. A 24-hour ticket is only 18RMB, about $3.30.

  1.    Watch out for Scams!

Watch out for scammers and touters who will rip you off. Starting with the scammers, I have heard so much about seemingly friendly locals who would come up and chat with you (in either fluent or broken english). They are pretty resourceful and if you ask for recommendations on where to go to buy a certain item, they would take you to a shop and tell you how great the shop is and then you would proceed to buy items (which may be fakes) from the store at exorbitant rates. If you ask for food recommendations, they will take you for a meal, order the most expensive on the menu claiming that they are local specialties and then the bill comes at the hefty price for you to settle.

This can be quite disconcerting because what if there are actually nice decent people in Shanghai who would actually want to befriend you and to take you to a teahouse or an art gallery? I guess, you’ll have to trust your gut and decide if the locals there are genuine about befriending you or if you can sense that they may have an ulterior motive. If you think they do, best to err on the side of caution and run. Things in Shanghai are generally not expensive and if you are taken to an expensive looking place, run! That is one “friend” no one needs! I hear these scammers often work in pairs and around popular tourist places (Nanjing Road and Houhai Lake) so hopefully that would help?

I hear also about taxi scams where there are those old dodgy looking taxis who put a fake taxi logo at the top and a fake meter in the car. As much as possible, take the official looking taxis (black and yellow) and if you are not able, always (1) insist on using the meter the moment you enter, (2) confirm that the taxi driver knows the destination you are headed to, (3) confirm that the price you pay on the meter will be for ALL the people in the taxi (some insist that the metered fare is for each passenger).

  1.    Embrace the Culture 

Chinese people are loud, they speak really fast, can be brash to some and may not be aware or something called personal space or boundaries. If you do encounter any of the locals who are described as so, don’t be alarmed or offended because this is all part of their culture. Chinese people are often brought up in large extended families and so often speaking loudly, not observing personal space and speaking in a straight forward manner is all part of their Asian culture. I suppose if you do meet a friendly chinese, the louder and closer they are to you, the more happy and comfortable they are! Join them, be loud and bold and amazing too!

If you happen to see people spitting on the roads, or pissing, or even taking a dump (don’t even get me started) don’t be horrified. I wouldn’t go so far as to say embrace it and join them. Just take quick glances (although if they are so brazen about it, I don’t think they would mind you staring as long as you don’t start taking pictures), pretend to not be horrified, peek some more and try to erase that mental picture forever. They hygiene standards from the past pale in comparison and after spending 2 weeks in Yunnan 10 years ago and another weekend in Shanghai, safe to say nothing really flinches me anymore.

  1.    Dont drink Water from the Tap!!

Everyone reminded me not to drink from the tap countless times. Bottled water is cheap. Get them, drink them and use them to brush your teeth. I remember being in Yunan years back and the locals used to dump their waste (human waste and trash) into their only fresh water lake that was used to supply water to their taps. I’m not sure if this is why people say you should never drink water from the tap in China but given what I saw in Yunnan, I would happily buy bottled water to bathe in it if I could.

  1.    Bring Tissues wet and dry wherever you go (hand sanitiser too)!

China has come a long way in terms of public hygiene and restrooms where there are no flush systems or doors to give you any privacy are now a rarity. Public restrooms in China now have toilet bowls and an actual pipe and flush system. However, you will not find these places stocked with a supply toilet paper.

Traditional squat style toilets are still quite the norm and if you do encounter one, do not be alarmed. Just hold your breath, get good balance (for the ladies) and generally try not touch anything. If you do happen to accidentally miss, your wet wipes and hand sanitiser will come in very very very handy.

  1.    Bargain, Bargain, Bargain!

Don’t be shy, don’t feel bad about a bargain. Its all part of the Chinese culture to drive a hard bargain. Shop keepers expect these and ALWAYS will quote you a high price (even if it may seem reasonable to you, the cost price is always dirt cheap) and expect their customers (local and foreign) to slash their first quoted price by half. Sharpen your bargaining skills and never fear their fast speaking chinese gibberish. They always sound pissed off when you slash their price by half but either you keep at it or walk away. There will probably be another selling the same goods. Another tip would be to never show excitement and to tell them that their goods are inferior to others. You can also pretend to walk away. These shopkeepers will often call you back offering a much lower price.

  1.    Jaywalking

Pedestrians are right at the bottom of the food chain. Traffic lawlessness is rife as the cars, buses, motorbikes, and bikes come out of nowhere and traffic lights are sometimes nothing much an open air museum artefact. It would take some serious skill to drive in Shanghai and even more skill to Jaywalk. I would suggest never trying this at all cost.

I find hiding behind a local using them as a human shield to be very helpful when I really need to jaywalk. If traffic is coming from your right, always make sure there you have a human shield on your right. Likewise, if traffic is coming from your left, your body guard should be on your left. Always pace them. If they stroll, you stroll with them. If they run for their lives, you ought to run for your life too!

Bali – Conquering Mount Batur and living to tell the tale (and tips)

Truth be told. I never wanted to climb Mount Batur. It was always Mount Agung that I wanted to conquer. Why settle for 1,717 meters when you can push yourself up 3,031 meters? Eventually I was very unhappily talked out of climbing Agung by the group I was traveling with.

My research showed that the climb up Agung was not for the faint hearted and that it requires some form of physical ability and mental capacity to survive the grueling 3-4 hour climb from Pasar Agung Temple or 5-7 hour climb from Besakih Temple. Whichever way would have been a killer given how I am someone who does not exercise. (Still planning to do this climb in future!)

Did a list of pros and cons for both and with my friends we hired a guide and decided on a sunrise climb of the most active volcano in Bali – Mount Batur.

We made a special request to start the climb early to avoid the hordes of tourists we kept reading about on forums and the guide picked us up at our hotel in Nusa Dua at 11:45pm. We took about 2 hours to drive to the base of Mount Batur and after a short toilet break, we quickly began our ascent (around 2am).

It would be wise to hire a guide for the trip and if you don’t, you can easily get one at the base of Batur. The locals there will horde to you like flies to honey if you appear without a guide. It’s not actually as bad as what some tripadvisor reviewers say (mafia locals and what not) but perhaps that was because we arrived early and was already with a guide.

The guide took us through flat ground at a slight incline on these sandy paths in the dark and then through forestation at a steeper incline for what seemed like forever. He stopped here and there to give offerings to the gods for a safe ascent and decent. This was pretty interesting to see. After the easy part, we started on a path full of larger rocks forming a natural stairway up. This part was tough and it quickly became a painful climb mainly due to uneven the rocks up. You have to watch your step and pick large stable looking rocks for better footing in your climb up. A good guide will tell you where to step and help pull you up when certain areas are too steep. Another tip is to never stop here no matter how tired you are. It is hard to pick up the momentum after you lose it and the ache starts kicking in so push yourself and keep going.

The guide was pretty awesome. He kept tricking us by telling us that we were almost there and that it was another 15 minutes to the top. It somehow worked and after many blocks of 15, we finally stumbled up this concrete shed (also known as sunrise point). Many people stop here but our guide urged us to go further up. We got to another shed higher up and stopped for our breakfast of banana sandwiches, eggs and a hot beverage (heaven!). We reached the second shed at about 5am and then proceeded to eat in the dark with the silhouette of Mount Abang before us.

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check out Mount Rinjani (Lombok) right at the back behind Mount Abang and Mount Agung

We thought this was the end of the climb but boy it wasn’t, there was still a final ascent to the top. This last stretch was without a doubt the toughest ever because here, you have to trudge through really brittle igneous rock. They are tiny, a pain in the butt if you fall, slippery and give way under your feet. Be prepared to really sink your feet into the ground to really get some footing to make the climb. We took so long trying to climb up this last stretch we had to settle midpoint to watch the sunrise. Bummer.

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When we finally reached the top, the sun was out and it was surreal. The views, the air, the atmosphere, everything was just magical. I couldn’t believe I did it and would ask everyone out there who is reasonably fit to do this climb to see what I saw and to experience what I experienced.

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The clouds started creeping in soon enough covering pretty much everything but it was still amazing walking around the summit in the clouds.

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I found the descent down way tougher than the climb up (especially going down those brittle rocks! We could barely see in clouds and I slipped and fell so many times and got grazed so much). My legs started getting stiff and I could barely move my legs and muscles anymore. We ended up taking just as long to climb down Mount Batur which was quite unexpected.

Climbing Mount Batur was an amazing experience and it was certainly my favorite activity on the trip and by far one of the best things I’ve done in South East Asia. I still think back today with nothing but fondness of my time up there. Nothing seems to matter anymore. Do it!

IMG_6878Scenery from walking around the Caldera

Tips for climbing Mt. Batur:

1.     Do a little research

Find a guide with an itinerary that suits you. Hit me up if you’d like the contact details for mine!

2.     Train a little

Its not absolutely necessary but little exercises like climbing up stairs, squats and lunges would really help make the climb a lot easier.

3.     Wear proper hiking shoes

My shitty sneakers did not survive the final ascent and I had to rip the sole off in my descent to prevent myself from tripping.

4.     Empty your bladder

Do it before the climb at the little toilet huts near the carpark. Bring toilet paper. There are no toilets up on Batur. You’ll have to do it in the bushes if you get desperate (I did!).

5.     Bring Headlamps

The guides usually provide torches but having your hands free to pull yourself up when necessary is very helpful on this climb.

6.     Bring a windbreaker

It’s cold at the base in the morning and even colder up on top. Dress in layers and put on your sweaters / windbreakers when it gets cold.

7.     Walk along the Caldera.

Most people do not do that after reaching the summit. It is nice to get a different view, to have a better view of the crater and to see some steam coming out from the sides of the caldera.

8.     Whisky for good measure.

We nearly wept for joy when our friend pulled his tiny flask out at the summit.

Bali in 3 Days and 2 Nights – Stripping my preconceived notions of the place and loving it

I’ve always been reluctant to go to Bali. In my insolent mind, it is somehow a place associated with excessive tourists, locals who prey on unseeming tourists, beaches, bars and more beaches.

How wrong was I.

Lo and behold, I somehow found myself in Bali and in the weeks before, I started doing extensive research on this wonderful country and was really bummed by how there just wasn’t enough time to do everything I wanted to do.

In my short time there, I was only able to explore Nusa Dua (saving the ever so popular Seminyak and Kuta for another time) some beaches, watch the Kecak Dance and climb Mt. Batur! Shall be writing more on my climb up Mount Batur later for those really keen (I highly recommend!) and a little on the wonderful Kecak Dance and random beaches in the Nusa Dua area.

I had a whole list of places I wanted to go in the same area (!!!) but was limited by the bad traffic and the distance between each location.

1.  Padang Padang Beach (also, Eat Pray Love Beach)

Not an easy beach to reach, its in the Uluwatu area and it will be a problem for those with mobility issues as there are loads of narrow stairs to climb up and down. Worth the climb up and down if you are game.

Bali - Padang Padang Beach

2.  Kecak Fire Dance

In the Uluwatu area. It’s a traditional Balinese adaptation of the Ramayana tale. It is amazing because the performers chant, sing and move around in unison as accompaniment to the actual dance. The dance is held in the temple compound where you have to pay Rp 20,000 (1.60 USD) to enter (you can explore the temple before the dance!) and another Rp 70,000 (5.60USD) to watch the dance. Note that the temple carved out of the rocks rests on a steep cliff overlooking the Indian Ocean. It is truly a sight to behold to soak in that much culture with the sun slowly setting in the background.

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view of the ocean from the temple

Bali- Kecak Dance

There are loads of macaques in the temple and visitors are reminded to watch their belongings or forever lose them to these cheeky little primates.

Tip: Go early to explore the temple (Dance starts at 6pm) and to get a good seat overlooking the Ocean for the dance. Latecomers sit on the dusty dirty floor. Not good for people wearing white! Ladies and Gents will have to cover up their legs if they are wearing shorts. There will be sarongs for hire (Rp 3,000) at the entrance! Save up by bringing your own.

3.  Mount Batur (1,717m)

If you are someone who wants to do something different, who doesn’t want Bali to be defined by its pristine beaches, who is up for a little adventure and is reasonably fit, climb Mount Batur please! I’ll be writing a more detailed post on Mount Batur shortly and while I start working on it, I leave you with these amazing pictures.

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From the top of Mount Batur at dawn. View of Mount Abang, Mount Agung right behind and tiny Mount Rinjani at the back

IMG_6907Same view, higher up and with the clouds rolling in after 7am

Bali was amazing. It was everything I never expected and more. I stand corrected by this wonderful gem of a place and cannot wait to head back in March this year. I hope I will be posting more useful stuff that can help with your travel planning then.

5 Tips for Bali

1.      Hire a driver

Public transport in Bali is nearly non-existent and the cost of hiring a few taxis a day may well make it worthwhile to have your own driver. They often double up a tour guides and can give you pretty good recommendations. They cost about 30-40USD a day so do your math and contact one ahead.

2.      Distance between places

Plan plan plan. Do not assume that with a driver, you will be able to check all the attractions on your checklist. Roads in Bali are horrible and they usually consist of one-lane roads. All you need is a cow or a really inconsiderately slow driver and you will be crawling along with the other cars on your dirt road. Also be prepared to bob around in your car along those pot holed ridden roads for an hour or 2 each stretch. Those with motion sickness, beware!

3.      Check that Taxi Meter

Always check to see if the meter is switched on the moment you get on a taxi. If your taxi doesn’t have a meter, agree on a price before you begin your journey. Also, trust your gut.

4.      Ignore the Hasslers and Peddlers

There are loads who will try to sell you everything and anything. Try not to buy everything they offer especially not on the first day. You should walk around to get a feel of what others offer before settling.

5.      Learn to bargain

I feel terrible whenever I bargain because I feel I am depriving them of their livelihood. But hey, try and feel the satisfaction but don’t spend half an hour trying to bargain only to realize you’ve saved 50 cents. Your time is worth more than that!