Hoi An ! Absolutely one of my favourite town in Vietnam! I love how chilled out this little ancient town is especially in the morning, where the crowd is significantly lesser. Last I visited this place was back in December 2015. I didn’t have the opportunity to explore much because it was a different agenda all together. In 2015, a bunch of friends and myself gathered in Hoi An for a 450 km loop motorbike tour to Hue and return. That tour was epic in its own league – and I should probably write about it if my memory still serves me right.
“Hoi An Ancient Town is an exceptionally well-preserved South-East Asian trading port dating from the 15th to the 19th century. It is located in Vietnam’s central Quang Nam Province, on the north bank near the mouth of the Thu Bon River. The town reflects a fusion of indigenous and foreign cultures, from Chinese to Japanese and later European influences, that combined to produce this unique survival. – UNESCO Heritage Centre “
I’ve always wanted to go back and it didn’t take me long to book a flight to Hoi An. I booked my flight about a week and a half prior to my travels and it costed about RM450 for a return ticket from Kuala Lumpur to Da Nang, Vietnam. This time, I spent 4 days 3 nights and stayed right in the centre of the ancient town, precisely the end of Le Loi Street. Everything was well within walking distances and just merely steps away from restaurants and cafes.
Mongolia – the land of blue sky and vast land! After visiting the Terelj National Park, it was time to explore more of Ulaanbaatar before hopping onto the train and making our way to Siberia. It was my fourth day in this country and I believed I’ve not seen everything entirely. It was free and easy for the day. I’ve decided to jam packed it up as usual and made the most out of every minute, before I returned to hibernating in the train.
I love being on my own! All because you’ve got all the flexibility to decide where to go and what to do. With a map in hand, I took an easy breezy stroll to the city centre. There was the Ulaanbaatar International Marathon going on and the roads were closed. Everyone was out in the sun – cycling, playing with their dogs, dancing and it was like a fiesta in the city.
10 Highlights : What to do and see in Ulaanbaatar?
What’s Mongolia without a visit to the GER camps! The Terelj National Park was definitely one of the many highlights of my Trans Siberian Trip. On Day 2, we checked out of J Hotel and took only a day pack with us for the night. We made our way to famous Chinggis Khan Statue and spent about an hour discovering the Mongolian culture.
“Genghis Khan, the fearsome Mongolian warrior who conquered half the known world in the 13th century, is remembered for his brutalities and destruction. But to Mongolians, he is a national hero, a larger-than-life figure and the symbol of Mongolian culture, and for good reasons. Genghis Khan founded the Mongol Empire, which became the largest contiguous empire in history, revived the Silk Road, uniting tribes and was responsible for cementing the position of Mongols on the world’s map.” – Amusing Planet
Never did it crossed my mind that I would be visiting Mongolia via the Trans Siberian Railway. Second leg of the ride and this time it was 27 hours from Beijing to the capital city, Ulaanbaatar, UB. We departed Beijing Railway station at 1120am and arrived UB at 1520pm.
” Mongolia is truly one of the world’s last undiscovered travel destinations and the safest country to visit. As a tremendous destination to experience the outdoors, Mongolia also boasts of unique history dating back to the Mongol Empire of Genghis Khan. Simply put, it is a land of adventure, horses, nomads, and blue sky.” – Discover Mongolia.
First train ride of the 7,165 km journey and I couldn’t be more excited. Since there was no shower on the train, I spent the day catching up on sleep, updating my travel journal, chatting with my cabin-mates and watching the change of scenery.
The first leg of my Trans Siberian Railway Adventures – Beijing, China! Being a Malaysian Chinese, this was my maiden trip to China and I couldn’t be more excited. When i thought about Beijing, I pictured in my mind streets filled with bicycles, dusty air and busy pedestrians. I was bound to Beijing via Malaysia Airlines Flight MH 360 and arrived at my hotel at almost 3am in the morning. Fortunately, my pre-arranged pick up to King Parkview Hotel was smooth and pleasant. The taxi driver had a conversation with me in mandarin and whoa.. that was a challenge and my language proficiency was definitely put to the test. I needed sleep!
“Beijing : It is where ancient and modern China meets. Constantly re-imagining itself as it races towards the future, yet inextricably linked to its glorious, notorious past, Běijīng is as compelling as it is complex.” – Lonely Planet
I had only one day in Beijing and it knew it wasn’t enough to explore everything. Thankfully, the hotel’s location was strategic. It was located adjacent to Jingshan Park’s East Entrance. I had to cherry pick where to visit and the Forbidden City was not to be missed. After all, it was just really close by to where I was staying – 10 minutes by bus and 30 minutes by foot. Of course, i took the bus as time was rather constrained.
If there is heaven on earth, this would be it! Right after Club Med Kani, we made our way back to Velana International Airport for our transfer to Gili Lankanfushi. This was definitely the icing of the cake. We were greeted by Gili’s representative and whisked away to our designated Gili boat. First, we were handed scented wet towels, and then came a nice cold bottle of water. What caught our surprise was that they gently asked for our slippers and put them away in an eco-brown bag. We were told about the “No News, No Shoes” rule throughout our stay and the timing would be +1 hour at Gili Lankanfushi.
“You arrive not quite knowing what to expect. You have had holidays before but never a journey. Not like this. A stone’s throw from Malé airport, voyage to the height of luxury. An exclusive retreat, far from the worries of the world – Gili Lankanfushi.”
There’s no wonder Gili Lankanfushi is awarded the 2016 Tripadvisor Traveller’s Choice Awards No. 1 Luxury Hotel in Maldives and Asia. Yes and YES! This place is out of this world. It just screams, “Leave all your worries at home.” Upon arrival at the jetty, we were greeted by our personal Ms Friday – one of the distinctive concepts of Gili Lankanfushi. How did they came about that title? The personal butler – he or she is named after Robinson Crusoe’s loyal friend, Mr Friday. He or she will make your stay as pleasant as possible and swiftly answers any requests on your mind at any time. Our Ms Friday was Megumi and she was such a sweetheart to us.
Club Med Kani – 2 words: Postcard perfect! Right after Male City, we made our way to Club Med Kani and stayed for 4 days 3 nights. In Maldives, almost all of the resorts are sitting on it’s own island and it is scattered around the atolls. This trip marked my first ever Club Med experience and it certainly didn’t disappoint at all. What I love most was the all inclusive package, which includes accommodation, food and free flow of alcoholic/non-alcoholic beverages. It was totally hassle free and you are ready to enjoy the minute you step foot onto this beautiful resort.
“White sand shores and oceans brimming with marine life. The pristine turquoise waters stretch out to the horizon, palm trees sway in the breeze, and there are so many fun ways to enjoy this idyllic scenery. Whether it’s snorkelling with colourful fish, paddling through crystal clear waters, diving, or surfing some of the world’s finest breaks, every day will be a perfect day in the Maldives.” – Club Med Kani.
We chose to stay in the renovated superior rooms, which was facing the east side of the south-west side of the island. The surroundings of our room was rather quiet as the main restaurant and the bars were all situated in the centre of the island. We spent most of our time outdoors and we were barely in our rooms, except to shower and sleep.
Malé is the capital city of Maldives. The word ‘Maldives’ actually means “the islands (dives) of Malé”. Interestingly enough, the city is an island on its own and the archipelago of Maldives is made up of over 1,190 islands grouped in a chain of 26 atolls. The city is about 2km long, and just 1km wide. Hence, you could easily explore the city by foot from one end to the other in a couple of minutes and perhaps around the whole island in an hour. Being hailed as one of the most densest city with approximately 100,000 people, Malé offers a glimpse into the lives of the local Maldivians away from the luxurious resorts and endless buffet spread.
I have always wanted to visit Maldives, especially after checking off Boracay in my bucketlist last December. Since I was en route to Singapore for Coldplay’s “A Head Full of Dream” tour, the timing couldn’t be better as there was a direct flight from Singapore to Maldives via Tiger Airways. We were lucky in the sense that the hotel packages were giving away some decent discounts as May would be typically be the start of the tropical monsoon climate in the Maldives. That’s a win-win!
First diving trip of the year 2017! I was really looking forward to this one as it was my second dive right after getting my Open Water license in December 2016. Just fun dives! Pulau Weh definitely made it to the ‘talk about list’ among the diving community. Honestly, i’ve not heard of this small island until it was suggested by my dive buddy. Being in South East Asia, I believe we are very blessed with amazing dive sites, which are all well within reach.
“You’re about to go in an unexpectable journey, become a Monster while living an incredible underwater adventure. Have a lot of fun, make new friends and learn how to dive or improve your skills. Glide over colorful reefs and meet plenty of wonderful marine life. – Monster Divers”
So, how did I ended up with Monster Divers? There were several dive centers in Pulau Weh and generally, being the review freak – I decided upon Monster Divers as they are rated number 1 on TripAdvisor. They were quick to reply to my emails and made the necessary pick up arrangements to the dive site. I stayed in Iboih Village, which was a 10 minutes bejak ride to Monster Divers located at Gapang Beach.
Lonely Planet introduced Pulau Weh as a tiny tropical rock off the tip of Sumatra. Look carefully on the map or you would probably miss it. What brought me to Pulau Weh exactly? Diving, of course. In all honesty, I’ve not heard of this island and i literally had to google it up to see where in the world is this place. It is located on the north of Banda Aceh, Sumatra and the main town where most of Weh’s population live is known as Sabang. Surprisingly, it was just a 1.5 hours flight away from Penang to Banda Aceh via Fireflyz airline.
Pulau Weh marked my first trip for the year of 2017! There were so many modes of transport involved to get to Pulau Weh. Ulee Lheu Harbour is about 40 minutes away from Banda Aceh Sultan Iskandar Muda Airport and to get there, it is recommended for you to take a taxi. At the harbour, you have a choice to either take the fast or slow ferry depending on the availability. I arrived at 940am by flight and by the time i got to the harbour, it was almost 1030am. That left me with only one option – the slow ferry departing at 11am, which took about 1.5 hours to Balohan Harbour, Pulau Weh. From Balohan Harbour to Iboih beach, it took another 45 minutes by bejak (a local three wheel transport).