Five Reasons to Visit Kyrgyzstan During Winter

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Kyrgyzstan is one of the least visited countries in Asia with few people knowing about its beautiful landscapes, fascinating history and unique culture. It is a lesser known travel destination but becoming an ultimate getaway to adventure seekers or off-the-beaten path travellers. It has a distinct charm that definitely leaves a mark in your travel stories. A country filled with beauty and discovery.

People called us crazy for visiting this country during winter. But, just like last winter in Mongolia, nothing beats an experience where there are less tourists and more unusual stories. You’ll find write-ups about spring and summers in Kyrgyzstan but not their long and cold winters. It has a different appeal that makes you appreciative of the richness of nature.

Here are five reasons why you should include Kyrgyzstan in your next travel and consider it in winter.

1.The natural landscapes will stun you

Its nickname the Alps of Central Asia will never disappoint. Imagine looking over snow-capped mountains, clear blue sky and frozen alpine lakes in vast, open spaces. Everywhere is an endless rolls of mountainous terrains and snow-filled valleys. It is like Mongolia meets Switzerland. Rugged and pristine. But, be prepared with harsh, freezing negative temperatures. Still, the landscapes are breathtaking. Worth being uncomfortable in five layers of clothing.

I never thought that Kyrgyzstan has this glowing pastel sky at sunrise. It’s simply amazing and lasts for few minutes before the sky turns all blue. It’s similar with Bolivia, so captivating.

2.Experience the land of horses

The Kyrgyz are experts in riding horses with twice or thrice as many horses as the residents. Especially in winter, you’ll meet fewer people along the roads and more of horses. At first, they look overwhelming but you’ll get used to it.

In Naryn region, we had an epic horse trekking that started at 2,100 m altitude to 3,400 m in nine hours! We trekked from Kyzart village to the frozen Songkul Lake. I was really surprised that it became part of the snowy mountains with smooth perfect surface. They said it is only accessible from June to September but I guess we’re crazy travellers pushing our limits just to see it in January.

By the way, our group got lost in the middle of this snow wilderness. Some open areas have weird (out of the blue) chilling winds. One of us had his horse fell down twice. Someone had hypothermia. Hunting dogs had chased us. Definitely, not your usual travel experience but one for the books. It annihilated my 30-min happy memories of a horse ride in a countryside in England. Now, I find it silly and pretentious. If you want real horse riding experience, Kyrgyzstan has it.

3.Unique local culture, food and history

Most of the time, food is not on my to-do list during travels. Actually, I prefer to stick to familiar types of foods. I don’t experiment to avoid food poisoning or just the discomfort of eating something unknown. But, we were on a tour package that included food, so I had no choice but to try. Thankfully, that rounded my Kyrgyzstan experience!

I love their sweets and desserts! Try their winter jams – blackberries, raspberries and apricots. I like their bread because it’s soft (bit spongy) compare with Russia’s winter hard bread. They eat it by soaking the bread into the jam (do not spread) or the meat, noodle soup. Try their national dish Lagman for an authentic food experience (though too oily). We tried eating lamb, beef and horse meat always with a tea.

Our first destination was Balasagun, an ancient city in the historical Silk Road. We visited their cemetery and saw these tombstones dating back to the 6th century. We took photos of the Burana tower, the only evidence of a once great trade city. It’s just amazing that we still get to enjoy these historical remnants. This is my 3rd Silk road adventure (Xi’an in China, Kharkhorin in Mongolia and now Balasagun in Kyrgyzstan). Hopefully, I can visit more!

Majority of them are Muslims but I was curious why they don’t wear hijabs. Found out it was because of Soviet’s influence in the area. Their country was shaped by Turks and Soviets. They just got liberated in 1991 even though they have a 2000+ years of history. Do you know they have petroglyphs? I’ve recently been in Peru so I was pleasantly surprised to see these in Kyrgyzstan.

4.Meet the nicest, hospitable people

Kyrgyz people give you lasting impressions. Our host’s family was so welcoming even though they cannot speak English. His mother cooked pre-dinner (not part of the package) and breakfast for the three of us. She even danced on a Coldplay song just to entertain us. In fact, all the people we met were warm and friendly. They will refill your food or ask you to eat some more. You can feel their genuine pleasant personality. (Invite them for few shots of vodka! They’ll love it.)

5. It’s budget friendly

Everything is cheap in Kyrgyzstan. We spent 150$ per person for four days inclusive of food, accommodation and all the travel adventures. In Bishkek airport, I had a muffin and coffee for 2USD. That’s airport rate! In local restaurants, the meal rate is 1$ to 5$. Vodka is cheaper than in Russia (1 liter at 3$). I find it a bit crazy. Their prices are similar to Myanmar! Maybe because we were with a local guide so he took us to all the local places. I can officially recommend it as one of the top destinations for budget travellers. You get more value from your money.

I can give you more reasons but the photos speak of the beauty and charm of this country. Give it a try and send me a message if you want details of our tour guide/agent Askat.


Visa on arrival or e-visa (1 day) for Filipinos / $40 / 90 days validity

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All photos are mine except the last 3 from Mary’s phone and photo #4, #8 from Erick.

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We are travelling to Leh Ladakh (India), Georgia and Armenia this April. Any travel tips? Recommendation for hostel? Guide?

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My 2017 In Photos and Some Things I Learned From It

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This is an obligatory post to think of things.

2017 has been my year of travel. Ten countries with expectations shattered and realities uncovered. I experienced a little less of that drifting feeling but still without a full vision of that ideal end goal. Ten years ago, I had that list. Now, whatever moves me makes me wonder. Schedules are still my thing but with welcoming pieces of spontaneity.

Road to Kharkhorin

I started the year (Jan 1) waking up in a hotel in Ulaanbaator, Mongolia with an hour to spare before heading to the old capital in Silk Road, Harhorin. Four of us slept on a cold yurt (negative 40C) downed with local vodka. These started and sparked my series of memorable stories. The first 7 days was a hop from Mongolia to Beijing to Taipei to Bangkok. It was crazy. We’ve been called crazy. But, these crazy moments made good things happen.

Fast-forward 360 days later, we met a traveller in Siberia (Achu) who was helped by the same random local guy (Tsengel) in crossing the China-Mongolia border via bus then train. It’s an amazing coincidence. It’s incredible how kindness connects us and makes the world smaller.

April is a holiday month in Thailand so, five of us dared to travel from east (Perth) to west (Sydney) of Australia. This was an affirmation that I tend to appreciate places outside the big cities. I had a great time in Port Campbell (Great Ocean Road) and Ayer’s Rock / Uluru National Park (Red Monolith). I like natural wonders more. It made me feel tiny and connected to a vast and enigmatic universe. Nature never fails to stun me. Touching the monolith and seeing the aborigines up close were something different.

The month of May moved me to Hong Kong for work. I had the pleasure of being at the receiving end of kind-hearted work colleagues. Jeffie joined me from the Philippines for few days. I met some people from our little town with inspiring narratives. They said, Hong Kong has the highest racial discrimination in Asia but so far, I haven’t experienced it (this was not my first time).

July is a send-off travel for Aiko. She has to move to the UK so we made some hasty travel plans to Myanmar. We’ve never been there despite its proximity to Thailand. It was the perfect weekend getaway.

Over the long run, we realize what’s more important. As we grow older, our priorities, opinions and perspectives change. There are travels meant to develop relationships, to create memories. It was more of the people travelling together than the place being visited.

September is a whole block of traipsing through South America. Peru and Brazil are wonderful but I fell in love with Bolivia. Its nature’s creations are out of this world – four sets of sunrise, endless salt lakes and deserts, pink flamingos, weird llamas, Cactus Island and breathtaking colorful mountains. I was travelling with April, a college friend, whom I met again after 3 years. We did some activities I don’t normally do when travelling like fly over the Nazca lines. In Brazil, I travelled solo. There’s something daring and adventurous to be on your own, rely on your instincts and just hope the world is on your side. Some cities are highly romanticized but travel brings the gift of discovering the realities of photos and stories.

November landed me in Chiangmai, Thailand for the annual lantern Yeepeng or Loy Krathong festival. I’ve reconnected with June after nine years. It was fun to realize we didn’t change. We’re still the same chatty, silly girls just with professional IDs. People change and grow apart. There are people I lost connection with and once reconnected, I can no longer relate to their realities. With June, it was so easy to reconnect, talk about people (yass!) and share some (whatever) plans we think we have. After the travel, I realize we don’t have much photos to document things but that’s the thing, it’s okay not to record everything as long as you’re having a good time.

December marked my long-time plan of seeing Russia. We had a pretty good itinerary of starting from Siberia (Lake Baikal), moving north in the Arctic (aurora / northern lights hunting) and going down to the cities after. We had our yearend /new year in Moscow’s Red Square with new people we met along the way – Achu, Feng and Balentin. The experience was novel. Most bars were closed, alcohol ban after 11 pm and no street drinking. We, however, looked for a street corner and swiftly gulped down 2 bottles of vodka before walking back to the Red Square. After watching the fireworks, we ended on a semi-gay(?) bar on a back alley.

Photos from Mary, Ronnie and Erick

Travel breaks down stereotypes. I find it refreshing to know that it is just a stereotype for Russians to be rowdy, fearsome and demanding. We’ve met some sweet and helpful Russians along this trip. Sasha in Listvyanka (Siberia) prepared a traditional Russian Christmas dinner for us. Dima in Teriberka (Arctic) became our guide and helped us settle in Murmansk. A lot helped us go through stations to stations.

Photos from Mary

Travel is also about the kind of people you’re travelling with. There are times that personalities come out of their shells and it brings out irritation, annoyance and madness. Travel puts people in hard situations and you have to make the best of what’s left, burst some bubbles and be unafraid to try new things. This makes travel the best form of knowing people at their best and worst.

Irkutsk, Siberia

Travel also twists perspectives and brings new learning. Poverty in Russia is different with India’s (last leg of our trip). I’ve talked with Dima about Russian socio-politics and economy. It’s really pleasant to learn how locals view their own country as opposed to what we know about them. Middle class in Russia is pretty non-existent because of the disparity of Russian billionaires to the normal working class. In Kyrgyzstan, time is flexible with 3 or more-hours latitude attributable to their nomadic roots. We stayed in a house powered by solar energy and their stoves fueled by biomass (horse and sheep’s shit). I tried to learn one or two from locals (i.e. few word phrases) whenever I can.

Photos from Erick

More than anything else, it is the appeal of beautiful stories that makes me feel different, excited and happy. It’s hard to put into words our experiences because it will never do justice to describe moments. Epic travel stories are gems. Surely, 2018 will be a continuation of good things from 2017. It has been a good year and I’m excited for more. 

 

 

Bolivia’s Salar De Uyuni Is Out of this World

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The Iguassu Falls (Brazil, South America)

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This much I know to be true – whatever it is, always choose happiness.

Feel the unknown but don’t let it stop you.

Protected: Myanmar Travel Budget Tips (Yangon-Bagan-Mandalay)

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People Photography – South Korea

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Overdue photos of people I took last year in South Korea – Jeju Island, Busan and Seoul. I finally have the time to post some of it. My two-months backpacking photos all over Europe were deleted when I reformatted my macbook. So, I decided to post my other photos in case something similar happens. My blog is a back-up copy of my memories.

By the way, we are backpacking Myanmar tomorrow (Friday) until Sunday (3 days). Do you know where to spend 4-5 hours (1am to 5am) while waiting for Ubein’s sunrise? We’re thinking of booking a hostel but I don’t think it’s worth it. We will arrive in Mandalay from Bagan at 1 am. Either we stay at the bus station (Is it safe?) or go somewhere. We are a group of five so just need a safe place to chill out.

Sports Photography – AFS Bangkok Football Game

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Check Ryan Reece website  – http://www.reecefootball.com/

Thank you for the food and beers.

Budget Travel Tips for Hong Kong

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Hong Kong can be an expensive city to travel so knowing some budget tips would help you plan ahead. Here are some information that I hope could help you to get around.

1. Airport to the city. The cheapest means to reach the city center is via bus. From HK Airport Terminal 2 to City Center, take A21 flyer bus (approximately 40-50 mins) for 33HKD or 4USD. It’s easy to find the bus station, just follow the signs inside the airport. Buy the ticket on the left side of the bus station entrance.  Do not board the bus unless you have the bus ticket. They will only accept cash in fixed amount and will not give you any change. They will let you go off the bus if you insist in asking for the change. The bus routes are flashed on the top and on the sides near the handle bars. 

2.  Free wifi. HK airport has complimentary wifi so does the buses. (A21 bus has free wifi).

3. Try budget airlines – Vanilla Air, HK Express, Peach Aviation and Air Asia. Sometimes, big airlines offer sale. I got Emirates for 200$ two way! 
4. Not everyone can speak English so download a translator app or offline map (maps.me). Saving photos/screenshots of hostels/places I want to go had worked for me every time. Just show it to the locals. 
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5. I recommend staying in Kowloon Island especially if short stay because of accessibility to tourist areas and station points (like going to Macau or Disney).  
6.  If you’re going to prepay your hotel, price is better via agoda.com. Always check the hotel’s website for deals. There are complimentary buses for big hotels to pick up guests. 
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7. If prefer to pay on arrival, use booking.com but the same hostel may cost a little than using agoda. Still, you pay for convenience of pay on arrival.
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8. If you stay in one of the good hotels, they may ask you for security deposit. Negotiate to lower the amount. I advice to use cash as deposit rather than credit card (they don’t accept debit). Last May, I stayed in Regal Hotel for a week and they upgraded my room to the top floor’s Executive suite $250/night. Try negotiating. 
9. If you stay in a budget hostel, most of them are ‘sharks’. Be cautious. Be smart. They might give you a room which is different from what you booked. Or increase the price so you don’t have any choice. I tried Gold Star Guesthouse for 4 days 15$, private double room with bathroom inside but that’s 4 years ago. Lee Garden Guesthouse and Star Guesthouse are same owners. The conditions of the rooms may not be as good as before. I also tried hostel for 1 night in Chungking Mansion dormitory type after coming from Japan and it’s worst, the only good thing is it’s walking distance to Victoria harbour. Well, what do you expect with 11$ per night. 
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10. Macau. If you plan to take a day trip to Macau, walk to Macau Ferry Terminal (164 HKD). There is free bus from Macau Terminal to the casinos or airport. From casinos to airport/terminal too. So, it’s good to just spend time in Macau.
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11. Macau vs HK. Compare the cost of flying in/out from HK versus out in/from Macau. Sometimes, it’s cheaper to fly from Macau (add the ferry cost) to your destination/home country. Note that bus from terminal to Macau airport is free but do this if you only have spare time. Air Asia offers low cost of flying in/out from Macau. 
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12. Food is higher priced than other Asian countries but try convenience stores and supermarkets. 
13. Perfumes are inexpensive in Hong Kong. Aside from delicacies, these are perfect for gifts. 
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14. Giordano, Bossini, G2000, Baleno and Esprit are HK brands. Try shopping at their flagship stores. 
 

Taiwan (Photography and Travel Tips)

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Taipei is nothing but a shopping district. A Japanese we met in China described it as a big night market and found out to be true. If you really wanted to experience Taiwan, go outside Taipei. There are too many places to visit. We were supposed to go to Taroko but instead stayed in Hualien. 

There is no train directly from Taipei Airport to the City center so take the bus 1841 (83NTD, 50 minutes). We stayed in Ximen Duckstay Hostel for 2 nights and it’s one of the best hostel (awarded) in the city (cleanliness, price, activities like free music jam) however, its location is not that good. For one, it’s hard to find it from the MRT. Use maps.me offline map, it’s really useful.

From Taipei, we opted to go South. Hualien faces the Pacific Ocean on the east with the Central Mountains on the west. It offers natural sceneries perfect for biking and hiking. Take the Taroko Express from Taipei for 440NTD / $14 (2 hours) but if you plan for just a day trip, take a return ticket for a much cheaper price (780NTD actual vs 880NTD budget). 

On the train station is an Information Center, few steps from the train tracks. It’s best to stop over, ask for a free map and advice. They’re friendly and can speak good English. Taiwanese people speak better English than those from Mainland but they have a stronger accent easily discernible.  

Food and accommodation are higher priced than Thailand and China. I was expecting it to be cheap. We hang around convenience stores and street stalls but still, it costs more. Someone told me (unverified), Mainland China is putting pressures on Taiwan so cost of living is high.

In case, you plan to travel further to Taroko, you can book a cab from the Information Center or hire bikes. It’s just 25 kms away.

Hiroshima, Japan (Photography)

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Hiroshima is the first city to experience a nuclear attack. It’s worth visiting to connect yourself with the city and their experiences. There is a free bus around the city so you can just hop on and off. Further read my post Budget Tips when travelling around Japan to get tips and tricks. One day is enough, you can go to Miyajima Island to see the famous Itsukushima shrine after.

Atomic Bomb Dome

This is one of the few buildings that remain standing after the 1945 bombing. The bomb was codenamed ‘Little Boy’.

Cenotaph for the A-Bomb Victims

The shape is to shield the victims from the rain. Directly behind it is a Peace Flame lit until the day that all nuclear weapons are destroyed (53 years and still going).

Hiroshima Castle

The castle was used as a war headquarter. It was also destroyed during the bombing  but a replica was built serving as a present museum of Hiroshima’s history.

Torii gate near Hiroshima Castle

Shinto shrines are gated with a Torii to symbolizes one’s step to sanctity.

The rightmost boy gave me a paper crane and I just found out that it is a popular gift to bestow a thousand years of happiness and prosperity.

As opposed to my unfriendly expectation, the people are actually nice (and helpful with directions).

Downtown Hiroshima

First Pre-Wedding Photography

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Taken in Wat Saket, Bangkok, Thailand

Marble City, Bangkok, Thailand

Old Railway, Chonburi, Thailand

Grand Canyon, Chonburi, Thailand

Grand Canyon, Chonburi, Thailand

Grand Canyon, Chonburi, Thailand

Chonburi, Thailand

Chonburi Field

Snow Mountain, Chonburi


Thinking of offering free photography services around Bangkok just to practice more and improve my skills.

Budget Travel Tips for Sydney, Australia

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The Opera House

Budget Travel Tips:

  1. Buy Opal card to pay for local transport. This will save you a lot of time (avoid lines) and money. It is available in convenience stores for a minimum $10 top up, all consumables. No need to refund, just plan well how much to top up.
  2. From Sydney airport to the City – Take Bus 400 going to Bondi Junction and alight at the first stopover Mascot Station in 8- 10 mins (cost: $2.6). The bus stop Mascot is on Bourke Road, walk on your left to the intersection, turn right to Coward street and you’ll see Mascot train station. Take the train to your destination i.e. Central Station ($4.1). This will save you 10-15$.
  3. From City to Sydney Airport – take the train to Mascot station. Go up / Exit to Coward Street, walk on your left to Bourke Road. Turn left and on your right is the bus stop for 400 to Burwood going to Terminal 1 and 3 Airports. This will save you 10-15$.
  4. Avail of the free guided walking tour. Just go to George Street behind St. Andrews Cathedral and Town Hall. It’s free and full of info / tips not available in the internet. They will take you around Sydney, good for 1 day!
  5. Download an offline map. There is no public wifi on most areas. Ever reliable is maps.me offline map.
  6. Book hostel near the opera house for $20-25 a night via booking.com. Only choose pay on arrival. When in the airport, browse booking.com in any case there are cheaper rooms. Some hotels/hostels lower their price a night before or during the day to avoid vacant rooms.
  7. Every Saturday at 8pm, there is a fireworks display in the opera house.
  8. Use skyscanner.com to look for cheap flights but don’t book via skyscanner, go to the airline’s main website.
  9. There are free water stations installed on the streets (i.e along the Macquarie road to the Opera house).
  10. Australians are very friendly. Ask directions.
  11. Always check the weather forecast to avoid booking on rainy days.

Victoria Building

Sydney Harbour

Luna Park

Terminal

It’s autumn but still hot!

Photo shared by Mary. Behind us is the Harbour Bridge & Opera House.

Thank you ate Cheryl for lunch, dessert and free room (Photo shared by Mary)

Thanks to Manong Arnold for serving dinner and taking me to Featherdale! To Keith, for letting me teach him about basic photography. Thanks to April & hubby too for meeting me for dinner! So much gratitude.

Budget Travel Tips for Uluru or Ayers Rock (Outback Australia)

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The Uluru or Ayers Rock is the world’s largest monolith created over 600 million years ago. It is considered the “heart” of the Red Centre or the Southern Australian outback desert. It attained its World Heritage Site position on both cultural and geological categories, among few sites with two listings. (I have a habit of visiting World Heritage sites whenever I travel).

I was determined to visit the area because of the many stories about the place. I was so curious as to why it seems this arid desert resembles the red planet Mars. I’m fascinated with the mythical stories of the aborigines and on cosmic conspiracy theories (Uluru is cited as one of the places in the world with strongest energy fields). You see, too many stories to be immersed, too many interesting facts, myths or fictions to uncover. It’s a gold mine for stories whether cultural, historical or out of this world.

The rock is considered sacred by the Anangu (aboriginal tribe) because they believe that some of their ancients are living in the rock and some of them (during the creation) even became part of the rock. Thus, each boulder, crack or formation has a story. It has no plant growing on it unlike other rock formations. Its color changes from sunset to sunrise from luminous red to purplish maroon. These are just some of the fascinating facts to wonder! Some parts are forbidden to be photographed and out of respect, they ask tourists not to climb, litter or vandalize.

We opted for the 10.1 km full base walk with the sun on its full glory. It was hot (but windy) so bring lots of water and some food. The distances of the water stations are too far so always ensure to fill it up before proceeding. By the way, I don’t know what’s with the desert but there are too many flies! And they are very annoying.

When I first set foot on the National Park, I was already captivated but I became more enthralled as we walked nearer. I saw rock caves, small waterholes and ancient prints! We even met two Anangu ladies asking for water. Some of these tribe folks (dating back 10,000 years) are working in the Ayers Resort and you’ll meet/see them everywhere.

Some Tips for your Travels

  1. Don’t book via Agoda or Booking.com for your accommodation. It’s cheaper via voyages (https://www.ayersrockresort.com.au/)
  2. It’s much cheaper to rent a car than pay the bus $49 back and forth if you want to see / touch the rock.
  3. There is free hostel pick-up from the Uluru Airport. Just go outside the gates/entrance doors and the names of the hotels/hostels are printed as bus stations. Board the bus and it will take you to your new home hassle-free.
  4. Avail of all the free activities – painting, 3D cinema, astronomy, aboriginal dances etc. but check the schedule (date/time).
  5. We arrived via Jetstar from Melbourne. Book your flights early because prices can dramatically go up!
  6. There is a supermarket so don’t worry much living on this desert. Prices are same with other cities/places of Australia (I compared it with Port Campbell, Sydney and Melbourne).
  7. At the back of the Outback Pioneer Lodge (hostel) is a sunset Uluru look-out. You can see the rock at this area.
  8. There is free shuttle bus around the resort (does not include going near the Rock). If you want to see the Camel farm, ask the driver. Sometimes, their route does not include it.
  9. Touch the rock. They say, it brings good fortune because it connects you to the ancients.

Two photos must be credited to my travel companion Mary – the one with our faces and the IG shoes. haha

 

 

 

Kyoto – City of Solitude

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Kyoto is Japan’s City of Solitude where old traditions heavily cling on to the unstoppable blocks of modernity. It gives you both the best of the past and present worlds, a testament that there is no need to sacrifice art and culture in order to embrace modern society. You’ll find that the past and present exist with ease and harmony.

Summer in Ginza, Kyoto

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Even with the thrive of technology and concentration of crowd, the city’s urban landscape has not abandon the beauty of and benefits from mother nature. Parks, gardens, clean waters and forests are in sync with the shrines, temples and old houses creating a beautiful façade for the city. These should be replicated to urban cities – to have green spaces while allowing arts and culture to flourish with modernity.

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The combinations of these attractions make it one of the most photographed city in the world. It is cloaked with a sublime but not necessarily melancholic feeling. This is possible because the city is the emperor’s residence for more than 1,000 years. You can really feel the serenity and simplicity of their living.

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Visit  Gion district to spot some geishas and hike all the way to Kiyomizu-dera temple. Be prepared to walk a lot to be immersed with their art, culture and way of living. The golden Kinkakuji temple is not to be missed. The entrance fee is worth it. Arashiyama bamboo grove is a little bit out of the way so make the most of it by visiting the Hozu river and the shrines surrounding the grove. One of my favorites is the Fushimi-Inari temple because it is a 2-hour hike from the base all the way to the top and back! We were fortunate to witness the sunset descending upon the whitish landscape of the city.

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The Great Wall of China, Badaling

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Rock solid walls that stretches beyond what the eyes can see

Rock solid walls that stretches beyond what the eyes can see

Steep steps to climb over

Steep steps to climb over

A peek in one of the holes

A peek in one of the holes

View in one of the tower stations

View in one of the tower stations